Alright, enough of this crap, back to the point. Good job HappyQuark, this is definitely something important to consider for every grad prospect. I'm curious, behind your motivations to do this, if you knew before what you know now would you still have picked Hawaii?
This is a tough question to answer. If what you mean is "If you knew before what you know now about stipends, would you have still picked Hawaii" then my I suspect my decision would have been the same. If what you mean is "If you knew what you know about stipends, Hawaii in general and what your priorities as a grad student would eventually be" then my answer is, probably not. I'll explain in terms of my original priorities and how they may or may not have changed. My final choices were primarily between the University of Utah and the University of Hawaii so those are the two I'll be comparing. Additionally, I'll be ordering things from most to least important:1. Research Interest (Most Important):Advantage:
Hawaii primarily does neutrino physics, roughly half and half between experiment and theory. Utah does primarily Condensed matter, again roughly half and half experiment/theory although from what I can tell they have an exceptionally good theory program and a pretty typical experimental program. When I originally applied to Utah, I was quite interested in their theory department and also one particular experimental group (specifically Christoph Boehme's Spin Electronics group )
. After all was said and done, I found myself more interested in the neutrino physics than the condensed matter. I'll fully admit that I don't feel like I had enough undergrad research experience in either field to really know which was the correct fit but I felt myself gravitate to particle physics a bit more.Has my opinion changed?:
I still think the research Utah does is interesting but I also still find myself more interested in Hawaii's research. Until I get into the thick of graduate research, I don't think I'll be able to make a proper comparison so this should all be taken with a grain of salt.2. Location:
I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah and a major part of my application process was based on getting away from the midwest. I don't hate the midwest and don't hate Utah in particular, but I felt like I really need a change of scenery. I think it's pretty obvious to see why Hawaii won this categoryHas my opinion changed?:
Hawaii is a very nice place to visit but, in my opinion, is not a great place to live. Adding poverty to that and living in Hawaii can be a nightmare. First, for the good.
- Beautiful (mostly)
- Outdoor Activities (beaches/ocean, hiking, etc)
- Interesting mixture of multiple cultures
Now, the bad. Note, some of these things may or may not bother you so YMMV:
- Except for some select areas, like Waikiki or the North Shore, Hawaii is very dirty. People don't take care of this island paradise and don't seem to care that most of it looks trashy.
- There is a significant homeless population that would rival places like New York City and San Francisco.
- Big bike theft problem. Any time you find a bike rack in Hawaii, you will find a battered bike frame, bike tire/wheel or other piece of hardware locked to the rack. See this photo album for examples: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set= ... 958215c5f2
There is also a lot of general property theft and needless vandalism.
- The food here is bad. If you want Hawaiian food, Thai or Sushi then you'll have no problem. If you want anything else, it will be vastly subpar to whatever you were having on the mainland (If it even exists). Say goodbye to mexican food. It doesn't exist in any real form in Hawaii. Say goodbye to Pizza as well as, more generally, all Italian food. Things like Cheese, milk, tomatoes, orange juice, etc are either every expensive or hard to come by. For things like Barbecue, fried chicken, buffalo wings and greek food, there exists generally a single restaurant which caters to this food and the food isn't great, just ok by Hawaii standards.
- Everything is ridiculously expensive and I suspect that a lot of products/services are artificially inflated just because people know that they can overcharge without anyone questioning it.
- Really bad drivers. I'm aware that every state thinks they have the worst drivers, but those people haven't been to Hawaii. Drivers here are reckless and impatient, despite the relaxed attitude they are supposed to have. As a pedestrian crossing an intersection, 9 times out of 10 you will have a driver continually roll up to you with the tacit assumption that you are going to get out of their way. Keep in mind I'm not just talking about a standard California rolling stop, but rolling at a stop with a pedestrian a few feet from the car and no intention of even looking at the brake. People in Hawaii also don't know how to use a turn signal or, if they know how to use it, opt not to. While we are on the topic, I should point out that being a physics grad student in Hawaii, you WILL NOT have enough money to have a car. Not a single one of the first years has a car and most of the second/third years don't have cars either. Due to the problems with theft, most of us just walk everywhere or use the transit system.
- The bus system sucks. In theory, buses should function beautifully on Hawaii. Unfortunately, the whole system is grossly inefficient and poorly implemented. Most buses are, on average, about 5 minutes late and very frequently 10-15 minutes late. Getting to and from a place on the island, regardless of distance, takes 2 hours so you have to plan far in advance before trying to go anywhere.
- Learn to live with the cockroaches. Every part of the island is covered with the bastards and there is nothing you can do to keep them away. I generally kill 3-5 a day just on my walk from my apartment to the University (primarily at night) and they are the big ones. The university also has a serious ferrel cat infestation and there are some crazy old people that come to the University every day to feed them.
- There is an overt form of racism on the island focused primarily on caucasians. I'm very white so I stand out quite clearly as a haole. Depending on the region, responses will vary from dirty looks and hollers to, in one instance, being spit on and threatened.
- Even if bike theft weren't a problem, the roads are not built to accommodate them. The roads are too narrow to comfortably ride in most regions and the majority of roads, with the exception of the University area, lack bike lanes. One would think this would be the ideal location for bike use but there is no infrastructure to support it.
- The weather here is obnoxious. During the summer months, it rarely rains and when it does it mists so slightly that you can't even feel it on your skin. During the winter, it rains almost daily but the rain comes and goes in spurts and only lasts for a minute or two. It generally doesn't rain hard enough or long enough to justify a jacket but, if you get caught in that minute of rain you'll be drenched from head to toe. It's like playing Russian Roulette, everyday.
- All construction projects, building repairs and general maintenance takes at least twice as long as it should and frequently more. The people here are too relaxed.
- The bars here are horrible, and this is coming from someone who previously lived in the mormon capital of the world.
- Most musicians/bands, art exhibits, galleries, etc don't bother coming to Honolulu so don't plan on going to any concerts while you are here.
- There are a lot of things you can't buy locally and shipping costs for online purchases is always significantly more expensive to Hawaii than other mainland locations. It is very common for reasonably small packages, for example an external hard drive, to have shipping costs of $30. Most of the time, if Amazon doesn't sell it with Super Saver Shipping, you can't justify the purchase.
I have some other gripes about the place but I feel like this list is long enough as it is. I guess what I'm saying is that, contrary to popular opinion, living in Hawaii is a hinderance, not a privilege (at least for me).3. Faculty/Students
Utah had an open house and I really liked the faculty and graduate students. All of them were very friendly and helpful. Hawaii had no open house so I was taking a shot in the dark that I would get along well with any of them.Has my opinion changed?:
As it turned out, Hawaii also has a great set of faculty and graduate students. I lucked out.4. Rank/Prestige
Utah has a better US News rank, Hawaii has a much better NRC S-rank. I feel that the S-rank is a better indicator of a programs research potentialHas my opinion changed?:
Hawaii has their hand in just about every possible neutrino physics experiment and most of the faculty are working on a lot of different projects. In part, they probably have a high NRC rank because HEP publications get a lot of contributors but, also, they just are legitimately hard working.5. Stipend (least important)
See plot for specific info.
The priorities I outlined above are organized based on how I "used" to feel about them. However, if I were to do things over and I could reorganize my priorities, it would go.
After all is said and done, I'm still conflicted as to whether or not I'm happy with my choice.