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Berkeley vs UMich vs Rice vs North Carolina State

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I've applied to each of these schools for a PhD focusing on Environmental Engineering. I'd love to hear perspectives from others on the benefits of one school over another.

All of them have offered me pretty good funding packages so finances aren't a huge determinant separating one school from another. On the other hand, my POIs at Berkeley and UMich are senior faculty with busier schedules and more responsibilities, but have big names that carry weight. My POIs at Rice and NC State are very young assistant professors that are in the early stages of building their groups, but are high energy and very supportive and hands on. I'm interested in a career in academia so i'm torn between having a big name behind me and having the experience of working along someone building and growing their lab as I will have to do in the future.

All of the professors are nice and friendly with research that I find intriguing although some are more field based and others are lab based.

Any insight helps. Thanks!

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Assistant professors have no placement track record, are unlikely to have an established funding pipeline, and you will carry the weight of their tenure aspirations. 

Yes, they will be more hands on. But they could be micromanagers. They will be full of news ideas and very energetic. But they might expect you to share that energy by putting in long hours. 

Building someone's lab from the ground up would be a valuable experience. Is it worth the risk though?


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I think if you are really interested in academia, both Michigan and Berkeley give you more prestigious universities and bigger name professors. Are you a good independent worker? If you are you should totally be fine with going to the busier POI. How were the students in those labs did they seem to have a good time? I think that’s a more important measure. If you think you need more guidance you can still get it by working with older students as well.

So honestly not a very professional opinion but you have some great options and I would focus on seeing where you have better research fit and lab culture fit. If you have that with Berkeley or Michigan I would go for one of them. 

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In the academic job market, having a bigger name behind you (and the connections that brings) is better for you than observing a new assistant prof build their lab. But that's not the best reason to work with a new assistant professor; they are sometimes more productive (because they have to be), and they are sometimes working on more cutting-edge/interesting stuff. Productive, in-demand stuff are also important on the job market.

However, it's not always the case that newer/younger/less advanced professors are doing those things. It really depends on the individual professor. It's difficult to answer this question for you, because the real considerations are the research opportunities you have with these PIs and how their work styles and personalities mesh with yours.

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