Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
unwelded

Do Names Like Harvard and Yale Actually Matter At The PhD Level?

Recommended Posts

Let's say you get into two similarly ranked programs. One has that top  ivy brand name (Harvard/Princeton) and another elite school (like U Chicago, UCLA, U Michigan, etc). Assuming there are no major red flags and both programs fit relatively well - is there any benefit at all to going to the Harvard institution when on the job market? I'm trying to figure out how much utility pedigree has within academia where its more department focused. The other department fits me slightly better and students also seem happier (but how much can you really know from visit days), but I'm wondering if I'll be kicking myself for turning down a name like Harvard or Princeton. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

By "any benefit at all" I meant benefit that comes solely from the brand name/pedigree and not necessarily the elements of the program itself (reputation, your advisor, etc) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The job market is (generally speaking) less about the school you went to and more about who you studied under in your subfield, and additionally, how well-connected your department is in terms of job placement. If you want to grow up to become a scholar of Queer Theory in Shakespeare, you need to go find the person who does that, study with them, and go forward, ideally with your POI starting to put out feelers to place you in a job long before you finish your dissertation. The caveat to that, of course, is that a lot of "the greats" are at the Ivies, and folks at the Ivies are extremely well-connected. Are they more connected than folks at UCLA or Michigan? That probably depends a lot on your subfield, area of study, and other factors. So the name might not do much, but the name comes with connections that might. Make sense?

For what it's worth, fit on the job market is related to so many factors. At my university, we've actually seen a lot of people with amazing Ivy educations not make it to the last round of searches because their background just doesn't match the program of studies we offer (in that it's much more classical than what a lot of our students take). These are amazing scholars who go on to be highly sought after elsewhere, but just aren't the right fit for what we offer. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't have any data to back this up, but it seems likely to me that a Ph.D. from a Harvard or Yale would get you a lot further on the alt-ac market. HR directors with BAs might not know that the University of Michigan, for example, is a top-tier school that is a peer institution of the Ivies, but they'll certainly understand that Harvard is impressive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There seems to be some confusion in this thread with regards to terms like "similarly ranked" "ivy brand" "elite" "peer institution" and pedigree.

The Ivy League is a Football league consisting of elite private universities in the Northeast. While U Chicago is not a member of this football league (it's not in the Northeast), it is also an elite private university and it offers the same academic pedigree as any of the ivies. The same could be said for Stanford. (It's possible that Chicago's name value outside of the academic world is less than that of the Ivies/Stanford, but I'm not sure). So, the OP's original grouping doesn't make much sense to me because Harvard, Princeton, and Chicago are all elite private universities with top pedigree/name value. Michigan and UCLA, on the other hand, are top-notch flagship state universities. They also carry with them a certain name value and are undoubtedly world class educational institutions, but may not have the same "prestige" as the others.

Now, in terms of placement alone, the name value is not going to get you a job (though it may get your application a second look, but so would having an advisor whose friends with someone on the hiring committee). To a large degree, prestige is a proxy for other aspects of a university, namely money. The Ivies, Chicago, Stanford, etc. have lots of money. I mean, lots of it. That means they can attract the best professors, offer those professors lots of research funding, ensuring that they produce top quality research, and in turn increase the name value of those professors and the department/university as a whole (which then attracts students from rich families who donate to the universities and the rich keep getting richer, but I digress). This money also means that graduate students often only have to Teach or TA for a couple of years during their studies and can devote the rest of their time to writing a dissertation, going to conferences, and publishing, whereas students at some public universities might be teaching one course per semester as instructor of record (or more!). This excess of money means both that students have more time to produce better research (and aren't stressing about making end meet) and that the university's money works to create a focal node for networking (they can afford to invite a top scholar to campus every week, etc.). That's the advantage the "prestige" really offers (prestige, of course, being self-perpetuating as the name value brings in more money). 

Now, that's not to say that you absolutely need to go to the more prestigious university if you can. If you work in subfield Y and *the* leading figure in the field is at a public uni, that may be a good reason to attend. And the ivies are certainly no guarantee that you will get a better education (I think the culture at some of them can be pretty toxic and not conducive to learning so much as competition). It also depends on where you hope to get a job (reminder: there are no jobs). Private elite institutions tend to higher PhDs from private elite institutions. Public, teaching focused colleges, however, can be pretty wary of such PhDs sometimes because they're afraid they'll up and leave when they get a better offer and/or that they don't have the experience/skill set to work with the sorts of students at those institutions. So prestige can backfire, but it's also probably safer than not, all else being equal.
 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you are doing something outside of the traditional academic path, then bluntly, yes. I know for a fact, heaving been associated one of the schools mentioned, as well as formerly being a principal at a large consulting firm, that many many concerns outside of academia recruit from the various PhD majors....this is not true across the board at other institutions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the detailed and great responses. And thanks @Glasperlenspieler for the elaboration. When you explain it, you're right that grouping dosen't really make sense. 

Reason I'm asking is trying to figure out the right choice between aforementioned schools. My field is interdisciplinary (ethnic studies, american studies, WGS, etc...) so what I found interesting is that the Harvard program places most of its graduates into traditional tenure track positions (mostly English and History), whereas the second school places most of its graduates into tenure track spots in interdisciplinary departments. 

the second school is undoubtedly seen as the "cutting edge" and current leader of the field, - and would also fit me *slightly* better, I still wonder if a place like Harvard is the more strategic choice simply because somehow it makes most of its students legible to traditional disciplines which means a larger pool of job options (outside of academia as well as many of you said, as Harvard is more culturally recognizable). Furthermore, I feel like the future of interdisciplinary programs is much more precarious than History and English. 

I don't know, I feel like I'm trying to find certainty where there is none. Maybe the second school will grow even larger and interdisciplinary programs become the hot thing. Or maybe it'll fade out. Who knows.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

You would think it would help, and it may well help (especially internationally, if you dream of moving to, say, the UK or something, the Harvard/Yale/Princeton etc label may well be valued by international departments/faculties less aware of how programs like Berkeley/Chicago/UCLA are rivalling and even exceeding them), but there are a lot of misconceptions. My verdict (not that it should count for much—but your question is one I've had too so I've asked around a lot) would be that an English PhD from a place like Yale or Princeton etc is always going to carry a certain weight that others just aren't going to, but that weight can be easily overestimated when in reality the benefit of going to a certain institution on the job market is always going to be subfield specific. Harvard English for instance has had unusually bad placement the last few years—'unusually bad' as in, everywhere is bad because the market is bad, but Harvard has flatlined in recent years in a way that you wouldn't expect because it's Harvard.

Source: current and recent Harvard English PhD students, several professors I know who have been on the market in the last 2-3 years, and one high level professor who often reads postdoc and TT applications for American lit and remarked that those out of Harvard the last few years feature projects that just look under-advised, compared to the ambitious work coming out of, say, Columbia. The answer to "why?" is anyone's guess (as you can tell, so much of this is anecdotal) but "under-advised" might give a clue; the conjectures I've heard is that Ivy League brand name prestige can be counteracted when, say, the biggest star names in the department tend to have hands-off supervision styles, be difficult to reach, and (given the fact that they're superstars who've had tenure for decades) may not really be clued in to the realities of the market right now. Which is to say, if you're coming out of a Harvard PhD with an advisor who may not have extensively mentored you and improved your project, who may not be inclined to advocate hard for you or write a very strong recommendation letter when you go on the market ... then the name will probably matter less. Especially in a comparison with comparatively better mentorship and placement efforts at one of the other non-Ivy institutions you mention. 

However, an exception to that is that Harvard is an absolute powerhouse for medievalists and is generally relatively good at placing them. So the answer is: sure it helps, but probably not as much as you'd guess, and much less so in the last few years, now the job market has gone from Very Bad to Practically Barren; I'd say it's more a combination now of name/program prestige, how well matched you are with your advisor(s), and whether resources/placement efforts at specific institutions are alive and well. In the last 5 years, there are several top 10 programs that have had good years for placement, but if you look closely, that almost always had to do with subfields—i.e. the department is strong in a subfield that just happened to be hiring that year, i.e. Berkeley's strength in Asian American may make them look much better one year than Columbia and Yale, which may be hugely strong in, say, British modernism, but quite simply no one is hiring for that subfield right now.

In your specific case, if you think the quality of education, mentorship and placement help you'll get at (e.g.) Yale and UCLA are fairly equitable ... I would just repeat what has been told to me, which is that the market is so bad right now that choosing one place over another (when the two options are equitable and when you might even fit better with the non-Ivy program) for Ivy name brand purely for the sake of the job market ... well, I'd question the logic tbh. I find the notion (which I hear over and over again from academics in response to this kind of question) that it doesn't really matter because you probably won't get a job either way really dispiriting and frankly annoying, so sorry if this answer is similarly irksome. You'd probably be better off going with the best fit and, as you mentioned in your post, paying attention to how happy the students seem—it does matter!

Edited by meghan_sparkle

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, digital_lime said:

I don't have any data to back this up, but it seems likely to me that a Ph.D. from a Harvard or Yale would get you a lot further on the alt-ac market. HR directors with BAs might not know that the University of Michigan, for example, is a top-tier school that is a peer institution of the Ivies, but they'll certainly understand that Harvard is impressive.

From what I've heard, the Ivies have a more traditional perspective of the field. You get a Ph.D. to become a professor. Other programs, like Chicago, are pushing a lot of resources towards alt-ac, since the job market is so bad. So Harvard may have the name recognition advantage when it comes to people outside of academia. But training and opportunity wise, it seems to be heavily in the opposite direction. Take this with a grain of salt, though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you happen to go outside of academia, then yes, a Harvard name would impress more than Umich or a U Chicago. 

As for the reputation - I wonder how long this second program has had this reputation as a leader of the field? If its been for a consistent and long period of time then that's more reliable. If they just happen to be hot right now because they're doing what's trendy, then not as much so. I might be wrong, but the prestige of a Harvard or Yale name seems more robust then a popular trend which could die out quick. But academia is so volatile this all conjecture really. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I'm told (by friends who are young professors, but also some senior scholars) that there are many times when a degree from the "big three" will actually count against you. This is true for academic jobs at less fancy institutions and also at state schools (including R1s), who are reluctant to hire from these schools because of a perception of  eliteness, lack of teaching experience, and also the knowledge that these candidates will likely leave the moment a fancier/better job shows up (something that is arguably true for PhDs from any institution: a good job is a good job). There's also the fact that these big threes can often be really old guard (depending on your field), and so are really lagging behind when it comes to fields beyond your standard Anglo-Euro-American canons. Of course, there will be exceptions to this. But in my research (and I'm facing a similar choice between one of the big three and another school that is best known for cutting edge work in my field) it does seem to hold up to a great extent.

Edited by Rani13

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 minutes ago, Rani13 said:

I'm told (by friends who are young professors, but also some senior scholars) that there are many times when a degree from the "big three" will actually count against you. This is true for academic jobs at less fancy institutions and also at state schools (including R1s), who are reluctant to hire from these schools because of a perception of  eliteness, lack of teaching experience, and also the knowledge that these candidates will likely leave the moment a fancier/better job shows up (something that is arguably true for PhDs from any institution: a good job is a good job). There's also the fact that these big threes can often be really old guard (depending on your field), and so are really lagging behind when it comes to fields beyond your standard Anglo-Euro-American canons. Of course, there will be exceptions to this. But in my research (and I'm facing a similar choice between one of the big three and another school that is best known for cutting edge work in my field) it does seem to hold up to a great extent.

Would you say this still holds even for an interdisciplinary field? The nuance that makes this confusing for me is that - I probably won't get a job in that field anyways as there are less ethnic/American studies programs than there are English, so I feel like the top leading rep of the second school will matter less...or be completely lost on job committees than Harvard since I likely won't be getting a job in ethnic/american studies anyways. 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, unwelded said:

Would you say this still holds even for an interdisciplinary field? The nuance that makes this confusing for me is that - I probably won't get a job in that field anyways as there are less ethnic/American studies programs than there are English, so I feel like the top leading rep of the second school will matter less...or be completely lost on job committees than Harvard since I likely won't be getting a job in ethnic/american studies anyways. 

 

 

I'm not sure, I can only speak with any knowledge of English and Comp Lit. If I understand you correctly, you're thinking about academic job market prospects in fields other than the field you'd be housed in (US/ethnic studies). Is that right? In any case, it might help for you to pay close attention to where people are getting hired from the two institutions you are considering.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Rani13 said:

I'm told (by friends who are young professors, but also some senior scholars) that there are many times when a degree from the "big three" will actually count against you. This is true for academic jobs at less fancy institutions and also at state schools (including R1s), who are reluctant to hire from these schools because of a perception of  eliteness, lack of teaching experience, and also the knowledge that these candidates will likely leave the moment a fancier/better job shows up (something that is arguably true for PhDs from any institution: a good job is a good job). There's also the fact that these big threes can often be really old guard (depending on your field), and so are really lagging behind when it comes to fields beyond your standard Anglo-Euro-American canons. Of course, there will be exceptions to this. But in my research (and I'm facing a similar choice between one of the big three and another school that is best known for cutting edge work in my field) it does seem to hold up to a great extent.

This is something that's really weighing heavily on my mind as I'm considering where to go. I did my undergrad at a large state school and I think a large state school is where I'd like to work long-term (though obviously, the job market being what it is, I'll take what I can get - if anything - and be thankful). I'm leaning toward Yale, but I worry that getting my PhD there may knock me out of the running for the big state school jobs I'd prefer. Then again, I guess I can always talk in teaching statements, etc. about my state school origins and hopefully allay concerns about elitism... But it's hard to know whether the Ivy degree will more help or hurt me in the long run, and I have, I feel, a very stark choice between a huge public school (Michigan) on the one hand and one of the "big three" on the other. I've had multiple professors tell me I "can't go wrong," but I feel like this would be truer if I was picking between institutions that were remotely similar in anything besides their US News English rankings.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, The Hoosier Oxonian said:

This is something that's really weighing heavily on my mind as I'm considering where to go. I did my undergrad at a large state school and I think a large state school is where I'd like to work long-term (though obviously, the job market being what it is, I'll take what I can get - if anything - and be thankful). I'm leaning toward Yale, but I worry that getting my PhD there may knock me out of the running for the big state school jobs I'd prefer. Then again, I guess I can always talk in teaching statements, etc. about my state school origins and hopefully allay concerns about elitism... But it's hard to know whether the Ivy degree will more help or hurt me in the long run, and I have, I feel, a very stark choice between a huge public school (Michigan) on the one hand and one of the "big three" on the other. I've had multiple professors tell me I "can't go wrong," but I feel like this would be truer if I was picking between institutions that were remotely similar in anything besides their US News English rankings.

To be clear, I don't mean to suggest that more “approachable” schools are automatically better at placing students at state schools. From what I can tell, that's not quite the case. My sense is that one is a strong candidate for any job if one comes from a program considered to be strong (or maybe even the “best,” whatever that means) in one’s field, and if one is backed (advised, recommended) by scholars who are well known and respected in said field (as well as in the academy at large). I just meant to say that the “best” is not always a matter of the big three, in fact the big three (in some fields) have a reputation for being intellectual wastelands (not my words). Obviously, there's no hard and fast rule about this and one’s work is what matters in the end. We're all just reading the tea leaves here. I just think it's not enough to choose a school based on prestige vs approachability when there is strength/reputation in one's field to consider. And, not to forget, the financial resources that a program can offer.

Edited by Rani13

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would imagine that, since there are so few jobs, there may not even be enough data to determine the success of some schools over others. I'm not sure that being strategic about where you go is super effective in this climate because it's a total crapshoot and the economy isn't getting any better. We're holding out hope that Harvard's name recognition and elite status will help him get a job in Europe, since I'm an EU citizen and we want to live over there when he's done. It's probably likely that, if EU university hiring committees know any US institutions, likely they know (and hopefully respect) Harvard. Otherwise, I think you should go where you want to go.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/18/2020 at 8:05 PM, Rani13 said:

I'm told (by friends who are young professors, but also some senior scholars) that there are many times when a degree from the "big three" will actually count against you. This is true for academic jobs at less fancy institutions and also at state schools (including R1s), who are reluctant to hire from these schools because of a perception of  eliteness, lack of teaching experience, and also the knowledge that these candidates will likely leave the moment a fancier/better job shows up (something that is arguably true for PhDs from any institution: a good job is a good job). There's also the fact that these big threes can often be really old guard (depending on your field), and so are really lagging behind when it comes to fields beyond your standard Anglo-Euro-American canons. Of course, there will be exceptions to this. But in my research (and I'm facing a similar choice between one of the big three and another school that is best known for cutting edge work in my field) it does seem to hold up to a great extent.

Isin’t this more the exception than rule though? I’ve been told by some mentors that many SC’s (including, and sometimes especially at lower tier schools) become starry eyed when a Harvard or Princeton app comes across their desk. Less effort to convince a dean of a Harvard hire 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, cupparino said:

Isin’t this more the exception than rule though? I’ve been told by some mentors that many SC’s (including, and sometimes especially at lower tier schools) become starry eyed when a Harvard or Princeton app comes across their desk. Less effort to convince a dean of a Harvard hire 

Well, Bumblebea said the same thing (and was on the job market for a long time). 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the replies everyone. A lot to think about. 

It's a hard choice. On the one hand is a school with a cutting edge reputation and great fit, but places its graduates mostly into american studies/ethnic studies departments (which honestly makes me nervous because it feels like im pigeonholing myself into the most precarious sector of academia)

On the other is the ivy which dosent have the top reputation within "___" studies but places its alumni well into history and english. And also offers a terminal MA in those fields (not that history or english are doing well right now lol). Plus the institution carries more weight in the very likely case that I have to pursue work outside of academia. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.