Tenure Track Applications: Unscientific Poll

As a postdoc, I am more than a little selfish by following discussions and advice on the best way of applying for tenure track positions. As soon as the New Year hit, it seemed Twitter was filled with discussions of the “best way” to apply for these coveted jobs. Two main suggestions emerged, cultivate a small number of very specific and well researched applications per year or cast a wide net, dredging anything you can get.

Curious about which technique most people had relied upon, I set up an exceptionally unscientific twitter poll asking the number of applications academics had submitted before landing that big white TT whale.


Even with 195 votes, I expect there is some serious section bias, but more importantly people could have landed their jobs half a century ago when the job climate was a very different place. I narrowed the catchment group with a follow up:


The top result endorsed in both of these polls was submitting a more curated number of applications, specifically 1-10.  However, the message that I take from these data is twofold:

  1. If you don’t get a position after your first ten applications you are in for a long job hunt
  2. There seems to be a trend towards more applications; however, this may vary drastically by field.

Finally, for those PhDs who went into Industry, Justin Kiggins set up a sister poll asking for the number of applications submitted before successfully getting a non-academic job.  Outside of academia, the job search is a bit different, getting feedback on the success of applications may be a bit timelier.  The big difference seems to be the ability to continually apply for positions across the year.  Despite this, the 1-10 applications option was the most singularly endorsed option.TwitterPoll3

This is a very self-serving inquiry, but I am curious if our perception of the job market equals reality. About 60% of those who responded had submitted more than 10 applications before successfully finding a position in either academia or industry. Is there something different about those who only have to submit a few applications? One previous study suggests that only your graduate pedigree counts. Does this means those of us without an Ivy League diploma just scurry away from the ivory tower, or we just have to do more knocking to get in?

I would love to do some follow-up data collection, investigating the number of applications by year and field. Do you have any other interpretations or thoughts on these numbers? Also, before I go designing a survey, would you participate?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Links to the orginal polls:

  1. https://twitter.com/ldrogosphd/status/683127577397956608
  2. https://twitter.com/ldrogosphd/status/683137763709829120
  3. https://twitter.com/neuromusic/status/683141017571168257



7 thoughts on “Tenure Track Applications: Unscientific Poll

  1. Brush says:

    Applied to 32 jobs this season, got 6 on campus interviews so far, declined one. Skype interview but no campus invite (yet) at 2 places. Seems most places are done inviting, but only 2 actually bothered to send formal rejection. Cast brooooad net, got interviews for the ones I least expected. Best ‘fits’ for the most part ignored me. Have pedigree, glam, a lot of pubs, but work on “boutique” research. FWIW, I’ve noticed that competing candidates at the various places I am interviewing are never the same- meaning a lot of good applicants, invites are very random, depends a lot on search committee tastes.


      • Lauren Drogos says:

        Yeah Sorry! I was responding on my phone, I apologize for the short answer. I do think the applicants who get interviews aren’t necessarily ‘cookie-cutter’ scientists. I also think this tends to vary by institution. Just seeing people come through for interviews at my PhD institution – I do think the elite schools and those with glam pubs tend to be at the top of the pile. Also from what I have heard – it seems no one feels that they quite “fit” with their research. Either within a specific department or a specific field. You may be more mainstream than you think!


  2. Brush says:

    Yeah, there’s definitely a hiring season, it coincides with PhD program applications. Apply in fall semester/interview in spring semester usually. Anything outside that is either some places trying to scoop up people early, or prolonged searches that weren’t successful initially. Not much sense looking around now, most places have already booked the interviews and aren’t considering any more apps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lauren Drogos says:

      Yup. It would be less stressful if new jobs were only going to be seen a few months away, but it’s almost a full year. Also the uncertainty to stay the course increases with each season.


  3. Brush says:

    A year ago I was seriously considering going to industry. I even sent out some CVs and job applications. Part of the panic was due to paltry academic job ads, but September came around and I was kept very busy applying to a lot of the jobs out there. I didn’t apply to most of them actually, I limited my search geographically due to partner’s career prospects as well as a preference for major research U’s since I could still keep postdocking even if I don’t land a job this year.

    Liked by 1 person

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