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I'm a master student in a very good university in the EU majoring in biomedicine/biology. I'm leaning towards doing a PhD after my masters, but either way eventually I will go into industry (whether I do a PhD or not). Soon I will need to do a masters thesis, and I found 2 great options:

Group 1: very new, not known, with promicing research. The supervisor is very hands-on, people seem to be happy there. I would learn some new techniques and maybe have a possibility to stay a do a PhD later on. The topic is interesting and promicing I think, not exactly what I wanted though.

Group 2: very famous big lab, and super competitive too. I really like their research, but heard a lot about a bad lab environment, and during the tour around no one has smiled. I've heard that the supervisor is strict, so even if I do a great job, I'm not sure how well it'll be graded - and the thesis grade is important to me. Location wise they are further away, and the thesis there would start later. But their work is very much of my interest, and I would learn a little bit about some aspects of bioinformatics. I wouldn't stay there for a PhD though for sure.

I really wanted to get into group 2, but they since they are so competitive, it took a long time to get an offer and I started looking around for other options. I've heard that the lab is strict from the PhDs at the same building, one guy who works in the group, and one of the profs who collaborate with them. There were also 1 or 2 people who said its ok, and you learn a lot.

I'm very torn and can't decide. Group 1 seems to be a better fit for me in general, but I'm a bit conserned that it'll be hard to find a PhD position in another group just cuz group 1 is very new and not very impactful yet. Plus the topic, although interesting, is not what I was aiming for, and I won't learn any bioinformatics there. But I was in a group where I felt like I wasn't welcomed before - and it was so stressful and I was miserable. I mostly had problems with 1 or 2 people though back then, so it probably doesnt depend on the lab.

My gut feeling is leaning towards group 2. I feel like I worked so hard to be in the group 2, and I like their research, and I would loose such a rare opportunity to be in an impactful group in the area of my interest. Plus the topic includes one of the bioinformatic methods that I wanted to learn - although, I was introduced to it previously, and somewhat familiar to it.

On the other hand, I dont want to be in a group that is unhappy and super competitive. I'm slowly starting to burn out with my studies and my life in general, so idk how much stress I could handle. With group 1 I would spend less time on transportation, I would have a bit more free time and potentially have a small job on a side, whereas there is no chance for it if I take group 2. But, I have some savings, so I'll make the end meet.

So, what would be your suggestion? How important is it to have a master thesis from an impactful group for a PhD/industry in Europe?

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  • A crucial thing in academia is reputation and relationship. If you work with people you like and enjoy, they will make you meet more nice people and you'll move in a healthy environment. Against a bad supervisor, there is often little to no recourse if things go bad. People show you how they are. Do you want to be happy doing good things with cool people? Or have an ``amazing'' project but with a supervisor that might not give you a good letter of recommendation? I know it's for the master, but remember that an average PhD is longer than an average Marriage. You want a good environment.
    – Zenon
    Sep 16, 2023 at 14:51

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Perhaps sad to say, but your first goal should be to assure that you get the degree, not the perceived "prestige" of the group. I'd think that the downside of a "bad lab environment" would weigh pretty heavily. Additionally, you might get a bit lost in group 2 unless you are already something of a super performer.

Your call, of course, but I'd treat group 2 as being risky overall. I've had an unhelpful advisor in the past and it caused a multi-year setback in my goals.

If you think long term, the actual topic of research is less important at this stage, since you can migrate later. But first, assure you get the degree. That will be the more important thing for moving forward than the topic you work on. It would be different if you thought the research of group 1 was a dead end, but you aren't indicating that.

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