The Job Situation in Academe?

I was reading a recent thread here about a philosophy job applicant who had her job offer withdrawn and some of the posters talked about a massive oversupply of applicants for a very limited number of jobs.

I remember reading several years ago predicting that the job situation in academe should start improving substantially about now because the Baby Boomer generation would start retiring. Does anyone else remember those type articles or is my memory incorrect?


Your memory is not incorrect. Those articles assumed that retiring boomer academics would be replaced by younger colleagues under the same terms of employment. That is turning out not to be entirely rue. Many tenure track jobs in many institutions are disappearing. Retiring faculty are being replaced by contingent labor or not at all.

It’s not good for the life sciences. It’s really not good. I was at a dinner a while ago with several well-established, tenured researchers with their own labs, and they were all complaining about how hard it is right now. One recounted a conversation with a big name, very established researcher, who said the following: “I used to worry about if my students would be able to find an academic job. Then I began to worry if they’d be able to get any job at all. Now I’m worrying about if I’m going to be able to get funding to keep my students.”

Adjunct professors in homeless shelters.

Maybe when all those associate and full professors retire, MAYBE some adjuncts will be able to get a foot in the door behind them. But I doubt the current trends will change all that much.

Aren’t a lot of tenure track positions being replaced by adjunct positions? Also, I am operating under the assumption that if you are in the best 10% then it might not be so bad but for everyone else it is a pretty shitty job market in academia.

Reading **Smeghead **and his post about how even top level researchers are having trouble is bothersome. I assumed the top 10% would be ok. Is this due to the bad economy and the sequestration, or has this been going on longer?

In part it is because of an artificial boom from the late 60s-early 70s. There was a massive increase in hiring due to the increase in the percentage of baby boomers going to college and because of the government’s commitment to fund basic research during the Cold War. The situation has been steadily declining since then, and declining most precipitously in the past several years. The causes are legion and run deeper than a short-term bad economy, though that is certainly part of it or is at least a persistent excuse.

The world is not safe for the best 10%. When there are no jobs, there are no jobs. Likewise for research funds. The House is looking to terminate all NSF funding for mine and related disciplines.

My master’s adviser is probably finishing up the first third of his career, and so far he’s produced 4 PhDs and one MS (that’s me!). At this rate, by the time he retires he’ll have produced on the order of 8 to 10 PhDs, only one of which will be necessary to replace him. The demand for faculty may grow by a few percent in the next twenty years or so, but it won’t grow by a factor of 10 or 8 or even 1/2. Of course professors at small “teaching schools” may not put out as many PhDs as those at big research institutions (if any), but overall new PhDs are being minted at a rate several times faster than old professors are retiring. Therefor competition for the few academic jobs that are available is incredibly fierce. Add in factors such as the adjunct professor issue, budget freezes/cuts, etc, and it gets even bleaker. Based on the experiences of several grad school friends whom I would expect to be at the top of the heap in my field, the situation is pretty grim.

Common advice to someone in this situation is to “get a job in industry/the private sector,” but many students are reticent, unwilling, or unable to follow this advice for a variety of reasons.

Students shouldn’t forget about the government either. And not just federal, but state and local. I knew that academia wasn’t the life for me while I did my post-doc. I applied for the first government job I could find and haven’t looked back.

I’m exploring options now. I’d be interested in hearing your advice and thoughts in a PM, if not here.

‘Hesitant’, not ‘reticent’. ‘Reticent’ means reluctant to speak.

Too many people are being directed to college. There is simply no need for ever-increasing numbers of college graduates. We need car mechanics. Plumbers. Painters. Carpenters. Farmers. Many Mexicans are working in construction these days. All the young male Americans are going to college when most of them should not be!

Despite not being American, nor in Academe, nor having much interest in universities, a year or so back I read with interest a blog devoted to this issue:

The Homeless Adjunct : The blog of Junct Rebellion, taking on the corporatized university of America
Unfortunately poor old decided to impose Infinite Scrolling on all their hosted sites, so I can’t say how far the site goes, nor how to find posts, but even reading those of last year and 2012 ( which is the latest ) will give a hint of how the powers are treating positions that used to gain a kind of respect.
How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

Tiny excerpt:

  • Newfield explains that much of the motive behind conservative advocacy for de-funding of public education is racial, pro-corporate, and anti-protest in nature.

Again, from Victoria: “(The) ultimate objective, as outlined in the (Lewis Powell) memo, was to purge respectable institutions such as the media, arts, sciences, as well as college campus themselves of left-wing thoughts. At the time, college campuses were seen as “springboards for dissent,” as Newfield terms it, and were therefore viewed as publicly funded sources of opposition to the interests of the establishment. While it is impossible to know the extent to which this memo influenced the conservative political strategy over the coming decades, it is extraordinary to see how far the principles outlined in his memo have been adopted.”*
V.P. Joe Biden, a few months back, said that the reason tuitions are out of control is because of the high price of college faculty. He has NO IDEA what he is talking about. At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments). So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.

I have a lot of academics in my family. (I’m not one of them, though I have done a little adjunct work.)

I think it’s clear that things have changed dramatically over the years.

In my parents’ generation there were 5 professors (!). In general, they had no difficulty getting fulfilling and decent-paying jobs in academia more or less as soon as they started looking, with a relatively easy road to tenure along with a lot of nice benefits. (Well-respected, “top tier” places too for whatever that sort of thing is worth.) Several of them had multiple offers to choose from, or lateral movements that they made or could have made pretty much on demand.

It hasn’t been quite so easy for those in my generation. My cousins who are in academia have had a much more difficult road. Two of them had just one TT offer each after finishing their doctorates, and recognized themselves lucky to have had even that. Both of them were hired by (different) colleges that are not high on anyone’s list of Prestigious Places to Work. (One of them hated the experience and did manage to move on to someplace else, but only after filling out innumerable applications to other institutions.) A third cousin did adjunct work and visiting professor work and various post-docs for close to ten years before finally landing a TT position at a college you’ve never heard of.*

I think you’d be hard-pressed to say that my academic cousins are any less bright, less credentialed, or less able to negotiate than my academic forbears. Different world.

*It’s fair to say that this one’s search was hampered in part by a self-imposed geographical restriction; he has refused to apply to schools except in a specific location, not perhaps the best strategy for someone in a niche discipline, as he is.

My friend had every intention of getting her PhD in Art History and entering academics. She ended up stopping with a Master’s, becoming a receptionist (for an art school at least), and is now going back for a second Master’s in Public Policy/volunteering for AmeriCorps with the intention of pursuing an entirely new career track with the government.

Academia has been rumouring the impending Great Boomer Die-off since 1990 or so. Their ranks as they slowly retire are more than replenished. We all thought we would be lucky or special or whatever. Some were, others of us had/have an uphill battle. Have a back up plan with some otherwise marketable skills-- publishing software, whatever.

Yes, in addition to my friend’s situation, I did not mention that my dad has a PhD in astrophysics- not the most marketable skill in the real world unless you’re Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He ended up going into the computer industry (and indirectly working for the government through contract work).

CZ-- your friend is wise-- I also have an art history degree and it took me 4 years to land a T-T gig, and I was not one of the unlucky ones. A friend got his degree in Philosophy (from Northwestern…) and was on the market for… 9 years? And is not the unluckiest one. Backup plan, kids!

The job market for academics is awful, and I’m not just talking about academic jobs. In my own case, I have degrees that I can’t put on a resume if I want to get invited for an interview. I’ve since given up on academic work. In my wife’s case, she was fortunate to find a temporary assistant professor position for two years. Now she is in the same boat with all of the unemployed PhDs–looking for anything including Adjunct positions.

It’s sad but we really need to start demanding that Doctoral candidates show a plan B when applying to programs, or that they won’t need to find work.

The problem has to be administrators in excess

Sadly for me, “philosopher” (nor anything like it) is not a government post. :frowning:

A friend and I wrote up a detailed article on academia as a career option and compiled some links on leaving academia after graduate school.