Will your Ph.D. lead to an academic job? To answer that question, prospective students are often encouraged to see how recent graduates fared — a task easier said than done. Department placement lists are catalogs of untold stories, a logroll of the disappeared. Those who left academia are erased: According to my own alma mater, for example, I never existed, along with the majority of my colleagues who failed to find academic jobs in the Great Recession. There is no placement list for the displaced.
A more useful indicator of whether your doctoral program is a pathway to employment lies in whom the department hires. Because chances are, you will see the same few institutional names again and again. During my own time in graduate school, my department hired several faculty members, all with different specialties and skills, all with one thing in common: Harvard, Harvard, Harvard, Harvard.
The evidence is not only anecdotal. A recent study by Aaron Clauset, Samuel Arbesman, and Daniel B. Larremore shows that “a quarter of all universities account for 71 to 86 percent of all tenure-track faculty in the U.S. and Canada in these three fields. Just 18 elite universities produce half of all computer science professors, 16 schools produce half of all business professors, and eight schools account for half of all history professors.” This study follows the discovery by political scientistRobert Oprisko that more than half of political-science professorships were filled by applicants from only 11 universities. <Read more.>