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R1 vs R2: Does it really matter?


phyanth
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Does going to a R1 vs R2 school for a PhD really matter? I just figured deciding meant looking more at the department and the research coming out of the department itself, rather than looking at the university as a whole. I turned down a PhD program at an R1 to go to a R2 because the R2 has a proven record of high output/opportunities for research in quality journals with TT placement for about 95% of graduates, while the R1 is a newish program that doesn't have any record research-wise or placement-wise. 

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It almost always does, because not many R2s have competitive PhD programs. (Note: many R1s will have un-competitive PhD programs in any given field.) But if you've found an R2 where the department gets TT placements for 95% of graduates (??! I think Harvard, Yale, UChicago etc. can't be batting better than .60, and I would have guessed more like .45), you have found a major exception.

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I don't know about numbers like 95%  or 98% and I don't know about biological anthropology specifically, but it is generally accepted that the vast majority of TT jobs  go to graduates of the top tier programs in most fields.  Here is an article  discussing the ways in which the academic hierarchy affects job distribution within anthropology (Also, here is the AAA paper the author cites in this post). [Sidenote: I think the entire series on precarity should be required reading for anyone thinking of going to graduate school in anthropology.]

I know that none of these sources are bio/arch specific and so there may be some resistance to this point. However, I do not see why what is true for most of academia and anthropology would not be true here. I am hoping that someone with more experience in these fields chimes in. 

 

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A recent article in American Antiquity touches on this. It's worth the read. The dataset is a couple years old, and it doesn't take into account size of the graduating class. It does looks at raw numbers for what jobs in the US got filled, and which universities supplied those graduates. Their "Tier 1 and Tier 2" are 20 universities that accounted for 56% of job placements over 20 years. (Thinking I got those numbers correct, doing this quickly. Sorry if I'm off.)

Speakman, R.J. et al (2017). Choosing a Path to the Ancient World in a Modern Market: The Reality of Faculty Jobs in Archaeology. American Antiquity 83:1-12

 

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So, it seems like there might be different ideas of "tiers" in this conversation. R1/R2 is usually used by professor types to designate PhD-granting/research-intensive institutions (R1) and master's-granting/some-focus-on-research institutions (R2). Hearing about a competitive PhD program at an R2 is therefore surprising by definition, because most R2's don't grant PhDs. (An R2 PhD isn't an oxymoron—an R2 can have PhD programs in like two departments without becoming R1—it's just relatively rare.) If what you meant was, I've found a "tier 2" PhD program by that article's definition, i.e., it's ranked 15th among programs in my field, that has good placement, that's not surprising. A "tier 2" that's fifteenth in the field is still going to be pretty good! Even for programs ranked like 30-50, it's relatively common for them to be really quite good in one specialty, like how it's well-known that Michigan State has one of the top five programs in African history. If what you meant is that you found a "tier 2" PhD that places graduates well, I'm not surprised...although that level of placement numbers still sound shockingly high. If you did mean R2 i.e. not generally PhD-granting except for your department, well, that is a surprise, but there's more things in heaven and earth Horatio etc.

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  • 4 months later...
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Hearing about a competitive PhD program at an R2 is therefore surprising by definition, because most R2's don't grant PhDs.

Uh, this isn't true. The umbrella term for R1s, R2s, and R3s is "doctoral universities." In order to be considered an R2 (or an R3), a university must have granted at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees in the year the analysis is conducted. Not 20 different PhD programs, but just 20 PhDs. Still, since most doctoral cohorts are pretty small, a program with 20 degrees awarded in the last year probably has at least 2 and probably more like 3-5 doctoral programs at least.

http://carnegieclassifications.iu.edu/classification_descriptions/basic.php

R2s include the College of William and Mary, Florida A&M University, Howard University, Lehigh University, Mississippi State University, Nova Southeastern University, Villanova University and several other universities that offer several doctoral programs. R3s include universities like Clark University, Georgia Southern, Idaho State, and Kennesaw State, all of which have several doctoral programs.

However, I do agree that competitive/top PhD programs at R2s is less common; however, I think the reason is resources. Universities are grouped into R1, R2, and R3 based on the research expenditures that the university made in the last year; science and engineering research staff, and doctoral conferrals in each field - in other words, the amount of resources they have invested in research in general in the last update period. Necessarily, then, on average R1s are going to be more robust environments for research; since doctoral degrees are focused on research, and most rankings of doctoral programs focus on things that overlap a lot with the way the Carnegie Classification folks group their programs...it makes sense that highly-ranked doctoral programs would be mostly at R1s.

That said, there's of course probably overlap in the margins.

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