How much weight does a department's hiring committee give to the prestige of a candidate's PhD program when looking to hire tenure-track professors?

Does someone coming from a top 5 university with a short publication record have a better chance than someone from a ranked ~50 school with a better record?


3 Answers 3


In philosophy in the US, graduates of the top 5 programs got 37% of the total jobs. Graduates of the roughly 75 programs not ranked in the top 50 all together got 12% of the total jobs. The impact of prestige on hiring is overwhelming.



Spurred by xLeitex's comments below, I did a bit more research and thus am editing my answer to provide a few more links I've found, since I think the topic is both important, and it comes up somewhat regularly on the site.

First, Baldi 1995 found that "job placement in sociology values academic origins over performance."

Second, Burris 2004, 250 argues that the "social capital" involved in coming from a prestigious department affects not only one's placement into a first job, but also one's subsequent academic career.

Third, Long 1978, 902 argues that scholarly productivity is "facilitated by department location" but that "productivity, as indicated by measures of publication and citation, plays an insignificant role in the selection process."

Certainly the picture that these three articles present makes it looks like prestige of one's PhD granting department isn't merely correlated with getting a successful academic career, but is an important causal factor.

  • 2
    I agree that the distribution places where professors got their PhDs is long-tailed. But I'm wondering if students were able to land good jobs because they were already really bright to begin with (and could have gotten a good job coming from a lower-ranked university). Or if the prestige of the institution actually helped candidates, even those who weren't as bright. Mar 2, 2016 at 6:00
  • Sure it's hard to sift all this out. You might also expect that maybe the premise is false and students from top programs actually do publish more and in better quality venues, etc. to my knowledge no work has been done on this topic among philosophers. The logistical challenges of gathering the data are considerable, and philosophers don't have the kinds of cash to fund these studies. Interested to hear if other fields have performed the studies though.
    – user10636
    Mar 2, 2016 at 6:06
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    I am 100% sure there is correlation, it is less clear to me that there is causality. In other words, your first two sentences do not naturally lead to the conclusion in the third for me.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 2, 2016 at 9:42
  • @xLeitix sure, I don't know how to prove causation here. Do you have any ideas? I guess I'd have to know something about the distribution of philosophical ability and then argue that the distributions of jobs does follow the distribution of ability, and that the factor that accounted for the difference is pedigree. I don't know how to track that though. Any thoughts?
    – user10636
    Mar 2, 2016 at 12:04
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    I can imagine a couple of mechanisms prestige to come into play. First, a direct effect: search committee members might simply be straightforwardly biased towards top schools (or there own home depts---if princetonians all love princetonians, then you'd expect that the more princetonians get jobs, the more friendly faces they'll see on searches). Second, I can also imagine indirect effects. Being at a top school gets you access to things like a network of high-profile letter of rec writers. Or the ability to send your work to top scholars who can help you it to publication.
    – user10636
    Mar 2, 2016 at 12:22

I haven't been on a tenure-track hiring committee, but while I was on the searching end, I was told that pedigree was a factor (not necessarily a big one), because people in other subfields had trouble judging how good a candidate's work was, even given their publication history, but could evaluate their pedigree.

This effect may be more pronounced in fields like math, where there are big variations across subfields in how much people publish.

  • In math it's much EASIER to evaluate the quality of people's work: you can just read their papers.
    – Tom Church
    Mar 3, 2016 at 4:47
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    @TomChurch I don't want to impugn your abilities, but I don't know many mathematicians who can read, understand and appreciate the relative importance of work in other subfields for dozens of candidates in the time they can reasonably allow for a search. I think people are more likely to look at publication venues or letters than Ph.D. pedigree, but everyone has to use some shortcuts. Mar 3, 2016 at 5:37

I've been on search committees several times (in math at a large state university in the US) and different people look at different things, but I personally give almost no weight to where someone got their PhD, and I think this is mostly true for most of my colleagues. (Note: in math, you essentially have to do about 3 or so years of postdocs before getting a tenure-track research position, so we have more data about applicant than fields that hire tenure-tracks straight out of PhD.) What I give the most weight are publications and letters of recommendation.

That said, being at better institutions tends to expose you to more ideas and current research, good collaboration opportunities, and can often make it easier for you to get stronger letters. See the posts linked in the comments for more about advantages of "prestige schools."

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