Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog

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

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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

Five Article-Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them – Guest Post

By Jane Jones, Ph.D.

Jane Jones, PhD is the founder of Up In Consulting, an editing and consulting business. She works with academic writers as well as writers of serious nonfiction to develop systems to sustain effective writing routines and habits. In her capacity as an editor, she provides developmental editing services to writers of articles, book proposals, and book manuscripts.Jane earned her PhD in Sociology from New York University in 2010. She worked as a tenure-track assistant professor for three years, then was a fellow at the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). She started her business in 2014.

Jane is spearheading our new Art of the Article program, along with TPII Productivity Coach Kel Weinhold. AoA is our new 10-week course designed to walk you step-by-step through a full draft of an academic article. See the links at the bottom of this post to learn more, and register for the free webinar Jane and Kel are offering March 21, 1 PM EST.


When preparing an article for submission, there’s much to think about. From selecting a journal to writing the article to actually submitting the article, there are a lot of steps in the process. Unfortunately, many authors tend to ignore or rush through some of these steps, hurting their chances of a successful submission (which in most cases is a revise and resubmit).

In this post, I’m going to discuss some of the mistakes that authors commonly make when writing and submitting their articles. Although these errors are common, they’re completely avoidable. With good planning and research, you can avoid these mistakes and take some of the guesswork out of the submission process.

Here are five mistakes that most authors make:

You don’t put thought into where you’re submitting.

Many writers submit their article to a journal because their advisor told them to, or because it’s a journal they “have to” submit to in order to land a job, get promoted, etc. To be sure, there are plenty of factors that can influence your choice of journal. What that doesn’t give you permission to do, however, is skip out on your due diligence in researching the journal. When I say due diligence, I mean things like:

  • Reading recently published articles (“recently” meaning under the current editor)
  • Talking to colleagues or peers who have published in the journal
  • Checking to see if the editor has posted any information about their preferences for the journal (You’ll sometimes see editors posting on social media about their journals. They also write articles in outlets such as the Chronicle or even in their own journals!).

The good news is that researching a journal is easy. All you have to do is read, and you’re already an expert at reading!

You don’t review the guidelines

This is one of the easiest ways to frustrate an editor. Imagine being an editor, sifting through hundreds of articles, and coming across an article by an author who, in your estimation, couldn’t even be bothered to read your guidelines. Or, you receive a manuscript a few thousand words longer than it should be. You’d likely be irritated, right? It’s not the best first impression.

Formatting and word count might seem like minor, annoying requirements to you, but editors are constrained. It’s easy to forget that length is important because we read everything online, but journals normally have total page counts they must abide by. These aren’t negotiable. Following the guidelines makes the editor’s job easier and also makes your life easier, in that if you do make it through peer review, you’ll have less to fix later on in the process.

You don’t give yourself enough time to write your manuscript.

Good writing takes time, but in our publish or perish culture time isn’t always on our side. Unfortunately, writing and submitting quickly doesn’t give us an advantage. If anything, writing too fast leads to underdeveloped ideas and careless mistakes – neither of which makes our manuscript a strong candidate for publication.

I’ve worked with many clients who have told me, for instance, that they must submit at least 4 articles a year for publication if they hope to have a chance at getting tenure. What they don’t do, however, is make a writing plan to figure out if it’s realistic for them to achieve that goal. This normally has one of two consequences. First, they submit something they’re not proud of. Second, they spend so much longer than they planned on the article that they get discouraged, lose momentum, and let the manuscript languish on their desk with no end in sight. They end up with a headache instead of a submission. Sound familiar?

You don’t seek adequate feedback pre-submission.

It’s easy to get lost in your head while writing and believe that your manuscript makes perfect sense. Combine that with being pressed for time and you might believe that you either don’t need feedback or can’t afford to wait for it. In addition, you might believe your colleagues don’t have time to read your work. No matter the reason, the end result is you writing in isolation, without the type of critical feedback necessary to sharpen your writing.

It’s imperative to seek feedback on your writing before you submit. The journal reviewers should not be the first people to see your manuscript. Whether you present your ideas at a workshop, ask a colleague to read your draft, or work with an editor, a thoughtful, objective review of your work is essential and invaluable.

You don’t have a plan B.

The harsh truth of academic publishing is that rejection is common. Whether it’s a desk rejection or a rejection after you’ve spent time responding to peer-reviewers, knowing that you have to start over again can be awful. You might feel like there’s little hope for your article to ever get published.

Just because your article was rejected somewhere doesn’t mean it will be rejected everywhere. Peer-review is subjective and your article may not have been a good fit for that journal (especially if you made the first mistake I discussed!). Or, your article may not be ready for publication. In these cases, it really pays to have a backup plan.

Making a backup plan before you submit your article puts you in a strong position. If you do get a rejection, you’ll already have some of your next steps planned, and you won’t have to make tough decisions when you’re feeling the emotional toll of a rejection. You’ll be able to get your article under review at a second journal much faster.

In closing, the mistakes I discuss here are common, but also completely avoidable. But in order to avoid them, you must remember one thing: there’s more to a successful journal article than just writing.

Want to learn more? Join me, along with TPII productivity coach Kel Weinhold, for a Free Webinar on the Art of the Academic Article, March 21st at 1 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

Can’t make the time? No problem. Everyone who registers will get a recording of the webinar. Register here.

Want to learn more about Art of the Article, our new 10-week course designed to walk you step-by-step through a full draft of an academic article? Read more about Art of the Article here.

#MakeupMonday: Resort Edition

Some of you may know that Kel Weinhold and I decided to give ourselves a real, actual vacation for the first time since starting The Professor Is In, and we have spent the last week in Maui. Other than a few urgent tasks that can’t be avoided when one runs ones own business, we have truly vacationed.

And naturally, I have experimented with various products. Today, I report back to you. And no, this isn’t “working.” Because, I simply love writing about makeup. It’s actually entertainment!

First, just a few of the delights of West Maui and the nearby island of Lana’i (reachable by public ferry).

View of Moloka’i from Ka’anapali
Napili Beach in Ka’anapali, West Maui
One of countless turtles we saw and swam with, here at Pohaku Beach
The highlight of the trip was Hulopo’e Beach, Lanai
Hulopo’e Beach after a few cocktails

Snorkeling is our great love–we snorkeled 7 out of 8 days! This is at Lana’i.

I think Hawai’i agrees with us!

Sunset hour cocktails
Whale watching–we saw about 30 whales!

OK, so what are the products?

First, Eyeko Beach Waterproof Mascara. Wow they are not kidding, this mascara stood up to an entire day on the beach including hours of snorkeling! While I don’t have great before and after pics, here’s an attempt.

After 2 hours snorkeling

Second, my fake tanner. Yes, I fake tan when I’m at the beach. I have fake tanned since the 1980s!! Ie, since the time of the bright orange tan in a can. I have the freckled Irish coloring of my mother’s side and I am paaaale! So I know these products and I know how bad and impossible they can be and all the ways they can go wrong–streakiness, bad color, or intolerably gross smell.

However, fake tan technology has undergone a revolution in recent years, and the products are now almost unbelievably a) easy and b) natural looking. There are so many options out there, and I suspect many of the high-end ones are fantastic, but I adore Tan-Luxe: The Water.

It looks exactly like water, goes on clear, never stains clothes or sheets, has no discernible smell, and a few hours after application develops into the most natural looking and long-lasting, streak-free tan I’ve ever had from a fake-tanner. Again, I don’t have great pics, because beach lighting is impossible, but here is one; toes show my natural color.

Pro-Tip: Must apply with a mitt. Don’t even think about skipping that. You don’t need a fancy one–just get some basic $6 or $8 one, but you just won’t get smooth streak-free application without it.


Pro-Tip 3: The Water is not ideal for face; they make Self-Tan Drops that work better.

Pro-Tip 4: As you can see from my photo above, I transfer it into a travel size spray bottle to take with me on beach trips!

Third: This astonishing Peter Thomas Roth powder sunscreen that I only bought because I found it super cheap at TJ Maxx, but which has made me a believer. I’m never going to use anything else on my face! It’s entirely mineral, meaning it’s completely reef-safe (a non-negotiable for me), and also because it’s mineral: I HAVE NO ALLERGIC REACTION TO IT, HALLELUJIAH! This means I can swim with no eye-sting! And the sunscreen effectiveness is off the charts. Also, it goes on in a little poof that is fun, AND it has a slight brown tint that just boosts your color a tad. They also make one for oily skin.

Pro-Tip: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE always use only reef-safe mineral sunscreen (ie ONLY zinc oxide or titanium oxide–nothing else). Please save our dying reefs!


GIVEAWAY UPDATE: Thanks to all who commented on the last #MakeupMonday! We have our winner: Dr. Catherine Girard, Asst Prof of Art History at Eastern Washington (shared with permission). Catherine says: “Wow!! This is such great news! Thank you! Self-care is my resolution for this year.” She will get a package of about 5 unused or barely used samples from my stash!

Let’s continue–comment on Facebook on this post when I share it, and I’ll do another giveaway next week!

#MakeupMonday: As Seen On TV!

OK, most of us don’t really see things on TV per se, anymore – now it’s all targeted social media ads. But anyway, I am here today to share that I have traveled far, far down this road. The fact is, Facebook Ads get me. They really do. They are mine, and I am theirs.

And now I own four things that FB delivered up to my consciousness, and I absolutely love all of them.

Here they are:

  1. MoxieLash Magnetic Eyeliner and Lashes

What can I say? This and only this has finally solved my false lashes quest. I cannot and will not use glue-on types – even when I can get them to work (about 35% of the time) I cannot get glued lashes clean enough afterward to reuse, and I am not about to throw them out and use a new pair every time.

But MoxieLash? Whoa—it really works! You apply a thin line of magnetic liner, then stick on your magnetic lashes, and THEY STICK! And then they pop back off, and you put them in their little magnetic holder, and then use them again the next day!

Bonus: you can use any magnetic lash with the liner. In other words, you can score some Ardell at TJ Maxx for $6.99 or get them BOGO at Sally Beauty or wherever, and use those! You aren’t trapped into using $35 MoxieLash lashes. And truth be told, I kind of prefer the Ardell.

Note: I cut my false lashes into fragments of about a quarter inch to half inch in length and apply them ONLY to the outer corners of my eyes. This is all I really want or need to have an impact that is still what I consider appropriate to my age and style. No massive fake lashes for me!

Protip: Applying the thick liner in a line thick enough to work, but thin enough to be (what I consider) age- and academic workplace-appropriate takes practice and a skilled hand and a very, very good brush. The brush they give you is ok, but not great. I have found far better results with this odd little “bent” brush from Sephora.

2. Voloom Hair Volumizing Iron

Don’t be put off by the truly scary looking pictures on the website. This thing works, and used well, produces natural looking results that truly last–as in, to day two and day three between washings. Basically it crimps your hair at its base, and as long as you leave an uncrimped layer on top, to cover it, it stays invisible. On my short, thick, heavy hair, it works wonders to give lift up at the crown of my head.

Protip: It takes practice–don’t give up. Use the clips they provide to section off your hair. The trick is figuring out which hair to crimp, and how long to crimp it for, and then how best to manage the hair on top. I found using a regular straightener there makes for an A+ outcome.

3) Thrive Causemetics Liquid Lash Extensions Mascara

I know, I know, I have sworn by my Eyeko Sport Mascara for over two years now! But lately I’ve been unhappy with the formula–i feel like it’s different, and clumpy, and hard to manage. So I’ve been starting to look around for something new. And FB was right there, anticipating my needs in a way that is not creepy at all.

And finally, I gave in, and made the Causemetics purchase, and…. wow, it’s FANTASTIC. It goes on slick and smooth, no clumps at all, and stays buildable through a couple of coats.

As you might remember, I have two non-negotiables with mascara: that it is mega- super- extra- long-lasting (even through dance classes), and that I’m not allergic to it (which is DIFFERENT from “hypoallergenic,” because I am frequently allergic to things that are allegedly hypoallergenic). So far, Thrive Causemetics has passed both with flying colors (although I want to put it through a few more tests and I’ll report back). BTW, I’m also trying out Eyeko Beach Waterproof just to see, but reviews say that it’s almost impossible to remove, while I can vouch that Causemetics Liquid Lash Extensions washes right off–like all brands that use awesome Korean tubing technology always do. It’s the best!

4. BeautyBakerie Lip Whip

This is my original “As Seen on the Internet” love, and it’s still the Gold Standard. And don’t just believe me! It’s so good that the brand’s been picked up by Ulta! Every item I’ve tried from this black-woman-owned brand has been superb, and I wear Syruptitious Lip Whip almost every single day. Trust me–if you like a truly opaque matte lipcolor, and want one that won’t budge for like 72 hours (or until you literally remove it with a dedicated lipcolor remover) — this is your jam.

Hey– Let’s bring back the giveaway!

Comment ON FACEBOOK about your #Makeup (or #Skincare) life, and I’ll randomly pick a commenter to get a package of unused or barely used skincare and makeup samples – mostly prestige brands! While I recently donated a huge bag of these to a friend in Eugene who has launched her own small business and wanted some products to use for a new video marketing series she’s planning, I still have some to share!

Prepping for the Teaching Demonstration: Time Management – Guest Post by Teaching Demo Coach Dr. Katherine Dugan

By Dr. Katherine Dugan

Dr. Kate Dugan completed her PhD in Religious Studies from Northwestern University in 2015. She spent two years on the job market before accepting an offer at a teaching-intensive college. She is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Springfield College in Massachusetts and studies contemporary Catholicism in the U.S. Kate offers Teaching Demonstration interventions and document work for clients of TPII.

See one of Dr. Dugan’s earlier guest posts on the Teaching Demo here.

One thing is clear about the teaching demonstration part of on-campus interviews:  a candidate must not go over time in a teaching demonstration.

Time management sounds annoying—or, at least, pedantic. But giving a teaching demonstration that has good time management demonstrates your skills as a teaching colleague. It shows that you know how to be in charge in a classroom. Your swift and thoughtful management of the allotted 30 or 40 minutes shows a high level of competence. Remember: you want them to be confident that you’ll step onto campus ready to teach (and not in need of too much caretaking). Being able to manage time reflects your broader capacity to contribute productively to the department. And, frankly, giving a teaching demonstration within the allotted time demonstrates your ability to respect what others ask of you.

I want to share four ways to manage the 30, 40 or 60 minutes you have to show your potential colleagues your strengths as a professor.

  1. Wear a watch.

I know it sounds like a throw-back suggestion, but looking at your phone during a teaching demonstration is sloppy (never mind distracting). And you can’t assume that the classroom you’re going to be in will have a clock—or, even if it does, that you’ll be able to see it without craning your neck. So: borrow one from a friend or buy a new one (I bought the one I wore for my demonstrations for $8 at Wal-mart) and put it on your wrist.

  1. Practice. Practice again.

I think Karen’s advice to practice answers to anticipated questions and to learn your job talk inside and out has sunk in. Candidates know to prepare answers to committee member’s questions well enough to be flexible in them.

But because teaching—especially in the Humanities—continues to exist in the realm of feelings, I find a hesitancy to do the same kind of rehearsing when it comes to the teaching demonstration. I have people tell me that they “don’t do notes for teaching” and they can’t really prepare because they “like to have a feel for the room” and “it really depends on how the students are.”

Look. I get it. I teach 100+ students each semester. I understand how variable a classroom can be—I can do the **exact** same plan for two back-to-back classes in the same classroom and have the classes be really different. The vibe, the mood, the energy level of college students can be hard to predict. And that is all compounded when you don’t actually know any of the students in your class.

But here’s the thing. The teaching demo IS. NOT. THE. SAME. AS. TEACHING. I can list all the ways this is true, but that’s a different blog post. If you’re unconvinced, ask yourself when the last time is that you spend **this much** time preparing for your Friday at 11am intro course.

Practice your plan with a clear sense of how long each thing will take you. Be clear on not just the order of the outline, but how you’ll transition and how much time shifting the students to small groups will take. Here are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Walk through the introductions to each of your activities with a friend (or, better yet, a group of undergrads) six or seven times. Make sure the instructions are clear and that your audience understands—immediately—what they are being asked to do.
  • Practice your 10-15 minute mini-lecture. Get your presentation smooth. Anticipate where students will ask questions. Plan how you will engage students.
  • Practice your transitions. Think about how you will move from analyzing an image to discussing a short video clip. Plan how long it will take you to introduce a Think-Pair-Share activity. Anticipate how many minutes you need to let students read a short paragraph.
  1. Write down the time you need to do each part of the demonstration.

Realistically—realistically—anticipate how long things are going to take. I am sorry, but you **cannot** get through 45 powerpoint slides in 15 minutes. In general, if you have 40 minutes to do the demonstration, you have time for three, maybe four, different parts: an introductory activity, a mini-lecture, a set of discussions or collective work on a problem, and a closing activity.

You’ll be nervous in front of a group of students you don’t know and a handful of faculty who are evaluating you. Time has a way of feeling warped during teaching demonstrations. Even if you have only the sparsest of notes for your plan, include the amount of time you’ve planned for each part of the demonstration.

  1. Create a (well-timed) back-up.

Even the best-laid plans can squirrel out of control because of questions from students or quirks of a particular situation. Anticipate this. Know what you can cut and how much time it will save you. Have an extra activity or discussion question you can insert—and know how much time it will add.

Bonus strategy: I find that candidates facing a teaching demonstration want their plans to include going around the room and everyone’s name and a tidbit about them. I understand this instinct. You want to demonstrate, especially at a teaching-intensive institution, that you care about students enough to get to know them. But, really, when there are 20-50 students in the room, there just isn’t time. Or, rather, you need that time to demonstrate how you help students analyze images or discuss a confusing paragraph or approach a difficult topic. An alternative idea (that isn’t mine, but I’ve used!) is to bring name tags or index cards for making name placards. Spend three minutes doing this, catch a few names, and then using the name labels during the class session.

Keeping your teaching demonstration well-paced and done on time allows your teaching skills to shine. It keeps the committee members from getting anxious about the schedule. You’ll avoid that distracting shuffle of students packing up their bags as you summarize the take-aways from the lesson. Wow them with your teaching; impress them with your time management.

Leaving the Academy: The Painting

Kellee is recently obsessed with the painter, Remedios Varo (1908-1963), who was born in Spain but spent most of her artistic life in Mexico. Like most women painters, she is vastly underrecognized, even though she made a major feminist intervention into the prevailing surrealist ethos of her time.

In the one substantial edition available of her works, we found the picture called “Rupture” (1955). I instantly connected to it–never have I seen myself so perfectly represented in a piece of art, I said.

The next day, Kellee remarked: “That piece is also the most perfect image of leaving the academy imaginable!”

We studied it. “Yes!” I said, “the isolation!” Kellee: “the staring, judging men!” Me: “the tower!” Kellee: “the papers blowing behind you!” Me: “the glowering oppressiveness!” Kellee: “All those… EYES…”

So, here it is. I present to you: Rupture, by Remedios Varo.

Don’t Adjunct at Wright State University – It is Scab Labor

Real-time Alert: Wright State University faculty have been on strike for over two weeks.

This week Wright State University admin has sent out a call for adjuncts to fill in the positions of the striking faculty members. They are offering on-campus housing as well.

This is a call for union-busting scab labor. As someone on FB remarked: “on-campus housing? May as well call it scrip at the company store.”

I have never before used my platform to urge readers to boycott a job ad, but I am doing it now.

Please do not apply for the adjunct positions advertised by Wright State University.

I will append more info and links below as I get them. You can follow faculty member Crystal Lake on Twitter for real-time updates. Read below for reports from striking faculty members as shared on the thread on TPII Facebook Page.

Sign this petition in support of the striking faculty members.

From Crystal Lake: “Thank you for helping get the word out about the true nature of this job ad. I’m a striking faculty member at Wright State. I have loved working here since 2011 thanks in no small part to our strong faculty union. Our union has worked hard to protect our working conditions. Our union has also worked hard to ensure that the expectations for promotion and tenure here are reasonable and that the process is transparent. I’m hoping that when this is all said and done, the union’s voice is the one that people will remember about Wright State and that faculty governance will be restored as a defining feature of our institutional culture–and that we can all look forward to a day when Wright State’s job ads will return to honoring the integrity of academic labor and we can all be excited to welcome new colleagues into our ranks and our union.”

From striking faculty member Christopher DeWeese: “Thanks for sharing. I teach at Wright State, and you can bet that if what the admin is trying out works here, it will become the playbook for union busting everywhere. We need all of your eyes to watch our struggle, please.”

From striking Anthropologist Amelia Hubbard: “Thanks for your support. I am a striking faculty member in Anthropology. We have conceded $8 million in this negotiation and offered a significantly worse contract than we’ve ever had, all while protecting both tenure track AND full time (non tenure track) instructors and lecturers. This is a fight for control of the academic mission, not money and will dictate other unions’ abilities to negotiate in our home state. This sets a precedent nationally. These fights matter, because the goal is to bust unions (and as others in this thread without unions have noted… universities are operating on bottom lines over the ethical treatment of their employees).”

From striking faculty member Sarah McGinley: “Thank you! I’m striking WSU faculty and we are fighting not just for ourselves and our students, but for higher ed everywhere.”

#MakeupMonday: Thick

TPII Editor Maggie Levantovskaya kindly gifted me a copy of Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s book Thick last week. (I took a selfie with the book to send Maggie as part of my thank yous, and we had a moment of appreciation for the way my lipcolor (BeautyBakerie Lip Whip in Take Me to Pomegranate) picked up the color of the subtitle. OK, that’s the makeup part of this post. Beauty Bakerie is black woman owned and dedicated to makeup for ALL. Support them! Moving on.)

The book is a tour de force, written by the author, who is a Professor of Sociology at VCU, to encompass, as the Kirkus Review says, “the whole range of her being” – her academic expertise and her pain and fury living as a black woman in America.

Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom

I am stepping through the book slowly, taking the time to sit with each chapter. I hope you will read it. This week, for #MakeupMonday (I’ve been working on it all week!) I want to share the second chapter, “In the Name of Beauty.”

The chapter makes a simple and devastating claim: a black woman cannot be ‘beautiful’ in America in 2019. This has nothing to do with how any individual black woman actually looks. It has everything to do with the fact that in a society dominated absolutely by the valorization of whiteness, anything that contradicts whiteness must be seen as un-beautiful. The origin of the chapter is a piece McMillan Cottom wrote in 2012 stating “blithely,” in her words, “the observable fact that I am unattractive.”

This claim produced an intense reaction from black women, white women, and black men. Nobody was happy with it, or with McMillan Cottom for making it. The chapter walks us through why. But she’s not having it.

“For beauty to function as it should, it must exclude me. Big Beauty-the structure of who can be beautiful, the stories we tell about beauty, the value we assign beauty, the power given to those with beauty, the disciplining effect of the fear of losing beauty you might possess–definitionally excludes the kind of blackness I carry in my history and my bones. Beauty is for white women, if not for all white women.”

McMillan Cottom’s claim is not, emphatically, about acquiescing in, ie, internalizing, negative white judgment about black looks – hers or anyone else’s. It’s about objectively observing that in a racist white society, whiteness circumscribes the bounds of “beauty.” As she writes, “I sound like I am internalizing a white standard of beauty that black women fight hard to rise above. But my truth is quite the opposite. When oppressed people become complicit in their oppression, joining the dominant class in their ideas about what we are, it is symbolic violence.”

Beauty in this way is always in the service to property, specifically, white monopolization of capital.

In other words, attempts to reclaim particular kinds of black beauty reenact the violence of capital that is always, in the end, in the service of whiteness.

“That’s why beauty can never be about preference. ‘I just like what I like’ is always a capitalist lie. Beauty would be a useless concept for capital if it were only a preference in the purest sense. Capital demands that beauty be coercive. If beauty matters at all to how people perceive you, how institutions treat you, which rules are applied to you, and what choices you can make, then beauty must also be a structure of patterns, institutions, and exchanges that eats your preferences for lunch.”

Shorter version I: “(if) I believe that I can become beautiful, I become an economic subject. My desire becomes a market.”

Shorter version II: “If beauty is to matter at all for capital, it can never be for black women.”

Thus it doesn’t really matter that this or that individual black woman has been elevated as beautiful, or that beauty standards evolve, seemingly becoming more embracing of variety. Because in the end beauty-capital – and all capital – only flows in one way.

“When white feminists catalogue how beauty standards over time have changed, from the ‘curvier’ Marilyn Monroe to the skeletal Twiggy to the synthetic-athletic Pamela Anderson, their archetypes belie beauty’s true function: whiteness. Whiteness exists as a response to blackness. Whiteness is a violent sociocultural regime legitimized by property to always make clear who is black by fastidiously delineating who is officially white. It would stand to reason that beauty’s ultimate function is to exclude blackness…. As long as beautiful people are white, what is beautiful at any given time can be renegotiated without redistributing capital from white to nonwhite people.”

Leading to the gut punch: “When I say that I am unattractive or ugly, I am not internalizing the dominant culture’s assessment of me. I am naming what has been done to me. And signaling who did it.”

So, all this alone would be a chapter.

But this is not the end of the chapter.

Because then McMillan Cottom invites us to share the ways that white women (and some black men) reacted to this claim. Reacted, that is, “with impassioned cases for how beautiful I am.” She writes,” [White women] offered me neoliberal self-help nonsense that borders on the religious. They need me to believe beauty is both achievable and individual…”

White women’s desperate efforts to show beauty as individual and achievable have an implicit (and likely unconscious) agenda: to make the author the object of revision, rather than white capitalist supremacy.

“It may seem to privileged people,” McMillan Cottom observes, “that it is easier to fix me than it is to fix the world.”

“I live to disabuse people of that notion,” she notes, in one of her countless devastating seemingly throwaway lines.

Why do white women need to individualize, or personalize, beauty? “Because the alternative makes them vulnerable. If you did not earn beauty, never had the real power to reject it, then you as much a vulnerable subject as I am in your own way.”

To which McMillan Cottom remarks: “deal with that [vulnerability] rather than dealing with me.”

I had a sudden thought for how a conversation would go, among my liberal white women friends who have “good” politics, if I were to, say, report to them the point of this chapter: “This black sociologist says that in the eyes of America, she is unattractive.” “Oh no! No no no!” they would respond in utter, wide-eyed, horror. “Of COURSE not! She’s BEAUTIFUL!” “Yes but she’s claiming that to say that only white women are defined as ‘beautiful’ due to the dominance of whiteness, ie, white supremacy, in the service of capitalism.” “Well that’s just WRONG! *I* don’t believe that! Maybe before but not now! Look at Lupita Nyong’o! She’s GORGEOUS!”

This is exactly what McMillan Cottom is writing about. I know she’s right. Why would this happen? Because, I can feel in my very bones, without literal years of dedicated anti-racism work, we white women will always disavow the privilege that we KNOW (at very deep and unspoken levels) we have.

And again, all of this is in the service of capital. “All of the admonishments that I should ‘love myself,’ and am ‘as cute as a button,’ from well-intentioned white women stem from their need for me to consume what is produced for them.”


“White women need me to believe I can earn beauty, because when I want what I cannot have, what they have becomes all the more valuable.”

“I refuse them,” McMillan Cottom responds.

This chapter does much more than my brief summary here, especially around the responses by black men. But this is a #MakeupMonday post, so I’ll stop here.

This chapter is about makeup and not about makeup. The author expresses no opinions on that point. I’ve seen her chat about makeup on Twitter, and she seems to have no issue with it. Use makeup or don’t, you are still operating in the field of “beauty” that will exact its price regardless of what you want. Nobody gets secure access to that field because even “beautiful” white women occupy it only temporarily, and meanwhile it evolves continually to constantly renew its markets by destabilizing consumers.

So, what’s the right move, here?

“I want nice people with nice enough politics to look at me, reason for themselves that I am worthy, and feel convicted when the world does not agree. God willing they may one day extrapolate my specific case to the general rules, seeing the way oppression marginalizes others to their personal benefit.”

The issue is less about what you purchase, and more about, purchasing or not, you are situated in a beauty economy that must exclude blackness, as part of its determination to elevate whiteness and make black girls and women abject.

“It is actually blackness, as it has been created through the history of colonization, imperialism and domination, that excludes me from the forces of beauty.”

Black girls and women are deprived of childhood, never seen as young and innocent, considered simultaneously incompetent and dangerous, punished excessively, deprived of safe childbirth (the subject of another devastating chapter in Thick), and in grave danger when seeking medical care. Because black women are seen as not deserving. As Tressie McMillan Cottom shows us, the lie is in denying this reality, not trying to cover it over with a good (indeed even a Fenty) foundation.

Use the Spring Well

For those who know you’ll be on the job market in Fall 2019, I am offering two services over the next two months that may be of help.

These are limited time services, and only available between now and end of March; once all the available slots fill, they’ll be finished (until Spring 2020, that is!)

The Spring 3-Document Package is a discounted rate to help you get the core job application documents done well in advance of the Fall rush. And of course, it does also prepare you for any late-breaking openings you happen to encounter this Spring.

The CV Strategizing Service is something I offer each year to help you get a candid review of your CV now, to be able to identify any gaps or red flags, and make a plan to address them for next Fall.

Read below for details. And, by the way, like I do every Spring semester, I am offering limited slots for Individual Consulting by email or skype. I’ll help you think through dilemmas and worries related to the job market, your record, publishing anxieties, teaching and grad student concerns, strategizing your next job, departmental politics, dealing with abusive situations and sexual harassment, third year review, tenure and promotion, moving mid-career, administrative options, and more. Please email me if you want to learn more about that, at

You can find info on all three on The Prof Shop Page, as always!

**Spring 3-Document Package**

Get your core job application documents edited this Spring at a special reduced rate of $380. I offer this special package to encourage folks to get help early for Fall 2019 (and to catch those late season Spring openings). Done separately, these three documents normally cost $450.

This package normally includes work on your Cover Letter, CV, and Teaching Statement.

This reduced rate only comes once a year!

Fine Print: Once you make the purchase, email Karen to set a start date on the calendar. You will submit one document at a time, beginning with your cover letter. Expect the entire process to take about 1 month. If you want to request a different set of documents, please email me at to discuss.


**CV Strategizing Service**

What you do in the next six months is critical for your competitiveness on next year’s academic job market. In this short-term service that I offer each Spring, I 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 2019 job market.


**After you purchase this Session you must email me, Karen, at to set a date on the calendar for the work to begin.

#MakeupMonday: Always Try New Things

One of my very favorite things to do is to score a big free sample promotion at Ulta or Sephora. Last week I got a set of 29 items from Ulta, plus the usual two samples that you can always choose with every purchase. I make sure to strategize the replacement of my pricier regular products to grab promotions like these whenever I can, since there is usually a minimum purchase required. Last week I replaced my Perricone eye cream. I make sure to pace those replacements out so as to maximize my opportunities, so I’ll postpone replacing my mascara, for example, until some other appealing sample set comes up (unless of course I am totally out–but I try never to let that happen.)

Two bags of stuff!

The cleanser samples, in particular, are my favorites for travel, since unlike the rest of my skin care routine–I’m not super picky about my cleanser. The samples I’m not interested in I save for my skin care-loving friends, and for you, my readers, when I do giveaways for commenters.

So many things to play with!

There were cleansers, serums, moisturizers, eye creams, lip balms, masks… all sorts of little treasures! I’ve been working my way through many of them. And while my bar is really, really high for replacing the products in my beloved routine, I have found some awesome masks, and an Algenist moisturizer/sunscreen/blurring primer (pictured below) that is a game-changer.

Even Algenist and Perricone!

Another delight of the sample life is that when I share my samples with friends, they share their samples with me! So my dear friend Lillian shared a precious dollop of her Hormeta Flash Gold Shining Maskthat I tried last weekend.

Hormeta Gold Shining Mask

I’m honestly not sure that this $200 mask made all that much difference, and I won’t be going out to buy it, but I did appreciate the chance to try it. Thanks, Lillian!

And continuing in my experimental mode, I’m still on this strange and quixotic false lashes project. I have no idea why – I’m just endlessly curious to see if I can make them work. After weeks of struggle, I finally took some advice serendipitously offered by the checkout clerk at TJ Maxx (who I was commiserating with!) and switched to small partials just in my outer corners. And lo, it worked!

Outer corner falsies (and Beauty Bakerie Take Me To Pomegranate)

All this to say – the fun of makeup for me is experimentation. It’s fun to have a place in life to just play, with no stakes at all. In the stresses of life in the US these days, a space to play is good.

Anthropology’s Alternative Facts

After attending the AAA and AAR meetings, I wrote a blog post called A Tale of Two Conferences. In it, I bemoaned the sorry state of the AAA’s engagement with issues of real-life (as opposed to academic jargon) precarity and the scandal of adjunctification, in terms of any kind of visible programming dedicated to Ph.D. career assistance.

Very shortly after its posting, Dr. Ed Liebow, the Executive Director of the AAA, commented on that post. Here is his comment in its entirety (bolding added):

I completely agree with Dr. Kelsky’s view that the future of our discipline depends on revamping our training programs. It is absolutely central to my personal mission as AAA Executive Director to make the association a more welcoming organizational home to anthropologists employed (or aspiring to employment) in the business, government, and non-profit sectors. That is my own decades-long career background; I am convinced it is where the future of the discipline is headed, and I am pretty sure it is why the Executive Board hired me in the first place.

So when I read Dr. Kelsky’s account of her experiences earlier this month at the Annual Meetings of the AAA and the American Academy of Religions / Society for Biblical Literature, I wondered whether she and I attended the same AAA Annual Meeting.

By my count, there were 33 events on the program that had an explicit focus on careers in business, government, and non-profit sectors (see full list at the end of this comment). These events ranged from workshops in specific sectors to mentoring events to a field trip to the Googleplex to paper presentations in career domains as varied as museums, cultural resource management, user experience research, and health care. One of these events, the Careers Expo, featured more than 60 employer organizations in the business/government/NGO sector, and attracted more than 700 visitors over the course of the afternoon-long event.

Is it an upstream swim against a strong current to re-orient training programs so they valorize a diverse range of career paths and actually prepare students to be anthropologists, and not just anthropology professors? Yes, unfortunately, but there are promising signals that the tide is shifting. A summer institute of department leaders hosted by AAA in 2018 focused a considerable amount of discussion on promising practices in training program innovations, and we will continue these institutes. An Association board strategy session committed further resources to professional development across the whole post-graduate career trajectory, and we are contemplating a major fund-raising campaign that will focus on pipeline issues, professional development, and public outreach to increase awareness of the important contributions that anthropologists make to the world from a variety of different organizational platforms.

Here is my message to Dr. Kelsky and other anthropologists working in business, government, and non-profit settings: please join us to help the Association live up to its full potential as a scholarly and professional association that helps advance our understanding of the human condition and applies that understanding to tackling the world’s most pressing problems.

2018 Annual Meeting Events open to all registered attendees:
1. Anthropologists in Tech: Making the Transition from Academia to UX Research
2. Anthropology Outside Academia, Part I: Personal Reflections from Anthropologists working in User Experience Research and Design
3. Anthropology Outside Academia, Part II: Personal Reflections from Anthropologists Working in Business, Marketing, and Consulting
4. How I Built my (Van) Life
5. Profiting from Wind Shifts: Wall Street Traders, Sailors, and the Digital Transformation of Investment Banking
6. User/Design Researcher by Trade, Anthropologist at Heart: Discovering Anthropology Outside Academia through the Encounter with Cultural Others
7. We All Work in Tech Now: Some Reflections on Shifts in Career Paths in Stock Trading
8. 2018 AQA Diversity Speed-Mentoring Session
9. Anthropology between Academia and Practice
10. Black Girl Participation in Technology: Past, Present, and Future
11. Consulting in Organizational Culture and Change
12. Craft: Contestation, Adaptation and Resistance
13. Design Anthropology: three stories about cultural critique outside the academy and teaching anthropologists
14. Doing Consumer Research and Collaborating with Clients
15. Evaluation Anthropology Mentoring Session
16. Linguistic Lives as Working Lives: Legal Interpreters and Labor Organizers as Language Workers
17. Participatory Research and Ethics in Mesoamerican Fieldwork
18. Training Anthropologists Rather Than Professors
19. 13th Annual NAPA / AAA Careers Expo: Exploring Professional
20. Anthropological Pioneers in Silicon Valley
21. Anthropology in the Digital Age: A Personal Chronicle, 1962-2018
22. I Am the Very Model of a Modern Anthropologist
23. Navigating Careers in Archaeology: A Mentoring Session Sponsored by the Archaeology Division for Student Members
24. Teaching Museum Anthropology and Cultural Equity by Design
25. Technological Innovations in Anthropology at the Dawn of the Digital Era
26. ABA/AFA/ALLA/AQA/SAW Mentoring Event: Career Strategies for Contingent Faculty
27. Addressing Academic Precarity: How to Transition from Academia to Industry
28. Change in the Anthropological Vocation: Resisting and Adapting Ethnography in Silicon Valley
29. Middle East Section (MES) Mentoring Meetings
30. NAPA Networking Event
31. Standing up for Anthropology: Learning to communicate effectively across disciplines and showcasing the value of anthropological knowledge
32. Square Pegs in Round Holes

I was pleased at Ed’s comment, and took it entirely at face value. I believed he was engaging in total good faith, because it never occurred to me for a moment to imagine that the Executive Director of an academic association would do otherwise.

And so I responded instantly to him, writing as follows:

I’m glad to hear it, Ed. Is there any way to search the schedule/app so that all of these show up under a single heading, so that the job seeker can target their conference time? in other words, are these collected together under a “Careers” (or some other term) heading? Because, if not, they will not be locatable to the vast majority, and will remain known only to silo-ed sets of members (ie, the middle east section, or the ABA, etc. etc.). What I found effective in the AAR conference was the way that all careers-related content was highly promoted, and also searchable using a single term in their schedule and app.

And Ed, I’m glad you’re doing all this, but I don’t get the impression it’s visible to most vulnerable, precariously-employed members, because the AAA does NOT enjoy a good reputation among them. So step two needs to be: make it visible, make it accessible, make it affordable.

Ed did not respond.

Two other anthropologists did, however. One of them – “Avery” – shared the actual abstracts of two of the papers that Ed was proudly touting as evidence of the AAA’s careers-related programming. Neither of them had anything to do with careers. They were standard scholarly conference papers.

And the other commenter shared this: “I was part of one of those 33 sessions that are listed (but not one for which Avery helpfully provided an abstract). We briefly touched on alt-ac, but it was certainly not the focus (intended or actual) of our panel.”

This commenter concluded, “I find it a bit disingenuous to include it on a list of panels about alt-ac options.”

And I am left with only one conclusion. Ed Liebow, Executive Director of the AAA, came onto my website, and lied to me, and to my readers.

He made flatly untrue statements that 33 events were “career-related” when they were not.

Let’s look at the list above with a more discerning eye: #s 4, 5, 7, 12, 17, 20, 21, 32…. at the very least those are not papers/panels devoted to career support for precarious/vulnerable Ph.D.s. Furthermore, #s 8, 10, 26, and 29 are events arranged by particular interest groups for the benefit of their own members, and not initiatives of the AAA. It is unethical for the Executive Director of the main organization to attempt to claim credit for events the organization did nothing to organize.

Ed’s list indicates that there were indeed more careers events on the AAA meetings schedule than I realized, and I am very, very glad that there were. But there were nowhere near the 33 claimed.

I have not delved deeper into the minutiae of the list to find a precise breakdown, because the exact number does not matter.

What matters is that the Executive Director of the American Anthropological Association DOES NOT CARE ENOUGH about Ph.D. precarity to be bothered to provide either accuracy or truth about actual AAA careers programming.

Or, in the idiom of our times: careers programming for unemployed anthropology Ph.D.s is clearly such a nothingburger for the AAA that any old slipshod list of alternative facts can be thrown together as “evidence” of action.

Maybe there were 5 events, maybe 10… but when the Executive Director of an academic association will lie in public to try and make that association’s record of caring about the precarious look better than it is… well, that establishes beyond the shadow of a doubt that the problem itself starts at the very top. And as sorry as I am to say so, it confirms my impression that the AAA indeed does not care, and is not acting in good faith to seriously prioritize the needs of the actually vulnerable.