My friends and I were just discussing about this question: do people need to have their PhDs at Harvard to get tenure at MIT (and vice versa) in STEM fields? I know theoretically, the answer is supposed to be "No", and "It depends on many other factors". But I just skimmed through MIT's Biology and Harvard's Biophysics department; it appears that those two giants only want to marry each other.

I wonder if there are are any detailed statistics of where faculty from H&M did their PhD and postdoc.

  • 8
    I don't know much about the departments you mention, but I see no evidence at all for this (and in mathematics it's certainly false). I just looked at the first ten faculty members in the MIT biology department, alphabetically. One assistant professor, two associate professors, and one adjunct professor (deputy director of the Broad Institute), and the rest were full professors (one emeritus). Three were Stanford Ph.D.s, two Berkeley, two Harvard, and one each from UMass, Vienna, and Wisconsin. This isn't a good enough sample to answer your question definitively, but it's not 100% Harvard. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 3:56
  • 6
    +1 for asking for interesting statistical data; -1 for the question written in an argumentative way. Not upvoting for now, I encourage you to edit it to a more neutral tone. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 6:31
  • 4
    The answer certainly is "no". This question suffers from two misapprehensions. First, it is not at all true that Harvard and MIT are unambiguously the top universities for STEM fields. In my own discipline of mathematics, they are among the top, but are essentially tied with Princeton, Chicago, Berkeley, and Stanford; similar things are true in other disciplines. (continued) Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 1:51
  • 11
    Secondly, where you got your PhD probably plays less of a role in hiring decisions at top places like Harvard and MIT than at lesser institutions. The kinds of people who sit on hiring committees at those kinds of places are not at all impressed by a fancy degree -- what matters is the work you have done. This is especially true since they typically do most of their hiring at the senior level. The majority of their faculty certainly have degrees from top places, but you shouldn't confuse correlation with causation... Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 1:57
  • 2
    where you got your PhD probably plays less of a role in hiring decisions at top places like Harvard and MIT than at lesser institutions — [citation needed]
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 19:23

1 Answer 1


I have never sat on a tenure case at either Harvard or MIT, so my answer is purely conjecture. While it is possible the first thing the tenure committee does is look at where the PhD is from and throws out everyone not from Harvard/MIT, that seems very unlikely. Tenure decisions are about teaching, service, and research. At the point of tenure decisions, the school your PhD is from is essentially meaningless although there may be some correlation between research productivity and where your PhD is from any longer term causative effects are probably pretty limited.

Where the PhD is from plays some role on initial hiring at all universities and if you don't have a TT position it is much harder to get tenure. Additionally, where you work probably has some causative effect on research productivity giving Harvard and MIT PhDs additional advantages (or at least preventing disadvantages). Therefore it is not surprising that lots of tenured faculty have PhDs from Harvard and MIT.

  • 4
    FYI: the Harvard math department has only one rank for tenure-track faculty: professor [i.e., full professor with tenure]. They sometimes hire people who become very young full professors, but most of their hires were tenure track or tenured elsewhere. Though I don't know for a fact that "Tenure decisions are about teaching, service, and research." is inaccurate, I strongly suspect this is not the case nor even claimed to be the case. It sure looks like they go after whoever they think is absolutely the best research mathematician they can get. Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 17:18
  • 1
    (They actually have a separate position "Professor of the Practice of Mathematics"!) Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 17:20
  • @PeteL.Clark I didn't mean to imply the three were equally ranked. I wasn't aware of how Maths works at Harvard, I think that structure is not the norm.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 18:27
  • 2
    That structure is definitely not the norm: it would only be relevant in a question which is specific to STEM departments at Harvard and MIT. :) Part of the point of my comment is that the tenure decision is synonymous with the hiring decision, so they are not evaluating candidates on their teaching and research at the given department at all. My honest guess is that teaching and service (anywhere) is not evaluated in the slightest when it comes to these hiring decisions. It would be understandable if an expensive private university would not say this so baldly, but even so... Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 18:50
  • @PeteL.Clark yes it is relevant, but there are a lot of departments in STEM fields that have more traditional hiring and tenure processes at Harvard and MIT.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 19:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .