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TA in a tiny, lower ranked program or pay for a huge, higher ranked program


lunareads

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While I was sending out all my applications this year and dreading the possibility that I might not receive even one acceptance letter, I never anticipated how hard it would be to decide between the programs that actually did admit me. As the flurry of acceptances (and more rejections than I care to admit) is winding down, I find myself considering two programs that are completely different. I cannot, for the life of me, take one definitive stance and stick with it for longer than 24 hours. Luckily, I am visiting both campuses in the next couple weeks, so I am hoping to be able to make a confident decision after experiencing the campus and the people. Unluckily, I will be visiting one campus just one day before my decision is due. Below I've written out the defining characteristics of each program, followed by the questions that are haunting me. Any advice from those who have been through this, or are going through this, would be greatly appreciated.

The first program is very small and the university is private and religiously affiliated (I, on the other hand, am agnostic). They have offered me a TA which comes along with a tuition waiver and a stipend. The school is located in a city in the midwest, an area of the country very unfamilar to me and very far away from my family. Most of the graduates get tenure track positions, but they are all at schools in the midwest (although this may be their preference). I am somewhat worried about the seeming lack of motivation in their faculty to seek out publications and engage in the academic community, but my mentor is the exception to that rule. She seems incredibly accomplished and was recommended to me by an old undergraduate professor. The program is ranked in the 90s by US News and World Report.

The second program is huge and the university is one of the largest public universities in the US. The have not offered me funding, but a TA might still come through I can apply for a TA again next year. Only 25% of their grad students receive a TA, and their compensation package isn't very generous. The school is located within driving distance of my family, which would make my life much easier. Most of the graduates receive tenure track positions, but those positions are often in ed programs, not English programs. Quite a few are hired to work at the university after graduation. Their faculty is motivated and growing and the program is full of exciting people doing great things. I would have a mentor who is amazingly accomplished, if a little cold. The program is ranked in the 50s by US News and World Report.

My main concern is getting a job after I graduate. That said, is ranking more important than teaching experience? How important is it to hiring commitees that your graduate studies were funded? Is it terribly stupid to turn down a funded position in a lower ranked program for a higher ranked program and the chance of maybe receiving funding? The second program has more success in placing graduates in tenure track positions, but could that be because people end up teaching education classes instead? What should I do?

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My main concern is getting a job after I graduate. That said, is ranking more important than teaching experience? How important is it to hiring commitees that your graduate studies were funded? Is it terribly stupid to turn down a funded position in a lower ranked program for a higher ranked program and the chance of maybe receiving funding? The second program has more success in placing graduates in tenure track positions, but could that be because people end up teaching education classes instead? What should I do?

Ranking is much less important than teaching experience, and your advisor's success in getting his/her students placed matters most of all. How you paid for your graduate studies is irrelevant to hiring committees, unless your funds came from a nationally competitive fellowship program. It is foolish to turn down a funded position in a lower ranked program for a higher ranked program hoping you'll be the one in four who eventually receives funding. The second program may indeed appear to have more success in placing graduates in tenure track positions because its graduates end up teaching education classes instead of English classes. You should not even consider an unfunded PhD program in English, so what you should do is follow the money.

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If your mentor at the small school is accomplished, I would go for that program. What you need as much as (if not more than) school ranking is NETWORKING...and a good mentor will do that for you. I'm not at a "brand name" school but my advisor has connections at Ivies and other well-known schools. I'm meeting (and collaborating with) people who could write high-impact letters of recommendation. (Actually, in my field, my advisor is a high-impact person despite being at a small school.)

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If you're going for a tenure track job at the end of this then definitely go for the TAship. I wouldn't worry about being away from family. At least you're in the same continent. I moved literally halfway around the world for my masters... And stayed. It's doable. Teaching exp will carry you far

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I would have to echo the same sentiments as before and say to follow the money, your life will probably be a LOT easier. And I don't know how it works in the Humanities but in the Sciences, going in unfunded would mean a lot of grant writing and scholarship applications. Plus, you'll probably have more peace of mind not worrying constantly about being able to afford grad school. TA experience and a good mentor are bonuses. And, personally I like the midwest... I've grown up here, born/raised in Chicago and currently finishing up undergrad in St. Louis. It's a good place to be!

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I'm just piggybacking onto a lot of what people are saying here: Follow the money, follow the opportunities for teaching experience, and research experience.

To make you feel better, I am also most likely moving to the Midwest (from California!), leaving my long-term boyfriend, family, friends, and the amazing state of California. I am scared shitless to move to the Midwest...call me a stereotypical Californian, thats fine because I am. Anyways, I am also going into a smaller lesser known program instead of a very big program (top 5 in the nation) but they did NOT offer me any funding. They said I can compete for semester by semester TAships but in a PhD program, I do not want the stress of not knowing if I am supported the whole time.

Therefore, I am going into a program that is offering me full funding, TAship, research opportunities, conference funding, and since it is a smaller program, closer contact with faculty. This is way better than going into a big program with no funding, no TAship, over 90 PhD students, meaning lesser contact with faculty and no funding for conferences. No funding not only means more financial burden but also less opportunities to be a part of the department, something you NEED on your CV in order to get a TT job.

After talking with numerous professors from across the country and reading articles on higher ed and spectra, the two important things that everyone needs for a TT job is :publications and teaching experience. Both of which should be substantial, meaning publishing at least one article and also having something in press when you are leaving the PhD program (most likely from your diss), teaching experience of at least two or three different classes, showing that you have range in the discipline.

If you want to chat with me about moving to the Midwest (hey maybe we are going to the same place!!), PM me!!

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