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Decision Time Help: Logic versus Gut?!

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Since decisions came in, I have been talking myself into and out of my two top programs half a dozen times a day.  I have the same arguments and counterarguments and feel like I'm no closer to deciding than I was a month ago.  At this point it’s between either the emotional/gut choice of where I want to go (School #1) or the logical choice of where I think I should go (School #2).

Background: I did my undergrad and Masters in chemical engineering before transitioning to a more bio-based research focus for the last 3ish years.  I am particularly interested in pursuing a career in creating novel targeted drug delivery methods, but recognize that I don't necessarily have the fundamental biology foundation. 

  • School #1 – extremely prestigious school/name
  • Pros
    • This is a PhD program through the medical school, so there is a huge emphasis on translational research.
    • One of the faculty (a very well-known oncologist and author) has guaranteed me a spot in his lab already.  During our interview, he was very nice and described everything I am looking for in a mentor (level of involvement, how projects are handled, opinion on industry vs. academia).
    • The project he pitched is a wonderful intersection between my chemical engineering background and biology.  This project would expand on my previous chemical engineering focus but this time in a more biological application.
    • This PI is also a practicing MD and recently began a biotech start-up, so I will be exposed to a variety of contacts and avenues for a future career.   
    • This school is in a major city and I would love to live there.  I would be closer to family (both mine and my partner’s) than I am now and this area has much better career opportunities for my partner.
  • Cons
    • Due to my previous experience in the engineering area this PI is interested in pursuing, I can already see some possible problems that would scrap the project he has in mind, or at least make it very difficult. 
    • I have some reservations that the PI is spread too thin (between his clinical patients, biotech responsibilities, and his prolific writing) and may not be able to fulfill the role of mentor as well as my second option.
    • I did a bit of digging into the publishing history of this lab and I am torn.  This lab often publishes in high impact journals, but does so only as part of HUGE collaborations (PI and lab members are routinely 8th, 9th, 10th authors).  I’ve yet to find a paper out of this lab with a first/last author. 


  • School #2 – not as prestigious as School #1, but is higher ranked than School #1 in terms of this particular program
  • Pros
    • This is a partnership PhD program where I take classes at the university and complete research at a separate research facility.
    • I have already been working at this facility for the past year and a half, so I am very comfortable with the culture, co-workers, area, etc.
    • My current PI has guaranteed me a spot in his lab.  He is a wonderful mentor and I would be very happy spending the next several years working with him. 
    • The project he has in mind is incredible, and could have a resounding impact on drug delivery.
    • This lab publishes first/last papers almost exclusively, albeit in smaller but not necessarily low impact journals.
    • This lab will never hurt for funding and I won’t need to write a single grant to keep my project afloat. 
  • Cons
    • The proposed project is based off preliminary data from the last two years that has yet to be verified that it truly works.  If this project dies, I don’t foresee another drug delivery project in the future. 
    • As I am pursuing grad school to beef up on my basic biology foundation, I am concerned that the intensity and breadth of classes are quite limited compared to School #1. 
    • While I appreciate the area, I cannot see myself living here for the next 4-5 years. 
    • This area has very few career or schooling prospects for my partner, requiring a several hour drive to see one another.

 Any comments, commentary, and advice would be sincerely appreciated.  Thanks!

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Take my comments with many grains of salt -- I'm only responding because you said ANY comments are appreciated:

FWIW, in your "Cons" section for School 2, you list several logical reasons for NOT going to your "logical" choice.  Also, I think quality of life sometimes gets short shrift in these decisions.  Your post makes it seem obvious where you want to go, but it also might help to remind yourself that both of them will likely work out well for you.

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I agree with @3dender. Your cons for the second school are much worse than for the first-- I think cons are what should really be a person's deciding factor. I think location is really important-- and with that in mind, the first school wins! Sometimes your "gut" is more logical than your brain. Rankings don't matter as much at the program level. The prestige of the school will carry you further than the prestige of a certain program at a less prestigious school. I think you know what you want to do! I'm in a similar boat, and it's hard. It definitely is. But, at the end of the day, what do you want to do/where do you want to be. Don't do what you think you should do!

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