Genetics Times Two
I got admit to two Universities and I need help to finalize the University. 1. PhD in Human Genetics, University of Pittsburgh. The department provides assistance only for a year. For the following year, the student should seek a position in any lab that helps with his/her funding. 2. MS/PhD in Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry, Microbiology: I have to pay a year tuition fee (26,000$). From second year onwards I will be transferred to the PhD program and would receive a stipend of 26,000 per year till I complete my doctoral studies. I am interested in pursuing cancer genetics and cardiovascular research. Both the Universities have researches undergoing in those fields. Please help me to choose.
—Genetics Times Two
Dear Genetics Times Two,
Congratulations on being accepted into two PhD programs! In choosing between two programs, the first thing that you should consider is the type of research that is being produced. You mentioned that you are interested in cancer genetics and cardiovascular research and that both programs conduct research in those fields. Just because both programs conduct research in similar fields does not mean that their research is the same. You may find that the type of research being produced in one program is better suited toward your interests than the other program is. To start, read up on each program’s recent publications to know which line of research is the best match with your research goals.
The second thing that you should consider when choosing between two programs is the quality of the programs themselves. In order to assess quality, consider each program’s graduation rates, time it takes most students to graduate, and—most importantly—employment outcomes of recent graduates (see phds.org for PhD program comparisons). You will want to choose a program that has a track record of successful employment of its students, solid graduation rates, and reasonable time frames for completion. Be aware that your specific field strongly encourages graduates to complete a postdoctoral position before long-term employment. That’s why it’s important to ask questions regarding graduates’ success once they make commitments to postdoc positions. Do they get jobs right away, or do they get stuck in a postdoc position loop? You might try asking faculty, current students, or recent graduates about their experience and knowledge regarding student success. Social media can be a great tool for learning more information. If you do approach faculty or students on social media, use social media wisely, as René points out in her blogs “Social Media: What’s So Important About It?” and “ What Not to Do in Social Media”. You might also make some useful connections professionally; check out our articles about Building Professional Relationships and Low Pressure Ways for Grad Students to Network at Their Universities .
The third (and probably most examined) criterion that students consider when assessing programs is money. Although money is an important factor in choosing between programs, it should not be the only factor worth considering. Also, seeing just the numbers for stipends or tuition waivers can be misleading. For example, a program that offers no assistance beyond the first year may have an excellent history of preparing students to win grant money for the rest of their time in graduate school. Whereas, a graduate school that offers full assistance but provides no grant proposal training may result in less prepared graduates who have difficulty securing external funding in their careers.
This is why it is important to evaluate student support and outcomes. It may seem daunting that one of your programs only fully supports students financially through their first year of graduate school. Does the program encourage students to seek external sources of support (e.g., government grants)? If so, ask the faculty about the success rate of students securing external funds. Being awarded grant money comes with valuable experience and looks great on your CV when you graduate. If the second program does not encourage students to seek grant money, then ask what type of training and experience they offer in that regard. Also, ask about what students typically do to cover the cost of their first year. Be cautious if they say that the majority of students support themselves throughout their first year because the last thing that you need going into your PhD program is to be saddled down with debt or forced into working part time to cover the costs of tuition and living expenses.
Good luck in making your final decisions. You are definitely in the place where every graduate applicant wants to be!
–Sara Brady, PhD