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Graduate Programs

Betty Cunningham wrote:
> > benw@mail.uca.edu and Dr. Prothero wrote:
> > The U.S. News & World Report issue with graduate school rankings
> > recently came out. It ranks geology departments, and then ranks
> > departments by perceived excellence in geological subfields, including
> > paleontology.

        I think the most effective thing to do is to look at faculty 
lists of the major schools across the nation and where their faculty got 
their degrees.  It is a fact that, regardless of what US News says about 
anything, a few schools put most of the faculty out there.  

        If you want to do vertebrate paleontology, by far most of the standing
faculty at Tier I and Tier II universities got their Ph.D.s at a few 
select schools, namely (in no particular order):

        Columbia, Yale, Penn, Chicago, Berkeley, Harvard

        You might notice that all of these schools are Tier I 
universities themselves and that four of the six are members of the Ivy 
League.  This has a lot to do with the fact that the top, most arrogant 
schools have historical, serious hiring biases towards schools that they 
feel are at their level.  It also has a lot to do with the fact that the 
Ivies are represented very strongly (a full 50% of the league) not because 
their Ivy as much as because these four schools  have been playing 
the VP game longer than anyone else, and have thus churned out more VP 
Ph.D.s than anyone else.  Chicago and Berkeley, in part because they are 
not really old universities in the first place, have not had the long 
standing tradition of Ph.D. milling that the other four have had.  Thus, 
they have done something that is very difficult to do and is quite 
noteworthy---they have, in the academic world, become players in their 
own right in a relatively short time.  So, even though Michigan, Kansas, 
and Texas are good schools with good faculty, they just haven't had the 
time to work up to the rest.  Even Chicago, when compared to say Harvard, 
has put far far fewer of its graduates into high-end teaching and 
research positions.  

        If I were a newly minted B.S. and were thinking about a Ph.D. in 
paleontology, I would look really hard at the job market and look really 
hard at what faculty are putting people into top jobs (in fact this is 
what I did do).  'Cause lets face it, it is fine to pursue a Ph.D. for 
the love of the science, but at the end of six or seven years, it is 
really nice, in addition to all of that pretty Latin gleaming down at you 
from its frame, to have managed to land a couple of job short-lists while 
your are at it...   At the graduate level, your advisor is what is 
important, but if you can manage to combine a top advisor with the 
unmatched resources and alumni connections of a Tier I school, you will 
get far more bang for the buck, and you MIGHT actually have a chance of 
being one of the ca. 100 applicants for a job that gets chosen for an 

Josh Smith
University of Pennsylvania
Department of Earth and Environmental Science
471 Hayden Hall
240 South 33rd Street
Philadelphia, PA  19104-6316
(215) 898-5630 (Office)
(215) 898-0964 (FAX)