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Honest opinions - funding vs prestige


potential_phd
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Hi everyone. I am having a sort of dilemma. I applied to 4 schools this season for my PhD: SFU (Simon Fraser), UBC (where I am completing my Master's), McGill, and U Calgary.

 

I got a complete rejection from McGill, accepted by SFU with good funding, accepted by UBC with not-so-good funding, and accepted by Calgary with amazing funding. I met with the faculties of SFU and U Calgary and I really didn't get seem to click with the faculty at SFU in my department, or the particular direction the department was headed. So I have narrowed my choices down to UBC and Calgary.

 

Here is my dilemma: I keep hearing bad things about Calgary, whether it be how low ranked it is, or that the city is terrible, and that the university in general is not good. I really liked the profs in the department I would be in, and my specific department seems to be doing pretty well at that school, both in terms of funding, development, and recent student achievement. However, I can't help but think that I would hate not living in Vancouver (I am a PNW gal, through and through), and that I would miss the prestige of UBC. However, UBC (at least the department I am in) refuses outright to give 4-year fellowships to returning students and since my department here is not well funded my departmental scholarship is quite bad

 

Here are the hard facts:

Funding: 

UBC: 10000/yr (when including TA) for 2 years

Calgary: 20000/yr for 1st two years, 15000/yr for 3 and 4

 

Calgary Pros:

Department is new and improving

Technology area is significantly more developed in my department than at UBC

There are fewer grad students and yet more dedicated faculty to my particular area

The research potentials are greater, and the degree is more rigorous

 

Calgary cons:

Its in Calgary, need I say more? The city seems a bit small and po-dunk

The school is lacking in prestige and seems to get bad reviews; most people on the internet seem to think it is an awful place

the school is really small

the weather is awful

 

UBC Pros:

It is in Vancouver, a wonderful city

the university is big and prestigious

Vancouver is all-around cleaner than Calgary

I know the faculty and my research interests fit well

More networking opportunities

 

UBC Cons:

My particular department is kind of falling into shambles lately

the school I am associated with is resistant to change

really expensive, especially given my funding circumstances

Getting my doctorate from the same place as my Master's

 

Anyways, what do you all think? Sorry this is so long, I have to make a decision soon and I am so torn.

 

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It sounds like you're struggling with the classic dilemma that many grad students face, myself included!  There are many things you should consider, in my opinion.  First of all, I wouldn't solely trust the reviews of Calgary you find on the internet.  With universities -- and especially graduate programs -- it's a unique and personal experience.  Even at the best universities, there will be stellar and terrible departments.  I think that, when attempting to make your decision, you should take your funding and departmental opportunities into consideration first.  To me, that says Calgary.

 

Now what are the hard facts between Vancouver and Calgary?  What's the difference in cost of living?  What's public transportation look like?  What's the crime look like?  Do they have resources for your favorite activities?  What's the weather like?  It's your job to arrange questions like these in order of most to least importance.  What's more important to you: living in a beautiful city where you may be hard-pressed for cash, or living in a smaller, less exciting city where you'll have extra money (taking into consideration the potential difference in cost of living and your funding offer)? 

 

I too applied to UBC.  I think it's really a wonderful school.  My concern for you is that you'll be dissatisfied with the direction of your department.  You know it well, as you're already finishing your Master's there.  Take your gut instinct into consideration here.  It sounds to me like you're leaning toward Calgary but are afraid of how it looks.  I've been where you are, and I know how hard and frightening it can be.  My advice is to consider what I've said above... and if you really need somebody to tell you where they think you should go, I'll tell you: I think you should go to Calgary.

 

Best of luck!

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Your cons for UBC are far more substantive.
Try doing just a con vs. con comparison. Sometimes it's easier to see which of two options sucks more, and then eliminate it. Remember too, that just because the city isn't your ideal residence, doesn't necessarily mean the program won't be a million times better for you.
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My current department is a bit of a mess and I can tell you that I strongly encourage visiting students to rethink whether or not they really want to come here. Now, I'm not at Calgary and we aren't in the same field but the same advice applies. Get out of UBC while you still can.

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Calgary is the obvious choice in your situation given the funding picture. I don't know about your field specifically, but Calgary's PhD placement record is pretty strong in several areas -- and I suspect the university as a whole is enjoying an upward trajectory. I know of several outstanding scholars who did their PhDs at Calgary. 

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Does UBC come with a tuition waiver?  They have a graduate support initiative for PhD students. At Calgary you will pay ~$7000 out of your stipend for tuition so you won't necessarily make out much better than at UBC provided that your tuition is covered.

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I live in Calgary and go to the U of C and while I've been frustrated with my own program, the city and the school really aren't so bad. 

 

The weather can be a bummer, but we do get chinooks so it's not like it's -30 for 6 months straight. While it's no Vancouver, the city is okay! The arts scenes are growing, there are cool parts of downtown, and there are over a million people - it's not like you would be stuck in a place of 20,000..., the cost of living is lower than vancouver, we're so close to the rockies, etc etc. I've lived here for almost 22 years, and while I feel it's my time to leave (to go to Vancouver, funny enough), it really isn't the worst place in the world.

 

I think Calgary is the clear choice here and the only dilemma is Calgary is `shitty' versus Vancouver is not? I don't know what program you're in, or what your department would be like here, but I thought I'd give my opinion. Feel free to ask me anything you want to know about Calgary or the university, and I can try my best to help out.

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Thank you all so much! this is a lot of good advice. To answer a few questions:

 

Regarding alumni: this is actually quite tricky. The master's program has been around longer than the PhD program, and the master's students are well-placed historically. I know of several doctoral students who have gotten positions or post-docs (quite a few in the UK actually), but the doctoral program is still young. Also, quite a few of them work in the field professionally - I am in a field where a large portion of grads might not go into academics.

 

About the tuition: UBC does not give a tuition waiver, our department does not have them anymore from what I can tell. My partner did his doctorate here and last year his stopped; I will not receive one either. I will double check with FOGS, however, to make sure I have received the correct info. 

 

And yes, part of the dilemma is that I generally did not like Calgary as a city, but it really is mostly about the prestige. Even though my department there is good, I don't know how proud I would feel to say I am starting a doctorate there. It seems like it is extremely easy to get in. (I might be wrong). If it were my Master's I would probably feel differently.

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So here is my con vs con comparison:

 

UBC

- they are closing a lab after this year that aided my area of research

- the funding is considerably low

- I have already attended the school, so something new would be good

- department is losing funds

- comprehensive exams are easier/less intense (yes, this is a con for me)

- degree is less research-focused, more practical

- more coursework than Calgary

- public schools aren't as good as in Alberta (I have 2 children)

 

 

Calgary

- In city of Calgary (small and freezing)

- department is smaller

- less opportunities for me around the city

- school is less prestigious

- harder to visit my family, who live on the west coast (not in vancouver though)

- more faculty dedicated to my area, but less faculty overall in the department

- less distinguished alumni because the school is so young

- would involve a major move, and take me away from vancouver

 

I am not sure this brought me any closer - they seem to be pretty equal in terms of cons

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