How to estimate my probability of getting a (competitive) job in Academia

by rockthecasbah1 min read22nd Oct 20213 comments


World Optimization


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?

3 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:47 AM
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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.