Monday, April 13, 2015

Blog CLXXX (180): The Numbers

In their reactions to the "Systematic Inequality" article, a number of people of have focused on the rankings of the various departments.  Some of them have objected to the practice, and I understand their position, a department that has a program in diplomatic history or Medieval history is going to carry a lot of weight in those fields, but not in Asian history if it has no people in that field, no matter its ranking.  I think it is silly to try and say you are only going to apply to schools in the top ten.  History is not exactly a law school or a MBA program.  

On the other hand, the rankings that Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore provide are an effort to measure prestige based on who is getting hired and where.  As I have said before the ability to get a job with your degree is the acid test of a program.  As a result, I thought I would look not at the rankings, but at the total number of Ph.D.s that a school managed to place. If you look at the raw numbers of people placed at other Ph.D. granting schools, the advantage of the “Magic Eight” becomes very clear.  

It is worth noting that these rankings are not just based on sheer number of graduates employed.  Since Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore were trying to measure prestige, getting a Ph.D. placed at certain schools counted more than others.  (If you have reservations about the math, you should consult the original article.)  For now, I give your the number of placed Ph.D.s in the top 30 departments.  The totals are available for all 144, but I figured these statistics get the basic message across. They numbers are:

324
307
246
184
172
240
253
  43
108
128
180
173
162
  62
  74
  58
  25
  20
  62
  35
  49
  52
  61
  66
  69
  10
  25
  10
  61
  30

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blog CLXXIX (179): A Reaction to "Systematic Inequality"

One of the more the things I find frustrating about being a fan of college football is how subjective it all is. For decades, the sport has been dominated by polls run by various media organizations that vote on a championship based on perceptions of play instead of the actual results—I should note, though, that the sport is slowly, slowly moving towards having a real playoff system. A good example of the silliness of this came last year when TCU and Baylor had the exact same record, but TCU was ranked higher because its one loss was perceived as being “better” than Baylor’s one loss, even though that loss came in a head-to-head contest early in the season against Baylor.  That is right TCU lost to Baylor, had the same record, but was higher in the polls.

Academia is much the same. Various history departments are described as “strong programs” or “weak” ones with very few objective criteria. (The U.S. News and World Report rankings of colleges and universities are the equivalent of the college football polls.  They take subjective factors and try to make them look objective and mathematical.)  That is why I love the Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore, “Systematic Inequality” article because it finally provides some objective criteria for evaluating history departments, and Ph.D. placement is the real acid test. Reputation, the quality of, and the amount of historical scholarship are important, but those pale in comparison to what your graduates do with the knowledge and degrees they earn. I found other parts of the study troubling or questionable, but I will get to those in another posting, but in this blog entry I want to focus on how students can use this study to their advantage.

In an interview with a reporter from Inside Higher Ed, Clauset said his team’s findings should not keep others from pursuing their dreams of being a college professor. “I don’t think that if I had seen this study in graduate school it would have deterred me from this path to becoming a professor,” he said. “But knowing how steep the mountain is can help people make decisions about whether or not they want to climb it.”

I agree. I want to repeat the advice I offered in Blog CLII: Looking for a Home and Blog LXXIX: Hail to the Victor.  In those two postings I recommended that the prospective grad students limit their searches to the member schools of the Association of American Universities or the schools that made Education-Portal.com's listing of the 20 best history departments. If you are looking for a Ph.D. program, I would limit your search to the “Magic Eight.”

Being a good academic, let me add some qualifications, some small qualifications, to that statement.  First, a prospective grad student should compare and contrasts the three lists.  While all of the "Magic Eight” are members of the Association of American Universities, not all of them made Education-Portal.com's listing, and that should give pause.  A glitch in  “Systematic Inequality” is that does not measure recent placement.  While an elite school might have placed hundreds of people in the profession that might reflect the strengths of their programs in the 1980s and 1990s.  The real question is: where are they today?  Even elite schools have cycles.  People come and go through retirements and deaths, and a program might not be as strong as it was a decade ago.

Another thing to consider, if the schools do not have people doing the topics you want to explore or you are unable to get in, you might want to widen the aperture a bit, but only a bit.  These numbers are not set in stone and there is some room for honest disagreement—I will talk about that a bit more in another post.  If there is no one doing the field you want to study at one of these schools, then they are not right for you, no matter their ranking.  If  the biggest name on a specific topic is at a school a bit lower on the list that will probably be a better fit.  But as Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore note the ability of graduates from schools in the top twenty is significantly harder than those from the "Magic Eight.  As a result, if you are looking at a school that is lower than the mid-teens, then I think you should reconsider your plans to be a historian.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blog CLXXVIII (178): Honors to the Blog Again

Yesterday this blog celebrated a milestone: it had viewer number 100,000.  As I stated before,there were days when I wondered if I was only person reading my postings.

This blog started about three years before it went on-line. In the spring of 2006, I gave a talk about career management issues to the grad students in the history department at the University of Southern Mississippi, where I was a visiting professor.  It was a talk I had been wanting to give for years.  Later in July and August of 2006, after I had moved and taken a new job, I sat down and wrote a series of essays on things I had learned since I had graduated as a professor about the history profession and how it works. Since I was trying to write two books at the time, these essays sat on my hard drive for the next two and a half years.

A lot has changed in the six years I have been running the blog.  A lot in my personal life and a lot at work—all for the good I might add.  I ran through the early posts before the end of 2009 just as "In the Service of Clio" was starting to find an audience.  I still wonder at times if this is a wise investment of my time.  The three part essay “The History Ph.D. as a Novelist” (Blog CII, and Blog CIII and Blog CIV) took nearly 40 man hours worth of work to produce.  I am currently trying to write or finish three different book projects—the one on which I am under advanced contract is taking priority—but how much time this blog should get is a legitimate concern.  Needless to say, I appreciate all the visits.

Now, lets blog.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Blog CLXXVII (177): A Study in a Chart

In last week's post, I reported on the prestige rankings of the top 144 history Ph.D. producing programs and the placement of their graduates.  Here is a chart that graphical reproduces that same data and I think makes even more clear the advantage that goes to a very few departments.  This chart is of the top 25 departments. The blue lines depict job placement down the prestige rankings, red shows the movement up, and the gray represents no change:


The big mass of blue shows that graduates from the top schools end up getting faculty jobs at lower-ranked schools. You should note that there is very little redrepresenting movement upon this chart.  The gray area in the northwestern quadrant represents the lower 119 schools in this study. Graduates of these departments stayfor the most partin this tier, which is reflected in its basic gray color.

Daniel B. Larremore, a post doctoral fellow at the School of Public Health, Harvard University and a member of the three man research team that authored this study, created this chart.  A dynamic version is available on his website.  This display allows viewers to change the display settings, and track the placement of individual departments.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Administrative Post 33

Over the past week Blog CLXXVI: Another Study got updated.  The rankings increased from 1 through 60 to 1 through 144.  Please stay tuned for some analysis of these numbers.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Blog CLXXVI (176): Another Study

Last week, I discussed The Many Careers of History PhDs, the first of two studies on the history professor that this blog will explore.  This week I want to look at that second study, which is profoundly troubling for a number of reasons; particularly when read in combination with Many Careers.

This statistical study came out in the journal Science Advances and it examined the hiring practices in the academic fields of history, business, and computer science. This article has gotten a lot of attention because Aaron Clauset, the lead professor of the research team that produced this study, condensed the findings into a short essay on Slate.com. If you want to read either article in full, you can find them here:
Here is the short version: this research team of three examined the placement of more than 16,000 faculty at 242 schools. What they found was a “steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality.”

What does that mean? Long story made short, it ain't good.  Only a fourth of all universities accounted for 71 to 86 percent of the tenure-track faculty positions in both the U.S. and Canada. In the case of history—which is what this blog is all about—eight schools filled half of all the professor jobs. That is right—eight.

The data the team collected also suggests that merit plays less of a role in the hiring process than people would like to think. Schools from the top ten history programs place three times as many future professors than those in the second ten. Overproduction is a problem even at the “Magic Eight.” These elite schools are training more Ph.D.s than they can hire, so even if you go to one of these prestige programs, the odds indicate you will end up at a lessor school. To quote the Slate.com article, these “findings suggest that upward career mobility in the world of professors is mostly a myth.”

I got curious about this study. Who are the “Magic Eight” of history? I went to the original study and found the answer to that question as well as their rankings of the top 144 programs in history. (They got different results in their examination of business and computer science.)  I have a lot of comments to make about these articles, this list, and the AHA study, but that will all come in other postings. For now, here are their rankings of the top 144 schools for a history Ph.D. with links to the department web site—or the closest representation of history department. (Several of these universities have merged departments, a few have schools, and two appear to run their Ph.D.s out of their graduate colleges without a department of any sort). They are:
  1. Harvard University
  2. Yale University
  3. University of California, Berkeley
  4. Princeton University
  5. Stanford University
  6. University of Chicago
  7. Columbia University
  8. Brandeis University
  9. The Johns Hopkins University
  10. University of Pennsylvania
  11. University of Wisconsin
  12. University of Michigan
  13. University of California, Los Angeles
  14. Northwestern University
  15. Cornell University
  16. Brown University
  17. University of California, Davis
  18. University of Rochester
  19. New York University
  20. University of California, San Diego
  21. Duke University
  22. University of Minnesota
  23. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  24. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  25. University of Virginia
  26. University of Southern California
  27. University of Washington
  28. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  29. University of Texas
  30. Emory University
  31. Indiana University
  32. Stony Brook University-State University of New York
  33. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  34. Washington University in St. Louis
  35. University of California, Riverside
  36. Michigan State University
  37. University of California, Irvine
  38. University of California, Santa Barbara
  39. Binghamton University-State University of New York
  40. Georgetown University  
  41. University of Arizona
  42. University of Maryland
  43. Catholic University
  44. University of Florida
  45. Carnegie Mellon University
  46. University of Pittsburgh
  47. Tufts University
  48. University of Notre Dame
  49. Rice University
  50. University at Buffalo-State University of New York
  51. University of California, Santa Cruz 
  52. Boston University
  53. Vanderbilt University
  54. George Washington University 
  55. University of Connecticut
  56. University of New Mexico
  57. The Ohio State University
  58. University of Georgia 
  59. University of Iowa
  60. University of Massachusetts
  61. Northern Illinois University
  62. University of Miami
  63. Boston College
  64. University of Illinois at Chicago
  65. Temple University
  66. Claremont McKenna College
  67. Louisiana State University
  68. University of Kansas
  69. University of Hawaii
  70. Case Western Reserve University
  71. Tulane University
  72. Wayne State University
  73. Florida State University
  74. Drew University
  75. Pennsylvania State University
  76. Princeton Theological Seminary
  77. College of William and Mary
  78. University of Cincinnati
  79. Florida International University
  80. University of Tennessee
  81. University of Colorado
  82. Ohio University
  83. University of Delaware
  84. University of Oregon
  85. University of Kentucky
  86. University of Toledo
  87. American University
  88. Georgia State University
  89. Arizona State University
  90. University of Missouri
  91. University of Utah
  92. University of New Hampshire
  93. University at Albany-State University of New York
  94. City University of New York Graduate Center
  95. Clark University
  96. University of Houston
  97. Syracuse University
  98. Marquette University
  99. Kent State University
  100. Bowling Green State University
  101. University of Maine
  102. University of Mississippi
  103. Washington State University
  104. Miami University
  105. Kansas State University
  106. University of Oklahoma
  107. Howard University
  108. University of MissouriKansas City
  109. University of Nebraska
  110. Jewish Theological Seminary of America
  111. Saint John's University 
  112. Northeastern University
  113. Texas Christian University
  114. Auburn University
  115. Iowa State University
  116. Graduate Theological Union
  117. Lehigh University
  118. Purdue University
  119. University of South Carolina
  120. University of North Texas
  121. Loyola University Chicago
  122. Texas A&M University
  123. University of Arkansas
  124. University of Northern Arizona
  125. West Virginia University
  126. Fordham University
  127. University of Alabama
  128. University of Southern Mississippi
  129. University of Akron
  130. University of Texas at Dallas
  131. University of Nevada
  132. Illinois State University
  133. Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  134. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
  135. Western Michigan University
  136. Saint Louis University
  137. University of Texas at Arlington
  138. University of Idaho
  139. Texas Tech University
  140. University of Memphis
  141. Mississippi State University 
  142. George Mason University
  143. Oklahoma State University
  144. Middle Tennessee State University

Monday, March 23, 2015

Blog CLXXV (175): A Study

Guess what? The job crisis in history is over. At least that is the impression a report by the American Historical Association suggests. Or—and this is important—it gives hard data that shows how dire job market is for the history Ph.D.

This examination is the first of two studies on job placement in history that all of us should read and consider seriously.  (I will get to the other study in the next posting on the blog.)

Returning to the AHA report—this study did a random sampling of 2,500 Ph.D.s earned from May 1998 through August 2009, which the researchers took from the 10,976 names that appeared in the AHA’s Directory of History Departments and Historical Organizations during that period.  It found that 50.6 percent of the individuals it sampled had tenure-track jobs at four year institutions.

In the Perspectives on History article announcing the findings of this report, Allen Mikaelian, the newsletter's editor, and Julia Brookins, a member of the AHA staff observed that it was “a perfect half—empty, half-­full finding. In sharing this discovery informally with historians and graduate students, we’ve found that people tend to take it as evidence of their already-­formed attitude—­be that optimistic or pessimistic.”

Other important findings: sub-fields are important to the history profession and this study found that non-Americanists had a better chance of finding jobs than Americanists.  Job placement broke even on gender.

My take: these numbers are better than what I expected.  The thing is, though, a half-full glass is actually not that great considering the amount of work that an individual invests in getting the Ph.D.  I should also note that there is a big difference in having a job in some place like Chicago versus an isolated region of the country, like southwestern Nebraska.

The 16-page study is available on the AHA website: L. Maren Wood and Robert B. Townsend, The Many Careers of History PhDs: A Study of Job Outcomes, Spring 2013A Report to the American Historical Association, http://historians.org/Documents/Many_Careers_of_History_PhDs_Final.pdf