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Thread: On Rankings

  1. #1
    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    On Rankings

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    Rankings are a very common topic around here. Rankings PhD programs in any business discipline is very difficult and I would actually say it is impossible to create a set of rankings that could be completely relied upon by any external user. I have been thinking about jotting down a few thoughts on rankings for awhile now, so I will put them here and open up a discussion.

    First off XanthuARES did a post some time ago about what we generally mean when talking about top 20 schools or something like that. It is here http://www.urch.com/forums/blogs/xanthusares/358-school-rankings.html
    He also did a recent post on the same topic: http://www.urch.com/forums/showthrea...t=#post1011812

    Also, there are a few different sites that are useful to create guidelines for rankings.

    Note: Do not use MBA rankings. These will give you a very rough idea of school prestige, but are not based on things that are relevant to you as a prospective PhD candidate. Most don't take research and publications into account. Those that do give it something like 20% of the weight and use a list of 45 or so journals, 5 of which should matter to you. The UT Dallas site below will give you better guidelines if you know the top 3-5 journals in your field.

    Accounting rankings including subdisciplines - http://www.byuaccounting.net/ranking...k/rankings.php
    Rankings by business journals - http://jindal.utdallas.edu/the-utd-t...arch-rankings/
    Finance rankings - http://apps.wpcarey.asu.edu/fin-rank...gs/results.cfm

    There may be others, but I am an accounting PhD student, so I know things more relevant to me. I can add useful sites from other disciplines.

    Why these rankings aren't perfect:

    1. The rankings that I listed above are about faculty productivity. If the faculty produces more research, then the school will rank higher on these lists. This gives you a decent idea of schools where people know how to publish work in top journals, but it doesn't tell you how well they train people. Obviously, it is necessary for faculty to publish in top journals in order to teach you how to publish in top journals, but it doesn't mean that they will. The best summary statistic that tells you how faculty interact with their students is placement of graduates. This also doesn't weight by department size. A large department will have more active researchers and publish more. More active researchers is a good thing for you as a PhD student, so I don't think it should be scaled by department size, but a school like UT Austin will have an advantage in these rankings over a place like Yale with a relatively smaller business school even if they both have several good people capable of chairing dissertations (they do).

    2. Timing. You can choose to look over certain periods of time within these rankings, but there is no clear "ideal" time to look at. You want faculty that are still research active and publishing, but if a department is full of Assistants that are really productive with no senior people, it will be hard to choose a good advisor and chair. On the other hand, some of the most respected people in the profession publish a little more slowly nowadays because they don't have the pressure for tenure and would rather work on bigger more interesting problems, or they have other responsibilities like being editors at top journals.

    3. Besides the BYU ones for accounting, there is no breakdown within disciplines. Even the BYU rankings don't get extremely granular. This means that if you are in marketing and want to look at how product placement affects consumer buying decisions, there is no way to know from these rankings which school you should apply to. The best researcher in some fields may be at a top 20 school or even somewhere lower down the ranks because they want to be close to home.

    As I said earlier, the best summary statistic for a PhD program is their recent placements. This is definitely something that you should look at, but it can drastically mislead you. For example, Rice didn't have a program until a few years ago and didn't have any historical placements. Their first accounting student came out and got a job at Chicago. Similarly, Boston College is starting a new program and they won't have placements for a few years but they have great faculty. Also, Placements are fairly old data if you are looking at which schools to apply to. The students that just placed are 6 years ahead of you and to get any meaningful sample size you have to go a few years back and look at placements from several years ago. This is 10 or more years old. Faculty move around and retire in that amount of time fairly often. No one on my committee was at this school 10 years ago. The BYU rankings for accounting (which are the best rankings system I have seen) also include PhD rankings. These are for publications of graduates in 3 or 6 years after they graduated. This makes the data necessarily old for you. There is also a smaller issue that some schools will put students on projects early on to try and get them some publications, while other schools make you struggle a little more and force you to be more proactive in working with faculty. These will lead to different publication rates by graduates.

    What to do?

    As a PhD applicant your goal is to come up with a list of schools that you want to go to that will have some probability of wanting you to go there too. Most people recommend something like 10-20 applications with a few "reach" schools, a few "target" schools, and a few "safety" schools. I am also going to fall within these guidelines as well, but I hope that you will end up with a list of the 10-20 schools that you most want to attend, rather than breaking them up into categories of schools.

    The first thing to do is find every program that you may be interested in applying to. This likely means identifying every AACSB accredited school that has a PhD program with the focus that you want. You then need to do some big cuts. For example, if you have 3.2 GPA, 650 GMAT, and no research experience, there are certain schools that you simply won't get into. Realizing this will help you to focus your resources on places that will give you the best chance of admissions into a great school. On the other hand, if you have stellar credentials, a good idea of the research that you want to do, and know that you want to go to an R1 school after graduating. You can probably narrow your search down to 30 or so programs that commonly place into R1 universities. You should be aware that there are possibly programs down the ranks that can place just as well if you are in a certain niche. A broad cut on schools that will help you meet your goals will probably leave you with 30-50 institutions.

    Next, you want to cut on broad research topic and method and look at schools that do well in those areas. In accounting, if you were interested in behavioral research, or tax research, your search would essentially be done at this point. It will leave you with few enough schools that you should probably just apply to them all. However, if you were interested in general capital markets research, or not too sure, then you won't cut many off your list at this point.

    The next step is to dig into faculty members and research at each school (you should do this even if you don't need to in order to eliminate schools). Look at what faculty members are doing currently via their SSRN pages. Look at their CV's and see what areas they would be able to advise in. Look at who has chaired dissertations and how those placements have been - this may involve looking back at previous institutions. This process should take a substantial amount of time, but it will give you a much better idea of what each school does and who you may work with there. Choose places that pique your interest and eliminate those that don't. Hopefully this narrows you down to a smaller set of schools.

    Finally, take other considerations into account. Is there family that you want to be near? Does your spouse need to be in a place that will have jobs available? Do you have no desire to live in New York on a student's stipend? These things matter and can greatly affect your productivity in the program.

    Now, create a ranking system based on what you know about each school. I would put in sub-categories like recent placements, research fit, personal fit, faculty publications, faculty size, how many people there could possibly chair my dissertation, etc. Come up with things that matter to you and weight them appropriately. If you still have more than 20 schools, use this to eliminate some. Do a sanity check to make sure that you ended up with a decent spread of reach, target, and safety schools. Odds are you did. You can adjust the list if needed.

    Now apply to all of these schools. Use what you learned about them to write better personal statements. If in doubt about a particular school, apply to it. The cost of applying is very small when considering the potential benefit.

    Hopefully you will have a few flyouts. Your rankings list still may be useful, but you should have a lot more information at this point. Deciding on where to go is a different topic.

  2. #2
    Eager! BrazilianPhD's Avatar
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    Re: On Rankings

    Really, really good. This should be included among the sticky threads.

    This stage "The next step is to dig into faculty members and research at each school" is really one that will demand a lot of time and work, with hundreds of names to check, thousands of papers to check at least their general subjects. But it's also one with huge payoffs. It can change your list of schools completely, and may cause your notions of rankings to crumble. It can change your dream schools. And in the end you'll have a much improved list of schools, with lots of information to write better statements of purpose, as well as ammunition for the interviews.

    About placements. For those who will apply to Marketing PhD programs, AMA has surveys about that available since 2003. It's called Who Went Where Survey:


  3. #3
    A long long time ago XanthusARES's Avatar
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    Re: On Rankings

    This is great advice thanks YaS. I can't stress enough how important it is to go through the names of profs, read their papers and make your list based on this. That is exactly what I meant by making your own rankings.

    For marketing Who Went Where is a good starting point for looking at placements. One thing to keep in mind is that there is going to be some bias in the survey. The people who did well are more likely to complete the survey than those who did not. This will give the survey a positive skew. This likely largely doesn't matter that much, but I wanted to put it out there just for your information.
    Til now I always got by on my own
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