I have noticed while reading CVs of professors in STEM fields that universities only hire up. First-tier and second-tier universities seem to only recruit professors from first-tier PhD programs, third tier universities only hire from top and second tier PhD programs, and so on. It seems like it is very unlikely for anyone graduating from a university that's not first-tier to have an academic career. I can think of a few explanations:
- Maybe everyone wants to hire the first-tier "brand." Hiring committees could be too busy to evaluate the relative merits of their candidates, choosing to trust in brand names instead.
- There could be something wrong with second-tier PhD programs and below that cause them to produce candidates unsuitable for tenure track. Maybe there is something that certain universities instill in everyone who goes there that causes both increased output when they are there, and a long and successful career afterwards.
- Perhaps most students bright enough to produce an impressive amount of research in grad school are bright enough to produce an impressive amount of research in undergrad. In that case, most of the good researchers get admitted to top-tier programs, making it unsurprising that virtually every tenured professor came from one. In this theory, research potential is an innate characteristic that universities have little effect on.
If the first dominates, then I should not bother getting a PhD unless I can go to a top-tier university, or unless I think it will boost an industrial career. If the second dominates, I would still want to go to the best school possible, but it would not be completely pointless to go to a second-tier institution; maybe hard work could close the gap. If the third explanation is true, the university's prestigiousness hardly matters at all, and I should choose based on factors like how interested I am in the research being conducted there.
So, in the light of these guesses, do you think it is possible for someone to distinguish themselves at a second-tier institution through hard work, high research output, and maybe a really good thesis - or is the second-to-first tier gap impossible to jump?