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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


Univ. of California-Berkeley

University of Chicago

Stanford University


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


































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











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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Degrees in Demand – 2007

Top degrees in demand (bachelor’s degree level)
Business administration/management
Computer science
Electrical engineering
Mechanical engineering
Information sciences and systems Marketing/marketing management
Computer engineering
Civil engineering

Top degrees in demand (master’s degree level)
Electrical Engineering
Computer Science

Computer Engineering
Mechanical Engineering

Top degrees in demand (doctorate degree level)
Electrical Engineering
Computer Science
Computer Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Chemical Engineering

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Starting Salaries US College Graduates: Summer 2007

Trade Increase % Earnings $
Chemical Engineering 5.4 59,361
Computer Engineering 4.8 56,201
Mechanical Engineering 4.6 54,128
Electrical Engineering 3.2 55,292
Civil Engineering 5.4 48,509
Computer Science 4.1 53,396
Information Science 4.6 50,852
Information Systems 4.2 47,648
Marketing 6.1 40,161
Accounting 2.3 46,718
Business Administration 3.9 43,701
Political Science 5.9 34,590
English 5.3 32,553
Psychology 4.7 31,631
Sociology 3.5 32,033
History 3.3 33,768
Economics new to the list 48,483
Finance new to the list 47,239

Source:National Association of Colleges and Employers

Schools That Require or Recommend Computer Science Subject Test – Part 2


Georgia Institute of Technology

For the MS application, scores from the Computer Science Subject Test are required .
For the PhD application, scores from the Computer Science Subject
Test OR any other area test are recommended, but not required.


Univ. of Maryland-College Park

The Subject (advanced) GRE is not essential but recommended, especially if your CS background is not very strong.


Brown University

Also Check

Subject GRE scores: The subject test scores are most useful when
they are from the computer science exam. While we do not require subject test
scores, the test provides an additional objective form of evaluation that is
often helpful in determining an applicant’s abilities.
GRE Subject (Computer Science) Exam (recommended but not required)


Univ. of California-Los Angeles

GRE scores on both the General (Aptitude) test and the Subject (Advanced)
test are required for admission to both the M.S. and Ph.D. programs.
If necessary, GRE booklets can be obtained from any college or
university bookstore. The (Advanced) test should be taken in Computer Science
(preferred) or in Mathematics. All students applying for Fall should take
the GRE tests no later than December. Applicants for Winter should take the
GRE tests no later than October.
Master’s Degree in Computer Science

Doctoral Degree
Admission In addition to meeting the requirements of the Graduate
Division, applicants to the Master of Science programs in Computer Science are
required to take the General Test of the Graduate Record Examination
In addition, applicants are required to take the Subject Test in
Mathematics or Computer Science.


Univ. of Michigan-Ann Arbor
The GRE subject test is not required.


Rice Univ.(TX)
Applying for both the MCS and the MS
Q: Can I apply to both the MCS and MS degree programs?
A: Yes. However, please be aware that a GRE Subject test in either
science, math, or engineering is required for all MS/Ph.D
Although the subject test is recommended, it is not required for
those applying to the MCS program.

GRE subject exam
Q: I am a Ph.D applicant, but lack a GRE subject test score. Can I
apply as
an MS candidate instead?
A: The GRE subject test is required for both MS and Ph.D

GRE subject test waivers
Q: Can the GRE subject test be waived?
A: The decision to waive the subject test requirement is at the
of the graduate admissions committee.


Univ. of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Although GRE Advanced Test scores are not required, applicants are
encouraged to take the advanced test in computer science,
engineering, or physics, as appropriate.


Univ. of Pennsylvania

The GRE subject test is not required
the subject GRE is not required.
The GRE subject test is not required.


Columbia Univ. (NY)

Q. Is the GRE Subject Test required for admission?
A: No, the subject test – in computer science or related
disciplines — is not required but may be submitted to strengthen your application.
I have my valid General GRE scores but have not taken the Subject
test yet.
Can I still apply? Will my application be considered incomplete
without the Subject GRE score? Can the requirement for Subject GRE or General
GRE be waived if these exams are not administered in my country in the near
General GRE scores are required: your application will absolutely
*not* be
considered without them. The Subject GRE policy is more flexible. If
cannot take this exam (for example, because the exam is not
administered in
your country this year), please note the reasons in the text box
that we
have included for exactly this purpose in the online application
form, in
the “Test Scores” section. Listing your reasons in that text box is
sufficient, so please do *not* contact us asking for an
explicit “waiver” or
special consideration. Finally, if you are unable to take the
Science exam, but have taken a Subject GRE exam in a related area
Math, Physics, or Engineering), please report these scores in your


Duke Univ.(NC)

Test required – GRE General. GRE Subject in CS recommended for Ph.D.


Purdue Univ.-West Lafayette(IN)

Graduate Record Examination. We do not require any GRE test.
GRE scores are not required.


Univ. of California-San Diego

It is also recommended, but not required, that applicants take the
Computer Science GRE Subject Test.
The evaluation process for applications is extremely complex, taking
into account all the materials submitted with the application. Grade point
average (GPA), GRE scores, GRE subject test (optional, but
TOEFL (for international students), letters of recommendation, and
statement of purpose all play a role. First, the UCSD Graduate Admissions
Office evaluates each application to determine whether or not their minimum
standards for admission have been met. Then the CSE Department does
a more
thorough evaluation in a committee consisting of several faculty.
Sometimes the committee must draw on the experience of the faculty at-large to
make and informed decision.

The computer science Subject Test is recommended, but not required
relevant subject tests may also be taken, such as in math or one of
physical or natural sciences).


Univ. of Massachusetts,Amherst
Q. Is the GRE subject test required?
A. The GRE subject test is strongly encouraged.

Secrets of Standing Out From the Pile: Getting Into Graduate School

Matthew T. Huss
If you are beginning the process of applying to graduate school this year, you are realizing it’s not easy. You are learning schools are looking for GRE scores of 800, a GPA of 4.5 on a 4.0 scale, at least two dozen publications, and a letter of recommendation from Sigmund Freud. Maybe not, but you probably have felt as if this were at least close to the truth at times. I had similar thoughts when I was just applying to PhD programs, especially after I didn’t get into a school the first time around. As a result of my first-time failure followed by my later success, I learned there were more factors involved in getting into graduate school than grades or GRE scores. I hope that what I have learned can help those of you just starting the process.
When people speak of the keys to getting into graduate school, GRE scores and grades are usually the focus. They are usually seen as first-order criteria. They are referred to as first-order criteria because schools often look at these particular aspects of an application first. While this is true, and the importance of such criteria cannot be overemphasized, they are simply screening mechanisms for most schools. Schools have certain minimums or average scores they have found are characteristic of successful students. If programs advertise that their students’ average GRE scores are about 650 and their average GPA is 3.75, realize these are only averages. There are students who were accepted with 800s and 4.0s, but there are also students who were accepted with 550s and 3.3 grade point averages.
Depending on the area, a graduate program may receive anywhere from 50 to 500 applications in any given year. Most of these applicants are going to have high GRE scores and good grades or they wouldn’t be applying to graduate school. All of these applications are going to be thrown into the pile. As long as your scores are around these averages, you can stay in the running. You can stay in that pile. The longer you stay in the pile, the better your chances are of getting into the school. If you have the basic credentials, the things that enable you to stick out from the rest of the applicants are going to get you admitted into the program.
One of the best ways to stand out from the rest of the pile is research, research, research! Most graduate programs are at large universities where faculty are under pressure to publish. Prospective applicants who have demonstrated they are capable of undertaking research projects and have acquired a number of research skills are very attractive to a program. These are skills faculty members won’t have to spend time teaching a new student.

Click to Read the Article