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Early Career Jobs for IU Folklore and Ethnomusicology Ph.D.s in 2014

In order to answer a question that was posed during the recent Future of American Folkloristics conference, I took a few moments recently to crunch some placement data for Ph.D. graduates in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. The data was collected for the department’s most recent external review. More could be done with it, but here is some simple and quick analysis.

At the time of the external review, the department gathered then-current employment circumstances for Ph.D. graduates for the period 2008 to 2014. That list of alumni comprises fifty-five colleagues in the fields of folklore studies and ethnomusicology.* I have not checked to see if there are Ph.D. graduates from 2008-2014 missing from this list (but I doubt there are). In the following discussion, I do not separate folklorists from ethnomusicologists. I acknowledge that this could be done with a bit more effort, but I was trying to do what I could do quickly.

PhD Placement

What came out in the work that I did do? I do not privilege academic jobs over those pursued away from university or college campuses, but I will begin here with those in academic roles. (My own biases would probably have me emphasize the museum workers…) The admirable diversity of roles filled by scholars in our fields means that different approaches to coding the same data are probably inevitable. While I do not describe my approach, it should be relatively transparent from the categories that I use below.

I do not support the regrettable professor-centrism of most research university faculties and deans, but I do worry a lot about precarity and contingency in the U.S. professoriate. I start then with those in the 2008-2014 cohort who were in tenure-track (TT) positions in 2014. Nineteen of fifty-five Ph.D. graduates were in such roles at the time of the snapshot (19/55 or 34%). I will comment more on skewing in this number below.

At the time of the snapshot, eight of fifty-five cohort members were in non-tenure track (NTT) roles (8/55 or 15%). As anyone in academe knows, this NTT category is itself heterogeneous, containing colleagues teaching by the course under very difficult conditions as well as those teaching relatively comfortably with full-time, multiyear contracts. I do not parse the list in a granular way to address this distinction. A more careful analysis would.

By my calculation, two more cohort members were in post-doctoral fellowships at the time of the snapshot. To the best of my knowledge, these were university-based and included teaching, thus I will gather them together with other university teaching roles (2/55 or 4%). Together, we can speculate that the NTT and Post-docs may have then aspired to be TT faculty. While I will do the math for this, I do not want to believe it categorically. A person could be in a NTT teaching role while busily seeking a research curatorship, an archivist role, or some other appropriate position. But, lumping the the TT, NTT, and post-docs together, we find 53% of the 2008-2014 cohort working in greater professordom as of 2014.

Twenty-six out of the fifty-five (26/55 or 47%) were then in some other academic support role, university-based researcher role, or public sector or applied job. Others would code the list differently, but my break down is as follows.

  • Academic support (not including librarians, but including academic advisors): N=7
  • Business roles: N=1
  • Librarians and archivists: N=2
  • Public folklorists and public ethnomusicologists (not including museum work): N=3
  • Museum roles: N=6
  • Independent research organization staff: N=1
  • Soft money (grant-funded) research posts: N=2
  • NGO work (outside the conventional public folklore/ethnomusicology sector): N=1
  • Scholarly publishing roles: N=2
  • K-12 education roles: N=1

If I slice this 47% (/non-faculty) group differently, sixteen work in college/university contexts and ten do not. Thus 82% (45/55) (including the citizens of professordom) of the Ph.D. cohort for 2008-2014 are working on campus and 18% of this particular group work off campus. This sort of surprises me, but as I think of it, it makes more sense. Our department trains a greater percentage of public and applied workers for off-campus roles but the analysis would have to add in M.A. graduates to more meaningfully capture this fact.

There are other complexities not addressed here, such as when public folklore jobs are based on university campuses or in museums or when an academic advisor role is based in a relevant academic department and includes an instructional component. The real world is more complex than any simple quantitative analysis can capture. With such caveats in mind, it is noteworthy to me that a significant number of Ph.D. graduates at the time of this snapshot were working as academic advisors. I do not think that this is a bad thing. More and more anecdotal evidence suggests to me that our training makes for excellent advising because we know academic structures, the diverse worlds from which students come, and the complex informal cultures of the university. I would also note that academic advising has proved, in at least one case that I know, to have provided a reasonable home base from which to mount a successful push for a TT professorship. In my observations at IU, an academic advisor role (in contrast to a vexing adjunct situation) would provide more of the much-needed spare time and job stability required to maintain or establish a publication program on the side and to pursue the hard work of applying to a range of professor positions.

While I have not parsed the data or done the math, it seems evident from the listing that the international scholars who secured tenure track jobs in their homelands skew the data for TT appointments in a more positive direction. For Americans seeking TT professorships in the United States, the task is simply harder than the aggregate 34% TT versus 15% NTT numbers would suggest.

Since I am the teacher of our graduate Curatorship class and the director of our campus museum of ethnography, I have a special interest in museum placements and I feel pretty good about the 11% represented here. This cohort, graduating between 2008 and 2014 was the first to benefit from expanded museum training opportunities. I expect our placements in this area to continue gaining strength.

I do not feel overwhelmingly good or bad about these numbers, even as I worry about the state of social science and humanities doctoral training overall. I think that they are a reasonable snapshot of the early career career paths of an impressive group of Ph.D.s in folklore studies and ethnomusicology. Reviewing 2014 data in 2017, I know that many of those represented here have moved on to even better (for them) roles. Post-docs, NTT professors, and academic support staff now hold TT posts, press editors have been promoted, museum people have migrated to jobs that they like even better…. But not everyone is employed as they aspire to be. As the higher education press makes clear every day, the career worlds inhabited by those holding the Ph.D. are not easy and excellent people can struggle under the weight of significant structural challenges. I believe that those challenges require us—especially those of us working in graduate degree granting programs—to try to study current realities and to communicate clearly with those who want to gather data on the graduate programs that they might join or that they are already a part of.

I hope that these notes are useful to someone.

*The set of lists that I am discussing here also include a separate listing of full-time placements among those then-still the Ph.D. program and a list of M.A. graduates for 2007-2014. I do not touch on either of these groups here.


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