Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog

~~ “Her occasional pomposity does not render all her points poor”  ~~     FeministPhilosophers

I post once a week, usually on Friday, on topics related to the academic job market, academic life and politics, general professionalization skills related to writing, publishing, conferencing, networking, and scholarly comportment, and the tenure process.

I also put up two posts on the Post-Ac/Non-Ac job search by my Panel of Post-Ac Experts, on Monday and Tuesday.

Let me know if there’s a topic you want to see me post on!  I am always happy to put Special Requests into the queue. Comment here, or email me at: gettenure@gmail.com.

You can  always get to a particular Category by clicking it in the Categories column to the right.———>

Please note that as of January 2013  the rate of comments to this blog has exceeded my ability to respond individually to each one. I’m sorry that not all comments will get a personal response by Dr. Karen.  If you have a really pressing question, do consider getting in touch to get on my calendar to work together.  I strive to make services affordable to all.

Here’s a short glossary to help you follow the discussions in the blog:

 

TT– tenure track

 

VAP–visiting assistant professor (position)

 

ABD–all but dissertation (status)

 

SLAC–small liberal arts college

 

R1–top ranked research-intensive institution with Ph.D.-granting departments, such as University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, etc.

 

R2–research institution with primarily MA-granting departments




Should I Blog About My #Postac Decision? – Fruscione 2

Last week on Facebook, a commenter wrote, “I quit my PhD in December and I still carry the ‘shame’ with me, as if I did something horribly wrong. ‘But you’ve already put so much work into it I was told. Four and a half years to be exact – I know! I was able to ‘convert’ the PhD course work into a Masters and now find myself telling people ‘…but I only have a Masters now,’ like it’s a bad thing.”

I think it’s safe to say that virtually every Ph.D. (at least in most areas of the humanities and social sciences, where work outside the academy is not an obvious choice or option) experiences feelings of shame and despair about the postac transition. The issue is, what are you going to do about those feelings?  They can be utterly debilitating (as they were for me for over a year), and you need resources and strategies to confront and overcome them.  Joe Fruscione suggests sharing your experience publicly, through blogging and other means, despite possible risks.  He explains why in this post.  There is a large postac community now–don’t be afraid to seek its help and support.

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By Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Should you blog about your career change? Do we need more entries in the growing Quit Lit GoogleDoc? (I say yes, but make your own choice.) What I’ve done—PBS NewsHour appearances in March 2013 and February 2014 and a video for Adjunct Voices—clearly isn’t for everyone. I’m in a relatively safe position: I’m part of a contingent faculty union, and I never say anything too incendiary or combative that would get me fired or make me unhireable. (What else would you expect from Adjunct Yoda?) Maybe I’m just naturally extroverted and good at being the face of something, or I’m trying to get others to join me in front of the camera.

Regardless of whether you go public with your choice, deciding to leave academia may embolden you to talk about what you’re doing, collaborate with new alt-ac and post-ac colleagues, and begin translating your experiences into marketable skills. Speaking out has been incredibly cathartic. If it would be for you too, write something. Outlets like Chronicle Vitae, Hybrid Pedagogy, Adjunct Action, and others are interested in hearing about post-ac or “Quit Lit” narratives, and writing about your soon-to-be old career may lead you to a new one.

Let’s remember, as Allessandria Polizzi reminds us, that blogging about academia and/or your decision to leave it has inherent risks: we’re all Google-able, so who’s to say a potential employer won’t find some of your work? If you’re criticizing your former university, an employer may think, you may later criticize them publicly. Given this (very real) risk, remember to write with purpose and balance if you’re publicly criticizing your university and/or higher ed while using your own name. Save the ranting and raving—no matter how justified—for private groups and/or anonymous blogging.

Also remember this: networking isn’t necessarily a dirty word. Though it may conjure up images of schmoozing and shady backroom deals, expanding your connections is key to expanding your post-ac career. Build a network of professional contacts inside and outside academia. If this prospect seems overwhelming, set manageable goals: start by making 1-2 new professional contacts per week via LinkedIn or Twitter. Then, check the followers and/or contacts of someone you admire who’s doing similar work. Their connections can then become your connections.

Amid my various forms of outreach and activism, I’ve been reflecting on how to market my academic skills in the private sector. The trick for all post-ac job seekers is virtually the same: stressing how our rich academic backgrounds and sets of skills are transferable in the private sector. Regardless of our areas of expertise, we’ll draw on the various thinking, writing, and editing skills our years of teaching and researching have given us. I’ve already had to do this during a pre-screening and formal interview for an editing job. Although I didn’t get the job, I began crafting my story about how 15+ years inside academia will help me outside it.

Consider a few things:

If you’ve published a book and/or edited a collection, how can you make an employer see these writing, editing, and organizational skills as necessary for them? What aspects of the writing and publishing processes would help you do the kinds of work the employer does?

How will all those pages of student writing you’ve commented on help market you as a skilled consultant, writer, and editor?

How can you get your feet wet, so to speak, in your new post-ac career? What opportunities are there to do the kinds of work—speaking, writing, blogging, reviewing, lobbying, whatever—your new career will entail? Is freelance work an option? What kinds of skills can you develop in a relatively short time frame (such as while you’re still teaching)?

What current connections inside academia can help you outside it? Who can vouch for you as a thinker, writer, and colleague? Who “might know someone” and be willing to help ease your career transition? Who could steer some work your way to help you get started?

I was fortunate, for instance, to work with a former graduate school professor on his book manuscript. His press had given him the “revise and submit” response, and he needed new eyes on it. I first read and commented on the manuscript (about 400 pages), made suggestions for cutting and restructuring, and then looked at a revised final chapter and conclusion a few months later. He was thrilled with the work I did; he wrote a short testimonial about my editing that I put on my LinkedIn profile. He was (and still is) supportive and willing to help me build my editing portfolio and client list.

If I can reiterate something from my first post: talk about your post-ac decision and progress. You might find someone willing and able to help you transition. You never know whose spouse, partner, or friend is looking to hire someone with your interests and qualifications, even if only on a part-time basis. I’ve gotten two freelance copy editing projects and a job interview simply by publicizing my process of changing careers.

As I continue narrating my reinvention, I’ll surely be sharing mistakes, questions, might-have-been moments, feelings of ambivalence and being stuck, and so on. My experiences won’t necessarily be universal or relatable, and there’s definitely no one-size-fits-all approach to post-ac. What I most hope is that my successes, failures, experiences, and strategies become learning moments other post-ac job seekers can adapt to their own needs.

Remember: you’re not in this alone. There’s a very strong and enriching we in the growing post-ac community. Lean on and learn from it.

From Academia to Small Business Ownership (Part 1): Making Peace with Capitalism – Horton 1

Margy Horton, introduced last week, runs a successful scholarly writing consulting, coaching, and editing business named ScholarShape.  She’s here to illuminate the transition to small business entrepreneurship, the post-ac route closest to my own heart.  Today, she demystifies the “world outside”:  it’s not as bleak as you think!

by Margy Horton

Margy Horton

Margy Horton

You believe that academic work is your calling and that academic people are your tribe. The thought of leaving behind the socialist utopia that is the University and selling your soul for a bit of filthy lucre makes you want to cry red tears. But unless you’re a woodland creature or the resident of an actual socialist utopia, money is what you use to put a roof over your head and food in your mouth. And getting money by selling your labor on the free market, rather than essentially giving yourself away as an adjunct, is a sound and responsible thing to do—not a sign of moral and professional failure.

First of all, we’re not talking about embezzling elderly people’s retirement savings or forcing undocumented persons into servitude at a sweatshop. We’re talking about providing useful products to people at prices that that they, the people, freely decide are worth paying. Honest, hardworking entrepreneurs provide goods and services that save people time and money and improve their quality of life.

Second of all, being an entrepreneur does not have to mean giving up the work you love. Take me, for instance.  Here’s what made me happy while I worked in academia: Talking with students during office hours and helping them to sort out the ideas they wanted to express in their papers; drinking cups of tea by the dozens while analyzing students’ essays and writing suggestions for improvement; and working long after dark with my dachshund, Herman, snoring softly in my lap. Here’s what makes me happy as the owner of my own writing consultation/editing business: Talking with clients and helping them figure out how to express in writing what their research means; drinking cups of coffee by the dozens while analyzing clients’ work and writing revision suggestions; and working long after dark with my dachshund, Herman, snoring softly in my lap (and my other dachshund, my husband, and my son snoring softly elsewhere).

Perhaps you’re wondering how I got from there to here. How exactly did I leave behind traditional academic work—a move that, to many in academia, is tantamount to abandoning the balmy comfort of the earth’s atmosphere for the terrifying vacuum of outer space? And how, in leaving, did I manage to bring with me all the aspects of academic work that I most loved? If I must answer in one sentence, I’d say that I got here through some combination of forced introspection, NPR podcasts, and self-help books.

My son was born five weeks after my dissertation defense, in the middle of the academic job season. I spent my first few months of motherhood doing little more than nursing my growing baby and thinking about the tenure-track job I was supposed to be pursuing. Every day that went by, academia felt more and more remote from me, and yet I really did miss working with my brain.  Somehow in the midst of those achingly sleep-deprived months, as I listened to hours and hours of NPR podcasts to keep my brain sharp, and as I read self-help books propped up on my son’s breastfeeding pillow, my writing consultation business gradually took shape in my mind. I literally came up with the name of my business, ScholarShape, while changing my son’s diaper. I’m grateful for those months not only because I got to be with my son as he adjusted to life outside the womb, but also because my circumstances forced me, at that crucial moment in my life, to assess what really mattered to me, what I considered worth working for, and which direction I wanted to point my life.

Only gradually did I realize that the world beyond academia is not a dark vacuum at all. It is, in fact, a lot like academia itself: it’s a diverse marketplace of ideas, a bustling world full of people and their problems and solutions. All of the multiplicity, the flexibility, and the uncertainty that I enjoyed in academia are present in equal or greater measure in the outside world. I set out into that world to discover whether entrepreneurship was a viable option for a post-academic like me. What I found was that entrepreneurship is actually the perfect option for a person who wants to fashion a personalized career out of favorite scraps from academia.

In the series of posts to follow, I’ll give you specific suggestions for how to begin the transition out of academia and into small business ownership. You will begin by identifying your own marketable skills, matching these skills to an unmet need in the marketplace, and developing a strategy for building a profitable business that suits you perfectly while also filling a real need for other people. In describing my own experiences, I’ll point out some elements of my story that are generalizable to readers contemplating a similar move from academia to the free market. Finally, I’ll discuss in more detail the varied work of editors and consultants, who sell their intellectual expertise, because this work is a natural fit for many Ph.D.s.

 If you’re not yet done with the Ph.D. and you do plan to finish, your first step will be to figure out how to complete your degree in a timely way. Check out my blog post that lists 101 Tips for Finishing your Ph.D. Quickly. If you’re done with your doctorate or don’t plan to finish, now is the time for some serious reflection on what you have to offer the world. Get to it, you budding capitalist, and we’ll talk again soon.

 

 

Dr. Karen F**ks Up

A constant tension in my work at The Professor Is In is the awkward balance between the free content that I provide on the blog, and the fee-based services I charge money for.  From the start there has been a chorus of detractors who decry the fact that I run a business and make a living from helping job-seekers, the idea being, I think, that I am exploiting their desperation, or taking advantage of an already disadvantaged population.

I know this, and I basically get the position, but I don’t agree with it.  It is OK to pay a consultant to help you master a skill or overcome a challenge, or pay an editor to improve your writing.  In addition to the volumes of free information I gladly provide–which countless readers write to tell me they have used to overhaul their materials, rock the interview, and negotiate offers without paying me a cent — I also offer the Job Seeker Support Fund to allow those who are desperate circumstances to still work with me at extremely reduced rates.  All of my rates are carefully considered to reflect the value of my services in light of the limited financial circumstances of my clientele.  I work hard never to turn anyone away for inability to pay.

Nevertheless, the tension remains, and I try always to be sensitive to it.

Well, yesterday I kind of f**cked up.  It happened in a comment I made to Todd K. Platts’ essay on his failure to find a tenure track job.

A little background.  I’ve never talked about this publicly, but whenever I come across a story in a major venue like the Chronicle or IHE by a job seeker about their struggles on the job market, I contact the writer privately to offer a bit of free help. I do this because I appreciate the courage it takes to come forward with one’s job market disappointments, and I want to extend a hand to help. I call it my “taking one for the team” assistance.  I offer to edit one or two job documents for free with no strings attached.

I’ve always done that privately, but in Todd K. Platt’s case, I decided to do it publicly.  This happened because when I googled his name to find his email address to get in touch, and clicked through to his academia.edu site, I landed on his Teaching Statement for job market applications.  “Oh, look at that,” I thought, and proceeded to read it.  It had some serious problems.  That inspired me to look at his CV, which had much larger problems.  So, instead of quietly proceeding with my email, I decided it would be a good idea to provide this feedback on the comment thread, and offer my help there, publicly, so that readers in general might benefit. In hindsight, especially to this heartfelt and very personal essay:  really, Karen?

I included my name and business name so that he would know who I was and why he might want to follow up with me. I thought my wording made it clear that I was offering the help for free.

Well, not so much.  It looks like I am, in fact, leaping on the desperation of a job seeker to extract profit.  In fact, a couple people castigated me for using someone’s pain and suffering to “shill my wares.”

Looking at the wording, I see why, and wish I’d taken more care.

I know why I didn’t.  It was exasperation. I find it tremendously frustrating that so many unsuccessful job seekers look at their record, and look at their unsuccessful outcome, and complain about the unfairness of it all—-without taking a moment to look at their body of writing that mediates the two:  the application documents themselves.

In my webinar on Grant-Writing yesterday, I told participants “you have your research profile, and you have the grant outcome you’re seeking, but what too many people overlook is the intermediate step, which is the painstaking work you must do to use your writing to articulate the research profile into language that motivates the funder to award you the money.  Too many people think that this writing can be tossed off in a day or two, because the research ‘speaks for itself.’  It doesn’t.”

A grant application or a set of job documents requires hours and hours of painstaking, exhausting, excruciating work.  In the current economy there is no space for slipshod, sloppy, poorly-conceived or executed writing in these documents.  Somehow, though, applicants forget that (and in addition are rarely told or assisted in it by advisors) and believe that all the years of work in their Ph.D. programs will simply automatically translate into the outcomes they desire, with no sustained critical effort on their part to do the translation of it in language the funder/search committee will respect and respond to.

That interim place of translation is what The Professor Is In occupies. It’s the space I love, and the space I’m obsessed with.  I have been since I was still a Ph.D. student leading my very first “job market workshop” for my crew of peers in my graduate program at the University of Hawai’i, after I scored my tenure track job offer.  I’ve been obsessed with this work for 18 years!

Some dismiss this attention to the writing as an anal, OCD preoccupation with meaningless detail.  It isn’t.  The space of translation between the record and the outcome is a space of tremendous creativity and meaning — it is a kind of self-making — and it deserves a deep care and attention.  And so I find myself frustrated when writer after writer complains of unfair outcomes without giving any attention to the quality of their translation work in their application materials.

Of course it goes without saying that the job market in the broadest sense is terribly, patently unfair, in that a whole generation of Ph.D.s has been trained for jobs that no longer exist, and misled about that fact.  But that doesn’t mean that every single outcome is uniformly unfair, or mysterious, or inexplicable, or that every single application outcome is nothing more than a “crap shoot,” in the common idiom of post-academic critique. In fact, there is a correlation between the quality of job documents and the outcome. It is not a perfect correlation, and it is not a correlation that overcomes the basic fact of evaporating tenure track jobs and the wholesale adjunctification of the academy. But it is a correlation nonetheless.

And so, exasperated, I tossed off a comment without my usual care.  And it was a mistake. I do look kind of like a dick (as one commenter put it), and I really regret it.  I followed up with an explanation, but I suppose the damage is done.  I hope this post explains a little bit of how I ended up there, looking exactly like what I work so hard not to.

 

Introducing More #Postac Experts: Margy Horton and Maggie Gover

As I gathered my team of post-ac experts, I wanted someone to represent the experience of entrepreneurship, specifically of a small academic editing business, as that is a very appealing option for many Ph.D.s.  I am so glad to have found Margy Horton, who runs ScholarShape.  Entrepreneurship is the post-ac topic closest to my own heart, and the one that I most want Ph.D.s to grapple with, because it means confronting the deep fear of/contempt for/denial about money that characterizes so many corners of the academy, and make peace with the fact that man is an economic animal, and money is not the enemy.  Margy’s perspective is very close to my own on this issue, and I am excited to have her blogging and sharing her experience of creating her business.

As the post-ac option has gone from being an outre and maligned “Plan B” to an increasingly viable and accepted career path for Ph.D.s., more and more graduate colleges are creating offices and programs dedicated to helping their Ph.D.s make the transition.  Rather than reinventing the wheel here at The Professor Is In, or getting bogged down in Quit Lit confessionals, I wanted to make The Professor Is In a source for the best and most current “actionable” advice, just as it is for the academic job search.  I’m so pleased that we’ll be joined by Dr. Maggie Gover, who is Director for Professional Development at the University of California, Riverside.  She does post-ac advising full-time, and runs a dynamic series of workshops and events dedicated to helping the lucky grad students of UC-Riverside confront the challenges of the non-academic job search.

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Dr. Margy Horton

Margy Horton

Margy Thomas Horton founded ScholarShape, a writing support service, in 2013. Through writing consultation and editing services, she helps scholars, researchers, students, and academics to work efficiently as they produce high-quality theses, dissertations, proposals, and other projects. Although based in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, she works with clients nationwide. Margy’s interest in helping academic writers began while she was a doctoral student at Baylor University, where she served alternately as a writing consultant, professor, and tutor. She taught courses in academic writing and collaborated with administrators to develop support services for Baylor’s graduate student writers. She has also published peer-reviewed articles. She blogs at ScholarShape.com/blog.

Margy’s consulting philosophy:

Margy wants to beat over the head any Ph.D. who thinks his or her only option is to pursue the tenure-track and/or serve in wage slavery as an adjunct. She believes that people who come by their Ph.D.s honestly are, in fact, brilliant at defining problems, locating the information needed to solve problems, and organizing that information into meaningful solutions. In her career consulting, Margy will help you to apply your finely honed problem-solving skills to your current career transition. She’ll help you to take a good look at your own unique mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities; then, she’ll help you to look at the world (dare we call it a “marketplace”?) and determine the unmet needs that only you can fill. She’ll guide you as you develop a specific strategy for turning your doctoral brilliance into a paying profession. She will probably refer you to some of the very resources she used during her own career transition.

[Note: the career consulting that Margy offers under TheProfessorIsIn is distinct from the writing consultation services that she offers through ScholarShape. The latter services are aimed at helping clients with specific academic writing projects. ]

1. From Academia to Small Business Ownership: Take What You Love and Leave What You Don’t
This post will point out the parallels between small business ownership and academic work (creativity, multiplicity, flexibility, uncertainty, and emphasis on problem-solving). I’ll also point out key differences between the two fields, specifically the relationship between cause and effect and the relationship between self and institution. I’ll describe how I crafted a career that enabled me to keep what I loved from academia and leave what I loathed.
2. Discovering Your Inner Capitalist: How to Carve Out a Profitable Niche as a Post-ac Small Business Owner
 
In this post, I’ll describe how I identified my marketable skills (expertise in academic writing, among other things), matched these skills to an unmet need in the marketplace, and developed a specific strategy for building a profitable business that suits me perfectly while also filling a real need for other people. As I tell my story, I’ll point out what is generalizable to other post-academics so that readers can easily glean practical insights.
 
3. Become an Editor or Consultant: Excavate Your Expertise, Then Sell It
By the time they earn their Ph.D.s, academics have so much more knowledge stuffed inside their heads than many of them realize. In this post, I’ll guide readers through the process of identifying the unique mix of expertise, skills, talents, and personality characteristics that they can sell by working as editors or consultants. I’ll touch on various forms of editorial and consulting work; readers may be surprised to discover just how many forms of editing and consulting are available to them. I’ll also describe my own recursive process of “excavating my expertise” (discovering, defining, and packaging it), and selling my expertise. In my work as an editor/consultant, I’ve found this to be a continuous process as I respond to clients’ needs and learn more about entrepreneurship, academia, and everything in between.

Dr. Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover serves as the Director for Professional Development at the University of California, Riverside.  Her career is dedicated to helping students successfully complete their graduate degrees and then transition into successful professional lives.  As such, she has quite a bit of experience helping students identify industries in which they may be successful and describing their graduate careers in ways that might be attractive to those industries.

While she is most knowledgeable in alternative academic jobs, she has helped students transition into private industry, government, and non-profit jobs as well.  Maggie’s service to students began when she was an undergraduate at the University of Southern California where she served as an intern in the Office of Admissions.  While she was completing her Master’s degree at the University of Oxford she served as a Junior Dean at St. Hilda’s College.  When she was a PhD candidate at UCR she was the Coordinator for Academic Preparation and Outreach and then the Graduate Student Mentorship Program Coordinator. While she is now primarily an administrator, she is still researching and publishing in theories of new media and 19th C visual sciences.  Get in touch with Maggie at maggie.gover@ucr.edu

Maggie’s Consulting Philosophy:
I am a strong supporter of graduate education and think that society benefits from having those incredibly creative and analytic minds in diverse industries.  I want to help students find careers that are satisfying to them and in which they will excel.  Remember that no career search is easy!  It will take hard work, knowledge, dedication, and perseverance.  However, the great joy of working with graduate students is that they have dedication and perseverance in spades!  You bring that to the table, and I can help with the knowledge.
Examples of blog posts:
Networking
Translating a CV into a Resume
Realities of the Non-Academic Job Search
Diversifying Your Resume (while still a graduate student)
Deciphering Job Postings
The Industry and Alternative Academic Cover Letter

How I Became a Corporate Shill and Other Ruminations – Polizzi 2

by Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

Lets cut to the chase, shall we? I became a corporate sellout because I am a big fat chicken. There. I said it. I saw the job market, my looming credit card debt on top of my growing mound of students loans, the piles of papers to grade for students who would phone it in and complain about how busy they were over the weekend skiing. I saw a future of writing papers, and trying to get tenure, and I was terrified.

I remember the first time I walked past the room of interviews at an MLA conference and being stopped cold.  Getting into grad school had been hard enough. Many departments only took a handful of doctoral students, so I had ended up having to move far away from home to attend. I was fortunate enough to get a teaching spot, as well, and felt pretty lucky. Until I saw that room and the sea of applicants, all of them looking smarter and more qualified than I was, who were visiting from well known schools instead of my small one. There were so many if them and just one of me.

Fear can be a great motivator, especially when sprinkled with a bit of laziness and impatience. I share this with you because we don’t know each other well, and as I begin to share some of my advice with you I want there to be no illusions. I do not have all of the answers. I made many mistakes. What is right for me may not be right for you. All I can hope is that, if you share some of my experiences, insecurities or quirks, you will find my opinions helpful.

I also have to respect the other bloggers who will be participating in this discussion (& my very dear friends who I love very much) who have chosen other paths. I do not judge them in their choices. Rather, I respect their tenacity, their commitment, and, ultimately, what appears to me to be fearlessness.

With that, here are the top 5 reasons I have chosen a business career path.

1. The thought of not having health insurance terrifies me.

When I mentioned to a friend of mine who is a writing center director that I was talking to all of these folks who were working as consultants, she said “but what about health insurance?” This not only confirmed why I am friends with her but validated my own concerns. When leaving academia, I knew I needed to land in a place that had benefits. And I was lucky enough that the first few jobs I had even had GOOD benefits. It cost me $50 to have my babies. I never thought twice about buying medicine or going to the dentist. This was a huge comfort to me.

Karen says, when we talked about this, that it’s quite possible to have insurance when self-employed (especially now, post-Obamacare).  I just worry too much that my consulting gigs would dry up right when someone got an ingrown toenail (or worse)– Side note, my husband did not have insurance when he was putting me through school and had an ingrown toenail. It was not cheap–Some people can get insurance through a partner, which is great. For me, who had a stay-at-home dad and 2 kids to support, this was not an option.

2. I get bored very, very easily.

A lot of folks move from teaching to administration in their careers. My aforementioned friend did this. I think this is great, except for after the 6th month of doing it. Since leaving academia, I have learned that I do not like doing the same thing over and over again. I was starting to pick up on that the third time I had to teach literature. I would dread cracking open the book, let alone discussing it in class. Some people like reading and talking about the same stories over and over again. I would rather have a root canal (which I can pay for with my aforementioned benefits).

In a corporate environment, if you are so inclined, you can change roles very often. I rarely stay in the same position more than 18-24 months. Just when I have gotten the rhythm of things, when I get that same feeling as I did teaching Beowulf, I am off to the next thing. At Intuit, I was able to continuously grow and evolve my role and the teams I managed, changing scope regularly. That’s why I was there more than 7 years. It was interesting work, I was constantly learning and growing, and I felt challenged.

The other thing I like about the area I have specialized in (which is corporate training) is that it is industry agnostic. I have had the chance to to not just learn about new businesses and cultures but to understand different industries from the inside out. I find it fascinating to learn about things like how Intuit developed Turbotax or what a food innovation team does. Of course, I read magazines like Fast Company and Inc. I am that kind of nerd.

3. I am a social butterfly who likes to laugh A LOT.

Teaching college was lonely, especially when I wasn’t taking classes. When I no longer had buddies to hangout with but just students, I was restless and unhappy. I actually created a norming group so we could hangout and talk about stuff.

So when I started working in a corporate space, I loved stupid stuff like “team building.” This actually became the thing I did. I was a change management leader, helping people learn about changes, understand how it would impact them, and learn about what they would do differently in the future. One of the best times I ever had was being on a project team where we were locked in a room together to test a system for weeks on end. We laughed, we shared snacks, we had a blast. It was like going to a party every day (one where you are testing a system for placing purchase orders and managing warehouses, but a party none the less).

4. I like things that keep going.

After insurance fears, the thought of a consulting gig ending is also pretty unnerving to me. For the most part, whatever job I have today has existed as long as I wanted it to (or at least until I got bored of it). I didn’t have the looming chasm of a project ending. I had an ongoing position that would/could grow into a career. There were always options for me. A job search is hard work, and as long as I am satisfied with the role I have, feeling like I am adding value, and learning, there is no reason to do anything else.

5. I like not having to worry about money and am horrible at managing it.

The biggest thing that I struggle with is folks who leave academia just to take a different job that pays very little. I also can’t wrap my head around not having a steady paycheck between consulting gigs.  Also, see #4.

(Bonus— 6. I like to feel like I am making a difference)

When I taught writing, especially remedial writing, I felt like I was helping improve the lives of my students by helping them find their voice and giving them the power of the written word. What I did not appreciate were the students who would tell me they did not need to learn how to write and who could not connect what they were learning today to a future state in which they would need it. This is why I love what I do now. I can actually see the students I influence apply what they learn the next day. Sometimes, the skills they build are as minute as teaching them which buttons to push, but other times, they are learning how to communicate, to lead, to influence and make an impact. These are skills they will take with them and be better as a result of learning. So, in my own way, I feel I am making a difference in the world. And, beyond the fear, this is my ultimate motivation.

What is “Research” Beyond Academia? – Jackson #2

In the post-ac transition, academics have to jettison the habits of speech and thought that work in an academic setting, and replace them with habits appropriate to a business or professional setting.  Usually, this means–work faster, talk less.  Sarita Jackson demonstrates. Echoing Stephanie Day’s post on mobilizing her academic skills and competencies in the business world, going post-ac doesn’t have to mean an end to your research life. It does require you to change how you talk about your research, and the pace at which you do it.

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by Sarita Jackson

Sarita Jackson

Sarita Jackson

April 29, 2005 is a day that I remember vividly.  My stomach was tied in knots. Any suggestion to relax or break a smile was like asking me to complete an algebra problem on the spot. That was the day of my dissertation defense. Several questions swirled around in my head. What would become of my five years of graduate school where I was trained on how to conduct and explain my research? Would I be able to adequately show that my conclusions after years of interviews and data analyses are valid? Thank goodness the dissertation defense went well.

Nevertheless, another challenge still remained. Around the same time, I was offered a position as a trade policy consultant, a profession in which I did not have prior experience. However, the position would still allow me to apply my academic research. What does research mean for consultants?

Research has a different focus in a non-academic environment such as consulting. As a political scientist, research means to build upon existing theoretical knowledge. As a consultant, research means solving real world problems.

For example, my current research in the area of international trade approaches the Who cares? question differently depending on the context. Who cares?

As an academic, I would respond in this manner. My work challenges existing economic models arguing that: 1) importers behave rationally and 2) the market determines an exporting industry’s ability to compete in the global market. Rather, I use an alternative model–path dependency—to explain the behavior of importers in specific markets that give the exporting industry a competitive edge in that specific market.

If international political economy is not your area, I am sure the only response would be another profound question: Huh?!?

My response as a trade policy consultant would emphasize tangible, measurable results rather than the theoretical implications. Let me try again. My research findings provide business owners with the tools that they need to increase their bottom line in the global market by taking advantage of free trade agreements (FTAs).

The person listening to or reading the second response would immediately know who benefits, business owners; how that group benefits, an increased bottom line; and the solution to attaining those benefits, taking advantage of FTAs. My message is tweaked depending on the audience, which may include government officials seeking to grow their economies or policymakers devising relevant legislation.

Notice that this information is provided in one sentence instead of a laundry list of words and technical language that has meaning mainly for the academic.

In addition, the process of research varies. As academic researchers, we are trained to know and comprehend current literature, identify a problem (theoretical or methodological), test existing theories, and either refute or complement those theories. This takes years.

On the other hand, as a consultant, that time is cut down to as little as three weeks. In my consulting experience following graduate school, the process entailed interviewing numerous public and private sector officials, identifying the problem(s) on the ground, applying a select theory, looking at the success of that theory in other comparable cases, using that theory as a solution to the problem, drafting a report with a series of recommendations and assisting with the actual implementation of those recommendations. Often times, the select theory, one that I was very familiar with and evaluate in my own work, was already established beforehand. In other words, my recommendations were not based on years of individual research. Going back to my first point, the emphasis is on the tangible, measurable results rather than just the theory itself.

By understanding the different goals and processes of research in alternative settings, you can better explain your research in ways that are clear, concise and resonates with your audience.

The next step is to actually craft your message. Nine years after graduate school, I even continue to craft my message in my current role as founder of a think tank/consulting firm to reach a business and government audience. My next post will be on that.

More on Negotiating–Thoughts from an R1 Department Head

Discussion of negotiating the tenure track offer continues apace.  Last week I was included in an email exchange between Rebecca Schuman and Mike Tarr, Department Head of the Psychology department at Carnegie Mellon University.  Mike got in touch with Rebecca to comment on the now infamous failed negotiation and rescinded offer that that Schuman discusses here (and that I discuss here, and commenters at Chronicle Vitae weigh in on here.)  I asked if I could share his thoughts on my blog, and he kindly agreed to have these posted and attributed to him.  As he says, “I am happy to have them attributed. If someone is going to say something, they should be able to say it on record!”

Mike’s perspective is valuable because it represents the side of administration–they’re not out to get you, but at the same time, they have various constraints, financial and otherwise, and they may be balancing a faction of the department that wasn’t necessarily your biggest fan base.  You, the candidate, just don’t have all the information.  So err on the side of caution. If you attended my free Negotiating webinar two weeks ago, you might recall that I gave a brief summary of how I approach the pace and tone of the negotiation process, and added, “and this is a relatively conservative approach.”  I take a conservative approach because I am always trying to help my clients balance BOTH the aim to get as much as they can with the goal of retaining warm, collegial feelings with the department.  Mike’s comments show why a department head who may really like and support you may still not be able to give you everything you want.

A last note–As you’ll see, Mike advocates working by phone.  Many people do.  I don’t, for the reasons that I articulate here in my Vitae post on negotiating.  I’ve learned that the people who recommend the phone feel as strongly about their position as I do about mine. We’ll have to agree to disagree. I do not feel the phone is a safe or effective option for an inexperienced candidate who has no idea what the normal scope of tenure track negotiations can or should entail, and who should instead make sure she has the opportunity to run everything by trusted advisors before responding.

Anyway, aside from that quibble, Mike’s advice has that ring of hard truth that comes from decades laboring in the academic trenches. I am happy to share it.

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As an admin at a research university and having 20+ years of experience, I would felt I would make a few comments – one intended for any faculty in the process of looking for jobs/negotiating.

1. Withdrawing an offer is pretty shocking and poor form. In the same spirit that one might ask for things, not expecting to get them, the appropriate response from the administration would seem to be “Sorry, we can’t do any of that, but think we made a fair offer and remain enthusiastic about your joining our faculty.” One should be able to “lean in” without getting shoved over. At the same time, I would put maternity leave request in a different class than the other asks. Unless the pre-tenure sabbatical is an official policy it falls in the same “discretionary” category as the other asks, but maternity leave doesn’t. A candidate should always be able to ask about maternity leave without it having any impact on their hiring/promotion decisions. Indeed, any response to the contrary seems actionable.

2. As for whether “leaning in” is always the best negotiating tactic, I would like to caution candidates. Not that they shouldn’t try to maximize their offer(s). But practically speaking they need to know their audience. Email is very poor medium for communicating the nuances of one’s requests and the subtle responses of the administrator. Imagine had this candidate done this by phone. She might have said, “I am very enthusiastic, but I wanted to see if you had any flexibility on a few issues.” She should have ranked her issues by her personal priority and then started with the number one item. She could have said, “of most concern to me is x, is there any way we could do y?” Then she can gauge the administrator’s response. If they respond in the form “We don’t do that, we are a teaching college, I think the offer is fair,” she can back off and realize that this isn’t going anywhere and make her decision based on what is on the table. Or bring up something relatively painless, like number of course preps. But she can at least read the winds.

This might not be fair to the candidate but the fact is that there is an asymmetry of power (unless the candidate is highly sought after). In cases of such asymmetries, one needs to tread carefully – not because it is fair or just or right, but because you want something and you need to maximize your chances of getting what you want. For better or for worse, being savvy on these issues is part of success in academia.

The best administrators should understand this and be working with the candidate, but this is, sadly, often not the case. I would also add that there is no question that it is often the case that female candidates are disadvantaged relative to male candidates. It is another sad fact of both academia and society. But that makes it even more the case that a female candidate needs to gauge her administrative “audience”. Again, not fair, but a fact if one is to maximize their offer.

3. I would also add that candidates should realize that administrators are often trying to do the best for the candidate. Candidates sometimes think of universities as large, wealthy entities – which they are at some macro level – but candidates don’t always understand that at the local level there are a wide variety of real constraints. Space in a department may be at a premium. The amount budgeted for the position may be locked down by the dean. There may be rules that apply across the faculty regarding leaves, number of courses taught, etc. There may be internal salary equity issues. I think it is good rule of thumb to assume the administrator one is dealing with is trying their best. They may not be, but starting assuming an adversarial stance is never good.

Anyway, food for thought.

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Follow-up:

I would add one more thing. Although candidates may think that a department is very enthusiastic about offering them a job, that isn’t always the case. Many times departments are split or unanimously ambiguous. So sometimes perceived negatives in the next phase may be a tipping point towards a department or administrator changing their mind. So:
1. Be happy you got the job offer.
2. Don’t assume they really really want you.
3. Behave in ways that will make them want you more.
Finally, I would also raise the issue that more and more candidates use suboptimal jobs – from their perspective – as jumping off points (or the minor leagues if you will) for a more attractive job. While that is all well and fine it does ignore the financial and resource commitment made by the institution. So administrators may be leery about offering a candidate a job if they believe the candidate really has their sights set on something bigger and better in a year or two. Universities and departments have limited resources, so if a person leaves a position after a year or two there are real costs. The faculty line may disappear, the startup funds are spent, etc.
I actually think that it might not be so bad and lead to better initial offers if universities could hire as do sports teams – a locked in 5-7 year contract whereby the candidate cannot leave their position for another academic position unless they are released from their contract. Although this would disadvantage some people, it really might increase the quality of offers, plus it would make candidates give pause about committing to a position that they really don’t intend to stay in for the long haul.
Best, Mike Tarr

I Made Myself Indispensable – Day 2

Every piece of post-ac advice pretty much tells you to focus on the skills you need to transition to a non-academic job—both polishing and promoting those you already have, and gaining new ones that might not have been part of your graduate training. But what are those skills, and how do you acquire them?   Sometimes you have to start at the bottom, which is hard—but Stephanie’s story shows how starting at the bottom doesn’t mean staying at the bottom (and sometimes strategically mobilizing the academic credentials that you do have can be an effective way to gain authority in the new setting).

by Stephanie Day

Stephanie Day

Stephanie Day

After graduating with my Master’s degree in Anthropology, I moved in with my parents, and, determined to fill my time and get the all-important work experience, I took on an un-paid grant-writing internship, volunteered with several non-profits, and marketed my private tutoring services to pay my bills. I also spent time studying private-sector skills and re-crafted my CV into a serviceable resume.   Eventually, a temp service sent me out to work for a start-up ed-tech company doing basic data entry.

The job was painfully dull, required no high school diploma, and paid just above minimum wage– but it was full-time so while it was not enough to get me out of my parents’ house, it did buy me some time while I decided whether or not to bite the bullet and get a Ph.D. after all (which at the time still felt like my only other option).

What I found was that my boring 9-5 work was quite easy and undemanding.  I had time to ask questions, learn the industry, join in on lunchroom conversation with my higher-paid colleagues, sit-in on meetings I otherwise would not have been invited to. In other words, I became what I had been trained to be – a participant-observer.  While my Master’s degree in anthropology did not turn any heads in a world of developers, designers and MBAs, it turns out that being a good listener, showing genuine curiosity, and demonstrating an ability and connect complex ideas DID make me more interesting to my colleagues. They gave me special projects, introduced me to different people, and asked more of my time. I delivered, and in return asked for an increase in pay, while still under a temporary contract.

While I was becoming more interesting to my colleagues, my work was becoming more interesting to me.  I learned that rather than being driven solely by the bottom line, there are many, many passionate people working in the private sector who, like my academic friends, hoped to make a difference through their work.  It even seemed possible that the better-funded, quicker moving, more innovative and for-profit high-tech industry may be more capable of implementing change than the non-profit and academic jobs I had coveted.

About six months after I started temping, the company hired a new director who would become my future-boss. He asked to meet with me on his second day on the job. I had hoped he would want to interview me but in fact he just needed my help. He had already met with many people across the company and while he had received plenty of information, coming from outside the education industry he still did not have a clear understanding of the purpose our technology solutions served.  I grabbed a dry-erase marker and a white board and through a series of arrows, circles and squiggles, I walked him through each of our products, describing its purpose, the stakeholders and its role in the overall mission of the company.

None of the information I shared was my own original thought, but I had collected it, consolidated it, understood it and translated it in a way that was very natural for me as an anthropologist, yet ground-breaking for him. He offered me a job the following week on his newly-formed Pre-Sales team, a customer-facing group bridging the gap between sales and marketing. While my starting pay would be only a modest increase, he allowed me to write my own job description – which as it turns out is gold for a social scientist in the private sector.

Knowing that the company would have little idea how my education could apply to my work, I took the opportunity to write myself into a job that differentiated me. I included duties that I knew were needed – ranging from the technical to the administrative – but also included 1-2 bullet points that I knew I could align with anthropology. Perhaps for my own consolation, I included “Master’s degree” as the educational requirement for the position.

Over the next year I performed all of my duties and anything else asked of me. I gained tremendous technical skill and industry knowledge and earned the trust and respect of my other team members (all of whom dwarfed me in age and experience by 15+ years).

Rather than downplay my education as inconsequential, I talked frequently about my degrees and continued to read and share books combining social sciences and technology. I gave an original presentation on ethnographic sales methods to sales people, and spoke with undergraduates at my alma mater about what to do with their social science degrees. I spoke to anyone who would listen, practicing and perfecting how I conveyed the value of my degree to others. Knowing that a native understanding would require me to get into the “field”, I asked for and was granted permission to accompany account managers on their trips across the country to speak with potential customers about their problems, goals and needs, and delivered their insights back to the sales force in digestible, actionable ways.

Armed with new confidence, I requested and received a promotion after our small start-up was acquired by an educational giant.   Sure of my value but unsure of where to place me, my company once again allowed me heavy involvement in outlining my new role. In addition to a significant raise, I included responsibilities even more in line with what I was now referring to as “corporate anthropology”.  Three years later, my formal title is “Education Sales Strategy Consultant”, but most on my team know me as the resident anthropologist. My job today is not one I imagined while surfing Monsters.com on my mother’s couch, but it is one I know I do exceptionally well and continues to provide me with an interesting and challenging intellectual environment.

It still stings a bit to make my monthly payment to my student loans, but not nearly as much as before.  I hope to someday do “real” anthropology – but my definition of real anthropology has changed dramatically. I no longer envision working for a university, conducting highly-specialized research in remote corners of the world and writing articles that only my peers will read. Rather, I’d like to do Anthropology at Large – teaching new industries what my discipline has to offer about the highly ritualistic uses of technology, the cultural barriers to change and the value of shared memory and organizational narratives… and helping translate these lessons into real, organizational results.

 

The Career Counselor Is In – Cardozo 3

Strong stuff: Cardozo writes, “For many if not most, being an adjunct is the professional equivalent of domestic abuse, PTSD and Stockholm syndrome rolled into a single despairing plight that has only one feasible resolution: as with any dysfunctional relationship, at some point you must first DECIDE to go, then GO.  The terrible thing is that we lack the professional equivalent of transition shelters.  However, The Professor is providing one kind of safe space with the Alt/Post-Ac Initiative, and I mention others below. ”

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by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

I began my visit to The Professor’s virtual office with a post on the problems of tenurecentrism, followed by musings on freeing the academic elephant from its limited range of motion.  Here I recount my own journey off, on, and all around The Track in hopes it might generate some transferable insights.

Not everything begins with a strategic plan; being open to what the universe sends is another option (read: you can thrive despite being clueless and indecisive). My first job after getting my B.A. in English from Haverford College was in the Harvard Office of Career Services—an administrative assistant position landed by filling out a generic application at the U’s HR department. I soon learned the ropes of counseling Arts and Sciences under/grads interested in a range of professions, a hilarious irony considering I had never had a fulltime job before, let alone a career.  But I loved that generalist work and was promoted in a few years to an actual counseling position.  This encouragement, along with constant exposure to other kinds of employers, only reinforced my sense that I belonged in higher education.

So I then obtained my M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration, Planning and Policy at Harvard and went on to hold multiple dean’s roles in academic and student affairs at Mount Holyoke College before completing my Ph.D. in English/American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2005. Pursuing my Ph.D. was the most downwardly-mobile decision I have ever made.  I have no doubt that, had I not embarked on the doctoral path, I’d still be a dean somewhere with a more advanced title and exponentially higher salary.  But I have no real regrets since it engendered diverse experiences that now leave me feeling pregnant with possibility.

Speaking of being pregnant, I got on the PhD track not only out of intellectual interest but also because my dean’s job didn’t comport well with infant parenting (it required carrying a beeper and working on site many evenings and weekends, and my partner had an all-consuming legal job).  Although counter-intuitive, having kids in grad school may be the “best” time to have them, considering the terrifying alternative of raising young kids while on the job market/tenure track.  The paradox of modern parenting (one of few major vocations that can still be practiced without a license) and the academy’s perennial “baby penalty” are huge topics in themselves, as suggested by Mary Ann Mason and an abundance of other literature (e.g. Mothers in Academia or Mama PhD book and blog ).  The larger problem, of course, is the normalization of a medieval model of being “married to the institution”: an ethos of overwork, insufficient boundaries, and narrow notions of “excellence” and “productivity” that advantages the subset that complies most fully while leaving those with different values and significant personal or civic responsibilities (not just mothers) at a distinct disadvantage.

As a doctoral student-parent with prior work experience, however, I was saved from the worst of disciplinary indoctrination.  I always knew there were other lives, other options.  Not only did having kids connect me to the wider community in different ways, but professionally I had already consorted with administrators and others who weren’t faculty, i.e. “Those of Whom We Do Not Speak” (cf. Night Shyalaman’s The Village, a great allegory for escaping any ideological enclosure).

Many of us are prevented by disciplinary myopia from seeing alternatives in our larger environments.  Do you have a genuine interest in career exploration or do you feel about the faculty role as you might about a soul mate – that there is only one profession for you, for better or worse till death do you part?  As Miya Tokumitsu has brilliantly noted, academics are fairly crippled by an overwhelming sense of vocation, making us ripe for the exploitation we are experiencing en masse.  Combined with the hair shirt of academic discipline and attendant loss of self-esteem, it becomes nigh impossible to understand:  you can be happy in other jobs.  There are other contexts where one teaches, writes, researches, or works with young people; there also jobs where you might enjoy doing none of these things!  Someone else will love you.  More precisely, someone will love you, elsewhere.

I spent a decade floating around the Five College Consortium of Western Massachusetts as a “visiting” professor due to the two-body problem that circumscribed where I could apply (my partner is a partner in a small law firm – a hard-won situation difficult to replicate across state lines). Most of my contracts were decent fulltime and multi-year gigs with benefits, not per course adjunct arrangements.  That is as good as it gets, but still temporary. Eventually I tired of being a perpetual applicant.

Here’s the thing, adjuncts:  your chances of “converting” to a secure academic job decrease with every semester—they almost NEVER hire the devil they know.  As a woman of color (diversity hire potential!) with exceptional teaching evaluations on five elite campuses, respectable publications, prior administrative experience, an admiring network of students and colleagues as well as a proven commitment to the geographic area, I had the tantalizing delusion that I would be an exception to this grim rule. NOPE.  Way later than I should have, I decided to seek work that promised advancement or at least a longer shelf life.  If you need stronger medicine here, try Rebecca Schuman’s Thesis Hatement.

For many if not most, being an adjunct is the professional equivalent of domestic abuse, PTSD and Stockholm syndrome rolled into a single despairing plight that has only one feasible resolution: as with any dysfunctional relationship, at some point you must first DECIDE to go, then GO.  The terrible thing is that we lack the professional equivalent of transition shelters.  However, The Professor is providing one kind of safe space with the Alt/Post-Ac Initiative, and I mention others below.

I was better treated than most working off the tenure track and had a safety net in my partner; I know that I cannot imagine the worst of what some of my adjunct colleagues are experiencing. Yet anyone who is untenured (including TT faculty) ultimately confronts the same dynamic:  at some point we have to decide whether our circumstances are worth hanging on to, or else pursue a change.  To achieve the latter, we cannot identify as helpless victims, engage in crippling rationalizations, or indulge in wishful thinking. You can’t control what others do, but you CAN decide what YOU will do.

In 2012, I decided to end my role as a faculty “Kelly girl” and went on a broader Alt/Post-Ac search. That was a nerve-wracking but hopeful time with plenty of ups, downs, and interesting nibbles.  Networking (more on that in a future post) and applying for a wide range of jobs was a laboratory on how to (re)present myself.  I learned to fashion strikingly different versions of a cover letter and resume, all of which drew selectively from my background in accordance with new position requirements but still made sense on their own terms (more on this “Art of Translation” in a future post).  Ultimately, I took a job as Director of a new Career Discovery Program at Williams College.

Once again, I discovered that I. LOVE. CAREER. COUNSELING.  It felt great to use my emotional intelligence freely, to teach without grading, and to “punch out” so a weekend was … a weekend! Ironically, while I joked to students (by way of alerting them to the uncertainties of the academic market) that I had come full circle and returned to the job I held when I was 24, this new role actually threw the value of my academic training into full relief, since 1) as an interdisciplinary thinker and researcher, I could engage credibly with people from a wide range of fields, 2) career counseling is advising and teaching by other means and 3) it enabled a key “bridging” function that allowed me to evaluate the core academic mission from the vantage point of student exit.

Essentially, career counseling invites backwards design; it asks us to evaluate a college education by considering what graduates go on to do and become, as well as what the world needs now (FYI, it’s still love, sweet love).  The tired dichotomy between liberal and vocational education is not only false but unproductive:  we need to talk about applied liberal learning.  Surprisingly, then, I found real intellectual challenge in college career counseling (even if the field itself doesn’t always elicit such conversations).

Similarly, thinking about the full range of careers for PhDs gives us a very different view of the doctoral mission, as suggested by the Woodrow Wilson and Carnegie foundations or The Versatile PhD (press your institution or scholarly association into membership – there are no individual subscriptions). These sites remind you, as I did in “Demystifying the Dissertation,” that your career angst is NOT an individual problem but an institutionally and socially constructed one. Unfortunately, most doctoral faculty members have worked primarily in academe, so they are not well-situated to advise students on a range of career options, or even on academic missions and cultures beyond their own R1 environments.

In any case, my return to career counseling was “Alt-Ac” in the best sense of work that was varied, stimulating and made good use of my academic training even though a Ph.D. was not required – an important reminder that you may need to move “over or down” in order to move out and (hopefully, eventually) up.  While you may not have an alternative career field to return to as I did, I assure you that the skills you’ve gained from academic training ARE highly transferable, not only within Higher Ed but to myriad outside organizations that will value your capacity to think, research, write, and/or teach. There are also jobs that look nothing like academic life, but which may nonetheless be a great fit (your capacity for making a more radical transition depends on your willingness to discover or claim new aspects that academic work may have suppressed). Either way, to convince others of your fit for Alt/Post-Ac work, you first have to believe it yourself.  We’ll talk about how to stoke the fires of that belief next time.

There’s an unexpected twist to my story that may offer strange hope to any academic debating (cue up the Clash): should I stay or should I go?  Just months in to my new career counseling job, I saw an unusual tenure-track job listing in Interdisciplinary Studies, with responsibility to also coordinate the Women’s and Leadership Studies minors, at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA)—one of few public SLACS in the country.  Had the institutional culture at Williams seemed more embracing of change, I might have envisioned a future there.  But since I was unsure whether the Career Center and College would transform as I hoped, I threw in for the position at MCLA, a more humble yet evolving institution.

Gentle reader, eight years after getting my PhD and a few years after I had stopped applying for TT jobs, I got on The Track for the first time at the tender age of 48 (confirming academe as the true location of the Fountain of Youth –where professors can be “Assistants” at any age, even permanently!).  Because MCLA is committed to experiential learning, my career counseling background was seen as value added rather than as evidence that I wasn’t scholarly enough. In addition, Interdisciplinary Studies promised a capacious home for my diverse teaching and scholarly engagements (21 discrete course preps thus far).  So, a la The Sopranos, “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!”  I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this.  Did I get scared, and veer from my true North Star just because my trainer tugged my chain again, or might this actually be the long-sought professional home that can make room for my varied interests, including career counseling and being a singer-songwriter?  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, what can I tell you?  I applied for exactly one tenure track job last year and I got it.  I’m batting a thousand!  Seriously, I’m not suggesting that my situation is replicable or that you should put all your eggs in one basket.  Rather, I’m saying that you might need to ditch the basket.  That’s what I did, never imagining that my exit off the track would lead to an on-ramp back.  Like my unplanned start in career counseling, it’s a reminder that we don’t control the universe – all we CAN control is the decision to put ourselves out there, and to respond when opportunity knocks.

If my story is helpful, it won’t be because my path is representative, but because it speaks to the value of setting new possibilities in motion by making an affirmative decision to quit, which as The Professor assures us, is always OK.  If you are in adjunct hell or any another soul-crushing academic situation, success is defined as any job that effectively relocates you. Don’t put unrealistic pressure on yourself by waiting for a perfect match (as in love, rebound relationships are par for the course).  Just know that breaking free is the first step in a journey of a thousand unpredictable but potentially wondrous miles.

In my case, there’s been another benefit.  My faculty career already died (or so I thought), so I don’t operate from the fearful outlook that being on the tenure track engenders in many.  I don’t feel like a hapless damsel trussed to The Track (hence my decision to blog under my own name).  It’s not that I’m immune to professional worry, but when such moments arise I remind myself that I left the faculty once before and can do so again.  They can’t kill you twice.

While my pre-doctoral path may have made me less vulnerable to the stultifying resignation engendered by disciplinary socialization, you can still deploy your inherent brute strength to free yourself from the academic stake that tethers you in place.  As discussed in my last post, change begins in the mind.  What new possibilities will you begin to imagine today?