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Need help deciding! Please?

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So I was extremely lucky to receive multiple offers from really great programs. However, since all of the programs are great for my focus in their own way, I am having a horrible time deciding and am driving myself crazy. Not to mention, I need to decide so I can get to planning. I have solicited advice from anyone who will listen at this point, but thought I'd post here and see what you all have to say. Any thoughts would be GREATLY appreciated! I received 3 offers, but have narrowed it down to my top 2. The stipends, mentors, and programs are pretty much the same (so really, I know I can't go wrong in any decision), however, I'm now focusing on the specifics to be sure I am making the best decision.

I have tried to put the most weight in my career and research, but they are both good, just in different ways. Like school A, more guaranteed pubs. School B, I'd be the expert in my focus so I would be forced to grow as a peer researcher! Anyway...here it is. 

School A
- Lab I currently work in. (Head start, can jump right into publications from day one)
- Very large grants and publication opportunities in the pipeline
- Area of the country I love (comfort)
- Very supportive PI...proved through real life interactions.
- Very large lab. Many Post-Docs and employees at my disposal for help and training.

- Less than optimal curriculum. (More animal model focused and I am into human research). - I'll have to work harder to get the classroom experience I want. 
- No undergrad population. Again, more work to get teaching experience. 
- Many say not branching out is seen as a negative down the line for employment, etc. 
- Very large lab. Less PI attention/mentorship. (However, mentor is EXPERT in field) 

School B
- Backlog of data. Will have projects lined up from day one, but not in my focus. 
- Large undergrad. Teaching opportunities built into curriculum.
- Great curriculum (from the class names....haven't been able to get student feedback yet).
- Staying within focus, but branching out to new analyses and subject matter. 
- Small lab. Very direct PI attention/mentorship. (Mentor expert in related field, VERY educated in direct field). Again, branching...

- New lab. Slower to get into swing of things and get publishing. 
- Area of the country I will have to "deal with" for 5 years. Climate, socially, etc. (Not a main concern, but a worry about added stress). 
- Unknown PI temperament. from what I know, great, but there's always the unknown. 
- No social support. New City. New everything. (And with that, moving costs!)

Any input or comments would be SO appreciated. I just want to make a decision and get going...but I find myself going back and forth on my decision daily, if not hourly. Thanks again!!

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I can't tell you what to choose, of course, but here's what I'm seeing in your pros and cons:

- I don't really know how much the coursework will matter. Either way, you have experience in the field and I don't think grad courses do that much for you if you're already a scholar. So school A having more animal courses probably isn't a big deal, especially because you're not supposed to spend as much time on coursework as you would expect coming from undergrad.

- Is teaching experience really important to you? If it is, then I would use that to help break the tie. Also, how does the school have no undergrads? (that's an aside).

- I come from a cognitive neuroscience background, and there are definitely some people who do say staying at the same school isn't a good thing. I know people who specifically do not take their own students. Obviously, that's not an issue here, but generally you are debating between comfort/consistency and new experiences that could teach you a lot, though they are out of your comfort zone. I would personally recommend not staying at the same place.

- You say the lab at school B is slower to get things going, but there are data sets ready from day one, which would suggest that you could get publishing really quickly. Of course, the only thing quicker would be to have already started (at school A, as you have), but I don't think you'll be losing out on publications that much at school B that it will impact you later. Further, at school A, people will potentially see your publication record as something coming from before your PhD and they will notice that you hadn't been supervised by another person, so there's that perception going on.

I wouldn't put as much weight on guaranteed publications at school A as you have, just personally. Anything can happen and I think the goal should be to learn and put forth great research that you have as much input in as possible. Sometimes a smaller lab can do that; as you said, you would be the only expert in that area, though your prof is very knowledgeable.

Just some things to think about. Good luck!

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Just now, RinseRepeat said:

Thank you! I really appreciate your response and it has given me more to think about. You have echoed what many people have told me about the class work and I really think you all are right (that I am maybe putting too much weight there). Some have even pointed out that I may even know the majority of what will be covered already from the work I have done. In that case, they would be a chore, most likely. 

As for teaching, it is important, but again I might be putting too much weight in the "traditional" TA route. There are teaching opportunities, but they are different at school A. You have to specifically seek it out. Oh, and the school doesn't have undergrads because it's a beh neuro program in the school of medicine. So it's only phd and med students in the different departments (for the most part). 

I have heard the same thing on both sides about staying in the same place. And some big names in the neuroimaging field are even big examples of staying in the same place. People have pointed this out to me, so I guess that really isn't a big of an issue anymore. I think you're right though. I really need to figure out if taking a chance on possible new opportunities is worth it and if I'm willing to go for it and not think about any "definite" plans I would have given up. I think that's the core of my indecision. 

Thanks for your input and helping me sort this out (at least a little bit more).

No problem! Sometimes we hear the same thing from different people and it takes a while for us to take it to heart.

I understand about the undergrad thing, I thought it must be within a research institute or a professional school or something.

It can definitely be a great thing to go out of your comfort zone, but naturally most of us wouldn't choose that option. I didn't have the option of staying in my home city, but I came very close to having to make that decision (I was #1 on the waitlist, so I thought about it often).


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