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Graduate school rankings and non-academic jobs

  1. Mar 14, 2014 #1
    What do you peeps think of the ranking of one's PhD-granting institution and non-academic jobs? We all know that academic jobs are biased in favor of the prestige of one's school first and foremost. I met a recently-granted PhD student from a low-ranked university with eleven relevant publications in his field who lost out on a post-doc in that field to somebody from Stanford with far fewer publications and little experience in the field. We all know about the HYPSM bias in academia.

    But what about the real world? What is you peeps' experience with non-academic jobs and alma mater? I imagine rankings are less relevant.

    FWIW I'm not a ranking junkie, I've chosen to go to a low-ranked school because it's an excellent fit for me, so I'm not looking for reassurances, just an idea of what peoples' feelings are.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2014 #2
    Actually, ranking and prestige is much more relevant outside of academia. From the mouth of PI's and from bugging around for a long time looking at where many PhD's from sub 20 ranked schools ended up, in academia the ranking of your institution is largely irrelevant compared to private sector jobs. It's not just publication quantity, it's quality and impact that apparently gets people the good post-docs and government science staff positions. A typically-labled-'mickey mouse' school I may be visiting soon has only graduated about 10 students in my field, since their research program is young. Yet all of them landed good "academic" positions: about 3-4 tenures at LAC's, permanent staff at research institutes, and postdocs at places like Cambridge and Manchester. Only one went off to work as a financial analyst.

    Some competitive private sector jobs like financial analysts won't even consider you unless you're from a top 20 school or even an Ivy, explicitly in their job advertisement. I think it is safe to assume a PhD from a school that isn't a brand name isn't going to impress anyone outside of academia, since only people within it know exactly what they do and what it means to be a graduate there. Take U Alaska for instance, they are a world-leading institution in atmospheric physics. A potential hiring manager in a private company is more than likely to not know about that and will ditch your resume in favor of a Harvard graduate, all else equal. This is unlikely to happen for a post-doc in atmospheric science or a staff position at a meteorological institute (I'm assuming harvard doesn't have much of an atmospheric physics research program, just an example).
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2014
  4. Mar 14, 2014 #3
    Lavabug, what you're saying is different from what I've heard. At the school I'm going to, it's not very well-ranked on US News (it's regression-based ranking in NRC data is an order of magnitude better but not Earth-shattering). A guy who just got his PhD there and is headed to a post-doc unrelated to physics told me that if I were set on an academic job after my PhD, I should probably go to a different school but that it was a great place to go if you wanted to go into industry. I know they've had graduates go to AMD and other tech companies for instance (but it's in Texas, where a lot of tech companies are). I also know one went to Sandia.

    You seem to be in disagreement with him. Is it that the types of non-academic jobs *you're* talking about are all Bos-Wash-corridor stuff? Cuz I'd rather die than work in an elitist old boy network environment.

    Would you say that rankings is important to Silicon Valley, or tech companies in Austin and Dallas, etc?
  5. Mar 14, 2014 #4
    I'm talking about any non-academic job that is open to a physics PhD, which aren't that many.

    I cannot speak for silicon/microelectronics since I really know nothing about CMP or the STEM job market in the West coast.

    I think any Ivy league graduate would be hard-pressed to beat a graduate from U Arizona at an optics tech job in TX or AZ though, since they're really #1 in the country for optics.
  6. Mar 14, 2014 #5
    My suspicion in my case is that my PhD program was well-regarded in math, but I'm not sure if people outside academia really know about that. I suppose they could look up the rankings, if saw my resume and got interested. I'm not sure how much they care. I think that would depend greatly on the particular job. For some of the quant jobs and more research-oriented jobs, it might matter more. But the ones where you have to convince them you're not overqualified in the first place, I would guess not.

    The rank of my graduate program is not top notch, but it's the next step down from Ivy League, at least as far as math goes. I think I do miss out on having the brand-name degree, like Princeton or Harvard. But if I went into academia, I'd be fine, I think, if my research and teaching record were good (which they are not). A big name would catch people's eyes, but I've seen people who graduated from my program long ago at top departments (plus, a couple of my friends, classmates, and acquaintances). So, I think that shows the bias, in math, at least, is not too overwhelming in favor of the brand-name people. But I don't know, maybe my program is just one of the ones that belongs to the club in math circles.
  7. Mar 15, 2014 #6
    My school's physics research emphasis is more applied, and the ranking is lowly enough that the best students don't typically go here for grad school (although there are some really surprising exceptions honestly). The end result is that several of the physics groups actually send a lot of people into materials engineering.

    If you're cold calling jobs and sending in resumes, fluff like where you went will start to become more relevant. However, you really shouldn't be cold calling and sending in resumes, you should be be networking and examining your options long before you graduate.

    Also you should note that the post doc situation you described may have had much less to do with name and much more to do with connections. The "bias" of which you speak is, as far as I can tell, far less influential than you give it credit. The truth of the matter as that at least until recently, the top ten schools produced vastly more graduates than lower ranked schools. If you get advice about grad school from sufficiently old and misinformed professors, they'll tell you that all you need to get into say, Harvard, is a 3.5, some research, and a nice letter of req. Since these standards are changing, perfectly good students will inevitably be pushed into "lower ranked" institutions; I have friends with well in excess of a 3.5, good PGRE scores, and decent reqs/research who could not get into most of the top schools to which they applied.
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