Thursday, December 26, 2013

Uphill Through the Snow Both Ways

I had dinner with some folks on the job market the other day, and naturally, talk got around to the job market.  In the course of our conversation, I got to wondering just how much worse the market is now than it was say in 2005, or in 2000, or in 1995.  I know I think it's worse, but I wonder if there's a way of thinking about how much worse?  Maybe comparisons of numbers of PhDs produced in a field vs number of jobs in the field?  That wouldn't be perfect, but it might be at least something?

I wonder if the ADE Bulletin would have that information, and might be visible over a the years to give a longer perspective?

You know how when you're young, and you look at some older person and think they're completely out of touch?  And maybe they are, and maybe they aren't.  But some are.  And some are very out of touch.

I don't want to feel like that older person and not even be aware of it.

In line with the feeling out of touch, I was thinking about how we handle our department rejections.  I know I've asked, and our chair calls the people we had visit campus personally.  Or she says she does, and I have reason to believe she's honest about that.  But I don't know how we handle the other folks.  Do we send them a note?

I know we tend to have to wait until we've successfully made a hire to notify anyone, and that takes a long time.  The thing is, on occasion, we've had to do a second round of interviews to find someone willing to take the job we have to offer (at least in some fields), so we don't tell people we've rejected them if the job is still open.

Edited to Add:

Undine at Not of General Interest posted a link to the MLA statistics (2011-2012).
I found this graph particularly interesting:
I first went on the market in 1993, and got my first TT job in '96.  I went on the market again in fall 1998 (and started a new job in '99).  I guess my timing sucked, big time.  (There may well be more PhDs in English graduating now, or not.  I don't know.  So maybe it's harder now.)

(I have to admit, I kept my mouth shut when the job seekers at dinner the other night talked about how people with tenure couldn't get jobs now, and so on.  I was right to keep my mouth shut, but I feel a little less crappy about myself now.)


  1. Over at pan kisses kafka, someone broke down the job market for German PhDs here:

    Obviously, it's for one rather specific degree, but, in my doom and gloom, I can't imagine that many fields are much better.

  2. Anonymous5:06 PM

    Industry usually doesn't send rejections either. It's not just academia.

  3. Thanks, Jodi, I hadn't seen that. Dismal. But thank you.

  4. I don't think it's useful when people generalize about "people with TT jobs". Some couldn't get their jobs now, but some could; and maybe, were the expectations then what they are now, would have adapted. (There was, for instance, much less publishing of grad student papers back in the day; and certainly no expectation of them.) Sure, there are the people who haven't done any reading in their field since they got their job, but that's not everyone.

    Otherwise, my recollection is that when I went on the job market in history in 1981 (for 1982) there were two jobs in my national subfield, one of which was cancelled after campus interviews. What we didn't have -- for better and worse -- was lots of opportunity to adjunct. A good friend calls the period he got his degree (late 70s) as the era of publish and perish: a good book with a good press, but when there is one job, and there are two finalists, there are 50-50 odds. This friend has just retired from 30 years as a bureaucrat with the state government. What has changed: adjunctification. Also, the internet ensures that you know you are not alone. I think that's good.

    The other difference might be the causes of the bad job market: in the late 70s/early 80s, it was that all the hiring in the late 60s/70s had filled departments with youngish people, and there were few openings. Come the late 80s/90s and since, the lack of job openings reflects the dismal funding of higher ed in general. I wonder if the general sense of scarcity makes dealing with it harder? I'll have to think that through. . .

  5. Thanks for the link, Bardiac. I think it's more accurate (but scarier for job seekers) to know that, as Susan says, the good old days weren't all that good, either.

  6. I had similar thoughts to Susan's (some of which I also posted over at Historiann's): I was (prematurely pushed) on(to) the market in the very early '90s, at a point when it had recently been fairly good (and when there were predictions of lots of coming retirements, supposedly slightly delayed by the lifting of the mandatory retirement age, plus new jobs created by the baby boom echo). The evidence that things were really bad was all around me, in the form of people who had defended 2, 3, 4 years ago, and were still in town, doing various jobs at our (very well-endowed, and therefore able at that time to be pretty generous) grad institution. But the faculty were still very much in the mode of assuming that Ph.D.s who weren't getting hired were doing something wrong. It was depressing. Many of our mentors were survivors of the '70s slump, who tended to push the "take any job and write your way out of it" model. Some of the older faculty at our Ivy-League institution had, in fact, gotten jobs, and even tenure, with far fewer publications than were becoming necessary, and were telling us to just finish the dissertation and not worry about producing articles, or how far the diss would be from a book, even though most candidates, who were coming from institutions with a much longer time to degree, had articles, not to mention much more teaching experience, and that combination seemed in many cases to be beating out an Ivy Ph.D. And some of our Ph.D.s who did get jobs weren't getting tenure, because they weren't far enough along when they started the tenure track. And taking a job at a teaching-oriented place wasn't a solution for that; I interviewed at one where I would have been the only junior faculty member in a small department, and would have been expected to finish a book, even though the majority of my colleagues -- including the chair -- were long-term A.B.D.s

    1. So, yes, it was bad. But the people who made it to tenure in that market (as well as, of course, many who didn't) were darn good, and they're the people now mostly populating search committees, beginning to serve as chairs, etc. They may not be publishing as much as they did earlier on, but that's mostly because they're too busy doing service, including supervising contingent faculty (and/or taking on invisible overloads, as numbers of sections taught stay constant but the number of students per section creeps every upward). As a full-time contingent faculty member (one of the semi-survivors of that market), I'd very much like to see that load spread more evenly, perhaps in the form of a teaching/service-oriented tenure track, and I'd love to have a job that at least theoretically gave me time to do research (or at least offered me a little more variety than the year-in, year-out, 4-4-2 grind), and I'd definitely like to earn as much as my tenure-track colleagues with similar education and experience, but I'm not under any illusion that their jobs are easy, or that they're slacking off, and, were I to go on the market today (or soon, which may well happen), it would be with full knowledge that I'd be seeking a better-compensated, more varied job that is at least as hard as my present one.

      I do think the growth of adjunct jobs is key factor, especially in English, and I understand why people who're juggling jobs at 2 or 3 places don't fully understand what their tenure-track colleagues' jobs are like (though I think they could learn a lot, some of which would be useful on the market, by looking around more carefully). I also think that the poor job market outside the academy is a big factor. The generational resentment we're seeing among recent Ph.D.s is by no means unique to the academy. I spent part of my adjuncting time (5 years in the early '90s) wondering whether I, like some of my grad school cohort, should jump into the jobs that were opening up as the world wide web took shape, or take up a Wall Street firm on its offer to train me to be an investment banker (I never seriously considered the latter, but it was a symptom of the opportunities that at least appeared to be easily available outside the academy). In that context, even adjunct work seemed more of a choice than it may now, and that, I think, is a key difference from the present.

  7. Just to echo Contingent Cassandra, there is a real difference between people who go hired/tenured in the late 60s/early 70s (when you could indeed get hired and in some places at least, even tenured ABD) and the late 80s/early 90s. I know there are some who just turned off their brains -- I once had a colleague refer to those who got "tenure and a hobby" -- but most have worked hard to remain intellectually alive as teachers and scholars, even when they are not publishing regularly.