Friday, September 14, 2012

Is your PhD nearing its expiration date?

Over on Leiter's blog, he spotlights a couple of job ads (not in philosophy) where a requirement is a recent PhD (in one case, 2009 or later, in another, 2010 or later). Like this one
Applicants must have received the PhD or equivalent degree in the past three years (2009 or later), or show clear evidence of planned receipt of the degree by the beginning of employment.
So there you have it. Don't bother applying, you loser, if your degree is more than three years old. We'd rather hire an ABD. Also, how stupid of you to graduate during a recession. There's nothing in the ad that says something reasonable like "recent PhD and/or evidence of active scholarship." Nope. Fresh PhDs or ABDs only.

An argument for holding out on defending that diss, if you can, until you've got a job. And also, I guess, avoiding those pesky, time-consuming fellowships. This strikes me as nuts. I mean, I know we've all been told a PhD can get stale. But three years? Two years?! I've got food in my pantry that's older than that.


~zombie

42 comments:

Michael Falgoust said...

On holding off defending the diss until you have a job:

I went on the market last year, while planning to defend my diss in the Spring, and my supervisor stressed that some programs prefer PhD's to ABD's, so I should expect to be kicked to the bottom of many applicant pools. When meeting with him again after defending, he again stressed that my prospects would be at least somewhat improved (please don't read unrealistic expectations into this, I know it's rough for everyone) just because I have the PhD in hand.

Furthermore, when choosing the ads to which I would apply last year, I found myself steered away from a large number of ads that seemed to discourage ABD applications. Now that I have my PhD, I expect to have a slighter wider pool of viable ads as compared to someone just ABD.

Again, all of this information could be wrong (as my supervisor himself has pointed out, there's a lot of voodoo and magical thinking in applying and hiring), but I would like to know what others think. Is it really safer to go on the market ABD or as a newly minted PhD? (Of course, there may be no good answer to this question).

Anonymous said...

I suspect it has to do with a few related factors:

1. Thinning the applicant pool. Maybe it's a dick move, but it's a way to limit applications. They will still get more than enough people who are more than qualified for the job.

2. Funding. The more experience you have, the higher the salary expectations. They want to pay someone entry level, and the best way to do that is to hire entry level.

3. Time to tenure. Applicants with experience can negotiate (with administration, not the hiring department) for years credited to the tenure clock. The hiring department wants to limit such possibilities.

Yeah, it sucks. And while it would seem to support the idea that PhDs get stale, I doubt that's what the department had in mind when they crafted the ad.

Anonymous said...

Quick question for smokers: when someone says the tenure clock, are they referring to a time period in which you have to have had completed the work required for tenure? Suppose a person is hired with four publications in decent journals and the requirements for tenure are four papers in decent journals. Does this mean that this person must publish four ADDITIONAL papers within the tenure period? If so, this job market requiring candidates to have already published will start to have even more negative effects, when people have already started to mine their dissertation for papers even before they get a job and then have to come up with brand new projects for tenure.

imprecise said...

Michael -- your advisor was correct at least to a certain degree. At my SLAC, we really prefer to hire people with degrees in hand, as our hires have to do a fair amount of teaching right away, and don't have a ton of time to work on the diss. If they had to work on their diss, it'd be slow, they'd get behind on the tenure clock, etc. etc. However, during a recent hire we have an on campus to two people who were obviously very close to being finished. (This means "very obviously" -- i.e., diss completed but not defended, NOT a chapter or two still to be written.)

But which is better or more likely to succeed is a different question from which is "safer." It's safer to stay in your grad program, b/c then you get funding, etc. And if the stupidity of the departments mentioned in this post spreads, it'll be much safer.

imprecise said...

Anon 2:07--

It depends on the institution. Some will count most of your previous work toward tenure, some will count none, and some will count some. You can sometimes negotiate this when you are considering a job offer. But it's something that can really bite you in the ass. I knew a guy (he was in literature, not philosohy) who got his dream job. Except that he had a lot of previous years as a TT faculty member. In that time he published a book. The hiring department told him they would NOT consider his book in his tenure review and that he'd have to write a new one. The problem was, since he'd been on the TT, the new department would only give him one or two years before he had to go up for tenure. So he was supposed to write -- and get accepted for publication -- a book in one year. He had to decline the job. (Though my sense is that not many depts are this irrational.)

seniorish said...

2:07,
That's a very good question. The answer is that it varies. I know, because one of my former students asked me this question a couple of years ago and I asked around.

Some places definitely give you no credit for articles you published before your got there. At my school (univ. with a grad program), the requirement is more like eight, but if you had some in your pocket already when you got here you could get away with maybe six -- there aren't hard and fast numbers written into our rules, but the idea is that the tenure committee is looking for a combination of significant impact in your field and a good rate of productivity, so your previous pubs count toward the first, but you need to keep publishing to meet the second standard. And if you had a whole pile -- maybe you moved here after five years at some other good job -- you could get an early tenure decision, with proportional reduction in the quantity of publication you'd need for tenure.

DJ said...

This kind of thing is very common in STEM fields. It never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with the practice.

For one, aren't there plenty of post-doc positions and fellowship awards with a stale-by date? Why aren't you complaining about those?

Moreover, there are also occasionally job ads for more senior positions, which lock out younger applicants. A single job ad or three doesn't really prove anything. You need more than anecdotal evidence to determine the trend.

Anonymous said...

@DJ:

Postdocs are different. Their purpose is to provide funding, well, right after the doctorate. That's why they're called postdocs. I don't know about STEM, but the best humanities postdocs allow young scholars to refine their ideas, publish like crazy, and make significant progress toward a book. Competition for TT jobs is not like this, or it shouldn't be. Someone who has been out for 3 or more years has probably been adjuncting like crazy, if he/she didn't happen to get one of those prestigious postdocs. Under those circumstances, unis would rather have a minty-bright Ph.D. As others have noted, of course, the fact that someone happened to finish the diss during a depression has no effect on search committee decisions.

DJ said...

Sure, postdocs are different in name and purpose, but my point is, why shouldn't long-term adjuncts get a chance to apply for a prestigious postdoc? Why is academic-age discrimination acceptable at the postdoc level but not the TT level?

Anonymous said...

I have a question that probably has no good answer, but what do people think is worse between the following two situations: 1. Having a "stale" degree, or 2. taking a long time (say 8-10) years to complete a degree?

Anonymous said...

Agreed with DJ. Where's the outrage over post-docs not considering people who have been adjuncting for several years and not able to immediately get a post-doc?

Why is it appropriate for post-docs to demand fresh degrees? I know I could use one right now, and I'd be damned productive with it, even though it's been a couple years since I finished my degree.

Anonymous said...

@5:48

I think that would depend on 1) what you have been doing during that time and 2) what kind of school you are applying to. If you are active in the field then that can help to mitigate staleness and time-to-degree issues. If you take 9 years to finish but have done a bunch of stuff and have some good reason why you took that long then that might very well look better than getting your degree and doing nothing with it professionally for two years.

Schools look for different things to match different needs. There is a tendency that much of these issues are still viewed through the lens of research institutions. Remember, a person who took a long time to get the degree can also look like a person who has a wealth of teaching experience. I took longer than I should have but I found that many schools were less interested in the difficulties of my dissertation topic and more interested in the breadth of teaching experience I had accumulated.

Anonymous said...

At my SLAC, we absolutely prefer candidates with PhD in hand to ABDs.

However, I don't understand the thinking behind preferring more recently minted PhDs. The job market is horrible and there are too many talented candidates who received their degrees 4 or more years ago. It seems bizarre to ignore them. (It is, for example, really easy to "thin the pool of candidates" without having to resort to such arbitrary devices.)

Anonymous said...

If this is a trend (and it's worrying because all you need is one or two examples to give ideas to other SCs), we're headed towards a "bookends" or "tough love" approach to the job search. For at least some T-T jobs, you will need a Ph.D. (not just an ABD) but your Ph.D. must have been gotten within the last three years. You'll have your bite at the apple and then either get lucky or else move on to a different career or to a career of adjunct teaching. That said, I think it would be a shame if this did become a trend. Some departments will obviously still be interested in candidates making T-T lateral moves. As with hiring in general, a lot depends upon the particular needs of the hiring department, but one hopes there are departments who value extensive and diverse teaching experience together with the humility that (ha ha) isn't always evident in the newly minted Ph.D.

zombie said...

There is no outrage over the time limit on postdocs because postdocs are intended to be training positions, not first jobs. They are additional education that follows the PhD. Usually, but not always, they are research-oriented, but some are teaching oriented. They are not intended to close the employment gap between PhD and first job, although they can serve that function for some. There is, in fact, growing concern that some postdocs drag on for too long, so to solve that problem, in some places, funding is limited (when I was in Canada, postdoc funding was limited to five years post-degree). If you are several years past your PhD, you might like a postdoc to bridge that employment gap, but the time limit is there to prevent you from becoming a perpetual postdoc (and to prevent your PI from keeping you in postdoc servitude indefinitely). Maybe that's paternalistic, but it is not obvious that it is objectionably so.

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2006_02_10/science.opms.r0600001

Anonymous said...

"They are additional education that follows the PhD."

Right. But why should that education be limited to those fresh out of a PhD program? That it always has been so is no reason why it should remain so.

DJ said...

To add to 3:56, the tenure track is also quite an eye-opening education, although most professors have to educate themselves. If you're lucky, you get a helpful department chair or mentor who can teach you the ropes.

One can protect against perpetual postdocs by putting an upper limit on the number of years of postdoc experience, rather than the number of years since Ph.D. I'm having a seriously hard time imagining any rationale for academic-age discrimination that holds for postdocs but not for TT positions.

zombie said...

I'm not trying to defend the postdoc time limit (if it needs defending) but I suppose, since it is an apprenticeship that is supposed to lead to one becoming an independent scholar/researcher, the presumption is that once you are several years post-PhD, you have already achieved independence on your own. And if you haven't, you should have.

But yes, the solution to the perpetual postdoc problem would reasonably be to simply limit the duration of postdoc appointments. Some people go from one postdoc to another -- should we also count the years between postdocs (if there's a gap), or just the years served? OTOH, if you go from one postdoc to another, is that evidence that you are not achieving the desired independence?

At some point, all of these time limits start to get pretty arbitrary.

Anonymous said...

"it is an apprenticeship that is supposed to lead to one becoming an independent scholar/researcher"

One wonders then what was meant by the term "assistant professor."

A fair amount of the pre-tenure years can aptly be described as an apprenticeship that is supposed to lead one to becoming an independent scholar/researcher (and teacher).

Anonymous said...

What about the guy at Harvard who took 18 years to finish his Ph.D. in Philosophy? Eventually he got a job at a small school in the south--I believe it was Auburn. Leiter said that this had to be an exceptional case. Still if more and more applicants are worried about the degree going stale this might become the standard case.

Rebecca Kukla said...

FWIW, I did a postdoc for two years, which I started a full seven years after my PhD, when I was already an associate professor. I understand that this is unusual. I did it because I wanted to shift directions in my research and train up in a new subdiscipline. It was totally awesome and very effective, and it had nothing to do with my not yet being the independent scholar I should be.

I think if we want postdocs to be the training and mentored research opportunities they *supposed* to be, then there is no reason to limit them to fresh PhDs. Each applicant can be taken on a case by case basis (and new PhDs will most often want them and get them). Doing a postdoc later in one's career seems weird because we all know that they are *actually* used primarily to bridge employment gaps and to provide cheap, subservient academic labor. This is increasingly true as we are seeing more and more 'teaching postdocs' where the person is basically doing the same thing as an assistant professor but with less money and no job security. That's a shame.

Anomaly said...

Also an argument for dismantling the tenure-system. If administrators and faculty care about the production of quality research and the education of students, let's tear down this soviet-style entry barrier.

outraged said...

Exactly: in these times, when administrators and state legislatures are so friendly to academic freedom, the tenure system is no longer necessary.

DJ said...

Do you have a link for this claim? I have a hard time believing it. Harvard has a university-wide upper limit of 10 years on doctoral study, with the only exceptions being for major medical leave, parental leave, and active-duty military service.

Anonymous said...

Ronald "9:54" Reagan--

Your antecedent is false; admins only care about numbers, whether bodies in classes or gross tuition and mostly both. And now exactly how would sacrificing an institution protecting academic freedom improve research or teaching?

Anonymous said...

2:29,

The claim from this NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/magazine/21jolley-t.html?pagewanted=all.

See especially this paragraph:

Jolley gradually built allies within the department while at the same time looking to bring in like-minded professors. He didn’t expect Auburn to be able to land top candidates, but he was convinced that a lot of talented young philosophers were slipping through the cracks, often because they had the misfortune of specializing in an especially popular area, or because they had been stigmatized for taking too long to finish their degrees. (Jolley’s latest hire, Arata Hamawaki, spent 18 years finishing his Ph.D. at Harvard.) Auburn’s philosophy department is now dominated by graduates of some of the nation’s top philosophy programs.

Anonymous said...

I'm an associate professor at a medium sized university in the northeast. I've known several cases in other disciplines (e.g., history) where people worked for 2-3 yrs at another institution, and then got a job at my institution. The university gave them 1 yr. towards tenure. In another case, I know an individual who was a "visiting professor" at our school for 3 yrs. and then was hired tenure track by the department he worked in here. The university only gave him 1 yr. towards tenure as well.

Further, at my university you are given credit for publications you do while at this institution (as long as publications appear after you start, they count towards tenure). Anything published before you arrived at the university doesn't count. I had 1 publication "in press" when I arrived and it counted. I had another publication that had already come out and it didn't.

DJ said...

Thanks for the link. I can't seem to find a CV or anything online that would substantiate this timeline. You'll forgive me, I hope, for retaining some skepticism -- it wouldn't be the first time that a reporter (even from the Times) got something like this wrong, and certainly it's very possible that we're not being told the full story.

Anonymous said...

Hey smokers, quick question. If a job add asks for only a few materials, but the online application allows room to submit more, do you go with giving them what they didn't ask for, or showing that you can follow directions?
Thanks!

Anonymous said...

DJ:

FWIW the 18-year grad student has been a subject of discussion here before; IIRC, at the time people writing as if they knew him personally confirmed the timeline. And that this violates stated policies at Harvard isn't much of a reason to think it must not have happened; universities bend and break policies all the time.

zombie said...

2:15, that is not a "quick" question. Can you be more specific? What does the ad ask for? What does the online form allow you to submit?

Anonymous said...

I guess no one will be bitching about the Bard ad that requires PhD in hand at the time of application. Others have done this too.

Anonymous said...

3:17,

I don't see that as a problem. For one, it's very easy to fudge how close one is to completion, and many programs don't want to end up extending an offer to someone who can't finish by the time the job starts. This can mess up contracts; if the person hired doesn't have the degree at the start of the year, the university may not legally be able to hire them to the job applied to, and may have to keep them on as a lecturer/adjunct (less pay, possibly no benefits) until such time that the person finishes the degree. It can also be hellish for someone to finish a dissertation while starting a new job, and I can't blame program for not wanting to put people through that (or have to deal with someone who can't handle it).

Anonymous said...

5:15

Didn't ask.

-3:17

Anonymous said...

Sorry, longer question. The add asked for letter, cv, writing sample, list of references. But the school's online form had room for research statement, additional writing samples, and teaching portfolio. My thought was that the school's website probably accommodates very different job ads, so stick to the printed version. But it is tempting to send more and have them not read it, rather than feel like you missed an opportunity that others are taking. Thanks for following up Zombie.

Anonymous said...

@2:15/9:07...

Submit only requested materials. Search committees won't read anything else...

Asstro said...

@Outraged and Anomaly:

The last thing you want to do is tear down the tenure system. That's like arguing against unions. It's self-sabotaging and stupid.

Sure, right now it seems like it's not your friend, but when you get a job, and when many of your friends get jobs, the tenure system will very much be your friend.

Though I think it's probably fair to say that you've benefited even if you don't feel like you see the benefits right now. Consider simply the way in which you've gotten support through your graduate years. This support was made possible in part because your professors are not your adversaries. They are not competing with you for future positions. They are not compensated for their extra service. They are spending a fair bit of their research time trying to make sure that you're good at what you do. If we don't have a tenure system, what possible incentive would they have to try to make you better than them? Money? Not a chance. There's not enough of that to go around in these parts. Charity? Possibly, but it's hard to be charitable when your job is on the line. Positive evaluations from the bosses? Conceivably, but expect their extra-curricular contributions to wear thin when the boss isn't around.

Maybe, of course, you haven't gotten much support as a grad student. If so, that's a shame. I'm sorry to hear this. But there are still likely aspects of university life that you've enjoyed that are a consequence of the tenure system. For one, your professional colleagues are mostly independent and free to do what they want. They can do their own thing, which means that they can run reading groups that may be quirky and weird and interesting to you, sometimes perhaps at your suggestion. They can develop courses that aren't prescribed from above, thereby moving scholarship organically in new directions. That wouldn't happen in a more hierarchical, boss/employee, top-down arrangement.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, they can say things in public, and to the higher-ups, that are positively critical of the way things are run, that may save your ass. This also doesn't happen in big organizations with heavy hierarchies.

If what I say here doesn't sway you, for your own self-interested reasons, you should think twice before arguing to dismantle a system that serves as the last vestige of protection against a system that will eat everyone alive.

Asstro said...

Obviously, I didn't read Outraged's comment very closely. I should've just directed my comments to Anomaly.

zombie said...

9:07
Send what is requested. Mention in your cover letter that you will happily send additional materials upon request. If you have a website where your stuff is accessible, mention that. Possibly the SC will use the initial, minimal submission to decide from whom they want additional materials.

But wouldn't it be nice if SC and HR could coordinate so these questions don't come up?

outraged said...

Asstro,
I think I'm going to have to cease all sarcasm in my comments here....

Mr. Zero said...

I guess no one will be bitching about the Bard ad that requires PhD in hand at the time of application.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something, but the Bard ad that was recently published in JFP issue 194W says Ph.D. in hand at the time of appointment, not application. I interpret that to mean, Ph.D. in hand before the job starts, not before you apply.

CTS said...

@Astro:

Nicely done.