Another way of asking that question is who will be admitted into top Phd programs?
This is a fascinating article about a recently published book about admissions to Phd programs. The author points out that unlike admission to undergrad programs, where there is an admissions department, government mandated goals for “diversity” and some public awareness of the process, Phd. candidates are admitted by small faculty committees who make their decisions quietly. The author was permitted to sit in on meetings with the caveat that she not identify the speakers or the institutions:
…Across departments and disciplines, Posselt tracks a strong focus on ratings, a priority on GRE scores that extends beyond what most department would admit (or that creators of the test would advise), and some instances of what could be seen as discrimination. Of the latter, she describes a pattern in which faculty members effectively practice affirmative action for all applicants who are not from East Asia, effectively having one set of GRE standards for the students from China and elsewhere in East Asia and another, lower requirement for everyone else.
Hmm, clearly sucks to be Chinese. Also not great to be Christian:
In most cases Posselt observed, the committee members used banter and “friendly debate” when they disagreed with one another. They didn’t attack one another or get too pointed in criticizing colleagues. She describes one discussion she observed — in which committee members kept to this approach — that left her wondering about issues of fairness.
The applicant, to a linguistics Ph.D. program, was a student at a small religious college unknown to some committee members but whose values were questioned by others.
“Right-wing religious fundamentalists,” one committee member said of the college, while another said, to much laughter, that the college was “supported by the Koch brothers.”
The committee then spent more time discussing details of the applicant’s GRE scores and background — high GRE scores, homeschooled — than it did with some other candidates. The chair of the committee said, “I would like to beat that college out of her,” and, to laughter from committee members asked, “You don’t think she’s a nutcase?”
Other committee members defended her, but didn’t challenge the assumptions made by skeptics. One noted that the college had a good reputation in the humanities. And another said that her personal statement indicated intellectual independence from her college and good critical thinking.
At the end of this discussion, the committee moved the applicant ahead to the next round but rejected her there.
Elitism? Alive and well:
The admissions committee members generally assumed applicants were getting Ph.D.s for careers like theirs — faculty jobs at research universities. So they were looking for signs of research potential. And they were also unabashed elitists.
“This is an elite university and a lot of the people at the university are elitists,” one professor said with a laugh. “So they make a lot of inferences about the quality of someone’s work and their ability based on where they come from.
What can we learn about this process? Sure, we could take the point of view that it is unfair, that the academy is arrogant, biased, filled with liberal snots who have never experienced anything outside of the Ivory Tower – but what does that achieve for our children who wish to receive a PhD? How does it help them? My belief is that the best thing we can do for our young adult kids who want this sort of an education is to explain this to them. Buy them a copy of the book I linked. This is The Birds and the Bees of higher education. And do this while they are still in high school, or possibly in their first year of undergrad. Let them know, honestly, that if they want that doctorate degree, they cannot be loud-mouthed (or even open but quiet) conservatives. That in the classrooms, they must support the Leftist rant du jour, whatever the heck it is at the time. They need to avoid unpopular political positions. This is sad, but this is the truth.