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Decoding the Academic Job Market


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I've been browsing through the lists of alumni posted by graduate programs and professors at my prospective graduate institutions (you know, those "where are they now?" pages), and I've observed something odd. Seems to me like the alumni of Ph.D. programs at very prestigious private institutions (I'll call them "Ivy" schools--see note below) overwhelmingly end up in one of just a few career tracks soon after graduation: (1) for the lucky/superstar ones, as an Assistant Professor (that is, tenure-track) at an R1 university (those with 'Very High Research Activity' in the current Carnegie classification); (2) as an Assistant Scientist or Assistant Research Professor (non-tenure-track) at an R1 institution; or (3) have fallen off the face of the Earth (more like still slaving away on soft money somewhere after a postdoc or three).

I have only come across just a handful of names of former students who are now employed at a no-name state university or a community college. Assuming that basically all (>90% or so, from what professors tell me) of the students who attend these graduate programs based at Ivies that are highly regarded in academic circles actually wish to stay in academia on the tenure-track after receiving a Ph.D., why aren't there more of them employed at these (less-well-regarded) types of institutions?

Is it

  1. because Nowhere State University (at which a professor's research/teaching ratio is ~40/60 or less) won't hire a Ph.D. from Columbia, or
  2. because your average Ph.D. from Columbia wouldn't want to work at Nowhere State University (and would much prefer a >70% research job, even if it means relying on soft money for their entire career as a research scientist, given the competitiveness of the academic job market)?

TL;DR: Does a Ph.D. from an "Ivy" restrict your academic job options such that it makes it difficult to obtain a position that is not primarily focused on research?

Thanks!

waddle

P.S. This question is most relevant to the STEM fields, but feel free to chime in even if you're not in the natural sciences/math/whatever. Thanks!

P.P.S. I'm using "Ivy" in a non-strict sense to encompass all very prestigious private institutions with huge research output (think not only Columbia, but also Stanford & co.). Also, yeah, I picked on Columbia today. Sorry Columbia people, if you're out there. :P

P.P.P.S. Although I posted this in the Jobs forum, this is more relevant for my decision as to which Ph.D. program to attend (i.e. non-"Ivy" but still R1 graduate institution (the alumni of which tend to find jobs at Nowhere State Universities) vs. an "Ivy"), as I intend to stay in academia after my degree, but hopefully in a position in which I can do at least as much teaching as research.

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A great thread! Well done for starting it.

I looked at the History placements of one of the 'Ivies' (dreaming is not prohibited, right?), and my impressions were the follows:

1. University-of-Awesome Graduates often end up in tenure-track positions in second-tier institutions (not R1). However, these are tenure-track positions (Assistant Professor)!!

2. University-of-Awesome graduates often take postdoc positions, and these normally will be in other 'Ivies'.

A general impression: it's all down to luck but there are jobs out there for the cream of the crop.

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I posted about this a while back...My feeling is that most profs don't list grad students who don't end up with a "prestigious job"...

FWIW, my former PI was a Stanford grad, post-doc'ed at Columbia, and then went to teach at a NoName State University, where he was very happy. So there.

And my current advisor's former student just landed a TT job--none of his schools were Ivy-class.

eta: Here's the post

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That is a good question. There is some talk about this on the forum at the Chronicle of Higher Ed

http://chronicle.com...ic,20357.0.html

http://chronicle.com...ic,20091.0.html

http://chronicle.com...ic,18466.0.html

And I am sure there are more than just the ones that I have selected. Seems to be a hotly debated topic in the academy.

Edited by ZeChocMoose
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That is a good question. There is some talk about this on the forum at the Chronicle of Higher Ed

http://chronicle.com...ic,20357.0.html

http://chronicle.com...ic,20091.0.html

http://chronicle.com...ic,18466.0.html

And I am sure there are more than just the ones that I have selected. Seems to be a hotly debated topic in the academy.

I think the general consensus (at least among the professors with whom I have discussed this) is that the Ivy stamp on a diploma can certainly get you an interview at almost any university with a position open in your field, but that you have to deliver the goods in the interview or in the pre-interview call. If the contenders are then close, the position usually goes to the Ivy candidate. If your department head and / or the Dean of Faculty wants the Ivy candidate, that's who you are probably getting, democracy be darned. But if the field is truly open, a number of folks interview, and of those a no-name brand university graduate with a good publication record, excellent teaching, and projects in the pipeline that are very well aligned with a department's pet methodology or the work other department members are doing wows the committee, s/he can certainly expect a fair shake when the decision is made. There are also some universities that won't consider an Ivy candidate because, frankly, the Ivy candidate wouldn't consider them, or wouldn't stay if s/he were hired.

But in the end, yes, Ivy grads tend to get a lot of prospects, statistically speaking.

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There are also some universities that won't consider an Ivy candidate because, frankly, the Ivy candidate wouldn't consider them, or wouldn't stay if s/he were hired.

This is what some of my professors have said as well - that a lower-ranked university (or even a community college, which is something we have to consider in our field!) may well be reluctant to hire an Ivy grad because they'd be unlikely to stay, and also might be far more interested in their own research than teaching. It's kind of a horrible stereotype, and I've had lots of amazing, dedicated professors who are Ivy grads (at my small, liberal arts-ish MA school), but I guess you might have to work a little harder to convince them that you're not going to run off at the first opportunity for a more prestigious job.

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I have a question. I have heard (where I do not remember) that it is bad for female candidates to emphasize their interest in teaching because it makes them seem less serious, less rigorous, etc. Is this truly something women should avoid in interviews? Or what?

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I have a question. I have heard (where I do not remember) that it is bad for female candidates to emphasize their interest in teaching because it makes them seem less serious, less rigorous, etc. Is this truly something women should avoid in interviews? Or what?

No, it's not something to avoid in interviews, but there is, occasionally, the impression that women who show particular interest in teaching over all other aspects of the profession might be happier/more fulfilled/more satisfied/ more useful/ more fill-in-the-blank-with-your-own-qualifier-here if they went into secondary or elementary education.

The key for women interviewing is to present themselves as well-rounded, capable scholars. Emphasize your research and publication interests first, but when the discussion comes around to teaching let them know you're ready, willing and able to do that too, as long as you have ample time for your research.

I think a major fallacy in the profession is to assume that women naturally gravitate towards the teaching side of things; I know plenty of women who would just as soon never see another undergraduate course in their schedule - they teach because they have to in order to do their research. This can be a problem for women who aren't natural-born teachers, once they are in a tenure-track position, because they can have trouble walking the line between being too hard on their students/having too high of expectations (teaching to their personal level rather than to the mid-range in a class of students including both majors and non-majors) and not caring enough about their students to get good evaluations for their teaching. Good teacher training can overcome this, but is hard to come by at the university level - somehow it is just assumed that once you have taken the teaching methods course in your subject, you'll just know how to do it by experience. Academia could do so much better at training professors for classroom experiences. I'm digressing here, though. Back to our original thoughts on women and teaching...

I worked with a young female professor who was a highly gifted teacher. At a conference, I spoke highly of her classes and of some of the experiences I had in them. Afterwards, she thanked me for saying such great things about her teaching, but also said that she would prefer we not spend so much time discussing it with her colleagues. It was apparent she wanted her reputation in the greater scholarly world to hinge on her research and writing, not her teaching. Yet, she also sought nomination for a teaching award, because her university valued that. So, from her perspective, the teaching should not be emphasized over the research and writing, but needs to be good enough to be recognized on a wide scale as being excellent. Talk about difficult goals! How are our colleagues supposed to know what amazing teachers we are if we never discuss the teaching?

It also seems to be a generational thing, in that younger women professors don't seem to want to emphasize the teaching as much, whereas older female professors are pleased to pick up the "Lifetime Achievement in Teaching Excellence" award at conferences. Or, maybe that is just in my field. But I think that older women who are still in the profession have figured out that the teaching really in the end is the most important part - nothing you research and think and write about means anything, if you can't convey it and pass it on to others. That's the whole point of academia, right? Having amazing, innovative, important ideas about the subject you are working in, and conveying those ideas and elaborating on them and passing them along to the next generation who, in turn, will work with them and maybe take them further? Isn't that why we are all applying to work with POIs?

Ultimately, I think you have to be willing to discuss teaching and to have some good ideas about it, especially if you want to stay in the profession - but that you also need to have a solid research program that informs that teaching.

I think it is still a tough high wire for women to navigate, at least here in the States.

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