Well, my visit was interesting.
I wish I could write a big old post raving and swooning about UConn, but I think I got an honest view of what it is like.
Lol… That sounds so bad. It wasn't bad, it was just honest. Kinda like that girl/guy you crushed on from a distance in high school then when you met in person you discovered was just a normal person like everyone else.
UConn is just a normal person like everyone else.
So… yes, I'm still going. Unless I get into Penn State and then I will go visit Penn, see that they are just normal like everyone else, and flip a coin. Just kidding. I would never decide something as important as a PhD by flipping a coin. I'll draw straws instead.
Ok, so the positives:
- collegial environment – the students seem to get along well and support each other and I genuinely liked most of the students I met. The only two I did not really like are both leaving so no worries.
- AWESOME stipend – much better than most places and I can even get pre-approved for a mortgage.
- a variety of faculty – seems like each one has a specialty area so I can get a breadth of experience and dabble in concentrations which will make me more marketable down the road.
- location – it's nice and rural, just like I like it.
- campus – feels like an old-school college campus, lots of greystone and brick.
- teaching – I could get as much teaching experience as I want which matters down the road during job search time
- cutting edge faculty – a couple faculty members, young relatively recent hires, seem to be doing innovative
research which I am very interested in
- one "named" faculty – one person that I could tell is a kind of big name in his field, even wrote his own theory
- popularity – communications is one of the biggest majors at UConn and they are hiring tons of adjunct faculty to meet the demand
- huge incoming cohort – apparently there are 15 students coming in the fall cohort. That is double, triple, quadruple the size of other recent classes. I'm sure my future bff's are in that group.
- type of learning – I asked one student how learning is measured in each class and he insinuated that there were a lot of papers, presentations, and participation/preparedness scores but not too many classes that had exams. [This is good.] I am much more of a synthesis, analysis, higher order thinker than a memorize things and spit them back out on an exam thinker.
- no funding – the biggest bad news was learning that I am currently not funded. That means I would have to pay my way or get loans. The good news is the faculty chair really seemed to like me and all but promised she would try to fund me by the beginning of classes at best or end of fall semester at worst. She also sent emails to a bunch of other administrative units across UConn to see if they would hire me as a GA. Funding is the same, I just would not get the teaching experience right off the bat.
- coasting – it seems some of the faculty have been resting on their tenured laurels and haven't been doing much research or contributing much to the PhD program
- financial weirdness – a couple faculty hinted that there was some drama last year which led to an incoming PhD class of… zero. Couldn't exactly pin down what the problem was.
- youth – ha ha – I'm so old – it appears the vast majority
of students come straight into the Master's program from undergrad or straight from another Master's to the PhD, so they are in their mid-20's. Ummm… I only saw one other student in my age vicinity, and he kindly and pointedly told me the age difference was fine and he did not feel like their weird Uncle Ted from the 60's. Whew.
- no placement success – There have not been any students from the PhD program placed in faculty positions. They have all successfully been placed in corporate/industry jobs but placing students as faculty is where the program name spreads and gains in reputation.
- Graduation rate – There is one student graduating this year. He say he started with four or five others who all left for one reason or another. He is actually trying to get a faculty position and has interviewed a few places, but no success yet.
- dissertation worthy …really? – I sat in on a research group where the student who is graduating was presenting the research plan that will become the backbone for his dissertation. He designed two one-page newsletters that will each hopefully garner a different emotional response from the target audience. Really? What? THAT'S the research basis for a DISSERTATION? Hmmm…
Things that make me go Hmmmmmm…
- personalities – the faculty for the most part encouraged me to get involved, welcomed me to join their projects, and talked about mentoring. But one student went out of his way to tell me he did not get mentoring the way he wanted. Hmmm…. Right now I am erring on the faculty side because that particular student seemed kind of bitter and intense.
- quantitative focus – two faculty went out of their way to scare the poop out of me about the quantitative focus and hard core series of statistics classes. They must have reviewed my file and taken note of my GRE quantitative score. They did not need to work hard at scaring me, I was already nervous.
- transformational time – several people talked about things changing for the better in the program starting with the huge 15 person incoming cohort. That's good, but change can be difficult sometimes and I do not have a good handle on the politics or "teams" involved with the forward movement.
So, I feel good about the trip. I certainly scored BIG POINTS by showing up and taking things so seriously. Several faculty were flattered/impressed that I had read their journal articles and I feel relatively confident about getting funded through a TA in the department or a GA somewhere else on campus. The department chair was even helping me search for homes/condos for sale by the end of the second day!
I have no doubt it will be an interesting or even rocky ride at times. There was enough evidence that things are not all
roses and sunshine, but what is? I have lived enough lives and weathered enough storms to know what I can handle and how to handle different situations.
I also got the impression I could be very successful there if I wanted to. It seems like it is very possible for the students to coast their way through without much effort just to get credentialed. Both faculty and students confirmed that but both also said you get out of it what you put into it. My master's program was like that too. I set my own standards and worked hard to reach them. I definitely had classmates that did not work nearly as hard but still got the same diploma. I'm sure that will happen at UConn, but I am an intrinsically-motivated learner so I want to get out of it what matters to me and what will prepare me to be successful in the job search.
Similarly, but on the flip side, I got the impression that life can be balanced while in the program. (That is super important given my chronic fatigue like crap. I have become convinced the CF is mostly due to stress which I am hopefully going to completely shed by leaving this life behind and starting over next year.) I was worried I would be in the office or at home studying/working for 12-16 hours per day. I got the impression it will not be like that and that the faculty are balanced in their lives as well.
So… I'm still going and I'm going in with my eyes open.
I'll give Penn State a call this week to see where I stand before I get too far along. Otherwise, I'll go up to UConn again for a few days towards the end of May to really hammer in the house hunt. Yay!