Is there a process one could follow when assessing the prestige of a specific supervisor when evaluating PhD programs? I ask because in the academic world, the professor almost trumps the school. I am not sure if that statement holds for industry. How can one assess if the PI's reputation is large enough to offset the fact that conferring institution is not in the top 5 or ten schools for that discipline. I am aiming for of an entrepreneur/industry trajectory and in an ideal world this would not matter. I want to believe that as long as you stellar work experience, the sky is the limit. I just have in the back of my mind in a hypothetical situation where you are trying to pitch and idea for VC funding having that pedigree may be helpful.

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    Some highly prestigious people can be lousy advisors. In the end, it is the quality of the work as published in reputable media that will matter. Well, if you go in industry, some may only know names, probably mostly of institutions, depending on how specialized in your field they are. – babou Jan 7 '15 at 18:07
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    "a hypothetical situation where you are trying to pitch and idea for VC funding having that pedigree may be helpful" This sounds like a hypothetical situation indeed. In my limited knowledge of the startup world, what school you went to or who you studied with is equally irrelevant to investors. Actually, your PhD will mostly be irrelevant to them. – xLeitix Jan 7 '15 at 21:01

In my opinion, the prestige of a potential supervisor in the industry (vs strictly academic) can be (rapidly) assessed by first checking his academic curriculum vitae for:

  1. The committees he is part of. As an academic working with the industry, he should be involved with one or several government / industries related committees with a focus on state of the art application of the knowledge in that industry (procedures to do x,y,z) common best practices (for that field), budgeting and assigning funds, defining road-maps for the next 5, 10 years etc. I know some academics working closely with the transport industry (or government related agencies) - and in addition to the usual academic implication, they are also working actively with those instances, often have a student doing a project with those instances as well.
  2. His publications : he should write or be co-author on papers/books that are recognized in his field. Often large efforts with large groups of academics. His methods/work should be found or referred in some textbooks. He should have international collaborations. Patents ?
  3. Editor : is he on any editorial boards for relevant journals ?

If he is an early career academic, is he that person who is always everywhere, always organizing something, always at conferences and meeting with half a dozen presentation - this could give a hint that this person is dynamic and his career may be promising.

This information should be easy to find. If it is hard to find, this may be a flag. I would personally have a good confidence joining a researcher with at some degree meet those characteristics, even if he is not a tenure at a top university.

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If you go into academia, the school where you get your PhD and the prestige of your specific advisor are about equally important. (Neither is as important as what research you actually do while completing your degree.) If you are not going into academia, then then the prestige of the school is more important. People who have PhD degreed but have been working in industry for while are probably not going to know your advisor's particular standing in the field; venture capitalists certainly will not be able to parse your advisor's standing. What these people can recognize is the prestige of the university (although not necessarily the department) where you studied.

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