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Students have had searches canceled, interviews called off and offers rescinded, Butler said, declining to provide names.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.

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