Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pre-Defense Fertility

Filosofer asks:
Would folks be willing to share some (relatively detailed) stories about how they used their time between finishing the dissertation and defending the dissertation?

I'm about there, and I know myself well enough to suspect that I will be tempted to just set the thing aside and not look at it until a couple of days before the defense. Is that insanely stupid? Or is it a normal and healthy approach?
I mentioned that I spent some time doing major revisions of a paper (that was based on a portion of the dissertation) and drafting a new paper (that was not, though it is on a closely related topic). I also watched The Wire; I'm working on Big Love now. (Also, the new digital transfers of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are totally worth it.)

Then, about three weeks before the defense, I printed out a copy of the dissertation and carefully read the entire thing. I wouldn't wait until just a couple of days ahead of time--I put a lot of thought into how I wanted the defense to go, with an eye toward being able to steer the conversation toward things I wanted to talk about and away from things I didn't. Of course there were plenty of things in there such that if they came up at all, I was going to get nailed, but there's only so much you can do. When those things came up, I got nailed.

What do other people do?

--Mr. Zero

26 comments:

Popkin said...

How much control does a defender have over the direction of the conversation during a defence anyway?

Anonymous said...

I'm in the post-writing and pre-defense stage now also--I'm mainly taking some time to read all the books I wanted to but never had the time to read while I was working on the dissertation. I suppose I should try to be more philosophically productive during this period, but I just can't bring myself to give up possibly the last vacation from work I'll have until tenure.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean got nailed? They didn't pass you? If your defense isn't basically pro forma, then you have a shitty committee. They shouldn't let you defend until you are going to pass. If they just roughed you up a bit, and you passed, then welcome to the club, have a Guinness, fix the tpyos, make the clearance person happy, and move on!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Anon 8:55--I'm three weeks from the defense and while I'm reading and proofreading slowly through the diss., I'm having a tough time doing much else, since this likely will be the last sustained amount of time I'll have off before tenure.

I feel a wee bit guilty, but not all that much. After all, I am able to muster the enviable J.O.B. defense should I be pressed at the defense on anything that doesn't gel with my committee [*puts thumb to nose and waggles fingers at picky professors*]

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts.

1. You didn't write a good diss by cramming or anything like that, but by working intelligently. In this case, that means meeting with your committee in person or through email and asking them what questions they want you to prepare for. Also, ask your advisor if you should expect any 'oddball' questions from your externals, or perhaps from your third reader.

2. If you consider pre-defense weeks a "sustained amount of time off", then you are either a coddled stamp of pedigree, or you are already falling behind your eager competition. In other words: you should be reworking dissertation-related material for publication if you have any free time right now. For most journals you now have until end of March at the very latest to send articles off if you expect to hear anything worth putting on your cv in time for the next round of dismal job adverts.

Anonymous said...

In some detail:

I submitted the whole of my dissertation six weeks before I defended it. Right after I submitted it, I took a little vacation, didn't look at my materials (but completely obsessed about them for weeks), read philosophy and a few books for fun (HIGHLY recommended), and started looking again at my dissertation about a week before my defense. I actually recommend doing that, in order to get some distance from it. About five days before my defense, I started preparing it on paper (as opposed to just mentally obsessing about it). Three days before my defense, I was working in my office on coming up with some diagrams to introduce my topic with, and I looked at the palms of my hands. Guess what I saw?

WORRY WARTS (or WORTS). No joke. The palms of my hands had erupted into a few hundred tiny blistery warts. I remember my reaction, not knowing what they were at the time: Great. Huh? Par for the course, I suppose. Back to my preparation.

Others in my department didn't find them so benign, so I went home and thought about going to the doctor. I decided that I would go the next day if I had to, but the next morning when I awoke, they were virtually all gone--24-hour worry warts. Crazy.

We in philosophy are pretty good at denying our bodies, that's true. What I urge you is this: No matter WHAT you do between turning in your dissertation and defending it, pay attention to HOW you do it--take some walks, stay healthy, try to sleep. Anxiety is dangerous and rampant. You know your material, so put yourself in the best condition possible to be confident and healthy. Don't neglect yourself.

There'll be plenty of time for neglect when you start your job.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:38:

I (anon 8:55) and 11:06 (I assume), who both admitted we're taking some time off, already have jobs. What's the harm in my kicking back for a month or so if I already have a TT job lined up in the fall, and will have to jump right into things once that starts? I worked my ass off to finish the dissertation and get this job, and it caused massive stress for both myself and my family. Don't we deserve a break? I'm sure I can meet tenure requirements in 6 years at my institution without spending every waking moment doing philosophy. Hell--that's one of the reasons I went into philosophy in the first place. If I wanted to grind myself to the bone with work and have little time for anything else I enjoy, I could have done that and made much more money in about ANY other profession. I don't think taking some time to renew my strength, spend time with my wife and son, read, reflect, and enjoy life a little bit makes me coddled, lazy, or falling behind. It makes me a well-balanced human being, rather than a research machine.

Anonymous said...

How much time are we talking here? I turned my dissertation (300 pages) over to my committee and defended it three weeks later. Is that unusual? I paid very little attention to other dissertation defenses, so I really don't know. I was in a bit of a rush to get it over with, so take my example FWIW. But what is standard in normal situations? As Anon 11:01 says, the defense is basically pro forma. So how long does your committee want, and why?

Mr. Zero said...

I'm sorry. Are worry warts real things?

Anonymous said...

To the Anons taking time off because, as they say, it's the last "vacation" they'll have until they get tenure. Well, if you're from a Leiter top 20, then you're probably right, though what others have said applies here: you can't really rest in this job market. If you're below top 20, then, relax, you'll never get a job in philosophy anyway, so there's no long, hard road 'til tenure for you (yes, I know, there's the improbables, but we're talking what's even remotely likely).

Anonymous said...

Apparently, yes.

I didn't think so either, but then I got them. Look 'em up online--they're real. (Well, there's some other name for them, but you'll get the point.)

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2:31 writes: If you're below top 20, then, relax, you'll never get a job in philosophy anyway...

This is both false and stupid. This year there were people from top 5 departments who struck-out, and there were people from outside the top 20, even from outside the top 50, who got TT jobs, some of them quite good (e.g. Kenyon College). Obviously, the market's horrible, and many talented candidates are coming up short. But to throw around claims like that italicized above is stupid and irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Well, I can say one thing I did NOT do, which is read over the whole damned document again. Once I sent that fucker off to the committee, that was it, I didn't want to see it EVER again! All I did was get my presentation ready. I pretty much knew that the questions would be about the central thesis and the presentation was about that, so...that's what I prepped.

Guess I'm just not as OCD about these sorts of things as others, which is probably why I do not have a job this year :)

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:31,

Take a course from a freshly minted Ph.D., 28 years old, spent most of his/her time as a grad student doing research, little time teaching, went straight through from an Ivy B.A. institution to a top 20 Leiterific Ph.D. program...more often than not, that course is rough, deals with too many abstruse topics, has a shortage of real-world examples, does not command the students' attention and shows the professor's lack of life and teaching experience. It makes sense that some of these rising stars (from top-20 programs) did not get jobs...they need to become more seasoned.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:35,

Hey, it's always relative to the NUMBER of candidates on the market. Just because some below top 20 grads get jobs doesn't speak to the fact that it's really, really, really difficult to get a TT job. Come on. And next year will be worse.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:42,

Your objection is beside the point. I never denied it's extremely difficult to get a TT right now. I simply denied the original claim that, if you're from a non-top 20 department, you'll never get a job in philosophy.

-Anon 11:35

Popkin said...

In fact, Anon 11:35 is quite right to say that the statement "If you're below top 20, then, relax, you'll never get a job in philosophy anyway..." is obviously false. If you look at the TT jobs listed on Leiter you'll see that roughly 45% (by my quick count) of the jobs were obtained by people coming from programs outside the top 20. Of course it's much much easier to get a job if you're coming from a program in the top 20, but that wasn't the claim.

Anonymous said...

Popkin,

That comment was obviously hyperbolic.

It's still true that for any one job candidate from a less-than-Leiter-20-or-maybe-30-school, you can say to them, "You will likely NOT get a TT job" Or is it? Someone have evidence to the contrary that such candidates have a higher probability of landing a TT job than not?

Philosophy Prof said...

Please just look at the actual placement records for specific non-Leiter programs, before weighing in with a view. It's bad enough for the non-Leiter programs to have to deal with the fact that we don't make the reputation cut, which often seems to have very little connection with research production but instead with things like... historical reputation, etc.; but to have deal IN ADDITION with false statements about jobs and placement, that stinks for us and most importantly it stinks for potential students who find our program to be the best fit, but who then get scared off by nonsense. We want our views to have some connection to actual data, do we not? My non-Leiter program places over 70% of its graduates in tenure-track positions (though to be sure there often are VAPS and lectureships at first). Some of the tt jobs are research-focused and prestigious, but most are middle-of-the-road jobs that offer an unbelievably great life for the job-holder.

Popkin said...

Anon 6:39: there is indeed evidence that students coming from programs outside the top 20 or 30 are more likely to get a TT job than not. Many schools have information about their placement records on-line.

To take a random example: Northwestern is outside the top-40, yet you can see from their website that the vast majority of their graduates have ended up with TT jobs.

Anonymous said...

Well, the original comment was about NOW and in the near term, not what placement records have BEEN.

Anonymous said...

I came from a school at the bottom of Leiter's list.... I mean the very bottom. We rank as an 'also ran' not as a top fifty. Yet, the majority of our students who want academic jobs eventually end up with a TT. (Of course, this year hurt us...).

Each school has a very different placement record. There are some that aren't on Leiter's radar at all, who do very well on placement. There are others that do well on Leiter that have terrible placement records.

Philosophy Prof said...

Anon 9:47 --

If the original point was not about placement history but about NOW, what possible data could you have, if the final results are not in for this year? The results for this year are not even close to being in, and of course next year's results are not in either. I know that philosophers are not especially empirical, but this is silly. Are you saying that we should EXPECT the results to come in a certain way? But of course my point and the point of other people who have written in is that many EXPECT the historical placement records to be in line with the Leiter rankings, but alas they are not. At the end of the day a department will hire the best philosopher, with the best training, with the best research program, period.

Anonymous said...

Well, the point is the obvious one that everyone else has noticed: there aren't many jobs this year and next year is likely to be less. The economy and all . . .

That's what I base my prediction on. Relative to the sheer number of job candidates stacking up and with more to come next year, the probability of candidates from below-20-or-30 schools getting a TT job anytime diminishes and continues to diminish.

Of course, we can't finally answer this number w/o knowing how many candidates there are searching, but based on my own experience, there are LOTS of us without even an interview this year. This is empirical, but it's mostly anecdotal and prediction based on the doom-and-gloom economic reports and the fact that, most likely, the TT lines to be advertised next fall are being determined right now.

Mr. Zero said...

Look. In the first 50 names on this year's hiring thread at Leiter, I count 29 TT hires from outside the top 20.

Once and for all, people from outside the top-20 get TT jobs all the fucking time. This year, last year, every year.

Is it tough out there? Yes, duh. Is it getting tougher? Yes, duh. But the claim doesn't say, oh, man! It's tough out there and getting tougher! It says, If you're below top 20, then you'll never get a job in philosophy. Then it weasels and says, improbables ... what's remotely likely ... blah blah blah.

Taken as a meaningful claim about now, in the near term, whose weasel words haven't rendered it devoid of all content, it's totally false. Even understood hyperbolically, it's hyperbole for an untrue, very stupid claim. End of story.

Also, I'm going to need a link for the worry warts. All I can find is pages about how it means somebody who worries to much.

Philosophy Prof said...

ANON 11:16,

Imagine that you are an SC in the current market (or any market for that matter). You have to pick between a super-fancy Phd who will pick up and leave as soon as possible, or an outstanding student from a non-fancy program who is likely to make a long-term contribution to your department and community, and perhaps even end up being a better researcher than the fancy Phd anyway. I just don't understand what you are thinking here.