17

I'm almost going to start my PhD. Out of curiosity, I searched for several effective researchers in several fields over the internet. Most of the common property among almost of them are

1) Working under the supervision of another effective researcher.

2) Not doing PhD in my country.

The second rule fails if and only if his/her supervisor satisfies both rules.

I considered some other factors such as time of spending, passion on the subject. Although many people I saw in my colleagues, friends, seniors etc., have these qualities are not as successful as the people who have the above two points (country, supervisor).

In this context, even I have so much aspiration, the two factors are pushing me back due to this empirical evidence.

Thus, my question is, whether the country and the standard of the supervisor affects my PhD quality and hence my career?

Note: I was neither a child prodigy nor an exceptional person but an average student. Hence please answer realistically.

28

The first point: working under the supervision of an effective researcher, is certainly one of the most important criteria, if not the most important criterion.

The second point, about the country where you work, is one that many people would like to discard. However, the following points need to be taken into consideration (especially since you have given the tag of "developing-countries"):

  • The quality of research facilities available. This is more important for some areas of research, like experimental sciences. There is no doubt that the developed world has, on average, much better facilties.
  • The quality of your co-students and general research atmosphere at the probable place of work in your country. This is actually quite important as you learn a lot from other young researchers, seniors and juniors. A good university will have a better atmosphere and such universities are most often in the developed world.
  • The extent to which your research will get global visibility. Some areas of research are not "global" as they tackle local problems. However, many scientific areas are "global". In such a case, it is unfortunate, but true, that the country of origin of your research does make a difference to the visibility it gets.

Having made all these points, there are plus points about carrying out research in your own country.

  • If you do well, it brings credit to the society which you are a part of and which had a big hand in making you who you are.
  • Research is difficult enough without adding the burden of finding your feet in a different culture and society.

Ultimately, you will have to weigh all these factors against the quality of research positions that you have available once the application process is complete. All the best.

8

Unless you are much more self motivated with many more ideas than the average beginning doctoral student, you will depend on your advisor/supervisor for both research ideas and guidance. So, the "quality" (whatever that means) of your supervisor has quite a lot to do with your success initially. That, along with a supervisor who can connect you to other researchers via collaborations he/she has can be important. Collaboration and synergy are very important, especially when you get started.

I doubt that country has much to do with anything if you find a good supervisor. Most of the world is not where you are, of course. That is even true in China. Great research gets done most everywhere, though not all academics move to The US or EU which gets a lot of "press". Of course, you will find a lot of research in large universities, wherever they are.

6

I think there are two perspectives on the choice of advisor and country.

  1. Machiavellian Perspective: Being in science is sadly a career and, as such, not fully determined by quality and content of your research work. Instead good PR and smart career moves do make a big difference. Superstars will always appear effective as good students will join them and maintain their top standing (even if they have dwindled or are never around to even talk to these students). If you join a superstar and do good work on currently hot topics, you are more likely to be superstar yourself. If you go to a country which is great at PR (e.g., the USA), your results are more likely to be read even if someone in another country (frequently in Japan) has published them twenty years ago. If you know what you want (e.g., already know a topic that intrinsically motivates you and some good research questions), it makes complete sense to join the superstar of your field in the most famous place. If not, the long duration of US PhD programs and frequently high concentration of superstars in the top programs, would also make a choice clear. Thus, by this perspective you are badly advised to go anywhere but a few select top advisors at top universities with big PR departments in the USA.

  2. Idealistic Perspective: When your core goal is idealistic, i.e., you want (A) to do great research and (B) learn how to develop your research skills, you need someone who (1) does great research but also (2) cares & has time for you and (3) with whom you will get along well. Clearly, a superstar rarely fulfills these points. Such advisors have little time due to their success payoff (the number of opportunities grows with your fame), too many students (superstars are a fatal attraction), will not help you grow at all nor find your path to research. They will discern a good idea and maintain a set of PhD students who are supporting their status while removing the ones who have not proposed great ideas to them (survival of the fittest; a friend of mine who is currently a superstar himself compare the lab of his superstar advisor at Stanford to a gulag). While that algorithm is good for them, it works against you. Thus, choose someone whose research and personality you like. As good research always is successful on the long run, he will be successful and so will you. You may even have a good feeling by having done it with more honest means.

When I was at your stage nearly twenty years ago, I had the choice between many advisors (both stars and nobodies), many schools (no names and two of the top three in my field) and many countries (CH, DE, JP and USA). I chose an advisor whom I really liked but had a suboptimal standing in the community (good researcher but not a star) but at a top 10 place in my field in the USA (but not one of the top two schools). All of my advisor's students and postdocs including me (I got tenure fours after my PhD) and him had the best careers which we ever expected. I recently looked at the students of all the advisors who had made me competing offers, and I can just say: I did the right choice for me.

I hope this helps?

3

Both while I was doing my masters and, moreso, in my current, unrelated to my masters, job, I have been told to disregard research papers from China in particular. It produces a lot of research but there are certainly tales of data being manipulated or outright falsified to get it to publishing. So I am sorry to say that the country that you do research in does make a difference.

Afraid my answer is only word of mouth. I am not a scientist as such but I work with them.

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