Thursday, March 25, 2010

Let's get real

Leiter has a post up, discussing some of the recent admonitions to not go to graduate school. Leiter makes some interesting points in the post (we'll leave yet another ad hominem attack against anonymous posters for another time; *sigh*) and offers this real advice:
[D]on't go to graduate school unless you get into a strong program. Period. If you get funding to go to a strong program, and you love the subject, then go to graduate school. The odds of securing a tenure-track job, indeed a good tenure-track job, from a strong program are very high.
Now, I take it that the recent admonitions about attending graduate school do not just depend on the empirically false claim that there aren't any jobs for philosophy Ph.Ds. Of course there are jobs. Fuck, the JFP is proof of that. So, let's just ignore the fact that Leiter takes that claim as his ostensible target and consider the content of his claims (based on the placement records from 7 of the top 36 programs). Here, I hand off those duties to longtime friend, who will remain anonymous, who puts the point so much better than I could have (and with data!):
Right now, there are 65 people listed on Leiter with TT or postdoc jobs this year. 65. Let's assume that only the Leiter top 20 count as good schools. If they're graduating 4 people a year, that's 80. Being that 4 people a year is probably a pretty low number, this 81% job rate is our absolute maximum. Not to mention that 7 of those jobs are people from outside North America getting jobs outside North America. So that knocks it down to 58, or 72%. Now recall that Leiter ranks 50 US departments. We'll ignore non-ranked departments. If we assume that they are rolling out 4 graduates a year, which is a pretty fair assumption given cohort sizes, we're looking at 200 people this year competing for 58 slots, which is a 29% chance of getting a job.

And this is again an upper limit, as there are unranked departments, people coming off of postdocs, people switching schools, adjuncts, and people coming off of VAPs.

Next let's recall that schools are moving away from TT jobs. The average age of a tenured or tenure-track professor is now 55 or so, as I recall. Which suggests that people are not retiring, and when they do retire, those lines are not being re-opened for junior people. So the trend is going away from TT jobs at all.

[Leiter]...makes a big deal out of his specialty rankings. And that opens up the number of schools significantly. If he wants students to not be misled, THEN MAKE SCHOOLS INCLUDE...PLACEMENT RECORDS TO GET RANKED. No school has an incentive to be honest about this, and most places lie about it.

Some people are whiners, I agree. I hate people that blame their job hardship on women and minorities. And [some] people do crap work. Fine, I may be one of them. But claiming that the job market is anything other than a crapshoot is just dishonest. When places get 400 job applicants, your application is not going to receive careful review. It's not anyone's fault, per se, it's just how the market is. Some people get lucky and get a lot of attention. Great for them. Most people don't. Let's stop lying and start realizing that the job market is just too noisy to guarantee that the best people get the best jobs, and the worst people get no jobs. Sometimes people do better than they expect, and most of the time people end up worse off than anyone would expect. But we currently have people telling us that good people don't have to worry and they will land great jobs. This, post facto, is a great justification for those with jobs to announce that the system is very good at finding the best people. But it's not the most honest story to tell.
Let me just highlight the last point that my very smart (anonymous) friend makes because I think it encapsulates a very real worry: "[We] currently have people telling us that good people don't have to worry and they will land great jobs. This, post facto, is a great justification for those with jobs to announce that the system is very good at finding the best people." This, I think, makes the call to either require schools wishing to participate in the PGR to have clear placement records or ask evaluators to factor in placement records in assessing the quality of a department all the more pertinent here. Placement and department rankings according to "the quality of philosophical work and talent represented by the faculty and the range of areas they cover" represented by PGR ranking can come apart in real ways. And, where they don't, we need to be aware of the fact that, while perhaps one important factor, it wasn't just the strength of a program, as correlated with PGR ranking, determining the placement record of a school.

The advice for prospective graduate students to consider the points and numbers offered in this post, I take it, is real and not silly.

-- Jaded Dissertator

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what RM said, but do have to note that Leiter's placement thread is not exhaustive. I personally know two people (one from a top 20 department, one from an unranked department) who have accepted TT jobs that have not been posted in Leiter's thread.

I assume that the two people I know are not the only two people with job offers that haven't made it onto Leiter. This assumption could be mistaken, of course.

Anonymous said...

A simple test of Leiter's hypothesis:

The Harvard listings for people on the job market this year:
http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~phildept/job_market_candidates.html

The Harvard listing for people who _got_ jobs this year:
http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~phildept/placement.html

Note that of the 6 people on the job market, 3 got jobs. Of those 3, 2 are postdocs. So, one tenure track job out of six candidates from a department ranked number 6 on Leiter's rankings.

Other schools have less complete data, but from what I've heard there are many similar stories from top ranked departments. So I'd be a lot less sanguine than Leiter suggests.

Anonymous said...

"Right now, there are 65 people listed on Leiter with TT or postdoc jobs this year. 65. Let's assume that only the Leiter top 20 count as good schools. If they're graduating 4 people a year, that's 80. Being that 4 people a year is probably a pretty low number, this 81% job rate is our absolute maximum."

That actually vastly overstates the odds of a TT job if you come out of a top 20 program, because not nearly all of those jobs are going to people from top 20 programs. If you literally mean programs that are ranked 20 or higher in the United States in the latest PGR, than I count, so far, 18 TT jobs and 4 postdocs that have been posted on Leiter's blog that have gone to the graduates of those 20 programs.

Arguably, the postdocs shouldnt be included, because some of the people who got the TT jobs came out of past postdocs, so counting postdocs and TT jobs is double counting.

So, if its true that the typical top 20 American program graduates 4 students per year, and that, in the aggregate, these programs are pulling in 18 TT jobs/year, then your odds, if this economy continues, will only be about 1 in 4. Even if there are more TT jobs to come this year for those 20 programs, and even if the number 4 is a bit too high (maybe its more like 3?), the odds are surely no better than 1 in 2 for ever getting a TT job if the economy stays the way it is now.

Anonymous said...

Lieter's point was simple and persuasive. Go a top PhD program, love what you do and the likelihood of finding a job is looking pretty good. What's dishonest about this? A lot of post-docs and TT jobs (last year and this year) have been obtained by folks from top programs. Look at the placement record of Princetons and UCLAs. I don't understand why we have to discuss this obvious point all over again? The market is crap, yeah, and even top guns might need to be on the market for a couple of years, but in the end dedicated top guns will find employment, unlike some of us from low-ranked schools.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:07. Let's look at Harvard placement list in a couple of months from now. Offers from the fall ads are still negotiated and spring jobs are yet to conduct their interviews.

Anonymous said...

Regarding including placement in the PGR rankings:

Brian often says that placement shouldn't be a part of rankings of faculty because it is "backward looking" and thus doesn't necessarily match up with the current faculty. On this score, I think he is right. My anecdotal evidence to back this up: when I was in grad school, my program had a really strong placement record. No one got jobs at top research institutions, but a very high percentage of my cohort got good TT, 3-3 or better load jobs. Around the time I was on the market, the department suffered a massive brain-drain. People continued to get jobs for a few years (many of whom were still working with the faculty who left), but after that placement fell off precipitously. The point--during those few years when people were still getting jobs after the brain-drain, placement would have figured strongly in any potential ranking of the department. But that would have been really misleading to incoming students who (and the results have largely backed up what seemed probable at the time) would have a much harder time on the market.

Anonymous said...

So Leiter was being overly harsh. It's still true that MOST people should not go to graduate school. The person he's criticizing knows that, of course. That writer knows that it's false that NO ONE should go because NO ONE will get a job. OF course people from the very tippy top programs will get jobs. Said author knows that those who are admitted to top graduate programs can disregard his essay, and he knows that they know this, and he knows that they know that he knows this. Leiter is the only one who doesn't know this.

But said author has to put his point starkly and unqualifiedly lest those of us who are tempted to deceive ourselves into thinking we're hot shit even though we didn't quite make the cut think we'll still get a decent job. Leiter doesn't have any appreciation of the rhetorical strategy being employed. And that because ... well, I'd better be careful, even if I hide behind the superpower shield of anonymity.

Anonymous said...

Claiming that Pannabacker "obviously has some other personal axe to grind"is just asinine - as is claiming that the guy is lying. Perhaps it's true that job prospects are pretty good for those who graduate from top programs. And that certainly calls for clarification. But even if that's the case, you can still take P's advice charitably, i.e., as advice deliberately aimed at the vast majority of aspiring grad students who don't have a chance in hell of getting into those top programs and who probably dangerously overestimate their future prospects.

Professor Leiter, your advice is good advice. Try to communicate it responsibly. The luxury of tenure and the distance of a blog, alas, encourage bad behavior too.

Anonymous said...

I assume that the two people I know are not the only two people with job offers that haven't made it onto Leiter.

It sounds like people are using the Leiter 2009-10 hiring thread as an indication of what the job market is like. But this seems like a mistake, since we already knew last October and November that there would be significantly fewer jobs this year.

If we know that 2008-09 had ~35% fewer jobs than was average for the previous five years, and that 2009-10 had ~50% fewer jobs than 2008-09, then the speed at which information is posted on Leiter's thread isn't going to change those numbers.

Anonymous said...

Leiter's claims that "The odds of securing a tenure-track job, indeed a good tenure-track job, from a strong program are very high" and that "there are plenty of PhD programs from which a student can be highly confident about finding stable academic employment upon completion of the course of study" are just false.

I know many good students in strong top 20 Leiter programs that cannot find any sort of employment in the current academic market.

A few years ago, it may have been reasonable to think that a student from a strong program had a good shot at a good job, but it is not so in the current market, and it remains to be seen if this changes in the nearby future in America.

With the trend more and more towards using adjuncts and less and less of a use of tenure track professors, it's not clear what the future holds for PhD students in the humanities, even one from strong programs.

Anonymous said...

But said author has to put his point starkly and unqualifiedly lest those of us who are tempted to deceive ourselves into thinking we're hot shit even though we didn't quite make the cut think we'll still get a decent job.

I think this is wrong. Rather, when a claim is made in a way that's quite obviously too strong (as in "no one should go to grad school as there are no jobs") this doesn't make people think the author is honest, but rather than he or she can't be trusted. Why not make the more plausible claim? (That one would be closer to Leiter's claim, though maybe not quite that strong- I don't really know.) But making a clearly too strong claim, one that anyone who is not dumb will know to be too strong, isn't good rhetoric, it's dumb and unconvincing and marks the person doing it as unserious.

On the Harvard listing- it's worth noting that people may be on the job market well before finishing their dissertation, so merely being listed as "on the market" doesn't mean that this person won't end up w/ a fine job if they don't have one this year, so I'd not make that inference.

Anonymous said...

I just completed a 12-year analysis of placement at my home department, a mid-tier "top-50" school. I compiled all the graduates (using the library's database of submitted dissertations) and then used the Magic of Google to see who had jobs and who didn't. Of the roughly 70 graduates we produced during that period, slighly over three-quarters had found academic employment.

The remaining quarter were evenly split between very recent graduates doing limited duties work and graduates working non-academic jobs. I know that many of the non-academic workers had no intention of getting academic jobs.

Futher analysis tells me it is normal at any time to have some percentage of graduates doing limited duties work; most go on to find academic employment, so my final estimate was that we had a roughly 85% placement rate.

Not all the jobs were tier-1 appointments at research universities, clearly! But across the board I was pleasantly surprised at the result. We had placed well and our attrition rate was much higher than our non-placement rate, suggesting it is harder to complete our degree requirements than find a job subsequently.

So I agree with Leiter: a good program places well, a bad program probably won't. Using the placement thread on his blog is a extremely stupid methodology. Look at your home department's list of graduates; spent 3-4 hours in google. Profit.

-A graduate student who knows how to use google and advises other to follow suit

Anonymous said...

Since Pannabacker is a professor of English, I'm assuming that he is aware of what a hyperbole is, and that he is making use of it.

Since Leiter is a philosopher, I'm assuming that he is aware that he's problematically equating hyperbole with deceit.

I dunno. Seems like a bit of a problem to me.

Anonymous said...

It's also worth noting, given that Leiter's target is an English prof, that the English job market is (by reputation at least) a lot noisier and more capricious than ours. My impression is that no English department in the US has better than a 25-50% placement rate for TT jobs even in a good year, and that things aren't much better at top depts than they are at lesser depts.

Anonymous said...

Leiter calls Pannapacker "giddy with excitement", and accuses him or writing a "reckless scare piece". That's pretty outrageous if you ask me. Is Pannapacker overstating his case? Sure. It's a case that *needs* to be overstated. But why assume that the guy just has an axe to grind rather than assume that he genuinely cares about would-be grad students who are getting f-ed by the system?

For all his Marxist touting, Leiter really loves being a member of the ruling class of philosophy. Because that's, after all, what Pannapacker is railing against: the members of the ruling class of academia.

Popkin said...

The craziest thing about Leiter's post is that the linked articles sound pretty reasonable for the most part. The author doesn't say "there are no jobs"; he says things like:

"There is work for humanities doctorates (though perhaps not as many as are currently being produced), but there are fewer and fewer real jobs because of conscious policy decisions by colleges and universities. As a result, the handful of real jobs that remain are being pursued by thousands of qualified people — so many that the minority of candidates who get tenure-track positions might as well be considered the winners of a lottery."

And:

"Essentially, if you want an academic job, you'd better be really good at what you do. You should be at a top university (although sometimes less-famous institutions can be effective at local placements); have at least a few high-quality publications, preferably in top-tier journals; have a dissertation that's nearly a publishable book, preferably under contract with a university press; be a charismatic and challenging teacher; be socially energetic without being threatening; have well-known and well-connected advisers who will support you without any reservations; be willing to live anywhere; be prepared to work as a visiting professor and move a few times in the first decade of your career; and be willing to live with the possibility that you will always have an itinerant, insecure, poorly compensated existence."

Anonymous said...

So what constitutes a "weak department"? Can we get some hard figures here, like "outside the top 30"? "If you have to ask, the one you're in"?

Also, it seems like it is in the interests of the top, say, 30, that there are 130 other PhD granting programs in the English-speaking world. Imagine if every grad applicant followed his advice, and didn't attend the outside 30 or so. Some 100+ departments would revert to solely teaching undergrads (or to an MA program), which means you need far less professors, and you will have far less advanced research courses. Plus, far less PhD programs for "key notes" in the top 30 to visit and present their current work.

Anonymous said...

Just want to highlight the quote that anoneemoose 2:38 posted

Essentially, you want an academic job, you'd better be really good at what you do. You should be at a top university ..."

So he does bow to the elite--what exactly is Leiter's problem?

Anonymous said...

2:34,

English isn't *that* bad (the very tip top departments have placement records in the 70-80% range...a few of them). But it is worse than philosophy. Frankly, from what I've seen of placement records in English, the advice Leiter criticizes is actually not critical enough. About three-quarters of the people currently working toward a PhD in English should probably drop out of their programs.

Even in Philosophy, we really should stop thinking in terms of Leiter rankings. Places like Georgetown and Duke - not in the top 20 - have far better placement records than many of the top 20 institutions. When you're thinking about acceptable departments, I'd say go 50% Leiter rank/50% overall-reputation-as-a-university. That's a far better formula for predicting placement.

Anonymous said...

But doesn't even Leiter's job thread have a number of jobs obtained by people from lower or unranked programs such as Purdue, Tennessee, Oklahoma, New School, etc. It seems patently obvious that one increases one's percentages the farther up the prestige ladder one travels. I hardly need some fancy commentary to tell me that. I'm not sure if ending up at a lower-ranked schooled means 'by definition' that you will never ever no matter what ever get a job and have therefore somehow committed a horrible crime against your own existence (or whatever)

Anonymous said...

A few posters seem to think that low Leiter ranking is what Leiter had in mind when he spoke of weak departments, but remember that he gave Georgetown as an example of a strong department and he knows that that's not highly ranked. Strong, I take it, means strong at placing.

"I'm not sure if ending up at a lower-ranked schooled means 'by definition' that you will never ever no matter what ever get a job and have therefore somehow committed a horrible crime against your own existence (or whatever)"

Agreed. Rusty went from Oklahoma to Harvard. I have a decent TT job and went to a department that wasn't ranked. I had to spend years in the salt mines to get here, but in the end I found someone to hire me. A friend just going on the market this year managed three or four Eastern APA interviews for TT positions coming from the same unranked department. (Of course, coming from this dept. means never getting an interview for many attractive jobs no matter how much you publish.)

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:07, It's still too early in the season to conclude things from this years crop. Your Harvard example is a perfect one for this point. I know of (personally) one very good TT offer that is in the works for a Harvard grad that isn't on the placement page because it hasn't been finalized.

Let's not be too quick to judge how bad this year has been.

Someone else made a good point about the fact that people often go on the market early when they still have funding and a dissertation to finish. This isn't ideal when it doesn't work out, but it doesn't mean that the department is failing to place grad students.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I sniffed out Leiter's post right away. Its called bootstrapping.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3/25 9:37pm:
I am pretty sure that if you work really hard and do your job really well, you will get everything you deserve in life. That's all Brian Leiter is saying, and as that is what we have all been told our entire lives, it must obviously be true.

phree said...

Leiter has an axe to grind with Pannapacker because he thinks the advice is reckless. My view is that Pannapacker is speaking truth to power. However, one might look at Leiter as an idealist and Pannapacker as a realist.

Realistically, it's tough on the market and a parallel concern is that many schools are eliminating entire philosophy departments by ending undergraduate degree programs due to the depression/recession. Yes, Leiter is an elitist, but he's probably correct. Go to a top 20 school and pray you make the cut if you are crazy enough to accept that a 25% chance of getting a job in your discipline is a good thing.

tomkow said...

You young guys are smart to be worrying that "the profession" is exploiting you.
But you really ought to use the occasion to look at the big picture.

Leiter thinks its worth going to grad school but only if its in the top rank. Anyone who goes to a grad program in a lesser rank school is a apparently a sucker and a dope: they'll just be filling up seminar space so some second rate hack can bore terminal grad students about his own research interests.

But if you get into a top school you have a good chance getting a job. Not necessarily at a top school mind you, there's not enough space. More likely you'll get a job at one of those lesser rank schools where *you* can bore suckers and dopes with your own research interests!

Doesn't it strike you that there is something wrong with this picture? Something, maybe, even morally wrong?

And I notice that most of the comments on this blog are anonymous. I'm not criticizing. I think you are right to be prudent!

But I think you should ask yourself if you really want to be part of a profession where you have to be so careful about what you say to whom . Note that you'll have to be similarly cautious and discreet even if you get a job, because then you'll want tenure, and maybe even then if you want promotion.

Will you ever be able to stand up for yourself after so many years of cringing?

Just asking…

Anonymous said...

"Leiter thinks its worth going to grad school but only if its in the top rank"

Small point. That that's not what he said (e.g., Georgetown).


"Anyone who goes to a grad program in a lesser rank school is a apparently a sucker and a dope: they'll just be filling up seminar space so some second rate hack can bore terminal grad students about his own research interests."

Who's that supposed to be apparent to? It's not apparent to me and it's not apparent to me that that's what Leiter was suggesting. Maybe it's apparent to you. Why?

Even if we grant all the stuff that you've said, I don't see what's wrong with taking a shot at a really elite job when you know there's a good chance of falling back on teaching grad students at a lesser program, teaching undergrads, or just going to law school and making money. I'd like to teach grad students, but I'm pretty happy teaching undergrads. I feel pretty lucky, actually.

R. Kevin Hill said...

Too noisy?

One year that we were hiring in a specialty, I performed the following experiment. I took all the JFP listings for TTs in that specialty for the year. I took all our applicants. I Leiterized both lists (I had to contrive something for unranked places, and thus cobbled together something using USNews for that) and started pairing them off, first to first, second to second, etc. The person we had already hired came within two clicks of being mechanically paired off with the job he ultimately got, ours. I have no idea how many clicks off of the mechanical pairings the others were, but this result still made an impression on me.

That's the down side. The upside is that the rank of the department of origin was at the bottom. From which I infer that at least in some AOSs and some years, the key to success is to be from a ranked department at all, not from a top department. In short, there is a Line of Peril (when the jobs give out and the candidates don't), but it was in this case far lower than I would've guessed. This and related experiences have put us off taking the "best" candidates *too* seriously, btw. Which also helps the candidates farther down.