Bar graphs of data about the job market.

A Year On The Job Market With A Ph.D. – Some Data

I was on the job market in the Fall of 2019 and the Spring of 2020. I submitted over 280 job applications to universities, governments, companies, think tanks, and grant agencies. After some interviews, job talks, and a few offers, I thought that I would share my experience here. If at any point you have questions, the feel free to contact me on your platform of choice; I’ll see if I can answer your question in a future post. Today’s post visualizes data about the job market process from application submission to job offer.

Job Market Breakdown

My research interests are broad enough that I was able to find jobs that paid well for my skills in various industries and positions. Just to give you an idea of the range, I was interviewing for jobs inside and outside of academia, from Data Analyst positions at insurance and medical companies to tenure-track faculty positions in philosophy and psychology. Below is a more thorough breakdown of the fields and positions.

Percentage of job applications in each field.
Percentage of jobs applications for each type of position.

Results

Once submitted, I tracked every application. I logged all responses, requests for more information from jobs considering me, interviews, etc.

To my surprise, I received responses about the majority of my applications. Alas, that is where the encouraging news ends. As you will see, the vast majority of those responses informed me that I would not be considered, that I would not make it to the next round of consideration, that the position was canceled (e.g., due to a hiring freeze), and—in more than one case—that the job posting was accidental. Again, more data below.

Percentages of responses by position type.
Percentages of applications considered split by position type.
Percentages of follow-ups by position type.
Percentages of interviews by position type.
Percentages of follow-up interviews by position type.
Percentages of physical visits or interviews by position type.
Note about campus visit data: My campus visit data may be less generalizable because of the pandemic. My only campus visit occurred in late February before the COVID-19 restrictions were implemented. While I remained under consideration for a few other positions that would have done campus visits, either I accepted another position or their campus closed before their campus visits occurred. So there may have been more campus visits in other possible worlds.)
Percentages of job offers by position type.

Note: I applied only to jobs in the US and Canada—with a bias toward positions closer to the East coast.

Offers

Overall, I received 3 offers from a total of 286 applications—a 1% success rate.

  1. The first offer was for a remote, contract position that turned out to offer scarce opportunity for the kind of research that I do—something I learned definitively only after receiving the offer for this “Research Scientist” position. So I turned down this offer at the recommendation of my committee and mentors: they did not like that the job was for less than 2 years, would likely make further career advancement impossible, and would result in less pay than my partner and I were making at the time. (Needless to say, turning down a job felt bonkers after all of the horror stories that I have heard about the job market for those with a Ph.D.)
  2. The second offer was for a tenure track position. I negotiated a higher salary and then accepted this job—just days before the institution announced a hiring freeze that canceled the department’s other job search.
    • After accepting this offer, I notified the half dozen or so places that were still considering my application.
    • I then set a date to defend my dissertation.
  3. The third offer was for a government-funded postdoctoral research position came in between accepting the second offer and defending my dissertation.
    • I very much wanted a chance to do this postdoc because (a) it would give me a chance to boost my research program before starting the tenure clock and (b) pay almost twice as much as the tenure track position—controlling for cost-of-living.
    • After weeks of negotiation, I was able to defer the tenure track position to allow me to accept this postdoc position.

Other Bites

For those who are interested to know the other positions for which someone with a Ph.D. in Philosophy was considered, they were as follows:

  • Tenure track positions in philosophy
  • Tenure track positions in psychology
  • Postdoctoral positions in philosophy (for psychological research, a.k.a., “experimental philosophy”)
  • Postdoctoral positions in psychology
  • Research positions at think tanks that do political psychology
  • Data analyst positions at insurance, medical, and other companies

Why So Many Different Jobs?

In case you are confused about why someone with a Ph.D. in Philosophy would apply to the kinds of jobs that I applied to, I will try to provide some context.

My Training. All of my degrees are in philosophy but my elective coursework put me dangerously close to a second Ph.D. in Psychology. During this coursework, I found myself doing both philosophical and psychological research—my CV, for reference.

  • 18-ish cognitive science credits while doing an M.A. in philosophy
  • 24 more credits cognitive science credits while doing a Ph.D. in philosophy

Interests. Studying both cognitive science and philosophy of science turned me into an empiricist and wanna-be cognitive scientist. So I found myself wanting to do empirically oriented research (albeit about philosophy-adjacent questions if possible).

That explains all of the jobs except some of the private industry jobs like medical and insurance company research positions. So what were those about? Honestly? The salary.

Sample size. I had the luxury of being on the market when there were lots of relatively interesting job openings. I imagine that some of the time that I spent on the almost 300 job applications may have been better spent on something more career-advancing.

  • However, if I have learned anything in life it is that noise and luck are rife in decisions about hiring (and admissions, etc.). Having a larger sample size of job applications may have increased my chances of benefitting from good luck, accidents, etc.
  • Also, applying to so many different jobs gave me helpful perspective, experience, and practice with application processes. This is already helping me learn how to navigate the world of grant applications. I hope that this will pay off further next time I am on the job market. If nothing else, I hope you can benefit from my sharing it.

What’s Next?

If you have questions about this or something else, feel free to connect. If there are enough questions about and interest in job markets for people with a Ph.D., then I am happy to continue to sharing about it (here or on social media, YouTube, etc.). Otherwise, I can move on to some of the other stuff in my pipeline.

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog