Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Should You Go to a Prestigious Graduate School?

Heather Dubrow of Fordham University has a very helpful piece up at Inside Higher Ed on prestige in higher education.  Any undergraduate wants to get into the best graduate program possible.  As Dubrow notes, "prestige" is important on the job market, but it can also be "fools gold liable to distort our perceptions of people."  In the same way, jobs at research universities are often seen as more prestigious than jobs at even the finest of liberal arts colleges.  Here is a taste of her essay:

In any event, even when accepting one’s first appointment, and certainly later on, if one is lucky enough to have a choice one should carefully weigh factors different from and sometimes in conflict with prestige. Regrettably, dissertation directors and other mentors may well discount those factors when advising students. Sometimes, having spent their whole careers in major research institutions, they themselves know little about other genres of institutions. Far more regrettably, too many believe that their own prestige is enhanced or decreased by the institutional label sported by their former students. The habit of listing on one’s vita the names and current affiliations of one’s dissertators is telling.
A friend of mine turned down an offer from Major Ivy in favor of Middle-Ranked State University because of the low chances of tenure at the former and never regretted the decision. And people who are sure their primary commitment is to the classroom rather than research, as well as committed critics and researchers deeply engaged with undergraduate teaching and dubious about the often conflicting celebration of professional “visibility,” may well welcome an appointment at an institution that shares — and celebrates — their values. (I did so when I chose Carleton, and many years later when I moved to Fordham.)
Of course, conversations like this seem a bit odd in light of the woeful state of today's academic job market.  Perhaps the kind of choices that Dubrow writes about are only available to those who attended prestigious institutions.