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Suppose a student gets a PhD offer in the field of Theoritical Computer Science from universities in the following countries:

  • China
  • Russia
  • Germany
  • USA

Suppose all universities have almost the same rankings in the field of Engineering and Technology.

If the language of instruction is not going to be a problem, is there a reason to prefer one country over another for the PhD in Theoritical Computer Science?

Are these degrees interchangeable in the Western and Nonwestern block of countries for industry of academia jobs?

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closed as too broad by Shion, scaaahu, RoboKaren, paul garrett, JeffE Jul 19 '14 at 4:11

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

All may have the same rankings in engineering in general, but are all equally regarded in the particular area you would like to focus your research in? –  ff524 Jul 11 '14 at 11:38
Related: PhD in the US compared to Europe –  ff524 Jul 11 '14 at 11:40
Your question is too broad, because all of these countries have good, high ranking universities; have benefits and reasons for each person to choose to live in. Also, each country may be perfect in any major. Even, your question about engineering majors is also too broad, because answers to the engineering majors in general may not lead to a fair answer. One may answer a country is not perfect in engineering, but you may find good universities in a specific field and major. –  Enthusiastic Student Jul 11 '14 at 13:41
all universities have almost the same rankings — According to which rankings? American CS departments really only pay attention to the US News rankings, which exclude all universities outside the US. (The gold standard used to be the NRC rankings, but the most recent iteration was just complete garbage.) Non-American universities pay more attention to international rankings. –  JeffE Jul 11 '14 at 13:54
What does "industry of pedagogical jobs" mean? Do you mean "jobs in academia or industry"? –  JeffE Jul 11 '14 at 13:57

3 Answers 3

I think there are many different things more important than the country. For example:

  • Quality of the graduate program (which does sometimes differ from the general ranking)
  • Quality of your area of specialization of the universities
  • Is there a professor you would like to work with at one of the universities?
  • Do I have to teach during my PhD?
  • ...

However, to answer your question:

Do you want to live in one of the countries in the future? Then you should choose this country. Most of the time (I don't know if that is true for Russia or China, but for the rest it certainly is) it is much easier to get a job if you have a degree from this country.

Do you want to have a PhD program with or without coursework? Then you should check if the German/Chinese/Russian programs are with or without coursework.

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Why is the PhD program with coursework the "real" one? –  ff524 Jul 11 '14 at 12:06
@ff524 You are right, real is kind of judgmental. I have changed that. However, I think that most people, when they think of a PhD they think of one with coursework. –  The Almighty Bob Jul 11 '14 at 12:19
@TheAlmightyBob: that might be true in the States, in most of Western Europe PhD programs tend not to have coursework (or have a symbolic amount of it). –  finitud Jul 11 '14 at 13:01
Underscoring the part about where you want to live: If you are a student outside the US and you want a job in the US, travel becomes a burden to the interview process. I've talked to US citizens who went to school in Europe then couldn't get any job interviews in the US because no one wanted to pay double the air fare to fly them in. –  Matthew Leingang Jul 11 '14 at 13:15

I fully agree with the other two posts, but let me elaborate on two points:

  • PhD is not school. It is not only about the grades you get, or is it easy to pass or difficult or the prestige of your school. You have to have clear career goals and you should consider how the assess skills, network, knowledge will fit that plan. E.g. without having any experience in American univ system, you will have pretty hard time to find a job or get a grant, and you have to learn a lot of little tricks from zero. No, your colleagues are your competitors, and even if they like you they are busy, so they will not help you to write grants or develop new lectures or give you all the tricks how you can get tenured. Communication skills earned in Russia or China has totally different value compared to US, and it is not only about the language differences, and you cannot pick them up fast. It is not better or worse, it is just very local, very different and their value is heavily dependent on your career goals. Same with networks, you should be really careful about that.

  • It is hard to do a PhD without passion (and I don't see much point of doing a boring PhD, anyway). It means that even in the same general field, same level of university, same access to equipment (I seriously doubt that), you should still put effort to figure out the exact topic of the research, and if it is something you are interested, you care about or not. Most probably you will not have 5 extremely interesting opportunities, and 5 similarly well established labs.

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PhD programs are very different in different countries. In many places there is little or no formal coursework. If you are American or from Western Europe, you many have a lot of trouble adjusting to Russia or China. If I were starting again, I'd much prefer the US or Western Europe: much higher productivity in most fields, more resources, and more widely accepted credentials. It would be culturally easier for me as well, but if you are Russian or Chinese it would likely be the other way around. Wherever you decide to apply, make sure that there are at least three faculty members who are good potential mentors. One is not enough; they may have too many students, leave, retire, or even die.

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