Over at Dean Dad’s is an interesting discussion about making a “trial run” on the job market. This person doesn’t say what discipline s/he is in, but for English literature jobs, the job “season” goes something like this: in the end of the summer, job candidates start preparing their materials. Jobs are posted throughout the fall, with the vast majority of searches doing interviews right after Christmas at the MLA convention. In Jan/Feb, schools fly out their top few candidates for a tour and extended interview, complete with giving a talk and possibly a teaching demonstration. Then the candidates wait anxiously, sometimes even a month or two, while schools debate their choices. There is then a second, less intense “season” in spring, which largely consists of visiting positions and community college jobs (the CC tenure track searches are like Australia to the universities’ Europe; the weather is off by a season. Readers are left to ponder on their own whether the analogy can be carried further.)
Now, this season is important when you start pondering timelines for finishing the dissertation. Dean Dad’s comment that at his previous school they simply chucked all the ABD applications matches up (depressingly) with anecdotal evidence I have heard elsewhere. Does this really mean that a candidate should have the PhD in hand at the start of this long job season, rather than finishing in spring and filing it with all the corrections in August? I’ll note that of the many job listings I have pulled of the JIL this year, almost all of them state “PhD in hand by start of appointment” and then list the appointment start date as August. Or September, if they do quarters. I only have one that states the PhD must be in hand at the time of application. Which means that either this pattern is not true or search committees are not being honest on their job descriptions.
I know people who have gotten jobs, then finished; I know people who have finished and then gotten jobs. Both kinds have come from my department, so it’s hard to tell definitively which way would be best. In fact, I have gotten vehement advice advocating for each way. If one goes on the market while ABD, getting a job is a wonderful incentive to finish up everything. In fact, this is the preferred method of our grads ---- and yes, you can write a chapter and a half between March when you get the job offer and June when you walk in the graduation ceremonies. And our profs do not allow people to run off to a new job without having completely revised and filed their dissertations, despite our frequent attempts to weasel away. (I hope the profs put this in our letters of recommendation, as we don’t do a dissertation defense. Those references to defense dates in Dean Dad’s post comments worry me.) The most important advantage of this route is that you go straight from one job to another, and you start a “real” salary before the student loans kick in. I know people who are pretty much finished, but didn’t get any jobs, so they are not filing and still trying to pick up TAships for this year to have health insurance and not pay back loans yet. “Don’t file!” They tell me. “Try to publish something rather than finish up the diss, and do another run next year.” This is probably fucking up our graduation and retention statistics, but hey, why give up the tenuous advantages of our grad school positions and no longer have access to the library or a university email account, just to be a Dr.?
Of course, the other side has the argument that any finished dissertation is superior to the best mostly-finished dissertation. Just push through and file, these advocates say. Then you can go on the market with the advantage of a completed PhD and work on publications to be stronger. Focusing on cranking out the diss by working as hard as possible is a lot easier when one is not also going on the market. And some of my cohort members tell me that the feeling of accomplishment is a wonderful ego-booster that really helps protect one during the frustrations of job hunting. However.
Think about the job market season again. If you walk in spring and file in August, you are perfectly placed to go on the market for fall. Except for the pesky details of paying rent and eating. And your student loans will start to come due with crushing force (and if you took out loans as an undergrad too? Those’ll be some big loans.) This is the “gap year,” which Dean Dad has in the past criticized but acknowledged as a regrettable necessity. My department doesn’t really have anything in place for our PhDs; there are sometimes some lectureship positions open but these are subject to the vicissitudes of profs’ sabbaticals and unstable funding. It’s possible to try and grab some composition adjuncting at the local community college, but it, too, sometimes fills up (with the “eternal grad students” who are out of funding from a variety of humanities departments) and there are no guarantees that it will have a job open when you need it. It also pays less than I currently make as a TA, with my loan deferments.
Furthermore, some of us have heard that schools want “newly minted” scholars rather than the penny with the shine worn off that adjuncts seem to be. Therefore we are wary of finishing and becoming locked into an adjunct trap where we are slowly suffocated on our loan payments and never actually get a tt job. I hear that Fancypants McPantserson U, my envy and arch nemesis, has set up a lectureship program where they guarantee all of their grads one year of post-defense teaching in their exact field, thus removing the desire to procrastinate endlessly in school while allowing them to build a couple courses in their area of expertise. I covet that for my grad program. (yessss, my precious!)
Ok, so that’s the gap year of my title. How the hell does this long post deal with the idea of a “trial run”? Well, my fellow grads are anxious. (me too.) The UC has been putting the screws to our teaching eligibility and slashing fellowship money, meanwhile being much more punitive against students who exceed the standard amount of time (when I first got here, we were all assured that it was no problem to take 10 years and that there were always comp sections to pick up once you ran out of “official” funding). And we see fellow grads go on the job market while ABD and pick up jobs. This combination of normative time pressure, lack of extended funding, and fear of being “tainted” as a permanent adjunct, has led us to go on our “trial run” of the job market earlier and earlier in our careers. My “trial run” last year, which I actually thought was a “real run” but didn’t get anything, was with three chapters under my belt. I’m late. Most of us are going out with two, sometimes “two,” meaning they have not been revised and accepted by their committees yet. In the last job meeting the Job Placement Advisor just kicked out a couple people with one chapter and one who has just defended the prospectus (“you can listen in,” he told them, “but you are not going out this year.”) More and more of us are worriedly saying we will “just apply to a few places this year” even though we have hardly anything done.
Thing is, going on the market is incredibly time consuming, frustrating, and emotionally draining. I bet it’s especially hard to write a dissertation abstract when you haven’t really gotten the chapter-writing format down quite yet. It is certainly difficult to sum up the “through-line” of your dissertation for your cover letter if you aren’t really sure what that through line is. (I still don’t know. It might not be there.) Plus there is a lot of running around, getting your letters in, copying, pulling together material, and general freaking out. And I can assure you that even if you aren’t the emotional drama type, not getting any interviews or not making any flybacks can be crushing. I was depressed all winter break last year. My friend took her rejections really personally as a sign that she was a fraud and not meant to be a professor, and was too depressed to work on her diss for several months afterwards. You could be using that time to actually make progress on your chapters and to prep stuff for publication ---- turning in chapters and sending off articles will pump up your confidence, while going on the market extremely early and not getting a job will only bring you down.
So, to conclude: hire me. Oh wait, that’s not it. Uh, no more of this “early hunting” and “trial run” business. To most effectively support their students, departments should discourage early job hunts and force grads to focus on writing their diss and publishing things instead. And have a guaranteed year of lectureship post-graduation to help them go on the market with the PhD and without the gap year. Now someone please put all this in place in time for me to benefit from it. Oh, wait.