Academic job market suffers

Although hiring conditions vary by discipline, job prospects in academia are suffering as universities across the country freeze hiring — proving that Yale’s graduate and postdoctoral students are not immune to the economic downturn.

Students at Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are bracing themselves for a harsh economic reality. And Graduate School Dean Jon Butler has agreed to stay on through 2010 to provide continuity of leadership through the downturn, while career services administrators are advising students to diversify job prospects. But the news is not all poor: Hiring in some hard and social science disciplines appears to be unaffected — at least for the moment.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler plans to stay in his position until 2010.
Courtesy oftheYaleHistoryDepartment
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler plans to stay in his position until 2010.

Butler, whose five-year term was set to expire this spring, will leave instead at the end of spring 2010. Butler said his decision to stay was influenced by administrative and economic concerns.

Butler added that he will maintain financial aid and work to diversify the academic scope of the school’s faculty, even in the face of more stringent hiring rules from the University provost’s office. But for students facing fewer and more competitive job prospects, Butler said, there is little he can do.

“The job market, frankly, is terrible,” he said.

Students have had searches canceled, interviews called off and offers rescinded, Butler said, declining to provide names. Even institutions such as Harvard have canceled most of their searches, and large public universities — traditionally mainstays of the entry-level academic job market — face reductions in state funding.

Past economic downturns generally struck the academic job market exclusively, Butler said, leaving most other employment options open. But this time, students will have to think more creatively because nearly all professions have been affected, Director of Graduate Career Services Victoria Blodgett explained.

Despite the conditions, Butler said he thinks Yale students have an advantage.

“Good techniques are all the more important in a tight job market,” Butler said. “They know how to think, write and analyze at the highest levels. They have a number of skills that other people don’t have.”

One philosophy student currently on the job market, who wished to remain anonymous so as not to affect his job search, said he does not think the Yale brand helps in a tough economy. Philosophy, he said, is acutely affected by the downturn because its job market has been steadily deteriorating over the past few years.

Four of the 18 academic jobs to which the student applied were canceled mid-search, and he received only one interview. In a normal year, the student said a professor told him, he might have received three or four.

“You have to accept that you may go through all this work and still be facing the very real prospect that this might all be for naught,” the student said.

Hiring in the hard sciences and certain social sciences seems to be holding up under market pressures, noted directors of graduate studies from eight departments. Craig Roy, director of graduate studies for the medical school’s Microbiology Department, said many graduate students in his field will be protected from the fluctuations of the job market at least for a few years because most go on to take a postdoctoral research position.

Graduate students in microbiology have so far had little trouble finding high-quality postdoctoral positions, Roy said, though open positions may become scarce as federal research funding continues to fall.

Roy said he has heard rumors of canceled positions but does not know of them firsthand.

“Sometimes rumors become bigger than the truth,” he said. “The extent to which this is occurring I don’t think is huge.”

Ty Schrepis, a postdoctoral student in clinical psychology, has already taken a position at Texas State University–San Marcos. Schrepis and said his own job search seemed relatively unaffected by the state of the economy.

“Maybe the market’s not necessarily that much worse for academic jobs,” he said. “But because everyone’s so concerned, it does create a feeling that there are widespread job problems.”

Blodgett said she thinks students must learn to broaden their career possibilities and think about how to apply their experiences to other fields, especially when markets are slow.

“It’s not that the dream dies,” she said. “It’s that the dream looks different.”

Though students may have to change their vision for their future, Blodgett said she is confident that all will eventually find employment relevant to their field.

A search committee to find Butler’s replacement will be appointed in fall 2009.


  • George Patsourakos

    George Patsourakos
    It will be very difficult to obtain a faculty or staff position in academia during the next year or two, since many colleges have recently implemented a hiring freeze and have laid off personnel. America's current economic slump -- its worst since the Great Depression -- has had a negative impact on college endowments, with the average endowment loss being 25 percent. Moreover, most colleges have been receiving fewer donations from alumni, friends, philanthropists, and foundations because of the sliding economy. Although many economists predict that our economy will get worse before it gets better, job-seekers need to maintain a positive attitude during these dismal economic times. Perhaps we can be more optimistic of an "economic renaissance" occurring soon by thinking about a Biblical phrase:…"and this shall come to pass!"

  • Vanquished PhD

    After 8 long years living at the poverty line, I'm getting my humanities PhD this year, and didn't even get within shouting distance of a tenure track job. And here's a newsflash: next year will be worse. It's on to plan B for me.

  • Anonymous

    I hope that Yale can help graduating students by giving them temporary assignments so they can try again in a year or two. It would be a terrible loss to academia if the students moved on to other jobs. Its also important to freeze the number of students they admit into graduate programs so the pipeline is not so clogged.
    Vanquished PhD, please don't give up - the job market will improve. I have been on many academic search committees and I can tell you its very difficult to get back into academia once you leave, even for a short time.

  • Mary

    Students realize that competition is fierce and they need to do everything to stand out from the crowd. Whether it's internships, online networking or getting an online professional identity. One free service focused on helping students create an online resume portfolio is So thousands of students are already getting serious about their online identity!

  • js

    who in the hell spends 8 yrs getting a degree? seriously, an MD is 4 years. 8 years for a PhD in humanities? Your professors are robbing you of the best years of your life.

  • Vanquished PhD

    To Anonymous -- while I appreciate where you are coming from, your advice (which is the same as I get from faculty at my top-5 institution) needs to catch up to the present situation. Out of 30 or so phd's seeking employment from my department this year, at *most* 10% will get placement in tenure-track jobs. And while hope springs eternal in job placement meetings, next year will assuredly be worse: the economy is getting worse, not better; and the bottleneck of qualified candidates will have swollen to the breaking point.

    And while I could pursue jobs in community colleges, or on the adjunct circuit (assuming I could even get such jobs -- even those, inexplicably, seem to have become fiercely competitive), I and my growing family simply can't risk our livelihood on the chance that one day I'll make it to a job that will actually support us all with a modicum of stability and long-term security.

    Sorry, but I do not plan to return to academia. I've had quite enough, thank you.

  • Haydon

    It strikes me that #4 does not appreciate how irrelevant "internships" and an "online identity" are to traditional humanities fields such as history, classical studies, and literature. "Networking" is only of slight importance.

  • Yup

    Gotta agree w/#5.

    BTW: if humanities are, as some claim, every bit as difficult as, say, physics, you should have no trouble picking up, say, an MBA or a JD on the quick and dirty, no? Have you tried cross-training at SOM or LAW?

    Or, heck, getting into scientific research or something else useful…

  • Vanquished PhD

    Actually it's off to Dental school for me. Am now thanking myself for taking all those pre-med courses back in college.

  • @vanquished


    good move. a few ?s. pre-med courses/pre-dents are only good for 5 years. did you do a post-bacc any advice for the rest of us w/ sci undergrad degrees but humanities phds? i'm in the same boat as you.

  • Vanquished PhD

    I'm getting directly in touch with the admissions dean at the school I want to go to. Yes, it's true that med/dental schools often only honor college classes for 5 or 10 years. They are telling me that exceptions can be made in cases where students have been enrolled in graduate education in the meantime. So it's likely to be a case-by-case basis, and you should get solid answers from an admissions dean about this now. I'm also taking biochemistry this semester (required and I never took it), so hopefully that will also work in my favor.

  • @vanquished

    wow, that's good to know. i had no idea. you never thought about law school? i might be able to put that chem degree to some use--my humanities phd isn't going to do me any good.