How JobTracker Works: A Guide to Our Methodology

Thanks for taking the time to explore JobTracker. This is a beta project, and we’ve got a lot more work to do. But we’ve been at this for a while; to read our origin story and learn a little more about who we are, click here. If you’re interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts of the work, read on.

What exactly are you doing here?

We’re trying to learn more about how the academic job market really works. Much of what we hear about the subject comes in the form of advice (“Don’t apply for jobs while you’re still A.B.D.!”) or anecdote (“I know someone who got a great job in her fifth year on the market!”). We want to gather some facts about what’s really happening.

To do that, we’re choosing a range of disciplines, digging up all the job ads we can find, and trying to find out who actually got those jobs. Finding those names doesn’t just give us a Who’s Who list; it tells us a decent amount about the broader trends at play.

Which disciplines are you tracking?

There are 11 of them: anthropology, communications and media studies, ecology, economics, English literature, history, mathematics, musicology, philosophy, psychology, and religious studies.

Why those 11?

We think it’s important to track jobs in a cross-section of humanities, social sciences, and science fields. But there’s a bit of pragmatism here too: These disciplines all have active and centralized job boards, either through professional organizations or wikis that collect academic listings. More active job boards = easier-to-find job info.

Why don’t you have more STEM fields? Why don’t you have my field?

It might be because your discipline happens to have a less-detailed job board. As a starting point, we tried to choose fields for which we could get as complete a picture as possible. But we’re planning to add more STEM fields — along with other disciplines — in subsequent years.

How did you find the job ads?

For most fields, we relied heavily on academic job wikis, which often provide very thorough lists with links to individual postings. (The exceptions were philosophy and economics: Professional organizations in those fields maintain comprehensive archives of job listings.)

After many months of reading, collecting, and sorting, we compiled a list of 3,815 tenure-track jobs at four-year institutions in the United States and Canada.

That doesn’t seem like a lot. Shouldn’t there be more?

Keep in mind that we’re counting only tenure-track jobs at four-year institutions in the U.S and Canada. That means no international jobs, no community-college positions, no adjunct or part-time roles, no visiting assistant professorships, no postdocs.

Why restrict your research that way?

In many ways, it’s the most-coveted jobs that drive the market. Many graduate students still imagine landing a full-time job as a faculty member at a four-year institution in North America; most professors still imagine they are training their Ph.D.s for faculty positions at four-year institutions. Our goal is to see who’s getting the positions that offer legitimate hope for stability and security.

We’re interested in learning who’s landing tenure-track jobs at community colleges, but those jobs represent a small portion of the overall tenure-track pool: A recent placement study by the American Historical Association found that only 2.4 percent of people who graduated with a history Ph.D. between 1998 and 2009 were in tenure-track roles at two-year institutions.

You said you found 3,815 jobs. Why are there fewer listed here?

We’re using a sample. Over all, we found about 4,000 jobs; we randomly selected an identical percentage from each field to track. That brought the overall number down to 2,500. That’s a big enough sample to be statistically significant for drawing conclusions about trends, but it means we aren’t listing every job we found here in the tool. We hope to go back and add those jobs that fell outside the sample before too long.

How’d you match people to jobs?

We used only publicly available data to do it: departmental websites and news releases, professional profiles, and so on. We’re not calling departments or fishing around for any information that isn’t disclosed for professional reasons.

Most of our information on previous employers came from CVs posted online, LinkedIn profiles, or biographies on department websites. If your profile contains an inaccuracy, or if you’d like us to add previous positions, email us here.

Is everything here accurate?

We’ve tried our damnedest to make it so. We’ve adopted the same methods used in organizational Ph.D.-tracking projects, and we’ve checked and re-checked everything we can. That said, there’s always the prospect of error. If you encounter anything that looks off to you, please let us know. We’re committed to making this data as perfect as possible.

What did you do about interdisciplinary jobs, or ones that request a range of Ph.D.s?

We tried to take this from the point of view of the graduate student. If you’re a history Ph.D., and you see a job listing that asks for a Ph.D. in either history, anthropology, geography, or women’s studies, you’ll of course realize that scholars in all those other fields are applying too. So we counted a job as a job for a historian only if the job advertisement specified a Ph.D. in history as a prerequisite. If the job asked for a Ph.D. in one of a range of fields, we excluded it from our data.

That’s one way our study is different from those conducted by some scholarly organizations. Many interdisciplinary jobs are posted on the boards of multiple associations, so the associations — which don’t have much reason to worry about cross-disciplinary “double-counting” — classify them as jobs in their field, even if they end up going to scholars in other disciplines. But we are worried about double-counting, and since we’re trying to track jobs, not opportunities, we don’t want to inflate the numbers in any discipline.

Going forward, we’ll try to track interdisciplinary jobs as we come across them, but it will be hard to complete a comprehensive study because these jobs aren’t advertised in a consistent way.

Are you going to add new disciplines?

Yes. In subsequent years, we’re planning to track more of them. We’d like this project to be comprehensive, but for the time being, it’s quite tough to pull together a list of open jobs in many fields.

Are you going to include other years?

Yes. We won’t be conducting a historical analysis, but we will track subsequent years. We’ve already started collecting data for the next job cycle.

I’ve got thoughts to share. How can I reach you?

Email is best. Get in touch here.