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Funding verus Research Fit and Career


FrozenIceman
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Gradcafers, 

I need some advice on my current situation.

I was fortunately accepted by two schools in the field of Electrical Engineering. 

 

School A accepted me into their PhD program with funding (tuition wavier and stipend). 

However, the School A is a small state school in a remote college town and does not have a well-equipped and supported groups and labs for my interests. Frankly speaking the only reason I would choose School A over B is because School A provides me funding. I have a strong intention to go on to PhD and the odds are if I were decided to attend School A, I will leave with my master's which means I will have to notify my POI my intention to leave the group after one year and who knows if my POI will be supportive on my application. 

 

School B accepted me into their MS program without funding. 

School B is definitely much more reputable in my field of interest. A very good amount of professors and groups working on my interested area. Great lab and equipment. Much more class offerings on the subject as well. Great city and much more job and internship opportunities. If I were decided to attend School B, I'm quite certain I will stay for my PhD as well. 

The only thing holding me back on School B is the finance. I could only afford my first year of tuition and living expenses with my current savings. I thought about going to School B first and try to find funding afterwards but that sounds like a very risky move and I have no ideas what are the odds for someone to find funding without a designated advisor. 

 

So Gradcafers, which school will you choose if you were in my shoes?

Go to School A for funding, build a better profile for future PhD application and bear with application hassle and the awkward situation to ask my advisor to support my application?

Or Go to School B, pay the price for the first year to get a good start, but risk putting myself in financial hardship if I cannot secure any funding after the first year?

 

Thank you in advance. 

 

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I agree with @rising_star, if I were in your shoes, I would not attend either school. I would only go to graduate school if I were accepted to a program that had good funding, good research fit, and will provide me with good career options. Otherwise, grad school is not worth it.

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Thank you rising_star and TakeruK for the reply. 

Unfortunately reapplying next year is not an option I'm considering for two reasons. 

First one being I do not think my application profile will be any different from this year. 

I graduated two years ago and since then working a full-time job in the field of engineering but not in my intended speciality. I do not see myself finding a new position more related to the field or finding research/ publication opportunities which I did not have in my undergraduate studies.

The second one is arguably my worst nightmare. As I mentioned before I was out of school for awhile, and I had to exhaust my very limited acemadia connections to find 3 recommenders. And I certainly do not want to bother them again to go through all the LOR submission. 

 

Do you see there is anyway for me to make the best out of this situation?

 

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I see. I think it is important to take a step back and consider why you want a PhD in electrical engineering at this time. Then consider what it is worth to you. If you have been working after your undergraduate and have money saved up for a Masters program and you feel that spending that money would be a good investment in yourself, then School B might be a good idea if you think it's worth your savings. Another similar option is to tell School B that you are very interested in their program but you need to save more money first since you don't have funding from them. Ask if they can defer your admissions for 1 year, so that you can work for 1 more year and save up more money. 

However, another good option, in my opinion, is to not do graduate school at all. In your shoes, I would probably choose this option and not spend the money or time to switch fields in electrical engineering. But this is a very personal choice, so it's up to you what is worth your time and money. 

And yet another option is to take School A and change your interests to match what school A has to offer. If I was in a position where I needed a PhD to advance my career, but I was not able to get in a PhD program for my intended field, I would instead do a PhD in another field and follow that career path instead.

Finally, keep in mind that while you do need academic letters of reference, if you have been out of school for awhile, it is usually okay to have 1 or 2 letters from non-academics (depending on your situation). That said, I think you can definitely ask for letters again next year. However, if your current work isn't academic, I see you point about not really improving much next year. Still, if you apply to a different set of schools, you might be able to get into one with funding (like School A) but perhaps in a field/area more interesting to you.

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22 hours ago, FrozenIceman said:

Thank you rising_star and TakeruK for the reply. 

Unfortunately reapplying next year is not an option I'm considering for two reasons. 

First one being I do not think my application profile will be any different from this year. 

I graduated two years ago and since then working a full-time job in the field of engineering but not in my intended speciality. I do not see myself finding a new position more related to the field or finding research/ publication opportunities which I did not have in my undergraduate studies.

The second one is arguably my worst nightmare. As I mentioned before I was out of school for awhile, and I had to exhaust my very limited acemadia connections to find 3 recommenders. And I certainly do not want to bother them again to go through all the LOR submission. 

 

Do you see there is anyway for me to make the best out of this situation?

 

You can build up your academic profile/connections by taking courses at a nearby university as a non degree student. There is also a good chance these courses will transfer to you PhD institution. You get recommendations plus relaxed requirements at your new school. I did this. It worked. PM me.

If you absolutely have to go to School B (bad idea), make sure it is not one of the diploma mills (admits tons of MS students for pricey 1 year participation trophies). A way to check if School B is one of the diploma mills is to see what the ratio of MS degrees to PhD degrees granted is. Top programs have 3 or fewer MS degrees granted per PhD. Diploma mills are usually at 6 MS to 1 PhD degree ratio or worse. The reason this ratio matters is because it gives you a sense for how much access you will have to resources - professors, RAs, TAS, etc .... A high ratio means you are fighting with a lot of MS students for attention relative to the size of the school's research program.

This is obvious but worth saying - if school B is printing 10 MS degrees for each PhD, there isn't a lot of room in the program for MS students to enter the PhD program.

Edited by DiscoTech
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