How Many People Are Applying for Philosophy Jobs? (guest post)


How many people went on the philosophy job market this past cycle?

Once again, Charles Lassiter (Gonzaga University), has spent a fair amount of time gathering and analyzing data about the philosophy profession. This time, he has focused on the numbers of people applying for philosophy jobs.

(A version of this post first appeared at Professor Lassiter’s blog.)


[Charles Atlas, “Painting By Numbers” (video still)]

How Many People Are Applying for Philosophy Jobs?
by Charles Lassiter

Over the course of last semester, I sent out requests to heads of search committees to fill out a brief survey to figure out how many people were on the job market this past cycle.Picture

First, a HUGE thanks to Gonzaga undergrad Kate Ferrell and Gonzaga philosophy grad student Tobias Propst for collecting the names and email addresses. Without them, this would have taken a lot longer.

I sent out 239 emails and gathered 79 completed responses. Thank you to everyone who filled it out! Here’s the breakdown of responses by Carnegie classification:

Certificate:  1
Bachelors: 25
Masters : 6
Doctorate : 43

I didn’t collect identifying information about the institutions or programs. I asked for number of applicants, AOS, Carnegie classification (R1, R2, MA, BA, certificate), teaching requirements, and some subjective impressions about volume of applications proportion of teaching and research.

(Quick note about terminology: from here on, I use “status” as shorthand for the category of highest degree awarded. It seems like a neutral-ish and short term for the category.)

Ok, so let’s get to it. The big picture: the average for numbers of applicants across all responses is 136. Given the responses and the number of invitations sent out, the margin of error is +/- 9% (with 95% confidence level). So the average for number of people on the market is probably somewhere between 125 and 147. That being said, there is a lot of variation.

The number of applicants to jobs at doctoral institutions was higher on average than any other, but there was a lot more spread around that average. This is clear from the table, but also look at the following plots. Differences among numbers of applicants to BA-granting institutions are roughly linear. But for PhD-granting institutions, it’s closer to exponential. (There were relatively few MA-granting institution responses, so I’m hesitant to draw conclusions.)

Now let’s pull together a bunch of info about applications to various programs: the fewest, average, median, and greatest number of applicants by program status.

It looks like jobs with PhD programs are getting a lot more applications than any other. In fact, the values for max and average applications decreases as the status of the program goes from PhD to MA to BA. (It’s hard to draw conclusions about jobs at certificate-granting institutions since there was only one response.) A first hypothesis: Applicants preferentially apply for jobs at PhD-granting institutions. Two things to check: (i) whether the trend holds for R1 and R2 and (ii) if the values are a result of open-rank hires.

For (i), the trend doesn’t hold for differences between R1 and R2 jobs among respondents, but it’s worth noting that there were relatively few R2 respondents.

For (ii), let’s restrict the data to TT jobs only. That way, our numbers aren’t inflated by open-rank hires.

I think our initial hypothesis is right: applicants are biased towards applying for jobs at PhD-granting programs but the data don’t suggest that this bias holds for R1 vs R2 programs.

Let’s look at the numbers breaking out by AOS and program status. An important caveat: our 9% margin of error was for all responses to all surveys sent out. Once we begin dividing up the pool of responses, the margin of error increases and sometimes substantially. Suppose that the split between jobs advertised for BA- and PhD-granting institutions was 50/50. The MoE for the BA-granting average jumps to 17% and for the PhD-granting average to 12%. So once we begin parsing into subgroups, I’m saying less about all jobs for this year and more about the responses. I’ll try to be explicit about that where appropriate.

Here’s how to interpret the plot. The vertical grey line is the average for each AOS. The error bars give the minimum and maximum values for each status and AOS. The point in the error bar is the average for AOS and status. The tables for these values are here.

This plot pulls together a lot of what we’ve previously mentioned. Jobs at PhD-granting institutions tend to get more applications than elsewhere, particularly for open and history/tradition AOS. The jobs that on average had the fewest applications among respondents were history/tradition jobs at BA-granting institutions. In fact, in 2 out of 5 cases, the max number of applications for BA programs is less than the average for that AOS.

My interpretation of PhD-programs having more applicants is a manifestation of two sides of prestige bias. On one side, it’s plausible that many candidates want to apply almost exclusively to prestigious jobs, where being a PhD-granting program tracks prestige. The other side of the coin is that candidates sell themselves short, thinking that there’s no way they could make it past the first round at an R1 or R2.

That being said, if there are other plausible interpretations, please feel free to share!

One of the takeaways restricted to the respondents (but is perhaps indicative of the wider field of applicants and openings) is that if you’re applying to R1’s, you’ll likely find yourself with a lot more competition relative to MA- and BA-granting programs, particularly for open, science/language/math, and history/tradition AOS’s.

Two more tables before calling it a day: one about impressions of applicant volume and another about time allotment for the job.

So that’s good to know: typically, committee chairs have decent expectations for the numbers of applicants. How does this compare to the numbers of applications received?

The “fewer” bar all the way to the right? That’s 515 applications for an open AOS, open rank position at an R1. With those parameters, I’d have guessed there would be more too.

That’s useful to know: the typical response is that time spent teaching and researching is roughly equivalent. The breakdown for that number is:

BA-granting institutions: 8
MA-granting institutions: 4
PhD-granting institutions: 22

…which I found pretty darned interesting. As you might imagine, “mostly research with some teaching,” was largely PhD-granting institutions (12) and “some research and mostly teaching” was largely BA-granting institutions (10). The lesson, I think, is that job applicants can’t afford to neglect teaching or research in their applications but have to discern which to amplify for the job applied to. I think that’s common sense, but it’s nice to have some info to support it.

If you’d like the raw data and script, you can find them under the “blog data” tab.

Well, that’s all. If there are any other analyses you’d like to see, please let me know!

 

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Not from North America
Not from North America
26 days ago

Sorry to ask a novice question, but what does R1/R2 mean?

P.D. Magnus
26 days ago

“Applicants preferentially apply for jobs at PhD-granting institutions” makes it sound like some applicants are just snobs. However, some people who already have permanent jobs at undergraduate-only institutions will apply to PhD-granting departments (and not to BA-only ones) because they are looking to move up. The raw number of applicants doesn’t sort the people looking for any job from those looking for a better one.

Gorm
Reply to  P.D. Magnus
26 days ago

Also, we need to know how many jobs there are at each type of school. Indeed, there may be many BA-only colleges, but there philosophy departments often have 5 or fewer people (hence, few jobs) whereas a PhD school will have 15-25 faculty (hence, relatively more jobs, per school)

Charles Lassiter
Charles Lassiter
Reply to  Gorm
26 days ago

Thanks for that. So the question you’re getting at is how many jobs are there in total for BA-granting vs PhD-granting. (It doesn’t matter if PhD-granting depts have more philosophers per dept relative to BA-granting depts if there are many more BA-granting depts relative to PhD-granting depts hiring in a given year.) I haven’t done the analysis on openings for BA-granting vs PhD-granting institutions. My intuition is based on the mean values, which mitigates concerns about the difference between absolute values of PhD-openings vs BA-openings.

Charles Lassiter
Charles Lassiter
Reply to  P.D. Magnus
26 days ago

Thanks. I disagree with the implicature of the initial claim, but that’s neither here nor there. I agree that the raw numbers don’t distinguish between those with jobs trying to “move up,” but I’m not sure how that’s relevant. Even if every applicant for every job were already gainfully employed, it wouldn’t change the fact that there were more applicants for PhD-granting institutions than BA-granting ones. Maybe I’m missing the core of the concern?

Grad Student #223
Grad Student #223
Reply to  Charles Lassiter
26 days ago

Yeah, I think P.D. is just identifying a hole in the data that really helps us understand what’s going on. The key concern, I think, is that the proportion of PhD-holders to philosophy job openings is getting smaller and smaller, but if, say, a lot of applications are people trying moving up, then that should change what we think of the proportion of PhD-holders to philosophy jobs is as compared to if almost none of the applications are people trying to move up. It’s a reason for tempering one’s potential doomer-ism.

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Charles Lassiter
25 days ago

The idea that it manifests snobbery comes in more explicitly when you later say “it’s plausible that many candidates want to apply almost exclusively to prestigious jobs, where being a PhD-granting program tracks prestige.” That could be true, but it also could be true that such people know that those jobs pay better (which isn’t itself prestige related; it’s widely known that many smaller institutions pay very poorly, and surely many applicants to PhD-granting jobs are coming from people trying to ‘move up’). Another question I had (related to P.D. Magnus’ point) was that it seems like you’re sometimes drawing the wrong generalization from your limited data. You say things like: “So the average for number of people on the market is probably somewhere between 125 and 147.” I don’t see how we can infer that. When we know that hundreds and perhaps even thousands of people are applying for at least 1 job, and that some jobs get 400-600 applicants, it’s very misleading to say that the “average” number of people “on the market” is less than 150. (I don’t even understand what this average claim is supposed to refer to… average across what class? It might be the avg. per job, but that’s very different from the avg. number of people applying for a job (or multiple jobs) in a given job cycle.)

Benjamin
Benjamin
Reply to  P.D. Magnus
21 days ago

I’m not fussed about the snobbery charge, but I can think of at least 4 other reasons why early career job seekers would preferentially apply at PhD-granting programs, independent of prestige.

  1. They want to do grad-level teaching and supervision, which is quite different from undergrad teaching.
  2. They want a job with a lower teaching load so that they can devote more time to research. This correlates with whether a program grants graduate degrees.
  3. As another commenter said, financial considerations.
  4. This is more speculative, but there may also be correlations between department types and AOS of searches. People whose AOS doesn’t correspond to trendy teaching area might have a harder time with undergrad-only departments.
Kevin Zollman
26 days ago

Thanks for putting this together, it’s very interesting.

It’s probably not feasible to get the data necessary to tease apart the various causes for the substantially larger number of applications at PhD granting institutions. Given our experience at CMU, I have a few hypotheses:

  1. Applicants who are on the job market are more likely to apply to them because those jobs are seen as more desirable
  2. The jobs are more likely to be described as “open” because those institutions have fewer constraints in terms of what kind of philosopher they hire
  3. (As other comments have noted) They may attract more applications from people who already have tenure track jobs
  4. They are more likely to get people to apply who aren’t broadly on the market. That is, people who were planning to take another year in PhD/postdoc/etc but decide to apply selectively. This is a strategy many students are encouraged to take

#2 should be testable given the data you have. Is there a correlation between “level” of a job and whether it’s an open AOS?

#3 would be testable if one could get the data, but it would be difficult to generate and also possibly face privacy concerns.

Charles Lassiter
Charles Lassiter
Reply to  Kevin Zollman
25 days ago

Thanks for the comments, and I appreciate you sharing your experience at CMU.

  1. that seems right. Had I the resources, I’d like to get subjective impressions of what people think of as desirable jobs.
  2. Again, sounds right. There were a total of 18 Open ads, followed by 16 each for Value Theory, M&E, and Science, Logic, Math. For the responses, there were 6 BA-Open and 12 PhD-Open; scaling those numbers to the total number of responses by “level”, BA-Open is .24 and PhD-Open is .28. So given the number of responses for BA and PhD programs, there were about equally many Open AOS.
  3. I thought about adding a question to this effect. In addition to privacy concerns, it would put a big burden on folks who already generously take the time to respond to the survey.
  4. That’s helpful to know. So applicants dip their toes in the market by applying to PhD-granting programs, which might inflate some of the numbers. It would be helpful to know how often this strategy is followed.
Departments vs. Institutions?
Departments vs. Institutions?
26 days ago

Does this data distinguish between PhD granting institutions vs. PhD granting departments? E.g., one might teach at an R1 or R2 where the highest degree offered is a BA. I couldn’t tell if this distinction gets captured.

Departments vs. Institutions?
Departments vs. Institutions?
Reply to  Departments vs. Institutions?
26 days ago

I’m sorry: this wasn’t clear. I meant an R1 or R2 where the highest philosophy degree offered is a BA.

Charles Lassiter
Charles Lassiter
Reply to  Departments vs. Institutions?
25 days ago

Sorry for the confusion. I was switching between “institutions” and “departments” as a matter of style. Repeating one or the other was tedious (for me) to read.

Departments vs. Institutions?
Departments vs. Institutions?
Reply to  Charles Lassiter
25 days ago

Thanks for the reply: my concern is that this isn’t merely a stylistic difference, which was why I wasn’t sure how to interpret your conclusions. It looked like you asked about Carnegie Classification, but that’s separate from whether a university’s philosophy program offers PhDs. Many R1 universities, e.g., don’t offer doctoral degrees in philosophy.

So, e.g., when you write, “It looks like jobs with PhD programs are getting a lot more applications than any other” that could mean either “jobs at R1 and R2 universities get more applicants” or “jobs in PhD granting departments get more applicants” and those are two very different claims.

I’m sorry if I’ve misunderstood something about the questionnaire.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Departments vs. Institutions?
20 days ago

It would be interesting to know how many such differences there are!

It looks like there are something like 400 institutions that grant PhDs in the United States, and I believe there are a bit more than 100 institutions that grant PhDs in philosophy, so there must be a few hundred here.

https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf24300/technical-notes

But that survey says that several institutions claimed to grant PhDs but listed 0 PhDs granted during the study period, so we might not want to count them. And I suspect that some others are like Rockefeller University and UCSF and Oregon Health Sciences University, where they don’t hire anyone outside the life sciences, so they wouldn’t show up in philosophy department hiring.

M. Dean
M. Dean
26 days ago

I’d be interested to see the ad for the job at a PhD-granting institution that only received 7 applications. I’d imagine it was a very narrow AOS.