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American Historical Association Jobs Report

33 posts in this topic

http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/february-2016/the-troubled-academic-job-market-for-history

Every grad student and applicant should read this. There are plenty of ways to respond, but everyone should read it.  One important remark: "The recent drop in the share of faculty at the assistant professor level points to a larger shift in demographics, which suggests deeper challenges for new PhDs looking to enter academia in the near future. From the late 1990s to 2008, job advertisements listed with the AHA reached unprecedented heights as a result of a significant wave of retirements....But as of 2015, that wave has largely passed...."

 

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It is certainly not encouraging to read such a report, especially knowing that I am not attending a top 10 powerhouse program. However, I, like most others studying history at a PhD level, am pursuing this path in spite of stacked odds because I can't imagine myself doing much else. I certainly wouldn't like working in the cooperate world. I have always enjoyed scholarly research, an academic environment, and teaching. Knowing that I have been accepted into a pretty great program and have the opportunity to engage in those pursuits for the next 4-5 years makes me very happy.

However, the knowledge that it could all come to an abrupt end after I obtain the revered PhD makes me quite anxious. Who wants to be the resentful, chronically underemployed PhD? I certainly don't. However, I will keep calm and carry on, and hope against hope that there is some lovely tenure track position just right for me out there in the future...What else can we do?

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Some thoughts

I read an article recently that most PhDs get their first TT job around 3 years after graduating, which indicates that most are working as lecturers and/or have postdocs before landing a TT job. This is way more common now than it was 20 or even 10 years ago (see: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/the-2013-jobs-report-number-of-aha-ads-dip-new-experiment-offers-expanded-view). This article also shows that we should be considering job ads on H-net as well as AHA, not that it'll make things rosier, because it won't, but it's more accurate.

From what we can tell, around half of PhDs will get a TT job eventually (variation across fields, of course). The article you cited strongly suggests this may drop, but it's hard to tell what exactly is going to happen in the next 5-10 years and how drastic of a change it will be. I know many programs have cut their cohorts down in response to shrinking # of history undergrad majors and the crappy job market, maybe not all by half, but these shrinking cohorts are not yet reflected on the job  market because this downsizing generally started around 5-6 years ago due to the recession. And I'm speculating here, but I know lots of people getting PhDs (maybe 1/3 of my cohort, for example) who are open to or actively want non-academic jobs, also in part because of the market.

Neither the shrinking cohorts nor the increased number of non-academic job seekers is guaranteed to increase the number of available jobs if the number of history majors continues to decrease and TT jobs keep getting replaced by adjunct positions, of course. But it's also possible that these changes will mitigate some of what would otherwise be a drastic drop.

I'm not saying all this to make a shitty situation sound better, because the market is awful and we will all likely struggle to find jobs, if we even find them. I'm just trying to suggest that we don't know what the next decade is going to look like. I have been told left and right and sideways how f-ed up the situation is and am willing to take a chance, because without the PhD I wouldn't even have one. If I end up having to do something else, so be it. At the very least, we should all expect 3-5 years of temporary appointments because that's the new(ish) normal.

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I don't give a thought to be fearful of the academic job market because I entered in my PhD program with two tracks in mind-- academic and research (in think tanks, museums, etc).  My adviser has been amazingly support in this respect and has made sure that I'm broadly trained every step of the way thus far.  A lot of that thinking came from spending YEARS knowing I wanted a PhD but did not want to be a professor. 

You know, there's a whole world out there that needs historians or people with excellent writing/critical thinking/research skills.  The only difference is, you just can't always work on your own research agenda, that's all.

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Having watched four candidate searches as a student and now as an adjunct, none of this is particularly surprising.  Search committees truly get the pick of the litter when it comes to finding the candidate whose research, personality, and methodology are the best fit for the department.  The tiniest flaws are all search committee members have to separate the candidates at the end of the process, so make sure your online footprint is squeaky clean (that goes for any position really).  TMP makes a great point as well.  TT jobs are not the only way to get to do work in history, and the more I explore other options, the more I realize that some of them sound like pretty cool alternatives.

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My advice is to resist building your entire identity, community, and career around academia.  Develop outside interests, contacts, and related skills.  

I've observed people work hard with the tenure-track in mind only to fall flat and then feel like they have been cut off from their entire lives as they knew them. It's better to retain an awareness that you might have these 5-7 years in the university setting, and that'll be it.  Develop a fallback (or two) that you can feel happy about.

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I agree with TMP and Katzenmusik - there is no jobs crisis unless the point of the PhD is to get a TT job. Unfortunately, most programs are still designed that way (especially the top four or eight or 20 that seem "safest").  For admits, I think it is so important to accept that non-academic work is likely at the end of the PhD.  (Septerra, you might be working in the "corporate world" after your PhD. I wonder why it is so repulsive to you?). As many scholars have pointed out, non-academic careers should be Plan A for PhDs.  TMP, you're very lucky your adviser is supportive.  I hope that everyone finds such an adviser, and regardless, spends as much or more time cultivating a non-academic career as a they do in professional development for the TT.  It's not easy to transition into other fields after 6+ years in academia, but it could be much easier if advisers, departments, and doctoral students embraced the reality.

Ashiepoo: I agree that its hard to know what will happen in 5-10 years. But, I'm skeptical that the reasons you cite (i.e., some programs reducing cohort size) will make a difference. For one, some departments did that in the early 2000s and it didn't help.  Unless all departments got on board in a systematic way, it seems like it might just slightly change lottery odds.  Again, though, I don't think this is a crisis -- unless as Katzenmusik said, "PhDs work hard with the tenure-track in mind only to fall flat and then feel like they have been cut off from their entire lives." 

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7 hours ago, displayname said:

Septerra, you might be working in the "corporate world" after your PhD. I wonder why it is so repulsive to you?

Perhaps because I am a radical leftist who is repulsed by capitalism and the commercialization of society...

But actually it's because I have anticipated a career in teaching/academia for as long as I can remember and realigning myself for a non-academic job sounds like an exercise in existential crisis. I do plan to keep my training as broad as possible and prepare for this possibility, maybe with less dread in the years to come.

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Septerra -- Unfortunately, I'm not so sure you'll find academia sheltered from "capitalism and the commercialization of society." Student debt & adjunctification are just a few signs of how similar the academy is to other industries and institutions.

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8 minutes ago, displayname said:

Septerra -- Unfortunately, I'm not so sure you'll find academia sheltered from "capitalism and the commercialization of society." Student debt & adjunctification are just a few signs of how similar the academy is to other industries and institutions.

Yeah I was joking. XD

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23 hours ago, displayname said:

Ashiepoo: I agree that its hard to know what will happen in 5-10 years. But, I'm skeptical that the reasons you cite (i.e., some programs reducing cohort size) will make a difference. For one, some departments did that in the early 2000s and it didn't help.  Unless all departments got on board in a systematic way, it seems like it might just slightly change lottery odds. 

Great point! Part of the problem is that TT positions are being replaced with contingent positions (renewable lectureships, VAPs, adjunct work), rather than TT positions. Consequently, even if grad schools reduce the size of each cohort, it may not help since you can no longer assume that when one TT person leaves, they'll be replaced by a TT person in that same department. At many institutions, TT positions now go into a pool and if a smaller department loses a person, "their" line may go to another department. That of course isn't something a grad program can anticipate or plan for.

16 hours ago, Septerra said:

But actually it's because I have anticipated a career in teaching/academia for as long as I can remember and realigning myself for a non-academic job sounds like an exercise in existential crisis. I do plan to keep my training as broad as possible and prepare for this possibility, maybe with less dread in the years to come.

There have been a bunch of posts related to this on VersatilePhD over the past few years. I highly suggest you start reading them now to understand what you can do to mentally prepare for a non-academic position.

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Reminder to separate "Modern US Historians" from "every other field" and recognize that Modern US has a 3:1 ratio, where every other field is close enough to 1:1

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You're right about the ratio of the proportion of PhDs awarded to proportion of full-time job ads. (You're also right that US history is the most impacted field).  But those are rates, not absolute numbers.  There were about 1/2 as many jobs advertised as PhDs awarded. So, even though the proportion of, say, Asian history PhDs among all PhDs awarded to Asian history job ads among all job ads is more or less 1:1, the number of Asian history PhDs to Asian history job openings is, at best, 2:1.  But, this probably presents an overly rosy picture, because the cohort of PhDs is also competing with previous cohorts as well as postdocs and assistant professors. (In my department, we haven't hired an ABD in five years -- all of our assistant-professors positions go to assistant professors or postdocs).  The AHA has discussed this elsewhere. http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/the-2013-jobs-report-number-of-aha-ads-dip-new-experiment-offers-expanded-view

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My only point is that the data are fundamentally skewed, and that if one wants to really discuss this, the AHA should develop differential data between US historians and everyone else (ideally, per field, but pragmatically, "everyone else"). Are jobs scarce? Yes. Are jobs equally scarce? No. Is one specific subset biasing the entirety of the set such that generalizations about the state of affairs are impacted? Absolutely.

In other words, if you're an East Asian historian graduating from Berkeley (or more generally, a non-US historian graduating from the top 1-2 programs in your field), you're probably fine so long as there exists a single job on the market. If you're a US historian from the top program for your field, a similar claim is not sustainable. 

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There is always the Woodrow Wilson option-- he ran for governor of New Jersey so he could get out of politics.

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Just gonna say, we also don't know what specialties will be out of fashion in the next decade, which will make it harder for some to get jobs.

I'm more concerned about the trend toward adjuncting and less BAs in history, because these don't show signs of improvement and they directly affect the number of TT jobs.

My old department recently hired a medievalist and received near 100 applications. For an East Asianist, it was the same. Some schools and areas will always be more competitive, regardless of the field. But @mvlchicago is right, US generally, but especially modern US, is more impacted than anything.

We can spend all our time freaking out about the job market, or we can be aware of all the disheartening info but spend our time doing what we can to make ourselves as competitive as possible while preparing for the (likely) possibility of other employment. FWIW, one of my profs (hired as ABD, FYI), told me the people they knows who did best on the job market were the ones who learned cool skills applicable to jobs outside academia as well.

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1 hour ago, ashiepoo72 said:

Just gonna say, we also don't know what specialties will be out of fashion in the next decade, which will make it harder for some to get jobs.

I'm more concerned about the trend toward adjuncting and less BAs in history, because these don't show signs of improvement and they directly affect the number of TT jobs.

My old department recently hired a medievalist and received near 100 applications. For an East Asianist, it was the same. Some schools and areas will always be more competitive, regardless of the field. But @mvlchicago is right, US generally, but especially modern US, is more impacted than anything.

We can spend all our time freaking out about the job market, or we can be aware of all the disheartening info but spend our time doing what we can to make ourselves as competitive as possible while preparing for the (likely) possibility of other employment. FWIW, one of my profs (hired as ABD, FYI), told me the people they knows who did best on the job market were the ones who learned cool skills applicable to jobs outside academia as well.

Ashiepoo, I agree that the trends don't look good for those hoping for TT  jobs and that US is easily the most impacted field. But I also appreciate you providing stats on your East Asianist and Medievalist searches.  Recent searches in my top-3 department yielded similar results, and I know many alum from fields including Latin America, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Europe (late & early modern) and Ancient that are resuming adjunct positions.

I actually don't think grads should spend time freaking out. I think admits and current grads should be very well informed. Level-headed, data-driven information (not heated pleas) is the best way to lessen the emotional impact of unsuccessful job searches at the end of a 6-10 year tenure. I am 100% in agreement with you about making ourselves competitive for two job markets. But, I would probably suggest that people prepare primarily for non-TT jobs, and then professionalize academically. As you said, many with skills applicable to non-academic jobs often do well in academic searches. I'm not sure the reverse is true. 

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On 3/20/2016 at 5:14 PM, Septerra said:

What else can we do?

FWIW, I recommend designing one's outside field so that it builds skills that can transfer laterally to the private sector: technical writing, graphics design, digital cartography, data analysis, marketing, communication, and project management come to mind.

I also recommend keeping an eye open for internships at consultancies--even ones (very) far from one's comfort zones. The competition for these positions is intensifying. At my job, before the recession, internships used to go to collegians entering their junior or senior years. Now, they're going to individuals with masters and professional degrees, and, on occasion, with years of industry experience. That being said, if you can make the cut, you may have a foot in the door to a permanent position down the line.

The BLUF is that there's a tremendous amount of work to be done in the private sector, especially for those who can learn as they go, communicate effectively, complete projects on time and under budget, and be a good team mate. Sometimes the work is mind numbing and soul crushing, but the same can be said about evaluating blue books.

I should add that if you're going to try route you may want to get started sooner rather than later. Drones and various forms of AI are altering the landscape and will make obsolescent skills that are relevant today. Those skills are the ones you will need to learn and master while demonstrating the critical thinking skills that, IMO, set historians apart from most other domains of knowledge.

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@Sigaba - I would upvote this if I could. I was lucky enough to consult Sigaba years ago about my own career plans. Thanks for your continued good advice! (Though I'm not worried about drones yet :)

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1 hour ago, Sigaba said:

The BLUF is that there's a tremendous amount of work to be done in the private sector, especially for those who can learn as they go, communicate effectively, complete projects on time and under budget, and be a good team mate. Sometimes the work is mind numbing and soul crushing, but the same can be said about evaluating blue books.

 

YES.  My thoughts exactly when I was grading 72 final exams several months ago.... Then again, where else would you read something that actually makes you chuckle on an occasional basis? ;) 

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On 3/25/2016 at 10:59 AM, mvlchicago said:

In other words, if you're an East Asian historian graduating from Berkeley (or more generally, a non-US historian graduating from the top 1-2 programs in your field), you're probably fine so long as there exists a single job on the market. If you're a US historian from the top program for your field, a similar claim is not sustainable. 

As an East Asian historian at a very top program, I certainly wish that this were true. Certainly, graduates of my program have done better on average at getting jobs than the sort of overall numbers that we see so often. But it's far, far, from a guarantee; some years, like this one, seem to have been especially tough. No subfield is immune from the problems facing our field as a whole. Nor is any program.

I'd also note that "non-US historian" is a far from monolithic category. So is "East Asian historian." Africanists are a lot better off than Europeanists. Historians of China are better off than historians of Japan. Some non-US fields are probably just as badly off as some US history-fields.

 

Edited by pudewen

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On 3/30/2016 at 9:54 AM, pudewen said:

No subfield is immune from the problems facing our field as a whole. Nor is any program.

I'd also note that "non-US historian" is a far from monolithic category. So is "East Asian historian." Africanists are a lot better off than Europeanists. Historians of China are better off than historians of Japan. Some non-US fields are probably just as badly off as some US history-fields.

I'll second (and third, and fourth) this. (There is exactly one field that doesn't have academic placement problems at my institution: Africa.).  But again, the point is not to scare, but to inform. Of course, people can try to approach these numbers by saying that they just need to publish that much more, present that much more, be that much more dedicated, network that much harder, etc. That's not my own takeaway, and it's a relief not to look at all of my friends and colleagues as rivals in an ever-more-frantic rat race -- a very unfortunate downside to the intense professionalization of PhD programs that has been presented as a response to the TT jobs crisis. But, I suspect that the AHA publishes job stats every year because they *do* change, it *is* expected that professors and departments reflect on them, and there *are* positive ways of addressing the info. I know the AHA is actively reconsidering what the PhD is for and how doctoral students can forge the degree in a way that best suits their professional and intellectual pursuits rather than pidgeon-holes them into an CV-inflating competition.  The NEH is doing this as well, on a larger scale.

I think it's great work and well worth current students' notice.

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Hi all,

I did a search to no avail. It looks like no one has posted the AHA's new jobs report.

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2017/conflicting-signals-in-the-academic-job-market-for-history

In year's past I remember this being controversial--it shouldn't be! There's a reason our professional association studies and publishes new reports every year. 

A few things to note:

  • the graphs include *all* jobs for History PhDs (full-time positions, including tenure-track jobs, non-tenure-track jobs, and term-limited fellowships, as well as positions beyond the professoriate), not just tenure-track.
  • Only 9% of jobs went to ABDs. For those entering your final years in the program, this might be helpful info to consider when deciding how to split your time between apps to postdocs/non-tt jobs/vaps vs. tt jobs.
  • Jobs beyond the tenure track increased! No doubt, this is partly due to the incredible work of the AHA.

 

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I've long been curious about the statements that US History is an extremely poor market. My undergrad has no "pure" Americanists on the faculty, and they don't even bother hiring adjuncts on a consistent basis for upper division US history courses. Instead, they have "peripheral" Americanists (immigration, Civil War, Native American, etc) who also work in other areas (like Asian American history, or digital history).

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