Advice- Places to live

post by Michelle_Z · 2012-06-19T23:44:48.513Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 28 comments


I have been wondering (the last few days) on where would be a good place to live and work. This is not a "I-am-moving-out-in-two-months" type of idea, but a long term, far goal. Basically, when I graduate college (or even a couple years after that- I need to save up money, first!) I may want to move away from my hometown to someplace that is a bit more... *forward* thinking. I've been doing searches on google, but so far have not found what I need.

What am I looking for:

At the moment, I am considering being a biologist, specifically a molecular biologist, though that might change. For this post, I am going to assume I keep this goal. Are there any place in the US that have a market or need for biologists? Is there a science-centric, or place where science-minded people live? I know that is vague, but I'm not sure how else to put it. I just recognize that if I were to have a discussion about science or cogsci or anything similar in my current community, I would get strange looks, and lose status.

If such a place exists, a bonus would be an active LW community.

I'm not sure if I will or won't like moving, so moving multiple times is something I am not really considering at the moment, and since I do eventually (far far down the road) plan on having children, and those children would require a really *really* good education, I would want someplace that has a good education system. It's a bit of a pet peeve of mine, since my educational experience was so awful, so I am dedicated to making sure that does *not* happen to my (far far in the future) family. (Yes, I do know that a lot of educational issues stem from a whole combination of things, and I know a good school system is not a fix-all, but it would help.)

I've never moved before, so I wouldn't even know where to begin. My family doesn't even go on vacations. I've never been on a plane, nor do I know any protocol for moving between states, or moving in general. The most moving I've ever experienced was the move to college, and that is only 20 minutes from home. Thinking about it makes it seem stressful, so the more information I have, the better I can plan, and the less stressful this will eventually be for me.


Thanks for the help!


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-06-20T11:01:01.608Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At the moment, I am considering being a biologist, specifically a molecular biologist, though that might change.

Do you already have the skills and experience to get a position as a molecular biologist? Or are you considering attempting to gain those skills?

I see a lot of thinking and weighing and optimizing going on. I'm reminded of Frost and The Road Not Taken.

We look down paths, and do a lot of thinking, and a lot of it is just blind hemming and hawing, full of rationalizations. Instead of getting all wound up trying to make the absolute best decision, just look at your options, evaluate them, and pick the one that looks the best. Realize that you likely won't pick the optimal choice. So what? I bet most of the options are good.

On not knowing about moving protocol, you'll figure it out. Don't strain any neurons fretting over it today.

My advice is to weigh happiness in the near term (1-5 years) higher than happiness tomorrow, because you have a better idea of what you want today than what you will want tomorrow.

On the particulars of molecular biology careers, this is probably not the best forum to ask. Ask molecular biologists.

For a LW community, do we have population density maps for LW members? I wouldn't really go much by that anyway, There are plenty of communities you might find interest in.

For education, you don't seem to have kids yet, and the education world may be an entirely different place by the time you do. It is already an entirely different world, for kids whose parents don't ship them off to the usual education conveyor belts. For anyone with a kid today, I'd encourage them to get an account at Khan Academy. Start taking charge of his education in a measurable format, instead of tossing him into the best education meat grinder you can find.

Thinking about it makes it seem stressful, so the more information I have, the better I can plan, and the less stressful this will eventually be for me.

When I was younger, I would have said much the same. I hate logistics too, and tend to stress myself out over them, mainly by trying to over optimize too many variables.

I've discovered, however, that life isn't so hard, and fretting over all possible scenarios and trying to optimize every last thing is more trouble than it's worth. You'll figure it out when the time comes. And most logistics problems will magically disappear if you throw a little money at them. The main thing is to leave yourself adequate time buffers, because missing deadlines is the best way to make life difficult.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-06-20T06:43:26.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It doesn't seem to me that research scientists get to choose where they live, by and large.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-20T09:38:17.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's very true unless you mean the choice between living in the office or going home once in a while.

comment by grouchymusicologist · 2012-06-20T03:44:06.601Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to be a professional biologist (or any professional scientist) you will probably need to get one or more graduate degrees. (There are exceptions to this, but your career possibilities will be more limited.) This complicates matters in some respects and simplifies it in others. Let me mostly focus on ways it simplifies matters.

  • Going to grad school will give you the chance to move someplace for a few years before eventually moving on to yet someplace else. This is great for a few reasons. You get a chance to see what it's like to move -- maybe it won't be as bad as you think. You defer making a more permanent decision until you're older and have more experience. You (maybe) get to see another part of the country for some perspective on where you live now. Even if you wind up not liking the place you go very much, it'll still have been a good experience for these reasons.
  • If your parents are remotely reasonable, they have to be more ok with you moving away for solid career-related reasons than they would be with you moving away for more nebulous lifestyle-related reasons. (Although from this and your other thread, it sounds like your parents might actually not be remotely reasonable at all.)
  • However, if you get some admission offers from grad programs, they might pay your travel expenses to go there and check out the programs. Furthermore, most good science PhD programs will fully fund your studies and living expenses, so saving up a bunch of money before moving isn't really an issue. Having this kind of financial freedom will enable you to defy your parents' ridiculousness about this. (You won't be living high on the hog by any means, but you'll have enough to get by.)
  • If you can get good advice from your college professors about which grad programs would be a good match for your interests and aptitudes, this will usefully constrict your options and help you overcome the paralysis of choice. While ultimately you may want to be more discriminating about where you move for the long run, see my first bullet point for why it would probably be good to just get that first move under your belt.

I'm not a scientist, so I may be underestimating the possibilities for interesting, fulfilling employment in the sciences without a graduate degree -- others can correct me if this is the case. But I think I've given some reasons why you might want to consider grad school even if I'm wrong in that respect.

Replies from: Michelle_Z
comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-06-17T22:18:14.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oops! Somehow I managed to forget to respond to these a year ago!

Thanks for the advice! I've taken steps - like exploring my interests in the sciences in an attempt to figure out what specifically do I want to research- and plan to figure out which professors in which colleges are doing that kind of research.

Good science PhD programs your studies and living expenses.

-Do you know the general requirements to get that kind of funding? I'm certain I'll need it. I've researched it and have found varying and sometimes contradictory information.

Replies from: grouchymusicologist
comment by grouchymusicologist · 2013-06-18T16:12:27.448Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds like you have some good, concrete ideas about how to proceed. Contacting professors whose work interests you, to ask about graduate study in their departments and/or labs, is certainly a necessary step.

Throughout academia, we have a rule of thumb: do not ever, ever, spend any of your own money or go into debt for a PhD. That means that any place at which you should give the slightest consideration to doing graduate work should offer you a full waiver of tuition, plus a modest income ("stipend") and health insurance, for the duration of a reasonable period of study. The rationale for this rule of thumb is twofold: First, the expected financial returns to a PhD simply aren't such that you can afford to risk having tens of thousands of dollars (or more) of debt to repay. Second, a university's willingness to spend their money to fully fund you serves as a useful indicator that they think you have real potential for success.

When you correspond with scientists with whom you might want to study, they should be able to tell you roughly how funding works in their departments. It's not the same at every university or for every student. Possible sources for funding are basically: (1) You working as a researcher in someone's lab, supported by the university and/or by grants won by the lab's PI; (2) you working as a teacher or teaching assistant; (3) fellowship support provided by the university (i.e. they just give you money); (4) outside grants or fellowships you win yourself. The normal case for scientists is that your funding mostly comes from (1), but among scientists of my acquaintance there has been a healthy mixture of all four, and nearly all graduate students in science will at some point get funding from more than one of those sources. However, what they should be able to tell you before you even apply is how many years of funding are guaranteed by the university, whether funding is usually available beyond the guaranteed years, and what the typical funding package consists of (as I said earlier, it should at a minimum contain a full tuition waiver, health insurance, and a modest stipend for living expenses suitable to the area you'd be living in).

That's pretty much all I can tell you about the funding of graduate study in the sciences, since my entire academic life has been spent on the arts and humanities side, which handles graduate funding somewhat differently. The people you should be leaning on for advice are professors at your own undergraduate institution—particularly younger ones, since they will have gone through this more recently—and other knowledgeable scientists. They should be able to separate your academic and scientific potential from your lack of practical know-how and help guide you through the process of application, from identifying places to apply all the way to deciding which of your admission/funding offers to accept, if you get that far. They will have a lot more to tell you than I possibly can about what questions you should be asking of potential grad schools at all stages of the process.

A few other notes:

  • If you're noticing conflicting information about how graduate funding works, it's probably just because different departments handle it differently. When in doubt, refer to the rule of thumb above. It's ok for departments to achieve full funding of graduate students in different ways, but not ok for them to fund some students but not others, or to admit you without making it clear how funding will work.
  • You could also be getting conflicting information from people with experience in different branches of science. Psychology, molecular bio, evolutionary bio, experimental physics—to pick a few—all have their own characteristic ways of approaching graduate study, collaboration, funding, etc. So it's best to get advice from people as near as possible to your own interests.
  • Some science departments admit graduate students to the overall program and then let them later choose which lab to affiliate with. Others admit you with the up-front understanding that you will be working in a particular lab. Find out how it works at the places you apply to.
  • When weighing offers of graduate admission, try to get some data on outcomes for students in the program, such as job placement, time to degree, and success at winning grants (especially if grants are relied upon for graduate funding). Also, talk to current students in the program, who can tell you whether the program does well by its students, or alternatively makes life tough for them, e.g. by screwing them out of funding.
  • A really serious round of graduate applications does cost some money. In your comments you often seem concerned about that. Unfortunately with a total lack of support from your parents you'll probably need to have a few hundred bucks in reserve for costs associated with applying, and another few hundred bucks for moving to the area where your new school is located. If you aren't prepared to live off-campus in an apartment, which carries logistical headaches that you seem quite daunted by, all large research universities have on-campus graduate dorms, so you really would not need to do anything except drive there with your personal belongings packed into a car. Anyway, save up a little money.

A lot of these concerns are a ways down the road for you, though. You'll probably find that getting funding is easier than you might think at graduate programs you really want to get into. The best thing you can do as an undergrad is make yourself an un-ignorable candidate for graduate admission. Study like crazy, get high test scores (super important, don't let anyone tell you otherwise—this is true even in the humanities), find some ways to take initiative, and if possible form some good relationships with faculty at your college.

Good luck! Do try to get a mentor at your college, it's a much more reliable source of personalized information than pseudonymous musicologists you met on the internet. There are also books and online forums for people who want to do graduate study in the sciences, although I can't personally recommend any by name.

Replies from: Michelle_Z
comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-06-18T20:23:26.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you! This was well written and very helpful!

Replies from: grouchymusicologist
comment by grouchymusicologist · 2013-06-19T04:33:31.265Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My pleasure, glad it seems useful.

comment by Benquo · 2012-06-20T03:36:00.178Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure which of these things are already obvious to you, sorry that it's taking the form of an info dump. If anything strongly conflicts with your intuitions, don't read my simple declarative statements as indicative of great certainty; maybe I forgot to mention some exceptions.

I'm happy to clear up anything if you want more detail, either in comments or through direct messages.

In many major cities (perhaps most or all) you will be able to find some significant number of science-minded people where you would gain some status once they found out what you're into. Career stuff can be a little tougher.

The Research Triangle has some life science stuff going on, and in the DC area there's the NIH and related stuff up in Bethesda, MD. There's almost certainly something near Boston/Cambridge too (there's definitely a strong science-oriented community), probably something in the NY area, and other places I don't know about - ask people you know who work in biology. Your biology professors should at least know where the relevant academic activity goes on, and high-tech companies are often located near a labor source like a university. All the areas I mentioned should have access to great or at least good schools, for people who are motivated to find them, though I'm only really 100% sure about the DC and NY areas. I think they also all have lesswrong meetup groups.

The usual way to find out about jobs or internships in your field is networking. That means asking people you know/know of, and/or alumni from your school, for informational interviews. (Google that term if you haven't already.) Also ask them whom else they'd recommend you talk to. Phone calls are OK, in person is better, though if you're not up for much travel yet that may be difficult.

Almost nobody enjoys moving per se, but plenty of people voluntarily move many times. The basic protocol for moving is:

1) You won't know exactly what living situation you want/where you want to live (cities are big places) when you first get to town. Get some kind of foothold (couch-crash or find a short-term living arrangement) so you have time to learn before making a big commitment. Craigslist is an easy way to find people looking for a housemate/flatmate (which is cheaper than renting your own place, and often more flexible), though if something seems sketchy you should probably trust your gut and move on. But if you can avoid it, it's probably best not to sign a long lease before you're familiar with the town, know if you're living in an OK neighborhood, etc.

2) Once you're set up and know the town a little better (i.e. after a month or so), you'll have a sense for what areas/neighborhoods are acceptable, and whether you want to rent/buy, etc. At this point you can find a more permanent accommodation. For buying you'd want a real estate agent, or something like Redfin. For renting, again craigslist, or, or a rental agent, etc.

3) You need to change the address on any bank accounts/credit cards/regular bills. Get a new driver's license (which usually just means filling out a few forms and going to the DMV), and register your car in the new state if you have one - the local DMV website will probably tell you what you need to know. File a change of address form with the US Post Office so they forward your mail.

You can skip step 1 if you have people you can trust in town to advise you on where to live. Don't worry too much about moving your stuff: except for things of sentimental or medical value, or very expensive items, you're unlikely to miss much of it. Stuff can be bought anywhere you're likely to want to live.

Since you're cash constrained you'll probably want to work on lining up a job/paying internship before moving, but your employer will almost certainly want to meet in person before hiring you, so expect and be prepared for that travel expense. If only one offer is appealing, take it, no matter where it is. If you get more than one appealing offer, then you have a much smaller list of places to decide between, and it will be easier to give you specific advice.

The number of people who would host you overnight so you can go on an interview is probably much larger than the number of people who would host you indefinitely. Wherever there's a meetup group, there will be plenty of lesswrongers who will be well-disposed towards you. Also extended family, or any college friends who have left town, are good people to crash with for a night.

I hereby give you and all other lesswrongers permission to assume that the ASK protocol applies to me in this respect, rather than the GUESS protocol. In other words, if you're in DC for a couple of days and need a place to stay, I promise not to be offended or annoyed if you ask.

Replies from: Michelle_Z
comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-06-17T22:21:29.692Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you! I had no idea of the specifics, and probably would have not thought of the drivers license/etc. If I do have some stuff I'm rather attached to (say, a car or something,) and the place is too far away to just drive there, how would you get it there? (Yes, I posted that a long time ago. I must have forgotten to reply.)

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2013-06-18T02:08:56.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much stuff are we talking about? There are moving services if it's a lot of furniture or something; you'll wait until you know where you'll be living, then find movers to take your stuff from point a to point b. (Make sure to look up reviews first, this is a field where there is good and then there's really bad businesses.) Paying someone to drive your car is also a thing. Both these services can be quite expensive, depending on distance &c.

Replies from: Michelle_Z
comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-06-18T16:05:38.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At most? My dad handmade a bookshelf for me, and I'd feel bad parting with it. I'm not sure I will have a car by then, but if I do I will want to bring that.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2013-06-18T20:37:40.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK. If it's a small bookshelf and could plausibly fit in a car/hatchback/etc. then you could just drive it there if you have a car of the right shape/size. Or you could rent a mobile storage container and hitch it to your car.

If you don't have a car by then, or won't be driving it, then you can rent a U-Haul or other moving vehicle.

If you really, really don't want to drive (or it's something like cross-country diagonally and you just can't spare the time), then you can hire professional movers or shippers, maybe it won't cost as much if you're only moving one thing.

Another option in a situation like this would be to leave the bookshelf with your parents, or in storage, locally until you're set up somewhere you think you will stay long term. Lots of folks leave some things "back home" for a while for the first few years after school.

Replies from: Michelle_Z
comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-06-18T20:41:18.423Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll remember that for whenever I get everything figured out. Thank you!

comment by shminux · 2012-06-19T23:56:00.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My family doesn't even go on vacations.

Have you traveled places yourself? If not, this might be something to start with, before you think about moving in general.

Replies from: Michelle_Z
comment by Michelle_Z · 2012-06-20T00:08:19.883Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm in a bit of a tricky situation, family wise. That might be possible in 3 years, but before then, it would be very difficult.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-20T00:50:48.096Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are the constraints? Money, time, law, other?

Replies from: Michelle_Z
comment by Michelle_Z · 2012-06-20T01:36:18.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My parents are travel-phobic. They are deeply against me traveling in any capacity. Right now I am living at home/college. I could not rely on them to pay for a trip, nor do I have the money myself. Plane tickets, hotel rooms, renting a car or whatever would require quite a lot. Beyond that, I wouldn't know anyone in the area, and would be there by myself. Even if I were to save up the money, I would only be able to go to 1 or 2 places for a very limited amount of time. The only state where this is not the case is California. My best friend lives there and would probably let me stay on the couch for a few days.

Replies from: Nisan, shminux, asparisi
comment by Nisan · 2012-06-20T07:01:09.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only state where this is not the case is California. My best friend lives there and would probably let me stay on the couch for a few days.

In addition, you may be able to spend a week in Shannon Friedman's house.

comment by shminux · 2012-06-20T02:58:07.597Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So your original question (where to move some day) can for now be replaced with a simpler one: "how do I travel on the cheap to California for a few days?" Is this right?

comment by asparisi · 2012-06-20T19:45:41.432Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are other ways to get a place to stay for a night or two. If you are looking to go to an interview for a job, check out a school/town/neighborhood or the like, that may be all you need. I've had good luck with but your results may vary.

comment by juliawise · 2012-07-17T17:19:04.563Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't compare it to most of the country, but I like the Cambridge/Boston area.

Cons: high cost of living, serious winter.

Pros: more smart/interesting people than you can shake a stick at, pretty, good public transit, smallish but active LW group. I also liked that it has enough universities (though I don't know about your field) that after I moved here I could choose from 4 grad programs without relocating.

As for travel, you can do a lot of the east coast on Chinatown buses for a fraction of the cost of flying. For all the bad press, it's safer than driving. More annoying, but if it makes the difference between going and not going...

comment by Cog · 2012-06-21T20:41:33.943Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On top of Cambridge/Boston, Research Triangle Park, DC, Bethesda, I'd also suggest Houston (I live here, so I suppose I could have some level of desire to justify that decision. I don't think it amounts to much, but fair warning). I think the city is largely underrated, because it has been a late bloomer and has had some issues in the past. However, it has the largest medical center in the world, renowned scientists and clinicians, and a quickly growing biotech sector. It also rates as one of the best cities in the country for young professionals, and the economic hardships of the recent past have largely skipped over Houston The economy is energy and health, which are basically the last things people stop spending money on.

It is cheap to live here. Incredibly so for a city this size. Sharing a full house with two roommates, I live 2 miles from where I work in the medical center, and 2 miles from downtown, for about $500 a month. This is also near the rail, which can get you either place pretty fast, but I prefer to bike. I know people living with roommates for $300/month, a little farther away from downtown, but still only a few miles away from the medical center. 9 months of the year, the weather is very pleasant. If you absolutely hate the heat, summer will suck, but it's not too hard to deal with.

I would second the notion of using grad school interviews as a way to travel around. Good grad schools will also pay for you to go, and even forward you some money if you need it to set up. They also often have people that will help you set up in the new city. In Houston, you can live very well on a graduate stipend. This is not true everywhere you go - NYU pays the same as my school, but life would be a lot harder there.

comment by stcredzero · 2012-06-21T01:49:39.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As it so happens, I'm in San Francisco for about a week starting yesterday, and I'm thinking of moving to SF next month.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-20T09:29:42.825Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't mention where you are based but trying to transcend small town attitudes is very familiar to me - I grew up in a very small town and though I had lots of family vacation travelling experience, I felt very much the same as you describe in your post and was seriously overwhelmed with my first move (big city 4 hours from home town, when starting college). Travelling as a family (at least in my experience) gave little preparation for moving and living elsewhere as the demands are almost entirely different. So your lack of travel experience may not be as much of a handicap as you are worried it may be.

Depending on how long you have before finishing university, one thing you could consider is whether it's possible or feasible to transfer somewhere else to finish your degree. This not only has the benefit of moving into a university environment which very much serves a transitional role in living independently (many people there will also be moving for the first time) but also gives you the chance to target somewhere offering more opportunities in your desired field. Further, depending just how small scale your current college is, this may create barriers to getting into a good graduate program even if your grades are good.

If this is not a possibility, what about seeking summer research experience in a lab at a university - at least in my field this is a common practice and can get you good recommendations which are crucial for grad school. Additionally it will get you a more realistic picture of what this career path is really like (in an academic environment anyway). In my experience email inquiries are perfectly fine (I prefer them to phone or in-person, at least where summer undergraduate places are concerned).

(EDIT: From the webpage linked in your profile, it looks like you are close to a large metropolitan area which has a couple of large universities of the sort I am talking about. You might be able to work on your career/educational development options first, without having to move. In which case the following paragraph can be disregarded. Although I think moving away from the family can have serious benefits, especially if your family is highly religious/restrictive)

If you manage to get a summer research opportunity,, it's usually extremely easy to get short term accommodation in these circumstances. This can be through lab/departmental channels - in the run-up to summer we are always getting email requests from other faculty ("does anyone have a spare room for my summer student"); or subletting a room from someone who has signed a year lease but is not in town for the summer (in my experience this practice is rife in college towns, usually leading to inexpensive opportunities as the supply far exceeds demand). This can provide you with a taste of independence in various ways... although still does not guarantee you will automatically find a like-minded rationalist community.

comment by Pfft · 2012-06-20T04:23:21.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a science-centric, or place where science-minded people live?

This sounds a bit like Paul Graham's description of Cambridge, MA? I've never been there though...

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-20T03:28:23.136Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly it seems like your best bet would be California. Just about everything cutting edge in the U.S. is in California.

comment by Bruno_Coelho · 2012-06-20T16:51:16.310Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Go to a tropical country, found a biotech company, invest in biofuel, make tons of money, and donate to SI.