Take me where I want to go: Institutional prestige, advisor sponsorship, and academic career placement preferences

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Pinheiro, Diogo L.
Melkers, Julia
Newton, Sunni
Department of Sociology
career placement
academic employment
labor market
job market
Doctor of philosophy degree
Issue Date
Other Titles
Placement in prestigious research institutions for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) PhD recipients is generally considered to be optimal. Yet some doctoral recipients are not interested in intensive research careers and instead seek alternative careers, outside but also within academe (for example teaching positions in Liberal Arts Schools). Recent attention to non-academic pathways has expanded our understanding of alternative PhD careers. However, career preferences and placements are also nuanced along the academic pathway. Existing research on academic careers (mostly research-centric) has found that certain factors have a significant impact on the prestige of both the institutional placement and the salary of PhD recipients. We understand less, however, about the functioning of career preferences and related placements outside of the top academic research institutions. Our work builds on prior studies of academic career placement to explore the impact that prestige of PhD-granting institution, advisor involvement, and cultural capital have on the extent to which STEM PhDs are placed in their preferred academic institution types. What determines whether an individual with a preference for research oriented institutions works at a Research Extensive university? Or whether an individual with a preference for teaching works at a Liberal Arts college? Using survey data from a nationally representative sample of faculty in biology, biochemistry, civil engineering and mathematics at four different Carnegie Classified institution types (Research Extensive, Research Intensive, Master’s I & II, and Liberal Arts Colleges), we examine the relative weight of different individual and institutional characteristics on institutional type placement. We find that doctoral institutional prestige plays a significant role in matching individuals with their preferred institutional type, but that advisor involvement only has an impact on those with a preference for research oriented institutions. Gender effects are also observed, particularly in the role of the advisor in affecting preferred career placement.