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02/02/2021

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A

Sad to say that committee members of recent hiring processes at my institution spoke of simply cutting all ABD applicants at the outset as a way of winnowing the pile. If this is true, it seems to require one take up a VAP or postdoc if one hopes to find work without leaving the academic sphere.

Would be interested to know if this is a common practice, because it absolutely floored me when I heard talk of it.

post docless

I think it is very unrealistic to think one won't have to move for work, before on gets a permanent job in philosophy. I find it a little odd that someone is realizing this late in the game.
After my PhD I had to move three times before I got a TT job (it was five years). And one of the moves was across the continent, and then I moved back across for the TT job. That is quite normal for my circle of friends, and I would consider us as successful - once the dust settled.
I do not understand the Questioners quantitative question. I would say this: if I were looking at two files and both had PhDs and both had a few pubs, and one had a post doc, and the other was unaffiliated, I would probably rank the post doc higher one my list for interviewing. That is, if that is all information I have.

Michel

A postdoc:

*Buys you time to find a permanent job
*Gets you a new affiliation (hopefully a higher-ranked one!)
*Gives you time to publish
*Gives you time to gain more teaching experience
*Gives you a chance at fresh external letters

Whether merely having one is a real asset, I'm not sure, but the benefits listed above are a pretty big deal.

The year I defended, I had zero interviews (including for NTT work). I did get two offers for 2-year postdocs, however, and that's the only reason I'm still in the profession now (with a good, permanent NTT job). I had to move across the continent, and I didn't snag the job I have now until May of the second year of my postdoc.

I continued to have 0-1 interviews a year throughout the postdoc, and another postdoc would have been another lifeline buying time to find a permanent position, had I not gotten this one. I have a number of friendly acquaintances who weren't so lucky and had to leave the profession after getting 0 interviews one year of their job search, usually their first year on the market.

some dude

I'm not sure I understand the alternatives the reader has in mind: a postdoc, vs ... ? What?

When people say that you need a postdoc to get a (research) job, the thought is that you need more time to build up a competitive CV. If a TT job goes up, it will receive a few dozen applications (at least) from people who are 2-5 years post PhD, have been working in research-focused postdocs and/or VAPs with lower teaching loads at R1s, etc., and have the professional CV to show for it. My sense right now is that there are plenty of people on the market right now with around *a dozen* legit publications in high-ranked journals (mostly single-author), plus invited talks and other similar professional accomplishments showing a mature research trajectory.

So, the thought is you're not comparing "similar records". The thought is that if you're ABD or adjuncting locally, you're unlikely to match the professional accomplishments of a postdoc.

Of course, we all know there's plenty of irrational trump cards out there. People with loaded CVs get passed up for ABD grad students at top-5 schools with famous advisors, etc. But, since you're asking the question, I assume you're not holding one of those cards.

Humanati

Search committee preferences might differ depending on world region. In the UK, search committees are seriously concerned about the ‘REF’, and so, they’re often reluctant to hire anyone who hasn’t shown sufficient research productivity and success. This may make them wary of hiring, say, an ABD with one publication—especially when (i) there’s not much work under review mentioned in the application materials, and/or (if the ABD candidate gets this far) (ii) the job talk turns out to be the same paper as the writing sample. The benefit of having done a postdoc/temporary teaching position might also differ by world region. In the UK, PhD students don’t get as many teaching opportunities as PhD students in the US typically do. (UK universities often cater to the whims of their undergraduates, and UK undergraduates sadly have a tendency to complain about being taught too much by PhDs.) UK PhD students also typically spend less time on a PhD Programme than US PhD students do, so they don’t have as much time to publish. For these reasons, I think it often *will* be the case that a UK PhD student will need to take on a temporary position before securing a permanent one—they’re just not always super competitive for permanent jobs, owing to the factors above. (Disclaimer: all of the above information just reflects my general impression, and I’m not suggesting it is true of every UK PhD student at every UK institution.)

the real OP

OP here: The alternative to a post-doc I had in mind was continued affiliation with one's PhD-granting university. So, if one had the choice between doing a post-doc and, for instance, TA-ing for another year, is there a strong case to be made for the former?

This question *may* be relevant to more and more grad students as some schools (including mine) are becoming more lenient in allowing grad students to stay affiliated given the pandemic.

Thanks!

some dude

@the real OP: oh, I see. I think there's still a strong case to be made for the postdoc, if you're after a research job. Basically: you might still be able to push your research pipeline along the same amount whether you're TAing another year or doing a postdoc, but the postdoc will open other important professional opportunities. For example, other researchers (not at your home institution) are much more likely to invite you to speak at their conference if you're a postdoc, or invite you to contribute to a volume. In general, the postdoc is presumably at a more prestigious (or just different) place than you're current institution. Hence, you'll meet new people who might have more connections or otherwise will afford you more opportunities. You might find more chances for coauthoring, as well (so maybe your publishing pipeline will benefit, too).

I'd look at this as a "grow mindset" kind of thing. Doing another year as a TA, when you could have taken a postdoc with many new opportunities, seems like spinning your wheels. I'd guess that so long as it's a decent postdoc, and so long as you're not already at like a top-5 school (or whatever), you're almost always going to find more opportunity by moving on and taking a postdoc.

The harsh reality is that if you don't take those opportunities, somebody else will, and they'll have an advantage over you on the job market.

anon

A: what you say isn't supported by the data Justin linked regarding time-to-job (https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2019/09/average-time-to-tt-job-analysis.html). You're more likely to get a job in the year before you obtain your PhD than you are even 2 years post-PhD. And you can see for yourself from PhilJobs announcements that departments still routinely consider ABDs -- from what I can tell, they're even prioritized at top institutions.

anonymous placement director

I also would temper what is being said here. Yes, some people get tenure track jobs by first getting VAPs or postdocs or something like that. My experience (placement director somewhere that is almost never placing people into R1 jobs) is that it's actually more likely that our students end up in one of two situations: either they get a tenure track job straight out of grad school (or stay an extra year and go on the market again, get one second or even third year), or they end up adjuncting and then eventually either (a) land a permanent-ish lectureship; (b) land a tenure track job or (c) get a non-academic job (or, rarely, just keep adjuncting).

Of course, who knows how things will change. But I think it's important to point out that the experience of my students suggests that it is not just R1 jobs that are taking candidates who are still in grad school seriously--it's all sorts of jobs.

Also, @some dude, you don't need to be at a top 5 school to be competitive as an ABD student. I teach at a very low-ranked department. Our students are excellent teachers and many of them have lots of teaching experience. Most non R1 jobs in the US, in my experience, aren't looking for someone who has 10 publications already, or whatever. They are looking for someone who is an excellent teacher and colleague, has a solid and interesting research program, can teach a wide variety of courses (since often there are few faculty in philosophy at the schools that tend to hire my students) and (usually) they feel confident will publish what is required for tenure at their institution. So it is not irrational for them to hire someone who is ABD with say one publication in a mid ranked journal, who has been continuously teaching and improving at teaching, and who has taught a wide variety of courses, over a postdoc with ten publications and very little teaching experience.

anonymous placement director

In general, I should add, some of the comments here seem very geared towards the research-focused job market (for example, going up in institutional prestige affiliation to get a fancy postdoc might not help my students on the non-super-research-focused job market; indeed all things considered it could hurt them if, for example, they do not teach at all during that postdoc).

just do it

I agree with some dude.
The point is you are not done your philosophical development when you finish your Ph.D. You stagnate or at least look like you may be stagnating when you stay at the same institution as your Ph.D. When you move on to other positions, post docs, VAPs, etc., you meet new people and are exposed to new ideas. The first VAP I had was formative for me. I met a visiting speaker and he had a profound influence on my philosophical development.
I think people view those who stay put too long as provincial. Indeed, a faculty member where I did my PhD tried to communicate this to me.
Also, the flip side of something some else said, when you take a post doc or a VAP at another institution you free up resources for others at your home institution.

some dude

@anonymous placement director: "In general, I should add, some of the comments here seem very geared towards the research-focused job market ..."

That's why I said (comment 2): "@the real OP: oh, I see. I think there's still a strong case to be made for the postdoc, if you're after a research job."

(comment 1): "When people say that you need a postdoc to get a (research) job, the thought is ..."

Since the advice "go get a postdoc" makes sense (mostly) only in the context of hunting down a TT job at an R1, I assumed we were talking about research jobs.

Prof L

In terms of life decisions, I would make those decisions based more on what is best for you than trying to predict what will look good on the market, generally speaking.

Assistant Professor

I echo Prof L's suggestion that one clarify their overall goals (personal and professional) and the impact of various options on those goals, rather than trying to assume what the market will do or what will or won't "work" on it. IF all things were equal, advice to finish/file the dissertation, graduate, and take a post-doc would be a stronger professional situation than remaining as a PhD candidate and TA. It demonstrates that a) you are done with your PhD and b) that another institution evaluated your candidacy and hired you.

BUT I appreciate that all these things are not equal, and upheaval to one's life for a temporary move is a significant downside relative to the option to maintain the status quo where you are. Start up costs in terms of time and relationship building are not insignificant in a new institution (let alone literal economic costs of a move) and could impede progress on research activities that you could otherwise advance on if you didn't have to move. If there is an option to become a post-doc at your current institution instead of a graduate student, that might be a nice compromise. OR a research post-doc at an institution that does not require you to be in residency (maybe the pandemic creates options to negotiate this kind of thing?).

I made the choice to pursue a postdoc in the same place I did my phd work instead of move for a postdoc and am satisfied with this decision and got good support from it from my mentors and even from the other institutions whose postdocs I turned down when they understood the reasons I was balancing (and I now have a permanent academic job).

Good luck!

Prof L

Thanks, Assistant Prof, you bring up great points.

I also want to say: I lose a summer every time I move. I've done it twice, and it kills my productivity for months. It's possible OP has a family; there is a ton of work that goes into moving out of state when you have kids. There are gaps in health insurance which have to be covered, figuring out doctors and dentists and schools, getting plugged into some kind of daycare community or figuring all that out (which sometimes differs from region to region). A new job means a new tax situation, a new retirement account (hopefully), new banks, and so on. It means making new friends and the stress associated with that. Some of this applies as well to people who are childless, but it is compounded with children. Having kids means you root down wherever you go, and the work and stress associated with uprooting and rerooting should be considered when making these decisions. So when people say that your research will get better by taking a post-doc, maybe for some people that's true, but it will really depend on your situation.

some dude

To be clear: I'm not saying that taking a postdoc is always the best move, all things considered. I'm just saying that there's often a real advantage to taking one, in terms of professional advancement. Obviously, personal considerations (e.g., stability, etc.) may, as others mentioned, counterbalance that advantage, all things considered. I'm just trying to say that this is one of those situations where you often can't have your cake and eat it too. You'll often purchase the benefits to your personal life at the cost of missed professional opportunity. It's up to you to decide whether it's worth it. I'm just trying to press back against the idea that there's really no professional cost to passing on a postdoc. Maybe in some limited circumstances, and maybe if you have luck on your side. But, if you're playing the odds, I think it's clear there's a professional cost. (Of course, this sort of balance goes for basically every career; you can almost always buy more professional advancement at personal cost!)

Prof. Worrywart

I don’t have any relevant experience on the merits of postdocs but I wanted to make a different kind of comment. I may be reading wrong (and if so apologies to OP) but it sounds like they are still in grad school and maybe agonizing over hypothetical future decisions. This is a very natural thing to do and to a certain extent it may be an important planning step (for example if it causes you to clarify your own values or work through some issues with a partner). But the very act of worrying about the hypothetical future can also create a counterproductive mindset (besides just generally making you feel awful).

I am speaking from personal experience here, looking back on grad school from the tenure track and wishing I had been able to find some way to worry less. At the time it seemed rational, like I was just “learning how the market works” and coming to terms with the various imperfections in my record that made it extremely unlikely (according to everything I had read and heard) that I would get such a job without first moving around a lot. Like OP I was in a situation for which lots of moving would have been a real hardship and I too felt very disheartened about the whole thing. Then, lo and behold, I got more than one TT offer while ABD. I think I just got extremely lucky to go on the market in a year where there was more than one position for which I was a good fit (something Marcus has talked about a lot on this blog) in ways I completely could not have anticipated.

That luck may seem to undermine what I am saying here, but I don’t think it does. Had I experienced the far more likely outcome of not immediately finding a permanent job, all of the hypothetical worrying I did would still not have helped me. It would have just left me more depleted when facing the actual decision of what to do next. And once in the TT job, I found that the mindset of “having realistic expectations about the job market” set me up for a lot of self-undermining anxiety which I am now having to root out of my mind. Perhaps that is just my own personal psychology, but more generally I do think it can be hard to switch gears on a dime from “probably I will fail to get the job I want” to “actually I can succeed and be content in this profession."

There has to be some kind of happy medium where one is aware of the dire job market situation and nevertheless not wasting energy worrying about things one cannot actually control, but I confess I never found it. I just wish I could spare others some of the same suffering I experienced!

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