Reflection on the 2020-2021 Job Market

I am happy to report that I have survived the 2021-2021 political science academic job market. I will be a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University starting September 2021. It is a dual appointment between the Department of Politics and the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. I also have a few additional appointments, but I am waiting to finalize the paperwork before formally announcing them. Given that the 2020-2021 job market was one of the worst in recent memory due to covid19’s impact on university budgets, I think I did well enough.

I am writing this post in the hope that it can be of some help to others entering future political science job markets. Information is provided as is and I make no promises about getting a job.

My Statistics:

This was my first time on the job market. I come from a top 50 program. I had about 7 peer reviewed articles at the time. My publications in Political Analysis and Legislative Studies Quarterly got me considerable attention.

I applied to approximately 70~80 academic jobs, counting both tenure track and postdoc positions.

I got initial interviews for about a quarter of them. During these interviews (all on zoom), I was asked about my research and teaching. Most of these meetings were between 30 minutes – 1 hour.

I ended up getting job talks for tenure track positions at four research universities (two R1s, two R2s) and one teaching orientated university. Additionally I got offered two job talks for postdoc-to-tenure track positions at two additional research universities. Most of the job talks took approximately a day. The job talks consisted of a job talk (1 hour including Q/A), meeting with faculty and graduate students, and a teaching demonstration.

I ended up getting job offers from three of the above. Additionally, I was the 2nd choice for at least two of the other positions.

I also applied to a few industry jobs – mainly government and think tank research positions.

Job Market Updates:

Most US-based political science jobs will be advertised on APSA’s ejobs website (https://www.apsanet.org/eJobs). You can find jobs in the UK at https://www.jobs.ac.uk/. Additional jobs will be posted on https://www.higheredjobs.com/ and https://academicjobsonline.org/.

I highly encourage future candidates to join the slack: http://supportyourcohort.com/. Candidates on the slack keep each other updated about the progress of searches. Shout out to Alexis Lerner for organizing the slack channel this past cycle.

Types of Jobs:

There are six major types of jobs in the political science job market.

The first major category is tenure track jobs. These are the golden goose most of us are chasing. If you get a tenure track job you will be employed full-time and granted full benefits (healthcare, retirement, etc.). Salaries are in the 60-80k range. There is a lot of heterogeneity within tenure track jobs, but they can be broadly subdivided between research and teaching orientated universities.

Research orientated universities have salaries on the upper range of the salary range. Teaching loads tend to be around “2/2”. This means that you’ll be expected to teach about 2 classes per semester. There isn’t a magic number for tenure, but I was given a ball park estimate of needing 7-10 articles minimum once I went up for tenure.

Teaching orientated universities have salaries on the lower range of the salary range. Teaching loads fluctuate widely. I mostly saw “3/3” positions, but I saw a few positions that were 4 courses a semester. Tenure expectations were 2-5 articles minimum.

The second major category is postdocs. These are usually appointments of 1-2 years and their primary function is to give candidates a chance to spend more time applying for tenure track jobs. Salaries are in the 50-60k range. Most of these positions have minimal teaching obligations.

The third major category is postdoc-to-tenure track positions. These positions start out as postdocs, but have the potential to convert to tenure track positions. Similar to postdocs, these positions have minimal teaching obligations. These positions are increasingly common in midranking universities. Their purpose, as I was told, is to try to win over candidates that show potential. I think they’re also a clever way to solve the lemon problem. When a department hires a candidate they have minimal information about how they’ll fit in with the department’s culture. By hiring candidates as postdocs, the department has the option to not extend the tenure track offer to candidates that end up being lemons after they show up. Salary range is in the 50-60k range.

The fourth major category is adjunct/VAP positions. These are similar to postdocs in that they are usually appointed in the short term. Unlike postdocs, these have high teaching obligations. I have minimal information about these types of jobs, so I defer to others. My sense is to avoid these positions if you plan to go on the market again because their high teaching obligations eat up your time.

The fifth major category is community college jobs. Similar to adjunct/VAP positions, I have minimal information about these so I defer to others with more information. In a few states, including my home state of California, some of these positions get full benefits and are eligible for tenure. If you can get a tenure track community job, the initial salary range is 70-80k. Research obligations are minimal. I actually think these are really good jobs if your passion is teaching. They also offer a high degree of control over your location.

The last major category of jobs is industry. For political scientists these mostly means jobs in government, think tanks, and non-profits. I applied to a few industry jobs and had modest success. The salary range for these jobs seems to be 70-120k with full benefits. These jobs are really tempting because they give you a high degree of control over your location.

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