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Should I get a PhD?


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I've been accepted to a UC in a rural area, and am currently on the waitlist at UC Berkeley (they are having me call everyday). While UC Merced is offerring me a decent stipend and the advisor I would have is certainly not a bad fit, I'm not sure I want to attend Merced if that is the only place I am offered admission (I know, everything should be decided by tomorrow!). The project I'd be working on is related to the research I'm doing now/did as an undergrad, but it doesn't particularly excite me. 

 

Another variable to the equation is that my significant other and I are definitely on the track to getting married, but there are no opportunities for her to pursue her Master's in Nursing anywhere nearby, or find an alternative job worth having in Merced. That leaves her to live 2 hours away in the Bay Area. I'm not sure I want to sacrifice 5+ years of my life/relationship for a PhD I'm not that excited in.

 

I also was not particularly excited to have to search for a post-doc that could be anywhere in the country/world and have to work there 1-3+ years just to get a chance to receive a job in academia. With my current work experience I could likely land a decent paying job in the near future. 

 

My current boss/advisor (I work at an undergraduate institution as a lab manager) seems to be pushing me towards pursuing my PhD. I'll have had (hopefully) 2 co-authored papers and a first author paper published by the time I've entered grad school, which certainly helps his case. I also received an Honorable Mention for the 2015 NSF GRFP.

 

I just think I didn't plan out my current graduate school applications accordingly, and applied to places that wouldn't really fit in with the other aspects of my life, and didn't offer the amazing research project/school that would make me okay with sacrificing those other aspects.

 

I was hoping someone else might be able to offer their 2 cents about this? I only have my advisor and other professors who want me to pursue a PhD to talk to, or family/friends that don't really understand the situation. If not, at least I've been able to get my thoughts down in writing!

 

Thanks!

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Well, it seems like UC Merced is not a good personal fit for you. Not attending anywhere this year doesn't close the book on getting a PhD - you could take this year to work and apply to programs again in locations that work better for your SO and are a better fit for your interests. The extra time to think about whether you really want to do this might not be a bad thing.

 

It sounds to me like you don't want to go to UC Merced.

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if in the coming year you d get that little extra that would make Berkeley accept you right away, it is definitely worth trying. At the same time, you d have a year to seriously consider whether you actually want a PhD and all the inconvinience that it comes with. As a nurse you partner will be able to find a job easily at any new place where you go so I don t see how it would be 5+ years separated. Wouldn t it just be for the time of her masters?

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I agree that Merced does not seem like a good fit for you, and I personally would not go there for various reasons. A PhD is a big commitment even under the best circumstances, so I think you should only do one you're thrilled about. That said, just because you didn't get in anyplace you're excited about this year doesn't mean you can't get into a place that's a great fit for you in the future. The fact that you got waitlisted at Berkeley demonstrates that you are a very strong candidate capable of getting into top programs (and you may still get in - it seems from these boards that a lot of people are waiting to the last minute to make up their minds about where to attend). Plus it sounds like you are continuing to do work in your field (writing new papers, continuing research work on your own) that will only strengthen future applications. As you said, your issue here really comes down to where you applied. So I say take this time to work, consider your priorities, and if and when you reapply, only apply to places that you could really envision yourself being for a while, including where your significant other will be happy and have opportunities. I think your advisors should be understanding of the fact that Merced wasn't a great fit for you, but that you're interested (for now) in keeping your PhD options open. 

 

Your other underlying question - whether you should get a PhD at all - is a whole other can of worms and is incredibly personal. How were you feeling about it when you applied? Did you always doubt whether you wanted one or is it just because you're questioning your path since you're unhappy with your acceptances at the moment? If it's not a reaction to your current stress, then it's definitely worth taking some time to think about... another plus for rejecting the Merced offer and taking some time to think. Academic life is definitely not for everyone. What are the options in your field for going into industry with a PhD? Would you be super excited about the idea of being in school for 5-7 years if it were someplace like Berkeley, or are you unenthusiastic about the whole idea even in best case scenario? I think it's normal to have some crises of faith at a time like this... I think application and decision season is a time of ups and downs for all of us. Just some thoughts to consider.

 

Best of luck!  

Edited by brown_eyed_girl
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Thank you all for the very thoughtful replies! Its nice to actually have people that understand that its not over if I don't accept a school right away. Everyone else I talked to seemed to think that taking my UC Merced acceptance was my only option. But Berkeley is only waiting on 1 decision, so we'll see how today goes. As for wanting a PhD, it was certainly something I wanted throughout. But as things shook out I just kept feeling more and more like I didn't want to go to Merced, for a number of personal and academic reasons. So let's see what the end of the day brings me! 

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You shouldn't enter a 5 year commitment unless you are very excited for those 5 years. In other words, take a year or two off, realign yourself and strengthen your application. This will allow you and your significant other to properly plan your future 10 years. If you DO want to follow the academic route, you both need to address how you will cope with the constant change of venue from grad school to postdoc1, to postdoc2, to (potential) postdoc3 and professorship or wherever it takes you. If your significant other is following a career, take into account whether you will both be satisfied in your future locations.

 

With the average age of first R01 being 43 and the average age of first academic position in late 30's, it is definitely worth it to reposition yourself better and live somewhere you two can be together.

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