PhD at same University as Undergraduate Degree

Is doing a PhD at the same uni that you completed your undergrad degree fine? Is it bad, should you avoid it?

I'm currently in the 4th year of my physics degree, doing my honours year, and my supervisor has mentioned that I am in a good position to continue to do a PhD with him. While i'm happy my supervisor is even thinking about me potentially doing a PhD with him, would there be any downsides to this? The field is particle physics and my project is in supersymmetry.

My aspirations have always been to study well enough and get enough experience so I could complete a PhD overseas when the time comes (preferably somewhere in Europe), as I want to experience living somewhere else in the world and everything that comes along with that (maybe learning a new language etc.). I think I've put myself in a good enough position for that to happen. I'm not expecting Oxford or MIT obviously.

Would it perhaps be stupid to turn down a potential opportunity of a PhD with a supervisor I have a good relationship with? If I stayed with him, I would already have experience with all the research he does, so the transition would be a lot smoother (I even did a project throughout my third year with this supervisor on similar stuff I'm doing in my honours now, so I definitely have experience with this field and the research). If I started a PhD overseas, the transition would be a lot greater than if I stayed here (especially if the PhD was in a different field to what I am now doing). Not that that is necessarily abnormal, cause I'm sure most people do actually move when starting a PhD and don't have direct experience with the field of their PhD.

Any thoughts on this? Should I stick to my aim of doing a PhD overseas if I can? Should I be staying with my current supervisor?

I guess I'm also worried about having the talk with him about this when the time comes and I've chosen to do a PhD somewhere else haha. It feels like it would be such an awkward conversation if he expects me to stay on to do a PhD with him.

Thanks :)
 

Vanadium 50

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Is it a bad idea like licking your finger and sticking it in an electrical outlet? No. But it is a missed opportunity, and I think (and many agree) that there is value in going elsewhere and learning what a different bunch of people can teach you. As far as awkward conversations, they get more awkward the later they are, and in any event, a life in science is filled with them. Better get used to them.
 

BvU

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Hello,

I agree with @Vanadium 50

What worries and delights me in your expose is the ease with which you talk about changing field:
Worry in the sense that
  • by staying you might choose some restricted part of physics to work in without knowing very much about what else there is
  • by leaving you might forfeit the opportunity for a brilliant career in a cutting-edge field for which you seem to have a knack
Delight in the sense that
  • you realize there's more to discover than what you've explored so far
  • you want to spread your wings which is good
  • you are well aware of the advantages/disadvantages of your current situation
If I were you (and I am not) I'd go for this awkward conversation, but with a careful tread. If your supervisor is any good he should be able to see things from your end and be prepared to set you free -- who knows even offer you an opportunity to come back later. Especially if his network is so good he can help you get started somewhere where you can pick up more than if you stayed with him. If he's no good (e.g. out of self-interest) that might become clear too and you're better off on your own.

You have a clear problem and I sympathize. Good thing you are aware of it and my guess is you can bring it to a good conclusion, either way.
 

Dr. Courtney

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It is a better idea if your current institution is at the upper end of the range to which you'd likely be admitted. This is most often the case if your GPA and GRE scores are on the low side for the tier of school you are already at - perhaps because the people there already know you and at least one prof will go to bat for you to get you in.

I like the idea a lot less if your overall quality and application strength are likely to get you into schools at a higher tier. In cases like this, I feel your current research adviser and others should be opening doors for you and encouraging you to apply to the best schools you can get into. In this case, applying to your current school might be viewed as a backup plan rather than the primary plan.
 
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There are definitely two sides to this issue. Some of the negatives have been previously mentioned, and they are certainly true. The big positive I see is that you are familiar with the way things work at your school, and you are a known quantity to them. That can smooth a lot of rough spots and open a lot of doors. It did for me.
 

Choppy

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Something else to keep in mind about a travel bug is there are other ways to satisfy it than committing to a PhD. Summer schools, conferences, international collaborations can all lead to travel.

For what it's worth I don't put too much weight into the whole idea of needed to change schools for your PhD. Sure, there are advantages to doing that: broadening your academic network, learning from different people, new experiences, etc. But there are also advantages to staying where you are. And if you know at your current institution you're going to like the people you'll be working with and you feel you'll learn a lot, do a project you want, and be productive... that's difficult to turn down in favour of an option with less certainty.

And as far as awkward conversations go, keep in mind that professors understand that undergraduate students have a lot of options on their plates and don't expect lifelong commitments. Sure, it's not great when you say that you want to explore another option, but this is unlikely to rock the professor's world very much. In most cases, they're happy for you and appreciate knowing your decision as soon as you make it.
 
Thanks for all of the responses!

I still have a most of the year to go before I have to make any real decisions. Plus i'm still not sure what schools I'd be looking at applying to yet anyway. Probably something I can start looking at now
 

Dr. Courtney

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For what it's worth I don't put too much weight into the whole idea of needed to change schools for your PhD.
It depends on where you are. For most undergrads in Mississippi, Alabama, or Louisiana, I'd say if you can, aim higher for your PhD institution. Let's be honest here, half of all PhD granting institutions are below average.

Continuing on to a PhD at Texas A&M, Ga Tech, or Ohio State is a much brighter prospect than what the OP may be looking at. Lots of places stink by comparison, and the only good advice is to seek greener pastures.

I've always thought that I've owed it to my students to open as many doors as possible for them, and I will always be grateful to my professors at LSU did the same for me. We must be open handed with our students. If somehow one chooses to stay, it should be for genuine love of what we can do for them, not because we tried to manipulate that outcome because we coveted their talents in our research group.
 

Choppy

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It depends on where you are. For most undergrads in Mississippi, Alabama, or Louisiana, I'd say if you can, aim higher for your PhD institution. Let's be honest here, half of all PhD granting institutions are below average.

Continuing on to a PhD at Texas A&M, Ga Tech, or Ohio State is a much brighter prospect than what the OP may be looking at. Lots of places stink by comparison, and the only good advice is to seek greener pastures.

I've always thought that I've owed it to my students to open as many doors as possible for them, and I will always be grateful to my professors at LSU did the same for me. We must be open handed with our students. If somehow one chooses to stay, it should be for genuine love of what we can do for them, not because we tried to manipulate that outcome because we coveted their talents in our research group.
Agreed. I think we're on the same page.
 

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