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I am a PhD candidate in literature, finishing my degree in August. Due to a combination of factors, I did not line anything (academic) up for the coming academic year. However, I will be spending that year on the job market. I had planned to simply teach a couple of courses if possible, and to work on getting some publications out, and attending conferences where possible. This would make me a bit of a drifter for one academic year, and I am wondering how that would reflect upon my qualifications while applying and (hopefully) interviewing for academic jobs. Essentially, I want to stay active in my research, but I won't have the banner of a university name under my own...

The reason I'm crowdsourcing this is because I'm getting conflicting information. One of my committee members tells me that it's better to have the PhD in hand while applying, so I should finish up ASAP. He also assures me that a PhD still looks "fresh" up to two years after completion, so I shouldn't have a problem. Another member, however (who is perhaps more familiar with the current job market climate) has informed me that a gap year will ruin all chances of employment, and that any period of wandering institutionless - no post-doc, no fellowship, no teaching - would be fatal. He suggests that I hold off graduation, so that I have no in-between time.

Do any of you out there have any thoughts? Or similar experiences?

Thanks for any responses you have.

  • How do you know the gap will only be a year? – mac389 Feb 28 '15 at 18:23
  • I'm happy to contribute an answer to this if you address my comment. – mac389 Mar 2 '15 at 23:27
  • Sure, I honestly wasn't quite sure what you meant, and answering to the best of my ability took a bit more thought than I had at the time, but since I have a moment now I'll go for it. A year is the length of time for which I have not scheduled any post-docs, fellowships or teaching gigs, and since I did not go on the job market this year, I certainly will not have a professional academic position - tenure track or not - by the fall of 2015. Of course, the break could end up being more than a year if my job search for 2016 goes bust, but that would be a misfortune, rather than a plan. – Gwendolyn Mar 4 '15 at 0:47
  • Did you apply for an academic position and fail to receive one? Second-time applications are different from first-time applications. – mac389 Mar 7 '15 at 0:39
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    As you said? "Did not line .. up" does not mean "did not apply". – mac389 Apr 4 '15 at 20:21
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I'm in the humanistic social sciences. If you were my doctoral student, I would suggest that you delay depositing your dissertation. This is even though there is considerable pressure from my institution to hurry students out (part of the NRC university rankings is time-to-completion so the provost puts pressure on faculty in this regard).

If you can afford the continuous registration fee and the university does not put onerous rules to make life difficult, then there are many more pros to cons.

Pros:

  • You can work on your publications as if you are a post-doc.
  • Applying for jobs is a full-time job
  • You still get to use your university letterhead
  • If you don't get any jobs this year it isn't as apparent that you're "stale" next year

Cons:

  • Your advisor may be under pressure not to allow this. It could impact her/his ability to recruit new doctoral students until the old ones graduate.
  • Your university may not allow this
  • Your university may charge continuous registration fees

Notes:

  • Your advisor will have to write in his/her letters that your dissertation is essentially finished. Everyone is familiar with this strategy so it's not a red flag.
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    Another pro is that some fellowships require you to be within N years of graduating. By delaying graduation these clocks would not start counting yet. Another con is the psychological factor of not having graduated. – StrongBad Apr 5 '15 at 11:58
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    I agree with this. the pros outweigh the cons. it is very important to have university affiliation for the purposes of academic hiring. The reason is that search committees are tired, overworked and looking at in the case of literature, I would assume hundreds of applications. It's just too easy to get yourself dismissed as a crank without the imprimatur of a university right there on the very first page of the application. – shane Jun 18 '15 at 11:33
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    I add: The way to mitigate the staleness worry is to publish. You won't look "stale" if you're publishing two articles a year and formulating longer range plans about your second research project. – shane Jun 18 '15 at 11:34
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    That may be in an ideal world, @shane, but in reality once people graduate they may find it's difficult to access the library system, they start to lose focus as they work (or seek work) outside academia, etc, -- and as a result, stop publishing. – RoboKaren Jun 18 '15 at 14:14
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    No arguments here, the challenges including financial one are indeed significant. I'm simply trying to identify the best path to success. – shane Jun 18 '15 at 14:16
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If you decide to graduate, you should get some sort of affiliation with a university, even if it is teaching a course or two as an adjunct, or getting a visiting scholar or some such other non-paid position. Besides other, more noble things mentioned above, you need university letterhead for your letters of application. They look terrible on personal letterhead.

Considering how the job market is, you will most likely spend a year or four without an academic post, even if you deposit a year after you've actually written. Unless you're a rock star from the best program, etc.

And last, but not least: Being on the job market (this is my second year, PhD in literature), takes up most of your time, if you do it right. You will have little time to focus on real work, unfortunately. So, don't think this is going to be like the time spent on the dissertation. Instead, you will be writing and rewriting dozens of rather formulaic documents, researching programs and their needs, and writing dozens of potential syllabi to submit with your apps.

Hope that helps.

2

Trailing spouses often have this problem. Here's how I've seen them address it:

  • continue working as though they were doing a postdoc, building up the publication list

  • get an office in some institution, as a courtesy -- this is a great way of staying fresh because you attend seminars, participate in stimulating discussions, stay connected and fresh

I also like your idea of doing some teaching -- for the income, for the experience, and as a CV builder.

  • Thanks specifically for this comment - I actually am a trailing spouse - and my husband has a wonderful job in a wonderful city in his field, so that is largely why I did not scramble to find a position immediately after completing my dissertation. This is also why I'm hurrying to finish up - because I am no longer at my home institution and writing a PhD from afar is actually quite a bit more difficult (I have found) than doing it in the context of a nurturing and dynamic department. Quite a bit is lost without that network of support. – Gwendolyn Apr 4 '15 at 14:11
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    When you are accompanying a spouse or an advisor on sabbatical, it is much easier to get an office somewhere than if you are completely on your own. It is nice to have an office to go to every day, and have somewhere to leave your coat, lunch, boots, etc., when you want to attend a seminar. And it's nice to have people to talk to about your work and their work. Also keep in mind that it can be stressful to finish a dissertation while working or job hunting. There's nothing wrong with doing things step by step. – aparente001 Apr 5 '15 at 3:16
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The only context in Humanities where I can imagine that a year or three of employment gap is noticeable would be if you graduate from The Best Program Ever where absolutely everybody -- except you -- gets multiple offers. If the dissertation is defended, revised and ready to go, and you can afford to pay tuition in some future term in order to deposit, then it might be harmless to delay depositing, though there are risks associated with getting "scooped" if someone else is working on a similar topic.

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I can't speak to the general predicament that is the dismal academic job market. I completed my PhD (in history) and was underemployed for several years until a very good research university offered me a temporary appointment. By that time I had amassed a solid, if unspectacular, publication record. Since then, however, I have found nothing and so split my time between writing and cutting grass. Good luck.

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