Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog

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

Announcing the publication of my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job!  Coming out August 2015; pre-order now at or at Barnes and Noble.


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:

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

Strategizing Your CV for the Job Market

It’s that time again!

Alert readers know that each Spring I provide a limited-time CV Strategizing Session service between February and April.  The idea is to look ahead to the Fall 2015 market, and help graduate students going on the market for the first time, as well as experienced job seekers who haven’t yet landed the kind of position they are seeking, utilize the next six months most effectively to build a competitive record for the job search.  In six months, you can get out a peer reviewed article, arrange to teach a summer course, apply for a grant or conference… all manner of things that will make a difference on your CV.

In the CVSS, I first send you to study my column in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, called “Graduate School Is a Means to a Job,” so that we are on the same page about what constitutes a competitive record.  Then, I review your CV (note: I don’t edit it!  I just evaluate it for content), in light of what you tell me are your career goals, aspirations, and concerns.  Then I give you the low-down on what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of your record, and suggest some steps you can take to strengthen it.  If I think you’re doing everything right, I’ll let you know that too (it has happened once or twice!)  You follow up with clarifications, questions or comments, and I’ll respond to those.  The service covers two email exchanges.

You can find the CVSS any time during this period on the Prof Shop page, but just for today, here is the info and link right here, delivered to your inbox.  Don’t forget that once you purchase you do have to email me to get a date on the calendar.  CVSSs have to be scheduled.

Here’s to a productive Spring and Summer!



CV Strategizing Session:  $150

**Feb-April 2015 only**

What you do in the next six months is critical for your competitiveness on next year’s market.  In this short-term service, I will examine and evaluate your CV for any gaps, weaknesses or red flags, and help you create a plan to remedy them in time for the Fall 2015 job market.  Covers two email exchanges.

**Please note that after you purchase this Session you must email me, Karen, at to set a date on the calendar for the work to begin. Please do this first, before sending me your CV!

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Editing is Not Grading (and Clients Aren’t Students) – Horton #postac post

by Margy Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Just because you’ve graded 10,000 pages of student writing over the past decade does not mean you’re ready, just yet, to hang out your shingle and earn a living as an editor. First, consider the difference between these two tasks:

Grade (v): to sort, rank, and evaluate the quality of individual texts produced by a class of students in response to an assignment; provide individualized feedback designed to support student learning.

Edit (v): to assist an author in preparing a text for publication by helping the author to understand and conform to the criteria that publishers and audiences will use to evaluate the quality of the work.

These definitions show that the work of grading and editing–for all their similarities–are two distinct forms of communication that take place in very different rhetorical situations. Elements of a rhetorical situation include the author, the intended audience, and the larger context in which the author, audience, and text exist. Rhetorical awareness is key for two kinds of people: authors who are trying to communicate and readers who are trying to understand. This post is concerned with the texts that professors and editors create as they grade and edit for students and clients, respectively. The two genres may seem interchangeable at first glance; both grading and editing consist of of marginal notes on manuscripts, Track Changes in Word documents, and holistic assessments written by hand or in emails. Yet the tone, content, and emphasis of the texts are shaped by important differences between the grading relationship (between professor and student) and the editing relationship (between editor and client).

This table breaks down some distinctions between grading and editing.


The Grading Relationship (Professor and Student) The Editing Relationship (Editor and Client)
Author Professor chooses which criteria to apply and what to emphasize; Professor usually knows more than Student about subject matter/ context; Professor has created assignment and set due date Editor works to understand the criteria by which committee members, journal editors, or publishers will evaluate Client; helps Client to meet those expectations
Audience Student is under Professor’s tutelage Client is the subject matter expert and the CEO of the project
Context Course and assignment created by Professor Project initiated by Client, extends beyond Editor’s involvement


The professor’s objective is to evaluate the student’s work against that of other students and against an ideal, and to offer feedback designed to promote the student’s long-term development. The editor has the quite different objective of supporting and assisting the client through the writing and publication process, improving her productivity and making her life easier.

As a teacher, back in the day, my comments on student work were designed to optimize student learning: “Consider rephrasing this topic sentence so it links more clearly to your thesis.” “This paragraph seems to be making more than one point. Can you split the paragraph into two, each with its own topic sentence/claim?” “Please review the punctuation rules that govern the joining of two independent clauses.” Such comments provide tailored instruction based on what the teacher perceives to be areas of potential improvement for the student. Effective grading focuses on skills and knowledge that are relevant to the assignment, the course, and the discipline. When a specific error appears frequently in a student’s work, the effective teacher does not go line-by-line correcting every instance of the error, but rather points the error out a couple of times and explains the error to the student. The goal of grading is to help students understand principles that will help them in future work, not to perfect this specific piece of work.

As an editor, I spend less time instructing and more time simply doing–tweaking topic sentences, splitting paragraphs, adding transitions, suggesting what kind of evidence to add where. My clients are high-level researchers and professional scholars; they don’t need me presuming to tell them what to do.

Which brings me to another point: the service I provide as an editor would not be appropriate to offer to the undergraduates whom I once taught. Editing services are for scholars, researchers, and professional writers–not for college sophomores trying to pay their way to a  higher grade. So in transitioning from teaching to editing, you will likely go from working with low-level, undergraduate writers to working with high-level, professional writers.

In closing, here are five more distinctions between the professional editor and the effective teacher:

  1. Professors constantly make judgment calls in designing courses, assignments, and rubrics, and they are not strictly obligated to please each individual student. By contrast, editors don’t choose which criteria to apply or which principles to emphasize in their comments. While editors can certainly make recommendations to the client about the nature and scope of the work to be done, the client has final approval.
  2. Professors often have some control over when to complete their grading, whereas editors must meet strict deadlines.
  3. While professors privilege instruction over correction, editors don’t tell clients to fix something they (editors) can fix themselves. For example, an editor doesn’t say “get rid of these ambiguous pronouns”; an editor gets rid of every ambiguous pronoun in the manuscript and then gently informs the client about the issue for future reference.
  4. Professors can and should affirm what students get right, whereas editors tend not to praise clients’ work as it can come off as condescending.
  5. Professors make students’ lives harder in all the right ways. For editors, although they can take advantage of teaching moments in the editing process, they do not presume a professorial role over clients.

Great editors and great teachers are different in important ways, but they do share three essential qualities in common. Both editors and teachers cultivate expert command of the language. Both listen to the client or student. And finally, both listen through what the client or student is saying in order to understand and provide what the client really needs.


“I Plan to Take Full Advantage of My Acquired Skills!”

A line from a letter last week:

“In my own lab I plan to take full advantage of my acquired skills and use the XXX equipment  to further investigate xxxx.”

This kind of language is braggy and at the same time, completely devoid of meaning.

Who doesn’t take advantage of acquired skills? When a person washes their dishes, are they not taking advantage of acquired skills?  When you drive a car, are you not taking advantage of acquired skills?

If it is a thing that can be said of LITERALLY ALL HUMAN ENDEAVOR then it adds nothing of value to your candidacy for this job.

This is a close kin to the problem of last week’s post:  stating the obvious.  But here, it’s “bragging the obvious.”  Don’t brag about engaging in generic human behavior!  Job documents are short. Don’t squander words.  Make every word count, with substance and distinctive meaning about you and your profile.


Dr. Karen’s (Partial) Rules for the Artist’s Statement

It may surprise you to hear that I edit Artist Statements, but I do.  Not a ton, but enough that this post has become necessary.  I want to urge everyone to read this excellent post on the subject by Ben Davis, which targets the kind of overblown, pretentious language that this genre is so prone to.

Note what is said in this interview with artist Kathleen Caprario Ulrich, in reference to her Artist Statement:

VKA: Who were you talking to when you were writing the old statement?

KCU: I was talking to myself. I was coming from a place of emotion. I was BS-ing myself. At one point I said something like, “I hear the murmurings of paint.” That’s so embarrassing! Such purple prose! It’s so easy to fool yourself when you’re writing from a place of emotion, with no intellectual critique.

VKA: But the artist wants some emotion in their statement.

KCU: Yes, I was searching for an emotional truth. But an amateur is someone who makes art for him or herself and says to hell with everyone else. A professional engages with the world dynamically. They critically analyze their own work. There’s a dialogue of the mind; the professional is engaged in what’s happening in the world. To be a professional requires both sides of the brain, but they don’t always fire at the same time.

Here are a few rules to get you started:

  • Don’t exceed one page. Remember, SC’s read a lot of these statements. They will like you for saying what you need to say briefly.
  • Use a What-How-Why three part organization.  Make sure the “What” is very specific: is it painting? an installation? a sculpture?  of what?  where?  The “How” has to explain the technical aspects:  what material do you use, how?  The “Why” must make a conceptual case for the art.  Don’t succumb to the wooey and emotionally overwrought.
  • Keep your audience in mind. Just like the cover letter, your artist’s statement will differ depending on whether you are writing for a gallery opening or for your academic search committee. For the search committee, write it with an interested, educated lay audience in mind. This means: Clear, descriptive, jargon-free language. The statement is there to get people interested in your work- not to hit them over the head with technical jargon. If you’re to teach undergrads and graduates, you need to show that you are a good communicator. This starts with your own work.
  • Your artist statement does not serve as a confession booth where you unload your innermost feelings- save this for a therapist or a priest. If your art has a very personal component, state it clearly and move on.
  • Avoid third party statements- reviews, curators, professors or gallerists- it’s braggy and says nothing about your art.
  • No comparison to other artists- if they are well-known it’s presumptuous, if they are obscure, nobody knows them anyways. If you have been influenced by someone state this briefly and move on. In YOUR statement you need to focus on YOUR work.
  • Don’t engage in ideological battles and arguments- you can talk about your art without saying how terrible so-and-so’s work is.
  • Finally, AGAIN, do not use cliché language. See the blog posts:

“Banish These Words”

“Banish These Words 2014”

“Adjectives Are Not Arguments.”

“Grad Student Grandiosity”

For artist statements I’d add “creative” and “inspire” to the list of verboten words.

“Creative” is the equivalent of the sentence “I start my class on time”- as an artist it’s the bare minimum that is expected of you. “Inspire” and all its derivatives are also non-starters- if you weren’t inspired by something, you wouldn’t be an artist.

The Sound of Confidence – Cardozo #postac post

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

When people ask what the Alt/Post-Ac consultants do, we usually describe a range of services: self-assessment and job-searching strategies, document generation and editing, mock interviews, etc.  Yet the more I work with this distinctive population—PhDs (or ABDs) effecting a career transition—the more I believe that the core of all these things is a two-word mission:

Build Confidence!

From a consultant’s external perspective, it’s easy to see a client’s strengths or appreciate the unique nature of their profiles.  For the most part my clients are multitalented and well-suited for any number of alternative pursuits. Perhaps this reflects a self-selective process in which highly multifaceted people are more likely to explore Alt/Post-Ac careers?  Whatever the case, far from being a one note Johnny or single-minded scholar, these folks have reservoirs of alternative interests and skills (though they often need prompting to recall that, as academic culture leads us to devalue or forget “other” experiences).

Strikingly, there is little correlation between my clients’ achievements and their confidence levels.  Despite impressive portfolios, they sound more like recent evacuees from a war zone than people on the brink of a capstone. As one of my clients put it ever so poignantly:

“I came to graduate studies with a sense of confidence after having engaged in leadership activities in the public and nonprofit sector. I left graduate studies with my ego quashed, my confidence shaken. The ideals that drove me to enter graduate studies, to effect incremental societal change through scholarship, slowly collapsed.”

The specter of self-defeat tends to raise its ugly head early on in our process and I have to point out: “Umm… you have a tremendous background chock-full of transferable skills” or, “if those people are such jerks, why would you want to work with them?” There is a huge gap between my clients’ actual conditions of possibility and the dejected way they tend to feel.  And there are good reasons for that.

  1. Many academics lack information about alternative careers (this is the aspect most easily remedied by the crack research skills of most PhDs and informational interviewing): once you find out more about what the rest of the world does, it’s easier to imagine yourself out there somewhere.
  2. There is the problem of translation that I and others have addressed in prior posts:  it’s not always easy identifying transferable functions across different roles or fields; we’re so focused on job titles that we miss the constituent parts which might transfer readily between academic and other kinds of work. (TPII consultants can help with this).
  3. Emerging from a Ph.D. program is like a mole tunneling out into sunlight: it’s disorienting. Taught to prioritize and think one way for so long, it takes some time to find your bearings in expressing other values or pursuing other goals.
  4.  Most significantly, my job as a confidence-builder exists primarily because the unspoken mission of doctoral education is to destroy confidence.  How else can you get a bunch of smart people to toe the academic line against all known odds, often in the absence of humane treatment and in the presence of (as the client above put it) “far too many academics and colleagues who in one way or another exhibited the worst of the human condition?” If you are not identified as ascendant in the star system (and maybe even then) you are destined to be plagued by imposter syndrome and besieged by doubt – doubt in your own intellectual abilities when compared to those who seem effortlessly accomplished (in part because you are rarely privy to the process that got them there), and doubt of ever having a viable academic career (a well-founded concern, as things turn out). All of which—via a concatenation of logical fallacies—leaves you convinced you’re not fit for anything else.

In short, graduate school is to confidence as expeller pressing is to olives – a method of extraction by squeezing under high pressure. Matriculate into any doctoral program let the oozing begin!

The Confidence number from The Sound of Music perfectly captures what any PhD goes through when considering jumping off the track that has structured your life for so long.  Maria’s struggle to be a good nun in the Abbey is a pretty good analogue for the monastic commitment of the scholar.  But the drama of leaving that sheltered life to serve as a governess to seven unruly children in the shadow of the Third Reich pales in comparison to the perceived terrors of Alt/Post-Ac job searching!

As the musical number begins, Maria is on her way to her new assignment, wondering why she feels so scared when she has always longed for adventure. She gives herself a musical pep talk of monumental proportions, delivering some pretty impressive footwork while singing and toting both a guitar and a suitcase, reaching the jubilant crescendo of “I have confidence in confidence alone” just as she arrives at the Von Trapp mansion gates.  Abruptly, the music cuts out, and she faces the imposing façade in a poignant silence during which –we may safely surmise – all of her confidence evaporates.

Every Alt/Post-Ac seeker recognizes this dismal moment, as you peer into YOUR uncertain future. Having been expeller-pressed from the academy, it’s perfectly normal to feel crushed. But you must never take those feelings of guilt, loss, shame and self-loathing as an objective indicator that you are unsuited to life beyond the surly gates.  I’m here to tell you that you will be an EXCELLENT governess! They are going to love you in the real world. But you have to regain your confidence first.  Like Maria, you need to realize that the Abbey isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that Captain Von Trapp isn’t always right, and that you have something important and unique to contribute (let me now drop this analogy before it leads to the inevitable prospect of literally getting in bed with your new employer*).

*If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you must watch the Sound of Music immediately (fair warning: you’ll need about 3 hours).

In my next post I will look particularly at how confidence is gendered – a significant issue given that academe’s contingent sector and overlapping Alt/Post-Ac seeking population (in my client roster, anyway) is predominantly female. In that context, we will talk about practical ways to build confidence.

Don’t State the Obvious

 There is a kind of line in job documents that is technically blameless, but is so generic, so very much “stating the obvious” that it also completely pointless.  This kind of line fills space while doing nothing to distinguish you in any way.
The rule here is: If Anyone Can Say It, It’s Not Helping You.
Here are a few examples:
*The ultimate aim of my classroom strategies is to help students gain useful skills and knowledge.
*My courses present writing as a means of communication and a tool for developing thought.
*As a recipient of the grant, I will have the opportunity to apply my expertise in short-term projects and longer-term projects, expanding my learning capabilities and diversifying my network.
*By presenting my current and future research in the departmental symposium, I would be able to put my work in dialogue with fellows in various departments, and to collaborate with researchers in disciplines other than my own.
In each case, there is literally no academic who could not write the sentence!

Study your job documents and make sure that every line tells something about YOU, not about “Generic Job-Seeker X.”


The Job of an Academic Editor: Part 2 (Fruscione #postac post)

by Joseph Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

In the previous piece, I talked with a few fellow post- or alt-ac editors about the kinds of work we do with academic clients. Some (like Margy Thomas Horton) offer a variety of services, whereas others (like Annemarie Perez or Laura Fowler Graham) handle formatting and copy editing while still working in academia. Figure out your own strengths and preferences as an editor or consultant, and advertise your services an editor catering to scholars and graduate students accordingly.

Several new and would-be post-acs have asked me for practical advice how to find the work, how much to charge, how to foreground academic skills, and so on. Now that you have a sense of what editors can do with academics (or in STEM and other publishing venues), here’s some actionable advice to help you get clients, negotiate fair fees, deal with problems, and build your editing portfolio.

  • Annemarie Perez: I ask clients to send me the work, and then I provide a list of services and a breakdown of prices. I’ve generally invested an hour or so into each client before I officially start working for them, but I’ve found that’s the best way for me to work. Otherwise students don’t know what I can do for them, and I don’t know what they need.
  • Laura Fowler Graham: Don’t be afraid to network with academics and promote your business. Initially, I was shy about promoting my editing services, fearing that others would think I was rude. I’ve learned that self-promotion is key in the post-ac and alt-ac professional world. Whenever possible, work and talk with others in the editing business.
  • Margy Thomas Horton: Your business comes down to two things: what you know and what people think of you. Always be learning and cultivating your expertise, and always be sure clients know that you are fair, transparent, and looking out for their best interests.
  • Laura: Accept that you are not an academic anymore, and don’t let your new post-ac identity get in the way of working with scholars. Initially, I felt embarrassed about pursuing such work because I was afraid that other scholars wouldn’t take me seriously, but I realized that the embarrassment was self-made. Once I moved past my irrational fear that I wouldn’t be seen as a “real” academic, I was much more invested in my chosen career.
  • Annemarie: I think my academic training has generally helped me, partly by making me understand the stress faculty and students are under with regard to their writing. I also know how hard it is to hand a draft over, the anxiety about being judged and found wanting. It’s helped in a practical way—I know what research and research-based writing look like.
  • Margy: The most common challenge for my dissertation-writing clients is understanding and meeting their advisors’ expectations. The main challenge for my faculty clients is to produce publications consistently despite other competing priorities. No two clients are alike, which is why I’ve developed different methods for helping people to get their work done efficiently and well.
  • Annemarie: Potential post- and alt-acs should try working with a few people and find out about themselves as an editor. Practical things like how long it takes to do X or their skills at Y will help them decide how much they need to charge to make doing the work worthwhile. They should consider the intangibles, too: Is this work satisfying or frustrating? Is it something they enjoy, or is it something they’re basically doing to earn money?

Finally, get very familiar with Microsoft Word. There will be problems connected with software versions that cause formatting issues. I try never to come back to a client with “this is wrong, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” They’re paying me to figure out how to get it right.

I’ll add to these to my peers’ strong points:

  • If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, create one. Read how other editors and consultants—especially a few post-acs and alt-acs—describe their skills, experience, and services. LinkedIn will help you add connections, as well as give you some jobs to apply to so you can hone your resume, professional image, and positive career-change story.
  • A few potential post-acs I’ve talked with have been hesitant to publicize their career plans, because they worry that they’ll jeopardize any chances of getting a full-time academic position. If you’re concerned about going public, you could advertise yourself back channel through e-mails to colleagues discussing your plans (while requesting privacy).
  • Before agreeing to terms and payment, have a meeting with the client, preferably by some means other than e-mail. If you can meet in person, great; if not, schedule a phone call or Skype chat. Such conversations go better in real time; they’ll clarify your services, your clients’ expectations, and a fair fee structure.
  • Forgive me for repeating myself, but get a writing sample from the client before establishing your fee. Listening to the person discuss his or her project is one thing; actually reading it and seeing how much work it will entail is something else. Assess the client’s strengths and weaknesses, and offer your estimate accordingly. Don’t make the mistake I did of missing how labor-intensive a project will be by not reading the sample closely.
  • Before making an arrangement, clarify your services and the client’s expectations about what you will and won’t do. It’s sad but true: some clients—like some students we’ve had—will knowingly submit subpar work and expect free editorial magic. Outlining your duties from the beginning helps prevent this, as does addressing such problems directly, perhaps with something like: I’m noticing a lot of avoidable errors, such as This or That. Can you clean up these issues on your own and then send me a cleaner version? Our agreement was that I only handle X. I could also do Y, but you’ll have to pay $___ extra. Being professional and diplomatic might be tricky, but ensuring that your time and efforts are fully valued is necessary.
  • If, like me, you’re not especially strong with APA, ASA, or other styles, let your clients know that you’re best suited for other kinds of work. They should know exactly what you’ll do before formal (and paid) work on a project begins; this helps clients know what they’re paying for and you ensure you get paid fairly. I’ve offered to direct such clients to trusted colleagues who specialize in a certain format or style when I lack the knowledge.
  • A few graduate students have asked me questions about their argument or research better suited for their professors, so I’ve suggested they arrange meetings to discuss such substantive issues. Be clear from the beginning that clients should ultimately follow the professor and assignment prompt.
  • Add your academic clients to your list of references, and offer potential clients the chance to talk with them. Past clients can also be great sources of LinkedIn recommendations (scroll down here for mine). If there’s a certain aspect of your editing you want stressed—such as your exceptional turnaround times or formatting wizardry—ask the client to spotlight it.
  • Always advocate for yourself when describing, advertising, negotiating, and doing your work. Make sure you’re paid fairly for the work you do, and speak up when necessary.

There’s a lot of support and collaboration potential in the post-ac and alt-ac communities. In making new professional connections, you might also find an editing or consulting partner—perhaps someone with colleagues needing the kinds of skills you have. Keep connecting with and learning from your network, and always be looking for the new clients and opportunities that arise on social media and elsewhere.

What is the REF? A Primer on UK Academia (Guest Post)

This was generously sent in by a former client, now employed faculty member.  She is Lecturer (assistant professor) at the University of London.  I am always grateful for info on the UK job market, especially the REF.  For more on the UK academic job market, see this post for more on the REF and this post on the peculiar British interview process.


What is the REF?  The REF (Research Excellence Framework) is the assessment exercise that took place in 2014, taking over for the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise of 2008). It is a national research evaluation that affects all research universities and some arts colleges.


Why does it take place? All universities are public in the UK, so research funding generally comes from government-funded agencies. The REF is therefore, indirectly, the government’s accountability exercise to assess the quality and quantity of research being subsidized with public money. (NB with the rise in student fees in 2012, the funding structure has changed, so the REF will likely change as well for 2020).


Who participates? Most departments across the country send in a submission, and most members of those departments contribute to the submission. People have to be “selected,” but everyone is expected to participate if they are “permanent” (the equivalent of TT/tenured). To sit out the process would imply not being an active researcher, and this would have salary ramifications.


What does it entail? Individuals send their “output” (publications) to their faculty research office, and the material goes out for assessment – it gets reviewed internally, and then externally by an appointed “critical friend” of the department. Much of the material has already been through peer review, so the re-assessment, sometimes by non-specialists, can be troublesome for people who do non-traditional work. The university decides which individuals “get to” participate, and individual output goes into the departmental portfolio. Then the department is assessed as a whole. The process takes 2-3 years.


How does the assessment work? Specialists (usually at the rank of full professor) from every discipline are assigned to REF sub-panels, and they are relieved of their departmental duties for a year or so while they read the complete submission for their sub-discipline (this task is prestigious but thankless), and each item (article, chapter, book) is given a ranking: 4* (world-leading), 3* (internationally excellent), 2* (nationally excellent/internationally recognized), 1* (nationally recognized), “Unclassified.” The complete departmental portfolio is then tabulated, and the department is assigned a collective ranking for output on the basis of how many 4* outputs it has, along with other criteria like “impact” (public engagement) and “environment” (facilities and resources). Departments that rank highly get a pat on the back from admin, while departments that “do poorly” are threatened with salary cuts and closure.


Do adjuncts participate? Usually not, although any candidate who has a book has leverage to upgrade their contract. Many part-timers participate, though, such as people who leave mid-year, or full professors approaching retirement who drop down to part-time.


How much material gets assessed? In 2014, active researchers were asked to submit four pieces.


That must be a mistake – only four items? Right, a newly-minted PhD working hard to build a research profile might not think that four pieces in six years is much to produce. But this applies to people at all levels, and a Professor has to put out the same amount as a Lecturer (assistant professor). It doesn’t seem like much to someone one the tenure-track, but more senior researchers might see keeping up with the cycle as a lot of work. And for people working on a book, the need to put out articles while trying to finish a manuscript can mean not finishing the book.


How do you put together a submission? Ultimately, what confuses most people is how to weigh quality against quantity. At the moment, every document counts as one item, meaning that a single-authored monograph counts the same (quantitatively) as a chapter in an edited collection. But the former would generally earn a higher rating than the latter. So status publications remain the best route to a 4* ranking – almost anyone with a single-authored monograph and three journal articles will earn top marks. It’s harder to earn 4* without a book, but it can be done by publishing in top-status journals. This means that people who do multi-media, outreach, or anything non-traditional will sometimes be penalyzed for not focusing on traditional text. On the other hand, the system of weighting allows people to game the system if they know how it works. Edited collections and conference proceedings are often used as filler to round out a submission, especially for people who have already established their reputation. This is why some British academics have dozens and dozens of publications – they write as much as they can, and leave it to the research office to sort out which pieces are worth submitting. From Karen’s “Don’t get your career at Costco” perspective, this is an inefficient use of research time.


Whom does this system favour? It depends on who you ask, but the data indicates that the system favours men in their 50s and 60s. There is research about gender imbalances – in most universities, the REF submissions slant heavily male, regardless of departmental ratios, and there is low representation of people in their 30s (and virtually nobody in their 20s, at least in the humanities). The overseers are working to fix this imbalance, but slowly and largely ineffectively: For example, an Early Career Researcher (ECR – someone who finished within the past six to ten years, depending on the metric) is entitled to a reduced submission – 1 publication if they filed in 2011, 2 if they filed in 2010, and so forth. This appears to be a benefit. However, hiring committees in 2012 and 2013 were single-mindedly focused on making hires that would raise, rather than meet their departmental rating, and an ECR with two good articles wouldn’t make much of an impact statistically. So in the years leading up to the REF, departments usually hired someone with a book, leading to short-sighted hiring practices that favour a candidate with a book in-hand, and occasionally not much else, over a candidate with a lot of demonstrated productivity and potential. Likewise, departments keep senior faculty on well into their 70s if they are still publishing books. To some ECRs, this appears to be a transfer of privilege upwards.


Does anyone like the REF? The REF is stressful and time-consuming, it strains relations with administration, it causes bullying within departments, and it’s subject to the same critiques of neoliberalism and corporatization as the job market. One thing I can say on its behalf, though, is that it forces senior/experienced colleagues to remain in active research. I have some colleagues back in the US who complain about the full professors who stopped publishing long ago and are coasting while those on the TT work like mad to get their work done. I don’t find that to be the case, at least in my department – the same expectations apply to everyone, or, everyone who’s already an insider…


If I’m looking to work in the UK, how should I plan for the REF now? As an ECR, I use Karen’s five-year plan as a good template. The same things that make a successful tenure portfolio make a good REF submission, so publishing one article in a top journal per year, plus finishing your book, will leave you in a good position.



The Job of an Academic Editor: Part 1 (Fruscione #Postac Post)

by Joseph Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

I’ve written previously about the life of an academic editor.  In previous installments, I wrote about developmental and STEM editing opportunities. With a hat-tip to Jo VanEvery for the suggestion, I’m focusing today on editing academics’ work, which can be an easy segue for current and future post-acs. Virtually all academics know a colleague, mentor, or graduate student in need of developmental or copy editing. Jo, who works with tenured and tenure-track scholars, offers this: “Understand what an editor can do for you; if you outsource some of the editing, you can do more writing. Get the support you need.”

I’ve done several projects for professors and graduate students—some of whom I connected with via Tall Sister Editing, which a friend and former colleague runs. I’ve worked on different stages of scholarly projects: from trimming and restructuring a monograph, to helping revise journal articles, theses, and dissertations, to guiding Master’s or doctoral students’ work on multiple writing stages. Letting your academic connections know about your career transition can boost your freelance or full-time editing work. Get your name out there in academic circles via e-mail and social media, and do your best to keep it out there and build your clientele and editing portfolio.

You don’t have to be fully post-ac to work with academic clients. Laura Fowler Graham is a current academic who works as a writing consultant and coach. Laura finds her clients through social media platforms and word of mouth: “Some of my clients have been referred to me through friends and colleagues. I’ve solicited business from colleagues who are writing monographs and are looking for an independent editor. I have a website that lists the types of services I offer and my prices.” Laura does light to heavy copy editing, depending on what level of service her client requests. In her experience, “scholars prefer medium to heavy copy editing because their writing is generally much more complex and lengthy than the other types of documents.” If you do different levels of editing, make sure you have different rates, and charge accordingly for time-consuming work. I’ve worked from this breakdown of light, medium, and heavy copy editing, and I share it with new clients when discussing their needs, strengths, and areas of improvement as writers.

Laura’s academic training has been useful, but not without hindrances: “My experience with peer review and grading student papers has made it difficult for me to break away from the habit of wanting to analyze the material on a scholarly level, rather than just looking to the text to make sure that it is clear, concise, and free of grammar errors.” Academics gain a lot of useful and transferable skills through teaching and research. If you’re transitioning, self-reflect and identify these skills and your areas of improvement to help buttress your post-ac identity and increase your professional confidence.

From such investment and confidence will come successand, if you’re so inclined, entrepreneurship. Fellow TPII consultant Margy Thomas Horton has her own editing business, Scholar Shape:

I offer the full range of editing services, from development to final document processing. What sets ScholarShape apart from other editing shops is the menu of customizable editing and consultation services I’ve created. Examples of my unconventional editing services include Real-time Editing, Article Submission Management, and Reverse Outlining. My consultation services include Writing Sessions and Project Mapping.
Most of Margy’s clients find her through referrals, word of mouth, and reading her blog posts. Her academic training “was necessary preparation for my work as a supporter of scholars”:What has changed for me is that my perspective on academia has broadened. I had always looked at everything through a humanities lens, but now I approach academic inquiry from many perspectives at once, having absorbed the fascinations and tried on the approaches of my scholar-clients in fields ranging from chemistry, to law, to sociology, as well as in humanities fields like history and literature. I now see into the work lives of academics at every career stage. I recognize for the first time not only how intertwined all the disciplines are, but also how interdependent the many members of the Academy are—even if, at times, scholars can be isolated or alienated from one another.  
I like this idea of being “a supporter of scholars,” because manyand not just PhD studentsneed different kinds of editing, encouragement, and developmental work to advance various academic projects.


Another “supporter of scholars” is Annemarie Perez, who is in a strong position to know the challenges facing her clientsas well as how to offer the necessary support:

Sometimes it’s psychological. Especially for students finishing their dissertations, the process of writing is fraught with anxiety and insecurity. By the time they reach me, many of my clients have been treated quite poorly by advisors and departments. Finishing a dissertation (or book with the tenure clock ticking) is hugely stressful in its own right. I treat my clients as people who are paying not just for my editing skills, but also for my compassion, professionalism, and ability to treat them with dignity. I do my best to relieve as much stress as I can by being professional. This can be hard because, in working with academics, deadlines inevitably get pushed and I have to balance one client’s needs against my commitment to others.

Annemarie does different kinds of editing and coaching. Her services run the gamut from formatting (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) and line editing (light, medium, and heavy) to developmental and consulting work. “My clients find me through word of mouth, both from former clients and from departments and schools who know me. I used to do a lot more editing, dissertation coaching and ‘bootcamps’ and less teaching, so there are a number of people passing my name around.” Annemarie’s work for the Doctoral Support Center at USC’s Rossier School of Education has helped her editing–coaching career: “I was a graduate advisor there for two years and saw the balancing act students working full-time have to do to finish their dissertations. It made me understand why someone would need or want an editor.” If you’ve worked in a writing center or similar environment, stress the skills and experience you gained when applying for jobs.


Laura, Margy, and Annemarie have helped show the kinds of editing work available for scholarly projects. If this is a current, or even possible, post-ac or alt-ac career path for you, let one or more of us know. The post- and alt-ac communities are strong, supportive, growing…and always eager to help new members. In the next piece, my colleagues and I will offer some practical advice to get you started finding and doing this work.

The Question Is Not The Question

Kellee and I were chatting the other day about her work in Interview Interventions over the past few months. She said to me, “What clients always need to understand is that the question is not the question!  They always think the question is asking XXX, but it’s actually asking YYY, they just don’t know it!”

We talked more.  We came up with some examples of common questions, and what our clients think they’re supposed to say vs. what the search committee really wants to know.

1) Tell us about your research.

You think they care about your research.
You say way too much about narrow, narrow, oh so narrow, tediously narrow interests.

No. They want to learn about how your expertise fits into their departmental needs as expressed by the job ad, and connects with the work of the people doing the interview (which is why your methodology and contribution are actually the most important portion of your answer), and is quickly getting funded and published in ways that bode well for tenure.   At the same time, they observe how you express yourself, how self absorbed you are or aren’t.

2) Tell us about your plans for the next five years.

You think they want to hear about your interests and motivations in the life of the mind in huge, grandiose, boring abstractions.

This is the equivalent of someone asking you  how to get to from LA to NY by car, and you start the answer: “the corn of Nebraska is beautiful in late summer!”

No. It’s not about the corn.  Instead, you’ll need to explain how, leaving on XX date, on XX road, you’ll make it to XX city by sundown.  Then starting the next day, you’ll reach XX by sundown.  You will give the step-by-step route complete with mileage goals and destinations along the way.  They don’t need to know your feelings about the scenery.

Same for tenure. Tenure is a destination that must be reached in careful and well-planned stages.  The search committee needs to know 1) that you get what tenure at their institution means and 2) that you have plan complete with dates and locations to get there. All framed within THEIR concerns. R1 = RESEARCH goals, along with teaching and a tiny bit of service; SLAC = TEACHING goals, always informed by research and more service.

3)  Tell us how you would teach our big survey course.

You think they want to hear how you’re going to make those undergrads finally grasp the point of transnationalism, once and for all.  Or modernity.  They must know modernity.  Or intersectionality, goddammit!  They MUST. BE. TAUGHT. INTERSECTIONALITY.

No.  They do not want to hear that you are going to dogmatically hijack their big intro course and make it into an altar to your personal theoretical preoccupation.  They want to know that 1) you get that you will be teaching big survey courses, 2) you get what the discipline expects students to learn in those classes and have a plan to assure students learn it. They want to know that even though they are hiring an expert in the power dynamics of gender on Mars it does not mean you will hijack their Introduction to Anthropology class and teach it through a Martian gender theory lens. In other words, they want to know that you will not take their courses off the rails and leave them with ill-prepared students in their 200 level courses.


4)  Tell us how you see yourself contributing to this department.

You think they want to know the courses you will propose and how much you loooooooove students (graduate or otherwise)

No. They need to see you making specific connections between your work and the work being done by current faculty in the department, at thematic and/or topical levels.

They also want to know how you will raise their department profile or raise the profile of their students (depending the institution) both on an off campus. Working Groups. Interdisciplinary collaborations. Professional Affiliations. Programs. Initiatives. Field Schools. And yes, courses. But really the courses you propose only go so far.


5) Tell us why you want to work here.

You think they want to know how great their department will be for you and all the great things you will do with all of their great resources.

No.  That is self-absorbed.  This is not the time for more “me, me, me” and how the job is going to serve you.  They want to know that you understand the university, the department, the faculty. That you have thought it through and see where you can connect, build, and engage, giving specific examples and ideas.


6) Do you have any questions for us?

You think the purpose of these questions is to gather information.

No.  These questions are more ways they elicit information about you.  They want to know what you are prioritizing in your academic life. Your questions always reveal your values, and you must manage them for what they disclose.  They are often where your deepest priorities and anxieties come out into the light.  If all your questions are about teaching, and it’s an R1, you look like you don’t belong.  You must show them that you are thinking about what they think you should be thinking about.  Always with an eye to your tenure case.  I wrote some specifics about this in a recent Chronicle Vitae post, Good Question!

Kellee was talking with her brother recently and lamenting how often people they’ve  interviewed for positions had clearly failed to prepare in any way to understand the position or the organization. He mentioned a recent search he was chairing for a position in the U.S. Forest Service.  He and his colleagues asked, “do you have any questions for us?”  The candidates fell into two groups: those who asked something like, “How often am I paid and what are my benefits?” and those who asked something like, “I was looking at XXX project that you did last year, and it really intersects with my work;  I am interested to know if you have plans to further develop XXX?  I would like to be involved.”

To quote Kellee’s brother: “Who do you think made the short list?”

Want to work with Kellee on a live Skype Interview Intervention?  Here’s the info:

The Interview Intervention and Job Talk Intervention are both  50-minute Skype appointments with TPII colleague Kellee Weinhold, who specializes in communications and presentation.  The latter is a practice job talk.  The former is an intensive mock-interview.  The cost for each is $250.

For the Interview Intervention, we take you through a set of 6 basic interview questions (several of these are described in my blog post, The #Facepalm Fails of the Academic Interview) in a mock interview, stopping after each question to evaluate every answer for its strengths and weaknesses in terms of brevity, spin, word choice, tone, body language, etc., and refining it for effectiveness.  For some basic questions, you may repeat your response 2-3 times until perfect.  It’s grueling, but very effective.   Read some of the testimonials on the Testimonials page to learn more.

For the Job Talk Intervention we listen to about 30 minutes of your job talk while referring to a written outline of the complete talk that you provide, along with your powerpoint slides/visuals. You will not give an uninterrupted version of the talk, but rather the most important sections–the opening, the meat of the research, and the contribution/conclusion.  Kellee provides an evaluation of your organization, approach, balance of theory and data, wording, body language, speech patterns, effectiveness of visuals, etc., with particular attention to the effectiveness of the talk for the particular job.

Once an I-I or Job Talk Intervention has been scheduled it is non-refundable. It can be rescheduled up to 48 hours in advance; after that the slot cannot be changed.

Both kinds of Skype Interventions are currently scheduled through an on-line calendar. Please go here to schedule and pay: