Academic Placement

by Brian on July 18, 2003

We all know there are lots of horror stories about trying to find work in academia. The smart money is on not even starting a PhD unless you are prepared to sell your soul on the job market. Just say no to those fancy scholarships. Unless, it seems, they’re from a good school in philosophy, where the numbers don’t exactly support the bad tidings.

Thanks to lobbying from various sources (prominent amongst them being Brian Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report) we now have quite a bit of data about how philosophy PhDs do on the job market. And the news on the whole is fairly good, or at least much better than I had expected.

Here are the recent placement records of (most of) the top 15 U.S. philosophy departments.

Princeton: 48%, 81%
Rutgers: 36%, 85%
Michigan: 33%,70%
Pittsburgh: 40%, 84%
Stanford: 27%, 72%
Harvard: 63%, 96%
MIT: 33%, 77%
Arizona: 13%, 91%*
UCLA: 19%, 75%
UNC: 20%, 80%
Berkeley: 35%, 82%
Notre Dame: 11%, 80%
Texas: 4%, 60%

Note that the omissions are NYU, which hasn’t had a PhD program long enough to have a meaningful placement record, and Columbia, who either don’t want to share this information with us, or (more likely) have posted it somewhere too hard for an amateur sleuth like me to find.

So what are those numbers after the records. They are my rough estimations of, first, the percentage of grads that ended up in great jobs, and second, the percentage of grads that ended up in good jobs. The ‘great’ classification is fairly subjective, and I don’t think I really kept to a constant standard throughout. The ‘good’ classification is meant to be 3/3 load or better, tenure-track or tenured, plus the occasional 2-3 year research-oriented position at a good school (provided it is a first job). I count those as good jobs because people take them over 3/3 load tenure-track jobs. I don’t know the teaching load at every school in the country, and I probably counted too many jobs as good. Arizona had lots of grads at schools I hadn’t heard of – I counted most of them as good, but plenty might not be so good. The 91% is probably high – but it is still over 70%.

(This concession is not meant to mean I stand by all the other numbers. The margin of error on my calculations is probably +/- 20%. But I think they’re a fair approximate indication of what is happening.)

Overall, I’d say, those are pretty good numbers. The Texas percentages aren’t great, but Texas has a very big PhD program. In numerical terms they were placing as many people as most of their peers, just they had lots of non-placements (several apparently voluntary) as well. The top 14 schools had placement rates of 70% or better. It’d be suprising to even find an average student from one of those schools who didn’t have at least a decent job.

There are of course limits to one’s optimisim. Things get tougher for students not from a top 15 school. The data on these schools starts to get sketchier as well, perhaps not coincidentally. (For one thing schools suddenly stop listing how many of their grads _didn’t_ get jobs, something all the schools listed do.) And obviously there are people even at the best departments who aren’t getting good jobs. And even good academic jobs occasionally leave something to be desired. It’s hard to tell from the publically available information whether some of these people have, say, never been offered a job within 10,000 miles of their home. That can be a little annoying, even if there are very good jobs offered 11,000 miles away. And of course many of these people don’t start in good jobs, even if they end up in them. (And some start in good jobs and don’t get tenure or leave for other reasons. But I don’t think it’s fair to chalk those up to a bad job market.)

So it’s not all a bed of roses. But the impression the information creates is that in philosophy at least, median to somewhat below median students at good to great departments will get pretty good jobs. And that’s a lot better both than the impression I have of most humanities disciplines, and that many people in philosophy have of the state of play within our discipline. I don’t know if there’s been any good cross-disciplinary studies done on this recently, but I would be surprised if philosophy isn’t one of the better humanities to be in from the point of view of finding work.



kb 07.18.03 at 10:17 pm

I’ve added some comments back from the economics field on our blog. Did you happen to count how many schools you listed as being “good”? We’re 4/4, so we’re not “good” in that sense.


Adam 07.18.03 at 10:28 pm

My god — you have just relieved this aspiring grad student more than you’ll ever know. Thank you!


Ted Arrowsmith 07.18.03 at 10:43 pm

These results are indeed probably better than those in other humanities but they are still terrible. If one gives up 5 years or so of one’s life with a very high opportunity cost then should be virtually garaunteed a “good job” with a wage to support a family and benefits — as one is in, say, a medical residency. The fact that 15-20% of graduates of the very best programs are likely going without job supported health insurance is appalling to an outsider.


Keith DeRose 07.18.03 at 10:53 pm

The APA has some *somewhat* useful info on this on its web site at:

(I think that’s on the part of their web site that’s open to non-subscribers.) For each academic year since ’82-83, this document lists the number of candidates and the “total new jobs” for that year, and then does the math for you, listing the number of candidates per job. Without more info than the APA provides, this doesn’t help much in getting an absolute sense for how good/bad the market is: We’d have to know more about how the two main measures are done. But, on the assumption that they have reasonably decent ways of measuring these, and that they do so consistently from year to year, this does give a good feel for how the market is moving — whether things are getting better or worse. For the years I’m most familiar with (years that I was on the market or was involved in placement as a faculty member), the years this document lists as having relatively low candidate-to-job ratios do match pretty well my sense of which were the relatively good years to be a candidate.


Matt Weiner 07.18.03 at 11:18 pm

Advice to aspiring graduate students–Find out a program’s attrition rate, too.

Ted–I’d guess that those 15-20% of graduates are likely working outside of philosophy–which can be annoying after giving up a good chunk of your life, too. (And I wish it were only five years or so.) Also, anecdotally, non-tenure track positions that don’t count as “good” often have job-provided health insurance.


Brian Weatheron 07.18.03 at 11:36 pm

I perhaps should have been a bit more clear about the categories.

‘Good’ was meant to be a non-trivial standard. It didn’t just mean ‘fair’, or ‘not bad’. The category I was using excludes those working in jobs that have 4/4 teaching loads, it excludes those still working on 2-year contracts after a few years out, it excludes those who have gone into non-academic work in universities (and there were surprisingly many of those), it excludes those who’ve gone to law school (lots of those, and they’ll probably all earn more money in a lifetime than me) and it excludes those who’ve gone into other industries, the most prominent of which were banking and computing.

Now there’s a lot of career paths there that a lot of people in this country (not to mention every other country) would happily trade for. So it’s not like the 15-20% left over are unemployed. It’s hard to know how many genuinely voluntarily left academia, but some of them did. Perhaps not many, but some. So overall I think the claim that these are pretty high numbers is OK.

What would be disturbing is to see how quickly those numbers drop off as you leave the top 15, and especially the top 20. If the numbers were available, I expect they’d be less than flattering.


JW 07.18.03 at 11:42 pm

I agree with Matt — attrition rates need to be attended to. Though perhaps early (pre-ABD) vs. late (ABD) attrition should be distinguished, with a certain amount of the former being acceptable.


mike 07.19.03 at 12:26 am

Brian, I’m interested at how you would rate Brown (which, if we go by Leiter’s rankings could have taken the spot of Columbia or NYU). Also, maybe a sampling of a few schools well outside the top 20, but still in the top 50, might be helpful to compare.


Brian Weatherson 07.19.03 at 12:38 am

Well, I think Brown ranks fairly highly, I’d say above several of the schools listed here. (What does Columbia do that we don’t? Apart from provide faculty with snazzy Upper West Side apartments.) I’d say it isn’t ridiculous to have Brown in the top 10, and it certainly could be around 12 or 13.

But it’s very hard to provide comparative data for outside the top 15, because non top 15 schools just don’t provide enough info. It’s very strange that neither Brown nor Yale nor Cornell has a full report on where their grad students have ended up. So for none of them can we do a comparison to the schools in the top 15.

The only other school I found that had a similar amount of data was UC San Diego, and it wasn’t at all competitive with the schools listed here. Lots of people were getting jobs, but (from memory) few great jobs, and not even that many good jobs. My impression is that without a good school backing you, a grad really needs to stand out. (Or have lots of contacts. Or lots of luck.)


Keith DeRose 07.19.03 at 3:18 am

Yale does have a complete account of graduates since 1997 on-line at:


Brian Weatherson 07.19.03 at 4:52 am

So it does! My bad – for some reason I thought I’d looked and not found a complete list.

Be sure to take everything else I’ve written here with the appropriate size chunk of salt after a mistake like that one.


Matt Weiner 07.19.03 at 2:05 pm

Here’s Cornell. They seem comparable with the top 15. I think they were rated in the top 15 for most of this time, too (we’re using Leiter’s rankings right?)

One thing to note is that not all placement sites are comparable. Some (e.g. Pitt) list first job and current job, others (e.g. Cornell) list only one job. If Cornell’s listing the first job, it’s likely that some people went from non-tenure track to tenure track jobs. OTOH, they may have a mix of first job and eventual job.

I’d advise a prospective grad student to ask for a clarification if the placement info isn’t clear.


Matt Weiner 07.19.03 at 2:11 pm

Ah, looking again, Cornell (like Brown) doesn’t list people who got no job. That’s something you’ll want to know of course. Oops.

Time to press for a full and fair accounting.


Fritz Warfield 07.19.03 at 9:58 pm

In private correspondence I encouraged Brian to look into this topic. Having been on the recruiting (of students) and hiring (of faculty) side of the table for about 10 years now, I’ve been forming clearer views about these issues and wanted to get some meaningful data. I was too lazy to gather the data but Brian did so and did so quickly without charging me an outrageous research fee. Thanks Brian (your bar tab at the next conference we both attend can be forwarded to me).

Prospective graduate students should, I agree, be interested both in job placement for those who finish PhDs and in attrition rates. They should be interested both in attrition rates at individual programs and the general attrition rate among the professional wannabes. Prospective students should be reminded that most of those who drop out of PhD programs thought going in that they wouldn’t be among the casualties. That’s an appropriate dose of realism.

But for purposes of evaluating the claim that the *job market* is terrible I don’t see the relevance of those who don’t finish PhDs. Except in the oddest cases, if we focus on Brian’s target of 3/3 load or better, it’s those who finish a PhD who are in the hunt for such jobs. M.A.s need not apply.

I’ve long believed that both of these claims are true:
1. Most people who finish PhDs in Philosophy at top 15 schools and look for academic jobs end up (perhaps after a few years of looking) in at least a 3/3 job.
2. Almost *everyone* who is in the top half of students at a top PhD program, finishes and seeks academic employment ends up in at least a 3/3 job.

If these claims aren’t true then the philosophy job market is terrible. I think both claims are quite likely true. The second is harder to judge. Those of us who teach in PhD programs probably have some idea whether it’s true of our own schools

Prospective graduate students often overestimate their chances of being “among the best” students in their PhD departments and attrition rates are fairly high at many schools (I think). Prospective students also seem to think that if you get into a top school and *do well* you can “probably” get a job in a top40 PhD program. You might. But “probably” is too strong.

The market isn’t paradise and prospective students often think they’ll sail into a top job if only they do well and finish a PhD with a good advisor in 5-7 years. But I think we can honestly tell those considering graduate school that if they get into a strong school and do well at that strong school then, unless the market gets worse, they can reasonably expect to find an ok or better job somewhere in the world. That’s much more optimistic than most people say we should be with prospective graduate students. What’s wrong with it, if anything?


Brian Weatherson 07.19.03 at 10:52 pm

Before the praise starts in earnest a few points should be noted.

1. I was probably frequently wrong about what would have counted as 3/3 or better. For instance, I imagine I would have counted St Clair State as good when I was running through the list, and as kb said it’s 4/4 not 3/3. (I don’t know if it was listed anywhere, but I would have misclassified it had it come up. There’s an obvious conclusion to be drawn here about my ignorance about academic life.) The only places where I was really uncertain about lots of cases were Arizona and (to a lesser extent) Notre Dame. So the numbers listed are probably a better measure of ratio of people that end up in 4/4 or better jobs. Still, I’d be very confident that 3/3 or better still included half the grads at all of these schools save Texas, much as Fritz said.

(So in answer to kb’s question, I don’t really know how many schools would have counted as ‘good’ by the classification I (tacitly) used, but it’s at least several hundreds.)

Caveat to that caveat: Note that this is another sense in which the classification ‘good’ here is meant to be quite demanding. The alternative to good isn’t taxi driving – it’s still often a job that a lot of people are quite happy with and value quite highly, and that a lot more people would happily trade for.

2. Many of the people that got good jobs, and even several of the people that got great jobs, went through a few rounds of getting short term positions before moving on and up. That need not be a lot of fun, though in my case it was really quite a luxury to have a reason to have a second crack at the job market. But I don’t want to create the impression that average grads from top schools will walk into 2/2 tenure-track jobs straight away. Even superstars can cycle through the job market a few times.

3. I didn’t mean to suggest that outside the top 15 things get awful. The primary reason I stopped is that I ran out of data. But I don’t think we really could get particularly useful data from schools further down the list. The differences within departments between the quality of various supervisors, and of various students, will start to overshadow everything. I suspect that if we had the data we’d see many more results like Yale’s, where some people get great jobs straight away and some people move onto the long-term adjunct track. Still, it would be nice to have the data, and it’s to the credit of the schools that have published it that they’ve done so.

I do think it’s “Enter at Own Risk” for any grad program outside the top 20, but that doesn’t mean no one can do well. Where I went to grad school isn’t even a top 30 equivalent, and I did OK out of it. But you need a few things to go right, not all of which are in your control. It would be nice to have the numbers to get a better sense of exactly how much luck is required.

4. I’m still stunned at how good the Harvard numbers are. I thought it would be well behind MIT, Princeton and Michigan, but it’s actually better than all of them. I guess that’s just a reflection of the reputation of the various schools in Australia. I was also impressed by the Rutgers numbers. I thought it had been underperforming in the job market given the quality of its faculty and students, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

5. My bar bills at conferences can be very high – I wouldn’t go promising to cover one without checking current mortgage rates.


Ruth Feingold 07.19.03 at 11:54 pm

I don’t know — I’m still suspicious about the supposed comprehensiveness of the lists these schools have posted. Some explicitly state that their lists are complete; some say they draw their data from students who’ve used the department’s job-placement services (which may well not be everyone — and may in particular exclude grads who are several years out, have moved, etc.); some simply don’t make claims (unless I missed them, which is always a possibility).

It’s relatively easy for departments to keep track of their students and grads who get academic placements, at least if these placements occur shortly after graduation. Knowing what’s happened to people who’ve left academia (willingly or unwillingly) is a lot harder. That is, I’m not accusing schools of deliberately padding their data — just pointing out that they aren’t claiming to provide quantitative data, in the sense of percentages, as Brian’s attempted to do. They’re giving us anecdotal evidence about jobs that graduates have taken, and not saying much about what may *not* have happened. Unless you cross-checked with actual graduation lists from the universities, i wouldn’t be too sure about the numbers.

Oh — and one more thing: the websites, even anecdotally, may be wrong. The amount of erroneous and out-of-date info I’ve found on university web sites is astonishing. The “job placement” section of my own alma mater’s site not only had me listed incorrectly for several years (despite my sending in corrections), but also did the same for a few of my friends. And that’s just what I noticed. Again, I’m not claiming deliberate deception — just a lot of disorganization, with no one really ultimately responsible for what gets posted.

For the record, I’m in English — where I believe there have been about 1000-1100 new north American PhDs annually for the past decade or so, and anywhere from 250-550 tenure-track entry-level jobs advertised each year. So we’re looking at 25%-50% TT job placement period, courseload notwithstanding. The MLA is quite good about providing data on all this.


ben wolfson 07.20.03 at 12:35 am

Just one question from a possible philosophy grad student–what do the 2/2, 3/3, 4/4 numbers tossed around for course load mean?


Brian Weatherson 07.20.03 at 1:07 am

It’s certainly true that if the information the schools have provided is not good, then the percentages won’t be any good either. And I don’t have any good way of double-checking the data. I don’t know of any mistakes through personal knowledge, but I don’t know that many people.

The placement sites are often of recent origin. I don’t know if that makes them more reliable. The unreliability cuts both ways of course – some of the ‘unknown’s will potentially have academic work, even though I counted all of them as not good.

For what it’s worth, the numbers of grads listed per year looked about right given what I know about the size of each of the grad schools. If there were people simply not listed, there weren’t many. This is no help about the _inaccuracy_ of reports of course.

From memory, Michigan was the only school to limit its reports to students who had used the placement service, every other school looked to me to be claiming comprehensiveness, at least implicitly. Harvard, for instance, didn’t say “This is everyone”, but they would from time to time say “One other graduate this year did not find/did not seek academic employment.” If there are others they are just ignoring, this is _very_ misleading, and I was gullible/trusting enough to assume they weren’t doing that.

This practice was quite a contrast to departments like Cornell, and Brown, that list schools their grads have gone to, but do not list how many grads do not have (good) academic jobs. From those lists it is impossible to tell how well the average graduate does.

A x/y teaching load (in my dialect at least, which might not be standard) means teaching x courses one semester and y courses the other. In a university with a quarter system there are complications about just how to work out what is equivalent to what kind of semester-based teaching load, but I think there are some standard translations. The teaching loads faculty members are expected to bear varies _wildly_ across academia, as this discussion has probably borne out.


Ruth Feingold 07.20.03 at 4:21 am

“In a university with a quarter system there are complications about just how to work out what is equivalent to what kind of semester-based teaching load…” (Brian)

Yeah — I once interviewed for a job that advertised “4 courses per term” — and only belatedly did I discover that they were on a quarter system, and faculty were expected to teach 12 courses a year…

By the by, I’m not trying to discredit Brian’s work on job availability — I’m just very aware of the fact that large numbers of my friends (from an English department generally ranked in the top 5 nationally) *didn’t* get tenure-track positions, and said department wasn’t very good at acknowledging their existence. English may be very different from Philosophy; my experience may be too particular; I may still be suffering from shell shock. I just went in to grad school basically believing more or less this assertion: “Almost everyone who is in the top half of students at a top PhD program, finishes and seeks academic employment ends up in at least a 3/3 job” (Fritz Warfield), and for me and my cohort (mid-late ’90s), it absolutely wasn’t true.

Please pardon the extradisciplinary tangent…


Brandonimac 07.20.03 at 8:47 am

Just thought I’d note —

I graduated from a fourth or fifth rate philosophy grad program, and ended up with the sort of job one would expect with such a pedigree: a 4/4 load, at a school with no philosophy majors, at an out of the way location somewhere in the Midwest.

And I absolutely love it — probably more than I would enjoy a 2/2 or better load at a much more prestigious school (not that there was ever any danger of that happening), even if I were willing and able to do all the writing that would entail.

Just throwing that into the mix of what counts as a “good” job. I understand the categories here, and agree with them as far as they go. But as everyone here knows, I’m sure, “good” isn’t that simple.


dsquared 07.21.03 at 7:46 am

Could I add my voice to the growing clamour asking what a 4/4 load is?


Brian Weatherson 07.21.03 at 12:12 pm

4 courses each semester – or something equivalent to that if you’re at a school with something other than semesters, with rather generous interpretations sometimes about what counts as equivalent.


Ssuma 07.21.03 at 2:42 pm

4/4 refers to the teaching load. 4 course a semester. It works as shorthand for the goodness of a job not only because 4/4 is a lot of work (I have it now) but also because other things tend to be in line with it. At a 2/2 job you get (usually) more travel/research money, better students, bigger offices, deans who are actual academics, etc. 4/4 means you don’t get all that good stuff and you have to write frequent memos justifying your consumption of office supplies. Like one of the posters above, I am pretty happy here, but there is a reason that 2/2 is considered good and 4/4 is not.


Brian Leiter 07.21.03 at 3:58 pm

This is interesting data, though I confess the results for Texas strike me as better than I would have expected! Until very recently, Texas wasn’t even a top 20 department, and our job placement results reflect that. (Conversely, schools like Berkeley have placement results that reflect the fact that, until recently, they were a solidly top 10 department.)


Michael Tinkler 07.21.03 at 5:18 pm

I wonder if the self-reporting standards in philosophy departments are slightly higher BECAUSE of the Philosophical Gourmet Report. I have found no similar ranking of any consequence in either history or art history (the two disciplinary groups I’m familiar with).

In terms of my scepticism about self-reporting, though, I know that I have never been contacted about my current placement by either my graduate school or my department. I know that there are people who keep up with me – but I also know that they don’t keep up with everyone because they’re always surprised when I mention other folks’ current employment.


kb 07.21.03 at 10:17 pm

Yes, we’re 4/4 as well, though in some departments like my own we do our best to lessen that through double-counting of courses and buying out classes through grants, etc. I agree with ssuma that there are complementary goods that come with 2/2 schools, and it’d be nice to have them. But the load doesn’t tell the whole story, and any listing of what’s a “good” school and what is not is bound to be arbitrary. All you can really ask is consistency.

I also agree with Brian Weatherson that there’s nothing particularly horrible teaching in a 4/4 school when compared to the non-academic alternatives. I have seen several acquaintances suffer under the publication pressures at the better schools, some going out of academia and others bouncing into jobs none of us would consider “good”; we’ve only had one person break down in my department mentally in my near-20 years of teaching here. I know of a few others in other departments, but frankly some of us want the heavy teaching — less research positions. They’re better than “good” to us. As a department head, I get lots of release time, but the best part of my day is still when I get the hell out of this office and into a classroom.

Oh, and we’re St. Cloud State, forgive my pedantry.


mugu 03.02.04 at 12:10 pm

very good

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