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Yale or ETH Zurich


gizmoh
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I want to pursue a PhD, so I have applied to a number of prestigious US, UK and Swiss schools (I did my MA in the UK)

 

Result: accepted at Yale. ETH Zurich also showed strong interest during the interview and on the 15th will let me know whether I'm in or not. The very same day I am supposed to respond to Yale.

 

Now the dilemma: 5-7 years in New Haven/ NYC or 3-4 years in Switzerland? Got one week to figure this out.

 

I prefer Yale's curriculum - they have terrific courses and Profs - but New Haven is a gritty, unsafe place to spend the 2 coursework years in. There is a huge undergrad population on campus and not many grads of my age, so I don't expect to make many friends there, or even to do things that you do in cities like going out etc, you can't even walk home at night, I've been told when I visited, which I find absurd. NYC  is also 2h away - so after 2 years of New Haven there would be 3-5 years of heavy commuting on a weekly basis when I move to NYC - which I would definitely do if I go there.

 

On the other hand Zurich is a small, clean and safe city, and, as a European guy, it is closer to my friends and family and well connected with EU amenities. Profs there are good, but not as Yale's, and many events are in German, which I don't understand a word of (but which I can learn, good with languages).

 

Job-wise, I expect my opportunities to be roughly the same after I graduate from these two schools. Yale probably is better for US jobs, but I'm not keen on teaching in the midwest or in some small suburb (no offense). Ultimately, as a Prof I would like to move between the UK, the US (east and west coasts only), and Switzerland.

 

Thoughts?

Edited by gizmoh
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I've never heard of anyone commuting between NYC and Yale as a grad student -- not that it's undoable/insane or anything, just unheard of. I know a professor who does that between Boston and Yale on a weekly basis but not any student. Pretty sure Yale, like many other universities, has regulations on what percentage of a degree must be spent in residence. Also, driving from New Haven to NYC can be done for about 1.5hrs, depending on the traffic and/or whether you speed or not. When I visited Yale we had no problem walking back from the bar to our hotel at 11pm. But yes, New Haven certainly has a bad reputation when it comes to safety; but then again it's not as if every once in a while you hear a Yale student get murdered or anything. You just have to be extra careful, just like you should in any city in the U.S..

 

You might also want to consider the financial support each school gives. I don't know about your program but my program at Yale, for instance, gives awesome stipends (33k+/year). On the other hand I've heard that Zurich is a super expensive city.

Edited by kewz
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You might also want to consider the financial support each school gives. I don't know about your program but my program at Yale, for instance, gives awesome stipends (33k+/year). On the other hand I've heard that Zurich is a super expensive city.

Uhm, ETH is known to give stipends of at least 50k. Yes, Zurich is expensive, but the stipend will more than compensate for that.

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I want to pursue a PhD, so I have applied to a number of prestigious US, UK and Swiss schools (I did my MA in the UK)

 

Result: accepted at Yale. ETH Zurich also showed strong interest during the interview and on the 15th will let me know whether I'm in or not. The very same day I am supposed to respond to Yale.

 

Now the dilemma: 5-7 years in New Haven/ NYC or 3-4 years in Switzerland? Got one week to figure this out.

 

I prefer Yale's curriculum - they have terrific courses and Profs - but New Haven is a gritty, unsafe place to spend the 2 coursework years in. There is a huge undergrad population on campus and not many grads of my age, so I don't expect to make many friends there, or even to do things that you do in cities like going out etc, you can't even walk home at night, I've been told when I visited, which I find absurd. NYC  is also 2h away - so after 2 years of New Haven there would be 3-5 years of heavy commuting on a weekly basis when I move to NYC - which I would definitely do if I go there.

 

On the other hand Zurich is a small, clean and safe city, and, as a European guy, it is closer to my friends and family and well connected with EU amenities. Profs there are good, but not as Yale's, and many events are in German, which I don't understand a word of (but which I can learn, good with languages).

 

Job-wise, I expect my opportunities to be roughly the same after I graduate from these two schools. 1) Yale probably is better for US jobs, 2) but I'm not keen on teaching in the midwest or in some small suburb (no offense). Ultimately, as a Prof 3) I would like to move between the UK, the US (east and west coasts only), and Switzerland.

 

Thoughts?

 

I'm going to be honest, it really sounds like you are just looking for support in choosing Zurich over Yale. And given your attitude and preferences, it seems like that might be the best decision for you.

 

However, as to the following points:

 

1) It's not probably, it is entirely the case. If you want to teach in the U.S., given the competitiveness of the U.S. academic job market, and departmental preferences, you need a degree from a U.S. program. Foreign Ph.Ds aren't getting U.S. tenure track jobs. You'll definitely find foreign Ph.Ds in labs in the hard sciences and engineering where the funding is plentiful but that's still in labs...not in tenure track appointments.

2) I won't offer pretense here...I found this highly amusing. Given the competitiveness of the U.S. academic job market, even if you end up at a great Ph.D program, you are still generally lucky if you can get a tenure track appointment anywhere.

3) Your work better be seminal in your field.

 

The only foreign program that use to be fairly safe was Oxford, however, American departments don't like that Oxford doesn't provide funding to American students where American departments provide full funding to foreign Ph.D students. Also, there is an entire networking aspect...who your professors are matter because of who they know and to whom they can introduce you as a letter writer or when someone calls on them to ask about your abilities as a student.

 

Again, it sounds like you have already made your decision and I wish you the best. Zurich is a great choice. I just didn't want you to harbor any false misconceptions about the ease of getting a tenure track appointment in the U.S. with a foreign Ph.D. It's incredibly unlikely.

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when people talk about foreign PhDs not getting jobs in the US, that does not apply to Oxford, Cambridge,  Zurich or Tokyo. 

 

It certainly does in the social sciences and the humanities...but the OP doesn't mention his discipline...

 

In any instance, this is easily disprovable if you have a plethora of recent tenure track job hires from these universities...

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It certainly does in the social sciences and the humanities...but the OP doesn't mention his discipline...

 

What % of people are being hired for TT from social sciences and humanities in US programs anyway? 

 

If he's talking about ETH Zurich, he's probably talking about a technical field.

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The only foreign program that use to be fairly safe was Oxford, however, American departments don't like that Oxford doesn't provide funding to American students where American departments provide full funding to foreign Ph.D students.

This is simply not true. Oxford (and other universities in the UK) give out more offers than they have funding for. That is standard practice. Then, the top candidates are funded. It is true, however, that non-EU tuition is more expensive than EU tuition. That gives rises to a situation that is similar to in-state and out-of-state tuition. Yes, some funding is only for EU students, but other scholarships are exclusively for non-EU students.

 

TL;DR: An American that does not get funding in Oxford was simply not competitive enough to get funding.

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What % of people are being hired for TT from social sciences and humanities in US programs anyway? 

 

If he's talking about ETH Zurich, he's probably talking about a technical field.

Mine is not a technical field.

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Nah, Guillaume, I'm in the social sciences and there are plenty of people in my field with foreign PhDs and positions at (top) departments. Oxford, Cambridge, ETH Zurich and Tokyo are definitely four of the schools that are on par with top departments stateside. I agree that life will be a lot easier with a PhD from Yale vs. Zurich, but Zurich won't be a liability.

 

By now OP should have made a decision, but I do want to address a few things for posterity:

 

1) The most important aspect of any PhD decision is the coursework and the research and the faculty - basically, the program. Location should be a secondary consideration, unless you truly believe you'll be absolutely miserable in a certain place. Just the fact that OP prefers the coursework and faculty at Yale to me is a sign that he should go to Yale.

 

2) It amuses me when people say that X place is "gritty and unsafe" when X is usually a place traversed by lots of college students. New Haven isn't the prettiest city in the world, but Yale has been there for centuries and we haven't heard about too many axe murders and such. People often say the same thing about the neighborhood Columbia is in, which makes me roll my eyes. I'm fairly certain that OP will be quite safe in New Haven in and around Yale's campus, as long as OP keeps his wits about him and operates with some street smarts (just like he should in any major city).

 

3) I think it's quite a bad idea to go to Yale with the expectation that you're going to move 2 hours away to New York after 2 years. First of all, the coursework might take longer than 2 years to finish. Second of all, being close to the department is good for things other than coursework. It's important to go to departmental events, seminars, brown bags, colloquia, etc. Sometimes it's good just to be seen around the department so that professors have you in mind when something comes across their desk that would be perfect for you. For what it's worth, my advisor did commute from NYC to Yale for 2 years as a postdoc, but I feel like that's kind of a different thing. Lots of people move away when they are in the dissertation phase if they don't have to be in the lab. I'd say it's still ideal to be close by - in person meetings with committee members are better than distance ones - but possible to move away. Still, though, I wouldn't expect to be able to do that until 4 years into the program, at the beginning of year 5 (maybe year 4 at the earliest, after comprehensives are passed).

 

Besides, NYC is way more expensive than New Haven.

 

4) Somewhat off-topic, but assuming that you want to be a professor...many of our universities are in the Midwest and you'd do well to be more flexible with what you consider to be a good job unless you are willing to consider alternative careers. Not that I blame you - I don't mind suburbs, but I don't really want to live in the Midwest (nothing against the Midwest personally!) and would like to be close to a city (within 2 hours). However...I'm realistic about the chances of that happening in academia, and am open to and actively seeking non-academic jobs.

 

Academic jobs in large desirable cities are often very competitive - precisely because they are in large desirable cities - and few academics pick where they want to live. You'd better be a superstar, basically. And even that doesn't guarantee city of your choice, because the job has to be open.

 

Also...professors don't move between institutions very often, let alone continents. If you got a tenure-track position in the U.S., that might be the last one you ever get. Sometimes if you are very accomplished you can get poached by another institution, but that's more likely to be another institution in the same country. It's highly unlikely that you'd be constantly rotating between those three countries  - unless you took some non-academic international job.

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'I think it's quite a bad idea to go to Yale with the expectation that you're going to move 2 hours away to New York after 2 years. First of all, the coursework might take longer than 2 years to finish.'

 

This.

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