It’s now the middle of July. It seems reasonable to assume that the university faculty hiring season in North America should be over by now, in physics as well as in other disciplines. Until not so long ago, the outcomes of the various searches would eventually be published in Lingua Franca, but after the demise of the magazine in 2001 there is no official source (that I know of) providing such information.
Thus, curious, er, inquiring minds have to rely on unofficial information, such as the one provided by “Jobs Rumor Mills”, of which the Condensed Matter Physics, Atomic Physics and Biophysics (CMBRM) is an example.
Over the few years of its existence, the CMBRM has come to enjoy a reputation for reasonable accuracy (my personal, non-statistical observation is that it gets it right over 90% of the time; I am not aware of any actual study aimed at assessing quantitatively its reliability). Assuming that the information advertised therein is reasonably accurate, I have spent some time studying this year’s hires, and researching the backgrounds (obviously, I am just talking mere Google searches) of those scientists who have (allegedly) received faculty job offers .
I have counted 119 positions altogether in North America, including both research universities as well as four-year colleges. Out of 57 job offers that were extended (counting all offers, i.e., also those made following the declination of the offer by the first choice candidate)
37 (64.9%) were accepted
10 (17.5%) were made to female scientists 
17 (29.8%) were made to scientists who obtained their doctoral degree outside the United States
28 (49.1%) were made to scientists who obtained their doctoral degree at a department ranked in the top twenty in the United States by US News and World Report .
The above numbers could prompt a number of observations, but the one that is most striking to me by far, and upon which several CMBRM visitors have commented, is the sheer fraction of positions which are still listed as unfilled, this late in the game. At this time, only 41 out of all advertised searches appear to have been successfully completed, i.e., an offer was extended to a candidate who has accepted it.
Granted, this could have a number of explanations; perhaps the administrators of the site have been pressed for time, and been unable to update the database timely and/or in full. Possibly, they are still in the process of assessing the reliability of some of the latest “intel” that they have received. Also, success of the institutions at ensuring secrecy, as well as difficult, protracting negotiations into which some of them may be engaged with their selected candidates, may account for the current state of flux.
I am afraid, however, that in the end the simplest explanation will turn out to be the most accurate, i.e., a large fraction of positions are going unfilled. It seems rather likely that, when the dust has settled, in at least one half of the cases (conservative estimate) “None of the Above” will be the box checked by most departments.
This fact has clearly some very worrisome implications, particularly if to that one adds that in almost one third of successful hires, chosen applicants did not receive their doctoral degrees in the United States. What does this state of affairs mean ?
Has the academic route, once touted as the most desirable professional outcome for a young American scientist inclined to pursue a career in research, now become a pariah ? Are the “best and brightest” leaving academic physics early on, to move to different, possibly greener pastures, as already suggested almost a decade ago by Nobel laureate Philip W. Anderson ? Or, is this rather a direct indictment of US universities, ostensibly failing in their mission of educating, among others, the next generation of American university professors and researchers ?
Based on my experience, I do not believe either scenario; I think that there is a third possibility, one that I discussed in a previous post, essentially a disconnect between aims and expectations of departments, and their perception of reality, and reality itself. I am indeed afraid that while so many positions remain unfilled, and physics departments continue to postpone replenishing their aging faculty rosters with much needed fresher blood (in many cases losing positions altogether, following repeated failures at hiring), waiting for the opportunity to hire who-knows-whom, a significant number of qualified scientists will abandon the field, disheartened by their failure of securing a tenure track position.
I know many of them in person, and am convinced that, while possibly not stellar (like just about 99.9% of all of us), most could nonetheless perform more than respectably as physics faculty, serving the important, greater good of ensuring continuity and vitality of the field. These persons are all too often discarded from considerations for reasons (i.e., their pedigrees) whose relevance to science is at best dubious.
If this pernicious trend were to continue, it will mean a serious loss for the discipline as a whole, in the long run.
 For the most part we are talking entry-level tenure-track assistant professorships. I am making no distinction here between those and possible offers that may have been made to senior scientists.
 This seems disappointingly low a number to me, as a quarter of all physics postdocs are women. Obviously, the numbers are small and a statistical fluctuation cannot be ruled out. Moreover, female representation in condensed matter physics may be lower than in other areas.
 Twelve offers (21%) were extended to candidates having obtained their PhD degrees in one of the top ten departments, based on the same rankings.