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

Love the blog? Now get it in handy book form!


Buy it at all these places!

indiebound-button-graphicamazon-button-graphicbn-button-graphic target_retailer googlebooks-button-graphic New iBooks Badge - 11 12

It also makes a great gift for all those struggling grad students in your life!

For bulk orders for use in classes, seminars, and workshops, please call Crown Publishing  (Random House) Customer Service at 1-800-733-3000.



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.



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

We’re All In the Same Boat

The European tour is going splendidly!  So far I’ve spoken at University of Aberdeen (2 events by me:  Hacking the US Academic Job Market, Academic Leadership for Women; 1 event by Kellee Weinhold: The US Academic Interview), at University of St. Andrews (Keynote for the Making Your Ph.D. Work for You conference), and University of Edinburgh (Hacking the US Academic Job Market).  Here are some pics!

At Aberdeen

At Aberdeen, in the 7th floor room, a blizzard whirling outside!

With the wonderful organizer at St. Aberdeen, Prof. Amy Bryzgel

With the wonderful organizer at St. Aberdeen, Prof. Amy Bryzgel

At St. Andrews

At St. Andrews

With the organizer at Edinburgh, Carol MacDonald

With the organizer at Edinburgh, Carol MacDonald

IMG_2064 copy

Talking to grad students after the event at Edinburgh


The rooms have been packed at each event – with almost 150 people coming at Edinburgh. One surprise—the large number of American students and faculty here in Scotland!  At the undergraduate level as well, apparently.

Here’s what I can say:  the Ph.D. students here have mostly the same anxieties and concerns that they do in the States.  How can I get a job? Where are the jobs? Do I really have to publish? What about postdocs? How important is teaching?

What Ph.D. students here don’t seem to have is huge debt (thankfully).  What they are most worried about is a lack of teaching experience—in their 3-year Ph.D. system, there is no standard practice of TA-ing or teaching.  And they are anxious that while the 3-year program is quick and relatively affordable, it leaves them without time for significant publishing.

The other big question is this:  how is a Scottish Ph.D. read on the American job market?  I have tried to be honest:  like any non-US-elite Ph.D., a Ph.D. from an institution like Aberdeen, St. Andrews, and even to some degree Edinburgh, is going to be harder to interpret for US search committees.  They probably won’t have much familiarity, and may find it more difficult to relate to than a standard “default” like Berkeley, Michigan, Cornell, and the like…

I tell them what I tell all audiences: you can compete to the degree that you render yourself legible to search committees through your record and your materials.  An excellent publication and grant record will make a huge difference. Try and have one US-based recommender if you can.  In an over-stressed job market, with distracted and exhausted search committees in downsized departments, make sure that your record makes sense according to American hiring standards, and makes your case quickly and with evidence rather than rhetoric.

The UK seems not to be as deep into adjunctification as we are in the States, but is far deeper in a quantitative productivity rubric (the REF).  I was interviewed about this in a piece published in The Guardian.

At the same time, Andrew McRae of the University of Exeter argues on his blog that the REF, as well as the National Student Survey, in mandating productivity rubrics, is working against a logic of casualization of labor.  Interesting.  I will be asking my hosts their thoughts about this as I move forward, next to Kings College London and London School of Economics.

In a global contraction of higher ed, we are fighting for our livelihoods and the space to pursue intellectual pursuits free of a profit motive.  What I can say is: we are all in this together.

Chasing Rainbows – An Adjunct Farewell

An email I received earlier this year.  If you are confronting a similar situation, remember that my post-ac team can help, and the initial consult is completely free.
At this point, I am giving up. This interview was my last real shot at academia and it is no longer financially and mentally sound for me to continue working toward the goal that I have desperately been trying to achieve (and thought I would) for eight years. It has been taxing, but now it is too much. I am now living the adjunct’s life I feared, shuttling between campuses to earn a few thousand dollars for each class. I just don’t have the ability to convince myself anymore into thinking that adjuncting is going to pay off.
Moreover, I am also a father. My son was born in 2012, and addition to teaching 3 to 4 classes a semester, I have also been his primary caregiver since my wife had to go back to teaching after 2 months. (In XX city, there is no maternity leave for teachers.) This meant that in addition to teaching, applying for grants and fellowships, revising a dissertation for publication, for 5 days a week from 8 to 5, I was taking care of my son from the time he was two months to now. (Having these roles made me realize how gender inequality in academia works when the duties of the private sphere–which wasn’t even the case with me– are exclusively thrust upon women, while at the same time they are expected to produce as scholars and be great teachers.)  This has also meant that I am not the priority anymore, my son is and always will be. I simply can’t forsake his future happiness and education to continue chasing rainbows.
In short, I am 35 years old and I have been mostly adjuncting for 8+ years now (except for a few years where I received fellowships in exchange for teaching). I have no money–in fact I am $30,000 in debt from undergrad and grad school. All the money we have saved is contributed by my wife, who is an elementary school teacher and has supported me financially and psychologically through the grad school and job market process. Without her, I would not be able to continue through grad school and go on the market, which I feel incredibly terrible about at this point. I just feel universally overwhelmed and rudderless.

The problem is I simply don’t know what to do. I never had a backup to academia. I don’t particularly like the institution of academia (the inequality among adjuncts and the academic 1%, the elitism, snobbery, increasing neoliberalism), but I love teaching. More important to me, I want to keep writing and publishing. I just don’t know where to go do these things. I applied to jobs in the federal government, thinking that might be a start, but I am not sure. But I do know that I do not want to feel this way anymore. I want to earn a living for myself and my son and be rewarded for my work, not underpaid, ignored, and rejected.

I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take the instability and the constant rejection. I can’t keep trying to make people notice me so that I can feed my ego and feel validated. It’s not working.

Reflections On Our Way to Europe

As this goes out to you today, I am on my way, accompanied by my partner in crime Kellee Weinhold, to Scotland to start a month-long speaking tour of Scotland, England, Denmark, and Switzerland.

Here’s the schedule:

University of Aberdeen: April 25-26
University of St. Andrews: April 27
University of Edinburgh: April 29
Kings College London: May 3
London School of Economics: May 4
University of Oxford: May 6
University of Cambridge: May 9
University of Warwick: May 10
Roskilde University, Denmark: May 12
University of Zurich, Switzerland: May 19

I’ll be speaking mainly about the US academic job market, but also, at different points, about the post-ac transition, interviewing, and academic leadership for women.

Here’s where we’re going, pictorially:


University of Aberdeen


University of St. Andrews (founded 1413)


University of Edinburgh


Oxford University


(Kellee and I will be having dinner at High Table at Worcester College, Oxford, invited by historian Josephine Quinn)


Dinner at High Table, Oxford


Cambridge University



Roskilde University (ah, Denmark…)


University of Zurich


There are moments when you wonder, how did I get from where I was, to where I am now?  And you marvel. This is one of those moments.  That is all.

The Post-Ac’s Guide to the Resume

by TPII Post-ac Coach Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal


Many job applicants make common and nearly universal mistakes in their resumes, but some are more specific to people with PhDs. I also made many of these same mistakes until I became a supervisor and realized just how tiresome it is to sift through a stack of resumes that bury what you need to know in way too much detail and overdone formatting. Even though it is part of a supervisor’s job to review resumes, it is one small job duty among many others that are more critical and more demanding. Supervisors aren’t going to spend extra time on your resume if yours takes more effort to read than most of the rest. If you want the job, make your future supervisor’s job easier—give them a resume that shows in simple and clear language what you can do for them.

Pass the <10 Second Scan Test

Professional recruiters only spend a mean of 6 seconds scanning each resume. The first goal with your resume is to pass the scan test that decides whether to put you in a “no” or “consider” pile. That first round of elimination will be done by a computer or an actual human (possibly HR staff, the actual hiring supervisor, or one of your potential future co-workers delegated the task of culling applications). The more applicants there are, the more crude and error prone that first round of elimination. If your value as a potential employee is buried in a bunch of irrelevant text, you increase your chances of elimination because your job materials won’t be read closely enough to uncover it.  If you use the same terminology from the job ad to describe your skills, experience, and accomplishments you have a better chance of passing that first cursory scan. If you make it into the consider pile, your application will get more attention later to determine interview selections.

Large employers have online application submission systems. The best way to deal with these is to go around them and deal directly with the hiring supervisor (more on this in my next few blog posts). Some hiring supervisors are required by policy to hire from the pool of applicants that submitted to the online system. If this is the case, then you should both contact the supervisor directly to find out more about the job and submit to the online system.

Organizations that routinely receive hundreds of applications for some positions may have a uniform policy to use “applicant tracking system” (ATS) software to sort through applicants. This can be as minimal as a source to view and download applications or as substantial as parsing your information into a database and summarizing it into a report with a score for how well your resume matches the job description (for more on this read: 5 Insider Secrets for Beating Applicant Tracking Systems and How to Get the Applicant Tracking System to Pick Your Resume). If your resume is formatted in an unusual way, it may cause reads errors for the ATS and your application will likely just get rejected. Don’t give it a reason to cull your application!

Formatting Basics

No special paper, fonts, tables, or graphics (including watermarks). Attempts to grab attention don’t make anyone look special or stand out (in a good way), ever, only desperate to be special. These sort of tactics are typically employed by those with few or no relevant skills and experience—this is not the group you want to be associated with. You don’t need to grab attention—you are going to apply to jobs and write cover letters and resumes that deserve attention because they have substance.

1 to 2 pages long with breaks between short paragraphs. If the applicant pool is relatively small, the hiring supervisor will likely review about 10-15 applicants. If each applicant has a 1 page resume and a 1 page cover letter, that is 20-30 pages of text to read through and assess. Each page of your application is precious real estate. Shorter is better as long as you’ve covered all elements. Never submit your full and lengthy master resume, thoroughly describing all of your work experience, for any job application. You will edit down a specific version of each job application highlighting your duties, skills, and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job description, with little to no additional information.

Standard 1 inch margins and standard 12pt font. Use a simple, standard and readable font type (such as Calibri, Arial, Georgia, Garamond, or even plain old Times New Roman). What matters is that it is easy to read and not annoying (like Gothic or Script type fonts, seriously).

The Necessary Elements

Name and contact information. List simply and on separate lines: your name, email, phone number and LinkedIn profile address. No fancy bullets or graphics (even simple lines) to separate them. This will mess with the ATS and is visually distracting. Keep it simple!

Work experience. For each item list employer or organization, your title, and dates. Or your title, then employer, then dates. Just don’t put dates first—it will throw-off an ATS that parses resumes. 1-2 sentences that describe the position, followed by bullet points describing your most relevant skills and accomplishments in terms used in the job description.

Don’t try to make your resume more interesting by using similar, but slightly different words. The people reviewing your resume have the words from the job description in mind when scanning your resume, so use those.

Phrase your skills as fact, not opinion. Anyone can say “Excels at data analyses,” however, “Performed multilevel GLM analyses in Stata and SAS for multiple projects” tells the prospective supervisor something specific about your experience.

Work experience doesn’t have to be in chronological order—you can list these in order of relevance for the job you are applying to. Have little to no detail for jobs that are less relevant.

Include your dissertation research! This is where you honed your most important professional skill—managing all aspects of a major project. Your title will be something like “Doctoral Candidate,” “Research Fellow,”  or “Visiting Scholar,” depending on whether you were funded, at a field site or research center, etc. Include any experiences that built the skills you have for the jobs you want and put a title on it. The key is nothing with “student” in it.

Education. Yes, this goes after work experience and not before it. It probably seems most important to you if you’ve recently been steeped in earning it, but your work experience matters more. Also, only use the header “Education” so the ATS can recognize it. List the most recent degree first, with: degree type, department or program, locations, and date received. Nothing more. No details on your coursework, thesis, dissertation, etc.

The Optional Elements

Skills. If you include a section that lists skill separately, do not put it at the top and only use it to summarize skills that are evident in your work experience. This should go at the bottom. Too often applicants use this as a way to stuff in a bunch of keywords that appear in the job description, but not in their work experience, in an effort to get an interview. For this reason, a skills section at the top is a red flag that the applicant may not be qualified—again, not the group you want to be associated with.

Professional associations, certifications, and other credentials. If these are relevant to the job you are applying to, then include them after education. Otherwise, omit them.

The Elements to Exclude

References. No one should call your references until after interviews are completed and they’ve at least narrowed it down to a few equally good candidates. Unfortunately, not all employers follow the rules on references. If you are doing a stealth job search and don’t want your references to know you are on the job market, it is critical you avoid giving them out early. If you have to (some online submissions require it) leave out anyone who you are not ready for them to contact. If you get an interview, you can provide an updated reference list at the appropriate time.

Career goal statement. This is unnecessary and does nothing to showcase your skills and accomplishments. Your immediate goal is obvious—a new job, preferably this one. Don’t waste your precious resume real estate on this.

Applicant summary/profile statement. Again, this does nothing to showcase your skills and accomplishments and wastes precious resume real estate. However, you should absolutely have this on your LinkedIn profile and that is why you will include a link to it at the top of your resume.

Dance, Dance, Revolution

Years ago, the gender studies program at my university hosted a Latin American female hip hop group, who gave a roundtable on women and rap in Latin America on campus, and then a live concert.  The roundtable was great, but I’ll never, to the day I die, forget the excruciatingly painful sight of my colleagues and me attempting to “dance” at that (spectacular) hip hop concert in that conference hall on campus.  I love to dance, but in that context, I could barely move.  Stiff, self-conscious, repressed… We were a group of people who existed entirely in our brains.  There was no conceivable space to “let go,” or “move” or “feel.” When we were asked to, by the performers we’d allowed into that space, it produced a horrifying degree of total cognitive dissonance. We shuffled about miserably, avoiding each others’ eyes.

That concert stays in my mind, a decade later, as the thing that I find most soul-crushing about the academy.  It’s not that the academy is a place that prioritizes mental or cognitive work that is the problem.  It’s that it prioritizes that to the exclusion of all else.

When we leave the academy, recovering our bodies and spirits is the first order of business.  But of course, even those who are still inside (ha!) might want to do that as well.

For the last three years I’ve been dancing with a group of women in Eugene who take classes from two particular teachers, Cynthia Valentine Healey and Shelly Galvin [see their bios below!]

We do all kinds of dance in these classes–hip hop, Latin, African, and burlesque, to name a few.  Here is a burlesque night at Shelley’s class.  In the front row, I’m on the left, Shelley is in the middle, and Cynthia is on the right.

How great is this, seriously?

This isn’t the first time I’ve danced; in fact, I took dance classes for about twelve years when young–mostly ballet and modern dance. I even went to dance camp!  But I never went on to do any performing. I didn’t expect to ever go back to a dance class again, actually–i thought it was a thing you do as a kid. I wasn’t drawn to it the way I was to intellectual work.

But for some reason, about three years ago I tried out a zumba class at the YMCA, attracted by the booming hip hop I’d hear on my way to swim or work out.  I was instantly hooked.  After about a year I got into the classes I go to now, and truly I’m not exaggerating when I say they are the centerpiece of my week.  Cynthia and Shelly are best friends, and fierce in their commitment to the power of dance to empower and heal both individuals and the world. It inspires all their work, and it inspires us.  They’ve gathered a passionate following among a group of us who have become essential community to one another.

This is class last week. In the front row again (I like being in front- I’m sure that surprises you) I’m on the right, Shelly is in the middle, and on the left is Jess, who owns and runs one of the top yoga studios in Eugene.

Dance has given me back to myself.  It’s endorphin-pumping fun, it’s exercise, it keeps me fit, it lifts my depression, and opens up my heart. It’s given me new friends and ways to reconnect with old friends, including a former tenured UO colleague who is one of the regulars.  And the way we do it, it’s pretty raunchy.  And I love that – the raunchier the choreography the happier I am!

What dance does for me is exorcise the remnants of academic repression from my body and spirit.

There are a surprising number of Ph.D.s and other hyper-educated sorts who come.  The other day, in Cynthia’s class, I realized I was in the front row with 2 other Ph.D.s, a JD, and an MD.  Cynthia is herself a Ph.D. (Psychology, now in private practice), and she and I have talked a lot about the mind-body disconnect of the academy, and what it takes to heal from it.

Here is Cynthia, in a video collage she and Shelly made to share their dance empowerment vision.  All of her choreography is original and may soon be licensed!  For a lot of us, it’s like church (and I say that as a Jew).

(I don’t have any videos of me dancing in Cynthia’s class.  But if you watch to the end of this video you’ll see another bit from one of Shelly’s classes. I’m in the back).

I’ve wanted to share my dancing here on the blog for awhile, because I have become such a proselytizer for self-care for academic women.  Self-care that goes beyond saying no to committee work and speaking up in negotiations and lowering your standards on the housework — although these are all essential.  This is self-care that actually nurtures you and build you up and reintegrates your mind and your body and your soul.

Everybody has their own thing– it might be running, or art, or music, or yoga, or knitting, or walking, or meditation or a hundred other possibilities.  They’re all good. For me, it’s dance.  If you’re still looking for something for yourself, I encourage you to try dance.  There is somebody in your town teaching it, and you’ll be amazed at what it does for you.  But do something.  For your own sake and everybody else’s.


Shelly Galvin

Shelly Galvin

Shelly Galvin is Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for tech education firm, CBT Nuggets, based in Eugene, Oregon. Shelly’s passion and life’s work is to develop, build capacity and further the success of global humanitarian efforts. Along with CBT Nuggets, Shelly is pioneering a revolutionary and exemplary philanthropy program, stay tuned!

Dr. Healey

Dr. Healey

Cynthia Valentine Healey is the founder and creative director of Dance Empowered, a dance fusion fitness experience. Having studied numerous dance genres throughout her life, Cynthia leads dancers of all ages and abilities through high energy choreography paired to evocative and carefully chosen music from around the world. In addition to Dance Empowered classes, Cynthia also has a private practice as a holistic psychologist where she integrates evidence-based intervention approaches with mindfulness and energy medicine. Cynthia is also the lead singer for the band Concrete Loveseat.

The 30,000 Foot View – a STEM Postac Guest Post

By Brandon Cochenour, Ph.D.


It would seem lately that a lot of the discussion around “alt-ac” are mostly “Variations on a Theme”…

Get PhD
Search for tenure track position
Receive tenure track position (or not)
Fall out of love with Academia
Figure out what the heck you’re going to do next

Indeed, there are some heroic stories and lots to learn from those brave enough to “make the leap” after you get to the last step.  It occurs to me though that most of this discussion assumes that “alt-ac” is something that you only arrive at after all else fails.  But why does this have to be the case?  Why can’t “alt-ac” be the plan all along?  Why does getting a PhD presume the only logical conclusion is landing a professorship?  And why does it assume that being “academic” can only take place in “Academia”?

Some of this perspective may stem from my own personal experience.  I went to work at a Navy research lab immediately after the undergrad, and only pursued graduate education to enhance an “alt-ac” career that was already in progress.  Revisiting Academia provided me with the opportunity to develop and fine-tune skills I needed to be successful in my field, while my prior experience as a practicing engineer allowed me not to get lost in the Ivory Tower.  It’s a path that’s served me well, and affords the opportunity to mix the best parts of “in-ac” and “out-ac” into a hybrid pathway.

But what can you, as a current or aspiring PhD student in a STEM field, do to develop your alt-ac skills and set yourself on a path that provides you with the most options after the defense?

To this end, I see two broad “alt-ac” career paths for us STEM folk.  One is being an Academic…just not in Academia.  After all, you know how to operate in a lab.  You’re technically competent.  Maybe you know how to code.  None of this means a life destined to Academia.  In my own experience, I’ve been able to do cutting edge research without having to be on the tenure track at a major research university.  I can teach and mentor young engineers without the pressures of course loads and student reviews.  I can collaborate with industry, small businesses, and start-ups to help bring new technologies to bear in my field.  And, I have the work-life balance that allows me to pursue other passions outside of STEM, like my other ‘job’ as a jazz pianist.  There are plenty of opportunities outside the University to maintain your scientific prowess, if that’s what you desire.

On the other hand, what if you end up wanting to leave the lab bench all together?  Fortunately, I think we STEM folks are inherently well set up for success here too simply due to the nature of our studies.

How so?

Someone once told me that in the STEM disciplines, a B.S. student knows how to perform an experiment, an M.S. student knows how to design an experiment, and a PhD knows which experiment to do next.  In other words, STEM PhDs, through their training, are placed at the forefront of the “state-of-the-art”.  They’re able to use their training to see into the future and connect dots that aren’t yet connected.

In the end, we Scientists and Engineers are problem solvers.  While our initial training may be in the nuts and bolts of a particular scientific field, there’s always some bigger picture.  What solution does this science address?  What are the implications?  What are the potential real-world useful applications of this technology?  Point being, once you zoom out from the textbook, the “alt” options become clear.  Business Development.  Public Health.  Policy.  Non-profit.  Technical Communications/Journalism.  Law. Tech Transfer (i.e. – Entrepreneurship or Venture Capital).  Taking a 30,000 ft. view of the field may help overcome the initial obstacle of, “what do I do if I don’t do science?”.  Remember, you’re the expert in your area!

In future posts, I hope to be able to share with you some practical ideas on how to start building these alt-ac skills while pursuing your STEM PhD, and how to leverage everyday Academic experiences to develop your “alt-ac” swagger.


Bio: Dr. Brandon Cochenour has served as an Electrical Engineer with the U.S. Navy since 2004.  In his current role, Brandon collaborates with industry, academia, small business, and other federal labs to develop next generation laser imaging and communication technologies for ocean exploration.  Brandon obtained his M.S. and PhD both while maintaining his duties as a Navy engineer, an experience that gives him unique insight into the worlds of academia, industry, and government service.  Brandon is an avid supporter of STEM outreach, appearing before thousands of young students interested in STEM fields through classroom visits, science fairs, laboratory tours, and mentoring. He has twice been named Navy Scientist and Engineer of the Year, and is a Maryland Academy of Sciences Outstanding Young Engineer.  On weekends, you can find him moonlighting as a jazz pianist in the Washington DC area. On the Twitter, you can find him moonlighting as @DocBrando.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not not necessarily reflect any official policy or position of the U.S. Navy or any other federal agency.

Starving the Beast

“I’m glad it’s sunny out today.  Because it sure is dark in here.”

So said a grad student during the Q and A following my talk last week at the University of Oregon. The talk, “Hacking the Academic Job Market,” is a talk that I’ve given at almost 50 universities and disciplinary association meetings over the past three years.

The talk starts by pointing to the “crisis” in academic hiring, and then immediately repudiates the term “crisis.”

Because “crisis” means an immediate or short-term moment of emergency or calamity, and/or a turning point, or a watershed moment.  But the current moment in academic hiring is none of these things. It is merely the latest point in a perfectly consistent, predictable, and totally transparent 40-year trend replacing tenure line and tenured faculty members with contingent instructors.  In 1980 75% of university instructors were tenure stream and 25% contingent. Now 25% are tenure stream and 75% are contingent.

This is not news.  Every single source of data confirms it. The depredations of the adjunct population have burst onto national consciousness. New stories of adjunct debt and poverty, and the efforts of NTT faculty to unionize, come across Twitter and Facebook daily.  If this were merely an outcome of economics, it would be improving with the so-called improvement of the economy.  It is not.  It is a systematic POLITICAL disinvestment in the idea of higher education as a public good.  Learn more from the new documentary, Starving the Beast: The Battle to Disrupt and Reform America’s Universities.

And yet, talk after talk, campus after campus, grad student after grad student, my message—that only a tiny minority of Ph.D.s get tenure track jobs, that the tenure track job is the “alternative” job in virtually all fields, that the financial costs of the Ph.D. in terms of debt and opportunity cost (ie, payment into social security or another job retirement fund, for example) are skyrocketing, and ivory tower idealism, perpetrated by self-serving advisors, departments, and graduate colleges,  mystifies the actual existing price tag of graduate school — comes as a total shock to the majority of the audience, who turn pale, slump in their seats, and look around anxiously.

I speak not to brand new first year grad students, mind you, but almost exclusively to advanced ABDs, new Ph.D.s, and postdocs. How is it possible that I am the first person to deliver this message to these audiences of highly intelligent adults who have been working in the academy for 5 or 10 years or more?


Well, a combination of denial, self-interest, and deliberate misinformation.

Grad students remain enmeshed in denial. Why, I do not know.

Faculty, meanwhile, are motivated by self-interest; they  will almost never voluntarily give up the prestige of their own Ph.D. students and Ph.D. programs in their departments. (There are exceptions to this, I’m glad to say. But they are rare). Indeed, I continually hear of departments that are CREATING — incredibly, unbelievably — new Ph.D. programs.

And there is deliberate obfuscation by administrators, who know that their campus will lose essential teaching staff, tuition dollars, and AAU ranking and prestige, if the supply of naive, manipulable new graduate students ever dries up.

Where will it stop?  When will people face the truth?  In almost all fields jobs are disappearing. Debt is increasing.  When I did the Ph.D. Debt Survey two years ago, many contributors from the humanities and social science had six figure debt–some as high as $200,000 or even $400,000.

Now, the National Science Foundation provides the latest data:

More people are pursuing Ph.D.s than ever.  American universities awarded 54,070 research doctorates in 2014, the highest total in the 58 years that the National Science Foundation has sponsored the Survey of Earned Doctorates, a new edition of which was released Friday.

Number of Doctorate Recipients by Field of Study

Field 2004 2009 2014
All 42,123 49,553 54,070
Life sciences 8,813 11,403 12,504
Physical sciences 6,047 8,324 9,859
Social sciences 7,043 7,829 8,657
Engineering 5,777 7,642 9,568
Education 6,635 6,528 4,793
Humanities 5,210 4,891 5,486

The number of those Ph.D.s leaving with jobs is down. Note that the figures below are NOT figures for secure tenure track placement!   “Job commitment” means only a job of some kind, including contingent, visiting, instructorship, postdoc, etc.

Percent of Doctorate Recipients With Job or Postdoc Commitments, by Field of Study

Field 2004 2009 2014
All 70.0% 69.5% 61.4%
Life sciences 71.2% 66.8% 57.9%
Physical sciences 71.5% 72.1% 63.8%
Social sciences 71.3% 72.9% 68.8%
Engineering 63.6% 66.8% 57.0%
Education 74.6% 71.6% 64.6%
Humanities 63.4% 63.3% 54.3%



And debt continues to increase.

Debt of New Doctoral Degree Graduates, 2014

Field Mean Cumulative Debt % With Debt > $70,000
All $22,392 12.6%
Life sciences $19,605 9.8%
Physical sciences $12,365 5.1%
Social sciences $34,999 22.6%
Engineering $11,645 5.1%
Education $36,260 23.3%
Humanities $29,953 17.4%


Almost a quarter of those finishing Ph.D.s in Education and the Social Sciences carry debt of more than $70,000.

Please.  Stop the madness.  Faculty: stop admitting new Ph.D. students.  Students: stop going into Ph.D. programs.  If you’re in one, calculate the real likely ROI, in terms of your years out of the job market, the financial cost, the opportunity costs in terms of lost wages and lost payments into social security/retirement, and the debt accrued.  Face reality.

How to Be a Fiction Editor, Part II: Novelists’ Views – Postac Post by Joe Fruscione

By Postac Coach and Consultant, Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione


In Part I of this series, we heard from three editors who’ve worked on fiction projects. Now we flip the conversation and hear from two writers who’ve worked with freelancers to edit their work. Erika Robuck has published Hemingway’s Girl, Call Me Zelda, and The House of Hawthorne, among other works. Fellow post-ac Katie Rose Guest Pryal has published Entanglement and Love and Entropy, among other fiction and nonfiction works. Their perspectives will help expand your client base, frame any edits or comments you have, and understand the marketplace for creative writing.

I’ve tightened, proofread, and polished several fiction and nonfiction manuscripts before they went to press. My background in English and Writing studies helps me edit fiction, but post-acs from various academic backgrounds can also do this kind of work. Frame your editing experience and marketplace knowledge effectively. A STEM or Social Sciences background might be an incentive for hiring you, depending on the writer’s subject and needs. Writers often need an educated non-specialist’s perspective on a manuscript to help them see if their work appeals to a wide audience.


A successful freelancer is an active freelancer. Although some projects might fall into your lap, you should be proactive in advertising your services and expanding your client base. Remind friends and colleagues of your editing work, and ask former clients for references or referrals. Always be connecting:

Katie: The editors I’ve “hired” I’ve met through workshops and conferences, mostly. Some I’ve never met in person—only through social media. Many are former academics. It’s important to decide the scope of work in advance. Don’t be surprised or defensive if an editor comes back to you and suggests that your book needs more work than you think it needs. At the same time, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

Erika: I hired a freelance editor in 2011 before sending Hemingway’s Girl to agents. I met my editor at a writing conference where I had an opportunity to work in instructional and critique sessions with her and several other freelancers. We had a connection, and she had an understanding of what I was trying to accomplish. Her website clearly listed her pricing, and she offered a slight discount to participants she met through the workshop. Because my budget was tight, I hired her for a partial edit: the first 100 pages. I couldn’t have been more pleased with her suggestions and insights, and I ended up receiving multiple agent offers. I believe the workshop and her editing contributed to my success.


Writers, like students, have different preferences for discussing their work. Communication is key at all stages of an editing relationship: from deciding on the kind of editing needed to sharing your revisions and queries. During an initial Skype or phone chat to discuss your standard practices, ask your potential clients how they prefer getting feedback.

Erika: My ideal editor would have a phone conversation with me about my project, themes, and goals. He or she would provide thoughtful feedback in terms of both content and style—within the body of the manuscript and in an editorial letter—and would allow for one or two follow-up conversations. It is helpful to hear what works well and what needs work.

Katie: I went through one of the roughest workshop experiences imaginable during my creative writing master’s degree, so I’m pretty much bullet-proof now with feedback. Aside from ad hominem attacks, I want a reader/editor to tear up my writing, pulling no punches. I recognize, however, that most people are a little more personally attached to their writing. They might perceive attacks on their writing to be ad hominem because they have a hard time separating their selves from their writing. A good editor realizes this and can personalize feedback to the person. I want a Word document so covered in comments and tracked changes that I have to make it quintuple-spaced to read them in the margin. The more the better.


I asked Erika and Katie what would comfort and concern them about working with a post-ac freelancer. Learn from their answers when marketing yourself as an editor who can work on fiction.

Erika: Of comfort would be the technical expertise, the well-rounded background in literature, and the deeper understanding of fiction, in particular, they might have from teaching. What would concern me would be their removal from the marketplace and the possibility of an affinity for an outdated style. I would like an academic-turned-editor to have a clear pulse for the market (blog posts or social media presence) that demonstrates they are both savvy and capable.

Katie: What I would look for in post-ac editor is one who wrote for discourse communities beyond academia while still an academic. Does this person write…a foodie blog? Regular letters to the editor? Literally anything beyond the super-narrow genres expected of her field? If so, then she can likely move across discourses. Ideally? The person would have written the same genre, or at least a similar one, that I am hiring her to edit. If I’m hiring a person to edit a novel, it would be great if she had published, say, a long-form narrative essay on Medium. Her narrative essay-writing would tell me that she is likely comfortable with narrative genres.


“We write how we practice,” notes Katie. “If the only writing that you have done is a certain genre for a certain discourse community, then that is the genre and discourse that you will have perfected. It is difficult to move between discourse communities if you don’t have practice doing so.” Practice—and then keep practicing—how to move between different writing communities. If you want to edit fiction, learn more about the marketplace, and explore options to get your work published outside academic circles. Post-ac freelancers aren’t pigeonholed by field in the same way academics are. The more you can edit or write across genres, the more attractive you’ll be as a freelancer.

Self-Criticism and the Academy — Postac Post by Jessica Langer

by Post-ac Career Coach Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Academia is a climate of constant and unrelenting criticism.

This is obvious in a professional sense: our work is often called “criticism” as a catch-all, and in the process of building upon our field colleagues’ existing work it is often necessary to counter it. Some of this work is necessary: reading “against the grain” of dominant cultural or critical texts, for example, and identifying problematic elements in texts.

After a while, criticism may become the academic’s dominant mode of thinking. This can be great in a professional sense: you become attuned to minutiae and intricacies in arguments that you wouldn’t otherwise have identified, and you gain a more nuanced perspective in your work.

And if it ended there, it would be perfect. But most of the time – particularly, though certainly not exclusively, for women, people of colour and other people who are variously and/or intersectionally marginalized – it isn’t. Because when you are trained to look at everything with a critical eye, it’s almost inevitable that such a critical eye will turn inward.

There is no “you are good enough as you are” in academia. There is no “you are enough”, in fact. There is, instead, a constant drumbeat of necessity for accomplishment after accomplishment, paired with the constant risk of failure. And this doesn’t end when you pass your comps or go ABD or get your PhD or get a tenure-track job or even when you get tenure (especially since tenure itself is changing and, potentially, ending). There is an endless lineup of paper submissions and conference presentations and manuscript reviews and student evaluations, all of which represent instances in which you are being explicitly judged. Judgment after judgment, often carried out anonymously (and viciously).

In academia, you are your work – as I’ve discussed before, the academic system deliberately cuts its acolytes off from their outside support networks and from outside sources of income, so as to develop total devotion to the system on pain of failure that is not only professional but personal. And if you are your work, and your work is constantly criticised as part of its purpose, then academics live in a state of constant surveillance and criticism – and junior academia live in a state of constant self-surveillance and self-criticism, as they add ‘try not to piss off anyone senior or important’ to the list.

One of the most significant things I’ve noticed in my post-academic work with clients transitioning out of academia is the extent to which they have gotten into the habit of extraordinarily harsh and total self-criticism, to the extent that they are sometimes unable to recognize their own accomplishments as accomplishments. One of my clients teaches at an Ivy League university that everyone reading this has heard of; she actually didn’t mention it initially, and when I told her – incredulously and with no small amount of awe – that literally any employer would be impressed by the fact that she taught at this school, she demurred and said, “Oh, but I’m just an adjunct there!” (Protip for the reader: no one outside of academia cares if you were an adjunct. If you teach at Major Ivy, they will be impressed as hell.) My clients will have incredible things on their resumes, things that would impress almost any non-academic employer – years-long stints abroad doing fascinating work, major grants, speaking gigs at European embassies – and will demur because they simply cannot see these things as the impressive, high-status things they are.

What’s more, these people with these incredible experiences and accomplishments will often see themselves as failures because they don’t have a TT job in academia. For no other reason than because they aren’t on the tenure track. It’s astonishing. But I think I know why.

My theory: because academia trains you to be abusive to yourself. To constantly criticize your own work as well as others’, and never to be satisfied or even content with your work. To put yourself in situations in which you are infantilized and made powerless within a strict hierarchical system in which you are a waste product, not an intended outcome. To accept negativity from yourself that you would never allow to be directed towards someone you love.

This constant self-criticism and inability to see or accept success is very common among my clients and among people leaving academia in general, and it breaks my heart.

So here is my message to you:

Your accomplishments are worthwhile, and they mean something, and they are important. You are not a failure. The academy does not get to determine whether you are OK. You are OK no matter what.

And if you can’t accept that, then here’s a shorter message, especially if you’re leaving academia: 

You are no longer obligated always to second-guess and think twice and surveil yourself. You are allowed to be who you are.

You are free.


Don’t Be That Asshole (by Kellee Weinhold)

We continue in our series of interview-focused posts by Kellee Weinhold, the master of Interview Interventions, Job Talk Interventions, and Campus Visit Interventions here at TPII.


Kellee, accompanied by Penelope the Rabbit.

Kellee, accompanied by Penelope the Rabbit.

Several years ago, at a Yom Kippur break fast with a group of professor friends, the conversation turned to my work preparing newly minted PhDs for academic job interviews. After the requisite job market horror stories (Theirs, not mine–I DO NOT discuss client names, disciplines or search details ever, under any circumstances!), a senior colleague at an R1 institution announced, rather dramatically:

“The thing they don’t understand is that they’re being surveilled from the minute they walk on campus until the minute they leave!”

Others chimed in. It’s not just at the campus visit, they said, but from their very first engagement with the potential colleague’s work. “Yes, we want them to be good scholars,” a Department Chair said. “Yes, we want to know what they can teach. AND… we are trying to figure out whether they’re going to be colleagues we enjoy, or assholes.”

Colleagues or assholes?  That is the question.

That one conversation established my core ethos for the live Skype Interview Interventions: A) You are being surveilled;  B) Don’t be an asshole.

What is surveilled? Your scholarship, your potential for tenure, your teaching, and your collegiality. And the most challenging element, without wandering into arrogance and self-absorption, is that last one:  collegiality.

Turns out, it’s kind of hard for new Ph.D.s to illustrate that they are not assholes.

This isn’t personal, it’s structural.  Think about it: if you ask someone to be utterly absorbed by one single obsessive project for 6 to 10 years in order to produce a document proving that you are worthy of the PhD, it’s going to be almost impossible NOT to come out sounding self-absorbed.

This basic truth of academia colors the job search. Faculty members know that many, many Ph.D.s leave their graduate programs sounding like self-absorbed prima donnas.  (Yes, I see the irony in those who bear responsibility for creating potential assholes trying to screen them away). As another colleague of mine was fond of saying after faculty meetings in his department, “We build an entire cohort of people who want to be left alone to do their own thing, who don’t play well with others, then we ask them to work together.” One more of academia’s little paradoxes.)

But enough about the causes. What can you do? For the job candidate, the challenge is facing a potentially bizarre array of questions designed to determine: “Are you an asshole?”

There are several forms these questions can take.

Some institutions simply use the fit question. “What do you want to be here?” or “Why did you apply for this position?”

They want to know that you’ve thought about being there. That you know a little bit about them. Your answer needs to be more than simply “This is how your department and university serves my agenda and goal.” What is about THEM that attracts you?

Your answer should include who they are and how you fit into that ethos. Check out my post “The Dreaded Fit Question” for a complete workup on how to handle this question.

Some departments stretch a little further and include the contribution question: “How do you see yourself contributing to XXX Department?

Once again, they want to know you’ve thought about being there. Do you have a plan for going out and shining in the larger discipline and reflecting positively on their R-1? Do you have ideas about how to grow the profile of the department on campus? Have you thought about how you would advise students at a SLAC? Can you articulate how you would work with graduate students at an R-1? Are you able to explain the role of the academic adviser for a teaching college?

In other words, are you going to play well with others and serve the department’s interests as well as your own or hide in your office focused on your own work, drain resources and be an asshole?

Remember academics contribute in three ways: scholarship, service and teaching. So your answer needs to address what you will bring in all three.

Some departments rely heavily on the “Do you have any questions for us?” query. The tricky part here is that your questions should not be to get information. They are to show that you are thinking about what they want you to think about. Check out this post for more on the minefield of “questions for them.

Some departments fall back on more traditional private sector questions:

  • “What do you value in yourself as a colleague/in other colleagues?”
  • “Tell us about the biggest challenge you faced as an academic, how you faced it, and what you’d do differently now?”
  • “Tell us about a conflict you had with a colleague and how you have handled it?”
  • “What has been your biggest challenge with a student and how have you handled it?”
  • “What do you do when students challenge you or have conflicts with each other about controversial issues in class?

These questions may be designed to deal with issues in the department. Maybe they are protecting against someone messing up a good thing and/or attempting to avoid repeating or exacerbating existing problems. At any rate, they dig deeper to get insight into how you cope with the vagaries of an academic (and real) life.

See the theme here: When you compare yourself to other people and/or shit goes wrong, how do you handle it? Does your answer indicate that you focus on being slighted? On being the victim? On being persecuted? Does it show that you have no backbone, buckle under the slightest pressure, give in to keeping the peace at all cost? Will they see the flashing warning lights of a rigid ideologue who cannot adapt to the inevitable changes of life in the university/department/classroom?

Here is one model response: “One significant challenge I faced recently in the classroom was with a young man/woman who strongly disagreed with the author of a piece we were reading. It is important to me that my classroom be a place that is safe for all viewpoints and that they be engaged with in a respectful way. I set that up in the first class by establishing the criteria for respectful communication, including engaging based on evidence not beliefs. So, with this student, when she got really frustrated, I was able to respectfully redirect her to focus on her evidence and facts and keep those students who disagreed with her focused on their evidence as well. It ended up being a very productive conversation where all the participants were able to engage with a range of ideas.”

I know you hear this over and over again from The Professor Is In, but it bears repeating: Faculty members are over-extended, called on to manage multiple demands from increasingly large constituencies. The last thing they want to add to their lives is a colleague who sucks up administrative and emotional resources without a concern for the larger collective project.

Don’t be that asshole.