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PhD decisions - Ivy or Not


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It's admissions season and I've gotten into some great schools so far, all of which I love. I'm very torn as to how to choose where to go - mainly between two programs, so any advice would be great.

I got into the program/lab that I have been stalking for YEARS and am super excited at the prospect of attending. It's pretty well ranked in what I want to do and my POI is very respected in the field. They're offering me a decent stipend and funding and I feel like it would be a wonderful match (visiting soon). It is in a city that I am so, so about but that has the exactly climate I want. It's also very far from my family which makes it a hard choice to make.

However, I got into a very well respected (ivy) program that is offering me a deal I'd have to be crazy to refuse. They are offering me a larger stipend in a much cheaper city, guaranteed funding for research and travel, and a lot of freedom to do research with several professors. No one of these professors do exactly what I want to do. However, if I smush them together then it's the perfect PI. I also feel like there is a huge push from family and friends to go to an Ivy school. I went to a top 5 school for undergrad and it seems like this would be the next logical step (yet I have a bit of a stigma against the idea because of how mentally destructive my undergraduate experience was). Am I crazy if I choose elsewhere? Will it negatively impact my future prospects? I don't want to make the wrong choice and then regret not going to a school that could better support me than the above "dream school".

Has anyone been in this position before? Any and all advice is more than welcome. 

Side note: obviously the admission season isn't even over yet and there is one school which, if I get into, will trump both of the above options and I will definitely be attending

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What do you want to do after graduation? How does your first school you mention do in terms of placing its graduates in jobs? How does your planned post-PhD area of work view this school compared to the Ivy school?

I think if you are aiming for academia, the Ivy league school sounds like a better fit. All of the things you mention with regards to research make it sound like an ideal PhD program. Funding for research and travel is one of the best things a grad student can have in their offers. Freedom to do research with whomever you want is a close second. I would say that smushing PIs together to form a "perfect PI" is actually a great thing to do if you are good at working with multiple people***. Now at the end of my PhD, I notice that the students who are most successful are the ones that don't just work with/for one PI, but instead, are able to lead independent research projects and collaborate with multiple PI. For example, one student who entered the same year as me has worked on projects with 3 different professors, wrote 7 first author papers and is interviewing for a tenure-tracked faculty position (they already have a postdoc lined up if that doesn't work out). 

***Caveat to this point: this only works if the professors are actually working well together. You should assess this during your visit to this program. Find out how often professors work together and whether you are really free to work on simultaneous projects with Prof X and Prof Y.

Finally, I want to note that "Ivy" or "top school" means very different things for grad students and undergrads. Similarly, the grad student life is very different from undergrad. I am at a top school too and I know the undergrads here really feel the pressure. But the grad student life is very different. So, I'd make a judgement based on how the visit goes, not on what you might have heard from undergrads there. 

Oh also, I do have some familiarity with earth sciences at some of the schools you list in your signature, so feel free to PM me if you want to discuss more specifics.

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