Back when I was in graduate school we used to talk about academic incest. The idea behind this was that you would be less competitive on the job market if you did all of your degrees at the same institution. This is different from academic inbreeding, which refers to institutions hiring their own students as instructors.
In retrospect, I have no idea why we were so focused on this one issue. It would have been far more productive for us to agonize about our publication count, h-index, or teaching experience.
At one point I brought this up with my supervisor, a very senior academic approaching retirement. She remembers this being discussed about candidates at our school over the years – when all their degrees were from the same school. She went on to say that she couldn’t remember a single instance where this was a determining factor for a candidate. They never didn’t hire someone they otherwise would have hired because of this.
Why Is This Viewed Badly?
The rationale behind this being a bad thing is the idea that studying at multiple institutions will broaden your horizons. The hope is that you learn different things from each school and when you’re hired at the new school you can bring the best ideas from each with you as a new faculty member.
The reality, of course, is that established faculty members couldn’t care how a first-year assistant professor thinks the department and university should be run. It is unlikely that you would see a strong correlation between the strength of a faculty member compared to the number of institutions they had studied at.
Accepting What May Be A Negative
If you’ve been accepted at a school where you’ve studied before and their offer is definitively better than another school, I think you should study there again. If they are a higher caliber school than any other school that made you an offer, if your potential supervisor is someone you are excited to work with, or if they offer you better financial support, each of these would be a reasonable reason to study there in spite of any (slight) stigma.
When To Move On
If, however, you have two offers that you are torn between and one of them is at a school you’ve previously studied at, it may make sense to study at the other school to avoid this. This would be a situation where you’re on the fence between the two offers, and everything else is comparable.
Be Honest With Yourself
Sometimes the fear of seeing all degrees from the same school is that the person isn’t any good. The reasoning for this goes along the lines of “they must not have been accepted to any other graduate programs, so their school accepted them out of pity”. I have trouble imagining any of the universities I’ve attended doing this, but if it is the case, it’s time for some soul searching. If the only way to get into graduate school is to trade on social connections, it’s worth seriously debating whether or not you should attend.
A Ph.D. is a tough slog, and applying for faculty positions is intensely competitive. If you have to game the system to get accepted to graduate school, it is VERY unlikely that you’ll be competitive upon graduation. In such a situation I can’t imagine it being worthwhile to complete a Ph.D.
Comfort Isn’t a Good Reason to Stay Put
I tend to be somewhat nomadic. I get bored after I’ve been somewhere for a few years and find the idea of living somewhere new exciting. Many people get used to living in one place, and the idea of going through a move is unpleasant. When you’ve studied at a school for a while, you know how that school works, you know the right people to talk to to get things done, you have friends both inside the university and in the community, you’re a member of various social groups, and you know the local stores and restaurants. I’d say none of these are good reasons to stay put and shouldn’t factor into your decision of where to go.
Have you done more than one degree at a school? Was it ever an issue for you?