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The Sciences

On Choosing a Graduate School: A Dialogue

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollApril 15, 2008 6:34 PM


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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.

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