For many years, departments were not very forthcoming with information about how their graduates had fared in pursuit of academic jobs. The Internet, and to some extent this Report, have helped change that. In past years, I have collected information on job placement at leading universities and colleges, always with the caveat that this presents only a partial picture. Increasingly, departments now include on their homepages a complete picture. Model sites on job placement include those at Harvard University and the University of Arizona. These sites are exemplary in giving dissertation titles and job placement and status (e.g., tenure-track or not).
In May 2001, the Update Service was used to encourage all departments to provide comparably candid and thorough information. Students should not hesitate to ask departments they are considering to provide detailed and comprehensive information about recent job placement similar to that provided by schools like Harvard and Arizona . Prospective students are advised to be very wary of departments that won’t provide such information: indeed, to be safe, you should probably eliminate from consideration departments that will not volunteer such information. (Some departments will not want to provide names of graduates, but that is obviously not essential information. What is essential is to know the year of the graduate, the field he/she worked in, and whether or not he/she got a job, and if so what kind and where.) Do not settle for vague assurances like the following: “the department makes every effort to find its graduates suitable employment. In the past we have been very successful in placing people at some of the best universities and colleges in the country. We are committed to continuing that success.” In fact, the department in question here had been strikingly unsuccessful in placing recent graduates in “the best universities and colleges,” though most got tenure-track jobs. As a prospective student, about to embark upon a multi-year investment, you are entitled to detailed information.
Be sure, in evaluating placement information, to attend to the time period covered. It is not unknown, for example, for departments to provide a list of schools where graduates have taken jobs, when in fact those jobs stretch back over a 20-year period! Also, be sure to demand clarity about which jobs are tenure-track and which are not. Finally, keep in mind that information on job placement in, say, the last five years reflects decisions about where to go to graduate school students made 10-15 years ago. Departments that are stronger today than then will almost certainly have better job placement in the future; conversely, departments weaker now than then are less likely to duplicate their earlier success.