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Physics PhD from a mediocre university

  1. Mar 5, 2013 #1
    I feel like this question has probably been asked but i couldn't find it anywhere. Is getting a PhD in physics from just a local university that's not highly ranked worth it? In general, how better off would someone be if they graduated from an ivy league? Do the majority of the tenured professors at big name schools have a PhD from a big name school as well?
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  3. Mar 6, 2013 #2
    Define mediocre university. I don't think a university with the resources to train phd's can qualify as mediocre, personally.

    When you look at tenured professors at top 50 schools, there is a clear abundance of people who did phd's at top universities. BUT there is also a huge selection bias in the sample of people you are looking at. More than likely, these were people who were productive in research before they even made it to grad school and that trend likely followed throughout. This makes it likely for them to get into top schools, get prestigious fellowships, postdocs, etc. that makes them the best candidates for tenured jobs.

    But you will find a lot of exceptions to this.
  4. Mar 6, 2013 #3


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    It does not work like that.
    Which group you do your PhD in (and who your is supervisor is) is much, much more important than the university.
    Of course there is correlation between "good univerisites" and "good groups", but there are plenty of examples of small universities that have maybe one or two really good research groups that are really well known in their specific field.
    There are also many examples of mediocre research groups at good universities.
  5. Mar 6, 2013 #4


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    Myself and many of my friends graduated from physics PhD programs ranked over 100. We work for colleges and universities as tenure-track professors (state schools, liberal arts schools, private universities), a few have postdocs and permanent positions at NASA, and a couple are working at as research scientists at ivies. While having a degree from a top school will help you get your first job, at bit anyways, it's much more about what you've accomplished than where you accomplished it. Some random state schools have excellent programs in specific fields.
  6. Mar 6, 2013 #5


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    To help measure "worth", one should answer
    what you plan to do with your PhD afterwards.
    Industry? Academia? Research? Teaching? stepping stone to another degree (e.g. MD or JD)?...
  7. Apr 4, 2013 #6
    How useful is a Phd from a non top ranked school?

    Seems like everyone who wants to go to grad school will accept nothing less than an ivy league. Lets say i got a Phd from a university ranked in the 50s or 60s. How much will that disadvantage me when trying to get a professorship at a similarly ranked university?
  8. Apr 4, 2013 #7


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    Ranked by whom, when, using which criteria, and in what field?

    For the sake of argument, let's assume that you already know then general odds of getting a tenure-track position are slim for anyone.

    The major factors that generally come into play on search and selection committees are things like:
    - the nature of the work the candidate has done
    - quality and quantity of publications
    - proposed research plans
    - a proven ability and/or potential to bring in external funding
    - how well the candidate's work fits with other work being done in the department
    - teaching experience
    - academic presentation quality

    The quality of the work you do and the mentorship you receive may have a correlation with a rank, but it's imporant to assess these factors independently as they relate to your specific situation and not rely on a single number that applies to the institution as a whole.
    rank of a school tends to have little to do any of these. What is important is how well you will perform and the skills you learn at the school you attend.
  9. Apr 4, 2013 #8


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    Most of my friends and I graduated from physics grad programs ranked 100 or higher. We're college professors (community colleges, liberal art schools, state and private universities), we work for national labs and NASA, we're scientists are top institutions including ivy league schools. It's really not the school you graduate from that matters. It's the quality of your work. Physics grad school rankings are directly proportional to the number of PhDs they produce every year in physics. Smaller programs aren't necessarily bad, they're just smaller. Many have great resources and very strong department in specific fields. It's really not about the name of the school once you get to grad school. It's about your specific research area.
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