What Matters for Excellence in PhD Programs?: Latent Constructs of Doctoral Program Quality Used by Early Career Social Scientists


This paper unpacks how social science doctorate-holders come to evaluate overall excellence in their PhD training programs based on their domain-specific assessments of aspects of their programs. Latent class analysis reveals that social scientists 6-10 years beyond their PhD evaluate the quality of their doctoral program with one of two approaches. Graduates of elite programs rely heavily on perceptions of the program's academic rigor; others use perceptions of diverse factors including support in meeting program requirements and efforts to foster a sense of belonging. Those currently employed as faculty tend to use the latter approach. Early career social scientists' assessments of the overall quality of their doctoral program are unrelated to standard measures of program faculty scholarly reputation indicating that alumni assess different dimensions in constructing their conceptions of quality. Characteristics such as gender, age at PhD, career goals at PhD, and social science discipline are also unrelated to which approach to assessing quality respondents employed suggesting that norms about PhD quality are remarkably universal across these types of contextual variables.