Friday, August 29, 2014

What Vitae’s Job Tracker Needs to Do

Reading their introduction, it sounds like the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae Job Tracker project is asking most of the right questions. What they are proposing to do in a pilot project for eleven academic disciplines is similar to what I’ve been doing for German for several years, mostly for my own interest and more recently for your edification and amusement. Looking at what they propose and at my experience, these are my recommendation for Brock Read and Maren Wood, or for anyone else thinking about undertaking a project like this.
  1. You have to know the field. If 10% of Ph.D.s go on to academic careers from a history program, that’s a disaster. If the same percentage go on to academic careers from a physics program, that’s normal. If most physics Ph.D.s are still in postdocs three or four years after completing a doctorate, that’s normal. If most of the historians are postdocs, that’s a problem. (And are those historians in prestigious research-intensive postdocs, or stuck teaching 4-4 in a “postdoc” that’s really a VAP position with shiny training wheels?) You have to know the trees that make up the forest.
  2. You have to track the people who earn Ph.D.s. The Survey of Earned Doctorates doesn’t provide enough information for what you want to do. You can’t know how well or badly a graduate program is doing if you don’t know how many Ph.D.s it produces. A small program whose single doctoral graduate usually lands a TT job is much preferable to an enormous program that boasts four or five TT hires each year (while churning out twenty new Ph.D.s). Also, it’s important to look for a source outside the graduate department itself to confirm the number of doctorates granted, such as ProQuest’s records of dissertations and theses. Some programs are inconsistent in reporting who leaves their program with a Ph.D. In addition, it’s tricky but usually possible to assign dissertations to a recognizable disciplinary subfield. It’s much more difficult and often not possible to assign job ads to a subfield, simply because many job ads will mention multiple criteria that may not match up with any recognizable subfield. What subfield is “anything before 1890” or “able to teach women’s literature, post-Wende literature, or digital humanities”? Tracking the specialties of the people who get hired is the only way to see what’s going in with disciplinary subfields.
  3. You have to track advertised tenure-track jobs. It sounds like Vitae is making the correct decision to focus on TT hiring. Too much of NTT hiring happens outside of public view for it to be tracked easily. Following TT hiring is much easier now that we have job wikis to collate jobs advertised both in central disciplinary job lists and in other places. It’s important to maintain focus on particular fields: No one gets a degree in “MLA,” and the job markets in the various humanities disciplines don’t move at the same pace (the 90s were horrid in English, but mostly pretty good in German). It may take several years of collecting data or some historical research in order to develop a sense of the history of the job market in a particular field, and what volatility from year to year means.
  4. You have to match Ph.D.s to advertised jobs. It’s not enough to find out where Ph.D.s go. Most Ph.D.s will manage to find something interesting and productive to do of their own accord. It’s not even enough to find out who ends up in a tenure-track job, as there are routes onto the tenure track that don’t tell us much about the applicant except they married a future dean, or a departing provost decided to stuff some long-term lecturers into some favored programs. It’s also important to figure out when advertised jobs have gone unfilled. So: don’t just track job ads, or Ph.D.s, or graduates who land TT jobs. Instead, match Ph.D.s to job ad outcomes. This is the most reliable way to see which graduate programs have good or poor records of placing graduates into jobs on this continent, or determining where the number of Ph.D.s have gotten out of alignment with the job market.
  5. You have to find out who got hired from the hiring institution. Identifying newly hired TT faculty is usually easy. Most colleges and universities make the names of their faculty public. Picking out the new hire can sometimes be tricky, however, especially when there’s a delay (for assuming a prestigious postdoc, for example) before the new hire assumes the post. It can also be challenging to figure out which three faces in a large department are the new ones. If you’ve got the CHE backing you, you can call up the department in September and ask about the hiring outcome, if it isn’t customary to identify the hired candidate on the job wiki. What you can’t do is ask graduate departments where their graduates have ended up, because their incentives diverge strongly from giving the unvarnished truth. Adjunct and one-semester VAP jobs can too easily turn into “academic placements.”
  6. You have to describe the hiring programs. The easiest way to do this is to use the Carnegie classifications, which will let you automatically assign schools to states, regions, and useful categories. You’ll need some additional data, however, such as the type of degree granted. Many programs at RU/VH schools only grant a bachelor’s degree, for example.
  7. You have to watch for inputs from outside the system. Academic hiring is not quite a closed ecology. Some fields frequently hire faculty with degrees from other fields, or with PhDs from programs outside North America. Sometimes the new hire has already been in a tenure-track job, and sometimes the new hire is still ABD. It’s a good idea to keep track of this information, as it’s an important element of the job market. In some fields (English, for example), only a few jobs each year go to people with degrees in allied fields like American Studies, while in other fields (American Studies, for example), most jobs go to people with degrees in allied fields like English or history rather than in American Studies.
  8. You have to do this every year. A one-year snapshot isn’t enough, and it’s almost impossible to figure out what the outcome was of one year’s academic hiring after the next year has passed. The tables of Ph.D.s granted, job searches, and graduate programs need periodic maintenance. Eventually, you have to figure out when those formerly ABD hires turned into Ph.D.s. It’s a lot of work. But it’s important work, and no one else is going to do it. If you really want to know how the job market works in your field or any field, this is what you have to do.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Where the jobs are

For the discipline of German Studies, most jobs require a serious commitment to research. The notion that most faculty members find jobs at teaching-focused universities is often repeated, but it does not apply to German Studies. If you want to find a job in German Studies, or if you want to prepare your grad students to find jobs, focusing on teaching at the expense of research is a recipe for failure.

Before I provide the documentation, let’s unpack this a bit. By “jobs” I mean “tenure-track jobs as a German professor,” because that is what nearly all the students who pursue a Ph.D. hope to achieve (and if we included non-tenure-track jobs in the following analysis, it wouldn’t change the results in any significant way). I’m also focusing on universities in North American because few people enter positions in international Germanistik with a Ph.D. from a North American university. Our training in literature combined with experience in foreign-language pedagogy make us strong candidates at home but flawed ones abroad.

It has been obvious for several years, of course, that where the jobs are is not in German Studies, with the exception of around 30 positions each year. Academic departments should respond by cutting back the size of incoming cohorts and the number of degrees granted. They should recognize that many of their graduates will find careers outside of academia as a necessity, and be supportive of those who do so. What they should not do, despite all the hype, is try to prepare grad students for non-academic careers. A Ph.D. in German is a horribly inefficient way to prepare for a career in finance or technology or the non-profit sector or, really, almost anything except becoming a German professor. Let the grad departments instead focus their efforts on preparing their grad students to become the best-qualified candidates for the jobs that exist. That’s what they are—or should be—good at.

So there aren’t a lot of jobs in German Studies. But if you’re determined to give the academic job market in German a whirl, then you need to be aware of where the jobs that exist actually are. If you’re a faculty member in a Ph.D.-granting department, you need to know what kind of training your students actually need, and what your neighbor in the office across the hall says about her discipline may not be true at all of German Studies.

I’m basing the following on over 330 tenure-track or open-rank jobs advertised in German Studies, either in the MLA/ADFL job list or in other sources, from the 2006-2007 academic year through the 2013-2014 academic year. I’m combining the pre-crash years of 2006 and 2007 with the post-crash years of 2008 and later because the percentage differences were insignificant when I examined them separately. The crash appears to have affected the number of tenure-track jobs in all types of departments.

Now it’s true that most tenure-track jobs are found in departments that offer only a bachelor’s degree (53.7%), or only a minor (4.7%) or language courses (2.1%), meaning 60.5% of jobs do not involve graduate teaching. That still leaves a large fraction of jobs that do involve graduate teaching either at the MA level (10.3%) or the Ph.D. level (29.2%). Call it a 60:40 split between jobs that involve only undergraduate teaching and jobs that include some graduate-level teaching.

The crucial context, however, is that 59% of all tenure-track jobs are at research institutions (RU/VH, RU/H, or DRU in Carnegie classifications). Faculty in bachelor’s-granting departments at research institutions are required to publish in most cases, as your colleagues at Notre Dame and Dartmouth can confirm. Another 17.1% of jobs are found at master’s degree-granting institutions that may require research. The bachelor’s-granting colleges—mostly SLACs—do offer 23.3% of jobs, but most of them are still interested in faculty publishing (and including undergrads as co-authors). The only institutions that almost never require research are community colleges. Since 2006, there have been two tenure-track positions in German advertised at this level (0.6%).

The other kind of position that requires no research, available at all institutions of all types, is part-time adjunct teaching. Graduate departments should be doing everything in their power to avoid sending their students into that type of position.

It might help to classify the segments of the job market both by degree granted and by institution type, and rank them by the portion of the job market they comprise.

Figure 1: Percentage of tenure-track jobs in German Studies, 2006-2007 to 2013-2014, by the degree granted by the hiring department and simplified Carnegie classification of the hiring university

This is your future on German Studies if you are one of the lucky ones that finds a stable job. Your grad program had better prepare you for doing some serious research, or you won’t be a serious contender for the biggest segment of the job market: Ph.D.-granting departments at research institutions. Even if your department doesn’t offer graduate degrees, your colleagues on the T&P committee from departments who do aren’t going to grant you tenure if you aren’t publishing. You have to leave your grad program specialized enough to succeed in your subfield. Tenure-track jobs that are focused solely or predominately on teaching are rather uncommon in German Studies.

On the other hand, most faculty aren’t going to be able to teach only in their subfield, even at research universities. You’ll have to teach a combination of language, culture, and literature courses, usually not in your subfield. Those annoying breadth requirements in your graduate curriculum are there for a reason. So is your teaching methodology seminar.

Finally, be prepared to move. Here are the top ten states by the number of tenure-track jobs advertised in German Studies since 2006, comprising 50% of all jobs advertised. (I’m treating all of Canada as if it were a single state. Uh, sorry?)

Figure 2: Top 10 states for tenure-track jobs advertised in German Studies, 2006-2007 to 2013-2014 (sum of top ten = 50%)

Another approach is to look not at states, but at regions (again using the Carnegie classification, and treating Canada as its own region).

Figure 3: Regional distribution of tenure-track jobs advertised in German Studies, 2006-2007 to 2013-2014

That’s right: Most jobs are in places that are hot, cold, really freaking cold, really far away, or that usually vote Republican. Pursuing a job in German Studies will mean moving there so you can teach undergraduate courses outside your specialty while you’re under pressure to publish just as much as your colleagues in English who semi-regularly teach specialized seminars to grad students. For every job like that, fifty people will apply. For every one person who gets a job like that, three or four others won’t get any job at all.

* * *

We’ll come back to this data again next time to answer the question: Which grad programs need to cut back?