Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Don't count on it.

We've discussed the possibility of more jobs opening up when the baby boomers retire.

Hasn't happened yet. Might not ever.

This beautifully written article in the Chronicle has quite a bit to say on the subject, and is well worth the time to read completely.

One excerpt on the subject of history repeating itself (because no one was listening the first time):

Mr. Ehrenberg thinks the majority of academic retirements will occur naturally. "I don't think colleges are going to be in such a hurry to kick people out," he says. He and others say that young Ph.D.'s should not count on a windfall of jobs as their elders turn emeritus. Cost-conscious colleges, for instance, could shift some jobs off the tenure track. And past predictions of waves of retirements helping out the academic job market have flopped: A major study published in 1989 by William G. Bowen, then president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, predicted that colleges could face severe faculty shortages by the end of the 1990's, largely because of retirements. But the expectations raised for an improving job market in the arts and sciences did not materialize.

I think there is no way these retirements are going to happen naturally. The numbers just don't add up. Scroll to the bottom of the article for several useful tables citing percentages of institutions that say they want to recruit new faculty (96%) but are clearly not thinking about where they'll put us how we'll be paid, since many fewer institutions say they are thinking about retiring old faculty (19%).

How can that be? Here's another excerpt explaining why this is more of a problem now than ever before:

The average age of retirement in the general population is 62. But in academe, faculty members appear to be retiring at 66, on average, and that age is drifting upward, although retirement data is not always as crisp as demographers might like. The August telephone survey found that about one-third of those responding expected to retire at age 70 or later. The ability of colleges to enforce a mandatory retirement age of 70 ended in 1994, when an academic exemption for a federal age-discrimination law expired.

Maybe the academic exemption wasn't such a bad idea. Maybe they shouldn't have retired it!

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At 8:19 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

In addition to older professors not retiring, some colleges are unable to replace those who do retire because it is an easy way to cut the budget.

At 10:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

fat freaking chance of the old timers relegating their coveted tenured jobs. the other day i went to a lecture by an endowed-chair/professor who is 75 years old! it was an AWFUL, rambling talk, with virtually no scientific data. for crying out loud, when is he* going to retire?

* old, white male. surprised?

At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The link you posted requires a subscription (which I don't have/can't afford). Is the article the same as this one?

At 4:46 AM, Blogger BP said...

I've been hearing this claim, and "its a great time to go into academia because all the baby boomers will be retiring soon" since I was in college looking at graduate schools nearly 15 years ago!

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Nat Blair said...

I have to agree; if there is a change, it would prolly be unnoticeable to most people.

Besides, everyone was talking about how the huge numbers of millenials [the spawn of those darned boomers ;) ] would cause college enrollments to rise, and thus faculty hiring to increase. Well, if they meant more hiring adjunct faculty, then they're right. And that's mostly for lecturers. For the sciences, it's not clear they'll hire more tenure track folks. *sigh*

At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no hope. What in the fuck did I get a PhD, or even major in Science for that matter?

At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at:

slides 17, 18 and 19.

The NIH's own demographics projection out to 2020 just shows investigators getting older and older.

At 7:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I previously posted a comment here demonstrating a solid, positive correlation between average lifespan of the American male and the average age of first R01. I think it is relevant to point that out again.

As lifespan increases, so does the distrust that anyone under 42 (now, but certainly rising) should be given the reins with NIH money. There is a creeping conservatism as the population ages that I am very unhappy about. What blows my mind is that an R01 is not very much money in the scheme of government contracts.

I'm looking at my late 30s as a time when I should get a real job and support my very real and growing family. A lot of my college classmates got jobs right out of college and some have teenagers now. Those who have been especially successful in their fields have founded companies or are VPs or Directors at larger companies, partners at law firms or practicing physicians.

I have been pretty successful - a C/N/S paper and a half dozen of other modestly significant papers and a bunch of lower impact stuff in my niche area. I have a research faculty position, but no autonomy in my work - no people, no space, no ability to hold anyone accountable for doing their job.

My solution is actually in line with some of what NIH is already doing - focus on funding projects and not people. So that centers for study of important topics are formed and the direction of those centers can pass on over time. But I would go a step further and require the recruitment of a junior faculty member into each center every 5 years as a requirement for the renewal of the center and just expect that a small percentage would succeed as faculty. Others would return to the bench, still others would spin out into startup companies that seek to apply the work from the academic side and the rest would then be qualified to get jobs that require management experience.

This faculty position would have to be at least 50% independent within the project center and be given a field-appropriate budget and staff to accomplish their proposed project.

There is a lot of triage from junior faculty anyhow, but this would be a mechanism to bring staff scientists and senior postdocs up the ladder one more step to give them a chance to decide whether they still want to do the academic thing when it turns all administrative.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


You're right. It doesn't help unless they also rearrange their budgets.

Anon 10:37,

Not surprised.

Anon 11:43,

Yes, glad you found it. Sorry about that.


Exactly my point. Little did we know it was never going to happen.

Nat Blair,

I'm hearing that tenure is going to go away eventually, so I guess that means tenure-track will also go away. Eventually. Just not soon enough to help us get hired. Soon enough to make us worry that we'll have zero job security for the rest of our lives, yeah probably.

Anon 6:35,

I don't know. Why did you?

What can I say. At least we can't make that exact same mistake again... but I would choose carefully about my next career. I'm not going to pick anything that requires years of training, that's for sure.

Anon 6:46,

I can't bear to look. I'll take your word for it.

Anon 7:48,

I'm not sure how centers are going to help. And I really don't see how having each one hire 1 new junior professor is going to add up to helping employ all of us. There's no way we'll ever have enough centers for that.

I agree that we should be funding projects not people (the opposite of the Howard Hughes Institute's philosophy, I might add).

On the other hand, the risk there is like something I've seen lately- lots of equipment, and nobody who knows how to use any of it. In funding the project but not the people, they allocate lots for fancy toys and not nearly enough for staff.

At 5:21 AM, Blogger JaneB said...

On the first day of my PhD in 1990, my supervisor told me that 'whilst you may get to be an academic one day, at this point the statistical probability is so small that it is indistinguishable from zero. Therefore only stay if you can't bear the thought of not carrying on doing research. You have to be sure in your own mind that you won't regret being several years behind your contemporaries when you're looking for non-science jobs and that people will look at your PhD and say that you might be overqualified. If you are doing a PhD for improved employment prospects or because you don't know what to do next - think again. Noone will think the worse of you if you quit now, but if you stay, people will often tell you you're mad, and most of your friends will earn more than you for ever.' Then he took us newbies into the lab, showed us how to dissassemble complicated, filthy gadget that we would be using in the field in the future, stripping it completely, and left us to put it back together. He reckoned that if we survived the pep talk, the fiddly boredom of putting large numbers of tiny screws into tiny holes that kept slipping out of alignment, and managed to work out how to put the thing back together without killing each other, then we'd probably be OK.

He never really mentioned it again but there was no way we could say we hadn't been told! I have been SO LUCKY.... he wasn't the best possible supervisor for me, my self-esteem was in tatters when I left that lab (not just due to him!), but all the illusions I had that got shattered were about academia and science as areas of honesty and cooperative endeavour, not as areas where I'd get a great job and be paid well!

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Successful Researcher: How to Become One said...

Thanks for the article tip!


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