(Originally posted on Crooked Timber.)
We all know there are lots of horror stories about trying to find work in academia. The smart money is on not even starting a PhD unless you are prepared to sell your soul on the job market. Just say no to those fancy scholarships. Unless, it seems, they’re from a good school in philosophy, where the numbers don’t exactly support the bad tidings.
Thanks to lobbying from various sources (prominent amongst them being Brian Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report) we now have quite a bit of data about how philosophy PhDs do on the job market. And the news on the whole is fairly good, or at least much better than I had expected.
Here are the recent placement records of (most of) the top 15 U.S. philosophy departments.
Princeton: 48%, 81%
Rutgers: 36%, 85%
Pittsburgh: 40%, 84%
Stanford: 27%, 72%
Harvard: 63%, 96%
MIT: 33%, 77%
Arizona: 13%, 91%*
UCLA: 19%, 75%
UNC: 20%, 80%
Berkeley: 35%, 82%
Notre Dame: 11%, 80%
Texas: 4%, 60%
Note that the omissions are NYU, which hasn’t had a PhD program long enough to have a meaningful placement record, and Columbia, who either don’t want to share this information with us, or (more likely) have posted it somewhere too hard for an amateur sleuth like me to find.
So what are those numbers after the records. They are my rough estimations of, first, the percentage of grads that ended up in great jobs, and second, the percentage of grads that ended up in good jobs. The ‘great’ classification is fairly subjective, and I don’t think I really kept to a constant standard throughout. The ‘good’ classification is meant to be 3/3 load or better, tenure-track or tenured, plus the occasional 2-3 year research-oriented position at a good school (provided it is a first job). I count those as good jobs because people take them over 3/3 load tenure-track jobs. I don’t know the teaching load at every school in the country, and I probably counted too many jobs as good. Arizona had lots of grads at schools I hadn’t heard of – I counted most of them as good, but plenty might not be so good. The 91% is probably high – but it is still over 70%.
(This concession is not meant to mean I stand by all the other numbers. The margin of error on my calculations is probably +/- 20%. But I think they’re a fair approximate indication of what is happening.)
Overall, I’d say, those are pretty good numbers. The Texas percentages aren’t great, but Texas has a very big PhD program. In numerical terms they were placing as many people as most of their peers, just they had lots of non-placements (several apparently voluntary) as well. The top 14 schools had placement rates of 70% or better. It’d be suprising to even find an average student from one of those schools who didn’t have at least a decent job.
There are of course limits to one’s optimisim. Things get tougher for students not from a top 15 school. The data on these schools starts to get sketchier as well, perhaps not coincidentally. (For one thing schools suddenly stop listing how many of their grads didn’t get jobs, something all the schools listed do.) And obviously there are people even at the best departments who aren’t getting good jobs. And even good academic jobs occasionally leave something to be desired. It’s hard to tell from the publically available information whether some of these people have, say, never been offered a job within 10,000 miles of their home. That can be a little annoying, even if there are very good jobs offered 11,000 miles away. And of course many of these people don’t start in good jobs, even if they end up in them. (And some start in good jobs and don’t get tenure or leave for other reasons. But I don’t think it’s fair to chalk those up to a bad job market.)
So it’s not all a bed of roses. But the impression the information creates is that in philosophy at least, median to somewhat below median students at good to great departments will get pretty good jobs. And that’s a lot better both than the impression I have of most humanities disciplines, and that many people in philosophy have of the state of play within our discipline. I don’t know if there’s been any good cross-disciplinary studies done on this recently, but I would be surprised if philosophy isn’t one of the better humanities to be in from the point of view of finding work.