Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

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grae313
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Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby grae313 » Fri Feb 22, 2008 1:24 am

I can't remember if this has been posted already or not.

"AIP graduate program listings, which I believe are compiled in 2005-2006 list 636 professors in the top 50 institutions (I used NRC'95 rankings) in associate or assistant rank. Typically their PhD years span about 12-15 year period from about 1990 till ~2003-2004. 162 of them have foreign PhDs (more on that later) and 472 held PhDs from US. More than half of those hires have PhDs from just 8 institutions: Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Berkeley, Chicago, Stanford, Caltech and Cornell."

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fermiboy
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby fermiboy » Fri Feb 22, 2008 1:41 am

I read the Ponderer's blog regularly, and I disagree with him all the time, especially when he starts talking about the job market. I'm not the only one, there were several comment threads on Cosmic Variance a few months back where people like Sean Carroll and Mark Trodden also disagreed with his takes on this. In his mind, anything less than a tenured position at a top research university is tantamount to failure. Here's a better response to that post than I could have crafted:

http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2007 ... _fifty.php

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grae313
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby grae313 » Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:10 am

I like that response.

Really I didn't think there was anything to "agree" with or "disagree" with, he was just presenting some numbers that are interesting. 60% of the hires at top 50 research institutions come from top 10 universities. It's just a statistic, and people can take whatever they want out of it :)

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fermiboy
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby fermiboy » Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:34 am

I meant that I disagreed with the Ponderer's take on the importance of pedigree in general. Maybe there's nothing to disagree with in that particular post but there is a huge backlog of posts and comments across the physics blogosphere about this very topic, and the Ponderer has always come off as very elitist to me.

If you go through the archives of Cosmic Variance you can trackback through whole discussion. Pretty interesting. Personally, I think the reason that Harvard, Princeton, etc. get more job placements is because they have the best scientists (that they bought from other schools) and so their students do the most interesting work, get the best post docs, etc. So school name is correlated with success in the job market, it's not the cause of success in the job market.

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dlenmn
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby dlenmn » Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:35 am

Both posts are interesting. The first confirms what I've heard elsewhere (and it's not surprising, schools produce more grad students than they hire as profs, so there's downward pressure). The second post is correct that there's more to physics than the top 50 research universities.

However, I'd bet that the top few schools are not just overrepresented in the top 50, but they're over represented in pretty much any category. I took a quick look at Washington State University (picking on them because they're at the bottom or US New's rankings, and because they didn't let me in to their REU...) and out of 22 profs, they have 3 Berkely, 1 MIT, and 1 Stanford (from the rest of the top 20: 1 U Penn, 1 Wisc, 1 Columbia). So 22% from top 5 schools and 36% from top 20. There may be more too -- if it took more than 30 sec to find the info for a prof then I moved on.

In short, it may be that having a PhD from a top place simply gives you more options (whether you want to work at a top 50 places, a liberal arts college, or in eastern Washington). As Fermiboy points out, top ranked schools are better equipped to pop out better scientists, so perhaps it's that and not the name that's having an effect. I'm sure it doesn't hurt though.

@ grae313

Congrats on Berkely. If you want to work in eastern Washington, you seem to have an in!

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zxcv
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby zxcv » Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:48 am

Washington State rejected me from their REU last year, too. Then they sent me two brochures encouraging me to apply for grad school. Nice try.

I mean, I love the Northwest and all, but Pullman is in the middle of nowhere... actually, if they were a top 20 program, I might have reconsidered, but they're just not that strong.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby dlenmn » Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:11 am

Middle of nowhere?!? They're right across the border from Moscow, ID (and the University of Idaho)!

It looked like a nice place to spend a summer -- I think the biking would have been good. I didn't think about it at the time, but they offered a lot of $$$ for their REU, and that may have made it quite popular. I've heard the folks at the Idaho REU were nice, probably true for the Washington State folks too.

They sent me the brochures as well.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby zxcv » Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:07 pm

Okay, maybe "middle of nowhere" is my mistake :). Still, I think I'd rather be in Seattle.

They probably could offer so much money for their REU because the NSF gives every place the same 6k, and the cost of housing around there is probably completely nominal. But I think it was popular just because every REU gets the same 200 applications for 10 slots.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby vicente » Sun Feb 24, 2008 2:45 am

Let's say that you end up getting your Ph.D. at a top 50 but not top 20 school and the only job in academia you can find is one at a low-ranking department that does not have a Ph.D program.

I wonder what it's like to be a professor there.

I wonder if they spend their time twindling their thumbs waiting for research funding to come, or maybe they have to do all the dirty work because they have little or no grad students. I wonder if they get published at all. How do they even secure tenure?

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby grae313 » Sun Feb 24, 2008 3:14 am

vicente wrote:Let's say that you end up getting your Ph.D. at a top 50 but not top 20 school and the only job in academia you can find is one at a low-ranking department that does not have a Ph.D program.

I wonder what it's like to be a professor there.

I wonder if they spend their time twindling their thumbs waiting for research funding to come, or maybe they have to do all the dirty work because they have little or no grad students. I wonder if they get published at all. How do they even secure tenure?


Well, as a student at a low ranking department that doesn't even have a PhD program, I can tell you that the professors here are mostly focused on teaching. I can also tell you that I've had the best teaching I've ever experienced in my life here, that my classes have been a joy to go to, and that I consider several of the professors as friends who have impacted my life in really important ways. It may not be the career for everyone, but I think it is just as important and rewarding as a research career. About half of the professors here do research at our local NASA branch and a little bit in-house on grants they secure individually. They get published, but of course are not famous or anything. Their focus is teaching. They are definitely not twiddling their thumbs, though.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby WontonBurritoMeals » Sun Feb 24, 2008 5:39 am

The commitee head finds the confiest sofa, reading your application by lighting a candle with a match. The air smells of french roast, sulfer, smoke, with just a hint of vanilla. Your application that includes dozens of publications, letters of recommendation, and references. There they are, page after page of teaching qualifications, research impact, potential. The referenes comment on your creativity, adaptability, humanity and ability to give outstanding presentations on a variety of topics. The other applications have had dense accents, research ideas that were unwaivering and high expectations from the department. But these letters... it seems you've mananged to touch your colleages in a way that is rarely seen. The pensive head is about to give you a phone interview-

BUT WAIT! You're from some shitty school called UC Irvine! Maybe a top 29 school, BUT NOT A TOP 20. Your application now has a blind date with a shredder.

You recieve rejection letter after rejection letter. But finally... you struggle from post doc to post doc, every year the prospect of finding a mate growing dimmer and darker. After your 4th postdoc, you FINALLY manage to secure a tiny asistant professorship at some unknown college.

You go down to your office, deeper and deeper... You regret not being a biology professor because of the variety of spiders and scorpions you now find. At the bottom is your office, where two undergrads are smoking pot. They remind you of the children that you could have had if you had found a stable job years ago.

Your task mostly consists of grading papers, performing minor tasks, and sucking up to the dean. Your ideals slowly fade a way, your research aspirations turn to memory. Your old friends have moved on; they're the ones giving speeches at conferences, and whipping out the major publications. They won't even speak to you any more. Before long you get tenure, but you're already 65 and your bones are becoming brittle. That same year, you are passed up for outstanding professor by a younger, more energetic woman who went to a top 20 school. Soon, they're asking you to retire. But you can't afford it... You spend your last days collecting donations and books for your department, struggling, always struggling to make a difference, defending the one department that would accept you...

You die on a thursday. Father Mckenzie burries you with your faded transcript.

May the wind be always at your back,
-Wonton Burrito Meals

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grae313
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby grae313 » Sun Feb 24, 2008 2:40 pm

:cry:

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dlenmn
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby dlenmn » Mon Feb 25, 2008 8:48 pm

Does anyone have a link to the discussion(s) on Cosmic Variance mentioned in the post on Incoherent Ponderer?

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby vicente » Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:38 am

Which do you think matters more: the professor you work with, or your school?

Although logically I think it should be the professor, I have a gut feeling that it's the second.

Kansas State is the top school for AMO, but are people really going to consider your Ph.D from there as valuable as one from Yale, even if your thesis was on AMO?

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grae313
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby grae313 » Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:41 pm

vicente wrote:Kansas State is the top school for AMO, but are people really going to consider your Ph.D from there as valuable as one from Yale, even if your thesis was on AMO?


I though U Colorado, Boulder was tops in AMO (according to US News)

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dlenmn
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby dlenmn » Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:54 pm

That was my impression too -- they've got the Bose–Einstein condensate nobel prize winning folks.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby vicente » Tue Feb 26, 2008 3:47 pm

oops, I meant "one of the top"

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby rooibos » Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:02 pm

What about applied physics programs? Those are usually easier to get into, but what do they do for your job outlook? For example, would it be better to get a PhD in applied physics from a top university (like one ranked in the top 10 in physics) or a physics PhD from a lower ranked (30 and under) school?

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby dlenmn » Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:06 pm

@ rooibos

I've wondered the same thing. I bet it depends a lot on what type of job you're looking for. If you want to a a physics prof it might be less useful. If you want to work in industry, perhaps it's more useful.

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grae313
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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby grae313 » Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:07 pm

rooibos wrote:What about applied physics programs? Those are usually easier to get into, but what do they do for your job outlook? For example, would it be better to get a PhD in applied physics from a top university (like one ranked in the top 10 in physics) or a physics PhD from a lower ranked (30 and under) school?


How could one say if it "would be better" to get an AppPhys degree at a top 30 or a top 10 university? Top 10 is always going to have more prestige, more name recognition, but a top 30 place might be better for an individual for personal reasons. This is the same with any field and is just common sense.

Applied physics degrees tend to be more applicable to jobs in industry or government labs, whereas pure physics degrees tend to be more applicable to academia, but the pedigree of the school is always there no matter what field you are in.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby rooibos » Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:19 am

Sorry, you guys are right. I meant to specify that I was talking about academia. My main worry is that an applied physics degree will hurt me if I want choose that route, but I'm hoping it will be offset if I can get into a more well known school than I could in a pure physics program.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby dlenmn » Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:46 am

@ rooibos

My guess is that it wouldn't be so good for academia. I can't recall ever seeing "PhD in Applied Physics" on any physics professor's CV. However, that may just be because there are fewer applied physics PhDs out there than regular physics PhDs, and it's not like I've been searching for instances of this.

EDIT: I've tried a google search, and nothing so far. One person went from ap phys to math prof. One went to ap phy prof. But then again, one went to child psychology and another got a PhD in History 10 years later... Other people did more expected things.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby calphys » Wed Feb 27, 2008 5:17 am

I have, on the other hand, seen a whole lot of applied physics phds on applied physics professors' CVs. So, yeah, it depends what sort of job you're looking for.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby rooibos » Wed Feb 27, 2008 6:34 pm

Thanks guys. I'm more worried about the reputation of the degree. Is it looked down upon by "pure" physics PhDs? I just keep imagining a conversation amongst my recommenders:

"Yeah, I don't know what happened to rooibos. Didn't you hear?" *lowers voice* "He went into applied physics" Then a hush falls over the room while one person at the back weeps silently into a tissue. :lol:

If so I'd rather do physics at a lower ranked school.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby dlenmn » Wed Feb 27, 2008 6:59 pm

@ rooibos

Perhaps you should ask your recommenders.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby rooibos » Wed Feb 27, 2008 7:34 pm

dlenmn wrote:@ rooibos

Perhaps you should ask your recommenders.


Well that part was really just a joke, but I will do that.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby excel » Thu Feb 28, 2008 10:03 am

The following excerpt from the 2008-2009 U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook may be of interest to you:

"Job prospects. In recent years the number of doctorates granted in physics has been somewhat greater than the number of job openings for traditional physics research positions in colleges and universities and in research centers. Recent increases in undergraduate physics enrollments may also lead to growth in enrollments in graduate physics programs, so that there may be an increase in the number of doctoral degrees granted that could intensify the competition for basic research positions. However, demand has grown in other related occupations for those with advanced training in physics. Prospects should be favorable for physicists in applied research, development, and related technical fields."

Source:http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos052.htm

It does not seem to say anything about the prospect of applied physics Phds in academia, but does say that job prospects for applied physicists should be good. On the other hand, it does not seem optimistic about the job prospects of physics PhDs.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby dlenmn » Thu Feb 28, 2008 10:17 am

Wow, that quote is surprisingly realistic... Most of the time the govt talks about scientists they're like "ZOMG, China/India/Lichtensetin be producing mo than us! We're all going to die!"

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby excel » Thu Feb 28, 2008 6:09 pm

Wow, that quote is surprisingly realistic... Most of the time the govt talks about scientists they're like "ZOMG, China/India/Lichtensetin be producing mo than us! We're all going to die!"


maybe this document was written by scientists, economists and the like...maybe the "omg, china...die!" style of comments come mainly from politicians trying to stir up public emotions.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby fermiboy » Wed Mar 05, 2008 11:08 pm

Edit: I resurrected this thread because I was linked off another post.

excel wrote:It does not seem to say anything about the prospect of applied physics Phds in academia, but does say that job prospects for applied physicists should be good. On the other hand, it does not seem optimistic about the job prospects of physics PhDs.


No, it is not optimistic about academic jobs, for physics Phds. It reads to me like the jobs prospects outside of academia are pretty good. Read it again.

"Prospects should be favorable for physicists in applied research, development, and related technical fields."

So if you're a physicist (i.e. have a PhD in physics), then you have favorable jobs prospects in applied research, development, and related technical fields.

Let me put this way. If you work for 5-8 years and get a PhD, but can't find a job in academia, you're not going to end up driving a cab or flipping burgers, unless you are a total social idiot and have no networking or job hunting skills whatsoever. Which is probably why you didn't get the academic job in the first place.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby excel » Thu Mar 06, 2008 1:16 am

Rereading what I had said earlier, I think I was not clear. Sorry about that.

what I meant is: in applied physics PhD vs. physics PhD w.r.t. job prospects,

a. Academia: This source of jobs --the major (or, at least usually most desirable) source of jobs--for physics PhD seems to be not so good.

b. industry etc.: If one is looking for a job in R & D in a company etc., then I think one may be better placed with a applied physics PhD degree than a physics PhD. So, my key point here is an applied physics PhD is possibly in a better position than a physics PhD to take advantage of these "favorable job prospects in applied research, development...". Of course, one may have done applied physics in a physics graduate program...but, even then i cannot see such a phD in Physics mattering more than a PhD in applied physics as far as the degree goes.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby fermiboy » Thu Mar 06, 2008 1:39 am

I definitely agree that applied physics is the way to go if industry is the goal from the outset. I'm just saying that there is still plenty of opportunity for those of us who can't get academic jobs, even if our degree is a more theoretical and less applied. You just have to sell yourself as somebody who can solve problems.

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Re: Article: Does PhD Pedigree Matter?

Postby excel » Thu Mar 06, 2008 9:59 am

I definitely agree that applied physics is the way to go if industry is the goal from the outset. I'm just saying that there is still plenty of opportunity for those of us who can't get academic jobs, even if our degree is a more theoretical and less applied. You just have to sell yourself as somebody who can solve problems.


totally agreed. As a physics undergrad, I received interviews at a fortune 500 insurance company and a fortune 500 consulting firm. I ony wanted interview practice, so I withdrew my application after the interviews...but I am sure physicists will be able to land jobs outside of academia.

Also, a national res lab may be a good 2nd choice if a physics PhD cannot get a faculty position.




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