Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Note from a Search Committee Member

I received the following earlier today from a friend who teaches as a decent liberal arts college that is conducting a search this year. It's a bit of a rant, but I'm curious to know the answer to the "real question" that is asked.
Do you know what is going on in the graduate departments these days? Our little job got over 400 applications. We expected this. But we didn't expect the large number of applications from people who are ABD. Why would anyone without a degree (or even a defense date) go on the market? Well, that's not the question I want an answer to. The issue isn't really about ABD applicants. The question concerns ABD applicants who are manifestly unready for the job market. Who is advising these students? Who allows a student with only half a dissertation and no defense date in sight to go on the market?

Given [the nature of our ad], there were several instances in which we received applications from several students from the same department. The undercooked ABDs make the department they come from look bad, and this means that they make the other applicants, even the defended ones, from that school look bad. Shouldn't there be some effort to coordinate who is applying to where? I know that back in the Dark Ages departments tended to be brutal when it came to who was applying where. We were told where we may and may not apply. I don't think that was a good practice. But surely some oversight is required. It seems that many departments are exerting no control over these matters anymore. So, I guess the real question I want to ask you is what practices are in place in graduate departments these days for coordinating job seeking efforts?
To be honest, I know of many departments which exercise almost no oversight. And I'm sure that this is bad for the job-seekers. Does anyone know of any departments which do a good job of coordinating the efforts of the job-seekers?


Anonymous said...

This doesn't address the question you are asking (I'm in no position to answer that question), but I wonder whether many departments think that it is a mistake to apply when ABD. For students that have significant loans from undergrad, finishing without a job is taking a risk. I'd say that students in our department typically all go on the market when they are officially ABD with advisers, good advisers anyway, speaking to the candidates ability to finish their dissertation.

It also seems strange to let the fact that some candidates from school X are manifestly unready for the market influence a committees view about other candidates from school X. I'm sure having oversight could be useful, but it seems irresponsible to make judgments about department X, as opposed to about, for example, adviser Y, because a student is on the market when they aren't ready.

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that everyone goes on the market ABD, in the sense that they expect to receive the PhD at the end of academic year during which they are applying. Applicants with the PhD in hand seem to have either already been on the market, or had a post-doc. Is this not the case?

Bitter Job-Seeker said...

I am under the same impression as anon 12:00am. I suspect also that the person ranting is older and far removed from the realities of graduate school and the market. You can't just go on the market with Ph.D. in hand unless you are currently employed in some capacity (VAP, adjunct, etc). ABDs are on the market presumably because they are ready to earn their Ph.D.s in the spring semester and because they need to keep their options open for funding for the following year. And because assholes on search committees believe that Ph.D.s "go stale".

Regarding department oversight - there is none. Not at my school anyway, and I have never heard of a department telling a student that he or she can only apply to certain jobs. What a crock of shit that would be anyway. Only in academia! Sorry - but faculty members do not have a right to tell a graduate student where he can and cannot apply for a job.

Anonymous said...

Our little job got over 400 applications. We expected this. But we didn't expect the large number of applications from people who are ABD. Why would anyone without a degree (or even a defense date) go on the market?

Three comments.

1) I feel like this SC member is on a completely different planet. The implicit assumption that one shouldn't go on the market until one's already completed one's PhD runs counter to all of the sensible advice I've ever heard about the job market. Given how bad the job market's become, as well as the significant decline in announced VAP's over the past two years, the candidate who defends in 2010 and then doesn't land a job has few remaining alternatives. "PhD's go stale," as the saying goes. By contrast, the ABD candidate who doesn't land a job stays in school a year longer, gains a little more teaching experience, polishes and/or extends the dissertation, tries to get a publication perhaps, defers student loan payments for another year, etc. Why is that such a horrible thing, especially given how unpredictable the job market situation's become? People who entered PhD programs 5-10 years ago weren't expecting this awful situation, and now they're trying to find ways to cope.

2) Why doesn't this SC member distinguish between ABD's who are ready for the job market and those who aren't? Surely, that's a meaningful distinction.

3) Even if a candidate (whether ABD or PhD) hasn't matured in the eyes of the SLAC search committee in question, that candidate may nevertheless be appealing to other committees from other schools. In my experience, the preferences, idiosyncrasies, and levels of competence among SC's from different schools varies considerably. Indeed, just the other day I read someone saying something like, "The search process at many institutions is nearly blind to all the things that matter in selecting a new faculty member." If that's true, then even the unqualified ABD candidate may stand a chance at some institutions.

Anonymous said...

Spiros said the note was a bit ranty. It looks like the guy is asking more about abd's with no defense date and not a lot of the dissertation completed - hence "undercooked." I get that one shouldn't finish unless one has a job, but one shouldn't go on the market unless one could be finished within a month, right?

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with 1:06.

Faculty should obviously give advice about whether students are ready to go on the market. But being ABD--even ABD without a defense date, and with only 2/3 of a dissertation--doesn't necessarily signal this. I know numerous people who've done very well on the market, but were only ready to defend half way through their first year on the job. It may be that there's considerable variation among departments about how they view such applicants, but--unless there's effective signalling of this--given that some departments don't mind, it may be in the best interests of both candidates and departments to go on the market as "undercooked" ABDs.

And even if this department cares about people having a PhD in hand or nearly in hand, it is irrational to look down on those PhDs who come from the same schools as ABDs. Even if you think the department is irresponsible in who they let go on the market, this presumably doesn't say anything about the quality of their education or the reliability of their letters. Why on earth would *this aspect* of the graduate program reflect poorly on candidates?

Anonymous said...

I think it would be incredibly inappropriate for departments to tell students where they can apply and where they can't, given the way the job market is.

In a pool of 400 applicants, whether ANY individual applicant gets an interview is hardly more than a matter of luck. Only "allowing" students to apply for particular positions seems to imply that they actually have good chances, in general, of getting an interview from any particular application. That makes sense, if each job only receives, say, 30 applications. But out of a pool of 400? It'd be irrational hubris to expect a job applicant to succeed if they're not taking every opportunity.

The only good way departments can support their students in this market is if they say, "We can't tell you what any department is looking for, and it's mostly luck that decides if anyone shows interest in you, so all we can suggest is that you apply to every job to which you conceivably can." Anything else would be irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Another way a department can support its students in this market is, you know, financially support its students. For example, don't make them pay for shipping each package themselves or, worse, pay for Interfolio--even for the recommendation letters.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that reading that letter scared the hell out of me, and reading the comments has only slightly quelled the anxiety. I am a graduate student who is on the market with roughly half of my dissertation written. I expect to defend in time to have a PhD in hand at the end of spring semester. I do not have a defense date "set". Am I "undercooked" and "not ready" for the market?

This was the time I was advised to go on the market. I have a vast teaching background, great reviews, great letters, and a publication. Hearing this SC member basically shit on my chances is really like a giant slap in the face, when this time is already so stressful.

lucky applicant said...

I got a TT job with no defense date set and easily finished the dissertation that year. I have gone on the market many times since then, and never since gotten a campus interview. So if I hadn't gone out that year, I would probably be unemployed.

Ignore everything you hear about going on the market except this:

As long as you have the support of your letter writers, and honestly believe you could finish by the following July IF YOU HAD TO, go on the market as soon as you can, and apply to any job you think you have a chance at.

Another thing: how long does it take for a disciplined student to finish a dissertation? A year is fast, but more than two years is dawdling. Let's be honest.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think Spiros is making up these letters from SC members just to drive the newbies to drink.

Seriously, though: Whether it seems "inappropriate" or not, there are departments, good departments, which exercise control over where their ABD's and Ph.D.'s apply. And there are good reasons for doing so.

Oftentimes, it has to do with a department which has 2 or 3 candidates on the market in the same year, and they want to be able to throw their full support behind one or the other candidate for a given position (i.e., with letters not only from the grad advisor, and the dissertation advisor, but also from the chairperson). Given that this is the strategy, they need to control where the candidates apply: it wouldn't look very convincing if two applicants came from the philosophy department at U. of x and both had letters from the grad advisor and the chair saying this person was the department's top candidate for the job … would it? As an SC member, if I saw something like that, I would assume these letters are given cheaply and have little value.

I didn't go to such a school, but I wish I had. Although I had a letter each, from my advisor and my chairman, I know those letters would have been a lot more valuable if my department had had a policy in place that made certain that no one else from my program was applying to that University.

I know there are a lot of ABD's out there who subscribe to the view that the best chances come from sending out 75 applications in a year. Statistically, I guess more is better. But really, your chances are much better if you letters have weight.

For ABD's who haven't published, or who have published only one article, letters count - a lot.

Anonymous said...

"how long does it take for a disciplined student to finish a dissertation"

Probably depends on if you are also teaching and working two part-time jobs to pay the bills.

As others have said, given the job market it seems foolish not to be throwing your application out as soon as possible to as many positions as possible.

I know one guy that finished all his PHD requirements, including successfully defending his dissertation, but remaining ABD while on the job market. His advisor told him to not submit his paperwork until he had job offers so that he could stay in school if needed. Worked like a charm.

Anonymous said...

I want to a pretty middle-of-the-road department, where most of the faculty seemed to be more worried about publishing and moving somewhere better than helping out the graduate students who were there with them. So you could probably include this as one of the departments with little oversight regarding where and when their PhDs applied. But it was not just the lack of oversight, but the lack of overall guidance and support that made things so difficult for job candidates (and I guess, by extension, for people who end up sorting through their applications). Since I got out into the world I have heard with wide-eyed wonder stories about schools sending out the applicants' dossiers for them, or supporting particular candidates for particular positions (as anon 12:41 mentions), or even having placement training (that was more than just a 30-minute talk by a junior faculty member), since nothing even remotely like this happened at my program. What got me a job was simply having two people on my committee who cared enough to write careful letters and to make some behind-the-scenes phone calls at the right times. It certainly wasn't anything like "oversight" from my department. So if you're a search committee member reading through the application of one of the 25 students from my former school who applied for your position, you should know that that's just the way it works there -- everyone applies to everything!

Anonymous said...

Quick question: does anybody know how many applications is average now? I'm guessing at least 400, but wonder if data is available.

CTS said...

I don't think anyone should be alarmed by this one email from one person - who is probably horrified by the prospect of trying to deal intelligently with 400 applications.

It really is unclear what the writer objects to. Most people in their final dissertating year go on the market. If they do not have 'a date' for defending, they say they expect to defend in the Spring, etc.

I wonder if the writer's dept. got several applications from students in the same program, none of which [including in letters] made clear where they were in the process. To an SC member feeling overwhelmed, that might seem to be too little information.

At any rate, if they are not interested in hearing from ABD's who are still writing, their ad should say so.

Anonymous said...

As someone on a search committee this year, my two cents is that, yes, it's annoying to read applications from people who are not "good applicants." But only some of them are bad because they are ABD. There are types of "bad applications" I've seen this year:

1. Those who aren't going to defend in time to take the job. More than one applicant noted that they have just started their dissertation, and given what they claim to be writing about, they just don't have time to finish by the start date. And no, we don't want you to rush your work; how will producing rushed work help you when your teaching, service, and research loads go up?

2. Those who aren't specialists in the area we are looking for. We all know that the market sucks, but applying to jobs you aren't qualified for won't impress a search committee. I promise you, we won't ever sit back and say, "you know, we thought we needed a classical philosopher, but this guy writing about Kant is really compelling; hire him!" Not happening. More than one applicant has noted that, while they do not specialize in what we want, they could prepare classes in those fields if needed, because of a grad seminar they took once.

3. Those who put no effort into their applications. They have stupid typos that should have been corrected. Their letters are wordy and obtuse. Their CVs are pointlessly annotated. (No, you don't need to provide a short description of what an Intro to Philosophy course you taught looks like. We can figure that out.) They didn't even look at our program. No, we don't have a PhD program, so don't tell us you are ready to start advising PhDs right away. One applicant clearly cut-and-pasted our department's name onto another school's application letter, because he noted our proximity to a particular library with a special collection he wants to work with; that library is two states away.

Honestly, though, while I do complain about these applications, they make it so much easier to thin the pile. And for what it's worth, those applicants who have been on the market before - who are currently in a VAP position or a post-doc - tend to have much, much better applications.

Anonymous said...


I was ABD about where you are (some years ago but in a comparable market). Great teaching, great letters, a publication from my MA. Flown in for window dressing mainly but my interview kicked the ass of the presumptive favored internal candidate with a PhD in hand (and I subsequently finished/defended in one semester). I'm Full Prof now. Yes you need luck, and yes you need to be realistic, but there are SCs that can recognize ABD talent even in this market.

729 said...

Yes, indeed Anon 1:09--having already defended but not "deposited" and officially graduated is a very good strategy as far as I know. One can succesfully defend but need time to revise and submit for deposit. One can also "wait out the clock." This was what I did and I know several other graduates of my program that did it as well. When you're able to state that your defense is completed, search committees have less reason to question whether you'll have Ph.D. in hand at the start date or very, very soon after.

I mention this simply because there are many reasons to remain, technically ABD, and the defense is technically not the point at which you graduate. Universities have different rules about how long between a defense and deposit date can be, but it can be around one year. If health insurance and child-care are issues, it's a good idea to know something about how long you can wait to deposit. The difference of 6 months or so could be meaningful.

Also, the date at which the clock begins ticking for paying back student loans begins on the deposit date (not the defense date). There is a 6 month grace period for Federal Student loans, and the opportunity for a full year deferment that one can apply for after the grace period expires. The timing of one's deposit may matter in this respect for many people. The expenses of starting a new job (relocating and/or finding housing) can be considerable. Depositing immediately after one's defense, simply to go on the market, may not be necessary and waiting may buy one financial benefits. I had some solid finanical advise and background, and was able to time the turnovers in my heath insurance and start of student loan payments pretty well, so I pass this information along as it might be useful.

Placement Director said...

Most departments won't explicitly allow or disallow you to apply for a particular job. But, advice for next year (should it become relevant): talk to your advisor (and other letter writers) about the jobs to which you wish to apply. If you fail to communicate your intentions and ask for advice, and if, moreover, your advisor (or other letter writer) knows (or even merely believes) that you are applying for jobs to which s/he cannot, in good faith, recommend you as an excellent candidate, then s/he is more likely simply to deflate her letter than to instruct you not to apply to those top jobs. In other words, it is in your best interest to communicate your intentions to your letter writers, and ask for their advice about where to apply--even if that results in your not applying to some top tier of jobs--in order to secure the strongest letters of recommendation on your own behalf.

Anonymous said...

Anon: 6:39pm

As an ABD without a date (hopefully in May) I have to disagree with your second point. I know of examples within my own department where Search Committees invited graduate students on the market to interviews who had specifically stated that they did not have an AOS in the advertised position in his or her cover letter. I will do the same because of their successes as long as the advertised position is close enough to my AOS.

The Brooks Blog said...

I suppose that where there are 400 or more applications the search committees must find some way of wading through them. Perhaps one criteria is that candidates have PhDs in hand.

I would oppose rejecting ABD candidates out of hand. Why? Well, I got my job as ABD and without a viva date (although planning to submit a few months after the interview, which I did).

Word verification: rubjur

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:39 complains about:

Those who aren't specialists in the area we are looking for. We all know that the market sucks, but applying to jobs you aren't qualified for won't impress a search committee. I promise you, we won't ever sit back and say, "you know, we thought we needed a classical philosopher, but this guy writing about Kant is really compelling; hire him!" Not happening. More than one applicant has noted that, while they do not specialize in what we want, they could prepare classes in those fields if needed, because of a grad seminar they took once.

Your comment piques my curiosity. Are you saying that someone with a strong AOC in your committee's preferred AOS is automatically disqualified? (I can't tell if your example is fictional).

One possible source of confusion is that the AOS/AOC distinction doesn't appear to track the majority of jobs in the profession. If AOS means 'qualified to teach graduate seminars in this area' and AOC means 'qualified to teach advanced undergraduate seminars in this area', then, since most departments don't have graduate programs, there's an inherent risk SC's at non-graduate-degree-awarding programs will get applications from candidates who don't actually have the preferred AOS.

Anonymous said...

Placement Director has it just right. Our department doesn't forbid folks from applying for any particular job -- as if it could. But we will not support applications to particular jobs -- we do not give them 'departmental recommendations' for jobs that are clearly out of their league, and about which our department would get a reputation for bullshit if we did recommend them. If candidates have a realistic view of their abilities and chances at certain jobs, the department can go all-out on their behalf. It really is a bad idea to be just laissez-faire about this sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:11,

What's the difference between a "departmental recommendation" and the LORs which different faculty submit on behalf of a candidate? Or are the LORs written differently when sent to jobs which are thought to be beyond the reach of the candidate?

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit skeptical of the claim to have received 400 applications. Our current search (a decent research department) has 180 apps and the highest numbers for open searches at other places I'm in contact with are around 250. So, just out of curiosity fellow anonymous philosophers, are departments really getting 400 applications?

Anonymous said...

are departments really getting 400 applications?

Last year, one of the SLACs with which I interviewed reported having received 400 applications for an AOS open search (though with narrow AOCs). And then there's the CUNY and Boise numbers for last year.

Is your department conducting a completely open AOS/AOC search? Is your SC dissatisfied with the quality of the applicants? Would you like a copy of my dossier? I'm fabulous, I promise.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit skeptical of the claim to have received 400 applications.

According to a colleague, the PFO from Xavier in Cincinnati stated they received over 300 apps this year for a position with an AOS in any period of the history of philosophy. If a search excludes the entirety of the contemporary sub-fields and still gets over 300 apps, then wouldn't you expect less restrictive searches to garner significantly more apps, all things being equal?