Asymmetric Iiformation | Megan McArdle | Too Many Students, Too Few Jobs(0) Yes. I agree. All you need to know about the academic job market stems from one fact: every single department out there will graduate more PhDs in a single year than they will hire new professors.
But let's not forget that there are lots of people out there exploiting students these days. A while back, I observed that academics tend to describe the job market as an improbably Dickensian welter of exploitation, a description which matches only one job market: their own. I asked why such a left wing environment had producedone of the most radically unequal and exploitative job markets in the country, which drew the following story from a reader:
The entry of new job applicants into this labor market has nothing to do with the availability of jobs. University administrators control how many tenure track jobs there are, but the faculty controls how many new graduate students there are. Faculty decisions about how many grad students to admit are usually based not on how many new PhDs they can place in jobs, but how many graduate assistants the faculty feel they need. I went to a fairly prestigious Midwestern university, and I entered the program with a cohort of 14 first-year grad students. In about my second or third year, the Department Chair and Director of Graduate Studies informed us that new cohorts would be smaller, 7-8 students at most, because they could not in good conscience admit students who they knew they couldn't place. After less than a year, the faculty were furious because there were not enough TAs to do all their grading for them. The next year, the incoming class of grad students went back up to 14.Presumably, the marginal six or seven candidates were less likely to get a job than the first choices. The oversupply of graduate students in the humanities is much, much worse than the oversupply of lawyers. The odds of a PhD student from a third tier program getting a tenure track job approaches zero in many fields (and falling every year), yet the schools keep cranking them out.
This is one of the (many) reasons I've decided to stay out of academia.
(1) Re: the sentence I italicized. I wonder if this is actually true.Yes, presumably the above-average student at appplication time will still be above-average when they hit the job market, but I would not be surprised if factors in the intervening years (specifically, choice of advisor) had a much larger affect. It would be easy enough to study.
I know my department keeps a "permanent file" for each student. The first section keeps a copy of the student's application and any admissions committee deliberations about it. The last section includes any information the department has about job status, which is usually considerable if the student tries for an academic post. Correlating the first and last sections would be pretty straight forward.
If I had to guess, the choice of advisor is the dominant factor in job placement. I think this is more true at top 25 departments, who are spoiled for choice in terms of applicants (i.e. they could fill their incoming class twice over with well-qualified students).