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How important is it to get away from your undergrad institution?


magicwinkler
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Just curious if anyone has strong feelings about this. I know it's generally good to 'get out there' and get different connections and experiences, but in my situation its a bit more complicated. For a PhD I got into my undergrad (a #1 program in Earth Science) and an Ivy league that is not as highly ranked. On top of that, I've already gotten my master's at an entirely different school, so in some sense I've already branched out a bit.

Very unsure about which is better... but there are definitely worse problems to have.

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I'd personally branch out since I have this feeling of wanderlust and I'm curious about life and academia in different places. Seems like the culture of a place influences its academics a tiny bit if you ask me.

I had a PI that stressed for me to try different areas (reasons you listed, then again that PI wrote me a bad LoR) and I've had a PoI that stayed at my undergrad institution from BA to PhD and did some postdoc work there too that said he liked being around the same people for long since he developed stronger connections and felt that he was able to understand what he sought from research/academia better.

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To be honest, the whole 'you must go to a different school or you will be closed-minded' perspective has always seemed really elitist and pretentious to me. Let's all be honest here, there is A LOT of arrogance in academia. It's extremely competitive and people always want to somehow place themselves above others. The argument that you cannot open your mind or you will be stuck with rigid views if you stay at one University is just another ridiculous way for people in academia to prove their superiority over others.

It is entirely possible to transfer to a different school and become even more rigid in your views - take for example departments that are not diverse and that are so fixed in their theoretical views that they expect their students to see things in the exact same way and also do not expose their students to a variety of perspectives. In this scenario, you could come from a very diverse and open undergraduate university and transfer to this rigid university and you would actually be DECREASING your chances of expanding your frame of thought. I'm not trying to say that going to a different university is always a bad thing, of course it isn't! But what I can't stand is this elitist way of thinking that runs through academic circles about staying at the same school. It is an old and tired way of thinking that is not based on any kind of evidence whatsoever.

My advice: Screw what these pretentious people say, instead, do your homework. Find out for yourself where you think you will thrive. If you think that your undergraduate school will provide you with the opportunity to expand your knowledge and will also open new doors for you and expose you to different ways of thinking then why the hell not stay there? Just because people expect you to transfer to that different Ivy League school? I just think that's ridiculous...

Anyway, that's my 2 cents, and I'm sure a lot of people on here will disagree with me but I'm prepared for that :)

Edited by spinrah
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Here is another view in favor of not getting mutiple degrees at the same institution:

I've had faculty members urge me to attend a graduate school outside of my home state/region because it shows geographic diversity, which may be important for anyone considering becoming a professor.

The competition for tenure track positions (and most faculty positions really) is very competitive for almost all fields. An applicant can expect to look all over the country for open positions, especially when positions tend to be much more specific than "history professor."

Search committees want to make sure an applicant is not only qualified for the position, but that s/he will fit in the department. This "fit" includes the willingness to move to the area and be content there for the long term. Of course, an applicant can explain to the Midwestern U committee how excited s/he is to move to Small Midwestern City, but this might seem less convincing coming from someone who has spent his/her whole academic life so far in NYC, for example.

I think this would be a minor factor, but several of my professors (who have served on faculty search committees) thought it was important enough to mention, so it's something to consider.

Edited by Pitangus
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Here is another view in favor of not getting mutiple degrees at the same institution:

I've had faculty members urge me to attend a graduate school outside of my home state/region because it shows geographic diversity, which may be important for anyone considering becoming a professor.

The competition for tenure track positions (and most faculty positions really) is very competitive for almost all fields. An applicant can expect to look all over the country for open positions, especially when positions tend to be much more specific than "history professor."

Search committees want to make sure an applicant is not only qualified for the position, but that s/he will fit in the department. This "fit" includes the willingness to move to the area and be content there for the long term. Of course, an applicant can explain to the Midwestern U committee how excited s/he is to move to Small Midwestern City, but this might seem less convincing coming from someone who has spent his/her whole academic life so far in NYC, for example.

I think this would be a minor factor, but several of my professors (who have served on faculty search committees) thought it was important enough to mention, so it's something to consider.

As far as willingness goes to move to a different area, wouldn't that be proven by the fact that they applied for the job in the first place?

And as for the ability to move to a different place, I know people who have moved around their entire lives who are just terrible at moving, they are always all over the place, can't figure anything out, and always have trouble adapting, but they move around because they enjoy living in different places. I think this is completely separate from your ABILITY to adapt to a different place. Sure, it may be difficult for someone who lived their entire life in one place to adapt at first, but it is not impossible at all.

I'm sorry but I just think this is a ridiculous reason not to hire someone who is perfectly qualified. Also, I think people on the hiring committee need to be realistic about people's living situations. There are a lot of cases where people will choose to stay in the same area because of their family (they might have kids) or because of their SO, but then 6 years later when they are applying for jobs, they are more suited to move to a different place (partly because now they will actually be making money if they have a new job and don't have to worry about supporting a family, and/or their SO can move with them since one of them will have a stable income at least). I've talked to faculty who think that researchers should put their career before a family and even some who think that if you want to be a researcher you SHOULDN'T have a family. Again, I think this is such a pretentious and ignorant way of thinking.

There are plenty of other professions where individuals can attain higher degrees of learning and stay in the same area and then apply to work somewhere else. You don't see these employers worrying that their applicants are too closed-minded and won't be able to live far away from home. Frankly, it's none of their business. Again, academia is funny in that people's arrogance gets to their heads and a lot of faculty think they have the right to judge others based on every single aspect of their life.

Edited by spinrah
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I am just relaying the advice passed on to me by people who have actual experience with faculty hires.

Search committees can get hundreds of applicants who are all very well-qualified. They can only pick one. Just like with graduate programs, there is a lot of focus on "fit." What determines fit is up to the committee. Browse the Chronicle of Higher Education forums and you can get an idea of how important fit is to professors and how they make judgements on who has the best fit. There is plenty of subjectivity.

Edited by Pitangus
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I am just relaying the advice passed on to me by people who have actual experience with faculty hires.

Search committees can get hundreds of applicants who are all very well-qualified. They can only pick one. Just like with graduate programs, there is a lot of focus on "fit." What determines fit is up to the committee. Browse the Chronicle of Higher Education forums and you can get an idea of how important fit is to professors and how they make judgements on who has the best fit.

I understand that. And I didn't mean my post as an attack on you (sorry if it seemed that way). You are right though, whether I like it or not, a lot of people in academia have views that oppose mine.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that a lot of these factors that professors worry about are irrelevant to fit. They should be judging people on research fit, not making assumptions (that they can't even prove) on lifestyle fit.

Edited by spinrah
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I understand that. And I didn't mean my post as an attack on you (sorry if it seemed that way). You are right though, whether I like it or not, a lot of people in academia have views that oppose mine.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that a lot of these factors that professors worry about are irrelevant to fit. They should be judging people on research fit, not making assumptions (that they can't even prove) on lifestyle fit.

I completely agree with you that, ideally, hiring decisions should not be made on assumptions. But what I've read suggests that there are often so many applicants that, even after removing the clearly unqualified applicants, search committees will come up with subjective reasons to whittle the interview group down to something manageable. I can't point to any specific threads at this time, but I know I have seen posters on CHE forums express concern about applicants moving to their "middle of nowhere" schools. Maybe my professors have witnessed similar things (I know one had previously worked at a university in one of the less-talked-about states).

It's an annoying thing to have to think about, but I figured if someone is debating about whether to move for their graduate degree or not, it might be helpful to consider mutiple aspects/consequences of either decisions and decide what is most important.

Edited by Pitangus
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I completely agree with you that, ideally, hiring decisions should not be made on assumptions. But what I've read suggests that there are often so many applicants that, even after removing the clearly unqualified applicants, search committees will come up with subjective reasons to whittle the interview group down to something manageable. I can't point to any specific threads at this time, but I know I have seen posters on CHE forums express concern about applicants moving to their "middle of nowhere" schools.

It's an annoying thing to have to think about, but I figured if someone is debating about whether to move for their graduate degree or not, it might be helpful to consider mutiple aspects/consequences of either decisions and decide what is most important.

True, and to be honest, this is something that I really detest about the academic world. But unfortunately, I love research, so I'm stuck trying to fit in somehow, even with my opposing views. :P

Ultimately though, I think that when deciding on a graduate institution, research interest and advisor fit should outweigh school location and ranking. You could get placed at a really prestigious school in an awesome and new place to live, but if you have no interest in the research and your advisor is driving you crazy, then you probably won't last very long (or do very well in the program).

Okay I think I've ranted enough :)

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Ultimately though, I think that when deciding on a graduate institution, research interest and advisor fit should outweigh school location and ranking.

Of course. But if you are deciding between two great options, which many people are, it doesn't hurt to consider other angles! It seems like magicwinkler is in this situation as well.

Edits galore today, my apologies.

Edited by Pitangus
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