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Not sure about my decision, could someone help?


bbzees
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I have been accepted to two Biology PhD Programs: Maryland, College Park and Syracuse.

I'm more interested in attending Syracuse because of a better research fit and stipend (Maryland has almost the same stipend, but it's soooo much more expensive to live near DC).

The thing is that I've been doing research to corroborate my decision and found some drawbacks to Syracuse:

 

- It's much lower ranked than Maryland

- The city seems to have suffered a lot from the 2009 crisis

- Some of the professors I'm interested in working with are not tenured yet (is it viable to ask a tenured professor to be my co-advisor, so that if the non-tenured professor leaves I won't be completely helpless?)

- The department is much smaller (not sure if it's a drawback because that could mean a lot of closer interaction with professors, but at the same time, there's less possibility to network)

 

In the future, I do not hope to become a lead researcher in a major university (I know my credentials do not support that). I would live very happily with a position in a smaller school doing research and teaching or maybe even just teaching at a state university (or perhaps community college??). 

 

So, do you think that by going to Syracuse, I would still be able to accomplish my goals?

 

Any advice would be much appreciated.

 

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Okay, first off, my advice is coming from somebody who does not want to go into academia after graduating, so keep that in mind.

 

  • The lower ranking than Maryland may be of some concern, actually. Academia is pretty damn competitive and every thing you can do to get noticed helps. But, since you say you're looking at working at a state university or community college I suspect a PhD from Syracuse would work for such (especially community colleges in the Northeast).
  • I don't know how much the state of the city matters. It's not really important for job hunting as the odds of you working in the same place where you did your PhD are low.
  • Professors without tenure are a definite risk. The upshot can be that they're highly motivated to publish, which is good for you. The downshot, is that in addition to potentially leaving before you're finished, is that they're still trying to network so haven't built up a long list of contacts. A tenured professor at Syracuse probably knows many researchers at other universities and can leverage that network to help you when you graduate.
  • I think large versus small department is a personal preference sort of thing. Not sure if there's really a meanongful career advantage or disadvantage to either.

Ultimately, I think what you need to do is ask yourself where you will thrive. Do you see yourself getting better support at Syracuse or Maryland? Since you mention teaching in your opening post, I have to ask if you've looked at what opportunities you'll have at either university to obtain teaching skills? Since it's unlikely you'll work for a big research university that will be an important skillset.

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