the indiana way of graduate education
I am often asked: how does Indiana consistently place people so well? Just to be clear, in terms of elite placement, we do as well as other programs of our rank. Our ranks floats in the 10-15 range, and we can do a good R1 placement every other year. Every few years we place at or near the top. What is amazing is that we consistently place all of our students, not just the “stars.” We place students that routinely get discarded at other programs. How does that happen?
First, it starts with the faculty. In hiring at both the junior and senior levels, we have a preference for people who are committed to graduate education. Also, in terms of culture, our faculty have a very different attitude towards graduate work. We don’t work on the “star system” where a few people get most of the attention. We believe that with the right training, we can help most graduate students start a career in either teaching or research. Finally, in terms of the faculty, we also tend to attract people who are productive and collaborative. Not much dead wood.
Second, we choose graduate students very carefully. Sure, we’ll hand out acceptance letters to a few “stars” of the market every year. That’s because, like most graduate programs, we take GPA and GRE scores very seriously. But the difference is that Indiana doesn’t mark you down because you didn’t go to the “right” school. We’ve taken people from regional state schools, small liberal arts colleges, lower ranked MA programs, and other places. We read the entire application, not just the name of the BA school or the letter of recommendation. We’ve picked up some fantastic people who’ve gone on to great careers by looking for diamond in the rough.
Third, we have an insane amount of structure. It doesn’t work for everyone, but most people do well in a system that makes you jump through a lot of hoops. Like most soc programs, we have theory and methods in the first year. But we also have a summer research program, required writing workshops, a required minor, a required teaching workshop for TAs, and a bunch of other stuff. Annoying? Yes. But do people have the OLS model hammered into their brains at the end of the sequence? You bet.
Fourth, we have a deep “culture.” Our expectation is that all students should be able to complete the PhD. We also support students on multiple career tracks. We even have a special program for people interested in teaching intensive institutions. And nearly all faculty collaborate and believe in intensive 1 on 1 interaction. More than one visiting scholar has been shocked by this system.
Fifth, we have reasonable expectations and a high level of professionalism. We don’t pretend MA or PhD theses are master pieces. We want them to be good and we want them to be done. We also push people, but we (mostly!) don’t yell at people or treat grad students like children. We tell you what to do and then we try to help you. We’ll get back to you in a few weeks on your dissertation, not a few semesters.
Sixth is funding. While far from perfect, we’ve developed a system where most students can rely on 4-5 years of funding. Then, we have various mechanisms for helping most students. The pay is low, but we don’t play games. You get funding. You will get help. No games.
The issue with many programs is that they drop the ball on one or more of these issues. During my time at Chicago, for example, they had a nearly structureless program and very poor funding. Other programs will chase famous faculty without considering how well they place students. It’s too easy to slide into the star system of graduate training. Considering all that, it’s a real testament to this department that we can go head to head with programs that have a fancier brand and a much bigger budget.