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Whovian

Perfect Advisor but Mediocre Rank :/

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Posted (edited)

I don't know whether to take an offer from a "not top tier, not well known, but not unknown" department. 

The funding is hand to mouth, but everyone there tells me they are happy. I couldn't possibly "fit" better in too many other places. I idolize this advisor too--great work, great experience, happy students. But I cannot shake off the nagging feeling that I will never be able to compete with TT jobs with PhDs from famous places. 

I have been a star student all my life. But do not know how to choose a grad school -- what to prioritize and what to ignore. I don't want to be jobless five years later :(

 

Edited by Whovian
Error in order of words.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Whovian said:

I don't know whether to take an offer from a "not top tier, not well known, but not unknown" department. 

The funding is hand to mouth, but everyone there tells me they are happy. I couldn't possibly "fit" better in too many other places. I idolize this advisor too--great work, great experience, happy students. But I cannot shake off the nagging feeling that I will never be able to compete with TT jobs with PhDs from famous places. 

I have been a star student all my life. But do not know how to choose a grad school -- what to prioritize and what to ignore. I don't want to be jobless five years later :(

 

From what I've seen, school rank doesn't matter too much at the PhD level. The research you do. The papers you publish. The advisor you work with. Those things are important. Good luck!

Edited by Moods

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Thanks, Moods!

I have just been feeling concerned because this department has not published its placement data. And I have been apprehensive about whether it is because it is does not look good for them. 

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2 minutes ago, Whovian said:

Thanks, Moods!

I have just been feeling concerned because this department has not published its placement data. And I have been apprehensive about whether it is because it is does not look good for them. 

Hmmm, I see. That can be concerning and I see why you are hesitant. I would maybe contact some grad students already in the department and see what they say and maybe you can get a vibe that way?

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I did contact them. And got vague-ish info that the students their have a record of completing on time and get placed at academic institutions well enough. 

I tried to run the numbers yesterday and found that this department has placed at least 8 recent graduates in tenure track positions in the US. I think that's quite good. 

But to be even more specific, my concern with this place being unknown is that I am in international student (I need this university as a whole to be well known in my own country and others where I might consider living). And two, that I am from anthropology, and the prestige of the university appears to be a major factor when it comes to hiring in this field.  :(

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22 minutes ago, Whovian said:

I did contact them. And got vague-ish info that the students their have a record of completing on time and get placed at academic institutions well enough. 

I tried to run the numbers yesterday and found that this department has placed at least 8 recent graduates in tenure track positions in the US. I think that's quite good. 

But to be even more specific, my concern with this place being unknown is that I am in international student (I need this university as a whole to be well known in my own country and others where I might consider living). And two, that I am from anthropology, and the prestige of the university appears to be a major factor when it comes to hiring in this field.  :(

That is a tough decision. I sadly don't know much about anthropology and how to get a job after doing graduate school in that field, but the fact that you have a good advisor should definitely be something of importance. In my mind, more important than the ranking on the university, but since I am limited in my knowledge, I feel like I am not the best voice here. Good luck!

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Hi Whovian!

I'm not in anthropology either, but my experience and knowledge (in biological sciences) tells me that finding a great mentor outweighs the potential prestige of a program. First, grad school is tough and having a great mentor will go a long way. Second, while the name of a program may carry a certain amount of weight your grad school/research output, mentor recommendation, physical/mental well-being carries more. Thirdly, you always have the option of establishing connections/relationships with POIs in prestigious programs without necessarily attending the program.

I hope this helps! Although it seems as if anthro is quite a bit different, anyways that's my two cents!

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On 3/8/2019 at 8:50 AM, Whovian said:

I don't know whether to take an offer from a "not top tier, not well known, but not unknown" department. 

The funding is hand to mouth, but everyone there tells me they are happy. I couldn't possibly "fit" better in too many other places. I idolize this advisor too--great work, great experience, happy students. But I cannot shake off the nagging feeling that I will never be able to compete with TT jobs with PhDs from famous places. 

I have been a star student all my life. But do not know how to choose a grad school -- what to prioritize and what to ignore. I don't want to be jobless five years later :(

 

Forget rank.  Rank is all about ego, really.  Unless you're hoping to be in academia.  For professorship, it is all about what school you went to.  But, your research is most important.  Companies don't care about your school, but rather how good your experience is.  If you school was the only thing that mattered, hardly anyone would have a job unless they went to Harvard or CalTech.  If it is a pride thing, just swallow your pride and get into the school that is clearly the right fit for you! 😃

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On 3/10/2019 at 12:13 PM, Ternwild said:

Forget rank.  Rank is all about ego, really.  Unless you're hoping to be in academia.  For professorship, it is all about what school you went to.  But, your research is most important.  Companies don't care about your school, but rather how good your experience is.  If you school was the only thing that mattered, hardly anyone would have a job unless they went to Harvard or CalTech.  If it is a pride thing, just swallow your pride and get into the school that is clearly the right fit for you! 😃

I've always heard it said that, when you go to industry, they won't understand your work and advisor's work so much as they will recognize the school you went to?

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I'm having a similar debate. One of the schools/departments I'm considering is ranked in the 100s, another is 17. I'm hoping to go into academia. So many factors...

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Posted (edited)
14 hours ago, 1996kayden said:

I'm having a similar debate. One of the schools/departments I'm considering is ranked in the 100s, another is 17. I'm hoping to go into academia. So many factors...

Sadly, if you're going to get into Academia, you have to go to UConn.  That's just the way professorships are.  They only care about what school you came from.  That said, make UConn the best you can fit.  There is exception; if your research is rockstar at UT or UV, there are times where amasing research (will not use trumps, that word is ruined for me, forever, ew) can replace school prestige, but it's rare. 

Edited by Ternwild

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I would have to go with @Ternwildon this one, that is, the university tag does not matter unless you want to end up in academia. A great mentor can open doors for numerous opportunities for you and also mentally enlighten you. 

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On 3/8/2019 at 11:04 PM, Whovian said:

I did contact them. And got vague-ish info that the students their have a record of completing on time and get placed at academic institutions well enough. 

I tried to run the numbers yesterday and found that this department has placed at least 8 recent graduates in tenure track positions in the US. I think that's quite good. 

But to be even more specific, my concern with this place being unknown is that I am in international student (I need this university as a whole to be well known in my own country and others where I might consider living). And two, that I am from anthropology, and the prestige of the university appears to be a major factor when it comes to hiring in this field.  :(

 

I would be very wary about going to an "unknown" program if your goal is a TT position, especially if you are on a non-quantitative field. 

First off, a school that doesn't have detailed information on what their students do after graduation is a school that won't know if there is a problem. This could be willful or simply due to a lack of resources. Neither reason is particularly comforting.

Secondly, top schools are ... well ... top schools for a reason. They have better funding, which correlates with the ability to recruit the best faculty candidates, support for student conference travel in the humanities, career services, etc ... Furthermore, if you are going to assume that the quality of your research matters the most, why do you think this is disconnected from the quality of the program you are attending. Funding for conferences and field work is not inconsequential. The quality of the faculty beyond your direct supervisor matters too. Networks are what get you that post doc or that VAP position. Networks will have greater reach at better schools. 

If you have any aspirations of teaching in country where people are slavishly devoted to US News rankings, prestige unfortunately matters even more.

BTW, everything a lot of other posters has put forward is true and not necessarily contradictory. Fit matters. No point in getting depressed and flunking out of Harvard when you could have thrived Indiana, for example. Just know what challenges you will have ahead if you are set on a TT position. 

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On 3/13/2019 at 12:30 PM, Ternwild said:

That's just the way professorships are.  They only care about what school you came from.

I think this advice is dangerous in how we approach things. There are plenty of schools not in the T20 producing great scholars that are being placed in different programs. Studies have shown that the school that you graduate from determines your initial placement only. And depending on where you hope to end up, there are some universities that would not consider students from "the top ranked university" because they've been burned by previous alumni in the past because the students were chasing the next big thing. There are also some universities that place a greater weight on teaching than research. The top programs don't always dedicate as much time to teaching as they do to research because of how they professionalize their students. Additionally, there are students that decide not to enter the job market that come from already smaller programs which impacts representation within the job market. A top school might make it easier to network, but professors today are more dispersed at different types of universities than they had been previously.

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Warelin said:

There are plenty of schools not in the T20 producing great scholars that are being placed in different programs.

You're absolutely right.  Like I said, prestige is all about ego.  If you're looking to go into the work force, don't give a sh*t about the name of the school and focus more on the fit of your research or programs you enjoy/match your interests. 

That said, in the process for universities hiring of professors, the school you come from is a fundamental focus.  How do I know this?  A short look at tenure professors from nearly any institution will support it, but most importantly, I conducted a survey at three universities: Texas A&M, Purdue, and WUSTL (I attended TAMU and was accepted into grad school for the other two.)

During my last year as an undergrad, I went around to all the physics professors at these three universities and asked them questions in order to better understand the field and what I need to know to be competitive in academia and in industry.  One of the questions I was sure to ask, every time, is "In your opinion, what is the biggest piece of advice for scientists trying to get into academia?"  Looking at my notes for each professor, the first thing, unanimously, said was along the lines of "Sadly, the only thing universities care about is where you got your degree.  They will even make decisions on research funding based on it.  So go to a top tier research school."  Additional points of advice were "Prove in your graduate career you're capable and motivated by independent research and have questions you need answers to" and "network while you're in grad school and get to know professors in the field you're in, meeting with top administrators while you make a name for yourself in the industry."  All of them conceded to the point that if your research is great enough, they will overlook the university you come from, but concluded that you'd have to work harder and stand out more than those from the likes of MIT, CalTech, and other leading universities in the field. 

Now, could this be the "old way of thinking?"  Yes, absolutely.  Has the field been changed since their tenure?  Yep.  Does this need to be changed because what school you go to doesn't reflect on how good someone would be as an academic?  You won't hear an argument from me.  But, the problem with the field of academia is it is full of people who merit a professor on legacy politics, university notoriety, and the name they make for themselves.  That is their trifecta.  Having only one won't get you into good universities in academia; however, if you can have two of them, you stand better chances than those with one.  The problem is, if you work hard at the University of Delaware and become a top researcher at your institute, you only have one.  If you want a leg up over other applicants, the best thing you can do to increase your chances is attend a top university (unless you find out your mother's maiden name is Feynman). 

Let's be clear, I am in no way defending, condoning, or attempting to propagate these terrible stereotypes in academia.  But, it doesn't change the way the metric exists, despite the need for reform and the changing of mindset.  I, also, don't think you can't become a professor unless you go to a top school.  That's false, for sure.  But, if you have a choice between attending a top school and not for your PhD work (as you got admitted to both), then it could only help your application to professorship to attend the top school; unless, however, the top program has literally nothing that interests or excites you about research.  In that case, the program that best fits your research interests is a much better choice, but you'll have to work harder to make a name for yourself, because those who made a name for themselves at MIT will have an advantage over you.  Sad, but true.

Edited by Ternwild

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1 hour ago, Ternwild said:

That said, in the process for universities hiring of professors, the school you come from is a fundamental focus.  How do I know this?  A short look at tenure professors from nearly any institution will support it, but most importantly, I conducted a survey at three universities: Texas A&M, Purdue, and WUSTL (I attended TAMU and was accepted into grad school for the other two.)

 

This is going to vary a lot by subject matter. I'm aware of certain well-known institutions conducting a faculty search right now and am aware that they've invited individuals outside of the top 10 to fill a position. All of the schools are within the T50 within their field but the T50 within this field mostly does focus on Research; where schools outside of the T50 have a heavier focus on teaching. As I previously stated, the type of institution you initially get placed at might depend on where you attend.  R1 Universities (which are the colleges that are research-heavy) only account for ~10 percent of universities in the USA. As such, it's immportant to note that most colleges that have openings will be at undergraduate-focused institutions. These institutions often place lesser value on where you obtain your degree from and more emphasis on your ability to teach. Other institutions might place more emphasis on your publication record. 

 

1 hour ago, Ternwild said:

"Sadly, the only thing universities care about is where you got your degree.  They will even make decisions on research funding based on it.  So go to a top tier research school."

This is a good point to bring up with a few notes. Rankings are a good way to distinguish T10 from T50 to the T100/T150. However, even the top tier schools have certain specializations that they have a great track record on and other areas in which they're considerably weaker in and that other colleges ranked "below" them do a much better job at. 

 

1 hour ago, Ternwild said:

But, the problem with the field of academia is it is full of people who merit a professor on legacy politics, university notoriety, and the name they make for themselves.

I think there is change coming within the field of academia. New scholars are more likely to be allowed to take risks at universities outside the T10. There's a stark contrast in the dissertation work being conducted at universities outside of the T10. Work at a T10 is more likely (but not always) to be considered traditional. Scholars who want to take more risks are deciding to go elsewhere and it's been producing an interesting shift in how colleges are being ranked by the small percentage of director of graduate studies that choose to participate in USNews' rankings.

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2 hours ago, Warelin said:

I think there is change coming within the field of academia. New scholars are more likely to be allowed to take risks at universities outside the T10. There's a stark contrast in the dissertation work being conducted at universities outside of the T10. Work at a T10 is more likely (but not always) to be considered traditional. Scholars who want to take more risks are deciding to go elsewhere and it's been producing an interesting shift in how colleges are being ranked by the small percentage of director of graduate studies that choose to participate in USNews' rankings.

Can you give some examples. This sounds completely made up. And what shift in US News' dumpster fire rankings are you talking about?

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29 minutes ago, DiscoTech said:

Can you give some examples. This sounds completely made up. And what shift in US News' dumpster fire rankings are you talking about?

Examine dissertations being done at a variety of institutions. You'll start to notice certain trends by schools and the way they approach dissertations (At least within the Humanities. Not as familiar with the Sciences.)

USNews rankings change every few years. There were several changes last time which had newcomers to the T10 as well as several schools which left the T10. I don't think that's surprising. Nor do I think that more traditional work being done at a top 10 is surprising. It's not a bad thing. It's just what is generally seen as what research is today and they have easier to access to people who have thrived with that type of work. There are exceptions to that but finding someone who supports nontraditional work at a T10 school might prove to be more difficult.

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4 hours ago, Warelin said:

Examine dissertations being done at a variety of institutions. You'll start to notice certain trends by schools and the way they approach dissertations (At least within the Humanities. Not as familiar with the Sciences.)

USNews rankings change every few years. There were several changes last time which had newcomers to the T10 as well as several schools which left the T10. I don't think that's surprising. Nor do I think that more traditional work being done at a top 10 is surprising. It's not a bad thing. It's just what is generally seen as what research is today and they have easier to access to people who have thrived with that type of work. There are exceptions to that but finding someone who supports nontraditional work at a T10 school might prove to be more difficult.

Sigh ....

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