Why Can’t the Zombie-Focused Sociologist Get a Job?

An occasional topic here at College Guide has been the employment problem many aspiring academics have. Because American universities produce far, far more PhDs every year than there are tenure-track positions, many potential professors have hard time supporting themselves, despite their impressive credentials.

And some people have a really hard time. Todd K. Platts writes at Inside Higher Ed about his situation:

Like many recently minted Ph.D.s [his is from the University of Missouri] I am witnessing the shattering of my dreams of becoming a full-time college professor by the vagaries of an academic job market destroyed by a fledgling economic system. Balancing the heartache and disappointment with the repeated failure to find gainful academic employment is not easy. How could it be? I have dedicated my whole adult life to this. In the past two years I have sent out hundreds of applications, mostly to small liberal arts institutions, community colleges, and private religious colleges in the hopes of landing a position as a fulltime sociology instructor – somewhere, anywhere.

Sociology still offers a fair share of opportunity for tenure-track employment. Indeed, spending 40 hours a week on employment dossiers is not uncommon for me. Moreover, most of my friends were able to land jobs before defending their dissertation even in the bleak job market. I am happy for them, but it makes my inability to find work sting harder.

So, why can’t he find a job?

My job market struggles are made all more the inexplicable by the fact that I maintain an active publication track in a hot field of study – zombies. In the past year alone I have published three articles, and I have an additional three under review, and numerous projects in the pipeline.


The problem here, in a larger sense, is structural. But some people have a much harder time than other. And that’s because some people have courses of study for which there is basically no job market whatsoever.

Now, I have some sympathy for this man, who appears hard working, reasonably talented, and the victim of some rather bad luck. I imagine that he might be a very interesting hire for some institution, and a very amusing undergraduate instructor, but honestly it’s hard to imagine someone less likely to obtain an academic position. Zombies?

The sociology program at the University of Missouri is ranked about 80th in the nation. So Platts was studying in a lower ranked department and focusing on a decidedly fringe topic. No doubt the friends he talks about who had no trouble getting jobs had more mainstream dissertations.

I mean, it’s sad and his research certainly appears entertaining (and published in a few publications) but what, really, was he expecting?

There is a real job market for these sorts of things. And sometimes the market is pretty limited.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer