The academic job market for new sociology Ph.D. recipients continues to recover from the nosedive it took after the economic downturn began in 2008, says the American Sociological Association’s new job market report, which was released today.
In 2012, there were 507 assistant and open/multiple rank faculty positions listed with the ASA. This is the first time in the past five years that the total has exceeded the 499 positions that were advertised in 2008. It is a modest increase compared to one year earlier, when the total number of faculty positions jumped  to 480 from 427 in 2010. But the 2012 number still signals a significant improvement, considering that faculty jobs fell  35 percent in 2009. (Not all faculty jobs in sociology are listed with the ASA, but most experts agree that the association's data are an accurate reflection of the field.)
And other results in the survey suggest that the job market for emerging sociologists will continue to improve.
“In general things look fairly good for the discipline,” said Roberta Spalter-Roth, the ASA’s director of research and development.
For instance, among the 399 searches that were conducted for the positions advertised in 2012, the success rate was 84 percent. The main reason for searches not leading to a hire in 2012 was that a top candidate declined the position, as was the case in 2011. This is a positive finding, Spalter-Roth said, since canceled searches in the years immediately following the recession were largely a result of budget cuts.
Despite the growth in the number of jobs in social science disciplines, there were fewer academic positions available than there were new job candidates with Ph.D.s. However, the survey notes, that ratio would improve if non-teaching positions were included in the existing job market.
“In sociology, there is close to a perfect match between available jobs and new Ph.D.s,” the survey says.
Spalter-Roth said there are plenty of government, nonprofit and research analyst jobs that require skills and concepts learned while studying sociology in graduate school — and they often pay better than university teaching positions. But graduates do not often know these positions are available, or professors discourage their students from entering these professions, according to Spalter-Roth.
“An academic job is often considered the only outcome of why you’re going to graduate school. But that’s not necessarily the case,” she said.
She has conducted other surveys focusing on graduates who end up in non-academic positions, and they seem pleased with their careers. Professors can do more to educate students about jobs outside of academe, and graduates should search on government and nonprofit websites for positions, Spalter-Roth said.
Another problem within the sociology job market is the “mismatch” between sociological specializations areas sought after by search committees and areas of interest from graduate students. The area of social control, law, crime and deviance was the most highly-valued specialization based on position advertisements. But graduate students ranked that specialization area fourth.
Likewise, there was a mismatch between the second most frequent advertised specialty, race and ethnicity. This was the ninth most popular with graduate students, which Spalter-Roth said she found surprising, since it is a “central focus” of sociology.
To address this mismatch issue, Spalter-Roth said sociology Ph.D. students should be encouraged to make their studies relevant to multiple specialty areas. So, for instance, someone who is interested in gender studies can also take criminal justice courses and take a closer look into crimes against women.
Globalization and global issues ranked fifth in job listings and 15th among graduate students. This mismatch may be short-lived, since graduate programs are increasingly offering more courses and programs in this area of specialization.
Top 5 Areas of Specialization in Sociology Faculty Job Postings, 2012
|Social control, law, crime and deviance||185|
|Race and ethnicity||109|
|Place and environment||75|
|Medicine and health||70|
|Globalization and global Issues||69|
Bottom 5 Areas of Specialization in Sociology Faculty Job Postings, 2012
|Population and ecology||26|
|Sociology of culture||24|
|Application and practice||20|
|Comparative and historical approaches||18|