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Silly question: how do I know how good/bad the market is?


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Hi all. So, I'll be on the job market in about a year's time, and I'm starting to prepare job application materials and do a little planning. I notice that in my conversations with more advanced peers (especially people currently or recently on the job market), they always seem to have a good sense of whether the market for our discipline (history) is "much stronger than last year" or "really bad" or whatever.

How does one even get a sense of these things beyond hearing just hearing other people's impressions? All I ever hear is the doom and gloom about the humanities job market. I can look on the job listings from the Chronicle, my main academic association, etc, but do people actually count up postings from each year and compare? Are there any websites where I can find this kind of data?

Ultimately I guess it doesn't matter that much - I'm going to be applying for these jobs anyway. But it just makes me feel a bit under-professionalized to feel that I can't speak confidently about how the job market in my field is doing, how it's changing, etc. All I know is that it's bad, and it's difficult to get a good job.

Thanks!

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My sense of the job market this year for my field (education) is that it's good. There are more jobs than I want to apply for. Granted, some of these institutions are in locations I'd never want to live, so that weeds out a fair number of positions. However, in my particular sub-field, 6-10 is a good number of positions to apply for, and I think that's about how many applications I'll be putting in.

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1 hour ago, wildviolet said:

My sense of the job market this year for my field (education) is that it's good. There are more jobs than I want to apply for. Granted, some of these institutions are in locations I'd never want to live, so that weeds out a fair number of positions. However, in my particular sub-field, 6-10 is a good number of positions to apply for, and I think that's about how many applications I'll be putting in.

6-10 applications is nothing. 

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In addition to what was said above, sometimes people say things like "the job market is good/bad this year" and have nothing substantial to actually back it up! There's a lot of confirmation bias, and sometimes if you actually count the opportunities posted, it might surprise you compared to what you hear. Also, the number of openings doesn't tell the full story: what if there are more applicants now too?

I would say you want to listen/pay more attention to specific observations instead of people's guesses/estimates of the goodness/badness of market (not that the gut feeling isn't useful, but be wary of the limitations). For example, in my field, things that might matter:

1. How much funding Congress has allocated for NASA and Planetary Science. 

2. Whether or not big missions are reaching important milestones where a ton of data is about to come up (e.g. In summer 2015, the New Horizons mission reached Pluto, and so a lot of postdocs were hired in 2014 to provide support for this mission). Similarly, when a big mission ends, it means a lot of people are going to be looking for new positions!

3. Faculty shuffle. In the past 12 months, my field saw a large number of faculty members, especially at top schools, switch around, but the schools that lost professors did not always gain the same number. For those postdocs applying to faculty jobs, they would be on the lookout for new faculty position postings!

4. Prize fellowships in my field generally announce the number of fellowships they expect to award when they make the solicitation. Comparing this number to trends from previous years can give an indication of overall funding level and interest in the field. One of the big postdoc fellowships in my field is only offering half as many awards as a typical year this year! :(

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Crom-  You might be interested in the most recent AHA jobs report, from Feb. 2016. This does some pretty detailed analysis on job trends. The one outstanding problem I see with this analysis (which compares graduating PhDs to job openings) is that it does not account for how many assistant professor jobs are filled by postdocs and assistant professors, which is the rule rather than the exception in many departments. 

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

The report from 2014:

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2014/the-academic-job-markets-jagged-line

As the first report notes, 587 full-time academic jobs had been advertised during last year's season (2015). As far as I can tell, the authors do not specify if that number includes visiting assistant professor and postdoc positions, and it *does* include senior openings (i.e., Associate and Full Professor). The 2014 report specifies that 345 positions during that year were full-time assistant professors.

Thus far this year, there are 197 listings for full-time assistant professor, according to an H-Net advanced search of "Assistant Professor" in "history", limited to the U.S. There are also some stray art history jobs in that 197, maybe 20.

https://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_search.php?all=history&none=art&position_id=58&country_id=209

The Chronicle lists 118 full-time faculty and research positions in History so far this year.

https://chroniclevitae.com/job_search?Search=&cid=cpw_jobsearch&facetClear=1&job_search[employment_type]=Full-time&job_search[keywords]=history&job_search[position_type]=41&utf8=✓

The AHA lists 99 assistant professor positions (including visiting), but their list is less comprehensive than others.

http://careers.historians.org/jobs?keywords=assistant+professor&sort=

But your question is: how can you compare year to year? What do these numbers mean?

I'm not entirely sure, but here's my best guest for this year vs. previous: My understanding is that the prime posting period just closed. There will be new positions posted through the rest of October and November, but much fewer than have already been posted.  If we think that there are about 200 assistant professor jobs out there, my guess is by the end of the season there would be no more than 50 more. So, ~250 total. That's my best guess, if the 197 number from H-Net is relatively accurate (and also, obviously, the most generous of the available data). In truth, there are probably more jobs than are listed on H-Net, because none of these sites are comprehensive. Then again, that 197 number also includes some jobs that aren't full-time assistant professor in art history -- as I said, there are some art history, some history of nursing that are really for PhDs in nursing, etc. 

Hope that helps, and good luck.

 

 

 

 

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On 10/16/2016 at 1:20 AM, TakeruK said:

Also, the number of openings doesn't tell the full story: what if there are more applicants now too?

Yes, this is true! So I would add to my comment above by saying... of all the people I know who were looking for jobs last year (in my sub-field), everyone got a job except for one person. A few people took post-docs. So I guess the way I think about whether the job market is good or bad is... are there enough jobs out there for the number of people qualified to fill those positions? And in my sub-field, the answer is yes. In fact, I've seen a number of positions that were posted last year that are being re-posted this year, so I think the job market is very good this year in that there are more jobs than qualified applicants. Part of the problem with these institutions may be where they are located, and so they are having trouble getting people to even apply (for example, I saw one institution in the deep South posting positions twice already this job season).

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