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UCLA Chemistry vs. Northwestern Materials Phd


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Now, I'm an engineer in background so originally UCLA was more just to satisfy my current advisor.  However, during the visit I met an PI and lab that I completely loved.  The attitudes, people, and research is exactly what I want to do with my graduate career.  The advisor is also extremely well connected and very well known, meaning that finding employment afterwards shouldn't be a problem.  I can see myself learning a huge amount and keeping in touch with him for a long time afterwards.  I'd be doing mostly engineering and materials work in the lab, and many professors at my current institution have strongly recommended him.  


The downside?  I don't want a Chemistry degree, and I didn't really like the rest of the department.  UCLA also has a large amount of hoops to jump through for the degree and a low retention rate.  Plus, I'm just extremely worried about the job market for Chemistry phds right now, it just doesn't seem like something I should jump in to since I'm not sure what route I want to take after graduating.  It seems like it might be a very long, hard slog without much payoff, and I really don't have an interest in pure chemistry. That seems to defeat the purpose of getting a phd in chemistry, which should be to set myself up for a career of chemistry.  I've also lived in Southern California for my entire life so I'm wondering if a change of scenery would be beneficial.


Northwestern materials is exactly the kind of department I see myself excelling in.  I clicked with the department as a whole to a much greater extent than at UCLA, and the general themes of the program much better fit my interests.  It also has an extremely high retention rate and a very good time to degree average.  I also loved Chicago when visiting.  However, I didn't find a professor or lab I was as excited about to start in as at UCLA, but there were 5 or 6 I wouldn't mind working for.


At this point it really comes down to, do I choose the best advisor or best department?

Edited by East45
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I'd normally go for the best advisor, and since you are inclined less towards chemistry based on your general idea of chemistry PhDs' job prospects, I'd normally consider not doing what your heart doesn't feel like doing. But remember, the more effort you put in, you will be better off, so low retention rate should actually be a bigger challenge, which should excite you in UCLA. The fact that you've lived in the southern California though seems to call for a change. So I'd say go for the change.


But you say the professors in UCLA seem to be a perfectly fine, and you would not have much problem about earning and so on ... I dunno what's the catch, having a chemistry degree doesn't limit you as far as I'd think.


On the other hand, if your heart says no to chemistry, then go for Northwestern. Evanston should be an awesome place. But if you don't think you'll be really excited in working on something, well ... think again.


In all honesty though, I'd suggest UCLA, since you found professors to be good and awesome fit, and also a potentially good advisor.

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