Letter: A not-so-grim job market

Re: “For grad students, a grim job market” (April 23): I commend the News’ efforts to cover patterns of academic hiring, but its statistical snapshot of this year’s Ph.D. placement is inadvertently misleading, at least for Yale’s Comparative Literature Department.

Last year, placement for both Comparative Literature and English was unusually poor, since the downturn led to the cancellation of many positions. This year’s placement, however, was excellent in both departments. In Comparative Literature, a small program, two current students and two recent Ph.D. recipients secured tenure-track jobs at top research universities (McGill, Minnesota, Northwestern and Johns Hopkins) — most of the (always tiny number) of Comparative Literature positions — and post-doc offers from Harvard, Columbia and Stanford. Two job seekers (including Rebecca Johnson GRD ’10, who was interviewed by the News) had the relative luxury of choosing among three offers.

Meanwhile, the News’ headline to the contrary, students who haven’t yet secured long-term employment don’t plan to abandon academia; instead, they are finishing their dissertations and continuing the job-search. (One is looking regionally, another is a current finalist for two positions abroad.)

While the academic job market is gradually shrinking, the real story may be that it has changed shape in recent years. Once, tenure-track jobs generally hired candidates straight from graduate school. Now, many favor candidates with significant post-doctoral teaching experience. Many recent Ph.D.’s find themselves first in post-docs or short-term jobs; the quest for a tenure-track position sometimes takes years. As a result, more Ph.D.’s are searching internationally, and the national annual hiring cycle is now less fixed and centralized.

Such changes make it more difficult to track placement, as short-term and long-term pictures often diverge. All the more cause for celebration, then, that three current Yale Comparative Literature students received outstanding tenure-track offers while still finishing their dissertations.

Katie Trumpener

April 25

The writer is the Emily Sanford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and a placement officer for the Comparative Literature and English departments.

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