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    TL;DR: how can I choose between two planetary sciences (Martian surface processes) PhD offers? (a) ~4 years at Imperial College London, on $16,500 stipend, living at home just outside the M25 for a year then probably in West London with or near old friends, or (b) 5-6 years at University of Chicago, with a Fulbright Scholarship so probably relatively flush, living on an exciting campus. Both very exciting research-wise, with prominent researchers.

    Hi everyone,

    I'm having a big problem deciding between two PhD offers - it's a good position to be in but I really want to make the right choice and I'm hoping someone here has some wisdom or maybe thinks of something I haven't to help me out. As above, offers are from Imperial College London and University of Chicago, the latter would come with a Fulbright Scholarship, which I think would give me $20,000 extra for a year, for living costs. Here is the situation as I see it now:

    Both institutions are in the same league prestige-wise, and both potential supervisors are leaders in their field, so I don't think there's much in it between them in that respect. I also think I would have plenty of funding for research either way, possibly more at Chicago though. The Chicago PhD is usually 5-6 years though, and I would be 30 by completion, which is scary - 4 years at Imperial seems much more manageable. Having had two friends recently drop out of PhDs, it seems much wiser to go for a shorter one. I've heard that US PhDs, being longer, are seen as being worth more and I might therefore skip the postdoc, but as I can't be 100% sure I'll want to stay in academia 6 years from now I'd rather have the PhD 'in the bag' earlier, as it were, than commit to 6 years.

    Also I could only take up the Fulbright Scholarship if I went to Chicago - and being one of the most prestigious scholarships, I feel like it's not a thing to turn down lightly.

    One of the main reasons I like being in academia is all the interesting, clever people I get to meet on a daily basis, especially from outside my field. Most of my friends at uni are not scientists - I like the diversity of personalities in all the various subjects. So I'm really drawn to the campus life at UChicago over Imperial which is 99% scientists and engineers. Of course, London is a big, awesome city but realistically between the PhD, teaching, commute and spending time with department friends I don't think I'd have much time to meet people that aren't handed to me on a platter like it is on campus.

    Also, while I love London, I'm very excited to move to a new place, especially Chicago with its blues music, improv comedy and theatre scene, sailing on Lake Michigan, and I'd also buy a motorbike and be able to ride that around - whereas in London it wouldn't be worth it as I'd be spending so much time and money on the tube, so I'd probably be stuck on trains. That said, all my friends are in London and I don't want to spend 6 years away from them.

    The Imperial living stipend is £16,000 annually. I don't have much saved up so I'd probably live at home, 30 mins from King's Cross on the train, and buy a season travelcard to save for a year before moving into the city. At UChicago I'd probably have around US$27,000 every year plus the Fulbright ~US$20,000 for the first year, and Chicago is I think cheaper to live in, so I'd almost certainly be doing much better.

    The main sticking point for me is the length of the Chicago degree - if it was 4 years I'd probably jump at it, but it's a long time to be away from friends and family, and what if I change my mind about academia? Does anyone have any fresh perspectives on this? Anyone been to both institutions and can compare them?

    Sorry for the long read, and thanks for your answers!
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    (Original post by Gruntmobile)
    First off reputation and rankings mean little at this stage so it really should be about the supervisor and project. The study environment is very different in the US. You will have to do a masters and a lot of teaching. There are also taught elements and high expectations. You may want to check out things like whether the PI puts their students on publications. And no PhD is going to allow you to skip the postdoc stage unfortunately. Personally I would do the PhD here and go to the US for a postdoc if you really want to.

    I would go to Chicago, but I would also be wary of doing a PhD. I did physics and many PhD graduates from the departments never got into academia or indeed related positions. There is a huge glut of people with PhDs.
    • Thread Starter

    Thanks for the replies. I think I'm going to Imperial and try to spend a year on exchange, if I can. I think I'll end up in America anyway in this field so I can wait to do a post-doc there. @thenoob.2018, well one has to try! Whether or not I get into academia it will be an interesting experience, and hopefully useful on the CV.

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