Friday, September 28, 2007

Ask the Administrator: ABD Seeks JOB

A returning correspondent writes:

I am in the midst of completing my dissertation,
wrestling with 250 pages of text at the moment but I
should have everything wrapped up this spring. I
didn't plan on going on the job market until I was
well and truly done, but a job has just been
advertised that is so bang-on that I'd be a fool not
to apply. The place (just a shy of ivy league) is a
long shot but what they've advertised has me written
all over it and I'm wondering how best to deal with
some issues that, field and expertise aside, might
make me look less-than-ideal.

1. I am a citizen of the country (USA) where the
position is located, but I don't live there now and
without stating it I won't look like a citizen (none
of my post-secondary education is in the US). Should I
state that I am a citizen up front just so that it is
clear that there aren't any immigration issues?

2. It has taken me longer than average to complete my
PhD because of a series of life events over which I
had no control (deaths, illness, that sort of thing).
How do I address the gap in my record (no pubs, no
conferences, no progress, but I did teach), or do I
even mention it at all? Would this be something to
address in an interview if I am lucky enough to get

3. How does one deal with the ABD thing? What phrases
do I use that convey that I really am chugging along
and almost done?

Thank you Dean Dad and anyone else who can help answer
these questions!

Since the questions are numbered, I'll address them in order.

1. Yes.
2. Don't mention it. Save it for the interview.
3. There's the rub...

"I'm almost done with the dissertation" ranks right up there with "the check is in the mail" and "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." It could be true. Or it could be sincere, but mistaken (the most common one, I think). Or it could be a flat-out lie.

In my time at PU, we sometimes simply culled any ABD candidates from the pool, period. We had seen enough (and known enough) people who came on board (there or elsewhere) swearing to high heaven that they were this close, only to have it drag out for years. Some places have adopted a de facto degree-in-hand requirement. (At my cc, we don't require Ph.D.'s, though we do prefer them.) I once posted my binary typology of dissertations:

The Two Types of Dissertations:

1. Done, defended, degree in hand.

2. Other.

That may seem cold, but it's based in fact.

The places that don't actually disqualify ABD's will still, in all likelihood, have a "show me" attitude towards them. Have you published any of your chapters anywhere? How many chapters are completed? Is the defense actually scheduled (meaning, a specific date)? Other than sincere assurances, what proof can you offer that you're actually "chugging along and almost done"?

More broadly, don't go in with excuses, assurances, or apologies. For heaven's sake, don't tell shaggy dog stories about your life to justify your lack of production. Go in like you own the place. Show them how wonderfully interesting, connected, and productive you are, and don't play defense until you're forced to. And even then, change the subject as quickly as possible.

One of the harder psychological shifts in this line of work is going abruptly from grad student peon to Professor. You need to walk the walk if you're going to do this.

Which raises another possibility. There's no such thing as The Dream Job. Job openings come and go. (Too few come, but that's another issue.) Applying for jobs takes time and psychic energy away from other things, like, say, finishing your dissertation. If your funding has run out and you just plain need the work, then the point is moot, but if you have the option to stay off the market until you're done, I'd recommend giving it serious thought.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers -- have you found an effective way around the ABD issue? Or should she finish first?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.