Friday, March 28, 2014

They're coming to our field and taking all our jobs! (Well, not really.)

A commenter asked: How many jobs advertised in German studies end up going to people outside of the field?

The answers is: not many. Graduates of American German Studies grad programs have a lock on the tenure-track German Studies jobs in the U.S.

In the sample of 148 people who earned Ph.D.s in 2007 or later and were hired into assistant professor-level tenure-track jobs advertised in 2006 or later, only ten (6.8%) did not hold a Ph.D. from a German Studies Ph.D. program located in North America. Two held Ph.D.s granted by German universities, while the other eight had degrees in comparative literature.

On the other hand, four of those comp lit degrees came out of one program: the University of Pennsylvania. Only twelve German Studies programs had more total tenure-track placements.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

MLA job information list classics #7: Old-school agism

From the December 1973 MLA Job Information List, Foreign Language Edition:


6 November 1973. Asst. prof. of German for Fall 1974. Must have completed Ph. D., have native speaking ability and be under thirty-five. Will teach 5 courses (intermediate and upper division). Should be enthusiastic and imaginative, and willing to work diligently toward building up the department. Will direct summer programs in Germany. Salary $10,500-$13,000. Applications not meeting these requirements will not be acknowledged.
          Eduardo Zayas-Bazán, Chariman, Languages


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

German Ph.D. programs: their products and their wasteproducts

Let’s imagine that you have decided, contrary to the advice of every responsible adult in your vicinity, that you want to pursue a Ph.D. in German. Of course you have scanned the list of the programs whose Ph.D.s have done the least badly recently in finding tenure-track jobs. Of course you know not to go to grad school without a decent financial aid package, and you’re prepared to walk away if you don’t get funding. But you also want to know which programs do a good job of turning grad students into Ph.D.s rather than washouts. What should you be looking for?

Imagine a Ph.D. program (Able University) with ten students. All of them eventually finish their Ph.D.s, taking five years on average. Consequently, the program graduates two Ph.D.s in an average year.

Now imagine a second program with ten students (Baker University). All of its students eventually finish, but it takes them twice as long—ten years. So there is only one Ph.D. graduate on average each year. You don’t know why it takes the students so long, but ten years seems like a long time to finish a Ph.D. If you could choose between them, Able University seems like a better option. If you finish your Ph.D. in average time at Able and get the TT job you’re convinced is waiting for you, you’ll be preparing to go up for tenure when the average member of the same Baker cohort is just finishing a Ph.D. Attending Able will add five years to your career and mean a half-decade less spent living on grad school income (*cough* food stamps *cough*).

Now imagine a third program with ten students (Cutthroat University). Cutthroat moves its students through the program with all due haste, but a large fraction fail out of their quals (you can’t translate humanistic Latin verse without a dictionary? too bad, you fail), and another big chunk reach ABD status but never finish their dissertations (this chapter is terrible, but I can’t quite put my finger on why; just rewrite it). Of the doctoral students that start, half finish in five years, but the other half never finish. Consequently, Cutthroat also graduates only one Ph.D. per year on average. A fifty percent chance of finishing grad school dismays you. All else being equal, attending Able seems like a better choice than Cutthroat U.

Now it’s not a bad thing at all if students choose to drop out of a grad program or abandon a dissertation. In even the best program, some students will discover that their talents or interests lie elsewhere, or the long road to the Ph.D. just isn’t worth it. But in general, prospective students will want to steer away from programs whose students are so unhappy that they are bailing out in high numbers, or whose qualifying exam requirements are so unrealistic that many students are failing them, or whose faculty mentoring is so unhelpful that few students are finishing their dissertations.

In the real world, how do you tell which programs are more like Able? You would need to know the enrollment of every Ph.D. program in North America and how many Ph.D.s they are graduating each year. If you knew that information, you could divide the average enrollment by the average number of Ph.D.s granted and arrive at a figure that is close to a reasonable number of years for someone to spend earning a Ph.D.: five, in the case of Able, compared to ten for Baker and Cutthroat. You won’t be able to tell the difference between Baker and Cutthroat—that is, you won’t be able to say if a program’s students are taking a very long time to finish, or if they are dropping out—but you’ll just try to avoid them both anyway. In general, the lower the number, the more efficient a program is at turning grad students into Ph.D.s, and that’s what you want. If only someone published that information somewhere…

Here is where the annual “Personalia” feature of Monatshefte comes to the rescue. It does in fact publish grad program enrollments and the number of degrees granted. For master’s degree enrollments and degrees awarded, the results are unsurprising, with the number of degrees generally falling close to half the number of students enrolled, about what you would expect from two-year M.A. programs.

For Ph.D. programs, the results are more revealing. If you compile all the numbers for the years 2007-8 through 20012-13, you could rank all the doctoral programs from most to least efficient. And this is what you would find:

Ranking of Ph.D. programs in German according to Ph.D.s earned by average enrollment, 2007-8 to 20012-13 (rank, average doctoral enrollment, total Ph.D.s awarded, average Ph.D.s awarded per year, and average enrollment divided by average number of Ph.D.s awarded)

Note that I’ve used my own counts of Ph.D.s, which I believe are more accurate than those in “Personalia” (and since they’re higher, my numbers cast the grad programs in a better light than they would otherwise appear).

There is a lot of interesting information in this table. The average program has an enrollment of 18 doctoral students, while Wisconsin, Berkeley, and Washington University in St. Louis are twice that size or larger. The average program graduates 2.3 Ph.D.s per year, or 85.7 among all programs. The three schools just named produce the most Ph.D.s, followed by Texas, Princeton, and Harvard at three Ph.D.s per year.

But none of the programs mentioned so far fare well in terms of how efficiently they move students towards completion. The top program in those terms is Cincinnati, whose graduates have also done relatively well at finding TT jobs through competitive searches. The example of Cincinnati shows that grad programs can prepare doctoral students for academic employment at a range of schools without requiring many years in a grad program or a string of failed comps and unfinished dissertations. (I’m not associated in any way with Cincinnati, but now I wish I were.)

Florida, in second place, is the smallest program included in the ranking, and with less than five students on average it was almost too small to include. But its size fits an unmistakable pattern: Every single one of the ten most efficient programs are smaller than average, with an average of just 12.5 doctoral students as a group. Small size is not necessarily a sign of efficiency, however; the lowest rankings, places 31-38, are also smaller programs, with an average of 14.1 students. The second tier (places 11-17) also tend to be smaller, with 13.9 students on average, while the largest programs, with 24.6 students on average, are found in places 18-30. Smaller enrollments might indicate more personalized attention from faculty, or it might be a sign of institutional neglect.

* * *

Dear DGS’s and department heads: If you think my figures are in error, then please submit accurate “Personalia” questionnaires, because the figures here are based on what you yourselves reported, and improved in your favor by my own research.

Above all, the next time a discussion of “How to Improve the Ph.D. in German for the Twenty-First Century” comes up at GSA, please take the microphone away from people whose programs massively overproduce Ph.D.s, have shamefully low TT placement rates, or take the better part of a decade to create grad school failures instead of turning grad students into Ph.D. holders. I’m tired of hearing people who hide their failure behind their prestige telling the rest of us how to be just like them. Let’s hear instead what the folks at schools like Cincinnati have to say about doctoral education in German and how to prepare graduates for today’s academic careers.

Friday, March 14, 2014

MLA job information list classics #6: Fortunately sexism is a thing of the past

GETTYSBURG COLLEGE, Gettysburg, Henry Schneider III, Chm, German & Russian

Assoc. Prof or Asst. Prof., PhD or ABD, German lang. & lit., $8000-$11,000. Exp. required, pub., prof. test scores desired. 2 semesters, 12-14 hrs: German lang. & lit. incl. civ. & cult. & knowledge of audio-lingual method & use of lab. Poss. summer work, about 10% of annual salary. Benefits: 1234, family tuition plan. Prefer male between 25 & 45. Should have abil. to communicate in spoken lang. in classroom & some residence in Germany.

How the job market in German really works. Part four: Who gets hired?

(This is lightly updated from what I posted at pan kisses kafka.)

Let’s pretend that you are an American college student and, despite everything that people are telling you, you are determined to get a Ph.D. in German because you want to be a college professor. What grad programs should you apply to? Obviously—you think—you should apply to programs with a good track record of placing their graduates into tenure-track jobs.

Rule #1: Treat everything that departments say about themselves as delusional or deceptive until proven otherwise. Placement rates are ratios where both the numerator and denominator get twisted to the department’s benefit because it is a matter of survival for them.

First question: Do you have a trust fund or savings in the seven figures? Do you already have a guaranteed job waiting for you when you graduate? If so, it hardly matters what the placement rate is. But if you don’t, then you will have the academic job market waiting for you at the end of your grad program. You will have to watch the job lists, identify jobs you qualify for, and apply to them as one of dozens or hundreds of applicants.

Rule #2: What you want to know is departmental placement rates for nationally-advertised tenure-track jobs at the assistant professor level. It’s not enough that a department can point to “academic placements” (*cough* adjunct *cough*) or to graduates who are doing interesting things, or even to graduates who are in tenure-track positions.

Here’s the problem. People who earn Ph.D.s in the humanities are typically not found dead of starvation in the streets of major urban areas. We’re smart, we’re driven to finish what we start, we know how to research and how to impose order on vast quantities of information. We end up doing interesting things with our lives, often in the vicinity of universities, since that’s where we’re spending nearly the first decade of our professional lives. If a university has a qualified and competent person with a Ph.D. hanging around, it’s not too surprising that this person eventually ends up teaching classes in some capacity. That fact tells us little or nothing about the quality of the student’s grad program.

Lately, some people have suggested that doctoral programs should take some modest steps in order to keep track of what happens to their Ph.D.s after graduation. It’s a good idea, and these suggestions are made with the best of intentions, even if they’re coming about 50 years too late. They are, unfortunately, looking in the wrong place as far as you are concerned. You can’t just count up how many of a program’s graduates end up as professors—otherwise, the best qualification you could get in grad school is marrying a professor of engineering or accountancy who can swing a spousal hire for you. Instead, there is just one thing you should be looking at:

What percentage of a program’s graduates are hired for tenure-track jobs through competitive searches?

For the denominator of our placement ratio, we need to know the number of Ph.D. graduates of each program. The annual “Personalia” feature in Monatshefte is a decent starting point. They provide the number of Ph.D.s granted each academic year, and a somewhat less complete list of dissertations completed in each department. It’s the best source we currently have, unfortunately, now that David Benseler’s annual “Doctoral Degrees Granted in Foreign Languages in the United States” no longer appears in the Modern Language Journal. For the figures here, I’ve supplemented the number of Ph.D.s awarded per department with reports that I find in other places, particularly in the Proquest database of dissertations, and I’ve carefully checked any discrepancies.

For the numerator of our placement ratio, we should start, in effect, with the jobs wiki. For the tenure-track jobs that are nationally advertised each year (in the MLA/ADFL job list, in the CHE, on, etc.), who gets hired? After several years of tracking Ph.D.s granted and TT hires, we can then count up how many have come from each program. I’ve done that based on the best information I could find about new hires from the university websites of departments that have advertised positions in German. (We can’t rely on “Personalia” for hiring data because the coverage is too incomplete, and new appointments don’t show up with the regularity that you would expect in departmental listings.)

No program has 100% placement by this measure, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s great if Anna, who’s been the German instructor at a community college for years, finishes a Ph.D. and continues teaching at the same school. It’s great if Bettina signs on as the Assistentin of Prof. Dr. Dr. Großperücke back in Paderborn. It’s great if Max is hired into a tenure-track position because his wife made that a precondition of her accepting the job as dean of the business school. But if you’re looking at grad programs and don’t already have a job, or a spouse with $5 million in NSF funding, what you really want to know is which programs do the best at placing their graduates in the TT jobs that are advertised. Rather than tracking Ph.D. outcomes, we need to be matching Ph.D.s to hires in advertised job searches.

We have hiring data from 2006 onwards, but before we answer the $64,000 (in student debt) question, we need to take a quick look at when people get hired into TT jobs. For 173 hires from 2006-7 to 2012-13 where we’re confident that we’re looking at a first TT hire, the largest group (38%) appear to be hired ABD shortly before defending. That means, for example, that a job was advertised in the fall of 2006 (or perhaps in early 2007), while the dissertation was deposited some time in 2007. Smaller cohorts appear to be hired in the same year they defend (30%), one year later (17%), or two years later (8%). Before or after that, the numbers drop precipitously to a few percent or less. (Because of the different ways that degree dates are recorded, however, we have to treat the precise figures with some caution.) What’s important is that ABDs don’t actually seem to be at a disadvantage in applying for TT jobs, and most crucially for us here: we have to start looking at hiring one year earlier than the degree date, or else we’ll miss the biggest segment of who got hired. We have hiring data starting with the 2006-7 academic year, so we’ll start with the calendar year 2007 Ph.D.s.

 Figure 1: Average time from degree to first TT hire (difference between job cycle year and Ph.D. completion year)

Below, in one table, I’ve ranked graduate programs in German by placement rates based on the number of Ph.D.s produced from 2007 to the end of the 2012-13 academic year, and the number of placements into TT jobs advertised between 2006-7 and 2012-13. (I’m only counting jobs in the discipline of German, rather than multi-language positions or others not directly within German Studies. You can get the complete table as comma-delimited text here, along with the Ph.D.s and TT placements in my data set.)

But wait, you ask. Didn’t everything change in 2008? Maybe there was a “flight to quality” so that only Ivy League grads are getting jobs now. I’ve added additional columns that are restricted to Ph.D.s granted from 2009-13.

But wait again—what about the really cool jobs in R1, Ph.D.-granting departments that grad students who dream of revolutionizing their field lust after? The kind where you teach specialized grad seminars and go on sabbaticals and get invited to deliver prestigious lectures and everything else that your advisor does? I’ve added one more column for TT placements into doctoral departments.

I’ve eliminated Canadian programs (Alberta, British Columbia, McGill, Montreal, Queen’s, Toronto, Waterloo; 32 total Ph.D.s), as I find very few Canadian Ph.D.s hired for nationally-advertised jobs, and I’m concerned that I may not understand Canadian hiring enough to say anything useful about it. I’ve also moved sixteen small (1-6 Ph.D.s) or deactivated programs to a separate list, leaving us with 32 Ph.D. programs in German.

First, let’s check the Big Non-embarrassing Four. Princeton seems to be doing reasonably well (although they get an asterisk since one of those TT hires was their hiring one of their own grads), with three large public universities bunched together after that.

Next, in places 5-11, we have the one-in-three chance club.

Rounding out the top half, we have seven programs in the one-in-four club.

Coming in at places 18-27, there’s the one-in-five club:

And, finally, everyone else.

Here’s the list of small programs with less than seven Ph.D.s. Note that Florida and Duke have some decent placement rates, but not enough Ph.D.s for a comparison with the other programs. Some of these programs are being phased out.

The overall average TT placement rate is 20%, dropping to 15% if we only look at the years since 2009. (The most recent Ph.D.s will get another year or two on the market, so that number may creep up a bit.)
Note that highly prestigious universities can be found in every tier, including those with mediocre and truly abysmal placement rates. Graduates of some brand-name grad programs in popular coastal cities seem to have no interest in moving to boring flyover towns just for the sake of teaching 4-4. And the flight to Ivies after 2008? It didn’t happen. The only programs with decent and rising placement rates were Texas, Penn State, and the University of Washington.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the Ph.D.s who didn’t land TT jobs aren’t doing useful and interesting things with their Ph.D.s. Many of them are. They just didn’t compete successfully for the small pool of TT jobs that they spent 5-10 years training for.

But to really see how screwed up our profession is, you have to look at the doctoral placements. From 2006-12, there have been 47 TT hires by doctoral-granting programs (including five from programs not considered here), of which over a third of the total, 17, came from just three programs: Princeton (9), UC Berkeley (4), and Cornell (4). (Do you wish you had known that when you were applying to grad school? I certainly do.) Of those schools, only one, Princeton, has a non-embarrassing overall placement rate (and even Princeton’s has looked mortal since 2009). And note how the doctoral placements make up nearly all the TT placements for those schools: Maximizing your chances of following your R1 dreams by picking one of those programs comes at the cost of having terrible chances of landing any other kind of academic job.

* * *

Dear DGS’s and Department Heads: If you think my figures are wrong, please correct them. Do you think I’ve miscounted your graduates? Please provide an updated list of names and dates of Ph.D.s granted since January 2007. Have I missed your placements into advertised tenure-track jobs? Please provide the names and the date and place that the TT jobs were advertised. Above all, please consider the absurdity of some guy on the Internet collecting this information, instead of the GSA, the AATG, or some MLA committee. You’re in a position to change how little the discipline of German Studies understands its own job market, so please do something about it. The undergrads who are applying to your programs, and the grad students who are in your programs now, deserve better.

Friday, March 7, 2014

MLA job information list classics #5: Replacing Narcissus

THE CITADEL          CHARLESTON          SC 29409

22 Sept 71. No vacancies anticipated. However, qualifications of personnel make promotions to positions of leadership at other colleges a definite possibility. Hence, applications are welcome. Henry D. G. Smith, Chm, Department of Modern Languages.