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Research or Job Prospects?


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I'm an incoming Ph.D student in the horribly wonderful(ly confusing) position of having been accepted to all three of my top choices... and after a month of agonizing over the decision, talking to professors (both at my alma mater and at the universities I've been accepted to), and visiting all three campuses, I'm still stuck on making a decision.


The crux of the matter is this: 


School A is the closest thing I can imagine to a perfect research match for me.  The research going on there is new and exciting, truly cutting edge; they have all of the latest equipment I would want to use in my experiments; and their theoretical viewpoint matches up with mine, again, almost perfectly.  While the research that my POIs and their students are doing at Schools B and C is also interesting, it doesn't excite me in the same way as the research at School A- plus, they're missing some of the equipment I would want to use (School C especially, which sucks since I actually think I like their research more than School B ).  Also, School A has made it very clear that they really, really want me to go there.


However... School A (generally, and my POI specifically) doesn't have a good placement record. Right now, my dream job (like most prospective PhD students, I suspect) is a tenure track position in a linguistics department at a big research university- which I'm well aware is really hard to get! However, alumni of Schools B and C get these jobs frequently - whereas very few people at School A do.  Part of this may have to do with prestige/reputation - Schools B and C are both public ivies, and the linguistics departments there are traditionally two of the best in the country.  But more importantly, I got the feeling that students at these schools were much better prepared for the non-research aspects of professorship (like teaching and mentoring students) than students at School A.


Also, I've heard from both current and former students at School A that advising there can be very touch-and-go, in that there are some good advisors, but also some horrible ones (I've been told my POI is a very nice guy and cares deeply about his students, but doesn't have the most time to devote to each of them individually since he's a bit of a rock star in the field at the moment). Both of my POIs at Schools B and C are very well known for being excellent advisors- and again, this shows in that their students get great jobs.


I'm so confused... (and needed to rant a little)


tl;dr - out of top 3 choices, one is an amazing research match (and pretty much the only place I could do this research), while the other two have great advisors and stellar placement records.

Edited by chuli
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Schools B and C wouldn't accept you if they felt you weren't a good fit. The truth of the matter is that most people will change their research interests as time goes by. What may be perfect know may not be perfect 6 months, a year, two years from now, so on and so forth. I think as long as there is a good research fit and you can see yourself being happy there then that's what matters, and in that case I'd choose between B and C personally unless there are other secondary factors in play (location, significant other, etc.)

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Thanks to both of you for your opinions.  I'm talking to my advisor from when I was an undergrad this afternoon, I'm honestly assuming she'll say something similar... it's just School A's research is so fascinating...





 By the way what exact equipment is required in linguistics ?


Well, that depends on your subfield!


For neurolinguistics, EEG, MEG, ERP, fMRI, PET, DTI... something I'm forgetting.


For psycholinguistics, some speech perception stuff, language processing etc. you'd want eye tracking devices.


If you wanted to look at acoustic phonetics (experimentally), a sound booth and a good microphone.  And for articulatory phonetics, some subset of ultrasound, EPG (or if not that, static palatography supplies), EMA, EGG, something to measure oral-nasal airflow, MRI, maybe an endoscope.


...I'm sure there's more I'm not thinking of!

Edited by chuli
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IMO, job placement is much more important. Do you want to be happy for the next 5-7 years, or do you want to be happy for your 30+ year career?

Your research interests will evolve over time, and you can always come back to the area you really want to do in a postdoc or in your research career. I went to a department to do something substantially different than what I originally intended to do when I applied to graduate school, but fell in love with the area and am completely hooked. Even still, I am still doing something slightly different in my postdoc than I did in graduate school, and my research plans for the future are different still. Your interests will evolve - and they should, as you strive to move away from doing what your advisor does to establishing an independent research career.

Placement record is VERY important, especially in the competitive job market! If School B and C graduates frequently go to do the kinds of jobs you want to do, and are better prepared for those jobs, then that should definitely be a vote in their favor. And quite frankly, your POI could be the nicest person in the world and it won't matter if you never see him to benefit from his kindness.

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