My acceptance letter of earlier this week has got me thinking about a difficult choice I’m going to have to make.
I want to go into academia. I know, academia is a crappy way to make a living (not just for monetary reasons, but for others as well). SL (my PI) is always reminding me of this. Nonetheless, I still want to be a professor.
As I’ve said from the very beginning, I love to teach. I’ve done a lot of teaching: large workshops, small classes, one-on-one, and I’ve loved every single minute of it. In academia I would teach both large classes (Chem 1) and small classes (upper-division undergrad classes/grad classes), and mentor one-on-one (research students). Plus I’d hopefully get to do some very cool chemistry in my research. (Although I have to say, after observing SL in action for a month, professors seem to do far more teaching and committee work than research…but I might be able to do some, and I can get students to do some for me.)
From what I understand, if you want to get an academic job, it’s in your best interest to attend the most prestigious school possible. The problem is, most of the professors I really, really want to work with aren’t at the most prestigious schools. Case in point: the school I was just accepted to is near the bottom of the NRC chemistry rankings. But if I didn’t care about the prestige factor, it would be my #1 or #2 choice.
So, what do I do? Do I automatically accept an offer from the “best” (read: highest ranked) or maybe “second best” school that accepts me? Or should I go with the professor I most want to work with, no matter how lousy other people perceive the school to be?
My gut feeling is to go to the school that I would get the most out of. As an undergraduate, I first attended BigNameU (a very highly-ranked private institution), then transferred to the local state university to finish my degree. I loved StateU: I got far more attention from my professors than I had at BigNameU, and the professors were far more interested in teaching. I got a much better education there. So I guess it’s natural for me to wonder if I’d also get the best graduate education at a state school.
I must admit that I’ve also been spoiled by working for SL. He’s a brand-new assistant professor, so he only has three people working for him: a freshman (who can’t do much yet), a post-doc (who is so independent he almost never consults SL) and me. Needless to say, I get lots of face time with my PI–something that might not be the case at a highly-ranked school. One day SL & I visited the group of a (very well-known) professor at Stanford. This guy had something like 5 post-docs and a dozen grad students. How much time did he spend with his students outside of group meetings? I doubt as much as SL spends with me…
So I really think attending a small state school might be the best at helping me develop the skills I need. Sadly, it would not be the best decision for my academic career.
What a quandary!