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2019 Visit Days/Decisions

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3 hours ago, Nicator said:

Really wish I was able to attend Cornell's visit day. Unfortunately being Australian has its downsides. ūüėõ

See if they'll fly you over. I attended all of mine and one school booked my flights home with less than a weeks notice. 

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2 hours ago, sickeagle said:

Thanks for the input to you and @psstein. To clarify, School A offered me its best fellowship package, which actually requires 2 years of TAship, and then a third year free of teaching responsibilities. Not trying to sound self-important, but I think they wanted to give me strong incentive to attend up front -- it just so happens that their best award has a 3-year cap. In speaking with POI (who is also the DGS) he stated that he can guarantee a tuition waiver for year 4 and *most likely* a TAship or dissertation fellowship for years 4-6. As I already have an MA, I am hoping to finish PhD in 4 years, 5 at the most.

All of that said, since my original post a School C has entered the equation with 4 years of decent TAship stipend, a pot-sweetening scholarship for the first year, and assurance of lectureship for additional years. School C is the place where I got my MA, and accepts all MA coursework toward PhD, meaning I could finish there even more quickly... but cost-of-living is very high.

I wonder if anyone currently in a program can comment on how common such "assurances" are? Do most schools make such claims? Do they tend to come through on them, or is it just an attempt to get you in the door?

A LOT RIDING ON THESE CAMPUS VISITS!!

This doesn't make a ton of sense to me: they're giving you three years of fellowship, then two years of TAship? Or is it that you have three guaranteed fellowship years and that's it?

The "assurances" should be taken with a dose of salt. The stock market could crap out again tomorrow, which means that virtually all external funding/endowments go in the toilet. It's also worth noting that these aren't anything concrete. They're not on paper, they're not really oral contracts, so you can renege at any point without consequence. They're honored on a case by case basis. I know of people who've gotten screwed over by them, and people who've been fine with them.

Realistically speaking, you're not going to finish the PhD in 4 years. You might do it in 5, if you come in with a very good idea of what you want to do, have a program that cooperates with your moving ahead (this is a HUGE if), and don't have life get in the way. The average time to completion at most programs is something like 6.5. Many programs won't let you transfer a ton of MA credits either. Generally you'll get out of a thesis. This is an aside, but it's also my understanding that you become less competitive as a job candidate if you've taken an inordinate amount of time to complete ( @telkanuru or @OHSP, do you guys have any knowledge about that?).

Of the three offers you've discussed, I'd rank them as A, B, and C as a very distant 3rd. 4 years TAship and lectureship thereafter is a pretty heavy teaching load.

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2 hours ago, psstein said:

The "assurances" should be taken with a dose of salt. The stock market could crap out again tomorrow, which means that virtually all external funding/endowments go in the toilet. It's also worth noting that these aren't anything concrete. They're not on paper, they're not really oral contracts, so you can renege at any point without consequence. They're honored on a case by case basis. I know of people who've gotten screwed over by them, and people who've been fine with them.

YUP. Since starting (in 2017) our health insurance has been reduced and the once "virtually guaranteed" 6th year funding has become available only a competitive basis (this is across the school not the department, and the department's response has been very good, but shit happens etc). 

2 hours ago, psstein said:

Realistically speaking, you're not going to finish the PhD in 4 years. You might do it in 5, if you come in with a very good idea of what you want to do, have a program that cooperates with your moving ahead (this is a HUGE if), and don't have life get in the way. The average time to completion at most programs is something like 6.5. Many programs won't let you transfer a ton of MA credits either. Generally you'll get out of a thesis. This is an aside, but it's also my understanding that you become less competitive as a job candidate if you've taken an inordinate amount of time to complete ( @telkanuru or @OHSP, do you guys have any knowledge about that?).

I'd also add that you don't necessarily want to get it done in 4. Taking time to let your research interests evolve is important--and, more cynically, the more years you have in the PhD the more time you have to try and stack up a few things that (depending on your field and where you want to go after) can really, really matter--whether languages, prestigious grants/fellowships, publications, or serious teaching experience (running your own units, etc). I don't really have much insight into whether you're less competitive on the job market if you take an inordinate amount of time to complete, but that seems logical. 

Edited by OHSP

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1 hour ago, historygeek said:

This may be the wrong place to ask, but what would be appropriate dress for a visit/Admitted Students Day?

I've only been on one of these so far, but I think a nice version of your normal clothes is fine. I wore jeans and a nice sweater to the one visit I went to--and that was pretty much what everyone else wore, too. I would say avoid anything with holes or stains etc., but the whole visit was pretty casual. 

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1 hour ago, OHSP said:

YUP. Since starting (in 2017) our health insurance has been cut and the once "virtually guaranteed" 6th year funding has become available only a competitive basis (this is across the school not the department, and the department's response has been very good, but shit happens etc). 

 

Ditto. Funding at my program is is constant disarray, thanks to an austerity plan imposed by the trustees.

I still think it's valuable to ask as much as possible about funding on your visiting day, if only to suss out these fiscal crises. But once you accept, get everything in writing.

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2 hours ago, OHSP said:

YUP. Since starting (in 2017) our health insurance has been reduced and the once "virtually guaranteed" 6th year funding has become available only a competitive basis (this is across the school not the department, and the department's response has been very good, but shit happens etc). 

And this is why you unionize. 

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4 hours ago, psstein said:

Of the three offers you've discussed, I'd rank them as A, B, and C as a very distant 3rd. 4 years TAship and lectureship thereafter is a pretty heavy teaching load.

First off, many thanks to everyone who offered insights and advice! ( @TMP @OHSP @ashiepoo72 ). I am leaning toward School A (then C, then B), but will take you all up on your suggestions that I take post-fellowship assurances with a grain of salt. I appreciate the info on realistic time-to-degree expectations, too. School C (where I got MA) does state that it will accept all 30 MA credits toward 45 credit PhD, so in terms of coursework it might go more quickly, though teaching duties could bog it all down... School B is the lowest stipend, and all teaching-based... anyway I am still coming off the high of receiving offers and having initial contact with depts., now I need get into all the details with POIs now and see how much I can get on paper. And visit, to do good by my gut.

Thanks again!

ps. Sorry for any A,B,C confusion... started with that, then stuck with it, then got in the weeds.

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Just now, sickeagle said:

First off, many thanks to everyone who offered insights and advice! ( @TMP @OHSP @ashiepoo72 ). I am leaning toward School A (then C, then B), but will take you all up on your suggestions that I take post-fellowship assurances with a grain of salt. I appreciate the info on realistic time-to-degree expectations, too. School C (where I got MA) does state that it will accept all 30 MA credits toward 45 credit PhD, so in terms of coursework it might go more quickly, though teaching duties could bog it all down... School B is the lowest stipend, and all teaching-based... anyway I am still coming off the high of receiving offers and having initial contact with depts., now I need get into all the details with POIs now and see how much I can get on paper. And visit, to do good by my gut.

Thanks again!

ps. Sorry for any A,B,C confusion... started with that, then stuck with it, then got in the weeds.

It's not just how long it'll take. It's also about other funding concerns. Are there conference and travel funds? Conferences are expensive as it is. Is there enough money for you to focus on research during the summers, or will you have to take up another job?

Don't think of it in terms of credits. Think of it in terms of time. Teaching every semester will delay you from finishing faster. Teaching can be a very draining experience. I find it pretty tough to write (or really do anything outside of light reading) after I come home from teaching, and I don't have an awful student load.

Also, which one has the best placement? Knowing nothing else, I'd bet A has a better record.

 

 

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10 hours ago, OHSP said:

See if they'll fly you over. I attended all of mine and one school booked my flights home with less than a weeks notice. 

From what I was told in the initial email they could only offer a certain amount of funding for the travel - nowhere near enough to get me there and back from Australia. Primary supervisor offered to Skype instead, which we'll do soon. Appreciate the heads up/advice though!

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1 hour ago, Nicator said:

From what I was told in the initial email they could only offer a certain amount of funding for the travel - nowhere near enough to get me there and back from Australia. Primary supervisor offered to Skype instead, which we'll do soon. Appreciate the heads up/advice though!

I‚Äôm not sure if I mentioned that I was also flying from Australia to the east coast‚ÄĒthere are often (at schools like these) weird pockets of secret money that only appear when you ask if they exist. I‚Äôd just ask, visits are crucial.

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1 hour ago, OHSP said:

I‚Äôm not sure if I mentioned that I was also flying from Australia to the east coast‚ÄĒthere are often (at schools like these) weird pockets of secret money that only appear when you ask if they exist. I‚Äôd just ask, visits are crucial.

I'll ask - appreciate the advice

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I just wanted to thank everyone for the fantastic advice in this thread! Taking some notes while I wait for my flight. :)

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17 hours ago, psstein said:

The "assurances" should be taken with a dose of salt. The stock market could crap out again tomorrow, which means that virtually all external funding/endowments go in the toilet. It's also worth noting that these aren't anything concrete. They're not on paper, they're not really oral contracts, so you can renege at any point without consequence. They're honored on a case by case basis. I know of people who've gotten screwed over by them, and people who've been fine with them.

 

15 hours ago, AfricanusCrowther said:

I still think it's valuable to ask as much as possible about funding on your visiting day, if only to suss out these fiscal crises. But once you accept, get everything in writing.

Probably a very obvious question: when you accept an offer, do you sign a contract? "Assurances" that aren't in writing can certainly be changed at will; but to what extent can "guarantees" from the initial offer be changed?

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1 minute ago, Balleu said:

 

Probably a very obvious question: when you accept an offer, do you sign a contract? "Assurances" that aren't in writing can certainly be changed at will; but to what extent can "guarantees" from the initial offer be changed?

You sign a contract when you accept the offer.  You want everything in writing.  Assurances is different from guaranteed. People use "assurances" here to say that their POIs/DGS have reassured them verbally/over e-mail that they will get X but will not be on the final contract.  You want your final contract to reflect what you are actually going to get.

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3 hours ago, Balleu said:

 

Probably a very obvious question: when you accept an offer, do you sign a contract? "Assurances" that aren't in writing can certainly be changed at will; but to what extent can "guarantees" from the initial offer be changed?

@TMP has nailed it, but I'd also highlight that this isn't as solid a contract as you'd hope. Most (all?) of these funding sources depend upon "satisfactory progress," which is the most nebulous term I can think of, but it's the way it's described.

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@TMP and @psstein have been hammering the writing aspect pretty hard for a very good reason. We need to uphold our end of the contract (TAing, exams, research, etc.) and the university needs to uphold their end, too. I also recommend reading the fine print in both your funding letter and acceptance letter. You will learn how the funding will change according to a change in tuition, and even how/why your funding may be pulled - plus a boatload of other small, but important facts about your program and contract. The fine print will be in legal terms, but read it and take it to heart. For example, I learned that my funding will be adjusted to inflation only if the annual inflation rate jumps over 3.5%, which it has not done in almost 40 years. Anything below 3.5% is considered as a big old LOL. So, my funding seems like it increases every year, but that is highly dependent on the state of the economy, not my overall progression through the degree.

Edited by Tigla

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20 hours ago, psstein said:

It's not just how long it'll take. It's also about other funding concerns. Are there conference and travel funds? Conferences are expensive as it is. Is there enough money for you to focus on research during the summers, or will you have to take up another job?

Don't think of it in terms of credits. Think of it in terms of time. Teaching every semester will delay you from finishing faster. Teaching can be a very draining experience. I find it pretty tough to write (or really do anything outside of light reading) after I come home from teaching, and I don't have an awful student load.

Also, which one has the best placement? Knowing nothing else, I'd bet A has a better record.

 

 

A million times this. This year I (voluntarily) have the most intense teaching load of my career, and it's utterly draining mentally, physically, time-wise. Lots of really great schools are squeezed for money and fund mostly via TAships, I totally get this, but if you have a choice between comparable programs--one that offers some fellowship years versus one that's entirely funded on teaching--accept the one with the fellowships. I cannot stress it enough how important money is to completing a rigorous dissertation in a reasonable amount of time. Cannot stress it enough.

Here's the most valuable tip I will ever give new grad students: get your money. Start with negotiating with the departments you choose if you can, then get in the habit of spending at least 10-20 minutes a day working on funding sources, whether internal or external (researching potential grants/fellowships, updating a funding spreadsheet, drafting grant proposals etc etc). Some days, take a good hour to really dig into it. Funding, or a lack thereof, can make or break you. Will make or break you--either from being spread too thin and producing a mediocre dissertation, or through physical/mental deterioration from juggling teaching, conferences, publishing, research and dissertating, not to mention your personal life.

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I completely agree with all above that the less teaching you have to do the better, because it is time intensive, draining, and keeps you tethered to campus and unable to visit archives, go to conferences, etc.  However, since almost all funding offers involve some amount of teaching, it may also be helpful to get some more information about what "teaching" involves at different schools when you compare offers. Some potential questions: How many quarters/semesters counts as a year of teaching? How much flexibility do you have for picking when you teach? How many students do TA's usually have, and what is the maximum? What are the normal responsibilities for TAs (grading, section leading, office hours)? Are there resources in the department or through the university to help TAs with the nitty-gritty of teaching? 

In terms of evaluating funding opportunities, I think some other things to ask about is the range of funding options i.e. are people mostly going to the same few sources or are there many options, and how grad students feel funding has or hasn't effected their own work i.e. have they had to adjust projects because they can't find money? Does money tend to turn up under pressure? Are there often promises of resources that don't appear?

This discussion usually leans towards funding options for years 5-7 when it feels especially pressing, but these are really valid questions for years 1-4 too especially for languages and pre-dissertation research. 

 

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Hi everyone, I'm a long time lurker on these forums and will probably post more as I come to making decisions (I have three offers that I'm deciding between). I'm an international student and can't go on any of the visit days due to visa issues, so I've been emailing and will skype with my POIs to help me decide. One of my three offers is probably the one I will accept but I haven't fully committed to it yet because it is such a big decision. I'm not sure how open to be about this with the POIs -- one of them at another choice has suggested he could advocate for housing for me to help me make my decision, so I'm torn between being transparent and telling him that I'm leaning towards another option but would like still like to talk over the phone, or not and letting him do so. I don't want him to feel like I'm wasting his time. Generally, I'm just finding this quite difficult to navigate in a way that doesn't drag it out but also allows me to consider everything! 

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44 minutes ago, birvxine said:

Hi everyone, I'm a long time lurker on these forums and will probably post more as I come to making decisions (I have three offers that I'm deciding between). I'm an international student and can't go on any of the visit days due to visa issues, so I've been emailing and will skype with my POIs to help me decide. One of my three offers is probably the one I will accept but I haven't fully committed to it yet because it is such a big decision. I'm not sure how open to be about this with the POIs -- one of them at another choice has suggested he could advocate for housing for me to help me make my decision, so I'm torn between being transparent and telling him that I'm leaning towards another option but would like still like to talk over the phone, or not and letting him do so. I don't want him to feel like I'm wasting his time. Generally, I'm just finding this quite difficult to navigate in a way that doesn't drag it out but also allows me to consider everything! 

I'm in a similar situation (also an international student), so I really relate to what you're going through. I¬†wouldn't worry about wasting people's time (which I understand might be one of your concerns), because it's perfectly reasonable for your POIs and other faculty and staff to spend some time talking to you over the phone or doing whatever is in their hands to recruit you. If you are accepted it means they really want you, so for them it's part of the process to spend time and other resources in order to ‚Äúseduce¬†you‚ÄĚ - I kind of hate this metaphor, but it really feels like that, doesn't it? I'm about to decline an offer and I feel terrible about it, nervous, fearful, like I'm gonna break someone's heart!¬†Yikes! Then I remember I'm not that important. For instance, I have been invited by one of the schools to a campus visit and they are paying for everything and are being extra nice and supportive. This would never happen in my country, and I feel I'm accepting a very expensive gift that I shouldn't accept, especially if I'm not completely sure I will attend this program. But again, it's part of the process. So make all the questions you need to make in order to make an informed decision. And although I wouldn't make a big deal out of it, I would definitely be honest with this POI about the fact that you are considering more options, and are still in the process of making decisions.¬†

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1 hour ago, birvxine said:

Hi everyone, I'm a long time lurker on these forums and will probably post more as I come to making decisions (I have three offers that I'm deciding between). I'm an international student and can't go on any of the visit days due to visa issues, so I've been emailing and will skype with my POIs to help me decide. One of my three offers is probably the one I will accept but I haven't fully committed to it yet because it is such a big decision. I'm not sure how open to be about this with the POIs -- one of them at another choice has suggested he could advocate for housing for me to help me make my decision, so I'm torn between being transparent and telling him that I'm leaning towards another option but would like still like to talk over the phone, or not and letting him do so. I don't want him to feel like I'm wasting his time. Generally, I'm just finding this quite difficult to navigate in a way that doesn't drag it out but also allows me to consider everything! 

Stick to your gut. These kinds of decisions are similar to weighing marriage proposals.  You just have to pick one partner to be with for the next 5-7 years. Have you talked with graduate students?  They can help you for sure; ask the Director of Graduate Studies and your POIs to connect with international students in your program.  These students can give you a real clarity on the process from accepting an offer to logistics of moving to the US to navigating the University's bureaucracy. 

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7 hours ago, cyborg213 said:

I'm in a similar situation (also an international student), so I really relate to what you're going through. I¬†wouldn't worry about wasting people's time (which I understand might be one of your concerns), because it's perfectly reasonable for your POIs and other faculty and staff to spend some time talking to you over the phone or doing whatever is in their hands to recruit you. If you are accepted it means they really want you, so for them it's part of the process to spend time and other resources in order to ‚Äúseduce¬†you‚ÄĚ - I kind of hate this metaphor, but it really feels like that, doesn't it? I'm about to decline an offer and I feel terrible about it, nervous, fearful, like I'm gonna break someone's heart!¬†Yikes! Then I remember I'm not that important. For instance, I have been invited by one of the schools to a campus visit and they are paying for everything and are being extra nice and supportive. This would never happen in my country, and I feel I'm accepting a very expensive gift that I shouldn't accept, especially if I'm not completely sure I will attend this program. But again, it's part of the process. So make all the questions you need to make in order to make an informed decision. And although I wouldn't make a big deal out of it, I would definitely be honest with this POI about the fact that you are considering more options, and are still in the process of making decisions.¬†

It does feel like that and it's kind of disconcerting after spending so many months hoping to impress these people. I guess it's a bit of imposter syndrome already creeping in which I'm trying to keep a handle on. You're right about turning down an offer feeling so daunting but the perspective that at the end of the day, it's not that important is exactly it! Thanks for your words of reassurance :)

6 hours ago, TMP said:

Stick to your gut. These kinds of decisions are similar to weighing marriage proposals.  You just have to pick one partner to be with for the next 5-7 years. Have you talked with graduate students?  They can help you for sure; ask the Director of Graduate Studies and your POIs to connect with international students in your program.  These students can give you a real clarity on the process from accepting an offer to logistics of moving to the US to navigating the University's bureaucracy. 

Thank you for this advice! I was planning to ask to speak to current graduate students but asking to speak to other internationals is definitely a good idea. 

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I'm leaving for a visit tonight and I wanted to say I really appreciate all the advice in this thread and I'll be asking about these things. Thanks!

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