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What Ph.D. Students Really Have to Fear

Here is an article from Slate on the fluctuating job market for academics in economics. I think the statistics would probably look the same for any field, though. It's called "What Ph.D. Students Really Have to Fear," and it's written by Joel Waldfogel. The gist is that if you are unlucky enough to graduate in a down cycle of the job market for your field, and you are not hired by a university of the same prestige level that you could have been hired by during an upswing in the market, you can expect to stay at a lower level throughout your career.

One interesting fact, though, is that the ones who were hired by more prestigious universities published more during their career. The author suggests that the better journals are more likely to publish articles from authors at prestigious universities. I'd be interested in the details of that statistic -- what I wonder is whether the more prestigious schools apply more pressure to publish in order to achieve tenure.

In researching this further by following the link in the article to the working paper by Paul Oyer, I can only access the abstract. However, he does state in that abstract that "better initial placement increases research productivity."

Two conclusions are possible (probably more, but this is all I can think of right now.) Either the universities that are more prestigious push more to have their professors publish, or there is some kind of negative effect that accrues to the people who are given the lower prestige job. They could be upset and bitter that the negative job cycle landed them in a less prestigious place, or it could be that these institutions demand more time teaching, being involved in committee and community work and the like.

It seems that a final piece of research would be to compare the two groups but control for their research productivity to see if the result is the same.


  1. Hi Anahata,

    It's nice to hear from an Australian! How interesting that the journals you publish in determines the support you get.

    Welcome to my blog -- it's nice to know you're out there reading it!

  2. Anonymous4:58 PM

    Okay, I was less anxious about getting a job before I read this issue of your usually encouraging publication. If you're going to present the bleak quantitative picture, how about a nice qualitative case study about some academic who, even though they started off in the 'dungeon' because of factors beyond their control, they've done well.

  3. Hi Jon,

    It sounds depressing on the surface, although I feel that there is hope in that the individual does have control over whether he or she publishes or not. So if your first job ends up being not at your first choice school, you can make sure that your publication rate remains as high as it would elsewhere.

    If anyone knows a positive story about someone moving up the ladder in the way discussed in this news item, let me know!

  4. Anonymous1:59 AM

    It seems to me that there may be another correlation that you have not mentioned that has nothing to do with the self-esteem of the individual. Isn't is possible that being at a more prestigious university increases the likelihood of getting your research papers accepted by the important journals and conferences?

  5. Anonymous11:43 AM

    I agree with Pat. I have heard that as an independent researcher or someone at a lesser university you cannot get articles published in prestigious journals...

  6. I also agree that from the information given, it's hard to separate "research productivity" from number of articles published. If the number published is skewed by the stature of the institution one works at, then it's kind of a circular finding.

    I think it would be sad if prestigious journals can only make their decisions based on labels and not the quality of the work itself.

  7. Anonymous10:42 PM

    Hi Gina and fellow bloggers,
    An issue that is often overlooked is whether academics at any type of institution are happy as human beings or not. From many articles and advisors I gather the fundamental assumption that the more you publish and the more research you do the happier you are. However, I also know that many research 1 institutions are research mills, there is tremendous pressure to produce and publish in top journals, expectations being that junior faculty is working at least 6 or 6.5 days a week. What about work-life balance? What if someone is happy or happier at a lower level institution where requirements are lower, but they can enjoy family time, the outdoors etc. Can that be worth it for some?

  8. Hi Anonymous (#2),

    I couldn't agree more with what you've written. What is more important than your quality of your life? Too many people buy into the institutional idea of what constitutes happiness or even career satisfaction, instead of paying attention to what they really want, which might be quite different.

    I hope more academics start thinking like you.


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