Sunday, April 19, 2009

The R2 Situation or Maybe I'm Just a Snob Part II

I certainly am on a blogging kick today. Making up for lost time, perhaps? Who knows. 

Anyway, I talked to my husband today. He got a 20 minute phone call this week! Woo-hoo!

His preliminary decision about R2? "Let's wait a year so we can have some time to just spend together and more time to get the move organized."

I was kinda shocked. As you know, I expected him to say "Let's just get the fuck outta dodge."

I said I wouldn't let R2 know anything yet and that we'd discuss it on Memorial Day weekend when I get to see him face-to-face for a few days. 

I have had some in-depth discussions with several of you about R2, providing additional information that I was not comfortable with sharing here because it makes the school highly identifiable. All of you with whom I have had that conversation have said "Reapply to other programs this fall." 

Well, up until a few days ago I was fighting you guys tooth and nail - I don't want to re-take the GRE, I really loved the people and the place, I'd rather cut off my right arm than go through the app process again, etc., etc. 

But then I sent an email off to one of the faculty members there who I am most interested in working with. I asked her about a couple of things that are very important to me. The first question was about the likelihood that I would be able to serve as a reviewer for journal articles and books, because grad student reviewers require faculty sponsors. The second question was about an idea for a research project I have had that, even though her work is only marginally related, is closest to her area of expertise. 

I did not like her answers. First, she told me that students are discouraged from serving as reviewers because it is a time-suck. Second, she told me that students are not really allowed to pursue their own research projects for the first few years and instead are expected to work on multiple faculty projects while taking classes. 

This would be fine, except as I mentioned before, none of these faculty members are REALLY working on the things I'm interested in. There are parallel interests, but none that intersect. 

Actually, I'm lying. It's NOT fine. I will be walking into graduate school with at least 3 fully-written and conceptualized research proposals. If they're telling me that the only time I get to do my own shit is for my dissertation, that's just not cool. 

Now maybe my perceptions of what grad school is like are completely wrong. If that's the case, then someone needs to enlighten me. But I thought I would be encouraged to conduct my own research, writing grant proposals and securing my own funding, publishing my own work, etc., in addition to assisting on faculty projects. I guess this is another example of me not asking the right questions during my visit. 

This is an R2 without a reputation. Not a single graduate out of 90 PhDs has gone on to a faculty position at an R1. Not one. I would have a hell of a time overcoming the name game in job applications. Do I know I want to work at an R1? No, I don't. But the idea of having my qualifications discounted just because of the name of the U where I earned my degree pisses me off and there's nothing I can do about it. It's akin to Yale not looking at my grad application beyond my GRE scores when they saw my math wasn't over 700. It sucks, but I am not in a position to do anything about the way the system works. 

The other aspect of this (which I was reluctant to share previously) is that the social psych program is not taught by social psychologists. In fact, there is only ONE classically-trained social psychologist on a faculty of about 15 professors. Basically, the way I see it is that I'm being taught social psychology by people who aren't qualified to teach it. Does that make me a snob? Maybe. But you bio-med folks out there probably wouldn't want to be taught bio-med by a quantum physicist. 

I also, because of how the department is housed in the university, would not get the teaching experience I want. I would not likely ever get an opportunity to teach a psychology course. Sociology? Sure. HDFS? Absolutely. Apparently, if I want to teach psychology I have to do so under the table at the local community college. The other students informed me of this. 

I loved the people there, especially the students. I loved the environment there and the passion that the people have for what they do. I could probably excel there given the structure. But beyond the grad school experience, it would be an uphill battle for me in my career. And I feel like I deserve better. Again, am I a snob? Maybe. But I know that I am capable of doing more than this program will allow me to do. 

I really, really, really don't want to re-apply this fall. If I re-took the GRE I would probably be able to boost my math score, maybe to the point where the SFRSHS U's would notice. I really, really, really don't want to do that again either. But I am considering now whether I should. 

If I get the RA job at my MRU that I just applied for, and it starts sooner rather than later, and I am able to develop a good relationship with MegaRockstar PI, I probably will do all of that again. Without more research experience, better GRE scores, and a better recommendation from a higher-up faculty member, it is pointless for me to re-apply again. 

The other problem is that my husband is really excited about the idea of moving to R2. There is a great educational opportunity for him there. He is not the reason for my considering a second round of applications. Really, I would be doing it in spite of what he thinks about R2. He would support me in it, no question. 

But this particular decision is mine to make. And all I can do right now is hope that some circumstances arise that allow me to have a clearer view of what my options are. It's a waiting game at this point. 

9 comments:

Psych Post Doc said...

A couple of things I wanted to comment on.

"Actually, I'm lying. It's NOT fine. I will be walking into graduate school with at least 3 fully-written and conceptualized research proposals. If they're telling me that the only time I get to do my own shit is for my dissertation, that's just not cool."

In general this is not how it works. Sure you can come in with some ideas of areas that you wish to pursue but most advisors will want that to be closely related to something they're already working on. Maybe you design their study 2, or take an established procedure in their lab into a new domain but it's much more collaborative in the first couple of years. And really, you want it to be that way. You will be so busy with classes that having an already established protocol to follow will greatly increase your ability to get research done in your first 2 (sometimes 30 years of grad school.

I can't imagine you being happy in a department without any social psychologists. Especially coming from MRU, you'll want advisors who are up on the latest research in your area and who can train you in ways consistent with the latest approaches.

I also can't imagine not teaching psychology courses except at the local community college. You really don't want to have to go outside your department to get that part of your training. Think about how much harder it makes it to meet with your advisor and conduct research if you have to be off sight doing your teaching.

I think taking a year off, improving your application with more research experience, getting papers published, and increasing the # of schools you apply to would greatly benefit you.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Now maybe my perceptions of what grad school is like are completely wrong. If that's the case, then someone needs to enlighten me. But I thought I would be encouraged to conduct my own research, writing grant proposals and securing my own funding, publishing my own work, etc., in addition to assisting on faculty projects.I don't know jack shit about social psychology in particular, but this is absolutely *not* how things work in the experimental sciences, where grad students carve out a project within which they receive their graduate training under the broad umbrella of the research program of a faculty member. Maybe it's different in social psych.

Mrs. CH said...

I agree with PPD and CPP - at least in physics/astro, very few students come up with their own PhD projects. Generally how it works is the PI gives a list of possible projects and the student does a little research on them and chooses one (or a couple that are related). However, I've talked to students in the social sciences (History and English) and they have to come up with their own. I guess it depends on the department, but I would assume R2 would work more like the former than the latter.

As for everything else - it seems like it this match is a bit of a stretch for you. Something to keep in mind though: it's no the name of the university you attend, but your work that will get you a job in the future. If you do great work, then you'll find a position you want.

One last thing - many PI's/programs are not used to incoming grad students like you (very independent, has a vast knowledge of the research area, motivated and completely capable). My guess is these "rules" are generated for the lowest common denominator. Perhaps if you attended R2, after a few months they would see that you could handle coming up with your own project, teaching a class, or whatever. You would just have to give them time to see that.

Good luck with the decision!

Anonymous said...

I was a pretty independent grad student, not in soc sci. I think choice of grad school really depends on the advisor. I called PI who works on Y and said "I want to work on X part of Y, I will bust my ass to get funding, I will do all the work" and off I went. There are plenty of grad students who apply to programs to work on specific grants that PIs have, so there is no leeway in choice of projects.
Your advisor is the most important part. S/he will make you or break you, beyond what torture you put yourself through.

Good luck making your decision. It really is nerve wracking.

Isabel said...

"But I thought I would be encouraged to conduct my own research, writing grant proposals and securing my own funding, publishing my own work, etc."

In my department (in a very different field) students who don't have their own fellowships teach or work on someone's research each semester and do the above as well. My advisor would love your enthusiasm for getting your own funding and publishing early on.

However I did want to say that my observations in my current and previous fields runs counter to what some have said here, on a related thread: I think it does matter very much where you get your PhD. Name recognition is really important.

As a grad student, equal to name recognition, at least in my experience, is the people you get to work with and interact with at a top school, TAing for them, having them on your committees, taking seminars with them, etc.

PhizzleDizzle said...

AFAIK, grad students don't just come in and start their own research projects...You do whatever who pays you wants. If you want to do your own stuff...You do it on the side, maybe after a few years if you've gotten a grant for it, you can get paid out of that grant and spend most of your time on the research of your interest.

Unless you have a fellowship that pays your way, I am not sure it's likely for you to be able to do a running start the way you've envisioned.

And...I hate to say it, but this is my experience. I think it would be *very* hard to get an R1 job coming out of an R2 school. This may not be true for all fields, and I can only speak to my area...but I don't think it would be easy. It's pretty difficult to get an R1 job, period, even if you came from R1 school. Caveat: my experience is likely colored by the nuances of my particular field and its relationship to industry, YMMV.

I'm a snob too, just do your thang girl. I'm glad you've decided that it's your decision to make!!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

One last thing - many PI's/programs are not used to incoming grad students like you (very independent, has a vast knowledge of the research area, motivated and completely capable). My guess is these "rules" are generated for the lowest common denominator. Perhaps if you attended R2, after a few months they would see that you could handle coming up with your own project, teaching a class, or whatever.This is a fascinating possibility.

JLK said...

Thanks, everyone for your thoughts and advice on this issue. I'm about to post again on this subject from a different frame of mind. Stay tuned.

scicurious said...

Let me add in (sorry for not getting to this earlier). In bio-med, we would never get to do our own project in the first two years, unless we had previously been in a tech position or something in that laboratory for a few years. You get to work on YOUR project once you've mastered techniques by working on someone else's.

Second, a first year grad student coming in and wanting to do book reviews and journal editing and stuff NEVER happens unless something odd is going on. You can start doing stuff like that your third year or so if you're an exceptional writer and your advisor gives you the entre, but for the first two years it's expected that classes and research will take up ALL your time, and for time after that, it's expected that research will take up ALL your time. Anything else is extra.

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