PhD rankings and employment

  • #1
First of all, I personally couldn't care less about rankings; however, a future employer might. For my PhD I am thinking of applying to schools with groups in silicon quantum computing, and the two places whose research I have read a lot about are Princeton (Petta) and UNSW (Morello, Simmons, Dzurak), and others. Assuming I could even get into Princeton, and that the quality of my PhD research are the same at both places, how will the name recognition of these two schools affect my future employment, either in academia or industry? Any other pros/cons?
 

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  • #2
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I personally couldn't care less about rankings; however, a future employer might
If you don’t care about rankings then do you really want to work for an employer that does care about them? Think about the corporate culture that would care.
 
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  • #3
mathwonk
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When a company hires, they look at all available data on the candidate, including strength of the program from which they come. This can help a candidate graduating from a well ranked program receive a look. Then they usually interview the candidate and listen to him/her make a presentation, and/or have a conversation with him/her. If during that interview, the candidate cannot answer any questions or teach the interviewer anything, then the ranking of the school cannot help him/her. Similarly a candidate from an lower ranked school who acquits himself/herself well, and persuades the company that they will be useful has a strong chance to be hired. At least this is my experience from serving at an academic department at a research oriented university, and I think it extends to business based on my conversations with technical professionals I know. I have seen weak people from famous schools get hired, but I have also seen them disappear quickly.
 
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  • #4
CrysPhys
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First of all, I personally couldn't care less about rankings; however, a future employer might. For my PhD I am thinking of applying to schools with groups in silicon quantum computing, and the two places whose research I have read a lot about are Princeton (Petta) and UNSW (Morello, Simmons, Dzurak), and others. Assuming I could even get into Princeton, and that the quality of my PhD research are the same at both places, how will the name recognition of these two schools affect my future employment, either in academia or industry? Any other pros/cons?
As usual, no simple answer ... it depends on a host of other factors. I can't speak for academia; my career has been entirely in industry and patent law.

(a) Do you plan to continue a career focussed in the niche field of your PhD work?
(b) What country do you plan to work in after your PhD (US, Australia, elsewhere)?

I wouldn't be fixated so much on rankings per se. The key factors (beyond your personal competencies, that is) are reputation and brand-name recognition: of the advisor, of the department, and of the school. If you plan on staying in your niche field, then the reputation and brand-name recognition of your advisor is of primary importance: If you have a well-established advisor, someone interviewing you for a position in your niche field will have an initial favorable impression regardless of the overall reputation and brand-name recognition of the department and school.

But regardless of your initial career plans, life doesn't always work out that way. The more you stray away from your niche field, then the reputation and the brand-name recognition of the department and of the school come more into play. In the absence of more specific knowledge, people tend to have subjective, gut initial impressions based on the department and school. A strong favorable impression will at least help get your foot in the door for consideration, and that step is often the hardest when it comes to transitioning to a different field. The rest is then up to you personally, of course.

Reputation and brand-name recognition, of course, depend on the country in which you apply for a position, the field of work ... and on the hiring managers (which countries did they come from? which schools did they go to?).
 
  • #5
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Just my $0.02...I graduated form a very small school with a very unknown Physics Department, but some very excellent professors. I was hired immediately by NASA GSFC doing laser, lidar, and optical RDT&E. My knowledge and experience at a BS level, plus my lower salary requirements allowed me to beat out 3 freshly minted PhDs for the position.
After 5 months the Associate Chief walks in to my office and says, "where did you go to school?"..."Never heard of it"..."Anymore where you came from?"
The next day I handed him the resume to one of my classmates that was not yet working in a degree related field. They flew him up the next week and offered him the job on the spot.

My career journey has had very little to do with where I gained my knowledge and more to do with how I applied the learned knowledge.
 
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  • #6
Choppy
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Assuming I could even get into Princeton, and that the quality of my PhD research are the same at both places, how will the name recognition of these two schools affect my future employment, either in academia or industry? Any other pros/cons?
In some ways this is like asking whether wearing a name brand shirt will improve your ability to get a date.

In some cases, I'm sure it will. It tends to get noticed more, an initial tag to separate you from the others in the crowd. It might get you into some doors that you wouldn't otherwise get into. But in most cases it's the quality of the individual on the inside that lands the long-standing relationships.

And as with buying anything name brand, remember that sometimes quality comes with the name and it's worth the extra price. On the other hand sometimes you're shelling out one hundred and fifty bones for a T-shirt.
 
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  • #7
mathwonk
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this reminds me of my first "dating" experience in college. I was standing on the sidewalk outside harvard yard with a smooth talking classmate who quickly corraled a couple local girls passing by, and told me to entertain them while he went to get more, for a party he was planning. I opened my mouth to try my moves, but to my chagrin they almost immediately walked away giving me rather dismissive looks. When he got back a few minutes later with 2 or 3 more, he asked, puzzled, "where are those girls?" ... I stammered something weak, but i still had the t shirt.
 
  • #8
CrysPhys
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I stammered something weak, but i still had the t shirt.
Did the T-shirt have a "Veritas" logo?
 
  • #9
mathwonk
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probably, but it may have been hand lettered with magic marker. It's been a long time and embarrassing memories become obscured, while the scars linger.
 
  • #10
jasonRF
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When a company hires, they look at all available data on the candidate, including strength of the program from which they come. This can help a candidate graduating from a well ranked program receive a look. Then they usually interview the candidate and listen to him/her make a presentation, and/or have a conversation with him/her. If during that interview, the candidate cannot answer any questions or teach the interviewer anything, then the ranking of the school cannot help him/her. Similarly a candidate from an lower ranked school who acquits himself/herself well, and persuades the company that they will be useful has a strong chance to be hired. At least this is my experience from serving at an academic department at a research oriented university, and I think it extends to business based on my conversations with technical professionals I know. I have seen weak people from famous schools get hired, but I have also seen them disappear quickly.
The company I work for has essentially this same process for hiring PhDs. I am not a hiring manager (thank goodness!) but have done on-campus recruiting and quite a few candidate interviews. The big-name school will certainly help you get the first interview, as will having an advisor that has produced current employees that we are happy with, but after that it doesn't seem to matter terribly much. I have seen candidates from top-5 universities turned away, and candidates from way outside the top 50 get hired.

jason
 
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  • #11
CrysPhys
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probably, but it may have been hand lettered with magic marker. It's been a long time and embarrassing memories become obscured, while the scars linger.
I commiserate. My T-shirt, with the Gnurdy Beaver logo, wasn't much of a chick magnet on the streets of Cambridge.
 
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  • #13
CrysPhys
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  • #14
Thanks for sharing all the input and experiences everyone! There's a lot for me to think about.
 
  • #15
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I think name recognition can be very important. Especially among laypeople and people are HR departments. They aren't going to look at the publications of the specific research group or PI you worked for. They are going to respond to 'MIT' or 'Harvard' or 'Stanford', etc.

Also doesn't say anything about the corporate culture. And if you care about corporate culture, good luck finding one that is pleasant.
 
  • #16
Scrumhalf
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I run an R&D department at an electronics company. We are located in the US and we hire almost exclusively from the US. Even for foreign citizens, it is easier to get them going with work permits when they are physically in the country. If you want to end up being working in the US, then IMO, all else being equal, going to a US institution will be a decided advantage.

If you want to return to Canada after your degree, then maybe this criterion is less important.
 
  • #17
The social networks will matter. The schools you mentioned are the leaders in the field you are interested in, so you will be connected in ways that somebody at Bog Swamp State University will not be.

However, most R1 universities in the US have some area of specialty where they are the leaders, and going to Princeton will not help you. For instance, I am at a school ranked somewhere in the 20's/40's for my interests (physics/EE), but my adviser is considered the world leader in the discipline in which I am working. Working for him is like following Moses: the waves just get out of the way!

Princeton has I think one guy in the subfield who is regarded positively but is not very well known.
 
  • #18
analogdesign
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I should also add that at the PhD level (at least in Electrical Engineering) you get your first job almost always through personal contacts of your advisor. If you're applying to jobs on Monster.com or whatever, your advisor let you down. My first job was at a startup where my advisor was on the Technical Advisory Board.

Today, now that I'm a hiring manager, when I open a requisition (and we mostly hire PhDs for design positions) the first thing I do is email the professors I know to see if they have good students graduating. Of the last two hires I've made, one was from a top-three school, and the other from a less well-known (but still solid) school (but the candidate had a strong advisor).

So, at the PhD level, I would say go to a school for the advisor first, then the school's general reputation later. I would probably flip that for an MS.

<edit> I also want to agree with Crass_Oscillator. My cohort of PhDs acts like a kind of junior mafia in the Silicon Valley. A bunch of us keep in touch and keep each other informed of new opportunities and the like. Social networks are very important in EE at least.
 
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  • #19
Meir Achuz
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How well you do in grad school is more important than what grad school it is. Princeton will get you interviews, but then they will look at your grades and recommendations.
 
  • #20
CrysPhys
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How well you do in grad school is more important than what grad school it is. Princeton will get you interviews, but then they will look at your grades and recommendations.
That's far too simplistic. If you go to a mediocre grad school with mediocre professors, work for a mediocre advisor, get straight A+s, and get glowing letters of recommendation, don't expect to be enthusiastically courted by employers.
 
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  • #21
The social networks will matter. The schools you mentioned are the leaders in the field you are interested in, so you will be connected in ways that somebody at Bog Swamp State University will not be.

However, most R1 universities in the US have some area of specialty where they are the leaders, and going to Princeton will not help you. For instance, I am at a school ranked somewhere in the 20's/40's for my interests (physics/EE), but my adviser is considered the world leader in the discipline in which I am working. Working for him is like following Moses: the waves just get out of the way!

Princeton has I think one guy in the subfield who is regarded positively but is not very well known.
I'd like to stay in the field after I get my PhD, and if I knew I could then I'd simply go to the school with the best group I can work with. However in the case I can't would having connections with the leaders in the field help with a getting an interesting job in another field, say R&D in semiconductors as an example, or would the name of the school help more (assuming I did the same work at each school)?
 
  • #22
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One question. Out of all the physics post docs how many end up as university faculty and how many don't ?

If the above question is too vague, physics postdocs of which specialisation are more likely to get faculty positions ?
 
  • #23
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In some ways this is like asking whether wearing a name brand shirt will improve your ability to get a date.

In some cases, I'm sure it will.
Indeed. And do you want to go out with such a person?

One question. Out of all the physics post docs how many end up as university faculty and how many don't ?
If a professor graduates N (~10) students per year, only 1 of whom is needed to replace him, and x (~50%) of PhDs take postdocs, the answer is 1/(Nx) or of order 20%.
 
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  • #24
ChrisVer
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That's far too simplistic. If you go to a mediocre grad school with mediocre professors, work for a mediocre advisor, get straight A+s, and get glowing letters of recommendation, don't expect to be enthusiastically courted by employers.
I agree, that was too simplistic but it is partially true. It is also a reason why I don't think that grades alone can provide valuable information about the candidate. I've seen people with 9-10/10 failing miserably during their theses, where they have to do something new, while I've seen "mediocre" grades of 6-7/10 do an amazing job... It is like looking at a distribution which tells me that the average age of a population is 36 and me assuming that a candidate who applies for my job is around 36 years old. I think in general the most important point is the interview, where you have to prove what you are capable of; like explain how you picked up a project and smashed it through.
 
  • #25
Dr Transport
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If a professor graduates N (~10) students per year, only 1 of whom is needed to replace him, and x (~50%) of PhDs take postdocs, the answer is 1/(Nx) or of order 20%.
Don't you mean per career???
 
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