I am a PhD in comparative politics at a top 20 US school. I enjoy research and teaching, and would stay in academia with a good offer. However, my university is in DC so my career-changing options are strong. I don't love research enough to devote 5 years to the PhD then retrain in my early 30's. Roughly, I would prefer changing tracks to becoming a post-doc but not to becoming a non-tenure assistant professor.

Ideally, I want to know in year 3 of 5 if I will succeed on the market. That gives enough time to submit several publications and get feedback.

Some relevant facts

My university is the 25th most prestigious in Political Science, and similar schools place 25% of their students in tenure track positions. For now, 25% seems a reasonable base rate.

My probability also depends on my skill relative to other PhD finishers. Obviously ability is hard to self-assess. Some observables

  • I am quicker with statistical concepts than my peers.
  • I spend more time reading the research than my peers. I'm generally more independently curiosity-driven and less grades-driven.
  • I have one publication out, and am finishing data analysis on 2. Some PhD's finish with 0 publications, so I'm doing well.

But how important are skill signals in the hiring process? Some of my professors believe hiring is highly nepotistic, such that only prestigious universities get placements. The evidence is unclear: the top quintile of schools place at twice the rate of second quintile schools, but the two groups differ in observable ability signals. Without at least a regression on placement via prestige and publications, there's no way to tell.

Any advice on how to arrive at my best probability?

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Surely this calls for data analysis? I’ve seen Economics papers on publication and placement for PhD students by programme, and I think for Sociology. There are almost certainly relevant publications for your field and if there aren’t you could probably get a publishable paper out of writing up your own research.

If you’re in Year 2 of your programs and on track to have three publications by Year 5 your personal probability of getting a tenure track position must be 50% or higher, not 25%. Again, this calls for data. The 25% of your programme’s graduates do get placed; what kind of publication records did they have on graduation? Compare yourself to the reference class you want to be in. I am almost certain PhD graduates in PS’s top programme have on average less publications than you do already. Most Harvard/MIT Economics PhD graduates never publish a paper. I don’t know what Political Science is like but if it’s similar your publication record is going to look pretty good.

If you’re considering industry why not look for the skills they like and try to publish something that would use those skills? Look up Economist jobs at Amazon, or read Susan Athey’s advice for people who want those jobs.

I did quite a bit of research on it after this. It turns out there really isn't good data, the best is from the APSA but is full of holes. I did a tweet thread on it a while back.

I do have more publications than my competitors. Unfortunately, I have been repeatedly told in my program that publications do not matter and only dissertations matter. Kind of sucks, but what can you do. Publishing is definitely a signal of value, so I have the skills to do a good dissertation. It just sucks that what I like doing (papers) isn't rewarded.

The real kicker here is that even if I get the tenure track job, it's just not that great. For tenure track the average pay is 75k (for non-tenure 60k). More importantly, the tenure process is 6-8 years and very stressful. So I would be on the treadmill of competition from 27 (now) to 38. I doubt I want that level of stress for that long.

So probably not my best option but we'll see.

Can’t you staple three papers together with filler/linking material and call it “Essays in Political Science” or a narrower topic if you’ve been focused?

I suggest emailing Chris Blattman and Bryan Caplan and asking for advice. Greet, be brief and to the point. I suggest Blattman because he works as a political scientist though he was trained as an economist. If your statistical skills are good you can do very well outside academia. Amazon Economists (PhD required) are getting over $175K starting. Bryan Caplan I suggest because he suggests academia is a truly amazing job for some and the competition isn’t that high.

Just got Jason Brennan's book. It's very helpful!

That's a good question Barry.

Yes I could do a 3 paper very easily. I just finished a first article on expropriation and successions crises, it has a shot for a top journal. I'm working on a next one on succession crises and appointments. My professors tend to say that this isn't enough, that I need a special incredible dissertation where everything is laser focused on one topic and tightly linked. They also say that 90% of students take more than 5 years. I'm honestly confused.

Thanks for sending the link. I go to Dr. Brennan's school, so I can read the book then talk to him. Good idea!