I am about to finish my Ph.D. soon. It was in the field of computational sciences and was done from a well-known European research lab. In my own assessment, it has been a mediocre Ph.D. for me (2 paper in top tier conference, 2 in average ones, no journal yet).

I am looking for post-doc as the next step. I already have a couple of offers for post-doc, and one of them is from a famous professor in my field. However, he happens to have setup his lab at a relatively unknown university in a small city in central Europe.

I was obviously aware of this while applying, and I honestly thought this wouldn't bother me at all. However, now that things have moved forward and the time has come to finalize a decision, I do find myself a bit bothered with the stature of the university. I have tried to seek advice on this matter from my current Ph.D. adviser. However, she knows my prospective post-doc supervisor in person and has been offering highly diplomatic suggestions about the matter.

So I thought it might be a good idea to ask this question over here. Please share your opinion on this. How much does the stature of the university matter in a post-doctoral position, given that the particular lab I am going to be associated with is headed by a famous name and the job description seems to suit my research interests quite well? I have other post-doc offers from relatively younger/less-famous professors from better universities. Given that the area of research is more or less similar in all the cases, what is more advisable for a career in research?

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    "...has been offering highly diplomatic suggestions". Could she possibly be subtly trying to warn you off working with this professor? Feb 21, 2020 at 10:21
  • @astronat Yes, as a matter of fact, I have been doubting that all along. The possible downsides of working with this famous professor could be: 1) extremely challenging work which is not a direct extension of my Ph.D. research, which would inevitably mean a few months or more lost to background study (but I am not sure if this is a disadvantage at all, some might say this is preferable) , 2) very small group and no support at peer level, which would imply: it would be me, one/two other Ph.D students and some masters students/engineers is all that the group would have... Feb 21, 2020 at 14:25
  • ...plus, I am definitely not fond of the city. Compared to the other offers I have at <80 world rank universities in nice cities at research groups which are large and vibrant (but under younger professors)..... I am still not clear about the way ahead. Feb 21, 2020 at 14:27
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    It sounds to me like you have already made up your mind, but you can always try the coin toss trick: flip a coin, heads you go and work with this famous professor. The coin lands on tails. Are you disappointed it wasn't heads? Feb 21, 2020 at 14:51
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    Once a very successful professor told me "look either for a very recognized boss or a very good university. Nothing in between ( unless you have other priorities like a family). Besides that when I've applied to him none of the above conditions was true, I am convinced that it is the line to follow. Moreover look for what happens to the former students and post docs of a professor. Some push their folks, some are for divide et impera and one will marginally gets beneficial effects of having worked hard......
    – Alchimista
    Feb 22, 2020 at 9:35

2 Answers 2


Just opinion, of course, but I would suggest that a great professor at a small school, no matter its reputation, would be a huge asset. You will have a chance to work closely with a mentor that you wouldn't get to do as well at a larger place. I realize of course that size and reputation aren't necessarily the same.

But it is the letters you get from the professor if they are well known that can set you off on your career and, if you do get the chance to work closely, that association can pay dividends for a long time.

While a degree from a prestigious place has value, I think a postdoc with a leader of the field is a great asset.

And, of course, "relatively unknown in central Europe" is itself relative. Lots of people don't know about, for example Charles, and such, depending on where they are from.

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    Thanks for the answer. Just curious: does this answer change if I decide to go for an industrial research career after the post-doc? Feb 20, 2020 at 19:37
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    A bit harder to say, perhaps. Is the prof known in the industrial world? But since it probably still depends more on what you do than on the name of the university, I'd guess I'd give the same answer. If you can work closely with someone good, you can do a lot.
    – Buffy
    Feb 20, 2020 at 19:48
  • Yes, he is well known in the industry too. But I like your opinion. Thanks for your response, much appreciated. Feb 20, 2020 at 21:51

This depends on whether you will stay in the same field in the future. If you stay in the same field, a strong professor is better. People will know him and value your collaboration with him more than the university's prestige. If you change field, almost no one will know him, and the university's prestige becomes more important.

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