Well, things are looking sunny from this point. I’m now (at time of writing) in receipt of two offers of admission from Grad Schools in the USA. A handful of Chemistry PhD programs have yet to reply with either an acceptance or a rejection, so the exact choice I’m going to have to make has not yet been sorted.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about who has offered me what, or my exact opinions on these schools. Mostly because as yet I’m not decided where I will end up or for which reasons.
It feels strange having A Plan for the next 5-10 years laid out in front of me. It hasn’t really sunk in. I know I’m lucky that with Offer No. 2 I now have a choice about where I can go. It isn’t just a choosing between a “good” and a “bad” option, it’s about weighing up the options contained within each choice and deciding what is most important to me. Getting dragged through the 2011-12 Application Cycle it felt as if I had very little control over the final outcome – which was why the decision to try again the next year lifted so much weight from me – I don’t want to feel like I’m being forced into the one outcome through lack of alternatives.
My immediate question right now is: what is important to me and my next decade?
Money. Location. Job prospects. Personal development. Nature of PhD work. University environment. Hobbies and socialising. Work-life balance.
But not in any specific order.
The factors aren’t cut-and-dried, either. Take “job prospects”. If I’m intent upon a high-flying international career as a Research Scientist then my choice of schools narrows down quickly. If I’m prepared to settle for a science-orientated job in a particular geographical area then I’m looking at a totally different list, one with less emphasis on international reputation. If it turns out that I am really fixed on that high-flying career, then the institution I complete my postdoc at is going to matter more than where I completed my PhD. That’s how Higher Education works.
There’s always going to be a trade-off. If I join an exciting research program, get on well with everybody in the group and work hard to generate good results…I am probably going to worry less about living in a dull town. Hobbies, travel and socialising can’t overshadow the research – that’s just the way things are. Likewise, a large stipend would be welcomed, but if I don’t have the free time to spend a lot of money that it isn’t strictly necessary.
Some of the universities I’m applying to are in a location I really love. Others have strong reputations for my type of research. Others have professors I’ve already “clicked” with and I know I’d work well with them. Others I think will help me when it comes to finding jobs further down the line. It feels like I would have a good reason to go to any of the places I’ve chosen.
A lot is hanging in the balance right now. Fortunately my stress levels are going down as I start to see everything fall into place. I know whichever choice I make will be the right one.
Audience Question: How would you go about prioritising your next decade? What do you think is most important when sorting out a PhD program?