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Does PhD pedigree matter?

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 Choosing a School for PhD

This post is inspired in large part by discussion over at Cosmic Variance about the importance of choice of particular graduate school and pedigree effect. Two extreme points of view are: a) pedigree matters a great deal, having a top school name on your resume will enhance your chances of getting a job and b) pedigree effect is non-existent, and if you are smart and do good science, it doesn’t matter where your degree is from. Additional discussion centered on issue of difficulty of “upward” mobility – which means that most people tend to get positions down the ranking ladder from their PhD institutions, not up.
It’s of course difficult to do proper “controlled” measure of pedigree effect – maybe students selected by top program would do just as well in lower ranked programs, who knows.
So let’s ask a different question – how many of the academic jobs in top research universities go to PhDs from the top programs? Ideally one would want to focus on recent hires only, looking at entire faculty makeup means integrating over the past50 or 60 years, with a big hiring spike in sputnik/cold war years. One way to address this issue is to look only at associate and assistant professors, which typically represent recent hires. Another, possibly better, way is to limit by the years of PhD (say count only PhDs obtained past 1995), but it involves more work. I spent about 4 hours compiling the data, and not sure I want to spend much more on this, even though it is a lot of fun and I am a sucker for playing with numbers.
So here’s the statistics, and I will criticize methods later – 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. The effect is larger than I expected, but perhaps not completely unexpected.
Below are the institutions that have 3 or more PhD graduates among 636 assistant/associate rank professors in the top 50 physics programs:

Harvard University

Princeton University

MIT

Univ. of California-Berkeley

University of Chicago

Stanford University

CALTECH

Cornell University

University of Michigan

Columbia University

University of Minnesota

Univ of California-San Diego

Univ of CA-Santa Barbara

Univ of Il Urbana-Champaign

University of Washington

Yale University

SUNY-Stony Brook

University of Texas at Austin

Univ of Wisconsin-Madison

Johns Hopkins University

University of Pennsylvania

University of Rochester

Univ of California-Los Angeles

Univ of Maryland College Park

Northwestern University

Rice University

University of Colorado

Boston University

Indiana University

Rutgers -New Brunswick

Brandeis University

Duke University

Purdue University

42

39

34

32

29

28

26

22

14

13

11

9

9

9

9

9

8

8

8

7

7

7

6

6

5

5

5

4

4

4

3

3

3

Foreign degrees are more scattered all over the world, but here’s some strong contributors:

MoscowCambridgeOxford

Munich

Toronto

Vienna

Warsaw

15128

8

8

3

3

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.

More charts like:

Percentage of PhDs that goes on to become faculty at top 50 universities.

Comparison ranking in terms of total PhD hires and ranking of USNews and NRC.

and the complete article is available at Incoherently Scattered Ponderings

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