What to Expect: 4th Year

The final post in our four-part series about the CRDM experience comes from Dr. Amy Gaffney, who recently graduated and will begin her new position as Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky in the fall.


I was asked to write about the experience of being a 4th year Ph.D. student at a chaotic time–I was packing up my life in Raleigh, saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, making arrangements for my move, and trying to get ahead in projects such as converting my dissertation research into journal articles (the latter of these tasks because I was about to start a position at a research university). I thought it would be no problem to sit down and write a quick blog. But the writing kept getting pushed back. And now that I’ve stepped back somewhat from the past year, I realize just how much those that theme would carry through: while becoming more independent as a scholar, you are still being pulled by many forces in many directions. I think this theme carries through in the three main concerns of the fourth year: dissertation, job hunt, and TA/RA/work obligations.

Let’s start with the big one: Dissertation. Not surprisingly, you will at times both love and hate your dissertation. The dissertation will be (or at least should be) a top priority in your life during your fourth year, but it’s important to remember that you are the one responsible for keeping it as a top priority. Ideally, you’ll be able to meet regularly with your advisor (and possibly other committee members) and I found this regular check-in helpful for keeping me on track–if only to ensure that I was keeping myself on my own schedule. It’s also helpful to work on different parts of the dissertation in shifts so even if you are waiting on feedback, you can still be productive.

The Job Hunt: Expect that job postings will start over the summer leading into the fall semester and continue to be posted well into the spring semester. Many applications will require some basic pieces (cover letter, vita, teaching philosophy) and even though many of these pieces will need to be adapted to a particular position, it can be helpful to have these at least started before deadlines start hitting. Expect to dedicate large blocks of time to putting together applications. Sometimes I felt like I was constantly printing, collating, and mailing applications. No matter what, applying for jobs and following up with those potential jobs will take more time than you imagine.

TA/RA/Work: The other source of pressure will come from your responsibilities as a TA or RA (or in your job outside of the university). At this point, you’re probably used to balancing your own work and your TA role. With the other two major concerns of the year, however, I found it helpful to make sure that I did my job to the best of my abilities, but was also selective in taking on extra work.

I went into my fourth year for high hopes of finishing my dissertation early and staying on top of all of the job applications. While I met the broader goal of defending in time for a May graduation, the reality of the multiple pressures meant that I wasn’t able to meet all of my smaller deadlines. But, in the end, it is very possible to complete all of your work and even have time for occasional socialization. Expect those around you (such as your cohort) to be dealing with the same pressures and know that supporting each other will make the process much easier. Remember that even though it won’t always feel like it, there really is a light at the end of the tunnel and you can get a job. Then you can have my crazy summer of transition as you embark on your life as a CRDM grad!

~Dr. Amy Gaffney

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One response to “What to Expect: 4th Year

  1. Pingback: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Start Your Next Year in the Program) | CRDM @ NC State

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