US citizen here. Just finishing my masters at a top English uni and am in a bit of a dilemma on where to apply: Europe (or non-US) or US. My case for Europe is that I've already had a near-miss offer at Max Planck (I was third on a list that had 2 spots for my prospective supervisor) and may try for that again this year, but with a different supervisor. I like the fact that I don't have to pass quals there and the program only lasts a strict 3 years before you're booted out. The case for the US is that I wouldn't have to drastically change my lifestyle to move my stuff around to a new university. However, I'm really awfully terribly **** at exams and am scared to death of quals. I passed my British exams, but having 6 in the period of a couple weeks wasn't easy. I'd sort of like to avoid that kind of death again. How do I handle the application process for the US? Should I email people whose projects look interesting now or do I have to wait until I'm enrolled there to start asking people to have me as a research assistant?