Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
analysister
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Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by analysister » Fri Feb 14, 2020 7:39 pm

I thought it would be nice to have a place to talk about frustrations/questions in decision making.

I realize the Sweat Thread could be used for this, but this part of the process is less stressful, and I feel it may be upsetting to those who are still waiting to hear to have these discussions there.

Anyway, does anyone have a good template for rejecting a program? I want to be respectful and kind since math is such a small world, and I always overthink these things.

Devilbob
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by Devilbob » Fri Feb 14, 2020 8:45 pm

I have a very hard choice ahead of me; I really didn't expect to get in to as many programs as I did. Making matters worse are the time-conflicts between some of the open houses I've been invited to. It's a quality set of problems to have, haha, but it's still weirdly stressful in its own way.

As far as rejecting offers, I would just be professional and honest. "I appreciate the opportunity, but I've decided to attend a different program. I wish you all the best!", something like that. I don't think you need to try to justify it.

Integreat
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by Integreat » Fri Feb 14, 2020 9:52 pm

analysister wrote:
Fri Feb 14, 2020 7:39 pm
I realize the Sweat Thread could be used for this, but this part of the process is less stressful, and I feel it may be upsetting to those who are still waiting to hear to have these discussions there.
That's very considerate of you! I think your advisor would probably be the best person to contact wrt how to turn down an offer; they'd likely know best.
Devilbob wrote:
Fri Feb 14, 2020 8:45 pm
I have a very hard choice ahead of me; I really didn't expect to get in to as many programs as I did. It's a quality set of problems to have.
As my advisor put it, we have a first world problem on our hands :wink:

I'm between UT Austin, Northwestern, and UWash right now I think; still considering all others though. They each have their pros and cons that I've written out, including location and all that. It's hard when you haven't officially been accepted to some of them. Funding is important!

CoronalRain
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by CoronalRain » Fri Feb 14, 2020 10:26 pm

Admissions committees are used to receiving rejections from accepted students. There’s no need to overthink it. Just be formal, friendly, and concise. They’ll appreciate a quick rejection more than a late one that sounds eloquent.

And don’t ask your adviser for help writing it. You got accepted to a PhD program — you’re a big kid now.

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 12:20 am

One of the graduate coordinators I've talked to suggested to decline all offers but 2 of my top choices as offers come through. That way people waitlisting for my acceptances get what they want, and hopefully I get moved up on my own waitlist. It's like a network LOL, me declining offers will probably come back to help me move up my waitlist, in some way that I will never know. :D

Devilbob
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by Devilbob » Sat Feb 15, 2020 12:35 am

A bit of caution on that; you really need to visit the campus and talk to the people there before you can commit to a program. If you decline everything but your "top two", and you realize upon visiting that those programs don't mesh very well with you... you're in an awkward position.

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 12:40 am

Devilbob wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 12:35 am
A bit of caution on that; you really need to visit the campus and talk to the people there before you can commit to a program. If you decline everything but your "top two", and you realize upon visiting that those programs don't mesh very well with you... you're in an awkward position.
Well he presumed that I visited all my schools that I applied to (he probably thought I applied to only 10 LOL)

I just want to understand your statement better, can you list some potential reasons where "those programs don't mesh very well with [me]"?

Devilbob
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by Devilbob » Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:02 am

I'm going off of the advice I've received from a good friend of mine who's finishing up their own PhD. According to them: You need an opportunity to talk with the current grad students there, particularly when the faculty etc are not present, to really get a sense of what it's like to be in the program. How supportive are the faculty? How supportive is the department? (These are distinct questions which may have distinct answers) Is the stipend enough to live in the area? What is the area itself like to live in? What is the overall culture of the program? Any particularly good advisors, or advisors that should be avoided (reasons for this can range from faculty being too busy to really oversee another grad student, to faculty that look like they're about to leave, to just being generally toxic, among others)? Keep in mind, most of the horror stories you hear about grad school can be tied back to a bad or poorly matched advisor. Who your choices are will affect your life *a lot*. There's at least one campus I didn't apply to because I've had 4 seperate people (whose opinions I trust) warn me that it was a pretty awful environment.

Take the above as an incomplete list of questions, but hopefully you get my point. The faculty and department will generally do their best to sell you on the program. The current grad students are the ones who will give you a better sense of what things are actually like.

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:12 am

Devilbob wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:02 am
I'm going off of the advice I've received from a good friend of mine who's finishing up their own PhD. According to them: You need an opportunity to talk with the current grad students there, particularly when the faculty etc are not present, to really get a sense of what it's like to be in the program. How supportive are the faculty? How supportive is the department? (These are distinct questions which may have distinct answers) Is the stipend enough to live in the area? What is the area itself like to live in? What is the overall culture of the program? Any particularly good advisors, or advisors that should be avoided (reasons for this can range from faculty being too busy to really oversee another grad student, to faculty that look like they're about to leave, to just being generally toxic, among others)? Keep in mind, most of the horror stories you hear about grad school can be tied back to a bad or poorly matched advisor. Who your choices are will affect your life *a lot*. There's at least one campus I didn't apply to because I've had 4 seperate people (whose opinions I trust) warn me that it was a pretty awful environment.

Take the above as an incomplete list of questions, but hopefully you get my point. The faculty and department will generally do their best to sell you on the program. The current grad students are the ones who will give you a better sense of what things are actually like.
That is indeed really good advice. But question: Is there such thing as a bad advisor or a department being an awful environment?

Say, if I get into a SINGLE top 25 university (i.e. Michigan, Minnesota) versus bunch of tier 3 schools (i.e. Clemson, Syracuse, WVU), doesn't logic dictates that I should go to the top 25 school regardless of what other negative factors there are about the top school, such as bad advisor and awful environment as stated above?

Sorry if my questions are ... dumb.

Devilbob
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by Devilbob » Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:41 am

Nah, they're not dumb. There's no objective answer to that question; this isn't really a clear cut case of logic. It depends on who you are and what your goals are. But let me give you my own subjective viewpoint on it: I'm a bit older than most students, and I've lived through some pretty crappy things. And through that process I've learned that there is almost nothing that would be worth enduring 5 or 6 years of misery. And a bad advisor / environment is pretty likely to lead to that. Even setting aside the emotional aspects, my experience tells me that I'd be much less likely to produce something worthwhile in that kind of headspace; less creative, less willing to explore new possibilities or opportunities, etc. To put things in a more literal context: if my only choices were the aformentioned toxic school (well rated as it is), or forgoing math grad school entirely, I'd probably go with the latter. You really shouldn't undervalue your own mental-well being; 5 years is far too long to just "tough it out".

In my case, it's also why I haven't already taken Berkeley's offer. The program has a great reputation, but I need to actually talk to the people there before I'd be willing to commit.

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mani_fold
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by mani_fold » Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:44 am

nicole2 wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:12 am

That is indeed really good advice. But question: Is there such thing as a bad advisor or a department being an awful environment?

Say, if I get into a SINGLE top 25 university (i.e. Michigan, Minnesota) versus bunch of tier 3 schools (i.e. Clemson, Syracuse, WVU), doesn't logic dictates that I should go to the top 25 school regardless of what other negative factors there are about the top school, such as bad advisor and awful environment as stated above?

Sorry if my questions are ... dumb.
I think it depends on what you want to do but to some extent that’s the idea. If you’re looking at academia, my advisor gave me some tough love: “It doesn’t matter if you’re starving or forced to work with difficult advisors alongside competitive peers. Suck it up and go to the highest ranked program you can get into, period.” I hate that advice, but ..... the job market.

I also think your “top two” advice earlier is good practice, to some extent. In my case, I got offers from 5 places, among which there are two schools which are clearly above the pack and which I’m more interested in attending. So yeah, there’s a risk I visit both programs and I’m not blown out of the water, but no matter how disappointing the schools are, I’m not declining both of those top 25-ish offers in favor of top 40 programs.

For that reason exactly, there’s no excuse for me to either be holding up the waitlist or using a department’s money for travel when I know I’m going to decline an offer from a program. I have good friends at some of those lower ranked schools, and I’d love to visit SLC for example, but it’s plain unethical to waste travel funding like that when other students need it.

I could see myself entertaining 3-4 offers if they were all top programs with similar prestige, but I’m neither a god-tier applicant nor someone with 4 weekends in my semester to burn. So keeping two programs in the running is what I’ve landed on.

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mani_fold
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by mani_fold » Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:51 am

Also people were asking for stock writing for decline letters. I’m a fan of:

“Unfortunately, I have decided to go in a different direction with my studies and would like to decline the offer.”

“I want to thank your program again for your generous and exciting offer, and wish you the best of luck with your recruitment efforts this season.”

Also, a word of advice from my advisor. If you’re declining an offer because the stipend is too low, tell the program. This is a hard email to write but it gives the department written support when they go to the college dean to secure more funding. Every bit of evidence that the department can get to help improve funding for graduate studies is extremely valuable. They will 100% understand and will not judge you for it— they know that you need to make the best decision for yourself, and this includes funding.

“Other institutions have offered me more competitive amounts, and this factored significantly into my decision making. I sincerely hope that this informs your program going forward and is not taken as a negative statement about the quality of instruction or research at ________ in any way.”

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 4:09 am

Both arguments from @Devilbob and @mani_fold are logical.

I guess it's up to me to decide what's more important. I should probably still visit the schools if I end up with offers from more than 1 school of similar caliber.

analysister
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by analysister » Sat Feb 15, 2020 11:35 am

I would say if you have decided you know you will not go somewhere, decline it ASAP.

There is at least one profile on the 2020 results that has "will decline" next to an acceptance. If you don't know that is totally fine, but once a decision is made I think it is important to say no. It can definitely feel awkward if you fire back immediately, but within a few days is good.

mishania1996
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by mishania1996 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:07 pm

mani_fold wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:51 am
If you’re declining an offer because the stipend is too low, tell the program. This is a hard email to write but it gives the department written support when they go to the college dean to secure more funding.
As an option they could accept less students next years and pay them more. I am not 100% sure what would be more beneficial for the academia. (of course this is only a speculation but who knows..)

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:01 pm

mani_fold wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:44 am
...

my advisor gave me some tough love: “It doesn’t matter if you’re starving or forced to work with difficult advisors alongside competitive peers. Suck it up and go to the highest ranked program you can get into, period.”

...
LOL

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:12 pm

This is how I'm going to decline offers:
Dear Dr. :D :D,

I appreciate the offer of admissions, but I have chosen to pursue my graduate degree elsewhere. Hence, I hereby decline the offer of admissions.

Sincerely,
:D :D
Hopefully offends no one and no bridges burnt.

Say, if I am waitlisted at School X but got into School Y and I accepted the offer at School Y on April 10-15. Then School X came back in May with an offer, is it ethical to decline School Y and go to School X instead if that was my top choice? Am I going to going to get in trouble legally?

finite
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by finite » Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:17 pm

nicole2 wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:12 pm
This is how I'm going to decline offers:
Dear Dr. :D :D,

I appreciate the offer of admissions, but I have chosen to pursue my graduate degree elsewhere. Hence, I hereby decline the offer of admissions.

Sincerely,
:D :D
Hopefully offends no one and no bridges burnt.

Say, if I am waitlisted at School X but got into School Y and I accepted the offer at School Y on April 10-15. Then School X came back in May with an offer, is it ethical to decline School Y and go to School X instead if that was my top choice? Am I going to going to get in trouble legally?
You'll need to get a written release from school Y before you can accept an offer elsewhere, after April 15.

username31415
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by username31415 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:28 pm

I have a “decision matrix” set up in google sheets that has my options as rows and as columns different properties that I care about rated on a scale(e.g. stipend to cost of living ratio, number of advising options, social life potential) and each property is given a weight that is correlated to how important it is to me. Then each school has a number associated to it. I’m hoping the visiting days will help fill in the scores for each place.

I think it’s not even the final ranking that will be most important, but the process of filling in the cells and considering each school’s pros and cons, as well as what factors I care about most.

ponchan
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by ponchan » Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:37 pm

nicole2 wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:12 pm
This is how I'm going to decline offers:
Dear Dr. :D :D,

I appreciate the offer of admissions, but I have chosen to pursue my graduate degree elsewhere. Hence, I hereby decline the offer of admissions.

Sincerely,
:D :D
Hopefully offends no one and no bridges burnt.

Say, if I am waitlisted at School X but got into School Y and I accepted the offer at School Y on April 10-15. Then School X came back in May with an offer, is it ethical to decline School Y and go to School X instead if that was my top choice? Am I going to going to get in trouble legally?
No, you won't be in trouble legally. The ethical question is trickier. Although it wouldn't be courteous to school X to do such a thing, if they are a reputable program then it really shouldn't make a difference if one student rescinds their acceptance. However, your spot at school $X$ could have gone to someone on their waitlist...
To be honest, school Y might be the unethical one in this scenario.

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 4:06 pm

I sent the exactly email mentioned above to a school that I received an offer and this is the reply I received. That's why I wonder if I offended anyone
OKAY

==============================================================
:D
Director of Graduate Studies
:D
==============================================================

From: :D
Sent: Friday, February 14, 2020 4:59 PM
To: :D
Subject: [External] Admissions Offer

:D University
Dear Dr. :D,

I appreciate the offer of admissions, but I have chosen to pursue my graduate degree elsewhere. Hence, I hereby decline the offer of admissions.

Sincerely,
:D

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 4:07 pm

finite wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:17 pm
nicole2 wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:12 pm
This is how I'm going to decline offers:
Dear Dr. :D :D,

I appreciate the offer of admissions, but I have chosen to pursue my graduate degree elsewhere. Hence, I hereby decline the offer of admissions.

Sincerely,
:D :D
Hopefully offends no one and no bridges burnt.

Say, if I am waitlisted at School X but got into School Y and I accepted the offer at School Y on April 10-15. Then School X came back in May with an offer, is it ethical to decline School Y and go to School X instead if that was my top choice? Am I going to going to get in trouble legally?
You'll need to get a written release from school Y before you can accept an offer elsewhere, after April 15.
Is that so? Hmmm so it's a legal binding contract? I should probably read the terms and condition before I accept the offers online.

fluffball
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by fluffball » Sat Feb 15, 2020 4:47 pm

mani_fold wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:44 am
I think it depends on what you want to do but to some extent that’s the idea. If you’re looking at academia, my advisor gave me some tough love: “It doesn’t matter if you’re starving or forced to work with difficult advisors alongside competitive peers. Suck it up and go to the highest ranked program you can get into, period.” I hate that advice, but ..... the job market.
This might be good "conventional" advice, but only for "conventional" students. If you belong to any minoritized group, the amount of suction required is often not worth the higher ranking. Plenty of lower-ranked schools have environments that are hostile to minoritized folks, but higher-ranked programs will pretty reliably make it clear that they don't really want to deal with you.

asterac
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by asterac » Sat Feb 15, 2020 6:13 pm

I also think it’s important to visit before you start declining. It’s not going to be a popular opinion on this site because everyone wants waitlists resolved faster, but I don’t think it’s unethical to use travel funding to visit a place you think you won’t attend unless you’re totally sure and have several excess offers. First of all, the whole point of visit weekends is for them to *try* to woo you and convince you they’re a good fit.

More importantly, it’s a solid way to start your career to go meet lots of people in the field and start forming connections. You get exposure to professors and also other students who are in a similar position to yours. Multiple professors and grad students have given me the advice, “Visit everywhere you can, even though it interferes with your class schedule.” I’m even visiting a couple of places that didn’t give me quite enough for airfare. $80 for basically a mini-conference? Sure, I’ll take an extra shift and pay that.

For me, there is one other factor in not rushing to decline offers. In math and in other areas of my life, I’ve repeatedly had the experience of an environment sucking for me in a way that is pretty invisible to others, e.g., because I’m a woman or because of my disability. I wouldn’t want to work with an advisor that I wouldn’t trust to be my advocate in the job search. Plus, I have the life experience to know that it’s not worth your time to try to “prove yourself” to someone biased or teach them. You won’t, and grad school is hard enough. It’s not that one or two weird people at a huge school would cause me to turn down an obviously superior offer—they’re everywhere—but if I see a horrible department culture or red flags in most of the profs I would consider as potential advisors? At that point, it doesn’t matter if the name of the school is marginally better because I probably wouldn’t survive long past the quals years with a shred of motivation intact. I’d rather choose a school that has maybe a worse overall name but has great researchers in one or two areas that interest me. Every school on my list is there for *some* reason besides appropriate prestige.

One exception: this doesn’t apply to my situation, but I would consider going somewhere prestigious I didn’t like very much if I got in nowhere else even remotely comparable... but with the goal in mind of transferring after the first year or two. I know a successful prof who transferred to Columbia from a (less prestigious but still respected) program he hated.

All that being said, I am also planning to keep a running top choice or two during the course of visits and to decline offers promptly if a school falls out of it.

asterac
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by asterac » Sat Feb 15, 2020 6:49 pm

fluffball wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 4:47 pm
mani_fold wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 1:44 am
I think it depends on what you want to do but to some extent that’s the idea. If you’re looking at academia, my advisor gave me some tough love: “It doesn’t matter if you’re starving or forced to work with difficult advisors alongside competitive peers. Suck it up and go to the highest ranked program you can get into, period.” I hate that advice, but ..... the job market.
This might be good "conventional" advice, but only for "conventional" students. If you belong to any minoritized group, the amount of suction required is often not worth the higher ranking. Plenty of lower-ranked schools have environments that are hostile to minoritized folks, but higher-ranked programs will pretty reliably make it clear that they don't really want to deal with you.
Exactly. Or like pay lip service to diversity but provide no meaningful support for retention... and then mysteriously, most of their attrition is made up of URMs... like hmmmm

onlooking_onlooker
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by onlooking_onlooker » Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:18 pm

I've been lurking here for the past few months, but some of the comments about choosing a school made me want to post. I'm an applicant to a math-adjacent field, and my opinions on this come from hearing from students and professors from a variety of fields.

Some prior posters have mentioned that ranking should be of high priority when making a decision. I strongly disagree with this. Ranking is definitely a relevant factor, but I think research fit, culture, support, and lifestyle are much more important. You need to make sure that wherever you end up you can get quality training/mentorship and have some semblance of a normal life. Grad school is tough no matter where you go. However, added stress from a bad advisor or a bad living situation will make it very difficult to get through the program and produce good work. Grad students have extremely high rates of depression and other mental health issues, so keep that in mind when considering a department.

Disregarding the potential for depression or other mental health issues, being in a department that's a poor fit is more likely to lead undesirable outcomes like leaving early. No matter how prestigious the department is, you're going to be substantially less productive at a place where the research doesn't interest you, where the department culture is unsatisfying, where your advisor doesn't advocate for you, or where you hate living. Considering all of this, it's difficult for me to accept the idea of 'sucking it up' for five or more years at a place I hate, especially on a grad student stipend. As much as I love my field, it's not worth my personal well-being.

If you want to hear more about this kind of stuff, the Hello PhD podcast is great and r/GradSchool can be helpful (be careful though, they're pretty pessimistic).

Also w.r.t. declining offers, I'm of the opinion that if you're seriously considering the program, then there's no need to decline. I don't think there's a magic number of offers to keep in hand, especially if you haven't visited yet. Personally, I have five offers I'm holding on to until I visit. I imagine that many programs accept enough students to avoid going too deep into the waitlist (if they dip into it at all), so you're probably not holding many students up. Either way, as long as you decline a few weeks before April 15, the department should have time to figure things out.

fluffball
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by fluffball » Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:31 pm

onlooking_onlooker wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:18 pm
Some prior posters have mentioned that ranking should be of high priority when making a decision. I strongly disagree with this. Ranking is definitely a relevant factor, but I think research fit, culture, support, and lifestyle are much more important.
Pure mathematics in particular is a bit different from other fields, because the vast majority of students entering US PhD programs have only a vague idea of what research they'll actually end up doing and everyone is guaranteed support through the department. Within reasonable parameters, the "suck it up" advice is a decent rule of thumb for most students, especially if the department in question is large and varied enough to make it likely that a student will get a good advisor.

DillWithIt77
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by DillWithIt77 » Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:54 pm

I agree with a lot of the latest posters for this thread. I think a school can be very different from what you hope it will be, and a lot of those differences come out in the visit. Even for my undergrad, I was offered a full ride to one school, but on my visit, I just couldn't see myself thriving there. I would have been really far from pretty much any friends or family (so no real support system) and I just didn't vibe well with a lot of the people I met. Not to say they weren't nice, but just didn't felt like a place I fit in. I ended up attending a school that I literally only applied to because my parents knew someone else from my high school in a previous year had applied, and I was the first kid going off to college. So they based a lot of schools on my list of places to apply on previous places they had heard about from other parents or their own experience. However, after doing a visit overnight, I knew that school was going to be the place for me. It wasn't very highly ranked, but it was a place I knew I could call home and feel supported in whatever I ended up deciding to do.

I think a lot of that can go into applying for PhD programs. Yeah, this is going to be just my viewpoint, but you can take from it what you will. All the schools on my list are places that specifically have some type of research or program I can see myself being interested in (like actually interested in and not having to force myself to like it). I've also only picked schools outside of my home state because for me this is my chance to get away for a few years and really be living out on my own in the world. Lastly, I did not have a very supportive advisor for my Master's program. I felt very belittled and it seemed like I was constantly having to prove my worth. On top of that I had a lot of negative factors going on in my own personal life and definitely thought about dropping out after the first year or just straight up killing myself. I've come a long way since then, and I certainly don't want to deal with those types of factors again for another 4-5 years of school. Therefore, I'm taking any chance I can to visit the schools I get offers to and see what they are really all about. Not everyone may feel the same way, and that's totally ok. Everyone will have their own life experiences to base their choices on. Just don't feel bad for holding on to those offers and wanting to go out and visit schools that you may or may not be calling your home for the next few years.

Good luck to everyone still waiting to hear back from your dream schools or for your first offer! We're all in this together, and I can't wait to see us all on the other side. :)

onlooking_onlooker
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by onlooking_onlooker » Sat Feb 15, 2020 11:30 pm

fluffball wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:31 pm
onlooking_onlooker wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:18 pm
Some prior posters have mentioned that ranking should be of high priority when making a decision. I strongly disagree with this. Ranking is definitely a relevant factor, but I think research fit, culture, support, and lifestyle are much more important.
Pure mathematics in particular is a bit different from other fields, because the vast majority of students entering US PhD programs have only a vague idea of what research they'll actually end up doing and everyone is guaranteed support through the department. Within reasonable parameters, the "suck it up" advice is a decent rule of thumb for most students, especially if the department in question is large and varied enough to make it likely that a student will get a good advisor.
I majored in math, so I'm familiar with math grad programs. My field is similar in that incoming students often don't have specific interests. But I think my advice still stands. There are definitely some things that you just have to get over, like teaching. However, I think it's naive to primarily look at rankings to make a decision. By support I don't just mean financial, but also academic, professional, social, personal; whatever support you may need. Basically what I'm trying to say is go someplace where you think you can be happy and succeed, whatever that means for you. Don't go somewhere because a list told you to.

finite
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by finite » Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:00 am

Reading all these posts, I feel unlucky being an international applicant, since I can't really visit any places that accept me. I'm just making do by emailing current grad students and asking them questions. Is there anything else anyone would recommend doing to know the program better?

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mani_fold
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by mani_fold » Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:23 am

onlooking_onlooker wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 11:30 pm
I majored in math, so I'm familiar with math grad programs. My field is similar in that incoming students often don't have specific interests. But I think my advice still stands. There are definitely some things that you just have to get over, like teaching. However, I think it's naive to primarily look at rankings to make a decision. By support I don't just mean financial, but also academic, professional, social, personal; whatever support you may need. Basically what I'm trying to say is go someplace where you think you can be happy and succeed, whatever that means for you. Don't go somewhere because a list told you to.
I think you’re correct insofar as “rankings” need not correlate with more personalized features such as departmental support, research interest, etc. ....

I think you’re wrong though about completely (or at least significantly) disregarding the prestige of a school in a decision making process, because “rankings” definitely correlate with jobs. And as much as I’d love to kick my feet up and crack open a beer at the friendliest, least-stressful PhD program I can land, there’s an obvious reason why rigorous, demanding, and competitive programs lead to more careers than the alternative. Moreover, If top-tier math PhD programs were about being “happy and successful” in the first place, everyone would have a graduate degree in mathematics.

At the risk of being dismissive, this perspective comes off as being naïve to the realities of professional research mathematics. If one doesn’t want to go into academia, however, then throw it all out the window. Any PhD program in Podunk America
with a numerical analyst can prep you for a job in software or banking. In that situation, rankings are immaterial. Location, faculty, etc are more important.

ponchan
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by ponchan » Sun Feb 16, 2020 9:50 am

fluffball wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:31 pm
onlooking_onlooker wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:18 pm
Some prior posters have mentioned that ranking should be of high priority when making a decision. I strongly disagree with this. Ranking is definitely a relevant factor, but I think research fit, culture, support, and lifestyle are much more important.
Pure mathematics in particular is a bit different from other fields, because the vast majority of students entering US PhD programs have only a vague idea of what research they'll actually end up doing and everyone is guaranteed support through the department. Within reasonable parameters, the "suck it up" advice is a decent rule of thumb for most students, especially if the department in question is large and varied enough to make it likely that a student will get a good advisor.
The “suck is up” advice is toxic and generally just bad advice. People from Princeton, Harvard and Stanford still sometime graduate with mediocre research and are forced out of academia. Had they gone to a department that was a better fit for them, perhaps they would have produced more and better research and would still be around.

Also, how do you want to spend this short time you have on earth? If you choose to be miserable for 5-6 years, do you really thing the misery stops there? Say you actually complete your degree and get postdoc offers. You’ll probably do what other people tell you to do in that situation as well, and choose one even if if makes you miserable for 3-6 years. You see where I’m going with this: if you choose to be miserable because of some vague notion of prestige, that will come back to bite you. The sad truth is you’ll probably just continue to choose to be miserable for the rest of your life.

Doing math and producing good research is what you need to do to do well. This is impossible if you’re miserable.

onlooking_onlooker
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by onlooking_onlooker » Sun Feb 16, 2020 10:04 am

mani_fold wrote:
Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:23 am
onlooking_onlooker wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 11:30 pm
I majored in math, so I'm familiar with math grad programs. My field is similar in that incoming students often don't have specific interests. But I think my advice still stands. There are definitely some things that you just have to get over, like teaching. However, I think it's naive to primarily look at rankings to make a decision. By support I don't just mean financial, but also academic, professional, social, personal; whatever support you may need. Basically what I'm trying to say is go someplace where you think you can be happy and succeed, whatever that means for you. Don't go somewhere because a list told you to.
I think you’re correct insofar as “rankings” need not correlate with more personalized features such as departmental support, research interest, etc. ....

I think you’re wrong though about completely (or at least significantly) disregarding the prestige of a school in a decision making process, because “rankings” definitely correlate with jobs. And as much as I’d love to kick my feet up and crack open a beer at the friendliest, least-stressful PhD program I can land, there’s an obvious reason why rigorous, demanding, and competitive programs lead to more careers than the alternative. Moreover, If top-tier math PhD programs were about being “happy and successful” in the first place, everyone would have a graduate degree in mathematics.

At the risk of being dismissive, this perspective comes off as being naïve to the realities of professional research mathematics. If one doesn’t want to go into academia, however, then throw it all out the window. Any PhD program in Podunk America
with a numerical analyst can prep you for a job in software or banking. In that situation, rankings are immaterial. Location, faculty, etc are more important.
You're right, I don't mean to be too dismissive of rankings. They can be relevant to a certain extent, especially when finding places to apply to. I just think that most people put way too much stock into them. If job outlook is the most important thing, then instead of ranking you should look at graduate outcomes. There definitely is some correlation with academic jobs, but there's also a lot of noise. I know several highly ranked programs in my field that send most of their graduates to industry. I admit that this may not be true in math though. One caveat that I've heard is that if you want a job at a big name place like Harvard or Stanford, then it helps a lot to have a degree from a place like that. I don't think this situation applies to most people though.

All in all, ranking is a less-than-optimal proxy for qualities that you've mentioned like rigor and job outlook. Rankings help a lot when deciding where to apply (though I think talking to several advisors may be better). But once you've been accepted, you can throw out the proxy and get much more detailed information by visiting and talking to people. I don't mean to say just go to the easiest place. Like you said, going to a no-name program won't get you anywhere. I just want to caution people from choosing based on prestige when there's better ways to assess their options.

onlooking_onlooker
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by onlooking_onlooker » Sun Feb 16, 2020 10:13 am

finite wrote:
Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:00 am
Reading all these posts, I feel unlucky being an international applicant, since I can't really visit any places that accept me. I'm just making do by emailing current grad students and asking them questions. Is there anything else anyone would recommend doing to know the program better?
I think emailing is a good start. Try setting up some phone or Skype calls with students. I think they'll be more open over the phone than through email. If you can chat with someone who's from the same region or country, that may be even more helpful. Also try to see if you know any professors who went to the schools you're looking at. They may have relevant information about the program, or they might be able to connect you with someone else.

laplacian
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by laplacian » Mon Feb 17, 2020 3:36 am

Guys, what's up with the 9 months stipend? What do they expect us to do in summers?

misterB
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by misterB » Mon Feb 17, 2020 4:39 am

laplacian wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 3:36 am
Guys, what's up with the 9 months stipend? What do they expect us to do in summers?
You have to enroll separately for the summer months.

yaskhn3
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by yaskhn3 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 5:58 am

laplacian wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 3:36 am
Guys, what's up with the 9 months stipend? What do they expect us to do in summers?
Support is not guaranteed, and you may have to manage your expenses on your own.

laplacian
Posts: 15
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2020 10:22 am

Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by laplacian » Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:11 am

Thank you both for the answers.

USC offered ~30k with no teaching duties in the first year. On the other hand UIC offered ~20k. The difference is too damn high, right? I know that LA is little expensive but still.

misterB
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by misterB » Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:52 am

laplacian wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:11 am
Thank you both for the answers.

USC offered ~30k with no teaching duties in the first year. On the other hand UIC offered ~20k. The difference is too damn high, right? I know that LA is little expensive but still.
I think you mean 30k/12 months and 20k/9months respectively. That is not too damn high, LA is very expensive from what I hear, so that way these salaries should be apt

temporaryacct
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by temporaryacct » Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:27 am

Something to consider with the prestige vs. culture/fit thing is how many people actually make it through. What percentage of students pass quals? What percentage of students complete their PhD? Are the schools trying to weed people out or are they trying to make sure everyone finishes?

Compare Berkeley to Minnesota for example. Both are great schools, but Berkeley definitely has a more prestigious name in most areas.

I've heard that Berkeley used to admit more students than they actually wanted for the cheap teaching and then weeded many people out with tough qualifying exams. To be fair I think they've improved a lot in this area.

In the other hand, Minnesota doesn't even call them qualifying exams because they "believe all the students they accept are qualified." While this sounds just like a PR move, the philosophy has a noticeable effect imo. People I've talked to have said that barring personal circumstances and leaving for industry, pretty much everyone makes it through.

So yes, a stellar student who completes their PhD at Berkeley will probably be better off than one who does so at Minnesota. However, someone who completes their PhD at Minnesota is definitely better off than someone who has to leave with a masters at Berkeley because they just couldn't hack it in that environment.

I think it really ends up being an individual decision. Some people want to bet on themselves and like faster paced high pressure environments and some people would prefer more support. It's up to the individual to decide how important that is in comparison with prestige.

Disclaimer: I'm certainly not saying that all more prestigious schools have more competitive environments. There are plenty of bad schools with toxic cultures and plenty of great schools with great cultures.

username31415
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by username31415 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:30 am

laplacian wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:11 am
Thank you both for the answers.

USC offered ~30k with no teaching duties in the first year. On the other hand UIC offered ~20k. The difference is too damn high, right? I know that LA is little expensive but still.
Talk to current grad students there and bluntly ask them how much they spend on rent (and what there living situation is and their commute (and if they have to take side jobs like tutoring)). Also remember that no teaching means you could tutor for a few hours a week to supplement your income.

chrisps1992
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by chrisps1992 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:37 am

laplacian wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:11 am
Thank you both for the answers.

USC offered ~30k with no teaching duties in the first year. On the other hand UIC offered ~20k. The difference is too damn high, right? I know that LA is little expensive but still.
LA is more than “a little expensive”. I’ve been there before. A 2 bedroom apartment is almost 4,000 a month, so you can estimate that your rent is going to be around 2k per month.

LogiKid
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by LogiKid » Mon Feb 17, 2020 2:41 pm

finite wrote:
Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:00 am
Reading all these posts, I feel unlucky being an international applicant, since I can't really visit any places that accept me. I'm just making do by emailing current grad students and asking them questions. Is there anything else anyone would recommend doing to know the program better?
Why can't you visit? I was under the impression that many grad programs were willing to put some money towards the cost of visiting. Is this untrue for internationals?

finite
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Joined: Sun Nov 24, 2019 2:11 am

Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by finite » Mon Feb 17, 2020 2:45 pm

LogiKid wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 2:41 pm
finite wrote:
Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:00 am
Reading all these posts, I feel unlucky being an international applicant, since I can't really visit any places that accept me. I'm just making do by emailing current grad students and asking them questions. Is there anything else anyone would recommend doing to know the program better?
Why can't you visit? I was under the impression that many grad programs were willing to put some money towards the cost of visiting. Is this untrue for internationals?
I haven't heard of any schools sponsoring visits for international students. At least the one that accepted me hasn't mentioned anything of that sort so far.

lucasmiranda
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by lucasmiranda » Mon Feb 17, 2020 2:48 pm

LogiKid wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 2:41 pm
finite wrote:
Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:00 am
Reading all these posts, I feel unlucky being an international applicant, since I can't really visit any places that accept me. I'm just making do by emailing current grad students and asking them questions. Is there anything else anyone would recommend doing to know the program better?
Why can't you visit? I was under the impression that many grad programs were willing to put some money towards the cost of visiting. Is this untrue for internationals?
It is true, but the costs are usually higher than the amount of money they're willing to put. For example, Oregon offered me accommodation and up to $500 for travel expenses. Although it's a generous offer, a plane ticket from Brazil (where I'm from) to Portland costs around $1000.

nicole2
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by nicole2 » Tue Feb 18, 2020 12:17 am

chrisps1992 wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:37 am
... A 2 bedroom apartment is almost 4,000 a month ...
:!: :!: :!:

fluffball
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by fluffball » Tue Feb 18, 2020 1:06 am

laplacian wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 3:36 am
Guys, what's up with the 9 months stipend? What do they expect us to do in summers?
Ask them. Different schools do different things (including leaving you to fend for yourself). The point is that whatever happens during the summer, it comes from a different pot of money than the academic year stipend and there might be different conditions on it.

asterac
Posts: 54
Joined: Sun Jul 29, 2018 11:48 pm

Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by asterac » Tue Feb 18, 2020 8:32 pm

chrisps1992 wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:37 am
laplacian wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:11 am
Thank you both for the answers.

USC offered ~30k with no teaching duties in the first year. On the other hand UIC offered ~20k. The difference is too damn high, right? I know that LA is little expensive but still.
LA is more than “a little expensive”. I’ve been there before. A 2 bedroom apartment is almost 4,000 a month, so you can estimate that your rent is going to be around 2k per month.
Yeah, and meanwhile, Chicago is one of the cheapest major cities you could possibly inhabit in the US. Possibly *the* cheapest, depending on what you consider “major” and where there are good math programs.

Both cities are great for math, tho. Chicago has the metropolitan exchange program so that you can take classes at Northwestern, UChicago, or UIC if you want. Never looked into whether a similar thing exists with LA unis. (I kinda hate LA, personally, but there are cool things to do there, even if you’re poor. And you probably won’t get seasonal affective disorder...)

bark_muffalo
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Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by bark_muffalo » Tue Feb 18, 2020 8:42 pm

asterac wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 8:32 pm

Yeah, and meanwhile, Chicago is one of the cheapest major cities you could possibly inhabit in the US. Possibly *the* cheapest, depending on what you consider “major” and where there are good math programs.

Both cities are great for math, tho. Chicago has the metropolitan exchange program so that you can take classes at Northwestern, UChicago, or UIC if you want. Never looked into whether a similar thing exists with LA unis. (I kinda hate LA, personally, but there are cool things to do there, even if you’re poor. And you probably won’t get seasonal affective disorder...)
Chicago is definitely significantly cheaper than any other major city I can think of (though I don't know too much about the big metros in the south like Atlanta), but 20k is still pretty tight. I am pretty sure the grad students went on strike over the low TA pay last year. Jeremy Kun has a nice blog piece about his time there and he details the financial aspect of the experience pretty well. I would recommend anyone who has gotten into UIC already read that post.

Even if LA did have an exchange program, going from USC to westwood would be an absolute nightmare. The public transportation system there is pretty terrible.

asterac
Posts: 54
Joined: Sun Jul 29, 2018 11:48 pm

Re: Fall 2020 - Decision Making Thread

Post by asterac » Tue Feb 18, 2020 8:55 pm

laplacian wrote:
Mon Feb 17, 2020 3:36 am
Guys, what's up with the 9 months stipend? What do they expect us to do in summers?
Good thing to ask during visit weekend, maybe. /ask how often there are people who ask to teach over the summer who don’t get to. + if not everyone gets funding when they ask for it, ask how the decisions are made

At my home uni, students who request summer funding pretty much always get it. They just might not get the specific teaching assignment they want. Also, later in many programs, it’s common for a professor to subsidize their advisees from their own funding, either for summer payment or to reduce their teaching responsibilities during the year, in both cases to allow greater focus on research.

Also also just FYI to everyone, even many professors also have 9-month salary arrangements with their institution! And then they seek grants to pay themselves over the summer.



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