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MIT vs Georgia Tech vs Duke


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Hi everyone, I am currently in the process of deciding which grad school to attend and could really use some advice.  I know I have some great options but each one seems to have its pros and cons.  I was accepted into MIT and Duke's mechanical engineering PhD program and Georgia Tech's Robotics program.  My interest is medical robotics and as of now I plan to go into industry after graduation.  Listed are the pros and cons of each school.


Georgia Tech: pros - I received a prestigious medical robotics 2 year fellowship.  This fellowship would let me choose who I work with and I have already met, and like, some of my potential advisers.  There is plenty of research I am interested in.  I plan to go into industry eventually and the school has affiliations with some companies I would be interested in working for.  I really like their Robotics program and I like the location and the people generally speaking.

                         consGeorgia Tech does not have the same prestige and name recognition as MIT.  Also, if I were to change my mind and decide to stay in academia, I've been told it would be much harder to get a postdoc position.


Duke:             pros Similar to Georgia Tech.  I received a really nice 2 year fellowship.  I know who my adviser would be and like him (based on the brief time I talked to him on visit weekend) and am very interested in the research.  It is my ideal place to live and I really liked the other grad students I interacted with. Also, basketball (just kidding).

                      consDuke is not known for robotics and there aren't as many options lab-wise if something were to not work out with my adviser.  


MIT:              prosThe name carries a lot of weight.  MIT guarantees funding.  Because MIT makes you get your masters first, then PhD, if I am unhappy there, I could always leave with my masters.  There is a lot of research I am interested in.  It would set me up well for an industry position or an academia position.

                     cons It seems that most of the RA offers go out in the summer so I have no idea who I would be working with or what research I would be doing.  Several grad students said there is a chance you end up having to work in an area you are not interested in, which is concerning.  I really did not like the campus or the area and just did not have a good over-all feeling. This may be due to the fact that I was only able to visit for one day and was very rushed.  Also Boston is very expensive.


My professors say I would be crazy to not go to MIT but so many other people have told me that adviser is THE most important thing.  If I turn down MIT, would I be throwing away an amazing opportunity for something not as good? Which factors should I put the most weight on?  Any pros or cons that I am missing?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated especially since the deadline is fast approaching!


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In a similar boat in deciding between great schools with different pros and cons, but here are some things you can maybe ask yourself that might help clarify what you value most:

1.) If you go somewhere with a location/advisor you're not crazy about, how likely is it that you'll be able to stick it out? Are you someone who can enjoy doing research outside of your interests, or if that going to be something that causes your motivation to suffer?

2.) Do you have any specific companies in industry you're interested in? Which colleges have had students go on to work at those companies (or in similar companies)? You might find that one of the less "big-name" schools (lol) has a decent population at a company of interest. 

3.) This is purely rumor and hearsay, so if someone knows more they should correct me :) but I've heard that MIT isn't the friendliest place at times. I know an undergrad at my school who was accepted and opted to go to the less presitigious school because she didn't like the vibe at MIT. When I was touring a lab at one of my grad acceptances, I met a student who'd transferred there from MIT due to some legal troubles with his advisor at MIT (he didn't go into details, but it sounded like the advisor did some questionable things and the students suffered for it). There may be some excellent stories of how the students come together and work as a team as well, so it would probably be a good idea to speak with a current student at MIT.

4.) Trust your gut! If a day somewhere made you unhappy, how likely is it that several years would change that? If you're going to uproot your life, you want to make sure you're somewhere where you can be happy to go out and work. 


Good luck with your decision!

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From what you wrote, it seems Georgia Tech is the best fit for you. If your program is similar to the Gatech AE program, you should be able to get a MS along the way as well; you just need to take one extra course (if I remember correctly from my visit). Of course, you should check with your adviser or the program website. I also made a decision with similarly prestigious programs based on the location of one school that I just inherently didn't like. I think it's definitely a valid reason to turn down a school! I do think I could eventually get used to a location I didn't initially like, but for me, better safe than sorry. 

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