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Making the final choice


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From the 8 Phd programs I applied to I have received 6 decisions (4 acceptances and 2 rejections). The other two programs have yet to release their decisions, and with the growing necessity to decide and their relatively low positions on my mental ranking I have put these two aside. Of the four acceptances I have already eliminated two, leaving the final two programs from which I will make my choice.


Both schools are large public research universities and my eventual goal is to be a research scientist in fluid earth systems. Now this is a broad category of research which has led to one of the programs being in marine science and the other in geoscience, whcih would not only determine what my Phd says, but also potentially the field of research that would be my focus both during the program and after.


Looking at graduate outcomes, there is a higher percentage of students who enter academia from the marine science program and a higher percentage that enter industry from the geoscience program. Both also produce students who now work for federal agencies (at national labs and such) but the degree obviously influences which agencies (NOAA & NASA vs DOE, etc).


Professors in these departments receive their grants from these sort of organizations, but the difference is that the Geoscience program has immediate connections to the DOE National Labs, so summer funding for grad students could come by working onsite at these labs as summer researchers. This not only allows access to facilities and equipment but seems like a good way to get your foot in the door. However, this summer work is a job, so instead of using the summer to work on your own research you are being paid well to work on something else, which may or may not inhibit the primary goal of getting your Phd in a timely fashion.


Now this is an option I don't have to take. Both programs have similar stipends and will provide full funding for five years. Even with the location making living expenses a little more for the Marine Science program I would have enough baseline support from either program to clothe myself and eat. However, the Marine Science program made it clear from the get go that I was their top candidate and have since been offered a first year fellowship and additional funding beyond that.


The Marine Science program is a smaller program but still highly regarded, smaller than they would like actually. Some of their professors have retired recently so they are currently hiring new faculty at a rate of two per year and taking on more students than they are currently graduating. My POI is a new one but there's already a lot of buzz about him; poeple both in and out of the program want to collaborate with him because he has designed something very novel with broad applications.


While I was visiting the Geosience program someone let slip that I was also being considered for a fellowship there (it could be multiyear), but that decsion has not been made and may not be finalized until after April 15, so I feel compelled to assess the funding aspect of this program using the baseline level of support I am guaranteed.


I've met my POIs from both departments and had an equally comfortable and engaged reporte with them both. Also, throughout the whole process they have maintained good email contact with me, even with the Geoscience POI having 6 current students in their lab group (actually a small number for the very large program).


Now here is where the heart of the problem lies:


The Geoscience POI may be hired by another even more prestigious program within the next year, and while they seem to want to take me with them if they do get the position it is not clear if that would work. If I did receive the fellowship I'm being considered for and it is multiyear I would have to give it up, and there may be other unforseen complications involved with moving or not, but they have enough grant money to support me all by themselves. It seems obvious they would like to work with me a lot as they weren't even planning on taking any students this year but then admitted me anyway and are willing to take me halfway across the country.


The Marine Science POI is new as I said and I would be their first grad student. Their research is top notch but they are not tested as an advisor, however one of the current grad students has been working with them for the past couple months and she has been very happy with what they have done. By themseslves they have enough funding to support me for three years and I have the first year fellowship and money on top of that. The fifth year might require me to TA (not a big issue) but it seems likely that in this time he could pick up additional funding.


So I have to decide between two different fields with a similar emphasis, one with a guaranteed fellowship and one that may or may not materialize, but both with good baseline support and great POIs with different things going on.

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This is a tough decision! I'm leaning toward geoscience for you, if only because it's a broader field and you could probably do the same research you'd do in the marine science program there. That said, it's not clear to me if there are other POIs you'd be interested in working with if the current one leaves. If you don't, then that rules out that option.

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