Honestly curious here: are numbers of applicants for particular jobs a matter of public record (at least, at public institutions)? It would be good to contrast the numbers above with some numbers that show how many folks are actually competing for individual jobs.
Shannon Bischoff, who contributed the data for post #2 in this series, followed up on this, by writing to twelve departments asking if they would supply their application counts. (Many thanks, Shannon!)
Shannon writes, "The departments that responded range from mid-size state universities to large R1 institutions and private universities". We're still not sure whether these counts are a matter of public record, so we're serving up the data without identifying features:
|Job (identified only by field)||Application count|
|Syntax (specific language)||75|
|Syntax (specific language)||16|
All these jobs were advertised in the last five years, so they are probably specific data points from post #3 in this series. The syntax job with just 16 applicants was reported as a special case; the language was very specific and the time from ad to deadline was short.
With only seven jobs, we don't have enough data for a confident quantitative assessment, but the numbers still help put things in perspective, I think. And they provide a good excuse to repeat Geoff P's comment, which (typical of Geoff) is forthright and also heartening if you really listen:
I want to make a brief comment about this, addressed to linguistics doctoral students. I speak as one who simply would not listen when people said "You can never become an academic in linguistics because job vacancies are just too scarce." For me, the prospect of not spending a life in linguistics was unpleasant to think about, so I refused to think about it. This is the way to think about that enormous blue column over Syntax, the worst piece of data in the bar graph above. If you think it is saying you can't make it, you are overlooking something important. You are missing a key variable. What's being left out is just how good you are determined to be.
This is the way to look at that blue spike: The numbers show there are only about 20 job vacancies in syntax for each 100 syntax dissertations. But that is great for you! It means that on average you only have to be better than the next four syntax dissertation-writers who come along, and (assuming broadly merit-based hiring) one of those jobs has your name on it! You know that at every conference you've seen papers presented by students who are worse than you aim to be. You have seen real turkeys mumbling away up there at the mike, presenting analyses that don't fly, or even waddle. You can damn sure be better than any random four of them. Can't you?
Don't look at the gross numbers. Look at the field in the competition, and where you think you can place. You only need to stay out of the bottom 80 percent! You can do that! If you work and train harder, you can probably do better than that, and get one of the really good jobs. It isn't about how many dissertations are being written and accepted; it's about how many dissertations are being written by people who just aren't going to look as good as you are when it comes time for a job talk. There are lots of them. All you need to do is think harder than they did, and write better, and give better talks. And you can do that. Yes, you can. Even in syntax (and in the other areas it's easier), you can get a job teaching and researching in an area you find fascinating. Go for it.