Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ask the Administrator: The Trial Run

A new correspondent writes:

I'm currently ABD in an English Department at an R1 school, working on my dissertation and hoping to defend in December 2008 (but no later than Spring 2009). I'm working on my first chapter now, but I've actually been working with my dissertation ideas for several years because I stumbled upon the project in my first year of PhD coursework. It turned out to be an area that relatively few have studied, and my advisor tells me that it has great potential to be published when the time comes. I will have my first chapter (a.k.a. writing sample)finished and revised, and I'll be working on my next chapter by the end of this Fall semester.

I've been thinking about taking a "trial run" at the job market this year if something is open that would make a really great fit for my family (husband is ABD in history, and we have two children) and I. My husband and I have agreed that we will not even look at post-docs or visiting positions; it's tenure track or bust. My primary field is a fairly decent commodity right now, and my advisor has a 100% placement rating (in addition to being widely known in the area of study). She hasn't directed me against taking a stab at the market, but a few other faculty have, indicating that the market is so bleak, hiring committees are rarely looking at ABDs. I've got a great work ethic, I always make my deadlines, and I actually *like* researching and writing my dissertation, so I have no fear that I'll be finished on time. If I got a position for the 08-09 academic year, I'd probably only have one chapter (plus revisions) left to complete when I started the job, and I'm confident that that's feasible. But what do I know? Do you have any advice on people taking a "trial run" at the market? In your experience, does it disadvantage a person once they've actually finished the dissertation if they've previously had a run at the market with no luck? Or more plainly, can taking a "trial run" hurt anything? Any tips you or your readers have would be most appreciated!

This certainly brings back memories.

Back at Dear Old Grad U, grad student funding was allocated on the assumption that everybody got a job while ABD, so the year in which you finished the dissertation was typically unfunded. Of course, by that point, nobody got jobs at all, so people sort of dropped off a cliff just when they were about to finish. As 'structural flaws' go, it was a pretty bad one. I don't know if they've bothered to correct it in the decade since I finished, but I'm guessing not.

In the searches at Proprietary U, ABD status was regarded with some suspicion. There was a history of applicants claiming to be this close, then taking years to actually seal the deal, if they ever did. After you've been burned that way a few times, you start looking askance at every ABD candidate. (To be fair, I think sometimes the candidates themselves were surprised at how long it took them to finish, esp. with a full-time teaching load. I'm thinking it was one part lying, one part naivete.)

At my cc, though, ABD status isn't a problem. The doctorate is nice to have, but it isn't a position requirement (except for administration).

Either way, though, I've never heard of a penalty for having been on the market before. As long as your letters and application are up-to-date, I don't see the harm in it (other than the opportunity cost of the time and effort each application takes). Depending on your field and a host of other variables, you may or may not stand a very good chance as an ABD, but if it doesn't work this time around, I don't see why you'd be any weaker next year. If anything, it may be useful to make those rookie mistakes when it isn't crucial yet, only so you can be that much more polished when it really matters, if it comes to that.

I'm intrigued by the “tenure track or bust.” There's something admirable in that. My cc actually has the same philosophy – other than last-minute fill-ins for unanticipated medical emergencies, we don't do “temporary” or “visiting” full-time gigs. If you're full-time, you're tenure-track. Certainly with a spouse and two children, hopping from job to job around the country would be nuts. I admire your panache.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts/observations/experiences?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.