Monday, September 17, 2018

Anthropology has quantified its faculty job market - chemistry needs to do the same

Chemistry desperately needs this fascinating analysis applied to anthropology by Professor Robert Speakman and his colleagues at the University of Georgia. We don't know these numbers for chemistry that Professor Speakman and his co-authors have established for anthropology:
Based on NSF data [6–8], we know that between 1995 and 2014 a total of 9,558 Anthropology doctorates (all subfields) were conferred in the US. According to our database, derived from the 2014–2015 AnthroGuide [25], approximately 1,989 individuals who graduated between 1995 and 2014 from a US institution were employed as tenure-track anthropology faculty at BA/BS, MA/MS, and PhD institutions in the US. These data indicate a faculty employment rate of approximately 21% for those who graduated since 1995. We acknowledge that some programs focus on PhD training for foreign nationals from Latin America, Africa, and/or Asia who then return to their country of origin to pursue academic positions. Nonetheless, it is apparent that only about 1 in 5 US-derived anthropological PhDs is successful in getting a tenure-track faculty position in a US anthropology department. 
I really like these lines from the conclusion:
...First, there is the nature of the job market, coupled with the production of too many PhDs competing for each position. Next, there is the fact that there are extreme disparities in the placement rate of certain programs over others in placing their graduates... We recognize that these revelations will be perhaps of no surprise to faculty in the trenches of departments everywhere. However, now they are quantified for all to see.
Here's hoping that chemistry will move in this direction as well. 


  1. I don't think the 1/5 number necessarily speaks to an overproduction of PhDs. It speaks more for the need for programs to provide adequate training for the remaining 4/5 to help ensure that they find employment outside of academia.

    1. I suspect that the presence of a PhD will get these people kicked out of any big company's applicant tracking software when someone who gave up on chasing a professor job tries to apply for the kind of entry-level cubicle farm job that a new BA grad would typically get.

      The same thing goes on in our field when a PhD from South-Central Montana State would probably do fine in a junior scientist job that hires BS/MS chemists, but gets rejected for being "overqualified" while getting beaten out by Caltech/Berkeley/etc PhD's for senior scientist jobs.

  2. This would be a useful exercise if private companies were not requiring a PhD degree for an entry level technical job nowadays. This is what push the crowds into grad school, not the lifelong dream of becoming a university professor.


    Chemistry made it on "worst paying major" list (which surprises me, if accurate)

  4. Being mediocre is worse than being a failure. When you're the latter, you know it's time to quit and move onto something else. I've heard at least one successful theoretical chemist say, "I got into theory because I was a disaster in the lab!" What would have become of them had they been only passably successful?

    I come from a mediocre graduate institution (somewhere between 50 - 100, depending on whom you ask). Yet our graduates regularly find themselves--ultimately--in Fortune 500 chemical and pharma companies. Some even find their way into TT positions at PUC's and at least make the interview circuit at R1's. This is with the caveat that they do post docs in big wig labs. Such is the burden of the mediocre, but the hope that an N.A.S. member may one day bless our CV's with their name keeps us faithful. Either that or just being too dumb to know when to quit.

    The fact is it's a two-tier system: the top 10% will always be a shoo-in. The other 90% can fight over the position at a dodgy CRO in Arkansas paying $52k/yr. And frankly, 1/5 are odds I'll bet against. I'm not sure it's different anywhere in the world, to be honest. It's only ever been promising in growing economies, and perpetual growth is a fantasy. Even Tech will have its day of reckoning.

    So why should anyone go to grad school? If you're doing it for a job, you're doing it wrong. Treat it with the expectation that it's the most fun you're ever going to have in your field. The promised land is getting paid to research something for no other reason than that it's interesting, and that's grad school. Do it because there's nothing else you could imagine doing with your life. Personally, those are the coworkers I'd rather have anyway. And spare a thought for those with nasty PI's and the conscripts for stupid projects. What a terrible fate it must be to live a good life and go to hell anyway.

    1. Excellent point. My undergrad classmates who realized early on that chemistry wasn't for them changed their majors and mostly ended up doing fine. The ones who were below-average but not awful ended up with a degree in chemistry, and being ill-equipped to compete for the few jobs out there. Same with grad school - as bad as my experience was, I'm grateful not to be on the perma-postdoc treadmill today, and I'd probably be making 52K a year at some crappy CRO in Arkansas if I'd finished my PhD and had to compete for jobs against people with 8 JACS papers.

    2. I'm happy I successfully made the transition out of academia fr my chem PhD into a medical writer position in medical communications. Pays well enough, it's interesting, and lots of opportunity


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