Where do I go to figure out the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?
August 23, 2006 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Boston or SF? SF or Boston? *head desk* Help me hive mind, as only you can!

I switch from leaning towards one city to the other many many times a day and mostly end up in the fetal position. I've looked at a whole bunch of threads and though I try to filter the advice and apply to myself as best I can, I still find myself hopelessly confused.

So, background:
I moved up to the Bay Area a few months ago to help out with some research at Stanford (I'm a psyc. major and I didn't do much research while in school. I want to go to grad school and have realized I need to get as much experience as I can). Despite going through the breakup of a four and a half yr. relationship, I managed to make friends with my roomies and despite being in Menlo Park, am finding ways to keep myself occupied (kinda). I hated it here initially, but love-love-love it now. The summer research is over and I've got two options: stay at Stanford and keep doing research (not paid, mind you) while I live off savings and maybe find a crappy job to supplement me or go to Hah-vahd where I might have a research job waiting for me (and more face time with professors, which I hear is important).

A few kinks though: I already know people in the Bay area..and they're cool. My ex-roomate/good friend may move up here soon and we could move in together. My college alumni chapter has a big presence here. But..no foreseeable job and if I want to live in SF proper or the East Bay (which I do), wouldn't commuting a few times a week to Stanford suck major ass?

I've visited Boston before, and loved it. When I think of Boston, visions of the Red Sox!, Apple picking!, Leaves Changing!, and Maple syrup, er, gathering? dance in my head. For someone who had an unnatural fondness for WGBH programming when I was younger (who didn't like The Victory Garden or This Old House (the old ones)? Not to mention the New Yankee workshop), New England holds a certain romantic fascination for me.

I don't know anybody in Boston save my recently ex-bf's parents and friends, and might be able to hang out with them, but can we say "awkward!" I did love his family and liked his friends quite a bit, but the break up is fairly recent and I don't want to rely on him too much. I know I can make friends, but it isn't that easy for me and Boston kind of scares me because it seems difficult to integrate if you're not either in school or a local (though I am open to being proved wrong). Plus, the cold. Oh, the cold.

I want to do things, man. New things, cool things. I can find an afro-celt-polka-acrobatic-dance class up here in a second. And while I'm not saying I can't find this kookiness in Boston, perhaps SF wears its kookiness more on its sleeve (or at least advertises it more readily on Craigslist)? I'm not particularly outdoor-sy, but I'd like to be, and I like the fact that you can do that mostly year round here (I'm originally from the west coast and I've found that winters, after going to school in Chicago, don't mesh well with me...SAD affects me in a big way). I heart driving and I'd keep my car if I stayed in the bay area (not in Boston), plus finding a place to live would be much easier if I decided to stay here...
So, erm, yeah. What should I do?

I really don't mean this as a "which city is better?" question. I mean it more as a: Imagine yourself, almost 23yrs old, single for the first time in young adult hood, trying to "find yourself," in the midst of a quarter-life crisis and not *particularly* career focused... where would you be?
posted by Eudaimonia to Work & Money (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
*sorry for the length, but if you got through all that, kudos, friend, kudos.
posted by Eudaimonia at 6:57 PM on August 23, 2006

Being deep in the middle of the quarter life crisis, I can give you some advice (maybe). I think, honestly, it doesn't matter a whit which one you choose. The only important thing is to not get stuck in a rut and then hit 29 and go "oh shit, did I lose my 20s?"
If you go to Boston, and it sucks, and is cold, and you don't make any friends, you can move on. You're not chained there forever. That most likely won't happen, but if you watch your money and have some support system somewhere, that's probably your worst case scenario. And you'd at least learn something about yourself and about life while you were being miserable and figuring out what to do next.
If you stay in the Bay area, just keep looking for new experiences. Can you get more research? Paid research? Move to a slightly different concentration or add another professor? Get a really cool job on your days off! The Bay area is really exciting and has lots of opportunities for whatever you want to do, so you absolutely don't have to feel like you're not being adventurous enough by staying.
Anyway, what I learned was that I can do things, and it will change my direction in life, but I can change it back if I want to, or change again, and things will always keep happening.
Good luck!
posted by ohio at 7:08 PM on August 23, 2006

I grew up in northern California, and I've visited Boston a couple of times. They are both very cool places; Boston was far, far more interesting than I thought it would be.

I'd say, though, that given your SADs and the fact that you have people you really like.... stay in SF. Just visit Boston once in awhile. :)

A good decision making technique: focus on the problem and go to bed. When you get up, if you still don't know, flip a coin. You can change your answer once. Once the decision is made, stop worrying and get it done.
posted by Malor at 7:09 PM on August 23, 2006

Stay in SF. Stay in Stanford.

This coming from someone who thinks Boston is probably the best city in the U.S. You've got too many good things going for you in SF. There's got to be some youthful condition that eagerly yearns to "stir things up" when they've got everything going for them already. When you get your degree from Stanford, you can go wherever you like. Until then, enjoy the nice weather.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:15 PM on August 23, 2006

The way you wrote your question sounds to me like you are trying to convince yourself to move to Boston when, deep down inside, you really want to stay in California.

I'm just sayin'.

posted by ambrosia at 7:19 PM on August 23, 2006

How's this...
How do you feel about snow? How do you feel about snow in an urban setting?
I love SF and Boston, but I hate city snow. It's filthy and you have to shovel it around. I say leave the snow at the ski resorts where it belongs. If you have no problems with urban snow then go to Boston.
posted by lekvar at 7:20 PM on August 23, 2006

Heh, you're probably right, ambrosia.

Right now it all feels like a tug o' war between what I *should* do vs. what I *want* to do.
But its a matter of a job vs. no job, too.

thanks all for the very insightful answers..keep 'em comin!
posted by Eudaimonia at 7:22 PM on August 23, 2006

As someone who's in love with Massachusetts (Radio On!), I encourage you to give it a try. You know you like San Francisco well enough. If you love Boston like you suspect that you do, you've done yourself a favor. If you don't, you're cured yourself of wondering and you can go west again and know that it's fine, too.

This question seems more like a personal "how do I feel about risk?" because it sounds like you know what you want to do.

(And 'GBH is even cooler up close!)
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:23 PM on August 23, 2006

Imagine yourself, almost 23yrs old, single...

There have been several prominent news stories recently about the finding that Boston is the #1 city in the United States for singles looking to date. (If you need citations, Google is your friend.)
posted by cribcage at 7:34 PM on August 23, 2006

I'll comment as a person who just left Boston after six years (I spent ages 23-29 living around Cambridge, Brookline and Allston and working in high tech along the Route 128 corridor). I _could not get past the weather_. Winter lasts forever and one begins to feel as though one is a mole-person inhabiting a burrow after the umpteenth day spent indoors. The mild summers are lovely but all too short.

Many other things being equal (and both cities are culturally vibrant to a more or less equivalent degree), go for the Mediterranean climate over April nor'easters.
posted by killdevil at 7:40 PM on August 23, 2006

You should go to Boston, no question. The reason? You want to go to grad school.

Top psych programs are hard to get into, and the best way to do so is to have made an actual face-to-face impression on the people you want to accept you. The best way to make an impression is to work on research with them. You already have done your best at Stanford (get reccomendation letters before you leave), and it would be good to do the same at Harvard (and MIT, if you are more into cognitive or brain science). But you need to be in Cambridge to do it.

Also, the students in the psych program at Harvard have always seemed friendly to me. But that could just be an experiment...

My advice: go to Boston, apply to school in both places either this year (if you are ready) or next year, and then see where you want to actually go to school.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:48 PM on August 23, 2006

Addendum and full disclosure: I live in Cambridge, and love it here, so there is some bias. But trust me about the getting into grad school technique, if that is indeed your goal. If you decide to stay in Palo Alto, definitely make some face-to-face visits with professors at other schools, even if it means flying around the country.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:53 PM on August 23, 2006

Stay in SF. Boston will suck you dry. If you dig the vibe in SF and you're wanting to stay there I'm pretty sure that you'll grow to hate Boston. I honestly can't think of two more polar extremes out of the cities I've been to.

I spend at least a week each month in Boston and I *hate* it. I mean I love the cultural, the history and I finally got to see the Sox - but I hate the feeling like I'm always behind and that everyone is annoyed. And no one ever says "excuse me" when they bump into you. No one.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:58 PM on August 23, 2006

seems difficult to integrate if you're not either in school or a local

I'm in a school in Cambridge, but through the school have met quite a lot of people who had the "learn something new" "do something crazy" plan to get connected and gravitated to the activities that are somehow tied to a school. At least where I am, a lot of activities are quite open to very loosely affiliated people participating.

It's definitely a postive networking experience vis a vis grad students, if not necessarily professors, and has encouraged/supported a bunch of the above sample population in getting a job or returning to school here.
posted by whatzit at 8:31 PM on August 23, 2006

Though I've never been to San Fransisco, I live in Cambridge. There's a lot of interchange between Boston and SF [people moving both ways.] Especially in the 20s-30s age-group, you'll probably be able to find a similar crowd of people. It's true that many people here meet through their schools, but as is true anywhere, you can choose to involve yourself in things that'll help you meet people. Take art classes, become part of the Boston music scene, become a regular at 1369 or Diesel, etc. Many university-affiliated activities are pretty open, as well.

Grad-school-wise, a paid internship/research assistant job at Harvard will probably be better than continuing at Stanford on a part time volunteer basis. Although I do research in a different area, doing volunteer work without being a student - particularly when you've hopefully proven to the professor you work for that you're interested and competent - often isn't a great sign, unless your lab's fairly poor. If the Harvard job works out, you'll be able to devote your full attention to your research [instead of having to work a second job so that you don't burn through all your savings] and you'll be meeting more professors who can help you into grad school. You'll be better off financially and academically.

Furthermore, you're planning to apply to grad schools anyway, so there's a decent chance you'll end up moving in a year or two, regardless of what you do now. If you spend the next year doing research in Boston, and you don't enjoy it [the weather's too rough, you don't make friends, etc.], you can always apply to primarily West Coast programs for grad school and, with luck, pick up where you left off back in SF. Even if you stay in SF for the next year, you may find yourself moving for grad school, depending on what sort of offers you get from various programs. Either way, the decision doesn't have to be a huge deal. You're planning the next year or so, but you'll have an easy opportunity to change your mind once you've got your grad school offers.
posted by ubersturm at 8:50 PM on August 23, 2006

I'm currently living in Cambridge and finishing up my last year of law school at the H-bomb so that I can move to the bay area. Er... not exactly "currently", I will be doing all those things next week, but at the moment I'm savoring every second of my SF-based summer internship.

I feel your pain, in a way. I LOVE the bay area, which I discovered just after I moved to Boston and then applied to law school. I decided to tough it out in Boston (getting into Harvard obviously helped tip that scale), even knowing that I really, really wanted to live in the bay area after school. I don't regret it, but I did take steps at every opportunity to spend as much time as possible out here, and to line up an after-school job here.

I grew up in Michigan, so I'm not especially bothered by the weather (though it really sucks when it gets dark at 3:30 in the winter), but the social scene really bothered me. Vis a vis San Francisco, people in Boston are generally much more brusque, and frankly a lot more conservative in every sense other than "voting for democrats." Gender stereotypes are much more prominent, and seem to extend to every segment of the population. Social status as measured by money is much more important (obviously this is worse in the Back Bay, but it's prominent everywhere).

On the flip side, SF is way more hippy-dippy. Boston is much more get-down-to-business and cut the bullshit. Of course there are exceptions to all of these things; I have a lot of good friends in Boston, but I felt like I was always pushing uphill to make friends, whereas it just kind of happens out here. If you've got a sure thing lined up at Harvard, I'd say go for it, but make post-grad plans in California and try to get out here during the summers or whenever you're not teaching/taking classes.
posted by rkent at 8:58 PM on August 23, 2006

Geez, if you have to ask, you probably belong in Boston ;-)

San Francisco, of course!
posted by anadem at 9:19 PM on August 23, 2006

I SORELY miss Boston, but you'll have to go out of town for the apple picking and leaf-peeping (and up to VT for the maple syrup). Given that you're prone to SAD, I'd stay in the Bay area.
posted by brujita at 9:43 PM on August 23, 2006

If you have a research job waiting for you at Harvard, then take it and move to Boston. If the job doesn't come through, stay in SF. As other have said, you would inevitably move on in a couple of years anyway, you can always move back to the bay area.
posted by Joh at 11:18 PM on August 23, 2006

You've gotten excellent advice on the grad school angle that I am unqualified to comment on. As a guy in the computer business who travels on business frequently and is in both areas often, I can observe confidently that both cities are very cool.

IMO SF has better restaurants and from observation is slightly more expensive, at least from a traveler's perspective. I enjoy visiting them both often and believe I could happily live in either place, if for some reason I ever had to stop living in New York City.
posted by enrevanche at 3:48 AM on August 24, 2006

Gender stereotypes are much more prominent, and seem to extend to every segment of the population. Social status as measured by money is much more important (obviously this is worse in the Back Bay, but it's prominent everywhere).

I'm sure the asker can tell this, but the person who wrote the above is smoking crack. We rarely keep our women barefoot and pregant or stuck at home. I'm sure there are some prominent gender stereotypes, but they're not especially pronounced-- for instance, men almost never wear skirts here.

And any other New Englander will back me up on this-- born and bred traditional New Englanders, just as the stereotype says, find talking about money very distasteful. People who moved here from away to go to school or work in finance, maybe not. But we still outnumber them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:22 AM on August 24, 2006

When I was finishing up college a couple of years ago, I had a really hard time deciding whether I wanted to move to Bloomington, Indiana -- which was a very cool town, while keeping a small, laid-back, midwestern feel, and where I had a lot friends -- or Boston -- where I had a job lined up at a great non-profit with serious career prospects. Eventually, I decided on Bloomington, although to this day I still couldn't tell you exactly why.

After two years in Bloomington, things were comfortable and relaxing, but I kind of felt like I was just wasting my time. So I sent some e-mail and made some phone calls, and now I just finished a move to Boston, taking an even better job at the aforementioned non-profit. But it was still hard to leave Bloomington.

So I second ohio and Malor. I think you're gonna just have to pick one and do it. If flipping a coin is what it takes, so be it. Just remember that you can always change things again if they don't work out for you. I think a lot of my decision-making anxiety went away when I finally realized that.

Good luck!
posted by brett at 4:37 AM on August 24, 2006

And any other New Englander will back me up on this

I agree, though I think west-coasters miscontrue some common east-coast dialogue as "overly-concerned about money." For instance, one topic that always seems to come up when meeting someone for the first time in either Boston or New York is, "What's your rent like?" This isn't meant as a guage of income, but is instead a helpful way of determining just how dumb or smart you were in the rental game. If you already know the person is wealthy, you won't bother to ask. Since everything is so ludicrously overpriced in the northeast, bargain-hunting has become more than a pasttime--it's an ethos. Where's the cheapest pizza? Did you know you can get a free hat with purchase of a ice-cream cone on Tuesdays? Did you know this museum is free on Thursdays if you're a student? Etc.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:12 AM on August 24, 2006

Boston. It will toughen you up, and show you what you are really made of. Then you can go wherever afterward and you will be prepared for almost anything.
posted by quibx at 6:02 AM on August 24, 2006

Chiming in as a born and bred New Englander now living in Atlanta.

I have to use two hands to count the number of friends who made the move from Boston to San Fransico and don't plan on coming back anytime soon. San Francisco is like the happier, sunnier younger sister of Boston. The boyfriend and I just 3 months ago moved from Boston to Atlanta to escape the winters. They're soul crushing at times. BUT - I miss Boston, I really do. The crispness of fall, the smell and warmth of the air when spring breaks. There is a lot to do, but you have to work for it.

We are a bit brusque, I'll admit it. Since moving south I've been both confused and welcomed by the amount of strangers who'll talk to me. I'm getting used to smiling at strangers and making eye contact. I felt the same way when I visited San Francisco.

I miss my little desk at WGBH - by the by - it's currently on Harvard owned property and will be moving to a fancy new building in Brighton sometime in the near future.

If education is your main priority - go to Boston. You can always head back West after the fact. You will make friends and find your own groove, it just might be a bit harder.
posted by Constant Reader at 6:36 AM on August 24, 2006

I'm also not at all sure what is meant by the crack about gender stereotypes, and wonder what circles the writer was moving in. There's plenty of different layers to Boston, just like any other city.

A word on the brusqueness - it's my impression that New Englanders do tend to be more initially reserved, but it's still quite possible to have a wonderful loyal social circle. The cheery talking to strangers thing - the dark side of that, as a friend once wryly put it, is that you don't always know who your friends really are. I think it's a wonderful thing, don't get me wrong, but don't mistake surface courtesy and culture for actual friendship.
posted by canine epigram at 6:57 AM on August 24, 2006

Boston, dude. I was in SFO last week on vacation. A wonderful place to visit, the weather was awesome, but we never felt like we could ever be at home. Winters are really not that bad. In 10 years it will be like Florida here anyway.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:30 AM on August 24, 2006

also, what canine epigram said - excellent comment.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:31 AM on August 24, 2006

born and bred traditional New Englanders, just as the stereotype says, find talking about money very distasteful

As a friend of mine here in Boston says: "In Los Angeles people 'drive their money;' in New York they 'wear their money;' in Boston they 'hide their money.'"
posted by ericb at 9:37 AM on August 24, 2006

Well, I dunno; if you don't know that it was actually called "Crockett's Victory Garden", then maybe you're not as motivated about Boston as you say. :-)

My personal position is these days, you never really *leave* anywhere; free long distance and IM are way too pervasive.

If you are pretty certain you can get the paid gig at Harvard, and make enough to live on there, I'd give it a shot; it's another place to add people to your network.
posted by baylink at 11:28 AM on August 24, 2006

"Crockett's Victory Garden?" Oh man, I'm not as big a nerd as I'd hoped =(

I just wanted to say thanks everyone...

After four years in south side Chicago, I've become hyper-sensitive to both weather and brusque people, so I think that's the crux of my indecision...but you've all made very insightful comments that are really easing my mind about both Boston and SF

I still don't know exactly where I'll go, but I'm quite a bit better informed. Merci.

and C_D...so, um, where do I go to get this free hat/ice cream dealie??
posted by Eudaimonia at 11:34 AM on August 24, 2006

I live in the Cambridge/Somerville area, and work at MIT. I've been here about three years, and at this point am laying the groundwork to get out within a year or so. I moved here from the Midwest, and just couldn't ever fully adjust to the climate, either socially or weather-wise.

There is a lot of opportunity here, a lot to do, a lot of culture and events, a lot of everything, and without the overwhelming bigness of a Chicago or NY, but you had better have a thick skin and be prepared to swim with the sharks. I moved here after undergrad, found a good job, and threw myself into exploring the city and taking advantage of all of those things, but eventually the returns started to diminish. I've just slowly realized that I can't live at the pace that people and life here demand. Almost everyone is incredibly busy and ambitious. I've made lots of acquaintances, but hardly any close friends. Dated some, but none of it has really gone anywhere. Social life feels like a constant competition for the scarce time and attention of others. Not many people just hang out in an unstructured or relaxing way like many Midwesterners and West-coasters are accustomed to.

Some people thrive on this sort of high-energy, high churn, competitive environment, but I sure don't, which is why I'm now looking for a smaller city or college town to move to. For a limited-time engagement before moving on to grad school though, none of this may be too bad, but I think it would be kinda hard for someone who fits well in SF to also fit well here in the long run. And that isn't even considering the brutal weather and short summers and all that.

But, it really depends on your personality type and your tolerance for the conditions described above. Despite the disadvantages, there is a lot of good to be found in this city, you just have to be properly equipped to take advantage of it, and I just don't happen to have been over the long haul. YMMV.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 2:47 PM on August 24, 2006

Well, Eudaimonia you could have just moved to the northside of Chicago. It's like a whole different world. ;)
posted by FlamingBore at 6:44 PM on August 24, 2006

ah, well, my college always had a strange way of keeping its denizens tied to Hyde Park
But you're right FlamingBore, the northside is a different world...and I'm a Cubs fan, to boot! =D
posted by Eudaimonia at 6:55 PM on August 24, 2006

Eudaimonia: Until you mentioned SAD, I was going to recommend Cambridge, but the winter days are short and often gloomy. Is it an option to spend next summer in Cambridge on an internship? Summer is the best time ... if you like it then, you can decide whether it's worth trying to get through the winter. If not, your decision is made.
posted by lukemeister at 1:03 AM on August 25, 2006

I moved here to Boston last August. I'm moving away at the end of October. Why? Is it that I hate Boston? No, I love my friends. I love all this city has to offer. But I HATE 6 LOOOOONG months of winter. That's half the year. I hate when it gets dark at 4pm. Both options are great tech cities. Both are hellishly expensive. God, I adore Boston in the summer, but the winters... SOOOOO long. So dark. Not good for me. My eczema and I are packing up and heading for North Carolina!
posted by abbyladybug at 9:39 PM on September 24, 2006

An update for those who may have stumbled back here...I moved to Boston six days ago. In the course of the last week the apartment I just moved into has been robbed and my laptop was stolen....no friends yet, and no laptop. But I'm still enamored with the city. Guess its time to wait until the first snow to make a real judgment!
posted by Eudaimonia at 4:00 PM on September 25, 2006

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