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A really tough decision


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Well, I have a good problem to have. I have two acceptances (I'm still waiting on one school, but I expect them to reject me). But deciding between them is going to be very difficult. I'd appreciate people's thoughts.

I'm going for a CS PhD. Let's call the programs A and B (I know, original...I was going to go with school colors, but their colors are similar). My first-choice end goal would be academia, but I wouldn't mind industry/government research. Both programs have research going on that I'd enjoy a lot (obviously).


Reputation: They're about the same right now (both around #70), but A has been moving up more quickly than B has. I expect A to continue going up quickly, as the university continues to invest in the department and the department brings in strong new faculty. B has gone up a little in recent years, but not a lot.

Placement: A has a very good placement record for its ranking, with a number of recent PhDs ending up in postdoc/faculty positions in departments that are more prestigious than A (reversing the usual downward cascade). I have no idea about B, and need to find this out.

Funding/Perks: This is where B comes up REALLY strong. A is offering 21.5k for an assistantship (they don't know yet whether it would be a TAship or an RAship), plus half of heath insurance premiums after the first semester. B is offering me a prestigious NSF IGERT traineeship/fellowship for the first two years, with a stipend of 30.5k. In addition to the prestige of the program and the NSF name, it comes with a variety of perks, including special summer institutes and seminar series for the IGERT cohort, and (if I want it) a funded semester-long internship at a research institute in India.

Advisors: A and B are both small departments, which limits the advisor choice. There's only one advisor in B that I really want to work with (though there are a couple of others that I could live with if forced), but he is VERY well-known in the relevant subfield, very much a bigshot. I have not met him in person yet, and I need to ask a couple of contacts about what he's like to work with. A has two advisors that interest me, both rising youngish associate prof types. I've met them both and talked to both of their students. They are both very friendly and like me a lot. One is reported by students to be easy to get along with, the other is moody but will also go to bat for her students.

Curriculum: A has a joint PhD program with another discipline that I'm interested in, that A's existing PhD students can join, for extra fun and employability. A is very interdisciplinary, which I like. Their PhD program is a post-MS PhD program, so I wouldn't have to repeat any MS work (though I would still have to take quals and their quals seem to be kind of hard). I took non-degree classes there for a while, so I know that I can succeed in their classes. B is not a post-MS PhD program, though I could get some transfer credit for my MS. In addition to the extra credentials that I'd get from the IGERT curriculum, B is part of a really neat interdisciplinary research center and has an optional certificate program in quant bio.

Teacher Training: Since I'm interested in academia, this is relevant. B is very big on everybody learning to teach, though they have no special programs. A has minimal requirements, and their ordinary TAs mostly do gruntwork, but they have competitive training programs for people who want more training in college-level teaching.

Social Climate of the Department: A is an INCREDIBLY warm, friendly, supportive department (again, I've taken non-degree classes there, so I know it's not just a facade for the visiting admittees), with no/minimal political nonsense. I don't know what B is like - their open house for admittees hasn't happened yet.

Social Climate of the University: B wins this one. B has a famously social-justice-oriented community and lots of interesting community groups. For all that A is such a pleasant department, the university as a whole has some very significant problems with racism and classism. It seems to have fewer interesting community groups.

Location: A and B are less than 10 miles apart, so they tie on this one.

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I'm probably not much help but... Obviously, visiting B is a must. I'm trying to look at my options in terms of where I will be happiest (which will be entirely up to you) and where will make me most employable. Other than that, I would just suggest that some universities have collaborations with other local ones. If so, you may be able to take a couple of outside classes or have someone from the other university as a secondary dissertation supervisor in the future. It's probably worth asking.

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