Monday, February 25, 2008

The two-body problem (youngfuturefemalescientist's question)

In response to a comment on the previous post-

There are lots of ways to answer this.

The shortest answer may not be the right one, but here it is:

My gut says your bf should follow you. I say this because I have a friend who was in a similar situation, bf followed her and worked as a tech, got a Cell paper and got into the U that he wanted.

Put another way, there are a lot more potential bf's out there than chances to get into the grad school of your dreams. If he's not able to see that, you should upgrade. You can replace him a lot more easily than you can get a do-over on this choice.

On the other hand, it sounds like the two of you went about this the wrong way?

If you had done it the right way, the two of you would have applied only to schools in cluster areas, e.g towns that have at least two, if not three or four schools in close proximity.

That way, if you're an upper echelon candidate (better grades/GREs? maybe a publication or few?) and he's more of an average candidate, at least on paper, you would have had more options in the same location, and none of this headache.

Maybe his field is more competitive, or there are fewer places that have the kind of program he wants.

Either way, from what you wrote, I'm hearing that he's limiting you, not that you're limiting him.

Anyway I guess I thought everybody knew the cluster-town approach is the best and easiest way to deal with the whole two-body problem? Is that not common knowledge now?


The longer answers are below. Given what your options are now, you have to break it down and play out the possible scenarios.

Scenario 1. You follow him.

1A. Things go well.

Hooray! Now you're a rockstar in a small pond, as it were.

Will this hurt you in the long run? Nope. Not one bit. It's MUCH more important to get Cell papers than it is where you got your degree.

Caveat 1: it's harder to be a rockstar at a place with less resources (that includes options for good advisors/famous well-connected advisors).

Caveat 2: it's harder to be a rockstar if you're bored or otherwise unhappy.

Note that I say "harder" but it could just as easily be "MUCH harder" or "nearly impossible".

There is no way to know in your particular case, until you try.

1B. Things go badly.

Boo! You hate it! The school sucks!

Worst case scenario: you quit science because of it (don't laugh, it happens a lot).
You resent him. You resent yourself for following him.

Best case scenario: you stick it out, but you're not a rockstar. The two of you stay together and your personal life is great, but you always wonder if you would have been happier at the other place.

Somewhere in between: you're miserable enough that you transfer to the other school and have some kind of long-distance thing to hold your personal life together (see below).

Scenario 2. He follows you.

Scenario 2A. Things go well.

You are a rockstar among rockstars. You are working your butt off, but you love, and you look down the hall and see an endless parade of doors opening before you.

Your bf is happy enough working, and eventually gets into school. He's now a year or two behind you and will take longer to graduate unless a PhD in his field is faster than in yours.

(And then your next move, assuming you both want to have careers, will be just as confusing and difficult as this one. It could be worse if you're even more asynchronous, depending on whether he also wants a postdoc-requiring type of career.)

On the other hand, he might not be all that happy. He might resent you. He might be jealous of your success. He might be threatened by it. He might quit science. You still might break up.

The good news: You'll get your degree and your chance at being a rock star, and you'll have that whether your personal life with him is good, or not.

The other good news: There's plenty more guys to choose from. Upgrade!

Scenario 2B. Things go badly.

Contrary to popular belief, Big-Name U is not utopia. You hate it.

You're a small fish in a big pond full of rockstars.

BF is miserable, and you feel guilty and/or angry at yourself and at him.

The good news: If you push through, you'll get a degree with a little bit of "pedi" in front of it.

This will help you slightly, especially if your publications turn out to be less than stellar. But then the pressure will be on to do a really good postdoc if you don't want to give up your rockstar dreams. Having a PhD from a "good" school alone will not open all the doors for you.

The person who commented (somewhat snidely) about having the right boss, has a good point. There are all kinds of advisors at all kinds of schools. Unfortunately you don't really know until you do your rotations, and even then sometimes it's hard to tell what lab will be a good fit.

But which lab matters a lot more than the school, and the lab might move. Make sure that, before you make any decisions, you ask your potential future advisors point-blank if they plan to stay at Big-Name U forever. You might be surprised to learn that labs move all the time.

All your planning might be moot if he follows you, and then your lab moves!

Scenario 3. You break up and go your separate ways.

It might not seem like it could ever happen, but note what you said:

You're very committed to him. That's what you said.

You didn't say, "We're very committed"

You didn't say, "He has offered to follow me, because he knows it is harder for women in science so I have to take every advantage I'm offered"

Or anything like that.

Did he?

But I digress.

Many of my friends, and myself included, tried to do a long-distance thing with our college sweethearts.

We all failed. Miserably.

Trust me when I tell you that in every story like this, the first year of grad school was a bit of a blur, starting with long phone calls and exhausting visits, followed by the agonizing decision to break up, followed by crying a lot, and finally ending in the inevitable rebound dating new people at the new place.

Ugh, rebound dating. Very distracting. Not good for lab productivity!

But seriously though, I have one friend who is doing a long-distance thing right now, and a few others who carried them on for quite a while, but in no case did it work out in the magical fairy-tale way they had hoped. So far. We can still hope it will work out for them.

But I personally do not recommend the long-distance option, and you don't sound like you would consider it seriously.

But it is an option.

I guess my question is, if you're this ambitious, why are you even considering following this guy to a school you didn't like?

Why? I kind of don't get it. I mean, I get it. I really do. But you should seriously talk about the possibility of him following you. It sounds like he wouldn't mind going to Big-Name U, if he can get in.

I guess what I don't see is why you should compromise your dreams to make up for his (potentially temporary) under-achievement?

My very very short advice: stay away from a school you visited and didn't like!

At. All. Costs.

(fyi, you do sound a little bit conceited in some of your word choices, but the fact that you're even considering following him makes me think you don't have complete confidence about your abilities or more importantly, your relationship.)

Good luck and let us know what you decide.

Labels: ,


At 2:15 AM, Blogger Mikael said...

This all sounds like rather decent advice. I thought I'd pitch in with a little bit of long-distance academic bf perspective.

I met my wife while we were still both pre-University, and one of the things we have had in common all along is the drive and the wish to stay in academia for a research career. As long as we were both undergraduates, everything went as smoothly as we could hope for, and we moved in together after about 4 years (living with Mom and Dad is SOOOO good on your college budget concerns! :)

After 5 years, I finished my Master's, applied to PhD programmes, and didn't get in. I got a job in Germany, and moved abroad (from Sweden) - but with a lot of work related travel back home. This state of affairs went on for about a year, and then I got into a PhD programme. In Germany.

So for the last few years, we've been pushing her grad student (MA) budget and my PhD student salary to accomodate visiting each other every 6 weeks or so. It's harsh, but it's possible to make it work. We've looked into possibilities for her to follow me, but there isn't anything decent in her field nearby. And I don't really want to abandon my PhD studies to do something I'm less passionate about.

Now, with her departmental contacts, she's landed a RA job in Michigan, connected to a grad student programme she'll get admitted to. And she wants to go. And she should go. And I won't be happy if she decides to drop this opportunity because it would take her further away from me.

So, as soon as I heard about the opportunity, I started investigating my own options. Which leads to me now finishing my PhD faster than expected (but still good, imnsho) and applying like mad for Postdocs in the US - preferably close to Michigan, but heck, I'll go for staying on the same continent if push comes to shove - and applying for research grants with the same frenesy. Hopefully, I'll land a job - but I'm getting less confident of that with each rejection letter I receive. The grants, therefore, kinda look better but come with their own bizarre set of side-effects.

With which I guess I only want to say that there -are- guys who'll follow their gf to help their careers instead of the other way around.

At 4:18 AM, Anonymous NonUS-FSP said...

I doubt that many men would seriously consider going to an inferior school, instead of a top-notch place right in their area.

Regardless of their relationships.

And I am even more sure that very very few women would put their boyfriends (let alone husbands) in this dillema.

Going to the second-best place instead of the best place is a compromise that can be made.
Going several levels below the top is not.

At 6:55 AM, Anonymous a physicist said...

My personal experience: I agree that working for big-name-PI's can be a really good career boost. I went to a less-prestigious grad school but worked for one of the top 3 people in the world in my subfield. This has made a big difference in my career in two ways. First, my advisor was a fantastic advisor who had none of the flaws that Ms.PhD often writes about. (I was very lucky to get to work with him.) Second, it has become clear in my career that I have gotten more recognition because I worked with him; this made a difference when I looked for postdocs, and when I got my faculty job. I was surprised at the time that this made such a difference, but that's the way it goes. For the faculty job, it also helped that my postdoc advisor was another rockstar even if not quite as good a mentor.

On the flip side, at this point in my career I've been on several faculty hiring committees and also hired several postdocs. My subfield of physics is small enough that I've at least heard of all the PI's even if I don't know them personally. And it really helps if someone applying is working with someone I've at least heard of. But, I have hired postdocs who didn't come from rockstar-groups (and they have been great people and gone on to good jobs), and for faculty searches, we've interviewed and hired plenty of people who weren't coming from rockstar-groups. On the other hand, often the people from rockstar-groups are really good: they had to be good to get hired as a postdoc in one of those groups, and they continued being good.

OK, so I guess my comment is fairly wishy-washy on what to do in FYFS's position. I guess the point is that you can become a rockstar no matter where you are, if you do rockstar-quality work, but there is a definite bonus to having a rockstar-advisor and that shouldn't be discounted. Sad but true.

The other bottom line is that Ms.PhD's advice is spot-on, don't ever go to a grad school program that you don't feel comfortable with. At the very least you should have identified one professor there who you'd like to work with; that's really what will determine your long-term happiness and success, who you work with and how good a mentor they are.

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Put another way, there are a lot more potential bf's out there than chances to get into the grad school of your dreams. If he's not able to see that, you should upgrade. You can replace him a lot more easily than you can get a do-over on this choice."

Typical thinking from a scientist. Ignore your heart, follow your head. Build your career at all costs. The love of your life is limiting your career? Dump him! Hey, I got news for you, it probably ISN'T easier to find another good bf than it is to get into a great graduate program. In case you haven't noticed, there aren't a lot of good guys out there (as Ms. PhD constantly reminds us). If you've found one who is perfect for you, that's great. If you really love each other and are both committed, you should try to work it out. If you go to grad school in the mind set of just having broken up with someone, this will greatly hinder your prospects of becoming a "rock star", because you'll likely be miserable, unhappy, and unable to adjust to your new life. Career is important, and we all want to succeed, but to just heartlessly tell someone that she can easily "upgrade" anyone who limits her is irresponsible.

That being said, if there are big questions in the relationship, and you aren't really sure he's right, then go for Big Name U. Listen to your head and your heart on this one.

At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Mrs Whatsit said...


1. For the love of all things cellular, do NOT go to a place that you didn't like when you visited. Grad school is hard enough without being in a place that you hate.

2. What is more important to you, your relationship or your career? What is more important to your bf, your relationship or his career?

3. My husband and I have spent more of our 7 years of marriage living apart than living together. Long distance relationships can work, but only if you both are deeply committed to the relationship.

4. Be very honest with yourself--if you follow bf to Small U and hate it there, will you resent bf. Look deep, deep, into your soul and really think about this. Do not think, "I hope I would not resent him." I hope I don't have to tell you that resentment is bad for a relationship.

5. A lot of entering grad students discount what more senior grad students have to say about how hard grad school is, how stressful, how oppressive and miserable. They think that the older students are just bitter (a little true). They think that their experience will be different. I have yet to see it be different for any student for very long. Many's the student that has come up to me after being in school for awhile and told me that they didn't realize how tough it would be, how depressing it would be. Do not fool yourself into thinking that grad school will be the dream you always thought it would be. And do not think that because you have previous research experience you know what it will be like. Believe me, you don't. So, when you make your decision, take into account the fact that you will be spending at least 5 years in the most stressful, most challenging, and possibly most depressing experience of your life.

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Zona Pellucida said...

I was in a similar situation, and chose to do the long-distance relationship. In my case, my bf got into pharmacy school and I got into grad school, but not at any of the same schools. However, unlike your commenter, we had only been dating for a year and both felt that our careers had to come before our relationship.

It was hard, but actually good in some ways. For my first several years of grad school I was able to get a ton of work done, without feeling bad about not spending time with him.

After 3.5 years, he graduated and moved here to be with me. I recently graduated as well, and we've now been together for almost 7 years and are well on our way to the careers we wanted.

Just wanted to post one example of a happy ending from a long-distance relationship, but I completely agree that she should go to Big Name U, with or without the bf.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous YoungFutureFemaleScientist said...

We actually did apply to mostly cluster areas. His program is extremely competitive though (less than 1% acceptance rate at the Big-Names and under 3% at the Small-Names), so we also applied to a handful of Very-Small-Names that weren't in cluster regions, where he had a better chance at getting in, and I thought I could get reasonably good training too. The Small-Name U in question would have been ok for me, except the group of PIs I was interested in working with have decided to uproot next year, and those that will be left behind are not really even doing research in the subfield I am interested in, and are not very productive either.

The reason I described the boyfriend as someone "I am very committed to", rather than saying that "we are committed" is that I feel like this is my decision. He has offered to follow me and reapply next year, and doesn't want me to go to Small-Name U when I don't know if I would be happy. But I feel like if I do that, I would be killing his career. Big-Name U is in a cluster area that is very competitive for him, and it might take several years of reapplying for him to get into his program, if at all. So, if he gives up his opportunity at Small-Name U, he may be giving up this career forever, and even though he says he wouldn't, I know he would resent me eventually for that.

Long distance is not an option. The first year of our relationship was long distance, and I cannot / will not put us through that for another 6ish years. It might be more doable for 1 or 2 years, but not the duration of grad school.

At 11:30 AM, Anonymous HG said...

There's the idea that one should prioritize a relationship above all else. And that's great. But in calculating the value of choosing a relationship first you have to figure in the probability of the relationship actually succeeding under the conditions. It's hard to not feel resentment for such a big sacrifice as turning down an awesome school in favor of one that you don't actually like but is near your boyfriend. For someone who takes her career very seriously, I think that resentment would be enough to end the relationship, eventually.

Being a rock star depends on a lot of things, including luck, connections, etc. In a world where first impressions matter, having Big-Name U next to your name increases your chances of getting a recording contract, so to speak.

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous JaneB said...

I'm not particularly qualified to comment on this, being single - short form of my relationship history is, met great guy a couple of years ahead of me when IO was an undergraduate, he went to the US to do a masters and met someone else, he came back to PhD at the same uni I was PhDing at - coincidentally - we got back together, we broke up because he (in a humanities discipline) was really unhappy about the hours I spent in my science lab and I was really unhappy that he felt it was OK to ring me in the middle of a big experiment to ask for help with his printer - plus he worked alone all day and I worked in a big crowded group, so I needed solitary time some evenings and he took that personally... In Canada I knew my post-doc was only a 2 year position and though I had fun, I didn't meet anyone serious - having submitted my PhD just before my 25th birthday didn't help as several guys kindly told me that they couldn't go out with someone who was ahead of them in the programme or who might get a job before them. See, I didn't meet anyone worth taking seriously! And after that, it just hasn't happened for me yet - I've met a couple of great guys but they were married and I Don't Go There. So I'm NOT a relationship success story. But I feel that I can add a couple of comments:

1) splitting up with Great Guy the second time really spurred me on to get the dissertation done on time - partly I worked to take my mind off things, partly I was avoiding our mutual friends who were more partyish and hanging out with new people and with good friends who were originally more 'mine' who were all quite hard-working, partly I was d****d if I was going to let him affect my work as well as my heart!

2) DO NOT GO TO A GRAD SCHOOL YOU DON'T LIKE AND WHERE THERE IS NO GOOD MENTOR AND WHERE YOU CAN'T FOLLOW YOUR PASSION. DO NOT. You will really make yourself unhappy, and mess up your chances. Not to mention finding it really hard to properly commit to your mentor/group (I've had experience of someone like that both when a grad student and now as a supervisor. They can't help but share the unhappies around, however hard they try). Consider working at something else for a year or two if you do decide to go with your partner to Small-Name U-ville. Consider taking a Masters programme. Look for a chance to work as a tech and build some skills. Academia is not the be-all and end-all of life for passionate, bright people, and some of the best I know didn't follow the undergrad-grad-post-doc-faculty production line but had substantial times out at different points (the best of my colleagues now took a ten year gap between starting college for the first time at 18 and actually finishing a degree - the first year or so majored in drinking and failing, then they worked in a totally unrelated career, then they went to the equivalent of CC, where they did so well they walked into a grad programme at the best place in the country for their subject). Can you make a plan where you 'time-share' - e.g. you live in SmallTownUVille whilst he does his courses, he goes ABD and you start your programme (especially if he's in a non-totally-lab field so can do some of his work at your place in your new setting), etc. - you both take longer to get where you want to go, maybe, but neither of you gives up either your dreams or your relationship.

3) I tend to make decisions like this by thinking of how I'd feel if the worst happened - if in 5 years time you're in small-townU's programme doing a general project on a TA or only part-funded, working another job, and you are not still with your partner (sometimes people grow apart, meet other people, decide they're really gay...), will you feel you wasted five years? Or will you feel like you made the right decision at the time and that you can make the most of what you have?

Don't get lured into either/or thinking - this is NOT your only chance to study, but nor is he your only-ever chance of having a partner. Similarly, you need to believe strongly that you have CHOICES even if some of them (going long-distance again) do not suit you and your partner's
personalities so are bad choices. And that if you have a future as a couple all of this has to be out on the table, and open for discussion in the future as well - your choices affect him and his affect you.

Good luck - this is not at all an easy position to be in. And reminds me that coupledom isn't inevitably better and easier than living alone - at least my cat has no desire to go to grad school in another country, even if she's also no good at hugs or helping out with the chores!

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is absolutely no right answer to this question. One suggestion would be to do the long distance thing for a year, to see if he really does want to follow you. If you can't weather the year apart then it wasn't meant to be.

Personally, when I got my job I left the man behind. It was my dream job and we were 'off' from an 'on-off' relationship. Well, here we are 3 years later. He followed me after a year or so, and we were married a year or so after that. So far so good.

But this decision making process would not be for everyone. You really just have to make your own call. I've also found, being the one with the 'dream job', it's very important to regularly ask your significant other "are you happy?" And offer that you're willing to make change if the answer is no. I think a lot of resentment is alleviated by a team approach.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger greigite said...

just wanted to say, think again about whether you could do long distance for grad school. My husband and I started dating the last few weeks of college (crazy, I know), spent most of the next year apart, and ended up at top grad schools about 90 miles apart. We each spent time in the other's place and we made it work by talking a lot and doing fun stuff when we had the chance. now we are married and postdocs on opposite coasts for 3 yrs- again it is hard, but we make it work by recognizing that we are each maximizing our opportunities to be together in the future. Go to the place that will be the best for your career now. You have a long time in the future to be together, and going to a top school can really boost you to a more successful career AND increase your chance to get jobs in the same place.

At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to the original poster: you are an adult and will have to face many tough decisions for the remainder of your life. you know the stakes and you know what you want out of life. no one commenting on this blog knows what will happen. they are basing their own experiences and circumstances when giving you advice. these may or may not be relevant to your own situation. not all grad schools, advisors, and programs are the same. make an informed decision and stick it out.

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous YoungFutureFemaleScientist said...

I appreciate everyone's comments. I agree with Anonymous that "it probably ISN'T easier to find another good bf than it is to get into a great graduate program." I think this is the case for me. If I chose to reapply next year, I would have a good selection and probably get into Big-Name U (unless they hated me for turning them down this time around). On the other hand, it would not be so easy to find another boyfriend, and I believe impossible to replace him. Partners are not interchangeable. He is my support system, and I don't think I would make it through without him - I would be miserable and possibly (probably) quit.

YFS said "I guess what I don't see is why you should compromise your dreams to make up for his (potentially temporary) under- achievement?". It's not like I worked hard and won, and he didn't work hard so he lost, and now he's limiting us. He is just as high achieving as I am, though perhaps doesn't look as good on paper, coupled with applying to an extremely competitive field. If anything, his choice of career is limiting, not his preparation for that career. So I don't feel like I'm entitled to my shot, but he's not. Why doesn't his career matter just as much as mine?

I know there isn't an easy answer to this, and what's right for me will not be right for everyone. I don't know what we're going to do, but I will update when it's figured out.

At 7:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As many commenters here have posted, the long distance thing can work. It's hard, really hard, there will be credit card bills and finance charges, but it can work if you want it to.

Lot's of people made it work. My husband and I made it work across the Atlantic for three years. You get lots of work done!

This is a tough question, and at the end of the day it is important to remember that there will be regrets, no matter what you chose, unless you ACTIVELY chose to avoid regretting your decision.

I would also question whether you really want to take the advice of someone who, though she has never met you, says this:"fyi, you do sound a little bit conceited in some of your word choices, but the fact that you're even considering following him makes me think you don't have complete confidence about your abilities or more importantly, your relationship".

Good luck

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Ahh the trolls are back.

YFFS, I have only one thing to add. Obviously there are diverse opinions, some more respectful (and less anonymous) than others.

You said "If I chose to reapply next year, I would have a good selection and probably get into Big-Name U (unless they hated me for turning them down this time around)."

Based on my observations, I can pretty much guarantee THEY WILL HATE YOU. Almost nobody gets in to the same place twice, especially not if it's Big-Name U.

(maybe now somebody will write in and say they did, let's wait and see.)

But just think about it. If they ask you why, and you say it's because of your boyfriend-???

Think again. Most places are not going to respect that. They're just going to be insulted and think less of you.

In my experience, the Big Fragile Egos run everything, and they take their graduate programs very personally.

If their school is not good enough for you to rearrange your life now, they will think you don't have your priorities straight. Nothing you say or do later will remove that mark from your record.

So keep in mind, you would definitely be burning that bridge. That's why I say this is probably a one-time chance to go to THIS school.

Sure, you could go elsewhere later if Small-Name U doesn't work out. But you probably CAN'T go to THIS U.

In fact, you probably would have been better off not applying there at all, than turning them down and then coming back later with the audacity to ask if they'd consider offering you a slot again. I can pretty much guarantee you they won't.

One other thing. It sounds like you've found your soul-mate. That's great.

But it's important not to be too dependent on any one person, other than yourself, for your mental and emotional well-being.

It worries me when you say he is your support system, because it sounds like he is your ONLY support system. Don't you have other friends? Family? Won't you make new friends wherever you go?

I think it's really helpful going into academia with a supportive partner.

But it's perhaps just as important (if not more so) to be confident that you could do this completely alone if you had to.

When it comes right down to it, there is a lot of hard work and suffering you have to do alone. Your partner can't always be there, even if you live together.

Having a partner is not the magic bullet that makes it all okay. It makes it a little more bearable, but friends can do that too.

There is no magic bullet to get you through grad school. There is just a lot of slow pounding of the forehead against the brick wall.

The trick is picking the right wall.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Schlupp said...

Future YFS, I do not know your (sub-)fields, but I would suggest that you both look at related fields as well. As it seems, the problem stems from an incredibly tight competition in your BF's field and the fact that your subfield has basically left the not-so-good uni. Are there advisors at not-so-good uni, to whom and to whose work you can relate?

I think it may be possible to become rock star even from a not so good university, but I think that it is a lot harder. And you'd have to be in a good group. Not-so-good university plus not-so-good PI would make it extremely hard. Add to that that you did not like the uni, and it gets even worse... I am with the commenter who said that second choice is a viable compromise, but a university you do not like at all is not. I think you should both look around a bit more, not going into grad school right out of undergrad might be a good idea anyway.

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments mentioning your personal ability to survive on your own versus depending on your 'bf' being your support system. I found out the hard way and eventually learned to be independent. My 'bf' of 5 years, who became my fiancee, moved with me when I started my masters. He eventually he became threatened by my success and we grew apart. Needless to say, it was a big mess when I had to cancel the wedding and the emotional damage led me to defend my degree later than planned. However, on the plus-side, the new-found freedom allowed me to pursue my PhD at a big name U. But as mentioned by a previous comment, "emotional healing" at the big U did cause me to fumble around alot because I was distracted by the break-up. Let's just describe "emotional healing" as partying, shopping, and overall destructive behavior.

However, the moral of the story, I never knew how dependent I was on my bf/fiancee for support until I was alone. It was very very hard and I think every woman should have a period in their life where they learn to be independent. They should go after their dreams with or without there support system, whether its family or friends or boyfriends. I promise that you will change as a person during grad school and so will your boyfriend. And as previous people have commented, this is only the first of many, many hard decisions.

In my experience, most people who have significant others before starting grad school do break-up before they are done. The stress and pressure basically ruin most relationships. However, those in the small minority who make the relationship survive are that much stronger for surviving the stressful years. You have to be selfish in grad school and your grades, your research, and your thoughts all come first. If a relationship can make it through grad school, then it's a stable one worthy of marriage (my opinion).

This is your decision and think with your heart and your head. Decide what you feel is best for now. You simply can't control the future or see what will happen...all of us Type A's in grad school certainly try to control everything but alas, we can only control our research...and even that's a challenge.

Last thing, men in general are HARD to find in grad school. I have had piss poor luck. I thought once single I would have masses to enjoy, especially at the big U. But nope. Grad school is filled with men who are in love with their research and usually not emotionally ready to have a relationship (smart guys tend to be the late bloomers).

Grad school has been a long strange trip (10 years so far) that I would have never predicted. I'm about to finish at my big U and am a rock star, and grateful for the hard times that have made me stronger. In saying that, a well-known university DOES make a difference for jobs later, a well-know advisor DOES make a difference for jobs later, and the experience at a big U DOES make a difference.

So, don't go to the small U, go to the big U. As far as the bf, that's all your decision...sorry! Good Luck!

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Julianne Dalcanton said...

Have you checked with Big Name U to see if they would let you defer admissions for a year? Then, you don't face double jeopardy. I run admissions for an R1, and we let students do this quite often. This gives some ground to the bf to see if he can make it in a second time after shoring up his record somehow. Realistically, if he's pursuing a field that is this hard to break into at a graduate school level, then it's going to be just as nuts or worse at all subsequent levels. If two years isn't enough to get into the system for him, he probably should think about other options anyways -- better to do so at 22 than 32!

At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to be selfish in grad school and your grades, your research, and your thoughts all come first.

It goes without saying that running a few more gels trumps any other concerns, but I'd question whether grad school grades are more important than one's marriage.

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife and I were married while we were both undergrads. We both went to grad school for our masters. She went on to earn a professional degree and I went on to earn a PhD. We only applied to schools that had programs that we were both interested in. We only considered schools that we were both accepted into. We made the decision on where to go based on what was best for us, not what was best for her or for me.

I am now an assistant professor and my wife has a good job in her chosen profession. Grad school was a very good time for our marriage. We grew closer together and the marriage is much stronger now.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ended a (living together) relationship about halfway through grad school. It was a bad relationship, and it needed to be done. Yet, it was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done. The adjustment from living with someone to living alone was tough. I often thought to myself that it was good that I did it when I did, because if I had done it during the first year or so, I would have flunked out or not passed quals.

Just a cautionary tale, for those who are tempted to just "trade up".

At 10:18 PM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

UGH...what a tough situation. My undergrad is in a similar spot, although in his case, his girlfriend (an education major) wants him to stay at their undergrad for graduate school...yeah, sticking around to do a science PhD at your undergrad? BAD IDEA

At 4:03 AM, Anonymous erik said...

ouch... i wrote a very long comment that never got published...

oh well, such is life.

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you had done it the right way, the two of you would have applied only to schools in cluster areas, e.g towns that have at least two, if not three or four schools in close proximity."

This idea makes sense, and somehow I didn't think of it. My GF is finishing her undergraduate degree, and I'm working on a Masters (probably to finish a Ph.D. at another school). Our current plan is for her to work for a year after she graduates this spring (while I finish my masters), and then go to the same school (or close schools).

"You didn't say, "He has offered to follow me, because he knows it is harder for women in science so I have to take every advantage I'm offered""

I told my girlfriend that if we get into different (and not close) schools, then we should go our separate ways. She seemed to think that was ridiculous, and said she would follow me even if it meant not going to graduate school. I tried to talk her out of this idea (which I think is nuts), but didn't really press the issue (since it hasn't come up yet). I guess we'll cross that bridge when/if we come to it.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


blogger must have lost your comment. i never saw it. =(

stupid blogger.


i think it's pretty common, and in some fields it's not considered the kiss of death as it is in biology, where there are lots of options for places to go.

smaller fields don't look so unkindly upon it.

At 10:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and what about your sexual life?
i know rational is good and helps organizing decisions. But sometimes your decision is already made, and you just don't know how to proceed... This decision is very often expressed by your body, which means the way you have sex, how you feel connected and if you like it...
You were given lots of advices from other people, now, you can listen to yourself too :-) for sure you know what you want!

Good luck

P.S. i'm just saying this, because, of course, i didn't listen to myself at the right moment and now i'm yelling inside :-s
we try to find answers far away, but they were always here, inside of you...


At 8:30 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Hi Ms. PhD,

I just discovered your blog during a Google search for "how to quit grad school". I read through a couple of your posts, and I would really REALLY appreciate your perspective today.

I am a (science) grad student, 2.5 years in, and I am female. I almost quit during my first semester because I started having repeated anxiety attacks and crying fits many nights over hating grad school. I went on anxiety meds and pushed on for 2 more years.

Recently, an amazing job opportunity came up for both me and my husband, and we are planning to start in May. My advisor (male) figured I could just do my Master's thesis (even though I am officially a PhD student), defend it, and leave with no strings attached. He was very receptive and supportive when I first brought the situation to him. In the couple of months since then, everything has gone downhill in the lab. He has had me starting this whole new project, which I later found out is unrelated to my research, he has demanded all sorts of data that he hasn't given a crap about for the past 2.5 years, and I have started having breakdowns again.

I am considering just quitting without getting my Master's and moving on to what I know will be a happier life for me and my family. I feel ridiculous in many respects because I came this far, right? But at the same time, I don't know that I can get through this without going nuts. I know there will be a lot of other stuff to do with the move and new job, too, making me even busier.

To be completely honest, I never really cared about going to grad school in the first place. I was always just the top student, and it kind of worked out. Now that I'm here, though, I can't figure out my obligations to my advisor and to myself. My parents would want me to stick it out, I know, but I don't think thats necessarily an educated opinion. My husband is super supportive either way.

Any advice? I know you don't know me, so sorry to dump my life story on you, but you seem to have really thought this sort of thing through. Thank you! -Erin

At 12:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in grad school I remember a chronicle of higher ed article about a west coast geosciences PhD who had an offer out east, but her BF did not, and her advisors said "we can get you another BF far more easily than we can get you another position!" At the time I was horrified to read that. Now, as a postdoc, I am sad to say that I get it to some degree.

When you're 22 it's hard to not think that the one you're could be the one. But most of us here, who did break up with our college Mr. maybe-he's-rights...

Just make sure you can justify to yourself that you made the right decision for you even if you guys break up in a year or three.

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couple thoughts not addressed in other comments:

Nearly all academic couples have to spend some time apart. Grad school is a good time to do it since 1) it involves a finite (albeit flexible) timeline and 2) you have a cohort of other students for support and friendship that doesn't occur at other stages of career. It just becomes more difficult to be separated later, and impossible when you want to start a family.

You do not need to frame this as "my career vs my relationship", because if you are truly partners, decisions that maximize both your careers puts you in a better position as a couple and a family. It will help IMMENSELY down the road to have that top school pedigree. At every stage you will have to make a 'together or separate' who-follows-who decision and believe me as someone who has top school pedigrees, it makes a huge difference in determining your options. Choosing the best career possibility does not mean you don't value your relationship.

If you go to top name school, and are unhappy being apart, it will be easier to transfer to his area than vice versa. You are far too young to start limiting your career options.

You obviously care deeply for your bf, but try to think long-term for your joint future. It is hard to be apart, but doable! My husband & I spent years apart, and we appreciate being together so much more now.

Best of luck


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home