Show Me the Data on the Job Market

Today I met up with a client who is wrapping up their postdoc in a few months and unsure where to turn next. I made an offhand remark during our conversation that while “alt-ac” (or alternative academic) career is the prevailing term, that many oppose this term. And with good reason, too. When over 70% of the jobs are, well, alt-ac, then it’s actually tenure-track or permanent faculty positions that have become the “alternative” career path. If you have to label us working outside of tenure-track faculty, some argue for using career diversity instead.

And I thought that the conversation would just continue on that same path, but she said “Wait, what?! I knew that there weren’t that many tenure-track jobs, but you’re saying chances are less than 30% that I’ll get one? I had no idea!” Sad, but true. But then here’s what she said: “What are your sources?”

Well, folks. That’s a good question that I’m tackling here today.

Admitting There’s a Problem Has Been a Recent Phenomenon

First, you should know that this data hasn’t been tracked for very long. After all, pre-recession, we (mostly) all still thought we were going for tenure-track faculty lines. Then when the recession happened, and the tenure-track job market got decimated, people started to ask serious questions.

Sure, departments have long tracked the placement of their faculty grads, but not in a systematic way; rather, more to highlight look how our grads got jobs here…and there…and over there! During and post-recession, we all watched contingent adjunct job postings gain critical mass, while existing tenure-track lines didn’t get renewed and new ones weren’t getting created. So we all started looking askance at the information departments share.

Hope you like Crowd-Sourced Anecdotes?

Second, not many places collect and track this data. People self-report on the Academic Jobs Wiki. If you’ve never been to Academic Jobs Wiki, good for you! But it’s where you can learn sometimes reputable and sometimes questionable information about your field’s job market and insider scoop on listings, candidates, and placements. While it causes a lot of heartaches, the Academic Jobs Wiki cropped up precisely because people were wanting information about who actually was getting jobs, where, and why they were not.

Real Data is not Widely Available

Third, if you’re looking for data collected and analyzed in a methodical manner, you have to dig into professional societies, journal articles, and (VERY) recent publications. The first place to start tracking real data (at least that I know of) was the American Historical Association in 2013. Close behind came the Modern Language Association. And then in 2014 Chronicle of Higher Ed started a major endeavor to track additional fields.

Since then academic career coaching sites like Beyond the Professoriate, Imagine PhD and The Professor is In cropped up and have been collecting self-reported information and reporting on trends among their clients and readers.

Where else can you find data on academic job trends?

Await Forthcoming Books

I’m certain these are in the works and eagerly await to devour them.

But until then, if you know of other sources that track careers, LET ME KNOW on Twitter!

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