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How much of your decision is gut?


geitost
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Having visited the two departments I have been admitted to, I have a very clear preference (based on gut feeling) for one department, which is not as prestigious or highly ranked as the other. With the first department I essentially fell in love immediately; the second has some great faculty I am sure I'd enjoy working with, but overall I just wasn't feeling it. I am pretty sure I will pick the first school, though I am allowing myself a few more days to mull things over.

 

Seeing all the "help me with my decision threads" on here - which often present a situation quite similar to my own - makes me wonder how heavily gut reaction weighs in everyone else's decision making?

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Gut feeling is a great thing to use!! I used mine in deciding.  But I also weighed objective facts against my gut feeling and if there were enough practical facts about that school along with my gut feeling toward them, then I seriously considered them.  That's how I chose my school.  So it's not 100% gut feeling but it definitely played a part.

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Although I am using objective criteria for comparing two departments I am deciding between, I am relying on my gut feeling as well.  The visits for both schools were great, but I really fell in love with school A during the visit more than school B.  School B definitely offers me great opportunities relating to research, as well as great faculty conducting research I am interested in (school A has a great research fit as well, but not as great as school B) but I did not get the greatest vibe when visiting there... I can't really explain it.  I just feel like school A would offer me better opportunities in the long run than school B (and I was blown away during the visit).

 

Faculty from school B even advised me to use my gut feeling for my decision!

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A lot of people have compared this process to dating, and the relationship with your adviser is similar to marriage. It makes sense that a lot of it will be based on gut. 

 

For me, I am trying to decide between two top 4 schools, and all of the objective criteria can be basically assumed to be the same, like funding, education and such. The biggest differences are the advisers and the projects, which comes down to which one I would enjoy the most, which comes from gut. You need to be with an adviser you like and treats you well, working on a project you are passionate about, in a city you enjoy. Otherwise, you won't be happy, and if you aren't happy you are likely to not complete your PhD.

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 I've been accepted to 6/7 schools I applied to. Of my top three choices, two completely ignored my emails asking for some more, informal questions I had about the program and my request for some current-student contacts. The third school answered every single damn one of my emails within a few hours, and seemed genuinely interested in helping me out on my decision as well as providing me with 9(!) students who said they would love to talk to me about anything regarding their experiences. One of the two ignorers is the top-ranked program in the nation, but I'm going to the friendly school because I place a very high value on a collaborative/cooperative climate, and I just wasn't getting that from the other schools. 

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 I've been accepted to 6/7 schools I applied to. Of my top three choices, two completely ignored my emails asking for some more, informal questions I had about the program and my request for some current-student contacts. The third school answered every single damn one of my emails within a few hours, and seemed genuinely interested in helping me out on my decision as well as providing me with 9(!) students who said they would love to talk to me about anything regarding their experiences. One of the two ignorers is the top-ranked program in the nation, but I'm going to the friendly school because I place a very high value on a collaborative/cooperative climate, and I just wasn't getting that from the other schools. 
Just don't be too quick to judge; program A is arguably better in my field and they were slow to respond to my emails at first, which was nothing like program B which even let me know I was their top applicant. I gave program A some time because I really wanted to like it and now several current students have contacted me and are volunteering to answer my questions. This tipped my decision in favor of program A.
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I used my gut to rule out schools that I just didn't have a good feeling for, but after that I went with objectives.  Of course, deciding which factors to prioritize in the objective stats (e.g. stipend amount, research productivity of POI, student outcome data) is a subjective experience, but I went with what I knew was rationally best for me in the long run.  Out of my top two schools, my gut was telling me school A because I just loved it there, while school B, while still great, didn't give me that same awesome gut feeling.  However, I went with B because after long consideration of the objectives, it seemed like a better decision.  I think I was being swayed by how much I liked and got along with the other grad students and how much personality I fit with the students and faculty, which while important, is not what I should make my decision on. 

 

Going with school B was a hard choice because I know of studies showing that your gut reaction is often "better", and that when people think more about the decision they tend to side with objective facts they can specifically put into words, which doesn't always encompass the important factors that are hard to verbalize.  Still, I am confident that my gut was pulling me towards personality (again, school B still had great people, just didn't get that same "click" right away) whereas rationally I should go with the objective facts. School B has a better research fit, a better location, more research-productive and highly-regarded faculty, and a more integrated department.

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I would agree that gut reaction should not be the only criterion to base your decision on. It's also the funding situation, the location and methodological considerations that make me lean heavily towards school A. The major arguments in favor of school B are reputation and number of faculty (6) working in the broad area I am interested in (70-80% fit). At school A I have one advisor with a 100% research fit, and another at 70-80%, and a very collaborative environment.

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I used my gut to rule out schools that I just didn't have a good feeling for, but after that I went with objectives.  Of course, deciding which factors to prioritize in the objective stats (e.g. stipend amount, research productivity of POI, student outcome data) is a subjective experience, but I went with what I knew was rationally best for me in the long run.  Out of my top two schools, my gut was telling me school A because I just loved it there, while school B, while still great, didn't give me that same awesome gut feeling.  However, I went with B because after long consideration of the objectives, it seemed like a better decision.  I think I was being swayed by how much I liked and got along with the other grad students and how much personality I fit with the students and faculty, which while important, is not what I should make my decision on.    Going with school B was a hard choice because I know of studies showing that your gut reaction is often "better", and that when people think more about the decision they tend to side with objective facts they can specifically put into words, which doesn't always encompass the important factors that are hard to verbalize.  Still, I am confident that my gut was pulling me towards personality (again, school B still had great people, just didn't get that same "click" right away) whereas rationally I should go with the objective facts. School B has a better research fit, a better location, more research-productive and highly-regarded faculty, and a more integrated department.
I absolutely agree with this. The "feel" of the department can change on a yearly basis. Ultimately I'll make my decision based solely on objective factors such as record of academic placement, and not on gut at all.
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Just don't be too quick to judge; program A is arguably better in my field and they were slow to respond to my emails at first, which was nothing like program B which even let me know I was their top applicant. I gave program A some time because I really wanted to like it and now several current students have contacted me and are volunteering to answer my questions. This tipped my decision in favor of program A.

I can assure you that if the emails were the only factor in my decision, I would not be nearly as concerned with it. The program who has been (and continues to be) incredibly helpful and friendly is well-ranked, well-regarded in industry, consistently publishes high-quality papers, and is giving me significantly more money than both programs who have ignored me. 

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I can assure you that if the emails were the only factor in my decision, I would not be nearly as concerned with it. The program who has been (and continues to be) incredibly helpful and friendly is well-ranked, well-regarded in industry, consistently publishes high-quality papers, and is giving me significantly more money than both programs who have ignored me. 

 

Great! My experiences have shown that the better a department is, the friendlier they are to prospective students... I'm sorry that the other two departments were not like this but it is great that you have such an option at the third school. And congratulations! The decision seems quite easy for you, I am still stuck in the "sleepless nights" phase of my decision :)

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While i was deciding which schools to apply to , i looked at the objective factors like location, cost, rank, program structure, etc. and only applied to schools where I knew i'd be happy for 2-3 years.  Now that i've been accepted to a couple programs, I feel okay about using my gut feelings to make the final decision.  :) 

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Great! My experiences have shown that the better a department is, the friendlier they are to prospective students... I'm sorry that the other two departments were not like this but it is great that you have such an option at the third school. And congratulations! The decision seems quite easy for you, I am still stuck in the "sleepless nights" phase of my decision :)

 

Thank you so much! I'm honestly not too bummed out about the other two (mostly just because if I let myself, I will wallow in irritation and self-doubt =P), and I'm just focused on making it through the next few months. I can't WAIT to start my program. Best of luck to you in your decision, mate!!

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In the end "gut feeling" about a school won out over the logical pros & cons list I had written in my notebook. I trust my subconscious to pick up on things that the rest of my brain doesn't notice: things like atmosphere, departmental relations, happiness of the grad students. I didn't rely entirely on instinct, just because I only got to see a snapshot of the departments when I visited...say a 60-40 or 70-30 split between gut feeling & logic. ;) 

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I think I will end up making a list of pros and cons (or maybe a table!) because my gut seems to be pulling in four different directions.

 

Oxford--it's freaking Oxford!

UEA--they want to give me all the money!

Leeds--it's my home school and really great supervisor

Nottingham--the best fit and really friendly supervisor

 

Fortunately I have a while to decide; unfortunately I can't make any visits because I'm on the other side of the world. So I'll be emailing for the next two months...

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Oxford--it's freaking Oxford!

UEA--they want to give me all the money!

Leeds--it's my home school and really great supervisor

Nottingham--the best fit and really friendly supervisor

 

I think you should be careful about going to a school because of the name (in this case Oxford). I was accepted to MIT, which was very unexpected, and after my visit I keep doubting my impressions of the school because it is MIT and everything about being there felt so surreal. A bunch of people have told me to follow the money and not go into debt for grad school. 

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I think you should be careful about going to a school because of the name (in this case Oxford). I was accepted to MIT, which was very unexpected, and after my visit I keep doubting my impressions of the school because it is MIT and everything about being there felt so surreal. A bunch of people have told me to follow the money and not go into debt for grad school. 

 

On the other hand, it's also important to somehow abstract away from the surrealness of the experience, and try to look at it as "a school" (which is kind of the same advice you just gave about Oxford). I too was accepted to MIT and was completely dazzled when I visited, but I tried to approach my decision by separating the "It's MIT!!!" part of it and reflecting on how I actually felt while I was there (other than excited and intimidated). I ultimately ended up accepting their offer because I genuinely had a really pleasant time interacting with the faculty and grad students, and because I knew that the school fit my own research interests really well.

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I had 5 acceptances.  Initially, I used logic.  That narrowed the field down to two.  Between the final two, I relied on gut...the hand-wavy, fuzzy stuff.  That "methodology" led me to a decision that I still standby.  I just had a meeting with my advisor today, and it reminded me that I had definitely made the right choice.  I don't think you can ever go wrong mixing logic and gut.

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Unless there are real red flags, absolutely go with your gut feeling! I WISH I had a strong gut feeling about one of the two places I'm deciding between, haha! You most certainly want a program where you will feel comfortable working and studying.

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I had 5 acceptances.  Initially, I used logic.  That narrowed the field down to two.  Between the final two, I relied on gut...the hand-wavy, fuzzy stuff.  That "methodology" led me to a decision that I still standby.  I just had a meeting with my advisor today, and it reminded me that I had definitely made the right choice.  I don't think you can ever go wrong mixing logic and gut.

 

Precise description of how I made my decision. Thumbs up for mixing logic and gut :)

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