Dr. Karen is on vacation in Italy July 2012. During that time she is re-posting older blog posts her regular Tuesday and Thursday posting days. She’ll recommence new posting some time in August.
(Tuesday Post Category–Strategizing Your Success in Academia)
Today is the second in our occasional series of “How-To(sday)” posts. This one is in response to a Special Request by Lauren, who wishes to know how to go on the job market while still ABD.
This is a good question. The whole issue of whether or not to go on the job market as ABD is quite fraught, with some advisors taking a strong position against it, and others taking an equally strong position for it. What’s a poor ABD to do?
Let’s see what some experts have to say. (Yes, there are a few experts that The Professor will grudgingly acknowledge have a modicum of wisdom). David Chioni Moore, in an older but still valuable 1999 article in the MLA Publication, Profession, argues that a dry run on the market is a wise choice. He argues that a first, ABD year on the market gives the candidate a chance to gain the knowledge that he or she needs while the stakes are still relatively low, and prepares him or her for success the next year, when the stakes are high.
Gregory Semenza, in his book, Graduate Study for the 21st Century (which I strongly recommend you buy), gives credence to the value of Moore’s viewpoint, but then cautions:
I would advise you against making an early entry on the market unless you are absolutely certain of three things.
- Can you deal with the emotional fallout and depression of a failed job search?
- Are you able to say with a straight face that going on the market will not derail your schedule for finishing your dissertation?
- Are you prepared to turn down a job that falls short of your standards for a “good” job? (Semenza 243)
These are excellent questions. I would urge anyone considering launching into the job market while still ABD to consider them carefully, especially the first. Can you cope with a year of failure? Can you in fact be energized by it (as was my own case)? Not everyone can. So think carefully.
Our final expert, Kathryn Hume, in her spectacular Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt (soon to be reviewed right here by yours truly!), suggests going on the market only after your dissertation is defended. “You start with a heavy black mark against you if you turn up for a research-oriented job without degree,” she cautions (Hume 3).
However, for the purposes of this post, we are going to assume that you HAVE considered all the excellent reasons not to go on the market as an ABD and have concluded that you will do it anyway.
Actually, I applaud you. My own personal advising philosophy is to urge anyone who asks to go on the market before they actually finish. It is my strong belief that only after large quantities of painfully humiliating failures on the job market will you gain the skills to succeed. This may not be true for others, but it was most definitely true for me. My first year on the market, as an ABD, was a bloodbath. Sometimes I still lie awake at night remembering all the ways I humiliated myself. If I had not had that year while still safely affiliated with (and getting a stipend from) my graduate institution, I would never have learned what I needed to to prevail on the market the following year.
And contrary to popular belief, ABDs do, occasionally, even in this market, get job offers. Especially if they’re in hot fields.
So, with no further ado: here are the ten things you must do to prepare for going on the market while ABD:
- You must have your dissertation substantially finished, and have a rigorous writing schedule and a firm defense date. This defense date must be stated clearly in your cover letter, in the first paragraph. You must not deviate from this writing schedule.
- You must have at least one publication in a refereed journal. You will not be competitive without this. If you lack this, don’t bother going on the market as an ABD.*
- You must have a sexy dissertation topic, however that is defined in your field. It must be sexy enough to seduce the search committee into taking a chance on you, against their better judgment.
- You must have a vibrant conference record at the leading national conferences in your field, presenting papers (not, god forbid, posters) on well-regarded panels, on your dissertation topic.
- Your ABD year, you must organize a major panel for the leading conference in your field. You must gather leading young scholars (NOT other ABDs and graduate students!) to speak on the panel. You must score a hugely important senior scholar in your field to serve as the discussant. Ideally, you acquire for your panel whatever “special” status your national conference confers, such as “invited status.”
- You must have recommenders who are not all from your Ph.D. granting institution. The presence of a third recommender from an elite outside institution proves that you are far beyond the normal run of ABDs and are in fact a dynamic young scholar soon to be launched.
- You must be able to see beyond your dissertation to the book/series of articles that it will eventually become, and articulate that publication plan clearly.
- You must not make querulous excuses about the state of the dissertation (“I am still working on chapter 4….” “I know I need to add more discussion of race….” “I need to revisit the archive to gather more material for my second case study…”) This is graduate student talk, not job candidate talk.
- You must be able to speak about teaching as if you are already a full-fledged faculty member, not a TA. You must have your own original courses developed, as well as ideas for basic intro courses and core seminars in your field.
- You must be able to articulate the import of your dissertation in advancing disciplinary boundaries and forging new knowledge and connections in your field(s). Nobody wants to hear about what your dissertation is. They want to hear about what your dissertation does.
It goes without saying that all of the other advice about the job market applies: You must have an impeccable c.v., a flawless cover letter, and a sparkling teaching statement. You must know how to decode a job ad. You must know how to dress and speak in interviews.
The difference, if you’re ABD, is that you must work harder to live up to the cardinal rule of the academic job search:
a) They are hiring a colleague, not a graduate student.
b) Do. Not. Speak. Or. Act. Like. A. Graduate. Student.
*It occurs to me that the field of History seems to discourage ABDs from publishing in refereed journals. It is conceivable in that case that a refereed journal publication would be viewed as inappropriate or “premature” by search committees. By the same token, it is conceivable that some history advisors are clinging to an outmoded model of graduate training. I need further education on this point, and would appreciate hearing from historians at all ranks about the best mode of advice for their field.
[8 PM Update: After considerable Twitter discussion among a range of historians, the consensus seems to be that for History ABDs, publications are officially optional, but unofficially needed for the top jobs. For second tier jobs, they are likely truly optional, and possibly outweighed by teaching experience. Upshot: The lack of a refereed publication is not a total deal-breaker for a History ABD on the job market the way it is in some other fields such as English and Anthropology.]