grad skool rulz #24 – am I done yet?

Previous grad skool rulz.

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The previous installments have addressed the issue of how to get through graduate school. But how do you know when you are done? When should you go on the job market?

You have to figure out what kind of discipline you are in. Some disciplines kick people out in 4-6 years.  I call these “short clock.” Engineering, economics, and biomedical sciences fit this mold. Others are more extreme. In many cases, you can stay in graduate school for ten (!) years and still be considered “fresh.” I call these “long clock.” My own discipline, sociology, is somewhere in the middle. Some folks graduate in 5-6 years, but others are allowed to stay quite a while. The culture of your discipline determines how it is that you go about graduating.

Before moving on, I should note that staying too long can have dire consequences. Students can become unmarketable, dissertations are out of date, departments may cut funding. Students who have spent too much time in graduate school will be seen as folks who can’t get stuff done, which makes it hard to get a job. If you knew some was in grad school for 12 years with one modest publication, wouldn’t you be a little suspicious? It behooves you to figure out the norm in your field and stick to it.

Short clock disciplines: In these fields, graduate school is about two years of course work, an exam or two, and maybe a masters level paper. There is very little teaching, compared to other fields. Then, at the end of year three or four, you produce a “job market paper” which demonstrates your potential as a researcher.

Short clock disciplines do not expect much from grad students. You don’t need a long list of publications or even a terribly well developed paper – because you’ve only been working on it a year or so. These disciplines tend to rely heavily, almost exclusively, on adviser recommendations and PhD program reputation because there is not much else to go on. The bottom line is that most students who make it to candidacy will soon be kicked out, whether they like it or not. So get smart: get an adviser with a good track record and make sure your job market paper is great.

Long clock disciplines: In these fields, people take many years to complete and there is no “normal” time to degree. The humanities are notorious, as are some sciences. What happens in these fields is that you do the course work and the doctoral exam, but then you either (a) drift into massive teaching loads or (b) begin conceptualizing this vague, broad dissertation or. Either way, no one expects you to finish quickly. Six years might be considered fast.

Unlike short clock disciplines, you will not be kicked or nudged out after X years. You will be allowed to drift indefiinitely. If you don’t finish your dissertation, no one will remind you. If you dedicate all your time to teaching, no one will care. Even if you do finish your dissertation, people will sit on it for semesters and nothing will happen. To blunt, the graduate school system is not designed to help you graduate in a reasonable amount of time. It’s designed to waste your time.

So how on earth do people graduate in departments where no one lifts a finger to help you? A few paths:

  • Get published: Once you get published in real journal, then many faculty will let you graduate. Why? Publication is often a prerequisite for a job. If you are published, no one feels bad about letting you go on the job market. It also shows that you are serious about your career. The higher ranked the journal, the better.
  • Demand it: Sometimes you simply have to be pushy.  I’ve seen cases where a person has published, written their dissertation, and still nothing happens. You just have to say (politely) “what else can I do complete my degree?” If that fails, see the graduate chair or dean. Be a jerk. If people aren’t letting you graduate, they are costing you money and wasting your time.
  • Get a job: In some programs, they don’t let you graduate until you get a job. If that’s the case, graduation is actually simple. Publish first (or write a good job market paper in short clock fields).  Then go on the job market (see the next rulz installment). When you get the job offer, you’ll see that the dissertation hearing gets scheduled fairly quickly.

In other words, long clock fields require that you make the active choice to graduate. You simply need to will it to happen. Scout your area and figure it out, even if it takes a year or two. May seem odd, but is it not like the rest of life? You’ll never get anywhere until you take the initiative.


Written by fabiorojas

July 4, 2010 at 2:06 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

10 Responses

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  1. This is a great post Fabio. Thank you.

    I’m in a “short clock” discipline (management / org theory) and considering going on the job market this year, though I would appreciate some (more) advice on the decision. My problem is that I ended up transferring out of my first doctoral program a year after prelims after my adviser left my school. No one in my department wanted to take on an “orphan” student so I moved to a less-prestigious but more welcoming school where the faculty were already familiar with my work.

    It’s been a year in my new program and I’m very happy there. I’ll be done collecting data this summer (inductive, field-based study) and have an R&R at Org. Science (though the topic is unrelated to my thesis) and a book chapter in press. I don’t have teaching experience but will TA this fall. Should I wait a year or go on the market this fall?



    July 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm

  2. Hi, Bob – thanks for writing.The long answer will be posted later this week. Grad skool rulz 25 is about deciding to go on the market. In your case, I’d compare my record with other candidates from the same program. I have a hunch that at a lower ranked program you don’t have too many good placements with only an RR, even if it’s from a good journal. Unless I was desperate, I’d get the accepted paper and maybe an extra paper accepted or RR this year. A year can make a huge career difference.What do you think? What’s the profile of other recent successful grads from your progrm?


    Fabio Rojas

    July 4, 2010 at 3:39 pm

  3. Fabio, my thinking pretty much mirrors yours. This past year people did ok, but not spectacularly by any means. There were three graduates from my department, and two got pretty good jobs – one top-30 school and another top-50 school. Importantly, though, they got good research positions and can continue doing what we’ve been trained to do. The third grad wasn’t as lucky – he got a few job offers at teaching schools in his home country (in Asia), and a postdoc at a good school in Canada. I think decided to take the postdoc in the end.

    My hope is to work on the R&R some more in the coming months and develop one good chapter / paper my thesis this fall as I analyze the data some more. Hopefully the chapter / paper will turn into a submission (and if I’m really lucky, an R&R) before AOM 2011. Thanks for your advice.



    July 5, 2010 at 3:07 am

  4. Hi Fabio,

    I’m in a long-clock discipline and wanted to know how do book chapters (in edited volumes) look for students interested in a post-doc?

    P.G. Spaulding


    P.G. Spaulding

    July 12, 2010 at 3:55 am

  5. Post-docs are highly idiosyncratic. Some post-docs are run by foundations, others by universities, and others by single faculty members who have the funding to pay for staff on a project. It’s just too varied. You never know who will read your stuff, or what they think.

    In general, I’d add that book chapters in many fields aren’t valued highly. In sociology, they count for little in promotion or hiring. So don’t hang your hopes on a book chapter. Doesn’t mean that you should never write a chapter. It just means that you should do it because you really, really care; don’t do it because it’ll be rewarded.



    July 12, 2010 at 4:42 am

  6. […] you can see, it’s a very legalistic process. So prepare and give yourself time. Especially in “long clock” disciplines that aren’t used to quickly graduating people after the job […]


  7. […] you in a “short clock” or “long clock” program? If you are in a short clock, your only activity post-course work activity be your job market […]


  8. […] you in a “short clock” or “long clock” program? If you are in a short clock, your only activity post-course work activity be your job market […]


  9. Wow, really helpful and interesting discussion here. Just want to commend the author and let them know that this website is being used as a reference for a professionalization course in a mid-to-long track soc. program.



    January 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm

  10. […] for the rest of academia, you choose how long to stay in. Previously, I talked about how you can nudge your committee into letting you finish. Roughly speaking, once you publish, you are done. But when should you do this? To figure this out, […]


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