FOS (Friends of Schuman): Adjunct Nate Silver Tells You If You’re Doomed

by Rebecca Schuman

Schumeditor’s note: a few weeks ago, I got an email from a professor in my field I’ll call Adjunct Nate Silver (ANS is not, to my knowledge, an adjunct, though I know he has solidarity) .

Why else do I call him that, you ask? Here’s why: “I wanted to know how the job market in German really worked, so I’ve been keeping records of positions advertised and who got hired into them. It’s been informative.”

Adjunct Nate Silver asked if I had any use for his meticulously gathered data. I said FUCK YES. Here is his first installment–and there’s more to come. (And yes, quite obviously I paid ANS for this–though not nearly as much as I should have). My only disagreement with this piece–and it’s slight–is semantic, and has to do with just how much “doom” a life of one VAP/NTT gig after another really is (to me: a lot; to others, not quite as much).


How the job market in German really works. Part one: the eerie silence of mid December

by Adjunct Nate Silver

Attention, ABDs and new Ph.D.s: If this is your first time on the market, the first year you’ve watched the weekly job list updates as if your life depended on them, you may be starting to freak out right about now. After the big bang of September, new jobs have been trickling out of MLA headquarters and raising your hopes like clockwork. But last week, not so much. Or this week. Next week won’t be any better.

Are you doomed? Yes, you’re doomed. Your advisor says that it’s still early in the year, and that more jobs will be advertised in the spring. She’s wrong. There will be maybe one new tenure-track job advertised between now and next July. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Are you doomed? No, you’re not doomed. The visiting and non-tenure-track positions have barely begun to be advertised. They will trickle out intermittently for the rest of the year. Eventually dozens of them will be advertised, and you stand a decent chance of landing one.

How can I make these predictions with so much confidence? The answer is: data. This is the way the job market in German always works. See this graph:


Figure 1: Cumulative advertised TT jobs in German in weeks since initial MLA job list, 2005-today

This shows you the weekly count of how many tenure-track assistant-professor or open-rank jobs have been advertised from the opening MLA/ADFL job list up to the current week for every year since 2005. It only includes real jobs in German that new Ph.D.s can apply for, not the “Director of Theater History Center” or ultra-competitive humanities postdocs or Ivy League glam adjunct positions that get spammed to every discipline in the JIL, or the jobs for people who can teach two or more languages. (We’re also ignoring canceled or failed searches.) No matter how many TT jobs are advertised in any given year, they always show up the same way: a bunch on the first day, some more after that, a few even later, and almost none after the first 15 or 20 weeks have passed. If your dream job has not yet been advertised, it is not going to show up now. Sorry. Somebody had to tell you.

In fact, the market is so regular that you can accurately predict how many TT jobs will appear over the course of the year based only on how many are advertised on the first day. If we look at the last ten years and compare how many TT jobs show up on Day 1 with how many are advertised by the time the list closes in July, the average is 57%. Only three years in the last ten have been more than a few percentage points off: back in 2003/2004, the average hit 65/68%, while in 2010, it dipped down to 44%. Otherwise, it’s kept close to 57%. The last two years have been right on target.


initial asst/open rank



projected total

actual total






















































Table 1: Initially advertised, projected, and actual total tenure-track jobs in German

So, let’s do the kind of math you last worried about when you took the GRE. How many TT positions were advertised on opening day this year? 14. One-four. Divide 14 by .57, and the result is twenty-four and one-half jobs. How many have been advertised on the JIL by now? 26. We’re already past the expected number. Good news is not coming in January. (You might notice that the number of total jobs is pathetic and not exactly rising. We’ll get to that soon.)

But wait! you say. There are more jobs than that on the wiki. What about them? Can you ignore the bad news because I’m not even counting all the other jobs that make it to the wiki?

No. I know about those jobs, too. I’m only counting jobs that meet a consistent definition so that I can make valid comparisons between years. For the last seven years, 90% of all TT jobs that show up on the wiki are advertised in the JIL. If you want, you can multiply the numbers above by 1.11 to take non-JIL jobs into account. Fourteen divided by .57 multiplied by 1.11 is 27.3. There are currently 27 TT jobs listed on the jobs wiki. In other words, 1.11 times zero is zero. There is not a new crop of TT jobs right around the corner in January. Maybe one, or two at most, maybe zero.

Don’t believe me? Look back at Figure 1. Notice where we are today in week 14. Look at other years. How many TT jobs have shown up later than this? Year in, year out, the answer is: maybe one.

So, 26 total jobs. How many new Ph.D.s are granted in North America every year? Three or four times that number (104 in 2011, according to the most recent “Personalia” article in Monatshefte). How many Ph.D.s come out of German universities? How many native speakers with no background in the discipline at all are department heads willing to put in front of a classroom of unsuspecting students if the price is right? You see the problem.

Are you doomed? No, of course not. The VAPs, they are a-coming. Take a look at the next graph, which shows one-year, renewable, and long-term non-TT jobs in German—and only German, not “German and/or Spanish,” and not counting “spring term only” positions—advertised in the JIL for the last several years. The graph looks way different. Every year, 25-45 non-TT jobs are advertised, and they trickle out at a steady rate throughout the year. (Note also the distinct slowdown in weeks 12-18, that is, right around now, which explains the disconcerting inactivity you may be noting when you check the weekly updates.) There will still be jobs advertised in the JIL in May or June, and even more advertised elsewhere (at least 30%, and maybe significantly more, of the VAP jobs that make it to the wiki are not advertised in the MLA JIL).


Figure 2: Cumulative advertised non-TT jobs in German in weeks since initial MLA list opening, 2005-today

So don’t despair, even as your ugly stepsisters friends fly off to MLA interviews in Chicago, leaving you in the dust. Don’t give up, even when your one telephone interview turns into a quick rejection (by wiki, not by actual contact from the SC). As January and February turn into March, April, May, or June, more and more applicants will leave the market, a few through landing a job, and more through revulsion at the conditions of the remaining jobs.

If you are willing to teach 4-4 at a notoriously dysfunctional college in the backwater region of a chronically depressed state for $35,000 for one year with no chance of renewal, there may only be four other people applying, and three of them are local social studies teachers looking for a new career. (Sadly, this is mostly based on an actual recent job search.) If you’ve got a Ph.D. in German and some teaching experience, and aren’t fleeing any warrants, you have a decently good chance of landing a full-time job in your field for the next academic year (and search committees sometimes compromise on all those requirements, including the lack of a warrant for your arrest).

It will be your lucky break. Your once-in-a-lifetime chance to break into the profession. Your chance to show that you can so teach four new preps while pumping out a couple quick publications while networking at conferences. Maybe they failed to see the point of your dissertation, but this time everyone will have to admit what a gifted scholar and teacher you are, and they will rush to offer you a tenure-track position next year, when the market finally recovers.

Actually, none of that is going to happen. At most, you’ll land another visiting position, and you can start the charade all over again. You’re doomed.