Where did newly hired TT N. American asst. professors of ecology get their bachelor’s degrees? (UPDATED)

At lots of different places! For details (and a one-question poll at the end!), read on.

I compiled data on this at the request of a commenter. I only started looking into this after I’d already started ID’ing new hires from the 2017-18 job season, and I was too lazy to go back and compile this information for everyone. So I checked where every newly hired N. American TT asst. prof in ecology or an allied field at a bachelor’s college got their bachelor’s degrees. I got that information for 23 new hires. And I checked where 52 other randomly-chosen new hires at other types of institution got their bachelor’s degrees. Not a huge sample, but big enough to capture the major features of the data.*

Those 75 people got their bachelor’s degrees at 66 different institutions, meaning the institutional diversity was almost as high as it could possibly be. Three new hires got their bachelor’s degrees from Davidson College and three from St. Olaf; no more than two from any other institution.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority got their bachelor’s degrees in the US. Two got them in Colombia, two in China, two EDIT three in Canada, and there was one each from Iran, India, Ghana, the UK, and Spain.

Not surprisingly, the diversity of institutions from which newly-hired ecology asst. profs got their bachelor’s degrees is even higher than the diversity of institutions from which they got their doctorates. Hard to see how it could be otherwise, given that bachelor’s-granting institutions far outnumber doctorate-granting institutions.

There wasn’t a noticeable predominance of bachelor’s degrees from any particular type of institution, except that undergraduate degrees from big universities were fairly common. Presumably that’s because big universities collectively confer more bachelor’s degrees than any other type of institution.

In case you were wondering, it is not the case that most–or even all that many–newly-hired N. American ecology asst. profs got their bachelor’s degrees from Ivy League institutions, “elite” non-Ivies like Stanford and Duke, or “elite” small liberal arts colleges. There might be a modest trend in that direction, but that’s it. Among those 75 people are 5 with undergraduate degrees from liberal arts colleges in the US News & World Report 2019 top 30 (a crude proxy for “elite”), and 1 with an undergraduate degree from a national university in the US News & World Report 2019 top 30. And among the 66 institutions in the dataset are many that, for all their undoubted virtues, do not have an “elite” reputation: Lycoming, Lyon, Cal State East Bay, Cal State San Luis Obispo, Gannon, Juniata, Longwood, Minnesota State – Mankato, SUNY Fredonia, Tarleton State, Truman State (twice!), Wittenberg, Shorter, Kwame Nkromagh, Puget Sound, University of Northern British Columbia, various University of Wisconsin branch campuses…I could keep going, but you get the picture. Obviously a bigger sample would differ in some details, but the broad conclusion would remain the same. (Seriously, it would. Take it from a guy who has spent more hours than he cares to count looking at the cv’s and websites of hundreds of recently-hired ecologists over the past three years…)

UPDATE: Also, it’s not the case that new hires at bachelor’s colleges mostly got their undergraduate degrees from bachelor’s colleges. Only 7/23 new hires at bachelor’s colleges have undergraduate degrees from bachelor’s colleges. They’re outnumbered among new hires at bachelor’s colleges by people who got their undergraduate degrees from R1 universities (8/23). So if you think that bachelor’s colleges mostly hire alumni of bachelor’s colleges, sorry, but with respect you’re wrong.

I hope these data are reassuring to anyone who thinks that you “have” to have a bachelor’s from the “right” institution if you want to have any chance of going on to become an academic ecologist. North American academic ecologists can, and do, take their first steps down that career path at a wide range of institutions. Which is a good thing.

Just out of curiosity: do these results surprise you? Take the poll below!

*I checked all the new hires at bachelor’s colleges to address the (widespread?) impression that bachelor’s colleges often hire their own alumni. Spoiler alert: they don’t, at least not these days. Those data are coming in a future post.

13 thoughts on “Where did newly hired TT N. American asst. professors of ecology get their bachelor’s degrees? (UPDATED)

    • Not surprised as well. University prestige is as meaningful as an indicator for excellence as “journal impact factor” is an indicator for good science in scientific journals.

      My guess would be that the decisions depend much more on hidden factors. Such as (in this order): good network & recommendations, publication success or simply luck.

      • Re: “good network” being very important, depends what you mean by “good network”. If what you mean is “have some kind of pre-existing connection to the hiring department”, then I’m afraid you’re wrong. The vast majority of newly-hired ecology faculty have no previous or current educational or employment connection to the hiring institution (those data are in an upcoming post). Newly hired ecology faculty basically never have a pre-existing collaboration with anyone at the hiring institution (https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2018/06/20/how-many-newly-hired-n-american-tt-asst-profs-of-ecologists-have-a-pre-existing-collaboration-with-someone-in-the-hiring-dept/). And while I don’t have data on stuff like “how many newly-hired ecologists are hired into a department in which they once met someone, or in which one of their references knows someone”, I can tell you that in my own admittedly-anecdotal-but-not-inconsiderable experience those kinds of nebulous connections don’t count for much, if anything.

  1. How many of the TT positions of the 75 were in Canada? I’m surprised only 2 went to Canadian universities for undergrad (and since I know 2 new Canadian hires at Canadian schools, I want to know if they’re the ones).

    • Don’t be surprised by the paucity of Canadian undergrads among these 75 new hires. It’s not a huge sample of hires. And hires at Canadian institutions (who are the hires most likely to have bachelor’s degrees from Canadian institutions) are only a small fraction of all hires in my full 2017-18 dataset.

      These 75 people include someone with a bachelor’s from Sherbrooke and someone with a bachelor’s from Guelph. EDIT: Oops, and one from University of Quebec at Chicoutimi.

  2. Pingback: Useful links related to tenure track job searches in ecology (last update Oct. 2018) | Dynamic Ecology

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