As most of you here know, I am finishing my PhD in a program that was ranked #49 when I started it (I think it’s in the sixties now). I want to warn you about a few things.
The problem with going to a low-ranked grad school isn’t just that it is going to be hard to get a job afterwards (although, let’s be honest, this IS a problem: I was recently at a workshop where I spent 3 hours listening to people from exclusively top 5universities describe how insanely hard their job search was).
It also isn’t ~academic nepotism~. There’s a fair share of that, too, don’t get me wrong, but in the end usually low-ranked school are low-ranked for a reason. Not everything in the world is exactly the same, and there are some things that are not as good as some other things (and it’s ok).
The problem with low-ranked schools is that no one wants to be there. None of the grad students and professors are there because they wanted to be there. Most of them are there because the places where they wanted to be didn’t take them, and ~mathematics~, or having a job, or leaving their country, or location, or etc seemed more important. But academically (which is, in the end, what we’re doing here), they are not where they would want to be. It’s no one’s first choice.
You get international students who are way overprepared and should be in a program 40 positions above (not me, I was a lazy bum) and know it and are only there because they needed to get the fuck out of their country by any means necessary. You get professors who had to choose between a better university and a decent high school for their kids. People who are here because their SO is in a much fancier university up the street. And of course people who were rejected from 17 school and had to take whatever offer they got (a lot of people never really recover from that).
But that’s the culture, the environment around you: you are constantly surrounded by people who would rather be somewhere else.
So here’s what you need to do: you need to find people who are happy where they are. Probably not in your department: most people get over “but ~MATH~!” around their second-third year. I know like…one non-depressed grad student. So take a dance class, find a knitting circle, a sport, volunteer at a shelter. Everyone says “you need a hobby in grad school”, but what you really need is to be around people who like what they’re doing.