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Post your decision-making process and factors

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Hi all! I want to start a thread that's about general decision-making practices rather than asking for input or advice on one individual's choice between specific programs. I think it might be a helpful exercise for folks to post two things: the factors they're considering when making a decision, and the process they're using to sift through those factors and arrive at a conclusion. I know it would be helpful to me to hear what other people are doing.

I'll go first.

Factors that are important to me:

  • Funding offers (How much is the stipend and what, if anything, are my teaching responsibilities? Can I hold other jobs while funded?)
  • Adviser/faculty members (How close is their research to my interests? How well do we get along?)
  • Program requirements (e.g. one program requires master's-level statistics competency coming in, while the other teaches it as part of the degree)
  • Course offerings (Which courses interest me the most? Which offer the best preparation for my dissertation?)
  • Institutional resources (campuses abroad, research and conference support)
  • Additional credentials offered (graduate minors or certificates)
  • Department character and priorities (Is the atmosphere competitive or collegial? Are they focused on academic or non-academic career training?)
  • Location and commute (If School A offers me more money but is a two-hour round trip from my home, is it still a good deal?)
  • Placement of graduates
  • Cohort of dynamic, engaged, and diverse students

Processes I'm using to sift through these factors:

  • Listing courses that excite me at each school and comparing
  • Attending advertised recruitment day; seeking an individual visit if there is no recruitment day. Would like to meet and talk with current students.
  • Emailing/meeting with faculty and potential advisers
  • Discussing the options with my current colleagues and previous advisers
  • Talking it over with my spouse

That's where I am so far. I'd love to hear what others are considering -- maybe you're thinking about something that hasn't occurred to me!

I did also look up the rankings of the two schools I'm considering, but I really don't know if that's an important factor for me. I'm also not sure whose rankings (if any) to trust, or what metrics are most important. If anyone out there uses rankings as a decision-making factor, I'd love to hear more about where you got those rankings and how you use them.

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Oh, and here's another thing I did, though I'm not sure if it has influenced me yet or not. I added both schools/programs on Twitter and I've been watching what they promote.

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Factors (which may have been implicitly included in the ones you listed)

  • Career development support (academia vs industry, recruitment event with potential employers, professional skill workshops, how many years of full support post-graduation?)
  • International students/scholars support (cultural events, visa and tax workshops)
  • Prestige (is this what you meant by ranking?)
  • Whether there's an undergrad population, or TA/mentorship opportunities
  • Lab rotation setup (only applicable to sciences; how many, for how long)

A note about prestige: for an international student heading back to their home country after graduation, reputation of the institution can be a huge factor affecting employment opportunities, at least for the first job. This, of course, varies largely across fields and country pairs.

Also for an international student, whether there's a required language (e.g. English) course could also be a huge annoyance. Some schools outsource these classes to for-profit organizations (who have an incentive to fail you so you need to retake it), and/or require you to come a few weeks early, possibly at your own expense.

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A lot of my decision making came down before I even applied.  

I looked at faculty first and foremost, and how their research aligned with my own ideas.  Since I want to continue to a PhD, I looked at the foundations of those masters programs, and also checked into what the schools offered as the next step, even if I apply elsewhere when the time comes.

Being lucky enough to get into my top choice, it's a no-brainer for me but I am waiting on final funding offers before I decline the other program I got into.  

I also looked at the cost and distance of relocation.  What both the states and cities were like as far as politics and progress since I may be there longer than just two years.  However, good advice I got from several professor friends was to not look at the cities as much as the programs and professors.  That's where I'll be spending the bulk of my energy and focus, so everything else is secondary.

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