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Complicated Decision (2 Schools or Job?)


iphi
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Sorry for any typos. I am on my phone. Basically I have a tough decision ahead. I will lay out the facts below:

1. I have an offer of admission from School A, but no funding offer. I will find out about funding in June. My chances are 40-50% (based on past years). If I get it, my total salary per year would be extremely high, but in an area with high cost of living in a place I am not sure I want to move to. Research fit is only meh.

2. School B is my top choice. I HAVE NOT HEARD BACK FROM THEM. I was told two weeks ago that I would hear within the week. POI said all admission offers come with full funding. Only about half of School A's potential offer, but the area has a low cost of living and I could scrape by.

3. Just to make things more complicated, I was offered a job yesterday. The salary is pretty good (but not as good as School A!) and I could launch a career this way, as I already have a Master's degree. This is about the kind of job I can expect to get after my PhD but it is a bit lower level, of course. Still, in 5 years I can probably climb up the ladder to a comparable position. But I wouldnt be doing my own research, and I wouldnt have the flexibility of grad school (only 2 weeks paid vacation per year, etc).

In sum, my first choice is School B, and then I would have a hard time deciding between the job and School A. My problem is the timeline. I have to decide about the job soon. If I turn it down and I am not offered funding from School A or admission to School B I will be in serious trouble. So what do I do??

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Based on the info you provided, this is how I would rank your options:

 

1. School B

2. The job

3. School A

 

School A sounds like a poor choice. If the research fit is only "meh," would you really be happy there for a 5-year+ PhD program? Research is a harsh and demanding mistress, and if you're not excited about your research then you may quickly find yourself trapped in a very unhappy and stressful situation. It sounds like the funding package is the only thing that School A really has going for it, but even that's not certain. In fact, there's up to a 60% chance that you might not get any funding at all, and those aren't exactly favorable odds! So, I'd say that A is probably the least attractive of the three options.

 

School B, on the other hand, sounds like a good fit for you and probably the best option. The funding package may not be stellar, but if it's enough to make ends meet then it is sufficient. I would call (not email) School B immediately and ask about the status of your application. It's perfectly acceptable to do this, as you need to make a decision soon and they were supposed to have gotten back to you by now. Be sure to explain your situation and the timeline for deciding on other offers to them. If school B accepts you with funding, I would say that you should choose B. But if school B rejects you or has you on a waitlist, I would choose the job.

 

The reasoning behind that is that there's no guarantee that you'd get off of a waitlist at school B, and if you pass on the job and don't get off the waitlist, then your only option is A (which, as noted earlier, is probably the worst of the three options). Or, you might not have any other options at all if the deadline for A's offer has passed by then! The job has a lot of things going for it... a decent salary, a chance to move up, and it's similar to your long-term career goals anyway. If B doesn't work out, I'd think that the job would be a much better choice than School A. I also don't think you should base your decision on which option would give you more vacation time; chances are that grad school would keep you busy and poor enough to make more than 2 weeks of vacation time impossible anyway. :-)

 

So, that's what I would do. If B accepts you, choose B. If B rejects or waitlists you, choose the job. Then decline A's offer so that someone else can get off of the waitlist.

 

There's also the possibility that you could take the job, stay there for a few years, and reapply to school B and/or other programs several years from now (perhaps once the state of academic funding in this country improves?). Just because you accept the job now doesn't mean that you are locked into it for the rest of your life. This option might be really attractive if B doesn't accept you but you're worried that you'd miss doing research.

 

Good luck with your decision!

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Based on the info you provided, this is how I would rank your options:

1. School B

2. The job

3. School A

School A sounds like a poor choice. If the research fit is only "meh," would you really be happy there for a 5-year+ PhD program? Research is a harsh and demanding mistress, and if you're not excited about your research then you may quickly find yourself trapped in a very unhappy and stressful situation. It sounds like the funding package is the only thing that School A really has going for it, but even that's not certain. In fact, there's up to a 60% chance that you might not get any funding at all, and those aren't exactly favorable odds! So, I'd say that A is probably the least attractive of the three options.

School B, on the other hand, sounds like a good fit for you and probably the best option. The funding package may not be stellar, but if it's enough to make ends meet then it is sufficient. I would call (not email) School B immediately and ask about the status of your application. It's perfectly acceptable to do this, as you need to make a decision soon and they were supposed to have gotten back to you by now. Be sure to explain your situation and the timeline for deciding on other offers to them. If school B accepts you with funding, I would say that you should choose B. But if school B rejects you or has you on a waitlist, I would choose the job.

The reasoning behind that is that there's no guarantee that you'd get off of a waitlist at school B, and if you pass on the job and don't get off the waitlist, then your only option is A (which, as noted earlier, is probably the worst of the three options). Or, you might not have any other options at all if the deadline for A's offer has passed by then! The job has a lot of things going for it... a decent salary, a chance to move up, and it's similar to your long-term career goals anyway. If B doesn't work out, I'd think that the job would be a much better choice than School A. I also don't think you should base your decision on which option would give you more vacation time; chances are that grad school would keep you busy and poor enough to make more than 2 weeks of vacation time impossible anyway. :-)

So, that's what I would do. If B accepts you, choose B. If B rejects or waitlists you, choose the job. Then decline A's offer so that someone else can get off of the waitlist.

There's also the possibility that you could take the job, stay there for a few years, and reapply to school B and/or other programs several years from now (perhaps once the state of academic funding in this country improves?). Just because you accept the job now doesn't mean that you are locked into it for the rest of your life. This option might be really attractive if B doesn't accept you but you're worried that you'd miss doing research.

Good luck with your decision!

Thank you! Another thing I should mention is that School A takes my Master's into account and would be only three years compared to School B's five. B remains my first choice, however.

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I agree with zabius -- it doesn't sound like School A has much to offer compared to the job! 

 

Personally, since my goal for grad school is to get a job doing something I like, and it sounds like the job you're talking about is the same kind of stuff you would want to do at the end of your time with School B, I would lean towards the job more! Depends on the circumstances though -- is the job a permanent position? Is it in a place/city you would want to live? Finishing a PhD at School B might put you further along your career than starting a job now, but with 5 years of actual work experience you could have instead of School B might put you further along than a fresh PhD. And like zabius said, you might be able to go back to school after some time in your job -- it sounds like the job is still in your field? I wouldn't be too worried about not having the flexibility of grad school in a job -- I feel like a benefit like that is something that makes grad school less unappealing, not a benefit you would want to go to grad school just to get! After all, after your PhD, you would be dealing with less flexibility too! I think the lack of research freedom could be a dealbreaker though...but could you climb up the ladder in the ~5 ish years to get some sort of freedom?

 

I am in grad school because I have some career goal in mind. If someone were to give me a lower level version of a kind of job that satisfies my career goals (research freedom would be nice, but not necessary for me), I'd probably leave school for the job! For me, grad school is a means to an end, so if I can skip to the end, all the better, haha.

 

But this is just what I would do, not what I necessarily think you would do! I don't know enough about the situation and what you would want to be able to give a qualified response. But I hope explaining what I would do might give some insight that could be helpful to you or others? Or maybe I just wasted 5 minutes of your time to read this :P

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I agree with both of the posters above.  School A, even with only 3 years, may end up being a costly and mediocre experience if the fit is "meh" and funding not guaranteed.  I would definitely get in touch with the department at School B, especially since it's already well beyond the point that they should have contacted you, and get some closure on School B, either way.  The job sounds like a great option, and if you ultimately want to get your PhD and do your own research, you can use it as a couple more years of experience on your CV next time around. 

Edited by JungWild&Free
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