Half-full?

A look at the American Political Science Association’s data on job listings and graduate placement.


In May and then again in June, the American Political Science Association (APSA) released reports detailing the information it has about job listings for political scientists and doctoral student placement. I reviewed these documents so, as Placement Director, I can advise students in my department more knowledgeably.

The good news is that the APSA’s reports suggest the market for political scientists is improving. The organization, though, reports the information it has about the demand for political scientists separately from the information it has on the supply of candidates. This makes it difficult to judge the amount of competition for available positions.

So, I spent an hour putting data from the APSA’s reports on job listings and placements onto a spreadsheet to get a different perspective on the political science job market. Consistent with the APSA’s reports, the data suggest that the prospects of getting hired out of graduate school improved slightly over past three years (2010-2013). Combined, there are more academic and nonacademic job openings advertised than candidates and, overall, competition for assistant professor positions is less intense than it was in 2009-2010. However, the market for assistant professors has not loosened up for everyone. On the contrary, in some sub-fields there were more applicants per assistant professor position in 2012-2013 than during the recession-hit 2009-2010 market.


The APSA’s reports on job listings for political scientists and graduate placement rates paint a cautiously optimistic picture of the political science job market. Here are some of the most important reasons why:

  • The number of Assistant Professor postings to APSA’s e-jobs website and other positions open to graduate students appear to have returned to and, in some cases, surpassed 2009-2010 levels.
  • Slightly more than 79% of Ph.D.s in political science secured employment at the time of their graduation in 2012-2013. This success rate is about 10 percentage points better than Ph.Ds in other social science disciplines.
  • The majority of graduate students who got jobs over the past three years secured tenure track offers.

As encouraging as these numbers are, the APSA also reports several pieces of worrying news. ABDs are not faring well on the market and fewer positions in Comparative Politics and International Relations were listed on e-jobs in 2012-2013 than the year before. As the above figure also suggests, help wanted ads for political scientists still have not returned to the levels seen between 2005 and 2007. In fact, 2012-2013 was the third worst year for Assistant Professor listings in the twelve year history of e-jobs.

Supply and demand, together

By splitting its data on the supply of jobs openings from its data on the applicants, the APSA’s reports make it difficult to asses these positive and negative numbers. Just how hard it is for applicants to get positions and how easy it is for employers to address their needs?

By comparing the number of applicants to the number of advertised positions, we can get an indication of the amount of competition for political science jobs and candidates. By this measure, the political science job market looks favorable for applicants. As the above figure shows, demand for political scientists is greater than the candidate pool.

When it comes to competition over Assistant Professor positions though, job seekers face a more difficult environment (see below).

The ratio of all applicants to Assistant Professor positions fluctuates around the 2:1 mark. Candidates with Ph.D. in hand are somewhat better off, facing slightly less than 1.5 applicants per job.

The overall level of competition for Assistant Professor positions, though, masks substantial variation by sub-field where there can be as many as five or six applicants per advertised position.

As this figure shows, the situation in Theory is the toughest by far. In 2012-2013, there were more than six applicants per advertised position on e-jobs. Comparative Politics is the next most difficult market for applicants to navigate with roughly three applicants for every advertised position, followed by IR and American Politics. Public Policy, which is a smaller field than the others, appears to provide easiest route to acceptance in the academy.


Thinking about these data, I’ll tell the students in my department who are searching for jobs this year that, based on historical data, the odds are good that they will find employment. There are a lot of opportunities for people with degrees in political science and they should be open to considering them even if they are outside the academy. Getting Assistant Professor positions will be harder, but students from my department usually beat the odds because they have strong research profiles, quality teaching portfolios, and are able to make compelling cases for themselves in application materials.

A more difficult question to answer is whether students should wait to complete their dissertations before searching for jobs. The APSA’s data suggests that finishing is a key to success on the market. This convinces me that students with uncertain completion dates should consider delaying their job searches. My experience on job search committees and watching students from my program on the market, though, suggests that those who can credibly tell hiring committees that they are close to defending are still able to secure good positions.

Next Story — Revenge of the niqab
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Revenge of the niqab

When Steven Harper and members of his Conservative party in Canada look back on the 2015 Federal election, they may rue the day they made the niqab an issue. That decision is probably costing them the election.

I am living in Montreal for a few months. When I arrived in Canada in early August, the federal election was tight race between three parties: the New Democratic Party (NDP), the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Party. Polling averages showed the NDP ahead, with roughly 32% of the vote, but the Conservatives (30%) and Liberals (27%) were close behind. The three parties were so close pundits discussed whether the NDP and Liberals might form a coalition government. The race continue to tighten into September. Strong debate performances by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau helped convince people he was a credible candidate.

On September 18th, the dynamic started to change. The Bloc Quebecois ran an advertisement critcizing the NDP for its position protecting the right of Muslim women to wear a veil during citizenship ceremonies: the niqab. This issue was not new. The Conservatives have been trying to prevent women from wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies for some time, but hadn’t talked about it much in the early part of the campaign. The Bloc’s add rekindled the matter in provocative fashion.

The initial results were dramatic. The Conservatives and NDP swapped places. As Frank Graves of EKOS Research Associates explained about the niqab controversy, “It’s a huge issue. It’s sorting the electorate right now. It has really invigorated the Conservatives and moved them into a clear lead.” Sensing advantage, the Conservatives started running their own niqab ad.

Missed, though, in the reporting about the election was an important shift in the structure of the race. What started as a three way race quickly became a two-way contest as the niqab controversy ate into the NDP’s support in Quebec. Initially, this looked like it would help the Conservatives. Instead, it put the Liberals in position to win.

When the race was essentially tied, neither Liberal nor NDP supporters had a reason to support the other party. Each party could reasonably claim to be in position to win the election. Once the NDP fell to a distant third, though, NDP supporters — most of whom prefer a Liberal government to a Conservative one — were free to switch their votes. With their preferred party out of the running, NDP voters could try to get their second choice by teaming up with the Liberals to knock Harper out of office.

This positional view of the election is not just useful for understanding what is likely to happen when the election takes place. It also helps understand why the Liberals and NDP spent much of the campaign sniping at each other rather than the Conservatives. Both parties recognized that luring each other’s voters away gave them the best chance to win. Neither the Liberals nor the NDP, though, had an argument capable of undermining the other. The Bloc and the Conservatives did. Call it revenge of the niqab.

Next Story — Why I am optimistic about the political science job market.
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Why I am optimistic about the political science job market.

No, I am not writing this from a hash bar in Denver. I’m looking for ways to avoid working on an invitation to “revise and resubmit” a manuscript. Luckily, I found one: an exchange on Twitter about the poor job prospects Ph.D. candidates in political science face. Are things really that bad?

The pessimistic argument goes something like this: despite declining demand for political scientists, political science departments continue to churn out new Ph.D.s, who soon find out they cannot get jobs. Responsible faculty see this problem of over supply and discourage undergraduates from going to graduate school. Some even become choosier about who they are willing mentor from their own programs.

I’ve written about the political science job market before, using data gathered from reports issued by the American Political Science Association (APSA). I concluded that job seekers could be (cautiously) optimistic about their prospects so long as they were open to taking jobs outside the academy. Between 2009 and 2013, there were consistently more job advertisements posted on the APSA’s e-job website than job seekers. Those who focused solely on securing an academic job, though, faced tougher odds, particularly in the sub-field of Political Theory where there were slightly more than six candidates for every advertised position in 2012–2013. By comparison, candidates for academic positions in International Relations and American had to contend with fewer than three competitors per job.

Whether job seekers normally face this much competition for positions is something I could not answer in that essay. Six applicants per job opening seems like a lot of competition, but is it? What about three applicants per position or two? How does competition in the political science job market compare to competition for jobs in the wider US economy? I answered these questions by turning to the monthly Job Openings and Turnover Survey (JOTS) conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. JOTS, which gathers data on total employment, job openings, and hiring (among other indicators) using a sample of 16,000 businesses, is a barometer of labor shortages in the US. Prior to its start it December 2000, there was no mechanism for assessing the tightness of the US job market.

As the figure above shows, the ratio of job seekers to job openings has fluctuated in the US since 2001. According to JOTS, the most favorable years for job seekers were 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2008. In each of these years, there were fewer than two job seekers per opening. 2007's 1.58 applicants per position made it the most favorable year for applicants on record. In the remaining ten years, US job seekers had to contend with more than two applicants for every position. In the worst of these years (2009), there were nearly six (5.93) applicants per advertised position.

A quick check of the APSA’s data on hiring and employment suggests that even in the dark days of the Great Recession, job prospects for political scientists were substantially better than for members of the US population. 2009–2010 was the most difficult year for political scientists who were willing to look beyond the academy for employment, but even then there was fewer than one applicant per job advertised through APSA.

The APSA’s data on the number of applicants per job listing probably underestimates the amount of competition for political science jobs because non-political scientists, who are not counted in APSA’a surveys, also apply for these positions. The under counting problem, though, is less severe for academic positions where hiring needs and applicant pools have strong disciplinary characteristics.

The figure that appears above compares the average ratio of job seekers to job openings across the US economy (the thick black line) with the ratio of political scientists searching for entry level academic positions to the number of advertised openings, divided by sub-field specialization. Examined this way, the political science job market does not look as rosy when nonacademic jobs are excluded filtered out. Even so, Ph.Ds in political science do not face stiffer competition for faculty slots than job seekers face in the wider US economy. The exception is Political Theory, where competition for faculty slots is daunting. In American, Comparative, IR, and Policy, the number of applicants per advertised position is at or below the level of competition for jobs in the US.

The idea that the political science job market is not especially tough relative to other job markets is consistent with other employment data for Ph.Ds. According to a recent report from the National Science Foundation, the unemployment rate for Ph.Ds with degrees in the social sciences has been 1.9% since 2008. This rate for social scientists is nearly three times lower than the current unemployment rate in the US of 5.9%. It is also at or below the unemployment rate for Ph.Ds in Engineering, Computer and information Science, Biological, agricultural, environmental and life sciences, and Physical sciences. Only Ph.Ds in psychology and math and statistics have lower unemployment rates.

So, count me as one of the people who does not discourage undergraduates from pursuing Ph.D.s in political science. I don’t tell students that graduate study guarantees them employment, but I also don’t tell them they are doomed to lives of poverty or adjunct teaching if they become political scientists. Yes, there will be competition for jobs in political science, but not more than job seekers can expect to find elsewhere in the US economy, unless, of course, they are political theorists.

Next Story — Advice from a rookie placement director
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Advice from a rookie placement director

Observations based on my (ongoing) survey of job placement advice for Political Scientists (and economists).


I accepted my department’s head’s invitation to be Placement Director in April. The position was in a senior colleague’s able hands, but he will be on sabbatical in the Fall. This is where I come in.

The good news is that Purdue University’s Political Science department is going to have number of terrific job candidates on the market this year (2014). The bad news is that I have no experience being Placement Director. So, I did what any Political Scientist who knows nothing about a subject does: research.

My investigation has already uncovered a large number of excellent resources available on the web that are designed to help job candidates navigate the job market. The American Political Science Association’s journal, PS: Political Science and Politics also has several articles worth consulting. The remainder of this post identifies, with commentary, the best material I found so far.

Articles

  1. Drezner, Daniel W 1998. So You Want To Get a Tenure-Track Job…. PS: Political Science & Politics 31:609-14.
  2. Simien, Evelyn M 2002. On the market: Strategies for the successful job candidate. Political Science & Politics 35:581-83.

Drezner’s article strikes me as the place to start learning about the job market. Even though this article was published in 1998, the advice is still good. As a new Placement Director, I appreciate the timetable Drezner lays out for applicants. I will be recommending that my own department’s placement candidates read this over the summer to prepare themselves for what lies ahead.

Simien’s article describes an effective method of searching for positions. Publications are probably more important now than they were when this article was written, but Simien’s deliberate approach to identifying positions and preparing application materials is admirable.


Comprehensive placement guides

The best soup-to-nuts discussions of academic placement I’ve found are available on the web and are written by Economists. I haven’t identified similar documents by Political Scientists yet. Political Scientists should treat these documents with a bit of care, since the Economics job market is not the same as the Political Science job market. Nevertheless, there is significant overlap.

  1. Cawley, Jon. A Guide and Advice for Economists on the US Junior Academic Job Market. 2011-2012 edition.
  2. Cookson, J. Anthony. Job Market Memoir.

Cawley’s Guide is an incredible resource. At 90 pages, it covers nearly everything an aspiring applicant might want to know about finding an academic job. Aforementioned differences between the Economics and Political Science job markets, though, mean it must be supplemented with other work to capture the challenges facing Political Scientists.

Cookson’s memoir is also a valuable resource and an interesting read. Political Scientists will not find this work as useful as Cawley’s guide (there is more information than Political Scientists need on interviewing at the Allied Social Sciences Association conference), but should still appreciate the insights he provides. I also agree with Cookson that it is important for candidates to familiarize themselves with the timeline of the job market in advance of the market.


Blogs and other placement resources on the web

The last set of resources I found typically lack the comprehensiveness of the guides I described above and do not provide the level of detail that the articles I listed provide. Nevertheless, the following are invaluable sources of information.

  1. The Job Market, Mario Guerrero’s web page on all aspects of the academic job market.
  2. Political Science Job Market, Part IV by Nathan Jensen.
  3. Advice for Academic Job Market Applicants, by Chris Blattman

Did I say the resources listed in this section were not as comprehensive as those listed above? Mario Guerrero’s web page has a ton of links to useful articles on all aspects of the academic job search. Guerrero says the articles are aimed at Political Scientists, but the advice is (mostly) general, i.e. for any person searching for an academic position.

Nathan Jensen’s blog posts about the keys to success on the job market, written while he was the Graduate Director at Washington University, St. Louis, are terrific. I linked to the fourth post he wrote because it has links to the previous three memos he wrote as well as a link to a good post by Tom Pepinsky. All of these posts are useful.

Chris Blattman, an economist who got a job in a Political Science department, also provides useful information about the job market and strategies for success on it. I linked to one of his posts, but everything he wrote on the market is useful. I would caution against taking his point that “everything you submit after your best work reduces the average quality of your application” too literally. Some arguments are designed to speak to people in a subfield rather than across fields and are best published in subfield journals. Publishing this way does not necessarily lower the quality of an application.


I will add to this list of resources periodically as worthwhile ones come to my attention. In the meantime, get to work if you are looking for an academic job this Fall. My research tells me the time to start is now.

Next Story — All your memes are belong to us
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Such meme. Very wow. (Illustration by Harry Malt for The Washington Post)

All your memes are belong to us

The top 25 memes of the web’s first 25 years

By Gene Park, Adriana Usero and Chris Rukan

For more of The Web at 25, visit The Washington Post.

Memes didn’t begin with the Web, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term in his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene,” to describe something that already existed. A meme, from the Greek “mimeme” (to imitate) was “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” This encompassed phenomena from Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” to the famous graffiti drawing “Kilroy Was Here,” which dates to the beginning of World War II.

But the Web has proved to be the most fertile ground, and the site Know Your Meme has confirmed more than 2,600 of them. Below, 25 definitive memes from the Web’s first 25 years.

[1] Dancing Baby

1996: Considered the granddaddy of Internet memes, the baby shuffling to Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” filled inboxes and prime-time airwaves, appearing in several episodes of “Ally McBeal.” The file was originally included with early 3D software. LucasFilm developers modified it before it was widely shared, and it was finally compressed into one of the first GIFs.

[2] Hampster Dance

1998: Proving that GIFs were meant for stardom, a Canadian art student made a webpage with 392 hamster GIFs as a tribute to her pet rodent. The infectious soundtrack was a sped-up, looped version of “Whistle Stop” by Roger Miller.

[3] Peanut Butter Jelly Time

2001: A Flash animation featuring an 8-bit dancing banana, “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” became an Internet phenomenon in the early 2000s. The catchy song was written and performed by the Buckwheat Boyz, a rap group.

[4] All Your Base Are Belong to Us

2001: A meme that would echo across the gaming community for years to come, “All your base are belong to us” originated in a cut scene in the Japanese video game “Zero Wing.” The poorly translated quote has persisted as an Internet catchphrase.

[5] Star Wars Kid

2002: Arguably the first victim of large-scale cyberbullying, Ghyslain Raza unwillingly became a meme based on a video of him swinging a golf ball retriever as a weapon, reminiscent of Darth Maul in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.” It was an early sign that Internet privacy was not guaranteed for anyone.

[6] Spongmonkeys

2003: Before they became spokesthings for Quiznos, two singing Spongmonkeys catapulted to viral stardom after being featured in a newsletter for b3ta, an early link- and image-sharing site. Their opening line: “We like the moon.”

[7] Numa Numa

2004: The eyebrow lift. The arm pumping when the beat drops. The song (by Moldovan boy band O-Zone). Gary Brolsma, sitting at his desk, showed us all what it means to “dance like no one’s watching.”

[8] O RLY

2005: Originating on the community site 4chan, the wide-eyed owl was used to show sarcasm, becoming a precursor to other reaction memes.

[9] Chuck Norris Facts

2005: Chuck Norris was the Internet’s first “most interesting man in the world,” crowned the avatar for mythical men with impossible strength, attitude and swagger. “There is no theory of evolution,” as one “fact” says. “Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris allows to live.”

[10] I Can Has Cheezburger?

2007: Animal-based memes are a dime a dozen, but the “I Can Has Cheezburger” blog, whose mascot is a surprised, hungry British shorthair cat, brought them into the mainstream. The blog was created by Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami.

Rickroll and Deal With It collide to form an uber-meme

[11] Rickroll

2007: Before there was clickbait, there was the Rickroll. Popularized on 4chan, the gag — springing a Rick Astley video on an unsuspecting victim — has appeared during a session of the Oregon legislature and even on the White House’s Twitter feed.

[12] Success Kid

2007: Based on a photo that Sammy Griner’s mother, Laney, posted to Flickr when he was 11 months old, the meme describes something that goes better than expected. In 2015, Sammy’s fame helped his family raise more than $100,000 to offset the costs of a kidney transplant for his father, Justin.

[13] Dramatic Chipmunk

2007: A simple, five-second video clip of a chipmunk — ahem, actually a prairie dog — suddenly turning its head, from the Japanese TV show “Hello Morning.” The maneuver is set to an exaggerated bit of music from 1974’s “Young Frankenstein.”

[14] Philosoraptor

2008: This portmanteau meme was an early example of an “advice animal,” depicting the vicious dinosaur deep in introspection, and pondering wordplay and life’s general paradoxes.

[15] Deal With It

2010: In this GIF, sunglasses slide onto a smug canine’s face. It was around as an emoticon on the SomethingAwful forums for a while, then became a meme when the site Dump.fm held a contest encouraging users to create their own versions, with sunglasses sliding onto various faces and objects.

[16] Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife

2010: “So y’all need to hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband ’cause they’re raping everybody out here,” Antoine Dodson emphatically told a TV reporter after an intruder attempted to assault his sister. The clip spread quickly on YouTube, leading to Auto-Tuned versions and remixes.

Nyanyanyanyanyanyanyare you going insane yet?

[17] Nyan Cat

2011: The combination of an animated 8-bit cat (originally dubbed “Pop-Tart Cat”) with the insanely catchy tune “Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya!” blew up on YouTube, becoming the site’s fifth-most-viewed video of 2011 and inspiring fan illustrations, designs and games.

[18] Ermahgerd

2012: Originally uploaded as “Gersberms . . . mah fravrit berks” and later “BERKS!,” the text superimposed on this meme mimics the garbled speech of a person with a retainer.

[19] Bad Luck Brian

2012: Takes goofy yearbook photo. Gets face plastered all over the Internet. His real name is Kyle Craven, and he’s Internet famous thanks to his friend Ian Davies, who uploaded the photo to Reddit with the text “Takes driving test . . . gets first DUI.”

[20] Grumpy Cat

2012: The original photo of Tardar Sauce (that’s her name) racked up 1 million views on Imgur in its first two days. The meme has since spawned books, a comic book, an endorsement deal with Friskies cat food and a made-for-TV Christmas movie, “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” with Aubrey Plaza voicing Grumpy Cat.

[21] Ridiculously Photogenic Guy

2012: Uploaded to Reddit on April 3, the photo of the handsome runner quickly garnered 40,000 upvotes. Derivatives include Ridiculously Photogenic Metalhead, Ridiculously Photogenic Syrian Rebel, Ridiculously Photogenic Prisoner and Ridiculously Photogenic Running Back.

[22] Doge

2013: In February 2010, a kindergarten teacher in Japan uploaded pictures of Kabosu, her adopted shiba inu, to her personal blog, and a meme was born. It usually features broken English phrases in the comic sans font, representing an inner monologue.

[23] Crying Michael Jordan

2014: The basketball great got a little emotional during his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech. Around 2014, meme-makers started using an Associated Press photo, superimposing Jordan’s face over failures of all sorts.

[24] Ice Bucket Challenge

2014: While the origins of this one are unclear — people have been doing cold-water challenges for years — the results weren’t. The ALS Association raised more than $100 million in a month, compared with $2.8 million over the same period the previous year.

[25] Left Shark

2015: During the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show, Katy Perry performed with two dancing sharks. One shark stuck to the routine. The other, well, did his own thing — and became an Internet sensation.

And if you’re not over memes like the Internet isn’t over Harambe, we’ve compiled a Spotify meme-themed playlist for you to follow and take with you on the go.

Did we miss your favorite internet meme? Tell us about it — and why it’s so great — in the comments.

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