Elitism in the Political Science Job Market?

by John Sides on December 5, 2012 · 6 comments

in Political Science News

…eleven schools contribute 50 percent of the political science academics to research-intensive universities in the United States. Over 100 political science PhD programs are graduating students that will contest the remaining 50 percent of openings.

These numbers likely understate the impact of prestigious universities; the present study does not include the many liberal arts colleges and regional universities that also hire graduates of these programs and increase the network of advocates for graduates from highly ranked universities. Of course, this is somewhat expected given that the most prestigious programs are often also the ones that have the highest numbers of students. As we move forward with this project, we will control for institution size and output.

The study, by Robert Oprisko, is here, via Inside Higher Ed. From the IHE interview:

Oprisko said that he isn’t suggesting that places such as Harvard shouldn’t have good placement records, only that institutions should not rule out those from elsewhere. “There are students graduating from school No. 50 who are no worse than those at school No. 1,” he said. It’s too easy, he said, to exclude people who didn’t earn their Ph.D.s at elite places.
And Oprisko freely admits that the issue is one with which he identifies. He earned a Ph.D. in political theory last year from Purdue University, and he’s on the job market because he’s in a visiting slot this year.


RobW December 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Mike Munger makes the case that this is nothing more than simple sorting. While likely true, the folk wisdom certainly suggests a PhD from a top-10 confers the added bump to get a CV into the campus visit pile.

ewarren December 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm

How about a tax on the top two percent of political science departments? If we could redistribute resources made available to doctoral students at the elite institutions and transfer some of these resources to less fortunate departments, we could raise up those on the low end and spread the employment opportunities around. Indeed, the elite universities are where they are not because they work harder, but because they have inherited vast amounts of wealth from previous generations. Ph.D. students from these programs are born on third base but think that they have hit a triple. Let’s let everyone start out at first base!

adano December 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm

I’m trying to figure out if that was parody. I’m pretty sure it was. I’m hoping it was.

Perhaps the better solution is to close all the phd programs ranked below the top 25 so we don’t keep oversupplying political science phds.

be December 5, 2012 at 6:03 pm

This old red herring again? Really? I wonder about your logic. I suppose you also think that any elite field where not everyone gets to grab the brass ring should also be restructured? I mean, not everyone who plays college football gets to play in the NFL, therefore we should remove all but the top-60 football programs. And how about those MFA programs in, say, acting?

I for one would like our political science profession where people with PhDs from IU, UW, Emory, and Michigan State (to take those currently ranked 26-28 in US News) exist, and where jobs go to the best students from such schools instead of the bottom of the barrel from top-10 programs.

Chris Kam December 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm

There was an article (in Journal of Econ Perspectives, I think, but I lost the cite) that examined academic career success in economics. Success was defined in terms of the prestige of the department one ended up at after 15 years or so in the discipline. So tenure at Stanford = as successful as one could be, tenure at Harvard = somewhat successful, etc. The main results were as follows: 1) career success was a function of prestige of 1st department in which one worked, publishing – quantity & quality, and prestige of PhD granting department. 2) the effect of the prestige of one PhD program washed away after tenure. In other words, controlling for publishing productivity etc, tenured faculty at a given institution were as likely to have graduated from high or low-ranked phD program. 3) The impact of the prestige of one’s first job never diminshed: those hired at highly-ranked places earned tenure and remained at places that were more prestigious than wuld be expected given their publishing records alone. Not sure what the pattern is in Poli Sci.

Joey December 6, 2012 at 10:42 am

This JEL paper – did they have data on people who never got a first job? Wouldn’t it seem plausible that people with higher prestige PhD’s are more likely to get a job in the first place, meaning an underestimate of the effect of prestige on success (as defined)?

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