Our long interview season has just wrapped up. As tiring as it is for all of us (interviewees too!), this season is always my favorite time of the year because I get to meet the wonderful prospective students that I have been in touch with throughout the cycle! Now that I’ve met the students who interviewed, I am anxiously awaiting to see who will be joining our class of 2016! Through many conversations before, during, and after interviews I definitely feel like I got to know the students who came to visit our program. Every time I get a phone call or email from someone accepting our offer, I become more excited about the fall! To let you know another perspective at this time of year, Jim Patton and I are very focused on the number of amazing students who accept our offer of admission. While the stats don’t often fluctuate very much from year to year, we hope they will turn out to give us the class size we are aiming for each year.
You may still be deciding which offers to accept. If I can offer you some advice, I would first suggest that you take your time in deciding. Because all graduate programs have agreed to the April 15th deadline, you shouldn’t feel pressured to decide before that. However, if you do feel confidant about decision sooner, it is very courteous to administrators and other applicants alike to let all programs know your decision. For some programs, there may be some students on the waitlist who may not get an offer until others have freed up the spot.
Second, if you are struggling between a few different schools and can’t quite decide which is the best fit, I suggest you give the most weight to your scientific training potential at each program. In the end, grad school is a transient stepping-stone to your career. I believe you should finish grad school feeling like you reached your highest scientific potential! However, each person considers “training potential” differently; it could be the number of faculty in your intended area of study, or the general environment and sense of collaboration, or the coursework available. No matter how you see it, keep that at the top of your program criteria list. Some may consider other training opportunities, such as career training, science writing or editing, or teaching a class, as important during graduate school, and they are! However, I believe the purpose of graduate school is to learn how to do and analyze science. Therefore, although these aspects of graduate school are very important, consider scientific training first. No matter what you do, don’t simply pick a program based on outside rankings…make a well-thought-out, personal decision.
Finally, talk to people about your options and get input from them. I would personally love to talk to you about your options, and I promise to provide unbiased advice! But if you don’t feel comfortable talking to me, talk to others you feel close to. Definitely talk to family, but it is very important that you also get input from people who have gotten their PhDs…they know what matters in the process and they can give you great advice from a broad perspective.
I hope that advice helps you as you make this decision, and I hope it steers to you toward Vanderbilt! Of course, not everyone who gets an offer accepts a position at Vandy, and that is okay! Deciding which school is the best fit for you is an incredibly personal choice that includes weighing scientific training potential, career training, personal connections (like significant others), location, and the financial package (this should be the lowest item on the list!). No matter your decision, I would suggest you do two things when declining offers for a graduate program. First, personally reach out to the director of admissions to notify them of your decision. We’ve gotten to know you and it is sad to see a decision made on the online portal without an email. Secondly, briefly discuss where you’ve chosen to go and why. We are always interested in seeing what goes into everyone’s’ decisions. Your email doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t have to be particularly personal unless you want it to be, but it is considerate to let us know these details.
I hope you are as excited as I am about this next stage in your career. Best of luck making this decision, and I look forward to hearing from you!