I leave early Sunday morning to go visit the R2 U where I have the tentative acceptance. When my plane lands back in New England on Tuesday night, I will have approximately 17 hours to make my final decision (by myself, as you all know).
I am flying out with the most open mind possible. I really like the department chair who I have been emailing back and forth with for a month or so now. They seem to be pretty laid-back without being too laid-back, but we'll see when I get there. I learned a lot from my crash course in grad school interviewing back in February, so I think this trip is going to be a million times better. For one thing, it's just me - this isn't a group visiting day. My schedule has been personalized so I am meeting with only faculty members whose interests are at least somewhat related to my own. They're including a housing tour, and the overall trip is longer. I also did not schedule a weekday evening flight, so even if I experience an 8 hour delay, my plane will still get there by 9:30pm - plenty of time to get some sleep before interview day starts on Monday.
However, new information has come to light in terms of my husband and I's financial situation, dealing with military pay structure and all that. I won't get into all the details unless you guys want me to in another post, but basically, unless something fairly dramatic happens we would be moving out to this R2 with NO savings left. It has largely to do with my job and its budget for summer hours, plus the fact that my husband is getting paid about half of what he thought he was getting paid. He would also be moving out to R2 with no job, no prospects, no nothing, because he won't be released from active duty until September.
This (somewhat luckily) has freed me from any ambivalence I might have experienced after visiting R2. It means that unless I absolutely love the program, I will be waiting another year. I've decided that I'm okay with this. My husband is much more important to me, and it will be nice to have some time to spend with him again before all the distractions resurface.
If I decide not to go, I will be actively pursuing paid RA positions. I have just applied for one at my MRU - keep your fingers crossed for me. If I get that job I will be all set - more research experience prior to fall applications and some really great opportunities working for this PI.
If I am dazzled by R2, I will have to suck it up and do whatever I need to do in order to save up some money before heading out there. If that means taking a second job at Starbucks, I'll do it. I'll also have to look into housing and job opportunities for my husband so he's not left hanging when he gets back. That's the really scary part - being on our own in a new city, me on a grad student stipend, and him likely unemployed for 3-4 months once he gets out there. Our family-starting plans will most likely need to be put on hold until the health insurance situation is under control, because benefits are currently through me and my employer. Cashing out my 401k will help a little, but not enough.
Literally, up until 2 days ago I thought all was fine on the financial front and this came down to a decision based on personal preferences. This new information has reduced my stress in one area, but has significantly raised it in another. It means that if I choose to go to R2, it will be because I really, really love it there - and that's how it should have been all along.