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Not Nominated for a Fellowship


atlremix
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First, I just want to say I feel incredibly fortunate to have been accepted to several Ph.D. programs that are a good fit for my research interests. Let's call them A, B, and C.

 

Program A nominated me for a sizable fellowship ($30,000/yr), which I was ultimately awarded. This offer is guaranteed for my duration in the program and includes health insurance and tuition remission. However, for a number of reasons, this program is not the most desirable for me to attend. Namely, fewer faculty interested in my area of research (but on the flip side, the program and my advisors at this school would be completely supportive of me independently pursuing my area of interest), along with a cross-country move.

 

The university for program B has several sizable university-wide fellowships available. I applied early and indicated my interest in these fellowships. I was not nominated by my department, but was instead awarded an $18,000/yr assistantship guaranteed for my duration in the program. Tuition remission is available for a limited number of credit hours and health insurance is not included. This program is very desirable to me in terms of research fit, but it would be a struggle to live off of this stipend in this area.

 

I would be coming into the program with an MA and a set of research skills and experience. Meanwhile, (per GradCafe) there have been incoming undergrads to this same program's Master's degree track awarded a $16,000/yr assistantship.

 

Additionally, I am somewhat offended with Program B for the lack of a fellowship nomination. The fellowships are only available to incoming doctoral students, and the department is only pursuing myself and one other applicant for admission to the doctoral program. I have a feeling that the lack of nomination is not personal, and rather that the department did not meet the university's nomination deadline (although I was formally offered admission prior to the nomination deadline). I have been open with program B about my funded offer to program A. With ~$3,000 more guaranteed per year, I feel that I could attend this program without taking out loans and it would certainly make me feel more comfortable accepting the offer.

 

Program C is a great research fit (probably the best), but although funding has not been explicitly decided, I am expecting an offer of less than $10,000/yr based on historical offers and conversations with current grad students.

 

I feel like I'm in a tug of war from A and B. Program C is probably out, simply because I am not interested in using loans as my primary source for funding my doctoral degree. If the offers were closer in funding, it would be an easy choice. But, such is life. Any advice? 

Edited by atlremix
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I had a offer from a "program A" as you call it, which offered me a fellowship and overall stipend that would have been roughly $10,000 higher per year than what my "program B" offered, with a significantly lower cost of living at program-A-city. It was also clear that it would be impossible to negotiate with program B to bring my stipend up. I went with program B, and I don't regret it. The research fit was much better than program A, and at the end of the day that's what I was doing a PhD for. I did make sure that I could live reasonably well (student-style) on my stipend from program B. If that had not been the case, that would have probably changed things because my number one rule before starting exploring grad school options was that I was not going to go into debt for my degree. 

 

I guess the question for you are what are your priorities? How much better is the research fit / placement rate, etc. at program B? Can you live reasonably well on your stipend from program B? Overall, where will you be happier? 

 

That all said, there is no reason to be offended or upset about not being nominated for a fellowship at program B. I assure you that it's not personal. Moreover, you had better get used to there being other smart people around who may get some award over you. There will always be someone smarter than you, and what's more, more often than not, it's not just about being smart. It's about working hard and also about being lucky. So you didn't get this one; so what?

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Thanks for the perspective fuzzylogician! I would feel better if the reason that I wasn't nominated was because they had nominated a more qualified candidate. However, from word of mouth, it seems the department just didn't nominate anyone for the university-wide fellowships this cycle. This strikes me as odd.

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Well, Program A sounds pretty great because even though there aren't perfect overlaps with faculty, they do support independent research in the area you're interested in. It seems like, in reality after graduation, that's sort of what the job is going to be like - pursuing your interests despite (or even because) them not overlapping with anyone else's, or getting help from anyone else. 

In that way, it sounds like a good "apprenticeship" in that you'd get real experience, in a supportive environment, being a pioneering academic.

 

Is that what you want to do afterwards? Or what are your post-doc plans?

 

To add: I also got an offer kind of like C and B. They offered a very low stipend, and, even though there are university fellowships available, I wasn't nominated for it, nor, from what I can tell, was anyone else. The other two it seemed like were actually trying to "fight" to have me. They ended up getting dropped from the running first (after many, many weeks of agonizing however).

Edited by jujubea
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Thanks for the perspective fuzzylogician! I would feel better if the reason that I wasn't nominated was because they had nominated a more qualified candidate. However, from word of mouth, it seems the department just didn't nominate anyone for the university-wide fellowships this cycle. This strikes me as odd.

 

So you're concerned that they dropped the ball and that it may be a recurring problem? That's something that's worth figuring out. But if it's a one time thing, I'd just move past it and make a decision based on the relevant facts: will you be happy there? is it a good research fit? can you afford to live there? 

 

Re: independence at school A, that's great but the question is if they can guide you in work that they are not experts in, and what their placement record and perceived prestige is in your sub-area. Would you be at a disadvantage coming from there and doing your kind of work compared to school B? Of course, you also want to end up fairly independent even if you go to school B, as your goal at the end of the day is to become an independent researcher and not a derivative of your advisor. 

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Thanks for the perspective fuzzylogician! I would feel better if the reason that I wasn't nominated was because they had nominated a more qualified candidate. However, from word of mouth, it seems the department just didn't nominate anyone for the university-wide fellowships this cycle. This strikes me as odd.

 

Usually, we don't know all of the details of these situations, so it's hard/not useful to guess why. I wouldn't worry about this being "odd" except for the concern fuzzy raised above. For example, perhaps there is a limit on the number of nominations made every X years or some other penalty for nominating a candidate that does not eventually win. Maybe the department knows from past experience that neither you nor the other candidate are a good match for the fellowship.

 

Unless it's the issue that fuzzy mentioned, I think it's important to just move past this. Don't compare yourself to other students (present or past)! The best people in academia get rejected for various things all the time, and it's important to not take it personally and move on. 

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I wouldn't ask too many questions about why they didn't nominate anyone. There may be internal university politics at play that you have no knowledge of and that really aren't your place to know about. Seriously, it's not worth stressing out over. The only thing that matters with funding is whether there's sufficient funding for you to be the best scholar you can be. 

 

I turned down multiple fellowship offers to go to a program that offered me less funding. I don't regret the decision because it was the best place for me to do my research. Sure, there were times where I wished I had the fellowship and fewer TA duties but, those TA experiences helped me land the job I have now.

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I was fortunate that I did not have to choose between programs that were fit vs. being able to pay all the bills. That said, when adjusted for cost of living, I did end up choosing the program that offered me the least money out of my 3 top choices and I currently* do not regret it at all due to all of the other resources (research funding and facilities) for me to be the best scholar I can be. 

 

To clarify my (*) above, there were a few months in the first year where I felt a lot of financial stress as my spouse had to go through a lot of paperwork to first get work authorization and then find work. At that point, we still believed we made the right decision, but the financial stress was no fun on our personal or work lives. Part of the problem was that this was pre-ACA plans being available so health care costs were very high for us. Luckily, my school came up with a one-time additional $7000 subsidy to help part of our very large health costs. By the second year, both of us had income and we were able to stop worrying about money on a day-to-day basis. Although I did not know that they would be able to do this for us when I accepted the offer, part of the reason we chose this school was that we felt the administration was very supportive of graduate students!

 

(That is, my point is that if you have enough to pay all the bills, I'd pick the best "fit" over finances. For your case, I don't know exactly what you mean by "struggle to live off the stipend" -- does it mean living frugally or does it mean you'll have to go into debt? I wouldn't personally be willing to go into debt, but living more frugally to go to a better school might be a good "investment", to a certain extent)

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