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Choosing a social psych PhD program?


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I'm trying to decide between two social psych PhD programs and I can't quite make myself commit. Any thoughts? My career goals are academic, but I don't expect (or really profoundly want) a top-50 R1-type position. 

 

Program A:

- Exciting research that is somewhat out of my comfort zone

- Good advisor fit

- Smaller/rebuilding social program in a good (top 20) general psych department

- Less structured program that will require more initiative and independence

- Prestigious, well-known school

- Very strong funding offer

- Reasonably good academic placements among social grads

 

Program B:

- Great research that matches my interests exceptionally well

- Really awesome advisor fit

- Medium, well-established social program in an okay (top 100) general psych department

- More structured program with a solid, nurturing reputation

- Less recognized name with a couple well-regarded faculty in the program

- Funding isn't as good, but it's adequate for the location

- Mixed/average academic placements among social grads

 

Both advisors are junior faculty and don't have a long track record to go on, but they're publishing and presenting productively with their early students. Advisor B has a slight edge as far as that goes. I also like Advisor B's studies and network more, for what that's worth.

My dilemma comes down to feeling like I really know exactly what I'm getting into with Program B, whereas Program A might have a higher ceiling but it also seems a little less predictable. I like the structure and overall warmth of Program B, but I also recognize that the difference between a top-20 and a top-100 department is not a minor thing. I have gotten advice from social faculty mentors (at an R1 and at a SLAC) and they're both telling me to go with my gut, but I don't want to be totally naive. I'm struggling to find any reliable information on social psych rankings and their importance in academic hiring, and because my mentors have been contradicting the conventional "Go to the most prestigious place you can get into," wisdom, I'm really confused about what to do.

Please message me for names if you're curious or if you might be able to offer more specific advice.

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If you want to go to academia, a program's prestige is not as important as an opportunity to get published when you are a student. You should look at publications of the students in each program. If the program & professors are very famous but only a few students get publications, then it can be a red flag. If many of them have publications, but none of them is the 1st author, then I would be worried too. I recommend going to any program where students are encouraged/supported to get publications and many of them are the 1st author in the papers published by well-known journals with a good impact factor. That's what makes your profile stands out when you apply for a job in academia. If both programs are the same, then I'd say go with your gut....

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It sounds like you would be more comfortable and happy in Program B just reading your post a couple times over. However, the job market is a beast of its own, and to me "reasonably good" is a lot better than "mixed/average" placements.

FWIW, I know that if my SO was in your position he would pick Program A, but that's because him and his advisors are extremely "gung ho", if you will, about the whole life after grad school/job market thing. Maybe a question to marinate on is: can I see myself holding one of the same mixed or average positions/placements that you say Program B students have (and being happy/satisfied with it)? If the answer is yes, definitely, then Program B sounds like it would be a great program for you. If your answer is no, or you feel wishy-washy about it, I would say, in the long run, you might be happier having chosen Program A.

11 minutes ago, khunconan said:

I recommend going to any program where students are encouraged/supported to get publications and many of them are the 1st author in the papers published by well-known journals with a good impact factor.

I also want to second this! This is HUGE, and should be considered an important factor in your decision-making process! I think, for my SO at least, when comparing programs, it was pretty obvious which programs are getting their students to the press early and often and those who, well, aren't....There is a huge difference between programs who have students publishing in their last year or two, and programs who have students getting papers into high impact journals in their first or second year.

Edited by FeelTheBern
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Thanks for your thoughts! It's really helpful to get some other perspectives on this.

I'm not highly ambitious, but I am really concerned about the academic job market. Basically any tenure-track position where I can do research would be a total dream, and both programs are placing their students in those positions. At the same time, if I have the opportunity to shoot for a higher tier, it still feels a little unwise to walk away from that... So I guess I'm a little more wishy-washy than absolutely thrilled with B's placements.

Both advisors have prioritized publishing with students, which is great, but they're young and don't have long track records to judge yet. The learning curve for Program A is decidedly steeper, so their students have been slower out of the gate. Historically, other advisors' students there have gotten rolling more around year 2-3. Once they start publishing they're doing well in terms of author order/high impact journals. Program B's advisor already has a lot of very strong student publications out there - it's one of the things that most impressed me about them. I need to take Program A's advisor more at their word that they're going to do this.

I am also very lucky in that I may be a little ahead of the game because I had a fantastic undergrad advisor who prioritized getting me publishing even in college. I have a 1st author publication and some of my own data from working with her, and I have a couple projects further along in the pipeline that I could hopefully get out quite early. That could possibly help the slower start at Program A...? But I think Program B would be more supportive of me doing that, too. They seem very aware that they're a smaller name and they need their students to be very productive to be competitive, whereas Program A doesn't put quite as much early pressure on students to publish because they do have some security from their name.

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On 3/23/2016 at 11:49 AM, quietq said:

Thanks for your thoughts! It's really helpful to get some other perspectives on this.

I'm not highly ambitious, but I am really concerned about the academic job market. Basically any tenure-track position where I can do research would be a total dream, and both programs are placing their students in those positions. At the same time, if I have the opportunity to shoot for a higher tier, it still feels a little unwise to walk away from that... So I guess I'm a little more wishy-washy than absolutely thrilled with B's placements.

How much research do you want to be doing? Do you want to have undergrads, MA students, or PhD students as your research assistants? Because if you want to be able to do any significant research, you'll want a teaching load less than a 3/3, which will require you to shoot for a "higher tier" of jobs than you might have been planning.

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Update: I officially accepted Program A this morning. It was hard because I do feel like I'm giving up some of the short-term comfort I'd have at Program B, and because I went against my mentors' advice, but I feel really strongly that I made the better choice for my long-term career. This thread was really helpful in reminding me to take the long view, so thanks for that! There's nothing I disliked enough about A to justify declining their offer. Getting out of my comfort zone and becoming more independent will ultimately be good things, and the ceiling for my research there is substantially higher. Telling Program B was difficult, but it went well enough and I am relieved to have some closure on this. I hope I've made someone on the waitlist happy, at least! Thanks for all the great feedback.

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