Graduate School by the Numbers: Aftermath of the Decision

If I needed a sign that I had chosen the right program – and my guilt pangs were a sure indication that I did – the Dean of the School of Biological Sciences at Super-Fancy Program called me personally to award me a fellowship (just for being a “top recruit”!).  Now, I can afford a moving truck and food to stock our new closet-sized home.

Three things overwhelmed the aftermath of the decision-making process:


1) I hope that it is uncommon for recruits to feel like they have lead programs on.  Some of the interactions with and feedback I received from faculty were so encouraging and genuine that I felt guilty for turning down the offers from their institutions.

2) How feasible is this, really?  Are cost of living, accessibility of health insurance, and the job market for my husband really sustainable in this new environment?

3) Am I going to regret taking this risk?


The first issue, I am slowly getting over as I correspond with jilted faculty about future collaboration, travel grants to learn a new technique from them during my pre doc, and potential post doc positions.  This is most comforting fluff, as no one knows where things will be in six years.

The second set of concerns is unique to the individual.  I have a husband and a chronic health condition, both of which weighed in on which programs I applied to in the first place.  However, you think about the actual repercussions of choosing an institution a little differently during and after you choose it.  For us, it’s worth it.  The sacrifice to benefit ratio is mutual between us.  Now, it’s all happening.  Now, the possibilities are real.  Now, there are a lot of phone calls to make.

After lunch with a dear friend, this third question seemed a little silly.  There should be no regret in leaving something behind if you have the option to come back to it later – what are post docs and faculty positions for?  “Regret comes from not taking risks,” I was reminded. “You are far more likely to regret not taking advantage of this opportunity than to second-guess leaving safety and familiarity behind here.”  And I think she was right.


Natalie Goldberg is a Neuroscience and Chemistry addict in pursuit of a PhD.  Since 2008, she has worked as a research assistant at the Portland VA Medical Center rescuing the world from the throes of neurodegenerative movement disorders.  Her musings and experiences in science can be found in her blog.



Want to see the rest of Natalie’s grad school decision process?

Graduate School by the Numbers: Interviews

Graduate School by the Numbers: Mastering the Interview Process



Any other concerns you faced after your decision?



6 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. jsquare

    wrote on March 22, 2011 at 8:43 am

    i'm a bit neurotic, but i also began worrying that maybe the science that attracted me to the program wasn't really so cool afterall. ironically, i ended up joining a lab that didn't have anything to do with the original scientific reasons i selected the program so i think happiness with your decision is what you make it.

  2. Dr 29

    wrote on March 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Jsquare, I am a bit neurotic too, and I am glad I took the risk of going to the school I did and join the lab I joined. Like you, I also ended up switching the focus and subject that brought me to the school in the first place, and it was so worth it. And Natalie, best of luck to you and your husband. I am feeling like an undergrad going into grad school again with the prospect of a new (and real) job after finishing my postdoc. The fears, the worry, the questions about whether it will turn out OK and whether I'll be breaking someone's scientific heart, or even mine, are all there. Your words are very comforting and grounding, even at this stage.

  3. [email protected]

    wrote on March 22, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Dr 29, I agree- it seems that every time there is a transition in our career we're faced with these types of feelings. I try to take comfort in the fact that I'm nervous about a decision because it means I really care- even when I just know it's right, I still will feel a little stressed. In fact, at this point if I was not at least a bit anxious about a big decision, I'd be worried…

    Good luck to both of you (Dr 29 and Natalie) in your next career steps!

  4. Tom

    wrote on March 23, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    You'll change your mind 1000 times while in grad school. Stick with your gut, you can always do whatever you want afterwards. Having 'PhD' after your name gets you a lot of credibility. I, on the otherhand, left my PhD program after 2 years, but am loving it b/c I'm still in science, and I'm using every bit of those 2 grad school years in my present life.

    Keep pushing forward, and if you have to leave at some point or change your focus, you won't be the only one. Nice post.

  5. [email protected]

    wrote on March 24, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    You bring up an excellent point, Tom. People change, and so does their focus. Sometimes this means that a couple of years into graduate school you realize it's just not the direction you want to be going in. That's ok- better to recognize this early and spend time searching for your true passion, than to slog it out for 4 more years only to find yourself in the same boat (just 4 years older…).

  6. Karlee Castro

    wrote on April 6, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Natalie Thanks for your blogs. I am making the same decision. I just e-mailed the program I am accepting. It was a tough decision for me too and in the end it was about what would work for me and my husband. If I only had myself to worry about I would likely have made a different choice. However, I am glad to have someone else to worry about so I make the decision that is hopefully better for both of us. Good luck to you.

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