Monday, July 07, 2008

Baring My Soul

All right, you blood-suckers, I'm going to level with you people. (And now that Cristin's added a timer on my blog posts, I feel like I need to be fast about it. I check Cristin's blog and think, "Holy crap, I haven't written anything in 22 hours!")

There are people in the world who are very open about their hopes and dreams. Persephone and I aren't among them. I was on the newspaper staff with a guy who would tell everyone he met, "My goal is to be the next Mark Twain." That's pretty lofty there, bud, leaving you ample room to fail. Why not just tell people, "I want to be a professional writer," and keep the Mark Twain part under your hat? That way you won't look ridiculous if it doesn't work out (which, statistically speaking, it probably won't work out).

Last week The Friendly Jerk asked me, "Do you ever think about trying to make money from writing, you know, as your job?" I hemmed and hawed around an answer. A new coworker, who can be called Super Familiar, said, "You should write a movie and you can be a screenwriter like me." And again I thought, "Keep that to yourself, you fool!"

I understand the advantage of positive reinforcement. If you want to lose weight you tell your friends and they help by offering encouragement or slapping you when you try to eat anything. But there's a difference between having a goal of losing 15 pounds and a goal of being named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive (the name of which implies that, if corpses were allowed to compete, we might see a different final ranking; like the Missouri Department of Transportation slogan "ARRIVE ALIVE," which insinuates that, should you die mid-journey, they will ship your body the rest of the way and you will arrive dead).

Anyway, Persephone and I prefer to tell our plans to no one and then, once they've happened the way we wanted, we light a cigar like Hannibal from "The A-Team" and say, "I love it when a plan comes together."

This is the approach I've taken towards grad school. While I've been telling everyone who asks, "Well, we don't know yet what we're going to do, so we're taking steps to keep grad school open, should we decide that's what we want," the truth is that I decided two years ago that I wanted to attend a graduate program in economics, but I didn't want to apply and be universally rejected and then have people say, "I thought you said you were going to grad school."

Well, it looks like I will graduate from school next May, and my GPA and GRE scores are such that I should be accepted by at least one economics PhD program (economists evidently don't believe in master's degrees, which they usually just give to failed PhD students when they kick them out). So the question is, which school should I attend?

My considerations are: 1. Where I can afford to apply (since I can't apply everywhere), 2. Where I'd want to attend (since some programs are basically just fancy math programs, and I would hate that), 3. Where my wife will agree to live (since she has already vetoed New York City and New Orleans), 4. Where I can get admitted (since I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer), 5. Where I can graduate from fairly quickly (since I'm already older than sin), and 6. Where I'd want to live. With these considerations, here's the list:

George Mason University (Fairfax, VA)

University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)

West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV)

University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS)

Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, IL)

Washington University (Saint Louis, MO)

There are some others, too, I guess, but these are the ones I would say are at the top of my list. (Persephone's list is just two: George Mason, which she'd agree to because that's where I want to go the most, and Kansas, because she doesn't want to move.) Anyway, I'm opening this up to discussion. (Here's where my low readership pays off; I don't have to worry about this information getting out.) If this choice were yours, what would you pick? And, since two of my semi-readers are PhDs themselves, what criteria did you use when deciding where to go? Everything I read on the Internet says, "Go to the most prestigious school that will accept you." Should that be my guiding principle?

And next year when it turns out I've been rejected by every program in the country I don't want to hear any of you say, "What happened to your plans, man?"


Cristin said...

Erik and I will not be able to help at all with this because we were too stoopid to get into grad school. Erik got the lowest possible score ever on the GRE (7% or something like that in the math section) - that's what happens when you don't study - and well, I'm just too lazy.

It might be nice to not have to move, but isn't that called academic incest when you go to the same school for your undergrad and grad work?

JT said...

Some considerations...
Do you have someone with whom you would like to work (do you like someone's work)? Do you have a subfield that you particularly enjoy? Do you want to do a PhD. If so, what is their placement record? Where do you want to be in 10 years?

I would go for Wash U in St. Louis. It is close to family, right? It has prestige and you could place well from there (I wish I had gone there).

In the end, you should probably go and talk to some of the grad students there and see what it is like. They know better than anyone what it would be like and how the department works. I visited Utah only to find that I wouldn't like it there. You could get some more counties along the way!

If you want a George Mason PhD then, by all means, follow that goal.

JT said...

Sorry for the multiple comments...
I think that private grad schools provide great opportunities for future work due to their networking capabilities. AND, because my guiding principle is always that no one should ever pay for graduate school, they are a great choice because they often guarantee funding for the duration of your stay. My friend who went to Wash U doesn't have to teach/research for a professor for 3 years and has full funding well in excess of KU's stipends. My Harvard friend's stipend was something like 3x as much as his KU stipend. They can also recruit a lot of good scholars who tend to stick around.

State schools are good places because most people are more down to earth. Unfortunately, many aspiring scholars are prone to move during the course of your program. I have found that, excepting the very top schools, the students are more regional and looking for regional jobs. That could be to your advantage if you want to stop at a masters and find a job in the region. Otherwise it may be to your detriment if you are in WVa and trying to sell your skills and the only people who will interview you are from 'Deliverance'.

Leslie said...

If you want a nice place for your family to live -if you choose to move from Kansas, a couple in our ward just moved to Morgantown, WV to gain residency to get into the dental school there. It seems to be a really nice place to live. Other than that...I'm not smart enough to pick a good school. Good Luck!

Nathan said...

JT is clearly one of your Ph.D. semi-readers and perhaps I'm the second. Appropriately, then, I second his observations. Go the best place that will fund you. I'd say that this is even more important than finding a good professor or two with whom you'd like to work. People on a search committee outside of your field may not know that your professor is a star, but they'll recognize the name of the school.

Is George Mason known for the kind of economics that interests you most? Does its proximity to DC give it added punch? I presume this must be the case. I agree that WashU should figure highly based on JT's observations.

Erik said...

Leave it to your wife to publicly announce how stupid you are... all hail the fabulous institution called marriage....

JT said...

Hooray for public disclosures of 'stoopid'-ity!! I am constantly blessed with them.

Erin said...

I'm with Nancy--stay in Kansas!