Supervisor vs University - MSc (Life Sciences)


I have been conditionally admitted to two MSc Pharmacology (ish) programs and I don't know which offer to accept. Those are two-year-long courses in the NL requiring internships in outside institutions. My aim is to obtain a degree which will help me with an application for a PhD, most likely in the US or CAN. Eventually, I would like to work in the pharma industry.

The dilemma can be mostly boiled down to a choice between a better reputation or better supervisor. These differences are subtle, to be honest, which makes it hard to choose. (I am going to avoid using names)

Uni-1. The supervisor has quite a bit of experience in the US and is a high standing figure in Dutch Pharmacological Society. I feel like potential recommendation letter from this person would make a difference. Additionally, the research I'd do there is more exciting to me and would be somewhat continuation to my dissertation form the undergrad.

Uni-2. The supervisor here while being an excellent academic has no highlights of broader outreach in the CV, but the uni is on average 20 spots ahead in pharmacy and sometimes 15 spots ahead in general rankings. Additionally, the research there would be less interesting and less related to what I am interested in.

What do you think is better? I feel more attracted to the first one but I did my undergrad at... bad university and probably I should catch up on reputation scores on my CV. The other issue is that the recommendation letter is not guaranteed and supervisors might be not very helpful regardless of their abilities which makes it a little bit of a gamble.


Being said, the reputation of the supervisor might not make him a good or a helpful person. Of course no guarantee for a recommendation letter. The ranking difference is not that much. So I would not also say go for uni2. If I were you I would follow my passion and the more interesting topic (regardless of the hope of getting a recommendation letter). Getting a PhD after Master is another story. From my personal experience, think about PhD while doing Master is going to distract you. Concentrate on the present and make the most of it.

Avatar for rewt

This is a hard one but I would go with the first supervisor. They may not be in the best university but is an expert in their field which will help if you want a PhD in another uni. The lab may not be as good but the people there may be more knowledgeable/useful in your field than the higher ranked uni.


FilipJ96, In my opinion, I think you are putting way too much emphasis on league tables and perceived reputation. It's interesting that you put your interest in each position almost as a throwaway comment. This sort of decision-making is a mistake and this forum is packed full of people who ran into serious problems as a result of poor decision making at the start of their PhDs.

First and foremost in your mind should be the work you are going to have to dedicate the next few years of your life to. Then you need to consider location including the working conditions because this is where you are going to have to live and work each day. The choice of supervisor should then be in third place because this is the person who will have to support you when you inevitably hit one or more walls during your research. I don't mean their reputation: I mean whether you get on with them, how are other students treated etc.

In my opinion, these three things, in the order I have listed them, are considerably more important than the type of recommendation letter you may or may not get at the endpoint.
I'm not saying you should ignore reputation but you certainly should not make the mistake of ranking it the highest priority in my opinion.


Thank you all for your response! I feel like it is very helpful to hear your takes on it.

pm133 - I think that the work at both universities will eventually come down to be very similar altho as far as I understand Uni-2 has a more genetic approach which is my particular area of interest.

I put quite a bit of emphasis on ranking because it is also often correlated with a type of people at the university and I find myself working better in ambitious and fast-peased teams.

I am also under impression that facilities at both universities are the same, that being said I have no reliable information about it because I do not know people who I can believe, to be honest about it.

Thank you very much for your response though. It is helpful because it clears my mind.

Avatar for rewt

Quote From FilipJ96:

I put quite a bit of emphasis on ranking because it is also often correlated with a type of people at the university and I find myself working better in ambitious and fast-peased teams.

You are completely right, better universities tend to have better PhD students. But that is not the biggest priority in choosing a PhD, it should be quite low. I would consider the PhD project, the supervisor, the research group and available facilities far more important than the wider university ranking.

You are going to be working for there years on a project. So you want to make sure that you can motivate yourself through that time without wanting to kill your supervisor. If you stay on this forum you will notice that the top reasons for PhD dropouts are supervisor related, and not that your colleagues are idiots.


FilipJ96, I am not sure where you are getting your information from as regards the correlation between university rankings and the quality of student. During my PhD I found no such correlation in my encounters with those from a wide range of unis.
Your other problem is that you may not be working in a team in the way you may imagine. Your PhD is supposed to be and probably will be largely a solo pursuit. Certainly if you want an academic research career, at some early point you are going tp have to show a large amount of ability to work independently. You seem to be suggesting that you need others around you to drive you. That isn't a healthy place to start your PhD from.


rewt and pm133

I think I left the wrong impression. I actually base my opinion on some forums and other sources which suggested it and I am surely not prioritising this but would like to take it under consideration. Additionally, I am going to do (what would be called in the UK) taught Master's, not Ph.D.

As much as I am aware that most projects are solo endeavors here I would be joining a collaborative team. Also, I will have a substantial amount of classes during the course and as I try to be socially active I will be likely to work outside of my studies on many projects.


Filip96, it's my mistake here. You mentioned the Masters degree in your first post and I missed it.
As long as you are not prioritising it you will be more likely to make a good decision. So many people get obsessed with rankings and reputation over everything else and it causes no end of trouble for them.
Good luck with your studies.


Uni 1 because you say you are more interested in the work you will do there. That's an important variable to consider for a successful outcome.


I would speak to people supervised by both potential supervisors, and see which you like the sound of more. If you are happy you will do your best work, which gives you the best chance in the future