Monday, April 15, 2013

Mama, Don't Let Your Kids Become Political Scientists

A long running theme here at the Spew has been the challenges of the political science job market, sometimes illustrated.  Alas we now have data.  Why the alas?  Because the data is damned depressing (only political science jobs in these figures).

To be clear, that peak in 2006-2007 probably represents a bit of an anomaly--recovery from the previously big dip in hiring in the aftermath of the tech bubble and 9/11 induced shocks to endowments, state budgets and the rest.  Still, this looks like a double dip recession, right?  2009-2010 and now.

Of course, the question then becomes: is next year the start of a recovery or the continuation of a decline?  Hard to say.  The good news is that California is getting its house in order, and that is such a big part of the American academic job market.  Moreover, the folks who have resisted retirement might be encouraged by the recovery of their investments.  The bad news is that sequestration and all of the DC fiscal mess-making means more economic instability.  The worse news is that our greatest fears about universities being run like corporations is now coming true--not just with increased reliance on adjuncts but keeping adjuncts under the work hour thresholds that might make them eligible for Obamacare.

So, the first recommendation might be not to write recommendations.  The second might be to be more strategic in what field you choose:

All fields have taken big hits, but Comparative has probably fared among the worst.  I believe it used to be the second biggest subfield, but IR seems to be doing a bit better these days.  American Politics generally has the most jobs ... and almost certainly the most grad students on the market.  Meanwhile, there were only 20 theory jobs this year, down from a peak of 60 in 2006-2007.  Public law also has a dismal trend.  So, mama, don't let your child grow up to be a theorist or public law person.  This all helps to explain the bitterness on the various job rumor boards.

Now, one might say that this is not a typical decade, as the academic job market and the larger economy have been whipsawed by bubbles in the economy, divisive national politics, and other calamities.  However, I remember the 1990s, which started with a bad job market and the promise of folks retiring.  Have those folks retired yet?  Well, some have, but as others have noticed, universities are now increasingly reliant on adjuncts with fewer tenure track jobs (see above).

 This makes sense for spending today but for the long run?  Who will do the service?  Who will be doing the research that shapes reputations?  I would like to think the money ball thing  would be to be the exceptional university that has more tenure track profs--it would mean greater productivity over the long run.  But today's principals/chancellors/presidents/boards of whatevers do not seem to be able to see very far into the future.  Which makes them quite suitable partners with legislators who want to spend less and less on a key part of the economy known for being major multipliers.

So, what do I recommend?  Given the misery that is adjuncting (as reflected by the comments on this post), as usual, dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.


Anonymous said...

OK, it's just a typo, but..."Alas we know have data"

Anonymous said...

Actually American Politics has fewer job candidates than other fields

David Samuels said...

Steve - apart from the issue of extrapolating from the last point in a time-series, any conclusions based on that last point may be premature, because the data only run through January. I'm not sure why every year APSA provide totals for academic years, plus half of the most recent academic year, making the current year always look particularly bad. I'm not sure this really should change anything about one's view of the big picture, but I just don't think the market is much worse this year than last. Of course, I'm committing the error of generalizing from the specific - as placement director here our grads did as well as they usually do on the market this year.

Steve Saideman said...

Good things to think about. I was thinking less of just this past year (with perhaps some padding from new jobs listed in Feb-April) but the declien since 2007-2008. I guess I wonder which is the real anomaly--the highs or the lows? Or is this really cyclical?

I could also generalize from my reality, as all but one of my PhD students got tenure track jobs, include the last four or so in the last couple of years.

I wonder if any dept is adjusting to the changing demands of the marketplace: producing less comparativists, for instance? I was always joking with my colleagues at my old place where we were amassing theorist professors and theorist students while IR tended to get slighted in the former. Didn't make sense to me given what I thought I knew about the market. Makes even less sense now. But then again, IR as a subfield was broken at my old place, so kudos to the theorists for being organized, cooperative, and friendly (even if it means they overproduce students).

Benjamin Creutzfeldt said...

Considering that IR has an "international" aspect to (that's an understatement) perhaps you could explore e-job postings worldwide? It is my impression that universities in Asian countries - especially S.Korea and Hong Kong, also Singapore, Japan and others - are becoming MORE proactive in this field and opening more positions. Important to view UK and the rest of Europe, too. That would give a more complete - and probably more optimistic - picture...