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I have a funded PhD offer from a R1 university in texas but its ranked in the 180s based on USNews, the advisor and myself click very well, he is nice, open-minded, and a young motivated and driven advisor always searching for new collaborations and the research area is in my area of interest. His background is in the sciences and I want to focus on engineering which isn't an issue as there are professors in other depts that I could collaborate with. Finally I will be his only student, he occasionally has undergraduates and his last PhD student will be graduating by the time I get in.

My research focus is in neuroengineering and rehabilitation for movement related disorders - focusing on restoration of grasping and posture. The main difference from top universities is the prestige, level of work (more translational and more grants), will have a better contact base when starting off, many professors working in the area.

Due to having a low uGPA from India ~ 55%, which is why I applied to mostly masters programs despite having around 2 years of research experience during my undergrad. I feel like I was lucky that the prof had an interest in my profile and asked me to switch to PhD and then I got it (as mentioned in the 1st para). I have also got an MS offer from a 40s ranked university based on USNews with funding only for stipend (would most probably have to take loan for tuition).

In the hypothetical situation that I take the MS offer I would have to apply for PhDs at the end of my 1st year @ around sept/oct of 2021 and I feel that I would only have a slightly better chance to get into top universities with professors that do amazing work in my area of interest like northwestern, ucsb, rice, university of chicago, and upenn. But at the same time I feel that my horribly low GPA in undergrad will hold me back as I would have to get exceptional grades and do good research; good research seems like an impossible goal in 8 months. Though I may be able to get something useful at the end of my masters but most probably not within 2 semesters. If this scenario of getting into the universities mentioned seems impossible at this point, another option would be to apply to these universities the next year 2022. When I would have finished my masters, but would have to use another extra year working in a research lab and then join the university for PhD.

My question has two parts:
1. The likelihood of getting into the mentioned universities for PhD after 1 year of masters and after 2 years of masters.
2. Is it worth using the 2-3 years to just work towards doing a PhD at these top schools with amazing professors or should I go ahead with PhD straight away and probably think about post-doc with those professors. I just feel that I may miss out on the environment and opportunities that I may get as a student.

Please do not take into consideration about what I want to do in the future like industry, academia etc. as I am set on doing research with these intellectual people and am driven to produce and make an impact on both human knowledge and the patient population (i know this seems like a child's fantasy but this is something that I like to think about) at the end of the day I may go into industry as I am a high-maintanenece person or I may chose to stay in academia as the gratification may overwhelm my needs.

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    Do a good PhD and move into a top-tier postdoc. If this guy has funding for you to do a full PhD then great. Otherwise ditch him after a year and go somewhere else. If you try to do no-money research in Neuro your career will be DOA. – user120011 Mar 26 at 4:41
  • @CJR Makes sense. Which has more value though, a top-tier PhD or a top-tier Post-Doc? But the drawback with ditching is the recommendation and it is quite bad from an ethical standpoint. Also I have funding assured only for a year. But, I heard from past students that they usually fund PhDs on a year-by-year basis based on the performance and contribution. The advisor is also waiting for multiple pending grants to be approved. – Roshan Mar 26 at 4:56
  • There’s a professor that I’m hoping to work with in the future at an Ivy League school. However, he didn’t do his PhD at an Ivy League nor did he get his first position at an Ivy League. That tells me that he was able to get so much value by not focusing on being Ivy League that he eventually just found himself there. – GrayLiterature Mar 26 at 19:00
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I think you are vastly overestimating the value of ratings from a popular magazine as they apply to doctoral education and vastly underestimating the quality of doctoral education at any R1 in Texas.

Frankly the real difference, in an individual field between a school rated 180 and one rated, say, 40 is likely to be a mix of random and the value of a given helpful advisor.

Frankly, I think you would be wasting your time to do much of anything but take what looks like a very nice offer. You'd be halfway through a doctorate at the Texas place before you had a chance to start if you go another route. If you read a lot of questions on this site you'd notice how lucky you would be to have found a good and supportive advisor. Many are not so lucky. Who can say whether you'd have a better time of it if you look elsewhere?

And it is you that makes your career, not the journalist/researchers at US News rating places on general criteria.

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    The texas university is university of houston and the other one is case western university. Do you have any comments on them? Also thanks for your opinion. You mentioned that not many people are lucky to find a good sup, but isn't it quite easy to find a "good" sup by having a couple talks with the sup and talking to current and alumni grad students from the sup's lab? I understand that the ranking is based on a number of factors but there has got to be some clear difference between a university in the top 50 vs one >150 that is a fact, but I agree that it's up to myself about how I perform. – Roshan Mar 25 at 12:13
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    Houston is a fine place, at least in my field. The rankings are very general and have only partial validity. They aren't specifically based on doctoral education and they are even less valid for individual fields. – Buffy Mar 25 at 12:33
  • People generally tell me to look at the advisors reputation in the field and his drive. Apart from the h-factor and co-authors are there any other ways to find out his reputability? I find that most young profs have a h-factor <20 and the best ones that have b/w 52-59 are either retired or are involved less in research. Is the grad school ranking in usnews a better indicator of ranking since UH shows up as 69 and CWRU shows up to be 16 in my field? – Roshan Mar 25 at 12:39
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    I think you are still focused on the wrong things. Your career will be good or bad depending on what you do. An advisor can get you started, but you don't inherit their reputation. At most it is a help in getting your first job, but it isn't determinative. – Buffy Mar 25 at 12:56
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I am a first year PhD at UofH. I had these questions as well when staring out my applications. I had a list of 10 universities that I wanted to apply to. The lowest ranked school was UH. Do you know why I had UH on the list? Because there was a professor that I wanted to work with who was doing research in exactly what I wanted. Do you know how many schools I ended up applying to? One. I asked people around me and other PhD students on what they thought. Number one quality they emphasized was student-advisor relationship and research interests. That sold it to me.

What @Buffy said is on point.

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  • I feel that there is a misunderstanding here. I have had talks with researchers (who could be potential advisors) from Cleveland clinic, UofPittsburgh, UofChicago, Northwestern and UofMichigan and with their lab members. They are all interested in me joining their lab after I finish masters. But I want to know if it is worth spending the 2 years to do research in their labs for PhD or if I will make the most out of starting the potential PhD right now. – Roshan Mar 26 at 2:54
  • That depends on what you want to do after a PhD. If it is academia, then you must try and get into the best school you have because that has the biggest influence on you getting a job in academia. But if you want to get into industry, then it's more personal such as research topics and industry connections, location, etc... – MichaelMMeskhi Mar 26 at 21:40
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    At the moment I want to get into industry or better yet work towards commercialization after PhD but my interest could change to academia. So overall I should look for a professor with interesting research topics, grants, good industry connection and location; these aspects are generally true for the top few schools in the area as they have a large number of industrial and hospital connections, great alumni network, grants from private and govt org's. There are in rare cases, excellent professors from "low" ranked uni's like your advisor. I feel like everyone keeps shying away from this fact. – Roshan Mar 27 at 5:55

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