Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Markets, Stocks and Jobs

After yesterday's pointer to the ever-gloomy prospects of PhD candidates at the Philosophy Job Market Blog, I thought I should follow up by drawing attention to Brian Leiter's recent, equally pessimistic, forecast on the academic job market during recession.

Leiter predicts a market crash taking us to something like the early 1990s, when apparently there were 2.3 candidates per job advertised (as opposed to 1.4). His main piece of advice, for current PhDs, is to sit on their dissertation a bit longer and hope to wait out the recession, before going on the market later on when prospects are better. It's true that graduating can cut you off from support enjoyed at university, such as teaching opportunities offered to postgraduates, but this particular recommendation only really seems applicable in the US, where PhDs regularly take 5-7 years+ and involve considerable flexibility in when one actually finishes. Here in the UK, people are generally expected to finish in no more than 4 years, especially if they have funding bodies chasing up after them.

I'm not entirely sure economic recession will be as catastrophic here as Leiter predicts. Of course, that partly depends how bad it is, but universities aren't directly dependent on economic markets for much of their revenue and I'm not sure how many students would be put off going to university by recession - after all, for many it will probably seem more attractive to spend another three years studying and to hope that the economy improves in the meantime. Moreover, numerous people had told me this year that I was job-hunting at a bad time in the RAE cycle, so hopefully that means more UK universities will be looking for relatively junior hires over the next few years anyway, even if perhaps not quite as many as in more prosperous times.

I guess the best-case scenario, for me, is that in 18-24 months' time the signs of economic recovery and RAE cycle leave universities looking to hire, while house prices are still depressed enough to let me get on the property ladder. On the other hand, it could all go terribly wrong. One of the problems with the future is uncertainty, which makes temporary jobs all the more dangerous.

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