Every so often, I see or hear comments to the effect of, why does [insert top 10 private school name] get more placements at other top 10s than [insert top 10 public school name]? While ranking suggest that these programs should be comparable in their placements, rankings don’t capture any information about how graduate students are funded or the implications of those funding streams for job placements. To illustrate this point, let me tell you a little about graduate student funding at two departments that I’ve now been in as examples: the Sociology departments at UC Berkeley and NYU.
Berkeley Sociology PhD students are funded for most of their time through teaching positions. Although some students win fellowships (internal or external) or serve as research assistants, most serve as teaching assistants or as instructors for as many as 4 years (8 semesters). In contrast, NYU PhD students receive a fellowship grant and can make extra money serving as teaching assistants or as instructors on top of their fellowships. I don’t have figures on how many semesters NYU PhD students teach, but if we conservatively estimate that it’s, at most, half of the time Berkeley students teach that would be about 2 years/4 semesters.
The difference between 4 years of teaching and 2 has implications for both publishing and time to completion. Publishing in top tier journals takes time. Not only do reviews for the top journals take 6-9 months alone, but preparing a manuscript to be ready for a top tier journal takes numerous drafts and feedback particularly in the beginning stages of one’s career when students are learning how to construct a journal article and conduct empirical research. Similarly, completing research for a Master’s paper and dissertation, studying for qualifying exams, and drafting a prospectus for a dissertation take time. Students at programs with funding like NYU can put closer to 100% of their time into working on all of these things, while students at programs with funding like Berkeley are more likely spending closer to 50% of their time on these activities. Obviously students with more time to invest towards a programmatic goal or publication are likely to complete said goal or publication faster.
As a side note, I have no complaints about the teaching loads at public universities as a graduate of such an institution. It’s important to learn how to teach through both professionalization and practice. If you ask me, students who teach as graduate students are better prepared for the balance required in tenure track jobs because of they have experience balancing teaching and research. What I want to emphasize here is that the higher teaching demands on the public school graduate students can mean having few publications placed at less prestigious journals in comparison with comparable private institutions.
So, on average Berkeley sociology PhDs take 8 years. (There are some other factors that go into this average that I won’t detail here.) Additionally, most Berkeley grads are less competitive for top 10 jobs because few have top generalist journal publications (e.g., ASR, AJS, Social Problems, Social Forces) due to professionalization pressures to get something published and having to move things out the door before they are ready for a top journal publication. Most grad students are publishing in excellent subfield journals, but top 10 programs generally want a top generalist solo publication to consider a job candidate. Because the private school students have more time for research, they are more likely to have a CV that’s competitive at the top 10 schools, which explains differences in placement.
While I’ve focused on the top 10s here, these disparities in funding and publications extend beyond the top 10 programs. Graduate students from programs with funding tied teaching are going to have CVs that look markedly different than those from programs with fellowship based funding on average. This is something that search committees can consider when looking at job applicants. CVs provide information about fellowships, teaching loads, publications, and service that should be considered to better understand what an applicant did with the resources they had.