The American Institute of Physics has a statistics division that produces lots of interesting analyses of issues relevant to the discipline. A couple of them were released just recently, including one on the job status of new Ph.D.’s (PDF). The key graph from the report is this one:
The text of the report talks up the recent decrease in the number of post-doc jobs and increase in potentially permanent positions, but the long term trend looks pretty flat to me– averaged over the thirty years of data, it looks like a bit more than half of new Ph.D.’s have always taken post-doc positions, and the current post-doc fraction is more or less in line with that average.
A couple of other notes on this report:
— The idea that the post-doc fraction is decreasing might seem surprising given the recent spate of horror stories about the job market in academia, but this isn’t really the stat you want to measure if you want to know about jobs in academia. A post-doc has been a key step in the academic career track for a long time, so the fact that a large proportion of new Ph.D.’s elect to do a post-doc is no big deal. The real measure of the suckitude of the job market is the fraction of post-docs who have to do a second or even third post-doc, rather than moving to a potentially permanent position.
— It’s not clear from this report what the increasing fraction of new Ph.D. physicists with potentially permanent jobs are doing. This will presumably be in the forthcoming report on initial employment of Ph.D.’s. If it reflects an increasing acceptance that the pursuit of a tenured professorship is not the only acceptable career for a physicist, that’s probably to the good.
— Unless, of course, they’re going into finance. Interestingly, the only period in the dataset where permanent positions outnumbered postdocs lines up pretty well with the years of the dotcom boom, when anybody with technical skills could get wheelbarrows full of cash on Wall St.. Which led directly to the breaking of the world economy when the finance industry went nuts on complicated ways of hiding insanely risky investments. This was not a positive development, to put it mildly.
That’s about all I’ve got on this, but given the importance of job-market issues, I’m sure some readers will have opinions on this, so fire away in the comments.