Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog

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

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MORE ABOUT THE BOOK

The definitive career guide for grad students, adjuncts, post-docs and anyone else eager to get tenure or turn their Ph.D.  into their ideal job.

Karen Kelsky has made it her mission to help readers join the select few who get the most out of their Ph.D. As a former tenured professor and department head who oversaw numerous academic job searches, she knows from experience exactly what gets an academic applicant a job. And as the creator of the popular and widely respected advice site The Professor is In, she has helped countless Ph.D.’s turn themselves into stronger applicants and land their dream careers.

Now, for the first time ever, Karen has poured all her best advice into a single handy guide that addresses the most important issues facing any Ph.D., including:

-When, where, and what to publish
-Writing a foolproof grant application
-Cultivating references and crafting the perfect CV
-Acing the job talk and campus interview
-Avoiding the adjunct trap
-Making the leap to nonacademic work, when the time is right

The Professor Is In addresses all of these issues, and many more.

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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ABOUT THE BLOG

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 posts on the Post-Ac/Non-Ac job search by my Panel of Post-Ac Experts, on Monday or 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




Rethinking Rejection – by Karen Cardozo

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

A recent Chronicle article on how to survive rejection linked to a blog post urging writers to aim for 100 rejections a year.  How (existentially) low can you go?!  This method of throwing literary spaghetti at the wall is par for the course in a saturated creative writing market.  Such blind persistence makes some sense, given that history is rife with examples of early rejection letters to famous talents. Likewise, stories abound in the music industry of bands rejected by a major label only to make it big in the end. So if you are an artist, by all means: believe in yourself, and never give up!

However, the analogy between academe and the arts breaks down right quick. You are unlikely to have an independent fan base to correct an academic hiring committee’s decision. Moreover, there is a limited window through which you may clamber into a tenure track compartment — if you miss it, it’s not likely we’ll be reading about you decades hence as the Nobel laureate whom Harvard famously rejected.  There’ll be no Pretty Woman comeuppance where you return triumphantly to Hahvahd Yahd and proclaim that they made a “big mistake, HUGE!”

Like creative writers, academics are encouraged to apply to as many institutions as possible. But the new Plan A of authentic career development demands the opposite:  mount fewer, more targeted, applications to those organizations with which you feel best aligned.  Even in this time of job scarcity, you should evaluate institutional mission, geographic preference and particular job configurations, applying only to those that resonate and blowing off any others for which you’d have to twist your profile (or your lifestyle) into knots.  In academe, as in all sectors, it still comes down to a sense of fit:  basic qualifications being met, organizations want to know you have good reasons for prioritizing them (sadly, your need for a paycheck is not their primary concern).  Perhaps counterintuitively in our age of panic and scarcity, you are better served by supplementing fewer, well-chosen academic applications with pursuit of well-fitting opportunities in other sectors.

In today’s working world, merely increasing the number of applications doesn’t yield more offers.  Why?  Because outside of academe, most hiring does not go through a protracted search process involving job listings posted far in advance.  Rather, prospective candidates tend to be funneled through networking. Employers want to hire someone they already know, or who is recommended by someone they trust.  Downloading a stranger’s application from JobsRUs.com is not the preferred route. This means you will have to engage outside of your library carrel to become known to other employers and their networks.

But here again, no need to just throw spaghetti at the wall or aim for 100 rejections!  Choose your networking, social, volunteer and other activities from genuine affinity whenever possible. Under Trump, the next 4 years will be awash in new opportunities for activists to connect in a truly passionate, mission-driven way. From these authentic engagements, job offers or even new ventures may arise because you will be in the right place at the right time.  Best of all, it will be YOUR place and time—in the sense of being an obvious and organic fit for the situation.

This brings to mind a recent client who got me thinking about the need to rethink rejection. In my three years with TPII, I’ve reviewed the materials of hundreds of applicants from across the disciplines.  Most, if not all, have the chops to succeed in academe. Indeed, it is downright painful to witness in their CVs what Marc Bousquet has called the “waste product” of an academic system now built around contingent labor (required reading: How the University Works).  They have won awards, published, and proven their capacity for exemplary teaching and service – to no avail when it comes to landing a tenure track job.

Even so, this particular client impressed me more than most. I was struck by the elegant concision of her teaching and research statements, her weighty CV, and the compelling voice in her cover letters.  Over the last 5 years, she has garnered several interviews (some at elite institutions) but no job offers. She was feeling defeated, but still not quite ready to embrace “Plan B” or an Alt/Out-Ac search.  She wanted to be sure nothing was wrong with her academic materials.  In fact, nothing was wrong. Remember, an invitation to interview is evidence that your documents are working!  After that, other variables come into play (such as your interview performance, and who else is in the finalist pool—the former is a factor you can control; the latter is one you cannot). [KK:  I feel compelled to point out here that when academic job market clients *repeatedly* get interviews but no offers, it usually indicates something needs to be addressed in their interview technique, because many academics have self-sabotaging habits that often derive from Imposter Syndrome or lack of training.  Learn more about the interview help here.  This is not to take away from Karen C’s larger points and my absolute agreement that rejection is the norm, not the exception, on the tenure track job market, and everyone needs to seriously consider the non-ac/post-ac route!]

Here’s the bottom line, for my client and for you:  permanent full-time jobs are scarce in academe, which is not a meritocracy but a high stakes system that breeds conformity. Yet many of you are still not correcting your thinking.  You continue to labor under the delusion/illusion that if you could just improve your documents, you will lasso that elusive unicorn. Yes, there is a certain level of professionalism you must achieve in your materials and interviewing (and TPII can certainly help you do that). But in a deep pool of well-qualified people, it’s not always about what YOU did or did not do. It is sometimes about what others did differently: you can’t change your background. More likely, it is about the local politics that lead an idiosyncratic search committee to select one candidate over others.

In short, rejection usually isn’t personal.  Not in the sense that you were tried and found wanting.  But it IS personal in another important way. Being ignored, rejected, or otherwise not selected is an opportunity to think harder about what you really want, and who might really want YOU. Use this data to fine tune a cross-sector search for organizations and people with whom you are really well-aligned.

The more you embrace this mentality, the more you can reframe rejection. Instead of a controlling narrative of judgment—that you are inadequate—view your job search as a litmus test of mutual fit.  Think about it: if among hundreds of applicants you made a first round interview or were a finalist, you were hardly “rejected.”  You made your case well enough to be considered seriously.  And if you didn’t make any short lists, it likewise doesn’t mean you’re not worthy (there really are too few positions for too many talented applicants). It just means that it wasn’t the right fit, if only on the most basic level: they didn’t choose you!

Knowing this frees you to move on without hard feelings and keep hopping around till you find a better lily pad to land upon (a reference to the frog metaphor from my last post). In contrast, clinging to the foolhardy notion of a sequential Plan A-then-Plan B makes you another kind of frog–one who is about to be boiled alive, yet fails to react because the heat is turned up so very slowly in academe’s kitchen!  Remember, authentic career development requires exploring ALL fitting options across sectors at every life stage. This means knowing when to hop out of the pot.

Subscribing to this “free frog” mentality enables you to go from being a supplicant to being an applicant. The academic job scarcity with which we came of age has made sad supplicants of most, like 6th graders lined up for dodgeball teams at recess: “Oh, pick ME! Please, please, pick me!” Instead, start behaving authentically like an applicant who has multiple options, of which an academic career is only one. In so doing, you may ultimately discover that it is you who rejects academe, not the other way around.

No Adjuncts Allowed – A Guest Post On a Lost Prize

By Nazima Kadir

Nazima Kadir is an urban anthropologist with a PhD in anthropology from Yale. Her book, “The Autonomous Life?,” published by Manchester University Press, is based on living and working in a squatters community in Amsterdam for over 3 years.  Prior to squatting, she received awards from the Fulbright program and the U.S National Science Foundation. She’s lived and worked all over the world, including the U.S, Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, and Northwest Europe. She is fluent in English and Spanish and can chat in Dutch. She currently lives in London with her husband and works in design and innovation.

[KK:  This came as a message on Facebook, and Nazima kindly agreed to allow me to post it, and requested that it not be anonymous. Thank you, Nazima.]

I’ve corresponded with you before and thought you would find the following story interesting, given your tireless campaigning against the exploitation of labor in universities.

My book, The Autonomous Life?, was shortlisted for the BBC Radio 4 Ethnography Award. However, I learned a couple of days before they were to announce the winner that I was removed from the shortlist because I am not employed by a UK university.

I think this story is interesting because it regards how rampant precarious labour conditions and low wages in UK universities impact on scholarship. Its also about the refusal of institutions such as the BBC and the British Sociological Association to confront what this means for scholarship and the state of academia.

I moved to the UK in 2011 amidst a context of immense public sector cuts. Despite a PhD in Anthropology from Yale, I could not find work in a university. I refused to pursue part time lectureships because I did not believe in subsidizing universities with free/low paid labor. As a result, I went into the design world and have been working as an applied anthropologist successfully.

My book was published in 2016 and this year, I was invited by Radio 4 to be on Thinking Allowed, a program that showcases ethnographies. I submitted my book for the annual Ethnography Award and within 2 months, learned that the book was on the shortlist. However, last week, I was devastated to learn that the book was removed because I was not associated or employed by a UK university.

Instead of using my case as an opportunity to discuss how talented, early career researchers may be dissuaded from an academic career due to poor labour conditions, sadly, Radio 4 has decided to remove my book from the shortlist. I think that this is a really interesting case because despite the quality of the academic work and the relative ‘premium’ credentials, the work has been excluded because I refuse to participate in an exploitative labour environment.

I’m quite disappointed with the program-Thinking Allowed– which picks the shortlist and the winners, because it specializes in ethnography, which means understanding the context of a situation. In this situation, I explained to them that 1) I couldn’t find a job in academia and 2) the available jobs, if any, were so low paying and precarious, that I refused to participate. Yet, this information made no difference.

Say Thank You!

Co-authored post by Karen Kelsky and Verena Hutter.

Karen and Verena at Karen’s book launch party 2 years ago.

We are the point in the cycle where clients are working on Job Talks and Campus Visit Interventions. (And getting offers—be sure and check out the weekly Job Market Digest each Friday on Facebook!)

The campus interview process is, of course, long and intense. In my book I give advice on what to wear, what to do with your hands, even what to eat (stay away from anything messy!). One issue that pops up again and again however, is the thank you note afterwards.

I am probably asked about the post-campus visit thank you note more than almost any other element of the application process.

It has also been brought to my attention that there are candidates that don’t send thank yous. Why, candidates, why?

Like the cover letter is incomplete without the tailoring para, the campus interview is incomplete without the thank you note.

Here is why the department appreciates a thank you note: Campus interviews are stressful for both the department AND the interviewee. Aside from the logistics that go into organizing a campus interview (airplane tickets, booking hotel rooms, coordinating interviews, teaching demos, campus tours, restaurant reservations, etc.), the committee is preparing for your interview, taking mental notes, and once you’re gone, discussing their impression among themselves. And usually, the deliberations afterward are time consuming and excrutiating. In addition to all this, campus visits are expensive!  So sending them a thank you note is appreciated, because it shows your understanding of their side and that they made an effort.

Here are the most important things about the thank you note:

  • Email is fine and commonly accepted, no need for busting out that fountain pen, and that Japanese silk-screen paper (unless you wish to). When you email them, use the email address you’ve previously used to communicate with them; depending on the aggressiveness of the spam filters of the university, you may otherwise end up filed in spam.
  • Whom to email: In a larger institution, emailing the chair of the committee is completely fine and acceptable. In a small teaching college, emailing colleagues you have interacted with specifically is definitely a plus.
  • Personalize but keep it short: Thank them for hosting you, if you’ve given a job talk, then thank them for letting you talk about your research on xxx. If you’ve given a teaching demo, mention that you enjoyed teaching course xxx.
  • If you have interacted with the department secretary, do thank her or him, too. As I write in my book: “They can make or break your quality of life if you get the job… and they remember. They do the lion’s share of work in most departments and rarely are acknowledged for it. Make sure you do”
  • The sign-off: Even if the interviewing faculty kept it casual at the interview with you- still remain professional in your sign-off. “Sincerely” always works.

Sometimes, you’ll receive a response, but don’t be upset when you don’t.  At this point, let the chips fall where they may- you have done everything you could do to convince them of your aptitude for the job. Do your laundry, take a walk, and distract yourself. As Cheryl Strayd says: “Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. Say thank you”

You Need a Refueling Stop – Productivity Tips from Kellee Weinhold

Kellee Weinhold

Academic writing is an idea-fueled system. In other words, to produce a piece of writing, we go to our ideas, shaping them into a form that has never existed before in the history of time.

What this means is, you are a creator. Academics don’t often think of ourselves in this way, but you are.

To ensure that we have something to work with when we sit down to write, our intellectual reserve should ideally be like a well-stocked pantry: We have everything on hand from spices and condiments to pastas, beans, rice and proteins, with a few pre-made sauces around for a quick fix. And much like our pantry, if we don’t attend to upkeep, a long stretch of writing will leave the cupboards bare.

Take time to think. To read. To talk with scholars in your field. Not to KEEP from writing (beware the “I need more feedback” excuse for sitting on your manuscripts), but to enliven and support your writing.

Consider this…

You are not just an intellectual. You are a creative. No different than a painter or potter, you create something new from your imagination.

Creativity requires stimulation.

For academics, that stimulation comes in the form of ideas. Ideas lead to questions that lead to research that leads to scribbling that leads to ideas that lead to questions that lead to research that leads to questions that lead to ideas that lead to answers that lead to writing: Your writing.

So just like the painter who studies colors and technique but also simply stares out into the middle distance and imagines how his or her vision will materialize, intellectuals need time to read and think and talk about their ideas.

Today’s Goal:

Make a coffee date with your writing buddy or a friend who will engage in your topic, with the intent of sharing and brainstorming (AKA refueling).

Remember, people are bored easily, so don’t make a big deal out of it. “Hi Susan, do you have time for a coffee?  I would love to run my journal article argument by you. Don’t worry. Not a big monologue! I just want to see how it sounds when I say it out loud. I’d welcome your feedback on whether it is clear.” Then do it.

Before the meeting, return to your draft. Write down a single positive thought that you have about the draft. It can be broad (This meets the criteria for submission!) or narrow (That’s a good sentence!) Once you have set your sights on the positive, go for it.

It is easy to lose track of the necessity of this “refueling” stop. All too often we see taking time to read and think as an indulgence, rather than as a critical component to successful creativity and in turn, productivity. But it’s actually the origin of productivity.

Make a regular commitment to restocking your intellectual pantry, and you’ll see results.

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JOIN US FOR PRODUCTIVITY FACEBOOK LIVE SERIES, EVERY FRIDAY

For more productivity advice from Kellee Weinhold, please join us for our new weekly Facebook Live series, every Thursday at 11 AM EST!  It’s free, and anyone can join in!  Kellee will share her insights from her Unstuck Productivity Coaching work, and together Karen and Kellee talk over challenges of the week, and respond to live questions and comments from the audience. Visit us on Facebook here.

No Missed Opportunities on the Campus Visit

Today I posted the biggest Job Market Digest I’ve ever put up in the three years I’ve been posting them.  I am so pleased to see how many clients got tenure track and other recurring/full time jobs, both in and out of the academy. Please take a moment to read. And if you have gotten a job, or had some other career-related success (including gaining the clarity to leave the academy entirely, which I view as great success!) please do write me at gettenure@gmail.com and let me know. I just love to hear from both readers and clients.  Always know that total confidentiality is assured.

People who write love to tell me stories of their searches, and I love to read them!  Because of space limitations, most of those stories do not end up in the Job Market Digest. But I read them closely and file them away as reference for myself in my future work with clients.

Here are two of my favorites this week. I love the first because of the “you annoyed me to no end” (LOL) and the second because TPII could help this immigrant scholar gain a small measure of security in these awful times.

TT offer, client, Dance: “I want to thank you for your help. After you had fixed my documents ( CV, CL, TS, and RS), I was back on the market this year got several invitations to campus and then got a retention offer at my current institution! Your methods do work… You annoyed me to no end, but you are a genius!”

TT job offer, client, Psychology: “Your advice was spot on every time and truly invaluable. Throughout my campus interview the faculty repeatedly told me that my application materials were “tight”, so tight in fact, they had almost no further questions! The job talk went well and even when the “intellectual” Dean gave me a tough time about omitting effect sizes (!), I was prepared thanks to your webinar. Your webinar also prepared me for a sticky illegal question regarding my ethnicity–altogether, I cannot thank you enough.

It has been a hellish emotional journey and you are a big part of my making it to the other side. I feel so fortunate to have made it to a tenure track position before they all vanish. I hope you know just how meaningful and important your work is to continued scholarship in this country.”

One of the listings this week included a story from a client’s search. I am going to share this story as a post, because it points to an important principle for the job search, especially the campus visit.

My client wrote that during her campus visit, the Search Committee Chair sent her a preliminary schedule that had blank time spots, and asked if she had other people she wanted to meet on campus to pencil into those slots. My client sent names of people in the Department and people across the campus with whom she saw strategic departmental growth potential. My client got the job.  She also later found out that none of the other candidates had sent names.  She told me, “This was reportedly a major point in my favor.”

There is a large principle at work here.  Just as the question of “Do you have any questions for us” is actually an essential and substantive element of the interview (as described in this post by Kellee Weinhold [and be sure and click through to my Vitae post that is linked]), any opportunity to demonstrate your interest in potential colleagues and collaborations in the department and across campus should be energetically maximized.  It SHOWS your interest in the job and the campus, and it SHOWS the kind of colleague you will be.  This kind of action speaks louder than words.  And so does the refusal.  Saying (or showing), “No, I’m not really curious about you,” is a mark against you that is quite difficult to overcome.

Don’t let any opportunity to demonstrate your substantive, educated interest in the department and campus pass you by.

Productivity In a Time of Crisis

My latest Chronicle Vitae post, somewhat misleading titled (by my editor) Five Steps to Productivity, is actually about the seemingly impossible effort to maintain some semblance of forward momentum as the world burns around us. So I am sharing it here. I don’t know that there is any more urgent question for American (and global) academics right now than finding a path to stay professionally afloat in the face of constant assaults on our institutions, funding, jobs, national security, personal safety, and indeed on the very notions of “truth,” “facts,” or “reality.”

When I say “stay professionally afloat,” I don’t mean to prioritize careerism. I mean, get enough written, enough published, enough accomplished, to keep moving toward your goal of employability and financial stability.  I fully expect that you, my readers, may like me be spending ever larger chunks of your time calling your representatives, attending protests, and education yourselves on the issues, and I applaud that. But we all need to also keep food on the table, and for most of us, protesting is NOT a paying job.  So balance is needed.

I hope that these steps will prove useful for you. If you have other ideas that have worked, please share them in the comments.

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Q:  This isn’t exactly an academic career question, except it sort of is. I can’t really focus on the job market in the midst of the ongoing political turmoil. I spend my time obsessively reading the news, signing petitions and things, and going to protests, which feels valuable, but I’m also just so distracted, and also drained. It’s really hard for me to muster the energy to apply for jobs, or get my writing done.
A: At The Professor Is In, my clients tell me daily how difficult it has been for them to focus on the work of editing their job documents, let alone charting a research trajectory or finding the concentration to complete major writing tasks. So, first, know that you’re not alone.
It is all too common in academia for people to feel that they are the only ones struggling, and “everyone else is getting their work done.” This is never true, but let me assure you, it is particularly untrue right now. I don’t know anyone anywhere, of any status in the academic circles I frequent — grad student, full professor, administrator — who has not been struggling with issues of productivity during the first few months of this year.
Second, there are excellent, valid reasons for this distractedness. You or someone you know may be directly in the line of fire of recent executive orders. You may be unsettled by the president’s public attacks on the judiciary and the news media. This is all particularly unsettling for academics whose very existence is based on a belief in the existence of knowledge and facts, and the value of scholarly inquiry.
Finally, there is the simple question of time management. If you have, like so many Americans, been “activated” by the current crisis, you’ve been spending time writing letters, making calls to representatives, and protesting, in unprecedented ways. All of which removes you from your desk, your lab, your office, your laptop, for hours at a time.
So what to do? This turmoil clearly isn’t going to stop any time soon, so how can we regain some level of balance in the midst of personal and political upset, and reclaim the productivity that remains urgent to our well being, particularly for those applying for jobs. My fellow Vitae columnist, Theresa MacPhail, offered good advice earlier this month on “Writing Through Our Political Tailspin.”
Here at The Professor Is in, my colleague Kellee Weinhold deals with these tensions directly in her academic productivity coaching, and she offers the following five-part approach.
Part 1: Tell the truth. You are struggling. Don’t deny it, or try to bury it. You may be scared, angry, sad, devastated — these are all real feelings, so allow yourself to acknowledge them. If you don’t, they’ll continue to quietly sap at your energy and resolve. At the same time, understand that the fear and rage you’re feeling (especially if you’re white and a citizen) may be something others in the country (immigrants, people of color, Muslims, to name a few) have felt for a long time. Heed the words of more experienced activists, and allow yourself time to feel, to grieve, to vent, and to recharge.
Kellee’s specific advice: Take time to panic and fall down. Set a timer. Lie down on your floor and cry for 30 minutes. Then get back up and go to your desk.
Part 2: Take a big view. Circumstances will change, and in ways that we don’t expect. Of course things might get worse. But they might not. The point is we don’t know. And fretting is debilitating. So aim for the 30,000-foot view of your life. Think back five or more years ago. Remember the things you did then, that led to where you are now. Remember that the things you do now will carry you forward to the next stage. Let go of the story that everything is a disaster and all hope is lost. Nobody actually knows. The academy will not entirely collapse in a year. Get out of the news and social-media firehose, so that you can remember who you were before all this started, and reaffirm the goals that inspired you then.
(At the same time, it’s OK to allow the current moment to inform your choices. If you find yourself more and more certain that academia is a less urgent location for your energy than, say, politics or activism, listen to that quiet urge. Don’t act on it rashly, but give it scope to grow and inspire action that, over time, may open new career priorities for you).
Part 3: Work on tiny tasks. In the academy we tend to say things like, “I’m spending this year writing my dissertation,” or “I’m spending this break writing a book,” or “I’m spending the day writing an article.” But are you actually writing a “dissertation” or a “book”? In other words, when you sit down at your desk one Tuesday, and then rise up again a couple hours later, have you produced a “dissertation”? No. You’ve produced (if you’re lucky) a few pages at most, a few pages of just one chapter of what will eventually be a dissertation. The tasks we set ourselves are simply too big when they’re defined in that way, and they intimidate us and swamp our already strained coping mechanisms. And as we get more stressed and anxious, even small tasks begin to feel too big.
The solution here: Embrace the tiny. When you sit down to “write your job application,” realize that in a single sitting, you may write only the teaching paragraph of your cover letter. Just one paragraph. And that’s fine. Write that paragraph. The next day, write one more paragraph. Break each task into smaller and smaller tasks, until you reach a level that is actually doable for you. Shift your mindset from “OMG I still haven’t finished my job letter,” to “wow, I finished the teaching paragraph of the job letter!” Think about it: which of those is more likely to motivate you to write more the next day?
Part 4: Erect guardrails around your (good and bad) habits. If you know that you are most energetic late at night, then plan on doing labor-intensive tasks late at night. Don’t fight your own tendencies by, for example, forcing yourself to wake up at 5 a.m., because that’s what “productive people” do. If you know that you are helpless before the siren song of social media, work at a place that has no Wifi. Or use the Freedom app to block your own access to the internet for certain periods of time.
The point here (returning to Part 1) is: Tell the truth. If you lose focus after 30 minutes of writing, arrange to write for 30 minutes and then move on. Don’t sit there for two hours, beating yourself up because you’ve only managed 30 minutes of actual writing. You are a person who writes in 30-minute chunks. This is your truth right now, and it is sufficient unto itself.
Part 5: Celebrate accomplishments. Celebrate everything that you achieve, no matter how tiny. When you finish a paragraph of your cover letter, text a friend, “I finished the teaching paragraph of my cover letter!” If you trust yourself to visit social media for awhile, tweet about it. Tell your family. Put on music and dance around your room for five minutes. Go out and plant a spring plant. Each thing you do is a vast achievement right now, and should be celebrated.
I can vouch that these strategies work, because they work for me, and for Kellee and for our clients. Try them, and let me know how it goes.

 

How (Not) to Negotiate a Tenure Track Salary

It’s offer season, and negotiations are underway. I have written a lot about negotiating tenure track offers; here are some links:

Part VII of my book, on Negotiating

OK, Let’s Talk About Negotiating Salary

Will My Offer Be Rescinded If I Negotiate?

Today I want to write about a common mistake that people make when asking for more salary, which is of course the major element of any job negotiation. Many inexperienced candidates will propose verbiage (for an email or a phone conversation) like this:

“I would like to ask for a salary of $XXX because of the high cost of living in XXX/because I will be supporting a family of four/because real estate is very expensive in XXX”

These are not usable rationales for seeking a raise.  The reason is, that everyone at the new institution is dealing with the same high cost of living, and the same price of real estate, and the same struggle to support their families.  You are not special because you are confronting these challenges.  And claiming that you are makes you look entitled and prima-donna-ish.

As I’ve said before, in the column Disappointed in the Offer?, academic salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living. Even fancy Stanford salaries, for example, at the assistant professor level are not necessarily equal to the challenges of maintaining a middle class standard of living in Palo Alto.  And this is all the more so for University of California or Cal State salaries in Los Angeles or the Bay Area, or CUNY salaries in NYC, and so on. This is a national problem, and no academic, with the exception of a few superstars, is exempt. So making a case that you need more money because you can’t afford the rents only makes you look self-involved, and as I said, entitled.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for more salary. But your case for more salary hinges on your own record and achievements, not on the struggles that everyone faces. So you can construct verbiage like, “I’d like to ask for a salary of $XXX reflecting my background in XX and my experience in YY.”  These are actually distinguishing characteristics, which may (with no guarantees) legitimate a higher salary within the realm of what is possible within the salary scales (and possible salary compression scenarios) of the department and campus.

Believe me, I am sympathetic to the struggle to support a family in an obscenely expensive city on an academic salary.  I’m not saying it’s not hard. I’m just saying that asking for “special privileges” based on that challenge will inadvertently send a poor message of collegiality.

These are the kinds of totally unconscious errors of tone that negotiators often make. This is why I am so adamant that negotiators get help from experienced mentors. If you have advisors to help you, please use them. If you don’t, please consider working with me. Here is the information on that for your reference. When clients work with me but get NO gains of any kind from our efforts, I refund half of the payment.

Best of luck!

~~~

Negotiating Assistance is $500/first 7 days ($600 for tenured positions), and 7 days are virtually always sufficient (it goes down to $400 [$500], and then $300 [$400] for subsequent weeks in the extremely rare event that this is necessary).  The 7 days of work don’t have to be sequential. We can start immediately, and I make myself available by email and gchat (no phone calls) for the quick turnaround of responses required by most negotiations.  While I technically don’t work on weekends, for NA clients only I check in to keep up with and respond to urgent updates. I assist you in evaluating the offer, clarifying your requests, crafting email and verbal communications, interpreting responses, and knowing how hard to push and when to stop. Most clients increase their offer by thousands of dollars in salary, research support, travel support, moving expenses, etc.  (An R1 Humanities tenure track offer can usually gain $15-30,000 over the initial offer; at a small regional SLAC it may be closer to $2-10,000. An R1 Science offer can sometimes gain $30-60,000 over the initial offer).  If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll invoice you today.  I also have all NA clients sign a contract acknowledging the nature of the work, which i will attach to this email for your reference.

Fine print: You must return the signed contract to proceed with the work. After payment you’ll get a set of instructions on how to provide the offer details; please don’t submit any info until you get that and can follow those instruction.   If your negotiation requires fewer than 7 days I don’t refund payment or apply it as credit to other work.  In the event that your institution refuses to negotiate and you achieve no gains, I will refund 50% of the payment ($250).

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gSH54g-EaabzccWuxvyV1-lfb6rfmeTQ2KAmBGCMaBY/edit

For a client perspective, I will share a few recent testimonials:

Assistant professor R1 Social Sciences: I increased my offer by $12,000 conservatively. Another major benefit was that I was confident I wasn’t asking for anything crazy, and I wasn’t missing anything obvious. Since this was my first go-around with a U.S. job offer I would have been much more uncertain about it, particularly in my situation where my advisor was unavailable due to a medical condition. Particularly when I had done the interviews and was waiting for an offer, which is a tense time, the fact that I had this service helped make that easier.”

Associate professor with tenure, R1, Humanities:   “As a mid-career academic in the humanities, I knew exactly how important it would be to negotiate good terms for my new position. Karen provided me with: concrete examples of things I could negotiate for; a sounding board for my requests; assistance in clarifying and rewriting my negotiation emails; and overall, tremendous peace of mind in what would otherwise have been an extremely stressful process. I successfully negotiated increases in my salary, start up package, and travel support, totalling 11K. I highly recommend her negotiation assistance services, no matter what career stage you’re in.”

Assistant professor, SLAC, Social Sciences:  “When I got the job offer, I was so terrified to negotiate, specifically for the delayed start date.  I felt a bit lost, and then I went to a yoga class and on the wall was a quotation from Cheryl Strayed which said, ‘The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.’  It was at that time, I knew I should contact you and just get one-to-one help with the negotiation so that I could advocate the best I could for myself without worrying about taking up someone’s time or unsettling a relationship, but also not sabotage myself.  I am glad I reached out, because I think I may not have represented myself as well otherwise.  Thanks for your time, Karen.  I look forward to FINALLY becoming an adult after so many years of training….to earning a good salary, to having a retirement plan, to moving to a place where I could really build a home and a life without a foreseeable expiration date.  Thanks for being one of the people who helped me get to this point.”

Assistant professor, Regional Teaching College, Music: “This morning I officially accepted a tenure track job offer from a regional institution in the southeast. Karen’s negotiating assistance helped me see which of my “wants” were an appropriate ask for a regional institution. She helped me find the proper tone to ask for these things, and she also found some things in my “want” list that might be questioned as uninformed or insulting from the department’s point of view. With TPII’s assistance, I was able to obtain a 6% salary raise, double my moving assistance, and clarify exactly how to obtain $10,000 in start up funds for my line. For a regional academic position in the arts, particularly in the southeast, this type of package is almost unheard of.”

1859 Feels Shockingly Contemporary: A Window on Teaching Under Turmp

So many readers and clients are wondering how to keep going under the turmpocalypse.  It’s hard.  Between protesting, writing emails, signing petitions, attending town halls, and sobbing in our beds, it’s quite difficult to get anything else done. Who has time to think, let alone publish?

But at the same time, outrage is productive of new kinds of engagement, and moribund civic practices are seeing new life. Citizens are showing up in ways that we haven’t in a long time: acting, thinking, writing, gathering, and resisting in unprecedented configurations. Where this all will lead, nobody knows.  It is utterly opaque. Indeed, in a world where we find Teen Vogue, the Park Service, Budweiser, and Frederick Douglass emerging as active thought leaders in the #resistance,  it’s safe to say that we are in a strange time. To paraphrase a beloved anthropological principle: it’s making the familiar strange, and the strange (all too) familiar.

Anyway, in that light, I’m pleased to share a wonderful comment thread from my friend Eleanor Courtemanche’s Facebook page (shared with permission of all participants), about teaching  literature at the present moment. Come to find out, in an authoritarian, neo-fascist kleptocracy that is spinning wildly out of control, standard survey texts don’t read quite the same as they did a few months ago. Dickens and George Eliot and Chaucer, et al are suddenly  leaping off the page and speaking directly, in unexpected ways, to the day’s news.

As an anthropologist I actually can’t stop thinking, since the week of the election, about the 1987 text, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, by James C. Scott.  As I watch myself, my friends and compatriots, and all of us in the resistance engage in ever more methodical forms of sabotage, foot-dragging, mockery, evasions, graffiti, veiled speech, and so on (along with, of course, the more overt forms of protest that are for the time being still permitted in this country), I keep asking myself – how weak are we? How authoritarian is the US?  How much like the Malaysian peasants of his study have we become? And what can this classic ethnography teach us?  If I were in a classroom right now, you can bet I’d be teaching this text.

If there was ever proof of the continued vitality and dynamism of the humanities – the NEED for the humanities and humanists to teach them – in the present moment, this shows where we find it: in our classrooms, in the ways that faculty and students continually discover new insights in old sources.

Read on. Then, please share your own recent teaching moment in the comment thread! I’d love for this to turn into a crowd-source inspiration, to use when all hope feels lost, and we are seeking a reminder of why we love what we love, and do what we do.

~~~~~~~~~

Eleanor Courtemanche (English, UIUC): Every time you teach a work of literature, it’s different, because the world has changed. Last time I taught a Dickens novel, Trump wasn’t a serious contender for President, so a world in which villains LOOK like villains felt cartoonish, unreal, and morally sketchy. Melodrama is the new realism.

Carolyn Williams (English, Rutgers) But melodrama always WAS a form of “realism” — according to some principles of realism — a) realism is relative, and therefore “more realistic than” always rules (and melodrama was more realistic than poetic drama, since it was written in prose and featured ordinary people, as the novel did) and b) realism is descendental, so uglier-than, dirtier-than, lower-than, seamier-than, more sordid-than etc reads out as more-realistic-than. The villain IS a special case, I admit, one might say a pre-realistic condensation — of social forces that are too complex to be understood — into a character — or, as Jameson has recently argued, the principle of “evil” in the world gives way to more mixed motives the more realistic fiction becomes, esp in Eliot (only he leaves out the fact — I think! I will have to read again! — that this evolution toward complexity of the villain was happening in melodrama too — where the villain became less a representative of “evil” than a representative of capitalism, e.g. in the second half of the c19). 

[EC: Well Dickens certainly thinks melodrama is realism. “IT IS TRUE,” he asserts about his portrayal of Nancy in Oliver Twist — and the “streaky bacon” passage in that novel is about how the way he interleaves pathos & humor may SEEM fake but in fact it’s actually the structure of human experience.]

Andrea Kaston Tange (English, Macalaster):  Currently teaching A Tale of Two Cities and utterly unable to think about anything but contemporary politics. It’s amazing what a difference context makes. For what it’s worth, students are drawing all of these connection –to the corrupt Monsignor who only wants govt officials who will agree with him rather than caring about their expertise, to the ones in my drama class who couldn’t stop talking about the Federalist papers’ discussions of governance while reading Hamilton, to those looking at Mill’s On Liberty and fixated on passages about what creates the most dangerous tyranny. My class on 1859 feels shockingly contemporary in its ideas; only the syntax of the sentences feels “old” to them.

Daniel Purdy (German, Penn State): same applies to the Weimar Republic, about which everyone wants to know more these days.  [EC: Life is a Cabaret!] [KK: Tomorrow…belongs…to me!}

Pam Thurschwell (English, Sussex): This is so true. I’m teaching The Line of Beauty on Monday which I always loved for its subtle Jamesian exposure of the ruses of power and now I just want to kill all the rich people in it in a really nasty way.

Carolyn Betensky (English, U of Rhode Island) I taught George Eliot’s Janet’s Repentance last week and found an astonishingly relevant exchange between the bully character and someone who dared to challenge him on “facts.” #fakenews.

Lauren Goodlad (English, UIUC) I remember having a whole new vision of Barchester Towers when our campus was going through the awful [Stephen Salaita] unhiring fiasco. Now it would probably feel more like a parable of Kellyanne Conway’s failed efforts to rule the Old Boys network (a la Mrs. Proudie).

John Levi Barnard (English, Wooster) Just taught Federalist #1 (by Hamilton, everyone’s favorite “Founding Father”), in which we (re-)discovered this: “a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”  Students discovered the relevance of the Federalist with no prompting from me.

Rob Barrett (English, UIUC) I suppose the current emergency would draw a line under the resistance of the commoner birds to the vainglorious eagles in Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls

Matt Walker  (Cellist, ALIAS Chamber Ensemble:) The “Best of times, worst of times” thing seems to have gained a lot of relevance, with the recent discussions of growing wealth inequality.

Diana Maltz (English, Southern Oregon): All the novels I am teaching have sociopaths and psychopaths in them, I am discovering. Moreau in the fall. Jekyll and Hyde was a doozy.  I should add, abusive fathers too.

 

 

 

 

Five Tips for a Successful Teaching Demonstration (Learned From Failure)

~Productivity and Self-Care in a Time of Turmoil – a Special Webinar with Karen Kelsky and TPII Productivity Coach Kellee Weinhold, March 2~

_________________________________________________________

I’m delighted to introduce our second guest post on the Teaching Demo by Katherine Dugan.  See her first post on the Teaching Demo here. Katherine is now offering individual Teaching Demo assistance!  Please contact us at gettenure@gmail.com for more information.

Katherine Dugan is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Springfield College in Massachusetts. She earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Northwestern University in 2015 and spent two years on the job market before her current position. She studies contemporary Catholicism in the U.S. while teaching a range of religion courses.

 

I may never forget how terrible my first on-campus teaching demonstration was. In the weeks leading up to the demonstration, I prepped and prepped and prepped. I rehearsed the mini-lectures, over-tweaked my powerpoints. I held mock demonstration with faculty and other graduate students.

It could not have gone worse. I could not get the students to respond to me. My ideas were convoluted and instructions unclear. I remember thinking maybe fifteen minutes had passed when I was only five minutes into the 40-minute demonstration. My cheeks burned red and I had to force myself not to cry.

I did not get that job.

Here’s what I did get, though: a lot of information on what to do differently in the future. During my next cycle on the job market, I had to give teaching demonstrations on two of my on-campus interviews. Additionally, one of the job talks I gave was also supposed to be part teaching demonstration. I was offered two of those three jobs.

Here’s what I learned:

Make it simple

You will most likely have around 30 minutes for your demonstration (maybe up to 45, possibly as few as 20). Less really is more. Be ruthless with yourself (and ask others’ opinions) about how long a short (short!) lecture or discussion will take. Anticipate that you will be nervous and plan how to keep yourself slowed down. Resist the temptation to rush through as many things as possible in order to demonstrate just how good you are at this.

Also: have a back-up plan. Just because what you present is simple does not mean that your plans must be. Prepare for an activity to fall apart or for students to be unresponsive. One way I planned for this (the next time…) was to have a pile of index cards at the ready. If students didn’t want to talk, I had planned to ask them to jot ideas down on the index card and then collect a few to read aloud. Or you might rely on “think, pair, share” to get students talking to each other before the whole classroom.

Teach what you know

One of the things that blew up on my face in my first teaching demonstration was that I was trying to be the kind of professor that I imagined the committee wanting me to be, not the kind I actually am. While a teaching demonstration is the time to show that you will engage students and contribute exciting classes to the life of the department, it is also the time to choose which strengths of yours you are most able to bring their classrooms. This means two things.

First, choose a topic that you know inside and out. Sometimes this will be impossible. I had one teaching demonstration where I was assigned the topic (which I happened to know absolutely nothing about). Before I even imagined how to teach it, I set myself to a crash-course on the topic. After that, I taught what I now knew about the topic—and nothing more. Keep it simple (see #1).

Second, I am not saying that you should “just be yourself” in the teaching demonstration. Instead, you need to be honest with yourself about what you are good at in the classroom and what you are not. If you are not good at getting students to have a conversation, do not organize your teaching demonstration around a 20-minute, large-group analysis of a text. But if you are good at creating small-group activities that get students talking with each other, do that.

Be creative, but not too creative.

We are all proud of the uber-creative moments we have had in classrooms—those laboriously developed plans that work out like magic. But part of the reason that magic happened was because you knew your students. You spent time (at least weeks, maybe months) building rapport in the classroom. You do not have that at a teaching demonstration.

What you do have is 20-40 minutes to show that you can be creative AND effective in the classroom. So be creative, but not too creative. Be memorable for your thoughtfulness in planning a solid lesson, not your wackiness. I admit, this is a thin line. For one of my teaching demonstrations I hauled a couple of ice cube trays with me and asked students to brainstorm as many different uses for the blue objects as they could, but not making ice (I was making a point about changing perspectives). I suspected it would work because of the way members of the search committee had described their teaching styles. But on another campus, where the committee was much more buttoned-up, I would not have done this activity.

Practice with undergrads, not colleagues

I recommend practicing your teaching demonstration with a group of actual undergraduates, if at all possible. My colleagues did their best, but there really is no replacement for the idiosyncrasies of 20-year olds. (Of course, undergraduates are different by institution, but they are more like each other than graduate students or faculty pretending to be undergrads). I actually used the lesson plan from one of the classes I was teaching at the time to frame one of my teaching demonstrations. In another case, I tested out one of my activities on my regular students in order to see how/if it worked. Remember—the students in the demo classroom haven’t seen your regular bag of teaching tricks.

Bring syllabi—and hand them out

What you demonstrate for 30-40 minutes is part of a larger class. You’ll most likely be asked to talk about your teaching demonstration after you do it.  This is the chance to pull out the syllabus from which your teaching demonstration would have been pulled. Even if you have never taught the class, you must show how your demonstration fits into your larger teaching portfolio. Have the syllabi ready to distribute. It makes you look committed to the job and prepared to hit the ground running as a productive teaching colleague.

There is much more to say about how to use (or not use) powerpoint presentations, how to rebound after a flubbed moment, and how to talk about your teaching demonstration to the committee after the fact. These are five tips to get you started. Chime in in the comments if you have other lessons learned to share.

Schadenfreude: An Interview with Rebecca Schuman

I’m delighted to feature an interview today with Rebecca Schuman, about her new memoir, Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For

It comes out… TOMORROW! (Tuesday, Feb 7)

We all need a break from the endless misery of life in America just now–let Rebecca’s hilarious, smart, insightful new book be yours!

 

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KK: Tell me about your journey from academic job seeker to author of Schadenfreude, A Love Story, your much-anticipated memoir.

RS: Sorry, I’m too busy laughing ruefully at “much-anticipated.” I hope that some people buy and read and enjoy this book, but I don’t have any delusions of authorial grandeur. I’m glad to hear that you anticipate it, though. That’s really all I need. The Kelsky demographic! Here’s my journey: After I crashed and burned in academia and Slate published “Thesis Hatement,” in 2013, several literary agents contacted me. I ended up going with the wonderful Alia Habib (also your agent!), and it was the best decision of my life. But it took almost two years to go from agent-with-interest to book deal in hand. Two years and—I’ve never talked about this publicly before—four different proposals, most of which didn’t make it out of Alia’s email inbox, because they were embarrassing. Once I eventually managed to eke out the Schadenfreude proposal in my ever-decreasing spare time, several houses were interested in earnest, almost immediately.

(Alia kept telling me she was sorry it was taking “so long,” by which she meant a week. A week! Can you academics imagine?)

My current editor at Flatiron bought the project on proposal in what the publishing industry calls a “pre-empt,” which is an offer that pre-empts an auction. When I called my family to tell them it happened, they were like, What book? I hadn’t told anyone I even had a proposal out with publishers.

 

Speaking of “Thesis Hatement,” that was, obviously, the piece that brought your journey out of academia to my attention. I was a fan of it, but many academics (and non-academics) weren’t. If you could write “Thesis Hatement” again now, what would you do differently?

I would have made it much more about adjuncting and less about my anger (or, at any rate, I would have channeled my anger to talk about adjuncting more, and better). I also wouldn’t have used the word “bat-shit” to describe my own research, which was my attempt to be modest but to this day brands me as an anti-intellectual who Doesn’t Believe In Her Ideas. Otherwise, no regrets.

 

In academic publication, the toughest part (aside from meeting deadlines) is probably contending with peer review. Is there a similar gatekeeping process in commercial publishing? In what ways did you have to compromise your vision to get this book into existence?

I had to compromise everything, all the time. Commercial publishing is not for the Ayn Rand set. (In fact, even Ayn Rand compromised in the publication of Atlas Shrugged. She refused to let them cut some long-winded speech and paid for the extra printing costs herself. But I digress. I loathe Ayn Rand, but I somehow know a lot about her. [KK:  weirdly, so do I. I even wrote about her for a Rhodes Scholarship application as an 18 year old college student!])

Anyway, this is a stone-cold fact: if you want to succeed in commercial publication, you have to be willing to do everything your agent says, and then you have to be willing to do almost everything your editor says (which may contradict your agent). I abide by the 90/10 rule. I cave to 90 percent of what they want, and then fight for the 10 percent that really matters to me. If you go in to a commercial project insisting on fighting for 100 percent of your darlings, you’ll never sell a thing, and be miserable the whole time.

 

You have been vocal about regretting your PhD in German—but without it, you would have neither the experience nor the literary knowledge to have written this book, which you have called, pithily (just now in an email), “a German literary and philosophical primer disguised as a tawdry sex memoir full of cigarettes and bad decisions.” Was your PhD actually instrumental to your journey?

Yes. I’ll readily admit it. I give. In the end, I can’t really be too angry about how things turned out. I wouldn’t recommend my own trajectory for anyone else, but I did, indeed, land on my feet, and I do, indeed, appreciate all of the knowledge and skills the doctorate forced me to gain. Don’t tell anyone, though. (Whoops, too late.)

 

When I was working with Alia to sell my book, we had a cringingly bad meeting with an editor from a famous university (*cough* Chicago *cough*) press, which contrasted painfully with the highly efficient and professional meetings we had with editors from commercial presses. If there was ever anything that drove home that final nail in the coffin of academia for me, it was that meeting with that smugly clueless (or was it cluelessly smug) editor, who was living in this weird fantasy of elite status that was totally divorced from his and his press’s actual position vis-a-vis me and my book manuscript! To spell it out, he thought he was dealing with a desperate and almost totally powerless academic… and not somebody with a large platform, a highly-marketable (in certain circles) manuscript, and plenty of competing options.  I’d never really seen the tattered elitism of academic so painfully displayed.  Hey, look what I just did, I used a “question” as an opportunity to make a long-winded speech about my own experience. You can take the person out of academia but…

So typical! They must have been gobsmacked at your reaction. “Wait, you’re NOT bowing and scraping for poorly-paid or completely unpaid PUBLICATION? BEGONE, PLEB!” Ha.

 

Did you have any surprising or weird experiences in the commercial publication process—from fomenting idea to finished book on the shelf—that you’ve never told anyone, that you want academics to know about?

Here’s an embarrassing story, and it also has to do with unfortunate intersections of academic and commercial publication. I’ve never told it in public before. My first idea for a crossover book was a non-academic introduction to German literature and philosophy. It was 2013 and I had a chip on my shoulder about proving I was smart. I wrote three painstaking chapters of this project on spec. I was just barely out of academia, so to me these chapters were so accessible, so edgy, and would so scandalize my academic peers because of their regular-person prose and openly anti-academic bent. Well, the commercial publishers passed. To the one they found it “way too academic.” The closest I got was the trade imprint of a well-known academic house—but, much to my horror and surprise, they submitted it to peer review. This was when I was at peak infamy with academics and academia, just spewing bile from every rooftop, so you can imagine the peer review was scathing. The funniest part was that the publisher didn’t care. They still wanted to buy it—it just fell through at acquisitions for budget reasons. But in the end I’m glad that project fizzled. Schadenfreude still snuck a lot of that literature and philosophy in, but it’s woven into (what I hope is) a rollicking narrative.

 

Your critics often complain that you are too self-absorbed, and that your critiques of academia would have been more powerful if they’d not focused so much on your personal story. What does a memoir—the most navel-gazing of all genres—possibly have to offer these readers (or hate-readers)?

This is an interesting dilemma, because even in answering this question I sound self-absorbed, especially now, under the constant noxious cloud of our new authoritarian regime. Let me digress for a second and say that of course it is unbelievably awkward to be promoting a memoir at this historical juncture. But I believe writing of this kind is still essential. My thinking is: Donald Fucking Trump is ruining the world at precipitous speed, but one thing we can use to fight him is our freedom of artistic expression. Everyone should go out and buy (or check out!) my book and ALL the books, especially by authors of color, women, LGBT authors, Muslim authors, immigrant authors—any voice that Donald Fucking Trump wants to marginalize and silence, we should amplify. Do I hope everyone will consider my voice among this chorus? Yes!

OK, digression over. I write memoir because that’s the genre I most like to read. I am always honored when honest people are willing to reveal their vulnerabilities and to let readers, strangers, into their lives. I don’t find it exhibitionistic. I find it brave and exhilarating (when other people do it). I admire this kind of writing in other people, so it’s only natural that I would attempt it myself. Often I relate to writers’ personal struggles and triumphs, but just as often I don’t, and I still love their stories. I read a memoir or book of personal essays a week, almost always by women: Shonda Rimes, Meghan Daum, Roxane Gay, Lindy West, Jessica Valenti, Felicia Day, Sarah Hepola. Love them all. I fully understand if memoir isn’t someone’s bag, but for many of us, using our personal stories lends an urgency and immediacy—and, yes, bravery—to our opinions. The other reason I write about myself is that I have a really scathing sense of humor, and it’s nasty to use it on other people.

 

Besides writing and marketing this book, what are you doing with yourself?

Still writing—for Slate, the Chronicle, the Atlantic, The Hairpin, and more. I’m spending a lot of 2017 doing research and translation for the Jewish Museum of Switzerland. But primarily, I am a full-time parent to a spirited and sensitive kid who just turned two, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m hanging on by my fingernails most of the time. I have limited child care, and I have to be laser-focused during the few hours a week I do get to work. The fact that I wrote this book with a newborn on my chest, and revised it with a crawling dervish who wouldn’t sleep, and did an intense round of edits (basically rewrote the whole thing in nine weeks) while my kid was teething molars in agony—you know what? That was fucking heroic. All parents who somehow eke out any work outside of their caregiving are heroes. I salute you all. And I salute myself.

 

What’s your longer term life plan going forward?

Survive.

 

Any last advice for the Ph.D. crowd?

Funnily enough, also “survive.”

Thanks for interviewing me, Karen. It’s always a pleasure.  [KK: the pleasure is mine! Best of luck with the book, and I hope you get to do a book tour!]