11 April 2009

How do you say no?

The graduate school decision deadline, by which I must commit to one graduate program and decline all other offers, is April 15, a mere four days away. I've been having many conversations with many different people---parents, friends, advisor, professors---to try to get enough feedback to make the decision well. Some people, like professors, are able to give me advice with the benefit of hindsight. Others, like my parents and friends, are biased in ways that don't necessarily fit with the truth about my field (for instance, a big-name school in general is not always the best school for my subfield of Technical Science), but their feedback has been useful, as well. At least when I speak to these people, with whom I'm comfortable and can be myself, my true feelings about each program come out. I've valued speaking with my friends and family about my grad school decision in large part because it's allowed me to hear myself speak, which exposes insights I don't necessarily see when I'm just thinking to myself.

I've been lucky to have several fantastic offers from a wide variety of graduate programs. At some places, the advisor fit is great, but the research fit would take a lot of work and the school environment doesn't seem to be right. At other places, the school is perfect, but there's no obvious advisor fit. I'm being heavily recruited by two locations in particular that I'm just not convinced would be better than one other choice I have.

Let's call these two schools A and B. Professors at both universities have spent a lot of time and energy trying to get me to join their groups (which is incredibly flattering!). I've had multiple phone conversations with each professor, and I've visited both institutions, where I realize that the environment, while supportive in some ways, is just not better than what I might have at university C. However, it feels like I've built good personal rapport with each professor, and turning them down is difficult. I have a problem saying "no" in my personal life, and this feels like it's become personal.

I'm having phone conversations with both of these professors next week, at which time I have to tell them that I'm just not that into them. This is scaring the heck out of me. I know that these are professionals, and that if I approach them with respect and explain my reasons for choosing another program, that they should understand. I know they know I've received other offers, and that I might go elsewhere. And yet, I've never played this game before, and it feels like they've put so much time and effort into me, and I just don't want to disappoint them.

Ah, well. I guess this is how one grows stronger (and perhaps more self-sufficient). With the stories I've been reading around the blogosphere for the April Scientiae, it seems like this kind of strength, the ability to stand up for myself, is going to be important in grad school and beyond.

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