I have a master's degree from a university outside of Canada. I recently decided to apply for Ph.D. in Canada and I found a potential supervisor, I like his research area, he has more industrial research projects going on. I like the fact that he gets projects from the industry, and his personality itself.

I am only concerned about the ranking of the university which is low. I just do not like to study in a university that has a bad ranking. I definitely do not know a lot about the university, I just looked up the ranking on the internet. It is a smaller university. Would ranking matter when studying for a Ph.D.? Should I choose this university for a PhD. or should I move on? and search for universities with a better ranking?

I came to know this professor has good collaboration with a few good ranking universities, would that be possible that I share my concern with him and ask him about the possibility of having admission to a better ranking university but also having him as a supervisor/co-supervisor? Would that be rude to ask?

  • You might be interested: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/90/…
    – Allure
    Jan 17, 2022 at 2:52
  • 69
    This is like going on a date and saying "You're a bit ugly. Can you set me up with some of your better-looking friends? We could still hang out..."
    – avid
    Jan 17, 2022 at 8:02
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Jan 18, 2022 at 8:02
  • 3
    If this is your only concern, and seemingly a deal-breaker, why did you actually apply there?
    – lalala
    Jan 18, 2022 at 17:51

7 Answers 7


It's not a good idea to talk about ranking with a potential supervisor, because it can easily offend (example). This is for a few reasons:

  • Some professors genuinely hate rankings.
  • The ranking is not something the supervisor can directly control. The entire university is ranked, and they are but one professor in the university.
  • You are implicitly using the university ranking to rank the professor. It's possible there's a correlation (I don't have the data, but I suspect there should be a correlation) but it's still similar to saying "your brother is a criminal so your integrity is suspect too" - see association fallacy - and people can react badly.
  • You send the message that you don't consider them to have had a good career since they're currently at a low-ranked university.
  • What do you expect them to say? You ought to know what the university's ranking is before you talk to the professor, and if ranking matters to you, you shouldn't approach them in the first place.

I do think that all things equal there are good reasons to go to the higher-ranked university: the more prestigious institution is more likely to have comprehensive facilities, better journal access, more distinguished visiting academics, etc., and most importantly, better students. Graduate study isn't a solo activity; the presence of other good students can have a huge impact on your development. Higher rank also means a lot if you intend to work in industry after the PhD; even if you don't intend to, it's still nice to have a fallback.

But it's not something to discuss with the prospective supervisor. If you want to talk to an academic about it, ask your undergraduate professors.

See related questions:

  • 15
    Yeeah... Bringing up rankings that way has an implication of "your career is garbage, everyone obviously follows this arbitrary ranking system and you are just bad at it" which is terrible on so many levels. There are better and more meaningful ways to inquire about your future...
    – Lodinn
    Jan 17, 2022 at 7:10
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    "all things equal there are good reasons to go to the higher-ranked university": I agree, but this should be paired with "but all things are usually not equal". Jan 17, 2022 at 21:23

The ranking of the university should be quite irrelevant to you as an individual: what matters is what you do. In other words, there is good (and very good) research done everywhere, and there is bad research done everywhere also. The rankings are affected by all kinds of “meta” factors that have no connection with the quality of research of this faculty member.

In practice, you are more likely to find active researchers at higher-ranked institutions, but you are past that as you found a prospective supervisor already.

Of course, you can inquire about co-supervisions but that’s quite a bit trickier as this faculty member would (likely) need an adjunct appointment elsewhere, and would need to find someone else with the same interests to co-supervise.

Thus, if the project seems of interest to you, and the conditions of the thesis look reasonable, try talking to other graduate students of the group (if any); if all of this is positive, go for it.

  • 2
    This is terrible advice if you want to get a job. Many employers will not bother to look past the ranking and see the individual. Jan 17, 2022 at 17:24
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I’m very puzzled by your comment. The suggestion that jobs go to people who graduated from “top-ranked” university is obviously false else institutions not so well ranked would not survive. Honestly, I do not know of any example where the university ranking was an issue. The quality of the work done (as evidence by publications), and the relevance of the topic are what get you hired. Jan 17, 2022 at 17:56
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I work in a large non-academic company in a department that primarily hires PhDs and provides large salaries, and I have been actively involved in hiring for many years. While this does not disprove your hypothesis that ranking of the institution matters for non-academic employers in general, I can tell you that at my company nobody cares where someone obtained their PhD when hiring, the only thing that matters is the quality of the work the specific candidate provided (despite what the linked answer claims). Jan 17, 2022 at 18:21
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    @AnonymousPhysicist ... for which there is overwhelming counterevidence. What proportion of US engineers have their degree from a top university? Don't get me wrong: there are advantages in going to top schools, but people will be primarily impressed by what you did, not which school you come from. Jan 17, 2022 at 18:22
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    @AnonymousPhysicist - I work at a national lab and have hired many PhDs. I care nothing about some wide-ranging rankings - I'm looking for people with experience in some fairly niche fields. We know the handful of professors that regularly produce excellent PhDs, and a number of others that have turned out good students. I've also hired PhDs from outside the 'usual suspects' - good people come from many places.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 17, 2022 at 22:31

ask him about the possibility of having admission to a better ranking university

Do not. It is unlikely that your potential supervisor can do anything about admission to another university.

  • You've taken the quote out of context. The full quote is "ask him about the possibility of having admission to a better ranking university but also having him as a supervisor/co-supervisor". I don't believe the OP is suggesting that the supervisor will help them with the admission part.
    – JBentley
    Jan 18, 2022 at 13:23

The only relevant thing is your employment after PhD. If you get PhD from McGill or UToronto, you probably will have more chances. But a lot depends on the reputation ("ranking" if you wish) of your supervisor. The potential supervisor probably had other students who got their PhD. You should check where these students are now.


I don't think you can talk about the ranking of the university to the potential supervisor. This can be very damaging to your relationship, and quite offending to the supervisor knowing that you look down on him/her or their institute.

You should probably see if you have an alternative in a "better" university and decide based on the project, university, supervisor, and future prospects accordingly.

Comment: while rankings can definitely sometimes be misleading (with a small difference in ranking being meaningless), a university ranked 900 almost always will have much less research infrastructure than one ranked in the top 100.

  • 3
    Why would you want more research infrastructure instead of better research infrastructure? Sure, deciding to do something interdisciplinary would be easier but why would a particle physicist care about how great and many are the biology labs?
    – Lodinn
    Jan 17, 2022 at 7:13
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    @Lodinn, yes, I meant more and better research infrastructure, like better students, better labs, better visitors, better research connections, better on average professors, better research offices supporting grant applications, etc.
    – Dilworth
    Jan 17, 2022 at 14:37
  • But rankings are almost exclusively averages over the whole university. Unless you're super-interdisciplinary, most of what contributes to that average doesn't matter to you in the slightest. If the philosophy department is among the top 5 in the world but the entire department of physics is ridiculously incompetent, what does ranking the university as an average one tell you as a prospective philosophy student?
    – TooTea
    Jan 18, 2022 at 8:22
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    @TooTea, I'm unaware of any single department that is top 5 in the world, in a rank-800 university. The correlations are usually very strong between global and departmental ranking.
    – Dilworth
    Jan 21, 2022 at 18:36

I came to know this professor has good collaboration with a few good ranking universities, would that be possible that I share my concern with him and ask him about the possibility of having admission to a better ranking university but also having him as a supervisor/co-supervisor? Would that be rude to ask?

You can try. Most likely you won’t get a response (and you might get blocked automatically if your message isn't from a reputable .edu domain. We get a lot of unwanted academic spam, especially from foreign countries).

If you do get a response and the professor isn’t offended, it'll probably look something like "Sure. First get admitted into this much more selective institution then come back".

Regarding your question on ranking, there’s a few things things to consider.

Some smaller universities prefer to focus on a few super star researchers in one or two areas of expertise, but have their ranking computed on all their research output. Think of CMU in computer science for instance.

If you are looking at a University in the French part of the country, the situation is a little bit different. French Canadians are notorious for wanting to return home, and I’ve seen guys take a massive drop in institutional ranking to get a chance to move back home. I collaborate frequently with someone who did exactly that (from a top 10 institution here in the US to where he completed did his undergrad in Montreal). He’s still technically on an “extended sabbatical leave” but it’s clear he’s getting tenure over there relatively soon.

It’s especially true in AI, with researchers like Yoshua Bengio being clear that he’ll collaborate with everyone interested but won’t relocate whatsoever. I’ve not observed the same pattern elsewhere in Canada, however.

  • In physics, Sajeev John in Toronto doesn’t appear keen to relocate, and neither does Jim Arthur from Math at UofT also. The reality is that Canadian societal values are different from US, even in the perspective of English Canadians, and many (possibly even a majority) are perfectly happy with their position. Jan 21, 2022 at 12:22
  • Looking at their resumes, it seems they spent quite a long time at US universities but could not obtain tenure. Jan 24, 2022 at 21:47
  • with due respect: these guys are regularly offered positions in the US but have made it clear they prefer not to move. I mean… come on…. if they wanted to go back to the US they could negotiate their own conditions. Add to that list Ian Afflek now at UBC, who oscillated between Princeton and UBC. There is much more to life than an academic position in the US. The suggestion that you get a “massive drop in institutional ranking” by working at or relocating to UofT or UBC or McGill (or UdeM if you are francophone) is simply misinformed or illustrates the fallacy of the rankings. Jan 24, 2022 at 22:47

Join this university. Choose projects that not only have value in the industry but also are academically significant and prestigious. Work like a beaver to produce stellar results and publish famous and often-cited papers. Raise the ranking of the university from 26 to 25.

Don't think you can do it? Then go join university number 97.

  • What? Care to explain?
    – Dilworth
    Jan 17, 2022 at 19:50

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