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Thanks for taking this issue up. I think it is really important. I teach at College that is concerned first and foremost with teaching. That said, my colleagues are accomplished researchers as well.
But my reaction to a promised completed though-not-yet-complete dissertation is motivated by a concern to have a colleague who can start their job immediately. It is terrible when someone arrives still working on their dissertation. Let me be frank, though. I am also concerned to treat those who have been on the market for a while (people like you) justly. I think they should not be passed over. In fact, I am so impressed by people who manage to publish when they are on the market for years, and often in contingent and underpaid positions. I think such people are a far better bet than a yet to be defended dissertation candidate.

shane wilkins

Chiming in with my $0.02 here. I think it behooves candidates who are at an advanced stage to state very clearly in the cover letter the status of the dissertation. I have in mind a sentence like: "My dissertation defense is scheduled for May 20th; the entire dissertation is drafted; and the entire committee has already approved the first four of the five chapters." I would think that if your advisor says something similar in the letter of recommendation, that might at least assuage some of the worries.

There's many a slip between lip and cup though, so perhaps committee members would still have good reason to be skeptical even of this more detailed statement. Still it has to be better than, "I will defend my disseration in May."

Kristina Meshelski

In my department I have never heard anyone prefer an in-hand degree to an almost completed degree. I'm not sure, but this may have to do with our employment contracts at CSUN, the university hires you contingent on your having received the PhD by a certain date right before your start date. So we would never be, for example, stuck with someone without a PhD. In this market, if a candidate failed to meet that contract requirement we would probably call the #2 candidate and be perfectly happy with them.

From my, admittedly limited, experience, the search committee can tell by someone's job talk and interview if they aren't really as finished with their diss as they claim to be. You occasionally do see, comparing two candidates that are both good, that one clearly has a more developed research program than the other. These judgments tend to be more important than worries about when the exact defense date is.

In this market I would advise to keep your grad funding as long as possible and worry about publishing in highly regarded journals to indicate that you are professional ready. And maybe ask your adviser to say in their letter that the defense is scheduled, or even that the only thing delaying the defense scheduling is funding issues, but the diss is done or something like that. And of course if someone is going to write this in a letter they would have to back it up by talking about your research in a way that indicates that it is done and they already know all about it.


defend, but don't do the official paperwork. Have all committee members sign an official-looking document saying something to the effect of "I'll sign the real paperwork when the time comes". Then you can honestly say you've defended, but also avoid the pulling the trigger that cuts off funding.

Original poster

Thanks for these really helpful suggestions! I'll have to get creative. My institution has policies that prevent candidates from defending but not submitting final paper work. Grad studies gives candidates two weeks to submit the final paperwork after the defence, at which point funding ends.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Tom: I'm not sure that's a viable alternative. I suspect at many institutions, that might be considered a serious breach of academic procedure. In my experience, institutions usually require official paperwork to be filed to schedule a defense--and so if it ever got out that faculty were doing something different, it might create big problems for the faculty (and department) that engaged in the practice. Also, this is probably a moot point for most candidates in this situation--as typically (or so it seems) candidates going out on the market ABD don't really have the full dissertation complete at the time they go on the market.

Jerry Green

Most of this has been said already, but worth repeating/emphasizing, I think:

1) Jaded is right than some schools won't seriously consider ABDs for jobs, even if the ad says otherwise. And you can't blame them: given the oversupply of candidates, its an avoidable risk (and I say this as someone who went out *very* ABD last year). But, not every school is like this, and you often can't know which is which. So I think its better do what you can to minimize problems across the board, even if its futile in specific cases.

2) So what do you do? One option is to have your letter-writers address the issue as well. This is especially true if you're only delaying the defense for bureaucratic/financial reasons. Having your committee chair (and maybe a second recommender) say "The defense is ready to go but.." or "the defense will be ready to go, but..." carries a bit more weight than when you say it (though again, as Jaded notes, not in every case).

3) Another option is to stress evidence of progress/completion. As Marcus suggests, you can post (parts of) your diss on the research section of your website. If possible, you can also say things like "I presented Ch. 1 at so-and-so conference" or "Ch. 2 is under review as a free-standing article".

4) Your research statement is crucial here. You must show (not tell) that your dissertation is near completion. This can be difficult, because tone matters as much as content. Minimally, it should be in present tense (not future), be fairly detailed (but not too long), and should reflect a kind of big-picture confidence that each chapter is worked out on its own and also fit into a coherent whole.

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