Newly-hired N. American TT asst. professors in ecology and allied field typically received their PhDs 2-5 years before being hired, but both shorter and longer gaps between PhD receipt and hiring are far from unheard of. For the details, read on.
While stuck in an airport over the holiday, I decided to go through my pretty-extensive list of N. American tenure-track asst. professors of ecology hired in 2016-17, or in a very few cases in 2015-16, and checked when they got their PhDs. I was easily able to find this information for most people by googling for CVs. I found the PhD year for 142 people. I coded one person who got his PhD after 2015, but for whom I couldn’t determine the exact year, as “2016”. (UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom for a second year’s worth of data.)
The median PhD year was 2013 (mean 2012.9). The middle 50% of the distribution was 2012-2015. The full range was 2006-2017. Here’s an ugly histogram of all the data*:
Before you ask, there’s no substantial difference in the distributions between recent hires at R1 and non-R1 institutions, or between recent hires at PhD-granting institutions and other institutions. Not even the extremes differ; both 2017 PhDs and pre-2009 PhDs were hired at the full range of institutions. (aside: see here if you don’t know what “R1” means) UPDATE: In response to a comment, I just checked, and there’s not even a hint of a difference between men and women; see the comments for details.
A few remarks:
- These data made me update my priors. I had thought it was typical for recently-hired N. American ecology faculty to have first spent 2-3 years as a postdoc, and very rare for them to have spent more than 4-5 years as a postdoc. It turns out that 3-4 years as a postdoc is typical, and it’s not all that rare to spend 5 years or more.
- These data seem to conflict with survey data from ASLO that Meghan linked to in an old Friday linkfest (sorry, can’t find it now). IIRC, and I may not, that ASLO survey found that recently-hired faculty in aquatic ecology typically spent only 2-3 years as postdocs, and spent less time as postdocs than they used to spend decades ago. Assuming I’m not misremembering, not sure what to make of the mismatch between that survey and the data in this post. Thoughts?
- There’s a sharp drop-off from 2012 to 2011. I have no idea how much the comparative rarity of pre-2012 PhDs in this dataset is due to pre-2012 PhDs leaving academia, vs. pre-2012 PhDs continuing to pursue faculty positions but not obtaining them. Or maybe it’s just a meaningless blip that wouldn’t show up in a larger dataset. (UPDATE: I bet it’s a meaningless blip. There’s no similar sharp drop-off anywhere in the 2017-18 data below).
- These data are relevant to this old post in which Brian and I discussed when to give up on the possibility of an academic career. But not as relevant as you might think, since they don’t really help you estimate your odds of obtaining a faculty position. Whether or not to continue pursuing an academic career (or any other career) is a very personal decision. The most reliable sign that you’re not currently competitive for the sort of faculty position you want is that you’re submitting many applications but not getting any interviews.
- These data aren’t a random sample of the population of N. American tenure-track asst. profs of ecology hired in 2016-17. I was less likely to be able to identify, and determine the PhD year of, new hires at less research-intensive institutions. I don’t think that matters, because there’s no hint in the data I have that new hires at less research-intensive institutions tend to spend either more or less time as postdocs than new hires at more research-intensive institutions. But keep in mind that there might be a bit of sampling bias here. Whatever bias exists likely is small, since my sample of 142 people includes more than half of all tenure-track asst. profs of ecology hired in N. America in 2016-17.
UPDATE: And here are the data for when 143 tenure-track asst. professors in ecology or allied fields hired during the 2017-18 job season (or in a very few cases in 2016-17) got their PhDs:
As you’d expect, the entire distribution has shifted to the right by approximately 1 year. In 2017-18, it continued to be the case that most newly-hired ecology asst. profs got their PhDs 2-5 years before being hired (most commonly 3 years before). I can also tell you that in 2017-18 it continued to be the case that newly-hired men and women ecologists got their PhDs at almost exactly the same time on average (different by less than half a year). And that there’s still no significant variation among institution types (e.g., research unis vs. others) in terms of when their newly-hired ecology faculty got their PhDs.
*”Include pretty graphs in my posts, like Meghan does” was not among my New Year’s resolutions. 🙂
Related old posts: