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Embarrassed of my grad school


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In undergrad, I did mediocre....I had very strong semesters and other not so strong. I was undergoing depression. Now I'm in a PhD program at UCSD and quite frankly I'm embarrassed. I really did not want to start school again after undergrad...I honestly need a break. I graduated from an Ivy League and am deep in debt.

I am embarrassed to be attending UCSD quite frankly. UCSD ranks number 15 or so in my field ...name and prestige really matters. And I went to an Ivy League school that people don't recognize the name of (hint: it's been consistently ranked 4th in US news after Yale) on the west coast. It annoys me because people know about Stanford but my school was ranked just as high, if not better, yet people on the west coast are unfamiliar with it.

My undergrad grades weren't terrible, however, I am going to get straight As in graduate school and quit after I get my masters...it should only take me one year and a quarter.

After that I want to go to an Ivy, MIT, Stanford or Berkeley.

 

I honestly won't be happy unless I graduate from a top school.

People's ignorance about Columbia annoys me...it's an Ivy League school for Christ's sake.

But I remember someone on the west coast saying, "Columbia's the most expensive school? I don't get it..it's not Harvard or anything." I was just too dumbfounded to say anything. And my sibling goes to Harvard and everyone knows about Harvard and it's annoying when I see the reaction when I say my sibling goes to Harvard and people have no reaction about Columbia because they don't realize it's one of the top schools in the country. I love NYC and I wouldn't trade my years there for anything in the world but I'm tired of not being good enough, I know I'm capable.

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I will admit that for what I want to do UCSD is probably the best school in the country-- imaging for neuroscience

There is a certain faculty member who left Stanford and helped found Instagram, James Hollan (infographic expert) and many many many notable people in the neuroscience/radiology fields

 

San Diego is the neurotech capital of the country which was recognized by the President and governor (Cal BRAIN initiave), but even after all this, it still doesn't have much clout and I'm sorry but that really matters to me.

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*sigh* this thread won't be good.

 

So you went to Columbia.  As you have mentioned, people on the West Coast are unfamiliar with Columbia despite it being a prestigious school.  This is because Columbia is largely unimportant to them.  They probably don't know a ton of people from there; they do not live in New York or the Northeast, and have no reason to be familiar with Columbia's strength (although I find it hard to believe people don't recognize the name at all).  But why should you care what they are familiar with?  Are they in a position to hire you?  Are they going to give you money if they recognize and value your school's name via casual conversation?  The answer to the two of these is likely no, so forget about it.

 

And so it is with UCSD.  Top 15 is very good indeed.  And a quick look at the NRC rankings show that UCSD might very well be in the top 10 (its S-rank ranged from 2-12, higher than Berkeley, higher than Caltech, higher than Columbia and UCLA and Penn).  This is a very good, very well-known neuroscience program.  The name might not be as recognizable to a non-academic as  you might like.  But you do not (should not) care about that, because these people are not going to hire you.  Their opinion is worth little in terms of actual benefit to you.  Presumably you want to go into a research career; if your department is the BEST place to do what you are doing, then others in your field will know that.  They will not care that you went to Brown if Brown's program in your field is crappy.

 

Furthermore, as you have already seen, going to a "prestigious" school is no guarantee that people will recognize the name of your college.  You went to a top 5 undergrad program and people are still going "Huh, so where is that?"  You will get similar reactions if you go to a lesser-known Ivy for grad school - basically one that is not Harvard, Yale or Princeton.  A lot of people are also unfamiliar with the shinyness of Berkeley or Stanford, especially on the East Coast.  What will you do if you manage to transfer from UCSD to Brown, for example, and you finish, and people are still like "Brown, where is that?"  Or if you go to Berkeley and get placed on the East Coast, and people are like "Berkeley, isn't that a music school?" or "Berkeley, isn't that a state school?"  Or recall how people frequently confuse Penn for Penn State and vice versa (I am currently at one of them, and people always think I am at the other.)  Will you lose your mind if you go to Penn and people think you went to Penn State when you tell them?

 

You said you won't be happy unless you graduate from a top school.  But you ARE at a top school.  You're at a school that is not only well-ranked in your field but is a well-known, nationally ranked institution.  Since rankings matter so much to you - UCSD's undergraduate programs were ranked 37th in the nation and 8th among public universities.  With 3,000 colleges and universities in the country, this puts it in the top 1-2% of universities nationwide.  It's also been ranked very highly in rankings of world universities (from 14 to 63, depending on which ranking you are using). It's estimated that there are around 20,000 universities in the world, so even being ranked #63 puts UCSD in the top 0.3% of universities worldwide.

 

I guess my question is...what do you plan to be getting out of it?  Do you want an academic or research job in your field and to turn out important work?  Or do you want the momentary pleasure of people telling you you must be smart because you went to X school?

 

With that said - transferring is likely to be high-risk, low-reward.  The chances of this going through successfully are low, since in order to transfer at the doctoral level you usually have to have a compelling reason to do so. And even if you finish your MA at your current school and drop out, you will essentially be "transferring" in the doctoral program sense of the word - i.e., you will need to explain to your new PIs that you were in a PhD program and you left, but now you want to start a PhD at a different program for a compelling reason.

 

You do not have one - you cannot explain to potential PIs at MIT or Stanford that you want to transfer because their school's name sounds better than your old one.  No one will take you seriously, and you will be deemed immature.  But you also don't have any other really good reason - you admit that the research fit is perfect, so you can't really fudge that, and you can't talk about interpersonal problems (real or otherwise).  You also need support from your current department to transfer programs.  How are you going to explain to your current PI that everything is going swimmingly but you are unhappy because your school's name does not make unimportant people's face light up when you tell them where you are a grad student?

 

 

*

 

FWIW, I have a PhD from an Ivy League university (Columbia, actually).  I do sometimes get the sort of shiny reaction from non-academics ("OMG, Columbia! You must be smart!") that it sounds like you are looking for.  It gives a momentary feeling of pleasure, much akin to someone telling you your shoes are cute or your new haircut is banging.  And then it passes.  It means nothing.  What is really important to me is the way that academics see my degree, and they are less dazzled by the Ivy pedigree and more interested in who I trained with and what I did when I was there.  It also only happens very occasionally, btw, and matters even less as time goes on.

Edited by juilletmercredi
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OP, I think it's wise for you to take a break after you graduate and spend some time doing something else. You might want to try and figure out why the brand name means so much to you and why other people's opinions or ignorance matter at all. People who matter (like potential employers or grad schools) know Columbia and UCSD and if some of your friends or loved ones don't, you can educate them. If some random person doesn't recognize a school's name, that means very little and matters not at all. Those are both great schools that you went to. However, trying to go to the number 1 place for everything, all the time, is bound to fail, if for no other reason than that people can't agree on what the number 1 is. That aside, it's simply not necessary. People can get places and be successful and respected by others without going to all the best schools or getting all the grants or winning all the prizes. No one is perfect, and at the end of the day it's not like you have to do everything perfectly or it's not worth the bother. If that were the case, school #2 would never even exist and frankly, no one would get out of bed in the morning. Life doesn't end if things aren't all perfect, and who decides what's perfect anyway? You're entering a competition with yourself that you are bound to lose. I'm not sure what more to say except that this goal you've created for yourself is truly unattainable -- there is always something more and better that you could achieve, that cycle just never ends unless you stop it yourself. You need to learn to take pride in what you have achieved, which frankly sounds like quite a lot already, you just need to decide to see it. 

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Note: Undergrad rankings =/= graduate program rankings

 

Edited to note that at the graduate level, rankings vary wildly by field.  A somewhat extreme example - in my field, there are no ivies that even offer my area at the doctoral level.  The brand name matters much less than the connections you make and the work you do.

Edited by Munashi
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In undergrad, I did mediocre....I had very strong semesters and other not so strong. I was undergoing depression. Now I'm in a PhD program at UCSD and quite frankly I'm embarrassed. I really did not want to start school again after undergrad...I honestly need a break. I graduated from an Ivy League and am deep in debt.

I am embarrassed to be attending UCSD quite frankly. UCSD ranks number 15 or so in my field ...name and prestige really matters. And I went to an Ivy League school that people don't recognize the name of (hint: it's been consistently ranked 4th in US news after Yale) on the west coast. It annoys me because people know about Stanford but my school was ranked just as high, if not better, yet people on the west coast are unfamiliar with it.

My undergrad grades weren't terrible, however, I am going to get straight As in graduate school and quit after I get my masters...it should only take me one year and a quarter.

After that I want to go to an Ivy, MIT, Stanford or Berkeley.

 

I honestly won't be happy unless I graduate from a top school.

People's ignorance about Columbia annoys me...it's an Ivy League school for Christ's sake.

But I remember someone on the west coast saying, "Columbia's the most expensive school? I don't get it..it's not Harvard or anything." I was just too dumbfounded to say anything. And my sibling goes to Harvard and everyone knows about Harvard and it's annoying when I see the reaction when I say my sibling goes to Harvard and people have no reaction about Columbia because they don't realize it's one of the top schools in the country. I love NYC and I wouldn't trade my years there for anything in the world but I'm tired of not being good enough, I know I'm capable.

 

What's next? try to marry a trophy wife or get married to a trophy husband? gurl puhleaze

 

You can always do a postdoc at an Ivy school later.

Edited by Quantum Buckyball
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So why are you in grad school? If your goal is to learn as much as you can related to your interest and to contribute to research that you are passionate about then it sounds like you are in best possible place to do that... yet you are trying to leave? This suggests that you are in grad school simply to show off, not because you are passionate about research. If this is true then I strongly recommend taking time off after your masters to figure out what you are poassionate about.

 

If you actually really do care about your research then I would take some time to reflect on these feelings that you are having. Many people do care what others think of them at some level but the level that you seem to care is way outside of the normal, healthy range. Why is it important to you that a random person on the street is impressed with you after a small conversation? For this to be your main goal in life (and if you are willing to leave the top research school for you to impress people then it is), is verrrry superficial. Based on your acheivements, you can shoot so much higher than this. Why not set goals to make a difference in your field or someones life instead of impressing someone random? Based on this outlook, you are setting goals way too low in my opinion. The fact that you desperately seek approval from others could stem from feeling inadequate in other areas of life or feeling unappreciated by people close to you. I would encourage you to reflect on why you feel this way and make a list of what is truely important to YOU. Take other people out if completely. If you rankings didnt exist and the average joe viewed all schools equally then where would you want to study? It sounds like you are already where which is way way more than most people can say.

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*sigh* this thread won't be good.

 

So you went to Columbia.  As you have mentioned, people on the West Coast are unfamiliar with Columbia despite it being a prestigious school.  This is because Columbia is largely unimportant to them.  They probably don't know a ton of people from there; they do not live in New York or the Northeast, and have no reason to be familiar with Columbia's strength (although I find it hard to believe people don't recognize the name at all).  But why should you care what they are familiar with?  Are they in a position to hire you?  Are they going to give you money if they recognize and value your school's name via casual conversation?  The answer to the two of these is likely no, so forget about it.

 

I find it VERY easy to believe that people would have no idea Columbia is an Ivy in large swaths of the West Coast. 

 

My High school counselor in charge of arranging college admissions information sessions, and inviting recruiters didn't know (and couldn't name) the Ivy leagues but did know the Big Ten (and then, the Pac-10) schools. I found this out because I went to a University of Penn session, which the counselor thought was actually for Penn State, and introduced it as one of the Big Ten (sports) schools. 

 

Both I, and the UPenn rep had to correct her that it was actually not part of the Big Ten, but UPenn is an Ivy. Stanford was simply a much bigger deal because it was closer by, and frankly, almost no one I knew cared about Ivies, baby Ivies, or otherwise. Certainly some of the students cared, but other than a passing "oh that's really cool" comments, the East coast held little caché for most of us. 

 

Simply put, while rank and so on is important - not everyone cares or has the Ivies memorized by heart. 

 

eta: i have this saved for such purposes. 

 

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Edited by zigzag
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Unfortunately OP's attitude is common here at UCSD. A lot of undergraduates joke that the only reason they chose UCSD is because they didn't get accepted to Berkeley or UCLA. To be honest, it's the reason why I went to UCSD for my undergraduate degree; when I had zero idea which career path I wanted to pursue, name recognition (and inexpensive tuition) was everything to me. Initially, I felt bummed. I knew I was "good enough" for Berkeley and UCLA, but I found myself at UCSD, a college name that a lot of people treat as "almost prestigious".

 

It took a while for me to realize UCSD's own unique strengths: we don't have the same history and wealth as Ivy Leagues like Harvard and Yale; we don't have a captivating school spirit or fantastic football team like USC (which I believe has a big influence on overall student happiness); but the academic and research opportunities are ENDLESS! Almost every undergraduate who wanted to do research, found a professor willing to accept them. My classmates had an intellectual curiosity that drove them to study many subjects, whether or not it was related to their major. The majority of UCSD students have a thirst for learning/academia/research, and our school bends backwards and forwards to satiate our thirst, even if it means giving up Division I sports and a trendy campus town. UCSD is an unassuming school in that regard.

 

When I was deciding between graduate schools, it came down to UCSD and USC. I was very tempted to pick USC... the lack of school spirit at UCSD was depressing, and I wanted so badly to attend a school with a phenomenal alumni network, a famous football team, and pretty brick buildings with growing ivy. So many famous celebrities went to USC, too, like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas! Exciting!

 

But in the end, I knew USC wasn't going to be enough. USC wasn't going to give me the same research opportunities; they even discouraged doing a thesis. No doubt that USC was the right choice for many people, but with less academic research opportunities and twice the cost, UCSD was a superior choice. Only this time, I wasn't sad about my decision. Unlike my undergraduate days, I was confident in what I wanted to study, and confident that UCSD was going to provide that for me. I'm confident in myself, and therefore confident in my decision, and don't need the shower of compliments from the public to validate why I'm here.

 

OP, it's mind-boggling that you're at the #1 school for neuroscience, but can't find the pride in that. I agree with other posters here that perhaps you should take a step back from academia and figure out what's really going on. It's possible you might have some emotional issues that are being projected onto something unrelated. Or if stopping your academic program is out of the question, I suggest seeking a counselor - we have great counselors here.

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I find it VERY easy to believe that people would have no idea Columbia is an Ivy in large swaths of the West Coast. 

 

My High school counselor in charge of arranging college admissions information sessions, and inviting recruiters didn't know (and couldn't name) the Ivy leagues but did know the Big Ten (and then, the Pac-10) schools. I found this out because I went to a University of Penn session, which the counselor thought was actually for Penn State, and introduced it as one of the Big Ten (sports) schools. 

 

Both I, and the UPenn rep had to correct her that it was actually not part of the Big Ten, but UPenn is an Ivy. Stanford was simply a much bigger deal because it was closer by, and frankly, almost no one I knew cared about Ivies, baby Ivies, or otherwise. Certainly some of the students cared, but other than a passing "oh that's really cool" comments, the East coast held little caché for most of us. 

 

It’s not that I find it hard to believe that people don’t know Columbia is an Ivy League school; as I said in my own post, a lot of people are not familiar with the schools that comprise the Ivy League.  It’s that I find it hard to believe that most of the people the OP comes into contact with (which are bound to be primarily academics) do not recognize Columbia at all.  Not because they should, but just because most people do at least in passing.

 

Lots of people confuse Penn State and Penn - I’m a postdoc at one of them and people always think I’m going to the other.  But I think that’s less a lack of familiarity with the schools and just that people tend to bungle the two similar sounding schools in their head.  I would say I’m going to Penn State and people would say “Oh, Philadelphia” and I’d be like “no, not Penn, Penn State” and they’d be like OH.

 

Moreover, I find it interesting so many people believe this person is a troll.  I mean, it's a definite possibility, but I've met people who actually did think this way.  I worked with undergrads at Columbia and several of them did have this mindset - often because these kinds of values were transmitted to them from their parents or home communities.  It's not outside the realm of possibility that they brought that with them to grad school.  Why castigate the person for something they are obviously struggling with?  That's why I said I knew this thread wouldn't be good.  I don't understand why people think it's okay to be mean to a person (troll or not) because they expressed an unpopular opinion that they are clearly experiencing some anxiety about.  If they are a troll you're just feeding them, and if they're not a troll you're just making them feel terrible.

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It’s not that I find it hard to believe that people don’t know Columbia is an Ivy League school; as I said in my own post, a lot of people are not familiar with the schools that comprise the Ivy League.  It’s that I find it hard to believe that most of the people the OP comes into contact with (which are bound to be primarily academics) do not recognize Columbia at all.  Not because they should, but just because most people do at least in passing.

 

Lots of people confuse Penn State and Penn - I’m a postdoc at one of them and people always think I’m going to the other.  But I think that’s less a lack of familiarity with the schools and just that people tend to bungle the two similar sounding schools in their head.  I would say I’m going to Penn State and people would say “Oh, Philadelphia” and I’d be like “no, not Penn, Penn State” and they’d be like OH.

 

Moreover, I find it interesting so many people believe this person is a troll.  I mean, it's a definite possibility, but I've met people who actually did think this way.  I worked with undergrads at Columbia and several of them did have this mindset - often because these kinds of values were transmitted to them from their parents or home communities.  It's not outside the realm of possibility that they brought that with them to grad school.  Why castigate the person for something they are obviously struggling with?  That's why I said I knew this thread wouldn't be good.  I don't understand why people think it's okay to be mean to a person (troll or not) because they expressed an unpopular opinion that they are clearly experiencing some anxiety about.  If they are a troll you're just feeding them, and if they're not a troll you're just making them feel terrible.

 

Said example high school counselor didn't even know there was both a Penn and a Penn State whatsoever to even be confused. Even supposing you are right there is also two Columbias, on any account. One is in Ohio, I believe. 

 

So again, I maintain that I've met plenty of people (non-academics usually, but also school administrators) who might have heard of Columbia insofar as they know that it's a college of some kind, some people who know it is an Ivy, and some people who have never heard of it at all on the west coast. This is just simply my lived experience having moved from West to East. Plenty of people just have never heard of the school outright. It's not personal or denigrating for me to say so, it's simply what I have experienced from multiple people in multiple west/south west cities. So I absolutely don't find it unusual at all. When you grow up much further away from regions which have 10 or more good to excellent schools or universities within a day's drive, "name brand" schools mean much less. The amount of students who applied to out of state undergrad universities in my state was so low that my high school simply didn't track them, but told me they guessed it was less than 10% of grads in a school of 3,500 students. 

 

And those who do know what Columbia is -- well the west coast in many areas has subsets of people who are staunchly anti-elitist, older, old-fashioned "boot-straps" folks. To boil down stereotypes which often do show up on the East and West coasts, the west is "self-made" and not everyone appreciates what is assumed (sometimes wrongfully) to be a person who has simply had their lives handed to them. Of course, this is not true of every Columbia or Ivy grad -- but an assumption is made and there are certainly also people who may know what Columbia is and what that means....and will act as if it is meaningless information to them or pretend they don't recognize it, until they know the kind of work you can do, or because they find the name dropping distasteful.

 

Whichever way you figure the reasoning is, you'll find that for the most part, the west coast (in broad generalized terms) has less engrained cultural self-consciousness about any elite East coast schools, which I imagine would feed into a deflating of the ego to an east coast transplant simply because less people care. I know that in reverse, I am certainly becoming more and more aware of how elite everything is over here, how strong "old money" is entrenched in everything, how there are simply things I never even considered important before that everyone where I am at is intimately aware of and cares about. 

 

So I suppose that yes, this is a completely understandable thing - the lack of recognition - might be upsetting. However, again, the attitude towards this kind of behavior (especially on the West coast) is that this behavior is crass, immature, and frankly looking to demand ass pats for being "special". I don't think calling someone a troll (e.g. someone looking to cause knee jerk reactions) is mean because it's certainly a preferable option to "well they're serious and actually trying to insult everyone who is so much lesser than them." 

 

This kind of embarrassment is irritating for pretty much anyone who doesn't have this "problem". It's an embarrassment that really says "I went into massive financial debt so people would oooh and ahhh over my degree and now I'm frustrated not enough people care and fawn over me for it." - and not many people will feel sorry about that. 

 

It sucks to go into big debt for school, it sucks to have that debt a lot. It sucks to feel like you worked hard and don't get recognized for it. But - and here's the kicker - with an attitude like the one shown, absolutely no one will feel sorry for you simply because it predicates upon insulting everyone else. 

 

There's some good advice in this thread interspersed in between the "wow, you need to fix that attitude because it's definitely not going to help you, and even convinces us that you are utterly unserious and just trying to rile people up for fun to be a jerk." comments. See a counselor about this feeling of inadequacy. Talk to someone. Reconsider your stay in graduate school after the MA is awarded -- or earlier, if you are actually miserable and this is just a misplaced feeling of upset. Frankly, it matters very little if the average joe recognizes UCSD as long as it's highly respected in your field (which apparently, it's the cream of the crop) and those people recognize it or know people at the institution (or vice-versa). 

 

It all ultimately boils down to a lot of choices but a very firm recommendation and general rule of thumb: if the way you express your upset, anxiety, or embarrassment intentionally insults other people, or demands ego-stroking, or makes people believe you are trying to be intentionally inflammatory, perhaps you need to speak more carefully about what is bothering you and fix your attitude so that people aren't immediately annoyed when they might otherwise be sympathetic.

 

Communicating your problems and distress without insulting a broad range of people or acting above everyone else is just a good life skill to have in general and will certainly fix the issue regarding "no one recognizes Columbia or understands why it's so expensive and why I took all that debt" and make it easier to maturely seek help and advice re: "I'm in a lot of debt, in a new place, I'm stressed, I don't think I was ready for this, and I feel like I should have done better or accomplished more somehow, even though I know I'm at an excellent school -- probably the best in my field. How do I handle feeling inadequate/dealing with people not understanding my debt/school when I'm not sure I was ready/should I transfer/is this the right thing/why don't I feel satisfied with the top program?"

 

All of which sound infinitely more genuine and less rude than what was actually posted. People assumed the OP was a troll because they were basically rude in a manner that seemed like it was trying to spark upset. 

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Moreover, I find it interesting so many people believe this person is a troll.  I mean, it's a definite possibility, but I've met people who actually did think this way.  I worked with undergrads at Columbia and several of them did have this mindset - often because these kinds of values were transmitted to them from their parents or home communities.  It's not outside the realm of possibility that they brought that with them to grad school.  Why castigate the person for something they are obviously struggling with?  That's why I said I knew this thread wouldn't be good.  I don't understand why people think it's okay to be mean to a person (troll or not) because they expressed an unpopular opinion that they are clearly experiencing some anxiety about.  If they are a troll you're just feeding them, and if they're not a troll you're just making them feel terrible.

 

This. 

 

A person comes here, admits an insecurity that is very troubling to them, and is not a popular thing to admit; tries to reply once but mostly gets attacked by posters for said unpopular feeling, gets down-voted, and is called a troll. I am surprised at how many people interpret this post as some kind of personal offense to them as opposed to someone expressing an insecurity. You'd be surprised at how many very(!) successful people need external validation and don't feel accomplished unless others tell them that they are. I think this case is beyond what people normally admit, but -- secretly -- lots of people compare themselves to others and feel insecure, even when objectively they are very successful. Everybody likes it when others acknowledge their successes. If you thought everybody ignored all the good things you've done, wouldn't you be upset? This is where the more helpful posts come in with advice on whose opinions matter and how to deal with this anxiety. Telling someone to get over it or that you don't feel sorry for them is not helping anyone, and taking it personally is just completely misunderstanding what this OP is saying.

 

And the fact that the OP never returned to their own post.

 

It's not like this thread has been too helpful. Would you come back for more? 

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