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psyche132

Accepted PhD Position But Now Want to Decline

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Hello,

I accepted a PhD position in psychology straight out of undergrad. I interviewed at top schools but ended up only getting an offer from a mid-lower ranked university (fully funded). After doing more research, I am nervous about getting a tenure track position and don't know if this university will get me to where I want to be. Is it too late to tell the university I would like to withdraw my acceptance? I would appreciate any advice and suggestions for what I should mention if I do decide not to attend so I don't burn any bridges with this professor. 

Thanks!

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Barring any major unforeseeable disasters, choosing not to attend a university after the April 15th date will likely result in burning some bridges with that professor. At this point, they are unlikely to offer that position to whoever was ranked below you. 

 

Out of curiosity, what makes you think you can't pursue academia at this university? Not all tenure track professors come from a higher ranked university. If you really focus on research productivity, you should be fine.

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It is absolutely not too late to decline, and as you correctly note , ranking is unfortunately important (and the reasoning isn't as simple as "it's a top school"). Don't let anyone say it's too late to do something that might ultimate help in achieving your goal. That doesn't mean I'm saying; yes absolutely take back your response because the school isn't as strong. What I am saying though is this, if you accepted this offer for fear of not starting your PhD this coming fall and thought that you were settling with this choice, then I believe it's best to go back on your decision.

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13 hours ago, kalman_gain said:

It is absolutely not too late to decline, and as you correctly note , ranking is unfortunately important (and the reasoning isn't as simple as "it's a top school"). Don't let anyone say it's too late to do something that might ultimate help in achieving your goal. That doesn't mean I'm saying; yes absolutely take back your response because the school isn't as strong. What I am saying though is this, if you accepted this offer for fear of not starting your PhD this coming fall and thought that you were settling with this choice, then I believe it's best to go back on your decision.

A phrase "a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush" comes to mind. 

 

My opinion as a student who hopes to be a PI one day: backing out now for any reason besides a major illness or personal problem would be terrible, if not black-ball you outright from that bridge and any bridges connected to that bridge. The field of psychology (and whatever sub-discipline you care about) is really small. If you piss off even a small handful of people (your PI, that program, any students), word can travel fast to other institutions.

 

As has been noted elsewhere, plenty of good PIs come from not "top-tier" schools. In fact, the top-tier thing isn't really an issue in some disciplines (e.g., clinical) relative to other disciplines; what matters is your scholarly output. Will you be able to generate a lot of pubs/posters/etc. with your mentor at the place you have accepted? If so, it's okay. 

 

A lot of people get cold feet (me included, and I am in a wonderful lab at a wonderful program in a great city). I would encourage you to sit this out and not back out and burn the bridges. 

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From my understanding, it really doesn't matter if your school is "top-ranked" as long as you are in a school and lab where you will be able to be productive and make good connections. I don't think ranking is the whole story. If you are in a lab with a fantastic mentor at a lesser ranked school, and you are able to consistently publish and present and apply for grants/fellowships successfully, I would be extremely surprised if the ranking of the school would hold you back from getting TT jobs. Anyone else can chime in here if they know more about this than me. 

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I'm curious where you're getting your "ranking" from. Are you talking about Carnegie designations? USNWR? Certain schools who may not be ranked highly on either might be top schools in your subfield, based on what you're researching. I would not put too much stock into arbitrary rankings unless you have been explicitly told by professors in the subfield that it is not a respected school.

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On 5/13/2019 at 12:42 PM, psyche132 said:

Hello,

I accepted a PhD position in psychology straight out of undergrad. I interviewed at top schools but ended up only getting an offer from a mid-lower ranked university (fully funded). After doing more research, I am nervous about getting a tenure track position and don't know if this university will get me to where I want to be. Is it too late to tell the university I would like to withdraw my acceptance? I would appreciate any advice and suggestions for what I should mention if I do decide not to attend so I don't burn any bridges with this professor. 

Thanks!

It doesn't matter how the university is ranked - it matters how other people in your field think about the psychology program.  If it is not considered a good program, it is going to be difficult to get a TT job.

Everyone has given you well intentioned advice, but the candidate with the most publications doesn't always get the job.  There are a lot other nuances that go into it - some you can control (prior teaching and research experience, networking, having a clear plan for your research agenda that you can articulate well, strong references, etc.) and some you cannot (research and/or teaching gap that the department needs to fill, internal politics, general fit for the program, perceived collegiality, how you fit with the overall strategic plan for the department, etc.). 

One thing that I suggest for you to do is to look where your potential advisor has placed recent PhD graduates.  If some of them are getting TT jobs that is great news.  If they are not - then you should think really carefully about whether to attend the program or not.

I would say as someone who has been on the job market three times - getting a tenure track job across most fields is just getting extremely difficult.  There is just too many great candidates and not enough jobs.  I suggest for people who want to pursue a PhD to have a couple non-academic job options that they can pursue if they are not one of the lucky ones.

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While there can be questions about rankings, i think R1/R2/R3/not ranked is a pretty important distinction. If your goal is TT faculty, I think you will probably have an even harder time in the job market if you are not in an R1 program. Even if you only want to teach at a SLAC or R3 or something, those jobs still tend to go to the people graduating from R1s. Is this school you accepted an offer from an R1 or something else? 

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5 minutes ago, Joegeo said:

It's your life so you should do what makes you happy. Your happiness trumps some burnt bridges.

Agreed, I wouldn't fear "burned bridges" so much as being stuck in a program for several years of your life where you're unhappy/anxious about career prospects. Every field is small, sure, but I think the people spinning this 'blackball' scenario are making the situation far more dire than it is.  Yes its a bad scenario should you back out now, but pretty sure PIs have bigger things to worry about than spending their careers and time punishing a student for making a medium-sized mistake. Maybe switching subfields may be a better idea to avoid all the hullaballoo. 

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