A question for academics: is joining your alma mater 'very bad practice'?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by champbassist, Dec 17, 2012.


  1. This is primarily with regard to upper-crust higher education institutions. On a forum I often visit, someone was saying how joining, as a faculty member, an institution where you did your PhD is considered is considered 'a very bad practice in academia'.

    I was wondering: say, the institute where you did your doctorate is one of the best institutes you can aspire to and research/teaching is your aim (the latter generally being the case for doctorates, at least out here), what exactly is 'very bad' about it?
     
  2. A friend of mine is facing almost this exact same situation right now. He is currently attending the best engineering school in Canada (one of the best in the world as well) and is in the best program world wide for his field. He wants to do his doctorate and can get into the program no problem with his marks, but he has people telling him that he shouldn't do it at the same school. The only other school that has a program that is even close to being as cutting edge is MIT. He figures that it is best to go to the better program, rather than try and do his degrees at different schools.

    lowsound
     
  3. While going to different universities has it's upsides, staying at one is not hugely bad practice. You may limit the width of your experience, which isn't ideal, but it's rarely a deal breaker either. If you go to a different university it lets you enter with a slightly different knowledge set and you'll have a broader experience, you won't have been within the same walls for a decade.

    I'm finishing up my PhD in the university that I did my masters. In the same research group with which I did my masters project. My undergraduate was almost as different as you could get (within the sciences), both in terms of the university environment and content.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine is currently doing his PhD in the same University where he did both his Undergraduate and Masters degrees. He's on a prize scholarship and seems to have a fair few places trying to headhunt him at the moment.

    Basically, it doesn't seem to be a dealbreaker.
     
  4. Ziltoid

    Ziltoid I don't play bass

    Apr 10, 2009
    Canada
    ^what mohawk said.

    I know many people who did both, it never really seemed to be any kind of problem even if it's recommended to change.
     
  5. And how about joining your alma mater as a faculty member? That's what I actually wanted to ask; didn't come out clearly, obviously.
     
  6. The 'ideal' path in academia is meant to have a lot of jumping about, having worked in multiple environments so that you can have a broad range of experiences, knowledge transfer.

    However, again, it isn't a be all and end all. I know at least two lecturers at my university completed PhDs there (one of which even did his undergraduate there).

    I'm not familiar with the practices in India, however, I think it's more of an issue with the funding body (or whoever is advertising/paying for the position).

    Maybe not ideal (if you aren't bringing outside knowledge to the department), but I certainly don't think it's a deal breaker.


    Edit - Though I should add, I'm obviously not at that point yet. Also, if it's a non-teaching position, a post-doc researcher or whatnot, it's less of an issue, many PhDs tend to stay on or go back to the university they graduated from. At least for while.
     
  7. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    This is the reason, I think. Generally you go to a different university so you aren't competing for funding and research content with your former research lab, given that it is likely you'll be keeping your lab research in a similar vein to what you did your PhD in (though not everyone does). If you don't switch your research focus, you'll likely be too similar to other professors and researchers at the university already, which also makes getting any semblance of tenure that much more difficult.
     
  8. smperry

    smperry Administrator Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Bay Area, CA
    Agreed with what has already been stated. I am not interested in faculty positions at the same institution where I received my Ph.D. (at least not for the next 15 years or so) even though it's considered a top school in my field.
     
  9. I'd love to do my PhD where I earned my Masters. I currently teach there as an adjunct, and if/when I complete my PhD I'd jump at the opportunity to teach there as a full-time Professor. It was a great school, IMO. Other than the cost, I have nothing bad to say about my time there as a Master's student or as an adjunct faculty.
     
  10. smperry

    smperry Administrator Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Bay Area, CA
    As an academic, I really think it's better to get faculty experiences elsewhere, where you're not seen as a (former) student and where your skill set differs more from your colleagues...even if it's a great place. Of course it happens, but it's harder to do...I've had friends who are stuck out of the tenure track in their own institutions. Getting a doctorate where you got your Masters or Bachelors isn't the same issue.
     
  11. LiquidMidnight

    LiquidMidnight

    Dec 25, 2000
    It definitely does seem to be something that's related more to the elite research-oriented schools. One of my profs from my Master's program had his bachelor's, two master's, and his doctorate all from the same school where he taught. I always chuckled about that.

    But you can find professors with high pedigrees at all institutions. I'm going to a Tier II state university, and my dissertation chair is an Ivy Leaguer. But I agree with those who say they have no interest in teaching within the departments where they recieved their doctorates. However, I'd love to teach in my former Master's department. The prof I mentioned in the above paragraph told me to "keep them in mind" when I finish my PhD, since the department's expanding.
     
  12. Rickengeezer

    Rickengeezer

    Feb 25, 2005
    Central Texas
    Endorsing Artist: Steve Clayton Accessories
    If you work (as a faculty member) in the same department as the research lab in which you trained as a student, there will always be doubts about the independence of your ideas. This mainly applies to junior faculty--if you graduate, go elsewhere, earn a good name for yourself as an autonomous, creative researcher, then it won't be an issue.

    I'd definitely recommend to any junior person that they go elsewhere for their first faculty position.
     
  13. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Are you talking about the US or India? What field? We could all be talking about apples and oranges here.

    I have a PhD in physics. In my field, in the US, going straight from grad school to a tenure track research job would be practically unthinkable. On the other hand, if you had such a job, you would be directing your own research program, so you'd have no problem establishing your independence.

    After finishing my degree, I headed straight into industry.
     
  14. LiquidMidnight

    LiquidMidnight

    Dec 25, 2000
    Interesing. What do you mean by that, Fdeck? Do you mean that you're expected to take an adjunct, temporary, or post-doc position first? Or you're expected to go into the private sector for a while?
     
  15. Let me provide a little context here.

    I'm talking about B schools, mainly. The person I mentioned in the OP was talking about how one of the more famous B-school rankings in the world is 'inherently flawed' because it takes into consideration the number of grads from every B-school who end up joining, as faculty members, top 50 institutes from that very same list.

    His point was that students getting their doctorates from a certain line of top notch B-schools in India ultimately join the same institutes as faculty members.

    This forum member is pursuing his business doctorate at a reputed institute in Singapore while the Indian B-schools he is talking about also have some degree of international acclaim. So, I was thinking there would probably be some sort of international standard on this.

    My query, exactly.
     
  16. These days, post-doc or industrial based positions are a must before getting onto the academic ladder in terms of lecturing or starting your own group.

    There are some newly graduated post-doc fellowships out there, but they are few and far between.

    I think he's meaning that it's not the done thing to become a faculty member within the place where you completed your PhD, at least not without broadening your horizons elsewhere (be it industrial or academic).

    In some ways I agree, but I know many who have stayed from Phd to RA to RF to Lecturer within the same University, however, when getting to that level you need to have a following which is somewhat seperate from the group which you initially worked with (as has been mentioned, treading on toes academically). There is also the problem of not bringing anything new to the table, your skills will have been developed by academics who are likely still at the university.

    Though I dare say, even that isn't always an issue. A friend of mine has a post doc position in the research group with which he attained his PhD. However, he did spend a couple years post doc-ing in the US aswell. He's hoping to be able to try and take the academic position once the PI retires (in a year or so).

    Also, as has been mentioned, the academic path varies widely depending on where you are, what you are studying and even on the individual university.
     
  17. I can honestly put my hands up and say I don't know how things would work in a business school.
     
  18. LiquidMidnight

    LiquidMidnight

    Dec 25, 2000
    As I mentioned earlier, a lot of this does seem to relate more to research institutions. Does it hold the same for teaching-oriented universities? While my school does confer doctorates (including PhDs, D.Eds, and Psy.ds), it is still, for all intents and purposes, considered a teaching university with an emphasis on undergraduate education. It's definitely not an R1 institute. Faculty do have to publish for promotion purposes, but the publication requirement is relatively low and the promotion committees aren't obsessed with first authorship.
     
  19. The thing with top B-school PhDs here is that if someone ends up getting an industrial position after the PhD, it'd probably be so likeable (if the person wanted to be a researcher, more than a teacher, in the first place) and well paying that it'd almost be regressive to join as a faculty member in any B-school (the salaries being relatively low compared to the industry). When someone goes for his PhD out here, it's almost assumed that he wants to end up with a faculty/research position in some sort of educational or governmental (as opposed to private, industrial) research institute.

    Well, at least what I gather so far is that even if not healthy, this isn't some sort of abhorred taboo that is only immorally indulged in by the Indian B-schools the poster was naming.
     
  20. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Well, if there's a ranking system, it's a safe bet that somebody has figured out how to manipulate the rankings to their advantage. I'd rather know how the business school graduates are doing in business.

    I don't know much about business schools, and especially about academic employment. Here in the States, the MBA is the much more common business degree.
     
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