In conversations with colleagues during some recent travels by me and visits to my department by others, the seasonal topic of Grad Recruitment was much discussed.
One issue that some colleagues clearly spend a lot of time thinking about is the relative effects of:
the excellence of the university, department, research group/advisor
the location of the university.
(more on university vs. department vs. research group reputation later; for now, I am lumping them.)
Everyone has different ideas about what makes a place desirable, so the geographic factor is not a constant, agreed-upon thing, although there are some general trends. Some people are happy to live in a big city, some are not; and some have very particular preferences about climate, topography, proximity to coastlines, and other features that are unrelated to the excellence of a particular graduate program. There might be some connection in particular instances (e.g., oceanography departments and coastal locations), but, in many cases, the geographic factor relates primarily to an individual's preferences.
For some grad applicants, these preference are guided by what each person is used to, although there is a subset that longs for something different from what they are used to.
The question that many of my colleagues talk about is the extent to which location matters in the decisions of students to apply to particular graduate programs, and then how it factors into decisions to accept an offer at one grad program versus another.
Of course there are some students who won't even apply to certain schools, however excellent, in particular locations, but I don't have a good sense for how that population of applicants compares in size to applicants who apply anyway and then use geography as a factor in deciding among offers.
Over the years, I have met quite a few grad students who do take location into account. However brief graduate school is in the scheme of things (although it may not seem that way when you are in it), some people are not willing to live in certain places that are too far from (or close to) their family, a coast, a mountain range, or a warm (or cold) place. These preferences may also limit job opportunities later, but I suppose there's no point in living in a place where you know (or think) you will be unhappy.
The issue of location is more severe for those in geographically-challenged places, but it cuts both ways: programs in places that might not be as scenic or climatically pleasant as some others worry that talented students won't accept their offers (or even apply in the first place); and programs in places that many people find to be geographically excellent get applicants who are significantly more interested in, say, skiing or rock climbing, than in their graduate studies (although this may not be mentioned in the applications).
I didn't take geography into account when making my own decision about which graduate school to attend, and, since I was single at the time, I didn't have to consider anyone else's geographic or other preferences. I chose the program that most closely matched my interests, and I was focused on working with a particular advisor whose papers I had read (and admired) as part of an undergraduate research project.
Am I unusual (in that particular respect) or is that common? FSP wants to know..
Please elaborate in the comments.
9 years ago