Employment Up for Math Ph.D.s

There's finally some good news for new Ph.D.s in mathematics: Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since spring 1990, according to a recently released annual survey from three mathematical societies. But not all the numbers in the new survey were rosy. By last September, 9.4% of those awarded their Ph.D. in June still had no job.

Of those that did manage to find jobs, the biggest change in employment for math Ph.D.s came in industry, which boosted its hiring by 18.1% from last year to take in more than 26.8% of the recent graduates. As usual, academia was the biggest draw, absorbing 69.1% of the new Ph.D.s. But two-thirds of those hired by universities were not eligible for tenure, and more than half of their positions will expire within 2 years. Rounding out the smaller employers, hiring at government agencies remained flat at 2.6%, and research institutes increased their hiring by 5.9% to 2% of the total.

Overall, employment increased by 5.3 percentage points from fall 1995 levels, the survey of 247 U.S. math departments revealed. "It's a big increase, and I'll bet it will go up," thanks to the overall strength of the economy and increased funding for higher education, says John Fulton, a vice provost at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and author of the report. "I see lots of optimism in this [area] for the first time." But Fulton notes that it's doubtful that the unemployment rate will drop low enough to match the 2.2% recorded in the spring of 1990, the low point for the 1990s. Part of the reason, says Fulton, is the fact that past surveys have shown that universities are not filling many positions vacated by the death or retirement of faculty members.

The survey was organized by the American Mathematical Society, the Institute for Mathematical Statistics, and the Mathematical Association of America. A total of 1153 Ph.D.s were awarded between 1 July 1995 and 30 June 1996--a 6% drop from last year's all-time high of 1226.