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When graduating with a PhD in clinical psychology, does the prestige of your graduate program effect your career in the short and long term? My career goals are centered around academic research with an interest in consulting. I'm wondering if the national reputation of a program (ie. graduating from a school in the top ten vs. top 50) is a significant factor in the trajectory of your career.

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My understanding is that graduating from a more prestigious program will give you an advantage when it comes to securing coveted faculty positions. Academia is very hierarchical, unfortunately. However, I would personally weight other factors (e.g., fit with advisor and program) more heavily if you're making a decision about which school to attend.

 

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42 minutes ago, St0chastic said:

My understanding is that graduating from a more prestigious program will give you an advantage when it comes to securing coveted faculty positions. Academia is very hierarchical, unfortunately. However, I would personally weight other factors (e.g., fit with advisor and program) more heavily if you're making a decision about which school to attend.

 

Thanks for the response! It's a lot to weigh so I thought getting some clarity on this would help.

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As I understand it, yes typically for Academic positions the prestige of a program would be considered. However, one thing I've been told is that the "family tree" of mentors can be surprisingly important as well. One of the faculty where I work now has a poster in her office that traces back the history of mentors and their students quite a ways. If people have worked with your mentor, or if they've also been a student of your mentor (or even mentored your mentor), then that seems to give a small advantage as well. 

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1 hour ago, JacobW83 said:

As I understand it, yes typically for Academic positions the prestige of a program would be considered. However, one thing I've been told is that the "family tree" of mentors can be surprisingly important as well. One of the faculty where I work now has a poster in her office that traces back the history of mentors and their students quite a ways. If people have worked with your mentor, or if they've also been a student of your mentor (or even mentored your mentor), then that seems to give a small advantage as well. 

Yeah, that's definitely true. All else being equal, it's better to work for a well-regarded PI at a less renowned institution than a less well-regarded PI at a top 10 institution. That said, chances are faculty who are at a top 10 institution are probably well known in their field.

Also, the prestige hierarchy will vary depending on your specific field or even subfield and is probably only loosely correlated with undergraduate rankings. A lot of public schools that are ranked in the 20s or lower, for example, are top 10s in certain research areas (e.g., UCLA, UC Berkeley, UNC, etc.). 

Edited by St0chastic

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I'm weighing a newer faculty member at a top ten in clinical psyc vs. a more established person in the field at a top 50. I'd be able to work with both, in theory, if I was at either institution since they often work together, but of course I would have limited exposure to the advisor at the other institution. I'm leaning towards the established faculty member since our interests are better aligned but I'm not sure if I am giving up a major opportunity to have a more successful career by not attending the top ten. Thank you for your responses so far!

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What exactly are prestige and rankings determined by? I feel like a lot of people just take rankings at face value without questioning who determines them (i.e., which people have enough power to determine rankings, that the field of psychology is still dominated by white men who are biased when selecting which grants get funded, etc.) Because I'm considering a super less well-known school over a top 5 program - it looks like I'd be able to publish about the same amount, the faculty at this less well-known school are super respected in their field, etc. And this lesser known school is extremely competent in terms of diversity and social justice compared to all the other programs I applied to, including this top 5 one. Though, as OP touches on, people have told me that going to this top 5 program would help me get a job after graduation - but at this point I'm not sure it's the type of job I would even want (though this program was great when I interviewed, just not as good a fit for me I think). I'd be curious to hear what other people think, because after going on some interviews I feel like basing your decision on fit is the way to go.

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1 minute ago, psychpride9 said:

What exactly are prestige and rankings determined by? I feel like a lot of people just take rankings at face value without questioning who determines them (i.e., which people have enough power to determine rankings, that the field of psychology is still dominated by white men who are biased when selecting which grants get funded, etc.) Because I'm considering a super less well-known school over a top 5 program - it looks like I'd be able to publish about the same amount, the faculty at this less well-known school are super respected in their field, etc. And this lesser known school is extremely competent in terms of diversity and social justice compared to all the other programs I applied to, including this top 5 one. Though, as OP touches on, people have told me that going to this top 5 program would help me get a job after graduation - but at this point I'm not sure it's the type of job I would even want (though this program was great when I interviewed, just not as good a fit for me I think). I'd be curious to hear what other people think, because after going on some interviews I feel like basing your decision on fit is the way to go.

I am in the same boat. My top two schools are both counseling programs. One is pretty well known for counseling but both are no where near as prestigious at the clinical program I interviewed at. And honestly? I was not nearly as impressed with the clinical program as I was with the counseling. I just think "fit" is SO important. I didn't feel the fit with the clinical program like I did the other two, and if you're going to be there for 4-6y yrs I think it's better to choose where you think you'll thrive the most. Just my two cents though.

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I may be way off here, or maybe it is just my outlook on life, but I think that where I obtain my PhD. will not determine where I end up in the long run. Maybe in the short term prestigious universities can help. My thinking is that no matter where I land my first job, if I have well thought out research that is relative to advancing knowledge and my field, obtain grants for said research, and publish, I will be able to obtain tenure track positions at great universities. I understand the it's not what you know it's who you know to a certain extent. I also understand that who I know has little to do with the work and effort I plan on putting in to my future. To me the best fitting school will be one that truly encourages growth. I would much work under someone at a "less prestigious," university that truly understands and pushes me than someone at a "higher rated," university that doesn't quite fit who I am

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I'm wondering this as well. Aside from juggernauts like UNC chapel hill, berkley, ucla, and some others how can people really tell what's prestigious vs what's not?

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From working with the DCT at my undergrad institution and seeing some hiring processes, fit appears to be at least as important as program prestige. You can go to Harvard, SDSU/UCSD, UCLA, (insert strong program here in your sub field) and work with an awful advisor and not publish anything. You could go to a less "prestigious" school and have a good match and publish some great pubs and be set. 

 

Idk it's such a toss for me between some of my programs and match will be the most important thing. That AND potential to be on some high impact pubs. 

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I think prestige always matters, but as others have said there are other considerations that can often be more important.

So in an ideal situation you find a prestigious program where you have a great supervisor that fits your research/goals well, but if not I think you just have to consider what matters most in the long run based on your goals (probably ask faculty you work with about this).

Edited by C is for Caps Locks

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1 hour ago, psychpride9 said:

What exactly are prestige and rankings determined by?...I'd be curious to hear what other people think, because after going on some interviews I feel like basing your decision on fit is the way to go.

This is obviously a very personal decision, so there's no blanket statement that I can give that will apply to all people and all situations. Generally, I agree that fit should trump (ooops can't use that word anymore) program prestige for the reasons you list.

As for who determines prestige, I would argue that prestige is determined by faculty who are in charge of hiring as well as funding agencies. They are the gatekeepers that determine who gets to be a part of academia or not.

Edited by St0chastic

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I'm not sure if this thread is still active, but I had a similar debate between two programs, so I'll weigh in. 

Program 1: Ranked #2, offered a little over a $20k stipend for the first year, + guaranteed funding for 5 years. PI extremely well-known, established, & respected.

Program 2: Unranked*, offered a little over a $20k stipend for the first year, + funding for 4 years if I stay in good standing. PI much younger, not as well-known, but certainly well-respected. 

Cost of living is similar in both places, perhaps slightly higher at Program 1, but it's also a bigger city with more to do, etc.

*To be fair, I've only found rankings of 1-10 for this sub-field in psych. 

I decided on Program 2 for a number of reasons. Looking at the numbers above, that might seem a little crazy. I sometimes worry that it might have been crazy, too (and will especially wonder if I end up there for a 5th year without funding), but here are some of the other factors I considered: 

  • Faculty fit. Both possible mentors would undoubtedly have been great, but their mentorship styles differed in unexpected ways. The PI at program 1 was very quiet and professional. Past students indicated that he is a great academic mentor, but that you shouldn't expect more than that (e.g., he's also very private, and the relationship will stay particularly formal even after several years). The PI at program 2 (whom I had worked with for a year in the past) is also very professional, but he made a point to tell me that he would provide mentorship both academically and professionally. Having known both him and one of his previous grad students, I know that he will also provide appropriate support and guidance personally, and I've seen him demonstrate a work-family-life balance that is important to me. 
  • Research fit. The research at Program 1 would have fascinated me, and certainly would have helped me to stand out in the future. There seemed to be a lot of independence in the lab (and ample resources to let you do nearly anything you wanted), but the project I had initially been interested in was a side-project that the PI had no intentions of continuing on. He might have considered it, but it certainly would not have been a key focus unless I initiated it. At Program 2, the research fit is phenomenally close. I've also had the benefit of working in this lab previously, and on the project that I intend to continue on in graduate school. Interviewing at other programs and exploring other potential lines of research helped me realize how passionate I am about this specific niche area, and that it really is the area that I want to focus in. Research in this program will focus on that specific line of work, and challenge me to incorporate other viewpoints and interdisciplinary applications of the work. While I would of course be given independence to do my own thing as well, I wouldn't be working in a silo in this lab: others have overlapping interests that will supplement and challenge my own. 
  • Prestige matters, but you can establish yourself as competitive or "prestigious" in other ways. Publishing, of course, helps, as does presenting. At Program 2, I already have a year of work in, and my PI indicated that there would be opportunities to publish, and perhaps in more prestigious journals, more quickly. You can make yourself stand out in other ways, rather than through the reputation of the university alone. 
  • Program culture/ diversity. While there were no red flags at Program 1, and the school itself is very diverse and has lots of programs to support women, POC, and the LGBTQ+ community, I interviewed exclusively with white men. I didn't notice it at first, but in retrospect I feel like I was invited into a very privileged circle, both in that it was a prestigious school, but also that it was a bit of an old boy's club.  At Program 2, I interviewed with as many female professors as male, many of whom held equal or more prominent positions within the department as their male peers. One of the male professors specifically addressed how invaluable it has been to have a female head of the department, and how it has shaped the culture of the program. I only applied to programs that had a pretty even split of male-female faculty, so I know that Program 1 does also have female professors, but during the interview weekend, I met them only when they were the ones coordinating the event, handing out t-shirts, organizing breakfast, etc. I'm sure this wasn't intentional, and they may simply have been the ones who volunteered for those responsibilities, but it says something. I've handled my share of gender discrimination in STEM (both subtly and extremely overtly), and it's something that I'm very conscious of. I don't want to work my way into the boy's club, i want there to not be a boy's club in the first place. 

TL;DR: Go with your gut feeling, choose the program with the mentor and research fit that suits you. Prestige matters, but not that much. Make the decision that's right for you. 

Also: When I turned down Program 1, the PI was incredibly kind and understanding, which just goes to show: they want you to make the right decision for you, too! So while yes, it's stressful, and scary, trust yourself. You know what's right for you. 

Good luck! 

 

Edited by caffeinated-runner

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