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Decision Dilemma


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So I got accepted to the two grad school programs I applied to and would like some help deciding!

School 1: I was originally set on this school. The professor does everything I've ever wanted to do in my field. Her work has always been my future goals. However, when I interviewed/toured there, I want sure how I felt anymore. First, she has 7 grad students. I'm afraid I might get lost in the mix. Next, she seemed to talk to me as if I were applying for a job. She told me "I am looking for a grad student who can do this project" and didn't seem to be open to ideas. It was almost like I would be an employee working for her, rather than a student working with her. I even mentioned a topic she had previously written a paper on and how I would be interested in expanding it and she pretty much cut me off with a "that study took forever." However, I am still very interested in her work and it would be good to have this experience. They also awarded me a comparative fellowship, which means they would give me slightly more money than school 2. 

School 2: I am also interested in what he studies (I like everything in the field, obviously), but it isn't what I've always wanted to do. I am afraid that it would be difficult to move to something else after grad school. All topics are relevant though. However, I believe the professor here would be better for my education as a whole. He is new (which has its ups and downs) and I would be one of his first two grad students this year. He had already shown interest in helping me be as informed as possible. He called me before being officially accepted to talk to me about fellowships, a topic I wasn't too clear on. Be also made sure to call me as soon as they left their meeting making the decision of my acceptance. He seems very excited to work with me and wants a grad student he "can have intellectual conversations with and grow ideas with," which is very important. I feel like he would give me a lot of attention during my 5ish years and would really make sure I can succeed in the future. 

So, basically, I'm deciding between the better research topic and the better mentor and I feel like I should make this decision pretty soon. 


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Honestly, I'd go for the better mentor. As someone who's been through the grad school ordeal before, I can't tell you how much a mentor can affect your studies, and how many students list a poor mentor as a reason for leaving without their degree. Regardless of your research interests, you are not going to have a good experience if your research adviser's mentorship style is not what you're looking for.

I also wouldn't dismiss the doubts you have as something you'll get over, if I were you. I entered a STEM PhD program despite knowing that I tend to dread lab work. Since I've always had multidisciplinary interests, I jumped into my previous program expecting to find that passion eventually. It didn't happen, and if I could give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to listen to the warning signs that were there from the very beginning. You didn't doubt for nothing.

Conversely, if you have a mentor that is receptive to new ideas, there's a chance that you could bring your projects closer to the area that you want to work on, even if your mentor hadn't previously explored in that direction. And his research could also help you discover potentially new areas of interest and open you up to things you hadn't previously thought to work on. I think ultimately if your adviser is willing to listen and guide, then that's more important than anything. Listen to your guts.

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I, too, would suggest going with the mentor you clicked with if you think you can be interested in what he's doing.  I am in a totally different field (religion/history) but I ended up switching time periods in part due to the fact that the mentor who was interested in me was too good to pass up.  In fact, I ended up in a different department to work with him because I know he'll teach me a lot and is invested in my success.  The first professor may end up working out great, but just from the way you present them both I can tell you feel like the second is a better fit for you personally.  If you end up in academia, you can follow your own research passions later.  Learning the ropes well and having a guide you can count on seems pretty invaluable at this stage.  But again, I'm in a different field, so I don't know how it might be for your area.

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