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  1. #1
    Senior Member Duke of Kent's Avatar
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    7 Schools, 7 Very Different Locations: Bike Racing and Training

    I don't really visit the other forums on BF.net, and once upon a time I was a fairly regular contributor, so I feel most inclined to post this here. If it is not the best location for it, please let me know.

    My lovely fiancee is applying to graduate school programs at 7 schools, scattered all over the US. We are both VERY passionate about the outdoors, and will spend our weekends riding, paddling, climbing, hiking, and camping. In addition to the program and funding, the town itself, job opportunities (me), we are giving significant consideration to the various outdoor diversions available to us.

    So, without further adieu, here are the schools, in no particular order:

    University of Oregon
    University of Washington
    UMass Amherst
    Virginia Tech
    University of Utah
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    Penn State

    I've been to three of the schools in question, (Oregon, Madison, Penn State), and while I wish I could visit the others with her, I will not be able to, as I will be out of the country for a good while for work. As it is, we will have to make a decision before I am able to see any of them in person, hence this thread. She is doing similar "research" through her own haunts as well.

    If anyone has comments, concerns, PICTURES or anything else they'd like to share about the schools or areas in question, please post them up! While she will do everything she can to document her school visits, we will appreciate any and all information you guys could provide.

    Thanks!
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  2. #2
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    Penn state has an awesome location for riding/outdoorsy stuff. I think oregon is also really good since you're pretty close to mt hood and oregon is pretty great in terms of outdoorsy stuff and weather being reasonable. Those would probably be my top choices. Along with maybe washington.

    Madison might be awesome if you like winter sports, xc skiing/snoeshoeing/etc.

    Don't know much about VT or Utah.
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  3. #3
    VeloSIRraptor
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    Quote Originally Posted by Duke of Kent View Post
    My lovely fiancee ... 7 schools, scattered all over the US
    I'll try to get back to this later tonight, but in case I don't come through with more details, TL;DR version is -
    U of Washington is amazing.

    I walked on the beach w/ dog yesterday morning - XC skiied yesterday. Both are within 45' of my house in typical traffic.
    I moved to Seattle 4-5 years ago because I wanted a year-long outdoors lifestyle, it has yet to disappoint.
    Quote Originally Posted by shovelhd View Post
    If it comes down to a field sprint, you probably won't win, so don't let it.

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    PM me for more info, but if UofO is a legitimate contender, meaning the program is as good as the others, I'd put that at the top of my list. I did a one year postdoc at the university in Eugene, and the road cycling, cost of living, culture, and town are hard to beat. It takes 5 minutes to get onto empty country roads from campus or downtown, and racing in OBRA is pretty good. You'll have races every weekend, and 3-4 big stage races within a 3 hour drive. There's also some good hiking and climbing near town, but you had better be prepared to ride in the rain. The winter I was there was exceptionally wet (not just coming from my east coast background either). It rained October through June.

    Hiking the cascades is nice, get Bill Sullivan's book at the library before making your choice. Washington is in the middle of Seattle and is expensive, but has better skiing nearby, and the water, if you want that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gwchem View Post
    PM me for more info, but if UofO is a legitimate contender, meaning the program is as good as the others, I'd put that at the top of my list. I did a one year postdoc at the university in Eugene, and the road cycling, cost of living, culture, and town are hard to beat. It takes 5 minutes to get onto empty country roads from campus or downtown, and racing in OBRA is pretty good. You'll have races every weekend, and 3-4 big stage races within a 3 hour drive. There's also some good hiking and climbing near town, but you had better be prepared to ride in the rain. The winter I was there was exceptionally wet (not just coming from my east coast background either). It rained October through June.

    Hiking the cascades is nice, get Bill Sullivan's book at the library before making your choice. Washington is in the middle of Seattle and is expensive, but has better skiing nearby, and the water, if you want that.
    OU and UW are totally different in terms of surroundings. Washington's University district is a small corner of the city, Oregon's University district is most of the city.

    Does your career/job opportunities play into the decision at all?

  6. #6
    Senior Member shovelhd's Avatar
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    I live about 20 minutes from UMass Amherst and work about 5 minutes away. It is a land grant school, and a lot of the architecture is 60's concrete block, but the landscape is changing rapidly as the school is under a significant expansion. The riding in Western Massachusetts is pretty much everything short of mega mountainous. It is great riding out here. The racing in the Northeast is some of the best in the country. Lots of pros are grown here. If you have any specific questions, PM me.

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    I lived in Madison for four years. Very nice riding, easy to get out of (and around) town. Very flat riding in the immediate vicinity, and, though you can find some rolling hills, you're not going to find any sustained climbs anywhere in the state. Which has an impact on other outdoor enjoyment - my wife and I took to calling hiking "walking" while in WI. Turns out my psyche desires elevation change, which is part of the reason that we're no longer there. We ended up spending much more time paddling. I can't comment on whitewater, but there's a wide variety of lakes and ~flatwater rivers to enjoy, with plenty of water-access only camping. Devil's Lake is nearby and my climbing friends enjoyed it but wished for more. Downhill skiing is a joke, but the city grooms a variety of parks for XC, including one that is lit.

    Madison itself it a great town. The university and the state government combine to bring in more 'culture' than your average city of the same size. Very definitely a college town.

    I have a friend who went to UT a decade or so ago for the riding (MTB and snowboard) and hasn't regretted it.

    Best of luck.

  8. #8
    Because I thought I could ks1g's Avatar
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    Virginia Tech has awesome outdoors opportunities, particularly if you like hills. Bring your climbing gears! Some of the climbs are steep,steeper, and "you're kidding/killing me" (the final climb of the Mountains of Misery ride). The Blue Ridge Parkway, New River gorge, Appalachian Trail, West-by-God-Virginia, and Shenandoah Valley are all relatively nearby. Blacksburg is a reasonably-priced area (as Southwest VA is in general), although as the 800 pound gorilla, ~25,000 Tech students + faculty & other staff distorts the housing market a bit. B'burg is definitely a college town, Christiansburg much less so. Go west a bit towards Pearisburg and it gets very rural fast. Pace of life is generally slower, too. Professional employment might be an issue for you (not that much in Blacksburg or nearby Christiansburg). You may feel a bit isolated, and retail shopping may feel limited. Nearest city of any size is Roanoke (1 hr up I-81), DC is approx a 5 hr drive (depending on how low/fast you fly and your luck with speed traps and I-81 truck traffic). Nearest airports of any capacity are Dulles and maybe Richmond. While SW VA is politically conservative, it isn't THAT judgemental, and the college-oriented population around Tech is significantly less so. The school is a land-grant with some very nice architecture and has been steadily expanding and renovating. Via their NoVA graduate program campus, they have extensive relationships with Federal agencies and the DC-area high tech community; this may be important to your fiancee's career interests.

    Your fiancee is making an investment of time, effort, and $ (depending on availability of grants, TA and RA-ships) and should put the quality and financial aspects of the program ahead of the cycling and outdoors opportunities. Possibly modified by whatever requirements the two of you have for your employment. Outdoor stuff would be #3 at least in my order of importance. Congrats (on the engagement) and good luck to both of you!

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    Quote Originally Posted by gwchem View Post
    PM me for more info, but if UofO is a legitimate contender, meaning the program is as good as the others, I'd put that at the top of my list. I did a one year postdoc at the university in Eugene, and the road cycling, cost of living, culture, and town are hard to beat. It takes 5 minutes to get onto empty country roads from campus or downtown, and racing in OBRA is pretty good. You'll have races every weekend, and 3-4 big stage races within a 3 hour drive. There's also some good hiking and climbing near town, but you had better be prepared to ride in the rain. The winter I was there was exceptionally wet (not just coming from my east coast background either). It rained October through June.

    Hiking the cascades is nice, get Bill Sullivan's book at the library before making your choice. Washington is in the middle of Seattle and is expensive, but has better skiing nearby, and the water, if you want that.
    I live in seattle too, I love eugene the town is amazing and the culture around sports is great. They also have a solid racing scene with a cpl of crits and a stage race. However I also love seattle. UW and UO would be good places to live

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    go for the place with the most riding days.

  11. #11
    Senior Member hodag's Avatar
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    Went to Va Tech, good road and mtn riding, endless hiking, some climbing and paddling. No jobs unless you work for the school.
    Penn Sate similar less rural.
    Madison has a good cycling scene, very good actually. Paddle sports popular. Jobs ok. No downhill skiing and currently no cc either but snow is needed for that.
    Those are what I know of personally.
    Wish I had your problems, good luck and enjoy!

  12. #12
    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shovelhd View Post
    I live about 20 minutes from UMass Amherst and work about 5 minutes away. It is a land grant school, and a lot of the architecture is 60's concrete block, but the landscape is changing rapidly as the school is under a significant expansion. The riding in Western Massachusetts is pretty much everything short of mega mountainous. It is great riding out here. The racing in the Northeast is some of the best in the country. Lots of pros are grown here. If you have any specific questions, PM me.
    This. There are two really nice things about the riding in the area (I did my undergrad at UMass). First, the diversity. If you want to do a flat ride, for recovery or TT intervals, there are miles of flat road along the Connecticut River on both sides. On the other hand, if you want climbs, you have everything up to 1,000 feet of elevation change within easy reach. You can do a couple big climbs, or many shorter, punchier climbs.

    Second, the racing. Part of it is the quality, as shovelhd said. Lots of good racers and big fields. What's nice is that those races are also very easy to travel to. New England and New York form a pretty compact area with dozens and dozens of races within five hours of Amherst/Northampton. That alone makes me miss the racing scene up there more than almost anything else.

    Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of your other options, so I can't offer any comparisons.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member Duke of Kent's Avatar
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    Thanks for all of the information, guys. Yes, my fiancee realizes there are many factors to consider in her PhD program decision making process. Obviously the most important piece of the puzzle is the program itself; her advisor, the financial side of things, research funding and opportunities, etc.

    But, we're human beings, and where we live, how we live, and what we do to get away and enjoy ourselves can have a significant impact on both the quality of the education she receives, and the products of her research and writing.

    Being a big nerd, I've come up with a scoring system using a wide array of factors, including cost of living/housing, various weather considerations, distances to airports, distances and quality of NPs/SPs/NFs, ski resorts, proximity of organic grocers, etc. I did my best to keep individual factors from influencing the scoring too much, but I also had to consider that certain things do need to have more weight than others. Being from Fort Collins, CO, she loves the sun; UW/Seattle did not fare well.
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  14. #14
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    ^ I'd echo the comments about Va Tech. (Although having gone to WVU, we f'ng hate the hokies).

    Oregon would be a great choice. Oregon is beautiful. Great places to ride, beautiful coast, Good skiing. Portland's pretty cool. Willamette Valley wine area is fun, and good riding. One question would be the weather, we've always been to Oregon in August and September when it's dry, not sure I'd like the rainy weather the rest of the year.
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    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    All of these places have their charms, but I'd go west.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Brian Ratliff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by merlinextraligh View Post
    ^ I'd echo the comments about Va Tech. (Although having gone to WVU, we f'ng hate the hokies).

    Oregon would be a great choice. Oregon is beautiful. Great places to ride, beautiful coast, Good skiing. Portland's pretty cool. Willamette Valley wine area is fun, and good riding. One question would be the weather, we've always been to Oregon in August and September when it's dry, not sure I'd like the rainy weather the rest of the year.
    Yes, Oregon is great July through September; almost no rain to speak of. If you like rain (and if you live here, you'll learn to like rain), it is nice the rest of the year. I've never lived in Eugene, but I've lived in Corvallis for my Undergraduate and I currently live in Portland. Again, there's the rain, but you can ride year round (rarely does it get icy or snowy, for instance), and there are some very long ride loops where you can ride for 50+ miles without unclipping more than once or twice. A variety of terrains as well, from windy/flat, to hilly, to mountainous. Also, there is a huge number of cyclists, from casual commuters to road racers, in Oregon and the "bike scene" is very friendly. OBRA, the local bike race association, is extremely competently run and maybe more importantly for college people, very cheap in terms of licensing.

    I went to UW for my graduate degree; pretty place. Decent riding, though it is hard to get out of the city; you end up going around Mercer Island a fair amount to get away from cars and still ride from your door.
    Last edited by Brian Ratliff; 01-03-13 at 05:51 PM.
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  17. #17
    fuggitivo solitario echappist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Duke of Kent View Post
    Thanks for all of the information, guys. Yes, my fiancee realizes there are many factors to consider in her PhD program decision making process. Obviously the most important piece of the puzzle is the program itself; her advisor, the financial side of things, research funding and opportunities, etc.

    But, we're human beings, and where we live, how we live, and what we do to get away and enjoy ourselves can have a significant impact on both the quality of the education she receives, and the products of her research and writing.

    Being a big nerd, I've come up with a scoring system using a wide array of factors, including cost of living/housing, various weather considerations, distances to airports, distances and quality of NPs/SPs/NFs, ski resorts, proximity of organic grocers, etc. I did my best to keep individual factors from influencing the scoring too much, but I also had to consider that certain things do need to have more weight than others. Being from Fort Collins, CO, she loves the sun; UW/Seattle did not fare well.
    What will be her field of study? If it's chemistry or bio, expect her to be treated like an indentured servant for the most part. I know I'm sounding like Cassandra, but someone has to expose the shady side of academia.

    If there's one thing about grad school I learned, it's that it's very easy to just fall through the cracks. Do research about advisers and find out how the university funds students (i.e. is it possible to fund yourself solely from being a TA). My graduate program guaranteed us funding, but it was far from that. My graduate institution was more like a protection racket as my boss had to pay for our salary, tuition (we weren't even taking classes), and indirect cost (basically rental of the lab space). The only thing the university paid was the salary of my boss, all other things had to come from grants. As long as we had outside funding, our stipends were guaranteed, but when we didn't get the grants for which we applied, things weren't pretty..

    Also be mindful that what she sees and hears on recruitment trips is only half the story as the students not having as good a time won't be at the social events. I was in the latter group and am glad that I parlayed that horrible experience into a job.

    Best of wishes to her and to you.
    Quote Originally Posted by merlinextraligh View Post
    ^ I'd echo the comments about Va Tech. (Although having gone to WVU, we f'ng hate the hokies).
    Pardon me if i asked you this before, but are you a native? I lived in Morgantown while my dad was a grad student there. Some rather interesting experiences.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Duke of Kent's Avatar
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    I lived in Hood River, OR for two years before joining the Army. Love the mountain west and so does she.

    Really, if the programs were all equal, it would be between Oregon, VT, and Utah.

    As to her program of study, she'll be going after her MA and PhD in english comp. Already has her JD from Emory, with honors of some sort (I missed her graduation due to playing around with guns in the woods).
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    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by echappist View Post
    Pardon me if i asked you this before, but are you a native? I lived in Morgantown while my dad was a grad student there. Some rather interesting experiences.
    Grew up in Charleston, spent 7 years in Morgantown for undergrad and law school.
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    Quote Originally Posted by shovelhd View Post
    I live about 20 minutes from UMass Amherst and work about 5 minutes away. It is a land grant school, and a lot of the architecture is 60's concrete block, but the landscape is changing rapidly as the school is under a significant expansion. The riding in Western Massachusetts is pretty much everything short of mega mountainous. It is great riding out here. The racing in the Northeast is some of the best in the country. Lots of pros are grown here. If you have any specific questions, PM me.
    this.

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    I can only comment about the University of Utah.

    If you like outdoors, I don't know how anywhere else would be better. Do you like winter sports? (skiing/snowboarding) If so, then UofU is the place for you. I live downtown, which is about 2 miles from the school. But there's 4 canyons within 20 min drive, 6 ski resorts within a 40 min drive, and almost any sort of climbing, camping, kayaking, etc you'd want within 3 hours. I know people always say this, but I don't think anywhere else has as good of access to the outdoors as SLC does. There's also incredible MTB trails, but I don't do it so I don't know a lot about it.

    The weather is ok, most of the time. Dec, Jan, and Feb are usually cold enough that you wouldn't want to ride outside (today the high is 22, but up until Dec 13 we were in the 50s...so it's a little unpredictable in the winter). But in March i'll be starting to ride outside with booties, gloves, tights, etc. Once April is here, a baselayer and maybe gloves is all you need. It doesn't start getting cold again until late October/November. Utah is a desert, so we don't get a ton of rain. We probably have 15 rainy days all year (and then 10 snowy days through the winter).

    If you're going to the U and live near the school, you shouldn't have any trouble with the culture. Utah is pretty mormon, but near the school and downtown is pretty normal. I think our downtown is great, but it's no SF or NYC. We have great public transit around downtown (buses and light rail).

    Let me know if you have any questions about the U or SLC.

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    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Duke of Kent View Post
    As to her program of study, she'll be going after her MA and PhD in english comp. Already has her JD from Emory, with honors of some sort
    This is a rational economic decision. Forgo 3 or more years of income at say $100,000; spend $50,000 or more getting the degree, and get a $45,000 a year job 3 years from now.

    The pay back period on that "investment" is let's see........ never.


    I hope she really likes english comp.
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    fuggitivo solitario echappist's Avatar
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    That was rather presumptuous.

    The only people in their late 20's, early 30's making 6-figures as attorneys are associates in Big Law (well, actually quite a few in boutique IP firms do, too, but different story). I have met more Big Law associates who hate their jobs and quit after 3-4 years than people who are staying course. Maybe she doesn't like Big Law and the 80+ hour workweek it demands.

    Last time I checked, most, if not all Ph.D. students receive funding of some sort. It may not be much, but tuition is covered and there should be some stipend as well (which may be in the form of compensation for TA duties). Unless the "$50,000" to which you refer is an opportunity cost, it's mostly a moot point.

    Which leads back to the "rationality" of it all. How do you price quality of life and the risk of mental breakdown into the equation? I don't have to tell you how competitive big law is and how the associates are very qualified, but when a significant proportion of them quit after 3-4 years for a profession that pays less because they don't like the lifestyle, do you say that they are all making an irrational choice?
    Last edited by echappist; 01-04-13 at 03:47 PM.

  24. #24
    These Guys Eat Oreos Creatre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by echappist View Post
    That was rather presumptuous.

    The only people in their late 20's, early 30's making 6-figures as attorneys are associates in Big Law (well, actually quite a few in patent prosecution, too, but different story). I have met more Big Law associates who hate their jobs and quit after 3-4 years than people who are staying course. Maybe she doesn't like Big Law and the 80+ hour workweek it demands.

    Last time I checked, most, if not all Ph.D. students receive funding of some sort. It may not be much, but tuition is covered and there should be some stipend as well (may come as form of compensation for TA duties). Unless the "$50,000" to which you refer is an opportunity cost, it's mostly a moot point.

    Which leads back to the "rationality" of it all. How do you price quality of life and the risk of mental breakdown into the equation? I don't have to tell you how competitive big law is and how the associates are very qualified, but when a significant proportion of them quit after 3-4 years for a profession that pays less because they don't like the lifestyle, do you say that they are all making an irrational choice?
    I believe he was referring to the $100,000 being roughly $33,000 a year missed salary x 3 years. $50,000 in loans or out of pocket.

    Not getting involved in the argument, but that's just how I read it.
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    Senior Member shovelhd's Avatar
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    Oh boy.

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