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MS Gatech vs PhD (OSU, McMaster, NU)


liszt85
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Hey guys,

Its finally time for me to make a decision and be done with this. I've posted on the decisions forum too but thought this would be relevant here as I'm considering offers from departments of psychology as well. I'm in a somewhat confusing situation and would really like some input from here. So the options I'm considering are:

1) Northwestern University: Department of Linguistics, PhD

Research fit: Good. I get to work on language and music at the interdisciplinary center hosted by the Complex Systems Institute. Since I'm a physics major (bachelors + Masters degree in Physics) and since my primary interest in physics is nonlinear dynamics and chaos, its a very good place for me to be working in.

Funding: Since I'll be taking along my wife, their funding package is not quite sufficient for life in Chicago ($20.5K before taxes, fixed amount for all years, includes summer support, strictly forbids any part time employment even while I'm on their fellowship during years 1 and 5). However my family is willing to sell of some property to give me about $15-20K extra to serve as emergency money and if that happens, I might be able to make this work. I however really don't like the idea of accepting this money as I wanted to do this absolutely on my own.

Atmosphere: From what I've heard from people here who've visited, its a small program (they accept only 1-2 people a year) and the students seem genuinely happy. From my correspondences with faculty there, all of them seem warm and nice and they've been thoroughly professional about this whole thing. I got my offer letter on Jan 23! They really do want me to attend and I suspect I'd be very happy academically here too. ONE IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION HOWEVER IS ABOUT JOB PROSPECTS: My Linguistics professor here in India tells me that universties here don't hire people without an undergraduate degree in the field. So if I do opt for one of my PhD offers, I would find it extremely difficult to find work in my country in the future though my area of interest is one in which there is little or no work in India. So I don't intend to come back to settle down here but if some emergency does pop up, I will have to return and I'm afraid I'll be jobless if that happens.

2) The Ohio State University, Psychology, PhD

Research fit: Adviser has to be fixed right away and I've found only one who is willing (and extremely keen, might I add!) to support my summers. So his work is on language, using concepts from physics (from the areas I'd mentioned above) and also some work on memory, attention, etc using some nice equipment (tracking facial expression changes by automatically clicking photographs when that happens, etc). There is this professor in the dept of music there who has agreed to work with me on some occasional projects and he's top notch in the field of music cognition research (which really is my primary area of interest) and he advises me to do my dissertation in a "traditional" area of Psychology because only that would make me a competitive applicant for jobs since music cognition does not have jobs (he says on an avg about 1-2 tenure track positions open all over the world!).

Funding: Its great for Columbus. An increase in stipend level is expected and since I come in with a masters, I'd be coming in on the higher scale. I expect to be paid around $1400-1500 per month and my prospective adviser has guaranteed summer funding for all years at the maximum possible level of $1610 per month. He has also assured me of covering conference travel and accommodation costs. Excellent health plan for couples. Pretty cheap one too. So financially, OSU will afford us (my wife and I) a comfortable life.

Atmosphere: My prospective adviser, from his correspondences, told me that our lab would be very relaxed, family friendly, and that my wife would be welcome to spend time in the lab, and that we might even try to convince her to apply for grad studies! He's gone to the extent of offering to play cricket with me since he's Australian and I'm Indian. He looks like a great chap to be working with in a relaxed atmosphere. Also that thing he said about encouraging my wife to spend time in the lab, etc looks quite enticing to me as both she and I wish that she could study too. Since she comes from a small town and a relatively unknown university with no research experience, we expect that it would be extremely difficult for her to be accepted into a program but if she gets to do some volunteer research for some time, I guess she might be accepted by a grad program, maybe an MS so that she gets to move ahead in life too while I finish my PhD.

3) Georgia Tech, Music Technology, MS

Research fit: Have excellent faculty members doing some cool work. They tell me that this program would give me 2 years to explore different areas since I'm making this shift from physics to another field. So it would probably be a good idea to give myself some time to decide which field exactly it is that I want to do a PhD in or if I decide that I want to work in the industry (audio/music), I could do that too. This program would give me useful and practical marketable technical skills that could come in very handy in either case. I might also stand a better chance at being accepted to graduate programs at my top choices which I wasn't accepted to this year. I might want to apply to places like MIT media lab or Stanford CCRMA for PhD later on. There are students who've published as many as 10 papers during their 2 year program here. So the professor told me that if I was willing to put in enough work, the options are plenty.

Funding: poor but excellent keeping in mind that this is only a new program and is only a MS program where funding is normally not available. I've been guaranteed my first semester (tuition waiver + $1500 per month). They expect that they would be able to continue that support for the whole duration of 2 years. The director told me that all these 3 years (right from the beginning of this program), they've never had to withdraw support to their GRA's but things "might be slightly more difficult keeping in view the economic downturn". I really have no idea what to make of this because if my funding gets pulled, taking a loan to pay for my tuition fee is not an option ($14000 per sem + living expenses) as I have no able co signer or collateral to offer a bank to even consider taking a loan with! So IF my funding gets pulled IF the economic crisis somehow worsens, I could be in a thick soup. Will be stranded with a debt (~$20,000 which I have to take now to pay mandatory fees + insurance for two people that I have to pay which are not paid for by the department) but I think the possibility for that to happen is around maybe 2-3%. The most important factor about this offer is this: GIVES ME MANY MORE OPTIONS. CAN FIND A JOB ALMOST ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, SO DON'T HAVE TO WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT FUTURE JOB PROSPECTS UNLIKE THE OTHER PHD CASES.

Atmosphere: Don't know much.. have been in touch with an Indian professor who does some great work on hindustani music. I have a western classical music background though. Musically this place might have a lot more to offer me as course work sometimes require us to be close to music. Being close to music is important to me too.

4) McMaster, Psychology, PhD (tentative, name has been recommended for admission, professor "hopeful", but not certain)

Research Fit: Neurocognition of music, esp in infants. Looks very exciting, top notch researcher in the field, major conferences held often at the university and nearby universities (Canada is very active in the field of music cognition).

Funding: $20,000CDN out of which I have to pay $5000CDN per year towards a part of the tuition fee which is not waived. So after taxes, I'll get just over $1000CDN per month which might not be enough for two people in Hamilton.

Atmosphere: No idea, she looks like a person with many graduate students under her and I really have no idea how accessible she is. Job prospects, based on the advice of the professor of music from OSU, might be bleak in the field of music cognition. So that will restrict me geographically as well as in other ways.

Now please help me decide!! A major consideration is future prospects. Remember that my country has a problem hiring people without a ug background in the field. So a PhD in Psychology or Linguistics would restrict me to those fields and would restrict me geographically as well whereas the risky MS (I have to go into debt too to be able to attend) will give me much more options and definitely looks like the better choice to make keeping in mind that I'd love some flexibility in my future options but the major question is is the financial risk worth taking? Will I be stranded mid way with my funding pulled? THey also have no summer funding. So I'm left to find myself employment during the summer months and my F1 visa restricts me to work only 20 hrs a week and that too only on campus. I hope I'll be able to find some kind of summer internship.

I'm highly confused. Leaning slightly towards Gatech but VERY attracted to the OSU offer as well. NU is a great place to be too but job prospects worry me a bit. Same about McMaster. So the orders of preference are:

Job prospects (first and foremost priority):

Gatech > OSU > NU > McMaster

Research fit:

Gatech/McMaster > NU > OSU

Atmosphere:

OSU > NU > Gatech/McMaster

Financial comfort:

OSU > NU > McMaster > Gatech.

Help me weigh these options please! Thanks.

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Posted in the other thread too, but:

If your goal is PhD, be very careful about turning down great fit/good ranked programs now in the hopes of maybe getting into the same or better ones after getting the GATech MS. You are in, now, to programs that seem quite good for you; make sure you're not going to be kicking yourself 2 or 3 years down the road because you turned down these excellent PhD offers now.

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