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lm3481

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  1. Some people say that your mentor is EVERYTHING in grad school. How important is it to stick with a big, influential name who knows and wants me, in a really bad department/school, when he seems to have some control issues that could impact our working relationship over the next 4 years? Here is the TL;DR version for those who get frustrated by the tons of text that follow : Program A: Great metro area; low program ranking; my advisor is the big kahuna in the department and field but he has some troubling personality quirks; he's the only faculty member to work with in my dept.; I'm already set up/would not have to move; I'm already well known and respected in the department; students tend to leave with very publications; my mentor has put his name on the line for me here and would take it personally if I leave. Program B: Excellent reputation and curriculum; very high ranking; many faculty to work with an opportunity for collaboration; no one-perfect-faculty-member-fit for me; strong methods training; would have to move and create new relationships with faculty and prove my reliability; somewhat geographically isolated but 3-hour drive to major cities; strong department culture of cohesiveness; attending would burn bridges with my current mentor. *** I'm in my last semester of a master's program in a field at a poorly-ranked program, but with an advisor who is an influential name and who knows everybody, everywhere. (Why is such an important person at a crappy school? We're in DC, and he likes living here so that he can skip down to Capitol Hill to testify or to sit with the policymakers and come up with solutions - when they actually do that stuff.) I came to this school specifically so I could work with him, even though he doesn't normally work with masters students. I emailed him relentlessly before and after I was admitted, and then campaigned to be let into one of his theory-based PhD-level courses in order to prove myself to him. It worked; we are now co-authors on a forthcoming paper, and he is the one who told me to apply for a PhD. He was so adamant that I do so that he put himself on our admissions committee to "ensure" that I was accepted to our doctoral program. He is my biggest advocate. This person comes with a very particular set of difficult personal characteristics, however. As a family man, he seems unable to avoid giving into his paternal instinct with his mentees (all of whom are female). He gives unsolicited advice on our personal lives and situations, gets angry with us when we do not take his advice, and then does not seem to understand why we get upset with him. As someone with a brilliant mind and ivy pedigree, I also think he is just accustomed to being the smartest person in a room, and he really does think he know what's in our best interest better than we do. Although I believe it comes from a good place, the end result is a peculiar kind of toxicity: I admire him, but I am 'afraid' of him in that I know better than to cross him, and I am reluctant to pitch my research ideas because so few are 'good enough' for him to support. I got into my home institution, of course, but I have another offer that is at an objectively better institution (he didn't want to write me a LoR, but eventually did. Whole other story). If I take my current advisor out of the equation, I pick the other school in a heart-beat. But given this person's reputation, prestige within our field, nearly identical interests to mine, and the fact that he has personally invested so much in me so far - I'm reluctant to leave him. This week I told him I was leaning toward leaving, and we spent an hour arguing, as he was certain I would be "making a huge mistake" if I leave. He said he would take me off all of our current projects if I do go, and he said, "I feel like I'm giving you the keys to a Ferrari, and you just want to go drive a Mercedes ." Funding is basically the same at both schools, but there is a big difference in the cost of living in DC vs. NY state. Here is some information about these two programs. Program A: At my current school, in DC. It has a fairly low ranking (21/32). My mentor's pros/cons I detailed above. The department is poorly organized, no one in it likes each other, and only 2-3 people actively publish (there are a TON of coasters). The doctoral students report no sense of community within cohorts or within the department, and several have complained of a kind of boys club mentality (no tenured women faculty, the rare male student is empowered and the female students are discouraged from doing innovative work). There are 3 academic tracks, and mine is the smallest and most devalued. In fact, my mentor is the only professor that teaches in it. That means that he is the only person with whom I could collaborate, and the only one to have on my comp and dissertation committees. The department doesn't permit us to invite people from outside institutions, or even from other departments within the school. When I have requested they hire more faculty for my track, they say it might be possible in 2-3 years. We have notoriously poor methods training. We are located in DC, however, so that opens up certain professional opportunities, and means that we can meet many of the fancy speakers who come to the school. Doctoral students generally graduate with only 1-2 publications, usually co-authored with faculty or another student, and they have been described to me as "solo missions" without much/any support from the department. Graduates who work with MY advisor are generally well-placed into academic positions; however, the other grads tend to go into government, non-profits, or else I have no idea where. Program B: Located in upstate NY; no national name recognition (school itself is considered middling overall, but my program is their star jewel.) It has a high ranking (consistently 2/32). Out of the faculty of 16, there are 10 who share overlapping interests with me. No one person is a perfect "fit", but, the department is very big on the whole "it takes a department to raise a PhD student." You don't work on your advisor's work so much as that person guides you to figure out the logisitics of projects YOU want to lead, and then gives you advice on how to accomplish it. It's a highly collaborative department - everyone works with one another: faculty-faculty, faculty-student, student-student. There is a strong culture of inclusiveness, very high productivity, and teamwork. Everyone publishes constantly, and the school houses two of the top journals in our field. The faculty is 1/3 women, most of whom are tenured. Students tend to graduate with anywhere from 4-10 publications, depending on how hard they push themselves. Graduates are generally well-placed. There are also unsubstantiated whisperings that there were sexual harrassment issues in the past. When I have asked their current female students directly, though, they claim to know nothing about it. It could be just a rumor, or it could be something that happened years ago and was dealt with. My main reason for wanting to go there - aside from the strong sense of community they create - is their incredible methods program. They are very strong in quant, and invest in making sure that their grads are, too. They also offer other types of research methodology training. I believe I would emerge from their program a much stronger researcher, overall. As my current mentor points out, though, I would be starting from zero there and would have to "prove myself" to the faculty all over again. It's also upstate NY, which means lots of cold and snow, but also, the Adirondacks, and proximity to other lovely places like Vermont, Boston, NYC, Montreal, etc. There is the issue of the frigid cold and snow, but I'm originally from Chicago, and I could tough it out again. Cost of living is very decent there, though, and I could comfortably live alone on the stipend - whereas in DC, I would likely continue living in a group house situation (which I am loathe to do). Most significantly, for me, going to Program B would likely mean that my mentor would cut off any possibilities of future collaboration between us, and I'd be severed from our current projects. It would feel like a great personal blow to lose him. For all of his faults (and everyone has some), I like him personally, and I wouldn't have come this far without his encouragement and mentorship. I don't want him to feel that he invested all of this in me for no personal ROI. *** I'm trying to talk to him again this week to see if he would walk back this whole 'punishment' thing (my word, based on how it feels). He did send me a note of apology after our uncomfortable talk, so I think we may be on the verge of negotiating a detente. However, there is only one week left to decide, so... figuring this out needs to happen ASAP! Thanks for any feedback/ideas!
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