I am currently a postdoc in an engineering field who is trying to evaluate faculty offers and balance professional and personal (i.e. spousal desires) priorities. One offer is for a top-10 department in a location that neither my spouse nor I am particularly excited about living in while the other is a top-50 department (with aspirations to grow/climb that seem viable to me) in a much more appealing location that we would both prefer to live in. It seems like both departments have the lab equipment resources I would need — albeit the top-10 department has it more readily available — and the salary and start up packages are essentially equivalent between the two.

I am trying to understand just what exactly one 'gives up' by going to a lower ranked department (fully cognizant of how arbitrary these rankings often are), particularly from a research perspective. Is the main difference that of grad students (number and quality) and institutional support (teaching load, extra pools of money, collaborators on campus). Is there 'something in the air' at top departments? Or is it just prestige seeking that makes us think so?

I would really appreciate any faculty perspectives about what they see as the differences between these types of departments in the context of what one can accomplish in their career. I know that ultimately the answer is I have to decide what my priorities are and act accordingly, but it would be helpful to better understand what the practical differences in career trajectory might be.

I am also waiting to hear back from a top-25 department that is similarly in a more appealing location than the top-10 department. That seems like an easier call, but any perspectives on the difference between top-10 and top-25 departments would also be appreciated.

Final comment: I understand how incredibly privileged this question is. I am ludicrously fortunate to be in this position and feel embarrassed just asking.

  • 2
    This question seems fine to me, but could I suggest a mild rework of the top line title to focus on your question about what differences there are between 'differently ranked' Universities?
    – user137975
    Apr 11, 2023 at 15:44
  • What are those rankings you are referring to? Apr 11, 2023 at 21:12
  • Don't think this question can be answered as you are asking us to predict the future and there are too many variables to consider. Your question is similar to one often posed by PhD students: should I follow a top/experienced researcher or an upcoming researcher? Apr 11, 2023 at 21:42

1 Answer 1


We don't have enough information to give you advice (and you've been careful not to ask for advice). That said, in your position, given the that the jobs seem essentially equivalent other than the questionably precise "rankings" and that one

is ... in a much more appealing location that we would both prefer to live in.

I would clearly choose that one.

Yes you are fortunate. You've earned it, but so have others perhaps not so lucky. Come back in a few months and let us know what happens.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .