Institute reputation?

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Institute reputation?

Postby Joel Knopf » Fri Feb 04, 2005 5:57 am

Hello everyone.

In many posts here, I have seen the use of the term "Institute reputation" to characterize the quality of the institute where the PhD of a potential job applicant was performed, and the use of the terms "first rate, second rate etc.". I have also come to recognize the importance of this reputation in helping a potential candidate find a good career position.
My questions are, how (and where) do I find out what is the reputation of the institute where I am performing my PhD research?
Also, is this reputation on an international level?
I ask this since I am just starting my PhD at the Weizmann institute of science, in Israel (a first rate institution in Israel), and will later probably look for career posibilities in the U.S.

Will the fact that my institute is considered very good where I come from help me in the states when I look for a career?

I think these questions will be of relevance to most international participants of this forum.

Thanks a lot
Joel Knopf
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Institute reputation?

Postby Kim » Fri Feb 04, 2005 7:59 am

Actually I have the same question. Who ranks the schools? And honestly, I do not believe that a 10th rank school is necessarily better than a 18th rank school. There are too many variables in the calculations. Different sets of standards with different parameters and different weighing mechanism would produce different rankings. The result could be manipulated. It is highly debatable.

It would be even more difficult to rank departments and divisions. For example, Chemistry Department in School A may have a very strong analytical chemistry division but a very weak organic chemistry division. An average Biochemistry Department in an average school may have an exceptionally strong protein structural division. How do you rank in these cases?

I cannot believe that some of us treat ranking like Holy Bible.

The better ranking mechanism should be first tier vs second tier vs third tier...

In your case, if you want a science career in the US, you probably need to do your PhD or postdoc in the US.
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Institute reputation?

Postby Emil Chuck » Fri Feb 04, 2005 9:13 am

Kim: "In your case, if you want a science career in the US, you probably need to do your PhD or postdoc in the US."

I think that definitely would give you a leg up in terms of networking for the next step. But depending on the impact of your work, it may not be that necessary... it just depends on how much your work is valued in the US. I would also suggest to try to form a collaboration with a lab in the US.

As for rankings... there are many ways to rank a school. The public consumption one that affects "undergraduate" or "graduate" training is the US News & World Report ranks, though it is more subjective than objective.

How you probably could "rank" is based on more objective criteria:
1) Number of publications (all sorts: peer-reviewed, reviews, books, etc.).
2) Number of funded program grants and amount (PPG, HHMI, etc.) per faculty+students
3) Number of individual research grants per faculty
4) Number of major award winners (National Academies memberships, for example) per department or group.

You can adjust up or down the "zoom" of your survey for similar programs (say in biomaterials) or similar departments (engineering schools). But remember, it's only a factor...
Emil Chuck
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Institute reputation?

Postby Andrew » Fri Feb 04, 2005 9:57 am

There are few international institutions that have a cachet in the US. A short list might look like ETH, Sorbonne, Oxford, Cambridge, Max-Planck Inst, Weizmann. Some might include Milan and Leiden on the list, but maybe not in the same tier. Have I missed any big ones? Certainly coming from the Weizmann will help you in a US job search. You should be able to also get a good US postdoc from there as well which will a good place to start a US job search from.
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Institute reputation?

Postby Lora » Fri Feb 04, 2005 10:42 am

I don't know, I think more depends on your own work than ranking. To me, it's like being a Freemason or a Sigma Xi, it's just a club. Anyway, look at some of the top-ranked US grad schools for sciences: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Illinois-UC and University of Michigan-AA are huge state schools, not Ivies, and they have achieved their rank by the quality of the innovation and instruction provided by individual professors, not by cachet or inheritance. If you've ever visited UWisc, you know what a laid-back, non-elitist, creative place it is to work; you definitely find different attitudes at, hmm, how do I put this, at schools where the school reputation is a daily concern.

To me, it was very off-putting to visit schools that were frantic about their reputation: there tended to be more office politics to deal with and infighting, everyone closely and jealously guarded information, equipment, etc. More laid-back schools were a nice change: folks were confident that if one idea didn't work out for some reason, they had ten more to try, and getting time on someone's machine wasn't an issue.

Institute reputation?

Postby Madison » Fri Feb 04, 2005 12:21 pm

In my job search I used the US News and World Report rankings.
They rank US Medical schools (research) and US medical schools (patient care). They also rank US grad schools by department (ie the top 5 schools for biochemistry).

I agree with the previous post about the international schools - but there's no actual ranking. The Weizmann has a good reputation over here - you should be able to get a postdoc at a top US school no problem. My advice is to postdoc at a VERY prominant school - it makes life much easier!

Institute reputation?

Postby Carlysle Tancha » Fri Feb 04, 2005 1:22 pm

Yes, I agree. Weizmann has a good reputation in the States, but added a prominent insitution in the US is very important for you.

At some point, it really matters about what kind of researcher you are, but you are also dependent on the kinds of resources available to you. I think that the laid-back, cool confident way is the best--it shows composure under heat and is self-reliant in the end.

With respect to other institutions abroad: I think the tide is changing with general views of where "good science" is being done. As with all globalization, it will be very interesting in the future to see how the competition plays out.
Carlysle Tancha
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Institute reputation?

Postby Jim Gardner » Fri Feb 04, 2005 3:12 pm

When I was looking to get into graduate school, my first consideration was not the reputation of the school, the department, or the specialty area (of interest to me) within that department. It was all about finding the right lab and advisor. I did fairly extensive research as an undergraduate and figured out the type of research I wanted to do as a graduate. With the help of my undergraduate research advisor, I targeted 3 specific labs that had well-known PIs and excellent reputations doing the type of research I was interested in. (This worked well, by the way--I got into one of the 3 labs.)

If you intend to stay in science after graduating, having a famous, respected, and well connected advisor is a great asset. If you leave science, the reputation of the schools you attended will carry more weight (since the hiring folks probably never heard of your advisor and don't know which are the top programs in your field).

Good luck!

Jim Gardner
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Institute reputation?

Postby Kim » Fri Feb 04, 2005 7:33 pm

I know about US News and World Report Ranking. But I always thought that their readers are mostly parents of high school kids.

I take a quick look at their ranking for graduate schools in biological science:
Top three schools are listed:
1. Stanford University (CA)
2. Harvard University (MA)
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

For Chemistry:
Also top three schools are listed
1. University of California?Berkeley
2. California Institute of Technology
2. Harvard University (MA)

The ranking is essentially useless to most of us because most of us do not go to these top schools. And I do not believe that a life science PhD from UC San Diego would be considered somewhat of a failure just because UCSD is not on the top three list from USN&WR.

For their ranking of National University:

I think if the difference is big, we can confidently say that one school is better than the other. For example,
1. Harvard
71. Michigan State Univeristy
117. Colorado State University
In this case, Harvard (1st) is definitely better than Michigan State (71th) and Colorado State (117th).

But I think we need to be careful not to overinterpret the result, if the difference is small. For example:
5. Duke
17. Rice
18. Vanderbilt
Do you actually think with absolute confidence and certainty that Duke (5th) is much better than Rice (17th) and Vanderbilt (18th)?

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Institute reputation?

Postby John Fetzer » Sat Feb 05, 2005 12:03 am

Institutions are ranked in a lot of subjective ways that are often irrelevant to the context people want. In the case of looking for a grad school, they never, ever look at things like the teaching load that grad student bear versus support to do research or the washout rate - how many students are accepted, but who do not finish their degree program (this includes those in a PhD program who fail one of the steps and ends up with a masters degree as consolation. Yes, this sounds cynical, but where do all of those TAs for freshman labs come from and what happens to them?

From a scientific standpoint, it is much more important to work in a hot field with a "name", someone on editorial boards, who has won or is likely to win society awards, and so on. The same is true of grad students choosing a group rather than an institution.

Berkeley, for example, has very many big names and this exalted reputation, but in some fields of research it is very weak. Analytical chemistry is an example. I'd take someone who worked in certain groups at U. of Florida or U. of North Carolina or U. of Kansas any day over anyone from Cal if I needed an analytical chemist.

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