Now, “the guy” might be in a place you have never heard of. This, to my way of thinking, should not matter. Grad school is about personal relationships, not bricks and mortar.
At least, that’s what I’ve thought. But lately, I’ve had a gnawing worry about whether this is the right strategy.
At the undergraduate level, I was disappointed to read how much the average starting salaries differ for university graduates in the United States. As I started to think about the intangible factors that lead to scientific success, I went back to the list of some prominent scientists in an earlier post.
- Carl Sagan: Pulitzer Prize winning book The Dragons of Eden published in 1978. Degree from University of Chicago, worked for Harvard and Cornell.
- Stephen Jay Gould: Breakthrough paper on punctuated equilibrium published in 1972. Graduate work at Columbia and worked at Harvard.
- E.O. Wilson: Breakthrough book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis published in 1975. Degree from, and worked at Harvard.
- Richard Dawkins: Breakthrough book The Selfish Gene published in 1976. Degrees from, and worked at Oxford.
- David Attenborough: Major television series Life on Earth debuted in 1979. Degree from Cambridge.
- David Suzuki: Began as host of The Nature of Things in 1979. Degree from University of Chicago, worked at UBC.
Call me suspicious, but I see a fairly small cluster of institutions in these sorts of lists. It almost feels like people are only willing to let scientists from certain places be “prominent.”
Have I been wrong all this time? Should a student looking to go to graduate school just find the most “famous” school they possibly can, and consider who they might work with as an afterthought?
* “The guy” might well be a woman. I think “guy” can be almost gender neutral, but tell me if I’m wrong.