Monday, May 29, 2006

How important is your first job out of grad school?

There's an interesting article over at Slate about graduate student anxiety over getting faculty jobs. The article addresses whether getting a great job at research school essentially makes you a better and more influential researcher. It doesn't give much details, and deals only with some work on economics PhDs. The link to the academic study shows the paper isn't freely available.

But I'm more concerned with phrasing the question a bit differently. Say someone lucks out and gets a tenure-track job at a small, non-research college. Does this hurt their chances at moving up later to a research school? Say the person manages to get lots of work accomplished which is significant, though not trail blazing. I would imagine research schools would presume the candidate more of a teacher, especially if that person stayed long enough to get tenure.

Now imagine that same person had instead lucked out and gotten a faculty job at a research school. S/he would have lots of research support, grad students, colleagues in the same field, etc. Probably lots of invites to conferences out of which good collaborations would form. Same researcher, very different outcome.

I've got more thoughts about this that I'll probably detail in the future. Suffice it now, for me to say that there's lots of feedback in this system...all else being equal between two researchers, a bit of a push by a powerful advisor or some luck in the hiring process at an early stage can drive more and more success to that person. Indeed, even just a little "buzz" seems to attract more...very nonlinear.


Douglas Natelson said...

I agree completely. When I was looking at faculty jobs, I had to decide between my current (research) institution, and an offer from a first-rate liberal arts teaching institution. At the undergrad college, my resources would have been vastly reduced compared to the opportunities I've had at a research place. On the other hand, they really do value teaching, and the quality of life was very appealing. I partly based my eventual decision on the fact that, as far as I can tell, it's largely a one-way street. You can always think about going from a research place to a teaching school, but unless you've had really great research at an undergrad college, it's hard to go the other direction. I was worried that I'd always wonder what kind of research opportunities I was missing....

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