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Schools on the rise


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From what I can tell; and what can I tell?! (Oh and opinions I've gathered these past months from Grad. Students at a range of programs as well as professors at my current department ranked ~50)

 

On the rise:

 

NYU is on a meteoric rise.  Super hot program.  Sky is the limit here.

 

Yale has the money and resources to become a top 10 program eventually, probably in the next 10-15 years.

 

Arizona has fallen a few spots in the last few years (14 - 20), but are still, in terms of quality one of the finest programs in the U.S. - they are probably positioned to move up a few spots with some of their recent hires.

 

Ohio State blew up in other social science programs (political science/econ) and has the resources to make major moves in sociology.

 

Notre Dame is well positioned, well resourced, and well organized and should make a push into the top 25.

 

I disagree with a lot of this because all those universities can't rise in rankings without others falling.  Who is going to fall in the top ten?  Top twenty five? Maryland Washington Hopkins Minnesota Penn State Penn?  I mean I guess those could fall--and a few seem to be on slightly declining trajectory--but none will probably fall that much (only a few are strong in my areas so I don't know the details).  They probably won't all fall an average of two to four places each so that all those "hot" schools can move up significantly.  Certainly none of "hot" schools will get higher than Harvard Berkeley UCLA Princeton Chicago Stanford Madison UNC bloc at the top and likely none will get higher than Northwestern Columbia Indiana Penn Columbia UT Duke or Cornell (maybe NYU will firmly join that group) rounding out the top ten+.  For structural reasons, it's just hard to make "major moves" near the top (see also cumulative advantage).  Conversations about "improving" and "becoming more interesting" are different from significantly numerically improving in a ranking. There's so much noise in these reputational rankings which are meant proxy for some platonic "true measure" of quality that even if there are changes in true quality it might not necessarily show up as large changes in the rankings or, because of the noise, really any change in the rankings.

 

NYU was ranked 21 by NRC in 1995, 22 by USNWR in 2005, 16 in the Org Theory, 16 in USNWR 2013.  They've definitely improved but will they rise further than that?  Will they pass places like Northwestern, Indiana, and Columbia?  Will they even cement themselves at roughly that level ("top ten", broadly defined)?  I'm not sure.

 

Yale has been trying to improve since they decided not to disband the department in the 1980's or whenever they almost got rid of the department (shortly after Wash U in St. Louis and Rochester got rid of their departments).  Yale Soc was 19 in 1995, 20 in 2005, 20 in 2013, in 17 in Org Theory--definitely all in the same range.  They adopted a strategy for most of the 2000's of focusing on a few core areas (historical/comparative, urban, culture, inequality) and more or less ignoring most of the other areas.  This didn't really improve their rankings, which is what I've heard this strategy was meant to do (the lack of movement in numbers is despite the fact that they are honestly about as good as you can get in historical-comparative and culture--I don't know about the other categories) and their recent hires (like Andy Papachristos, Rene Almeling, Fred Wherry, maybe some others) have moved a little bit away from that old concentrated workshop model. Again, they're trying to get at the Northwestern, Indiana, Columbia, Duke, UT, NYU, level, but will get there by the time you graduate?  It depends on things we just can't know (who comes, who goes, how the new people pay off, who retires and when).

 

The big state schools like Madison, Ohio, and UT might have a money crunch (I don't know the details of each) but the departments are just so much bigger than schools like Columbia or Northwestern or Yale so sheer quantity of researchers in some ways compensates for an inability to buy top researchers.

 

As for the question about Washington, I think it was like Arizona in that it had some great faculty doing great things, and then some of those faculty left, some of those faculty retired, and some of the things they studied and the ways they studied them became not as "hot".  That last one is probably the least important--it's mainly about big name faculty leaving and not being replaced.  But that's why a lot of "hot" schools can only heat up so much--once professors get "hot", other schools try to scoop them.  And usually the professor puts out feelers to other departments to show that they're interested in moving.  My university has interviewed maybe half a dozen senior (roughly full professor level) or mid-career (roughly associate professor) in the past three or four years.  Two were for a long standing search in a particular subfield to replace a particular professor who retired before I even got here.  Another three or four were just people in one of the fields we are already strong on.  I think there may have been one or two others but we're not always told what's just a department colloquium and what's a de facto job talk.  I know for a fact that at least four of those people ended up moving (usually from a well-respected state school to an elite private school). 

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I disagree with a lot of this because all those universities can't rise in rankings without others falling.  Who is going to fall in the top ten?  Top twenty five? Maryland Washington Hopkins Minnesota Penn State Penn?  I mean I guess those could fall--and a few seem to be on slightly declining trajectory--but none will probably fall that much (only a few are strong in my areas so I don't know the details).  They probably won't all fall an average of two to four places each so that all those "hot" schools can move up significantly.  Certainly none of "hot" schools will get higher than Harvard Berkeley UCLA Princeton Chicago Stanford Madison UNC bloc at the top and likely none will get higher than Northwestern Columbia Indiana Penn Columbia UT Duke or Cornell (maybe NYU will firmly join that group) rounding out the top ten+.  For structural reasons, it's just hard to make "major moves" near the top (see also cumulative advantage).  Conversations about "improving" and "becoming more interesting" are different from significantly numerically improving in a ranking. There's so much noise in these reputational rankings which are meant proxy for some platonic "true measure" of quality that even if there are changes in true quality it might not necessarily show up as large changes in the rankings or, because of the noise, really any change in the rankings.

 

NYU was ranked 21 by NRC in 1995, 22 by USNWR in 2005, 16 in the Org Theory, 16 in USNWR 2013.  They've definitely improved but will they rise further than that?  Will they pass places like Northwestern, Indiana, and Columbia?  Will they even cement themselves at roughly that level ("top ten", broadly defined)?  I'm not sure.

 

Yale has been trying to improve since they decided not to disband the department in the 1980's or whenever they almost got rid of the department (shortly after Wash U in St. Louis and Rochester got rid of their departments).  Yale Soc was 19 in 1995, 20 in 2005, 20 in 2013, in 17 in Org Theory--definitely all in the same range.  They adopted a strategy for most of the 2000's of focusing on a few core areas (historical/comparative, urban, culture, inequality) and more or less ignoring most of the other areas.  This didn't really improve their rankings, which is what I've heard this strategy was meant to do (the lack of movement in numbers is despite the fact that they are honestly about as good as you can get in historical-comparative and culture--I don't know about the other categories) and their recent hires (like Andy Papachristos, Rene Almeling, Fred Wherry, maybe some others) have moved a little bit away from that old concentrated workshop model. Again, they're trying to get at the Northwestern, Indiana, Columbia, Duke, UT, NYU, level, but will get there by the time you graduate?  It depends on things we just can't know (who comes, who goes, how the new people pay off, who retires and when).

 

The big state schools like Madison, Ohio, and UT might have a money crunch (I don't know the details of each) but the departments are just so much bigger than schools like Columbia or Northwestern or Yale so sheer quantity of researchers in some ways compensates for an inability to buy top researchers.

 

As for the question about Washington, I think it was like Arizona in that it had some great faculty doing great things, and then some of those faculty left, some of those faculty retired, and some of the things they studied and the ways they studied them became not as "hot".  That last one is probably the least important--it's mainly about big name faculty leaving and not being replaced.  But that's why a lot of "hot" schools can only heat up so much--once professors get "hot", other schools try to scoop them.  And usually the professor puts out feelers to other departments to show that they're interested in moving.  My university has interviewed maybe half a dozen senior (roughly full professor level) or mid-career (roughly associate professor) in the past three or four years.  Two were for a long standing search in a particular subfield to replace a particular professor who retired before I even got here.  Another three or four were just people in one of the fields we are already strong on.  I think there may have been one or two others but we're not always told what's just a department colloquium and what's a de facto job talk.  I know for a fact that at least four of those people ended up moving (usually from a well-respected state school to an elite private school). 

 

You're certainly more in touch than the anecdotes I could provide.  It's just what I've heard.

 

Anyhow this seems pretty comprehensive. 

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If ya'll want to read some very interesting scholarship related to rankings and quantification (which, in addition to jacib's words, may make you think twice about relying on reputational scores as a measure of quality) check out wendy espeland's work

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I feel that, rather than judging schools based on various ranking systems, the best way to judge a school's worth is to talk to a faculty member who is familiar with the areas of expertise that the school offers. They will know how the department is doing in regards to other programs that have that specialty.

 

For example, Yale is ranked between 15-20 on some of those composite rankings, but in terms of sociology of culture it is considered one of the best by most of the faculty I've spoken with. The same for UCSD and the sociology of knowledge/science. Overall, it doesn't rank much better than the 20s, but it is turning out some of the best research. Speak to faculty members in the area you are interested in and they can give you better information.

 

(This doesn't mean you should ignore the rankings. Obviously they mean "something", but don't be too rigid.)

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You're certainly more in touch than the anecdotes I could provide.  It's just what I've heard.

 

Anyhow this seems pretty comprehensive. 

I hope I didn't come off too harshly, I think I wrote too much and ended up losing my main point.  Places like Irvine (at least for networks), Duke (for a couple of things), Notre Dame (for religion and probably other things), Yale (at least for culture and historical/comparative) are exciting places. I had the good fortune of presenting at a conference at a historical-comparative type conference at Yale and it was just one of those places where I got along with everyone, I thought everyone was doing great work, from the graduate students, to the post-docs, all the way up to the senior faculty (Julia Adams and Phil Gorski) who actually came to this dinky graduate student conference.  I was totes jealous.  For historical comparative, it was definitely just a great atmosphere and quite possibly the place in the country to do this sort of work (especially for the more empirically driven, heavily archival  historical/comparative work).  And while a lot of the work done there seemed more to be more exciting and creative than the "normal science" that some graduate students end up doing at other, more highly ranked schools, I'm think that sort of atmosphere in a subfield necessarily translates into improved rankings.  And hell if I know how that translates onto the job market. 

 

But just because these schools are particularly exciting places to work (especially in particular subfields), we shouldn't necessarily expect their overall rankings to improve on these sorts of surveys.  And it's always unclear how subfield ranking interacts with overall ranking (both in "true" and "perceived" terms) for individual students in search of jobs, but it's clear that overall rankings are pretty stable.

 

In addition to Wendy Espeland's work that Dragon recommended (articles like "Rankings and Reactivity: How Public Measures Recreate Social Worlds" [2007] and "The Discipline of Rankings: Tight Coupling and Organizational Change" [2009], both about how law schools respond to rankings), people with multiple offers should definitely be aware of Val Burris's "The academic caste system: Prestige hierarchies in PhD exchange networks" (2004), which is specifically uses data from sociology.  Here's the abstract:

 

The prestige of academic departments is commonly understood as rooted in the scholarly productivity of their faculty and graduates. I use the theories of Weber and Bourdieu to advance an alternative view of departmental prestige, which I show is an effect a department's position within networks of association and social exchange—that is, it is a form of social capital. The social network created by the exchange of PhDs among departments is the most important network of this kind. Using data on the exchange of PhDs among sociology departments, I apply network analysis to investigate this alternative conception of departmental prestige and to demonstrate its superiority over the conventional view. Within sociology, centrality within interdepartmental hiring networks explains 84 percent of the variance in departmental prestige. Similar findings are reported for history and political science. This alternative understanding of academic prestige helps clarify anomalies—e.g., the variance in prestige unconnected to scholarly productivity, the strong association between department size and prestige, and the long-term stability of prestige rankings—encountered in research that is based on the more conventional view.

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This is a really great thread. Especially as I've been accepted into several of the departments mentioned here and to be quite honest, now that I've gotten into some greatly ranked + "up and coming" departments I'm not sure how I'm going to make a final decision (while I was applying I honestly did not anticipate getting into multiple schools).

Someone above suggested we talk to professors and ask about their impression of how their department is doing in relation to others. If anyone has tried that, did you feel like the answers you got were completely forthcoming? At this point with my schools - if they're truly wanting to "recruit" - it seems they would likely sugarcoat their answers.

I'm guessing my decision will come down to my impressions on "fit" during visit days - and probably a little bit on funding - but I also want to be smart and consider the long term, plausibility of placement after I finish, etc.

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This is a really great thread. Especially as I've been accepted into several of the departments mentioned here and to be quite honest, now that I've gotten into some greatly ranked + "up and coming" departments I'm not sure how I'm going to make a final decision (while I was applying I honestly did not anticipate getting into multiple schools).

Someone above suggested we talk to professors and ask about their impression of how their department is doing in relation to others. If anyone has tried that, did you feel like the answers you got were completely forthcoming? At this point with my schools - if they're truly wanting to "recruit" - it seems they would likely sugarcoat their answers.

I'm guessing my decision will come down to my impressions on "fit" during visit days - and probably a little bit on funding - but I also want to be smart and consider the long term, plausibility of placement after I finish, etc.

I talked about talking to your professors, but I meant the professors you have already worked with (if you are a sociology major). My undergraduate program isn't a PhD program and so I felt my professors could be candid about which programs were the best. Of course, some were a little biased about the programs where they received their PhD (like UNC or Ohio), but they were also understanding of my interests and gave me some good advice.

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Fun little update: in the comments to this post in Scatterplot (you guys should be checking Scatterplot and Org Theory from time to time) about dis-aggregating the 2013 and 2009 USNWR surveys [the magazine reported the 2013 score as an average of the results in the surveys of both years], Stephen Vaisy--a very smart dude from Duke--points out:

 

Something that few people have talked about (that I’ve seen) is the change in the rating (rather than the ranking) over time. Consider these lists (limited to top 30ish)…

 

Departments increasing: Irvine, Penn State, UT-Austin, Duke (obviously!), Penn, UCLA, Stanford, Princeton

 

Departments decreasing: Berkeley, U. of Washington, Maryland

 

(BTW, all of these departments moved .2 in either direction.)

 

So there's that, but how much of that is random noise, how much of that is a real trend, and if there is a real trend, how much of it will continue, is of course hard to say.  But just a fun little thing to see (though ultimately probably pretty meaningless!)  Again, someone could try to compare 2005 survey's numbers and see, with a longer window, we do actually see any schools improving noticeably and consistently.  It's an interesting observation that we tend to pay attention only to ranking here and not score

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I am gonna go out on a limb here and say that UCI will be a top 20 program in 7 years or less. 

 

 

Not that I want to get into a discussion about this but you do know that your comment might have a small but significant influence on someone's life decisions thus buffing up your own department without justification is a tad ego.   UCI is a sweet program in my mind but neither of us have any idea about the moves and improvements that programs are making.. besides you are vouching for a public program in the age of debt crisis in a state with a history of refusing money to their state schools :P 

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Not that I want to get into a discussion about this but you do know that your comment might have a small but significant influence on someone's life decisions thus buffing up your own department without justification is a tad ego. UCI is a sweet program in my mind but neither of us have any idea about the moves and improvements that programs are making.. besides you are vouching for a public program in the age of debt crisis in a state with a history of refusing money to their state schools :P

If someone is basing their decision on these forums, or even solely on ranking, I think they've got bigger problems than a slightly biased (although I think darth is onto something there) opinion.

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Not that I want to get into a discussion about this but you do know that your comment might have a small but significant influence on someone's life decisions thus buffing up your own department without justification is a tad ego.   UCI is a sweet program in my mind but neither of us have any idea about the moves and improvements that programs are making.. besides you are vouching for a public program in the age of debt crisis in a state with a history of refusing money to their state schools :P

 

 

While my opinion may be "biased" I also know the culture of the department first hand. I'm not trying to prop up my own department here, I just have a personal feel for where things are going. We did move up two spots in US news last time around and 4 spots not including the infamous 08'/12' average.  

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  • 9 months later...

This is an old thread, but I could not find any that are more suitable, so here it goes.

 

Northeastern University has a new PhD program in Network Science (http://www.northeastern.edu/networkscience/). The program is interdisciplinary, and there are a lot of scholars participating who are into the study of social networks (Albert-László Barabási, Alessandro Vespignani, David Lazer, and Alan Mislove). I am not affiliated with the program or the university in any way, but I think I'd drop this here. It may be a good option instead of a Sociology program if you are into social networks analysis.

 

http://www.northeastern.edu/networkscience/

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  • 3 months later...

There's a thread on socjobrumors about this (although I recommend avoiding that place at all costs...it's a poisonous cesspool of bitterness and jealousy, with a ton of tearing down of successful people in the discipline). I've heard Duke and NYU are both "on the rise" (though already strong programs). 

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There's a thread on socjobrumors about this (although I recommend avoiding that place at all costs...it's a poisonous cesspool of bitterness and jealousy, with a ton of tearing down of successful people in the discipline). I've heard Duke and NYU are both "on the rise" (though already strong programs). 

 

haha, thank you - I will try to resist but I doubt I'll be able to

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There's a thread on socjobrumors about this (although I recommend avoiding that place at all costs...it's a poisonous cesspool of bitterness and jealousy, with a ton of tearing down of successful people in the discipline). I've heard Duke and NYU are both "on the rise" (though already strong programs). 

 

The first time I stumbled upon socjobrumors, I actually felt physically ill. It's that bad. 

 

That being said, you'll hear a lot of reiteration on there of "Wisconsin is on the decline", which echoes a lot of thoughts on Wisconsin from earlier in this topic.

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