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Did I fuck up by turning down a Harvard PhD?


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I got offered two fully funded PhD’s: one from Harvard and one from Northwestern. I chose the latter because the fit of the faculty was better and the department seems to place quicker (but not any more than Harvard, just quicker). My field is very small so I feel like this was a stupid decision in retrospect because Harvard is more legible regardless of field (or is it?) whereas it’s unlikely most search committees will know that northwestern is the top of my field. I wanted more job security and idk how the hell I convinced myself that that was better than Harvard just because it’s program is ranked better. Even my mentor told me to go to Harvard and now April 15 passed and I feel like a fucking idiot. Could someone shed (honest) light on how much these brand names matter on the academic job market? 

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Search committees are made up of people in the field, so it's highly likely that they are aware of its reputation. Also, the stats seem to support that if they place alumni quicker. Research fit is important in a PhD. It sounds like you put a lot of thought into your decision prior to making it, but are getting last minute nerves. Trust in yourself and the decisions you've made. Northwestern is also a great school. 

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On 4/17/2020 at 11:45 AM, jlaser said:

I chose the latter because the fit of the faculty was better and the department seems to place quicker (but not any more than Harvard, just quicker).

If Northwestern and Harvard are ranked similarly in your field -- say, they're both within the top 10 or top 20 -- I doubt that the ranking discrepancies you mentioned would matter that much in job searches. After all, there are already such few jobs in the market now that an Ivy degree probably no longer guarantees anything. Besides, 1. Northwestern's name is quite legible in academic circles, and 2. Search committees may be less impressed by the school at which you've attained your degree than the people/advisors with whom you've worked. (If academia is said to be nepotistic, it's largely due to the connections that one's mentors or dissertation committees can afford them.) In this sense, if you're confident that Northwestern's faculty are not just doing better or more current work in your field now, but also actively supporting their students in their job searches (this may be evidenced by their quicker placements), then I think you're in a good spot. 

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On 4/16/2020 at 8:45 PM, jlaser said:

I got offered two fully funded PhD’s: one from Harvard and one from Northwestern. I chose the latter because the fit of the faculty was better and the department seems to place quicker (but not any more than Harvard, just quicker). My field is very small so I feel like this was a stupid decision in retrospect because Harvard is more legible regardless of field (or is it?) whereas it’s unlikely most search committees will know that northwestern is the top of my field. I wanted more job security and idk how the hell I convinced myself that that was better than Harvard just because it’s program is ranked better. Even my mentor told me to go to Harvard and now April 15 passed and I feel like a fucking idiot. Could someone shed (honest) light on how much these brand names matter on the academic job market? 

It is exceptionally easy to second guess one's decision making process after one makes a decision and then has second thoughts.

I recommend that you work on accepting the decision you've made -- to accept a generous offer from a high ranking department with a track record for placing graduates quickly.

For your second thoughts, I recommend that you do what you can to hit the ground running in the fall, to do excellent work, and to position yourself so that if you still have misgivings a year or two from now, you can through your hat back in the ring and "transfer" to a different school.

A year or so from now when you return to the assessment of speed of placement, I recommend that you add a wrinkle. Speed of placement to TT jobs and career progression.

 

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9 hours ago, Sigaba said:

It is exceptionally easy to second guess one's decision making process after one makes a decision and then has second thoughts.

I recommend that you work on accepting the decision you've made -- to accept a generous offer from a high ranking department with a track record for placing graduates quickly.

For your second thoughts, I recommend that you do what you can to hit the ground running in the fall, to do excellent work, and to position yourself so that if you still have misgivings a year or two from now, you can through your hat back in the ring and "transfer" to a different school.

A year or so from now when you return to the assessment of speed of placement, I recommend that you add a wrinkle. Speed of placement to TT jobs and career progression.

 

I feel like I've been trapping myself in this miasma of "what ifs" and this really helped anchor me. Thank you.

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