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Hello everyone! This post comes from a place of desperation, as it is about ten days from the 15th when I will have to have all this sorted out. My problem is that I am deciding between three schools and am completely deadlocked and unable to commit, even mentally, to a single program. Things are not aligning to make this choice an easy one as I was hoping. Here is the situation, I will try to make it brief: 

After visiting, UMN is the department I liked the most as far as ~vibes~ go, but the location (and more the climate) is something I don't think I could honestly get past. It also feels like a long haul as they fund for six years, but six years of teaching is a lot, and is a long time to live in the midwest. 

USC is offering the best funding package -- five years with three years of fellowship. They also have a stellar faculty and reputation because at almost every visit the professors I've spoken to and the current grad students at varying institutions have implied that I would be a moron to not go to USC. The location isn't ideal for me, though. I have lived in LA for three years and I am very ready to leave and while I was at the visit, I just didn't see myself at USC for reasons I can't quite pin down. 

UW is a school I have wanted to attend for a while as I applied for my MA, last year for the PhD and again this year and ~finally~ have been accepted. I know I love Seattle and have been wanting to move back here (I did my undergrad here) for a while. All of the life-outside-of-academia things would line up quite nicely for me here. My partner is moving back here to finish school, so we could continue living together and not have to do x amount of years long distance. My friends are here, and I love the city. However, the program has serious problems. Because I will be entering with an MA the funding package is only four years because I would only take a year of coursework. As far as I can see the year of coursework has drawbacks and benefits, but I would basically have to hit the ground running. I also had a troubling conversation with the DGS, who didn't even try to convince me to pick UW. I've talked to four different grad students and they all had different experiences with completely different opinions. But I am absolutely in love with the campus. If this even matters. 

I should mention that strong cultural studies and interdisciplinary opportunities are imperative for me,  but I strongly believe that I would have this at all three of these programs. All three programs are comparable in ranking. Especially USC and UW at 33 and 35. But I am sensing that USC may have a bit more clout? It may be a question of location. I am honestly at my wits end with this decision process. I know it is an embarrassment of riches, but picking the ~right~ program has come to feel like an insurmountable decision (wrought with panic and stress) that I feel ill-equipped to make. 

Advice, anecdotes, commiseration are all deeply appreciated. 

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So, this is probably going to be a total non-answer, but it does sound like you are looking at something of a problem of location. Based on how little you mention about UMN, it seems like maybe you're already starting to rule them out (I could totally be misinterpreting that; stop me if I am!), and the real choice is USC vs. UW.

USC is a really good school, but if you've grown tired of the area and didn't feel quite like you fit with the program, that says something. Does the presence of your partner and your friends at UW override the concerns with the program there? There's something to be said for having a support network outside of school already in place, and if you know you'll be happy and comfortable in the area, you might be able to focus in on the best parts of their program and really get something good out of it. Again, though, that's only if you think that can trump your worries about the program; if you don't mind my asking, was the conversation you had with the DGS "troubling" for any reason other than their lack of enthusiasm in recruiting you?

Also, since someone is likely to bring this up later: You do want to consider how much your relationship with your partner means to you and this decision. I'm totally for doing what you can to stay together and make it all work -- I did this whole crazy dance with my partner, and we came to a very happy decision together. That said, I know from elsewhere on this forum and from my own peers that relationships and academia are often hard to juggle at the same time, and it is something that needs to be considered seriously.

You are right about this being a good problem to have, but that doesn't mean it's not a hard choice! I really hope we can help you pick the right school!

 

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So, I second what @Melvillage_Idiot says about UMN - it sounds like USC and UW are becoming the final two for you. As far as those two go, I empathize with you regarding your concerns about location. Granted, I just decided to decline the only offer I received this round because I was really unhappy with the location of the school (and there were some issues with the program as well). 

I'm one of those people who strongly believes that, even though PhD is a huge commitment, you aren't defined solely by being a PhD student. Or, to put it another way, you're a person outside of your PhD work. To me, it's really important to consider your overall happiness when committing to a program; life can be unpredictable, and committing to a program in a location you aren't happy with might be a big risk. That's not to say that committing to a program that you aren't 100% sure about (in the case of UW) is any less of a risk. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's perfectly okay to consider factors outside of your program. Although you might not be super happy with UW itself, do you think having your friends/partner/the city will make up for some of the issues with the program? Having a good support system outside of school could make up for a lot. 

I hope this helped at all! 

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@Melvillage_Idiot Thank you for your response! I will probably repeat this but I'm so grateful for this community, as we are such a small population of people going through very similar life decisions/following similar life paths and the shared experience on here is a relief from an otherwise isolating process. 

You are correct to interpret my post as a real decision between USC and UW. I keep coming back to UMN because it was a program where there were real "warm and fuzzies" for lack of better terms and a great fit. But I think it may be time for me to phase them out considering I'd much rather live in LA or Seattle.

I am trying to decide if the presence of my partner and friends overrides the concerns I have with the programs. I think if any of the other programs had the same issues as UW I would rule them out easily, and that fact really really troubles me. But I feel that I should mention that I trust myself to be resilient and to make the best out of any situation. I do believe that I will find a way to thrive out of sheer determination wherever I am. 

About my partner factoring into the decision: He is wonderful and lived with me in LA during my MA and we didn't have any problems with managing our relationship and academia. In fact, I felt incredibly comforted and supported by him throughout and he was always a welcome reprieve from the stresses of graduate school. All of this said, we are both very independent people and part of that for me means that I am very, very resistant to making any decision based on him and he doesn't want that either. We are both at a point in our lives where we want to do what's best for ourselves, even if that means that we have to do long distance for a while. 

Also, I want to add that I was born and raised in Denver, and I know the DU area very well, and I am SO EXCITED for the both of you!! Denver is fantastic and please feel free to PM me with any neighborhood-related questions, or if you want places to eat, where to hang out etc. :) Congrats! 

 

 

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24 minutes ago, agunns said:

I empathize with you regarding your concerns about location. Granted, I just decided to decline the only offer I received this round because I was really unhappy with the location of the school (and there were some issues with the program as well). 

Thank you so much for contributing and for sharing your own experience. I read your other thread about turning down your offer and I think you made the right choice. I have always lived in large and large(ish) cities and that is honestly a real priority for me and I would have made the same decision if posed with your dilemma. Especially if the location and the school aren’t right then you are right to wait it out and you will most likely have much better options next year. 

The fact that LA (as flawed as it is) is a large and active city is making it hard for me to justify turning it down purely based on location. Mostly because I realize that there are “worse” places to live far more incompatible with my need for the city life. LA is just ugh. It’s expensive and it’s ironically isolating because I don’t have any desire to spend hours in the car to travel over three miles. I certainly could make it work, but I would be bummed to have missed my ticket out. 

Its funny because I really dedicated everything to these applications directly after finishing my MA, so thinking about having a life outside of academia/ a PhD program is a new consideration. But an important one I think. So thank you for bringing that up. :)

 

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Can I just jump in and complicate this by saying that the winter in Minnesota sucks but it's not always like that. It's the land of 10,000 lakes and those lakes aren't always frozen. Fall, spring, and summer are great in Minnesota. The people are the nicest you'll ever meet. It's a great school. Minneapolis actually has a lot of culture. 

The faculty/course work/funding at Washington seem like huge red flags to me (no matter how much you like Seattle). 

I think it should come down to Minnesota and USC. In that case, the funding is better at USC and your main reason to not pick that school is that you're bored with LA.

My two cents as an observer with absolutely no consequences.

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Double post: That said, when my husband had the choice of a fellowship offer at UCLA or a TAship with on campus housing at UCSD, we chose UCSD because we hate LA and the traffic/higher rent.

I guess I'm team Minnesota.

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I was born in raised in Minneapolis and did my undergrad at UMN.  While yes, it is cold, I'll go to bat for it every time. It rates at or near the top in every major quality of life survey. It has world class theaters, museums, concert venues, parks, and natural resources.  It's also a clean, green city with walkable neighborhoods and the best biking culture in the country. And even in the winter, believe it or not, people still go out and take advantage of these things.

I really wouldn't let climate play too huge a role in where you end up going. My fiancé was born and raised in southern California, when she first moved to our current (northern, cold-weather, midwestern) city it was a freezing, cold, wet, rainy day and she says she almost vomited because she didn't see how she could live here.  She's been here for 10 years now between undergrad, masters and PhD and she loves it here and would prefer not to leave (fortunately for me, her experience here has made her amenable to possibly moving to Minneapolis one day if we're lucky enough to get jobs there).

All of our major cities have their charm and their benefit, I wouldn't rule any of them out based on the weather.  If you don't get a good vibe from UW (not trying to convince you to attend is a big red flag) and don't see yourself fitting in at USC, these should be just as important.  Being cold for a few years but thriving academically is one thing, being warm but in a bad work environment seems much much worse to me.

Edited by jrockford27
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23 minutes ago, jrockford27 said:

If you don't get a good vibe from UW (not trying to convince you to attend is a big red flag) and don't see yourself fitting in at USC, these should be just as important.  Being cold for a few years but thriving academically is one thing, being warm but in a bad work environment seems much much worse to me.

You’re right. I want to make excuses, but all I have to hang on is the cold. Otherwise, I hear nothing but great things about Minneapolis. Thriving academically is the priority for me. I know it might be the best program fit for me, I just don’t know if in reality I could actually go through with that decision, or I believe I would have already committed there by now. 

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28 minutes ago, clinamen said:

You’re right. I want to make excuses, but all I have to hang on is the cold. Otherwise, I hear nothing but great things about Minneapolis. Thriving academically is the priority for me. I know it might be the best program fit for me, I just don’t know if in reality I could actually go through with that decision, or I believe I would have already committed there by now. 

I think the Minnesota boosters might be on to something, especially knowing now that you and your partner are both independent enough to make a go of the long-distance if necessary. It does sound like maybe @Wooshkuh's proposition of USC and UM might be a better plan. Is there anything besides the climate that could push you away from UM? The part of the last post I've put in bold does suggest that there's still some hang-up other than the cold.

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1 hour ago, clinamen said:

Its funny because I really dedicated everything to these applications directly after finishing my MA, so thinking about having a life outside of academia/ a PhD program is a new consideration. But an important one I think. So thank you for bringing that up. :)

 

I totally get that! I did a one-year MA program which finished last June, and I've pretty much thought of nothing but PhD applications from the moment I graduated. So, to basically pour my entire life into these applications and then end up not committing to a program this round was definitely a wake-up call for me, and was the first time I really started to think about life outside of academia. Not to say that academia shouldn't be a huge part of your life. For me, when I went to Bloomington and talked to other graduate students, they basically indicated that they do nothing but go to work and then go home because there's not much else to do in the town. While I realize that being busy is a necessary part of a PhD program, I think I unconsciously was gravitating towards programs in larger towns/cities because I want to know that I can get a break from academia if I need it, whereas in a place like Bloomington you don't really have that option. While you can't pick a school solely based on location, I'm starting to realize that it is really important to consider your life outside of school; at the end of the day, it's important that you overall feel fulfilled by the program you choose, whatever that means for you.

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I'm going to give you advice based purely on these programs' reputations (which aren't reflected accurately in the US News rankings) rather than anything personal going on in your life:

Go to USC, go to USC, go to USC. 

USC is doing a better job of placing their students in what is a completely miserable job market. I run across their graduates all the time. I have rarely run across a graduate of UW (and, taking a look at their website, it seems that they are not very forthcoming about their placements). More importantly, the fact that their DGS isn't even going to bat for his/her own program ... holy smokes! Back away! That's a huge red flag. And four years of funding is likely not enough time to make it through a PhD program, even if one already has an MA. (Most people take a minimum of five.)

I'm less acquainted with UMN, but a glance at their placements page tells me that they are placing people, though not at the rate or caliber of schools that USC is. It's also less clear how they've placed recently. (The job market has really tanked in the last four years, so you should disregard information about placements from a decade ago.) 

And the fact that USC is offering you three years of fellowship? That's incredible, and quite a credit to you.

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I'd like to add a note here that part of USC's success is that it has one of the best dual Creative Writing and English PHD programs. If I remember correctly, the creative writing department is highly prized within the English department there and most students are part of the creative writing program within the department.

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5 minutes ago, Warelin said:

I'd like to add a note here that part of USC's success is that it has one of the best dual Creative Writing and English PHD programs. If I remember correctly, the creative writing department is highly prized within the English department there and most students are part of the creative writing program within the department.

This is exactly true. It created a different vibe because I feel like there was more excitement coming from (and perhaps directed towards) the Creative Writing half of the cohort. I wonder if the departmental attention paid to grad students will favor the creative writers or if there will be downsides to a program with courses and professors stratteling the two tracks. This is speculation, of course. But thank you for mentioning this @Warelin.

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34 minutes ago, Bumblebea said:

I'm going to give you advice based purely on these programs' reputations (which aren't reflected accurately in the US News rankings) rather than anything personal going on in your life:

Go to USC, go to USC, go to USC. 

USC is doing a better job of placing their students in what is a completely miserable job market. I run across their graduates all the time. I have rarely run across a graduate of UW (and, taking a look at their website, it seems that they are not very forthcoming about their placements). More importantly, the fact that their DGS isn't even going to bat for his/her own program ... holy smokes! Back away! That's a huge red flag. And four years of funding is likely not enough time to make it through a PhD program, even if one already has an MA. (Most people take a minimum of five.)

I'm less acquainted with UMN, but a glance at their placements page tells me that they are placing people, though not at the rate or caliber of schools that USC is. It's also less clear how they've placed recently. (The job market has really tanked in the last four years, so you should disregard information about placements from a decade ago.) 

And the fact that USC is offering you three years of fellowship? That's incredible, and quite a credit to you.

Thank you I value this perspective and what you’ve said has given me a lot to think about. It seems that USC might just be the middle ground/compromise location wise between the three and the better program overall.

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On 4/4/2018 at 1:51 PM, Warelin said:

I'd like to add a note here that part of USC's success is that it has one of the best dual Creative Writing and English PHD programs. If I remember correctly, the creative writing department is highly prized within the English department there and most students are part of the creative writing program within the department.

Their dual English-Creative Writing PhDs probably do benefit from being able to throw their hats into multiple rings for a job. (The job market favors being able to kill two birds with one stone and get the biggest bang for their buck. A person who can teach both creative writing and literature is definitely a prize because they save departments from having to hire two people.)

The fellowship offer from USC is still very attractive, though. 

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I say go to USC. I applied there twice and did not get in either time, however, one of my POIs there helped me with all of my applications and really went to bat for me in the Dept and wrote me letters of rec for all programs I applied to.

However, I am also a firm believer in going to the program that you think really fits YOU and will help YOU achieve your goals.

Luckily for me, my visit to U of D sealed the deal because of great faculty, location, courses, funding, and resources. 

Good luck making your decision!

 

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I’ve done some serious thinking about USC, and while it’s a fantastic program, I’ve realized that there are not enough (if any ☹️) faculty there for me to work with in my field. I had worries about fit there when I was applying, and looking back to the visit, it was the one school where I almost didn’t meet any faculty one on one and I find that alarming. I met one professor because I reached out after the visit but I’m not sure if his and my work gel. My friend in the program at USC had a talk with me as well that was very much an “I don’t know who you’d work with” talk. There are over ten professors that are in my field at UW. I think that at the end of the day finding professors to work with and to be in your corner is what will make a program great or not so great. I’d rather have more options than not. The chance to take classes in Geography on theorizing the city is also something that UW has that USC does not and I would say that the city is the cornerstone of my work. So I think that’s that! Thanks guys ?

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On 4/8/2018 at 2:11 PM, clinamen said:

I’ve done some serious thinking about USC, and while it’s a fantastic program, I’ve realized that there are not enough (if any ☹️) faculty there for me to work with in my field. I had worries about fit there when I was applying, and looking back to the visit, it was the one school where I almost didn’t meet any faculty one on one and I find that alarming. I met one professor because I reached out after the visit but I’m not sure if his and my work gel. My friend in the program at USC had a talk with me as well that was very much an “I don’t know who you’d work with” talk. There are over ten professors that are in my field at UW. I think that at the end of the day finding professors to work with and to be in your corner is what will make a program great or not so great. I’d rather have more options than not. The chance to take classes in Geography on theorizing the city is also something that UW has that USC does not and I would say that the city is the cornerstone of my work. So I think that’s that! Thanks guys ?

Whatever makes you happy in the long run. I would point out, though, that your interests may and probably will change. If the program admitted you, it is indeed because they think you "fit" with them. In this cutthroat era, they do not admit people they think won't gel with the program. They could just as easily admit someone else, but they didn't because they see something truly fascinating about your work.  

I went into my PhD program thinking I would specialize in naturalism/queerness/masculinities and after a year changed my specialization to something that piqued my interest in coursework. (Incidentally, the seminar paper I ended up writing at the end of my first year--on a novel I'd never heard of before that class--ended up winning me a pretty major article prize several years later.)

Obviously you should go with your gut and choose the program you think will make you happiest. But I'd also encourage you to keep your mind open to classes and possible angles you might encounter on the way.

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