As most of you know, every year for three years now I’ve tried to identify everyone hired into a N. American tenure-track asst. professor position in ecology or an allied field such as fish & wildlife.* One reason I do this is to provide information and context to faculty job seekers. I’ve also been conducting polls here and on Twitter to see what ecologists know about the N. American tenure-track faculty job market in ecology. I’m sure everyone knows that the faculty job market is very competitive, in the sense that there are many more people seeking tenure-track jobs than there are tenure-track jobs. But what do ecologists (well, the ones who take our polls, who surely aren’t a random sample of all ecologists) know about other aspects of N. American ecology faculty job market? Do they know, say, the percentage of women among recent hires, or how rare it is for positions to be filled by internal candidates, and so on?
Our polls suggest that inaccurate impressions of the ecology faculty job market are common. But it’s not just that poll respondents’ impressions of the ecology faculty job market often are inaccurate. It’s that they’re statistically biased: in aggregate, the responses almost invariably are more pessimistic than the data. Well, “pessimistic” isn’t quite the right word, but I couldn’t think of a better one. Anyway, here’s what I mean:
- Before I started compiling data, our poll respondents thought that recent N. American tenure-track faculty hiring in ecology was heavily male-skewed. In fact, it’s 57% women. And when I polled on this issue again after publishing some data on it, even people who’d read and recalled the data I’d published were still too pessimistic about the percentage of women among recently hired ecology faculty.
- Almost 40% of poll respondents think that it’s fairly common, or at least not vanishingly rare, for N. American tenure-track faculty positions in ecology to be filled by people with pre-existing collaborations with people in the hiring dept. In fact, it’s vanishingly rare.
- 32% of poll respondents think that “most recently-hired N. American tenure track ecology faculty got their PhDs from a relatively small number of institutions”. That’s the opposite of correct.
- 44% of poll respondents think that “recent N. American tenure-track ecology faculty hiring is strongly hierarchical, meaning that higher-ranking institutions rarely or never higher someone with a PhD from a lower-ranking institution“. That’s incorrect.
- 50% of poll respondents were somewhat or very surprised to learn that only 2-4% of N. American tenure-track ecology faculty positions are filled by internal candidates. Presumably, most of those 50% thought the true number was higher.
I emphasize that I mean no criticism of anyone’s views of the N. American ecology faculty job market. In the absence of good systemic information it’s not surprising that people would form inaccurate impressions based on the small sample sizes of their own anecdotal experiences, what they hear on social media, etc. Collecting these data has caused me to revise some of my own views of the faculty job market (e.g., I had thought recent hires were about 50% women, not 57%). But I do think it’s interesting, and also a bit unfortunate, that when poll respondents’ impressions of the ecology faculty job market are inaccurate, they tend to be inaccurate in the pessimistic direction. I can imagine various reasons why that might be**, but whatever the reason(s) it’s kind of unfortunate. Faculty job seeking is stressful enough already, and I’m not suggesting that anyone should actually be happy about it. But hopefully these data will be reassuring to some of you.
**One possibility: social media amplifies pessimism relative to optimism.