Monday, 25 September 2006

Life as a Method(olog)ist

Jeff Gill perceives some salutary changes in the labor market for political methodologists:

Last Fall I counted 51 faculty methods jobs posted in political science. I paid close attention because I was on a relevant search committee. This was particularly interesting because equilibrium in past years was about five or so. Right now there are 39 methods jobs posted (subtracting non-tenure/tenure track positions). Now some of these are listed as multiple fields, but one has to presume that listing the ad on the methods page is a signal.

Apparently we have US News and World Report to thank for fundamentally changing the labor market by making methodology the fifth “official” field of the discipline. A number of (non-methodologist) colleagues believed that I must be exaggerating since an order of magnitude difference seems ridiculous. Actually, it turns out that I was underestimating as Jan Box-Steffensmeier (president of the Society for Political Methodology and the APSA methods section) recently got a count of 61 from the APSA. I think their definition was a little broader than mine (perhaps including formal theory and research methods jobs at undergraduate-only institutions).

So an interesting question is how quickly does supply catch up to demand here? My theory is that it will occur rather slowly since the lead time for methods training seems to be longer than the lead time for other subfields. This is obviously good news for graduate students going on the market soon in this area. I’m curious about other opinions, but I think that this is a real change for the subfield.

I concur in part and dissent in part.

I am less convinced that we can attribute this change to US News (although I’m not one of those academic US News haters) than simply to the broader market: people with superior methods training are more likely to get jobs than those who don’t have it, which means that methods training is more important at the graduate level—and increasingly the undergraduate level too. The booming enrollments at the ICPSR Summer Program, including from top-ranked schools that traditionally considered their own methods training sufficient for graduate students, are indicative of this trend as well.

As far as the supply-demand equilibrium works, I think there is a perception out there (perhaps unfair) of the existence of a methods clique—one, that if it exists, I am decidedly not a part of. Thus far, in-clique supply seems to have been sufficient to satisfy demand; we—and perhaps during this hiring season I—shall see whether this continues to be the case. My perception is that high demand is somewhat illusory; several unfilled methods jobs in the past two years have not reappeared, suggesting that filling these jobs is less of a priority than one might think.

The broader issue is a question of definition: what is a “methodologist”? As someone who generally doesn’t live to maximize my own likelihood functions, I’d self-identify as an applied method0logist at best—and certainly don’t consider methodology my primary field of inquiry; tools are great, but I gravitate toward more substantive questions.

As for why Gill thinks “research methods jobs at undergraduate-only institutions” shouldn’t count, I really wouldn’t hazard a comment. But I do think that if he wants to increase the supply of methodologists, getting more undergraduates (particularly at BA-granting institutions like liberal arts colleges) in the pipeline early so they can do advanced work out of the gate at the graduate level would seem to be a key part of the strategy.