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Programs Does it really matter where you get your PhD?

  1. Jan 7, 2013 #1
    Okay, maybe that's a little vague. But I'm serious. All my friends applied to MIT, Caltech, Harvard, etc. In fact, it seems like everyone does. I didn't. I'm in the National Guard, so I'm stuck to one state. One of my friends suggested that I shouldn't go to graduate school at all unless I get into one of the top schools. I've come from a camp that believes that your research and publications matter more. The handful of schools I applied to all have research I'm interested in and I don't think the schools are horrible by any means in terms of rank, but they certainly aren't Top 10. But am I just going to hurt myself in terms of employment if I get a PhD from a not-top tier school? I just feel like waiting 8 years to maybe try to get in someplace "great" is a really long wait. (That's how long my commitment is)
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  3. Jan 7, 2013 #2
    My personal opinion is that a PhD in physics is better than none at all. I don't think you can wait 8 years just to apply to a top PhD program, because such a long hiatus will be detrimental in your application and they might not take you because of that, and then you won't be able to get into any schools for your PhD.

    I'm sure people will say that it doesn't make a difference as long as you have research, publications, experience, etc. but in reality, most employers will probably place a subconscious bias whether they like it or not on brand name schools. I'm sure most people, whether in the field of physics or not, as a first impression admire a PhD from Caltech or MIT than someone from like, I don't know, University of Mississippi or something.
  4. Jan 7, 2013 #3
    That's what I thought, too. I don't know, though. Maybe I should just be an actuary. I'm all nervous.
  5. Jan 7, 2013 #4


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    How many of your friends have been accepted into one of those schools? To rule out getting a degree if it's not from a 'top 10' school is foolish. Might as well close down all the other schools if a degree from them is meaningless.
  6. Jan 7, 2013 #5


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    Your friend is uninformed.

    What matters most is that you go to the school that's a good match for you. If you go to one of these big name schools, but end up with an advisor who you don't get along with, or on a project you don't enjoy, or sacrificing some other important aspect of your life for it and you don't perform well any incremental bonus that comes from name prestige isn't going to mean squat. There are lots of great schools that don't have the big names, but have highly specialized groups that are doing cutting edge research.

    Part of growing up and maturing academically is learning how to evaluate a program based on your own observations, ranking potential schools by your own standards, making our own decisions and dealing with (or reaping the benefits of) the consequences.
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