Most of the factors that go in to choosing a grad school seem pretty obvious. Ask any professor, and they’ll likely tell to pick somewhere that has great research that you’re excited about. Or, “Choose a program with faculty that are good people and good scientists,” and “Prestige is more important than you think.” When I was making my graduate school decision, I heard the above advice almost ad nauseam, but when it came down to the final decision, most programs were equally great in all these categories.
I felt uncomfortable talking to mentors, peers, and professor-types about my true concerns about grad school choice. Is it unprofessional to prefer one school over another because the weather is better? Or because one is far from family and friends? Am I ruining my career if I choose a lowerish-tier school because its students seem friendlier?
When making your decision, it can be hard to justify items in your pro-con list that seem outside the realm of professional development. But don’t be afraid to consider them, and don’t be afraid to discuss them with others in your personal and professional spheres. Chances are your professors have made some career decisions based on the same factors you’re stressing about right now.
Below I’ve outlined some points that you should definitely consider when picking a grad school – or making any big life change, really!
1.) During grad school, you will be a real life person. A real life person with real life needs, like friendship and happiness. If you absolutely cannot handle winter, or know that commuting long distances every day completely drains you, don’t be afraid to let these weigh heavily into your decision.
2.) New Friends! The other students in your program will be your classmates and lab mates, but also the people with whom you stress about quals, have Netflix marathons, run experiments at 2am, and have impromptu dance parties in the halls because --why not? Don’t expect to find your new BFF at the interview weekend, but do make sure the program you choose has students that you can see yourself befriending and bonding with over the next n years.
3.) Personal life. All the friends you make in grad school are fine and dandy, but what about your existing friends, partners, and family? Will your life be ruined if you move far away from them? No, but this is still worth considerable thought and honesty on your part. Unfortunately, there is not an equation to tell you something like:
Good luck making the big decision! I believe in you, and you should too.