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I am involved in a peculiar PhD situation. I am working full time at a government lab that is fairly new (<10 years of existence), but has however attracted some strong names in my field (Computer Science and Data Management) as appointed researchers. Government labs do not issue PhDs, so I had to enroll at a university. The university that I enrolled at (not my choice) is among the top 10 in my country, but lies in the top ~1000 area worldwide. Furthermore, my advisor is not really involved in my work and is generally active in somewhat different research directions. However, I had very good funding so I decided to treat this as exactly what it is, i.e., a formality, as I can't get my PhD from the government lab.

During the past four years, I have been very productive and managed to create a solid publication record at A-level and A*-level conferences and journals, as well as a decent citation count (~150). I am first author in most of my papers, and some of the people I worked and published with are very established and acclaimed academics in this field.

Before starting my PhD, a obtained an Electrical Engineering degree and a Masters degree from top schools in worldwide rankings. Now my question is, do I need to somehow reflect this situation in the form of a justification of why I am getting my PhD from an unknown university? Or the fact that after two excellent school names, I have this third name in my CV that is unknown and overall a weird addition?

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I think your stellar record speaks for itself (from my experience: 150 citations is something that is rarely encounered on a a PhD-level research).

And where would you like to put that justification? As an asterisk in your CV? THAT would be really weird.

  • Exactly, If I read OP's CV and stumbled over the noname university, I would think it's interesting, not bad. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jan 25 '18 at 16:01
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    I think the OP can easily convey the point they wish to make on their without raising anyone's eyebrows. It would be reasonable to have an entry like"2014--2018 Noname University (in association with Government Research Lab), PhD Advanced Basket Weaving." This accurately reflects the context of the OP's PhD, and any readers who care enough to think about it will appreciate that the university/lab tie-up is probably determined way above the OP's pay-grade. – avid Jan 26 '18 at 3:42
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    A PhD in Advanced Basket Weaving would be amazing though. – millen_mollen Jan 26 '18 at 9:36
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    @avid It's not even necessary to put the lab in parenthesis. Just write "University Bidule, Laboratory Truc". Everyone will understand what it means. – user9646 Jan 26 '18 at 10:04
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You need both in your CV, but you can easily split the employment at the government lab from when and where you have obtained your PhD. You can even structure your CV with a complete separation between the list of academic degrees (where and when you obtained them) and the list of research / industry employment and similar.

For the entry with your PhD, it would be reasonable to relate it to your employment at the government lab of course, for example by pointing out a cooperation between this university and the government lab. You don't state whether the advisor you mention is affiliated with the government lab or the university, but if someone who supervises you at the government lab is also member of your PhD committee, that may be sufficient to state a cooperation.

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