Field of Science

The Academic Job Market Tanks

"This is a year of no jobs." Ph.D.s are stacked up "like planes hovering over La Guardia. -- Catherine Stimpson, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University.

The above quote is taken from a recent article in the New York Times. Although people usually flock to graduate school in a down economy, the down economy means fewer spots in graduate school. This is just as well, it seems, if there are fewer jobs for graduating Ph.D.s.

The article is based mostly on anecdote, but the anecdotes match what I have seen as well. A graduate student from UT-Austin frets that more and more job searches have been pulled as universities announce hiring freezes. Two colleagues of mine who were on the market this year also reported jobs they had applied for disappearing. One has managed to find a post-doc position; the future of the other is uncertain.

For those who want numbers, there are a few in the article. It reports 15% drop in history department job searches and a 25% drop in the length of the American Mathematic Association's largest list of job postings.

In addition to the problems faced by people on the market, this is problematic for a country that wants to increase its intellectual output. Ph.D.s are long and hard and not worth it if there is no job at the end. Discouraging employment figures are not going to help the president's goal of increasing our nation's supply of scientists and engineers. To the extent that the work of historians and area-studies researchers informs policy, it seems we'd want to make sure there are employment prospects for humanities students as well.

Again, the Times has no numbers, but the article quoted a few discouraged undergraduates who are putting off graduate study (though frankly I don't think going straight from undergraduate to graduate programs is a good idea, anyway). Moreover, they point to Thomas Benton, a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Eduction -- academia's trade journal -- who has been actively discouraging students from going into the humanities, arguing that it makes no sense unless you are wealthy or well-connected. I'm not sure undergraduates read the Chronicle, but the existence of that sentiment is troubling.

Ours is a knowledge-driven economy. Everybody seems to recognize that in the push to get more Americans to go to college. Hopefully, there will be professors there to teach them.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if you would find the same trends in both University and Liberal Arts institutions. We recently have failed searches due to an insufficient number of applications. Granted, the career trajectories are different, but the opportunties for teaching and research at smaller schools can be rewarding as well.

Anonymous said...

We are living and breathing the difficulty of this situation. My husband is a cognitive scientist entering his fifth year as a postdoc (in a top-tier lab). He has first-author publications in top journals - yet no job. His mentors keep saying things like, "You'll be a great candidate next year. Just get these studies out of the pipeline." Yet, each year he gets these studies out of the pipeline, and each year no job. He recently interviewed for what could be a great position, and we are waiting to hear. Keep your fingers crossed - we have two little girls, and daddy needs a job!

vishnuprasath said...
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