Anecdata on the job market

Jul 06 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Based on casual observation of the tenure track job market, one might say things are improving slightly. Last season appeared to have more available jobs than the year before, and I'm already hearing rumblings about quite a few jobs poised for the fall. Hiring freezes, as far as I can tell, have been lifted pretty much everywhere and the faucet is starting to trickle again. We are nowhere near out of the woods, but there is seemingly more action every year.

But what does that mean for the average postdoc applying this season.

One disturbing trend (from the postdoc perspective) I am hearing about from both colleagues who are in hiring departments and a few on the job market relates to who is getting the desirable jobs right now. Repeatedly, I'm seeing instances where Assistant Professors or early Associate Profs are grabbing up the "better"* jobs on the market. Now one could argue that their vacated position would then open up for a more junior person, but departments aren't reliably getting those positions back, let alone in the same field. Whereas postdocs are getting interviews, they appear (again, anecdotally) to be landing jobs at a lower rate.

One counter to this is that tight funds are forcing some departments to hire only at the junior assistant level, rather than make a push to get someone more senior. I'm not sure how systemic this is, however.

What are others seeing on the job market? Is my low N representative or a skewed sample?

*Defined by the desirability of the institution and location.

16 responses so far

  • NewProf says:

    At my R1 institution, new hires have to have evidence they can get grants by already having 1. So a postdoc applicant has to have a K to get an interview and a senior PI has to have atleast 1 if not 2 RO1s to get a look. We are tight on funds as well so in this years search, we are focusing on postdocs with K awards so they will be cheaper to get in the door. However last year we interviewed several K awarded postdocs and they were generally not very good. All were from big cheese labs but their interviews and talks just went from boring to uncreative to terrible depending on the interviewee. For anyone reading this and interviewing this year, please be excited about your research! At least for the 2 days you interview!!

  • Bashir says:

    My area has a few things going on. We were experiencing a bit of a training creep before the market crashed. The crash turned the creep into a full out run. Almost overnight it seems that what you needed, in terms of years and pubs, to get a "good" job seemed to significantly increase. That's still shaking out. More more people are taking longer postdocs. So even though the number of jobs is up, it seems as though there is a backlog of postdocs in wait. I know a few people who had K awards and were in fancypants labs who didn't get that much action last year (like 1 or 2 interviews). I'm not sure who is getting these jobs, maybe it is junior profs.

  • anon says:

    My anecdata: Last 2 or 3 hires (2009-2011) into Asst Prof positions here were already Research Profs or Asst Prof elsewhere. Two were at med school environments looking for hard money positions. One did not have grant money already but had many high IF pubs and is computational (so doesn't need huge lab funds); one I think had NSF (ecology/pop biology); other had pretty substantial NIH funds. Postdocs looked rather weak next to them during interviews, even if people tried to adjust their expectations. On the other hand, I know several postdocs from our program/dept who got Asst Prof jobs elsewhere (good R1 jobs).

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm not saying that there are no jobs available to postdocs. Not at all. However, I was surprised at the number of people mentioning the movement of faculty, as opposed to the hiring of non-faculty.

  • HCA says:

    Newbie questions: How common is it to consider post-docs on a different scale from established profs during the hiring process? And how often in those cases do post-docs get hired rather than the established profs?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    One major concern for search committees is that people who have a faculty job already are only looking for an offer to use as leverage at their own institution. This can easily scare a committee away from a candidate, as they don't want a failed search because they went after an assistant prof who strung them along before declining while candidate #2 accepted an offer somewhere else. So offering the job to established people comes with its own set of risks.

  • Mac says:

    My impression is that the market has improved considerably and that people are resorting which is why many Asst Profs are moving to those 'better' jobs - because they were in jobs that for whatever reason weren't a good fit but were taken because they were the jobs available at the time. So while I know some postdocs getting very good jobs I also know people who took jobs that might not have been their ideal who are now moving to better fit institutions (often it goes from less to more research intensive but sometimes it's a geographic or other move).

  • Susan says:

    At my R1 institution there were 5 interviewees for 1 opening this year. Two of the candidates were coming from $1M and 5 years' funding in an Elite Institute, so somewhere between postdoc and regular faculty, but for practical terms, probably ahead of most early faculty. Needless to say, the regular postdocs did not look good next to what these two had accomplished. The department ended up hiring both of them. I heard a rumor that one of them was pushing to go up for tenure almost immediately, which is appropriate although aggressive -- clearly he is not new or early faculty. But on the whole, what was advertised as a junior faculty opening ... was not really open as that.

  • sciwo says:

    Two observations from my field that echo some of what is written above:
    1) Having a track record of funding seems to have gotten even more important than it was 5 years ago. This can make it very hard for a post-doc to get a position (or even an interview) if some exceptional set of circumstances have not allowed her to get funding under her own name.
    2) Assistant profs are definitely moving around, because we settled for what was available and not necessarily what we wanted for our careers or family.
    3) Assistant profs looking to move seem to have an easier time on the funding record thing, because we've been eligible to apply for it for a few years and hopefully have had some success. But, especially if we initially settled for less research intensive positions, our publication rates have often taken a hit and we can look weak compared to someone coming out of several years of unadulterated research and writing time.
    I suspect that whether post-docs or asst profs get hired depends in large part on which way and how far the search committee pendulum is swinging between funding record/proven and papers per year/rising star.

  • anon says:

    We were doing a search for a junior faculty member for the past two years. Year 1 we interviewed 3 Postdocs and 1 Junior Faculty for the position. The Junior Faculty was an amazing candidate, but it seemed liked our offer was going to be used only as negotiating tool, so we made an offer to a Postdoc who was head and shoulders above the others... but that person decided to take a different offer. Year 2 we interviewed 4 Postdocs and 2 Junior Faculty, and ultimately gave the offer to a postdoc since (a) the person was the best fit research-wise, (b) we really did want to get someone young and fresh, and (c) even though their CV did not measure up to the already-faculty candidates there were marks for success in all the right areas (successful funding record, solid teaching recommendations, co-advised students already, etc.). This person accepted the position, but all the postdocs we interviewed the second time around were very very good (better than year 1 of the search even).

  • Isabel says:

    "(b) we really did want to get someone young and fresh"

    How is this not age discrimination?

  • In the past two years my department has hired: 2 junior professors, 2 associate professors, and has offers out to two more junior professors.

  • NatC says:

    It was interesting (aka terrifying) to see 3rd-4th year assistant professors interviewed for the same junior faculty positions as me. In general these people seemed to have some funding, but no R01s, and not about to go up for tenure. I have no idea how seniority or experience factored into decisions, though I didn't seem to be at an overall disadvantage for being a postdoc.
    Actually, I was a little surprised to see so many assistant profs on the market, but I guess it's a thing (and Sciwo's point about settling for less than ideal originally makes a lot of sense).

  • Namnezia says:

    We've interviewed both postdocs and junior faculty for our open rank search. Productivity was obviously judged based on years of experience, but ultimately the goal was to find the right fit for the department, regardless of rank.

  • proflikesubstance says:


  • This conversation forces me to acknowledge a reality I prefer to ignore and strikes fear into my post-doctoral heart. Can I just tell people that "post-doc" is a "real job"?

Leave a Reply