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Ecce

UCSF vs. Princeton (polar opposites)

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I am mostly looking at four programs that accepted me: UCSF, Princeton, Columbia, UCSD

I mostly narrowed it down to UCSF vs Princeton, but I am still considering the other two. Leaning towards UCSF.

It's almost ironic since UCSF and Princeton are basically polar opposites (huge medical school vs. no med school, no undegrads vs. undegrad focus, basic science vs. a lot of translational etc). I'm really undecided because I'm not sure if I want to do translational or basic (granted, UCSF has both and Princeton just basic). My main concerns are the cost of living in SF, that UCSF is just a medical center, and that Princeton is richer and more presitiougs (although UCSF is better when it comes to bio).

UCSF

pro

  • Top-notch program
  • Huge choice of PIs and labs
  • Excellent research in genetics, genomics, RNA (my field of choice)
  • Bay Area - connections with other great schools and industry (still undecided on industry vs
  • San Francisco

con

  • Just a medical campus, no engineering or physics etc (although Berkeley connection)
  • Crazy expensive (stipend is 37K, but SF is crazy expensive)
  • Lesser known school outside of bio circles

Princeton

pro

  • Fewer professors, but all of them are top in their field and full of funding. Quality over quantity.
  • Excellent training, smaller program
  • Tons of money and funding
  • Would have more money and be able to save (stipend is 35K)
  • Could work in a bioengineering lab since it's a complete university
  • Prestigious name school (although in Bio UCSF is more well known

con

  • No Med school, no translational research
  • Fewer lab choices (only 40-50 faculty)
  • Less research in genetics, genomics, RNA (my field of choice) (but one could argue that it's just grad school, you can go into your field of choice later)

Columbia

In many ways like Princeton, but with a Med School. I just didn't click at the interview as much as I did at Princeton. Opinions? How does the faculty/research compare to Princeton? My interviews were meh, so I had a bad impression. But maybe I was just unlucky.
Also, crazy expensive (39k, but nyc is nyc).

UCSD

Kinda like uCSF, but not as good. The two good things are tat it is a full university (with physics, chemistry, engineering etc) and that SD is way cheaper than SF (stipedn is 33).

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Hey Ecce 

I made an account to respond to this post because I have also been accepted to UCSD and UCSF, but I am coming from the east coast (first time on the west coast). I am leaning more towards UCSF because of the proximity to work hand-in-hand with physicians to gain more of a translational PhD experience. Ultimately, I would like to get into clinical trials, and I think the environment at UCSF is more conducive to my success. 

As for my opinion after your Columbia experience, I think if you feel you did not really fit then it will probably not be the right choice for you. Environment and research are my top choices when deciding where to go, even if the cost of living is high. Have you looked into university-wide fellowships that Princeton and UCSF offer to help increase your stipend?

Hope this helps!

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This totally depends on what you are looking for. I went to UCSD for my undergrad. My husband went to Princeton. Two totally different worlds. Princeton is great if you want to research basic scienceUCSD and UCSF are better for translational work but still very very strong in basic science as well. Keep in mind that while UCSD isn't quite as bad as UCSF, it is still crazy expensive. It's not way cheaper. You'll be totally fine on the stipends you listed, though. It really comes down to what program you think is the best "fit" for you. These are all top tier institutions and you'll get a great education no matter what. 

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I think you have the science issues well thought out on both sides of the issue, but also think about where you want to live (not just CoL). ~5 years is a long time to spend in one place and as you said these places are polar opposites. NJ vs CA, small town vs huge city (think things to do), etc. 

The Bay Area has a ton of industry-specific opportunities, but the NJ area is no slouch either. Many pharma and biotech companies call North NJ/Philadelphia area home. 

Both are amazing institutions, and whichever you choose certainly won't hold you back in the long term. 

Edited by Neuro15

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7 hours ago, Ecce said:

I've been told they got much better, Plus the PIs are all super well funded and top in their field. And Princeton is prestigious overall.

I'm aware Princeton is prestigious: It's probably the only reason I got into MIT (among many others). 

I would only go to Princeton if you were set on computational genomics or computational neuroscience. UCSF is much stronger in every other area. I know their department and faculty very well. 

Princeton is renowned for undergraduate education and some graduate programs (economics, public policy, history, physics, math, etc.). Biology is not one of those programs. 

Again, this is coming from someone who spent 4 years there (and loved it). 

Edited by MoreInformation

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Given that I'm seeing a lot of discussion about prestige, I must point out that for your PhD, how people view your school is irrelevant. If the school is known to be incredibly good in your field (biomedical sciences), how your professional peers view the school is what truly matters. Sure, telling random people (or others outside of the field) you go to UCSF might not get the same reaction as if you told people you go to Princeton, but you shouldn't really be concerned by this, at all. This is coming from a person whose school is perpetually confused with Penn State. General people knew (and cared) more about my school when I went to Purdue lol

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2 hours ago, Ecce said:

I'm into genetics and genomics. And the Princeton Lewis Sangler institute is amazing. But again, genetics per se is better at UCSF. And princeton doesn't have much non-coding RNA. And thanks, I appreciate your insight.

I did my undergraduate thesis in Botstein's lab in LSI. I really would go to UCSF. Just my opinion. 

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1 hour ago, Ecce said:

Anyone mind to defend Columbia? I didn't like the interviews, but I liked the program. How does it compare to UCSF? Is the research as good? Is the name as good in the Bio world?

Just curious, why do you still want to consider columbia if you didn't get a good impression from the interviews? You're always going to find someone who will advocate for a program but that doesn't mean it's right for you. Go to a place where you had great interviews and like people you've talked to. Don't over think it and you'll be fine. 

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On 2/28/2017 at 10:50 AM, Ecce said:
 
 
 
 
 

UCSF

pro

  • Top-notch program
  • Huge choice of PIs and labs
  • Excellent research in genetics, genomics, RNA (my field of choice)
  • Bay Area - connections with other great schools and industry (still undecided on industry vs
  • San Francisco

con

  • Just a medical campus, no engineering or physics etc (although Berkeley connection)
  • Crazy expensive (stipend is 37K, but SF is crazy expensive)
  • Lesser known school outside of bio circles

Princeton

pro

  • Fewer professors, but all of them are top in their field and full of funding. Quality over quantity.
  • Excellent training, smaller program
  • Tons of money and funding
  • Would have more money and be able to save (stipend is 35K)
  • Could work in a bioengineering lab since it's a complete university
  • Prestigious name school (although in Bio UCSF is more well known

con

  • No Med school, no translational research
  • Fewer lab choices (only 40-50 faculty)
  • Less research in genetics, genomics, RNA (my field of choice) (but one could argue that it's just grad school, you can go into your field of choice later)

 

I've been mostly holding off on commenting until I saw my pal @Bioenchilada post, so I figured I'd chime in as well.

Pretty much everything that Bioenchilada said was on point. Having gone to an Ivy League for undergrad myself, and knowing that prestige of school and overall funding =/= grad school experience or funding, I only applied to like 1 Ivy only for their program during my application round.

That being said, I'm now at UCSF and had some misconceptions before I even got here, so let me address some parts in the section I quoted above.

1. UCSF is TWO campuses - Parnassus and Mission Bay. There is literally a Biophysics program, there's TETRAD for more pure sciences research, not to mention powerhouses like QB3, etc. There isn't necessarily an engineering department besides the joint program with Berkeley, but I'm actually rotating in a bioengineering lab next quarter. So many innovations come out from UCSF because engineering research is being conducted here (with applications to medicine, obviously, but that are generalizable). 

2. On the money issue:

  • You're not going to graduate school to get rich while you're there. Whether it be NYC or SF, the cost of living in these desirable places is pretty much the price of admission to be in the theme park. I did originally have qualms about this, as I even calculated that at some other schools I might be able to save up about $20K across 5 years or mortgage a house, but is that the point of graduate school? Also, if I'm going to be somewhat destitute, I'd rather do it in graduate school, not when I'm doing a post doc (note, loads of post docs love being here, and they get paid even less than graduate students due to the UC-wide post doc union).
  • As someone from a low income background, with no family to support me, it's not as bad as you think. Once you get over the mental barrier, you realize that even here people can live fine on our salary. I won't say it's necessarily comfortable or thriving, but it's enough to survive.
  • You forgot 4 other important things that UCSF does to offset the cost. a. You get two years in heavily subsidized student housing. b. You get a $4K relocation-allowance which you can use for anything before coming to UCSF (helps to offset costs of moving). c. Some programs provide you with a laptop and other goodies for matriculating (some have additional housing funds). d. There is a cost-of-living allowance given to people that live off campus, and even then you can find off-campus housing for under $1000/mo. It might mean not having a single studio, but that's just the way it is.
  • Final point: anywhere you go, fellowships do not supplement your income directly. Some programs might give you extra money, but this is incredibly rare as your stipend is set by NIH/NSF standards, so usually programs that advertise these bonuses do so because their stipend is on the lower end of the spectrum. 

Now, I'm going to flip around some of your pros form Princeton.

3. Quality over Quantity. I'm not sure why you would put that as a pro, as if somehow UCSF's overwhelming amount of faculty is indicative of lower quality? You do realize that UCSF is the number one recipient of NIH funds, right? No school anywhere hires people without their own sources of income, and a scientist's ability to maintain funding is pretty much a straight correlation with the quality of their work or its impact. Obviously UCSF is a purely medical/science university so there will absolutely be an overwhelming amount of faculty to choose from, but that is not a sign of lower quality.

4. Tons of money and funding. Princeton may have a huge endowment, but you'll almost never see any of that money, especially since those endowments tend to be trapped in undergraduate services or things that don't spill over into your science. You may get better career services, free food, and other things, but graduate programs tend to be maintained through training grants, tuition remissions, and funding overhead. At any top program, you're going to see programs tell you that you're covered by the program for X number of years, and then your PI guarantees the rest of your funding; of course, in the case of something catastrophic, like your PI losing funding or leaving, top programs have mechanisms to still support you. So look out for that information from places you're interested in. 

Finally, I'm going to address this since it's so insidious.

Get.Over.School.Prestige.To.Non.Science.People.

I don't know why people feel like they need to somehow boost their egos by thinking that people not in the sciences need to recognize their school - as if that was a metric for anything. If I had listened to my family, I would have gone to Yale or MIT since they didn't know about UCSF; luckily, I know better and have no need to be used by family and friends as some talking point to other people they're trying to impress. I went where I thought I had the best fit with the program and my interviewing cohort, in addition to the science being conducted there and where I would be living for the next 5-6 years. Additionally, UCSF has huge recognition on the West coast in all circles. I also see that you turned down Harvard and MIT interviews; so really, if non-scientific reputation means anything to you, you should have taken those interviews, since while it seems that UCSF doesn't hold a candle to the prestige you desire, Princeton realistically pales in comparison to those other two as well, and even more in the sciences.

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On the other hand, can anyone defend Princeton? I'm probably looking to go into industry after graduation and also got into UPenn and Duke which have more translational research. I really liked the school and Princeton's location but they do more basic research so I'm worried it'd be harder to get an industry job. If I'm not planning on doing computational genomics/neuro does anyone have any opinions on where I should go?

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3 hours ago, jougami said:

On the other hand, can anyone defend Princeton? I'm probably looking to go into industry after graduation and also got into UPenn and Duke which have more translational research. I really liked the school and Princeton's location but they do more basic research so I'm worried it'd be harder to get an industry job. If I'm not planning on doing computational genomics/neuro does anyone have any opinions on where I should go?

I've been in the industry in the past four years, and I've noticed that the vast majority of PhD scientists did not do translational research during grad school. You won't be at a disadvantage at all if your dissertation is geared toward basic science. However, there are certain skills that are highly desirable in the industry (bioinformatics experience, NextGen Sequencing, CRISPR, etc) which you would be more exposed to in a translational lab. Regardless, you will likely have zero trouble getting an industry job with a PhD from Princeton.. 

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44 minutes ago, LoveMysterious said:
 
 

I've been in the industry in the past four years, and I've noticed that the vast majority of PhD scientists did not do translational research during grad school. You won't be at a disadvantage at all if your dissertation is geared toward basic science. However, there are certain skills that are highly desirable in the industry (bioinformatics experience, NextGen Sequencing, CRISPR, etc) which you would be more exposed to in a translational lab. Regardless, you will likely have zero trouble getting an industry job with a PhD from Princeton.. 

Agreed. Pretty much when you're in a top tier program, it really matters up to you how you get to industry if that is your goal. Sometimes it can be useful to have connections through a PI that collaborates with industry, so being at a university where industry pathways and collaborations are not shunned (as they classically used to be) may be something to consider when picking your PhD program. I just recently went to an alumni event for my program which had some panelists from different career paths. On major take away was that you can actually end up in industry without planning for it or even having certain skills - the PhD is supposed to indicate that you're able to learn anything fast and to obtain mastery after all, so there is loads of room for on-the-job training that you wouldn't expect (this includes both science at the bench, but also other things like regulatory affairs and science portfolios and financing). Additionally, it is good to be upfront with your PIs and thesis committee about a genuine desire to go into industry (as opposed to just keeping the door open) as that will allow them to tailor the expectations they have to graduate you (they might require a less impactful paper/s to fulfill your graduation requirement, while a purely academic path may require you to publish in more impactful journals).

Though not as necessary, some other factors to consider would also be institutional career development programs, potential institutional programs that allow you to take a quarter/semester off to intern in industry without repercussion, or else programs that will pick up you salary for a period of time if you do an unpaid internship (as an example, maybe in science regulatory affairs, science writing, or a science startup). Also consider whether graduate clubs exist for career development (consulting cases, biotech investments, etc).

 

Also, @jougami: While I cannot speak to the majority of the schools you were admitted to about neuroscience (as I applied to more bio related programs, including Duke), I can attest that Penn Neuroscience is top notch with people doing using optigenetics, in addition to it being one of the best stipended/funded programs at Penn. The only negative comment I have is that there are some politics going on in that department, but I'm not sure how much of that spills over into the graduate students. 

Edited by Infinito

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8 hours ago, LoveMysterious said:

I've been in the industry in the past four years, and I've noticed that the vast majority of PhD scientists did not do translational research during grad school. You won't be at a disadvantage at all if your dissertation is geared toward basic science. However, there are certain skills that are highly desirable in the industry (bioinformatics experience, NextGen Sequencing, CRISPR, etc) which you would be more exposed to in a translational lab. Regardless, you will likely have zero trouble getting an industry job with a PhD from Princeton.. 

 

7 hours ago, Infinito said:

Also, @jougami: While I cannot speak to the majority of the schools you were admitted to about neuroscience (as I applied to more bio related programs, including Duke), I can attest that Penn Neuroscience is top notch with people doing using optigenetics, in addition to it being one of the best stipended/funded programs at Penn. The only negative comment I have is that there are some politics going on in that department, but I'm not sure how much of that spills over into the graduate students. 

Thanks for the information guys! I'll be going into grad school with this reassuring advice in mind. I'm interested in infectious disease and cancer, not neuroscience, but I'm assuming this all applies the same.

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1 hour ago, jougami said:

 

Thanks for the information guys! I'll be going into grad school with this reassuring advice in mind. I'm interested in infectious disease and cancer, not neuroscience, but I'm assuming this all applies the same.

If you are interested in cancer, then I would seriously consider Penn. I feel that out of the three schools you listed, it has the strongest focus on cancer biology. The amount of faculty investigating cancer is incredibly large, and a lot of money goes into it. Not only this, but the hospitals in the area and the cancer center affiliated with Penn are amongst the best in the nation (top 10). 

Penn also has a lot of resources for people that are interested in jobs outside of academia and the professors tend to be very well connected with industry, so you should have no problem getting a great job right after. 

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2 minutes ago, Ecce said:

I am pretty much set on UCSF now.

My only thing about UCSF is that it feels more like a research institute than a university, and coming from a very "collegy" feel so it's a big change. But soooo excited about the great science at UCSF.

I'll see you there! :-)

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Given the current NIH funding cutting and that UCSF relies heavily on NIH's money, Princeton may be a better choice

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2 hours ago, SysEvo said:

Given the current NIH funding cutting and that UCSF relies heavily on NIH's money, Princeton may be a better choice

The budget has not been approved and will probably face a lot of congressional backlash. A lot of presidential budgets are flat out rejected and just make the news for shock value. Also, a school of the caliber of UCSF will probably not be significantly affected. I would be more concerned if the OP were going to a school that's not a research powerhouse and depended on NIH funding, if the budget is actually approved. 

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On 3/6/2017 at 10:51 AM, Infinito said:

Agreed. Pretty much when you're in a top tier program, it really matters up to you how you get to industry if that is your goal. Sometimes it can be useful to have connections through a PI that collaborates with industry, so being at a university where industry pathways and collaborations are not shunned (as they classically used to be) may be something to consider when picking your PhD program. I just recently went to an alumni event for my program which had some panelists from different career paths. On major take away was that you can actually end up in industry without planning for it or even having certain skills - the PhD is supposed to indicate that you're able to learn anything fast and to obtain mastery after all, so there is loads of room for on-the-job training that you wouldn't expect (this includes both science at the bench, but also other things like regulatory affairs and science portfolios and financing). Additionally, it is good to be upfront with your PIs and thesis committee about a genuine desire to go into industry (as opposed to just keeping the door open) as that will allow them to tailor the expectations they have to graduate you (they might require a less impactful paper/s to fulfill your graduation requirement, while a purely academic path may require you to publish in more impactful journals).

Though not as necessary, some other factors to consider would also be institutional career development programs, potential institutional programs that allow you to take a quarter/semester off to intern in industry without repercussion, or else programs that will pick up you salary for a period of time if you do an unpaid internship (as an example, maybe in science regulatory affairs, science writing, or a science startup). Also consider whether graduate clubs exist for career development (consulting cases, biotech investments, etc).

 

Also, @jougami: While I cannot speak to the majority of the schools you were admitted to about neuroscience (as I applied to more bio related programs, including Duke), I can attest that Penn Neuroscience is top notch with people doing using optigenetics, in addition to it being one of the best stipended/funded programs at Penn. The only negative comment I have is that there are some politics going on in that department, but I'm not sure how much of that spills over into the graduate students. 

@Infinito I realize this post is old, but I haven't been able to find the answer anywhere else, even from UCSF. I will be starting there in the Fall, and was told about the $4k relocation allowance but don't have details about it. What can you use it on? Is it only reimbursable for actual moving costs, like paying movers, etc.? I live close so will not be requiring a moving service, but I'm wondering if I can use this toward anything else.

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