With 2019 just around the corner, you might be wondering what the chemistry job market in the US will look like next year. If I knew, I wouldn’t be working in the chemical enterprise; I’d be making fortunes on Wall Street. What I do know is that how the job market performs will likely depend on what the economy does in 2019.
By the numbers, the US economy is doing pretty well. The second and third quarters in 2018 had healthy gross domestic product increases of 4.2% and 3.5%, respectively, and we’ve had record low unemployment at 3.7%. But if the recent stock market is a guide to the economy of 2019, there may be signs of a slowdown, as major indices have lost most of their gains for 2018.
Another indication that the economy as a whole may be slowing down comes straight from the chemical enterprise. The American Chemistry Council’s Chemical Activity Barometer measures and collates basic data, like prices and inventories of commodity chemicals; these numbers tend to lead the business cycle by 2–14 months. In November, for the first time since mid-2016, the index fell slightly. If this decline becomes a downward trend, we could be headed for a slowdown. This bears watching, but most of the economic data are still pointing in a positive direction.
How might the academic job market fare next year? For the past three years, I have helped chart the tenure-track faculty job market in the US and Canada. Started by longtime blogger Paul Bracher in the fall of 2015, the Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (bit.ly/facultychemjobs2019) is curated by me and Andrew Spaeth, a chemist in the Minneapolis area. We attempt to identify every open tenure-track faculty position in the US and Canada and post it to a single public Google spreadsheet.
This list has gained broad use in academic hiring. It’s also a great source of data on the faculty job market in the US and Canada. From 2016 to 2017, we found 590 tenure-track positions. From 2017 to 2018, we found 552 positions. Our efforts in scouring job postings have increased over the years, so failing to identify jobs is likely not the reason for the fall between years. As of late November, there are 480 positions on the 2018–19 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List—slightly ahead of where we were at the same time in the 2017–18 season and slightly behind where we were at the same time in the 2016–17 season.
These three seasons’ worth of data give us room enough to make some broad guesses as to what a typical academic hiring season looks like. In an average academic year, I expect that there will be around 500–600 tenure-track positions posted in the US and Canada. Of these, 250–300 of them will be at PhD-granting universities. Of the 500–600 positions, well over 60% of them are intended to hire assistant professors. What will the 2019–20 academic year bring? It’s hard to say, but if the economy performs poorly and state tax revenues fall, leading to university funding cuts, it’s possible that these changes might negatively affect faculty hiring in public universities.
What does the job market look like for those working in industry or aspiring to do so? I’ve also been tracking the medicinal and process chemistry job markets in the US. We don’t have enough year-to-year data to make strong predictions, but I believe that right now is better than it has been since the end of the Great Recession for finding a position in pharma of any kind, entry level to midcareer. Regrettably, it seems that most of the positions are going to be in a limited number of locations in the US, either in the Bay Area or in the Boston area. At any one time, there are 50–150 open positions across the country in medicinal and process chemistry. I don’t expect those numbers to dwindle significantly in 2019.
How do these numbers affect you, the aspiring job seeker or job changer? Despite signs of an economic slowdown, I predict that 2018 and 2019 will be at or near the peak of the job market for chemists in all sectors. Across the entire economy, both wages and job turnover are increasing as workers are moving for better pay or better working conditions. If you’ve been thinking about dipping your toe in the job market and seeing if you can find a different, better position, now looks like a pretty good time to do so. Best wishes for a prosperous 2019!
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.