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Indecisive Poet

Is attending a lower-ranked program worth it?

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I'm interested in hearing perspectives on this. Given that the job market is so bad and even those with doctoral degrees from top-10 or top-20 programs are having trouble finding jobs, is there any point going to a program that is ranked below, say, 50? By "point," I mean in terms of getting an academic job. I think there is probably little difference in quality of education from one program to the next, but is it realistic to think I could get an academic job if I got my degree at, say, Boston College or Fordham?

Edited by Indecisive Poet

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12 minutes ago, Indecisive Poet said:

I'm interested in hearing perspectives on this. Given that the job market is so bad and even those with doctoral degrees from top-10 or top-20 programs are having trouble finding jobs, is there any point going to a program that is ranked below, say, 50? By "point," I mean in terms of getting an academic job. I think there is probably little difference in quality of education from one program to the next, but is it realistic to think I could get an academic job if I got my degree at, say, Boston College or Fordham?

From what I am understanding from research and observation, this is quite a complex question. Some schools may give you a second look because you attended a top 10 over a lower ranked one, but if you flourish more, contribute more to your subfield in that lower ranked one, I ultimately don't think they would ignore you because you didn't attend a top 10. This is probably why people push fit and culture, because you can go to a top program and be lost among the crowd with nothing to show from your time there. 

So, I would go with/apply to whatever schools you are interested in, even if they are ranked at or below 50.The job market seems to be a mess regardless. Just my 2 cents. :) 

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1 hour ago, Cryss said:

this is quite a complex question.

Strong disagree. It's very straightforward: it is not at all worth it.

Ranking of programs isn't some arbitrary thing. The reason why Harvard etc. always top the list is not simply because everyone's heard of them. They also have a lot more money to throw around, give their students a more reasonable teaching load, and can bring in important professors every week to socialize. The advantages are manifold.

That said, ranking for grad progams isn't exactly a science. I definitely wouldn't go as far down the list as the 50s though. 10s at best.

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In addition to @Cryss' and @telkanuru's points, "lower" ranked programs does not necessarily mean less jobs. 

I attended several career panels in grad school. Many panelists, especially professors teaching in regional and community colleges, often said that they did not usually seek to hire research-focused candidates even though they might come from a good program. They argued that many times those are people that are looking for the next job and in teaching communities like the ones they were serving, they thought it was best to select candidates that would be there longer. 

That said, you should pay attention to elements that will help you get a job to compare programs other than ranking: 

  • Research: 
    • How does the program/school support graduate research? Do they have teaching/RA responsibilities that prevent them from going to archives/writing/going to conferences? Are there funding opportunities for paying for memberships, travel, etc? 
    • How does the program/school support "hidden" research needs? Can graduate students ask librarians to purchase books/access databases? Do GS have access to nearby libraries? Do GS get access to software? 
  • Teaching:
    • How does the program/school teaches to teach? What sort of mentorship exists? What opportunities are there for GS to expand their knowledge on pedagogy, teaching, and learning? What support is there for incorporating innovative techniques in the classroom (eg: consults, specialized classrooms, competitive funds, etc)? Do students get to design and teach their own course? 
  • Professional Development:
    • How does the program/school see non-academic careers? Do they provide training/financial support for developing additional skills? Do they offer internships/community-based projects for those wanting to pursue public-facing scholarship? Do they provide support for a personal website? How do their programmatic activities look like? 
    • Does the program provide professionalization seminars? Do they have a network of alumni you can reach out to? 
  • Well-being:
    • Do GS get health insurance? How much? How much are the fees? Do they get mental health coverage? 
    • Do GS have a dedicated space for them to work? Does the library or the department provide cubicles/offices? 
    • How expensive is housing and transportation around campus, and how is this related to the stipend (if any)?

This very narrow list might help you get started. I'd suppose others would like to expand these questions, I'm just thinking from the top of my head. 

I think you should pay more attention to this rather than simple, arbitrary rankings. 

Edited by AP

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43 minutes ago, AP said:

Many panelists, especially professors teaching in regional and community colleges,

The problem is that these are exactly the places that supported the teetering job market for so long, but they're also precisely the institutions that are the most threatened. These are the schools that are going under, merging, closing. I think the market has gotten much worse in the past 3 years.

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3 hours ago, telkanuru said:

I definitely wouldn't go as far down the list as the 50s though. 10s at best.

As in top 20? (as you might guess, my GRE quant score was garbage)

Edited by Indecisive Poet

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32 minutes ago, Indecisive Poet said:

As in top 20? (as you might guess, my GRE quant score was garbage)

That's how I interpreted it. Otherwise, to say that it's top 10 or bust seems just a tad too extreme. 

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6 hours ago, Indecisive Poet said:

I'm interested in hearing perspectives on this. Given that the job market is so bad and even those with doctoral degrees from top-10 or top-20 programs are having trouble finding jobs, is there any point going to a program that is ranked below, say, 50? By "point," I mean in terms of getting an academic job. I think there is probably little difference in quality of education from one program to the next, but is it realistic to think I could get an academic job if I got my degree at, say, Boston College or Fordham?

No, there isn't. You can make a strong argument that all things considered, 90% of programs shouldn't remain open in view of the market. It's also worth noting that quality of education is not the same everywhere. Before I left Wisconsin, we'd have a visiting scholar come in about once a month, maybe a little bit more frequently if there was a major conference in Chicago. Harvard and some of the other Ivies can bring in folks every week.

I don't know about the English market. My understanding is that composition & rhetoric has a slightly less awful market than literary studies, but they're all bad. I do know that, in history, even out of somewhere like Harvard, you have about a 50% chance of a TT job. Obviously that varies a bit by sub-field, but outside of a few exceptions (e.g. Michigan State for African History), lower ranked programs are not worth the time investment.

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3 hours ago, telkanuru said:

The problem is that these are exactly the places that supported the teetering job market for so long, but they're also precisely the institutions that are the most threatened. These are the schools that are going under, merging, closing. I think the market has gotten much worse in the past 3 years.

Both last year and this year, those were the institutions with the most job openings in my field. So, IDK. 

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1 hour ago, psstein said:

No, there isn't. You can make a strong argument that all things considered, 90% of programs shouldn't remain open in view of the market. It's also worth noting that quality of education is not the same everywhere. Before I left Wisconsin, we'd have a visiting scholar come in about once a month, maybe a little bit more frequently if there was a major conference in Chicago. Harvard and some of the other Ivies can bring in folks every week.

I don't know about the English market. My understanding is that composition & rhetoric has a slightly less awful market than literary studies, but they're all bad. I do know that, in history, even out of somewhere like Harvard, you have about a 50% chance of a TT job. Obviously that varies a bit by sub-field, but outside of a few exceptions (e.g. Michigan State for African History), lower ranked programs are not worth the time investment.

I would still argue that ranking is not the same as placement, and that coming from higher ranked program doesn't mean a higher chance in getting a TT job. (All of my cohort (6 people from different subfields) got TT jobs and we are a program in the 40s). Furthermore, regarding English, there was a recent article in the Chronicle about how Columbia could not place any of their graduating PhDs in TT jobs (I have 3 friends in English that landed TT jobs). Although prestige can mean something, it is not an automatic ticket to anything. 

Unfortunately, there is no formula.... but I do think that looking at rankings alone it's just a very narrow point of view. 

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I went to a talk by some former graduates from the department and one of them said this: if you can do your PhD and in 20 years not regret having done it even if you don’t get a job out of it (or the job you want at least). If not, maybe this isn’t for you. The point being that the job market is so rough that some of us will not derive any benefit from it other than the enjoyment of doing our research for a few years. So if you’re asking the question at all, maybe it’s not worth it (of course, not everyone can go into something like this for the sake of it and anyone who can is enjoying a fair share of privilege). 

There is no formula as to what institutions guarantee jobs. Generally the higher the rank (accepting that rank is not objective or definitive) the more opportunities you will have  (though some argue that smaller schools sometimes prefer lower-ranked candidates). 

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1 hour ago, AP said:

Both last year and this year, those were the institutions with the most job openings in my field. So, IDK. 

Absolutely - these aren't contradictory points. They've always been the places where the most jobs are. That there are way fewer now is why we're in a tailspin.

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23 minutes ago, WildeThing said:

 

I went to a talk by some former graduates from the department and one of them said this: if you can do your PhD and in 20 years not regret having done it even if you don’t get a job out of it (or the job you want at least). If not, maybe this isn’t for you

 

I second this. Academia is shifting and in crisis as we all know. I’ve also received the same advice as WildeThing in various formulations. If you’re going to get your PhD to become a tenured/tenure track professor, you’re probably on the wrong track. If you’re going for its own sake, because you *want* to spend the next 5-10 years in a doctoral program, knowing there may be no job on the other side for you, that may be a better approach.

This also leads to a few sub points: 1) This is a *huge* reason why you shouldn’t go if you’re not funded. Don’t go into debt for this. Don’t go if you’re not funded (unless you’re independently wealthy).There’s no guarantee that there will be a well paying, secure, tenure track job with benefits for you after you finish, no matter where you graduate from. 2) It may be helpful to open yourself up to Alt-Ac. Why do you want to be a professor? Identify what about the TT job would appeal to you, and see if you can find Alt-Ac jobs that include these elements. For example, library positions at academic institutions sometimes allow for teaching a class or two and/or the institution supporting your independent research. 

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13 hours ago, Indecisive Poet said:

 I think there is probably little difference in quality of education from one program to the next, 

I somewhat disagree here. The quality of education, if we are just talking about in seminar and through mentorships with faculty, may actually be better with many lower ranked programs. 

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7 hours ago, psstein said:

even out of somewhere like Harvard, you have about a 50% chance of a TT job. 

That's an incredible rate.  I mean that's gotta be as good as it gets, right? 

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@WildeThing, @Bopie5 – this has been my perspective and it's one I've been reluctant to share on TGC because of how adamant people are that it's not worth going to get a PhD, period. My partner and I have talked a lot about this and my position has always been that I want to complete a PhD program regardless of what job awaits me on the other side. Having job security and stability for the next 6 years – not to mention being paid to do what I love for those 6 years – is more than I would get if I attempted to go into any other industry right now at age 25 with no experience in anything but academia (not to mention no real desire to do anything but academia). For this reason, and because I simply want to spend my time doing this and would regret not even trying, I plan to accept an offer no matter where I'm offered admission (if anywhere). It seemed easier to word my original post the way I did in order to facilitate a quick discussion about chances of a getting a TT job after attending a lower-ranked program. I'm curious about that because I wouldn't want to go into a program with unrealistic expectations, and there's a (small) possibility that I would wait and re-apply the next year to see if I can do better.

Edited by Indecisive Poet

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2 hours ago, Indecisive Poet said:

Having job security and stability for the next 6 years – not to mention being paid to do what I love for those 6 years – is more than I would get if I attempted to go into any other industry right now at age 25 with no experience in anything but academia

I think you make an interesting point, because my thinking has been somewhat different.  When I was finishing up my bachelor's degree in '13-'14, I really wanted to get my PhD.  But I also recognized that the market for academic jobs is not great.  So I ended up going to Emory University for law school.  My reasoning was that, since Emory's placement rate for full-time lawyering jobs is better than pretty much any English PhD program's placement rate for TT positions, law school was a better way to gain a marketable skill and get a job.  

I'm not saying that you should go to law school.  At all.  But I do think that applicants should take their other marketable skills into account when applying to English PhD programs.  And this is where my personal opinion will depart from yours, although I totally get and respect your rationale for wanting to pursue the PhD no matter where you get accepted.  I think that, for those applicants who only really have experience in an academic setting, getting into the best program possible is imperative.  Those applicants who have already had another career, or who double majored in electrical engineering or something similarly marketable, can have the "luxury" of taking greater chances at lower-ranked schools.  

This isn't me saying that I have a wealth of opportunities waiting for me by virtue of my J.D. from a mediocre school.  It's just me saying that the marketability of my other degree is something that I take into account in applying to PhD programs.  

People like to give facile answers such as "DO NOT get a PhD unless you can go to Yale or another top-10 school" or "only get a PhD if you just love to learn so darn much."  But the truth is that we all have different levels of risk tolerance, and what seems reasonable to one person will seem unreasonable to another.  If you feel like you're willing to accept the risk that a lower-ranked program presents, then I say go for it.  I know I'm applying to a few schools outside the top 20.

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2 hours ago, HenryJams said:

People like to give facile answers such as "DO NOT get a PhD unless you can go to Yale or another top-10 school" or "only get a PhD if you just love to learn so darn much."  But the truth is that we all have different levels of risk tolerance, and what seems reasonable to one person will seem unreasonable to another.  If you feel like you're willing to accept the risk that a lower-ranked program presents, then I say go for it.  I know I'm applying to a few schools outside the top 20.

It's pretty easy to call this sort of answer "facile" if you haven't watched friend after brilliant friend struggle to make ends meet after graduating, or if you yourself have never had to live on poverty wages. Those of us who have tend to find any other answer shockingly privileged and naive.

For the record: I attend an Ivy. I love my program and doing what I do. I have an incredibly supportive department in all ways that matter. I would not do it again.

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I think I get what you're saying.  I have indeed watched friend after brilliant friend struggle to make ends meet after finishing both graduate school and law school.  I have also lived on poverty wages.  So I guess I would be in the minority in not finding any other answer "shockingly privileged and naive."

I'm not trying to start an argument with you.  I totally respect you.  Even read portions of your blog and think it's awesome.  But I do think that people's circumstances vary, and that those circumstances (including, yes, privileges) can and should color their decisions and inform their tolerance for risk.  That's all I was trying to point out.

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19 hours ago, WildeThing said:

There is no formula as to what institutions guarantee jobs.

No institution can guarantee you a job. Any college who says they can is lying.

 

4 hours ago, HenryJams said:

People like to give facile answers such as "DO NOT get a PhD unless you can go to Yale or another top-10 school" or "only get a PhD if you just love to learn so darn much."  But the truth is that we all have different levels of risk tolerance, and what seems reasonable to one person will seem unreasonable to another.  If you feel like you're willing to accept the risk that a lower-ranked program presents, then I say go for it.  I know I'm applying to a few schools outside the top 20.

I rejected a school which is well-known for a field similar to English Literature and has an incredibly high placement rate for a school in the 30s. I have no regrets. There have been opportunities offered to me here which would not be offered at the majority of schools. Other members of my cohort rejected Rutgers, Indiana, Brown, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Penn State to come here. People who do well here and go beyond the requirements tend to do very well on the job market. A number of students choose to not enter the job market because they rather stay local due to the low cost of living. Recently, someone got offered a postdoc at Cornell and another got a tenure-track position at Columbia. Most people who go on the job market get placed at liberal-arts colleges/teaching-oriented college. Those who put in the work for a prestigious publications and an additional certificate often get rewarded. Certain professors have better placements.  I think it's important to also remember that schools in the 30s and 20s flop at times.

As a sidenote, I think it's also important to remember that some schools really push their students to teach at an institution classified as "R1". As such, they might not understand how to prepare your CV or provide you with the support needed to be placed at a non-r1 institution.

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10 hours ago, Warelin said:

Recently, someone got offered a postdoc at Cornell

Hopefully I'm still on topic with this question, but can someone explain post-docs to me?

I understand the general concept of what a post-doc is, but how does it work exactly? Do people submit applications for it simultaneously while looking for jobs? Is it typically subfield-specific? And how come I don't often see people suggesting this as a valuable option? Is there some sort of negative connotation attached to it? 

Educate me, my US friends. 

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On 11/8/2019 at 10:10 PM, NowMoreSerious said:

Were they TT?

Yes, yes, I was assuming we were talking about TT positions. If in doubt, go to the Academic Jobs Wiki. 

 

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On 11/8/2019 at 11:57 PM, Indecisive Poet said:

As in top 20? (as you might guess, my GRE quant score was garbage)

Which ranking are we talking about specifically? QS?

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