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Stanford vs. UCLA PhD Biomedical Science? HELP!


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Hey guys, 

So I've been accepted to both Stanford and UCLA for their PhD programs in Microbiology/Immunology and I'm having quite a tough time deciding. I interviewed first at UCLA and fell in love. The students, faculty, and interviews were great, and they have even offered me an extra 10k a year to attend! This is important because I will likely be able to join my lab of choosing being that I will have my own funding. They have made it very clear how invested they were in me and its gone a long way. In short, I love the culture, faculty, students, and location of UCLA. However, although there are plenty of interesting researchers, I have not found any faculty whose research jumps off the page and really excites me. In talking with faculty, they have been consistent in saying that you may not know exactly what you want to do until you get into a lab, and you may become excited after you get there.

I then went to Stanford and also loved it. I got on really well with the students and faculty and my interviews went great. They are also offering a fellowship (much smaller) to attend. I really enjoyed the people and found research during interviews that very much so excites me. Another positive of this program is that students are funded for all 5 years through the program, so joining a lab you want to is  also not much of an issue. However, the sort of isolated "Stanford bubble" location and ridiculous cost of living in Palo Alto is a detterent - I'm not sure if I want to live on campus for all 5-6 years of my program. This program is also much smaller comparatively to its UCLA counterpart - pros and cons to that. 

I know Stanford has the brand and recognition, but I also know that UCLA is no slouch itself. I also know that for PhD's, the University isn't necessarily as important as the lab you join and the papers you publish - both Universities would provide great opportunities for that. After graduation I am interested in going into either international global health communication/policy/consulting or science education/access/outreach, and I am not sure if one school would set me up better than the other for that. I am very aware of how fortunate I am to be in this position with two great programs that would set me up well for the future, but I am having trouble with this huge decision of which is best for me. Any insight or ideas - from anybody with a unique perspective, would be valuable.

Thank you!

Edited by TerpsFan0130
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4 hours ago, TerpsFan0130 said:

Another positive of this program is that students are funded for all 5 years through the program, so joining a lab you want to is  also not much of an issue

I'm not sure I understand you here - perhaps you can clarify regarding the "extra 10k" and "smaller fellowship". Usually when a program says you're guaranteed 5 years of funding, it means the 1st year the money comes from the program/department/school, and once you choose your lab, the PI would pay for your stipend out of their grants for 2nd year and on. To the PI, you're still associated with a financial burden (grad students are typically considered sources of cheap, but not free, labor).

I did not get into either school so I can't offer specific insights. At the end of the day you want to make sure you won't be financially struggling, packed in a 2bed apartment with 5 people who don't get along, or thinking constantly about budgeting when you could focus on work. Beyond that, assuming "quite a lot" isn't an option, I personally wouldn't care if I have "a bit" versus "quite a bit" left in my account every month.

Money aside, I would really go with research interests, and if you haven't done so you should make sure that the faculty who really excited you during interviews at Stanford represents real opportunities, i.e. positive lab culture, compatible mentorship style, they're not retiring, no funding or time management issues, they don't have multiple students compete for the same project, lab alums are happy and end up where they want to be etc. 

Edited by DRMF
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25 minutes ago, DRMF said:

I'm not sure I understand you here - perhaps you can clarify regarding the "extra 10k" and "smaller fellowship". Usually when a program says you're guaranteed 5 years of funding, it means the 1st year the money comes from the program/department/school, and once you choose your lab, the PI would pay for your stipend out of their grants for 2nd year and on. To the PI, you're still associated with a financial burden (grad students are typically considered sources of cheap, but not free, labor).

Sorry if this is confusing. At Stanford, the bioscience PhD program/graduate school covers all 5 years of funding. Your PI never has to worry about funding because all 5 years comes from the program. They are offering an extra 2.5k/year on top of the regular stipend, again, all covered through the program.

UCLA is offering an extra 10k/year in scholarships on top of the stipend, and I have received a fellowship to cover the base funding for the first 4 years from the graduate school. In short, I will be fully covered by both of the graduate programs and not require funding from whatever lab I choose.

Also thank you for the insight!

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Current Stanford Biosciences first -year here - I'm not in M&I, but I know some of the first year cohort. Also have no info on UCLA, so can't really give any perspective on them. 

I am a big fan of Stanford and with hindsight absolutely made the right choice with it. Your two main worries with Stanford are the same ones I had when deciding - affordability and the PA bubble. Both are worthy of consideration, but both have been less of an issue for me so far than I had anticipated. While I am used to living in a city and miss that, I do find time to get up to SF and outside of PA fairly often and even have found myself liking the suburbs more than I would have thought. You're also right in that affordability is a major consideration,  but our Stipends do allow us to live without feeling like we're in abject poverty. I, and others I know in my and other programs, successfully live off campus (with roommates, of course) for a comparable price to living on-campus - so you don't have to be stuck on campus the whole time, even though many people do chose to go that route. 

Definitely feel free to DM me if you want to talk more specifics - happy to answer questions about Biosciences/Stanford/PA/etc. 

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