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In 2011, the number of faculty jobs posted either for assistant professors or positions for which any faculty rank is possible was just 4 percent below the level in 2008, the year in which the economic downturn hit in the fall. And so many of the openings announced in 2008 were canceled that it is possible there were more actual openings in 2011. There are among the results in a new job market report issued by the American Sociological Association.

The number of faculty jobs in 2009 fell 35 percent, and the 2010 total was 14 percent below the 2008 level, so the new figures represent a significant rebound in job openings.

The data are based on openings listed with the ASA. Not all departments list positions there, so the totals don't reflect every opening, but sociologists say that the ASA reports accurately reflect trends in the discipline, even considering positions listed elsewhere.

A report issued by the ASA notes the positive trends, but also reminds new Ph.D.s that the improvements in the job market aren't so great that finding a position is likely to be easy -- especially given the many sociologists who went on the market the past two years and failed to land tenure-track positions.

"The job growth in sociology and related disciplines is good news for those seeking positions as assistant professors," the report says. "However, the 'overhang' of unplaced or under-placed scholars from the Great Recession years will likely continue to make the job market challenging for newly minted Ph.D.s for several years to come. As a result, sociologists who wish to stay active in the discipline may need to extend their time in graduate school, find postdoctoral degrees, accept temporary positions, or find research or other non-academic positions."

As in past years, not every opening leads to a position being filled, and some openings do have searches canceled. But the top reason for searches not leading to a hire in 2011 was not a budget cut (as was the case a few years ago), but that the top candidate declined the position.

A key issue for many who are on the market is the relative interest of hiring departments in various specializations. The ASA report examined the data and released this list of the top and bottom specializations sought. Those who focus on crime, deviance and racial or ethnic issues continue to have more opportunities than those with other specialties.

Top 5 and Bottom 5 Areas of Specialization in Sociology Faculty Job Postings, 2011

Specialty Number of Openings
Top 5  
Social control, law, crime and deviance 101
Open (no field required) 100
Race and ethnicity 64
Medicine and health 58
Work, economy and organizations 52
Bottom 5  
Comparative and historical approaches 14
Sociology of culture 13
Education 13
Qualitative approaches 9
Application and practice 5

The report says that the large number of positions for which no specialty is sought is "good news" for new Ph.D.s as that means a larger pool of potential positions. But the report warns that one of the areas in which hiring departments do not seem to be seeking very many people (sociology of culture) is a popular field with graduate students. This creates the potential for a "major mismatch" between people seeking jobs in the field and positions available.

The authors of the report are Roberta Spalter-Roth and Michael Kisielewski of the ASA, and Jerry Jacobs, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

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