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More than Prestige

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My concern is that I will be turning down the "better" program and better fit for personal reasons.

I have been accepted to UCLA ACCESS and UCSD Biomedical Sciences. I get the sense that UCSD is the better overall program; it has more research opportunities, more collaboration, better resources, more funding, and (dare I say it) is generally considered more prestigious in the sciences than UCLA, although that distinction may be negligible. Aside from that, UCSD is a better fit for me in about every conceivable way, academically and otherwise.

That being said, I'm experiencing the two-body problem with my girlfriend being in LA. Now I won't ask anyone what I am to do about this, but I can ask if my decision matters. Do you think there is much of a difference between a top program and a not-quite-top program in terms of training, resources, and job prospects? Is it a problem that I'd be turning down a school that is a great fit for a school that is a good fit? At the end of the day, you are the product of a single lab, it's collaborations and your own hard work, so does strength of program really matter that much at two good programs?

Any comments specifically on UCLA or UCSD would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

I want to study cancer by the way.

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It is a good thing I accepted another offer as I am waitlisted for the same program at UCSD. Otherwise, I'd have been telling you to hurry up with your decision and biased to tell you to go to UCLA. :P


As far as UCSD goes, have you driven down the main streets just off of campus? There are so many biotech labs right there! I would imagine it is fairly easy to get a post-doc right there when you're done. Some of the professors even have their labs off campus. I visited last year during Experimental Biology conference. It was gorgeous.

Prestige doesn't matter as much for me. What matters is that I'm working with a professor that has done some amazing research in the field, and one that publishes often. I want someone who is going to work with me more than work over me, and someone that I won't be afraid to talk to about problems I have with experiments. It should be someone that seems fairly well-funded and can make sure that you have the materials you need for the experiments.


You need to take some time to look through those programs at your POIs again. How many of them are working with areas in or related to cancer that interest you? How many are taking grad students? Which place will you be happier at? Can you survive better at one place over the other cost-wise? Are the things you think you want to do really feasible at that university. In my opinion, you're probably going to have access to everything you need at those universities. If it were UCSD versus some unknown small program, I'd tell you to go to UCSD... but in this comparison to UCLA, I think both are great.


Another thing to note: It is okay to not be near your girlfriend for your studies. This is a time when you really need to focus on getting your stuff together and surviving your intro classes. It might be good to not see her all the time. It sucks, but sometimes it will help you. San Diego to LA isn't that bad; you can see her on some weekends. I'm moving more than 16 hours away from my boyfriend to what I think is one of the top programs for my field: cancer and epigenetics. At least, there are POIs that I have been guaranteed a rotation with that are accepting students. Had I gone to UCSD, I would probably see him once per year at best.

That's odd. I think my comments to you are biased toward UCSD. Haha.

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This depends on your field and the difference in prestige between the two programs.  I don't know much about biomedical science rankings.  If they're both top 20 programs I would imagine that the difference is negligible; if one is top 10 and the other is like, top 100, then that may make a difference.  You can ask the professors at the program what placement is like from both schools.


I would disagree with the statement that you are the product of a single lab; you are also the product of the intellectual environment of that department.


It isn't just that you're comparing the better program to a program you feel is a better fit for you; UCSD is the better-reputed program AND it is the better fit for you.  I suppose it also depends on how serious your relationship with your girlfriend is, but me and my husband did the long-distance thing (we were engaged at the time) when I got into Columbia and he joined the military.  The first 6 months we lived across the country from each other, and then he moved about the same distance from me as Los Angeles is from San Diego.  It's not ideal, but we made it work.  I think you could make it work, too, and I think you should go to the better program for you - UCSD.  It's not like you're considering a school across the country from her; it's a 2-hour drive - close enough for weekend visits.

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I'm in a simmilar situation, considering turning down a top 20 school (in the midwest) to go to a solid state school in a better location personal wise (new england).

Both have interesting professors, and top 20 is giving me more money, but im starting to wonder if that's worth the stress I know it will put on my relationship of 5.5 years. I want to get a good education, but I want to be happy too. Balancing personal life and future prospects is a stressful decision.

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I'm going to say something very unpopular but it is kind of the elephant in the room right now. I don't know how serious or long-term your relationship is, but I chose to spend the last year near my girlfriend instead of grad school, a girlfriend with whom I'd been living with for three years (spending 16+ hours/day together over this span...) and we broke up this earlier this year. This is pretty much a worst case scenario -- being somewhere you didn't want to be for someone with whom you are no longer together.


Obviously, I don't know your relationship nor would I ever prognosticate anything bad happening between you two, but you should consider this possibility as only you can. 

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UCLA is an overall more prestigious institution, but UCSD clearly trumps the former for biomedical sciences. Los Angeles and San Diego are only two hours apart. Go to UCSD and if you and your girlfriend are serious enough then it will work out. My wife (then girlfriend) and I went to separate undergraduate institutions that were 3.5 hours apart in the same state and we obviously lasted through those four years. We aren't old, by the way (I'm 23 and she is 22 -- we graduated in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and got married the year she graduated). We think the long distance actually made our relationship stronger because it tested and showed us how committed we actually were to each other. 


Go to UCSD. 

Edited by nesw4314
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