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Funding/ Admission Problem...


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So I am in a predicament with my Doctorate.  

My husband is military, so I can go to approximately 1 school for my PhD.  Everything was going great, spoke to a faculty member I wanted to work with, he was willing to take me on.  However, funding is an issue here.  It is a geological oceanography (paleoclimatology) program, there are no undergrads at the College of Marine Science so no TA positions (too bad, I already teach at a College).  Funding is solely based on research grants and school scholarships and stipends.  So the faculty I was talking to did not get his grants.  So he has no money.  He told me I was not scholastically strong enough to really get a school scholarship.  What do I do? 

Is there a way to make my application stronger?  My undergrad is pretty terrible scholastically, but I did my masters at a top 5 institution for oceanography and have a 3.5 overall Grad GPA.  Would GRE scores matter?  I did pretty well (80% quantitative 5.5 written, 60% on that other section), but I am not against taking it again if it would strengthen my application.  Would taking a class at this college as Non-degree seeking in the Spring help my application for the fall?  I don't want to spend that money unless I know it will help me.  

Any input is welcome.

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Since you've done a masters, the obvious two fellowships, GRF and Hertz fellowships are out of contention. Your problem is that a lot of the fellowships available (NASA, for example) want you to be a current graduate student. Are you 2 years removed from your masters degree (or will be at the time of application?) You might be eligible for both the Hertz and NSF GRF.

So I assume you are going to reapply next year (thats why you said you would take a class as a non degree student this spring). One option, is if this professor really wants you, you can spend the next months applying for research grants with him, focusing on what you want to do. 

I think your qualifications are fine for entering graduate school (obviously), but a 3.5 Graduate GPA isn't all that impressive. Not that a 4.0 is impressive, but from the people I talk to in Earth Sciences and at both my schools grades are kinda given out.... you have to do something wrong to get a B (like not work at all).  I think what is more holding you back though, is if your undergraduate GPA is not impressive, that will make it difficult to win school wide fellowships. Raising your GRE might help you, but this is something I would ask your POI: if you were to score a 165/165/5.0, would this make you competitive for school wide fellowships? It depends on how they weight things there. It's not realistic to expect to get a perfect score, but maybe a 330 could get you there. 

I think that, even for qualified candidates like yourself, If you only apply to a few schools there is probably a greater chance that you will not get into graduate school than get in. This is because, if there are no TAs, NSF grants are between 10-20% funding rate, which means that already caps the amount of graduate students that can be on research funding. 

The honest truth is that unless your particular professor gets funding, you may not be able to go to graduate school there. I hate to bring bad news, but really the only way I can see you improving your application (besides maybe the GRE, or publishing a few papers) is applying to more places.  And if you are serious about an academic career, it will probably take you away from military bases, even if you were fortunate enough to go to this particular school for your PhD, eventually you will have to go somewhere else to continue. 

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Unfortunately, my answer is to second what GeoDUDE says about funding. The main way students are funded are either TAship or RAship via their supervisor's grant. Since this faculty member has no grants for this work, it will be a big problem.

By the way, even if you have external fellowships (like the NSF or NASA ones), they don't always cover 100% of the cost. But these are very competitive and if the faculty member says you are not competitive for in-school fellowships, it's unlikely that you will be competitive for external ones. Sorry to say that.

I think you can be competitive for the fellowships in the future, given you do well in a PhD program. The NASA NESSF is generally awarded to people in later years anyways. But right now, your undergrad GPA will play a large role in fellowship decisions so it will be difficult.

GeoDUDE wrote about the future and constraints due to geography. I don't think the fact that you will have future geographical constraints should stop you from pursuing graduate school now. There are things you can do with a PhD besides academia and even if you are serious about an academic career, it's still possible to do so while constrained to your husband's military assignments. Yes, it will be harder though. But since you won't know where he will be assigned and you won't know for certain what your and his career goals will be in many years, I wouldn't say no to a PhD now only because of this reason. 

That said, it looks like there are three potential options I can see moving forward:

1. Find another faculty member at this school that will be willing to take you and has funding for you. This might mean broadening your research interests and finding ways to demonstrate fit with other faculty members. Follow the money, so to speak.

2. Consider other schools in other locations. Just putting that option there---each couple has their own decisions to make about whether they want to do long distance and whose career takes precedence at this point in time.

3. Wait and hope this faculty member is successful for grants in future years. In the meantime, you can try to get additional research experience to make yourself more desirable as a student to other faculty members (I say "other" because your top choice faculty member already wants you). Maybe your top choice faculty member does not have funding to pay you as a PhD student researcher but maybe they can pay you as a part time (maybe even just 10 hours/week) staff researcher. I do not think taking classes as a non-degree student will help you---you already have a Masters and demonstrated you are able to succeed at graduate level classes.

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Sigh, this is what I thought.  GeoDude, yeah at the school I went to, you had to do something AMAZING to earn an A in all of the classes.  a B was like, you tried your hardest but still... and they did give out Cs all the time.  I know people who failed the core courses.  They were intense.  So yeah, I am proud of my 3.5 :-)

I think I am leaning towards applying and letting the chips fall where they may.

I wouldn't go to a different university.  My marriage is pretty important to me, and we just bought a house where we live currently.  I would maybe drive farther if I only had to go a couple times a week.

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13 hours ago, surfgirl87 said:

I wouldn't go to a different university.  My marriage is pretty important to me, and we just bought a house where we live currently.  I would maybe drive farther if I only had to go a couple times a week.

Fair enough. My spouse and I also decided that we did not want to live in separate cities so we also share the same philosophy :) But these are just personal values. Just want to point out that I have many friends who are married and choose to live apart because they feel like having one partner compromise for the other would not be fair in their relationship. It doesn't mean their marriage isn't important to them! But I know that won't work for my spouse and I. 

Location is also important to us and we actually plan to live in a very specific geographical region when we "settle down". So this will highly impact the places considered after graduate school. I'm still serious about working in academia but I know that with geographical constraints, it may not be possible. Like you, when it comes to post-graduate school plans, the plan is to just apply and see what happens. Ultimately though, settling down and raising a family in our hometown is more important to us than an academic career.

You also mention commuting to school only a few days a week. This is definitely possible but challenging! Almost impossible in the first two years though, so you have to keep that in mind. But usually, once the coursework is complete, it's possible (but still challenging) to schedule all of your on-campus appointments (e.g. meetings, TAing, office hours, seminars, colloquia, etc.) in 3 or 4 days. I have a friend that actually commuted across the border (1 hour drive) into Canada for their PhD work (spouse's work required them to be in the US). Instead of working 5 8-hour days, she usually tried to work 3 or 4 10-12 hour days. So things like that are definitely possible. 

Good luck!

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