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I am currently a PhD student studying robotics at university A in my third year, and I've recently finished my qualifying exams and advanced to candidacy. My professor has been in contact with another university B, and they want to offer him a position there, so now I have two choices: stay at A, and finish up my PhD; or move with him to B, help set up the new lab, and finish my PhD there. BY the time I take this decision, I'd have finished three years into my PhD. The pros and cons are somewhat like this.

  1. University A's PhD program is more research focused with minimal coursework. If I move to B, I am looking at an extra year/more of coursework, that probably will not be relevant to my research at all. Few schools seem to offer coursework that's directly in line with my research.
  2. University B is better ranked; and if I move there, I will be part of a new research group that's just being set up. That could be a better platform, and I'd gain a lot of valuable experience being involved in a lot more projects.
  3. Obviously, university B is a completely new place, new people etc. I've already spent about 5 years (master's+PhD) at A.
  4. Based on what the university website says, there don't seem to be a lot of course equivalents of what I'd already taken in my master's/PhD so far in the new university.
  5. Personally, given the amount of time I'd spent in this city, and other such factors, I would prefer to stay at A.

Given these parameters, would it be worth moving to B, how it would set me back timeline wise and the possible advantages from the move?

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    When a faculty member left my school (top 40 "engineering") to another school (top 20 "engineering"), all his students left with him knowing the pros/cons you have mentioned above. – The Guy Jun 6 '16 at 21:05
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    Assuming universities A and B are not in the same neighbourhood (or at least town), I find it somewhat surprising (and possibly unexpectedly liberating for you in this situation) that you seem to have no ties outside of the university that would contribute to your pros and cons: an own flat or house, a rented flat or house (or any other contract that binds you to a specific city for a while), a partner or other family members, club/community memberships, ... . These can weigh considerably heavier than the arguably rather vague/superficial factors about the universities you list in your ... – O. R. Mapper Jun 6 '16 at 21:22
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    ... question. While you might indeed not have any such ties, I do find it unusual that the pros and cons of switching are limited to factors directly concerning the university, and factors such as the city where the university is located (the new base of your life at least for the next few years!) do not seem to play a role at all. If you deliberately excluded those from this question because they are more off-topic for this site, I'd suggest you add a brief note that we're looking only at a part of your final decision matrix. – O. R. Mapper Jun 6 '16 at 21:25
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    your supervisor may be able to negotiate with the new place that you are placed at the same point in the new program so no more coursework. Ask him about this. – Mark Joshi Jun 7 '16 at 0:49
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    I've seen situations like this where the student physically moved to location B but remained enrolled in school A, continued to work on the same thesis project, and ultimately got the Ph.D. from A. This was in mathematics, and I realize that it might be more difficult to continue the same project in a field where labs are involved. – Andreas Blass Jun 7 '16 at 1:40
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There's no simple answer here. Contrary to "The Fire Guy," when I moved, all of my students stayed at their old institution—primarily for financial and personal reasons. However, I received approval from the department at my old university to continue advising the students who remained.

The big question that you haven't addressed is what you'd have left to do to finish at school A. Are you one or two years out from graduation, or more? And how much extra time would you need to spend at school B completing requirements? And are there other issues, such as teaching load and organizational duties, that may extend your time beyond what you'd have at school A?

As far as being involved in a lot of projects, that's a double-edged sword: you end up with an experience profile that's a mile wide, but not very deep. It's not something you tend to be able to convert into a PhD thesis relatively easily.

  • Did you keep supervising any of the students who didn't move with you? That's option C which a friend of mine chose (of course, this might not be feasible in robotics). – gnometorule Jun 6 '16 at 21:28
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    Yes, I did—all of them, in fact. I've added this to my answer. – aeismail Jun 6 '16 at 21:33
  • Thanks for the reply! I am about 2 years from graduation here. If I move to B, I'd easily need an extra 1-1.5 years just for completing the required courses etc. I don't expect to have any teaching load though. – HighVoltage Jun 6 '16 at 23:42
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For the most part, if you have already invested 5 years in your current university and have an advisor, then it is not worth relocating. In general, the following hold true at that point in your career, although if not for you the answer may be different.

  • You already have an advisor, so any additional classes are not really going to help you that much. Faculty will not treat you the same as if you were eventually a potential student, which is not to say the treatment will be bad, but they won't put to much time into you.
  • You are coming "pre-programmed" with your older schools viewpoint, mannerisms and ideology, and you're not likely to shake that. At this point in your career, you are half-baked as a grad student, meaning that you are already representing the school you are at. You might be able to fit in at the new program, but if it isn't that different then all the new work isn't worth it, and if it is that different, then you are not likely to succeed.
  • You most likely will be thought of as being from your original school anyway. The relationships that you build in grad school are part of your success later on, and you already missed the boat with the cohort you would hope to graduate with. Things like ongoing projects can help that, but in the end, when you are on the market and in the field, you will be a student of your first program.
  • There are a lot of costs associated with moving that can really set your timeline back outside the costs of changing a program. Now you know the library. You know the labs. You know the people in the department. Once you move that will no longer be true, and that is a cost. Add into all of that the actual time and monetary costs of a move, which will kill at least several thousand dollars and a month of your time. A month over a summer can mean the difference between being ready to go on the job market in the fall, and having to wait another year, which can be fatal on the job market, depending on your specialization.
  • There is a lot of attraction to trying new things, but in the end grad school is a means to an end, not the end itself. Get a job/post-doc and go through that there, not as a grad student. In fact, there is no reason you cannot graduate from your current school, and then go work with your advisor at his new program as a post-doc, or better yet Asst. Prof! Get the degree done.

There is one thing that could veto all that however: sometimes when your faculty advisor leaves, it is like they were kidnapped by aliens, and you never hear from them again. That can really put a kink in completing the program at all, and has ended many promising careers. Ensure before you faculty departs that you have a plan to graduate.

Ideally, in my field, I would say that you have a proposal complete with a couple of chapters of your dissertation written. If you are in the natural sciences, you should already be running your experiments and collecting your field data. If you are still developing your project, you may not be able to complete that work if your advisor is too far, or difficult to get ahold of. Make sure you have a long conversation with your advisor about this before you make any decisions.

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    Great answer. Plus, regarding your fourth bullet point: if you are expected to help setting up the new lab, then this can be a great experience - but it will cost you time that will need to come from somewhere, on top of all the time you spend finding a house and getting set up yourself. – Stephan Kolassa Jun 7 '16 at 6:37
  • when you are on the market and in the field, you will be a student of your first program - I disagree: when you apply for jobs, people will see where you get your degree. So I made this a pro in my answer. – Kimball Jun 7 '16 at 9:12
  • @kimball YMMV, but in my experience, if someone spent 5 years at one program, and 2 years at another, people were aware of it, and the degree granting institution didn't matter as much. – The Pompitous of Love Jun 7 '16 at 12:09
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Let me point other possible pros, which you should factor in:

  • If you go to B, you will get almost certainly have more interaction with and guidance from your advisor. Though being forced to be more independent can also be beneficial sometimes, most likely this would be a boon for you. (cf Pompitous's answer)

  • If University B is significantly better ranked, graduating from there may help you find a job, particularly if you choose to leave academia. Unfortunately "brand names" can make some difference on the job market, and tend to make a difference in industry more than academia. Some people may say it makes no difference in academia, but it can help make a little better impression for you, which might turn out to be important given how competitive the current market is. See also University rank/stature - How much does it affect one's career post-Ph.D? (in particular JeffE's excellent answer) for related considerations.

  • As @Mark Joshi points out in a comment, your con about needing an extra year or so may be mitigated if your advisor can negotiate away some of the different requirements. However, even if you do take longer, the extra time you spend at University B could end up being beneficial for you, if you learn a lot and become a better candidate on the job market. (Even helping set up the lab may be a good experience.)

Even though my comments lean in this direction, I'm not saying you definitely should go to University B. I've seen people be successful (and not) doing both things. However, I suggest having a discussion with your advisor, and perhaps a few other faculty in your department once the issue is publicly known, about what he thinks about the pros and cons for you would be, and try to go into this discussion with an open mind.

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The Pompitous of Love is giving you great advice. For a less scientific answer, I say go where your head and heart are telling you. I think you answered it yourself when you said you'd rather stay where you are. If you don't believe yourself, try this little trick. Take a coin, heads you stay, tails you go. Now flip the coin. Look at the result. Were you happy or disappointed in the toss of the coin? Therein lies your answer.

  • The problem with this method is when you're disappointed with either coin flip result... :) – Kimball Jun 7 '16 at 9:02

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