I did an MSc in an extremely prestigious university, in mathematics and theoretical computer science. I got an offer to stay there for a PhD, but turned it down. Instead, I enrolled on an MRes + PhD programme at a good but far less prestigious university, in a subject I thought I was far more interested in. I will soon have finished the MRes year.

As much as I am enjoying it, I've realised I don't want to stay in academia. What I'd like to go into is probably quantitative finance. What I'm studying at the moment involves a lot of stochastic processes - which would certainly help with quantitative finance. My thinking is that it would be best to finish the PhD, get really good with stochastic processes, and then apply for the kind of job I want. My issue is that, after having read the answers to this question, the less prestigious university might actually harm my career prospects and overshadow the prestige of the university where I got my Master's.

To that extent, I'm wondering: is a MSc from a very prestigious uni + a PhD from a good but less prestigious uni worse than just an MSc from a very prestigious uni (and no PhD)? The jobs I've looked at don't strictly require PhDs.

I'm in the UK (just in case this makes any difference).

Edit: I ended up writing to a place I would've been very interested in working at. They replied saying that they were more interested in my ability to produce great research than in any league table, and that my MSc at a world-reknowned univeristy already proves my ability in the subject. As such, I will continue with my current programme, seeing as I am enjoying it very much and seeing as I find my supervisor to be extremely supportive.

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    Hiring in elite quant finance post-PhD level positions is highly selective, and yes, by switching to inferior reputation university (especially "far less prestigious"), you are harming your career. For e.g. just having a PhD in Math from say Harvard will certainly get you a interview at DE Shaw, but a PhD in Math from PennState, you have to show extra ordinary results for same chances. – mystupid_acct Jun 30 '17 at 19:58
  • @mystupid_acct would you say this is true, to the point that it might not even be worth starting the PhD? – man_in_green_shirt Jun 30 '17 at 20:27
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    In general, PhD from "far more prestigious" program is almost always a better bet. How about you look at 20 people who have the kind of job you want post-PhD, and see where (if anywhere) they did their PhD. – mystupid_acct Jun 30 '17 at 20:40
  • @mystupid_acct good point. I will mention, though, that my thesis advisor studied (and did his PhD) at that same far more prestigious university. Would this make a difference? – man_in_green_shirt Jun 30 '17 at 20:47

I don't think anyone will care, especially in industry, unless they are graduates of that more prestigious university and feel a superior attitude about it and let that overwhelm their interest for qualified candidates who can do the job they are hiring for (in which case you probably don't want to work for them anyways).

This all assumes that the lesser university is still a good research and learning environment and still lets you pursue your research goals. In the question you linked, that wasn't clear.

What might be important is that you have an answer to "why did you choose to get a PhD at this university?" which may or may not carry an additional implication of "...and why not at more fancy school?" You have an answer already (emphasis mine):

Instead, I enrolled on an MRes + PhD programme ... in a subject I thought I was far more interested in.

That said, the networking potential of a particularly well-known school can't be understated. Still, it seems you already made up your mind. I wouldn't worry too much about that decision now that you've made it. You may be able to tap into your old networks from the previous institution when needed for a job, assuming people from that institution also move toward the industry you are interested in.

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    You can also include that in your reasoning. "I had experience at Jedi Master School and it was a great place to do research, but I knew PhD students who complained they got little support from their advisors there. I heard great things about the research experience at Dark Side university, though, and I feel like I learned a lot more from the closer advisory relationship there." – Bryan Krause Jun 30 '17 at 19:51
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    @BryanKrause The awkward thing about Dark Side university is finding out your director of studies is your father.. – Mike Miller Jun 30 '17 at 20:11
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    @MikeMiller It does complicate the letters of recommendation. – Bryan Krause Jun 30 '17 at 20:14
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    So do you think prestige matters in academia because it is full of people who" are graduates of that more prestigious university and feel a superior attitude about it and let that overwhelm their interest for qualified candidates who can do the job they are hiring for". ? – mystupid_acct Jun 30 '17 at 20:45
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    @mystupid_acct Not always, but occasionally. I think it matters in academia because 1) there are way way too few positions for the number of new graduates, and it is very difficult to distinguish yourself sufficiently at an early career stage that "every little bit" doesn't count, and 2) university ranking systems are unfortunately somewhat recursive, such that the strength of programs are defined in part by the students and faculty they attract, including the institutions they come from. – Bryan Krause Jun 30 '17 at 20:52

If you enjoy what you do, and you are good at what you do, then where you got this degree or that training is basically meaningless. The only way you can "harm" yourself is to follow down a path for all the wrong reasons. Have faith in yourself and don't make it about what other people think.

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  • As ridiculous as this may sound, I'm getting paid more at my current institution, and receive more money for travel than I would have if I had stayed at my previous one. I also find I am receiving far more support from my advisor. Overall, I believe it is a better learning environment. My only qualm is the university's reputation. I realise that might mean I'll have to climb uphill once I'm done, but perhaps the aforementioned reasons I've mentioned make up for it. Thanks for your reply – man_in_green_shirt Jun 30 '17 at 22:02

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