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Choosing Based on Geography


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I've gotten all my decisions in. I'm trying to choose between UChicago, Berkeley and UCLA. UChicago is best for what I want to do and offers the best funding package. However, I'm from Chicago and I'm not keen on the city at all. I do love California, however. But is it silly to choose a program based on location?

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My take (however inexpert) is that you choose the place you're happiest. You have three great programs, so go to the place you'll be happiest for the next five years. The only times that would be an issue is trading a top school for a mediocre school, since that might have long-term implications for your ability to get a job in a place you'd like to live. But with three top-tier programs... choose on whatever merits you want!

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None of us can tell you what your utility function looks like. But, you should go to the department where you will have the most success as a graduate student. Will your unhappiness in a setting be so great that you drop out? Or will it affect your day-to-day productivity? Will you spend less time in the office? And so on.

The only thing that matters is your success. Your happiness is an input in the success function, but it's not the only one. Balance tradeoffs wisely.

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None of us can tell you what your utility function looks like. But, you should go to the department where you will have the most success as a graduate student. Will your unhappiness in a setting be so great that you drop out? Or will it affect your day-to-day productivity? Will you spend less time in the office? And so on.

The only thing that matters is your success. Your happiness is an input in the success function, but it's not the only one. Balance tradeoffs wisely.

Wow finally someone who fits my econ models.. I didn't think they really existed :)

I'm in the same boat re geography. While I haven't heard from all programs, my current offers are almost (!) equal but in very different locations. I think one's identity and happiness depends on one's geographic circumstances to a larger degree than one wants to admit. So, personally, I will go for the better location.. Good weather, food, culture etc. foster my curiosity on which my research is based. So go to Cali, I am currently making the very same decision.

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Now, I will say that my own function weights geography not at all. I also was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the town I now live in (and, more importantly, have been thrilled with my academic experience). The geographic stuff can wash out pretty quickly, but it's still your own function, which looks different than my own.

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I echo the sentiments already posted: go where you will be most comfortable. 5 years is a long time to settle for something and your productivity may be affected as a result.

I do want to point out that Berkeley and UCLA are in very different parts of California. LA is very expensive, expansive, and lacks a real network of public transportation. If you don't have access to a car then it's very likely you'll only stay in Westwood and the surrounding areas. It's a very nice place (fairly posh) but you'll be missing out on really experiencing the city. The upside, of course, is the weather. Berkeley, on the other hand, while having a decent transit system (you gan get to SF really easily on the BART), does not have the greatest weather. It can get pretty cold (~30 degrees) and foggy. This might not seem that bad since you're coming from Chicago but I freeze in that kind of climate. Also, the town of Berkeley is this small, bohemian place with lots of coffee shops and murals and whatnot, which is very different from the somewhat upscale atmosphere of Westwood.

I guess my advice is to attend the visitation days so you can get a feel of the department, university, and location and then make your decision based on your experiences. You could end up completely unimpressed by both California schools and find that the department at Chicago is exactly what you're looking for. In any case, those are some amazing options; good luck and congrats!!

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I think there's nothing wrong with letting location be a factor in where you decide to do your PhD, or even where to apply. I dislike snow, so I didn't really apply to cold weather places for my PhD. That said, I did apply to two for fit reasons, visited them, and realized they wouldn't work even if there hadn't been snow on the ground. In the end, I went with the best PI for me (well known in the discipline and subfield, good track record with grad students) who just happened to be in the location with the weather I thought I wanted the most. Note the past tense in that last sentence. After living there for 3.5 years, I've realized that hot and sunny ain't all it's cracked up to be.

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I think geographic preference can certainly be a factor in making your decision. I'm thinking of geographic proximity to my family after having been continents away from them for a time, but that doesn't mean as much to other people, necessarily. It's also true that you should be able to see yourself somewhere for at least five years, or it can affect your entire attitude and work productivity. If you're a big city person, can you manage adapting to smaller, more sprawling places? If you've been a small town person your whole life, will the center of an urban jungle make you feel trapped? I certainly wouldn't say geography is my first criterion for making decisions, but it does play a role for me.

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I think I was unclear. I don't mean to say that geography should matter or that you should let it be a factor. If you put a gun to my head and told somebody what to do, I'd say "in general, ignore geography and go to the best department for you; if indifferent, maybe consider geography." My only point was in clarifying just what the tradeoffs are---if you go someplace and let yourself get depressed because there isn't good produce, then you're not going to be successful, etc etc.

Edited by coachrjc
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