Monday, July 14, 2008

Done is good, done well is so much fucking better

There's a bit of discussion going over yon on the Sunday Comics thread about Professor Leiter's advice concerning the upcoming job market. And I think lost in some of the comments regarding the good Professor's past prognostications, and those concerning whether or not the comments questioning the soundness of the advice are serious, is a really goddamn good reason to delay getting the Ph.D this year in the case that the job market is not raining jobs down upon our heads like manna from heaven, but instead burning our hopes and dreams like fire and brimstone rendering our flesh.

And that reason isn't simply the very good one that Ph.D's go stale as if we were crackers left forgotten and open on the shelves because we ran out of peanut butter. That reason (if your attention hasn't been lost in the above ham-fisted simile overload) is this: it's a lot easier to secure another year of funding as an ABD at your home institution (through teaching or dissertation writing fellowships) and wait out a bad market for one year than it is to secure a job at another institution as a newly minted Ph.D in the process running the risk of losing certain avenues of funding and fucking up your chances for earning a living in the future.

Make sense; or am I completely off-base here?

--STBJD

UPDATE: The problem with my initial post was reading too much into the Good Professor's advice. There are independent reasons for delaying the job market search (especially in my own case; hence the projection of my own situation onto everyone else) aside from whether the job market is shitty in the Fall. I'm guilty of conflating those reasons with the advice given by the Good Professor (while remaining neutral as to whether it was good or bad). And, in the comments, I think Mr Zero probably hit the nail on the head:
Your milage [sic] may vary, but your decision to hit the market should depend on your readiness and funding situation, and not on some armchair economist's prognostication about the number of available jobs.
To which I would add: it probably also depends more on completeness of the dissertation, whether or not one is teaching while contemplating the market, and whether completing the dissertation, teaching, or one's job prospects will suffer from reaching before they are ready. And if all these things add up in a certain way so as to impair your chances of getting a job (and the funding is in your favor), independent of the number of jobs in the fall, one should probably stick around their home institution, wait to defend, and suckle away.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Don't defend until you have the job in hand.

Anonymous said...

Any excuse for the PJMBers to delay finishing the dissertation, huh?

Anonymous said...

The real threat is going on the market, getting nothing, then going back out the next year with a CV that looks strikingly similar to the last year's CV. You don't want "Oh, we've seen her before and nothing's changed...Boink!--(sound of app hitting trash bin)."

And yes, your app makes a Boink! sound when thrown into the bin.

Anonymous said...

You're making sense. However, you are much better positioned to actually get a job if you have defended. Many schools won't interview candidates if they have not already defended (or will defend by the time of the APA interviews.) While it may make sense to say, well if I get an offer, I will finish up in the spring, many places are very skeptical of this. They assume (often rightly) that the reason you have not defended is because you are not ready to defend, and thus don't take your candidacy seriously.

Anonymous said...

Leiter's forecast could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If potential hirers get the impression that many folks are staying off the job market, might they not put off hiring for a while, if they can? Who would want to hire when the applicant pool is at its shallowest?

The reason why I doubt that it will be is that the temptation to "defect" will be strong. If I believe that much of my cohort is sitting out the job market, I'll like my chances better and go for it. The problem is that many of us will think like this. A classic prisoner's dilemma; well, almost. Those who do stay off the market have less to lose.

I know, staying off the market is not the same as staying in school, but having a degree in hand or a scheduled defense helps a great deal on the market, at least when it comes to the teaching-intensive positions.

m.a. program faculty member said...

But why think that, if indeed the market does go south, that it will go south for only one year and then get better? Hell, for all we know, 2009 will be the last half-decent year on the market before the full impact of the economic meltdown finally sends schools into a decade-long hiring slump, and the people who managed to get jobs in 2009 will be looked upon enviously by the ravening hordes who delayed.

As I said before, trying to time the market is a bad idea.

Sure, if you think you'll be in a bad position to get a job this year (no pubs, diss. is still a little rough), then it might make sense to take your time and remain ABD rather than rushing to finish. But I think that there are very few people who really hurt their job prospects longterm by finishing their diss too quickly [!]. But there are lots of people who take waaay too long writing the diss.

And in any case, I stand by my original comment, that Leiter's advice to remain ABD until you have a job offer in hand is misguided. Sure, there's a worry about your Ph.D. going stale. But do you want to be ABD for 4 years? Do you think your dissertation director is going to write you as strong a letter if you take 4 years to write your diss?

Second Suitor said...

Sounds right... and makes you look forward to all those extra kids flooding the job market over the next year or two if they try to wait out this year's market.

The whole process is just one long-shot anyway. Anyone assuming they'll land a job the first time out needs to look at the people in their department (even at really good institutions) who've been having trouble. We should all have a backup plan of extending the Ph.D. a year in case the market doesn't work out.

Who this really hurts is people that have been out for the last year or two without success. All these problems facing first-timers hit them harder (5 years is significantly more stale than 3, etc).

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

Anon 4:00 a.m.

You don't have to have an unwritten, or unfinished dissertation to remain ABD. I could have a full, complete draft done by the end of this year, remain ABD, and use my time and home institution funding next year to devote all my resources to the job market while pretending to write the dissertation.

Look closely and read critically: I never said anything about not completing the dissertation, and indeed, in the original, longer draft of the post, I mentioned that one can have a dissertation written, still remain ABD, and suckle on the teat of the home institution if they play their cards right.

m.a. program faculty member said...

STBJD:

But if your home institution department is smart, why should they let you free ride on an assistantship that could be going to people still making progress through the program (or to attract promising new grad students)? It's not as if grad programs have an unlimited assistantship and fellowship budget, such that they can let people hang out for an extra 2 or 3 years waiting for a job offer in hand before defending, all the while "suckling on the teat" of the department.

What would make more sense is for departments to have a few temporary visiting instructor or adjunct positions that would go preferentially (all else being equal) to their recent graduates, so that graduates who go out on the job market have something to fall back on--and to gain a little teaching experience--if they go out on the market and crap out.

jp said...

I'm surprised that this advice has proven so controversial. I was under the impression that standard practice is to get a job, then defend. Defending without a job offer sounds like an enormous risk -- do people really do that?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:02 makes a good point about skeptical search committees. I've served on a number of committees. Early on we would consider only candidates who were done or their letter writers were assuring us that a defense was immanent. We were twice burned by this, getting candidates who took more than more two full years to actually defend. This kept the candidates off the tenure clock for a good while, and postponed our regularly scheduled evaluations of those candidates. Consequently, we pretty much only look at candidates who have defended. I don't have a good sense of whether many or most other departments feel the same way, and certainly many APA job postings state "ABD considered," but I suspect that our policy is not uncommon.
Relating this to the question of when to hit the market, it seems clear that the timeliness of one's dissertation could also be a factor. If one is working on topics that are current or cutting edge or hot or whatever, then one has a fairly narrow window to present one's research. I would be disinclined to sit on stuff that is currently in vogue in hopes that the job market is better between 2010-2014 than it is between 2009-2013 because there is a good likelihood that the sexiness of my topic will begin to fade (or the general discussion will have taken an unanticipated turn, etc.) well before I reach the end of my Leiter-declared market-life. Putting these two strains of thought together: one should not sit on a dissertation that is finished in hopes of getting more time on the job market later, as one's best chances on the market (all things being equal--pubs, etc.) are when the dissertation is timely and one has a Ph.D. in hand.

Anonymous said...

Of course, soon-to be-jaded, you could do as you suggest. However, as a search committee member, I am skeptical of claims that the dissertation is finished, regardless of whether they come from the student or the advisor, if it has not been defended.

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

m.a. faculty member,

I understand that there isn't an unlimited war chest which us graduate students can dip into and exploit whenever we want. I didn't say anything like that.

But there are, at least in most places, I imagine, funds for a one-year dissertation completion fellowship (as opposed to the fellowships given out by individual departments to incoming students), or teaching assistantships either from the home department or the college at large, that one can make use of for at least a year past the completion of their allotted funding package.

I'm not talking about delaying applying for the job market indefinitely or trying to dupe a stupid home department. It was a poor choice of words on my part when I said "pretending to write the dissertation." Of course, work would still be done on it, albeit maybe only refining work, but much of the efforts would be devoted to making a good go of it on the market also. This certainly would also be of much use to the home department especially if the extra year of funding is spent teaching, but also especially if that extra year taken gets their students a job (which is certainly as beneficial to a department as funding a new student for 4-5 years).

That said, if the good professor's advice turns out to be prescient, then perhaps, if you have just completed the last year of your funding package, then maybe your time would be better spent trying to suckle on the teat of your home department or the college at large than on the job market.

Of course this strategy won't work for those already a year or two past the completion of their funding package, but, they should probably be on the market in earnest anyway.

Make anymore sense?

m.a. program faculty member said...

STBJD:

I guess that makes a little more sense, although the 'free riding' problem then gets kicked up from the departmental to the college or university level. Anyway, as others have pointed out, being ABD hurts your job market prospects, and there is no guarantee that things will be better if you sit tight for a year. So once your dissertation is in decent shape, go ahead and schedule a defense, I'd say. Sure, there's risk, but there's risk any way you play things.

Anonymous said...

But if your home institution department is smart, why should they let you free ride on an assistantship that could be going to people still making progress through the program

My home institution specifically wants you to do this. They advise not to defend until you have a job. They want you to succeed. They are not the enemy.

Anonymous said...

What makes people think that post
5th ABD funding won't take a dive in the economic downturn as well? I know my school has basically said to us, "You got five years and that's all...good luck" because of funding cuts.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with MA faculty's original post - if the market is going to be bad for the reasons Leiter mentions, that sounds like a serious pocket of badness, not a one or even two year blip. To me, that reads - go out on the market if at all possible this year, and if you have to wait another year or two, you better have some killer letters, writing sample, etc.

Two more questions. One, I've been advised the best thing to have going out on the market is ABD but with a defense date scheduled in the spring. If an actual date is mentioned, that will be enough to comfort SCs, and there will be no chance your PhD seems "stale". On the other hand, I assume that boxes your committee in, since they're not going to want to go back on their word (for fear of losing credibility) even if you don't land a job that time around. How do folks think this option compares to having the PhD in hand at the APA, and going out simply ABD?

Second question, which has probably been hashed over before (indeed, given my bad memory, maybe I've asked it before). I've now heard no less than three philosophers whom I really respect saying they think grad students shouldn't bother with pubs - that it's a time sink, won't help with tenure anyway, devoting time to the writing sample is better, etc - and that they advise as much to their own grad students. Is this a seriously minority position, or is there some merit?

Anonymous said...

Wow, it seems like just yesterday that everybody was agreeing that, unless you're one of the anointed, you ain't gonna get no job without the PhD in hand (remember this past job market cycle?). Departments don't have to risk it. Sounds like a lot of rationalization going on around here. FINISH THE FUCKING DEGREE. Will you get a good job first year out? Probably not. Will you get a job ABD and maybe one more publication? I see no reason to think so.

Mr. Zero said...

I agree with MA PFM. It makes sense to delay only if you know that your '09 chances are vastly superior to your '08 chances. But unless you're just plain not ready in '08, you don't know that. In other words, if you're ready, don't delay.

And the only way to give yourself a reasonable chance of success is to apply for as many jobs as possible. The rule of thumb, as I understand it, is to send out n applications, where n is the typical number of applications a typical listing would receive. So if a typical job you're applying to would receive 45 applications, you should apply to 45 jobs. But in our line of work, typical jobs receive between 300 and 450 applications. Leiter's advice to apply "selectively" yields crappy odds.

Regarding publishing while in grad school: it's possible that "top-10" people don't have to worry about it. Where I come from, near the middle of the rankings, it's essential.

Anonymous said...

I've now heard no less than three philosophers whom I really respect saying they think grad students shouldn't bother with pubs - that it's a time sink, won't help with tenure anyway, devoting time to the writing sample is better, etc - and that they advise as much to their own grad students. Is this a seriously minority position, or is there some merit?

I've heard the same thing at some schools, but I'm not if it's good advice all around.

And a general concern: blanket advice might be worthless. What school you are attending may be crucial to determining which advice is correct. Not just based on where the school is in the Leiter ranking, but the reputation of the school itself. For example: Princeton grads generally go through the program quickly, and do not defend their dissertations before they have jobs. If you're coming out of Princeton, no need to defend your dissertation before you get a job. The Pittsburg program generally takes a long time, so there is no need to worry if you're a 7th year Pitt student and just going on the market for the first time - it won't look like you're dawdling with the dissertation. Rutgers students seem to publish more than some other top programs, so maybe you should consider doing that if you're coming from Rutgers.

(I don't know if the above are all true, so if I'm wrong that those are people's impressions of those programs, please correct me.)

Anonymous said...

Anon July 15, 2008 11:58 AM:

Second question, which has probably been hashed over before (indeed, given my bad memory, maybe I've asked it before). I've now heard no less than three philosophers whom I really respect saying they think grad students shouldn't bother with pubs - that it's a time sink, won't help with tenure anyway, devoting time to the writing sample is better, etc - and that they advise as much to their own grad students. Is this a seriously minority position, or is there some merit?

My sense is that this is true for graduate students at top (leiterwise top 10, say) programs. When I asked (faculty at such program) for advice on this topic, I was told "you are at a good program, so people will assume you're good unless you do something to break that assumption. So publish in JPhil if you get the chance, but a second-tier publication can only hurt you."

There was some discussion along these lines in the rising stars post several weeks ago.
I think the situation is probably different at lower-ranked programs, where people might be said to have have more to prove, and proof that one can produce professional-quality papers can only be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Of course it helps a candidate to have published in grad school; it shows real potential to produce publishable work when employed in a TT position. A dissertation, likewise (and in theory), is proof that a candidate is able to conduct sustained, rigorous and coherent research.

That said, there seems to be too much focus on the dissertation itself in this thread. It is a means to an end, and rarely anything more. It's not so much that dissertations can go 'stale', but more that they're usually stillborn to begin with.

How many dissertations have you heard of that ended up being a manuscript? (Raise your hand.) Even if you can name a few, I bet they're the prominent ones, which further makes the point that a published dissertation is rare.

Specific chapters of a dissertation, however, are more often published as journal articles, and perhaps the sum of these parts are greater than the whole.

cst said...

jp said: "Defending without a job offer sounds like an enormous risk -- do people really do that?"

Well, I defended my dissertation in late March, graduated in mid may, and didn't get a (1 year) job till mid-late June.

It was a big risk to defend my dissertation before I had a job, but it turned out well in the end. Actually, after I accepted the position, I turned down two interviews, and what seemed to be an unofficial job offer.

Here are some of the relevant details that led me to defend without a job in hand: (1) I was already in my 5th year and may not have been able to secure funding even if I wanted it; (2) By late February, I had already had 6+ interviews, so I figured I was competitive enough that I would eventually get a job; (3) I already had two years on dissertation fellowship (so no teaching during those two years); (4) there wasn't much left to do with the dissertation, as I had already added an additional chapter; partly because of (2), (5) I needed more teaching experience, preferably full-time.

Anonymous said...


I think the situation is probably different at lower-ranked programs, where people might be said to have have more to prove, and proof that one can produce professional-quality papers can only be a good thing.


What an understatement! When I visited a Leiter top 5 program this spring for a conference, I was shocked by the not-infrequent tales of ABDs with no pubs and no defense date set who had scored TTs. I'm in a low-ranked program (proudly!) and I know lots of people in similarly low-ranked programs, and I simply had never heard of this.

Don't get me wrong, there are heart-warming success stories in our bracket. But all of the ones I can think of involve pre-diss publications and, usually, some other stand-out feature, like a prestigious fellowship (Humboldt or Chateaubriand or Fulbright for history and/or Continental folks, for instance).

Anonymous said...

So, when a job advert says "ABD considered", the scope is tacitly restricted to those in Leiterrific programs?

WTF said...

Speaking of the job market, has anyone else noticed that the apa hasn't put up the summer web listings? The last time the jfp was updated was almost a onth agao!! What's the deal?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

They give fellowships for Continental research? Why oh why?

Anonymous said...

Also, remember that there is a conflict between those in the top programs and those that are not. Those in the top programs don't like to feel like they are competing with the lesser folk for even humdrum jobs.

Wow, you are paranoid. I am in a top program, and I don't think anyone I know has ever had that thought.

mr. zero said...

it's a lot easier to secure another year of funding as an ABD at your home institution (through teaching or dissertation writing fellowships) and wait out a bad market for one year than it is to secure a job at another institution as a newly minted Ph.D

This hasn't been my experience at all. My funding was/is about to dry up--my department scrounged up a half-year appointment for me, but that's only worth about 7 grand, and at my school, fellowships are extremely tough to come by. Luckily I managed to find a one-year VAP that will get me through the year.

Your milage may vary, but your decision to hit the market should depend on your readiness and funding situation, and not on some armchair economist's prognostication about the number of available jobs.

Anonymous said...

Re: APA's JFP site that's not updated...you're looking at the wrong site. They had revised their site and pages, which means they have two versions of most/all pages, incl. JFP stuck on June 2008which is accessed through a different log in. Retarded, I know.

Just click on the logo (upper left) of the APA site you're on to get to the latest version, or: www.apaonline.org

Anonymous said...

"So, when a job advert says "ABD considered", the scope is tacitly restricted to those in Leiterrific programs?"

When an advert says 'applicants sought', the scope is tacitly restricted to those in Leiterrific programs.

Anonymous said...

I'm liking Leiter's most recent post on the Chronicle. Post, please!

Anonymous said...

How is it that this blog, with 4x as many O.B.s (original bloggers) as Leiter's site, is updated with new posts 4x less frequently?

Get yer ass in gear, or you'll lose your audience.