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Turning away from fellowship?


jujubea

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I have a seemingly impossible decision to make, and I could really use some thoughts - however brief.

 

One of the biggest things standing out in my (selfish) mind, is that only one school has offered me a fellowship (actually, TWO fellowships)... and I am not sure whether it is justified to turn that offer down, despite the incredible hardship my family would face if we were to go there.

 

Decision making for a family is insanely complicated - I could really really use some insights, advice, opinions (snarky or otherwise) about how to view these options....

 

If it makes any difference, my (step)kids will be starting and finishing high school as I start and finish the bulk of my own program.

And, me and my spouse are the primary parents of our kids; their bio-mom left them when they were preschool/kindergarten age, and sees them 1-2 days every 6 weeks or so. Unfortunately on paper they share 50-50 custody (which is part of the ongoing custody issue mentioned in the various factors below).

 

ANY and ALL insights would be SO appreciated!

 

School #1:

PROS

  • Offered two different prestigious fellowships which together cover two years
  • Also offered a year and a half of guaranteed TA'ing after that
  • Highest stipend amount offered (highest by over $10k!)
  • Dream school for me, my interests, and specialty
  • Specialty is up-and-coming in importance (but extremely niche, CON)
  • Continued foreign language studies as part of the program, which neither of the other schools has
  • Highest ranked school I applied to
  • Top 5-10 in its field
  • 30 overall
  • I would not have to re-apply for the PhD (joint MA/PhD program)
  • Many faculty I would be interested in working with (more than #2, and same as #3)
  • Same distance as our current location to our kids' bio-mother
  • Better than school 2, but worse than school 3, in terms of likelihood of a custody court case getting dragged out
  • Closer to my family
  • Close to an international airport (our kids may sometimes have to fly to visit their bio-mom)

 

CONS

  • Hardest for my spouse to transfer his license
  • Hardest for my spouse to support us financially, because of the inordinately high cost of living
  • Hard (but not hardest) for my spouse to fly back and forth between existing business and new place while establishing practice
  • Location we are least likely to want to stay in after I graduate .... so buying a house wouldn't feel worth it (and renting feels like a waste of money!)
  • Based on above, would also be a waste for my spouse to invest in establishing a new practice
  • Would be a terrible commute for me (close to 90 minutes each way, with traffic)
  • School charges FULL tuition at ABD stages
  • Very likely for custody case to get dragged out (meaning spouse flying back and forth for court dates, spending thousands if not tens of thousands on lawyers' fees; also possibility of our family's temporary separation up to a year)
  • Location where we would actually live does not fit too well with our lifestyle
  • We'd have to take a second mortgage to afford the down payment on a house there

 

School #2:

PROS

  • Offered TA-ship guaranteed for two years
  • Two years tuition remission guaranteed
  • Was offered a minimal scholarship "bonus" as a top candidate
  • Funding amount is higher than School #3, but lower than school 1 (by $10k)
  • School is about 40 in its field
  • About 40 overall
  • I would learn a unique skill as part of my training that I love, which neither of the other schools has
  • This skill is a relatively "harder" skill than either of the other programs provides
  • Even though language training is not part of the program, the language is at least offered at the school, and in the community
  • There is another very good school in the city in case I want to attend a different program for the PhD
  • Whole family loves the location
  • Me and my spouse have considered staying there very long term
  • Not as hard as school #1 for my spouse to transfer his license
  • Employment options a little bit better for spouse overall than at School #1
  • Lifestyle of the location fits us very well
  • Cheapest flights to the kids' bio-mom (even cheaper than where we are now)

 

CONS

  • Could potentially be the worst custody-case situation, potentially costing tens of thousands, and/or causing our family's temporary separation (at least one year)
  • Twice as far from the kids' bio-mom by car (13 hours), so flying would be mandatory, and thus by frequency, costly (this distance is also the reason for the above point)
  • Costs the most of all three places for my fiance to fly back and forth during first year while establishing his new practice 
  • I have to reapply after the master's to continue on to the PhD
  • I do not get along well with the existing cohort (that's silly to say, because actually I can and do get along with anyone, it's just they aren't the type of people I would choose to hang out with, given the choice; lots of immaturity and fresh out of undergrad)
  • Least diverse student body at all levels
  • Only two or three faculty I really want to work with (that I know of so far)
  • No fellowship
  • "Bonus" scholarship is not a "named" or recognized scholarship, so not sure if it would carry any weight on the CV
  • Far from both sides of our family
  • Language is not part of the program
  • Less teaching freedom than #3

 

School #3

PROS

  • Offered one year TA-ship and tuition remission (but see CONS below...)
  • Tons of faculty I want to work with (almost as many as #1)
  • In its sub-sub-field, it is considered (unofficially) as a top 5 school (see specialization point below)
  • Offers a specialization that I love and am passionate about that is not at either of the other schools (it is also an up-and-coming specialty that is not commonly found elsewhere yet)
  • Due to above, higher employment potential than #1 (I am guessing, and based on academic job searches: 3-4 times as many job openings in this field as in #1's field)
  • I love the students and the faculty there - I've even made friends with a few since visiting, we communicate frequently
  • Most diverse student body at all levels (ethnically, age, experience, family/single, sexual orientations, everything)
  • Most teaching freedom of all three schools (I would be sole instructor for my TA classes)
  • Spouse does not have to transfer license
  • Extremely easy for him to travel back and forth for the business
  • No change in distance from kids' bio-mom
  • Little possibility of continued custody case (due to remaining in same state as current location)

 

CONS

  • No TA-ship nor tuition remission for second year (it is not impossible, but I have to apply for and find it)
  • Absolute lowest stipend amount
  • If I do find a second year TA-ship, it 50/50 does/does not include tuition remission, and it would take 2/3 of the stipend to cover it myself
  • I have to reapply to continue on to PhD
  • No options for going to different program or school for PhD
  • No one in the family wants to go there, except my spouse, for ease of his work
  • In field, sometimes ranked about 40-50
  • Overall, not ranked, or sometimes ranked between 150-200 (and sometimes people have never heard of the school, even though it's an R1)
  • No scholarship or fellowship (and available ones through the school, I am not eligible for)
  • There is no foreign language as part of the program, nor is the language offered anywhere in the school or community
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Eek! Sounds like a complicated situation. Each option has its challenges. From my perspective, I would go with my heart and choose the first school, since that sounds like your best fit.

 

Have you asked or thought about delaying your admission by a year until the custody situation is resolved (or reapplying altogether)? Just a question, as I realize how intense the application process was and how eager you are to start on your grad work (I also applied to programs this cycle and I wouldn't wish repeating that on anyone!). Keep us updated with what you choose. Best of luck!

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Unfortunately, a big part of the custody situation is that we're moving. Courts don't award sole custody unless the other parent doesn't want the kids at all and/or is blatantly abusing them. So wherever we go, we have to get bio-mom's consent (even if she chooses to never see them!). It's ridiculous and frustrating.

 

Also, I already delayed applying by a year (I was really close to applying last year and apparently would have gotten admitted!). The dream school does not allow deferrals. I don't know about the other two places... but in any case, our custody issue won't go away in a year, or in two years, or ever. We just have to bite the bullet and fight the fight, and THEN it will be over.

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Whoo, this is tough. Honestly to me none of them sound great. #1 might be the dream school, but you have a 90-minute commute - which is going to make it difficult to socialize and network with the department - and has the potential to create a custody nightmare. Any additional income you make will be offset by the high cost of living and the potential nightmare custody case, plus the costs of flying kids back and forth. #2 moves your entire family to a situation that's similar to #1 in terms of travel and your husband's career potential, with the additional con that the program is only for two years and there's a good possibility you'll need to move again afterwards. And nobody likes #3 - it sounds great for your spouse, but you sound unenthusiastic about it, and I presume your children don't like the idea either.

 

Given that all three of your options have serious cons, if you are deadset on attending one of these programs this year I would go for the #1 program. If you are going to deal with significant life setbacks them it's probably better to make the sacrifice for the dream program than for a master's program and/or one that you are not enthusiastic about. It doesn't make sense for your spouse to establish a new practice for just two years - by the time he's got it up and running he'll move again.

 

But first I would ask what the likelihood is of you getting your ABD phase funded, because you absolutely shouldn't pay full tuition for that. I also might ask what the admit rate is at the other two PhD programs from the master's program. #2 wouldn't be so bad if it were nearly assured that you would get into the PhD program given satisfactor ycompletion of the MA program - mid-ranked school, whole family loves the location, and a longer-term period for spouse to transfer the license, with cheap flights to bio-mom.

 

I think (and you probably already have) I would also talk to my spouse about the actual likelihood of a custody case that would be costly and terrible for everyone involved. It changes things a lot if you don't have to worry about that.

 

Also, if your goal is academia, it doesn't really matter where you want to end up long-term. You will most likely have to move again anyway. If you don't want an academic job, though, the place that you want to stay long-term is probably a good place to go. That way you can network and make connections within the city. It's my experience that I made lots of connections within Graduate City - both personal and professional - that would make it the place of least resistance to return to, other than Hometown, for non-academic employment. But the academic job market is likely insanely competitive because everyone wants to live in Grad City.

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Hm... I see a lot of these pros/cons having to do with financial costs associated with each place. If you could give a high and low estimate for what each thing would cost you annually ("thing" meaning flights, opportunity costs associated with your husband's work, custody battle costs, stipend, etc.) then you might be able to make a quantitative decision to start with. That would be a lot of math, but could be worthwhile, if you haven't done it already.

 

Given that all three of your options have serious cons, if you are deadset on attending one of these programs this year I would go for the #1 program. If you are going to deal with significant life setbacks them it's probably better to make the sacrifice for the dream program than for a master's program and/or one that you are not enthusiastic about. It doesn't make sense for your spouse to establish a new practice for just two years - by the time he's got it up and running he'll move again.

 

This makes a lot of sense to me. Since they all have lots of cons, you might as well go for the dream school.

Edited by VulpesZerda
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Thanks Juliet -

We are also dead set on not moving after my Master's, so I have to get readmitted, or wait until the kids are out of high school to continue to the PhD (not at all something I want to do; I've gotten plenty of non-school experience!). This is why #2 and #1 are more appealing than #3 in that way, because if I don't continue to the PhD with the initial programs, I have other options in the area and/or in the school. 

 

Still, the appeal of #3 is the specialty, it's a passion of mine, and would allow me to more easily go into something other than academia if needs be. Neither 1 nor 2 have this option.

 

Still, #2 and #3 both tell me it's quite possible and likely to continue with their programs for PhD provided I haven't exhausted their resources...

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A high school English teacher of mine told me something that I will never forget. He said that, in a relationship, one person must sometimes ask the other to make sacrifice on his/her behalf and that such a request, while justified in a relationship, must not be taken lightly. My advise to you is to ask yourself whether your relationship with your spouse is strong enough that you can ask him/her to make a sacrifice on your behalf. If it is, you should go with your heart and make the choice that is best for your career. You should also remember the sacrifice you asked of your spouse and pay it back ten times as much in the upcoming years.

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I'm sorry that I have nothing actually insightful to add, but when I saw 90 minute commute with traffic each way, I was like "let me stop you right there..."

 

"Dream school" is all good and peachy, but could you really see yourself being happy commuting for 3 hours/day presumably approximately 5 days/week for the whole duration of a PhD?? I'm asking this as someone who commutes an hour each way (but I don't even have to drive since I've switched to the bus)... It can be a tremendous drain on your time, energy, and mood. Compounded with the fact that the cost of living is so high and your spouse would struggle the most there, this would be a dream I would let pass me by. 

 

Truthfully, I can't begin to weigh custody issues because it's something so removed from my own experiences and family is extremely personal. Either school 2 or 3 would be reasonable choices depending on that very personal factor and how confident you feel about getting external funding. 

 

Sounds like you've got a very tough choice on your hands. Good luck OP!

 

ETA: I also noticed but then promptly forgot about the full tuition at the ABD stages. Now I'm remembering because that's very important. Is this common in your field? If not, even though it might be a pro that the program would allow you to continue straight to PhD, that's not a PhD program I would want. Graduate tuition can be very expensive and the ABD stage can be lengthy. In a high COL area to boot, this prospect would be too stressful for me personally. Are the PhD programs at the other two school similar, or do they fund their PhD students for the duration of the degree? You sound like a very strong applicant, so having to reapply might not be a big obstacle for you...

Edited by Taeyers
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A high school English teacher of mine told me something that I will never forget. He said that, in a relationship, one person must sometimes ask the other to make sacrifice on his/her behalf and that such a request, while justified in a relationship, must not be taken lightly. My advise to you is to ask yourself whether your relationship with your spouse is strong enough that you can ask him/her to make a sacrifice on your behalf. If it is, you should go with your heart and make the choice that is best for your career. You should also remember the sacrifice you asked of your spouse and pay it back ten times as much in the upcoming years.

Yes.. Thanks..

I resigned from the Foreign Service to be with him and help raise his kids...

(I would've eventually left anyway, just not so soon).

I did this with the understanding we'd move for grad school in a year... We just had no idea the custody situation would be made this complicated.

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I'm sorry that I have nothing actually insightful to add, but when I saw 90 minute commute with traffic each way, I was like "let me stop you right there..."

"Dream school" is all good and peachy, but could you really see yourself being happy commuting for 3 hours/day presumably approximately 5 days/week for the whole duration of a PhD?? I'm asking this as someone who commutes an hour each way (but I don't even have to drive since I've switched to the bus)... It can be a tremendous drain on your time, energy, and mood. Compounded with the fact that the cost of living is so high and your spouse would struggle the most there, this would be a dream I would let pass me by.

Truthfully, I can't begin to weigh custody issues because it's something so removed from my own experiences and family is extremely personal. Either school 2 or 3 would be reasonable choices depending on that very personal factor and how confident you feel about getting external funding.

Sounds like you've got a very tough choice on your hands. Good luck OP!

ETA: I also noticed but then promptly forgot about the full tuition at the ABD stages. Now I'm remembering because that's very important. Is this common in your field? If not, even though it might be a pro that the program would allow you to continue straight to PhD, that's not a PhD program I would want. Graduate tuition can be very expensive and the ABD stage can be lengthy. In a high COL area to boot, this prospect would be too stressful for me personally. Are the PhD programs at the other two school similar, or do they fund their PhD students for the duration of the degree? You sound like a very strong applicant, so having to reapply might not be a big obstacle for you...

The commute really is a big deal, and I still need to do some reflecting on whether it's overall worth it. One thing I need to look into is whether it'd be realistic to only come to campus three times/week.

The other programs fund 3-4 years (#3), and 4+ years (#2) for the PhD. The full tuition at ABD stage is not common, and is quite worrisome considering the UC's plan to continue raising tuition rates for the next 5 years.

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One thing you don't mention is what your goals are by getting the degree. Is it to go into a specific industry afterwards? Then look at which choice will help you build those connections. Is it to be an academic? Then look at what the placement rates are of graduates from each program (and strongly consider reputation.) Is it for pure intellectual enrichment and enjoyment? Then look at which choice will (or seems like it will be) most fulfilling.

 

A comment about the commute--part of going into a program like this is to build a community and use the resources of the school. A 90-minute commute sounds like it would be a deterrent to things like going to a talk or event on campus just because you want to or running over to the library to grab a source you just came across. 

 

Have you looked into the on-campus resources for family housing? Many universities have some options.

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Whether you can go three days a week depends entirely on when courses are offered. In my PhD program, it would have been possible, theoretically, if you only took 2 seminars and then attended the weekly colloquium. But, that would definitely mean sacrificing in terms of the socializing, informal discussions, etc., and it would make meeting with one's advisor or other professors more difficult. My program did its best to accommodate childcare needs or commute schedules when arranging TA assignments, so I'd definitely find out now, before going, if the programs you're interested in are willing to do that. I say this because my second year, I was TA for a large lecture that met twice a week and had discussion sections on various other days. We were required to attend both lectures, teach 4 discussion sections, and there was a weekly course meeting for all the TAs. Because of the scheduling of my own coursework, the sections I was the TA for were on a third day of the week. Add in my grad seminars, and I was required to be on campus four days a week during much of my coursework. I think I only achieved the 3 day/week schedule after I'd finished my coursework.

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Thanks hippo and rising.

 

Campus housing is not an option. We need at least three bedrooms, preferably four. Largest they have is 2. 

I would like to do academia, but I would also like to be sufficiently prepared for non-academia, just in case (but I also have interests in non-academic positions).

 

 

As to the point about attending classes 3 days a week at school #1, I just confirmed that's fairly typical, even without trying to make it so. 

 

Point well taken, however, about the commute being a deterrent to better networking. Maybe I'll talk to them some more (or attend a pending visit day...) to see about that. 

 

I forgot to add the school #1 also offers a minimal, but additional, childcare stipend for grad students.

 

Also I counted my fellowships incorrectly. They cover three years, assuming I do not take courses over the summer quarter. If I take summer courses, it's two years and a quarter.

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In my sticky case (rendered in detail above), is there any reason to wait to notify the schools of my decision?

 

We have decided 100%, but is there any reason I should not yet turn down the others? In case of .. I don't know what, emergency? But I can't imagine what kind of emergency...

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We're going to school #1, UCSB..........

 

Between the fellowships (more time I'll have with my kids, potentially, and less stress potentially) for the first couple years, the equi-distance as we are now from the kids' bio-mom, moving closer to family in California (on all sides), and the fact that when I originally went to apply to grad school, this was the only program I was going to apply to.... and I got in.... with flying colors.

 

To be honest, one of the things we (me and my beau) also really latched onto from your guys' advice above was, if it's going to suck and be really hard financially and custodially no matter where we go, we may as well choose UCSB.

 

It was incredibly difficult to decide between #1 and #2 in the end, but, we realized how much harder it was going to be to make school #2 happen (due to the court battles), for not too many more gains. 

 

What's fascinating is now that the tables are turned in our relationship, and my fiance is making the major sacrifice this time instead of me, I understand his reactions when was doing the sacrificing last year. A tearful speechlessness and disbelief: you love me this much that you'd be willing to risk all that, and work that hard, and make this happen? Definitely one of the most humbling experiences in my life.

 

Thanks everyone for your opinions and insights. It really helped us rethink certain negatives and positives, and to view the entire situation from a different, and healthier, angle.

 

The commute will not be fun though, no matter which way you look at it!!!

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So happy for you that you've decided! It seems like a great fit for you!

Just out of curiosity, is there really no way around the long commute? :( That seemed like the only bad downside, but maybe eventually you can shrink that time?

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