Results from tracking hundreds of CUNY sociology PhDs since 1971

Here is a look at what has happened to 471 sociology PhDs who graduated from CUNY since 1971:

Where the 1993 graduates are working post-Ph.D. isn’t a mystery, thanks to the diligence of a longtime professor of sociology at Queens College, also part of the CUNY system. During a particularly tough academic job market in the early 1990s, Dean B. Savage started the work of tracking down every student who had earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the Graduate Center to find out where they went on to work. With the help of graduate students, he has created an ever-growing database of 471 people that dates back to graduates from 1971…

The data he has collected document the bleak reality that many people already know about the academic market: A full-time job as a professor isn’t a given for those who want one. In fact, since 1980, fewer than half of the sociology graduates hold full-time tenured or tenure-track jobs. But the data, which were most recently updated last year, also reveal some good news: The program’s record of placing students in full-time jobs inside and outside academe has shown improvement over the years…

Mr. Savage’s data set, which spans more than 40 years, is unusual because of its depth. A quick glance at his list shows many Ph.D.’s who became professors, deans, lecturers, and academic researchers. Among the many nonacademic jobs that the Graduate Center program’s alumni hold are crisis counselor, behavioral scientist, social worker, children’s-book author, art-gallery curator, and health-care consultant. Some people have retired. When Mr. Savage updated the data last year, he found at least seven people who earned Ph.D.’s in 2012 who were trying to gain some traction on the academic ladder, working in non-tenure-track positions. Graduates of the sociology program work at four-year colleges, two-year institutions, regional colleges, and flagships. Workplaces in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are heavily represented.

Collecting placement data like Mr. Savage’s can be complicated, as his experience shows. It is a little easier now than when he first started, since he can search for people through Google and on sites like LinkedIn. Mr. Savage started his efforts with a list of the program’s graduates from the CUNY registrar. Before the Internet, he said, “we would get in touch with their thesis adviser or someone we knew they were friends with or even members of their dissertation committee.”

But even with the advent of online aids, there are still gaps in the information that Mr. Savage has collected. He has found some students, only to lose track of them in subsequent updates. More than 112 students have never been found. Older alumni are less likely to appear on sites like LinkedIn, and some people who do show up list vague or inflated titles or may have profiles that are out of date.

The rest of the article goes on to ask broader questions about why more PhD programs don’t go to the efforts Savage has (and there are still issues with the missing cases) to track down this information. Graduate schools tend to trumpet the cases of students who do well but don’t say much about those who don’t or don’t complete the program. We could also ask questions about colleges who will likely will be asked more and more in the future to provide evidence from alumni that college led to learning as well as positive career outcomes.

So if the CUNY data is decent enough, how representative is it? As described here, the data suggests some cycles (forces within the academy as well as larger American economic issues), lots of attrition, and a variety of careers.

New mismatches in sociology job market between grad student interests, job specializations

While the sociology job market is looking up, there is a lingering issue: what graduate students are studying doesn’t line up with specialty areas for the advertised job openings.

Another problem within the sociology job market is the “mismatch” between sociological specializations areas sought after by search committees and areas of interest from graduate students. The area of social control, law, crime and deviance was the most highly-valued specialization based on position advertisements. But graduate students ranked that specialization area fourth.

Likewise, there was a mismatch between the second most frequent advertised specialty, race and ethnicity. This was the ninth most popular with graduate students, which Spalter-Roth said she found surprising, since it is a “central focus” of sociology.

To address this mismatch issue, Spalter-Roth said sociology Ph.D. students should be encouraged to make their studies relevant to multiple specialty areas. So, for instance, someone who is interested in gender studies can also take criminal justice courses and take a closer look into crimes against women.

Globalization and global issues ranked fifth in job listings and 15th among graduate students. This mismatch may be short-lived, since graduate programs are increasingly offering more courses and programs in this area of specialization.

The five areas with the biggest mismatch, according to the full report:


Interesting data. The biggest gaps here do seem to come in important sociological subfields: inequality? Organizations? Deviance? The growing area of medicine? This could be useful information to grad students, at least in terms of having an idea of how they are going to have to pitch themselves on the job market. But, considering the length of grad school plus possible several opportunities a grad student might have to test the market (while writing the dissertation, graduating, perhaps in a post-doc, after a visiting position, etc.), wouldn’t it be more helpful to look at year to year trends? See the report on the 2010 job market here:

One of the widest gaps is in criminology (a.k.a. social control, crime, law and deviance), which made up 31 per cent of all postings on the ASA’s job site in 2010, but was only listed as an area of special interest for 18 per cent of PhD candidates whom were surveyed by the ASA.

The opposite problem exists too. More people are interested in “inequities and stratification” than any other field — 35 per cent of candidates chose it as one of their special interests — but only 19 per cent of jobs advertised were in that area.

There’s also a shortage of jobs for those interested in teaching gender and sexuality. One fifth of students are interested in the subject, but only one tenth of advertised jobs were in that field.

So some similarities and differences a few years ago.

Lack of good data on grad students who go into nonacademic jobs

I was just asked about this recently so I was interested to see this story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about efforts to get better data about graduate students who go on to nonacademic careers:

The Council of Graduate Schools published a wider-scoped study this year. “Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers” focuses on the transition from graduate school to job. Its findings, based on consultation with students, deans, and employers, are now resonating in an academic culture that remains fixated on the tenure-track outcome.

The council’s study found that professors don’t talk enough to their graduate students about possible jobs outside of academe, even though such nonfaculty positions are “of interest to students.” That lack of guidance is particularly egregious in light of where graduate students actually end up: About half of new Ph.D.’s get their first jobs outside of academe, “in business, government, or nonprofit jobs,” the council’s report said.

The CGS study included a survey but the results have not been published. Incredibly, there has been no significant survey of graduate-student career outcomes since Nerad and Cerny’s [a 1999 study]—and they limited their sample to Ph.D.’s who had received their degrees nearly 30 years ago now.

So it’s big news that the Scholarly Communication Institute is conducting a new survey of former graduate students who have (or are building) careers outside the professoriate—a career category now commonly called alternative academic, or “alt-ac.” (You can tell how embedded an idea has become when it gets a handle as brief as that.)

You would think there would be more data on this topic but since graduate schools themselves may not have a great interest in this information, it takes some other group or interested party to pull it all together.

I know in reports like these graduate school faculty tend to take a beating because they don’t talk enough about nonacademic options. While they should know something about the topic and perhaps in the future they can point their students to this new survey and database, how much could they really know about the nonacademic world? They often face a lot of pressure to keep up in their own settings, let alone find out about areas that their schools and departments wouldn’t really reward them for. Perhaps there would be some way to introduce incentives to the system that could help reward faculty for also talking about life outside academia? I wonder how many departments in certain subjects would feel like failures if half their graduates ended up in nonacademic jobs…this is not conducive to wanting to share more information with students.

When you find out that your dissertation is for sale as an ebook without you knowing about it

A recent sociology PhD describes an interesting experience: he found that his dissertation was being sold online as an ebook.

A Google search brought me to a link to, where with one click I soon discovered that my dissertation was being sold. It took a minute of staring at the computer screen to fully accept that my work could be purchased for (at the time) $32.34 as an eTextbook for the Nook reader. I thought the price was a steal. Literally.

I had graduated about a year earlier with a Ph.D. in sociology. Although I had hoped to turn my dissertation into a book one day, I had not yet started that process. I hadn’t even secured a contract with a publisher…

I began investigating how it could have come to be for sale. Like many graduate students, I was burned out after defending my dissertation. My immediate thoughts were not about which publisher I should contact but about whether I would be able to afford rent and food in this economy. My final weeks of graduate school had been a bit foggy, and I couldn’t recall the specific publication options I had selected when I submitted the dissertation to my university as a degree requirement.

So I dug out my copies of handouts from the Office of Graduate Studies, describing my options for publication with ProQuest (the university’s publisher of theses and dissertations). Reading through the papers, I could find nothing on all the possible ways my dissertation could be sold.

Then I logged into my account on the ProQuest site and saw that when I had submitted my dissertation electronically I had chosen an option for third-party selling. At the time, I was unsure what that meant, and in my end-of-graduate-school haze, I had neglected to find out. I assumed it meant that some other academic company could sell my work to individual researchers, typically few in number, who would have to exert great effort even to discover its whereabouts. I never thought it meant it could be sold, in its entirety, on the same site where one can purchase calendars and the complete series of The Sopranos on DVD.

Remembering some similar feelings at the end of my time in graduate school as I was looking to complete and defend my dissertation, I could see how this information could slip through the cracks. However, the lesson still remains: read all of that fine print so you know what you are agreeing to.

Ph.D. degrees are pretty rare, The Five-Year Engagement notwithstanding

In the movie The Five-Year Engagement, one of the main characters has a post-doc at the University of Michigan in social psychology. I wondered how many people know what a post-doc is and this pushed me to think more broadly: just how common is a Ph.D. in the United States? According to the 2012 Statistical Abstract, there were 49,562 PhDs awarded in 2009, up from 42,437 in 1996. According to the National Science Foundation, here are some additional figures on the number of doctorates awarded:

-In the first year of their data, 1957, there were 8,611 PhDs awarded.

-The greatest years of PhD growth (measured by % change from previous year) were clearly in the 1960s with peaks of 14.1% in 1965 and 14.6% in 1970.

-There were 48,069 doctorates awarded in 2010.

(Unfortunately, these tables do not break down how many doctoral students graduated with degrees/concentrations in social psychology.)

Census figures from 2010 say 27.9% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Figures from 2011 show that 7.95% of Americans have a master’s degree and 3% have a doctorate or professional degree.

All this suggests that PhDs are relatively rare in the United States meaning that many Americans may not be able to relate to this story (plus, how many movies or TV shows focus on academia?). However, the movie is set in San Francisco and Ann Arbor: 51.2% of residents in San Francisco have a bachelor’s degree or higher (with a California state figure of 30.1%) and 19.7% of residents have a graduate or professional degree (ACS estimates). In the college town of Ann Arbor, 71.1% of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher (with a Michigan state figure of 25%) and 42% have a graduate or professional degree (ACS estimates).

So is Judd Apatow aiming for a more educated audience with his latest film?

Argument: “Academia is more of a shame culture than a guilt culture”

In a discussion of reforming PhD. programs, one academic suggests that frequent meetings between students and faculty are needed to speed up the process because shame motivates more than guilt:

David Damrosch, a professor of comparative literature at Harvard University, said that Ph.D. students and professors in his department have been thinking more carefully about coursework. “Very often, students drift for extended periods,” he said. Frequent meetings with dissertation committee members are helpful, he said. “All this result in fewer incompletes in coursework … and more consistent progress in the dissertations,” said Damrosch.

“In anthropological terms, academia is more of a shame culture than a guilt culture: you may feel some private guilt at letting a chapter go unread for two or three months, but a much stronger force would be the public shame you’d feel at coming unprepared to a meeting with two of your colleagues,” he said. “It’s also ultimately a labor-saving device for the faculty as well as the student, as the dissertation can proceed sooner to completion and with less wasted effort for all concerned….” With frequent meetings, the students doesn’t lose time on “unproductive lines of inquiry” or “tangential suggestions tossed out by a single adviser,” Damrosch said.

Neither shame or guilt seem like the best motivation…

I wonder how many Ph.D. students say they feel positively supported by their institution and faculty. This doesn’t necessarily mean that students are the only ones who have a voice in this but I wonder if a lot of these issues are due to a poor match of (unclear?) expectations.

An anthropology PhD student who got a sociology job argues for interdisciplinary research

An anthropology PhD student at UCLA argues that he was able to expand his job choices by presenting himself as an interdisciplinary scholar:

Some of my mentors, none of whom are in anthropology departments, prefer to say “trained as an anthropologist, so-and-so investigates…” when describing people in the field, as opposed to saying “so-and-so is an anthropologist.” If you are on the job market this may be hard to do as you are likely to have just become a Ph.D.-wielding anthropologist, and to be quite proud of the moniker and achievement. But the shift in self-definition is important for you and your future academic home, I would argue.

I just went through the whole job-hunting process before signing a contract to become a lecturer in media and cultural studies in the Sociology Department at Lancaster University, in Britain. I was able to apply for a silly number of jobs, get a bunch of interviews and campus visit requests, and have some choices and grounds on which to do some humble negotiating. I think my trick was post-disciplinary research and (a considerable amount of) cross-disciplinary publishing. I could apply to communications; media studies; anthropology; information studies; science, technology and society; sociology; television studies; American studies and Internet studies. If I were desperate I could apply for archaeology and film production positions. Postdoctoral positions, particularly those financed by the Mellon Foundation, are all about interdisciplinarity, as are jobs looking for digital humanities scholars.

So I’d encourage my fellow freshly minted A.B.D.s and Ph.D.s to begin seeing their research and their teaching across at least four or five large disciplines. Be able to realistically apply to four or five departments. One can put this together variously by publishing in different journals, collaborating with colleagues from different fields, or simply working the boundaries of one’s discipline in necessarily interdisciplinary ways. (All I can say is that I hope this is not my internalization of the precarity of neoliberal governmentality in the education sector.)

Academia talks a lot about interdisciplinary work so it is interesting to hear stories about people who make careers in this emergent sector. Several things strike me about this story:
1. Can one only do this as a student in certain disciplines? In this example, making the switch from anthropology to sociology is not a huge jump as the disciplines share some theorists and ways of collecting data while also looking at the “big picture” of groups and societies. Could you make the same jump between literature and political science? Economics to psychology?
2. For grad students to become interdisciplinary scholars, there have to be interdisciplinary jobs. How many schools and departments would really be willing to hire an interdisciplinary person compared to a qualified/good person within their discipline?
2a. If more grad students go the interdisciplinary route, are there enough jobs for them? In other words, could people then lost out on jobs because they aren’t disciplinary enough?
3. This student seems to have picked a current and relevant topic that I imagine many schools would be interested in:
And there is something said for responding (in non-trendy and timeless ways!) to emergent patterns in industry, politics, and social movements. The departments recognize that what is in the news is what the students want to study. In my case this amounted to a recursive loop from the hype surrounding new media – Arab Spring, Anonymous, Wikileaks, SOPA, PIPA, and Occupy –  to departments requesting applicants with expertise in social media and political movements.
So is the key to interdisciplinary jobs to be at the cutting edge of sexy topics?
3a. I imagine that much interdisciplinary work could be done through center or institutes that focus on particular issues or topics rather than through departments which tend to be looking for a broader set of interests.
This is an intriguing story but there are a lot of institutional and cultural issues within academia that have to be worked out so that a large amount of these stories could be possible.

One problem area in Sociology PhD job market: a mismatch between advertised fields and PhD student’s interests

MacLeans points out one of the issues raised by a recent ASA publication titled Moving Toward Recovery: Findings from the 2010 Job Bank Survey:

It’s not all good news, however. The report also surveyed PhD candidates and found some major mismatches between their “areas of special interest” and the jobs that were available in 2010.

One of the widest gaps is in criminology (a.k.a. social control, crime, law and deviance), which made up 31 per cent of all postings on the ASA’s job site in 2010, but was only listed as an area of special interest for 18 per cent of PhD candidates whom were surveyed by the ASA.

The opposite problem exists too. More people are interested in “inequities and stratification” than any other field — 35 per cent of candidates chose it as one of their special interests — but only 19 per cent of jobs advertised were in that area.

There’s also a shortage of jobs for those interested in teaching gender and sexuality. One fifth of students are interested in the subject, but only one tenth of advertised jobs were in that field.

The article misses one other subfield with a large difference: 8.4% of advertised jobs were looking for someone in the sociology of culture while 24.3% of students had an interest in this area.

Will the free market work this out? Who needs to change in this area: should students start pursuing these in-demand sub-fields or do graduate programs hold any responsibility, perhaps for encouraging students in subfields that reflect their faculty more than the jobs available in the field?

Helping PhDs find “alternative careers” outside of academia

The academic job market is tough. Therefore, it’s not surprising to read about programs and seminars being held to help PhDs pursue job opportunities outside of academia:

“Ph.D.’s often don’t know how to leverage and sell themselves to a nonacademic world,” says Steinfeld. “We can do that for them.” Steinfeld and other career counselors at Wasserman stress that the discipline that is needed to earn a doctorate degree makes Ph.D. candidates attractive to financial firms like Morgan Stanley and service firms like McKinsey and Boston Consulting.

One recent Wasserman workshop on alternative careers, “What You Can Do With a Ph.D. in the Humanities,” featured Michael Shae, who earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Yale in 1992, and two years later began work at the New York Review of Books as an editorial assistant; he is now a senior editor. Another annual workshop, “Careers Outside the Academy: Sociology and Social Science Options,” featured a panel of career switchers with Ph.D.’s, including Preston Beckman, the executive vice president of scheduling for Fox Network. Beckman holds a Ph.D. in sociology from NYU.

Emi Lesure, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at NYU, says she attended the workshops every year for the past few years and found them heartening. The panelists, she says, noted the perks of their jobs over academic careers: intellectual stimulation, reduced hours, better pay. “I’ve lived the life of a poor, stressed-out, overworked grad student for seven years now,” says Lesure. “I can’t keep that up for another decade.”

The good news, says Steinfeld, is that considering non-academic jobs is no longer career suicide. “Years ago, if you were a Ph.D. student at NYU and you talked in public about looking outside of academia for a job, you were put aside as not a serious candidate,” she says. “Faculty today have a much more realistic understanding of the pressures of job hunting.”

A few thoughts about this:

1. How many big-name graduate programs in different disciplines present jobs outside of academia as viable options?

2. Do graduate programs advertise the fact that some of their students now work outside academia? Since most programs list their recent graduates and their jobs somewhere, someone could look into this.

3. It sounds like hearing from PhDs who have successfully worked outside of academia could make a big difference. It would be nice to have some sort of database of “career switchers” who have sociology PhDs.

4. With the growing prevalence of master’s degrees within certain fields, will the PhD become the next step for non-academic employees who want to get a leg up on their coworkers and competition? If so, will graduate programs be willing to accept more students who they know have no interest in careers in academia?

Two sociological studies on politicial self-selection in academia

The topic of political bias in academia comes up now and again – it was in the news earlier this year after when a social psychologist made a presentation at a professional meeting. In bringing up the topic again, two sociological studies about self-selection in academia are briefly discussed:

Tierney describes the research of George Yancey, professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, who found that more than a quarter of sociologists he surveyed would be favorable toward a Democrat or an ACLU member and unfavorable toward a Republican; about 40 percent said they would have an unfavorable attitude toward a member of the NRA or an evangelical. “If you were a conservative undergraduate,” Tierney asks, “would you risk spending at least four years in graduate school in the hope of getting a job offer from a committee dominated by people who don’t share your views?”

Tierney also mentions a field experiment, conducted by Neil Gross, professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, in which researchers posing as potential graduate students sent emails to various humanities departments — including literature, history, sociology, political science, and economics — describing their interests and credentials and asking if the department might be a good fit for them. Some of the mock applicants mentioned working for the McCain campaign and some for Obama. There was no discernible difference in the promptness of the reply or the enthusiasm expressed in the replies. This was taken as proof that discrimination is not a serious factor. But couldn’t it be that a feeler e-mail is not the same thing as an actual application, and it costs nothing to respond positively to something that is only potential? (Alternatively, could it be that many humanities departments are so aching for good students that they can’t afford to discourage potential applicants who at least exhibit signs of life? By the way, isn’t there something dishonest in this kind of research?)

Several quick thoughts:

1. Gross’ study doesn’t sound like dishonest research to me: it might include a little deception (suggesting there is a student behind the email) but ultimately it is just an email.

2. There may indeed be a different response for graduate students who are needed (to some degree – some programs can be pickier than others) may still be moldable versus other academics or people outside the academic realm. If graduate departments showed overt biases, they may find themselves with fewer applications, decreasing their pool.

3. Yancey’s research sounds like it found disapproval of conservatives but these numbers are still minorities among sociologists. Perhaps sociologists were unwilling to reveal their true feelings but it suggests there is still room for alternative viewpoints.

On the whole, I’m glad we have some studies about this rather than just having to rely on sweeping generalizations and anecdotes.