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Fame vs. funding.....


lypiphera

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I'm looking for some feedback on my dilemma, but I'm hoping it's general enough to be helpful to other people with similar decisions.

 

I've been accepted to one school where I felt a great research and personality fit there, and it's a nice place to live.  One of the professors I would work for is a very well-known in psychology, and a great mentor as well (according to students). 

 

At another school, I don't have quite as good of a research fit (the personality fit is still good) with the POI, but they have offered me roughly twice as much money, more guaranteed years of funding and and about half as much TAing required (whereas the first school requires TAing every semester).

 

I feel like the "right" choice in the long run is to go for the school that I have a stronger research fit with and that has an extremely prestigious faculty (in terms of finding jobs later), but I worry that the lack of money, resources, and time not TAing compared to the other school will make graduating on time and without debt harder to do. 

 

Any thoughts on this?  Am I being spoiled by giving too much weight to money/resources or by giving too much weight to the prestige of my POI?

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Wow.... that's a good question.

Money is obviously important; news articles abound about student loan debt, and it's obviously ideal if you can get enough money from a program such that you don't have to take out additional loans.

I'm kind of "meh" about the fame thing; to me, research and personality fit are more important.

What is the cost of living like at the place that's offering more money? Is the cost of living in that area higher, too, such that the practical result is that the extra money covers the higher COL?

I personally would go with the first program you mentioned, and look at outside sources of funding (i.e., research grants, competitions at conferences, etc.; during a group interview at one program, the program director actively encouraged us to do so). I view the extra TAing as a bonus, rather than a setback; sure, it's a lot of grunt-work, but it'll look good on the CV.Also, don't they have to pay to TA? That's funding every semester you teach, yes?

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Some places don't actually pay you more to TA more (they use the euphemism of calling it "part of our education, like our coursework"). It's far better to have money without strings attached (e.g. TAship) or with responsibilities that will help your career more (e.g. RAships). I'm not saying that TAing is a bad thing -- I love TAing and teaching. However, it's always better to have the choice to TA more instead of being obligated to.

 

Also, I recognize it might be different in Psychology, but this also depends on your future career goals. If you are looking for an eventual teaching position, then more TAing where you lead discussions or even teach lectures is good but marking-type TA jobs aren't going to be that helpful. If your goal is a research based position, I get the sense that TAing is one of those things where it's bad if you don't have anything on your CV but more is definitely not better. Your CV  would be better off spending that time doing research and getting more papers. If you're not sure what your goals will be, then I would try to keep my options open by having as few strings attached to my funding as possible, so that I could choose to do more research and/or teaching in the way that fits my goals.

 

For the OP's dilemma, I personally would not choose to go to a school that would put me in debt. And Lisa44201 makes a good point of factoring in cost of living when comparing stipends instead of just the absolute dollar amounts! 

Edited by TakeruK
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This is a really difficult situation, but in my opinion, you have to do what you think will make you most happy. My impression from other grad students is that you're not in grad school for the money, but for the fit. Also, realize that you will be spending 5-6 years working with this person. If you don't feel like the program matches your research interests, you have to be amenable and prepared to not carry out the work you'd like. You may end up with debt, but in the long run, you will be able to pay it off and be super happy with where you are in 10 years.

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What is the cost of living like at the place that's offering more money? Is the cost of living in that area higher, too, such that the practical result is that the extra money covers the higher COL?

 

That's a great question - the cost of living is very similar, so the stipend amount can be directly compared.

 

It's far better to have money without strings attached (e.g. TAship) or with responsibilities that will help your career more (e.g. RAships).

 

Your CV  would be better off spending that time doing research and getting more papers.

 

You're first point is absolutely correct in this situation.  At the first school, your stiped comes direction from TAing, so it is a constant requirement. The second school has that for a few years, but also has 2 years of funding with no requirement.  I completely agree about some TAing being important, but that I'd rather have more time to publish more than teach more. 

 

Wow you are in a pickle! How much debt are we talkin' about with the first school?

 

I HOPEFULLY wouldn't have to go into debt at either place.  I will be moving with my husband who will be getting a "real-world" job, and then we would be making less money at the first school but likely wouldn't need to go into debt.  Who knows how long it will take for him to find a job or how much he will make though.  So in all likelihood the answer is "no debt", but basically there's no chance of debt at the second school.

 

This is a really difficult situation, but in my opinion, you have to do what you think will make you most happy. My impression from other grad students is that you're not in grad school for the money, but for the fit. Also, realize that you will be spending 5-6 years working with this person. If you don't feel like the program matches your research interests, you have to be amenable and prepared to not carry out the work you'd like. You may end up with debt, but in the long run, you will be able to pay it off and be super happy with where you are in 10 years.

 

I think I will end up going with what you've said here, because even ignoring the prestige, the research fit is much better.  I'm definitely not in it for the money, but I do worry how it will affect my ability to do research.  I'm hoping that the extra work and less pay will pay off down the road, like you say, by giving me more job opportunities down the road!

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I would also advise going where the research fit is better and where job prospects are better.  Then, try to secure some external funding so that you can be picky about when and what you TA.

 

I TA and it's very very time consuming.  One of the benefits of my external funding is that I was more or less able to choose when I wanted to TA, and what.  Next year, I'm seeking a research fellowship so that I can write my dissertation in peace without the TA responsibilities.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I ended up going with the first school, the one with less money but with a better research fit and two highly-regarded professors in the field.  It was hard because I really did like the second school a lot, but I think this was the right choice for my career.  I was able to get a first-year fellowship which includes no TAing and some funds for research expenses.  By the end of the first year, my husband (hopefully!) should have found a job in the area, so I don't think I will go into debt with the lower stipend.  I definitely plan to apply for additional grants, fellowships, etc., to try and reduce TA load in the future, but it doesn't need to be a lot, since I do want to TA.  Thanks for the advice everyone!

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