Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How many applicants there are for entry-level TT positions?

I see there's some chatter on the Faculty Jobs List open thread about the number of applicants:
Seems like the list usually has about 500 openings
Schools seem to get 100-300 applications per opening
Postdocs seem to apply to 10-20 opening each
so estimate 10x more applicants than openings
the talent pool seems to have about 5000 people looking for a job
Here's my stab in the dark that I have been formulating in my head for a while:

Each year, about 2,500 people graduate with a Ph.D. in chemistry; in 2015, it was 2,675 according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates. Of those, 826 (30%) got a postdoc and 478 (18%) got jobs. (Of the 478 who got jobs, 70% went into industry and 22% went into academia.) The rest (936 people) were still looking for a position, either in industry or academia. I am going use 2015 as my model year - this is probably wrong.

Assumption 1: of those remaining as Ph.D./not-postdocs, 60% apply for industrial positions, 40% apply to academic positions.
Assumption 2: of postdocs remaining, 50% apply for academic positions.
Assumption 3: each year, 20% of remaining postdocs for each year are hired for academic positions
Assumption 4: postdocs drop out of the running after 4 years.
Assumption 5: we're not counting international Ph.D.s who have come to the US to do postdocs yet

So it quickly becomes a question of "how many postdocs are remaining on the market after X number of years?" And so through quick math, my guesstimate is 2430 applicants at any one time (number of graduate students applying + 2016 postdocs + 2015 postdocs + 2014 postdocs + 2013 postdocs.) After you add in more grad students and all the international postdocs, etc., I bet you wander into the 3000-3500 range, but that's just a guess.

Readers, what do you think? 


  1. I think one way to estimate the applicant pool is by the number of applications to open positions. I was told that last year, an R1 received about 350 applications for an open position. Obviously, that's an underestimate because some people don't want to be at an R1 or don't want to be in that location, etc., but I think it's a good place to start.

  2. Sounds like things haven't changed/improved much since I was looking for an academic post back in the mid 1970s. I believe people told me there were 100-200 applicants for each post. After 5 years of post docs (3 in all), and oodles of futile letters of application, I gave up and took a job in "industry" (actually, small contract research company). Seems that were I 40 years younger, I'd face the same situation. Not a good situation either then or now.

    My recollection is that things were worse in physics. I believe that people figured out that if there weren't a single new a Ph.D. in physics produced after 1968, there would still be more people looking for academic physics positions than would be available for a full generation.

    1. My dad is a physicist and looked for tenure track jobs in the late 60's/1970. It was pretty bleak and he ended up taking a staff job instead.
      My grad advisor faced a similar job market in chemistry in 72, and ended up going to Dupont and then moving back into acedemics in 1975.

  3. One factor that isn't included in your numbers are those who lose their industry jobs in layoffs and try to get into academia, but are still jumping into the pre-tenure "entry-level" positions. A similarly conflating issue is that small PUIs and SLACs get proportionately fewer applications from post-docs and more applications right out of grad school, so I think that the 100-300 applications/position mentioned at the top is an inflated number. For the schools that I am familiar with, I think that 80-150 applications/TT position is more reasonable, and, of those, as many as half can be form letters or grossly unqualified applicants. I've been told I'm an irredeemable optimist but I like to think the situation isn't as bleak as it seems. Best of luck to those applying and interviewing!

    1. "those who lose their industry jobs in layoffs and try to get into academia"

      I feel like this number would be negligible.

    2. It is negligible. More (although the numbers are still small) of these transitions go the route of Research Professor and not TT.

  4. Your number, in my opinion based on nothing, seems in the ballpark, though I wonder how many 2013 and 2014 PDFs are still applying for academe positions at this point? I have seen a couple of chem profs with > 2 yrs PDF, but it does seem, to me at least, that academic chemists have a 'best before date'. I also wonder what the % of foreign PDFs (disclosure: I was a foreign PDF) getting academic jobs is, and on this I have no clue: I assume odds are higher for foreigners who do grad school in the US?

    1. I agree that there is a best-before date, but that (cue the music) we don't have the data.

      If you are an international student who got their PhD in the US, you are counted in my estimate above. If not, then no.

  5. If I ask the people on the search committees here (a top-10 program), we get 200ish applications, about half are obviously unqualified (no postdoc or 1-page research proposal or some other sin), and about half are from china/india. I think the estimate from CJ of 2400 and the topline estimate of 5000 may be surprisingly close, if you take almost half of the applicants to be from abroad.
    Of course, the size of the applicant pool is one question, but the size of the competitive portion of the applicant pool is more relevant. There is a reason schools only ask 4 or 5 to interview.

  6. So where do those other 52% of chemistry PhDs end up? And what should we do about these statistics?


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20