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opportunity cost / should I even apply? / School's PhD prestige

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Hi people,

I'd like to get opinions on my dilemma. I am currently doing a mres. Those of you who don't know it's a 12-18 months degree working on a research project culminating in a dissertation. I should be done early next year, and I'm now considering applying for PhD programs at schools like Oxford, UCL, LSE, MIT, PSE, ETHZ etc... and maybe more.

But here is the thing: I'm going to submit a paper for publication by the end of the year, and an extension of this project will also turn into another paper by the time I'm enrolled in a PhD program at another. My university offers the possibility of using the work done as a mres student as chapters of a PhD dissertation. Basically you need 3 papers turned into a dissertation, and you're good. (I think that's typical of the 3 essays/chapters system).

This means that by the time I enroll into a new PhD program I would roughly have half to two third of a PhD completed at my present school. I am wondering about my options because the schools I have mentioned above are way more prestigious than my current school, and I know prestige matters quite a lot to become an assistant prof at a great school (or in a great location). At the same time, enrolling in a new program means spending 3-5 more years compared to 1-2 (opportunity cost).

I understand going to a top school is a once in a lifetime experience, and I am wondering about the opportunity cost as previously said, but also the cost of not going. I am also wondering about alternatives: What do you guys think of: me pursuing the PhD where I am at, and then seeking post-docs at one of these prestigious groups. Would producing good work as a post doc "earn" me entrance into their networks?

ps: You will notice I haven't discussed the research fit because I have a good idea of the kind of research I would do at these institutions. I already know who is who, and who does what.

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I did a three paper dissertation. I would not use your master's papers in your three paper dissertation.  You grow a lot as a researcher during your PhD and you want your dissertation to reflect the work that you can currently do.  There is no point in getting a PhD quickly if you are not going to be competitive for the jobs that you want when you graduate.  And securing a postdoc in my experience are all about the connections your faculty have with other faculty in other places.  Do your current faculty have connections at these prestigious places?

If you really want an academic career - I would do your PhD at the place that has the best connections, resources, and productivity of the type of research that you want to do.

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Yes, while I advocating getting through a PhD in a timely manner, a PhD is also a marathon and not a sprint. It's better to take a longer time and set yourself up for career success than it is to rush through only to find yourself having to spend all the time you "saved" in postdocs.

I'd advocate for applying to those top programs in your field you're already planning, and see what happens in admissions. Many other programs offer the three-paper option to students, and sometimes you can edit or beef up a paper you published previously (regardless of what program you were in when it happened) to include in your dissertation.

Also, somewhat paradoxically, getting a postdoc at a prestigious institution is a lot easier if you have a PhD from a prestigious institution.

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