Sunday, October 11, 2009

More Bad News for New Jobseekers?

I got a phone call last night from someone currently in her 3rd year as an Assistant Professor at a decent department without a graduate program. She's generally happy there, but believes (correctly, it seems to me) that the research profile she's built up in her 3 years makes her a good candidate for a move at the Assistant level to a department with a graduate program.

She called because, after looking at the JfP, she has decided to go on the market. Her view is that the conditions are ideal for someone like her who is looking to upgrade: She has a record of success as a full-time teacher and colleague, an established record of research productivity, and can be hired at the Assistant level. In short: she's a low-risk hire, and she thinks that ecomonic conditions are such that departments need to avoid taking risks with their faculty lines (or face the very real possibility of losing them).

This sounds plausible to me. I wonder if other mid-stream Assistants are thinking along similar lines?

Also: I'm inclined to think that the increase of ads which call for applications at either the Assistant or Associate rank is probably due to the kind of risk-aversion mentioned above: Departments who fill their current openings with people that turn out to not be tenurable after two or four years risk losing the line altogether.

UPDATE: I've since heard from two other Assistants who are midway to the tenure decision who have reasoned that their chances of landing a better job are heightened in this market.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

The invisible hand fucks the little guys and gals again.

Anonymous said...

I would've thought it would trend in the other direction: tight budgets require entry level pay; glut of candidates relative to job openings means you can hire who you want.

And perhaps the apparent increase in positions asking for Assistant or Associate is an indication that schools can ask for for more concessions from candidates while, at the same time, securing someone with experience & research.

Then again, economics isn't my AOS.

Anonymous said...

Listings for either assistant or associate have been appearing for several years, and my own department has routinely used them. We bring in associates without tenure, on a short tenure-track (typically two years).

Our main motivation: generational imbalance in the department. Many senior faculty are retired or close to it, there were hiring droughts in the 90s that left us without mid-career tenured faculty, and we are seriously "bottom-heavy" with assistant professors hired in the (relatively) "good" years since 2000.

Many department responsibilities (chair, tenure committees, etc.) can only be filled by mid-career and senior faculty and we are very sparsely populated. I see that in many other departments with which I'm familiar.

Anonymous said...

My dept is hiring this year because two years ago we hired someone who turned out to be incapable of meeting his/her classes, let alone writing anything. We are under heavy pressure to replace him/her with someone who'll be tenurable or at least make it to the tenure stage. So we'll certainly be looking for this kind of low risk candidate.

Anonymous said...

How wonderful it is that those fortunate to go on the market in better years can now use the current situation to their advantage!

Anonymous said...

Won't this mean, however, that there will be openings at *these* places in future years?

Anonymous said...

Won't this mean, however, that there will be openings at *these* places in future years?

Not necessarily. Vacated positions are not always filled. This is especially true when university budgets are tight. And then, of course, there's also the apparent trend in American higher education to have courses taught by non-permanent faculty.

Anonymous said...

Won't this mean, however, that there will be openings at *these* places in future years?

Admittedly, this is just one instance. However, last year one of the best jobs in my AOS went to a recent PhD who was in his first year of a tenure-track appointment at a SLAC. I was hoping the SLAC would be hiring a replacement this year, but they've yet to advertise the position.

Anonymous said...

Whether this is more likely to be successful for those seeking to move up this year or not I can't say, but the general phenomena isn't new- I've seen it a lot in the last several years at least and it might well have been common before that, too.

pgbb said...

One might think that for tenure-granting institutions to look towards favouring proven track-record over and above pedigree in entry-level hiring was a welcome step towards a more rational job market in the USA.

To someone educated in the UK in 1990's, where demonstrated ability to publish almost always (and in my view *rightly* counted for more than which school you went to or who your advısor was) it certainly looks that way.

Anonymous said...

It's also possible that this isn't rational at all, since a person who is willing to leave one job would be just as likely to leave your job (there is always a _better_ job), hence there's nothing "less risky" with such candidates.

Anonymous said...

"It's also possible that this isn't rational at all, since a person who is willing to leave one job would be just as likely to leave your job (there is always a _better_ job), hence there's nothing "less risky" with such candidates."

I'm one of the bastards that is thinking about trying to switch positions. I like my department and love the city I live in, but I'm also in love and want to get married and my would-be spouse is going to live in a different part of the country. The odds that someone who was in a TT job for one year would move across the country and then try to do it all again seems sort of small given what an enormous pain in the ass it is to apply for jobs and move.

Anonymous said...

Since there's no shortage of recent Ph.D.s with pedigree who are publishing well, I'm pessimistic that market conditions will favor productive people without pedigree. Plus, it's hard to dim the glow of a newly minted, unpublished Ph.D. from a fancy school who's got great letters from famous people.

I hope I'm wrong, though.

Anonymous said...

To the people thinking of leaving their department: are you telling your present chair? If so, what are you saying?

Just curious...

Anonymous said...

@11:09,

Of course not. Not her business until I get my offer.

Anonymous said...

Wow, 11:19. No "if"? That sort of confidence scares the hell out of me.

Do people think those coming out of postdocs are in a similar position to those trying to upgrade in the TT?

Anonymous said...

I really hope people thinking in this way aren't ethicists. Doesn't there seem to be something a morally wrong with moving up in such a bad market simply for reasons of "upgrade", especially when one has a job one is satisfied with? Cases like Anon 9:03's are clearly different, because he's got issues with a significant other (unlike the case in the original post, who was simply someone who wanted to turn in their job for a fancy new upgrade). But all of us who have TT jobs know how badly grad students suffer on the market, how much stress and insecurity there is in finding jobs. Some of those students even have families who depend on them, and we're going to make it even harder for these poor wretches to get work simply because we want an "upgrade"?
I know, there are lots of possible reasons to want to change jobs, but I'm talking specifically about cases like the one mentioned in the original post, in which the claim was that the person liked their job, and wanted to leave just to be in a better research department. This strikes me as morally despicable. Not quite as bad as letting people at your table starve because you feel like having a bigger portion of the food, but damn close.

Anonymous said...

9:16,

Not only might there *not* be a moral problem with finding yourself a better job, there may be a moral imperative to do so:

If not upgrading (or upgrayedding) means that more new PhDs can get jobs, does that not give a false impression that the philosophy job market is better than it really is? And wouldn't this lead to more students pursuing a PhD than if the job outlook were worse, that is, more disappointed and broke students?

Also, if a tenure-tracker looking to upgrade gets the better job, moving up from his/her average job, and this negatively impacts some candidate (s/he otherwise would have been offered the job), then I'd think that the candidate is already in a strong enough position to be competitive in the job market, even minus one job.

If you were the tenure-track job-hopper, why would you allow someone who's less desirable a candidate than you to take the job you want more than your current one? If you have any loyalty to your profession, you should want for every department to be as best as it can, while maximising job satisfaction -- and this involves your lateral or better move to a better gig.

When you leave a job, remember, you open the possibility of having to hire someone to replace you. Granted, this doesn't always happen, but it happens enough where the new PhD clearly loses a hiring opportunity.

At the end of the day...fuck 'em. They don't owe you anything, and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

9:16,

To be fair, your position is a plausible one. But wouldn't it also imply that old philosophers ought to retire as early as possible in order to make room for new hires?

There's value in giving people the freedom to work in whatever field and for whatever company they like. There's value in working for as long as you'd like. Would you deny those freedoms...to employ a few extra philosophers who probably shouldn't have pursued graduate studies (if they weren't going to be highly competitive, or competitive enough to not worry so much about these lateral moves)?

This isn't to say that your argument isn't ultimately right, but you face a stiff challenge from liberty and free-market principles.

Glaucon said...

9:16 defends his/her position by arguing that the badness of A's not saving B from un(der)employment is "damn close" to the badness of X's not saving Y from starvation.

I know that the job market is really bad, but the lack of perspective displayed here -- unless it's just hyperblogobole -- is ridiculous. (And insofar as it trivializes starvation, it borders on being "morally despicable" itself.)

Dr. Killjoy said...

I agree with Glaucon. Just for being a whiny lil' shit, Anon 9:16, I'm going back on the market...not for an upgrade mind you, but merely for sweet, sweet spite. Mwahahaha!

Spiros said...

I once went on the market for a job that I didn't want just to try to make sure that some jerk I hate didn't get it. It worked, too. I got the offer, and stalled in saying no until I knew the other jerk was locked back into his miserable position. But those were the good old days...

Anonymous said...

But did you make him eat his parents?

Spiros said...

His parents were already dead.

Dr. Killjoy said...

I shot 'em just to watch 'em die.

PFS said...

Yes, the days of philosophy as the pursuit of wisdom and virtue are over!