Saturday, October 10, 2015

Who gets hired when: the Chronicle is ON IT!*

Earlier this week the Chronicle published the first analysis of data from the 2013-2014 job market and made its JobTracker tool fully accessible and searchable (well, mostly: it's in beta, and I've run into a number of bugs and error messages). The data the authors have crunched so far are in the service of answering the question of whether waiting pays off, or, to put it more negatively, for how long one remains marketable post-PhD.

Since I'm in English literature, those figures interested me the most--and they suggest that hiring now is much the same as it was when I was first on the market ten years ago: just under 50% of the jobs went to those who were either ABD (usually, about to defend) or within one year of their degree conferral; almost 80% of the jobs went to those who were no more than three years post-degree.

A lot of caveats apply to the data the Chronicle team has assembled, some of which they acknowledge--the JobTracker, so far, contains only one year's worth of data, so it's hardly predicative--and some of which they don't: although only 2% of the positions listed in English literature in 2013 went to candidates whose degrees were eight years old, it's impossible to know how many candidates with eight-year-old PhDs were still in the applicant pool; a lot have surely left academia, so perhaps, percentage-wise, the remainder are doing quite well.

Moreover, in my discipline, they have data for only 73% of the job listings--which is a lot, but it's hard to say whether the other 27% might change the picture significantly. For instance, the position I'm currently holding is one of the "unknowns," presumably because I negotiated a year's delay and wasn't at this job when the data were collected. As it happens, since my degree was conferred in December 2005, I would have been another person in the "eight years post-degree" column. . . but as someone who got her first tenure-track job within a year of degree, I'm hardly proof of the proposition that waiting pays off.

And that's the other thing that the data don't reveal (although anyone interested could drill down and collect the information for herself): how many of the people three or four or five years post-degree who got jobs as assistant professors in 2013-14 are actually on their first tenure-track job and how many are on their second. The conventional wisdom is that it's easiest to switch TT jobs when you're between two and four years in, and at my previous job that did seem to be the sweet spot. Of the dozen or so TT hires we made in my time there, most were within three years of their PhD (though I believe we hired none who were ABD and none who hadn't had at least a year as a full-time lecturer or VAP), and several were lateral hires, with two years on the TT elsewhere.

There are other ways to crunch the data than age-of-degree: with a little hunting, you can see how many of the successful candidates in 2013-14 came from which schools (click on the school itself, and you'll see not just whom they hired, but which of their graduates got which jobs). Again, for a single year, this isn't proof of much, and you still have to disaggregate those just finding a first job from those on their second (or third); you also have no way of knowing how many of their students were on the market that year: a department might have, in absolute terms, a large number of successful candidates for 2013-14, while not having a particularly strong placement record overall.

Still, though the data are incomplete and imperfect, this is a terrific resource. I await next year's data, and the year after that, and I look forward to the day when we can claim to have a clearer picture of the trends.

*I mean that sincerely, though often I don't. (For reference, see here.)


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I'm really interested in the "second job" info, if there is any -- hard to tell when looking at it on my phone. I graduated in 2008, and this is my fifth year at HU. I've applied every year for a second job, but nothing's happening. I have some hope for this year, but not super sure.

Of course, I'm running a search this year for HU myself and am asking myself what kinds of experience I want to see in a potential hire. That's not completely defined for me yet.

undine said...

Thanks for this very useful post. I wouldn't have waded into the statistics, and it's useful to see that they confirm (don't they?) some of the common wisdom.

Contingent Cassandra said...

More data, and more transparency, are always good, so I, too, appreciate this effort.

However, as the longtime holder of a full-time contingent post (officially labeled "visiting" only in the earliest years I held it, before someone decided that having the same people "visiting" for decades was a bit silly, and came up with a different term), at a university where 30% of the full-time faculty positions fall in that category, I can't help noticing that the assumed aim is still a tenure-track job. I don't necessarily disagree with that (and I'd like to see jobs like mine, and preferably my actual job, converted to a teaching tenure track, or at least placed on the same salary scale as TT positions), but such jobs still represent a gray area when one is figuring out whether to "hold out" for an academic job or look outside the academy. My job, at least, is "real" in some senses (heath and retirement benefits; something approaching a living/professional wage, though definitely at the low end of that scale given local cost of living; the opportunity for increasing job security in the form of increasingly-long contracts), but not so much in others (lower wage than TT faculty with comparable, or, in fact, no, experience; limited support for research or anything else that would serve as academic capital in a TT job search; no real career track in the sense of increasing or at least changing responsibilities over time). It is, however, a job that requires a Ph.D. (at least if one wants to get beyond one-year contracts), and in many ways resembles the sort of job people get a Ph.D. in order to hold (it's also more reasonable in its expectations, and offers better pay, and what many would consider a better location, than some TT jobs, especially the most teaching-intensive ones).

Full-time contingent jobs also may or may not show up in the Chronicle's job ads. Even in my own department, I have the impression that they're advertised in various ways depending on circumstances: occasionally, when there is sufficient lead time, nationally; more often, in the case of summer hires, locally/only on the university website (and/or nationally but so briefly that out-of-area applicants are unlikely, and sometimes only within the department, to current part-timers); sometimes not at all, when the job represents a spousal hire (and full-time non-TT is generally what my department can offer in that vein; it takes a dual-competing-TT-offers situation, which usually comes later, to create a new spousal-hire TT position).

So I guess my sense is that, while the Chronicle's tool is useful, it to some extent reflects, and thus perpetuates, an outdated picture of the forms full-time faculty work (let alone faculty work of all kinds) actually takes. On the other hand, other tools on the Chronicle web site, such as the institutional profiles, are very handy for getting a clear picture of what's going on, at one's own institution (at mine, every department seems to think it's the only one knocking up against the limits for use of contingent faculty, even though the overall institutional picture suggests otherwise), and more broadly.

Flavia said...


The authors don't appear to have crunched that data, though you could certainly extract it for yourself--it would just require clicking on each of the holders of the positions that are known to be filled and seeing whether they had a previous job. That would take a little time--there are nearly 300 known filled jobs--but it wouldn't be hard. If I have time, maybe I'll even do it myself!


Yes, I think that's right. Though it's a shame that we have no sense of the trends--if it used to be more common for perseverance to pay off, or more common for first-time hires to be ABD, or what.


That's a very smart point (and not for the first time, I've wished that you had your own blog! yours is definitely an under-represented perspective in the blogosphere and much of higher-ed media). If we're moving away from a TT system--and we all seem to be, whether it's officially acknowledged or not--we need to think about what makes for sustainable and secure jobs outside that system, and how to get or prepare for them.