Monday, September 13, 2021

C&EN on the 2020-21 academic job market

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, a worthwhile article from C&EN's Bethany Halford (NB our data was used): 
...So how bad was the job market for chemistry professors? Since 2016, C&EN columnist Chemjobber and industrial chemist Andrew Spaeth have maintained a list of open tenure-track and teaching positions in chemistry in the US and Canada. They say the numbers tell a clear story: chemists looking to start their careers as professors were competing for far fewer opportunities in the 2020–21 hiring season than in years past.

The academic hiring season in the US starts in earnest in September and wraps up the following June. Throughout that time, schools post positions that will be open for the following academic year. Chemjobber and Spaeth’s final tallies each June from 2017 to 2020 indicate that more than 550 academic chemistry jobs were posted each year. By June 2021, only 339 job openings had been posted—a roughly 40% decrease from years past.

Job seekers who spoke with C&EN found that the 2020–21 hiring cycle was unusually drawn out, with offers delayed by months. Restrictions on travel and campus visitors meant that candidates had to interview using Zoom and had to rely on video tours to get a sense of their potential lab space. Job seekers, who were deciding where to spend those critical early years of their independent careers, had a tough time. And they weren’t alone. Employers, who were making significant investments in new hires, also say the process was difficult...

Go read the whole thing. 


  1. The job market is not only limited by the number of vacancies, but also by the emergence of new politics. In my opinion, this has fatally broken the link between ability and career progress (i.e. meritocracy).

    I (male) personally cannot find a job/fellowship for love nor money in Europe. Meanwhile, female students who I have worked with tell me that they have to limit the number of applications they make, as they always get interviews and it is too much work unless they really want the job!

    In Germany in fact, there is enormous competition between institutions over the good female candidates. This is partially driven by unfair changes in funding. For example renewal of the (enormous) funds through the "Excellence initiative" requires institutions to boost the number of female professors. How can male candidates compete with that? I also personally know of institutions cancelling searches after the top three female candidate say no (the men lower down the list are not considered at all).

    One thing I can tell is that this begins to drive a sub-culture amongst male academics. There are large numbers of very disillusioned and unhappy men out there, some of whom are a great loss to science. This is not going to end well, not for our universites (who are already sliding in world rankings), and not for our societal cohesiveness.

    I do not comment about the US job market, except to say that I no longer apply when huge diversity statements are required. How am I supposed to demonstrate my contributions to improving this (down to undergraduate level!) when I grew up and studied in places which where ca. 97 % white European? When I see demands for this sort of stuff, it simply tells me that I am not wanted.

    1. I think the out-of-control diversity stuff is a natural consequence of universities pumping out way too many PhD's for a tiny number of tenure-track positions and steadily decreasing number of industrial jobs. I went to grad school at a department consistently ranked in the US News top 10, alongside the best and brightest chemistry grad students in the world. Only a very few of them went on to becoming bigshot research professors at universities you would have heard of - I can only think of three individuals from my time off the top of my head. The vast majority are either faculty at lesser-known departments or in industry, and this includes many highly accomplished scientists. When the differences in qualifications between chosen and rejected candidates for R1 research professor jobs become increasingly trivial, tiebreaker-type stuff takes over.

    2. The point is that i've seen people chosen who were simply not qualified for jobs (not talking tenure track). It is not a matter of diversity 'tie breakers'.

      As one example, I know of somebody with ~12 papers appointed as a institute director with major technical/people responsibility. At the same time, much better qualified/experienced candidates are being forced into unemployment as they reach ~40. It has got to stop, everybody knows it is out of control, yet nobody stands up and says it.

    3. I went to graduate school at a tip 20 school (probably closer to #20 than #1, haha) and we only interviewed quality candidates at my school. If my memory serves me right, we probably interviewed about 2/3s men and 1/3 women. How the interview process worked at my school (not sure of others) was Day 1, the candidate would present a synopsis of their graduate and post-doc research in a typical type of scientific talk that was open to anyone. Then Day 2, they would present original research proposals which was closed solely to the faculty.

      In my time in grad school, I witnessed an absolute horror show of a presentation from a woman with an amazing pedigree. After Day 2, my advisor tells me exactly this: "her proposal presentation sucked". A few months later, I saw that woman was in the faculty of a top 5-10 school and she is still there today (it's been about a decade I'd say). I'd like to think she refined her presentations but I do not know how this other university works in their political realm. I fully believe in merit-based hiring and promotions but I'm amazed she landed at this school. Even my advisor reacted with shock when I told him she was there, reiterating "I don't know how she got hired there because her presentations were terrible" or something along those lines. Either way, she's scored millions in research funds it seems so it sounds like their gamble panned out well on her.

    4. I think this thread of conversation has reached the end of its productive life. There are plenty of other places on the internet to discuss issues of gender and qualifications. - CJ


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