I dropped in on a history department event for graduate students about the job market for the coming year. I didn’t stay for some of the reports from those who have seen the market and lived to tell the tale but essentially the main message of the opening session was: the market sucks, but you’ll be ok.
It appears that much of the bad news about the job market for history PhDs we heard comes from this article put out by the AHA.
Some of the main points from my notes: The last few years, hirings are very significantly down. However, the number of PhDs being awarded in history continues to rise, thus increasing the gap. The number of applicants for every history job has exploded. Some kind of federal funding that has helped float some departments for a while will run out this year, so next year (when I plan to complete my PhD) might even be worse than this year in terms of the drop in available jobs. Also there is a significant backlog of PhD grads who didn’t find jobs in the last few years who are still on the market for this year and next. There was an attempt to cheer us up with some good news: we “are the best history department in the country” (Comment: Fascinating claim, how exactly does one measure that?) and are “over performing” the market, as well as other departments here such as government, anthropology, English and other languages. Apparently this year we have placed 18 students in some kind of academic employment so far (tenure track jobs, one year lectureships, one year positions, or postdocs – I forgot to ask how many total grads we have this year).
After a few anomalous years when there were actually more positions advertised than PhD students coming out, helping many recent graduates I know get excellent positions at some great schools, things are “going back to the normal pattern” in which most of us will spend 1-3 years in other short-term positions while continuing to compete for the tenure track positions. Our department apparently still has an excellent record with over 90% eventually getting tenure track positions (Comment: I must have misheard that, the number seems really high – surely more than 10% of our department grads decide to do something else?) We were advised to be flexible in terms of location (Australia is doing ok, places like Hong Kong are an option, Canada not doing so well, British market has “crashed”) brush up our teaching portfolios and look for positions outside of our narrowly defined fields that might fit.
Looking at the above linked AHA article, I couldn’t help but notice the significant differences in the market between various regional specialities. Thinking of my own region, for example, job openings related to Asia continues to rise as a percentage of total and the trend for “world/transnational” historians isn’t nearly as bad as for European history. Also, the number of applicants per job opening is fairly low for Asian history compared to the average.
My best wishes go out to my friends who are on the job market now and to the rest of us who have to face what comes in the 2010-2011 academic year.