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just wrote a long ass blog post that was deleted

 

in a nutshell:

if you have the option, goto princeton: no other program has demonstrated the ability to place ALL students in solid postions (both ROCKSTARS and not)

if you cant do princeton, harvard and berk set you up to do just as well as pton if you end up being a rockstar

otherwise, the usual suspects--wisc, mich, chicago, duke, etc.--give you equal "chance" to the lottery of placement

 

DO NOT GO TO SOC GRAD SCHOOL IF NOT TOP 20. if so, do it at your own risk (risk of unemployment, underemployment, making less than 50k in your thrties if lucky etc). clearly folks here CAN do ok, but be a social scientist for a second, how different are you?

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My dreams have been shattered. Only one program in the top 20 fits my research interests and their admissions rate is ridiculous.

 

I suppose these other schools are lying about their placement, eh? For a field that prides itself for welcoming people of all backgrounds and being open minded, politically, there seems to always be a stench of elitism around here.

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Oh yeah, sociology is, ironically, pretty elitist and old fashioned in some ways. There are many articles about the sociology caste system, wherein you can't get a top 10 placement unless you went to a tippity top ranked program with a killer advisor, etc.

Having said that, it really depends on what your goals are. Many people go to non-top-20 programs, and most of them lead happy lives in academia and out of academia. I think the idea is that teaching at the top 20 institutions is effectively off limits for this caste of students, except for a small number of phenomenal exceptions. But who wants to be in one of those snobby departments, anyhow? :)

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Oh yeah, because I'm totally going into sociology for the money.  :rolleyes:

 

And I bet going to a non-top-20 PhD is totally worse than my current jobs - working food service part time and working nearly minimum wage at the library. If I go to grad school now, I might be, gasp, underemployed, like I'm not already!

 

I guess what I dislike about this post is that you're not providing any other options or advice. Not everyone has the credentials to get into a top 20. Really, very few do.

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Dear TheTruth,

I am just answering because I mostly disagree with you (although not completely), and I don't want other prospective applicants to read your post and freak out. For full disclosure, I am probably biased because, as you can see, I am not enrolled in a "top 20" program.

There is absolutely no question that as a general rule of thumb being in a top ranked program is better than being in a low-ranked one. 999 cases out of 1000, going to Princeton is a much better career decision than going to CUNY. That being said, I think you are overlooking a few things.

As sociologists, we often tend to favor structural explanations over individual ones. Yet, contrary to popular belief (and by "popular" I mean "on this board"), going to a great program will not get you a job in itself. It's not like you do well on the GRE, write a great personal statement, get into Harvard and five years later Harvard will find a job for you.

As an academic on the job market, what will ultimately make a real, tangible difference in where you get an interview is a combination of your publication and grants record, as well as your advisor's network/his willingness to vouch for you within his network.

The latter factor is mostly independent from ranking, in the sense that many well-known professors are in good-but-not-top schools, and being in a "lower" program will decrease peer competition and thus increase the likelihood of him/her betting on you as "their" student. Ultimately, I think that it's probably better to have a well-known advisor who treats you as his best student than having a superstar advisor who sees you as one of the many good students he has mentored throughout the years.

Concerning publications and grants, especially within sociology--where review is blind--prestige has little to do with your individual performance. While it's definitely true that certain departments put you in a better situation than others when it comes to publishing--less teaching loads, more funding for fieldwork, but also more departmental pressure to do research and publish early--the quality of your work will mostly depend on your own ability as a researcher, and partially on your advisor's ability as a mentor. If you are disciplined and really make a point of starting your research early on with the resources that are given to you, chances are that you will manage to get more than a few publications out by the time you graduate. Similarly, if you keep track of all the possible funding opportunities, cast a wide net and apply on time, you will probably manage to get your hands on some grant money one way or another. Both factors are, I think, way more important than just having "Harvard" or "Princeton" on your CV, although going to these schools will undoubtedly put you in a better spot when it comes to writing for publication and applying for grants.

As one of the students of my program who got a job at a top university (thus defying the "iron law" that often haunts this forum) told me, it is certainly true that top universities tend to hire people from top programs, but that has less to do with prestige than it has to do with how top programs professionalize their students. In this perspective, a top program will professionalize you, but there is nothing that prevents you from being proactive and learn things your own way if you are in a lower ranked program.

Ultimately, giving a look at who gets jobs in top departments, there is one variable that seems to me way more relevant than where they got their phd from; they all have ridiculously excellent publication and grant records. Like, at least three-four articles, with one article in one of the top journals in the discipline and/or forthcoming books based on their dissertation. Merely "going to a top program" will not get you those jobs, and "going to a lower-ranked program" will not itself prevent you from getting one. Being disciplined, proactive and carefully planning your career will definitely make a difference, and while top programs will encourage you and set you up in an ideal situation to do so, building your own career is ultimately up to you, not to the institution that finances you.

Just my two cents, as usual :-)

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Having just only gotten an unfunded acceptance at a very low ranked school (which I obviously can't accept w/my debt load from my recent Masters program) and several other rejections, all of this is Greek/Chinese to me. How do you get into a top 20 school again? I suspect I'm getting the whiny rep by now, well things are desperate. Would be happy atm just to be into a top 30 program funded at this stage, but even if I'm able to reapply in the fall, would be sharing Whatishistory's boat: I fit into a a few top 20 schools (particularly Berkeley) which from numbers on their site takes an "astronomical" nearly 10% of applicants. I use that word ironically. In all honesty, despite the drop in funded acceptances at many elite and even good schools since the 08 economic meltdown, I'm older than most of you and recall acceptance rates from the 90s still generally being 5-10% at the phd level, i.e. it's always been low in the living memory of any of us, no? So yes, it seems you need to be einstein just to get in. Not to freak anyone else, but I'm permanently freaked out!  Oh and how to network again, that too seems like greek to me.

Edited by breaks0
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This is hyperbole. There are plenty of schools in the top 50 that have been placing their students. Long story short, look for the job placement stats of the programs you get accepted to, if they don't have it published and/or won't give it to you, be very weary. 

 

Oh and great answer RandomDood

Edited by xdarthveganx
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Oh yeah, because I'm totally going into sociology for the money. :rolleyes:

And I bet going to a non-top-20 PhD is totally worse than my current jobs - working food service part time and working nearly minimum wage at the library. If I go to grad school now, I might be, gasp, underemployed, like I'm not already!

I guess what I dislike about this post is that you're not providing any other options or advice. Not everyone has the credentials to get into a top 20. Really, very few do.

This! So much this! I could stay working my cruddy office job, making barely more than minimum wage and hating my life...or I could be doing something I really enjoy and learning more skills. The way I look at it, with a BA in social science the best I can hope for is a job in middle management unless I start my own company or go into a completely new field. I don't want that life. I sat down and tried to figure out what I would do if I didn't have to work (lottery scenario) and I would still go to grad school because I enjoy learning and researching. Like meowth said, I'm not doing it for the money. I think doing something I enjoy is much more valuable to me personally. I've worked jobs where I made pretty good money but I hated getting up and going to work every day. Again, I don't want that life.

I had a conversation with one of my POIs at a recruitment event and he said the biggest mistake he's seen grads make is going into their programs thinking they're going to change the world. The unhappiness that follows the breakdown of this fantasy is what he blames for many of the "drop out" cases he's seen. I think it is definitely possible to be placed in a job and lead a happy life outside the top-20. It all really depends on your goals. Not everyone WANTS to be or statistically CAN be a famous researcher. If you have realistic goals and expectations then it's much easier to swallow all the difficulties that nearly everyone will face on the job market.

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Are people really expecting to get jobs in top 20 programs?  I have no want for that, at all.  Give me a small liberal arts college, or a directional state school and I'll be happy.  

This, pretty much lol. I don't wanna grow old at 30 spending every second of my life trying to out-perform every other person in my field. I want to be a teacher, and if I am lucky, the kind of teacher that inspired me to be a teacher at my very small liberal arts undergrad.

 

Why is wanting anything other than being a top researcher at a R1 research university seen as a poor goal/ not a good enough reason to go to grad school? I am genuinely curious about why this is the case, if anyone can shed some light.

 

P.S. Accidentally up-voted OP, I do not agree with OP.

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I did my undergrad at a small liberal arts college (ranked 30-50) in the Midwest. It is not a prestigious school, and is in a rural location 1 hour from the nearest city. When our small sociology department had an opening for a tenture-track position, they received more than 200 applications.

 

Anyway, the department was absolutely giddy--they had their pick of candidates from T-20 schools for the first time. They hired a Wisconsin graduate for the tenure-track position and even picked up a Berkeley graduate for a visiting position.

 

My academic advisor had warned me that more people than ever were trying to get into sociology graduate school due to the economic recession at that time. Even though the OP says sharp words, I am not surprised. All of my advisors told me the exact same thing.

 

I am not saying I agree. I am just noting what I've heard. It's nothing new at this point.

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I don't think anyone is saying that we shouldn't be concerned about the job market. The reality is that OP's post exaggerated the problem. There are plenty of programs outside of the top 20 placing students into tenure track jobs, you just need to find which ones. Job placement should certainly be a factor in the decision making process, it weighed heavily on mine. It just isn't a top 20 or bust kind of scenario. 

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To prospective grad students:

 

Don't get hung up on individual rankings in the top 10-15. You'll be in grad school for probably at least five years. Lots can happen in five years. A professor here at UChicago recently explained to me that Princeton does so well in placement because they undertook a major "professionalization" initiative a while back to encourage their PhD students to specialize and finish relatively early. One of the more controversial developments here at Chicago is the recent effort to do the same--lots of administrators (and some faculty) are pushing professionalization. So, maybe in five or six years some other school will occupy the #1 position and will be known for wonderful placement. You don't know, and trying to make predictions is a waste of time.

 

That said, there is little dramatic change over time in terms of which schools occupy the top 10 or so. So, if you get into the top 10-15, stop thinking about the rankings. That's especially true if you crack the top 10.

 

If you're going to enroll in the 20-40 range, make absolutely sure that you know statistics and have experience (including summer internships, unpaid if necessary) with data analysis. I would say do not enroll below the top 40.

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To prospective grad students:

 

Don't get hung up on individual rankings in the top 10-15. You'll be in grad school for probably at least five years. Lots can happen in five years. A professor here at UChicago recently explained to me that Princeton does so well in placement because they undertook a major "professionalization" initiative a while back to encourage their PhD students to specialize and finish relatively early. One of the more controversial developments here at Chicago is the recent effort to do the same--lots of administrators (and some faculty) are pushing professionalization. So, maybe in five or six years some other school will occupy the #1 position and will be known for wonderful placement. You don't know, and trying to make predictions is a waste of time.

 

That said, there is little dramatic change over time in terms of which schools occupy the top 10 or so. So, if you get into the top 10-15, stop thinking about the rankings. That's especially true if you crack the top 10.

 

If you're going to enroll in the 20-40 range, make absolutely sure that you know statistics and have experience (including summer internships, unpaid if necessary) with data analysis. I would say do not enroll below the top 40.

 

Say there are only 2-3 schools in the top 40 that has faculty doing something similar to what I want to do? But 40-60 has 2-3 more. I should ignore those even if they tend to place their students? Take, for example, a place like UConn. I think they'd be a great fit, but they are ranked 52 or something like that. Keep in mind not everyone has the goal of teaching at at top 20 university.

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Say there are only 2-3 schools in the top 40 that has faculty doing something similar to what I want to do? But 40-60 has 2-3 more. I should ignore those even if they tend to place their students? Take, for example, a place like UConn. I think they'd be a great fit, but they are ranked 52 or something like that. Keep in mind not everyone has the goal of teaching at at top 20 university.

 

Depends on what you mean by top 40. Are we comparing 52 to, say, 38? In that case you might as well go with UConn. Still, you have to keep in mind that you'll be in grad school for a long time, and many students end up changing their research plans. It's true that many students do not plan on teaching at a top 20 university, but graduates from T20 schools tend to dominate faculty positions at lower-ranked schools, as well.

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Depends on what you mean by top 40. Are we comparing 52 to, say, 38? In that case you might as well go with UConn. Still, you have to keep in mind that you'll be in grad school for a long time, and many students end up changing their research plans. It's true that many students do not plan on teaching at a top 20 university, but graduates from T20 schools tend to dominate faculty positions at lower-ranked schools, as well.

 

That's odd. I go to a R1 school with 30k students. Although they're not high in the rankings, they do offer a PhD and MA. So we're not even talking a small school with no grad program. Only three faculty members here went to top 30 schools for their Phd.

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That's odd. I go to a R1 school with 30k students. Although they're not high in the rankings, they do offer a PhD and MA. So we're not even talking a small school with no grad program. Only three faculty members here went to top 30 schools for their Phd.

 

That is odd, indeed.

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That is odd, indeed.

The school is tennessee if you were wondering. The website hasn't been updated with some of the newest faculty, however.

And just for the fun of it, I just pulled another program from the rankings randomly. Georgia state (both graduate degrees offered and around 30k students as well) does not have many faculty members from top 20 universities. Only two are from top 15 universities, one a 1977 phd from Chicago (so this doesn't even remotely factor into today's placement rates).

I suppose we could randomly pull more middle of the line programs, but I'm not sure it's worth the time. I think this top 20 program or bust beief is a myth, perhaps created by the top 20 themselves. Of course the top 20 may rarely hire outside of themselves, but who in the hell cares? I'd be perfectly fine attending or teaching at a school not in the top 20.

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The school is tennessee if you were wondering. The website hasn't been updated with some of the newest faculty, however.

And just for the fun of it, I just pulled another program from the rankings randomly. Georgia state (both graduate degrees offered and around 30k students as well) does not have many faculty members from top 20 universities. Only two are from top 15 universities, one a 1977 phd from Chicago (so this doesn't even remotely factor into today's placement rates).

I suppose we could randomly pull more middle of the line programs, but I'm not sure it's worth the time. I think this top 20 program or bust beief is a myth, perhaps created by the top 20 themselves. Of course the top 20 may rarely hire outside of themselves, but who in the hell cares? I'd be perfectly fine attending or teaching at a school not in the top 20.

 

GSU is currently ranked 76 and Tennessee is, I believe, 84 (I thought you meant a higher ranking when you said R1). The lower you go in the rankings, the less of a presence T20 grads have in general. I did not intend to suggest that T20 grads dominate all the way down. There are definitely openings out there for non-T20 grads, though I would maintain my recommendation to not enroll below T40.

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Plenty of R1s can be found outside of the top 50 and some not even ranked.

GSU is currently ranked 76 and Tennessee is, I believe, 84 (I thought you meant a higher ranking when you said R1). The lower you go in the rankings, the less of a presence T20 grads have in general. I did not intend to suggest that T20 grads dominate all the way down. There are definitely openings out there for non-T20 grads, though I would maintain my recommendation to not enroll below T40.

Plenty of R1s can be found outside of the top 50 and some not even ranked. And I would hope that anyone coming out of grad school, even from a place like Chicago, would be happy as hell to be offered a tenure track position at a place like GSU or Tennessee. Top 25 programs don't have enough openings every year to hire all the PhDs other top 25 programs produce. And if all this is true and schools in the bottom half of the popularity contest are hiring from all over, I think we've come to a conclusion in this thread: the prestigious programs benefit you on the market (obviously), but it's your own work that will make or break you.

Also, I ate dinner with one of my mentors yesterday who headed a search for a tenure track position this year (in history) and she gave me a word of advice that may help some of the people reading these two threads on elitism in the programs. Every search there is a quality applicant from a high ranking school who walks into an interview with his or her nose up thinking they're doing the lesser ranked program a favor by being there. Princeton and Wisconsin don't entitle you to a job.

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That... Thread title. Haha! I wasn't expecting this to be the topic. I was expecting it to be some kind of fun sociology thread. But this might be fun for some folks!

I do try to avoid the instrumentalist mindset of "I'm in grad school to get a degree to get a job. Therefore, top 10 only." I'm not naive (well, maybe a bit.); I do know that rank matters! But there's so much more to consider in the decision making process than rank. I was steered away from some highly ranked programs due to instability in the department at this point in time, for example.

Also, personal situations matter, but I mentioned more of that in the other rank thread.

Thanks for the advice though! I know it comes from a good place in your heart, and that you're not trying to be insulting.

Edited by gingin6789
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  • 3 weeks later...

I think the important choice, concerning ranking cutoffs, is not placement statistics or other exogenous factors, but your own preferences about research and teaching.  If you want to change science and be a researcher, that is going to be unbelievably difficult to do outside of top of the pile career tracks.  Prospects for upward mobility are better in sociology than say economics, but not great in absolute terms.  If you love sociology, and want badly to teach, and are willing to do so for about as much money as a high school instructor, I think it's probably worth it to go to just about any Ph.D. granting department.  If you want to change the science and are considering programs outside the top 30 or 40, I think you should reconsider your preferences.

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Gilbert, question, where are you coming up with the assertion that upward career mobility prospects are better w/a sociology than an econ phd? I could always jump over to the econ board to ask there I suppose, but that seems the total opposite of EVERYTHING I've heard to date from basically everyone. Econ probably is the best social science degree by some margin to get if your primary concern is job security and/or money, no? And I would think for upward mobility too, no? Maybe, I'm nitpicking, but I'd think almost any other social science would've been a better comparative example.

Edited by breaks0
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Oh, yeah, that's mixing issues -- but the problem was I think my lack of clarity.  When I said upward mobility, I meant upward mobility among tenured and tenure track professors in R1 research universities.  General economic upward mobility is far and away much better in economics; you're absolutely correct.  APs starting at T60 state satellite schools can make as much as 100k right out of graduate schools.  The only people making 100k out of graduate school in sociology are getting hired in the T10, and I think not even most of them clear that starting.  And you're right about the outside options for economics students.  Now, I think there are a shit ton of opportunities in private industry that sociology Ph.D.s largely do not tap because of their political and social preferences, but they're there (and would boost our salaries inside the academy if people would exercise them, jussayin).

 

Economics, on the other hand, is very hierarchical.  People like John List, the experimentalist who started from I think Montana and ended up climbing all the way up to Chicago, are so rare as to not count in the trend at all.  Among sociologists, though, there seems to be a small trend of people moving from T40 programs up.  Again, this is all very vague so please take it with a grain of salt.  And if you're in the position of deciding what to do with your life right now, be conservative in your estimates and pick a path that you can be happy with given the worst possible outcome stemming from the institution you pick.  For many or most people, that will include teaching something you may not even like that much in 5 years to students who are being forced to take your course for general education credits for about as much money as a public school teacher makes, fewer benefits, no Union, and quite likely, a city you'd prefer not to live in.  

 

For many people, the rewards of the job will swamp those concerns, but it is difficult to overstate how competitive the academic job market is, and how little support you will get (under even the best circumstances), in getting there and succeeding on it.

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