It’s very common, once a thesis is written and submitted, to start thinking about finding an academic position. Often times, while waiting for committee members to read the work and for the defense to happen, doctoral candidates will have more free time than they’ve had for years. So, why not start job hunting?
I don’t think it’s a BAD idea to start job hunting. The one thing that I wish would be more clearly conveyed to applicants in this position, however, is that their chances of getting a job are quite low. I’ve been on a search committee where the first pass of our evaluation was to check which applicants had completed their PhD and were available for the posted start date, and those were the only ones we looked at.
Sometimes people refer to these situations as “trying to drink from a fire hose”. There are often so many applicants for a position, that rough heuristics need to be adopted just to get them down to a manageable amount to review. Is it possible that someone who doesn’t yet have their dissertation submitted would be a better fit than any of the other candidates? Yes, of course that’s possible. Committees sometimes need to make pragmatic decisions however.
The reason why departments have things like this as part of their process can usually be traced back to a bad experience some time in the past. In our department, at one point they hired a faculty member who looked great and was on track to wrapping up their PhD. Once the person had the job, they adopted the attitude “I’m already a professor, so why bother with the defense?” and stopped moving forward with their thesis. 5 years later, the person was denied tenure and the faculty felt like it was a mistake offering that person a position.
The experience of putting together your application material is worthwhile however. This is definitely something you’ll be able to reuse later on and is time well spent. If you manage to get an interview, this is wonderful experience as well.
The main point I want to convey here is, if you’re applying as an ABD, *DON’T* get depressed if you encounter rejection. The worst case (which isn’t all that unlikely) is that you won’t ever hear anything from any of the schools you applied to. If this happens, don’t get down on yourself or get angry at the schools. Realize that you were probably not even considered.
Job seekers love to deceive themselves and will often get excited by job positions that don’t explicitly require a PhD in hand or that say they will consider ABDs. Don’t get too excited with these. During a post-mortem from a search, we discussed being explicit about not considering ABDs in our job ad, to cut down on the people who were taking the time to apply that we weren’t considering. Our department head told us not to bother, as ABDs will apply no mater what we have in the ad. At another school I was at, we were doing a search for a lecturer position (teaching faculty). The job posting said we would consider applicants with a Masters but we preferred a PhD. A secretary was going through all the applications and removing anyone without a PhD. I asked why we said a Masters would be considered, when it clearly wasn’t, and was told that we needed to get approval for any changes to a job posting, so it was easier to just reuse the previous posting – even though it said something that was no longer true.
The Magic Date
The big date I would focus on is when you have successfully defended, you have submitted all corrections, and you have filed you intention to graduate and were told everything looks good. I would then use my defense date as the “date of PhD received” in any applications, and make clear in my cover letter than I hadn’t officially convocated, but I had completed everything necessary and would be getting my PhD at the next commencement. You might want to include that you can provide confirmation of this from your university.
A friend of mine is currently applying as an ABD. I gave him the warnings in this post, however he knows some people at the university he is applying at, they know him and have encouraged him to apply. Obviously in this case, he should ABSOLUTELY apply! Any time a department (or faculty) is inviting you to apply, this is a massively positive sign, and if you have any interest in working there you should go for it.
So what should you do instead of applying to positions?
If you don’t have any teaching experience, I would suggest looking into the possibility of using this time to teach a sessional course.
If you already have teaching experience, or aren’t interested, this time might be well spent pushing forward with your research. You could either try to write up, and prepare for submission, parts of your thesis or get back to research threads that you’ve set aside while writing.
A third possibility might be to consider (and apply for) postdoctoral positions. Applying for faculty jobs from a post-doc is pretty nice, as you have the PhD in hand and have a current research program. You MAY be able to do a post-doc with your supervisor. My friends and I joke that this is like going home to live with your parents after graduating from your under-grad, but what they heck! =)