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Should I turn down my (potentially) only offer?


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So I've been accepted to UCSD PhD for the fall but the funding situation seems really confusing and unstable. They don't guarantee funding at all, it's up to me to secure it. I either need to find an advisor willing to fund me for my duration there, or I have to TA. But TAing is not guaranteed, not a consistent amount of money, and doesnt pay for the non resident tuition fees (15,000 per year). And as for finding an advisor, a lot of the groups are huge and all of the professors im interested in dont really have enough funding to take on another student since they have so many already. I'm moving a little out of my interests now to find a lab that can take me on but I'm wondering if I should turn down the offer. I'm on the waitlist for a one year fellowship from the school but if I dont get that, and can't find an advisor that has both funding and research that I'm interested in, what should I do? I'm on the waitlist for one other school and I might not hear back for a while. Should I just accept and figure out funding. Or maybe try to TA and take loans out for one year before i get resident tuition?

I also applied for the NSF fellowship, but I dont want to bank on that due to it being such a selective fellowship.

I appreciate any feedback on this!

Edited by StressedPhD
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My two cents is that you should just accept it, and if you get into the other school with funding, just go there instead. It probably wouldn't be too difficult to leave a university after accepting their offer. Furthermore, I am sure that you could figure something out regarding funding your PhD because every student I've met at UCI doesn't pay for their tuition (and UCI, debatably, has less financial resources).

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I'm in Anthropology so I don't know if things in STEM are the same, but I was told that you should never pay for a PhD. First of all, it is 6 years and taking out loans to pay all that is just ridiculous. I might agree with the rest of the people above if you absolutely love the school and it is a perfect fit but that does not seem to be the case, and also it's just too much money. It just doesn't sound like a good idea. For me securing funding (and good funding if you have the chance) should be a top priority.

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I would have to agree with @perpetualalligator. I was also told you should never pay for graduate school. You would be doing work in someone's lab and supporting their research objectives as much as they would be supporting your education. And going further into debt to advance in your career just doesn't seem like a great idea. NSF results should be out in the next couple weeks, so hopefully you'll have more information then. But I think waiting for a good fit with good funding would be worth it in the long run, both for financial security and professional development. 

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I'm not sure how much "never pay for grad school" applies to STEM fields; that advice is usually given to arts and humanities students, who are usually clamoring for a limited number of academic positions. So my question is this: do you expect to be pulling in enough post-PhD to pay back these loans quickly? If you haven't already, see where graduates of the program have ended up so you have an idea of your prospects.

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17 hours ago, Kaytea11 said:

You are investing in your future. I say go for it. But that's just my opinion. PhD programs are not easy to get into! You should be very proud and don't allow money to cloud your judgment. 

This is terrible advice.

 

On 3/29/2019 at 11:06 AM, Zanelol said:

My two cents is that you should just accept it, and if you get into the other school with funding, just go there instead. It probably wouldn't be too difficult to leave a university after accepting their offer. Furthermore, I am sure that you could figure something out regarding funding your PhD because every student I've met at UCI doesn't pay for their tuition (and UCI, debatably, has less financial resources).

@Zanelol is on point. Accept the offer at the deadline if you do not have funding elsewhere. You can always just not go if you are not feeling up to going in debt (the right choice IMO). However, at large research universities, it is not unusual to show up right before the fall semester and find a professor willing to take you on as a research assistant. The notifications for most funding instruments (grants from NSF and DoD) start in July and run till September. If a professor got lucky and went 3-for-3 on grants, they would be in a position to take on more graduate students starting in the fall. Again, this is a risky bet. But it could work out.

If you decide to go into debt (and shouldn't have to in the sciences), keep it to a semester or two at the most. Professors will fund money for good students. If you can't find full funding after a year, you should leave with a Masters. Something about you and that particular graduate school is simply not working out if you have to keep paying for a PhD in science/engineering.

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On 3/30/2019 at 9:02 AM, DiscoTech said:

If you can't find full funding after a year, you should leave with a Masters.

This.  I think you will find that getting funding is a lot easier than they make it out to be.  That said, you should attend and if you aren't able to secure funding in your first year working ONLY with the professors you want to work with, then do a terminal Masters.  Meanwhile, fire out a few applications this winter for F20, just in case.

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On 3/29/2019 at 11:06 AM, Zanelol said:

My two cents is that you should just accept it, and if you get into the other school with funding, just go there instead. It probably wouldn't be too difficult to leave a university after accepting their offer. Furthermore, I am sure that you could figure something out regarding funding your PhD because every student I've met at UCI doesn't pay for their tuition (and UCI, debatably, has less financial resources).

Thanks for your input! One thing I would be worried about though is going back on my acceptance. I've heard that it can sometimes be very bad for you in the future. It's almost like you get blacklisted. I may be off base but thats how it was described to me! also perhaps you are right, but the nanoengineering program is on the newer side so they may not have as much funding as other programs.

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On 3/29/2019 at 10:24 PM, ktrae1006 said:

I would have to agree with @perpetualalligator. I was also told you should never pay for graduate school. You would be doing work in someone's lab and supporting their research objectives as much as they would be supporting your education. And going further into debt to advance in your career just doesn't seem like a great idea. NSF results should be out in the next couple weeks, so hopefully you'll have more information then. But I think waiting for a good fit with good funding would be worth it in the long run, both for financial security and professional development. 

I agree as well now that I think about it, I've always been under the impression that funding was much simpler and that there is no way I would have to pay anything but I appear to be wrong. Things have actually worked out now, I got the one year fellowship and a PI that I was originally interested who already filled her positions changed her mind about me after an interview today. She also told me she could pay the non resident fees for me! She's a new professor but she said as soon as she gets the money to take me on a GRA she will! I think I'm going to go with this option because she also said she could fill in the gaps TAing doesn't fill if I have to TA for a year

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On 3/29/2019 at 10:32 PM, feralgrad said:

see where graduates of the program have ended up so you have an idea of your prospects.

Hey feralgrad, where would I go about finding this type of information? Do schools generally have info on where their grads end up?

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On 3/30/2019 at 12:02 PM, DiscoTech said:

Accept the offer at the deadline if you do not have funding elsewhere. You can always just not go if you are not feeling up to going in debt (the right choice IMO). However, at large research universities, it is not unusual to show up right before the fall semester and find a professor willing to take you on as a research assistant. The notifications for most funding instruments (grants from NSF and DoD) start in July and run till September. If a professor got lucky and went 3-for-3 on grants, they would be in a position to take on more graduate students starting in the fall. Again, this is a risky bet. But it could work out.

If you decide to go into debt (and shouldn't have to in the sciences), keep it to a semester or two at the most. Professors will fund money for good students. If you can't find full funding after a year, you should leave with a Masters. Something about you and that particular graduate school is simply not working out if you have to keep paying for a PhD in science/engineering

This is really good advice, thank you. I didn't realize there was a general time in which grant notifications went out. Perhaps I should ask my potential PI if she has applied to any grants recently! I will thankfully be debt free now but if I have to TA the second year I may just be eating pasta every night to get by, but thats life haha. And the if things don't work out I certainly can master out, I shouldn't force something thats not clicking, solid point!

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On 4/1/2019 at 11:14 AM, Ternwild said:

This.  I think you will find that getting funding is a lot easier than they make it out to be.  That said, you should attend and if you aren't able to secure funding in your first year working ONLY with the professors you want to work with, then do a terminal Masters.  Meanwhile, fire out a few applications this winter for F20, just in case.

Oh wow this is a great idea! I didn't think to maybe apply for F20. I just got awarded one year of full funding so thats amazing! But if I run into the same problem after that year is up (that labs aren't taking on more students w/o external funding) having a back up plan sounds great. I could master out and get into a different PhD program now with a stronger application. I think I will do this, maybe apply to a program or two to be safe!

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1 hour ago, StressedPhD said:

Hey feralgrad, where would I go about finding this type of information? Do schools generally have info on where their grads end up?

You can email someone in the program to ask; it's not an uncommon question at all. Since you're in a science field, you can also see where people from your school are being published. Some savvy googling should bring up articles from alumni, and from there you can see where they've gone on to work.

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3 hours ago, feralgrad said:

You can email someone in the program to ask; it's not an uncommon question at all. Since you're in a science field, you can also see where people from your school are being published. Some savvy googling should bring up articles from alumni, and from there you can see where they've gone on to work.

Thanks for the response! I'll def give those a shot!! 

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