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Funded vs Unfunded, Practical vs Theoretical

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Hi all,


I'm currently debating between two (excellent) PhD program, but am at a mental standstill. Would definitely love some outside input/advice.


---Option 1---

Research is practically-focused, which (a) ties into the post-undergrad industry work I've been doing recently, and (B) opens up doors for a lot more industry or government jobs post-PhD


- Top-tier university, and the general department is very well established

- Awesome location in a major city, with lots of extracurricular opportunities

- POI is friendly and knowledgable, and we have a good rapport


- No funding offer

- Not as developed in the specialization I'm looking at (only 1-2 professors and a couple of current students)

- POI is young, not yet well known in the field (so if I wanted to stay in academia, his recommendation wouldn't carry as much weight)


---Option 2---

Research is more theoretically-focused, which (a) ties into the undergrad research I did a few years ago, but (B) restricts me more to working in academia post-PhD.


- Fully funded (tuition + 17k stipend)

- POI is well known in the field (my current advisor, when hearing these two options, said that choosing this option and working with this Prof was "a no brainer")

- Department is more focused on the specialization I'm looking at


- University is more mid-tier

- Location is not great (small town on the east coast), and very few extra-curricular/summer opportunities in the area

- Research of the POI and most of his grad students seems very focused and narrow (although POI says he encourages students to focus on what interests them, regardless of whether it ties into his research)



I know a lot of the decision lies in whether I want to skew towards practical or theoretical research, which I'm still debating internally (I'm the type to want to keep their options open til the last minute). But how important is funding? Keep in mind that for Option 1 (unfunded), there are options to become funded later on. And in the meantime, while I won't be doing TA or research work, I have an offer from my current startup company to work remotely part-time, at a rate that's equivalent to Option 2's funding offer (about 60k/yr). So for me, the funding is less about the financial factor, and more about how much the department wants me/how much clout the POI has.


Thanks for any advice!

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Funding is a must. If they don't give you funding, you shouldn't go.


Realistically speaking, you don't want to have to work part-time during your program to pay the bills - at least not the first two years. You'll be taking coursework, and you will also be expected to be working with PIs at the university/in the department on research - regardless of whether you are funded or not. You're going to be very busy, and committing to working on any more than a flexible, low-hours basis for extra money is probably not a good idea. I tried to do remote work for a different firm in my third year and had to let it go after 6 months because it just wasn't feasible with the amount of work I had. Were I doing it in dissertation time...that'd be different.

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Thanks for the advice! As much as I loved School 1, the lack of funding seems fairly irredeemable.


However, along with these two PhD offers, I also have three different MSci offers (unfunded). I could honestly see myself going either way re: industry vs academia after graduate school, but at this point I'm leaning towards industry. Should I take the funded PhD offer anyway, even though it's more theoretical, or go with one of the unfunded MSci's instead and reapply to PhD programs again in a couple years if I decide I want to stay in academia?

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