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Good News or Bad News?

1 March 2011 5,177 views 3 Comments

Academic jobs for statisticians and biostatisticians

Keith Crank, ASA Research and Graduate Education Manager

    Keith Crank earned a BS in mathematics education and an MS in mathematics from Michigan State University and a PhD in statistics from Purdue University. Prior to joining the ASA as research and graduate education manager, he was a program officer at the National Science Foundation, primarily in the probability program.

    Graduation is fast approaching for many statistics and biostatistics students and, with it, the desire/need to find a job. This is especially true for PhD students. (Presumably, bachelor’s and master’s students could continue their schooling.) This month, I want to give my perceptions of the academic (faculty) job market for PhDs in statistics and biostatistics. And I encourage those of you involved in this process to give me your feedback.

    The ASA maintains an email list of representatives from academic statistics and biostatistics groups. Many academic job postings are circulated to this email list, so I went back and counted the number of such postings over the past few years. I found that, from mid-July through the end of December 2008, there were emails advertising 29 academic jobs in statistics/biostatistics for the 2009–2010 school year. For the same period in 2009, there were emails advertising 25 jobs for the 2010–2011 school year. And for the same period in 2010, there were emails advertising 56 jobs for the 2011–2012 school year. These numbers would suggest this is a good year to be looking for a job in academia, but the reality is probably a bit more complicated.

    The American Mathematical Society in Their Data on the Profession

    Preliminary Report on the 2009–2010 New Doctoral Recipients (PDF download)—by Richard Cleary, James W. Maxwell, and Colleen Rose—shows 374 PhDs awarded by statistics and biostatistics departments between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Of these new PhDs, 77 took jobs at PhD-granting departments of mathematics, statistics, or biostatistics. An additional 88 took jobs in other departments or at research institutes; 16 took jobs at colleges and universities that do not grant PhDs; 10–13 were still looking for a job; and 40–43 had an unknown status. (The numbers for 2008–2009 are similar.)

    With such a small number of academic job ads being distributed (in statistics and biostatistics), one has to wonder whether a large number of these recent graduates took temporary jobs or jobs that were not what they wanted. And will they be back on the job market again this year?

    Another issue is whether some students delayed completion of their degree because of concerns about the job market. If there are a substantial number of such students, there may be a larger than usual number of PhD degrees awarded this year, and that also would increase the number of people looking for jobs.

    It’s also possible that the increase in the number of jobs sent to this email list is because more department chairs are aware of it. And some of these jobs could disappear because of the lack of funding before anyone gets hired into them. Still, overall, it looks like a positive situation for those on the academic job market this year.

    If you are one of the people in the job market—either a soon-to-graduate PhD student or a recent graduate—or one of the people involved in hiring this year, let me know how things are going.

    Finally, here is a piece of more general information for PhD statisticians in the work force. The National Science Foundation just released a report indicating the 2008 unemployment rate for PhDs in math and statistics was 1.0%, well below the overall unemployment rate in the United States, and the point estimate is the lowest among the science disciplines.

    To contact me, send an email to keith@amstat.org. Questions or comments about this article, as well as suggestions for future articles, are always welcome.

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    • Vincent Granville said:

      If you consider data mining, web analytics, predictive modeling, machine learning, fraud detection, text mining as being part of statistical science, then there are many opportunities in the industry.

    • David A. Heiser said:

      Re: The Employment Issue
      These are your numbers
      -77 phd depts
      -88 other depts with phd granting
      -16 other depts with no phd granting
      -13 still looking
      -43 unknowns
      137 This is a big chunk left out. Did these go into business???

      What are the other opportunities? This is a dismal finding….. Getting a phd is expensive.

    • Keith Crank said:

      In response to David Heiser, most of the others went into business or government jobs. Some also went to jobs outside the US. The job announcements I typically see are for academic jobs, so that’s what I concentrated on in my article. The AMS report is at http://www.ams.org/profession/data/annual-survey/2010Survey-Prelim-NewDoctorates.pdf.