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Go back to school or take research job?



I studied Psychology as an undergrad and Experimental Psychology as a grad student. My GPAs were 3.12 and 3.42 respectively. I understand that these numbers are on the low side, and may affect my chances of getting admitted to a quality PhD program or receiving funding. Many schools only consider the last four years worth of classes, which would put me at a 3.2 - 3.3 GPA. 

My ultimate goal is to get into a Human Factors PhD program. More than half of them reside in Industrial Engineering programs, meaning that I'll need to take pre-reqs and leveling courses to proceed. The rest of them are in psych, public health, or design departments. Most of them state rather bluntly that they prefer applicants with engineering backgrounds or a good understanding of calculus and linear algebra. I sorted all of the programs based on departmental/school ranking, how compelling their research was, and my interest in the school. 4 of the top 5 and 9 of the top 15 are based in industrial or mechanical engineering programs. 

Because of this, I applied to a local university and declared a major in Mechanical Engineering. I could not only get through all of the pre-reqs needed for the engineering programs, but have the opportunity to get a higher GPA in a more rigorous major. The plan is to be a model student, get to know the faculty, and jump at any possible research opportunity (in engineering and psychology). I'd have 4 quarters finished before most application deadlines and 7 finished before fall of 2017. If I don't get an offer this cycle, I'll continue studying until I have the degree (It'd take two years total), and apply next cycle. I've actually always wanted to study the subject, so I wouldn't be heartbroken if that happened. 

I COULD get a job as a Human Factors researcher. I haven't succeeded at this, even though I applied for seven months the first time. I got a job at a local tech company and spent 18 months doing something unrelated. I've been applying for a month this time around, and have been getting a little more interest. I got turned down for two positions and have interviews for another two. I understand that research experience plays a huge part in admissions decisions, so this option also seems appealing. I'm not exactly lacking research experience - I worked in a lab for 3 years and was named as an author on one study. On one hand, this would strengthen my research abilities and resume. On the other hand, this could close the door on the Human Factors programs I'm most interested in. 

TL;DR: I could go all in on class with research on the side, or go all in on research with classes on the side. My Which route would have the greatest impact? I REALLY want to take the university route, but I'm not convinced that it's the best option.

Edited by dmacfour
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