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

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.

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

  1. Way to go, ANS! I have to say, I too keep a close eye on positions filled each year, though from a much less numeric perspective. My very general observation is that German studies jobs are being filled by media studies specialists. There are TT positions at top-flight research unis being filled by newly minted PhDs with zero publications (save the super prestigious book review…). Many of the open positions this year are likewise encouraging experts in “visual culture,” media studies, film, etc. I would love to see a numeric-analytic breakdown that examines disciplinary hiring trends by subfield / research specialty. Professors have only ever told me to do my thing, be true to myself, and not follow trends, but I have a sneaking suspicion that these remarks are just wishful thinking. In reality, many grad students are doing work that is deeply unattractive to what search committees perceive as hip and likely to generate interest. Sadly, no matter how much I believe in what I do, I think I fall in this camp.


    • R, media studies is the new thing this year, isn’t it? But there’s no sense trying to chase trends. The latest big thing changes too quickly. Before media studies, there was transnational studies.

      Probably most non-generalist job ads fit into one of the standard chronological categories, but they also specify too many additional desirable subfields to make classifying job ads easy. Some upcoming posts will look at the job market in a couple different ways.


  2. The MLA needs a resolution to outlaw all VAP positions. Colleges should lose their accreditation if they offer sports management as a major but don’t even require language study. This is why a BA/BS is the new high school diploma. Language study is the foundation of the liberal arts major. In my new world order, all business majors would be masters degrees like the JD. Students would have to major in liberal arts/science, then they could get an MBA or an accounting degree once they had a bachelor’s degree. People disagree with me but I think these small colleges that cannot afford professors (paying 35,000!?) should close.


    • I don’t think it’s necessary to outlaw all VAP positions. Some schools behave ethically and hire VAP only when needed (because a significant number of faculty are on leave at the same time). Some others, on the other hand, function only thanks to VAP. A friend taught at a place where there were six VAPs in Romance Languages, two in German, etc. And this college has been hiring VAPs every year for ten to fifteen years. They are chronically understaffed, but won’t hire full-time, tenure-track professors. They do have a great aquatic center, though…


  3. Great guest blog. Also, as sad as it is, it seems German Studies has many more full time VAP’s to offer than my field. Doesn’t change anything, of course. The one thing to the VAP job: it at least offers one the opportunity to finish a manuscript (library access!) with a modicum of money even as the decision to leave academe has crystallized. Depends on the teaching load, of course.

    Again, great work. Rebecca, thanks for a terrific 2013. I wish more people would be candid about search abuses on this blog so that the system could be rocked more steadfastly–what you did in the last 10 days (wow, just wow), to say nothing of the last seven months, is just unbelievable. So much gratitude. And Nate Silver: whoop! whoop!

    Thank you for fully validating my experiences (and confirming that I wasn ‘t going crazy for thinking what I did or that my case was isolated, a case of singularly bad luck) all the while giving me more food for thought (on the MOOCs for example; I had not paused to think about it, to be honest). This blog has been a fantastic political and psychological outlet for so many of us.


  4. The problem seems to be confining the search to the US. That is a big mistake. The places to prioritize are universities outside the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Those places all are saturated to the point there is no room left after the people already there hire their friends. Africa, Asia, and other regions of the world, however, still have a shortage of PhDs. That is where you need to concentrate your search. You won’t make $35,000 a year at first. But, from all I have read about working in the US you will in almost all other aspects be better off.


    • Sure, we could all move to Asia/Africa at the drop of a hat… Except those of us with partners (in and out of a two-body problem), children and/or elderly relatives whom we take care or or would like to see more than once or twice a year.

      Not to mention cutting ourselves off from conferences, etc due to travel costs and (assuming here from your estimate of the low pay) a lack of funds for research expenses. Thus removing any posssibility of returning to our homelands bc we would be completely unviable future candidates.

      But other than those pesky details it sounds like a great idea…


      • I have a wife and three kids who are neither from Africa where I currently work or my home country of the US. They are from Asia. But, it is better that I work in Africa to provide them with food than be unemployed in the US and have them starve. You can also move your family with you. There are conferences in Africa. There is also money available for research. What type of racist thinks that only white countries have conferences and research? You know they fired a woman recently (Sacco) for tweet that was a lot less racist then what you just claimed.The monetary salary is lower than in the US, but so are costs. I don’t pay anything for housing, health care, or dental care. I have lived and worked outside the US since 2007 and it is a lot better than being unemployed in the US where I got zero interviews from 2004-2007 after finishing my PhD despite having two scholarly books published and a number of journal articles.


      • Wow, jumped right to the racist card? I want to live near my family (not just partner/potential kids) and I cannot ask my parents, grandparents, siblings w kids, etc to move to Africa/Asia with me. I also did not say that “only white countries” have conferences, but that (unfortunately, of course) they are the ones that would “count more” towards getting future jobs back in US/Canada. (FWIW, US is not my home country.)

        Is it right/fair? no. But is it true? Most likely.

        Good on you for taking that path to provide for your family. I’m just saying you shouldn’t expect the rest of us to automatically jump ship and make you feel better about your choices.

        Pankisseskafka (and friends) have some seriously great ideas for reforming the system here and for now I’d like to continue working inside of it. Best of luck to you and your chosen path.


    • JOP, maybe slow down a bit with the racism accusations, OK? We’re all friends here. I agree that casting a wide net, including outside the U.S., is a good idea for people who want to stay in academia. But the major drawback is that American-trained Germanists are competing for international jobs with German-trained DaF people who are native speakers. Looking abroad is smart, but it won’t be a solution for everybody.


  5. That 2009 number, a drop of over 50% in openings from 2008, is shocking! And the 2012 number is stunning! I would love to see this analysis for other fields. Seeing these numbers everywhere could really help people understand that the problem is structural & systemic. My field, media studies, is particularly fuzzy and hard to define; jobs can be listed under many departments (Communication, Journalism, Film, Broadcasting, Cultural Studies, English, etc.). But I’ve noticed that my colleagues with recent PhDs have virtually no jobs to apply for. They are at VAPs or alt-ac. Something has happened. But it’s not them, it’s not the field, it’s the restructuring of higher ed. Perhaps if more tenured faculty saw more of these numbers, they would “get it”? And do something? Or at least adjust their attitudes to match reality?


    • I highly doubt they would get it. My advisor is looking at the numbers, and she keeps saying, “Don’t worry it’s still early.”


  6. Thanks for all the comments. I have a few more posts coming. Next time, instead of looking at how things typically change from week to week, I’ll look at how they have changed from year to year. We’ll be going way, way back for that one.


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