It’s Getting Harder to Commit History: SSHRC Postdocs, 1995-2013

One of the most popular blog posts on this site is my SSHRC Postdocs: What’s Going On post, which plots applications, successful awards, and the success rate. Back in February, I tweeted a revised version of the chart, but wanted to put it here with some additional commentary:

SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship Success Rates, 1995-2013.
SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship Success Rates, 1995-2013.

The above includes the 2013-14 results. We’re seeing a blip upwards in the success rate: there are more awards and a slight decline in the number of applicants. We’ll need a few more years to see whether this is a statistical hiccup or the beginning of a new trend. There might be some chill factor with the impending tightening restrictions around the number of applications, announced last summer. In any case, this success rate still is low: although it is an uptake, it is still lower than at any time between the 1996-97 competition year and the 2008-09 competition year.

An additional thing to keep in mind: The “History Wars” have been getting a lot of attention lately, most recently due to the federal government’s decision to begin a “comprehensive review of significant aspects in Canadian history.” The specifics are best left to others, notably Active History co-editor Thomas Peace. I don’t want to get into it, but certainly there’s a tendency for the Conservatives to want to encourage scholarship that they find politically agreeable (military history, Diefenbaker) – just as there was for the Liberals (peacekeeping, multiculturalism). But keep in mind, as we discuss historians, that it’s quite frankly getting harder to do any kind of history as a professional undertaking. 

There’s a war on junior scholars in Canada. That’s being a bit provocative, I know, and the federal government doesn’t deserve all the blame. We have seen declines in total postdoctoral fellowships awarded in several years as seen above, which we can attribute to funding issues. Universities and provincial governments also deserve some blame, as they’ve flooded the market. But whatever the root causes, we’re seeing a major issue of human capital in the data above.

This affects all of us: whether you’re a military historian, a social historian, a Conservative, a Liberal, or a New Democrat. If we really care about history, let’s put our money where our mouth is and help fund the next generation of historians. It affects junior scholars most of all, but also senior scholars. This is the future of the profession.

A return to 2004-05 success rates would mean 62 more postdoctoral fellowships would have been awarded this year (244 out of 903 would have been a 27.02% success rate, which we had in 2004-05).

It’s getting harder to commit history.

A Few Thoughts on SSHRC Changes to Grad/Postdoc Support: A Mixed Bag

Taking a break from the normal technical and history blogging, I wanted to weigh in on the changes that were announced this morning to SSHRC’s support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. These programs were one of the most important supports during my graduate and early career stages, and as a beneficiary of a few of them I wanted to weigh in. These are critical changes, changing the terrain for people that have built career anticipations on the existing system, and a series of very real human impacts are going to flow out of them. Read more