job market tough love from sam perry

Sam Perry is a recent Chicago grad student who is now an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma. On, he has posted his job market advice. All I can say, “yes, that is correct.” Perry’s advice boils down to a few obvious points:

  • Your CV drives your career.
  • Your CV is mainly about your publications.
  • Your competition is not other grad students. It is other people who publish, who may be grad students, post-docs, and professors.
  • Quality trumps quantity.
  • Thus, grad school should be treated like a job where you religiously show up every day and work hard on your publications.
  • Other activities, while commendable, are not the job. It’s ok to do them, as long as they don’t distract from your job.
  • Successful people start early. To go on the market in year X, means submitting papers in year X-2, at least.

I have quibbles here and there. For example, students from elite programs can often get away with some truly weak CVs, but overall this is solid. And of course, it contains the best job advice of all – buy the Grad Skool Rulz!!!!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street


Written by fabiorojas

December 17, 2015 at 12:01 am

13 Responses

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  1. Broken Record over here is back to remind you that the rules are different in different job markets. We teaching schools want to see more teaching, and a variety of preps is helpful. Non-elite teaching schools HIGHLY value teaching in non-elite environments. We also value people with full-time teaching experience–the visiting assistant professorship is not a consolation prize for people who could not get a post-doc, but rather the post-doctoral experience in which you get to enhance your teaching. And some limited service can be a good thing, as we value people who can say intelligent things about their potential for service on our campuses, especially in terms of advising and assessment.



    December 17, 2015 at 1:33 am

  2. Sounds interesting. Would love to read it if it weren’t on

    Liked by 1 person

    Philip N. Cohen

    December 18, 2015 at 3:59 pm

  3. I’ve been told that Research Gate is spammy (it is, I got on it sort of by mistake) but that is not. Do you have other objections to ?



    December 18, 2015 at 5:20 pm

  4. You get on by mistake to – you have to register and link your pubs to read this doc. Why would we want a for-profit, unaccountable website to do what is easily done almost for free, something that is certainly part of the mission of our schools (and their libraries) already.


    Philip N. Cohen

    December 18, 2015 at 7:27 pm

  5. Posts and articles like this are always frustrating to me. First, because there is a great amount of survival bias in things like this. Second, because it pretty much ignores all of the research that we actually have on academic labor markets. Your CV isn’t mainly about your publications. In fact, the prestige of the department, of the advisor, how “hot” the specific subfield is and the name of your references all likely have a much bigger impact on your job opportunities than your actual publications. Likewise, as Mikaila points out, different institutions will have different ways of looking at CVs (and there are a lot more teaching institutions than research institutions). And Perry’s advice to not have geographic restrictions is one of those “easier said than done” things.

    Now, yes, it is true that many of the things I mentioned are outside of a prospective candidate’s control. Once you are a graduate student, you can’t really control the program’s or your advisor’s reputation, and sometimes predicting which will be the trendy subfield is just a matter of luck. But even while acknowledging all that, the frequently invoked mantra of “just publish your way into your dream job” is still terrible advice, and terrible mentoring. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t encourage students to publish. But if we are going to give actually useful advice to students, that advice should include enough information about the odds of “surviving the market,” about alternative paths (including going to teaching institutions like Mikaila’s and non-academic ones), and how to prepare for them.

    Someone who “survives” the market by landing a job at a research I will naturally tend to think that it is all about the publications. But there is an invisible army of underplaced/unemployed grad students and postdocs with pretty good, if not outstanding publication records out there, all thinking that that next publication will land them that job.

    There is a group of people who would benefit from Perry’s advice: if you are a student at a prestigious program, in a subfield with decent demand, who has an r1 or bust goal and a family that is willing and able to relocate wherever for your career, then by all means follow that advice. But I’d say that the number of people in the discipline who that applies to is small (though highly visible, since they end up being the ones who “survive” into the leadership and mentoring positions). But if you are, say, a grad student at a low ranked program, or doing work in an overcrowded subfield (culture, globalization), or someone with a family situation that precludes you from moving anywhere, or someone who wants to land a teaching job, the advice discussed here is pretty misguided. And graduate students would be better served by mentoring that acknowledges that instead of just pushing the publications arms race even more.

    Liked by 1 person


    December 20, 2015 at 2:51 am

  6. I agree with the above comment; as I see the job market play out for different people in different departments, pedigree is key across disciplines. A lot of SCs are looking for candidates trained in x type of school (usually the top 10).

    Publications definitely matter in sociology, although again, I’ve seen quantity trump quality a lot of times especially in sub-fields. I also find the quality vs quantity argument problematic in that many sub-fields are not going to be placed in ASR or AJS. A grad student should first aim to publish something, anything, in a reputed journal; thats the aim – if you have a hot enough take on a mainstream topic to get into AJS or ASR, thats great. I know only one student that got into ASR, one. And they don’t have the best job in our deptt. I also know students that were discouraged by their advisors from submitting to lesser journals or book chapters and ended up with no publications at all – scholars have to learn how to be realistic with their work and with judging its possible placement level.

    Knowing someone in the department might not get you that interview, but its very useful nonetheless including for planning your job talk (remember to check that they’re not on the SC and are comfortable talking to you, not everyone is).



    December 20, 2015 at 1:44 pm

  7. I second the sentiment that publishing this (or anything) on was a bad idea.

    I also second DLP’s argument about survivor bias. Perry does not have a “star” CV (few people do) and probably needed some luck with market openings and fit. I don’t mean this in a critical way, but his CV seems to be a high quantity of field and B-level journals. This obviously worked for him at Oklahoma. However, it struck me as really weird and ironic that he of all people bothered to argue so forcefully that quality trumps quantity in publishing.



    December 20, 2015 at 8:39 pm

  8. I think DLP and Tumbleweeds would be well-served by actually reading Perry’s document and not just Fabio’s summary. You’d see that on the first page he says his advice is geared toward getting a job at a research university and it would look different if he were advising students toward liberal arts jobs. In fact, he says early on that his advice is about things he learned in retrospect than talking about anything he did right on the market. And he acknowledges that he got lucky. And Tumbleweeds, Perry actually says that the “quality over quantity” lesson is something he learned the hard way on the market. He uses himself as an example of doing it wrong. You seem to miss this point so completely that I can only conclude you didn’t bother to read it.


    grad student

    December 21, 2015 at 3:10 am

  9. @grad student: The problem here, which I hope you aren’t falling victim to, is that very few graduate students actually have the luxury of preparing for only the R1/R2 job market and having that work out well for them. In some fields, the market has gotten much better for applicants, but only for those applicants willing to consider other types of colleges and universities. If graduate students prepare only for the R1/R2 market, they will not necessarily be competitive for these other types of jobs, and thus a student with incredible potential could find themselves frozen out entirely.



    December 21, 2015 at 3:28 am

  10. @ Mikaila. No argument with your first or second comments. I think you make a fair point Perry doesn’t bring up. But having recently read Perry’s document, DLP and Tumbleweed’s comments sounded funny, and after reading the document again, I realize it’s because they hadn’t read it.


    grad student

    December 21, 2015 at 3:42 am

  11. Grad Student,
    Mikaila has already given a pretty good answer, but let me go a bit further.
    I did read Perry’s document. And every single one of my points stands (and it was reading the original that motivated my post, since the original actually points out that the paper was prepared for a mentoring session for graduate students). The original suffers from the safe survival bias, the same lack of engagement with the literature on academic labor markets, and from the same bad mentoring issues I mentioned.

    Now, as I mentioned in my original post, and as Mikaila reiterates, the advice he gives may be useful for some. But that number is staggeringly small. Data from the recent Headworth and Freese SF paper show that even for the most prestigious sociology departments less than 20% of graduates landed at one of the departments with doctoral programs. Overall, the percentage was less than 10%, and for low ranked programs, 1%. And keep in mind that the data for that paper comes largely from before the 2008 crisis (2004-2009), and since then the glut of people on the market would make those numbers look even smaller.

    Now, that wouldn’t be an issue, if the advice given wasn’t actually counter productive for most. Focusing on publications and select teaching at the expense of all else may increase your chances of landing at an R1, but will decrease your odds literally everywhere else (which is not to say that you shouldn’t publish, but it shouldn’t be the only thing).

    Quality mentoring of students should be realistic about the odds of landing at an R1, and encouraging of the exploring of possibilities. Possibilities which may include teaching institutions (like Mikaila’s and my own), industry, non-profits, university administration, etc. all which require a much different set of experiences than “publish as much as possible and do all else as little as possible.” It should also include the fact that publications are not the only thing students have control over, and that subfield plays a major role (I graduated from a midranked department, if we followed Headworth and Freese’s classification, and neither of the two grad students I know who had sole authored ASR/AJS papers landed at R1 jobs – one left academia altogether after not finding an R1 job – but we did land a number of people who were doing medical or criminology at R1s).

    And just to be clear, my point isn’t all about prestige (though it should be noted that Perry’s advice will be especially bad for Oklahoma students). If a student is in a family situation that precludes them from just moving anywhere (and I mean anywhere – even limiting oneself to just metro areas has a huge impact on job opportunities), they need to also explore those options outside of R1s, which also mean not following Perry’s advice. Same for those folks in crowded specialties, or who can’t afford multiple attempts at the market.

    Liked by 1 person


    December 21, 2015 at 5:13 am

  12. A few comments for those following the thread:

    1. On the blog, we’ve discussed job search strategies for those shooting for teaching intensive jobs:


    2. When I advise students, I very much urge them (especially those in diss writing stage) to carefully think about what their career will look like and I tailor my advice. If industry/admin is your goal, then wrap up ASAP and move on. If teaching is your goal, develop the portfolio. If R1 is the goal, then spending time for the right pub is the way.

    3. For a lot of students, “hit the pubs” is not bad default advice. If you want R1 jobs, then it makes sense. If you want LA jobs, it makes sense since the good ones want pubs for tenure anyway. If you want to ever switch between LA and R1, then pubs help. I think that this is bad default advice for those shooting for admin/industry or the least competitive LA schools that do not require publication either for hiring or promotion.

    4. There are some comments that make it sound like preparing for an R1 career is only possible in elite programs. A lot of research in sociology requires no special resources. For example, students in the most modest program can read journals, download the GSS and get to work. Computer simulations (my first pub) require literally zero resources as anyone can download and learn R or Python for free. I suspect that another issue is money. Those in non-elite schools must support themselves through extensive teaching, which does not allow for developing research. This is a fair point, but there are strategies for ameliorating this problem, such as joining larger research groups so you don’t have to do all the work. Another strategy (employed by a co-author from a very non elite program) is simply to reach out to scholars who are open to co-authoring.

    5. Having been an academic for about 20 years and seen people go into all kinds of careers, and having read the literature on academic labor markets myself, is that you maximize options by putting emphasis on research. Teaching is a skill that many, many can develop and most graduate students will teach or TA a number of classes during their grad school stint. In other words, lots and lots of people can legitimately claim to have teaching experience. What is rare, and rewarded consistently through the academic career, is publication. So yes, some segments of the labor market don’t emphasize publication, but having good publications increases the number of segments you can compete in.



    December 21, 2015 at 6:02 am

  13. Fabio,
    Just to clarify, my issue isn’t with the hit the pubs part, but with the hit the pubs at the expense of all else. You’ve already mentioned the advice of those going to industry, so i wont rehash that. But the lastest job bank report from ASA puts something like half of all sociology positions at regional teaching schools, and I’d say that severely underestimates it, since a number of teaching schools dont advertise through ASA (mine certainly never did). And in those, publications still matter, but so does having extensive teaching experience, a concise and believable statement of why you want to be there, etc (i.e., what Mikaila said).
    As for people from nonelite programs at r1s(and here we may differ on what we call non elite), Headworth and Freese do a much better job of discussing cumulative advantage v caste system, but the bottom line is that it is incredibly rare (of 4 people i know from non elite programs with sole authored ajs/ asr, only one is in a department with a doctoral program). Which brings me to the other point, which is about subfield specialties, the great elephant in the room in terms of advising (and something i believe you have mentioned in the blog). Trying to move up while doing culture will be significantly different from trying to move up while doing medical, for example.
    I commend you in having the talk with your advisees early, and i hope that no one mistook my posts as advice against publishing. But the point remains that surviving the market is about more than publications for the majority of positions, and i wish more advisors were frank upfront about the odds of landing certain jobs, especially for those who are less likeky to land that r1.

    Liked by 1 person


    December 21, 2015 at 2:15 pm

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