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PhD offer with concerning placements


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Hello everyone,

In the last week before the decision deadline, I am debating between a PhD offer and a funded masters offer. The PhD is fairly low tier/low ranked school for my discipline, and my adviser is just in the beginning of their career. My academic goal and my current interests are of course to do research at the doctoral level, so many people are confused why I am having any dilemma over the two. My problem is that the PhD program, for my specific department, has had questionable placement history. It's not so much that it's "bad" placements-- people were able to find jobs. They are almost all in teaching institutions and no longer doing research. While it's reassuring that many people were able to find jobs, it's kind of discouraging that no one from any of the graduating classes has been able to break into any R1 schools. I also asked about any students that have been able to obtain post docs, and so far it seems like only one student from our department has done so. Again, it kind of concerns me. The one big career positive that the school likes to talk about, however, is the prospect of industry jobs. It seems that people have had more success with getting research positions within some prestigious tech companies, but the recruitment and placement data they're referring to is heavily made up of cognitive grads. The PhD acceptance I received is for a discipline outside of cognitive or human factors psychology, so I'm concerned that I won't be able to make my work applicable enough to get hired by these industries. I know that the motivation behind doing a PhD should be the love of research in an academic setting, but I have to make sure I meet in the middle between my passions and my (and my family's) need for financial stability. Also forgot to mention-- the program isn't fully funded, at least not guaranteed. Everyone says they're able to get funding for the years that aren't guaranteed through other means, but this is kind of scary, especially when I know that many comparable universities usually offer full funding.

So now that I've laid out the context of this issue, the dilemma is basically:
I'm concerned that I'm going into a PhD program with a very narrow pathway for myself to get a job worth the return of the time/labor/opportunity cost of a PhD AND allow me to continue doing research beyond my degree. Specifically, it's highly unlikely at this moment that I would get a tenure track job at an R1 school from this program. Of course, I know this is a difficult position to obtain from ANY PhD given how rough the academic job market is, but it's demoralizing to see that no one from our department has been able to get into an R1 school, with or without post doc. What I would need to do, is go into this program with at least the idea to make my work versatile enough to eventually land me an industry job in case, but that's difficult to do as a non-cognitive, non-human factors student. On top of this, pursuing such a research trajectory is very different from what I originally told my adviser, and may blatantly seem like I'm trying to go after industry jobs. Also, I'm still in undergrad and I realized through this application process that my research interests have changed quite a bit. I didn't really know what was out there for me to consider, and now I'm rethinking the research match between me and my potential adviser. This is also another reason why I feel like I should gain some more research experience and reapply.

Given all of these concerns, my other option is to turn down the offer and reapply after doing some intensive work to make my application a lot better. This is with the hope that I'll get into programs with better placement records. That way I don't have to feel like there's only one possible career path that is realistically available for me to feel financially secure about. Right now, I'm thinking of doing this through taking on the funded research masters as this program has a reputation for doing well in preparing students for quality PhD programs. I am also going to make sure I spend my summers taking up any volunteer research positions and programs, in case the masters isn't research-heavy enough for my purposes.

Am I being too naive about this? Or conversely, am I thinking too much?
Thank you all in advance! I'm really sorry for how long this post is. I need to learn how to write concisely...

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I think that you have a great idea of what you're looking to do and that taking the funded masters to get into an ideal PhD program aligned more closely with your interests makes sense also. I think that taking the PhD program that doesn't closely match your interests would not help your productivity in trying to complete the degree. 

Though the masters is funded would you still be taking on debt to complete the degree? I'd talk to current students/alumni to see if they thought that any debt was worth it and see if there are alternative funding opportunities to help cover the rest of the cost.

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I would go for the masters'. 

I'm currently in a masters' program that's known for being great as a sort of "PhD prep" program and now I'm planning on attending a doctoral program that has great placement at R1s (I don't even necessarily know that I want to go that route but it's nice I have the option). 

You need to think about where you're going to get a job - and if what you want is an R1 institution/research gig - that you should go for a masters and apply to doctoral programs that have a good placement record. 

You don't have to accept a doctoral offer just because it's a doctoral offer. 

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