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What if I pick one and end up hating living there?


Lynn K.

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I'm deciding between two schools for a PhD in a biology umbrella program. Both schools are comparable in pretty much every way: both prestigious in the field, I am confident I could find research and a mentor that's a good fit, good funding, etc. Option A is close to home, which I didn't want because I've been trying to branch out. I want to live somewhere different for a while, as I stayed pretty close to home for undegrad. Option B is across the country, which would be an adventure like I want. I am leaning towards Option B, but I'm afraid to commit to B because I'm scared that I'll hate living there. Whereas A would be a safer choice because I already know that the lifestyle there agrees with me. If I picked A I would feel like I'm being a coward. I've heard different things about transferring schools, so if I decide to go to B I'd fear not only hating living there, but also that if I do hate it I'll be stuck there for roughly 6 years. But on the other hand I could love living there, but never know it if I don't give it a try. What should I do?

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When you are doing a PhD you'll mostly be from your office to your home, from home to your office to class to office.

If you like the idea of Option B, make sure Option B is not very expensive, that you won't be spending a lot of $$ traveling home for the holidays, or that you'll have a long commute from your apartment to the office. For instance, if you have a 20,000 stipend for the Midwest, it is fine. If you have a 20,000 stipend to live in Manhattan, you are nuts. 

It is OK to be brave as long as you are being practical. 

You can also get on a plane and visit Option B. Get an AirBnB close to your potential office and figure out if you see yourself living there and do things you would do in your normal routine.

 

Edited by MrsPhD
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Go for the adventure! I'm in a similar situation and if you are really wanting to experience a new environment you really should try it out or else you might regret just staying in your comfort zone and not branching out. Because that's kinda how I am viewing my decision. Also I have heard that some people view moving to a different area of the country for your PhD as a really good thing, especially if you are planning on staying in academia, since it shows you are able to make and handle a big move like that. Also if you get to experience a new area you will have more information about that new area that can help guide you the type of area you want to live in when you are applying to jobs after PhD.

I do agree with the other suggestions that you do research to make sure that you can afford living there on your stipend and that there seems to be stuff you would enjoy doing in the area as well since that can help you figure out if you would enjoy living there.

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Honestly, I had those same decisions. When it came to my MA, I went closer to home, which had its own pitfalls even though the training I got was excellent. For my PhD program, I moved across the country to something which sounds similar to your School B.* I absolutely hated the location when I first moved there. (I didn't visit before accepting so I went there for the first time in late June to look for housing.) When I say I hated it, I mean that I kept wondering why I'd picked that location and even reached out to a contact at another program to see if I could still be considered there. First semester across the country, I was miserable. But, I got over it, largely by finding things and people I liked there so that I had things to do and people to do them with. And now, I love going back to that city to visit friends who are still there.

*Of note, this wasn't my first time living far from home as I moved half the continent away for my undergrad studies. 

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Have you gotten the chance to visit School B? If not, is it feasible to do so? It might help you decide whether it's a place you could see yourself living for an extended period.

 

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It depends on who you are. I have known a lot of people who have chosen schools strictly because they are away from home, but I also know people who have done the opposite. I have known people who did go away from home, only to regret it later. There are primarily 2 reasons for this:

1) It can be difficult going into a new place/environment, not knowing anyone, financially on your own (especially if this is the first time you're living on your own). Having friends/family nearby can be a great emotional/financial help.  I know some people became accustomed to it eventually, but they do regret their decision overall (can't change the past). This really had less to do with the place they went, and more to do with their personality. They felt uncomfortable in the new city with all the unfamiliar faces, they never really found their niche, and were generally introverts to begin with. It made transitioning to a new unknown area very difficult for them. 

2) Depending on who you are and your lifestyle, their can be a big difference between urban life and rural life. There are a lot of schools out there that are basically college towns (i.e. the majority population of the city is the college, the stores and facilities are designed for the students, the city revolves around when the school is in session). This may be great for some people who are looking for some isolation, or looking for a small town. Some of these schools are in the middle of nowhere and have nothing around for miles and miles. This is also perfect for someone looking to settle down, or has a family, or just likes the peace and quiet, and isn't really into the big city life. This also includes terrain as well. If you absolutely love hiking and swimming, maybe consider how you would feel in a place with flat terrain with only plains (i.e. the Midwest). If you love clubbing and partying, maybe consider how you would feel if you went to a small city that really didn't have those things. 

Personally, I chose schools based entirely on their programs, but they all ended up being very far away from home. Honestly, I'm excited. I personally love to travel, sometimes even alone backpacking cross-country or in foreign countries. So going some place unfamiliar where I don't know anybody, really isn't a problem for me (I actually find it exhilarating). Financially, it is a slight concern for me, and this has had some influence in my decision for which school I want to go to (i.e. having a saving cushion is important for me since I will be alone). A bigger concern for me is lifestyle however. I do love hiking (I go hiking every week), and I love walking on the beach (do it almost every other day), so going to the Midwest on just a geographical level has been some concern for me. I also live in a big city. I do go clubbing/dancing frequently. Going to a small town with either very few or basically no clubs/dance floors is somewhat of a concern for me as well. As a whole, going to someplace like the Midwest would be quite a lifestyle change for me, an issue that has had a significant impact on my decision for schools. Because at the end of the day, if you pick a place and hate living there, you're only options are either to make do, or leave and re-apply for schools next year (the latter is not an option I am willing to make). 

 

One final thing I forgot to mention, this is 5 years of your life. I have been told by a lot of people, "don't let location decide your choice" or "it's only a couple years, you'll be fine". Personally, I've come to realize this is all a load of bogus. While I understand program is important, I find location/happiness in said location to be just as important. And 5 years is not a small amount of time to me. 

 

Edited by samman1994
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You might think too about 20 years from now and regretting not getting out of your comfort zone.  I went to college, law school, and business school within about 90 miles of each other in Michigan.  When I was 40, I finally took a job in DC.  From there, I lived in Connecticut, Louisiana, and now Arizona.  I wish that I had expanded my horizons and left Michigan earlier.  And it's not because I dislike Michigan, but I think that I was stagnating for 20 years.

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If you go with Option B and end up not liking the city it is possible to deal with that and still finish your program.  I wound up in that exact situation and transferring just isn't an option.  So I make the most of the few things I do enjoy here and go out of town as much as I can.  I'm also very very motivated to finish my program on time and get the hell out of here lol.

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2 hours ago, MarineBluePsy said:

If you go with Option B and end up not liking the city it is possible to deal with that and still finish your program.  I wound up in that exact situation and transferring just isn't an option.  So I make the most of the few things I do enjoy here and go out of town as much as I can.  I'm also very very motivated to finish my program on time and get the hell out of here lol.

Quite true! I'll also note that if you plan on going into academia, you may find yourself living in a city/town you don't like early in your career. It definitely gives one motivation to publish, get grants, etc., in an effort to obtain a new job in a location you find more desirable. Traveling out of the area on a regular basis (whether that's once a month, once every 8 weeks, etc.) can also be a way to make a location you don't like more tolerable.

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Thanks for all the advice everyone! I guess I can try to get  a postdoc or faculty position later at Option A or near to it if  I want to  move back. That would definitely help motivate me to publish and stuff, so I'll have that option later.  I still have to make the decision based on the merits of each program, but if B ends up pulling ahead of A, I hopefully won't be too scared to go out of my comfort zone!

 

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