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Given the depth of our applicant pool, ABDs are not competitive. We used to have an unofficial policy of looking seriously at ABDs if they had a scheduled defense date. However, about a decade ago, we hired an ABD whose advisor assured us that their dissertation was finished and that they would be defending in March. It took them another three years to finish their dissertation, and they of course were not able to get tenure because they couldn't do 5 years of work in 2 years.

Needless to say, their advisor's letters for subsequent job applicants were never useful for that candidate, and we never looked at an ABD seriously again. Of course, this is just one anecdote, but when we have tenured professors applying for our assistant professor jobs, as well as a legion of others with PhD in hand, the risks are not worth the reward.

Our university policies have also changed now, so that a PhD in hand is required by the start date. This has made us even more risk adverse, since it means that if we hired an ABD who did not defend in time, we'd lose the hire and potentially the line.


I am at a teaching heavy school, and we want someone who can come in and teach a wide array of courses with no handholding. We therefore look seriously at teaching experience, and given the applicant pool depth, it is rare for us to seriously consider an ABD.

Not a death sentence, but ...

If a candidate has a couple of peer-reviewed publications and is ABD, I think we are more likely to look at them, because they've demonstrated that they are professionally advanced in a way and can finish things up. But no pubs or something minor (an obviously advisor-pushed commissioned book chapter, or a book review) and ABD just looks really "green", and I think we all suspect such a person would not hit the ground running. But we have no official policy.

Also "scheduled defense date" means very little if it's scheduled for May, and I'm not a fan of people claiming that they've "scheduled" a defense dates 9 months out. If it's like "my defense date is December 3rd" that's a different thing, and we would treat that candidate as being done.

PhD in hand, please

I worked at a 4 year state college and we generally passed over ABDs for the same reason Thomas notes in his comment. The people with PhDs on the market deserve a chance, and thesis advisors lie too often. My department had hired two people ABD before my time ... one never finished, and thus never got tenure, and the other finished and had a lack-lustre research career. In another instance, when we were hiring an adjunct, an advisor described their student as a strong teacher - we came to learn that that meant he was not good at research (they were nothing special at teaching either). This is why letters matter so little, especially letters from thesis advisors.

Assc prof

As with Chris, my department cares most about extensive teaching experience, and so ABDs are generally at a significant disadvantage. Not because they are ABD per se, but because it's quite rare to have the kind of experience we want while at that stage in one's career.

noot noot

This is anecdotal from my experience as an applicant (from a top-20 leiterrific program, >0 but <5 publications all years on the market).

I went on the market only once as an ABD applicant and only got one interview for a TT job that year (didn't get to the final round--they ultimately hired laterally, and all of the other TT jobs in my relatively small AOS hired postdocs). Both years I was on the market after that were as a postdoc and I had significantly more interviews both years despite few if any additions to my CV. I ended up with a great 2/2 TT job at an R1. Because my AOS is in a core but smaller area, I knew the other finalists for the jobs I was up for those years and none of them were ABD except the ones from Ivy programs.

So my sense is that it depends a lot on where you did your PhD and what the job is. ABD applicants from very top places are definitely serious contenders for R1 jobs in the top-30 or so. If your PhD is not from an extremely prestigious school, you're a safer bet for pretty much any type of job if you already have your degree in hand.

do apply, ABDers

My Leiter-ranked (but not highly ranked) department hired me ABD, and regularly considers ABD candidates for junior positions, mostly from prestigious programs. If a candidate makes it far enough, search committee members definitely try to get assurances that they're going to defend before they start. But in general I think research-focused departments want to hire the best researchers, and they think that they can detect research talent early in someone's career. (I am more doubtful!)


I think the previous comments are probably mostly accurate, but I think its worth pointing out that as an ABD candidate, I have managed to land two non-permanent full-time positions in my time on the job market so far. One of those positions was at a very prestigious University (the kind that would have never accepted me as a student). I don't come from a University that is even ranked, but what the University that I am at did is provide me with lots of opportunities to teach. So, I probably look more like an applicant that can hit the ground running for teaching jobs than some of the other applicants that have a PhD in hand or come from more prestigious backgrounds.

Now, that said, I do think the other commenters are right when it comes to permanent or TT jobs. I have yet to even receive an interview for one of those types of positions after two years on the job market. However, while it would be nice to land one of those positions, the non-permanent positions have been keeping me afloat (I was only funded up until my 4th year and have had to make my own way ever since), and helped build my portfolio and network.

The other thing I would say is that even if you are unlikely to get a job as ABD, you should still start applying. Putting together the materials and polishing your application always takes more time than you'd expect, so its better to start doing it when things are lower-stakes.

anon junior faculty

just to counter some of what has been said on this thread, I just want to note: my bottom-half-Leiter-ranked R1 department regularly seems to have a mix of ABD and farther along people in our first round interview pools (and I think there is no advantage to having finished on the prestige market), and my ABD graduate students regularly get tenure track jobs (though I do think there is an advantage to having finished on the non-prestige market overall--I'm just not sure it's as strong as reading all the comments above might make candidates think it is).

Bill Vanderburgh

Academic hiring is an inherently conservative business, in large part because it is usually so difficult to get permission to hire, hiring (or not) has a large and long-term impact on the department, and a failed search (or worse, a hire that doesn't earn tenure) can often mean the faculty line is lost. The incentives line up on the side of making solid rather than risky choices.

The academic job market is also incredibly highly skewed in hiring institutions' favor. With up to 200 applicants for each tenure track position, the opportunities also line up on the side of not taking a risk on a candidate who might fail. Plus, in that context, slight risks (like not defending before the job starts), get magnified in committee members' minds. Other things being equal, an ABD candidate would never out-compete someone with PhD in hand.

The counterpoint is that things are never entirely equal. An ABD candidate who has lots of teaching experience, who is a great fit for the department's needs, has a good research record, and who performs well at the interview, *could* get hired over others in the pool. But the rest of it *has* to all be there, i.e., excellent fit and strong teaching/research/service. That, in my experience, is a very rare confluence of events.

I'd encourage ABD candidates to put the time they would have put into applications into getting another chapter written, instead. (Early-stage dissertation writers should also plan carefully, so they have a complete dissertation draft and at least one publication before the job season they are aiming at.)

Daniel Weltman

We hire lots of ABDs. We've hired two people recently who needed time to complete their PhDs so they joined in the second semester of the year. These are for permanent positions. We are a SLAC in the middle of nowhere.


My department (research focused) considers ABDs, so long as they demonstrate evidence of a strong research program and it is really obvious that they will defend soon. It is not just about 'prestige', as we also consider candidates with evidence of a strong research program that did not come from Leiter top 10-20 universities. I do not think any of our recent hires have been ABD, but they've certainly received offers.

I previously worked in teaching focused departments, and there, ABDs were not obviously excluded, but had a harder road to a TT job. If the primary focus of the job is teaching, candidates that have done a VAP, teaching postdoc, or held a TT post will almost always have more experience. It can be difficult for ABDs to compete, unless they've also done something like extensive adjunct work.

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