Monday, April 27, 2009

Thinking Too Much?

So last night (this morning, who am I kidding) I'm laying in bed and my anxious brain is in overdrive. And I think to myself, "Why the fuck shouldn't I just go to R2?" 

Many of you might think this is a cop-out and maybe it is, but I'm trying to think through all of my options with as much long-term awareness as possible. 

Here's the thing - I am not functioning at a high-enough level these days to dive back into this process. My husband will be gone all summer long, coming home pretty much just before I need to get into the heart of re-applying. While I told myself that his being gone would give me oodles of time to get stuff done, I did not account for the motivation factor. Currently, m=0. I won't be able to concentrate well enough to study for and re-take the GRE. I don't WANT to go through another year of uncertainty - not knowing where I'll be living in 2010. I don't want to have to spend the first couple months of my husband being back writing personal statements and getting application materials together. 

And what the fuck would I be doing it all for anyway? Name recognition??? WTF difference does it make if my CV says PhD, R2, or PhD, Arizona State? I just want to dive in and immerse myself in what I love - why does it matter where I go? 

I mean, there are a shitload of post-doc and faculty positions open right now in social psych programs across the country and around the world - I know this, because I get announcements for them on one of my listservs. Are they all going to suddenly fade away in 5 years? 

I LOVED R2 city. I LOVED the people there. I saw myself living there with my husband from the moment I got off the plane. The facilities aren't fancy, but no one is running around backstabbing peers either. And I have to ask, are these people I met, the potential grad students at other R1 programs, who were basically airheads who managed to get decent grades from mediocre schools - are they really going to have a better shot than me when it comes to getting faculty positions just because of WHERE they went? Sure, the Yale & Princeton students will - because the Ivies are incestuous and they'll all end up teaching at Harvard & Stanford. But what about the rest of them? The students at R2 are so much smarter and more passionate than the students I met at program #4. Doesn't that mean something?

I mean, I do worry about what my career will look like if I go to R2. Will I be able to overcome the name game and move into a faculty position at an R1? And if not, will I have had enough teaching experience to move into an R2 or a LAC? Will I be forced into industry because of the nature of the program - and if I do, would that be so bad if I still get to do research? 

I'm just starting to feel like I've pissed away enough of my twenties by being focused on school to the exclusion of nearly everything else. And all it got me was this position I'm in right now. Maybe it's time to start considering my life as a whole instead of just my career. Maybe I need to just get over myself and stop looking a gift horse in the mouth. 

There has to be a reason why my visit to program #4 made me hate a city that I spent my entire life wanting to move to. There has to be a reason why I loved R2 city so much when I was convinced I would hate it before I got on the plane. I think the fact I loved it so much freaked me out, and I started looking for reasons NOT to move across the country. 

But then again, maybe the idea of re-applying and facing all that rejection again freaks me out MORE and now I'm trying to rationalize going to R2 because it's the lesser of the 2 evils. 

I don't know. I'm so confused. :(


Mrs. CH said...

Aw, JLK - don't beat yourself up for thinking "too much" about this. It's a big decision!

I think what hit me the most from this post was when you said: "Maybe it's time to start considering my life as a whole instead of just my career."I think that's a very important statement. Your career will not be your whole life (hopefully). If going to R2 and living in R2 city will make you happy, then go for it. Stop thinking about labels/names - it's really not that important in the scheme of things.

I live in Canada, and have attended 3 different universities here. I know that the US system is different, but here it just doesn't matter what school you go to - it's all about the work you do. If you go to R2, do some cool research, publish a few papers, make good contacts/collaborations, then you will be in a good position to apply for R1 positions. Will it be harder to get? Maybe - but definitely not impossible.

Also, keep in mind that your intended career path may change many times. When I started my Masters (and even for the first two years of my PhD) I was 100% sure that I wanted that coveted TT position. Now? It's the last thing I want. 1, 5, or 10 years from now that can all change again.

Do what's best for you and your husband...what's best for your life. If you loved R2, think you could do some really great work there, get a lot out of the program, then go for it. If not, then you can go from there.

PhizzleDizzle said...

I empathize. I feel like suddenly now that I'm in my late twenties, all the decisions I make have real implications on the rest of my life and I don't know what they really are and what they should be. It makes me paralyzed with doubt about what I should do. So I empathize, girl.

leigh said...

like you, i've spent a whole shitload of my life putting off happiness today for what i want (and, presumably, the accompanying happiness) tomorrow. when the fuck does tomorrow get here? why not do what makes you happy today if it involves getting the phd finished AND living in a city that makes you happy?

keep in mind the phd is a process of growth, and finishing it is a launching point. it isn't the end. (there is a major shift in thinking required when it hits you that you're done. like, oh fuck, this is a beginning and not an end. and now the fuck what?!?! i start again?!?!)

and, i've changed my mind about my career track about eleventy times since i started grad school, as a result of my experiences here.

Professor in Training said...

I'm not privy to the exact reasons behind your decision to wait until next year, but unless it's something really concrete, I still think you should seriously consider heading to R2. At the end of the day, the important thing is what you do at grad school rather than where you go ... unless it's Big Famous School or Shitty Online University Nobody's Every Heard Of.

Here's a serious question for you: if you decide to pass on R2 and reapply to ShitHot School next year, what is going to change in your admission packet that will push your name further up the list? You already have a strong CV and you've said you don't think your GRE score will improve that much and it's unlikely you will have enough additional research experience before the deadlines so what else is going to boost your application?

Is it worth waiting another year only to potentially be in the same situation you are now? I'm not overly familiar with the application procedures here, but can you take R2's offer and still reapply to other programs for next year on the off-chance you will get accepted and can jump ship?

Psych Post Doc said...

"I mean, there are a shitload of post-doc and faculty positions open right now in social psych programs across the country and around the world - I know this, because I get announcements for them on one of my listservs. Are they all going to suddenly fade away in 5 years?"

Just FYI, not a shitload, many were cancelled (look here: and many were not R1 or even R2 jobs so you should keep that in mind. Also for every positing there are ~100-150 applicants. And many, many of these jobs are visiting positions which means moving after 1 or 2 years.

This is not to say that I think that you should rule out R2. As a matter of fact, I think there are many reasons to go and if you really think you would be happy there than maybe you should.

People's career goals change so often and so quickly.
The other commenters are right that it's really about the work you do and where you did it is not nearly as important.
Being happy for the next 4-5 years seems like a better deal than being uncertain for the next 1-2.

It is a tough decision but you really should go with your gut.

Anonymous said...

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. I thought I had my life all planned out several times. Shit was I whacked. Like leigh, I'm also wondering where the fuck my happiness is. And for another cheesy saying (thinking about PiT's farm animals), don't count your chickens before the eggs hatch. You have no promises that next year will be better than year for getting into BigShitProgram. And there's no guarantee that any grad program will help you get an R1 job. A PhD is a PhD - it matters what you make of your grad program rather than what your grad program makes of you. Christ, I'm full of all kinds of verse today.

Candid Engineer said...

JLK, you need to decide right now between living a comfortable life and meeting lofty career goals. I am not sure how much you aspire to be a prof at an R1 institution. If you don't really care that much about staying in academics, then maybe R2 is for you.

But what if you DO want an academic position? You need to try to get into an R1. You have plenty of room to improve on your GRE math scores, and if you decide you want to improve them, I know you will. Get help from some of your science/engineering pals. Practice. Do what it takes.

I know the process of reapplying sounds terrible. And I completely empathize with you feeling unmotivated right now, but that feeling will pass eventually, and you will be able to do what you have to do.

Go to R2 if you think it will make you happy, but you just need to be fully prepared for the fact that it will be exponentially more difficult for you to get any kind of respectable academic position.

Maybe I need to just get over myself and stop looking a gift horse in the mouth. And this sentence just isn't right. You're a smart girl, and they're not "gifting" you anything. Please don't think that R2 is all you deserve.

Hope said...

WTF difference does it make if my CV says PhD, R2, or PhD, Arizona State?This is really the question, isn’t it? And I think that the only way to get a handle on what that may mean for your future is by talking to people in the know, i.e., professors in psychology, preferably social psych. You know, the people that sit on committees and make hiring decisions for your field? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: R1 and R2 are classifications applied to entire institutions – they tell you very little about the quality of a particular program within a particular department. For a faculty position, the quality of the program/department is much more important than the overall reputation of the school. Aren’t there any profs at MRU that you can discuss your situation with? Among the things I’d ask them is how much extra research experience (assuming you get an RA job this summer) and a better GRE math score would add to your application. Different fields have different cultures and expectations; what may be very important for one may not be a big deal for another. For example, in my area, anything less than a 750 on the math GRE and you’re out of the running for top programs. When I took the test a number of years ago, an 800 math score was only a 97%.

This is a big decision, and I do think it makes sense to consider your life as a whole. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t make sacrifices for your future. But at least know what the trade-offs are. And I think that continuing to look at it in terms of R1/R2 without getting more specific input is a mistake.

Isabel said...

JLK, I hadn't realized when I mentioned it that you've already tried the CAT style practice test.

I'm probably kidding myself that I would ever have gotten faster. Maybe if you simulated the whole environment, including the 80's computer monitor.

Can you take the paper test?

Anonymous said...

Pros/cons list is very helpful in situations like these. The stuff you've said pretty much falls in the Pro column so far. Sometimes your gut (brain) is trying to tell you something... :)

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