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Chemistry (Chemical Biology): UChicago vs. UMichigan

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Hello All,

I want to keep this relatively short so I'll start by saying that I am currently deciding between UChicago & UMichigan (fully funded PhD), although I just visited UIUC (am still processing the visit but my gut is not as blown away as I was by the first two).

UMichigan gave me a full merit fellowship (5 semesters, full funding the rest of my 5 years) that would allow me to avoid TA duties if I so choose. UChicago's stipend is higher and they gave me a small recruitment fellowship after I visited. I came from a small, liberal arts college so I feel like UChicago, as an institution, is more in line with the educational philosophy of my own undergraduate institution; it also has the small-school feel I am used to. Additionally, I feel like it has a higher prestige, as a whole, than UMichigan, which my advisor said might come into play after grad school (though I feel like on the department level, they are very much equals). I also come from NYC so Chicago is much more like home. 

What's making my choice very difficult is my bias towards UChicago as an institution and the fact that I am being recruited fairly heavily by my favorite professor at UMichigan; the stipends are almost identical when adjusted for cost of living but UMichigan's holds more prestige. Anyway, as a first-generation college student and a student from several underrepresented backgrounds, I thought I'd ask you guys for any advice. Any, and all advice/thoughts would be much appreciated!

Please feel free to message me as well!

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The full merit fellowship sounds very nice - this will mean you'll have more time to focus on classwork and research at the beginning. You didn't mention anything about the professors, but I would pick based on that. Are there more professors you are interested in at one place? Does one professor at one place have a perfect fit? I don't know about UChicago's program but the rotation system at Michigan seemed to be a strong plus to help find your ideal group.

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Hello fellow UChicago prospective! I was in almost the exact same boat, ultimately deciding between UChicago and a different big ten school where a professor was recruiting me a lot. Ultimately, I think you have two great choices and cannot go wrong.

With that said, here is some relevant info I learned in the process. According to some faculty in my home chemistry department and the vibes I got from the visit weekend, UChicago is going to be an extremely rigorous experience. The TA requirement is very lax and their stipend kicks ass, but you will be expected to work HARD there. It will not be warm and fuzzy like *big ten school* (not that any chem PhD is easy!). You should definitely talk to the students from the labs you like at Chicago to see what the environment of their lab is like, because I got the feeling it varies quite a lot and should be an important factor in your decision. The diversity at UChicago was also pretty bad (look at the faculty page and count the number of white male professors), but sadly, that is pretty consistent with chemistry as a field. The grad students at *big ten school* definitely seemed to be more outgoing and maybe a little happier, but I also was underwhelmed with their job placement after the PhD. It seems like Chicago leaned more toward academia-type careers while *big ten school* had a lot of connections to industry (particularly in the midwest).

With all that said, I decided to go to UChicago because I felt like I was up for the challenge and would always regret it if I didn't give it a try. And the lab in which I plan to work has an incredibly positive vibe that overrode some of the fear I had about the atmosphere. With your fellowship to UM, I dont think you can go wrong, so in my opinion, I think it is a matter of what experience you want to have!

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On 3/29/2018 at 3:05 AM, ketchup said:

The full merit fellowship sounds very nice - this will mean you'll have more time to focus on classwork and research at the beginning. You didn't mention anything about the professors, but I would pick based on that. Are there more professors you are interested in at one place? Does one professor at one place have a perfect fit? I don't know about UChicago's program but the rotation system at Michigan seemed to be a strong plus to help find your ideal group.

 

Thanks for the response! I actually really want to try being a TA, so I would most likely defer the fellowship, at least for a semester. UMich has more professors I'm absolutely in love with (and they have more professors to pick from), but I've been disheartened of late because most have not responded to my requests to work in the lab over the summer (my favorite professor, the one who was recruiting me hard, hasn't responded to my email & follow-up email in two weeks); one actually got back to me but is so new that his lab hasn't even been set up yet! At UChicago, I have two professors I really like and who are enthusiastic about me coming (they offered me joint-entry into the summer research program). They have made sure to respond to any of my questions on time and have been more attentive as a whole (something I definitely value).

I guess I have a couple of pressing questions: do you think it would be too eager of me to call my favorite professor at Michigan to see if she can host me over the summer?  I don't want to impose or put them on the spot but I'd much rather make a decision this week than next. Also, would it be foolish of me to turn down the opportunity of entering grad school with a merit fellowship? My career advisor at my undergrad institution told me to think of the merit fellowship as negating any differences in prestige I might perceive between the two schools.

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On 3/31/2018 at 10:09 AM, thenewkidaw71 said:

Hello fellow UChicago prospective! I was in almost the exact same boat, ultimately deciding between UChicago and a different big ten school where a professor was recruiting me a lot. Ultimately, I think you have two great choices and cannot go wrong.

With that said, here is some relevant info I learned in the process. According to some faculty in my home chemistry department and the vibes I got from the visit weekend, UChicago is going to be an extremely rigorous experience. The TA requirement is very lax and their stipend kicks ass, but you will be expected to work HARD there. It will not be warm and fuzzy like *big ten school* (not that any chem PhD is easy!). You should definitely talk to the students from the labs you like at Chicago to see what the environment of their lab is like, because I got the feeling it varies quite a lot and should be an important factor in your decision. The diversity at UChicago was also pretty bad (look at the faculty page and count the number of white male professors), but sadly, that is pretty consistent with chemistry as a field. The grad students at *big ten school* definitely seemed to be more outgoing and maybe a little happier, but I also was underwhelmed with their job placement after the PhD. It seems like Chicago leaned more toward academia-type careers while *big ten school* had a lot of connections to industry (particularly in the midwest).

With all that said, I decided to go to UChicago because I felt like I was up for the challenge and would always regret it if I didn't give it a try. And the lab in which I plan to work has an incredibly positive vibe that overrode some of the fear I had about the atmosphere. With your fellowship to UM, I dont think you can go wrong, so in my opinion, I think it is a matter of what experience you want to have!

Thanks for the detailed response! The past few weeks have changed my feelings a bit; I'm leaning towards UChicago since I have two summer rotations locked in, whereas I have none at UMich. Also, the professors at UChicago have been unbelievably helpful and have made sure to keep in touch, whereas my favorite professor from UMich (the one who was recruiting me) has not responded to any of my emails for two weeks, and I have no summer rotation set.

The faculty at UMich are DEFINITELY much more diverse than at UChicago, as is the student body. Faculty diversity does matter to me but student body diversity is less of an issue, for me, mostly because my undergraduate institution was very homogenous. Either way, I got along with students best at UChicago, but just as well at UMich. I'm unsure of whether I want to go to industry or academia after grad school but I appreciate the information. What other things swayed you to UChicago (facilities, the city, etc.) away from Big Ten? 

Also, one of the main things holding me back IS knowing that I would regret not attending UChicago (I've been in love with it since high-school). I'm less certain of this, but I feel like I'd also regret not attending an institution that is offering me a merit fellowship right off the bat. Do you think it'd be foolish of me to turn down such a fellowship (would that have changed your own decision if the Big 10 school offered one)? 

Anyways, thanks for some perspective on your own decision-making process, there's a lot of overlap and your insight has been super helpful!

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3 hours ago, redevol727 said:

Thanks for the response! I actually really want to try being a TA, so I would most likely defer the fellowship, at least for a semester. UMich has more professors I'm absolutely in love with (and they have more professors to pick from), but I've been disheartened of late because most have not responded to my requests to work in the lab over the summer (my favorite professor, the one who was recruiting me hard, hasn't responded to my email & follow-up email in two weeks); one actually got back to me but is so new that his lab hasn't even been set up yet! At UChicago, I have two professors I really like and who are enthusiastic about me coming (they offered me joint-entry into the summer research program). They have made sure to respond to any of my questions on time and have been more attentive as a whole (something I definitely value).

I guess I have a couple of pressing questions: do you think it would be too eager of me to call my favorite professor at Michigan to see if she can host me over the summer?  I don't want to impose or put them on the spot but I'd much rather make a decision this week than next. Also, would it be foolish of me to turn down the opportunity of entering grad school with a merit fellowship? My career advisor at my undergrad institution told me to think of the merit fellowship as negating any differences in prestige I might perceive between the two schools.

It's a shame she is not answering. If you have had any contact with any her grad students, I would ask them what she is like with e-mail. Some professors are notoriously bad and need a poke. 

I have actually just turned down a full merit fellowship to go to a school with a particular PI who I think is the perfect fit for me. This could be the wrong decision, but it feels right in the gut and I'm happy about it! 

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I had a few main factors in my decision - here they are in terms of importance. First and foremost, I had great faculty options with interesting research at both schools (maybe I liked the research at *big ten school* 10% more), but the professors at UChicago were a little bit more established in their fields and a little bit more interested in me (one promised me a place in his lab, etc). Second, the stipend/cost of living ratio at UChicago has to be among the highest in the nation. I don't have to have a car and won't have any problem saving a little money, all while living in an awesome city like Chicago. *Big ten school* had a smaller stipend, and they didnt offer much in the way of fellowships. I got the feeling that their department was concerned with money - after my undergrad research was derailed by funding issues, this is super important to me. Third, and this is sort of weird, but I really sort of liked the academic, hard working atmosphere of Chicago. After doing my undergrad at another big ten school, I felt like I would enjoy something different. And the students still seemed fairly well-adjusted (at least the ones they let us meet at the visit weekend). Fourth, I thought that their first year TA requirement was really cool, because you work with the same students for the entire year. I have TAed for a few semesters and am thinking about doing an academic teaching position, so this was a huge advantage for me. On the other hand, they dont make you teach after the first year, which is great if I decide down the road that research professorship is my first and foremost goal (still unsure). I was told I would have to TA my entire time at *big ten school* unless I got something in the way of national fellowships.

So yeah, this makes it sound like UChicago was the clear winner all along, but I promise it was a super tough decision. The two things *big ten school* had going for it were that I loved the environment of the school - I still actually think my quality of life might have been higher there - and number of interesting faculty. I am sort of banking on working for one of two faculty at Chicago, whereas at *big ten school* I had 4-5 faculty whom I thought were really awesome. Also, UChicago is not the most collaborative (although better than my current school) and not very diverse, and those were big negatives for me. I hope this helps - feel free to shoot me a PM if you have more specific questions!!

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