A (top) professor in her field advised me to look at the Santa Fe Institute. I look at it, and wow, it is perfectly match my interests. I love to research, but I don't want to focus only in the niche of the niche of my field. I also want to explore things outside my discipline, and I want to collaborate with people from other fields.

The point is, should I go to there instead of going to grad school? As far as I know, because it isn't a grad school, so I can't receive a PhD from it. I want to research; if a PhD is a ticket for me to be a full time researcher, then I want a PhD. However, looks like that without a PhD, I can't be considered to be serious in my career path. From its About page:

Researchers come to the Santa Fe Institute from universities, government agencies, research institutes, and private industry to collaborate across disciplines, merging ideas and principles of many fields

And Wikipedia:

The Institute consists of a small number of resident faculty and postdoctoral researchers, a large group of external faculty whose primary appointments are at other institutions, and a number of visiting scholars.

Looks like I'm not a person who it has interest with.

But how about its researchers? Say I send an email to Researcher X, from University Y, who works for the institute (part time? full time?) to join their lab. If I get admitted, which organization am I in? X's lab as a worker, or Y school as a X's student, or something else? Is there any difference from applying to school Y and join X's lab as usual? And what does my career, in long-term, look like after that?

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    If you want a PhD you need a university to award the title. You can work with a research institute during your PhD if the institute is somehow affiliated with a university. Ideally, you will get paid from the institute, work with researchers there but you still have to pass required courses, do the necessary publications and the PHD will be awarded from the university.
    – Alexandros
    Oct 2, 2015 at 18:50
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    If you want to do research, you will need the PhD title.
    – Alexandros
    Oct 2, 2015 at 19:00
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    Why it is hard to do research without a title? Because there are many other guys with a PhD title that are interested in doing the same research as you and they will get the job.
    – Alexandros
    Oct 2, 2015 at 19:19
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    And is some countries it is hard to do research without a PhD title because that title is required by law if you want to apply for a researcher position in a university. Oct 2, 2015 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


If you want to get a PhD you need a university to award the title. You can work with a research institute during your PhD, if the institute is somehow affiliated with a university. Ideally, you will get paid from the institute, work with researchers there but you still have to pass the required courses at the university, do the necessary publications. If all goes well, the PHD title will be awarded from the university.

To elaborate a little bit more. Research in institutes (I will speak from an EU perspective) is usually funded by "soft" money awarded from a grant or research program. The outcome of those projects is not only papers but also deliverables (i.e., written reports), online demos, even full fledged server applications and infrastructures. Thus, working in a research institute is not just producing papers (you do that as well) but also produce applications, write deliverables, prepare proposals and so-on. Conclusively, in research institutes, there are junior people working on the various projects for the more mundane "programming" tasks. Those people are more "disposable" (i.e., they work only during the duration of one project). Contrarily, there are people with a PhD that might work in this institute for years, have worked in multiple projects and have a more active role (they supervise the junior people, write proposals etc). Although many of them are not permanent employees of the institute (they are still paid from "soft" money, as well) they can collaborate with a research institute for many years.

Where do graduate students fit in all this scheme? If the institute is closely affiliated with a university, the PhD students of the university sometimes are assigned the junior roles in some projects, in order to get funding. As years go by, the PhD student (towards the end of his PHD) becomes a expert in his area (which might be close to the project's scope) and he may be assigned more senior roles.

So, if you want to do research in such a institute for a long time, you will need the PhD title, sooner or later.

  • Research in universities is also often funded by a grant or research program, and also often requires deliverables, demos, etc.
    – ff524
    Oct 2, 2015 at 19:43
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    @ff524 Yes that is true, but there are many students in universities that strictly get funding working as TAs. In research institutes there is no other alternative.
    – Alexandros
    Oct 2, 2015 at 19:44
  • Is this center a department or an institute? It seems like to be a department, but if so, why it has to be named as center, not department? In general, what does center mean?
    – Ooker
    Nov 25, 2015 at 12:59
  • @Ooker. It says "UMCES supports ... students annually through a joint Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences (MEES) degree program with the University System of Maryland. Students can also enroll in University of Maryland Baltimore Graduate Program in Life Science (GPILS) and the Masters Program at Frostburg State University" That means that it is a research center collaborating with universities.
    – Alexandros
    Nov 25, 2015 at 13:04
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    Probably depends on the jurisrtiction, but in my EU country a research center might have several research institutes below it.
    – Alexandros
    Nov 25, 2015 at 13:24

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