Musicology & Ethnomusicology Job Outcomes

I recently undertook research using the websites of 146 graduate programs in musicology and ethnomusicology: 104 in the U.S., 13 in Canada, 16 in the UK, and 13 elsewhere.  Of the relevant university departments, 37 provide lists of their current graduate students, from several to as many as 58.  My investigation resulted in a list of 822 M.A. and Ph.D. students enrolled in those 37 programs in early 2013, thus averaging just over 22 per program.  About two-thirds of those students are in Ph.D. programs and many (though not all) of the M.A. students will continue into Ph.D. work, but how many academic music graduate students (i.e., a lot more than those 822) are likely to get jobs in academia?

The average time in graduate school (for people who complete it) is probably six or seven years, taking into account not only terminal master’s degrees but also those Ph.D. candidates who take longer.  The Musicology & Ethnomusicology Job Wiki goes back a little over six years (for jobs starting between 2007 and 2013), which is pretty much an identical amount of time.  So, a reasonable estimate of how many graduate students are likely to end up with jobs in the field (tenure-track, visiting/one-year, 2-3 year, or postdoctoral fellowship) can be ascertained by calculating the ratio of each institution’s recent academic-job placement outcome to its current graduate-student population.  Most academic hires have not yet been announced for the upcoming school year, so I factored in 2013 as a third of a year (thus, 6.33 years in total), based on the information available to date.

The following are the eleven most successful departments of the 37, based on the ratio of academic-job placements from 2007-13 relative to each institution’s number of enrolled graduate students in early 2013:

  1. 217% – New York U.
  2. 120% – The U. of Texas at Austin
  3. 100% – Columbia U.
  4. 65% – UCLA (Musicology) – for all Ph.D. graduates from 1991 to 2013, the rate is 38% (or 42% lower)
  5. 62% – Harvard U.
  6. 55% – Cornell U.
  7. 50% – UC Santa Barbara
  8. 44% – U. of Illinois
  9. 40% – UC Davis
  10. 38% – Stanford U.
  11. 38% – U. of Michigan

The placement rates for academic jobs starting in the past 6-7 years of the next seventeen programs (relative to their early-2013 graduate student populations) range from 31% down to 2%.  Those are:

  1. 31% – U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  2. 29% – Eastman School of Music, U. of Rochester
  3. 25% – U. of Chicago
  4. 24% – U. of Virginia
  5. 22% – U. of Nottingham
  6. 21% – Princeton U.
  7. 20% – Brandeis U.
  8. 20% – U. of Pittsburgh
  9. 17% – U. of Colorado
  10. 15% – U. of North Texas
  11. 14% – Boston U.
  12. 13% – Brown U.
  13. 12% – UCLA (Ethnomusicology)
  14. 10% – Indiana U.
  15. 10% – U. of Oxford
  16. 2% – King’s College, London
  17. 2% – U. of Cambridge

In addition, the final nine programs do not appear to have been at all successful in placing people in academic positions.  Overall, relative to the 822 current graduate students in those 37 musicology and ethnomusicology programs (in early 2013), the average subsequent placement out of those programs into academic positions from 2007 to early 2013 (6.33 years) is:

  • 22.6% – in tenure-track positions
  • 6.7% in temporary (occasionally renewable) positions or postdoctoral fellowships

for a total of 29.3%.  Using UCLA Musicology’s statistic of 42% lower in academic outcomes in early 2013 for 23 years’ worth of Ph.D.s (compared to the outcomes for the six or seven years from 2007-13 and thus excluding earlier temporary positions) suggests a more “career length” success rate into academic careers for these 37 departments of only 17%.

Of the people newly hired between 2007 and 2013, only a tiny fraction were outliers:  hired at senior levels (thus having been graduate students well before 2007) or appearing two or three times (because of multiple temporary positions and/or postdoctoral fellowships).  In addition, some people were hired before completing their Ph.D.s (“ABD” – “All But Dissertation”), and a few searches did not succeed (i.e., they failed, were cancelled, or were extended).  However, those last two factors are virtually irrelevant for purposes of this study, because an ABD generally has to complete his or her dissertation with a year or two of landing a job, and no-one ends up being hired for a job that no longer exists.

Most musicology and/or ethnomusicology university programs (including a number of major, large ones) do not include the type of graduate-student information used in this study.  It is likely, though (given 146 programs), that there are currently around four times as many graduate students in those fields than the 822 (in 37 programs) accounted for here:  so, more than 3,200.  About 500 people must enter and exit graduate programs in musicology and ethnomusicology every year.  However, there was only an average of 75 new academic jobs per year in those fields between 2007 to 2012—and that includes non-tenure-track positions, temporary teaching positions, and postdoctoral fellowships.

Musicology and ethnomusicology need to cut back substantially on their number of graduate students, possibly reduce their number of graduate programs (and certainly refrain from adding new ones), and, especially, make a concerted effort to address what other types of work could be done by their many colleagues who do not end up in academic positions.  As an example of how poorly this is done, the American Musicological Society’s official career-advice document (revised in 2011) is 195 pages long but includes only a few, scant pages about non-academic careers (borrowed from other disciplines, decades out of date, and almost completely useless).

Academic music societies do not include information in their directories pertaining to the student-status and/or variable- (including non-) career situations of their members—supposedly for “privacy” reasons, but actually because they need to believe that everything already works correctly and that almost everyone ends up in a tenure-track position.  They also don’t have websites that allow their membership communities to contribute directly.  These fields need to do much, much better.


16 thoughts on “Musicology & Ethnomusicology Job Outcomes

  1. Durrell, thanks for the post. Are you including Canadian Ph.D. programs? McGill has had at least “moderate” success in placing musicology grads in the past ten years. This hasn’t necessarily been apparent on the job wiki, either because the jobs weren’t posted (in a couple cases because they were a combination of performance and musicology) or the successful applicants’ names and degree-granting institutions weren’t posted.

  2. I included whichever programs seemed to list their graduate students, and as far as I could tell McGill was not one of them. I’m actually Canadian (now back in Waterloo, ON), so I was sorry that we didn’t have a few more in there. I know that there are some combined jobs like that, as well as other things that don’t make it into the wiki, but I had to start somewhere. I included anonymous hires in the statistic of an average of 65 jobs per year, but in those cases I obviously couldn’t match the names to specific doctoral institutions. It wasn’t very many, either. As far as the AMS is concerned, it won’t release info about graduate students for privacy reasons (and you can’t search for that in its online directory), so it was a ridiculous, time-consuming slog even to come up with a partial list of 822 graduate students like that. I would do a more detailed thing, but not unless someone pays me for it!

  3. While it is true that your post title *seems* to indicate that you mean to address musicology and ethnomusicology academic job outcomes, there is a glaring inconsistency between your analysis and your conclusions, particularly given the way that you call out AMS. Your conclusions are essentially that grad programs must begin addressing alternate careers beside the tenure track, yet your own “placement” calculations rest exclusively upon academic employment – in a single field at that. What about those who go to grad school in these programs with no intention of doing such work? By your measures, the many performers who graduate from UCLA in ethnomusicology and the many public sector workers who exit Brown are counted against those programs, according to what you yourself appear to define as a narrow definition of success. Furthermore, you have relied upon the musicology wiki alone: what happened to the people who find employment in other kinds of programs?

  4. If Brown and UCLA Ethno (etc.) want to tell me where their Ph.D.s get jobs, I’d be happy to know that and account for it. My research in this one particular effort is based on what some schools list re people on their websites and what academic jobs (including temporary ones, fellowships, etc.) the wiki accounts for. Only 25% of our graduate programs even list people (i.e., current students) at all, and career outcome information happens WAY less often than that. These are not things about which I can do anything. If the wiki is biased against career outcomes other than academic ones, then take that up with the people in charge of the wiki. Maybe there are lots of non-academic jobs in ethnomusicology, but there certainly aren’t in musicology.

  5. Good stuff, and much appreciated as an intervention in a discourse that is loaded with scare-mongering and utter BS.

    I am a tenured professor with 20 years of teaching experience; I have been both a department chair and, for many years, a DGS. I teach in a PhD program (one of several within a top-ranked music department) that has a placement rate of between 80 and 90 percent for 18 alumni who matriculated since 1997, depending on a few variables in how you define placement. Even by the most conservative (placement within 2 years in a postdoc and/or a tenure track job or both) we’re over 80%.

    Other relevant facts: we have a 25% attrition rate (most at the MA, at 2 years, however); slightly longer than 7 years average time to degree (can finish in 5, some people take 8 or rarely 9, most take 6 or 7); all of our students are fully funded for an average of over 6 years (varying depending on external fellowships and grants); all but three of the 18 students who matriculated after 1997 and have graduated since have had at least one and usually more major external grants or fellowships in addition to 5 years of university-funded support.

    Our department’s aggregate placement rate (across four separate doctoral tracks) is a bit lower than that — probably 70-75% — but that includes many composers for whom a highly successful career often specifically does not involve an (immediate) f/t academic placement. In other words, most of our grads are working. And almost all the most serious ones are working. And in fact our placement record has gotten steadily better for the past decade plus.

    We don’t publish our raw numbers publicly. But we do share them with applicants we admit to our doctoral programs so they can base their decisions on our numbers. Needless to say, we do well at recruitment. Very well.

    You’ve ranked us quite high on your list, certainly not a ranking I’d complain about. But I guarantee our actual placement (departmental, and certainly within the particular program I teach in) is better than that of the few programs you ranked above us (much better than at least one of them, for sure). I am fairly certain that with complete and accurate data, we’d have the best placement record of any department in the field, or be essentially tied for first with two other departments you also rated lower than ours. (I crunched all these numbers a few years back for a departmental review and following the hilarious NRC report fiasco, and I also gathered my data empirically, not from self-reported and selective information).

    Faculty responsible for any top humanities PhD program in this day and age are thinking hard about the dramatic and accelerating restructuring of academia underway in the present. We’ve made many changes to meet the new conditions. The most important point is that you have to be able to raise your own money and speak effectively (that is be *relevant*) to publics and constituencies beyond your discipline and outside the academic to be an attractive candidate for a top-flight academic career, and any PhD program that does not emphasize true interdisciplinarity, relevant research, public communication, new technologies, collaborative research, applied/activist projects, and kickass grantsmanship is way behind the curve. The modern academy is not a monastery for solitary scholars working on esoteric and forgotten materials (for the millionth time, in the case of a lot of work on the western classical music repertoire). It is a base of operations for public intellectual activists who do research to get things done in the real world. Music departments are arriving at these realizations rather late in the game, but some of us are well on top of them.

    Like it or not, the modern world demands that scholars be able to sell what they do. We are not exempt from the changes restructuring everything else around us. If you don’t want to raise money and sell your vision, don’t get a PhD.

  6. A few other factors have come to my mind since writing the previous comment.

    The first is that you need to compare apples and apples. Highly motivated, ambitious, and fully funded students in top programs who are able to win external funding for research and who finish their dissertations in under 7 or maybe 8 years at most are simply not having the trouble on the job market that students in the *same* programs who take longer to finish are having, or students who are not as well funded through graduate school, or students who don’t pursue publication and conference presentation during graduate school, or students who do not develop core skills and expertise in technology, languages, teaching, media, etc. Better programs, in their better eras, of course attract these sorts of motivated students and fund them well, but even the best programs have stragglers who take 12 years to finish, never really blossom but don’t do badly enough to get kicked out (I think being a lot more rigorous and proactive and quick about terminating those who fail to thrive is actually the humane thing to do, but it’s hard to send people packing even if they do average quality work because our culture has grown a little too soft about such things). You also need enough longitudinal depth (to my mind, a decade, or better 15 years) but not so much that you are comparing different periods — major changes in faculty composition, area specialization, university investment, rise and fall of particular paradigms and subdisciplines, etc. I like 15 years because it is two complete cycles of faculty tenuring (that is, from assistant professor to tenured associate) and two complete cohort cycles for the average program where the PhD takes 6-7 years for students who are going to seriously compete on the academic job market. But any given program epoch is going to include plenty of remainders from the prior one, and it is sometimes hard to figure out where to draw smart boundaries between the cohorts that struggled to find work and the ones that did fabulously well. Such boundaries exist however, often aligned with the arrival of new faculty members who bring new ideas and new dedication and new networks to a program (or the departure and retirement of old ones who have stopped being ambitious, gone crazy in their dotage, or otherwise just been hanging on to collect a paycheck, and we all know plenty of those — it’s what is wrong with the tenure system, at root: it disincentivizes continued productivity for those who lack internal ambition (or are burned out or feel the field has headed off in stupid directions, as some of us seniors sometimes do feel).

    It is up to program administrators (mostly senior faculty) to think about these things and plan for them, chart the patterns, notice the slippage and fix it, grab the energy of a progressive development, admit just the right students and terminate the ones who will fail to thrive (and drag down your placement stats, your program reputation, and the morale of other students) before they are ABD. And having enough funding makes the rest of the factors fall much more easily into place. Obviously. But it’s so obvious a lot of people don’t focus on it.

    Programs that cannot fully fund their students simply cannot compete. Given that we do indeed have a severe mismatch between the job opportunities available to PhD/DMAs in music and the number of music PhDs/DMAs we are producing, we are going to have to see some programs close up shop, and others scale back sharply. I’d rather we lost the 10 or 15 lowest performing programs than see slow and even attrition across the entire spectrum. Those programs are doing no favors for their students. They are in effect lying to them. You cannot compete against fully funded students in top programs if you have to work at Starbucks or teach until your brain hurts every day just to stay in school and on health insurance. If you don’t understand that, you shouldn’t be getting a PhD. And if you can’t get a PhD where they pay *you* to do it, you need to come up with a better idea.

    • Professor (Anonymous), are you still reading this website? I thoroughly enjoyed your two postings, and I would like to convey my comments to you about some of your own statements. Could I do so through this website here? (I am a graduate student in musicology.)

  7. Pingback: An Article about Adjunct Instructors | Durrell Bowman

  8. Hi Durrell,

    I ran into this posting while doing a search for the latest job wiki to see if it was up yet. This year, the UCLA ethno program placed students (recent PhDs) in tenure track jobs at Boston College, Cornell, Texas Tech, and Illinois. We also have a recent grad doing a VAP at Skidmore. Not too shabby.

  9. Durrell, thanks for your work! As a UCLA PhD candidate, I can second Tara’s observation that recent grads from our program have done rather well… better than what it seems in your list. To her list I’ll mention an MIT post-doc, a position at MIM, and another “applied” position (though those wouldn’t count in your study, right?).

    I’ll also add that I worked in a student affairs administrative position in the music department at Univ. of Chicago a few years ago. I don’t think they’ll mind me mentioning that their placement numbers are much, much better than what you have here. It was nearly 100% with some exceptions depending on how you define “placement” and taking into account composers who don’t pursue professorial work.

    I realize you’re dealing with multi-year ratios, but does it really make sense to think of placement rates above 100%? I think I generally follow your math, but if we’re to understand the situation well then we need a longitudinal study with numbers, an ethnographic component to understand student choices and outcomes (e.g., those who start a PhD program but leave with a terminal MA), and a broader concept of what counts as placement.

    Finally, another response mentioned the “many performers” who graduate from UCLA, as if there were people getting PhDs there and then becoming full-time musicians. That’s common enough at the undergraduate level, but not for PhD students. It’s an academic program with a strong performance component, but it’s not a performance degree. Grad students take ensembles, sometimes serve as ensemble instructors or assistants, and some of us are professional musicians on the side, but nobody goes to UCLA Ethno for a graduate performance degree.

  10. Thanks, everyone. Just to clarify: I’ve co-edited a book and written book chapters, journal articles, hundreds of reference entries and program notes, book and media reviews, dozens of conference papers and invited talks, and a variety of instructional videos. I’ve also developed and taught several dozen courses and seminars, but only occasionally full-time and never in tenure-track positions. I also have a new book contract this year. I mostly do “cultural musicology” on American, British, and Canadian popular music (including progressive rock and the band Rush) and on film & TV music (including music for “The Simpsons”). I started doing most of these things while in graduate school, and I dispute the implication in many of the replies to my initial post that “serious” people always land in suitable positions, whether academic ones or otherwise.

    I’ve also done such part-time things as professional choral singing and being a music festival librarian, but these were poorly-paid, unsustainable things. So, I also ended up studying and working in Information Technology. I did very well in my IT program (GPA of 3.97), culminating in a paid internship preparing web-based program notes for the Bowdoin International Music Festival and developing the AMS’s new version of “Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology.” I was very well-funded in my Ph.D. program: TAships, RAships, tuition & fee waivers, summer-course teaching, a dissertation year fellowship, a teaching fellowship, and so on. However, I started to go into serious debt after that period and went through bankruptcy while also returning to school, and then also still ended up on welfare. Given that the AMS/Bowdoin internship was a “one-off” that further confused the IT world as to whether I’m an academic or an IT person AND could not possibly lead to continuing, full-time work in any way related to it, it was probably a HUGE mistake for me to have accepted it.

    I have since tried some self-employment options, first with a collaborative community website for music history & culture and now with website and web content development for other people. I started with (I choir in which I also sing) and, for Malcolm Gladwell, However, I’m now being directed to position “Bowman’s Websites” as being for small businesses and self-employed people, even though I feel “out of the loop” in most contexts that don’t involve my fellow academics, writers, musicians, and arts & music organizations. I have also been told to come up with a “manual labouring” resume (I can’t!), attend “job clubs” (even though there’s not really anything there for me), and so on.

    I think somebody needs to do a well-funded research project into music Ph.D. employment outcomes, but I’m extremely doubtful that it will ever happen. In any case, I’m certainly not going to do anything more on this topic unless someone pays me to, especially not when I’m expected to find a part-time “survival job” (such as stocking shelves), in order to get off of welfare.

    • I don’t have that number, but it’s obviously extremely small. At the undergraduate level, a college or university music department or school would usually have between several dozen and several hundred students (mostly performers), and only a handful of them would major in “music history.” Musicology is usually only called “musicology” in graduate school, because it’s primarily a humanities-related research field. I’m mostly concerned about how many Ph.D.s there are in the field, because there are only continuing, full-time academic jobs for about 20% of us, and the field has not done much to foster alternative types of careers and employment. Actually, there are probably about the same number of M.A.s and Ph.D.s graduating in musicology every year as there are B.A.s in music history. There is just something plainly wrong with that.

  11. Durrell, this is an impressive collection of information you have presented here and I am grateful for it. I have just been accepted to the ethnomusicology PhD program at UCLA. I very much want to continue to study ethnomusicology, but I am concerned about finding real and lasting work that is commensurate with the effort it takes to eventually earn a PhD. i.e. I don’t want to cap six hard years of work with loan deferment requests and delivering pizzas to pay the rent. With that in mind I have two questions that I hope you can answer.

    1. Are these various PhD programs ethically compelled to share real/transparent/hard data on placement ratios with their prospective PhD candidates?

    2. Should I trust the department to be truthful with me when I ask them about the preceding during an upcoming campus visit?

    3. Would you accept UCLA’s offer if you were me?

  12. I realize this is an older post, but I wanted to thank you for this information. I have a BA from Columbia, and I was debating whether or not to apply to a MA program in Ethnomusicology at the University of North Texas. Debate ended.

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