Let me give you additional context on the question.

I am a master student in Computer Science (hopefully graduating this year). I want to do a PhD later on (after working in the industry for a bit). I am currently writing a paper with an aspiring associate professor. He doesn't have a lot of heavily cited publications yet, but he is aspiring to go to more prestigious conferences and pushing himself. The university I go to doesn't rank high in the world ranking of the universities, but in my country it is one of the top universities.

My question is, then: If my advisor isn't a star scientist (yet) and if my university isn't some worldly famous one, can I still be a well-respected scientist, provided that my work is actually good? I guess that the broader question I am referring to is: Is there elitism in academia, or is it merit based?

Thank you in advance!

2 Answers 2


Your career depends much more on what you do than on the university you attend. Even for doctoral study. It is true that getting the first job may be easier for those from internationally known research universities, but once you have a position, you also have opportunities, just as does your current advisor.

Also, consider that some students at those top 50 universities won't finish, and some of those who do will face burn-out. Others will just not live up to their "early potential" and not advance very far or fast.

But there is some elitism, of course. Oxbridge is world respected and much is expected of their graduates. On the other hand, Harvard University has an excellent reputation, but it graduates some awfully stupid (and dangerous) people. In the long run it is "merit" that rules the day. It is often written that there is "nothing more dangerous than a C student from Yale". Don't be that student.

I encourage you to stretch yourself toward the "best" university within your reach, though "best" can mean a lot of things beyond world ranking. But then, do your best and work collaboratively with others to advance your field.

  • 3
    + 1 for the "nothing more dangerous than a C student from Yale" quote. I had never heard it before and liked it. Dec 31, 2019 at 14:24
  • 1
    +1. @RichardErickson Ditto :)
    – Coder
    Dec 31, 2019 at 15:31

Check this out:

Nobody in theoretical computer science cares where you got your degree. Really. We. Do. Not. Care. We only care about the quality and visibility of your results. Publish strong papers and give brilliant talks at top conferences. Convince well-known active researchers to write letters raving about your work. Make a good product and get superstars to sell it for you. Do all that, and we'll definitely want to hire you, no matter where you got your degree. On the other hand, without a strong and visible research record, independent from your advisor, you are much less likely to get a good academic job, no matter where you got your degree.

So the answer to the title question is: no, you will not be less respected, provided your work is actually good.

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