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07/08/2021

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gap

The principal reason gaps matter is that the market is so flooded that schools can afford to be choosey. With 150+ applicants, there are bound to be 100 without gaps that you do not have to wonder ... why is there a gap here? Colleges, especially the typical 4 year college, cannot afford to take a chance, especially when they do not have to.

William Vanderburgh

A gap of a year probably won't make much difference. If it persists, though, it will hurt your chances.

It is clearly not fair but, with a glut of candidates, search committees don't need to take risks. If something like a persistent unexplained gap raises a doubt, it is likely they will just move on to others in the pool. (*Explained* gaps, like having a child or caring for ailing relatives, mostly won't be held against you as long as the rest of your trajectory looks good.)

How can a candidate adapt to this? Only by doing what everyone else is doing, too: Making their c.v. as strong as possible in every other respect. Volunteer teaching, teaching for an online university, tutoring high schoolers, philosophy outreach to prisons, subbing at a high school, starting a philosophy podcast...anything to keep your teaching currency up and improve your skills. At the same time, make sure your publication record continues to improve.

That's an incredibly tall order, especially when trying to earn a living in another job.

I started by saying that a gap of a year won't make much of a difference. That's partly because every candidate's chances are low right now. It is partly because committees recognize that the market is ridiculous and will overlook a year's gap. But also, and hardest to face, is that it won't make much difference because whatever made you uncompetitive/unlucky in previous years is likely to still be the case moving forward, whether you have a gap or not. I recommend getting sympathetic senior people (in addition to your supervisor) to give you advice on your application materials. It may be that a tweak to how you present yourself (the professionalism of your c.v. and letter, how you explain your work, what AOCs you claim, etc.) could make a difference. Or it could be that you get an honest assessment of what you need to add to your c.v. to have a chance.

A great number of the candidates who didn't get the jobs we've hired for in recent years would have been absolutely excellent--and they still didn't get the jobs. So much of a search is luck and circumstances beyond the candidate's influence.

Laurence Bernard McCullough

I learned early on in my work on search committees, mentored by a very experienced senior colleague, to look for gaps in CVs because gaps could be cause for concern. This meant that a CV had otherwise to be very strong to merit further consideration of an applicant. Best therefore to have no gaps and explain what you were doing, e.g., non-academic employment as X while seeking an academic position. Given the state of the job market, no fair-minded search committee will hold this against an applicant.

Anonymous Grad

There may be a way to avoid the problem somewhat: I know some departments will grant unpaid "fellowships" of some kind to previous grad students in your position to help them with just this problem (and, if you are lucky, library access). You should ask your chair/supervisor about such a position to help you avoid the gap. Although I suspect that the best thing you could do is to publish papers: that is probably the strongest signal that you are still in the game.

Assistant Professor

Agree with others that gaps are especially tough in a market that can be so picky and needs to look for any reason to whittle down the pool. I disagree with Laurence Bernard McCullough though that all gaps are cause for concern and that there is a neutral way to explain gaps (i.e. people who took time out of formal education/employment for child-rearing, or who had periods of illness, caregiving duties, etc, all of which they may not want to discuss with potential employers).

As Anonymous Grad said, there are often ways to either remain a student without filing your graduation paperwork, or staying on as a paid post doc, lecturer, or visiting assistant professor in your department, or unpaid fellow (all of these are potentially exploitative and will likely undervalue the person in need of this kind of arrangement so it is not ideal, it is a workaround). I also see folks pick up a single course at a college while they work other jobs in order to keep a toe actively in academia.

I would think that committees know what current/recent PhDs are up against. Of course having an affiliation is going to be a leg up. But having continued scholarly output and strong job materials might be better than someone still technically affiliated with a program and nothing to show for it in terms of scholarship. Committees might not have to choose between these two options in an oversaturated market, but my point is that it is not only one thing (i.e. only affiliation, or only publications) likely to land someone an interview or job.

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