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Managed to do it

The folks who hired me--at a SLAC--told me the following. I trust them, but take it for what it is worth. They wanted someone to teach M&E and its history.

1. Only applicants who fit the teaching needs of the department (and job ad) were considered. So, given my area is in M&E and the history of M&E, I got an interview. Anyone working in, say, ethics or phil science was not considered. General and special rankings didn't matter, fitting the ad mattered.
2. Teaching experience and publications mattered next. At my institution, the focus is on teaching, but you need to publish a handful of things for tenure. Having publications, and, in particular, publications in M&E and its history, were given a lot of weight.
3. By the time people passed through 1 and 2, it wasn't necessary to look at specialty rankings. That's because you could look at general rankings and publications. If the department wants M&E and its history, and someone has published on M&E and its history, it doesn't matter if they went to a place with a low or high ranking for M&E and its history. What matters is that you can teach what they need taught, have proven yourself an expert in the desired areas via publications, and went to a sufficiently respectable PhD granting institution. My PhD is from a strong but not elite program (~20 Leiter ranking) with no real focus on M&E or its history.

In other words, I guess I'm saying that publishing in the desired areas does more to show search committees that you're up for the job than going to an institution with a strength in the desired areas.

TT search member

I've only been on one TT search committee (R1 university; value theory job), but I certainly didn't care AT ALL where a candidate did their PhD. This did not factor into my decision-making, and I didn't have the impression that my fellow committee members cared, either—several of whom are well-known senior figures. FWIW nobody put much stock in reference letters either (this pleasantly surprised me). So the fact that top schools often mean famous letter writers also did not really seem to imply that where candidates did their PhD played even an indirect role.


Presumably it should also be borne in mind that, while hiring committees may not pay attention to the specialty ranking of your PhD institution as such, they may still be impressed if you have letters from or were supervised by very well-regarded philosophers in that/your specialty. Going to programs that specialise heavily are likely to have 'big names' in that specialisation.

beep beep

As a disclaimer, I have never been on a hiring committee. But I would take self-reports pertaining to any kind of bias, including prestige bias, with a grain of salt, particularly when committee members vehemently deny that it has any influence on hiring. Research has shown that bias is an implicit phenomenon, meaning we often cannot recognize ourselves as having certain biases, let alone as making decisions based off of those implicit biases. This is, after all, one of the reasons why HR works to minimize or mitigate the effects of bias against different demographic groups.

As such, anecdotes about the processes behind individual hiring decisions will not give you an accurate picture on questions like this. The most reliable information on the effects of PhD ranking on hiring can be found in (1) research articles on the effects of prestige bias in academic hiring (such as the one linked by Marcus), which contrary to self-reports that prestige played *no role* do indeed report a *strong* correlation between PhD ranking and job market outcomes, (2) on the PhilJobs hiring announcements page, where you can try and look for these patterns yourself, and (3) on the placement page for departments you are interested in applying to. Note that (2) and (3) will give you incomplete data because they only show you the successful outcome and not profiles of the large number of applicants who don't get jobs at all.

For what it's worth, my PhD program ranks decently well in area rankings for my AOS and only recently broke into the overall top-15. I went on the market with a handful of very solid publications and independent teaching experience and although I got a very good job in the end, I had a hard time landing a TT job relative to my peers from fancier institutions who had no research output at all and very little teaching experience. I know my experience isn't uncommon and I can recognize the patterns I see in the profession, so I worry that trying to deny wholesale that prestige bias in general influences how this profession operates does a disservice both to job applicants and to people who sincerely ask these questions because they want to maximize their chances of success further down the line.

If I could go back in time, I would definitely advise myself to aim for a school that has *both* a high specialty ranking and a high (top-10 if not top-5) overall ranking. How you fare on the market depends so much on your AOS too (I'm a historian) so sometimes lower-ranked or even unranked departments that are strong in very niche areas where there's more demand for jobs and where elite schools don't have anyone at all (at least yet) end up doing very well on placement. I want to be clear that as with most things, there are no hard and fast rules. It is certainly the case that people from lower ranked or unranked programs get great jobs and that sometimes even people from very fancy institutions struggle a bit. As other people have pointed out, there are a lot of factors at play.


The short answer is there is no single answer to this question. Search committees are made up of multiple people. Some people care about pedigree, some don’t, and some do to a lesser but still some extent.

I’m someone who places next to no value on PhD program *as a means of identifying philosophical strength and ability for hiring purposes.* There are much stronger signals, in my opinion. Some of my colleagues place a lot of weight on Leiter rankings for this purpose though. That means when I’m arguing in favor of a candidate I may strategically appeal to their institution even if I don’t care about it for that purpose. So even people who don’t care themselves may need to take it into account. (E.g., one of my favorite candidates in the last few searches went to an unranked PhD program but a strong undergraduate program. Some of my colleagues who were worried about the unranked PhD felt much better when I emphasized the undergraduate degree.)

More important to me, at my R2 department that values both research and teaching, is what your PhD program (and other educational experience) tells me about your preparation to teach at my university. If you went to fancy private school with tiny class sizes, you may not be prepared to teach in my not-so-fancy public school with large class sizes. So though I don’t look to PhD program for the purpose of evaluating your research prestige, I do sometimes think about it when I consider your preparation to teach in my school. (And all of these things are comparative. I wouldn’t rule anyone out simply because of their pedigree, but I do take these things into account when comparing candidates.)


@beep beep and others

What evidence is there for prestige bias? I couldn’t see anything in the linked article that shows this. As a very general rule the most prestigious universities have more faculty with more time who are better at philosophy and the students have more money and more resources and more mentors who know how the R1 market is run. Plus these programs are more competitive and so will already have admitted students who are successful—again this is just a very general rule. And even average students will be surrounded by talented students if they attend a top ranked phd program, which can benefit them. And so on. All in all, we should expect to see more prestigious universities be better at job placement than less prestigious universities. That is compatible with there being no prestige bias. The question is whethet, if all candidates were somehow able and required to redact their PhD granting institution from their CVs, we’d see the same pattern we see now. I don’t see that much reason to suppose that we wouldn’t.

beep beep

Not to fall into the trap of a sea-lioning comment, but for anyone reading these who might actually believe that “maybe applicants from the top-5 schools are actually better” feel free to actually look at the graphs and the commentary in the linked post, all you have to do is click on it. You can have a different interpretation of the data but the evidence you’re demanding is literally right there. There’s also a great deal of evidence and discussion in Helen De Cruz’s 2018 article in Ergo entitled “Prestige Bias: An Obstacle to a Just Philosophy”. Happy reading!

anon postdoc

To bloster to beep bepp: check out this at the Daily Nous:

and here's the link to De Cruz's excellent article:

“evidence” LOL

@beep beep and @anon postdoc, thanks very much for these points. Asking for evidence of prestige bias in academia is kind of like asking for evidence that the word ‘evidence’ begins with the letter ‘e.’ In other words, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that “prestigious” in academia does not mean “better” in all senses, but instead “privileged” and that which has flourished with respect to privilege. That’s not a hot take or an observation that needs any kind of proof, but even so, these are helpful sources and make the point very clearly.

Bill Vanderburgh

Since the rankings are mostly fake news, so to speak, I have never given them much weight in hiring. Or any weight, really, since I have no idea what those rankings are. I know that Duke and Stanford are well-regarded, but I couldn't tell you if they are higher or lower than Berkeley or Pittsburgh.

In our searches (teaching focused R2, large state regional university), we have never explicitly considered the department from which candidates earned their degrees. Most of us don't give much attention to letters, either. I don't have stats, but I don't think we interviewed a disproportionate number of folks from highly ranked institutions. (There were plenty such candidates in the pools, just because ranked departments tend to be larger and have more students.) The people from ranked schools we interviewed, like those we interviewed from any department, (a) fit the needs of the search, (b) had records of doing good philosophy, and (c) had teaching experience.

There are so few jobs at places where the rankings would be taken as relevant factors in hiring, and the chances of ending up in one of those jobs is so tiny, that most people and especially aspiring graduate students should (IMO) almost completely ignore that factor in decisions about which grad school to attend. Much more important are things like whether there are people there who study things you want to study, what kind of funding you'll get, how much teaching experience you'll acquire, what kinds of mentoring are available, what the community of fellow grad students is like, and degree completion rates. (You are much more likely to complete your degree, and to enjoy doing it and therefore produce better work that improves your chances of getting a job, if you are in a place that suits you in those dimensions.)


I'm on a hiring committee this year and I'm not looking at specialty rankings, if by that you mean the number. But I do look at the candidate's PhD program in terms of who was there and who trained the candidate, in the specialty we're seeking, regardless of the overall pedigree of the department. Indeed, I have already looked closely at several candidates because they trained at programs that, while well outside the top 10 or even the top 20, included close work with Big Shot Scholar in the relevant subfield. Such folks will have their files read, and everyone who makes that cut has an equal shot, regardless of pedigree.


For the hiring committees that I have been on (in the UK, at a mid-ranking university), it was more likely, if anything, that having a PhD from, say, Oxford would have been disadvantageous. That's beacuse there would have been a worry about how someone would adapt to the very different environment and type of student that we have compared with Oxbridge (or Yale or MIT, etc.). Ther's also flight-risk, etc. (university finances being what they are, if someone leaves, it's not a given that they'll be replaced).

However, we never - that I recall - had a discussion about where an applicant got their PhD from, either in terms of specialisation reputation or general. Like some comments above, if I dug out the data, I'd expect the majority of those interviewed did not get their PhD from the tip-top ranked universities [but perhaps some / many people from Oxbridge et al. wouldn't apply for a job with us].


I think many (but not most) philosophers have an intuitive sense of the generalist rankings (caveat: only the US list, not the international T50 or non-US rankings). I think almost nobody has any kind of sense about _any_ of the specialist rankings--so if a department were hiring in aesthetics, for example (they aren't!), I very much doubt that anyone would realize that Utah, UBC, or CUNY, say, are _much_ stronger departments in the subfield than Yale or Princeton.

But I think the default expectation is that if you went to the higher-ranked departments (in the general category) and you work in the subfield, you're a better bet than the other candidates. In other words, the specialist rankings, and who works on the subject in your PhD-granting department, actually matter very little, except in very indirect ways (such as introducing you to particular networks, acculturation you in the subfield, etc.). Those indirect effects are important for your own scholarly development, but they don't do a ton for you on the market.

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