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Biology: UCSF vs U. Chicago.


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While I'm still waiting for a reply from Caltech (little chance of getting in IMO), I'd like to ask for opinions on these two. I've been torn between them for quite some time... so help!

Going for: Basing self on Developmental Biology with a possibility of switching to Neurobiology, i.e. undecided (hence applying for umbrella programs) Note that the situation in biology umbrella programs is quite different from a lot of other PhD programs in that you do rotations and only pick a lab afterwards. Also note that I'm pretty weather-neutral, or else it'll be a clear choice.



- Close to alma mater w/ resources (Berkeley)

- Insane med school resource

- Easygoing and fun atmosphere among grad students

- Larger choice of labs

- Great neurosciences department (not in TETRAD program though)

- Ranks higher, industry hub right by


- Have doubts about faculty atmosphere

- Lack of campus (ahem)

- No other department as resources (granted, that the biochemistry department is large enough)

- Might have doubts on mobility toward neuroscience labs

- High(er) cost of living

U. Chicago (Molecular Biosciences)


- At visit, faculty seems to "click" more in conversations

- High mobility with other clusters, i.e. neuroscience

- Great resources to draw from in other departments (statistics, chem, physics etc. are very good and collaborative at Chicago)

- A reasonably high-ranked program (~40s)

- High faculty enthusiasm in recruiting me

- Have a campus

- Low(er) cost of living


- Lower ranked (I think most people around me will go WTF if I forgo UCSF for Chicago)

- Smaller program in size

- Little industry connections

- Little chance of utilizing established network among Berkeley people

Been trying to convince myself one way or another for the past week with little result. Any opinions?

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I think it's probably more important to go to a program where you feel the faculty overall would be a better 'fit' for you. After all, the PI is going to be the single by far most important factor in your grad school experience. Finding a great 'fit' with your grad student peers is important but not as important as finding a great 'fit' with the faculty. I'll also note that UChicago does have a highly ranked med school (although I admittedly do not know whether there are any affiliations between the med school and your program). And UChicago is ranked by USN in the top 20, not in the 40s.

I'm not trying to say you should necessarily go to UChicago over UCSF. UCSF Tetrad is a terrific program with great faculty and a great reputation. In the end you'll just have to pick the program that you think would be a better overall 'fit' for you. I don't think you can go wrong either way you choose. Best of luck! :)

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Oddly enough, I'm in the same position as you, except I'm deciding between UCSF Neuroscience and UChicago Neurobiology. Things are a little bit different for me since I'm both an SF native as well as an undergrad at the U of C, but I'm definitely tied up in knots about which one to pick.

As far as the med school being a resource at the U of C, I can tell you that there are plenty of labs that have access to the hospital and it really just depends on what your PI is studying whether you'll be working with human samples or not.

On the point about UCSF being closer to your established network, don't you think there's also something to be said for making connections in a completely new place? Along with that, in my own experience of trying to get advice about where to go, I've been told a few times that it's good to see how science is done in a different part of the country, as each region (West Coast vs East Coast vs Midwest vs South) has its own flavor. I guess the rationalization behind that is that you'll eventually have to settle down in one of these areas so you should try to figure out what works for you.

I've also been told that I can't go wrong with either program, and I think the best advice I've gotten so far is to just go with my gut because there's no logical way to go about this. For me, I think that means UCSF, but a lot of that has to do with my research interests being matched better and the fact that I have my parents and many of my relatives here. Good luck whatever school you choose!

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