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I know for those wishing to have a career in academia that branding is key for securing a tenure track position. Branding is also key for certain industries at the undergrad level. I was wondering if that bias softens a bit at the PhD level, specifically for life science roles. How many doors shut if one gets a degree from a Top 30 instead of a Top 10 institution?

I figured HR recruitment would not have a clue how great your PI is in whatever field. Moreover with software based resume screening being so prevalent, searching for MIT, CalTech etc... may be a shortest route to get resumes down to reasonable number.

As a follow on question, say one gets a postdoc at an elite institution does that have any effect on said bias?

Any comments are appreciated.

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  • Possible duplicate of academia.stackexchange.com/questions/90/…
    – Alexandros
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 16:02
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    @Alexandros I disagree with it being a duplicate since I am referring specifically to industry and dealing more with the tier level of the school. The question in your link is very generic. Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 16:15
  • What bias are you talking about - the 'bias' of people looking at the school you graduated from? I also can't wrap my head around the statement that a Postdoc might effect 'said bias'. Can we use less catchy, and more descriptive words? Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 16:16
  • @gnometorule Yes. At the undergrad level it is quite large, but finishing a PhD is tough no matter where you go. I want to know if the bias diminishes somewhat at the Phd level, for industry roles (not limited to a research lab). So if one attends a strong school, but not necessarily Ivy or Ivy-like, how much of a ding is that against you? Can that be eliminated with a post doc at an elite institution? Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 16:25
  • I think it is very dependent on industry and the position. Pharma, biotech most probably value academic experience more than others
    – Greg
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 16:36

3 Answers 3

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Ok, get it now. I don't think we are talking about a 'bias' here: you fear that the ranking of your Ph.D. granting institution will not play in your favor with industry; if you get a Postdoc at a higher ranked school, will this help in industry? And does ranking at the graduate level matter in industry?

As a Ph.D. (PostDoc), and in many industries, you rarely come in through HR. It's probably more common to rely on contacts, friends, academic collaborators, and recruiters. This already somewhat dampens the impact of where you studied. If you hope to get in through HR, expect trouble. What I say next assumes that you largely stay near your field of study (you're not a biologist seeking to do momentum trading).

Not quite dissimilar to JeffE's answer to a related question, at the PostDoc level you are expected to have some research to show; and as you probably won't show it to HR, the people you talk to quite possibly understand what you did, or maybe even are familiar with it. They also might know, or have heard of, your PI, which you mention as well you wonder if they do. A famous alma mater is certainly nice, but it will matter much less than how highly they think of what you did, and how it fits into your possible job there.

Applying as a Ph.D. (only) in industry will put much more emphasis on your graduating institution: in many fields, even if you publish, it might not yet be printed; and the breadth and number of your contributions tends to be naturally fairly small. I think hiring, in industry, based on name makes more sense then; but your field of specialization, and what you did, still matter quite a bit.

Finally, the further your potential job is from your field of expertise (and that is common too: I've seen people go from CERN to building user interfaces), the more names matter - as is probably no surprise to you. It also matters in just making people curious about you - in the stage of getting an interview; whereas what I wrote before is you discussing a job at a desk or lab.

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    I'd actually argue that where you studied can make a huge difference in industry prospects, not so much due to tier, but precisely because you're more likely to go through a contact. Different institutions can have very different contacts, and the industries/companies that are more closely linked to (people at) your institution will be much easier to get jobs at. One of the most important factors of doing a post-doc is that it exposes you to an additional set of contacts.
    – Roger Fan
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 3:33
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The following is based on my experience as both a hiring manager and as a participant in the hiring process in industry.

I'll say "not so much", with the slight caveat that it slightly depends on the type of position to which you're applying. When we were hiring at the bank, we gave a lot of weight to the undergraduate institution. For those applying with PhDs, weight was given if the advisor was well known in the field, but beyond that not so much. We placed a lot more importance on the ability of the candidate to actually explain what they did quickly and concisely. A few times we had candidates who were from outstanding programs and outstanding universities, but that really only got them the initial phone screen... if they couldn't broadly explain their topic in three minutes or less they went in the reject pile like anyone else.

The same was true for postdoctoral fellowships.

I will say that there were a few candidates who got a leg up simply because they had collaborated extensively, and they had some connection with someone on the team. Again, though, that just got them in the door... we never hired someone simply because they had a performed research at a respected university.

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The answer is that a better PhD program is better for your "industry" prospects, all other thing being equal. But as you noted, this tendency "softens" for PhD students.

That is because people who interview PhDs are more technically oriented themselves. PhD resumes tend to "short circuit" HR and go directly to hiring managers. These managers will want to know what you've done in your program and how well. So pick the school that best matches your aptitude and interests. If it is a Next 20 program that you will do particularly well in, that will make up for the supposed quality of the school.

Bottom line: You'll probably want to be a better student at a "Next 20" school than a mediocre student at a Top 10 school. But if you figure to be about as good at one school or another, then the Top 10 school is better for the resume.

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