On Choosing a Graduate School: A Dialogue

By Sean Carroll | April 15, 2008 9:34 am

A: Hey, what’s up? You’re looking a little anxious these days.

B: I know. We’re getting close to the romance deadline.

A: The romance deadline?

B: Yeah, in a couple of days I have to decide who I’ll be going out with for the next five years or so.

A: Oh, right, I forgot. Have you decided between boyfriend and girlfriend?

B: I’ve thought about it a lot, and I definitely want a girlfriend.

A: That’s cool. But don’t you worry that the standards are higher if you say you want a girlfriend? I’ve heard that boyfriends are much easier.

B: I heard that, too. But girls are what I’m really passionate about.

A: Couldn’t you just get a boyfriend first, and then switch if you don’t like it?

B: Some people try that, but it can be awkward. Better to just be honest about your intentions from the start.

A: Fair enough. So did you get any acceptances?

B: Yeah, two different women have agreed to date me. Cindy and Alyssa. But I have to choose one.

A: Hey, that’s great that you go two offers. Have you made a choice yet?

B: Well, I had coffee with Alyssa, and we really hit it off — she’s beautiful, and charming, and laughed at my jokes. I definitely think we would get along well over the next few years. I met Cindy, too; she’s a knockout, and clearly very talented, but there wasn’t as much of a spark there.

A: That can happen. So are you going to choose Alyssa?

B: I’m tempted, but the thing is — Cindy’s US News ranking is much higher.

A: Her what?

B: Every year, US News puts out rankings of boyfriends and girlfriends. Now, Alyssa is a solid top-20 girlfriend, but Cindy is top five! I’m really worried I’d be making a mistake by passing up the opportunity to go out with Cindy. Everyone has heard of her.

A: That sounds a little weird to me. How do they come up with these rankings?

B: Nobody knows, really. But everyone takes them very seriously. Still, I keep hoping that the NRC will update their boyfriend/girlfriend rankings soon. Those are supposed to be much more scientific.

A: NRC?

B: The National Romance Council.

A: But look, you seem to have really hit it off with Alyssa. Who cares that US News ranks Cindy higher? The concept of a “boyfriend/girlfriend ranking” just doesn’t make sense — what matters is how well you personally get along with them, not some pseudo-objective measure of excellence.

B: It’s easy to say that, but this is a big decision. I’m really worried that, ten years from now when I’m ready to get married, my prospective spouse is not going to be nearly as impressed that I went out with Alyssa than if I had gone out with Cindy.

A: Come on, it’s five years of your life that we’re talking about here. Your chances of eventually being happily married would seem to be a lot better if you choose someone you’re likely to be happy with right now.

B: You’re right, I know. Well, I hope Cindy won’t be disappointed. I don’t think she’s used to being turned down.

A: Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure she’ll get over it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Advice
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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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