Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Location Location Location

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

vs.

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..

Did you take location into account when choosing a graduate school?
Yes - a major factor
Yes - one of many factors
No
pollcode.com free polls
Please elaborate in the comments.

74 comments:

Anonymous said...

I got into two top 5 programs -- one at a very cold but charming city in the east coast, and one in a warm city on the west coast. I chose the one on the west coast even though the other one was a slightly better match in terms of my interests. It was the best decision of my life!

Anzel said...

Since I didn't have a particularly strong idea of what I wanted to do, I got a general list of the top universities in what I wanted to do (physics) with all-around strong programs and chose 6 (3 top ones, 3 near-top) based on whether I thought they'd be places worth living in.

I'm pretty happy with being in LA. It gives me a lot of good releases when I need to escape grad school for a bit.

queerscientist said...

I applied to grad school this fall and I didn't apply to programs in locations I thought would be miserable in. With that said, availability of mentors in my subfield was a more important factor for me than location and I applied to schools on both coasts and the middle of the country. My location requirements had more to do with climate and yes, proximity to rocks than a particular city or coast though.

At one program I interviewed with I got the impression that most of their current grad students had picked the program primarily because of the geographic location, and I found that quite offputting.

Eugenie said...

I didn't account for location, but I sure wish I did. The only good thing I can say about my location is 1. cheap gas, and 2. warm weather. Thats it.

I really wish I had payed more attention to location.. I think It would help me feel less miserable then I am.

Anonymous said...

I applied to schools all over the US: east coast, west coast, south, midwest. Only after getting the acceptance letters did location start factoring into my decision.

agradstudent said...

I applied to two of the three top programs in my field. I didn't apply to the third because of its location, but also because the program was small. I still kind of wonder what would have happened if I had at least visited there.

I was accepted to aggressively recruited by both of the programs I applied to. The decision was very agonizing because they both had people I'd like to work with doing things I'd like to do (and they're both excellent departments and universities), so the tie breaker was geography. I'm happy with the department I chose (5 years later).

And now that the novelty wore off, I am somewhat indifferent to living here, but have acquired a boyfriend (here) who doesn't want to leave. We shall see.

Anonymous said...

I didn't consider location when I applied to my top choices, but I did consider it when choosing additional schools to apply to. I decided not to apply to schools with relatively good fit located in places that I didn't think I would be happy living in, and chose instead other relatively good schools at better locations.

I ended up being accepted to both of my top choices - both in New England, but one in a small town and one in a major city. Academically I knew I would be happy at either department and other factors like funding, TA requirements, atmosphere in the department, etc. were close to equal. I ended up choosing based on my location preferences, and I am very happy with my choice.

D said...

I realized early on that location doesn't matter to much if you want to be in a competitive program. When you're immersed in your topic, you'll have little time to enjoy the city anyway. I would only consider location if it relates to my PhD topic, i.e. topology if I'm studying geology.

brooklebee said...

I'm a little shocked that anyone could possibly choose to spend 4-6 years somewhere without a consideration of the location! It may be relatively short, but it's still at least 5% of your adult life... and I have yet to meet someone who would be equally happy in all geographic locations.

I chose my grad school based primarily on the strengths of the program and the potential adviser possibilities, but I also considered several factors that came along with location: local cost of living, local transportation options, accessibility of activities I enjoy, cost of travel to/from my family, and climate. Did you really not give any of these weight when choosing your program?

Anonymous said...

Geography was very important when my husband and I applied to graduate schools together. All the places we applied were at least 700 miles from both of our families. That seemed the easiest way to have a chance to focus on school.

MamaRox said...

As a field scientist, my location matters more to me now as a faculty member. I tend to do more local work now with my undergrads in particular, than I did as a grad student. While grad school location was important to me for some of the reasons you mentioned (I wanted coast and mountains and a city with good public transportation), that was only 5 years of my life. At the time, I knew there was a chance I'd stay in the place where I did my grad work, so I wanted it to be somewhere I'd like to live longer term. I didn't stay, but place has always been important to me. We all have different priorities and I don't think it's wrong to consider those in choosing a grad school.

Anonymous said...

I ruled out most of the Southern states because I didn't think I would be safe there as a lesbian. There were only two top schools in this region (Georgia and North Carolina State), but there were plenty of other top schools in other areas of the country. This is probably a gross stereotype of the South, but I focused on the Northwest, Upper Mid West, and Northeast where I thought I would be safer doing field work in rural/remote areas.

sclemm said...

When I applied to Master's programs, I was happy to go anywhere that would take me.

Conversely, I had a lot of offers when I applied to PhD programs, but I picked which schools to apply to based on relatively narrow academic criteria (finding an adviser that did something similar to me), and picked which school to attend (and currently still do) based on how well I clicked with the adviser/department on visits.

However... I did end up at a school that was near family, in a climate I enjoy. It's entirely possible I had some unconscious bias when making my decision.

Anonymous said...

I moved all around the US when I was growing up and spent a year abroad in college and enjoyed each place, so I was very flexible about location, except I didn't want to live in a city. Yet I ended choosing the one program I applied to that was in a city, and it turns out I enjoy living a city after all. I feel lucky that I can be very happy living in a variety of places.

Archie said...

I applied based on location, but ultimately made my choice based on research opportunities, faculty, etc.

Epiphron said...

Location was not a factor in my search, at all. I just thought there were so many other things that would make my grad experience more/less miserable. I ended up in a location many people would consider undesirable, however, I've found it to be quite nice. Every location has unique opportunities and experiences, capitalizing on those is key to enjoying life in general. Furthermore, the stereotype I had of this location (and many others) was completely wrong.

I am going to flat out say it is foolish to use location as a major criteria when searching for grad schools. The only situation where I would have taken location in to account is the highly unlikely situation in which I had to decide between two programs that were equal in every other respect.

studyzone said...

Although I applied to, and was accepted into several top programs (biomed research), I chose the school in my hometown for two primary reasons. First, the school had a great "preparing future faculty" program that fit in well with my career interests. Secondly, my entire family, including two aging grandmothers and two young nephews, were in the area, and it was very important to me that I could remain an active part of their lives. It was definitely the best decision for me - great grad school experience, and quality time with family.

Anonymous said...

I am a prof in major U in New York City. The city is no doubt a big factor one way or the other in nearly everyone's decision to come here or not - prospective faculty hires as well as grad students, anyone.

I have a postulate which, though not always successful, explains a lot of the variance in whether someone will come or not based on where they are from. It goes like this.

People born overseas from the places we typically see - Europe, Asia, Middle East, even Africa - by and large like NYC and want to come here. (Maybe it's that we're kind of an old-world style city, or maybe it's the diversity so no one feels any more foreign than anyone else, not sure.) Americans generally do not; they want their house and yard etc. The major exceptions are those who are from here, somewhere near here (Jersey etc.) or maybe other big east coast cities (DC, Boston?).

And, musicians. We get a lot of musicians.

Anonymous said...

I will also start a PhD program in fall 2011 and my spouse was the deciding factor between two smallish "livable" cities, one in the northwest and one in the midwest. Both programs were great for me in terms of research interests, albeit in slightly different ways. However, over a 5-6 year period of time, the spouse needs to be kept happy and occupied as I am guaranteed to be busy. He thought there was more opportunity for him in the northwest - so away we go.

Also, other location-related factors were important. The cost of living in relation to the program stipend. Healthcare. The institution I will attend has a reasonable stipend in a low cost of living city. It also offered health coverage for families (institution paying 80% of premium, that's the best deal I found) and on-site subsidized childcare for grad students.

If many my family needs can be met, my spouse is pretty happy and busy, and we are not broke - then I won't have to worry about that stuff too much and can focus on research.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people think grad school is a work; it is not, grad school is school. A time to learn, meet new people, have fun and prepare for a job. I picked a grad school based on location and loved it, now I have a job in a totally different climate and I also love it.

Anonymous said...

I was accepted into the second-ranked program in my field, but after visiting it, did not feel that I could live there for extended periods without getting depressed. As I couldn't imagine staying there 4+ years for the Ph.D., I ended up at a different school in the Midwest, and enjoyed every minute of living conditions there.

Anonymous said...

A related issue is how safe a prospective student will feel in a new location. A colleague of mine was accepted into a program at a very prestigious institute that is located in a notoriously bad neighbourhood. She is trying to decide whether feeling uncomfortable going to and from work every day outweighs the many merits of attending this program.

Anonymous said...

When applying the only location consideration I had was to not apply to NYU/Columbia/The New School/etc. in NYC. I am fine with a city, I am fine with rural, I am not fine with New York City and the constant awareness of how poor I am as a graduate student that would go along with the location.

Otherwise, I chose schools based on research match. This included the East coast, the West coast, Mid-West and the South. I decided (yesterday!) to go to a school on the West coast, 50 driving hours from my parents, in a climate that is not ideal for me (I like my room temperature to be about 66 degrees).

The world is a small place - I can hop on a plane and be home in 6 hours. The prospect of the school footing the air conditioning bill will keep me in the office for longer hours during the summer :) I chose my school because it was the best place for me to be academically.

However, I would say even as a student not particularly concerned with location, it still matters a little bit - you are imagining your life in a place for the next 5 years. And it may not be much time in the grand scheme, but even you yourself FSP acquired your life partner at your grad school - important life altering decisions and relationships are often formed at this point in a person's life (talking as a person in my mid-twenties). If I could only see myself as happy in a major city and with other people who value being in a major city, I wouldn't want to give up 5 years away from my desired peer group - it would set the rest of my life beyond my career on hold.

It was funny how much faculty and some applicants focused on the weather - I felt a little like I was hanging out with my grandmother!

Anonymous said...

I answered no, but I think it depends on what you mean by taking location into account. It didn't matter to me whether it was in a big city or a small town, east coast or west coast, mountains or plains, etc. But the visit was important to make sure it wasn't a completely weird place and that it was a place I could live for several years. I went to Yale - a lot of people don't like New Haven but I liked it just fine. That said, I didn't even apply to Columbia because of what I'd heard about how people had to live to live on their stipend - I could not take roommates anymore and I would have had to have roommates. That's kind of location but it's also cost of living and the stipend rate... I also didn't want to be too close to where I was before - but the only school in my state that I would have considered (because of the rank & quality of the program) was out of the running for multiple reasons anyways (like department culture and teaching loads for graduate students). Of course if anyone from that school had actually tried to recruit me, I probably would have applied and considered it - and I probably still would have gone to Yale. So I'm not really sure if these factors would be considered location or not.

Anonymous said...

I applied very widely, partly because I didn't know what I wanted to do (bad idea, I know). I think I assumed I would get in someplace in a "good" location. Of course I ended up in a place I'd never really considered. Far away from any family or friends. The department was perfectly fine, very good in fact. It took at least good year to adjust to the location.

Anonymous said...

I applied to graduate schools in WestCoastBeachCity, AwesomeEasternCity, and CharmingMidwestTown. I got in everywhere and went with CharmingMidwestTown because that's where, I realized, the most exciting science was being done in my field. I thought I could adapt. It was really hard, and few people visited. Location will be a consideration for all future jobs.

akajb said...

I was choosing between two schools, and really, the weather wasn't going to be much different at either. I also looked at what people were researching and what I wanted to research and how well they matched. I'm happy with my choice, although I do sometimes wish I lived in a warmer climate.

Whenever people interview for jobs or we talk to perspective grad students, the weather is always a factor. You don't want to hire someone who will end up leaving after a couple of winters here.

In the city I live in, there are days where we've been the coldest place in the world.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on the west coast and went to school on the east coast. I thought I could live anywhere (at least for a while) until I lived in a small, entertainment-poor, bike-unfriendly city in the midwest. I was miserable after a year and thrilled to head back to the west coast for grad school. There are usually multiple grad school opportunities that will be a great experience - why not pick one that will make you happy in other ways too. Currently, my job applications cover most of the country, but there are a few places I know I will be unhappy, so why bother to apply there?

Dr Becca said...

Location was very important to me when applying. My mentality was that there's great science being done all over--why would I bother applying to somewhere I didn't think I'd like living?

Muon said...

I got into great schools in california and the northeast.

In retrospect, I basically picked the one where it seemed I'd be most miserable.

The one where the professors did NOT think I was special, and the one that had weather I hate (ie. northeast) The weather because I lived in california my whole life and thought I needed to stop being spoiled.

Now I want to be spoiled again.

Janice said...

For me, location was one of many significant factors. My choice boiled down to two quite comparable programs. One was geographically very much of what I'd already experienced at my hometown Midwest research U. The other was metropolitan and outside of the country. In the end, I think that geographic variety was a significant factor.

Now I teach at a remote regional comprehensive university. Most applicants that we get from other geographic regions tend to be students who don't make the cut at their own U and are only applying out of desperation. The few who are qualified and do come are usually pleasantly surprised to find that the area doesn't live up to its undeserved national reputation as a place of drunken bingo binges.

Michelle said...

I didn't apply to any schools in locations I absolutely would not go, but there were certainly schools in locations I preferred. I ended up getting more acceptances than I expected, and location was a factor in where I decided to visit.

I've traveled to New York quite a few times and always felt at home there, and my girlfriend lives there currently. So when I got into my New York school, it was a pretty easy decision once I visited and thought the department itself would be a good fit.

There other schools with departments that I like just as much and maybe have more options in, but overall I think I will be happiest in New York.

Rachel said...

I voted no... but I did take it very minorly into account in that I didn't really even look at any programs in the upper Midwest (I'm from Minnesota) just because I figured the brief stint of a master's degree would be a good opportunity to try living in another part of the country (and I was single too). Although I ended up in central Pennsylvania which is pretty climatically and culturally similar... I did get the experience of living in a rural area/college town rather than the urban area I thought was the ONLY place I could live happily.

Anonymous said...

For me it was all about being close to family, and luckily I got into a top program close to home. Loved it. I would have moved farther away if those had been my only grad school options, but they weren't.

queenrandom said...

Location was a major factor for me in choosing both my grad school and my postdoc - not because of geography (I could give a flying fig about the place I live for a 5ish year position), but because I have a spouse who also needs to find gainful employment wherever I choose, and some schools are in crap locations for anyone trying to find a job outside of academia.

Stephanie said...

I didn't apply anywhere that I knew I wouldn't want to live for 5 years. Thank god, since it ended up taking 8 years, which is 26% of my life so far. Imagine if I had to spend that all in somewhere I hate?

European grad student said...

My impression is that "international" students in the US -- Europeans, at least -- tend to prefer the larger urban areas on the coasts, presumably because those are perceived as more cosmopolitan. Or at least more culturally similar to Europe.

Another factor that is sometimes overlooked on this blog is that there are in fact universities outside of the US, some of them in countries where the official language is not, in fact, English. This can also be an important factor: a native speaker of language X might prefer to live in a place where language X is spoken.

EliRabett said...

Simply put great places to live are expensive. That makes a huge difference for those living on a stipend. Eli knows folk (couples) who managed to buy a house in god forsaken nowhere while going to grad school (ok, in the 70s)

Anonymous said...

I applied to 3 programs in CA because I wanted to move to the west coast, but there were plenty of places to choose from. I also applied to several east coast programs (major cities, plus upstate NY). None in the midwest or south, partly due to geography/culture, partly because there were simply fewer well known programs (or at least, not well known to me). I did consider that in So Cal the few days I could emerge from lab I'd be virtually guaranteed good hiking weather, which was true (and my lab was in a windowless basement, so perpetual sunshine kept me happier). But it also turned out to the the best place for me program-wise, so best of all worlds.

Anonymous said...

Location was a big factor in my decision of where to apply to graduate school, and I chose to go to the one that was in the best location and also was the best program for me (so there was no need to compromise, in the end). It is true that it was the kind of place that attracted grad students who chose it at least in part for the location, and that was a good thing- I made the best friends of my life in grad school, and they (and the fun stuff to do outside of research) kept me sane during the whole process. Grad school can be difficult, so it's important to have outlets.

Laura E. Mariani said...

I brought a partner with me when I started grad school, so the two of us had to agree on possible locations. I only applied to schools in cities or large college towns where he would be able to find work.

When I was accepted to several graduate programs, we weeded some out together, based on things like distance from family and climate. But the final decision was mine to make, since it was my PhD and I hadn't applied anywhere that my partner would refuse to inhabit.

NotaBene said...

I've learned that I can be happy living in many different kinds of places, so location wasn't a factor in applying to graduate schools. Funding sealed the deal for me, and I didn't even have to weigh location. When it came time to choose between two tenure-track offers, however, I did consider location. In fact, with the offers, institutions and faculty being so equal, it became one of the deciding factors.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a field science, so location came up in considering graduate programs in that faculty I wanted to work with based on where they did their field work were more likely (but not entirely) located near places I wanted to work. I ruled out applying to one program that I was on the fence about whether I liked their program in the first placed based on the fact I knew I didn't want to live where it was located. In choosing a school once I was admitted, I ended up at the place that was least attractive location wise, but was the best fit academically and offered me the best funding package. I'm happy I came here, but the city itself still has not won me over. Would I be happier if my current program were located elsewhere? Probably. Would I be happier if I had chosen to go elsewhere based on location? Probably not.

CMG said...

Even though I am an outdoor enthusiast, I did apply to (and seriously consider) grad programs in places far from the mountains.

Location was very important in my decision, however - it was the ascetics and livability of the town, coupled with the faculty, which ultimately lead to my decision.

While at my postdoc, I met many people who regretted not taking location in to account. These people all had attended big-name institutions located in what I term `suburb hell' - places lacking a vibrant community, public transport, etc.

I would imagine that places in which access to a car is necessary would be less desirable for international students who (based on my anecdotal evidence) tend to have a lower car-ownership rate.

Wompwomp said...

Location was not at all a factor in choosing programs to apply to. Having lived in a few places already, I felt I would get accustomed to wherever I ended up, and the work was more important to me than anything else. When it came time to decide among my offers however, the geographic preferences of my husband played a major role--but only because it was a complete toss up in terms of academics.

Queerscientist said...

@EliRabett I will be moving to a city in the Midwest where it's possible to buy a house on a grad student stipend. In fact, I know a single grad student who purchased a house in the middle of his grad career there. The stipend for students in science at my future institution is on par with those offered by schools on the coasts though, and the cost of living is much lower.

falltoclimb said...

Location was a major factor for me, largely because of my spouse's work but also because we'd bought a house during my hiatus from a academia and weren't really prepared to move.

Luckily, we live within driving distance of no fewer than 6 quite excellent Canadian universities (we're near an interprovincial border). Even more luckily, although I did actually search departments from coast to coast and in the US as well as Canada, the lab whose work interested me most ended up being situated at one of the "within driving distance" schools.

As a bonus, the campus and its environs are lovely and a perfect fit for me, "vibe"-wise.

CSgrad said...

I'm married. My husband likes it here and has a steady job here. We do not wish to have a long-distance relationship. In addition, I work for a research-oriented company that's going to be paying for my PhD while I work there part-time. Therefore, the school and the company need to be within commuting distance of each other. End of story.

Fortunately, there are many strong programs with faculty who share my research interests within 20 miles of my home and work, including a couple that would be near the top of my list even if I didn't care about location, and two more such programs within 70 or so miles. So I have many options.

Anonymous said...

Location mattered to me for ugrad, grad and even faculty. My circle of where I was willing to go got wider and wider but now, as a faculty and a mother, I wish I had paid better attention to the school systems when I was choosing our current location. I naively figured it would be good because it was in a university town and boy am I wrong.

Anonymous said...

Going to school in Boston would have been twice as expensive. And I would have had to live a 1-2 hour multi-step commute from campus whereas I can walk to work here. So it was definitely a factor.

Anonymous said...

I didn't factor location per se into my decision, but issues related to that, like crime rates in the area around campus and where I would be living, cost of living in the areas where I would be living, and how far north it was (seasonal affective disorder).

unlikelygrad said...

I have learned from long experience that I need HORIZON to maintain my sanity. I can get this in a city with not-too-tall-buildings or in the country; I don't care either way. My husband persuaded me not to apply to places in NYC and I am glad I listened to him. Had I lived in NYC I would have been depressed, depressed, depressed and wouldn't have done too well in grad school.

I applied to a wide variety of places (west coast, mountains, midwest) of which only one was in a fairly large city, and would have been happy in all of those places. My final decision had nothing to do with the location of MyU--I would have preferred being closer to family, and this place was farther than any of the other schools that accepted me.

Still, I'm glad I chose this place as I get LOTS of horizon! It's hard not to get a place with a stunning view in this town.

Anonymous said...

When my husband started applying to schools (and I was employed in the non-academic world), he created a list of ~30 programs that would fit his interests and handed it to me. He said, "cross off any place where you would refuse to live." We got down to about 20 schools that way and he winnowed those down to 5 based on fit with programs and advisors. He got into 4, and the best two offers were from Minnesota and California. I crossed my fingers for California, but he chose Minnesota. And in the end I'm so glad he did; I ended up loving the Twin Cities (and he did too).

(I just applied to the U of Minnesota, so you could say my *only* criteria was geographic.)

Anonymous said...

In my current quest for a graduate school I have already singled out schools by if they've got the research I'm interested in, and am now looking at if there is a skating rink nearby. Not that I plan to figure skate more than I plan to do research, but I need to know that there is a place for me to unwind and exercise. Keeping my head and body in shape will ultimately help me do better science (and take out my frustration on something other than people or lab equipment)

Anonymous said...

When I was applying, I did a rough cut based on location, mostly picking warm, sunny locations, but figuring I'd be happy at any of the schools if I got in. Out of the schools I got into, though, the program with the best research and equipment turned out to be in DreamVacationCity. It's far from home, but I don't think I'll lack for visitors!

Tam said...

I was not a strong candidate and I was applying to a variety of fairly low-ranked schools, so I used geography (proximity to friends/family, and/or good weather) to choose which of the abundance of such schools I would apply to.

Anonymous said...

If I had gotten into Stanford I might have, but Berkeley couldn't offer me enough money to make it worthwhile over the better schools I got into. So, no.

Anonymous said...

I sense some judgment in your disbelief that geography may play a role in the selection of grad school for some students, which seems paradoxical given that you followed your spouse to your current job. I certainly took geography into account when applying, in several ways. I crossed out several states with minuscule populations of my religion tradition, then chose schools based on mentor-fit. After I had generated a list of school, I checked to see if there was a medical center nearby with specialization in a rare condition that I have, and crossed one school off my list. At the end of the process, I felt that School A was a better fit than School B, but was somewhat hesitant - and then realized that School A was a two-hour direct flight from my spouse and School B was a three-stop 12-hour plane trip. That sealed the deal for School A, but if I'd felt that School B was a better choice, I wouldn't have made my final decision based on distance.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.... I just reread the post and don't see "judgment" or "disbelief" that geography plays a role in decisions about grad school.

And I don't get the relevance of the mention of her "following" her spouse to a faculty job.

?????

profacero said...

Yes. I only applied to one program. I was 20 and not sure I should do it. So of the top programs, I chose the one in the place I liked best, and applied to it, on the theory that I could move after the M.A. if necessary / appropriate. A good plan.

But it was drilled into me that you shouldn't care about location for faculty jobs. That is *very* simplistic of people to say. The "it shouldn't matter because you should only be working" line doesn't wash, either ... to work, you need to have access to the things you need for work and for your soul.

To the NY prof, who noticed Americans want their house and yard ... yes, it is very striking. I had no idea how important this was to people until I became faculty. They want the house / yard more than anything, it seems.

Anonymous said...

Location was not a factor for me because I was already married and my husband refused to move anywhere that I wanted to apply to so I had no choice but to go to the university in the city we were currently in. That said, it happens to be one of the most renown places for natural beauty and outdoor recreation (which is partly why my husband refused to move). And the university was nationally ranked and had several Nobel Prize winners (not in my department though). So I can't say it was a bad decision. I have long ago finished my PhD and several years of postdoctoral work. However, I have never got over the fact that I didn't actively choose grad schools or programs that I would have preferred, the choice was made for me indirectly (by my husband's rigid refusal to move anywhere).

Ace said...

I have a condition that prevents me from wearing boots and covered shoes without severe pain so while short term visits are doable, living someplace with a winter is not an option. I was in Southern CA for grad school when this came on. I was of course terrified of what this would do to my career prospects! It was a tough situation to be in, looking for jobs in highly desirable places for most people (warm weather), but feeling like I had a really unsurmountable reason to want to get a job in warm weather... I got lucky but it was stressful. And it's not something you can really explain in a job application... So yes, location is at the top of my list actually.

Ace said...

Adding: I was talking about faculty position. Grad school, weather was icing on the cake as I chose the lab I wanted to be and it was in Southern CA.

Anonymous said...

I voted geography very important, because I only applied to a single PhD program my home city state university, same place I did my undergrad. Reasons-- I was married, my husband was already in grad school there, we had recently bought a house, with a garden, which we liked, we liked the mountains, the hiking, we did not wish to relocate or find new homes for our 7 cats... It also turned out to have been a good decision a couple years later when my husband's mother was dying of cancer; it would have been even harder to deal with, and be of help to her, if we'd not still been living close by.

We moved together later on for postdocs and faculty appts, when our career timing was more in sync. Geography also proved important to us in choosing postdocs, less so faculty jobs-- I'd never have anticipated we'd end up where we did.

Anonymous said...

As an international student who had never been to the States before graduate school, the only geography-related factor in my decision was climate. I chose a program in DC because its climate profile was close to that of my favorite city. Luckily, the program also turned out to be the most prestigious in my field, but I had no way of knowing that before I came to the States, since my field is too small for official rankings.

Anonymous said...

I worked in industry for several years before grad school, mostly living in areas I wasn't that interested in staying in. I had two location-related criteria for grad school. First, it had to be in a location where I actually was interested in living. Second, it couldn't be within reasonable driving distance of my in-laws. All of the things like top programs & people I was interested in working with were very important as well, but I didn't apply to programs that didn't meet my geographic criteria.

Anonymous said...

I have very complex home-life, and despite being single I actually have a family to support, parents and siblings. So, wherever I go for grad school I will need to have enough stipend leftover. Even though I wanted to leave home, I'm still here and thankfully my supervisors and programs are fantastic. Though, it sometimes make me seem like I'm bipolar.

6thyrgradStudent said...

I thought my decision would come down to strength of the department, research opportunities and advisor (I already knew exactly what I wanted to work on). I wasn't even on planning to visit the cities before making my decision. But once I had it narrowed down to two schools with equally enthusiastic and normal-seeming advisors whose work I admired, I opted for the city that seemed less bleak and which had a lower crime rate. I really had no idea it would come down to that, but in the end, it did.

Anonymous said...

Location was very important to me - I wanted someplace interesting, someplace where I hadn't been before, someplace where I could have adventures. I also wasn't that enthused about grad school for its own sake - I loved school and didn't know what else to do with my life, but I had no idea what grad school or an academic career would be like.

But I still finished with a PhD from a top school in 4 years, so it's possible to go to grad school for all the wrong reasons and still have it work out all right (even for my advisor).

Anonymous said...

Growing up on the west coast, I though grad school would be a good (i.e., limited duration and relatively sheltered) opportunity to experience the northeast or midwest. I visited two departments in the Boston area and two further west before applying to any grad schools; eliminated the Boston schools from consideration based on my visceral reaction to those departments; and applied to another midwestern department sight-unseen.

Ultimately my decision was based on a combination of NRC ranking, reputation in subfield, geography, and overall "feel" of my visits. 18 years later, I still believe I chose well.

Anonymous said...

Location mattered for two reasons: (1) the ability to get grants in the jurisdictions I was applying in; (2) whether I could be reasonably expected to enjoy a fair legal process if my research stepped on people's toes. Beyond these considerations I was only wanted to avoid living in a place with tons of snow that remained on the ground for extended periods of time.

Annika Peter said...

I chose a grad school without regards to geography (and, at the time, probably would have looked down on people for whom geography mattered!), and while I came out of there with a good education, I think I probably would have done better in a place that I did not hate hate hate so much. Most of the people I went to grad school with were deeply miserable in this place, but blossomed when they moved away. Grad school is really hard regardless of where you are, and living in a place you hate makes it harder.

That said, grad school is ~5 years of your life, and there are a lot of things other than geography that have the possibility of making your life hell as a grad student. Geography becomes more important when you are thinking about permanent jobs. My husband and I are trying to figure out a long-term solution to our two-body problem, and so geography is on our minds all the time.

Kess said...

I know this is a very late response, but as someone starting to look at grad schools, location is very important. I have an SO that needs to be able to work (so sadly my most desired place isn't possible as it's in the middle of nowhere with the closest real city being 4 hours away), and I cannot live very far down south due to the fact that I get heat stroke/exhaustion really, really easily. (even growing up in lower Michigan was a problem sometimes - I don't want to even think about someplace like Arizona!)

So my requirements are north of the mason-dixon (preferably very far north) and near a reasonably large city that would have computer programming jobs.

Anonymous said...

I did account for the location, and although it is unrelated to the research itself, I think it is very much related to my performance.

First, I don't know any other ways how to relieve stress and relax than several particular outdoor activities. It does not matter how tight my schedule is, I get all fidgety and restless when I spend time indoors, I cannot sit, hence I cannot read, I cannot work on computer... not good. During my studies, I figured out that eliminating outdoor sports (instead of limiting them) during exams is even worse, than cutting on sleeping time.

The second problem is lack of daylight - I did not apply for a particular university in northern Scandinavia for this reason. Again, it was not question of pleasure or something like that; I thought that I would "less than 100%" for significant part of the year.