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Dealing with the aftermath of deciding

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I am coming off of what feels like a string of amazing luck and yet I can't quite bring myself to feel happy about anything, because it has required a set of incredibly difficult decisions about my future. I applied to six PhD programs split between Canada and the US and I was lucky enough to be accepted to all of them. I visited each school and weighed the pros and cons of funding, POI, cost of living etc. and it ultimately came down to deciding between attending the program where I did my MA and a large, well-respected American ivy league school. I really tried not to let the "prestige factor" impact my decision, but everyone I spoke to still weighted it pretty heavily in terms of post-grad work and also spoke very highly of the program I ultimately selected. At the same time, this program offered full tuition coverage and a guaranteed stipend while the Canadian program offered great funding, but I would have to pay the tuition costs every year out of that stipend. I later found out that I was awarded a doctoral SSHRC that they would have let me keep the whole amount of, meaning that I could have been making equal to what I would make at a an early-career level position at any major museum. But, I didn't find out about the scholarship until after I had to make my decision. 

Now I'm dealing with the struggle of less financial security, because my chosen school doesn't really allow me to combine their stipend with my external award, and the costs of visas etc. that also would have been covered by some of the other American schools I declined. For reference, the major American competitor was a school of equal calibre, but one that I had heard very negative things about. It seemed to me that people in the program were not happy in general and not a single person I knew recommended that I should attend. But, they offered a larger financial package (in part due to higher cost of living), guaranteed access to campus housing and a better healthcare package than the school I chose. 

On top of ALL of this, I was blessed to be offered a year long contract position at a major museum as a curatorial assistant for a job I applied to mostly out of duty and did not expect to hear back from. 

In the end, I decided to turn down the position because I already have considerable museum experience and felt that I really should just get started on my PhD instead of delaying one more year. 

But now I am left feeling unsure about ALL of my decisions: did I pick the right school? Should I have taken the job and deferred my PhD (but I would have lost the scholarship)? Is it too late to change my mind?

How do I come to terms with my incredible good luck and feel good about my decisions instead of feeling gut wrenched by overanalyzing everything?


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We all have regrets when we make a big decision like this one. No one can tell you if you should've made a different decision. If you want, you could contact the major American competitor and see if they still have a spot for you, especially given the external award. They may say yes, they may say no, but you won't know unless you ask.* That said, money isn't everything. I took a less financially secure PhD offer because I had confidence both in myself and in the people I'd be working with that I'd become a better scholar if I went to that program. Was it a gamble? Yes. Did it work out? Yes, because I made it work out. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that there were times when I wished I had the extra money but a PhD is about far more than the money you receive while doing it. You have to think long-term about all of this and make the best decision(s) for your future. Before you go chasing the money, use a cost of living calculator to make sure you truly understand the difference with the higher cost of living. And keep in mind the negative experiences people had and whether that would also be your experience. Extra money may not help much if your program is full of people who are unhappy about being there.

*If you do go that route, I'd see if they're still willing to offer you the original funding or if you'd be relying solely on your Canadian award your first year.

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