Friday, February 9, 2018

Chemistry professors and their postdoctoral institutions

Credit: Dan Singleton
Via Twitter, Professor Dan Singleton of Texas A&M does a little sleuthing using the Directory of Graduate Research (tweets 1, 2 and 3): 
1. The top schools do impressively but they are not the only path to get a faculty job. Over half come from places outside of the top 10.
2. The correlation with school reputation is loose.
3. There is an inverse correlation with football quality. 
I expect that if we looked at graduate school institution, the distribution would be / less top heavy by a good margin.  That is, a medium graduate school followed by a good postdoc is a perfectly fine path to a faculty position. This has been studied in the economics literature. It is better to be the best person at a lesser school than third best at Harvard.
This is pretty unsurprising (especially the Pareto distribution of postdoctoral institutions.)

I am very curious to know what this would look like by decade cohorts. I presume that, for our modern times (2008-2018), the gatekeeper institutions have gotten stronger, not weaker. (i.e. the institutions may be different, but the top 5 will have more than those for the top 5 for previous decades.) Readers, what say you? 


  1. The top 5 look very much as expected.

  2. Interesting to compare to tenure-track placement of 2008-2010 PhD cohort, by graduate school institution:

  3. What I want to see is these numbers divided by the number of postdocs in that institution--a "per capita" measure, if you will. I supspect that it will parallel these absolute numbers.

    I think there is an inversese correlation between these numbers and individual frustration and misery. Frustrating that people lesser down the list have to work so much harder to get a door open for them.

    1. Disclaimer: this is personal experience, anecdote /= data, etc.

      As a prospective grad student - and in talking with colleagues at conferences and visiting places for talks - almost across the board the most miserable students/postdocs seemed to be in places like those at the top of the list. Awful work/life balance, super competitive, no collaboration, that kind of thing. So maybe not as bleak as you think to not be at a place like that!

    2. Gotcha: the question is this: is the misery of being at a high-end institution for grad school/post-doc, but in the end getting a good job and great pay, more than the misery of having a pleasant grad school experience in a low-end school, but not getting a great job and great pay?

    3. @10:14: Short answer: No. Long answer: definitely not

  4. 3. There is an inverse correlation with football quality.

    Colorado State is an outlier in this trend

  5. Thanks for this analysis. I figured there was a trend like this while researching professors during my job search. I, too would like to see the graduate trend (you can get a feeling from the link by 9:03).

    Some questions though: What are the total numbers? I got on the original Directory of Graduate Research link and restricted it to Chemistry, and some 6400 people came up. The list above is only 55 schools. Top 5 account for 1249, numbers 5-10 another 600, and 11-55 1976 for a total of 2025 (may be arithmetic error, didn't double check). Looking at wikipedia's listing of R1/R2/R3 institutions, you get 334 schools. So there's some 4400 professors remaining at 279 institutions for an average of 16ish per school. But number 55 on the list above is 11, so clearly I screwed something up.

    Regardless, I disagree with point 1 in the original post. Sure, they're not the ONLY path, but they're a sight more successful the other ones. If you want a faculty position you'll do better the higher you go. Top 10 preferably, and if it's not in the top 50, your second postdoc better be.

    It's unclear to me what the crossover from top 50 ugrad to top 50 grad, to top 50 postdoc is, but I presume that will also correlate. Another big questions is how much better are those top 10 than spots 10-50 and likewise 10-50 to 50+? Has this come about only because we believe it and make it self reinforcing? Is regional diversity the next big thing? Same for every other field I guess, every judge on the Supreme Court has come through Harvard or Yale.

  6. What geographies does the Directory of Graduate Research cover? This list only has three schools not located in the USA.

  7. Harvard fair Harvard for the win (although I could see them losing the lead as that chemistry department is far from what it used to be...)