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Trying to decide between two different cultures?


fifth
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Hi everyone! So, like many of you, I'm freakin' out. I'm having a lot of trouble stuck between a couple of great options and any help/advice/guidance/personal anecdotes/anything would be so, so helpful- I'm losing my mind a little bit. 

For starters: I'm deciding between neuroscience PhD programs, which involve a year of rotations in the first year. I'm generally confident in my research area of interest, but I'm not 1000% sold on it.

School L has a lab that I really like in my primary area of interest; I get along really well with everyone, the vibe is super laid-back and social, the professor is productive (mostly PNAS-type journals), and the research is interesting to me. It's also located where my partner lives, which is definitely a plus; I like the area and it feels like an adventure to move. School T is ranked between top 5-10 depending on the list, though they don't seem to produce many faculty members at top 5 schools (which is unfortunately the dream). I'm also concerned that there's really only one lab at School T that I'm very interested in– if I go through first year rotations and decide I want to do something else, most of the driving force for choosing School T (lab/advisor/lab culture) is no longer even applicable.

School S is consistently ranked #1 in my field and has ~5-6 powerhouse labs whose research I'm interested in (churning out Nature/Science papers). The labs are post-doc heavy, seem lighter on advisor interaction (professors feel somewhat aloof), and there's definitely more ego to deal with. I don't feel super well-aligned with the overall vibe, but I get along reasonably well with the students, the research is cutting-edge and crazy interesting, and there are professors in every subfield I'm interested in who would be excellent people to work under in terms of future career prospects. It's located where I live now: staying here feels a little boring and my partner doesn't live here (which would be a major downside), but I do love the area and I'd have a strong support system built-in. 

If it's helpful, I'm happy to give actual school names to gauge. Any help would be very much appreciated!!

Edited by fifth
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20 minutes ago, rising_star said:

What's the ranking and placement like at School L? How does that compare to the placement at School S?

US News ranks School L at 10 globally; NRC ranks it at 6. My POI has placed a postdoc and a past grad student in TT positions at top 100 R1 universities, and his 3 past graduate students are doing postdocs at top 20 programs. Of my probable main POI at School S's 12 past PhD students, about half have gone into industry and half are in postdoc or TT positions at top 10 programs. 

Edited by fifth
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11 hours ago, fifth said:

Hi everyone! So, like many of you, I'm freakin' out. I'm having a lot of trouble stuck between a couple of great options and any help/advice/guidance/personal anecdotes/anything would be so, so helpful- I'm losing my mind a little bit. 

For starters: I'm deciding between neuroscience PhD programs, which involve a year of rotations in the first year. I'm generally confident in my research area of interest, but I'm not 1000% sold on it.

School L has a lab that I really like in my primary area of interest; I get along really well with everyone, the vibe is super laid-back and social, the professor is productive (mostly PNAS-type journals), and the research is interesting to me. It's also located where my partner lives, which is definitely a plus; I like the area and it feels like an adventure to move. School T is ranked between top 5-10 depending on the list, though they don't seem to produce many faculty members at top 5 schools (which is unfortunately the dream). I'm also concerned that there's really only one lab at School T that I'm very interested in– if I go through first year rotations and decide I want to do something else, most of the driving force for choosing School T (lab/advisor/lab culture) is no longer even applicable.

School S is consistently ranked #1 in my field and has ~5-6 powerhouse labs whose research I'm interested in (churning out Nature/Science papers). The labs are post-doc heavy, seem lighter on advisor interaction (professors feel somewhat aloof), and there's definitely more ego to deal with. I don't feel super well-aligned with the overall vibe, but I get along reasonably well with the students, the research is cutting-edge and crazy interesting, and there are professors in every subfield I'm interested in who would be excellent people to work under in terms of future career prospects. It's located where I live now: staying here feels a little boring and my partner doesn't live here (which would be a major downside), but I do love the area and I'd have a strong support system built-in. 

If it's helpful, I'm happy to give actual school names to gauge. Any help would be very much appreciated!!

Ah, sorry! School L and School T are the same school-- I changed the letter while I was writing. There are only two I'm deciding between: School L/T, and School S. 

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Seems like there's not really a bad choice to make here -- both are extremely highly ranked and will have super exciting research going on! If you can, you might want to talk more to the advisor at School L/T and possibly also students in their lab, to feel more confident in whether you really want to join that lab. 

Could you also elaborate more on the 'overall vibe' at S? I feel like egos might be an issue anywhere, so if you're able to get past that aspect S might be a less risky choice with lots of possible research options. 

Edited by eevee
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1 hour ago, eevee said:

Seems like there's not really a bad choice to make here -- both are extremely highly ranked and will have super exciting research going on! If you can, you might want to talk more to the advisor at School L/T and possibly also students in their lab, to feel more confident in whether you really want to join that lab. 

Could you also elaborate more on the 'overall vibe' at S? I feel like egos might be an issue anywhere, so if you're able to get past that aspect S might be a less risky choice with lots of possible research options. 

Yeah, definitely! Though school L/T is highly ranked, their placements are definitely not comparable to those of School S, which is the only thing that gives me pause. I've visited the lab at L/T to speak with their students, who seem great. He isn't well-known, though, while my POIs at School S are more established and I know they're excellent, methodologically sound researchers. I think you're right that egos would be an issue anywhere– it's more that School L/T is uniquely GREAT in that sense, rather than School S being particularly bad. I think it comes down to lifestyle. I'd enjoy being in a laid-back environment with a relaxed advisor at School L/T, while School S is generally much more serious and the work/life balance is not so good (the tradeoff for having much more variety + interesting research, and better placements). 

Edited by fifth
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