Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ranking graduate programs...

Incoherently Scattered Ponderer has come up with a rubric to rank Physics programs based on the "percentage of PhDs from any particular program go on to become faculty members in R1 universities". ISPonderer carries out this analysis and finds for hires at top 50 research universities that "Top 10 universities contribute 59% of US PhD hires, those ranked 11-20 provide another 18%, the next ten ranked 21-30 provide 10%, and ALL of the remaining US universities contribute remaining 12% or so." The results may suggest pedigree matters.

In my mind this is a very flawed rubric. Who cares about hires at Top 50 research universities. There are so many more job opportunities than being a professor at a Top 50 institution. Maybe what this data is showing is the bias of the mentors as those universities. They push their students to think about just becoming professors at such places perhaps. Graduates therefore coming out of that environment are less likely to explore their options & devote more resources to getting hired as faculty members at an R1. Faculty members at those further down the list may be more open to letting their students explore options. Lets face it there are lots of options:

faculty-PhD granting university
faculty-master’s degree granting university
faculty-small liberal arts college
faculty-baccalaureate university/college
faculty-associate’s degree granting college
research scientist-academia
research scientist-industry
research scientist-government
research scientist-private institute
administrative-private institute
scientific writer
patent lawyer/agent
scientific advisor-government
scientific advisor-private institute
scientific advisor-industry

And I am sure there are tons more possibilities.

The rubric does not take this into account. It assumes that the point of getting a PhD in the sciences is to become a faculty member at a top research university. If you don't get one of those you are settling for a lesser position. That is absurd. A PhD is an academic degree. It is not a professional degree like an MD, JD, MBA, etc. Anyone selling the idea of getting a PhD to potential graduate students solely to become a faculty member at a Top 50 institution is selling a Pyramid Scheme & should be looked down upon in the same manner. I would strongly recommend avoiding professors like that. For graduate school, I was in a Top 10 institution in my field- many of the professors I am sad to say were like that. Mine was not. One of the reasons I choose that person. I was much happier, especially near the end of my graduate career than some of my peers. In fact a number of them would seek out my advisor for career advice because they could not talk about it with their advisors.

Be wary as well of professors who are open to other possibilities and encourage only certain students to explore (say based on gender).


Ranger said...

I suppose if one wanted to become a R1 prof from the get go it would be a good rubric. But I agree, unless you want to get into the Pyramid scheme, its not a good measuring stick.

PonderingFool said...

It might be a decent rubric for that but the reality is that the vast majority even at those places will not become professors at Top 50 institutions. According to Incoherent Ponderer's data only 14.1 % of the Harvard PhD's got such positions and only 18.4% of those from Princeton. Those were the top two. No matter what you have to plan for the just in case scenario if your prime desire is to be a professor at a top place.

Anonymous said...

'very flawed rubric' indeed.

i think many scientists would join you in supporting the burgeoning number of non-R1-track scientists who can contribute an amazing amount to a number of outlets, whether in academe or not.

scientists possess an enormous wealth of training and information, and that the opinion that scientists' success rests solely on high-fluting academic positions has apparently remained persistent amongst scientists themselves doesn't bode well for a wider acknowledgement and acceptance of scientists' utility in other meaningful positions.


Brian said...

i agree w/ your sentiments...there is so much one can do with the training (both scientific and life) they get from doing a PhD.

Plus, it seems to get these "top" jobs requires not only being top in your field...but being a little maniacal about your work...the junior untenured faculty I know well are in a constant frantic state...good times