What’s the state of the academic Physics job market?

“Look! There are jobs in Physics Today again!” said officemate Matt as he leafed through the new September issue.

I had a quick look, and sure enough, there were way more than last month. Great.

But, there’s a very strong annual cycle to hiring in Physics. I’d only ever observed it qualitatively. Since I will need a physics job relatively soon, I decided to make my understanding more quantitative.

Thanks to our lab’s collective archive of Physics Todays (thank you Anne, Claire, Dan, Michael, Matt, Nikolai, and Scott!), I compiled the plots below.

First, I made a detailed survey of the past year’s hiring.

There are many ideas one may learn from this plot, but perhaps the strongest signals are that hiring is very seasonal, and that the majority (it’s a logarithmic plot!) of the advertised positions were for faculty in the main hiring sequence (advertise Autumn, apply Winter, interview Spring, start late Summer).

Are there more jobs this year than last year?

Guess not.

Compiling detailed breakdowns by job type is tedious, slow, and subjective. Most interesting to me was the total count.

How does the number of advertised jobs now compare with the past?

Systematic uncertainty?

Chatting with Dr. Tolich about the plot brought to light an important systematic concern: Free online advertising is becoming prevalent (SPIRES has a job mill, and there are others (edit to add one: academicjobsonline.org )). The minimum charge for a Physics Today ad is $525. There are rumors that at least one major department discussed not placing a print ad for recent positions on cost concerns. If job seekers find jobs on the web, why pay for print? I’d never heard of the SPIRES listings, so at least some luddites still prefer print.

Today (September 20, 2012), there are “272” jobs on physicsjobs.com, the online branch of Physics Today (but they charge $525 for online listings; a minimum-length print ad is free). SPIRES claims to have 1420 jobs. Academicjobsonline.org has 76 in narrowly-tailored “Physics”. Make of the situation whatever you will.

With more time/interest, I have the archives needed to add other useful months (October, December, January), but the initial curiosity is sated; there are fewer print-advertised jobs than there used to be.

Appendix: Counting

What counts as a job, in the counts above? An advertisement for “several” positions, without quantitative reference to assured positions, counts as one. “Two or more” positions count as two. Blunderbuss advertisements from National Labs count as one (they typically have many positions open, and I’m not convinced that the ~four highlighted jobs reflect the number of open positions).  Only post-graduate positions count.

Counting is slow, and I have a thesis to write, so I haven’t recounted each point. Recounts (was that 87, or 88? Arg.) of a few Novembers suggest a ~±2% variation in counting/subjective judgement.

A word to hiring committees: “Two” or “three” sounds much more concrete to an applicant than “several”. “Several” sounds like the department doesn’t yet have university approval for multiple hires.

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