How Karen Helped Me Land My Dream Job [A Very Nice Guest Post]

Note from Karen:  I am traveling this week on a family matter so will post about the Wall Street Journal coverage of the #MeTooPhD Sexual Harassment in the Academy Survey next week. Today I’m pleased to share this generous guest post by Professor Siobhan Brooks.

Professor Brooks has been in touch with me a few times over the last few years to share her experiences on the job market. After hearing of her success, I asked her if she’d be willing to contribute a guest post for the benefit of others. I didn’t expect that she’d write something so complimentary of The Professor Is In! I’m a little embarrassed but very appreciative!  And, I absolutely love her story as a black, queer, former exotic dancer insisting on doing academia her own way–and prevailing.  Congratulations, Siobhan! You are an inspiration.

By Siobhan Brooks, Ph.D.

Professor Brooks is Chair of African American Studies, Cal State Fullerton

I graduated with a Ph.D. in sociology from the New School in 2008. Anyone who is familiar with the New School knows that it is one of the most difficult grad programs to get out of. The joke was that it is the roach motel of grad programs. Unlike other grad programs, the New School admits students often with no funding, in addition to students working while finishing their dissertations, there is very little mentorship—many leave for other programs or academia altogether. The few who received mentoring were the white boys who were part of the secret club involving white male professors connecting them with publishing opportunities, external funding, and job networks. The rest of us were left to fend for ourselves.

I was also in a unique situation when I started graduated school: I had just quit my five year job as an exotic dancer, and felt out of the academic loop since I graduated from college at age 23. However, I did have some things going for me: I was a union organizer at the club and published articles about the experiences of sex workers, especially of color, and labor conditions. My work was published in academic anthologies, Colorlines Magazine, and I interviewed Angela Davis for the UC Hastings Law Journal. I used this experience to apply for grad school and continue this line of study.

While in grad school I taught in various CUNY colleges after my master’s until I received a dissertation fellowship at UC Santa Barbara; that for the first time in five years would allow me to focus on my writing. I was able to finish my dissertation after two years and was encouraged by professors at UC Santa Barbara to submit my dissertation to a First Book Award in Queer Studies competition by SUNY Press. My dissertation was about the ways Black and Latina exotic dancers experienced racism in both lesbian and straight strip clubs. Sex work was still an edgy topic to research, and I was told by some professors to change my topic because I would never be taken seriously in academia.

I am glad I didn’t listen to them because to my surprise I had won the competition, which consisted of $3000 and a book contract from SUNY. I was elated—but in academia, happiness does not last long.

I was starting a post-doc when the book was accepted, went on the market, and got a tenure track job that I declined (middle of nowhere Pennsylvania). I was a visiting professor in a gender studies program at an R1 when the book came out in print. A time that was supposed to be joyous quickly came to an end when mentors expressed anger that I published before landing a tenure-tract position. “You’re wasting the publication!” “You’ve published too early—it won’t count for tenure now!”

I had thought about what it would mean to publish a book before I landed a tenure-track job, but I wasn’t going to reject the prize. After months of anxiety, and a few failed job searches, I came across Karen’s website. I paid close attention to how to form a cover letter and learned how to discuss my research in relation to the contributions it makes to the fields sociology, gender studies/ethnic studies. I also found the information on how to give the job talk to be viable information, especially coming from a program where students were not taught to do job talks and did not see job talks in the department. I learned to use visuals, structure it like an article, minus the jargon, and keep teaching demonstrations simple.

But I still needed advise on one last thing: How to handle having a book before a tenure track job. I decided to take a risk and email Karen directly. I explained my situation, and was pleased when I saw that she responded. She stated that while the book would not help me get tenure, it would help me land a tenure track job. She advised me on how to talk about my book in the cover letter and lead into a second project, the one I would be working on at the tenure-track job. I took her advice, and restructured my letter with a focus on a second project. I used my visiting professorship position like a post-doc and got two publications underway.

I saw a job in my home state that fit what I wanted perfectly: it was a teaching position at a state university in African American Studies. The department was restructuring, so it was an opportunity to build a department. I applied and after the campus visit was notified that I had job.

It worked out wonderfully because tenure was based on articles not books, and the articles I were working on came out during my first two years on the tenure-clock. Our department was small (three people) and no one was tenured. I am happy to say that our department went up early for tenure in the fourth year and we all received it! I am also department chair. I can’t thank Karen enough for her advice—it has literally paid off.

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