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so close

I think Karen Kelsky's advice (The Professor is In) is: since so much of the academic job market is impacted by luck/randomness, you should try to go on the market as early as possible in order to maximize your chances of getting lucky. I followed this advice and went on the market in my penultimate year as a grad student, getting a flyout but no job offer. I already had a couple of publications, and my dissertation was about halfway written but could be finished in a hurry by the end of the academic year if I received a job offer. My letter writers emphasized that I would be able to defend before the start of the job if I received an offer.

Kelsky's logic seems sound to me. As soon as you can go on the market (i.e., as soon as you can be a serious competitor), you should go. There's really nothing to lose. Even if you don't get an interview, the time spent polishing documents will not have been wasted, as you will use largely the same documents next round. I think most grad students underestimate how much time it takes to put together a really polished portfolio, and it was really nice to have one already on hand when I was finishing up the dissertation in my last year (a process which also took more time than expected). Plus you might get some valuable interview and/or flyout experience.

Given what others have said on recent posts, its true that it seems less likely that you'll get an offer if you're ABD, especially if it's your penultimate year. But it doesn't hurt to try, and you might get lucky (I very nearly did).

so close

Just to add on to my above comment, one caveat to my encouragement to go on the market when ready (which I don't think Kelsky takes seriously enough) is that of course the act of applying itself, even after you have finished your portfolio, is very time consuming. It takes an enormous amount of time to tailor your application and fill out innumerable online forms. And if it's true that it is very unlikely for an early ABD candidate to get a job, it might not be worth the time investment (although the time spent put together the portfolio carries over to the next round). Applying can take valuable time away from progress on the dissertation and turning out publications, so that is something to seriously consider.


I went on the market in a light way while ABD - and to no avail. But I did get my first job - a sessional lectureship (which is like a VAP) - because I had applied for a tenure track job ABD. In those days they did not need to re-advertise the position. They could choose from the pool of applicants for the TT call. I would not go on the market early. The people who benefit from this are people at elite programs - they get practice doing real interviews (sometimes for jobs they would not take if offered them). The market is draining, so it requires your full attention.

we have hearts

I would also add that going on the market "just for practice" can be demoralizing. This doesn't apply to everyone, of course. It's at least worth noting, though, that receiving 100+ rejections from a wide range of universities and colleges for TT, post-docs, and VAPs can lead many human beings to question their future in the field.

PhD Student

If I understand correctly, the thread about being ABD applied more to permanent jobs versus post-docs and temporary positions. I plan on applying heavily the first time to postdocs while ABD and perhaps only permanent jobs for which I am an exceptionally good fit.

As the poster above mentions, it seems better to go on market early and try and get lucky. Indeed, a colleague of mine (I am at a top-20ish program) applied to a small handful of very-good-fitting postdocs/jobs and he ended up getting one of them in his 5th year! Had he not gotten any jobs, his 6th year would have been that much easier since he would have already had a lot of materials ready (perhaps he would have added another chapter to the dissertation, but mostly would've focused on publications/teaching).

It seems like if one is in a position to actually finish by the time the job starts (factoring in the time it takes to be on the market), the benefits outweigh the risks. The biggest risk, of course, is also mentioned by the above poster - you might underestimate the amount of time it takes to go on the market, and then find it difficult to finish the dissertation.

One of our prominent advising professors here encourages students to have a full draft of the dissertation before going on the market, to make sure the benefits outweigh the risks. I don't know how reasonable that is for a lot of people, but for those writing a 3-paper dissertation it doesn't seem to be absurdly demanding (depending on the nuances of the program, of course).

I would love to hear others' opinions though!

just do it

As a PhD candidate wrapping things up, I second the above advice. I went on the job market last year. In hindsight, it was far too early for me. But I learned some invaluable lessons. I never realized, and nobody told me, that, as 'so close' says above, getting application materials together is a HUGE job. I think learning about how to put these documents together properly, and actually doing it, is equivalent to taking a semester-long course. Since I did the bulk of this work last year, I'm in a much better position this year to apply for jobs when I am actually ready to take on a job, if one comes my way. So, I think it can be very beneficial to go on the market early. You don't want to be scrambling at the last minute learning how to apply to jobs and putting documents together as you are trying to finish up your dissertation. And there's nothing to lose. And of course, you might get lucky!


I’m a Kelsky follower too. Personally, my approach was to do a limited run in my fifth year - just applying to a small handful of dream jobs - and then apply more widely in my sixth year. A “practice” run and a “real” run, so to speak. I didn’t expect to land anything in that first run, but as So Close and Just Do It say, going through the process can still be useful. It’s an unfamiliar genre of writing; we spend all this time learning how to write philosophy papers, but job documents are totally different… It takes a while to figure out how to do it well. And I like to think that, at least in a roundabout way, drafting job docs can be good for your dissertation too. It strengthens skills like cutting to the heart of your argument, making strong claims for significance, figuring out how to frame your work in subtly different ways for different audiences, etc. Plus if you have solid drafts of your job documents before your “real” run even starts, that puts you in a great position.

This isn’t one-size-fits-all advice. Being on the market really does take a ton of time - time you could be using for research - and that’s a genuine cost. But it worked for me. (I actually landed a job in my “practice” run, which was a genuine surprise. But even if I hadn’t gotten the job, it would still be useful experience.)

Bill Vanderburgh

"So you're telling me there's a chance!"

There is ABD and then there is ABD... If you are more than an academic year out from completing your dissertation, I wouldn't recommend applying for TTrack jobs. As they say, luck = (preparation + opportunity). If you aren't in a position to convince a hiring committee, you aren't adequately prepared even if the opportunity arises. And as we saw in recent Cocoon posts, even candidates who are just a few months from defending are at a disadvantage. That said, it might be worth it for "advanced ABD" folks to try their luck.

But there's an effort-to-reward ratio to consider. Should an early-ABD person spend their time preparing a packet that will, in all reasonable likelihood yield bupkis, or should they spend their time making progress towards finishing the dissertation? (In other words, it might hurt to try. YMMV.)

The point that having materials on hand to revise when one is ready to apply is a good one. But having those materials ready early and using them to actually apply are different things; you can do the former without the latter, thus saving the extra (nearly pointless) effort involved in submitting applications.

I know I found a strategy of "productive procrastination" helpful as a grad student (there's a website: https://structuredprocrastination.com/). So maybe using the preparation of job materials in that context a year or more before you are ready to go on the market would be worthwhile. Plus if you have the materials ready that early, you can try to get feedback on them from your supervisor, grad director, placement officer, et al.


I think most of the advice here is good, but I do want to push back a little on the idea that one should focus on the dissertation instead of the job market. I think in general that is probably good advice, but for those who are not wealthy, it is not always an option. At lots of universities in Canada, PhD funding only runs for 4 years and at the university where I am getting my PhD, the pay for TAs is so low that I often had to work two or three TAships every semester in addition to working additional jobs outside the department to even come close to making ends meet (and its worth noting, that even with all of this work I still had to live off debt to some extent). Most of my committee members told me not to go on the job market because it would be a distraction from my thesis, but I was having to work so much to try to make ends meet that I wasn't really getting much done on the thesis anyway. Also, when money is that tight, the stress makes it really hard for me to get high quality work done even if I do find the time.

As an ABD candidate, getting a full-time LTA position has significantly helped. I now have enough money for groceries and while teaching does take up a significant amount of time, I have more time for thesis work than I ever did juggling multiple jobs in my department. I would not have this job if I had listened to much of the advice on these threads and to the advice of my committee members. And I will note, that I have met others, usually from the Canadian system, who can tell similar stories. So, I would say, if you have the financial means to support yourself through the rest of the dissertation writing process, then by all means, take that additional time to just write. It sounds amazing and I'm a bit jealous. But even though the job market is a crap shoot, there are potential jobs out there for those of us who lack that kind of financial support.

grad student

I've heard people say that a first bad impression with an early run might do more harm than good. Do others think this something one should worry about? It seemed a little exaggerated to me -- the chances you'll have the same people in some admissions committee *and* that they'll remember you *and* that their memory of you will be unfavorable *and* that this memory will impact their current evaluation of you seem rather low to me. But maybe I'm overlooking something.

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