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Summary Between my Ph.D. offers, I narrowed down my choices to two. Right now, my decision is mostly dependent on a few factors I didn't discuss with either advisor. I want to ask about these issues directly, but am worried about alienating either or both advisors.

My two options

Option 1:

  • Advisor is a veteran of the field and some of his recent graduates have landed excellent postdoc positions
  • Institute is well-established in the field and widely recognized as one of the bests in the world

Option 2:

  • Advisor is much younger, though so far very successful. His first advisees will graduate this year (so can't yet gauge their success).
  • Institute is very young and its PhD program has had too few alumni so far to give a good image of how successful they are in landing jobs in academia. That being said, institute X has been able to attract excellent faculties and postdocs from top universities (top 10 of the world) and some of their more experienced faculties left tenured positions at those top universities to join X. They also invite world-class faculties and postdocs from the best institutions from all around the world for their weekly colloquium. They're not still as successful in attracting PhD applicants though (perhaps because, as I saw during their interview event, those other offerees that also hold offers from more prestigious universities have the same concern as I do).
  • Good program structure and flexibility
  • Good resources and opportunities
  • Tempting financial offer.

My concern: I like option 2, but I want a job in academia. If I choose option 2, the name of the institute I'll have done my PhD at may not carry enough weight to help me get into excellent postdoc positions and eventually land a tenure-track job in a decent university.

Question: Is it inappropriate to share this concern very frankly with the advisor at institute 2 (who himself has graduated from an incredibly prestigious university)? Could asking that question upset the advisor and negatively influence my chances for later becoming a postdoc in their group? I was thinking of describing the situation as I described above (with a little more details) and ask for Prof. Q's opinion fully honestly. If that's inappropriate, is there a more appropriate way of doing that?

  • I found this immensely confusing -- tried to clean up, taking my best guess as to what the situation is, feel free to change anything I misinterpreted. – cag51 Apr 7 '19 at 22:57
  • Just some advice: Don't be so sure that you want a job in academia. Leave all options open. Non-academia can be nice to. First do PhD, then decide. – Holla Apr 8 '19 at 12:55
  • @Holla Thanks for the advice. I know that my opinion may change in that regard, but I presumed if I'm qualified for a decent job in Academia, I'll be qualified for a good job in industry too. Is that presumption wrong? – nra Apr 8 '19 at 14:43
  • @nra That wildly depends on so many things. – Azor Ahai Apr 8 '19 at 18:41
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Could asking that question upset the advisor...

You have a legitimate concern. If advisor 2 is angry that you brought up a legitimate, important concern, you're probably better off working with advisor 1.

...and negatively influence my chances for later becoming a postdoc in their group?

It is far too early to start worrying about specific post-doc options.

2

I think it's fine to ask this question politely. Most PIs will appreciate that this is a concern and have had similar choices to make themselves, and they may well be impressed at how forward-thinking you are at this early stage of your career. Butter them up by emphasising why you like their project and you'll be fine.

However, to give you some unsolicited advice, it sounds like your option 2 is the better offer from the way you have described them. Having a degree from a top institution or under a famous supervisor helps a little, but it doesn't count for a huge amount. What's more important is that you remain happy enough and motivated enough to achieve the best you can in your PhD (which is harder than it sounds!). Factors like the support you get from your supervisor and other lab members, your interest in the project, the training available to you, and frankly whether you are paid enough not to have to worry about paying your next bill, will make a much bigger difference to your productivity - and ultimately productivity is what prospective postdoc advisers want.

  • Thanks for the advice. There's one other downside of option 2 that I didn't explain as it wasn't relevant to the question: My research interests are quite odd in that institute (unless they change significantly). No other grad student or prof works in my specific area of interest, but the prospective advisor expressed his interest in entering that area if more experienced collaborators join. Fortunately, the Institute does have very close partner institutions with experienced scholars in those areas (located in the same city), but I don't know if I can count on them accepting to work with me. – nra Apr 8 '19 at 14:56

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