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Prestige vs Fit

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Hi all,

I know this question has been asked in various forms a million times before, but I am really struggling with three schools that offer totally different experiences. Relevant information: I am a younger student in biological sciences, and I hope to try my hand at academia (but I recognize that in today's hyper-competitive environment, I need to also consider options in industry).

School A is a fairly prestigious university in a cool town with a well funded program. There are three professors with whom I would be interested in working here, but none are a "perfect" fit. I really like the location and could live okay (not great) off the stipend, and both the students and the professors were extremely friendly. I think I could have the best lifestyle here, but it is concerning that there is no perfect fit in terms of professor.

School B is a less prestigious university in a smaller college-town vibe. However, the POI is a well-respected young professor in my field, and I really got along well with him during the visit. I think that I could do the best research here, and they offered me an extremely generous fellowship to supplement the stipend. Living would be easy, but my big fear is that I will be shooting myself in the foot if I decide to leave academia and have to search for a job. It is also a smaller program, and a lot of other visiting students were non-traditional and/or a lot older than me.

School C is a very prestigious university in a big city - the research is really cool and I really liked the other visiting students, but I was a little bothered that both of my POIs did not show up for the visit weekend and have seemed "distant" throughout the process. I am concerned that the stipend would not be enough to live comfortably here and that the program is considered very cut-throat. However, if I were to leave academia, I think this school would provide the best opportunities!

Ultimately, this comes down to a question of prestige vs fit - School C is extremely prestigious but maybe not the best environment, whereas School B is a perfect fit but definitely have some disadvantages in terms of opportunities. School A is somewhere in between. If anybody could help me tease out what is important from this information, I would really appreciate it.

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I'm in a very similar situation and am really having a hard time teasing out what I should use to help in my decision making.

One of my schools is in a really cool area and has a big appeal of adventure and getting out of my comfort zone, but cost of living is ridiculous and the stipend is pretty low. However, the research there is awesome and I would really like working with the advisors I would have there. Also I know there would be the resources there to gain the type of research background I desire. But I am extremely worried about being able to have the type of lifestyle I would want there on the stipend I would be receiving. The name of this school is also relatively little known in my field compared to the other one - though I do think prestige is similar across both schools.

My other school is in a region and type of town I am extremely familiar with and know I would be happy there, but it is easy for me to want to choose it because it is in my comfort zone. Also the stipend there is stupid high compared to cost of living, so I would be living very comfortably. I know my advisor there would be a great mentor, but the advisor himself doesn't have the knowledge I most seek to grow in my PhD (where one of the advisors at the other school does). I know he has colleagues at the school and outside the school that could help me gain that knowledge but I don't know their strengths so it's hard to know if I will be gaining that or not (I'm hoping my visit there will help me clear up this concern). Otherwise I think research fit is good, but not as good as the other school.

I'm most struggling with the money vs. research fit aspect, rather than prestige but I understand that it's really hard making a decision. However, its awesome that we have the option to make a decision!

So I will throw out some things that I am keeping in mind when making my decision. So I think the advisor you will be working with is really important. You need to have a good relationship with them and they need to be able to prepare you for the type of career that you want. This means that if you want to go into academia they need to be able to network you with people that are big in their field, help you become a better grant writer, and make you productive in getting publications out. So you need to at the very least have a good working relationship with your advisor, so it sounds like potentially the POIs at School C might be less than ideal since they don't necessarily seem invested in you since this is very important in accomplishing the previous things I mention. A second really important thing is enjoying the environment you are living in and enjoying and being excited by your research. Both of these things are important in productivity I believe. If you are unhappy with your surroundings or research that is likely going to impede your productivity and possibly lessen your chances of completing your PhD. One last thing I will mention is that I do believe that unless you are trying to secure a tenure-track position in Ivy League/Top 10 schools I don't think prestige matters, BUT this is only true if you make sure your remain competitive in your field at a less prestigious university (also if your advisor is well known in their field but is at a less prestigious university, like School B for you, I really don't think prestige matters a lot).


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