The job market for recent PhD graduates is tough. Simply, there are many more degree holders than available tenure track positions. People who went through the market describe it as capricious, random, unfair and difficult. New professors often lament highly qualified colleagues who found no position. If your dissertation is on Witte and no Witte-teaching positions are available, tough luck. This evidence suggests that the market is inneficient and that my personal behavior has a small impact on the outcome.
But OTOH, there are reasons to believe that a candidates ability has a large influence. Firstly, the profile of the desired candidate is clear beforehand: deep drive for knowledge, record of successful publication, agreeableness toward colleagues, and teaching skills. Secondly, there is an abundance of clear signals of these attributes; quality of publications, research influence and size of network are all clear and hard to fake. Thirdly, candidate ability has high variance (the best researchers greatly outperform). Therefore hiring committees have tools and incentives to select high-quality researchers.
The truth likely lies between these two positions. Underperforming PhD’s rarely advance and many strong CV’s fail due to unpredictable changes in demand.
The Instrumental Truth
But perhaps believing the truth is against my interest. If I believe that my work is important to outcomes, I will work harder. If I believe my work has little importance, I may become lazy or seek side-hustles. Should I convince myself that my publication count and thesis quality are more important than is true?
I’d love people’s thoughts on this. Also link to great essays and blog posts about instrumental rationality!
The best strategy is to remember that academia is a silly place. If the market is unkind don’t hesitate to go elsewhere. Not-academia has more money and other good stuff! Be careful not to murder-pill yourself into thinking academia is the whole world.