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Good school or larger research group?


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Hello again,

I'm trying to decide between offers from a couple of (both fully-funded) CS PhD programs; I won't name any names, but let's call them "University of Alpha" and "Theta College".

U of Alpha is a very well-known school with a super-strong reputation in programming languages. In fact, most of its department is oriented towards the study of programming languages (PL). It also just got some really big grants for the study of PL, so I know that the department itself, in addition to having a strong reputation, is well-funded.

The only problem with me accepting at UA is that I'm not exactly pro at PL. My research interests are tangential at best (machine learning (ML) and data mining) and given that I was very straightforward and honest with these interests in my application, I'm kind of wondering why I even got admitted. UA does have a ML research group, but it is a fraction of the size of their PL research group, and I get the impression that all but a few of the ML professors are not very active with publishing their research any more.

Theta College on the other hand is by no means a well-known school, but has a larger percentage of their CS faculty studying ML and data mining, and in particular has several younger, tenure-track professors who are pleasingly active ML researchers, having published multiple papers in both journals and conferences already this year.

I see my options at this point as follows:

  1. Accept UA's offer, study up on my PL, and change my research interests slightly so that I can take advantage of their strong faculty and fellow students.
  2. Accept UA's offer, but stay true to my own interests and hope that I don't end up researching under some total flakes.
  3. Accept TC's offer and go to a school that is not NEARLY as well-renowned, but where I know there is active research in ML.

Any advice?

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To me, my research interests matter the most and I would choose the programme based on how strong the are in my area. I don't know much about CS so I don't know how big a change going from ML to PL would be... but if I was choosing, I would go to the lesser-known school which is strong in ML.

In most things I do, I do well at them and put in the effort because it's something I enjoy. For me, this applies both to academia and hobbies.

By the sounds of it, you're much more likely to have an adviser who's actively researching and publishing, which is probably also something which will work in your favour. While reputation can be important, if going to this well known school is going to mean either changing your interests to fit with theirs, or working with an adviser who's a bit passed it, I think you need to seriously consider if having the reputable name is worth it.

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