I am willing to apply for a Ph.D next year and by September I am planning to graduate from a M.Sc. in Economics. I am trying to choose my mentor for my final thesis but I was wondering which is the impact of a Master thesis on a Ph.D. application.

I know there are many thing that will be taken into account when analyzing an application but I thought a good thesis in the field for which one is applying could be a nice introduction as well as the name of the professor (the more "famous", the better) chosen as tutor.

Are my considerations right or wrong?

  • 3
    Are you in the US? Europe? Somewhere else? The status/importance of a masters when applying for a Ph.D can be very different, especially in the US. Edit: that said, if all your advisor options are equally good at advising, a more famous name couldn't possibly hurt your application. It could only help.
    – NMJD
    Dec 23, 2016 at 16:07
  • I am in Europe now but I am still undecided about Europe and US. What about both?
    – PhDing
    Dec 24, 2016 at 3:00
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    I'm the US. My understanding of Europe is that a masters is generally required for entry into a (3ish-year) PhD program, and is thus considered more seriously. In the US, (in STEM) domestic students typically do not get a masters before applying to a (5-ish year) PhD program. International students applying to US programs still tend to, because of the structures abroad. In the US, I think it would be considered, but not as carefully as in europe.
    – NMJD
    Dec 24, 2016 at 15:59
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    @NMJD - I don't have time this week to do this, but I think it would be a good addition to the site to ask for a comparison of STEM masters in Europe vs. U.S., for the helpful info in your comment. Dec 24, 2016 at 17:20

3 Answers 3


Sometimes choosing a famous name backfires. If it's a hot shot with tons of students, he will distinguish among his students, when writing his letters, by giving strong letters to the strongest among his flock, and mediocre letters to the less spectacular. Such a mediocre letter from a big name can be quite damaging to an application.

Even aside from that -- choose the person who fits best:

  • you are interested in their work

  • you admire the person ethically

  • they bring out the best in you

  • their management style suits you

  • 2
    This all depends on the person. In my field, the likelihood of a famous person being a jerk is high... if all things considered, you have two advisors who both suit your work equally well, and who (as far as you can tell) are equally good advisors, that is the only case in which I'd recommend going for the more famous advisor. Talk to their current students to find out how good they are at advising and if their management style suits you. I think this is really the most important quality.
    – NMJD
    Dec 24, 2016 at 16:02
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    @NMJD Management style -- great addition. Do you want to write an additional partial answer? You are welcome to add it to my answer if you want to. Dec 24, 2016 at 17:12
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    I added it to your answer; I think it's a simple add and, in this case, I think it's better to have one main answer to a question like this. Thanks!
    – NMJD
    Dec 24, 2016 at 19:06

When I began working on my Master's Thesis in an engineering field (in the United States) I asked my advisor a similar question, namely: "Should I perform a problem report or a thesis?". My advisor, who is a well established and active professor, told me it depended on if I ever thought I would do a PhD.

He said that a Master's Thesis and the associated research were essentially training to learn how to research and document effectively and efficiently. Therefore, a well researched and written thesis is very important for admission into a Doctoral program - because research is what a Doctoral program requires!

Of course, as stated in another answer, having a well-known advisor could be a double-edged sword in its own right.


Ramrod is right. If you are planning on doing a PhD, you should demonstrate that you are a strong researcher. That's why MRes programmes are gaining some traction. If you are planning on going straight into industry, do something that is relevant to the sector.

As an example, I originally planned on working in Arts Management so I did a practical thesis on good practice for Virtual Museums. Later, when I decided to go into Academia, I realised that I would have done better doing a data-led masters programme. However, I was fortunate and it didn't matter, though my experience counted for a lot by then.

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