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How low is low-ranked for someone who wants to go into academia?


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Hello all,

I am applying to various Chemistry PhD programs this fall. Here are my stats to get it out of the way:


GPA: 3.9

GRE: 167V167Q, 5.0 W

No subject GRE (curse the absurdly early registration deadline)

Dual degrees in Chemistry and Mathematics with a minor in Physics from a state flagship school usually ranked in the 200s or 300s (although it's been climbing of late). 

Research experience of working with the department chair on an inorganic/nanochemistry project, also writing an undergraduate thesis and earned a small (1500 dollars) grant for the project. Will total about 2.5 semesters when done.

Three strong letters of recommendation.

5 semesters experience as a teaching assistant (yes, really)


So here's the deal. I am interested in having a career in academia (I know, shocking on here). I legitimately enjoy teaching, and I would like the future opportunities to do research. I know that with this resume, I can probably get into most programs outside the top 10 or so, and maybe even sneak into a top 10 one. That said, I would like to stay in the northeastern united states. I have been looking around at colleges, and trying to use the rankings as a guideline. The one school that has stuck out to me the most is UMass-Amherst (#59), which is also what my advisor recommended coincidentally enough.


I probably can't get into Harvard, MIT's phd program is pretty much a disaster right now from what I've been reading, I don't want to deal with the chaos and risk, because I don't have the money to survive if they decide to randomly pull my funding. Probably couldn't get in anyways haha. I might be able to get into Yale, but is that a good thing? Yale is in a really terrifying location, so I'd probably want to live in the dorms the whole time. That could make things difficult as well for when my SO joins me in  a year or so. Also not sure how bad the Ivy league culture is there.

Then it's a big dropoff down to BC, BU, and Mass, which are all ranked in the 50s. I am worried about the cost of living in Boston a lot. Looks like I could get a 2-bedroom apartment in Amherst for less money than a studio apartment in Boston, but they all offer the same graduate stipend. Plus Amherst is much safer, has free transport, and to be completely honest I'm a country bumpkin from a small city in Maine, moving to Boston might be a bit of a shock. Additionally, Amherst seems to have a lot of opportunities in inorganic, physical, and nanochemistry, my primary interests. 


But my question is, is Mass too low ranked for me to have a shot at a decent career in academia? How low is "low-ranked"? Am I wasting my potential if I go there over Yale (if I got in)? I'm not trying to look for any future career working at Columbia or winning Nobel prizes or making a ton of money or something, I just want a comfortable career.


Thank you,



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I have almost identical stats to yours and am also planning to go the academia route. From what my own advisor has told me, the reputation of your advisor you work under/the types of journals you will publish in during grad is way more important than the name and prestige of the school itself. There are some spectacular and well-established organic faculty at schools that are not considered prestigious but are worthy of winning Nobel prizes (I'm assuming you're organic from your user). If Mass has these type of faculty then Mass being "low-ranked" is irrelevant. Your success during your graduate studies will determine whether you are qualified to go into academia or not, so I wouldn't stress the name of the school as much. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

For a PhD program people care MUCH more about what you actually accomplished in your research during Grad school than who you worked under or the institution you got your PhD at.  You can make an impact on a field from any research institution.  The benefits for a higher tier institution, tho, could be they are better funded, more modern instrumentation, and improved networking opportunities.

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