Jump to content
expandyourmind

Choices: higher school ranking vs famous PI

Recommended Posts

Hey Everyone!

 

I was hoping to get some advice from all of you guys. I'm pretty torn between two schools - UChicago or Northwestern (I'm hoping to stay in the midwest). UChicago has a better ranking as far as graduate programs, with a few faculty that I would be really happy rotating with. Most of these faculty I'm interested in does very basic developmental biology, but with some really interesting techniques. I had a blast when it came to the interview weekend and felt like it was a perfect fit for a graduate program. It's kind of a bitch to get to from the city (where I live) so the location is somewhat of a downside but the campus is absolutely gorgeous.

 

NU just a powerhouse of a PI that wants me to work with her, she's changed NIH research standards and just pumps out insane papers all the time. She's discovered some groundbreaking stuff on human embryos and has a very clinical perspective in her research (as opposed to very basic developmental bio) But other than her, I don't really have any interest in most other PIs at the school and it's not nearly as good of a school with as focused of a curriculum as the other. I also didn't enjoy the interview weekend as much as the first, although the location of the campus is awesome and in downtown chicago. 

 

Hoping you guys can give me some good perspectives! And good luck in all of your interviews  :D

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think the overall ranking is as important as your specific work (who you work with and what you are doing). If one is a better fit, what does it matter what the number next to the schools name says?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would worry about going to a program without options. What if it doesn't work out with the PI at Northwestern? I do generally think that the reputation of your advisor is more important than the reputation of your department, but I would personally not want to put all my eggs in one basket - your interests may change, and you could find you don't work well with that PI. Given the information, I would recommend UChicago. It sounds like you felt you would be happy there, and I think having options of possible supervisors is important.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I did talk with some grad students in the PIs lab at NU. There was only one, and everyone else was a postdoc. From what she said it seems like the PI is very very hands off  and only meeting with her grad student/postdocs once every few weeks (which I'm not sure how to feel).

 

At this point its hard because I really felt like UChicago was a perfect fit, but NU's PI would just be a crazy place to work and her work is spot on with my interests. That being said, I'm still nervous if I choose NU because I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket, whereas UChicago I have a few people I'd be interested in!  :wacko:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i mean, there are a few, but i'm not quite as interested in their subfield of developmental biology as this PI. i guess there are a few others that i would be interested in, but im a little hesitant about switching up my interests. this PI was the only person on my list of interviewers that i requested, so i didn't really get to speak with those i'd also be interested in either

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...

 

At this point its hard because I really felt like UChicago was a perfect fit, but NU's PI would just be a crazy place to work and her work is spot on with my interests. That being said, I'm still nervous if I choose NU because I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket, whereas UChicago I have a few people I'd be interested in!  :wacko:

I think you really know what your choice is.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I did talk with some grad students in the PIs lab at NU. There was only one, and everyone else was a postdoc. From what she said it seems like the PI is very very hands off  and only meeting with her grad student/postdocs once every few weeks (which I'm not sure how to feel).

I work for someone like this. If you're a highly independent student/worker, this situation could benefit you. You could have a lot of intellectual freedom to develop your project(s). There are upsides to working for a PI like this. One of them is what I mentioned: intellectual freedom, a greater amount of flexibility, getting to do more indepth presenations in lab meeting (because your PI hasn't seen your data before). In contrast, I've also worked for a PI that micromanaged their lab. If you want to work at the bench with the PI, see them everyday, and be able to 'check in' more often, this type of situation may work better for you. It depends what you think fits your working style best, but don't let a more hands off PI intimidate you if you think that situation would work really well for you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A cautionary tale with this line of thinking:

 

If you go to school with the intention of working with a specific PI, be ready to face the consequences if/when this doesn't work out. Plenty of things can happen which could interfere with this and potentially leave you at a school that really isn't a perfect fit for you.

 

Some of these things include:

1) The PI moves institutions. Northwestern is a great institute, but it is possible a school such as Harvard, MIT, CalTech, Stanford, etc. could poach that PI.

2) The PI stops accepting grad students by the time you want to join the lab. This is less likely, but it has happened before to people I know.

3) You may not be happy working with that PI/in that PI's lab.

4) The PI's research focus may shift away from what you are interested in.

5) The PI may hit a dry spell publishing. Granted, this could happen with any PI but just because someone is publishing a ton currently you do not know what the future may hold.

 

The choice is up to you, but it is important to make an informed decision (which it definitely seems like you are doing). If you think UChicago is the perfect fit for you and could see you spending your graduate career there - then go for it. Besides, I feel like you can find similar quality PIs at UC that could offer you all of the benefits of a prolific mentor without the associated risks. Take the whole package into consideration when deciding -- deciding based on only one factor such as a specific PI or how a program ranks is a recipe for disaster in most circumstances. Regardless, this is a pretty great dilemma to have as you have two great options for a PhD.

 

Good luck with your decision!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's tough because my research fits perfectly with this PI who just made like a huge breakthrough in human embryos (she had tv crews on her doorstep) and she said that her next grad student would go into this area (she even said that she wOuld love it if I were that person). It just seemed like she was really invested in me and told me she would really push for me in the admissions process and that I should really keep in touch with her. It just surprised me how we connected and how invested she wa in my application. That being said, I do like independence but with a tad of micromanagement, but the other grad student said that the PIs were so helpful and its a great environment for a grad student to be pushed by everyone else on the lab. I'm so torn!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would definitely be careful this situation still! Keep a few things in mind.. She will probably be aware of the fact that some students she is interested may go somewhere else. Because of this, I would say that it is super likely that she has multiple students that she is interested in and trying to make offers to. If she is this famous then multiple students will probably want to rotate with her. How will you feel if she only can take one student and goes with someone else? Will you regret your decision if that happens?

 

If there are multiple professors you like at Chicago then I would strongly consider their offer. I am actually even nervous about one program because there are only 2 people who I really like there. I will probably only accept an offer from a school with 4+ professors in my subfield. I want options. I want to be able to try to out mentoring styles during rotations and find the one that I prefer.

 

All of this said, you have decide what is most important to you! My advice is to make sure you consider possible regrets in both directions and try to minimize those.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

to make this an even harder decision, i got the Dean's award at NU... but i don't think finances should go into a decision like this!  :blink:

It's not so much about finances as it is about demonstrating that they're very serious about you as a candidate and have the ability to support you. Those type of awards only go to top candidates. That's actually a pretty huge deal, so congrats! Maybe email/try to set up phone calls with some of the professors you're interested in? This could help you decide where you see yourself researching.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

It's tough because my research fits perfectly with this PI who just made like a huge breakthrough in human embryos (she had tv crews on her doorstep) and she said that her next grad student would go into this area (she even said that she wOuld love it if I were that person). It just seemed like she was really invested in me and told me she would really push for me in the admissions process and that I should really keep in touch with her. It just surprised me how we connected and how invested she wa in my application. That being said, I do like independence but with a tad of micromanagement, but the other grad student said that the PIs were so helpful and its a great environment for a grad student to be pushed by everyone else on the lab. I'm so torn!

I agree with sharpie269; if this PI truly is that famous then competition for her mentorship will be fierce.  

 

You mention fit with this PI as often as you mention her prestige.  And with your post above it seems as if you are most interested in the prestige than anything.  As someone who has more years working in the real world than I care to admit, I can assure you that the only people who give a hoot about prestige are the young, the entitled, and frat boys.  Full grown, mature, adults will not care.  Speaking of NIH, they hire graduates from Joe's Podunk Hick College of the Sticks alongside those from Top 20s.  They do the same jobs for the same pay.  You will find it is like that in most professional working environments. 

 

When you do research, ultimately the institution that funds the research (or through the PI associated with the funding) owns the research.   I would be weary of a researcher who not only has TV crews at the door but one who also states that the next grad student is going to be working on the same research in question (meaning, it will be her project and not yours).  Likely, this PI is going to use your findings to further her prestige and not yours.  Science is rife with PIs who do not give credit where credit is due.   The Internet is full of horror stories from researchers who contributed to breakthrough research, if not making the breakthroughs themselves, only to find themselves not mentioned anywhere in the proceeding papers or banquets.  Honestly, if its prestige you are after you will find better luck at UChicago.  Take a cue from this "famous" PI, develop your own novel twists, and become your own rockstar scientist.  

 

Also, as an aside, there is no such thing as a "tad of micromanagement"  :P

Edited by Crucial BBQ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like you Crucial BBQ. I'd give you an upvote but grad cafe won't let me today.

 

It does seem like a lot of posts here like to reference prestige over all else. I really don't think that is the healthy way to decide your future.

 

My BS isn't from Joe's Podunk Hick College of the Sticks, but it probably seems that way to most people. Yet I work side by side with a lot of people who went to a top 10 school for a company that is leading their industry (it is a big industry too). They only really care about what you can do today and what you will do tomorrow, not where you came from 5 years ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with sharpie269; if this PI truly is that famous then competition for her mentorship will be fierce.  

 

You mention fit with this PI as often as you mention her prestige.  And with your post above it seems as if you are most interested in the prestige than anything.  As someone who has more years working in the real world than I care to admit, I can assure you that the only people who give a hoot about prestige are the young, the entitled, and frat boys.  Full grown, mature, adults will not care.  Speaking of NIH, they hire graduates from Joe's Podunk Hick College of the Sticks alongside those from Top 20s.  They do the same jobs for the same pay.  You will find it is like that in most professional working environments. 

 

 

I may have over generalized, but this PI was really pulling for me and it didn't seem like there was any competition (i hate to sound cocky). She flat out told me that she would write a stellar recommendation for my admittance and that she wants to keep in touch. she even gave me a book that she thought i would find interesting. I went to undergrad and took chemistry classes from her husband and developmental biology classes with her best friend who inspired me to go into the field, and her project would be a collaboration between all three of them. She introduced me to her lab as the girl who is going to join next year and even her grad students were like begging me to go into her lab over other labs at NU. 

 

i'm not really concerned about prestige, although i think UChicago has a better, more rigorous curriculum in developmental biology moreso than NU. There are more people i would be willing to work with across the board at UChicago whereas this one PI seems too good to be true! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I may have over generalized, but this PI was really pulling for me and it didn't seem like there was any competition (i hate to sound cocky). She flat out told me that she would write a stellar recommendation for my admittance and that she wants to keep in touch. she even gave me a book that she thought i would find interesting. I went to undergrad and took chemistry classes from her husband and developmental biology classes with her best friend who inspired me to go into the field, and her project would be a collaboration between all three of them. She introduced me to her lab as the girl who is going to join next year and even her grad students were like begging me to go into her lab over other labs at NU. 

 

i'm not really concerned about prestige, although i think UChicago has a better, more rigorous curriculum in developmental biology moreso than NU. There are more people i would be willing to work with across the board at UChicago whereas this one PI seems too good to be true! 

Are rotations required at NU? It definitely sounds too good to be true (in a good way), but I'm still concerned about the lack of alternative PIs at NU. Does she have any collaborators at NU?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.