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I am located in a small European country and studying computer science in one of its Universities, admittedly not the most prestigious one. I am set to finish my undergraduate degree at most a year from now. Recently, an opportunity has come up as I have been offered a PhD position right after I am done with my bachelor's. Along with that, I have been offered a position in a EU funded project that is right on my field of interest.

I am struggling to make the choice as I would have to give an answer before I am done with my degree so that if I decline they will have the time to look for someone else to take the spot.

My purpose and hope is to have an academic career in a university that does significant research in the field I am passionate about. However, those universities even in Europe seem to be the most prestigious ones (Oxford, Edinburgh, ETH Zurich etc). I can currently boast a few conference publications, some upcoming journal publications, and hopefully two more will come out of my undergraduate thesis currently underway. All in all I hope to have at least 8 papers to my name by the time I get my bachelor's. I should specify all my works but one are research focused, not surveys.

My dilemma is as follows:

Do I choose to do my PhD in my university and hope to break in the academic world abroad with my post doc?

Do I do a master's elsewhere and then hope to get funding for my PhD abroad?

Or can I hope that I will get accepted for a PhD position abroad if I apply after my undergraduate is done? This would be the optimal scenario but I have not come to contact with any cases that did their PhD right after their undergrad, much less in a different institution. I guess I am wondering what my chances of pulling this through would be, and if they are low to zero, which of the aforementioned two scenarios would help me more to pursue an academic career in the Computer Science field?

Thanks for any insight and advice.

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  • Where do the good students with PhDs at the school you’re considering get jobs in practice? – Noah Snyder May 9 at 13:12
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If your publications are in respectable, refereed CS conferences then you would be an extremely competitive candidate for top-20 computer science programs. Many PhD graduates don't have eight publications to their name after five years of intensive research.

If you are talking about local conferences, student events, or unrefereed/lightly refereed workshops then of course this is much less impressive, but still - it clearly shows you are interested in research and positions you very well when applying.

More importantly perhaps, by working so much on research with someone, you get the opportunity to have an enthusiastic letter writer who will vouch for your qualities (as opposed to a letter writer who'll say that you just took their class or something of that sort).

There are two major things to consider when applying for a PhD program: the fit of a potential advisor, and the quality of the program. Both will dramatically affect your academic success and career trajectory.

I have personally seen candidates who got offered a faculty position over a stronger candidate who graduated from a less prestigious school. It's a bad and elitist practice, but departments sometimes want to position themselves as stronger by hiring Ivy League (or equivalent) graduates.

On the other hand, if you absolutely love what you do and work well with an advisor right now who's offering you a position, that might be a very good reason to stay on, even if the university is not as prestigious.

However, in any case, apply broadly, and don't be afraid of applying to top programs. Do your due diligence - research the programs that you might like, and potential advisors in every school that you apply to. Check how well their students did, whether they're research active, and whether they're working on stuff that you care about.

The fact that you're just an undergraduate is not an issue: many CS grad programs offer a MSc.+PhD/direct to PhD options (I did my PhD straight from undergraduate), and if your research credentials are as stellar as you describe, then good universities will fight hard to get you admitted.

If you get admitted to a top school (Oxford, EPFL, Harvard, MIT etc.) - awesome! If not - you can always fall back to your current institution's graduate program. Even if you land an offer that you're not super happy about (say, no obvious advisor fit), you can try and use it to ask your current institution for perks (e.g. a scholarship or a stipend).

Good luck!

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This is important career advice and should be given by someone who you trust who knows you personally. If no one comes to mind, ask your existing professors in the field.

As you suspect, there are powerful reputational and network effects from prestigious programs. It would be hard to argue that your employment prospects after graduating Cambridge are fairly good! You have heard of it and respect it. Your question is - how does your future employer feel about your Uni? Have they heard of it? Do they respect it? Do they teach what you want to learn?

The question is very specific to your field. Perhaps your Uni is universally known for the subject, or has undeniable geographic advantages - like studing Marine Biology at U-Hawaii or being across the street from CERN. It is hard to tell how strong that reach is until you have dipped your toes in the job market.

Note: while you can trust your teachers to guide you honestly, do not expect them to talk poorly of their current institution to a student. They will not. Simply be aware that if the local institution "is good enough" is not the same as saying "we are one of the top institutions in the world, of course you should stay."

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    I have been thinking more about this. 8 publications is an awful lot. Nearly all undergraduates have 0. You absolutely should be given a serious look by nearly any institution. Expect to get some responses if you put in more than a handful of appications. If you put in many applications and hear nothing, something strange is happening and you need an outside consultation. – RegressForward May 9 at 12:58

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