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When to go on the job market

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I'm trying to choose between two great programs (at least, i think they're great). I'm taking into consideration every factor I can think of (funding, faculty, 'fit,' cohort, atmosphere, location, you name it). And, of course, job placement. To my finding, this last factor is really a bundle of things:

1. What is the statistical placement rate of people in academic positions?

2. How many of these positions are tenure track or other desirable setups (meaning not academia's version of cheap, abused labor)?

3. How does the program go about professionalizing students? 


At the moment, i'm most interested in the last point. The programs that I'm looking at seem to have diametrically opposed philosophies about how to best professionalize students for the job market. Though they both have structured, mentored approaches, they simply each take a different tact. 


University A: Expects students to teach a lot through the degree and does not advise that students go on the market before diss. has been defended. This program tells students to wait until they are finished with their project--then, when they are done, degree in hand, the students go on the market in an additional year at the univeristy while they serve as postdoctoral lecturers (with relatively minimal teaching loads). They think students who have taught a lot and taught widely in different areas--and who wait that extra year before going on the market--do best. 


University B: Expects students to teach, but much less than Uni. A. In fact, students teach only when/if they must to meet stipend requirements. Students are expected to finish diss. and go on the job market at the same time. Though this may initially be more work, students are though to do best when they are shaping their professional scholarship in light of their job search. In this sense, the diss and the student's resume/portfolio are designed more deliberately as a package. According to Uni. B., waiting even a year may actually hurt your chances by marking your dissertation as 'stale'-- the longer you wait, the harder it is. 


I'm intrigued because the schools seem so different, and, yet, they both do (relatively) well in today's market. Their results are quite comparable. 


I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts about the 'philosophies' as I've set them out. Whether you're in a position similar to me or you've been on the market, let's hear what you have to say. 

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My undergrad uni and from my understanding, my soon to be PhD uni has the School A version. My advisor at my undergrad said she doesn't recommend it beforehand because waiting to hear back from job apps creates a complete mental burnout as it absorbs all your energy. She likened it to applying to grad schools, only worse. I know personally I did not do much during the app process, even when I was just waiting, because I constantly thought about it. My PhD uni, while not necessarily discussing that burnout, pushes for a wide range of teaching opportunities, both in terms of subject matter and style (I make my own syllabus, I help a professor, etc). If one year is going to impact how stale your thesis is, be concerned. I mean, this is potentially something you'll publish and should be original. Perhaps if a position opens up that you really want, then go for it, but idk. I'd think the be finished approach works best.

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I can't speak to the teaching issue, but in terms of time frame, I've spoken to a few professors who recommend applying while ABD just to get your feet wet and get the hang of the process. You are likely to be on the job market for a few years either way, so it makes sense to maximize the number of years you'll be applying while having a support network from the university and guaranteed funding.

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I've heard of schools that recommend you go on the job market while you're still ABD but not to expect many interviews until your dissertation is finished and defended (at which point you go on the job market for a second year). I think the reasoning there is to gain the experience of being on the job market before your dissertation is finished. 


I think the stress of being on the job market while finishing a dissertation would drive me NUTS...but I think I'd be more okay if I knew I could still go on the job market later on. 


Does school A or B have any flexibility in how students approach the job market? For example, does University A ever let students try applying for a few jobs in that extra year?

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I imagine most of us haven't been on the job market yet, so perhaps you could ask the ABD students at both schools how they feel about the process. Also, that conversation could answer readallthethings' great question about flexibility. Is what the schools propose as their ideal situation actually what happens? Is there pressure to force students into the job market before they are ready? Only ABD students will be able to tell you what actually happens, so I'd suggest asking around. 

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Thanks--this is all good information. I do see the sense in wanting to go on the market as soon as possible (ABD) even though you may not do as well as you might a year or two later, when your diss. is finished. Getting the experience seems smart--like a trial run. On the other hand, I can definitely see how applying would be horribly distracting from the diss. If it's anything like applying to grad programs from undegrad--and I actually imagine it's far, far worse!--then it would be no picnic. The last thing I would say is that, in some ways, the question doesn't seem too dissimilar from the one I asked myself this past fall. Many people told me to take a gap-year before applying because it would give me time and energy to put together a better application. I decided not to wait, and I think, for some reason beyond my comprehension, I did pretty well. Maybe I would have done better had I waited... but who is to say? After going through it, I have to say that this whole application process feels like it's way more about luck than I would have ever anticipated. 


Re: the student experiences--I have talked to students at both schools representing various stages in the process, and I certainly haven't heard anyone say they've felt pressured to go on too early (or, alternately, that they were held back from applying when they felt ready). I certainly think this flexibility is a pro for both programs. 


I suppose I'm just intrigued that two schools with roughly comparable recent placing success can have such divergent strategies. Part of me wonders how much one should take into account the type of job desired (research heavy, teaching heavy, liberal arts, state school, etc.) before picking a strategy. It feels hard to know what my preference for a future job is... given that I don't have the experience to know what I really like...


And I guess that's what I would generally say about this whole topic. The reality is that we are expected to choose where to go for the next 6 years based on where we think we can put ourselves in the 7th year. I understand why this is the case given the market.... but, frankly, i think it sucks. I get so wrapped up in thinking about where a program might place me that I almost forget to consider whether or not I actually like the program--how did I feel when I visited, what faculty would I work with, etc. All of this is compounded by the sheer flux of higher education. I get the feeling that so many things are changing so rapidly. Who is to say what things will be like in 7 years, for better or for worse? 


Anyway--those are my thoughts. 

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I attend a B-type university and went on the job market this year, which is also my dissertation year. This is what almost everyone I know in my field does, though some schools allow you to take longer to graduate so you can make sure more of your dissertation is done before you go on the job market (so, a version of the A-type, but normally not with a full dissertation in hand before going on the job market for the first time). I'm not sure if my impressions are entirely relevant for your field, but I think most of them probably will be. 


There are pros and cons to going on the job market at the same time as writing the dissertation.


On the pro side, you become much more familiar with "real life" and what's expected of you in order to get hired. You live a very protected life in grad school, and seeing things from the faculty perspective is quite different. I think it did help me pitch my dissertation a certain way and frame things so they're more congruent with my other work (to define my "research program"). I've also learned *a lot* through the job process, especially preparing for interviews and really thinking through some difficult questions about who I am as a researcher and teacher, and what matters to me. I think I could use most of the materials I prepared for the application process again next year, so I'll have a much better starting point for my applications. The interviews I had also provided a lot of insight that I hope to use to revise some portions of my statements. Since I'll be starting a new job (postdoc) in the Fall, it's great to know I won't have to spend quite as much time preparing my applications as I did this year. Also important, word gets out about who was on shortlists, so even if you don't get the job, interviewing helps to get your name out there. In my field there are not that many good jobs, so if one comes up you want to try for it. Who knows, maybe you'll get lucky. Once you commit to applying to one job, I think it makes sense to apply to them all. The real premium is on getting the materials ready for that first time, and once they are done it's much less costly to modify them for other jobs. [To address something mentioned in the OP, I don't think a dissertation becomes outdated after a year, so this really wasn't a concern at all one way or the other.]


On the con side, writing a dissertation and going on the job market at the same time is CRAZY. It's an emotional roller coaster--much more so than grad school applications, and I was pretty anxious back then. It made me completely unable to progress with my research and writing for a couple of months during the process (I'd say starting in mid-December, when I left for a conference, through the holidays and my field's society conference where I had several interviews in January, until mid-February, when I came back from a campus visit, I didn't get any serious work done). The amount of rejection, and worse (in my opinion) the amount of silence and waiting that you have to face can be hard to deal with. The stakes are quite high, so the uncertainty is ... unsettling. In statements and interviews, there is a real difficulty that everybody recognizes in talking about your dissertation when some of it is still no where to be found except in your head. You write statements that describe what you're doing, but everyone knows it's (partly) bullshit because you haven't done the work yet. I already know that some things I said I was going to do I will look very different than how I described them in October and even in January. 


For me, having successfully gone through the process, I think it was a worthwhile experience. However, it was terrible while it was happening and made me seriously consider what I am willing to invest in my career and how many times I am willing to go on the job market. I don't know that it would have been any different if I had waited another year, though. I think it would have probably been the same.

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