Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A new website for employment outlook tracking for the Ph.D. job market: HiredPhD.com

A guest post from Rachel Harris, a chemist, reader of the blog, and proprietor of HiredPhD.com:

The Survey of Earned Doctorates is a remarkably complete and accurate yearly census that collects the demographic data and future plans of people who have recently obtained their PhD. Due to its large scope, however, this national survey is limited in the level of specificity it can obtain from its respondents. The placement classifications are broad (postdoc, employed, still looking) and the employment categories, when broken down further, don’t really elucidate that much either (Academe, Government, Industry, Nonprofit, and Other). Finally, it does not account for those who leave PhD programs with a master's degree and subsequently go on to have great careers.

Enter the Highly Informative Repository of Employment Data for PhDs (HIRED-PhD), a database designed to improve transparency regarding post-graduation employment for people with advanced degrees. Individual research groups keep much better tabs on their alumni than a national survey ever could - why not aggregate this information such that we can compare employment outcomes by university, department, and PI?

Do higher departmental rankings really translate into better job opportunities? Which research group should you join if you’re dead-set on teaching at a PUI? What jobs do people get that fall under the incredibly vague “Other” umbrella? HIRED aims to answer questions like these, and to provide current and soon-to-be grad students with information to help them make career-defining decisions.

HIRED will use data scraped from group websites to track the career trajectories of alumni, along with metrics like time to graduation, department ranking, degree obtained (PhD/MS/MA), and length of their PI’s career. The database will also include information on the employment institutions (universities, businesses, or nonprofits) such as number of employees, year founded, industry (higher ed/energy/pharma/etc.) and location.

To learn more about the project, visit the website or the Github repository, which contains some sample data and documentation. If you’d like to contribute your research group’s alumni data, or if you have suggestions for other interesting metrics, please contact me at rachel.harris@northwestern.edu.


  1. This is a really cool project!

  2. Nice! Would be a great resource for people thinking about grad school, or grad students starting their job search.

  3. This is AWESOME, and I wish Rachel Harris all success and all the very best for this endeavor. This is an extremely important piece of information; any PhD chemist on the job market now can tell you that BLS data or ACS employment statistics do not necessarily reflect the reality of today's dismal job market.
    The challenge here is that it will be difficult to procure the data necessary for analysis; chemists; especially organic chemists, are notorious for being luddites, and a lot of them may not have webpages with alumni information available for scraping. Case in point: my PI does not have a group webpage.
    A lot of this data will have to be contributed individually.
    Also, keep in mind reporting bias: group websites may be biased to only showing employment outcomes of their most successful students!
    This is a project that I've thought of doing myself for a long time, but the challenge is the scarcity of data.

    1. I second this statement. Even if they have a group website, PIs are notoriously bad with keeping up with their former students. Many will post the first thing the student does after leaving the group (postdoc or job) and never update again. Scraping websites isn't going to provide very accurate information. I applaud the effort, the methodology may be a bit lacking.

      Maybe some combination of data scraping and a more in-depth survey is needed.

    2. Thanks for your support and feedback! The concerns both of you bring up are very real, nontrivial issues. I have a few ideas I'm considering to deal with outdated or missing info, which necessitate an outside source - either cross-referencing names from the websites with something like LinkedIn, or beseeching the PI/department for info directly, or crowdsourcing like you mentioned. I'm resistant to the idea of a survey because I am a nobody and I'm worried about having a high enough response rate for it to be worthwhile :)

      Hopefully this project will call enough attention to the issue that departments and universities will start keeping better track/being more transparent about job placement during the admissions process!

    3. (Anon 2:10 here) If we could get departments/universities to start keeping track of former students, providing job outcome data to incoming students, etc., we all win. Cross referencing sounds like a great idea and may solve the above issues, but seems like a ton of work. It's doubtful we'll get PIs to keep better track, but I definitely think we could influence departments to do a much better job than they do (mostly nothing in most places). Thanks for your efforts and good luck! I'm really interested to see where this goes.