How does the ranking of a university relate to a future career in mathematics?

University rank/stature - How much does it affect one's career post-Ph.D?

Dove-tailing off of the second Academia thread above, do the dynamics regarding the importance of a University's, the PhD program's, or the thesis advisor's ranking/reputation change for a non-traditional student?

Non-traditional student example trajectory in question: industry experience -> then BS in Mathematics -> more industry experience -> MS in Mathematics -> more industry experience ~> PhD program ~> apply to industry research lab

where ~> indicates a future leg of the trajectory

The industry experience is varying data scientist positions with no research experience in school nor any publications. This involved coding for 12+ years, working on large scale systems on TB-PB scale data flows, built and evaluated ML models on a variety of data in various environments and configurations. Both the undergraduate and MS institutions were liberal arts institutions (i.e.: not top tech schools). The potential PhD school is a R1 school, but #115 on US News. The target industry labs would be commensurate with those mentioned in the second post above: Google Research, AT&T, F(M)AIR, etc.

Given the different considerations in the two posts above, I think my inquiry can be pivoted into alternative (or complementary) questions:

  • Does technical industry experience, at the time of entering a PhD program, help alleviate any doubts that might arise from a PhD from a low-ranked school?

    • I'm guessing that the answer is "no" other than it would presumably better prepare me to be successful in a PhD program and research lab.
  • If technical industry experience doesn't bolster an application, would there be a significant advantage to waiting and trying for a better ranked PhD program?

Update WRT to questions and clarifications posed in the comments:

  • My shorter-term goal is to establish a track record of research with a mathematical (including applied mathematics focus)
  • My longer-term goal is to work in more research focused positions
  • A broader goal is to learn how to do research in (applied) mathematics

I'm in industry, but most of my experience has been implementing algorithms and approaches elsewhere with some engineering in order to get it to work in an industrial setting (e.g.: data pipelines, optimizing storage mechanisms, hooking into UIs, minor adjustments to objective functions, daisy-chaining different models together). I've applied for a number research-oriented positions without success thus far. Two recurring reasons for not being selected have included that a PhD is required and/or publication track record is required. My professional positions up until now haven't supported publishing.

  • BTW, "candidacy" has a technical meaning that isn't "in a PhD program" May 2, 2022 at 19:55
  • @AzorAhai-him- you're absolutely right. updated the post. thanks!
    – usr948975
    May 2, 2022 at 20:25
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    I'm not sure how to answer this. The high-level question I have is what is your motivation? In particular, it sounds like you already have a job in industry and your goal is to end up in industry. So why do you want to do a PhD?
    – Thomas
    May 2, 2022 at 20:27
  • PhDs in math from higher rated places get much higher salaries. The statistics is well known.
    – markvs
    May 2, 2022 at 20:45
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    Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    May 2, 2022 at 20:45

1 Answer 1


Since there is no answer, I convert my comments.

PhDs in math from higher rated places get much higher salaries. The statistics is well known. Of course it assumed the degree is granted by the place. More specifics depend on the industry and the area of math.

In principle, PhDs in math are hired not for what they know (say, string theory) but for their ability to learn (logical thinking) and solve problems.

  • That all depends on where you work. In my (non-math) group, where you got your PhD is irrelevant, and MS staff can easily be paid what a PhD is paid - the quality of their work is what counts.
    – Jon Custer
    May 2, 2022 at 23:07
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    The only thing I can tell for sure is that getting PhD in math from my University (Vanderbilt) is much better for the initial salary than getting it from the University of Northern Mississippi. This point is impossible to argue and so I am not going to do that. You can use Google. College ranking in general is very imprecise and there are many of them but Harvard is always in top 3 or 2 and Vanderbilt is around 20 in the US. Also keep in mind that many great engineers did not have PhD of any kind at all. Edison thought that PhD only hurts.
    – markvs
    May 3, 2022 at 0:52
  • Since Northern Mississippi doesn’t exist, and Southern Mississippi only offers a masters in math, ill take that as hyperbole.
    – Jon Custer
    May 3, 2022 at 1:02
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    @JonCuster: I bet you understand the drift. In any case, bye!
    – markvs
    May 3, 2022 at 2:41

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