Shrinkage in Political Science

Openings for assistant professor positions are down 38% over two years.
August 24, 2010

You can add political science to the list of disciplines reporting dramatic declines in the number of openings for those starting their academic careers.

The American Political Science Association has not historically released annual reports on jobs data in advance of its annual meeting, as many humanities and other disciplines do. But this year, Michael Brintnall, executive director of the association, did an analysis of the number of assistant professor openings that have been listed with the association in recent years. Such listings are required of departmental members. While some departments don't submit, and listings are likely less complete for community colleges, the listings are seen as broadly reflective of the state of hiring in the discipline.

The numbers for recent years show a dramatic slide in the past two years, preceded by several years of steady growth.

Assistant Professor Openings in Political Science

2009-10 445
2008-9 617
2007-8 716
2006-7 730
2005-6 685
2004-5 661

The data are consistent with declines being reported by many other fields (either for the last year or projected for the year ahead) in the humanities and social sciences, including sociology, literature and languages, history, economics, art history and other fields.

Within political science subfields, Brintnall said that positions focused on comparative politics, international relations and public policy appear to be experiencing smaller declines while political theory is being hit harder.

The APSA's annual meeting will start next week and one of the sessions is called "Hard Times and Ph.D.s: The Political Science Job Market and Non-Academic Careers." While Brintnall said it was important for the association to provide such forums, he said that those who are interested in political science careers outside of academe tend to enroll in master's degree programs that prepare people to work in government, nonprofit organizations or the corporate world using political science skills. Those who opt for a Ph.D. program generally do so because they want an academic career, he said.

At the same time, however, he said that the availability of career paths outside of academe means that new Ph.D.s in political science "are not ill-equipped to make that transition if need be."

Brintnall said he didn't sense that many departments were considering major changes either in either doctoral curriculums or their policies about how many students to admit. "A lot are waiting to see if there is a rebound or not," he said.

At least some political science grad students don't seem to expect a rebound any time soon. On the Web site Political Science Job Rumors (a site that is popular with many on the job market and much criticized by many others), one of the discussion topics recently was whether someone was foolish to have pursued a Ph.D. -- and the initial post came from someone who lamented searching for six months without even an interview. Others on the list suggested that a miserable six months of job searching was hardly unexpected these days, or even worthy of much sympathy, given that some spend years looking without much success.

Wrote one commenter: "Listen bud, if you are disillusioned after 6 months I suggest you quit now. This is only the beginning of the rejection you will face in academia. Listen to the guy/gal who suggested that you look for non-academic positions."


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