I am currently trying to decide between two PhD offers.
The first one is from a higher ranked university (60-65 worldwide and 5-10 in the UK, approximately). The university also has a great reputation in my field, which is one of their strongest research areas. However, my research fits much better with the supervisor from the other university. Also, the supervisor in this university is an early stage academic and thus has not published a lot yet.
The second university has a lower ranking (200-205 worldwide, 60-70 in the UK) and is not particularly well known for my field. But the supervisors’ (first and second supervisors) expertise fits very well with my research and their publications are well received in the field.
Obviously these university rankings are all relative and they are not everything. But I also understand that prestige does matter especially for an academic career and that higher ranked universities tend to have more fundings and resources. On the other hand, the research fit with the second university is excellent that it is difficult to disregard that.
Please give me some advice on this! Should I go for the university with better reputation or better supervisor?
Assuming the subject is Politics like your user name, I'd suggest prioritising funding above all else. If the lower ranked university is offering full funding and the other not, then take the full funding. Doing a partially funded or unfunded Politics PhD is not a good idea unless you're retired or wealthy...
If both are offering full funding, then I'd suggest investigating what recent PhDs from the lower ranked department are doing career wise and look to see whether there's a reasonably sized PhD community there, decent research methods training and whether most staff are publishing. It's hard to do a PhD in a department where the only thing valued is teaching, not least because you can get pushed into too much teaching yourself to the detriment of the PhD. Supervisory fit is important but you also need access to the research infrastructure to help you. If the lower ranked uni has all that and that's what your gut is telling you is right, then go for it.
Thank you so much for your detailed response!
With regards to PhD community and academic network in general, how much does that stretch beyond your supervisor? My understanding is that if your supervisor is well respected and connected in their field, they could offer you better chances at networking in academia. Would you say this is actually the case? Or is it more important to join the PhD community comprising graduates who are doing well in their career?
It seems like the lower ranked university has the advantage of having supervisors with great connection in the field whereas the higher ranked one would offer PhD community with graduates performing well in academia. Also it seems like recent PhDs from the former are doing quite well in the industry and the latter more in academia/research field.
Are both PhDs on the same topic? As if not, I would choose the project you are more passionate about. I think enjoying your PhD project is far more important than university/supervisor fit.
You mention that your supervisors at the lower ranked uni are more established but does that also mean more responsibilities? Do they have multiple PhD students, admin roles in the uni, teach several classes or have an editor position? Some "superstar" supervisors barely interact with their PhD students and offer less day-to-day support than less established academics. There are many pros and cons for going with an early career supervisor but the extra support is one of the few pros.
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