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I am an American who came to Europe last fall to do an MS which would complement my BA, since the field of study for my BA was different than my current one. My original plan was to apply to PhD programs in the US this fall, but recently I was offered a PhD position by my current adviser. I have until this summer to decide, which means I can either stay where I am now or decline the offer and cast the dice in the US application process.

In itself, my current department is not particularly well known in the US, where I would ultimately like to work. However, my field is small and my adviser is somewhat influential. Moreover, the advising is high quality. My adviser and I generally meet for one to three hours a week to discuss my work. I genuinely like my adviser, her insight, and the work I am doing. If I stay here I would also have connections to a lab in the US which is among the best in the world for my field. I would spend some time there as needed/desired, and the other members of my dissertation committee would likely be from this lab.

There are several US departments where I originally planned to apply. They have good faculty, have a large number of students in the same subfield, are close to other institutions doing related research, etc. In short, if I were accepted to one of these schools, I might sleep sounder knowing that others have tread my path, and at least some have had a good outcome (solid reputation, decent job, etc.).

My situation can be problematized as follows. The offer from my adviser is obviously an opportunistic move on her part. As a friend of mine put it, “she sees a talented young scientist and wants to snatch him up before someone else does.” Regardless of whether the characterization is accurate, that's a way of looking at the situation. My task is to decide whether the move is the right one.

Has anyone had a similar experience or just care to share some insight?

  • Presumably another factor to consider is the relative lengths of typical PhDs in Europe and the US. How much sooner would you expect to graduate if you stay in Europe? (This can be seen as either a pro or a con, depending on who you talk to!) – avid Jun 1 '14 at 12:07
  • While this is not particularly relevant, would you be willing to reveal the name of your university? – Faheem Mitha Jun 1 '14 at 15:27
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    You have a good relationship with your advisor, you value her input, you feel valued, and she gives you plenty of her time. Before you make a decision about what to do, you might want to read a few of the stories on here about poor student-advisor relationships. – mhwombat Jun 1 '14 at 23:05
  • Calling a job offer or a scholarship offer opportunistic on the basis they see you qualified for it / "talented" is an opinion I wouldn't share too loudly. What would you think to be a right motif for a scholarship offer if not your skills/"talent"? – Greg Sep 14 '14 at 14:06
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While shane's argument has some merit, there is another important factor to take into consideration: time to degree, which is very much inequal here.

If you accept your professor's offer of a PhD position, you would in principle be able to start your PhD research as soon as this fall. If you were to decline the offer, you'd definitely have to wait a full year to start the PhD program, and then at least an extra semester or two, depending on the course requirements in your field. So there could be up to a two-year delay before you do substantial work in your PhD field, depending on whether or not the department will waive your master's coursework. This may or may not be enough to sway your decision.

Additionally, you should look at all of the "peripherals," including things like:

  • how much teaching duty would be combined as part of the PhD position (this can be substantial, depending on your advisor's or department's teaching load!);
  • what the benefits and support associated with the position are relative to the US programs you're considering; and
  • what are the chances someone with your record will have to get into a comparable US program.
  • I agree with a lot of what aeismail says here. That said, if you have the funding, taking an extra year or two of coursework might not be disastrous, if the payoff is that you get to live in the country you want to live in. Presumably during that time you could also be developing papers, giving talks, and so on, which would also be helpful down the line on the job market. You might also take the extra coursework as an opportunity to branch into some related areas. – shane Jun 1 '14 at 15:40
  • Depending on the field in question, you m ay be able to start your PhD work as soon as you enter a US university as well. Many departments (like mine) strongly encourage beginning your research while, not after, you pass your course requirements. In fact, why not start now? – JeffE Jul 13 '14 at 18:25
  • In my field (ChemE), pretty much every department of note expects first-semester grad students to be full-time students, typically taking four or five courses. They wouldn't have time for research, even if they wanted to do it. – aeismail Jul 13 '14 at 23:20
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In this venue you will see how important good advisors are. Indeed, having a PhD position in Caltech/MIT/Harvard is mostly useless if you don't get proper advising. If she is good researcher, you have a good working relationship, and you get the advising time you need; you have a good reason to stay.

When getting a position, committees will look at your PhD more than where it was awarded. The more resources you have, and the better the faculty, the better your thesis can be; but it is definitely not the sole factor. If your professor is reputable in the field with good connections, she may be able to help you get a good postdoc.

Also, nothing guarantees you that you will get in the US. No matter how good you are, there are people out there that may look better in an application form. Furthermore, if you have to take the GRE, you are conditioned to what happens to you on that day. And, as others have mentioned, you would have to wait a full year before being able to start. Applying in the US is not free, but I don't know how much a US citizen would have to actually pay; can you afford it?

Consider the working conditions. In many countries in Europe they are much better than in the US: right to vacations, higher salary, sick days... Weight here the requirements to get the degree in your current university (coursework needed, teaching and administrative duties...).

Your main concern is that you want to work in the US after your PhD. It is probably the best place for research, but maybe in three or four years you will decide that you don't want to go there so much, or maybe you will be counting the days to go back.

All this are pretty general comments that may or may not fully apply in your case, that you will have to weight according to your situation. But if I was in your case, as you have presented it, I would say "don't walk. Don't run either."

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    Applications in the US aren't that expensive. Typically the entire process for graduate schools costs a few hundred to about one thousand dollars, including tests. Waivers are often also available for people who might not be able to afford the application otherwise. – aeismail Jun 1 '14 at 15:19
  • @aeismail I personally think that is a lot of money for start working (I see a PhD as, fundamentally, a job). It also involves a lot of bureaucracy, that I try to avoid as much as possible. – Davidmh Jun 3 '14 at 10:09
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I am an American living and studying in Belgium, and I've also recently been applying to PhD programs around the world. Based on what you've described in your question, I have to honestly ask: why are you even considering going to the USA for a PhD? It looks like you have it made in your current situation: a great and influential adviser, excellent resources, and the ability to get into your research immediately. You didn't mention, but I suppose funding plays some role--and if your adviser offered you a position, I'm guessing funding is included. :)

You mention you're in the sciences, but you don't indicate what kind of career you want...so I don't know if you're looking for corporate or for academia. But my speculation (and it is entirely just that) is that the academic market in the US will be turning more and more international as the years go on: professors from other parts of the world, as well as Americans with international degrees. But, I might add, that perhaps you'll find yourself as an expat for longer than you initially thought... Perhaps your career would be better if you took a job somewhere else in the world, and/or getting your foot in the door with an international corporation may do well to help get you into a state-side company as well.

So, from a fellow expat living and studying abroad (and from a fellow applicant to PhD programs who would love to have a funded position just offered to him, but who knows that won't happen)-- I say you should take the offer!

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I've argued a whole bunch of times that if you want to get an academic job in the USA, you should do the Ph.D. in the USA as well.

For instance, I give an analysis in this thread of the thought process behind a hiring committee's decision of whom to interview and show ways that holding a foreign degree might hurt your chances.

I also had a more extended interchange with some folks here in this thread who seemed initially resistant to my claim. However, see JeffE's comment towards the end of that comment chain in which he says "All else being equal, US PhDs have an advantage in the US academic market."

Best of luck to you in your search.

  • I think it's a little misleading to include that comment without the "but..." that follows it – ff524 Jun 1 '14 at 14:02
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    "...but the advantage is less significant than having a PhD from a top department, or having a few best paper awards, and plenty of people get academic jobs without either of those advantages." I read your earlier advice as a claim that having a US PhD is necessary to get an academic position in the US. It is not. – JeffE Jun 1 '14 at 14:05
  • @JeffE I never claimed that doing the PhD in the US is necessary; nor did I claim it was sufficient. Clearly it is neither. My claim is rather that doing the PhD outside the US is a disadvantage on the US job market. You agree with that claim! You and I might disagree about how big the disadvantage is--although even there I don't know that we do disagree. However, I think most reasonable observers of the current academic job market would agree that most candidates can't afford to voluntarily disadvantage themselves. – shane Jun 1 '14 at 15:30
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Stay put for your good. You are happy there, so be content!

Why would you want to quit something for something which does not even exist, and ruin your content merry life?

May be that's just me, but if I were you I'd take the PhD offer from my current advisor.

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