In the course of browsing a couple of positions for brand-new (STEM-related) assistant professorships (in North America), I am wondering whether it does make sense if one applies for such positions before her Ph.D. graduation. For example, an advertisement asserts that

These positions require a Ph.D. or equivalent in engineering or a closely related discipline at date of hire

The job announcement has only supplied a period for application submissions, say, Nov. 2020 until May 2021. My Ph.D. defense is around early 2021, but I think if I wait till that time, the positions may have already been occupied without any chance of competition for me. But if I act before graduation, will my potential application be considered when I have not yet sealed my Ph.D.?

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    I think you could reasonably email the contact person listed in the advert and ask them this question. – avid Sep 29 '20 at 1:58
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    @avid absolutely not. People who advertise positions can’t comment on your chances of being offered a position, for legal and ethical reasons. They will just tell you you are free to apply if you satisfy the minimum requirements. – Dan Romik Sep 29 '20 at 3:18
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    Regarding the "date of hire" requirement: If they want to hire you, they can probably set up the contract to start a few months later, when you have your PhD. – lighthouse keeper Sep 29 '20 at 7:03
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    Depends if you want a job after graduation... – Jon Custer Sep 29 '20 at 14:29
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    "Date of hire" means "start date" not "date offer issued" – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 29 '20 at 16:59

Most people apply for positions while still students. That is normal. The "date of hire" could mean various things, depending on the institution. Don't worry too much about it, and apply. If there is any sort of issue they might be able to finesse it a bit, but likely they intend that early 2021 graduates are part of their intended outreach.

The date of hire is not usually interpreted as the date you get an acceptance letter, but the date you actually become an employee (with a paycheck).

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    "Most people apply for positions while still students." But most engineering PhD students do NOT have a chance at getting an assistant professorship. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 29 '20 at 1:34
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Depends on the type of school. For an R1 you are correct; for a primarily teaching school, on the other hand... – Bryan Krause Sep 29 '20 at 1:47
  • @BryanKrause Check recent faculty profiles in engineering, and I think you will find I am correct almost everywhere. Engineering schools are overwhelmingly at R1s anyway. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 29 '20 at 2:45
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    Not every program with engineering faculty is part of a true "engineering school". – Bryan Krause Sep 29 '20 at 3:31
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    @AnonymousPhysicist this may be country specific. For instance in India, a PhD suffices in almost all universities to get an assistant professorship. – Jihadi Sep 29 '20 at 3:34

Talk to your advisor.

It is absolutely possible for a person to get hired for a tenure track position straight out of their PhD (and when that happens, the person must have applied before they graduated). I know several people who had that happen to them. So in that sense, you are overthinking things. However, I’ll repeat: talk to your advisor. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s likely, and the likelihood and difficulty of securing a position in such circumstances will vary wildly between research areas, countries, and different tiers of universities in any given country.

So again, sorry to sound like a broken record, but you’ll have to ask your advisor to find out whether applying to such jobs makes sense in your situation or not.

  • "I know several people who had that happen to them." Were they engineers? Was this in the past decade? And are they a tiny minority of new faculty? – Anonymous Physicist Sep 29 '20 at 2:46
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    @AnonymousPhysicist they were mathematicians, and this was around 8-12 years ago. But I think those data points are beside the point. The main points I am trying to convey are: 1. It can and does happen. 2. We can’t advise OP on whether it is a realistic thing to aim for given their specific situation. – Dan Romik Sep 29 '20 at 2:51
  • I agree it does happen but I think we should be clear it only happens in engineering under special, unlikely circumstances. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 29 '20 at 3:11
  • @AnonymousPhysicist if you say so. I don’t consider myself qualified to comment about that. – Dan Romik Sep 29 '20 at 3:16

The job listing says

These positions require a Ph.D....at date of hire

So the requirement raises one question: Will the applicant have the degree, at the date of hire?

But if I act before graduation, will my potential application be considered when I have not yet sealed my Ph.D.?

Yes, your application will be considered if it notes that you will have your degree on the date of hire because you will then satisfy the requirement found in the job listing.

This obviously makes you responsible for sealing your Ph.D. If a job applicant asserts that the applicant will seal a Ph.D. then whoever assesses that applicant's application will assume the applicant is correct.


In the 21st century, > 90% of assistant professors of engineering (and other STEM fields I am familiar with) have a PhD in hand and postdoctoral experience before they get their job.

Even if you already have completed your PhD, you face steep competition.

These positions require a Ph.D. or equivalent in engineering or a closely related discipline at date of hire

This statement is traditional boilerplate which in no way indicates the (much more difficult to get) qualifications needed to actually get the job.

Note that in some humanities fields, it is traditional not to hire people who already have PhDs as assistant professors.

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    'Note that in some humanities fields, it is traditional not to hire people who already have PhDs as assistant professors.' Could you explain why? – Jonas Schwarz Sep 29 '20 at 6:22
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    @AnonymousPhysicist then it's maybe is worth to remove the sentence? I can hardly imagine an assistant professor without a PhD, so a quotation would be highly appreciated. – Mayou36 Sep 29 '20 at 9:28
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    @AnonymousPhysicist People pester you with reference requests, and downvote and even flag your answers, because you make many "general" claims which are actually not generally true by the experience of many, experience which, for some, is probably much longer and broader than yours. So, try to reflect on this and make an effort to improve your answers. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 30 '20 at 6:29
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    @AnonymousPhysicist people are not entitled to answers, but they entitled to use the flagging mechanism, and it’s the moderators’ role to deal with flags regarding answers that make dubious claims. Of course no one can force you to do anything you don’t want to do, but don’t pretend that there can’t be consequences to making irresponsible claims in your answers. – Dan Romik Sep 30 '20 at 21:24
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I was mostly referring to the last sentence of your answer - the baseless remark about the humanities that everyone here is complaining about. As for the engineering issue, I don’t think your advice is terribly helpful to OP (a specific person, who may very well not be “average”), which is probably why your answer was downvoted (fair game according to you). But that doesn’t rise to a level that requires a moderator’s intervention or for you to delete your answer because of, so again that’s not what my comment was addressing. – Dan Romik Oct 1 '20 at 11:45

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