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The All-Important Decision - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2004-04-09 16:53
The All-Important Decision
Public
noivousnoivous
Poll #276556 Grad School Decision

Which grad school should I attend to get my Ph.D., and why? First, read about what my interests are and what I think about each school. Each of them have benefits and drawbacks. I decided not to do a bulleted list, because that would encourage you to just look at the number of benefits vs. the number of drawbacks, and some considerations are more important than others. Ze choices:

Carnegie Mellon HCII
2(18.2%)
UC Berkeley SIMS
4(36.4%)
U. Washington I-school
1(9.1%)
UC Irvine ICS
1(9.1%)
Georgia Tech CS
0(0.0%)


Please follow up your vote with a comment on why you voted the way you did, and if you don't have an LJ account, your name too.
Comment | 22 Comments | | Link






Kris
anemone
2004-04-10 03:42 (UTC)
(no subject)
What do you want to do when you get done with your PhD?
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2004-04-11 19:10 (UTC)
(no subject)
Good question - I don't really know. I'd like to continue doing the same sorts of things: research, teach ... so maybe a professor, or maybe a research scientist in a research lab or a nonprofit, or maybe something governmental, depending on what direction I take with my research ...
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Kris
anemone
2004-04-11 19:31 (UTC)
(no subject)
The reason I ask is this: If you're going for a job as a professor, it's probably going to be more important to come from a well-regarded institution with well-regarded professors. So if that's your goal, CMU and Georgia Tech are probably your better options. (Rereading your description of CMU, it sounds like you wouldn't have many people to work with, so I might lean towards Georgia Tech.)

But if...and when I try to say this, it sounds more extreme than I mean...if you're not viewing graduate school as a step to a future job, and it sounds like you aren't since you have a strong idea of what you want to do while there then I'd focus on the match between you, the department, and the professors, which means perhaps picking one of the other three.
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John
surpheon
2004-04-10 04:32 (UTC)
(no subject)
Um... I didn't really understand most of your interests, so I chose the UW because Seattle is neat. Particularly for someone with an interest in indoor sports. They are also cool enough to have had this enormously useful real-time traffic flow map available over 7 years ago. The Human Interface Technology Laboratory also sounds neat, and has a very chic acronym, "HITL." Thankfully, it is not called the Human Interface Technology Laboratory and Research.

Microsoft has and does pump a lot of money into the school, as you might guess while walking past Allen library on the way to Gates hall.

A downside is the cost of living is going way up. The geography is water limited much like San Fracisco, so housing near the city is quite pricy and transport in from the 'burbs can be slow. They are also whining relentlessly about a current light rail "system" project (a few billion dollars for something like a single 13 mile track) and a monorail system (that the mayor hates, the city council hates, but that got passed via initiative)(twice)(with more votes than the last few mayors won their elections with)(Seattleites like their monorails).

The U district area has a very Berkeley feel, although there is not the same caliber of cheap eats options near campus.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2004-04-11 19:11 (UTC)
(no subject)
The U district area has a very Berkeley feel, although there is not the same caliber of cheap eats options near campus.

There were altogether too many Indian food places for my tastes. :~) (I'm a lightweight when it comes to spicy things.) I was in Seattle last summer, and do like the area quite a bit (except frat row, where I was stuck living).
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Steven desJardins
stevendj
2004-04-10 05:06 (UTC)
(no subject)
UC Irvine sounded like it had the most professors doing what you'd consider cool stuff. That seems like a pretty big advantage, since you'll have a larger community of students and professors whose interests are compatible with yours. Sounds like a not-so-nice place to live, which admittedly is a big down side, but you can adapt.
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tobo
nibot
2004-04-11 19:36 (UTC)
(no subject)
UCI is smack dab in the middle of suburbia. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2004-04-12 04:12 (UTC)
(no subject)
Aside from the abundance of palm trees, Irvine actually reminds me a lot of Salt Lake City, where I grew up. The conservatism, the placeless suburbia, the malls ... anyway, I would rather not live in a place like that, but at least I know what I'd be getting into. :~)
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wayoftheburnout
2004-04-12 04:06 (UTC)
5+ years in irvine...
Adapt, sure, just like I'm sure we all could adapt to living in siberia. But why bother? Cool stuff isn't so cool after the 3rd year of living in newport beach/costa mesa. Infact, it's downright tedious and boring.
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Benjamin C. Wiley Sittler
bsittler
2004-04-10 06:13 (UTC)
(no subject)
voted for two:

  • irvine, because it seems like the best choice overall

  • berkeley, because it's the evil you know (plus we don't want you to fly away so soon ;))


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Paul, Evil Administrator
eviladmin
2004-04-10 07:36 (UTC)
(no subject)
I'm voting first for Berkeley, the eating your young thing I think is over rated as a decision rule, especially if the field is new and the options few, and you are already at one of the top schools. And we like you here.

Second, Irvine - it sounds like the program is more closely aligned to what you want, but, well you talked to D. about living there....

Third, U Washington, be cause any school with Washington in its name is good (just kidding) but supheon had some good points and it sounded like that was a good fit too.

But mostly Berkeley.
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David Molnar
ephermata
2004-04-10 17:54 (UTC)
(no subject)
First, note I know very little about HCI. That being said, I walked into the poll with a bias towards Georgia Tech and CMU, because I've heard about their HCI programs. After reading your report, I'm less positive about them and more positive about Irvine, Berkeley, and UW.

First, the comment about a student who ran into trouble at CMU is troubling. It may be that there were other circumstances that escalated the interaction, but if you think your interests would resemble his interest in social justice, that could be bad. I'd actually try to find out more about that -- was it just his advisor who was an issue, or something deeper? If it's just the advisor, maybe not such a problem (avoid that advisor). If it's that the faculty as a whole didn't believe in what he was doing, that's a huge problem. Aside from that, the lack of an actual political science/policy faculty seems like a downside.

Georgia Tech sounds like fun, but the location does sound like an issue. Also, while you've been really independent so far, don't underestimate the value of having someone slightly more hands-on in grad school. It can be a big help when you're starting in a new place and trying to get a handle on who's doing what.

Now for Irvine, Berkeley, and UW:

Berkeley -- I think you mentioned once that you'd been accepted for a master's, but not a PhD? If that's true, ask straight up what the chances are of continuing on for a PhD. (I'm assuming you want a PhD). I don't know how SIMS is, but some places have a large barrier between masters and PhD students (e.g. Stanford). That would be the biggest downside for me, not knowing about my status.

With respect to academic incest -- yes, it's an issue, but if you really feel like Berkeley is the best fit for you, I wouldn't let it stop you. A number of friends of mine from college stayed on for a PhD or JD or whatever. They're doing just fine. If you have a high startup cost in a new place, it might make sense to stay here.

Most important is if you have people to work with here who will support your projects...have you talked to Eric Brewer, by the way? He has this huge technology for developing regions initiative. Berkeley also has the new CITRIS building coming, which will encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. I wouldn't bet your PhD on the CITRIS stuff, but it might be a potential plus.

Irvine -- well, I grew up (sort of) in Irvine, so I know it's a beautiful location. The faculty also sounds like they have a lot to offer, especially from other areas.

The two concerns I would have here are quality of fellow students and the interdisciplinary issue. I'd be happy to be wrong, but because Irvine is less well known, you might end up a big fish in a small pond. For the interdisciplinary issue, maybe this is less of a concern in HCI, but I'd worry about being caught in the trap of being not CS enough for CS people, and not social science enough for social science people. You can get out of that, but usually only by working twice as hard.

Washington -- It sounds like there are ongoing research projects here directly related to your interests. You can show up next fall and jump right in. That's a huge plus, not to be underestimated! The one thing I would say is look at which faculty are supporting Parikh's project and ask if they'd be willing to do other similar projects. (Although, part of me says why go to India when we have U.S. non-english speakers? We'll need e-government services and other UI for them real soon now. Don't mind me, though.) You want to make sure that the faculty is receptive to more work like that.
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David Molnar
ephermata
2004-04-11 08:46 (UTC)
(no subject)
BTW, I voted for Berkeley, but I would treat any of the three I mentioned roughly equally. The tiebreaker was that I think Berkeley is really, really cool, as evidenced by the fact I came here.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2004-04-11 19:12 (UTC)
(no subject)
Thanks for the long and well-thought-out response!
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Gaia
temperategoddss
2004-04-11 17:09 (UTC)
(no subject)
Personally I've never understood the academic incest thing, but then I haven't heard anyone discourage me personally from continuing towards a J.D. at the University of Utah, though I'll have an undergrad degree from the very same institution. If you're comfortable and happy and think your options are best at Berkeley, especially with the added benefit of the lack two-bodyness (I envy you ;) you know), I wouldn't see academic incest as a reason to go elsewhere, unless you find more promising prospects there.

However, the programs at Irvine and UW, as well as the locations, are also conducive to what you want to be doing, and it sounds like you'd have quite a few options at either of those places as well.

Tough choice you have to make, I recommended the three I've mentioned.
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David Molnar
ephermata
2004-04-11 21:51 (UTC)
(no subject)
I think it's much more of an issue for PhDs than JD, MBA, or MD. For better or for worse, PhD-style research seems to develop specific "styles" associated with different schools. For instance, in cryptography I can pick up a paper and be reasonably confident that the authors went to MIT or their advisors went to MIT. If this goes on too long, you end up with deep divides in the research community, as the community around Style A knows less and less about Style B and vice versa. That, in turn, leads to all kinds of pathologies.

So if you stay at the same school, it looks like you're passing up on your chance to see how things are done elsewhere. There's also a more pragmatic reason: when you apply for faculty jobs on the other side, you will need letters of recommendation from several different people.

Going to a new place increases your chance of working with a wider array of people, hence a better chance of more strong letters. I actually ran into this issue with my fellowship applications - you're supposed to come up with *four* people who can speak wonderful things about you in your field. I was able to do it, in part because I had several schools to draw from. If I had only looked at people from my undergrad institution, I would have had one, maybe two strong letters and the rest wouldn't have been in my field. So actually, you *can* stay in one place (from this point of view) *if* you know you will work with a wide array of people -- but remote collaboration can be hard to pull off.
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Kris
anemone
2004-04-12 04:25 (UTC)
(no subject)
Actually, in her case, I wouldn't worry about staying at the same school. It doesn't sound like she'd continue working with the same professor in the same research group, which is I think where the danger lies.

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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2004-04-15 18:44 (UTC)
(no subject)
Yes - and I'll even be in a different department, and I haven't taken any of the classes in SIMS. I know a couple of the professors and some of the students, but it's different enough that I have plenty to learn.
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wayoftheburnout
2004-04-12 04:20 (UTC)
My take... a.k.a. "channelling dionysus"
Pittsburgh, to me, was boring. There is/was only one major party there in the last year, otherwise ya gotta go to philly to see anything good. When I used to go to Buzz in DC, there were people there from PA cos it was that boring. Yes you can buy a house there, but it will be constructed new-england style, all gangly with gambrelled roofs, with secret passageways from narrow and twisted basement stairs leading to coves The who worship He Who Lies Dreaming in R'lyeh can come and get you.

Irvine: is completely out. People who recommend the place are lost souls. Just say NO to OC. I had a friend go to UCI, he's in tokyo now, going to soapland and tries to rationalise teenage prostitution in corporate lifestyle to me, as well as the benefits of neo-mercantilism. He used to be a liberal. Irvine is both boring AND in Orange County. There ain't no liquor stores there - ya gotta go to Costa Mesa for that. I'm not even sure Moon Tribe is still doing parties out in the socal desert.

Washington. Seattle's probably not bad.. Here's what Rachel has to say on it.

Georgia. BWahahahah. No seriously. Bwahahahahah. Um, the south sucks. Really really sucks. Imagine living in the novel "The Handmaid's Tale".

Berkeley's OK. But the fencing sucks. SF throws some good parties.

I'd say pick a place that you're going to be comfortable spending 5 years of the rest of your youth at. ;-P
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2004-04-12 05:23 (UTC)
Re: My take... a.k.a. "channelling dionysus"
Since I don't have much of a social life, the fact that Pittsburgh doesn't either actually doesn't worry me that much. :~) And I like New-England-style homes! It beats the California-style clapboard cookie-cutter mini-mansions any day. :~)
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2004-04-16 18:23 (UTC)
Re: My take... a.k.a. "channelling dionysus"
P.S. Living The Handmaid's Tale? You mean they'd confiscate my bank account and force me into sex work?
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Becca
rebbyribs
2004-04-15 19:26 (UTC)
(no subject)
I liked that you voted in your own poll! :-)
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