I'm finishing my fourth year of a Ph.D. in mathematics. I have enough for a dissertation, and by the end of the summer, I will probably have enough for a very nice dissertation. And I plan to finish next year.

I also a couple of published papers not directly related to my thesis, and a few projects that might bear fruits maybe even this summer. So by October, when "application season" begins, I should be ready to apply to schools.

My advisor wants me to submit my work around the time I apply, so I can write in the applications that the thesis has been submitted. However, if I do that, I am likely to find myself without funding and without money for a significant portion of the year, as my university halts your stipend and employment as soon as your work is approved.

His argument is that a lot of universities might outright reject, or at least consider it less favorable, if I haven't submitted my work. As it might signal that I'm not ready to move on. This seems a bit odd to me. But I never sat in the chairs of those who make these decisions.

I also don't know how these things vary between departments, so I'm asking specifically for mathematics.

  • 7
    Where in the world are you, and where in the world are you applying? (This is not the way things work in the US.) Jul 5, 2016 at 17:48
  • I am probably going to apply in Europe (all across the board), USA (Harvard seems like a fun place to research; but other places also), and I'm not excluding places like Singapore, Japan, or pretty much in most places. Which is why I wasn't specific. I'd be happy to hear any answer, even localized to a relatively small area (provided that enough answers for enough geographical locations are given, anyway).
    – Ink blot
    Jul 5, 2016 at 17:50
  • 4
    You didn't say where you are. It is not possible to meaningfully answer your title question without that information. Jul 5, 2016 at 17:54
  • @PeteL.Clark: I'm not sure how that matters. The refereeing process is usually not longer than six months.
    – Ink blot
    Jul 5, 2016 at 17:55
  • 1
    The "refereeing process" doesn't really exist in the US. American departments and PIs advertising for postdocs will assume, correctly, that most applicants have not even started writing their theses, much less submitted them.
    – JeffE
    Jul 7, 2016 at 3:50

2 Answers 2


This answer is specific to the USA.

Your dissertation advisor needs to write in their letter something along the lines that you've written X chapters of your dissertation (or the equivalent in the hard sciences) and that they fully expect you will be able to defend and submit by such-and-such date.

On the receiving side, we know that some students will decide at the last minute to not submit their dissertation and defer graduation. This is usually critically important for international students who will lose their immigration status once they graduate, but it also applies to domestic students as well who might need university health care, housing, or just the extra time to perfect their dissertation.

We all know how this game is played. On the receiving side, all we need is assurance that you WILL be able to submit IF you are given the post-doc. Many post-docs have been burned by recipients who did not finish the dissertation receive the PhD before arriving at the post-doc and turned the post-doc into a pre-doc. Many now have formal language that if you do not submit by the start of the post-doc, your hiring letter will be vacated.

  • Does it make sense for a recommendation letter to explain that the thesis is more or less complete, but not submitted for monetary reasons?
    – Ink blot
    Jul 5, 2016 at 22:36
  • 2
    @Inkblot the reference should not say "more or less complete". It needs to be specific about when you could (which is not will) submit and how long it will likely take between the submission and defense. There is no reason to say why it has not been submitted yet.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 5, 2016 at 22:54
  • @StrongBad: Okay, then. Generally, we don't have an actual defense. You have to give some sort of lecture, which could be considered a defense, but after that you have six months to actually write and submit your thesis (so generally about a year, at most, between said lecture and a conferred Ph.D.). In any case, I guess that stating that a degree is to be eligible from the summer, which is generally before postdocs begin, would be an ideal statement.
    – Ink blot
    Jul 5, 2016 at 23:06
  • @Inkblot - if I was on the postdoc committee, I would be concerned with that level of vagueness. I would want a statement of how many chapters were written and how many to go and a specific assurance that it will be finished. "Eligible for conferral from summer 2018" to me means that it might get completed in 2020.
    – RoboKaren
    Jun 11, 2017 at 18:31

The answer is going to be country specific. In the US as mentioned in this answer, your advisor vouching for your expected finishing date will be enough.

In the UK, there will be a job specification that will list essential and desirable criteria. HR departments do not forward on applications to the search committee that do not meet all the essential requirements. HR prefers to hire the candidate who meets the largest number of "desirable" criteria. In most cases, search committees can bully HR into hiring who they want from the pool of candidates who meet all the essential criteria. For post docs, "a defended, but not conferred, PhD" is generally an essential requirement, although some universities/positions only make it "desirable" and other require the degree to be conferred.

  • Thank you. Seeing how England is in my top 5 choices, it does help to know that.
    – Ink blot
    Jul 5, 2016 at 22:37
  • In the UK: (a) it is normal to start a postdoc after the submission but before the defence (viva) (b) it is normal to apply before submission, and there will be a few months between the application deadline and expected start date; (c) new research assistant/associate vacancies can appear throughout the year and often have strict application deadlines, so it makes sense to subscribe to jobs.ac.uk or to monitor it regularly.
    – Alexey B.
    Jul 6, 2016 at 2:45

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