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Prestige for PhD Programs/Job Outlook?


Mochi22
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How much does prestige matter in regards to PhD programs and job outlooks afterwards? I have offers from 2 good schools, but 1 has the prestigious name, while the other is still a pretty good school but does not have the same level of prestige. The overall environment of the second school fits better, but I can't seem to turn down the name of the first school. Also, does the location of your PhD matter? I want to work in biotech after grad, and I know that the bay area/SD/boston are biotech hubs. If I go to a school in one of those locations, does it increase my chances of getting a job there? Thanks!

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I personally don't worry about prestige too much since I'm not planning on trying to get a tenure-track position in a top program when I graduate with my PhD, but I'm not sure how much prestige is important in industry jobs (this is how I read your post, forgive me if I misinterpreted) such as biotech - is there a professor/someone in your current (undergrad/masters) program you can ask about how prestige matters in biotech job acquisition?

I am very heavily weighing environment fit into my decision - are the professors and students in the program enthusiastic and positive about their research? Does work-life balance in the program align to what I would like to have during my doctoral training? Do I feel as if I would have a good relationship with my advisor? Etc. I'm weighing these things heavily because environment goes a long way in making people happy and content which is much more conducive to a positive grad school experience. A positive grad school experience will go a long way in making you productive and happy during your time there.

Also as to location of a school in a biotech hub I think this could matter? But mainly it matters if your professors in the program you attend have connections to those local biotech companies around their university. This seems to be likely for people in universities near the hubs, but that isn't to say that programs far away geographically from the biotech hubs couldn't also have connections you could network with for potential jobs after grad school.

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Prestige can be important in tech. It's not the only deciding factor, but it can play a role, especially if you are competing for jobs at top companies within your field. That said, it's certainly possible to get great jobs from a non-prestigious school, especially if you work somewhere else first. The other thing is that the definition of 'prestigious' is also more expansive than most people would imagine - i.e., not just top/elite private schools but also excellent public universities with good programs in your field. I work at a top tech company now. Although both Michigan and Carnegie Mellon are well-represented here, I know way more Michigan grads than CMU grads. (I know more Georgia Tech grads here than I know CMU grads!)

Location does matter, but that's something that also can be overcome. Being in a city with a strong presence in the industry you want to work in increases the chances you can make connections and networks in that industry. Lots of times, companies have special relationships with the schools in their city. For example, on my own team, we often go to networking mixers the schools put on for their students; we host tours and career days here at our campus; we go speak on panels and keynote events at local universities/colleges. I'll often go out to a short coffee or lunch with local students who are interested in having an informational with someone in my field. And some companies offer academic-year internships or freelance options to get some experience; I know some graduate students in my field in tech-heavy cities who are doing freelance UX testing/work for startups and small to medium-sized companies.

But, I also know lots of students who come from places that are not tech hubs who have landed well. A recent hire on my team came from a city in the Southwest that doesn't have a big tech culture there. I moved here from New York, but I had never worked in technology before coming to my position. Some students do internships over the summer - and in fact, most big tech/biotech companies will offer summer internships. Sometimes, your professors will have worked in those big tech hubs and/or started their own startups and still have connections. Or you may be located in a smaller tech hub that still has thriving connections.

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Maybe target a few companies who you would like to work with and check if there is a certain pattern to their recruitment, Like Microsoft consistently hires more people from university of Washington than any other. If theres a healthy variety in your target industry with the jobs you like, you should be good with university that has the best environment.

Edited by aakhere
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That's UW is right there - it's less than 20 minutes away from us :) Bonus points because it has very good computer science and engineering departments, but that's actually partially because it's so close - Microsoft (and other tech companies) pour lots of money into supporting research and education at UW because we need a constant source of engineers to work here!

But, particularly at the graduate level, I wouldn't choose UW-Seattle solely or even primarily for that reason. I mean, if you knew you absolutely wanted to work at Microsoft and UW was otherwise a good fit, then sure, it's a good choice. But we hire PhDs (and undergrads) from LOTS of other places. And if you wanted to work at Microsoft Research, we have MSR locations all over the country and in international locations as well - and in that we're not more likely to hire PhDs from UW.

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