Adjunct Nate Silver: The REAL Placement Rates of German PhD Programs

SchumEditor’s note: the original plan was to have an unnamed Germanist/stats whiz I dubbed Adjunct Nate Silver run four guest posts about the real dirt on the job market in German. Unfortunately, I suffered a personal tragedy right around when #3 would have been timely to post, so he put it on HIS blog, which I hope you will give a lot of deserved traffic. In the meantime, I cannot be more excited to go straight to #4, in which the placement records for the graduate programs in our country are revealed. NOBDOY DOES THIS. NOBODY. Every program inflates or lies, and there is no independent body–well, now there is, and his name is Adjunct Nate Silver. 

Where does YOUR program rank on this? I can’t wait to get angry letters from Chairs.




How the job market in German really works.
Part four: Who gets hired?
by ‘Adjunct Nate Silver’

Let’s pretend that you are an American college student and, despite everything that people are telling you, you are determined to get a Ph.D. in German because you want to be a college professor. What grad programs should you apply to? Obviously—you think—you should apply to programs with a good track record of placing their graduates into tenure-track jobs.

Rule #1: Treat everything that departments say about themselves as delusional or deceptive until proven otherwise. Placement rates are ratios where both the numerator and denominator get twisted to the department’s benefit because it is a matter of survival for them.

First question: Do you have a trust fund or savings in the seven figures? Do you already have a guaranteed job waiting for you when you graduate? If so, it hardly matters what the placement rate is. But if you don’t, then you will have the academic job market waiting for you at the end of your grad program. You will have to watch the job lists, identify jobs you qualify for, and apply to them as one of dozens or hundreds of applicants.

Rule #2: What you want to know is departmental placement rates for nationally-advertised tenure-track jobs at the assistant professor level. It’s not enough that a department can point to “academic placements” (*cough* adjunct *cough*) or to graduates who are doing interesting things, or even to graduates who are in tenure-track positions.

Here’s the problem. People who earn Ph.D.s in the humanities are typically not found dead of starvation in the streets of major urban areas. We’re smart, we’re driven to finish what we start, we know how to research and how to impose order on vast quantities of information. We end up doing interesting things with our lives, often in the vicinity of universities, since that’s where we’re spending nearly the first decade of our professional lives. If a university has a qualified and competent person with a Ph.D. hanging around, it’s not too surprising that this person eventually ends up teaching classes in some capacity. That fact tells us little or nothing about the quality of the student’s grad program.

Lately, some people have suggested that doctoral programs should take some modest steps in order to keep track of what happens to their Ph.D.s after graduation. It’s a good idea, and these suggestions are made with the best of intentions, even if they’re coming about 50 years too late. They are, unfortunately, looking in the wrong place as far as you are concerned. You can’t just count up how many of a program’s graduates end up as professors—otherwise, the best qualification you could get in grad school is marrying a professor of engineering or accountancy who can swing a spousal hire for you. Instead, there is just one thing you should be looking at:

What percentage of a program’s graduates are hired for tenure-track jobs through competitive searches?

For the denominator of our placement ratio, we need to know the number of Ph.D. graduates of each program. The annual “Personalia” feature in Monatshefte is a decent starting point. They provide the number of Ph.D.s granted each academic year, and a somewhat less complete list of dissertations completed in each department. It’s the best source we currently have, unfortunately, now that David Benseler’s annual “Doctoral Degrees Granted in Foreign Languages in the United States” no longer appears in the Modern Language Journal. For the figures here, I’ve supplemented the number of Ph.D.s awarded per department with reports that I find in other places, particularly in the Proquest database of dissertations, and I’ve carefully checked any discrepancies.

For the numerator of our placement ratio, we should start, in effect, with the jobs wiki. For the tenure-track jobs that are nationally advertised each year (in the MLA/ADFL job list, in the CHE, on, etc.), who gets hired? After several years of tracking Ph.D.s granted and TT hires, we can then count up how many have come from each program. I’ve done that based on the best information I could find about new hires from the university websites of departments that have advertised positions in German. (We can’t rely on “Personalia” for hiring data because the coverage is too incomplete, and new appointments don’t show up with the regularity that you would expect in departmental listings.)

No program has 100% placement by this measure, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s great if Anna, who’s been the German instructor at a community college for years, finishes a Ph.D. and continues teaching at the same school. It’s great if Bettina signs on as the Assistentin of Prof. Dr. Dr. Großperücke back in Paderborn. It’s great if Max is hired into a tenure-track position because his wife made that a precondition of her accepting the job as dean of the business school. But if you’re looking at grad programs and don’t already have a job, or a spouse with $5 million in NSF funding, what you really want to know is which programs do the best at placing their graduates in the TT jobs that are advertised. Rather than tracking Ph.D. outcomes, we need to be matching Ph.D.s to hires in advertised job searches.

We have hiring data from 2006 onwards, but before we answer the $64,000 (in student debt) question, we need to take a quick look at when people get hired into TT jobs. For 173 hires from 2006-7 to 2012-13 where we’re confident that we’re looking at a first TT hire, the largest group (38%) appear to be hired ABD shortly before defending. That means, for example, that a job was advertised in the fall of 2006 (or perhaps in early 2007), while the dissertation was deposited some time in 2007. Smaller cohorts appear to be hired in the same year they defend (30%), one year later (17%), or two years later (8%). Before or after that, the numbers drop precipitously to a few percent or less. (Because of the different ways that degree dates are recorded, however, we have to treat the precise figures with some caution.) What’s important is that ABDs don’t actually seem to be at a disadvantage in applying for TT jobs, and most crucially for us here: we have to start looking at hiring one year earlier than the degree date, or else we’ll miss the biggest segment of who got hired. We have hiring data starting with the 2006-7 academic year, so we’ll start with the calendar year 2007 Ph.D.s.


Figure 1: Average time from degree to first TT hire (difference between job cycle year and Ph.D. completion year)

Below, in one table, I’ve ranked graduate programs in German by placement rates based on the number of Ph.D.s produced from 2007 to the end of the 2012-13 academic year, and the number of placements into TT jobs advertised between 2006-7 and 2012-13. (I’m only counting jobs in the discipline of German, rather than multi-language positions or others not directly within German Studies. You can get the complete table as comma-delimited text here, along with the Ph.D.s and TT placements in my data set.)

But wait, you ask. Didn’t everything change in 2008? Maybe there was a “flight to quality” so that only Ivy League grads are getting jobs now. I’ve added additional columns that are restricted to Ph.D.s granted from 2009-13.

But wait again—what about the really cool jobs in R1, Ph.D.-granting departments that grad students who dream of revolutionizing their field lust after? The kind where you teach specialized grad seminars and go on sabbaticals and get invited to deliver prestigious lectures and everything else that your advisor does? I’ve added one more column for TT placements into doctoral departments.

I’ve eliminated Canadian programs (Alberta, British Columbia, McGill, Montreal, Queen’s, Toronto, Waterloo; 32 total Ph.D.s), as I find very few Canadian Ph.D.s hired for nationally-advertised jobs, and I’m concerned that I may not understand Canadian hiring enough to say anything useful about it. I’ve also moved sixteen small (1-6 Ph.D.s) or deactivated programs to a separate list, leaving us with 32 Ph.D. programs in German.

First, let’s check the Big Non-embarrassing Four. Princeton seems to be doing reasonably well (although they get an asterisk since one of those TT hires was their hiring one of their own grads), with three large public universities bunched together after that.


Next, in places 5-11, we have the one-in-three chance club.


Rounding out the top half, we have six programs in the one-in-four club.


Coming in at places 18-27, there’s the one-in-five club:


And, finally, everyone else.


Here’s the list of small programs with less than seven Ph.D.s. Note that Florida and Duke have some decent placement rates, but not enough Ph.D.s for a comparison with the other programs. Some of these programs are being phased out.


The overall average TT placement rate is 20%, dropping to 15% if we only look at the years since 2009. (The most recent Ph.D.s will get another year or two on the market, so that number may creep up a bit.)

Note that highly prestigious universities can be found in every tier, including those with mediocre and truly abysmal placement rates. Graduates of some brand-name grad programs in popular coastal cities seem to have no interest in moving to boring flyover towns just for the sake of teaching 4-4. And the flight to Ivies after 2008? It didn’t happen. The only programs with decent and rising placement rates were Texas, Penn State, and the University of Washington.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the Ph.D.s who didn’t land TT jobs aren’t doing useful and interesting things with their Ph.D.s. Many of them are. They just didn’t compete successfully for the small pool of TT jobs that they spent 5-10 years training for.

But to really see how screwed up our profession is, you have to look at the doctoral placements. From 2006-12, there have been 47 TT hires by doctoral-granting programs (including five from programs not considered here), of which over a third of the total, 17, came from just three programs: Princeton (9), UC Berkeley (4), and Cornell (4). (Do you wish you had known that when you were applying to grad school? I certainly do.) Of those schools, only one, Princeton, has a non-embarrassing overall placement rate (and even Princeton’s has looked mortal since 2009). And note how the doctoral placements make up nearly all the TT placements for those schools: Maximizing your chances of following your R1 dreams by picking one of those programs comes at the cost of having terrible chances of landing any other kind of academic job.

* * *

Dear DGS’s and Department Heads: If you think my figures are wrong, please correct them. Do you think I’ve miscounted your graduates? Please provide an updated list of names and dates of Ph.D.s granted since January 2007. Have I missed your placements into advertised tenure-track jobs? Please provide the names and the date and place that the TT jobs were advertised. Above all, please consider the absurdity of some guy on the Internet collecting this information, instead of the GSA, the AATG, or some MLA committee. You’re in a position to change how little the discipline of German Studies understands its own job market, so please do something about it. The undergrads who are applying to your programs, and the grad students who are in your programs now, deserve better.


61 thoughts on “Adjunct Nate Silver: The REAL Placement Rates of German PhD Programs

  1. I don’t doubt that the numbers are horrible, but it seems weird to look at what grads from German PhDs are doing and not consider European jobs. A certain percentage of students come from Europe and are interested in going back, and since there are almost no real TT jobs here (well, in Germany at any rate), they will, even if quite successful in returning, not have a TT. My husband recently finished his PhD in one of the German departments mentioned, one that didn’t do so well in your listing, but he got a 6-year full-time Wiss. Mitarbeiter position that would be more than respectable work for any German PhD. Why wouldn’t that/shouldn’t that count?


    1. Irina, I agree that that’s a great outcome for your husband and for his program. They can be proud of it and tout it on their website, just as they can with lots of things people end up doing besides TT jobs.

      But for our purposes here, we can’t take those kinds of outcomes into account. To my knowledge, the advertisement of the kind of position your husband has has only recently been centralized, the search process is opaque, and I know of no Americans who have had any kind of career in German departments of Germanistik. Those positions are almost never advertised in the usual places where academic job seekers in North America would find them.

      My way of measuring departmental outcomes isn’t the only way by any means, but it’s the one most relevant, I think, for an American college senior thinking of applying to grad school. For American-trained Germanists, it’s very difficult to compete outside the U.S. with German-trained native speaker applicants. If North American departments are going to justify their existence as trainers of future faculty, they’ll have to do it primarily with TT placements in North America.


      1. Fair enough — you did frame the post in terms of the decision making an American grad student might make, and I also know of no Americans in German depts of Germanistik, so I agree that’s an unlikely outcome.

        But here’s the thing — when you give the no. of PhDs in a department, you’re not just giving the American ones, but all of them, but then only counting TT jobs as a “happy” outcome, as if *all* of those students were looking for US TT jobs. I suspect the number of foreign students varies among the departments. The one my husband was in from 2006 to 2013, dates quite close to your data range, had, he estimates, about a 50/50 split between American and foreign students. Quite a few of the foreign ones never even applied for US jobs. Given such a small data set, it makes a difference if, say, 20 tried for TT jobs and only two got them, vs if 10 tried for TT jobs and only two got them.

        I don’t mean to pick on you; this is great work that you’re doing, and it will help somebody, somewhere, in their decision making. I just think it’s worth pointing out that the numbers, in this case as in so many, don’t really speak for themselves, and that, especially when it comes to foreign language departments, it’s worth keeping in mind the foreigners.


      2. Irina:
        “when it comes to foreign language departments, it’s worth keeping in mind the foreigners.”

        But as there really many Germans trained in the US that have a career in Germanistik departments in Europe?
        I know that in romance languages, it would be extremely difficult for a US trained Spaniard to get a job back home, same for Italians, French, and most of South America (few jobs, and recruitment is such that having an American PhD and not a big network back home disqualifies you).
        My guess is that even if there are a few US trained Germanists that find jobs in Europe, it’s probably anecdotal.


      3. Reolying to washingbear:

        Yes, yes there are. Not a lot, but there are. Is it anecdotal? Well, yes, but if a department is getting 2 TTs over a six year period, then one could say that even the idea that its grads will get tenure track jobs is also anecdotal. My point is that the numbers involved are so small that it truly makes a difference if you count that one Mitarbeiter position or good postdoc, either of which would be respectable post-PhD jobs in Europe.

        The other thing about keeping in mind the foreigners is that, as I’m sure you know, people get doctorates in Germany for reasons other than an academic career, and the degree is not seen as wasted time or a useless qualification if you wind up working in, say, publishing or journalism.


  2. When I went to graduate school long ago the word on street was not to go anywhere but Ivy or Michigan-Berkeley due to how job market works. It appears this is still true for German although not for my (expanding) field. It is undergraduate advisors who have to explain the situation to students applying to graduate school — but at schools where undergraduate advisors are instructors or administrative staff then they may not know this, I suppose. Still: where are the letter of recommendation writers, or are they not regular faculty, either? They should be revealing these facts to aspiring graduate students.


    1. NOT BERKELEY and not most Ivies in German! As you can see, they have a shittier placement rate than my own humble program (which they shit all over), as does precious Chicago and a few Ivies too. SUCK IT, ‘PRESTIGE’ INSTITUTIONS MUHAHAHAHAHA


      1. Yes, overall, according to these charts, but I was referring above to this:

        “From 2006-12, there have been 47 TT hires by doctoral-granting programs (including five from programs not considered here), of which over a third of the total, 17, came from just three programs: Princeton (9), UC Berkeley (4), and Cornell (4). (Do you wish you had known that when you were applying to grad school? I certainly do.) Of those schools, only one, Princeton, has a non-embarrassing overall placement rate (and even Princeton’s has looked mortal since 2009).”


        THIS is not about German but about job market disinformation and general neurosis related to prestige mongering on the one hand and desperation on the other, and these two things combined without middle ground:

        …I always figured I’d be alt-ac since I was always told there were no jobs. I wish faculty had articulated what they really meant, which was that there were almost no R1 jobs and that all other jobs were a completely different animal. Had I had this info, I could have made informed plans and decisions. But no, I did not have this info.

        There is something going on, or was, about having non R1 jobs just not even mentioned. The effect on me was that I did not know what they were like at all; the effect on a friend of mine who has had a rough time of it is the opposite — person does not want R1 but feels they must stay at the one they got to because it is too embarrassing (or something) to prefer another kind of place. I, on the other hand, diagnosing myself as an R1 personality (I am not saying quality, I am saying personality), am called “arrogant.”

        Whereas I should have framed my job search as: R1 and foundation jobs, period, with FT contingent in big cities as viable fallback. Would have fit my plans perfectly. Friend should have been clued in, if you are teaching-1 and love to read and are not enamored of writing, there is no shame in having a good career along those lines. But faculty, I think, say take a job any job but only an academic job because it is easier and they do not have to think.


    2. Right, it’s not nearly enough to say “Michigan-Berkely-Ivies.” That’s not advice, it’s random guessing. Someone would have to take a close look at recent placements for your specific field. Look at German, for example – would you have guessed that Pitt and Cincinnati were in the top four? That Columbia was near the bottom? Grad school applicants can’t afford to guess based on name recognition. And there’s no way for undergrad advisors to know what the discipline as a whole doesn’t know.


      1. I always tell people applying to graduate school to look at tenure track placement rates for nationally advertised jobs. I thought it was standard to do so. I DO feel undergraduate advisors can be expected to do it.


  3. Kudos to ANS for this remarkable set of data. One of the X-factors that does not seem to be accounted for, as far as I can tell, however, is the fact that German TT jobs are drawing applicants from Comp Lit students as well. In fact, the people I know to have landed TT jobs in German come almost exclusively from comp lit departments. I would be really curious to know if this is true of other people’s experience and if the numbers bear this out.


    1. That’s a good question. Since 2007-8, I count 9 placements into TT German jobs coming out of comp lit or other programs, six of them into Ph.D.-granting programs. That includes two from Chicago’s Cinema and Media Studies (as many, that is, as the Chicago German program), one from Northwestern’s comp lit program (more than from its German program), one from Yale comp lit, and four from the U of Pennsylvania’s comp lit program (more than the Penn German department). That’s not a huge number, but not nothing, either. I have no idea how many Ph.D.s these programs produce overall, so it’s hard to put these numbers in context.

      The Penn comp lit number looks pretty good, but before any would-be grad student gets any wise ideas, keep in mind that the job situation in comp lit is supposedly even worse than it is in German.


      1. I think, as someone mentioned above or below, that German studies as a field is looking increasingly comp-litty: theory heavy and 20th-century-centric. This strikes me as neither good nor bad, but it does seem to me that PhDs from German programs are regarded as ever more antiquated in comparison to their comp lit counterparts. This I do hold to be problematic, because it suggests that the same departments training Germanists are ultimately not interested in hiring them.


      2. I would be quite interested to see the data behind the commonly repeated assertion that comp lit has a worse job situation than German. I only know anecdotally that complitters from my large, public PhD granting institution fared as well or better than their counterparts in national literature departments during the years I was there and after. There are pretty much no jobs in comp lit itself, but that does not mean that complitters´ job prospects are reflected in their placement rates into comp lit jobs. As long as they have the language chops and teaching experience, I think they are probably doing at least as well as graduates from national literature depts of similar reputation and often better. It´s hard to calculate, however, as they are not really necessarily competing against each other, meaning against people from other comp lit depts, or against others in their own PhD granting depts. I would guess, agreeing with question´s assertion, that they´re possibly skewing the numbers. I have loved this series, by the way! And I´m not even in German!


      3. There are departments of German on your list, ANS, in which basically only one or two of the faculty have PhDs in German; the rest have PhDs in comp. lit., history, anthropology, etc., all of which are now considered part of “German Cultural Studies”… Is it any wonder, then, that such departments quite happily hire comp. lit. grads when positions become available? I mean, what does a theory-head have to say to someone who spent years studying German literature (as in LITERATURE, not cultural studies parading as everything it’s not)?

        To be perfectly frank, I think the slow and painful death of the German department is due to the long-standing activism of some very [self-]important scholars of cultural studies with anything-but-German PhDs. Those who head up the German Studies Association, for example, or the MLA. Whether good or bad, the disciplinary boundaries have been all but destroyed at this point because of cultural studies, which says that anyone can be an expert on anything if only they’ve read the right theorists, assimilated those theorists as indisputable fact, and read a Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte.

        If we’re offering PhDs in “German Studies,” then it’s a cultural studies degree. And that’s fine, but we should just call it what it is. We also should expect that such departments require political scientists, historians, comp. lit. folks, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists — the full complement of disciplinary areas which cultural studies encompasses — rather than those who with a PhD in German literature. The problem, though, is that a PhD in German Studies will be a jack of all trades and a master of none, unlike the sociologist or anthropologist who is very much a sociologist or anthropologist, just with a focus on a German-related research area.

        Sorry to sound grumpy about this … But I really do see PhDs in German being nudged out of the field of German Studies by those who no longer believe in/understand literature or philology, and it kind of upsets me.


    1. The programs merged, but the grads are still identified as either Duke or UNC, I think. Good point, though – in the future, it might make sense to consider their grads together.


      1. The first cohort of grad students entered the Carolina-Duke program in the fall of 2009. They’ll have both names on their degrees, but my guess is that the first graduates from the joint program will emerge this year.


      2. Nor will they be likely to graduate this year.

        Anyone who has come out of either Carolina or Duke since the merger has been a Carolina or Duke student. There are no more purely Duke students remaining, and only a handful of Carolina students left.


  4. A question for RS. I’m wondering why your blog is so focused on the discipline of German, and not Comp Lit or Philosophy. Your research expertise (Kafka + Wittgenstein) would seem to make you just as qualified for a professorship in Comp Lit or Philosophy as it does for a professorship in German.


      1. CL is glorified German Theory Studies too. They like Derrida in CL, sure — but only because Derrida bases his thinking on Heidegger. And they like Benjamin most of all.


  5. Hi Rebecca, chiming in from the University of Chicago. Eine Heldentat with your research; here’s some more specific information.

    Joel Lande (2010) is in a tenure-track job at Princeton, Hannah Eldridge (2012) is in a tenure-track job at Wisconsin-Madison, Robert Abbott is in a tenure-track job at St John’s University, and Katharina Loew is in a tenure track job at U of Oregon (2011). Anna-Katherina Gisbertz (2008) is “tenure track” in the German system, a wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin on a Lehrstuhl.


    1. MF: Be sure to check the data page ( if you think there are discrepancies. I’m already counting Hannah Eldridge (and Darren Ilett, who you didn’t mention).

      I’m not counting Anna-Katherina Gisbertz; that’s a fine placement, but I’m only counting positions that were advertised in a North American national job list.
      I’m also not counting Robert Abbott, since 1) it doesn’t look like he’s defended yet, and 2) I have no record of his position ever being advertised, and 3) the Chicago departmental web page gives his rank as “tutor.” If you could point me to an indication that he’s completed his dissertation, that his job is actually TT, and that his job was advertised in some national job list, I’d be happy to add him.
      I had Katharna Loew at one point, but her dissertation names two departments, with Cinema and Media Studies listed first. I’d be happy to add her back in if German was her primary program.
      I’d like to add Joel Lande, but the process by which one goes from the Princeton Society of Fellows to the Princeton German Department isn’t clear. Was he hired in the fall 2012 search at Princeton, or in some other search? I’d like to add him to Chicago’s placements, but I need a little more information. Which search led to his hire?

      Someone else might apply a different standard and count all these as placements with no questions asked, and that’s fine, but I’m trying to apply the same standard to everybody so that we can make useful comparisons.


      1. Alas, ANS, I don’t know which searches led to which hires because I am just a grad student with google. Were you (or are) you also a German PhD?

        With respect to the dual degree program and Katharina Loew, I suspect that CMS comes first in the description (or did you actually mean dissertation — if so where can one view such things?) becomes C comes before G in the alphabet. It’s a joint-degree program, and graduates have to apply and be accepted by both programs, then fulfill all requirements in both programs, including 2 sets of qualifying exams. As someone who has reluctantly thrown in the towel on a joint-degree, I assure you that I have looked for shortcuts and there aren’t many.

        I only know Joel from conferences; I know that he received the job some time last year and that there is no link between the fellows and the job; he definitely applied for / interviewed for a position and was sweating bullets while waiting to hear about the decision.

        With respect to Robert, whom I do know, all faculty at St John’s (college — that was my mistake) are listed as tutors. I don’t understand how their tenuring system works, although they have one. Robert hasn’t defended yet, and will probably defend this year. I don’t know how they went about finding people for the job, either.


      2. MF, thanks for the additional information. Wherever necessary and possible, I checked the preview of the dissertation itself, often available on Proquest. WIth the information you provide, I’m inclined to add Katharina Loew back in to Chicago’s count, and also Joel Lande. It sounds like he was the hire in Princeton’s 2012 search, whose outcome I hadn’t been able to find. Look for Chicago to make a big move later this week once I get around to updating the tables.


  6. This is valuable information, and I wholeheartedly applaud efforts to collect and analyze it.

    However, it considers completed PhDs. As somebody who did not actually complete a PhD, and had several classmates who lingered for six or seven years or more without a degree to show for it, I’m always interested in attrition rates. This seems like it would also be useful information for prospective students. Is anyone collecting it?


    1. Steve, that’s a great question. Attrition rates are one of those things that every prospective grad student should know, but it’s almost impossible to find out about. There are some programs with reputations for failing students out of their qualifying exams after 6 years because their reading knowledge of Gothic (without a dictionary) doesn’t meet some standard. (Fictional example, but based on real cases.) Not all attrition is bad, of course, but it’s almost impossible to get information about it.

      However, it might be possible to look at how many Ph.D.s a department has produced in the last, say, 5 years, and compare that to the number of students with TA or other support, which “Personalia” does collect. A high number of TAs with a low number of Ph.D.s might be a warning sign that a department is better at producing ABDs than Ph.D.s.


      1. Some anecdotal information on this: in my PhD program (one of the worst ranked ones on the list), attrition is extremely high. Here are some numbers for some of the years in which I was a grad student in the dept:

        Year 1: 3 admitted, 1 completed. (66% attrition)
        Year 2: 2 admitted, 1 completed. (50% attrition)
        Year 3: 4 admitted, 2 completed. (50% attrition)
        Year 4: 2 admitted, 0 completed. (100% attrition)
        Year 5: 3 admitted, 1 completed. (66% attrition).

        Of the 5 people who completed in this 5 year span, none got a TT position. 2 have left academia entirely, 3 are in non-TT positions.


  7. ANS, for your information: the Duke-UNC program hasn’t graduated any joint students yet. There will be several (5 or more) next year, and they will have both universities’ names on the diploma. There are also 3 UNC-only students from the old program who are scheduled to wrap up dissertations this and next year.

    Incredible work! I wish I could thank you on behalf of the discipline, but most are oblivious.


  8. I love ANS. (Platonically, of course – and I don’t even speak a word of German!).

    I have a question – how can there be a department that produces 1 – 3 German Ph.Ds per year? Or – if I am interpreting the stats correcty – 1-3 Ph.D’s over a course of several years? I am not sure what the proper minimum should be, but 1 or 3 seems awfully… modest. No?

    The other question is: if one wants to maximize one’s chances of a TT job, one should try to get the programs at the top of the list. Is the point of the statistics NOT the case?

    Finally, what ARE these programs saying about their placement rates? What would really be helpful is a comparison table (or chart), where Johns Hopkins says their rate is (e.g.) 75%, when in fact it is 30%. Otherwise, I am left hanging – they are lying, those bastards, but… what are they saying, exactly?


    1. I am a graduate from one of the lowest ranked programs on this list. When I applied (granted, years ago), I was told by a professor that every single person in the program got placed–it was just a matter of getting placed in undesirable locations that was the problem. When I was completing (in the years ANS has done this research for), I was simply told that “the market is horrible” but that “next year would be better” and once I had defended I’d have a significantly better chance.


    2. George, it’s hard to say what the optimal number would be. Less than one a year strikes me as smaller than optimal, but it’s possible to maintain a pretty reasonable program with only 1-2 Ph.D.s per year.

      Yes, if one wanted a TT job, then aiming towards the top of the list seems to be the way to go, but 1) after the top 4, a lot of programs have similar placement rates; and 2) a lot depends on what kind of job you want. Want to teach at a research university? Go to Princeton. Want to teach in BA-granting programs? Go to Penn State, Cincinnati, or Texas. Or take your chances on another program that offers a decent funding package. Also, it’s hard to predict which program will be the best fit for you individually, and which will be doing well in 5-10 years when you finish a Ph.D. Current placement levels are just one factor.

      Smart grad programs tend not to put their placement rate estimates in writing where the public can find it. For examples of grad programs that boast of strong placement histories online, but without naming an exact rate, see UC Irvine and UC Berkeley.


    3. It is great to have this data here! Well done!

      For whatever it’s worth, my program (in the 5-11 range) tells prospective gad students that we have a perfect job placement rage (“except for one person who had another calling,” they always say). This is based on some dubious figures, to be sure, counting lots of dead end jobs, and miraculously not counting people who have not defended / will not defend their dissertation.

      I recently sat down with a friend and we realized that in my time in the program (now five years) nearly twice as many people have left the program than have defended dissertations.

      I am so psyched to be on the market next year.


  9. As an undergrad in the uncomfortable position of contemplating graduate school, are there other writers you know of doing work similar to ANS’s wonderful research in other disciplines–English, Philosophy, French, etc.?


    1. Chris — As a person who is currently unemployed a year after graduation (PhD, humanities field), I would strongly advise you consider the financial implications of the doctorate before you apply. Karen Kelsky (“The Professor is In”) recently compiled a fantastic spreadsheet showing the horrifying scale of doctoral student debt. Grad Pay (compiled by a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan) has data on stipends, teaching load, etc. at institutions across the country. I don’t have the links on my computer right now, but Google will take you there. Also, read Rebecca’s blog regularly and also her Twitter feed. Don’t fall for directors of grad studies who will feed you the party line, “We have a fantastic placement record” and then give you names (cherry-picked) of ten people they placed in the last ten years when they’re admitting a dozen incoming grad students EACH year.

      Adjunct Nate Silver: My profound gratitude for this insightful research. Had I read this a decade ago, I would never have applied to grad school.


      1. RE: grad debt — an unfunded phd in the humanities should never even be under consideration: these are an excuse for programs to rake in money from people whose parents (or loan officers) have too much of it. A program that doesn’t offer you funding isn’t a program that wants you, and a program that doesn’t want you will not get you a job. Advisors should certainly be clear about this, but I think it is the case that that most top programs don’t even accept students anymore that they can’t offer a full funding package to. I’ve seen some of the grad debt spreadsheets, and frankly, I DO think there’s a point where this blame cannot be offloaded to programs entirely (or even in large part). People who have $150k in undergrad debt and then take on another $200k for an unfunded PhD in humanities (or even most social sciences, excepting perhaps econ) should probably first of all take a long look in the mirror, no?


    2. @Chris — Follow-up to my previous comment. If you know which field you want to specialize in as a doctoral student (even broadly speaking), look up the job postings on the academic wiki. It will give you an idea of how many jobs there are.

      The sad truth is there is no readily compiled, easily accessible source of information about placement; you’ll find yourself having to glean from and interpret various discrete sources of information (but we humanities folks tend to be pretty good at that anyway).

      What you want is what ANS mentioned earlier: a) how many tenure track positions were there in a particular field? b) how many graduating PhDs did a program place **directly** into these tenure track position. Years of adjuncting, poorly paid VAPs in desolate parts of the country, post-docs for 6-7 years following which someone found a t-t position on his/her own — that should not be passed off as a department’s “placement” record. I hope this is helpful.


  10. This is really spectacular ANS (and RS by proxy)! To continue a hypothethetical suggested several times in these comments: would you be willing and able to produce something similar for related disciplines? Say, Complit, Cinema and Media Studies, other national literatures? How much work would it be–that is, what would be a fair price? I ask not (unfortunately) because I have a bag of money at the ready, but because I wonder if it would in fact be possible to crowd source something? I should say that I have zero sense of how much labour this entails–on one hand it is awesomely thorough and painstaking, on the other it’s presented with such aplomb that I just think, math genius, must have fed this through his computer in 20 minutes. In short, no insult intended!


  11. A lot of the bigger German programs have people completing PhDs in three or more areas: linguistics (subdivided in synchronic and diachronic), applied linguistics, and literature/culture/film.

    In the top four, Penn State and Texas both have people doing PhDs in stuff like historical linguistics that limit the number of positions they can apply for and the number of schools that even have any kind of interest in their specialties. A lot of the big state schools have these Swiss Army knife “coverage”/generalist programs versus departments like Princeton’s where pretty much the only thing you can do is literature/theory.

    It would be interesting to know what the available jobs look like — whether the majority are in lit (which is what I would assume). I also wonder about how lit-only programs fare in comparison to generalist ones overall?


  12. Thanks to you guys for doing the hard work and showing what’s really going on in graduate education in German. Keep it up! Adjunct Nate Silver, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about the division between literature and (historical) linguistics within German Studies.

    These not two separate sub-fields, but rather de facto separate graduate programs that sometimes happen to be housed in the same department for institutional-historical reasons, but draw on completely different pools of prospective students and have completely separate outlooks on the job market. There is much more overlap between German literature and film or comp lit than between German literature and Germanic linguistics, both in what courses students take, and what jobs they’re applying for.

    If we think the job market is bad in literature (which is what we’re really talking about here), we only have to look at Germanic linguistics to see how much worse it could be. There are basically no tenure-track jobs. So schools that have a linguistics track look worse in the rankings than if you were just looking at their literature students. These are mostly big state schools, e.g. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Berkeley, even Texas.

    I imagine separating out the linguistics students would affect the number of graduating students at each of these schools differently, and I’m certain it would change the rankings. You’re very careful with your data in other ways; I wanted to hear why you decided to keep these two tracks together in counting the graduate students who finished, given that they are easy to separate out (the track is clear from the dissertation titles), and they are really two fields as different as English and philosophy.


    1. That’s a good question about subfields and how linguistics fits into everything. I do have some data on that, as well as on the sex of Ph.D.s and hired faculty. (The short answer on gender: both the Ph.D.s and the new hires are 60% female, 40% male.) It’s hard to pin dissertations down to a subfield, but I’ve tried to use a reasonable classification. The preliminary results aren’t quite as dramatic as you’d expect, but there are some surprises. Give me a little time to pull things together and I’ll get back to you.


      1. This is interesting to me because in my language, linguistics has MORE jobs than lit/culture.

        That said, of the lit/lx students who are graduating this year, only 1 of us has a TT offer, which was acquired over a year ago. There are 5 of us who have nothing, and I for sure will have nothing because I am not willing to take a 1 yr VAP and move away from my partner.


      2. Thanks for sharing the fascinating breakdown of subfields. There are quite a few surprises. Do you have a data page for this table? I’m sure people could quibble about the categorization of dissertations just as they are about the placement rates for specific universities (and that’s all part of the process), but I’m more interested to see the list of people who had success in these various subfields, if you’ve made that data available. What a treasure trove!


  13. Hm. well, apropos of nothing, I am curious – how does this conversation where they promise you the sun, the moon and the stars actually take place? And who is it, specifically, that dishes out the “we have 100% placement rate” PR? The profs? The dean? The provost? The vice provost? (I am ashamed to admit, I have no idea what the latter two actually do at a university…)

    Is it like a dinner where the professors take a prospective visiting Ph.D. applicant out to a fancy restaurant, and somewhere after the third martini, they let it slip that, oh, by the way, our placement rate is just fabulous, don’t worry about a thing?

    Or what?

    Inquiring minds want to know!


  14. Hi Rebecca! Thanks for this. So inspiring! I agree with the person above that notices the necessity of this sort of study in other disciplines as well. If the crowd-sourcing idea ends up not happening, keep in mind some of your readers (like me) would be willing to pitch in and help compile similar data sets for areas like comp/lit and other national literatures. This is so very necessary. Thanks!


  15. Thank you for this terrific data, ANS. Really, really commendable. This is the thorough yet essential information that any credible institution (of any industry) provides. It’s basic BBB stuff (but…oh no! academia is not an industry…it’s a vocation exempt from earthly obligations, right?? MAJOR EYE ROLL). What do accreditation agencies have to say about depts. and their bogus claims and promises? What are all these college administrators doing? How come no one’s bothered to collect this data (or perhaps someone has but it is not made available because…well…the sham is pretty obvious). No better than pesky “eat this and never diet again” online ad banners.Every department in the country in every discipline should have these kinds of statistics down pat. No excuse.

    “A spectre is haunting academia–the spectre of data provided by internet revolutionaries…”


  16. It is very important to get this data out there, but it shouldn’t be over-interpreted. These are very small numbers, which means that our uncertainties are really large. Even for Princeton, where we have data on 18 people, 10 placements just means that we have a 90% confidence interval that the “real” placement rate is between 34% and 76%. For smaller numbers yet, 3/9 could mean anything from a 9.7% to a 66% “real” placement rate. For this reason, I would have trouble claiming too confidently that any of the top ten are standouts.


  17. As a Yale PhD in German, I would argue that while the market is dismal and the same positions keep circulating among the same associate faculty, Yale has managed – over the long term – to place many of its grads. Not all are in tenure-track positions. Some are in permanent but non tenure-granting work, some are librarians but many are teaching in small liberal arts colleges. My position at a SLA is in German & Comparative Literature although my degree is in German. I think the discussion of Comp Lit as a feeder for many German positions needs to be considered even if the hard numbers may not yet be available. I have several friends in Comp Lit who have TT jobs in German. This is all important to know and what I am most pleased with is how Yale has placed its graduates over a decade rather than over a two or three year period. I had a lot of friends who languished as adjuncts or as the forever VAP who, just in the past 3 -4 years finally made the leap to TT. Additionally, I have a lot of friends who have chosen to stay in non-TT German positions because of a spouse’s job. This is all good data and we need to keep on bringing this to bear on academia and the non-problem of overproduction of PhDs. It is a problem of administrative choices.


  18. This is a great overview of data, though I too found mistakes with your data regarding institutions I know. The problem I have with this way of looking at the numbers is that it assumes that all who enter a Ph.D. program want to be a TT person at an R1. It also assumes that programs measure or should measure their success based on TT R1 placement. I whole-heartedly disagree with this definition. If those were the goals of German programs then most across the country should close their doors.
    I did not look at your raw data, but I should have two doctoral advisees in your pool and neither has a TT R1 position and that is by their choice. One of them decided against a TT offer because she was able to get a more interesting leadership position at a more prestigious university, which happened to not be TT. The other Doktorkind never even entered the TT R1 market, because she early on decided that she wanted to have a different kind of impact. She, too, has a leadership position at an R1 institution. Both still publish at the level of my colleagues in TT R1 positions, so I assume they would have been successful, but they chose not to go that route. I actually see it as a compliment that they felt supported enough to not be pressured into the TT R1 they did not want, and that they were successful in a job they wanted to do, not that our institutions or professional organizations think they should be doing.
    I think the important message of your research is that German programs should not focus on TT R1 placement as the goal of their programs. But my criticism of your entry is that you should not evaluate programs based on goals you put on them, but according to the goals they put forth and that they advertise. Which is not to say that my program actually keeps all of its promises. But it would be horribly unethical to accept X numbers of students into a program each year under the illusion that they have a chance of getting a TT R1 position, when we all know that all or almost all of them have no short at getting one. But if that is not how you advertise and recruit students and it is not the goal of your program, then not placing those students into TT R1 positions is also not really a problem as long you are able to place them in the kinds of positions you said you could and wanted to.
    Criticism aside, I think it is important for those who do want to be a TT professor at an R1 to know, which program would help them achieve that goal and for that your statistics are very insightful. Obviously they would be more accurate, if it included people being offered a TT position versus those who ended up accepting them. I know these data would be very hard to come by and mostly self-report, which is of course the problem you point out, but it would be interesting to find out what did graduate X from institution Y apply for and where did X receive offers.


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