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.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

Based on your snip of Gill’s comments (I didn’t read his post…I come to a blog to read THAT blog…not someone else’s’), I would say the methods clique is real for his model. His model has some selection bias problems (or endogeneity depending on whether you think it affects the slope or intercept of the equation, I suppose). He is looking at a sample of listings that excluded formal theory postings and postings at undergrad only institutions. Therefore he selected a sample that would be of greater interest to in-clique methodologists (“real” methodologists they would likely say).

And the hiring institution for that sample of listings is – in all honesty – probably looking for someone for whom the tool comes before the task. You know the kind of methodologist I am talking about….they find a fascinating new technique and look for a way to apply it rather than focusing on a substantive question or problem first.

But there is a “niche” of sorts for those of us with some methodological training….who may have even taken comprehensive exams in quantitative methods….but don’t consider ourselves singular quant-heads. However, we have to overcome the fear of hiring committees at those institutions. They are afraid of “quant jocks” even as they recognize the need to hire someone to teach the undergrad methods class. Obviously, it can be done.

In sum…I think there is a “clique” for those jobs considered “methods jobs” by Gill, but I think the “non-Gill” methods jobs represent a subset that the “clique” wouldn’t want anyway (think of the people you KNOW to be in this clique….how many of them REALLY enjoy teaching undergrads)

As a warning, this post may sound snarkier than I really mean it to be…..hopefully not…


Well, for the record the snip is the complete post. I was too lazy to excerpt it.

And good points all. Here at SLU I think I’m bumping up against the “quant jock” thing to some extent… on the one hand, they have a certain ambition for the program (not sure I can say anything more than that at present), but on the other, I’m not entirely sure they get it… it’s like I’m the alien life form that got beamed in because someone (The Discipline?) decided they need someone like me, and they’re not entirely thrilled to have me around, but they need someone to do it.

For what it’s worth, I am not at all convinced that even most grad programs need a “quant jock.” Realistically there’s only room in the discipline for so many Gary Kings, and not everybody needs one.

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