The Society for American Archaeology’s paper of the month for March comes from American Antiquity and is entitled: ‘Choosing a Path to the Ancient World in a Modern Market: The Reality of Faculty Jobs in Archaeology’. Authors: Robert J. Speakman, Carla S. Hadden, Matthew H. Colvin, Justin Cramb, K.C. Jones, Travis W. Jones, Corbin L. Kling, Isabelle Lulewicz, Katharine G. Napora, Katherine L. Reinberger, Brandon T. Ritchison, Maria Jose Rivera-Araya, April K. Smith, Victor D. Thompson.

Multiple recent studies have explored the myriad issues surrounding employment prospects for doctoral graduates in social sciences, humanities, biosciences, and other disciplines. The consensus (and reality) is that academic jobs simply do not exist for the thousands of recent graduates entering the job market annually, and there are data that suggests that there are fewer tenured/tenure-track positions than there were 10–15 year ago.

For our joint class in the Fall of 2015, we adopted a fundamentally different approach towards mentoring our students about faculty jobs—we chose to be transparent and honest about academic job prospects. We now promote open dialogue about alternative academic tracks early in the graduate training process, while at the same time focusing on how to best be successful in an academic sense. To demonstrate the reality of the faculty job market, we examined data for our own discipline of anthropological archaeology. Toward this end, we created a database using information contained in the American Anthropological Association 2014–2015 AnthroGuide. Data in the AnthroGuide has information for most four-year and higher anthropology departments, including degrees offered and program descriptions, as well as information about faculty, including academic rank, specialization, and year and origin of their doctoral degree.

The results of our study were not too surprising –at least to us. Based on our data, we estimated that 80% of US anthropology doctorates are not successful in obtaining a tenured/tenure-track faculty position within an anthropology department. When we focused specifically on data for archaeologists and bioarchaeologists, we were surprised not only at how many Ph.D. programs exist, but also at how different they are in terms of placing doctorates into tenure track positions.

There are about 110 institutions in the US and Canada where one can earn a doctorate in anthropological archaeology and bioarcheology. In our study, we ranked programs based on their academic market share—which we defined as the percentage of tenured/tenured track positions in US and Canadian anthropology and archaeology academic departments that are attained by graduates of a specific program over a 20-year period (1994–2014). During that 20-year period, there were about 608 archaeologists and bioarchaeologists who were successful in obtaining tenure-track positions in anthropology departments. Twenty universities (Tiers I and II) account for more than 56% of the total market share over the past 20 years with Tier I universities averaging 1.1 Ph.D.’s placed per year and Tier II universities averaging 0.56 placements per year (Tables 1–2). When we consider the lower-ranked programs, we observe that these programs are placing people on average at a rate of one individual every 3 years (Tier III), one every 5 years (Tier IV), or one person every 14 years (Tier V). Additionally, there were 23 programs that had not placed any graduates into academic positions. Considering that Tiers IV, V, and 0 account for 69 universities (or 63% of the total), yet have only 19.3% of the total market share, it is critical that potential graduate students understand that although there are many choices available for graduate school, the harsh reality is that not applying and/or getting accepted to a top school has serious ramifications in terms of getting an academic position.

What this essentially means is that success in landing a faculty position begins the moment one applies for graduate school. The reality is that it really does make a difference if you get accepted into a top program. It also is not simply enough to be successful in graduate school, but equally important is picking a graduate program (and an advisor) that will provide that slight competitive advantage when it comes time to apply for faculty positions—because it really does matter.

The fact that academic jobs are hard to obtain is certainly not new and some programs explicitly focus on training students to be successful elsewhere (i.e., CRM, government, museums). That is ideal given the academic job market, and we would likewise encourage all departments to develop seminars/courses that focus on alternatives to academic careers. This means that today’s graduate training should also include and emphasize the value of “non-academic” skills such as business management, legal frameworks, and other professional development, but also (and both most difficult and most important) preparing students mentally to view non-academic careers as equally valid and rewarding.


The Society for American Archaeology’s paper of the month for February, Choosing a Path to the Ancient World in a Modern Market: The Reality of Faculty Jobs in Archaeology’, will be freely available for one month.

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