Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog


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“You tell the truth, you tell it well. In the crowded and fetid swamp that is the job market, that is oxygen.” – a reader

If you would like your academic career to begin in delusion and end in disillusionment, then by all means, ignore Karen Kelsky. If, however, you want unvarnished straight talk about the academic job market—and how to navigate it—then heed her, and heed her now.” —Rebecca Schuman, education columnist for Slate.

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A brief glossary of terms used in blog posts:

  • VAP – Visiting Assistant Professor
  • NTT – Non-Tenure Track
  • TT – Tenure Track
  • SLAC – Small Liberal Arts College
  • HBCU – Historically Black College or University
  • PWI – Predominantly White Institution
  • ABD – All But Dissertation (the stage where courses and exams are done and only the diss needs to be written and defended)
  • URM – Underrepresented Minority
  • EID – Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

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Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog — 29 Comments

    • I confess, I don’t know the answer to that question. I guess I’d start by asking—what is your definition of “career”? If it’s tenure-track position in traditional higher ed contexts, then my guess is yes.

  1. Karen, thanks for your very helpful blog! The original question wasn’t mine, but I’d like to add to it. If my intended prospective career is “a tenure-track position in traditional higher-ed contexts”, but right now, I am finishing my post-doc and teaching as an adjunct part-time, would it hurt or help my prospects if one of those adjunct positions was at a for-profit university? Add to that, that the course I would be teaching at the for-profit university is online? (Other adjunct positions I’ve taken in the past have been at “traditional” schools.)

  2. Hi Karen,
    Do you think if you have the time, one of these days, you can write a post about what are reasonable goals for a post-doc? And what we should be trying to get from it? And how to really strategize the fellowship (like stockpiling findings and papers till we’re actually tenure track so that we can optimize chances for success…


    • I will put that on the list. But, I never actually had a postdoc, and don’t feel that I’m an expert on this question. Anyone reading this who parlayed a postdoc to a t-t job and tenure—want to write a guest post? Let me know at

  3. Hi Dr. K., if you have time at some point, it would be great if you could post on the CV. I bet you have lots of insight on that.

  4. Hi Dr. K., I am applying for a job at a research university that asks for a cover letter, dissertation abstract, AND a research statement. It’s the only job I’m applying for that asks for the latter, and I’m not sure what this document even is, or how to distinguish it from the other two documents. What goes in a research statement and how long should it be? Thanks!!!

    • Laura, a Research Statement is a one page document (some may be longer but I don’t recommend going over one page unless you are more senior), with one inch margins in 12 point font, that articulates your dissertation research, it’s impact on your field/s, your publications and publication plans (esp a book if you’re in a book field), and your second major research project as it will evolve organically out of the first. It will end with a brief concluding paragraph that speaks to the impact/contribution/significance of your research agenda more broadly. R ead the post “The Golden Rule of the Research Statement,” for a specific writing recommendation.

  5. I hope I haven’t missed it in the archives, but I’d love to see a post on how to start grad school right. I am one semester in, and now that I have discovered that I can survive this, I would like to know how to do better than jump through hoops as they appear. How do I sow the seeds of networking now to avoid being cornered into unnatural hard-selling of myself later… Or should I just learn hard selling, and if so, how? How do I know when to start publishing -and what- when prof. push us to rework half of our essays? What do I do with my summers that’s actually valuable? What am I not asking that I should ask? Etc.

    • these are fabulous questions, Cleo! I will write a post on that. STay tuned. It’ll be a bit later in spring, once the job season runs its course.

  6. Love your website. My favorite advice on these pages is to be more pompous. As a youngish female Assistant Professor with a natural tendency toward peacemaking, I’ve often been “talked over” by senior male colleagues (and even some male grad students). Being more pompous and, indeed, arrogant, has worked wonders for me at conferences and talks.

    Re what to include next in the blog. I’d appreciate a post on “pedigree.” As in, where to get your PhD. When applying to grad school was accepted at several R1 institutions, but chose a smaller more liberal arts program because it had fabulous researchers in my field. While my doctoral experience was very stimulating, when I hit the job market I was at a serious disadvantage because I was competing against people coming out of well-respected and well-funded RI institutions. I was offered positions at smaller, less prestigious universities, while the big universities got the big grads. I eventually took a post at a smaller university and, three years in, have come to realize that professional development, research, and money is much more scarce at these kinds of places. So, I’m back on the job market again, and again competing against people from big-name schools. My publications make me competitive, but again, I’m only getting “bites” from smaller places with large teaching loads and limited research and travel funds.

    To be frank, I was poorly served by the smaller institution where I got my PhD. Had I known when I enrolled in the PhD program that my job prospects would be hampered to such an extent, I would have went to the bigger school. But I was “wooed” by the smaller school with a large funding package and several other perks. My advisors really wanted me there – I was going to enhance their program. Which I did. But now, 12 years later, here I am on the job market again, trying to get into a bigger school with better resources, more colleagues in my area, and a bigger budget.

    So, here’s what I would say now to any prospective graduate students. Aim high, and go to the biggest, most famous, and most prestigious school you possibly can. Don’t let the smaller schools reel you in, and especially don’t be fooled by all the perks they will provide. Because when you hit the job market, you’ll most likely end up yourself at a small school. And while the small schools are great for students, they’re horrible places for professors interested in things like campus-wide colloquia, research money, research leave, travel money, and an overall reasonable balance among teaching, service, and research.

  7. How do you deal with leaves of absence in a CV/coverletter? I took a year off for mat leave (yeah Canada) and am now applying to mostly US uni. I don’t want them to look at my record and think that I’ve been post-doc’ing for 4 years when it’s really just been 3. thanks

  8. Hi Prof,

    I’d love if posted on either of the following:

    1. What to do to get tenure, early years. You’ve already posted on this, but maybe a second installment?

    2. Decorating/Designing your office space. I’m clueless. Can I just bring in a desk I own, as opposed to getting a gross desk from 20 years ago? Is there anyway tp make an institional desk less gross?

    Thanks! Love your blog!

    • Xine, you should sign up for my webinar, Managing Your Career Once You Have a JOb, which i just offered live yesterday, and will again in Fall, but which is also available in the recorded version on the Prof Shop page.

      The post about decorating your office is a brilliant idea. I have opinions! i’ll add it to the queue.

  9. I don’t know if it’s just me or if everybody else encountering problems with your blog.
    It appears like some of the written text in your posts are running
    off the screen. Can somebody else please
    provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well?
    This may be a problem with my web browser because
    I’ve had this happen before. Cheers

    • I write about the rescinded offer in two places on the blog, my post, How To Negotiate Your Tenure Track Offer, and Job Market Horror Stories: The Rescinded Offer. I am also quoted in the Inside Higher Ed piece from 3/13 about this particular case. In short, 3 points: 1) rescinding offers when a client attempts to negotiate is outrageous and unethical; 2) the institutions that rescind offers strongly tend to be tiny teaching colleges with current or former religious affiliations, so if you are dealing with one of those, tread VERY carefully; 3) this candidate, W, made some grievous errors in her approach to the negotiations, showing a tone-deaf lack of sensitivity to the needs of the institution. That does not justify the rescinding. But if she had worked with me on Negotiating Assistance, I would have told her to remove or tone down many of the elements on her list of requests, because they were inappropriate to such a small, teaching oriented, resource-poor, service heavy kind of institution. Again, her sin of negotiating badly is miniscule compared to the sin of an institution summarily rescinding an offer.

  10. Not so much a post request but an open source request (like your debt and rescinded docs) on post-docs. Salary/stipend/benefits/expectations/etc seem highly variable and I’d like some leverage to approach my institution to bump me up pursuant to my *full* professional experience (returning adult student whose predoc experience, apparently, doesn’t count).

    Related, I guess, leveraging predoc experience among returning adult students in order to get commensurable salaries/responsibilities in both academic and non-academic settings.

  11. Dear Dr. Karen,

    Thanks so much for your website; it has been immensely helpful to me as I’ve been navigating the job market for the last three years. I have a question for your blog, if you have any thoughts on it: after this round of the job market, I’ve been warned that my advisor’s letter of recommendation is lackluster at best. This does not come as a huge surprise since I am pretty sure that s/he only gave my dissertation a once-over immediately before my defense so as not to appear negligent in front of the other committee members. Assuming I’m otherwise a strong candidate, how would you advise proceeding?

    • That’s rough. You can jettison the advisor after a couple years but not right after the Ph.D.; so, for now, make sure you have 3 really superb recommendations from others, 2 from your committee and 1 from an influential person in your exact field/niche from another high ranking R1 campus.

  12. Dear Dr. Karen,
    Should a manuscript go to a professional copy editor before it goes to a press and off to readers? I have heard conflicting advice on this, some say it is not worth the expense, as readers might well suggest major overhauls/cuts/revisions. While others say to spend the money to have the text as polished as possible. (To be clear: I am asking this question with regard to a text written by a native English speaker, as I understand the answer might be different depending on context.) Have you written a previous column that is relevant to manuscript copyediting questions?


  13. How does one make the move to their TT position after grad student graduation? As in, what are the step-by-step “how”s and “when”s of moving cross-country to start this new chapter of academic life? I’ve found great postings here about the first month and year on the TT job, but I wish there was a chronological checklist in minute, mundane detail for the months from doctoral graduation until the first day of teaching class, including dealing with the months without a paycheck and waiting for moving reimbursement. For job market conference and campus visits, I had everything large and small planned and laid out for my academic and personal presentation–from shoes to small talk to shuttles. But the idea of the “campus move” is killing me in advance with all the real and imagined unknowns. When do I first arrive in the new city, and when do I appear in the department? How much of a professional wardrobe should I wait to buy when I get there versus having already? Is it bad form to sleep under my desk until my first professor paycheck? (A joke–but just barely.) I’m moving from an R1 to an R1 so that part of the culture won’t be too much of a shock, but it’s a 3000 mile move, and that will be. But that’s not even the part that’s daunting. Quite frankly, it’s the little things and the timing of them that scare me most. I’m sure it’s just as easy to start out on the wrong yet well-shod foot with a small thing like moving books into an office too early, as it would be by failing on a large thing like moving to the new city too late. I think I know “how” to be an assistant professor and colleague, I just don’t know when to start doing each of the big and little things associated with that during those awkward in-betweener May-September months.

  14. From a recent grad who is on the market–how do I continue to be an academic without funding or intellectual resources? It’s one thing to get accepted to a conference, but what funding options do I have to pay for travel and registration? How can I keep costs down without access to student rates? How can I continue to do research and (hopefully) publish without library and database access? A blog post on this transition time (after the defense, before the job) would be appreciated.

    • These are excellent questions. I’ll see if I can solicit a guest post on this, as it’s not something i had personal experience with.

  15. How do international applicants fair in the US academic job market? Obviously the candidate needs to be qualified for the position, but all things equal between a US and an International candidate (i.e. as far as the UK or Australia), would the distance preclude candidates from even being considered for a position? And if the international candidate makes it far enough to be interviewed, from your experience how flexible would search committees be with regards to campus visits given the extensive travel arrangements?

    • That is difficult to answer. Many institutions would probably consider an international flight from europe, and the Ivies perhaps further, but in the current environment, especially when int’l candidates now also confront visa issues, I have a feeling that this will become less common. I’m sorry.

  16. Hi Karen, I’m curious about the definition of a R2 university. You define an R2 as a “research institution with primarily MA-granting departments” while the Carnegie Classification describes an R2 as “Doctoral Universities – High Research Activity” and has a separate classification for master’s colleges and universities. Which definition is generally used in discussions?

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