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Charles Lassiter

Thanks, Marcus, for sharing. I know the data are incomplete and so conclusions are tentative. Anecdotal evidence would be good to have, but I'm not sure how much it can tell us without more info on graduation rates, placement rates, and length on the job market. But one of the things I want to draw attention to is that the relevant info is *not* hard for grad programs to track. I think most programs just don't care enough to exert the effort.


I never really got the sense that I was at all competitive (despite many accomplishments!), and it got neither better nor worse over five years. But that's almost certainly because there are almost no jobs in aesthetics.

Marcus Arvan

Hey Charles: I agree, and think posts like yours—which I think is a good service you are sound—should hopefully spur the collection of that kind of data! I do think it would be interesting to hear, though, from people who have been on the market a while. For now, at least, that might give us at least an anecdotal picture whether people struggle more the longer they are on the market, or whether (as in my case) there’s a substantial number of people who find themselves competitive despite being on the market a while.


It's tricky, when "stale" connotes a negative status, as though the degree fails to have value if not used for Academic marketability. I never applied. It's useful for job acquisition in the private sector, where it's age is not often a isolatable reason to not hire. The only place where age seems to be used as a barometer of one's ability to do good work is in Academia, if your assumptions are right, which strikes me as an unfortunate bias among critical thinkers.


I too had the opposite impression--I seemed to become more competitive with time.

More anecdata:
(i) It took me 10 years post-PhD to get a permanent (tenured) job in the UK.
(ii) 8 years post-PhD was my best year on the market, landing 3 interviews for permanent jobs. Those were my only interviews that year. In general, I have always applied very selectively in terms of geographical location. At most 10 applications per year.
(iii) The week I landed my permanent job I interviewed at another university where, at lunch, I met the other applicants. There were 5 of us altogether, I think. I was by far the oldest and was offered the job (declined).
(iv) I can think of 4-5 others in the UK who had to wait 8-10 years to get a permanent job.


Thank you very much for the data and the discussion Charles and Marcus! Here are my two cents:
1) Same experience as Marcus: I became more and more competitive the longer I was on the market, peeking after 5 years. I believe that I had to grow my reputation, since I graduated from a non-Anglophone university.
2) I believe we cannot draw any meaningful conclusion from the data without considering variables from which we know that they influence job market performance heavily. PhD granting institution (e.g., top 10, PGR listed, other) and the kind of job (elite, research, teaching) seem to be no-brainers to me. It might be also worthwhile to inquire whether there are considerable differences in subfields of philosophy (following Michel's comment).


This was my 5th year. I came closer to a TT job this year than ever before, from what I was told by one search committee and others I know in that department. The number of interviews I have gotten had been gradually increasing over the years, save for this past pandemic year. So, no evidence that the negative impacts of “staleness”, whatever they are, are outweighing the benefits of my improved CV (publishing and teaching experience).


I tried the job market for 4 miserable years. Each year I had more publications (starting with 3 and ending with 12) and I did also get some more teaching experience here and there. Throughout I never felt I was at all competitive, just getting a sporadic interview every now and then. None of my accomplishments had any influence on my outcomes.


I'm a bit confused by the way people are discussing this issue:

Are we counting someone as "on the market" if they have a post-doc position? Or similar non-permanent ways of making money?

Because it seems to me the situation for those with a good post doc is extremely different than for someone with only intermittent teaching work etc.

With a good post-doc position you can work on building up good publications, conference appearances, and contacts that will all make you more competitive on the market.

Whereas if you are living from one one semester tracking contract to another you are much less likely to have the time and motivation to do so.

Perhaps we need to do some analysis on three different sorts of post PhD experience: 1st, no academic job at all between completion and getting a first permanent job. 2nd, short term non-research positions before getting a first permanent job. 3rd, post docs and other research positions (grants etc.) before getting a first permanent job.

Of course some people might experience a mix of the above three as well.


If I understand what's going on, then here's another detail that should bear on the interpretation of these graphs: many schools (e.g., mine) will let the person keep their graduate student status for two or three years, giving them gigs and such, till they find a job. So it might be that while the job hunt already took 3 years, the person finally landing a job counts as `0 years after receiving the PhD.'


To echo what someone above said, I got a permanent (uk) job 5 years after finishing my PhD. But I was not really “on the market” for 5 years as I had a 4 year postdoc and only applied after the first 2 years of it. I was certainly a more competitive applicant after 5 years than I was straight out of my PhD-as was borne out by interviews and the like.

William Vanderburgh

Having chaired several hiring committees recently, it strikes me that my colleagues and I (at least) have no deliberate "decay curve" in mind when looking at applications. I don't think we ever looked at a file and said, "Hmm, it has been too long since their PhD."

What hiring committees are looking for is generally fourfold (three of these criteria are general, one highly specifically relative to the circumstances):
(1) Evidence of likely success in the classroom,
(2) Evidence of a research trajectory very likely to earn tenure,
(3) Evidence of a decent chance of being a good colleague (fulfilling service obligations, doing advising, being a departmental citizen, etc.), and
(4) Fit with the department's teaching needs, desires, self-image, administrative pressures, style of weighting research and teaching, etc.

I think it is probably true that for very new graduates, hiring committees optimistically interpret a good dissertation summary/writing sample and solid comments from letter writers as evidence of likely research success. A few years later, though, that wouldn't be enough: a publication track record and detailed plans for the next phases of the research career would be needed.

ABD's and fresh PhD's from departments that don't offer them enough independent teaching assignments during their degree sometimes are more competitive after getting some teaching experience in temporary positions. Perhaps those are the folks who do well a couple years after graduating?

There is a subset of applications hiring committees receive that I would describe as non-starters. Metaphorically, these are applications that would get a desk rejection if they were articles. There are various ways applications are bad in this category, but here are some common ones: Poorly prepared or incomplete materials, striking the wrong tone (e.g., emphasizing teaching for a research position, or vice versa), not tailoring the cover letter to the specific job/department, writing sample not fitting the ad, and--worst of all--not actually meeting the basic requirements mentioned in the ad.

On this last point, don't apply to jobs that you aren't a true fit for: hail-Marys don't work, there are just too many other highly competitive candidates out there. When you do apply to a job, make an explicit case that you are a fit for the job as described.

More generally on the topic of poor applications, not knowing how to prepare a good application is a skill-lack that likely persists and may be one reason some people never get their permanent job. Training people to apply well is something the discipline could do better.

That said, truly excellent candidates with excellent applications often get passed over--usually for reasons under category (4) above. Candidates have no control over that, unfortunately.

anon TT

To RJM and Anonydata: I have been in both systems, and I don't think the UK job market is commensurable to the American one. I don't think I have ever seen someone within the UK system get a lecturer/assistant prof. job as ABD in the UK, since a postdoc is more or less a requirement. In the US it's the opposite -- there's a whole logic of freshness/staleness of degree (in part because, as Foma says, many US PhDs have the option of extending their degree for many years). I know for a fact that being ABD counts against you in the UK job market (as does not having any experience in the UK).

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