UC-Irvine or Penn State?
March 4, 2008 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Social Psychology Ph.D. from Penn State? Or Psychology and Social Behavior Ph.D. from University of California at Irvine?

Asking on behalf of my girlfriend. She's been accepted to both programs, likes both programs, and is having a difficult time choosing between the two. Does anyone know about these programs specifically, their placement rate, their reputations? Obviously Irvine wins in terms of weather. But that's countered by the reception she received from Penn State and the sense of community there.

Her research would focus on women's health and emotions like shame.

Any thoughts?
posted by billysumday to Education (9 answers total)
It's all about the faculty. She needs to know who she wants to work with more. And, not in general, like a general sense of community, but specifically: which place has 2 or 3 individuals who she can imagine indenturing herself to. Nothing else matters much unless this is a close tie.
posted by dness2 at 1:47 PM on March 4, 2008

You might want to consider the cost of living in California, it's pretty expensive.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:48 PM on March 4, 2008

I'm a Penn State student so if she has any questions about the area and such, feel free to MeFiMail me.
posted by Loto at 1:55 PM on March 4, 2008

I was in the PhD program in Psychology and Social Behavior (in the School of Social Ecology, yes?) at UC Irvine. I ended up transferring to a different program for a variety of reasons. That was about 10 years ago, so things may have changed, but most faculty remain the same. I would say that UC Irvine's program is not very strong on gender issues and is better known for its emphasis in Health Psychology. The most important factor is a compatible and supportive advisor. My initial reaction is to recommend Penn State, but it really depends on her interests and future ambitions. Your girlfriend is very welcome to MeFi Mail me to discuss.
posted by picklebird at 3:01 PM on March 4, 2008

I'm a Penn State undergraduate alumna and I'm working on an extra graduate degree at UC (San Diego, not Irvine).

In terms of pure joy, I'd have to say that Penn State rivals any university I've attended (and that's 5 universities for undergrad and graduate work). There is plenty to recommend it - good facilities, attentive faculty, great football, lovely college town. It's also incredibly cheap to live there. You do have to deal with the chilly winters, but she probably won't need to drive because the town is pretty compact. If you select housing by the university, then you'll rarely need to drive/park.

Having said that, a PhD is greatly shaped by the quality of the faculty in her specific niche. Does she have a strong sense of who would be working with her on her thesis? If she does, then that should determine the school.
posted by 26.2 at 4:56 PM on March 4, 2008

Ha, you already mentioned weather -- I was just coming on to suggest she focus not only on the program but to consider things like that. I live in the Bay Area (not even as nice as Irvine) and recently visited Pennsylvania a few times (Pittsburgh, not University Park), and I was shocked by how dreary it is. I mean, I like wintry weather, I drive up to Tahoe, but it was not just "brr, it's cold now," it was also gray and dreary and really felt like the rustbelt. It was like walking into an Edward Gorey cartoon. YMMV.
posted by salvia at 8:38 PM on March 4, 2008

There are a few things to weigh up. Firstly funding, I'm sure that she's got funding from both places, but are they comparable? I would imagine that both programs are well funded, but it's worth making sure as it's not worth getting into debt for a PhD. Of course if one place has lower funding but a better faculty then the decision is made for you. If they're both equal in terms of faculty then like you say, you should look at the relative worth of the programs. You could have a look here but I don't think that the site's that great. Better than this I would post this question in the relevant forum at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ultimately, if the funding is remotely comprable then its really all about the advisor. If there's someone that she really wants to work with and is comfortable with, then that should be the deciding factor, prestige be dammed. So many people have terrible experiences at grad school because their academic advisor is a dick.
posted by ob at 5:42 AM on March 5, 2008

posted by ob at 5:43 AM on March 5, 2008

To all of those pointing out weather, don't forget to investigate what the two places feel like as communities. Irvine is pretty suburban sprawly. Some parts of LA are cool, but on the whole, Southern California is very blah, imo. I'd go Penn State.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:28 PM on March 5, 2008

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