Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

P-representation
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Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby P-representation » Mon Feb 18, 2013 4:11 pm

I've been accepted at a top 20ish school in the USA which is currently ranked among the top 5 programs in the USA in my field. I'd really like to go there except for the fact that I am also expecting an offer from a top university in Europe, which is very well recognized internationally. I am kind of in a dilemma as to which one to choose. The US school has a lot of faculty in my field along with a couple of world famous professors and experimental facilities. However, I'm just a little concerned at its poor overall ranking in physics. As I'm just an undergraduate, I'm not really sure how much importance I should give to it, though I have heard that ranking does play an important role for a future research career (over and above advisors, publications etc). Hence, the dilemma. In Europe, I'll be working under a pretty young professor (did his Ph.D under Nobel Laureate) whose lab has a pretty solid publication record (lots of PRL's every year). Plus, I'll start straight away on research and have to finish within 3 years as opposed to the 5-6 it might take in the US.

I'm a little concerned at the opportunities that might be available to me when I finish. I have heard that European degrees are not taken very seriously in the USA, even those from top universities. On the other hand, it's not like I'm going to Harvard or Princeton, so I find it difficult to compare the reputation of a top 20 US school to a top European university. I know that ultimately the decision will have to be made by me alone. I just hope to make it for all the right reasons with adequate information at hand.
Last edited by P-representation on Mon Apr 08, 2013 4:20 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Skullgrid
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby Skullgrid » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:23 pm

P-representation wrote:Plus, I'll start straight away on research and have to finish within 3 years as opposed to the 5-6 it might take in the US.


I wouldn't necessarily consider a short PhD length better than a long one. Remember, after your PhD your going to be applying to Postdocs, which means you're going to want to have as many solid publications under your belt as possible. Having a few extra years could be immensely useful in this regard (assuming you can start on research right away at the American University). Also, a 3 year PhD is basically cutting out the coursework that you would get in an en-route-to-PhD Masters at a US institution, this coursework could dramatically benefit your ability to do high level research.

P-representation wrote: I have heard that European degrees are not taken very seriously in the USA, even those from top universities.


I have gotten this impression as well, though I'm not sure how seriously to take it. I know, for instance, that there are a few international PhDs in the department at my institution (a UC), but they are outnumbered by domestic PhDs.

Personally, I would go with the US school. Like you said, it's a top 3 in your field, and people are going to recognize that (assuming you stay within that field). You should definitely get other opinions though, I'm not exactly an expert on this. Ultimately, what will matter most is the quantity and quality of your publications and the networking you do with your advisor(s) and collaborators.

Robespierre
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby Robespierre » Mon Feb 18, 2013 8:25 pm

Does the UK school provide full funding? (I assume the US school does.)

P-representation
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby P-representation » Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:03 am

No the UK university doesn't offer any funding. I am awaiting my fellowship results to see if I can go after all.

Plus regarding coursework, I guess I have already completed most of the courses they offer during my masters. Also, I'm going to be working on experimental physics so I'm not sure if courses will play a critical role.
Last edited by P-representation on Mon Apr 08, 2013 4:21 am, edited 2 times in total.

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quizivex
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby quizivex » Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:34 am

As you said, program reputation does matter to some extent... it's not unreasonable to choose a MIT over a Maryland because of the weight it might carry in your future career. Though if it's so hard to judge which school's perceived reputation is better, I recommend not using that to decide where to go. There are many other important factors. Just count the rankings as a tie.

BTW I personally find it hard to believe that a PhD from a top European university would be looked at as a joke or as inferior to a 2nd tier American program PhD. Why would this be the case?

blighter
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby blighter » Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:48 am

Also if the European Universities you're talking about are places like, Oxford, Cambridge, ETH, Utrecht, etc. I think they are at least as good as top 20 schools in US if not better. If you are simply going for big name schools, Oxford and Cambridge are probably better at that than any American school for that matter.

P-representation
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby P-representation » Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:50 am

Just out of curiosity...does the converse hold true as well? Will a Ph.D from a top 20 US university be considered inferior to the top European university in Europe? :mrgreen:

blighter
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby blighter » Tue Feb 19, 2013 10:00 am

I doubt either of those cases.

TakeruK
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby TakeruK » Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:56 pm

Skullgrid wrote:I wouldn't necessarily consider a short PhD length better than a long one. Remember, after your PhD your going to be applying to Postdocs, which means you're going to want to have as many solid publications under your belt as possible. Having a few extra years could be immensely useful in this regard (assuming you can start on research right away at the American University). Also, a 3 year PhD is basically cutting out the coursework that you would get in an en-route-to-PhD Masters at a US institution, this coursework could dramatically benefit your ability to do high level research.


I got this same advice in Canada from profs here, that the main disadvantage of a 3 year European PhD is that North American universities are expecting PhD graduates with 5-6 years of grad school experience when they hire post-docs. However, this can be offset by doing your first post-doc in Europe -- by that time, you should have 5-6 years of pretty much full time research experience. In addition, I think the post-doc life is slightly better than the graduate student life (no tuition, no classes, better pay and benefits), but that's at least true in North America, not sure how it works in Europe.

I do not think coursework is a seriously important component of being a good researchers. Some top universities in the US put very little effort into teaching courses well and profs actively discourage us from spending even the "suggested amount of hours" on them. Our quals here are research-based, not course based. I'm not saying coursework isn't useful, but if you're going to be a good researcher (i.e. at a top university) then you are probably good enough to pick things up as you go and/or teach yourself the important parts. I'm not sure if this is a good thing, because then if the top researchers (without a solid foundation in coursework) ends up at a top university, then they won't put effort in teaching either and the cycle continues.

The other disadvantage is that in some fields, there are two very different "circles" and the European/North American research communities don't have as much communication between the two groups as they do within the same group. There are obvious logistical reasons for this. However, this means when you do apply to North American postdocs, your name may not be as well known. The way to get around this is to attend more US conferences but logistics and cost is an issue. Generally, one might do a talk circuit while applying to post-docs and the distance might make things tougher too.

Another way to get around it is to have a really well known supervisor/university. It will get rid of some issues that might come up with someone in North American being unfamiliar with your work.
P-representation wrote: I have heard that European degrees are not taken very seriously in the USA, even those from top universities.


I don't think that's true. Instead, I think there are some disadvantages of doing your training in the EU if your ultimate goal is a job in North America, for the reasons above. However, that doesn't mean one shouldn't do it. Since my goal is a job in North America, the advice I took was to only go to the EU for grad school if there is a great opportunity there that a North American program cannot fulfill. In the end, I didn't actually apply to any EU schools due to the lack of funding availability and the lack of a good research fit. (There was also the additional difficulties in moving our stuff across an ocean [we'd probably put it in storage in Canada if we had moved] and the difficulty my wife would have finding work if we didn't go to an English speaking country).

bfollinprm
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Feb 19, 2013 4:52 pm

P-representation wrote:I've been accepted at a top 20ish school in the USA which is currently ranked among the top 3 programs in the USA in my field. I'd really like to go there except for the fact that I am also expecting an offer from a top university in Europe, which is very well recognized internationally. I am kind of in a dilemma as to which one to choose. The US school has a lot of faculty in my field along with a couple of world famous professors and experimental facilities. However, I'm just a little concerned at its poor overall ranking in physics. As I'm just an undergraduate, I'm not really sure how much importance I should give to it...


Compared to the quality of your research, your publication history, and the name brand of your advisor, the ranking of the graduate school is a very subdominant component of determining where you end up in your first postdoc. Go where the research interests you most and the potential advisor(s) seem the best fit. Coming from a top 10 is overrated in the minds of undergrads; for the most part it just helps in (a) giving you lots of quality options, instead of a few focused ones, and (b) gives you automatic ground-floor access to the major collaborations, which are often PI'd by a person at a major program. Assuming you can find these perks elsewhere (which it sounds like you can), there is minimal advantage to going to a top 10 school.

Minovsky
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby Minovsky » Wed Feb 20, 2013 12:12 am

What some people may be forgetting is that EU PhD positions typically require a MSc with thesis as a prerequisite. So a normal EU PhD graduate would have ~5 years of grad school experience including advanced coursework. Also, I have heard that in the EU PhD candidates are treated as junior employees, whereas in the US they are treated as students.

P-representation
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Re: Top 20 USA vs Top in Europe

Postby P-representation » Wed Feb 20, 2013 4:43 pm

Yes, but is the training received during an MSc. degree considered at par with a couple of years of intensive training during the beginning of a Ph.D in the US? From what I've heard from my seniors, the coursework at US universities is not really very challenging. We've gone through the same textbooks (Jackson, Sakurai, Peskin, Ashcroft and Mermin etc) during our undergrad years. Still I can't blame them for feeling that doing these courses as a Ph.D student is far more beneficial towards developing a solid understanding than what we experience during our undergrad.




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