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Programs Should I go to a big name school for my PhD?

  1. Sep 11, 2008 #1
    I got my BSME from a small not well known school(Oakland University) and am currently getting my MSME there as well. When applying for grad schools I looked at some of the bigger name and higher ranked engineering schools but got frustrated very quickly by being treated as just a number and being denied support so I stuck with OU. I'm also not a big fan of the "academic only" kind of learning that top schools have.

    I have a good amount of industrial experience and worked with many other graduates from a lot of the top schools in the NE and I was never impressed by their education. They could solve any problem in a text book but when it came to the real thing they just couldn't keep up very well.

    So I'm thinking about maybe trying to get into a larger and better rated school for engineering to get my PhD but I feel that if I do I will be taking a hit in my education. Although a degree from a higher rated school might open many more doors for me. I'm looking to go into research and development in the industry more specifically alternative energy.

    So what should I do? Stay where I am at in a school that is surrounded by industrial research and development but to small to be rated, or go for the best school that I can get into?
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  3. Sep 11, 2008 #2
    It's more important to pick the right Ph.D. thesis advisor than to pick the right school. Figure out who's doing research that you're interested in, and find out how their students have fared. Once you've chosen the two or three researchers you'd like to work with, contact them and apply to whatever schools they're at. Your Ph.D. advisor is your mentor; the right one can help ensure that you pursue a fruitful research direction and provide contacts when you graduate, and his/her reputation will also reflect on you.
  4. Sep 11, 2008 #3


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    I've helped hire engineers in industry and am now completing a PhD in materials science, and I would encourage you to apply to the higher ranked school, assuming there are a few people there doing research you're interested in.

    I think your post contains a few misconceptions. First, I don't think you'll be "treated like a number" at a better school, especially in grad school. In fact, I think you'll be valued more by your department and your peers. You'll also likely be pushed to achieve more. Second, your chances of support (i.e., through funded research projects) seem better at a higher ranked school that wins larger grants. Third, your employment chances are better.

    It sounds like you're worried about being surrounded by a bunch of egghead academics who've never experienced the real world. To avoid this, make sure you choose an advisor and group with strong ties to industry and a track record of enabling real-world products and processes.
  5. Sep 11, 2008 #4
    Wait, what? Unless something has changed, a Ph.D. is an academic degree. If you don't want academic training, stay in industry. That said, when I was an undergrad almost all the engineering professors had strong industrial ties, and while many of them did very "academic" research, I don't think that they found themselves struggling with "the real thing."

    Anyway, as ksvanhorn said, more important than the reputation of the school is the reputation of your advisor, however well ranked schools tend to attract more visible advisors. You only get your Ph.D. once, so you might as well do it at the best place that will accept you.
  6. Sep 11, 2008 #5
    Thanks for the advice.

    Yes, this is what I am afraid of. I don't like doing work that doesn't serve a purpose or application to real world problems.

    My current school does offer research I am interested in and is well tied to industry. And when I was applying for my masters it was the only school that would directly offer me any kind of support without jumping through a lot of hoops. All professors (except the ones at my school) I contacted about research opportunities gave me the typical "come back after you have passed the quals" speech. Should I assume this would be different for directly going into the PhD program?

    I never really thought a degree could be just an "academic" degree. After all, not all PhD graduates go into academics. I thought about just getting a masters but I don't believe it will allow the opportunities to perform the type of work that I want.

    As for reputable advisers, well I am not really sure about who is reputable or not. The only thing I really have to base that on is the number of publications and the success of their work. However, how that is recognized in the field of their research, I don't really know.
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