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This whole application process has made me spreadsheet and list happy. Now I'm working on comparing different programs at which I've been accepted or given a good indication that I would be accepted.

Some of the things I'm considering are:

1. Amount of funding, along with cost of living in that city

2. Profs I could work with (how many and how close their interests are to mine)

3. Placements for recent graduates

4. Rank

5. Average time to degree

6. Location (i.e., how much do I want to live in that city?)

The problem that I keep running into is that I'm not sure how much weight to give to the location factor. If there's a great program in a city that I like and a very good program in a city I'm dying to live in, I find myself trying to justify choosing the slightly less awesome program based on its location. Is anyone else having this problem?

Also, I'm curious how others are approaching the decision-making process (or planning to approach it, since we're still so early in the game, results-wise).

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Your decision will be much easier if you visit the programs you are interested in applying to. Seriously. I used to have some awesome spreadsheet with all these factors and, on paper, some programs clearly stood out more than others. But, when I visited, I realized that it wasn't the right fit for me (it was a gut feeling).

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That's a tough one. I know where you are coming from. I think trying to find a happy medium is good. Also, how do you absolutely know you won't like it in one city or that you will like it? Have you lived there. I've found living and visiting are different things. In the end I think location is important. For my MA I went to a great program but in a miserable city and ended up being....miserable after a while. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I got out of this miserable city on my breaks and stuff--but I didn't.

For undergrad I went to a mediocre program in a great city and felt good about it. Come to think of it I also did a miserable program in a miserable city and was miserable. I also did a great program in a miserable city and liked it....I think I've done every combo. It's hard to predict where and when you'll be happy. so I guess I'm not that much of a help...

I think in the end it's important to think of your long term goals. If the good program is good enough, will get you where you need to go in the end and it's in a city you'd think you'd like then... go for it. If there is a great program in a "miserable" city then think it through carefully first. If the mediocre program is in a city you are "dying to live in" don't forget that you can eventually move there later one day when you are out in the work force.

That's just my opinion.

Best of luck!

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Your decision will be much easier if you visit the programs you are interested in applying to. Seriously. I used to have some awesome spreadsheet with all these factors and, on paper, some programs clearly stood out more than others. But, when I visited, I realized that it wasn't the right fit for me (it was a gut feeling).

Agreed, 100%. I have visited the two main programs in question and I like them both! :) I've been accepted to one and (though I don't want to jinx it) believe I'll be accepted at the other as well. I just don't think I'll hear from program A with much time to spare before I'm suppose to respond to B's fellowship offer.

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Also, how do you absolutely know you won't like it in one city or that you will like it? Have you lived there. I've found living and visiting are different things. In the end I think location is important.

I already live in one of the cities and like it very much, and I've been wanting to move to the other for over a year now. I've spent a fair amount of time there over the past ten years (it's just a couple of hours away) and have friends in both places, so I think I'd be happy either way.

I guess I'm trying to figure out if it's a bad idea to let location be the deciding factor, when all other things aren't quite equal. If they were equal otherwise, I'd have no problem using location as a tie breaker.

And, again, I'm also curious what factors other people are taking into account. Maybe there's something important that I completely overlooked. :)

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Other factors:

- ability to design and teach your own course

- corollary: are the courses taught ones you would want to teach?

- how well you get along with other students

- summer funding, whether to go do your own research, to teach, or for both

- professional development opportunities (workshops, chance to co-author papers)

- availability of dissertation writing fellowships (so you don't have to be a TA or RA while writing)

- average time to degree for your advisor's students

- how well you get along with your potential advisor (and I mean in terms of personality, not just in terms of research fit)

- weather

- extracurricular activities that you want available in your area

- proximity to major airports (and then average cost to fly home)

- availability of conference travel funding (and how much that funding is)

- computer resources (computer labs, software availability, etc.)

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I already live in one of the cities and like it very much, and I've been wanting to move to the other for over a year now. I've spent a fair amount of time there over the past ten years (it's just a couple of hours away) and have friends in both places, so I think I'd be happy either way.

I guess I'm trying to figure out if it's a bad idea to let location be the deciding factor, when all other things aren't quite equal. If they were equal otherwise, I'd have no problem using location as a tie breaker.

And, again, I'm also curious what factors other people are taking into account. Maybe there's something important that I completely overlooked. :)

I don't think it's a bad idea to let location be the deciding factor. Actually, I think you are in a great position now. It sounds like you know you'll like either place and they are close to each other so you can go back and forth. I bet whatever you decide it will work out for you and you'll be happy. It sounds like you've thought this through so whatever choice you make it will be the right one.

I was thinking though, you might want to consider a few things about the location such as:

1. Cost of living. Is one location cheaper than the other? Is it more expensive. How will you have to adjust your life style to fit your new budget in this city?

2. Do you have any hobbies? Does either city have enough stuff in it where you can continue to pursue your studies?

3. In regards to the school, how dramatically different are the programs? Maybe on the wbsite and on paper, as suggested by the above poster they look better than the other. I think a visit might give you a better picture.

4. Or maybe for you, location SHOULDN'T be a deciding factor. Maybe you should think about how much of a life change you want. If you stay in the city where you live now and like, then great. I'm sure life will change for you a little when you start school. If you move, although it's only two hours away, maybe you will have a whole new life (new housing, new neighborhood, new friends and restaurants to try that you haven't experienced in awhile.) If this is appealing to you then do the move.

It's a tough call but it sounds like either way will work out for you.

Best of luck!

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Other factors:

- ability to design and teach your own course

- corollary: are the courses taught ones you would want to teach?

- how well you get along with other students

- summer funding, whether to go do your own research, to teach, or for both

- professional development opportunities (workshops, chance to co-author papers)

- availability of dissertation writing fellowships (so you don't have to be a TA or RA while writing)

- average time to degree for your advisor's students

- how well you get along with your potential advisor (and I mean in terms of personality, not just in terms of research fit)

- weather

- extracurricular activities that you want available in your area

- proximity to major airports (and then average cost to fly home)

- availability of conference travel funding (and how much that funding is)

- computer resources (computer labs, software availability, etc.)

This is a great list. I was trying to say something like this in my last post but you said it for me. Thanx!

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I'm not sure how applicable this is in the humanities, but the office/desk situation has greatly varied between the schools I looked at. At one school every PhD student has their own desk and computer in an office shared with about three other students, starting from the very first year. At another school, for the first year and a half PhD students are not given a desk/office and nor is there a study lounge (there is a break room, but not one conducive to studying). After passing the qualifying exams the PhD student is assigned an office where 6 students share 4 desks.

Again, I'm not sure how applicable it is for you, but it's something to think about.

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just curious what do people think of

school A: one prof with really well matched research + other profs with relatively poor match

vs.

school B: several profs with fairly good match

All other things being equal, I'd probably go with B as well. You don't want to be left without an advisor if the one prof at A leaves.

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This is an incredibly helpful topic and I greatly encourage others to share. I feel very fortunate that I've already been accepted into 3 out of my 8 programs and have an interview at a 4th. My mind is already swimming as I try to weigh different factors. For me, location has a big say because I'll be bringing along my SO and I really need to factor in his future job/educational opportunities. For this reason I tried to apply to great programs with POIs with really good fits, but also in good locations. I must admit that in the end I did not 100% follow this rule. Now I'm faced with the possibilities of going to great programs in not so ideal locations-- locations that I have actually lived in or lived close by so am familiar with them. I will be visiting all programs to see what my "gut" tells me-- as others have strongly suggested. But I do think I'll start making a spreadsheet with all the factors others have posted about to weigh the pros and cons. After all, we will be moving because of a 5 year program I'm investing myself into...

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I have been collecting info about each school in a spreadsheet, too. Here are my categories:

Stipend

Bonuses (e.g., for external funding)

Bio/Neuro Rank

World U Ranking

#students/incoming class

#faculty

avg time to degree

placement of grads

rotations

teaching requirements

# classes

required classes

location/to do/community

student attitude/ happiness

weather

Travel-ability to home

academic community

cost of living

Bootcamp/retreat

# ideal faculty

age of faculty

faciliies/funding

training emphasis

support staff (e.g. administrative, directors)

qualifying exams

my ranking

faculty of interest

Notes/extra

hope that helps somebody!

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I'm actually debating about this a lot. My family is in Chicago and my top two choices are U of I or Wisconsin. Both are about equidistant from Chicago but Madison clearly has more of a social scene. However, the cost of living is way less in Urbana-Champaign. I've been to Madison and liked it there. Everybody I know who's been there likes it. It also has a big bonus of having a lake. Makes it feel a teeny bit more like Chicago (very, very little bit more). I'm visiting U-C next week to see how it "feels" to me.

I've ruled out Stanford and Harvard because they're just too far from my family. My father's turning 81 this year and I want to be in driving distance just in case anything happens health-wise. If family isn't an issue for you, then obviously that won't factor into your decision.

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Other factors:

- ability to design and teach your own course

- corollary: are the courses taught ones you would want to teach?

- how well you get along with other students

- summer funding, whether to go do your own research, to teach, or for both

- professional development opportunities (workshops, chance to co-author papers)

- availability of dissertation writing fellowships (so you don't have to be a TA or RA while writing)

- average time to degree for your advisor's students

- how well you get along with your potential advisor (and I mean in terms of personality, not just in terms of research fit)

- weather

- extracurricular activities that you want available in your area

- proximity to major airports (and then average cost to fly home)

- availability of conference travel funding (and how much that funding is)

- computer resources (computer labs, software availability, etc.)

Also, average # of pubs by advisors and their respective students. Do those advisors let you take first authorship (if you deserve it)? Also, has anyone recently gotten a long-term grant? Do you want to be working on that project for the next five years or are you luke-warm or not interested in it? Also, how many grants do your advisors normally get?

Age of advisors. I've heard (anecdotally) that pre-tenured advisors are usually more productive than post-tenured advisors because they have something to lose. Also, evaluate whether or not you think it might be likely for them to leave before you matriculate.

Size of the lab you'll be in--will it be hard(ish) to get face time with your advisor because s/he is constantly meeting with other advisees? Will you have enough undergrad minions to help you run your studies? (I'm not entirely sure how sociology research is run, so that may be a nonissue). Also, if you are going to be studying the convenience population of students at that university (again, not really sure if sociologists typically do this), are there enough?

Edited by moralresearcher
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  • 2 weeks later...

Also, average # of pubs by advisors and their respective students. Do those advisors let you take first authorship (if you deserve it)? Also, has anyone recently gotten a long-term grant? Do you want to be working on that project for the next five years or are you luke-warm or not interested in it? Also, how many grants do your advisors normally get?

Age of advisors. I've heard (anecdotally) that pre-tenured advisors are usually more productive than post-tenured advisors because they have something to lose. Also, evaluate whether or not you think it might be likely for them to leave before you matriculate.

Size of the lab you'll be in--will it be hard(ish) to get face time with your advisor because s/he is constantly meeting with other advisees? Will you have enough undergrad minions to help you run your studies? (I'm not entirely sure how sociology research is run, so that may be a nonissue). Also, if you are going to be studying the convenience population of students at that university (again, not really sure if sociologists typically do this), are there enough?

Hello!!!

I am also asking to myself all these stuff about professors past and current students, avg time to take a PhD, first authorship and also the availability of offices/desks for students..

But, where can I gain all these information? Not all profs have web pages and number or names of their current PhD students, moreover how can you know if you wil be given a desk or other facilities??

Thanks

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Hello!!!

I am also asking to myself all these stuff about professors past and current students, avg time to take a PhD, first authorship and also the availability of offices/desks for students..

But, where can I gain all these information? Not all profs have web pages and number or names of their current PhD students, moreover how can you know if you wil be given a desk or other facilities??

Thanks

You have to ask. Talk to professors, department admins/coordinators, current students, etc. I went to my first open house for admitted students yesterday, and between all the folks there, I managed to get almost all of my questions (some of which came from this thread) answered.

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When I visited one of the universities I got in to, I was given a piece of friendly advice:

If you really, really love somewhere, head over heels, completely smitten - consider not doing a PhD there. It is very rare that someone will get a faculy position i nthe same place where they did the PhD, so if you have two options for grad school that are both very good, but one you are in love with in terms of location and other things that may last a while, go to the other one.

Also, here are some things I am considering (in addition to above, maybe, I'm not convinced), which were not mentioned:

- who wants to go here? is this a name-brand school, where people may want to go because it's OMG, ___! ? i do not want this: many students there are there for the wrong reasons, and could have had a better match at a lower-ranked uni. of course there are also the brilliant students, but a fair number of brilliant students are just people who lucked out with undergrad research advisors and have grown an enormous ego. also not compelling to me.

- who else lives here? for example, consider California. I'm not a resident, and I don't like the weather. But a lot of people want to be in california, and the cost of living is quite high. i am choosing to say no to all california schools simply because i don't like the prospect of high living expenses for being surrounded by people motivated by totally different reasons than me.

- what about babies? i am planning to get married, and i don't want to rule out having/adopting children over the next half-decade. obviously, a reasonably family-friendly environment is good. since i am a female in cs, this means that i am looking for evidence in each school of successfully graduates students who had or adopted children when both they and their spouse were in school or working, and how long ago that was.

These are a bit different. Obviously I am considering all the other factors listed in this thread.

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When I visited one of the universities I got in to, I was given a piece of friendly advice:

If you really, really love somewhere, head over heels, completely smitten - consider not doing a PhD there. It is very rare that someone will get a faculy position i nthe same place where they did the PhD, so if you have two options for grad school that are both very good, but one you are in love with in terms of location and other things that may last a while, go to the other one.

This strikes me as really weird advice. It's hard enough to get in to graduate programs, let alone get hired as faculty. Why would anyone give up a chance to earn a Ph.D. in a program they "really, really love" on the off chance that there MIGHT be a tenure track faculty position open there when they go on the market years later? And especially considering how much competition there will be to even get an interview for that hypothetical position. It just doesn't make sense.

Edited by rogue
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Other factors:

- ability to design and teach your own course

- corollary: are the courses taught ones you would want to teach?

- how well you get along with other students

- summer funding, whether to go do your own research, to teach, or for both

- professional development opportunities (workshops, chance to co-author papers)

- availability of dissertation writing fellowships (so you don't have to be a TA or RA while writing)

- average time to degree for your advisor's students

- how well you get along with your potential advisor (and I mean in terms of personality, not just in terms of research fit)

- weather

- extracurricular activities that you want available in your area

- proximity to major airports (and then average cost to fly home)

- availability of conference travel funding (and how much that funding is)

- computer resources (computer labs, software availability, etc.)

YES!

And you know my last two by now, I'm sure:

- do I have to exchange sexual favors to print

- and is the library beautiful?

:D

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