A new study by archaeologists at the University of Georgia was just released in American Antiquity concerning the US/Canadian academic job market for archaeologists in anthropology departments. A must read for all archaeology faculty, staff, and students. This is sure to spark many discussions.


Abstract: Over the past 30 years, the number of US doctoral anthropology graduates has increased by about 70%, but there has not been a corresponding increase in the availability of new faculty positions. Consequently, doctoral degree-holding archaeologists face more competition than ever before when applying for faculty positions. Here we examine where US and Canadian anthropological archaeology faculty originate and where they ultimately end up teaching. Using data derived from the 2014–2015 AnthroGuide, we rank doctoral programs whose graduates in archaeology have been most successful in the academic job market; identify long-term and ongoing trends in doctoral programs; and discuss gender division in academic archaeology in the US and Canada. We conclude that success in obtaining a faculty position upon graduation is predicated in large part on where one attends graduate school.


  1. Shane says:

    What’s your take, Jake?

    • I think there are a lot of really important points that indirectly come out of this study. For one, if a handful of schools hold the majority share of faculty jobs, its likely that people who graduated from those schools also hold the majority share of funding dollars from grant agencies. Meaning those handful of programs have a very heavy hand in directing and shaping the overall trajectory of the discipline.

      It also seems like a pretty vicious circle. Many of those Tier I schools have large endowments that provide lots of internal funding for graduate students. Many of which end up using this internal funding to conduct substantial pilot studies before even applying for larger grants like NSF. Combined with general recruitment packages and the ability to bring in top scholars as endowed chairs, there’s likely to be more opportunities as a reault of both money and reputation.

      HOWEVER, when it comes down to it, any graduate student at any university should be able to produce. No matter where you are you should be publishing, securing external funding, and presenting at national and international conferences. 20% employment success (in academia) is not THAT bad. If youre producing, your chances of landing a job are higher, no matter what Tier university you are at. The question is whether or not your program’s name alone is influencing employment success. But like I mentioned above, its more likely the opportunities and resources afforded to students of Tier I programs that enable them to secure jobs at a higher rate. But again, lack of available resources does not by any means mean lack of talent or skill. With everything held constant except for quality and quantity of production, the questions is why are students at lower Tier universities not producing the same as students at higher Tier universities? Is this a product of an oversaturation of archaeology PhD students? Do programs need to be more selective and select less students overall? And would this increase the quality of production? How much of this falls to the advisor? Should an advisor be responsible for preparing students for the academic job market? And is this different from simply training good, quality archaeologists?

      Lastly, as the article suggests briefly, is the American, four field approach failing archaeologists? Do we need to be more specialized and more diversified, beyond what is considered appropriate within an anthropology department? Is our relationship with anthropology holding us back in any way?

  2. dover1952 says:

    Maybe anthropology graduate students should just be honest with themselves. Just like in almost every discipline outside of anthropology, the Tier I colleges and universities attract the very best graduate students in the nation. We are talking about MIT-types with incredibly high IQ (a measure rarely used anymore) and enormous natural talent in certain areas that go way beyond the talents of most American graduate students. We are talking about people with talents on or near the par with Mozart, Goethe, Einstein, etc.

    It is a well-known fact that at graduation time, the major corporations in places like NYC seek to FIRST hire as many Tier 1 graduates as possible because they know those people have extraordinary intelligence, talent, and creativity that go way beyond that of Tier II and Tier III undergraduates and graduates. They are just plain “better quality fabric.” The major corporations know that—and that is who they want most.

    I have a friend named John. He is an engineer who is very athletic. He plays early morning basketball at a local church in Knoxville. A few of the UTK basketball players come out to play with some of the otherwise pretty athletic guys on certain mornings. John told me one of the first things he noticed was that these UTK basketball guys had natural physical talents that were way above everyone else on the floor. They had something extra and very special—like the difference between Payton Manning or Tom Brady and most other quarterbacks.

    It was the same way with my physics teacher in high school. He was a Princeton University graduate who had made an extremely rare perfect score on the GRE Test, before going on to graduate school at the University of New Mexico. Why there? Proximity only. He was working at Los Alamos National Laboratory at the time. When I sat down to talk with this guy about various things back in my high school days, it was just obvious that he was intellectually light years ahead of every other faculty member in the school.

    You may not like this, but I am going to say it anyway. Tier I people are simply better. If I were the head of a department of anthropology, and i needed a new Ph.D. faculty member, would I go to the University of Georgia, University of Alabama, or University of Arkansas to find my new Assistant Professor. No way. I am going shopping first at Harvard University, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, UC Berkley, etc. Am I going there because students had access to more grant funding or produced more papers in graduate school. Hell no!!! I am going because those programs accept only the very best and brightest in the country, and they are the best Ph.D. graduates in the nation. They all have a little, round, blue thing stamped on their buttocks that says “USDA Prime Anthropologist.”

    I think The University of Tennessee (Knoxville) may be a good example of this. About 10 years ago, the university set an official goal of becoming a Top 25 public university. When I was there in the 1970s, the faculty had Ph.D. degrees from places like the University of Missouri, Washington State University, University of Kentucky, etc. After the university set their Top 25 goal and more of the older faculty retired, they went shopping at the same places I would go. The new faculty members have Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, etc. Recently, one of my old professors, a famous southeastern archaeologist, mentioned to me that at one point they were seriously thinking about replacing him with a Middle Eastern archaeologist. I have since noticed that the anthropology program at UTK has been taking on a more “international flavor,” and I suspect this has something to do with an attempt to elevate the department and its appeal to something more like what one would expect of an anthropology program at Top 25 public university.

    I do not mean to offend anyone here, but that is just the way I feel about it all personally. You are correct that I am no one important—so why should you listen to me? I learned long ago that this is just what anthropologists do—size up a person’s importance and then automatically dismiss anyone deemed to be low on the importance scale. Nonetheless, I think my evaluation above is mostly correct, and that is the way I would go about hiring a new Assistant Professor (along with some other factors).

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