Caveat lector: This blog is where I try out new ideas. I will often be wrong, but that's the point.

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Where is the best place to pursue a graduate degree?

Academia is fraught with uncertainty and frustrationsCareer advice is difficult to give because there are so many personal factors and aspects that are not within one's control. However some things are controllable. Given that, one should focus on those things one can control.

Over on Quora, someone asked "Where is the best place to pursue a graduate degree?"

As I move forward in my career I'm able to look back at some of the decisions I've made--good and bad--to try and give at least some perspective to those just starting out. Rather than take a long-winded approach, I tried to distill out the very basics.

Here's my response:

This will sound vague and possibly unhelpful, but honestly the best place to pursue a graduate degree in X is the place that maximizes the following variables (weighted according to your personal taste):

  • Does the city "feel" good to you? Will you be happy living there for the next n years during times of frustration and hardship?
  • Are the faculty going to support and challenge you? Are they sufficiently knowledgeable about the field in which you are interested?
  • Does the university support its students financially well enough given the local cost-of-living?
  • Factor in significant other and/or family happiness!
  • Does the department have an active community (social, academic, and otherwise)?
  • What is the teaching load expected of the students?
  • What is the course load?
  • Are there opportunities for mentoring undergraduates (who can also help with your research)?

Prioritize academic interests and happiness. You can mostly ignore university "prestige" as it seems to be only weakly correlated with faculty utility in any given domain. Instead focus on the strength of the faculty, post-docs, and students.