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What Job-Placement Data Would Be Useful?

What data on the job placement of Ph.D.’s would be most useful to prospective graduate students and job candidates? “Any data at all,” came the reply from one respondent to The Chronicle’s informal survey on graduate-school placement.

The sense of frustration with the lack of reliable information was clear in the responses. Our survey asked, “What data would be the most useful to you on the job-placement rates of individual Ph.D. programs?” One respondent replied, “honest data; no lies.” Another wrote: “Any data would have been nice. I was given the impression that a Ph.D. would lead to a job, but now I know that isn’t the case at all.”

In a little over a day, more than 1,200 respondents filled out our nonscientific survey. Many people said they wanted “complete outcome” information and “a high level of detail”—they wanted to know “where people were placed and how long it took.” Here are the types of data they would like to see:

  • What are the job titles of all Ph.D.’s from a particular program —one, three, five, and 10 years after graduation?
  • What proportion of a program’s Ph.D. graduates are on the tenure track, what proportion are in part-time or temporary positions, and what proportion are in nonacademic jobs?
  • At what types of colleges and universities did a program’s Ph.D.’s find tenure-track jobs?
  • What happened to all of the other Ph.D.’s from a program who didn’t find tenure-track jobs? What types of nonacademic work, specifically, did they find?
  • How long did it take, on average, for a program’s Ph.D.’s to find full-time jobs?

What survey respondents clearly indicated they don’t want is aggregate data. They want detail, “the more specific, the better,” and as much as they can get—”countrywide searchable statistics” on program placement, said one respondent, that allow for “comparison with peer programs.” And they want, as another wrote, “a complete list—not one hand-picked because it looks good.”

The data should indicate if a Ph.D.’s full-time teaching position is a visiting, non-tenure-track post or tenure-track job. “I’d like to know what sorts of jobs grads are getting,” a respondent wrote. “Not all tenure-track jobs are created equal. For example, despite graduating from a top research university and department in my discipline, I ended up with a tenure-track job at a teaching institution, where I teach nine courses per year and have little to no research support.”

There was equally strong interest among respondents in data about the nonacademic career paths of Ph.D.’s. Data that merely identify the aggregate proportion of a program’s Ph.D.’s in nonacademic jobs are too vague, many said. Just saying “‘nonacademic’ isn’t specific enough,” one respondent wrote.

Respondents said it would be useful to know the specific employers and types of positions. “Where do the people who do not get tenure-track jobs go?” wrote one respondent. “Government? Industry? Other academic positions (like myself)? With tenure-track jobs much less common, students need to know where the other opportunities are.”

Data about job placements of Ph.D.’s must be “comprehensive” and “long-term,” words many respondents echoed. It would be helpful, one wrote, to show “the variety of options, post-Ph.D., so that not going the tenure-track route would not seem so much of a failure.”

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