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Hi!

I am wondering how much weight do y'all put into the PhD stipend and location while making a decision. I am confused between offers from UConn (polymer science) and UBuffalo (biomedical engineering). UConn's offering 9k more than UB for first year, 10k more for subsequent years. Personally I won't care about stipends so much, but 10k is quite a lot of extra money for grad students. But then again I will be thrown away in the remotest of of villages in UConn while with Buffalo, I will be living in a major city. I have lived in major cities all my life and moving to a place like UConn scares me a bit. As far as department and my research fit are concerned, I believe I have a better fit with Buffalo biomed. But then it is a seriously low ranked program while UConn's polymer program is one of the well known polymer programs. I feel like choosing Buffalo would really make me question my career decisions (due to the low repute), but then choosing UConn would basically kill my personal/social life and I might not feel as much at home as Buffalo. It's all so confusing right now, I wish I got an admit from my top choice right now so that all of this confusion becomes irrelevant. Anyway, I would really appreciate inputs on these topics from you guys.

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Well you don't necessarily have to live in Storrs or Willington or other similarly small and depressing places. A lot of people live in Hartford, which is like 30 minutes away (so you'll need a car) but is at least a decent-sized city. Will you get the chance to visit before you have to make your decision? I personally would put the money aside because even though it's a difference, the bigger question is what career path the two programs will put you on, and it sounds like UConn is the better one on this (more important, in my opinion) count. But then being miserable for 5 years doesn't sound that appealing, so you should figure out if there is a place in the area where you could live and be happy. Have you tried talking to current students about where they live and how they like it? 

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While Hartford is hardly a large city (125,000), it might have enough variety and amenities to keep you satisfied until you complete your degree. Keep in mind that you will be so busy that you probably won't have much time to spend on leisure and recreation. But if Hartford can offer you some of those "must haves" you need to be comfortable (ex: movie theatres, live music, good variety of restaurants, clubs, etc) then if might be doable for the duration of your program.

You also have the option of driving out to Boston on the weekend as it's 1.5 hrs away, which is very feasible for day and weekend trips. After you've completed your coursework, you might have the option of working on your thesis from home and could potentially move to Boston in the last year or so of your studies. (I know people who've done this while completing PhDs in psychology. They stayed in town for the first 3 years until all of their course work was completed and lived a few hours away during the last 2 years, while making occasional trips back and forth as needed). I think it's definitely worth inquiring about this and visiting the school and surrounding areas, especially considering that this program is well ranked, offers a strong funding package, and it's a great fit for you.  

Edited by thelionking

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When I was making my decision, the stipend mostly** factored in to answer the question, "Is the stipend enough to live at the level of comfort I want?". If it's a yes, then I didn't worry about stipend, because small differences now aren't worth career opportunities later, to me. But if the lower stipend place was not enough to live the life I wanted, then it did become a factor. After checking if there are any other funding opportunities, I declined offers that were "no" to this question.

In your case, I guess it would really matter whether or not the Buffalo stipend is enough for you to live on. You have a slightly more extreme case of $10k per year, which is almost $50k in total difference!! Whether this number is enough to change your plans depends on your goals. For me, the goal was mainly a postdoc and in my field, the difference between a great postdoc and a minimal postdoc is about $15k per year in salary. Factor in a 3 year postdoc and the potential difference is about $45k, which I use as the comparison of how much more a better school could be "valued". However, this is not quite right since nothing is certain and also I think there is a lot more future value because a great postdoc is great for its salary as well as its research opportunities. But this gives you another way to look at the numbers.

**The other way stipend mattered was in the "quality of life" side of the decision. For example,  although UConn may be in a location you're not used to, you can potentially use that extra money for other quality of life improvements. Maybe you can rent a nicer place than you would be able to in Buffalo, or travel more, or save more money for the future etc. So I would count stipend value in trade-offs vs things like how much I like a location, but I wouldn't really compare it to the other factors like research, career opportunities etc.

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4 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

Well you don't necessarily have to live in Storrs or Willington or other similarly small and depressing places. A lot of people live in Hartford, which is like 30 minutes away (so you'll need a car) but is at least a decent-sized city. Will you get the chance to visit before you have to make your decision? I personally would put the money aside because even though it's a difference, the bigger question is what career path the two programs will put you on, and it sounds like UConn is the better one on this (more important, in my opinion) count. But then being miserable for 5 years doesn't sound that appealing, so you should figure out if there is a place in the area where you could live and be happy. Have you tried talking to current students about where they live and how they like it? 

Wow, thanks for all the responses. UConn gave me the offer letter yesterday and asked me make a decision by 21st April, so there's no way I can visit the campus before accepting the offer. Being in my mid-twenties, I do want to live in a place with some fun/cultural activities to over on the weekends when I am not in the lab. Storrs is filled with undergrads, has nothing apart from ice-creams and cows. Nearby towns of Vernon, Willimantic, Manchester are really no better than Storrs. Hartford is a great place actually, I've been there, but I don't see any current UConn grads there. If I end up in UConn, Hartford would most likely be my home. A few international grad students I talked to live in the Storrs area and they seemed pretty indifferent to the locality. The one grad student I know in Willimantic hates the place. The one in Manchester loves it (That's one good datapoint).  As for Buffalo, I have been there before, so I have no second thoughts about the place. It's a cheap and happening city to be in.

4 hours ago, thelionking said:

After you've completed your coursework, you might have the option of working on your thesis from home and could potentially move to Boston in the last year or so of your studies. (I know people who've done this while completing PhDs in psychology. They stayed in town for the first 3 years until all of their course work was completed and lived a few hours away during the last 2 years, while making occasional trips back and forth as needed).

I so wish I could work on my thesis from home. However, considering that I work with organic chemistry and cells, that's never gonna happen.:D

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10 minutes ago, Bhu_It said:

Wow, thanks for all the responses. UConn gave me the offer letter yesterday and asked me make a decision by 21st April, so there's no way I can visit the campus before accepting the offer. Being in my mid-twenties, I do want to live in a place with some fun/cultural activities to over on the weekends when I am not in the lab. Storrs is filled with undergrads, has nothing apart from ice-creams and cows. Nearby towns of Vernon, Willimantic, Manchester are really no better than Storrs. Hartford is a great place actually, I've been there, but I don't see any current UConn grads there. If I end up in UConn, Hartford would most likely be my home. A few international grad students I talked to live in the Storrs area and they seemed pretty indifferent to the locality. The one grad student I know in Willimantic hates the place. The one in Manchester loves it (That's one good datapoint).  As for Buffalo, I have been there before, so I have no second thoughts about the place. It's a cheap and happening city to be in.

Yeah I guess I don't know about graduate students so much, I know UConn postdocs and faculty who live in places like Hartford and even Boston (more like Cambridge, etc) and NYC. Not that I would recommend commuting from NY, necessarily. But Hartford might be a good compromise. And yes, I wouldn't want to live in Storrs or the nearby towns either (I've never been to Manchester, though, so I don't know about that one). 

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1 minute ago, fuzzylogician said:

Yeah I guess I don't know about graduate students so much, I know UConn postdocs and faculty who live in places like Hartford and even Boston (more like Cambridge, etc) and NYC. Not that I would recommend commuting from NY, necessarily. But Hartford might be a good compromise. And yes, I wouldn't want to live in Storrs or the nearby towns either (I've never been to Manchester, though, so I don't know about that one). 

That's good to know. I already live in Cambridge. I might not move out as well! :-P

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1 minute ago, Bhu_It said:

That's good to know. I already live in Cambridge. I might not move out as well! :-P

Well, then, borrow a friend's car and drive down to Storrs/Hartford! It's not that far at all, you could do it over the weekend (ask for a short extension on the decision deadline, the weekend shouldn't make a difference for them but it could, for you!) 

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2 hours ago, TakeruK said:

When I was making my decision, the stipend mostly** factored in to answer the question, "Is the stipend enough to live at the level of comfort I want?". If it's a yes, then I didn't worry about stipend, because small differences now aren't worth career opportunities later, to me. But if the lower stipend place was not enough to live the life I wanted, then it did become a factor. After checking if there are any other funding opportunities, I declined offers that were "no" to this question.

In your case, I guess it would really matter whether or not the Buffalo stipend is enough for you to live on. You have a slightly more extreme case of $10k per year, which is almost $50k in total difference!! Whether this number is enough to change your plans depends on your goals. For me, the goal was mainly a postdoc and in my field, the difference between a great postdoc and a minimal postdoc is about $15k per year in salary. Factor in a 3 year postdoc and the potential difference is about $45k, which I use as the comparison of how much more a better school could be "valued". However, this is not quite right since nothing is certain and also I think there is a lot more future value because a great postdoc is great for its salary as well as its research opportunities. But this gives you another way to look at the numbers.

**The other way stipend mattered was in the "quality of life" side of the decision. For example,  although UConn may be in a location you're not used to, you can potentially use that extra money for other quality of life improvements. Maybe you can rent a nicer place than you would be able to in Buffalo, or travel more, or save more money for the future etc. So I would count stipend value in trade-offs vs things like how much I like a location, but I wouldn't really compare it to the other factors like research, career opportunities etc.

The UConn stipend is definitely good enough to sustain living in the expensive New England neighborhood. Buffalo's 21k annual stipend seems too low to sustain decent living, unless Buffalo happens to be one of the cheapest cities in US. I need to check on that.

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Buffalo is a really inexpensive city, just fyi. A quick cost of living calculator for Hartford vs. Buffalo shows that things in Buffalo are about 25% less than they are in Hartford. 

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