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Prestige of a grad school vs. Research fit

  1. Apr 3, 2014 #1

    I've been accepted to a couple of schools for grad school. One of them being my undergrad institution where I have a great fit with an advisor I've been working with for the past two years. The other is the most prestigious school in my country, with an international reputation and great research being done in many fields.

    My question is, if I want to someday make it in academia, will going to the same school as my undergrad for a PhD be detrimental to my goal? Also, how important is prestige of your graduate school?

    Any answers will be greatly appreciated!

    Edit: I should add, I have equal funding at both schools. So, finances are not an issue for me.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2014 #2


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    You have a couple of questions which aren't related.

    The first: will going to the same school as my undergrad for a PhD be detrimental to my goal? I think the answer to that is no. I'm not sure where the thought that you should go to a different school came from but I went to the same graduate school as my undergrad and it didn't hurt me. A lot of people do and I've never, ever, in a hiring meeting heard someone bring up the fact the candidate stayed at his or her undergrad school for PhD studies as a negative.

    Second, how important is a prestigious school for working in academia? Well, I think it is very important. I went to a good school but one rung below the famous schools such as MIT, Berkeley, or Stanford. Most of our professors came from MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, or Caltech. Not sure which is the cause and which is the effect, but it is much easier to get an academic job if you go to a world class university. If you go to industry it matters some but not as much.

    That said, you will be judged partially by your research advisor. Graduating with a very famous advisor from a good school is probably better than graduating with a mediocre advisor from a world class school.

    Good luck!
  4. Apr 3, 2014 #3


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    In my opinion a good research fit is far more important than the prestige of your school.

    My reasoning is the following...

    In graduate school it matters what you do and how you perform. The quality and quantity of your publications matter. The references that you will get for future positions (academic or otherwise) matter and those will be influenced by how you perform. The ability to bring in external funding matters. And your personal enjoyment of the experience matters.

    The prestige of a school is a factor that comes into play when your performance on all of the above would otherwise be equal. However if you get into a big name school but don't perform well, the name won't matter. And even a mediocre performance at a big name school will not outweigh an outstanding performance elsewhere.

    I will close with a qualifier on my statements though. My experience is largely based on the Canadian system where there appears to be less width in the prestige spectrum between various schools compared to the US. Doing very well at a school that is unaccredited or has a particularly poor academic reputation (Discount Doug's Dogma and Diplomas) could very well be a waste of your time and money, depending on your goals.
  5. Apr 3, 2014 #4
    I certainly agree that if you don’t perform, then nothing else matters.

    I think another thing to consider is how much help your advisor will be with networking after you graduate. Assuming your research goes well (again, if it doesn’t other things probably won't matter), will he just write you a nice letter of recommendation for you or will he possibly work his contacts to assist you? Seems like you have a pretty good relationship with him as an undergraduate advisor, if you think he’d help you after you graduate that would be a big plus in my opinion.
  6. Apr 3, 2014 #5
    I think the fact that most profs at the school you went to are grads from those top schools has more to do with the fact that said schools were the main producers of Physics PhD's during the past 60 years and less to do with it being 'easier' for them to get academic jobs. Also, there's the obvious selection effect of highly productive students. Plus the increased likelihood of having good academic contacts by having gone to those schools like you say, but some less famous schools have some advantages and connections in certain fields that most top 10 schools do not. U Alaska's hand in atmospheric physics is the strongest example of this I've seen. If you know what field you want to go into and your alma mater happens to be among the best places for it, I would stay without a doubt.

    As for the prestige issue, I am in a roughly similar predicament, I don't have an answer as this is really a very subjective thing. Though none of the schools are even close to top in the country, the difference in track-record is probably just as big amongst my top two choices since one department is very established and the other is very young. But the research fit is roughly the same in both, if not slightly more alluring in one of them for some additional reasons.

    As tempting as it is to say it, I don't think a blanket statement like 'go to the best school in your country' is the way to go about making your decision. You should visit all the schools and talk to as many of the potential supervisors you can to see if you'd really want to work for them (and like the quality of life there), it's what I did (but I won't promise it will make things any easier, in my case it just made deciding among the last two much harder!)

    And no, going to your own school for grad is not detrimental, I've seen quite a few tenured faculty who did this. Very common practice in Europe. If you're worried about accusations of nepotism, you could always save your other admission letters if you ever feel the need to explain why you stayed at your school down the road, for example to avoid giving the impression it was the only one that admitted you (I think this would be a bit extreme, but who knows what may happen).
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
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