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Last minute advice needed!


c2b3

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I am trying to decide between two schools, and I am cutting it really close to the deadline. This is for a PhD in cell/molecular biology Here's the breakdown:

 

School A

-What I would consider a top 15 school (not really sure where people are getting their rankings from since there's so many variables)

-Well known for its research

-I went to this school for my BS

-Very low requirements (low coursework, no TAing, gets you into research quickly)

-great atmosphere, great people

-cohert is about 9-10 people per year

-Full funding for all years

-Program doesn't formally organize a ton of activities, but sounds like students organize professional stuff (like mock interviews and getting industry to come in and speak), and there's a variety of things going on around campus

 

School B

-Next state over, top 20ish school (maybe top 25)

-Not as well known for research. Seems to attract people from smaller schools that are not research institutions

-Offered me a $5000 bonus on top of the full funding. The bonus would last for 4 years

-Wasn't super enthralled by the people or the overall atmosphere. They were nice, but didn't really excite me.

-I don't know that I would have given this program as much thought as I had if I hadn't gotten the bonus offer

-Lots of classes first year, but those taper off enough by 2nd year

-Two semesters TA required (but I'm told the amount of time you spend in each TA can be variable depending on what kind of experience you're looking for)

-Has a semester long career development workshop for non-academia track careers

-Definitely more structured overall. This program seems to have more structure (in terms of required classes and seminars and such), and the program at my school doesn't seem to have enough

 

So it comes down to: Do I stay at the school I love but face the stigma of staying at the same place? Or do I go to a place that would be fine to get a new experience, but I'm not super excited about the school? I'm fairly certain that I don't want to pursue the academia/tenure faculty route seeing as that outlook is so bleak. But I'm told that as long as I do my postdoc somewhere else the whole staying at the same school isn't a super big deal, especially since my school is well known. I will probably end up in industry, which I why I'm hoping to get a biotech internship at some point during my grad career. There's no guarantee that I'll get one at either school, but it seems more likely to happen at my current school. At the other school I was told that the most feasible way he could see that happening is if I did a collaboration with a biotech company on my thesis, and I'm not sure how well that would work out.

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Definitely don't choose a school based solely on the funding situation. If you'll be able to survive, the school with most exciting research and atmosphere you feel most welcome in is best. Keep in mind that on the interview at school B, you were probably only exposed to a very small percentage of the student body. This is one of the problems I had with interviews, that I found some of the student guides REALLY immature and annoying. Schools often put the most talkative students forward for these things.

 

I too was worried about the stigma of staying at the same school to do a PhD. Looking at the education of PI's at prestigious institutions and even in industry, you will find that some of them did do BS and PhD at the same school.

For example, take a look at the section "Alumni that have stayed at genentech" in the following link. 6 of these have gotten their PhD at the same place as their BS (Look in education section of their page).

http://www.gene.com/careers/academic-programs/postdocs/postdoc-alumni

 

So I don't think it's that big a deal, especially if you branch out, go to meetings, publish, and build your network in the last few years.

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Normally I would not recommend staying at the same institution, but in this case, it seems like that might be the better option for you. I don't say this just because of the whole "same institution" stigma (which, as you said, probably doesn't matter as much if you aren't interested in academia) but because I think it's best to be in a new environment with new perspectives. That said, if you are planning on getting an entirely new cohort staying at your uni then you might be getting a reasonable amount of that anyway. 

 

Most important in a decision such as this is fit, how much you love the program, and what it can offer for your future. In these things, it seems like your current institution is the best bet. I think it's unwise to attend someplace you aren't truly excited about - if you don't enjoy your work and the people around you, you likely aren't going to succeed. I do agree, however, with the other comment in that you shouldn't base your entire view of the school based on the few people you met. But the fact that you're more excited about your current uni, and that it's a better ranking, and you're more likely to get involved with industry, tells me that it'll be much better for your future (particularly the last bit). 

 

And, again, I completely agree with the comment above me: I highly recommend not making this decision based on a few thousand dollars. Yes, you might have more money to spare, but unless one of the programs is not giving you enough to get by (make sure you're taking cost of living into account), then I strongly recommend not being swayed by money. A few thousand might seem like a nice luxury now, but is it really worth altering such an important decision? I think that if you enjoy the research at your current uni, you have connections to industry, and you attend a better-known school, you will succeed and more than make up for it in the long run. I say this especially since you mentioned you weren't really considering the program until they offered you the bonus, which tells me you aren't all that interested in the other school, just the money. Don't lose sight of why you're here: to get an education, not to make money. 

 

Just my two cents. Best of luck!

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It really is okay to turn down more money to go to the program where you will be happier and more productive in terms of research. For you, that means staying at your current institution. Honestly, when reading your pros/cons for each school, School A was a clear winner. Stay where you are, be awesome, and get those internships you want. 

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I also usually think it's better to go somewhere new, for new takes on things and networking benefits, but I agree that it sounds like school A is the better choice by far. Money is not a good reason to choose a program, provided both offer enough to live on. It's the first thing you will forget when you are done.

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