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

The_Professor_Is_In.inddLove the blog? Now get it in handy book form!

Buy it at all these places!

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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.

This single handy guide 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

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.

At The Professor Is In, we have a particular commitment to supporting black women in the academy, as well as other scholars of color. This is a core company mission. If you are a member of these communities, and finances are an issue in working with us, please get in touch to discuss possible arrangements.

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

Our New Podcast Is Coming So Soon!

Kel and I had a mini work-retreat this past week, and recorded the trailer and 5 episodes of our new Professor Is In podcast! We’re also finalizing music (I love that part! Want to hear a clip? Here’s Two Sides, by Martin Klem. Great title, right? right?)

The first episode drops early January.

We’re also busy planning all the goodies we’ll be offering members who sign up for the Professor Is In Plus membership option, available starting next week!

It’s not totally finalized yet, but members will be getting perks like a special members-only podcast episode per month, ad-free content, and also academic career/productivity-related items that aren’t available anywhere else like Dr. Karen’s 30-Day CV Rehab, Kel’s 5 Steps to Productivity, a monthly call-in with Karen and Kel, with the chance for live on-air individual coaching!

Stay tuned next week when we announce a limited-time incentive for early Professor is In Plus sign-ups. And be sure to download the Himalaya app and find us there [Reminder: you’ll be able to find us on Himalaya from next week; we’re not quite live yet!]

While you can hear the free episodes on all the regular platforms, Himalaya is the only place Professor Is In Plus will be available.


Here’s the podcast description: The Professor Is In has been the world’s leading source of academic career advice for a decade, and in this new podcast academic career coach and author Dr. Karen Kelsky and productivity coach Kel Weinhold, with their trademark combination of candor, humor, and compassion (and a healthy dose of critique), tell you the truth about how the academy works, with strategies for reaching your goals while prioritizing your emotional well being. We go where others don’t, breaking down the unspoken rules of academic cultures, including all the ways they center white folks and marginalize everyone else. Our mission: whether you’re in grad school, on the job market, on the tenure track, adjuncting, or deciding to leave the academy and do something else, we are here to support you with insights, advice, and real talk.

Episode 1: Why the Academy Is Like a Cult
Episode 2: Publishing and Toxic Comparison
Episode 3: The Culture of Overwork
Episode 4: Why You Need a 5-Year Plan
Episode 5: Dealing with Rejection

And remember: to be the first to hear when the member site opens and the podcast goes live, sign up here:

Boston U Dean to Struggling Grad Students: Go To the Food Pantry – Guest Post

This post shared by a reader.


An intercepted email from a dean at Boston University to faculty and staff reveals that the administration is responding to poverty-like conditions among its grad students by sending out links to food pantries and short-term loans.

The stipend that many graduate students at the university receive is ~$23,000 per year, about 1/3 the median income of Boston, and the terms of the stipend forbid employment outside the department; additional income through the university is limited to $3,000 per year. Considering the exorbitant living costs of the Boston area, PhD students struggle to make ends meet, with some facing the euphemistic issue of “food insecurity” if they struggle to afford food.  

Although Boston University is a wealthy private institution charging $70,000/year per undergraduate student (for tuition and room and board), they are unwilling to pay their graduate workers a living wage. 

In a move analogous to Wal-Marts holding food drives for their employees, this administrator’s solutions for students experiencing “food insecurity” are to seek external assistance or take on debt, rather than increasing graduate wages so that workers can afford to know where their next meal is coming from. 

Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2019 at 10:39 AM
Subject: Resources for Graduate Students Facing Financial Challenges and Food Insecurity


A number of graduate programs have brought concerns to me about their graduate students’ financial challenges and experience of food insecurity. Even with the best of budgeting, the amount of our stipend (which will continue to increase slowly over the next few years) and the cost of living in Boston means that there are times when it is difficult for our PhD students to make ends meet.  

In response, and with thanks to the Graduate Program in Religion, I wanted to share resources that are available to our graduate students. 

Graduate students may reach out for support and emergency financial assistance at Boston University in one of two ways.

GRS provides emergency loans to all graduate students and advances on stipends to qualified PhD students. The stipend advance may be of particular use to PhD students receiving a non-service fellowship, where the fellowship is paid out monthly.  PhD programs are encouraged to let incoming PhD students know in a timely manner (ideally at the start of the summer) that they can receive a mid-September advance on their stipend, in order to bridge the gap between the start-up costs of moving to Boston and their first stipend payment at the end of September. See for more information.

While Boston University does not operate a food pantry, the Dean of Students’ Office offers meal assistance:

In addition, the Graduate Program in Religion has a new website that lists other resources in the community available to graduate students who are experiencing food insecurity and have implemented a number of measures of their own to support their students:  

Please be in touch with any questions or concerns.


#MakeupMonday: My New Setup

Instagram (or was it Facebook?) markets to me so well it is really scary. One day I was just scrolling and suddenly before my eyes appeared a customizable rotating makeup storage tower. My makeup storage situation did not even remotely keep up with my accelerating investment in makeup products, and things were getting ugly.

Reader, I bought it. And it’s everything I hoped. (I tried to post a video of it rotating in its true glory but my sad outdated wordpress theme rejected it).

Also an ongoing frustration: a decent makeup mirror. I’ve gone through so, so many, and blogged about a lot of them. This week, on a quick trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond to get a mattress cover, I happened upon this Ihome item on sale. I bought it with my 20% off coupon.

And… it’s everything I have wanted in a makeup mirror. It also plays music, lol, which is NOT something I’ve wanted in a makeup mirror so I haven’t set that part up yet. But the lights are finally — FINALLY – bright enough. The mirror area is large enough. And the lights can be switched warm or cold, and a range of brightness.

And here’s a cute look I did – the big news here is this amazing NARS Erdem Lip POWDER palette I found super-cheap at TJ Maxx!

I didn’t know what to think about lip powder, but turns out–i love it! And the palette allows you to carry a full range of lipcolors with you in a super compact way. Not very long-lasting, but vivid and great shades.

Black Girl Magicians and Deferred Dreams – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by an author who prefers to remain anonymous. She writes: “I am an African American woman from the Northeast who obtained a doctoral degree in STEM at a large public institution. After completing postdocs in the South and the Midwest, I returned to the Northeast to continue my job search.”


I’m writing this essay from the dining room table of my mother’s home.  Well, I guess it’s my home too now since I moved back here nearly a year ago.  That’s right. After many years of sacrifices, near poverty wages, hard work, and many professional accomplishments, I’m back home.

So I’m one of those so-called, highly coveted unicorns.  I’m a Black woman scientist with a PhD. My story is a bit of a circuitous one.  After earning my BA and MS in the northeast, I moved south to begin my doctoral studies.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right fit and it wasn’t the right time. And more unfortunately, I internalized my failure.  It was the first time I had ever failed to complete something this big and this important. I was devastated. I eventually moved back home, licked my wounds, worked for a bit, and tried again.  This time, I got into a university a little closer to home. It was a tough ride, but because I was able to find the support I never had at my previous institution, I was able to survive and became the first Black person to graduate from my PhD program.  It was the ultimate comeback story!

After graduation, I moved to the Midwest to begin a postdoc. Just 2 weeks before and 2 hours away from Michael Brown’s untimely death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, MO. Welcome to the Show-Me state! After 2 years of isolation and many lessons learned, I was able to move back to the east coast and do a 2nd postdoc, this one more fulfilling than the previous one. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to tenure-track. I realized I was burned out.  I had been running on fear and fumes since I graduated (maybe earlier) and the last thing I needed was to start the race all over again.  But this postdoc allowed me to live in a location more suitable to my needs, it gave the potential for more opportunities to build a personal life, and it was closer to family and friends, all things that I realized I needed most during my time in the Midwest.  It also provided a much needed paycheck, so I pulled myself together and moved forward. It was a productive experience. I attended conferences, published several papers, became heavily involved in campus activity, tried my best to network and explore the many research and administrative options that were within my reach.  But I was still burned out. And I was tired.  

And as much as I did and as hard as I worked, it never felt like it was enough.  I knew that my postdoc was only a temporary position and I would need to find another job soon.  I tried y’all. I really tried. I sent out applications. I made phone calls. I told my network that I was on the job market.  I even got a few interviews. I identified a few gaps in my CV and filled those. But it wasn’t enough. My mind couldn’t take over anymore.  My body was calling the shots. And it was telling me to take a break. My health, both physical and mental, were deteriorating. There were times I couldn’t get out of bed, much less adequately plan for my future.  And although there was a small part of me that wanted to give in and stop fighting the urge to rest, there was an overwhelming part of me that knew that unemployment was not optional. I had bills to pay and a career to maintain. 

Thank goodness I was childless, so I didn’t have the added responsibility of taking providing for others. But I was single. I didn’t have a spouse to emotionally or financially depend on for support. I was alone and I felt alone.  Who would have sympathy for the Black Girl Magician? The one who looked like she had it all together. The educated one – WELL educated one. The one whose identity was intertwined with her work. The one who believed that hard work would eventually pay off. 

Well, it turns out, I didn’t have long to find out because the decision was made for me. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to secure a job before my postdoc ran out. The only sensible choice was to come home. At the time, my mom was sick and needed help around the house, so I figured it was good timing.  We could help each other. But what do you call a break with no rest? How can you relax when you have no money? How do you heal from the trauma of academia and racism and sexism and depression and poverty and isolation and feelings of inadequacy because the chance you took on pursuing your dream seems to have blown up in your face?  

The researcher in me understands that I am not an anomaly.  We are still producing more PhDs than there are jobs available.  And although postdocs are considered standard for most STEM disciplines, it extends the period of overwork and underpay most grad students experience, forcing most postdocs to postpone the fruits of their education and experience.  And after all is said and done, there’s still no guarantee that a postdoc will lead to a good paying job. Yet we continue to encourage women and people of color to pursue an education in STEM. But what’s the cost? How many more Black women do we have to invest in and encourage and pull into academic and research careers in STEM only for them to be divested, discouraged, and pushed out?  What are we doing to them? What is being done to us?  Why do we continue to persuade women of color to stay in environments that are not healthy or supportive of them personally and professionally?  We point out individuals as role models, but are they exceptions or the rule?  

I am reminded of the opening lines of “Harlem” by the great African-American poet Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”  Or maybe it results in several months of unemployment, bill collectors, crippling depression and paralyzing anxiety, and returning to their childhood home surrounded by people who couldn’t possibly understand the hell you just went through.  Because we’re not just talking about raisins or dreams. We’re talking about real lives. Black lives. Black lives that were convinced that academia and STEM would be their ticket out of poverty, only to find out that it’s still a crapshoot.  This is not what I signed up for. And I don’t think I can encourage other Black women to continue to sign up for it either. Not until the system cares more about the wellbeing and security of Black women than they it does about their cheap and anonymous labor.  

So what happens to a dream deferred?  I don’t know. It feels more like a nightmare at the moment.

#MakeupMonday: Pretending to be a MUA

I did a look last weekend I really liked and want to share it. I decided to go all-in on one of those “flawless” skin effects like the IG makeup artists do. Meaning, a TON of makeup – primer, foundation, concealers, and a finishing powder, and that was just to start!

It was so entertaining, and completely ridiculous for a Sunday in Eugene, Oregon. Ah well.

First, though: I’ve switched up my hair! Ever since my Halloween costume for our party, I’ve been wearing it in a big vertical swoop now, and even still playing more with the temporary gold hair color paste.

Even though my bruises are gone and my scars much faded (although I am still getting these wicked new underye circles when I get tired), I’ve decided to keep using my new concealers. I’ve learned different ones work in different ways for different parts of the face. It’s been a very steep learning curve.

Anyway, here’s the product list:

Tarte Timeless Smoothing Primer

Becca Undereye Corrector

Nars SheerGlow Foundation

It Cosmetics CC+ Powder

Kevyn Aucoin Contour

Hourglass Blush

Becca Concealer

CoverFX concealer

RMS Living Luminizer

The Balm Eyeshadow

Smashbox DoubleExposure Shadow

Clinique Lash Primer

Eyeko Mascara

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Brow Color

LimeCrime Bushy Brow Strong Hold Gel

NARS Rouge A Levres Jolie Mome

Lipstick Queen Liner in Wine

NYX Setting Spray

I feel rather dashing!

I do love playing with my makeup! If you’d like me to start doing videos instead of just still photos, lmk.

And I have gathered another huge pile of samples, so let’s do another giveaway! Comment substantively (even answering the yes/no on videos) on FB and I’ll enter you in a random drawing for 5-6 prestige/indie samples.

“Good” NTT vs. “Bad” TT: A Conversation (Part III)

This is Part III of a three-part series on weighing the pros and cons of taking a good NTT position vs. a less desirable tenure track position. I use “good” and “bad” advisedly just as a shorthand, because of course these judgments will vary across individuals and context. But many readers have faced versions of this choice and contributed guest posts. I’m sharing their stories.Find the previous ones here and here. Like the others, this is a guest post.


On the pros and cons of term/clinical positions versus the TT….

As an occupant of such a position (a term position, in my case) with fairly recent experience of the academic job market and front row seats to the TT journey of multiple friends, here are my thoughts on the pros and cons. I’m writing this partly to contribute to Karen’s project, which I’ve found enormously helpful through the years, and partly because I’ve had enough annoying conversations with grad students about this that I think it merits raising in the wider community. What lies at the heart of this question, I think, is that we as academics are all conditioned to think of a TT track position as a “real” job, and of everything else as a stop gap measure at best and a failure at worst.

This isn’t a tenable formulation—not for our graduate students heading out into the market, and not for the rest of us, who create and perpetuate the problems of that market–partly because this is what we have to think with. It isn’t tenable on an individual level (TT jobs are much fewer in number than term positions, thus the odds of landing one aren’t great, while the personal and professional costs of chasing often are), and it isn’t tenable on an organizational level (because it effectively serves to justify the abuse of people occupying those other positions, rendering academic institutions houses divided against themselves).

So, when I was on the market, what I was after was a job that would allow me to live a full life while offering me the opportunity to do the work that I enjoy, employ my training and my talents, and pay a decent salary with good chances of stability and growth.

Such jobs don’t neatly divide into the TT/term categories, and my advice would be to evaluate the pros and cons of each individual position, not the entire category. To that end, the pros of some term positions:

-They can occupy a structural niche in the university. If not funded by soft money, this can translate to considerable stability.

-They can afford a lot of opportunities for really interesting work

-They are more likely to enable their occupants to skirt departmental politics.

-They pay a decent salary and come with benefits. As for the cons, they all stem from that house divided phenomenon I mentioned.

Basically, what we have by virtue of this division is a class system within the university. Term/clinical faculty are second class citizens, period (adjuncts in this metaphor are basically serfs).

As a result, many of those pros seamlessly transition into the cons:

–the utility to the organization translates to a lot of work. Since term employees aren’t on the TT, there’s little organizational incentive to make sure their work loads are reasonable.

–there’s no guarantee that the work will, in fact, be interesting. Many contract positions exist to do the rote work of a department—teach introductory courses, handle the routines of administration, etc.

–The ability to skirt department politics is in part a result of being less consequential to them (unlike tenured faculty, term contracts are much easier to dispatch, and term faculty can’t participate in university governance on equal terms with the TT).

Then again, a TT job is no golden ticket—it doesn’t protect you from exploitation, burn out or abuse. And a good term job isn’t a step down from a bad TT one.

Live Webinars Resume This Week!

Hello all, a quick note to alert you that Live Webinars are back, starting tomorrow, Thursday November 15!

All are $50, but use this promo code – WEBZONE10 – for 10% off.

Find them here on the Live Webinars page. And remember: all registrants get access to a recording even if you don’t attend the live event.

*Hacking the Academic Job Market (Thursday Nov. 15, 6 PM EST)

*Interview Intervention Webinar (Thursday Nov 21, 6 PM EST)

*The Campus Visit Webinar (Thursday Dec 5, 6 PM EST)

Descriptions below.:

Hacking the Academic Job Market

Thursday 11/15 6 PM EST

In this 90-minute webinar I walk you through the conditions of the current American job market, the most common mistakes made by job-seekers, and the ways you can maximize your chances of success while looking for a tenure-track job.
We’ll cover:

The big-picture conditions of the U.S. academic job market
How to think like a search committee
The four core qualities of a successful tenure track job candidate
The all-important 5-Year Plan
The ethos of job market documents
The most common mistakes made by job seekers
The three keys to academic interviewing
The non-academic option

We also examine the pervasive intangible pitfalls that can bedevil job documents and interviewing, including narcissism, excessive humility, and hyper-emotionalism. You’ll leave with a broad understanding of the real (as opposed to fantasy) criteria of tenure track hiring, and how to tailor your record and application materials to maximize your chances of success.

Includes time for Q and A with Dr. Karen. All who register get access to a free recording of the event.


Interview Intervention Webinar

Thursday 11/21 6 PM EST

In this 90-minute webinar Karen Kelsky shows you how to interview effectively for an academic job. She covers the major questions asked most often, and their unspoken agendas. She discusses the most common errors made by candidates, and how to organize and deliver concise, content-rich, non-desperate responses.

She will provide templates for responses to basic questions about your dissertation/current research, publishing, teaching, and fit, and abundant examples of both bad and good answers from actual client interviews.

In addition, we confront illegal/inappropriate questions, micro-aggressions, and the all important issue of overcoming Imposter Syndrome, and communicating confidence through verbal and non-verbal modes. And she spares a few words for how to dress, the best shoes for cold weather, and ideas for briefcases!

The material applies to skype, phone, and conference interviews, and the campus visit (although note that we have a whole separate webinar and recording available that is devoted to the campus visit!)

This webinar works in tandem with the live Skype Interview Intervention service provided by Kel Weinhold ($250); it is an immediately available and cost-effective way to learn what to expect and how to prepare for all forms of academic job interview. Many clients do the webinar as preparation for a live Skype Intervention, if there are slots available.

As always there will be plenty of time for Q and A at the end.

All who register get access to a recording of the event.


Campus Visit Webinar

Thursday 12/5 at 6 PM EST

In this 90 minute webinar I walk you through the basic expectations and potential pitfalls of the dreaded Campus Visit (sometimes called a Fly-Out). We will cover all of the core elements, including:

The three key criteria at play in a campus visit
The single biggest pitfall for candidates
The basic organization of a campus visit
The initial arrangements and scheduling
Preparing for the visit
Meetings with faculty, Head, Dean, and graduate students
The formal interview with the Search Committee
The job talk and Q and A
The teaching demo
Handling meals gracefully
Maintaining your stamina
Evaluating campus climate
What to wear, especially in cold weather

As always there will be time for Q and A at the end. All who register get access to a recording of the event.

Campus visits are hard! A little advance knowledge will save a world of hurt!

Remember: use this promo code – WEBZONE10 – for 10% off! Find the webinars here on the Live Webinars page. All registrants get access to a recording even if you don’t attend the live event.

Floored: Lessons from the Privilege Walk – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Dr. TaLisa J. Carter.

TaLisa J. Carter, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Justice, Law, and Criminology at American University. Her research broadly focuses on criminological theory, social institutions, race, social control. When she’s not earning tenure, she loves to people watch, dance and cross things off her many to-do lists.


Like every other first-year graduate student – I remember being tired yet determined. My mind was tired of trying to make sense of Foucault and Weber, but my tongue was determined to contribute substantively to class. My closet was tired of me picking its limited selection to attend departmental events, but I remained determined to build a professional network and look the part. My social meter was depleted, tired of trying to connect with a cohort at venues void of the bass, beats, rhythm, and soul that moved me. Yet, I remained determined to at least try to be their friend. That, however, died the day of the privilege walk. 

Mid-semester a student duo introduced the discussion-heavy graduate seminar to the privilege walk. The privilege walk was an activity meant to link privilege to justice, reflexivity, and a bunch of other lovely concepts strung together in what seemed like a harmless announcement. We rose, formed a frumpy horizontal line across the middle of the classroom.

And it began. 

  • If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back. I stepped backward. 
  • If you had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back. I stepped backward. 
  • If you travelled outside of the country before you were 18 years old, take one step forward. I stood still. 
  • If your family ever had to move because they could not afford to pay the rent or
  • mortgage, please take one step back. I stepped backward. 
  • If your parents told you that you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward. I stepped forward. 
  • If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward. I stood still. 
  • If you were told that you were beautiful, smart, and capable by your parents, take one step forward. I stepped forward. 
  • If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back. I stepped backward. 

The questioning continued, unrelenting, ignoring the thickness in the air, the reddening faces of my peers and the manifestation of my marginalization becoming more and more unmistakable. The privilege that my Ivy league undergraduate label afforded me for the first several months of graduate school was fading. Every step backwards I took – ripped it to pieces. A mixed-race peer with a sweet and brave spirit began to affirm me with her facial expressions and finally short sentences. But there was little to be done, the privilege walk continued. 

Another question. My back hit the chalkboard. 

Another question. Nowhere to step now. I turned around and faced the blackboard. Its blackness a welcome sight, relative to the uncomfortable backs of my privileged peers. 

Another question. Nowhere to turn now. I squatted. 

Another question. I’m tired but determined to share my truth. I sat on the floor. 

And even after sitting, I should have taken four steps further back. That fact screamed in my brain loudly as we found our seats in silence. I am so many steps behind that I shouldn’t even be in this room. Imposter syndrome wasn’t in my head, it was real, living, justified by the onslaught of questions that left me on the floor.

The duo led a debrief that was maddening. Students openly discussed how less visible marginalized identities (e.g. sexuality and religion) related to privilege, playing a carefully articulated game of verbal hopscotch to avoid issues related to race, ethnicity, and class. I stayed silent. Numb. Annoyed. After class, I recounted the story to my family and friends. One asked: “Why didn’t you just lie?”

Truth is…I’m proud of my truth. There is no reason to lie. I was led to this predominantly white space, discipline, department because of my lived experiences. I was not ashamed. I was not embarrassed. I was disappointed, angry, and hurt that the exercise was ultimately a waste of time, rather than an educational tool.  

My professor followed up, checked in, called, we met. And I shared my truth, my frustrations, my disappointment. I was a first-year, tired yet determined to relate why I chose to participate so openly in the exercise, how the debrief was beyond problematic and what I believed should be done to move forward in a healthy way. And the following week in class, she led us in a real debrief. A debrief that affirmed me in that space and provided room for a critical analysis of the exercise. The conversation led to tears from my peers, blunt statements about “not knowing what to do,” feeling bad, and extreme discomfort.  I didn’t know how I felt. But I learned lessons: 

  1. Being an imposter is only an issue when you buy into the negativity around it. From the floor onward, I’ve owned my differences in ways that empower me. Ultimately, you frame your identity in this space – not other people. 
  2. Making other people uncomfortable is MORE THAN OKAY. I didn’t share my truth to teach others nor to have a powerful moment with myself. I just told the truth. And the dominoes that fell as a result – not my problem. 
  3. Related, I believe that integrating exercises in the classroom that confront sensitive issues is a critical part of higher education. However, faculty and students must prepare properly, engage fully and debrief appropriately. Most importantly if something goes wrong, there must be a commitment to correct- even if that means reengaging with discomfort. To be clear, I would participate in another privilege exercise if 2 conditions were met: (1) I trusted the facilitator and (2) understood the intended learning outcomes for all involved. 
  4. Speak up. If something doesn’t feel right, say something. And it doesn’t have to be in the moment or cause a scene. Speak up in whatever way works for you.  
  5. Hard times suck, but they will show you your advocates, and the people you can lean on to thrive in this experience. When my professor checked in, I could’ve easily avoided the conversation, lied, and pressed on. But from that experience, I found a true mentor and advocate. 
  6. The purpose of cohorts is not friendship. Together you learn to be good colleagues, not good friends. The week between classes, most of my cohort avoided me like I had done something to them. In that isolation, I grew stronger. 
  7. Be you. You’re enough. 

To this day, sitting on the floor in that classroom was the best thing I could have done my first year. It shaped my perspective and approach to a process structured in ways without me in mind. The lessons learned were priceless. No regrets. Period. 


#MakeupMonday: Concussion and Contour Edition

I’m still recovering from the big accident I wrote about in the last #MakeupMonday post. My physical injuries are healing quickly, but my post-concussion symptoms have been slower. Weirdly enough, editing work has been uniformly fine from the first moment I came back to it, before I could even use my arm to type! Whatever part of my brain was impacted, that wasn’t it. I’ve really noticed it in my non-work life. Short term memory stuff. Inability to multi-task. Constant small mental slippage. And a general irritability even more than my usual – and that’s saying something! (Today I called it incandescent rage, so….)

If any of you have experienced concussion symptoms like this, let me know if you found any treatments that worked.

In the meantime, I’ve been incorporating some of the skills and products I had to acquire post-accident into my regular routine–mostly a new affection for concealers. They are still really hard to use, especially when the goal is NOT to be an IG beauty blogger but to walk among other flesh and blood humans in real physical time and space looking human.

But I’ve found three I love. First, the IT Bye-Bye UnderEye Anti-Aging Full Coverage Concealer that I blogged about last time – it really is one of those products that is so head and shoulders above the rest that it’s just a standard-setter. It’s heavy and you have to need that level of concealer, and also need to learn how to use it (hint: warm a microscopic amount between your fingers) but wow–it goes on so smoothly and blends to such an amazing natural but lasting sheen. Second, Pur Disappearing Ink 4-1 Face Concealer, which I bought on a whim having seen it highly recommended, and is now my favorite post-accident, medium coverage concealer. It is brightening, blends beautifully, and doesn’t crease. Last, I found Becca Ultimate Coverage Concealing Cream for $15 at Nordstrom Rack last week (go run and check it out–there are tons of high end current Becca, IT, MAC, and Urban Decay products there right now!) that is, like all Becca products, really awesome at looking light and dewy, although I’m not sure yet about its durability. I didn’t really need another concealer honestly, but I don’t pass up good Becca products when I find them cheap (and they had my exact shade in stock). BTW, I also scored the Becca Color Correcting Cream in Pistachio to deal with redness, and it’s far far above any other green color corrector I’ve used, including one by Smashbox and one by Dermablend.

So this morning I thought I’d share a quick contour session. I’ve wanted to do one for a really long time but I’m always rushing and late, and don’t take the time to snap those pics for a post! Today, I just did it, even though I didn’t really have time for lots of careful lighting, posing, and micro-steps. Today’s is far from my most careful and fastidious makeup application, but as one of my heroes says in advice she gives to young writers: “Do it badly, fast.”* So here goes.

First I did Glamglow Gravity Lifting Mask while drying my hair. It was dry and ready to peel off right when I finished drying and flatironing and styling my hair — love that!

I do my skincare, primer, color correctors, and foundation. As you’ll see in the pics below, I still have a very visible scar on my forehead, and stubborn purple shadows around my eyes that resist concealer coverage.

Then, I do the contour. I use one of my beloved 100% ride-or-die products, which I actually forgot to mention on my recent “Must-Have Products 2019” post: Kevin Aucoin Contour Book Volume 2 – an AMAZING deal (considering the number of items included) on cool-toned contour colors and highlighters for a ton of different effects.

I put it under my cheekbone, under my jawline, between my eyes and down the sides of my nose, and around the outer edge of my forehead and cheeks. I learned this method from watching Youtube MUAs (makeup artists), especially Wayne Goss.

Don’t be afraid! It’s ok to really draw it on, as long as you remember to BLEND. And folks: PLEASE, I beg you: you probably need cooler toned contour products, especially if you are a white person! I get that not everyone is as cool in undertone as I am, but please remember: shadows tend to be fundamentally blue-ish, not bronze! Too many companies and clerks push bronzers (which are always brown/gold/tan and often shimmery) in place of contour products which are typically matte and cooler. While all interested readers should use your A+ research skills to investigate advice and products for your own skin tone and undertone, please heed me when I tell you that if you’re trying to create the sense of a shadow, you probably need a cooler-toned palette than what you have around. And, they are hard to find. The Kevin Aucoin line does it very, very well – as befits the ultimate contour-king of makeup.

So, now I blend.

Now I add blush.

Oops, big unblended blotch! That happens a lot when I put on blush.

I quickly fix that.

I add some concealer and highlighter. I have a highlighter post coming soon because my daughter introduced me to a new product line that we are both now obsessed with!

Then I finish up everything else. I feel like too much contour came off in the course of blending everything, so I add back a bit between my eyes and on my nose. Here it is unblended.

And then blended, and everything done, including my new beloved lipcolor, which I’ve blogged about before: Lipstick Queen RearView Mirror in Drive My Mauve. Don’t be put off by the goofy packaging of this product: it performs! It goes on glossy but then settles into what I can only call a lipstain that stays and stays

I am ok with leaving some shadows under my eyes right now, because I don’t want to slather on even more concealer (beyond what I am already using above) to erase them. But I have to say, I am ready to be done with these post-accident challenges.

*Prof. Jessica Hammer, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, in “The Portable Hammer.”

Academic PTSD – WOC Guest Post

[Posting has been a bit delayed as I’ve recovered from my accident. I will be posting on an accelerated schedule to try and get caught up!]

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Dr. Rita Shah. Dr. Shah is an Assistant Professor of Criminology at Eastern Michigan University. Her research combines textual analysis with qualitative and visual methods to understand the ways in which correctional systems are socially and legally constructed. Her first book, The Meaning of Rehabilitation and its Impact on Parole: There and Back Again in California (2017), queries the concept of rehabilitation to determine how, on a legislative and policy level, the term is defined as a goal of correctional systems.


As I wrap up the Winter 2019 semester, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my first two years at my new(ish) institution. In particular, I’m thinking about the link between workplace bullying and PTSD and the particular ways that might play out in academia (or, as one scholar put it, Posttraumatic Scholar’s Disorder). While we talk a lot about the toxicity of academia, especially for faculty with marginalized identities, we don’t really talk about how that toxicity follows us, even if we’ve managed to escape it. I know of only two pieces that explore this topic: Professor Naima Lowe’s piece on how standing up for students led to doxing and PTSD and Dr. Liz Wayne’s Twitter thread on the trauma of academia and its long-term impacts. I wish we did talk about it more, though; maybe then I would have been better prepared for my first year in my current position and the anxiety I feel now.

Because it took a whole year for me to realize the space I’m in now is not the toxic environment I left. It took a whole year to stop wondering when the next microaggression or back-handed compliment or undermining comment will come.

Or at least, it took a whole year for those worries to not be a concern every single day. I don’t know if I’ll ever get past it completely. Which means I don’t know if I’ll ever fully be at my best, because I’ll always be second guessing myself and every single interaction with my colleagues—something that is now engrained in me because of the toxicity of my first academic position.

There were many things I loved about that job. But for years, the institutional racism slowly wore me down. It slowly crushed my soul. It slowly led me to question my worth. Because every day was a battle of deflecting micro- and macro-aggressions that undermined my abilities, my expertise, my efforts, and my experience.

Critiquing how we as faculty responded to racist incidents on campus led to an email from a senior white male colleague who was hurt I did not support him, claimed it meant he could no longer trust me, and attempted to silence any further criticism. Raising a question about how data was being presented in an undergraduate honor’s thesis defense led to a faculty member questioning my academic credentials in front of other department-mates and several students. Discussing structural racism in the criminal justice system led to student evaluations that said I discussed race too much and feedback from department colleagues that I wasn’t supportive of differing views.

At my pre-tenure review, I was told I need at least one more publication for tenure even though I had a single authored publication in a top-ranking journal and knew that had been enough for others at the institution to earn tenure. At my tenure evaluation, I was critiqued for not being culturally inclusive even though I was the only faculty of color in the department and often the only person of color in the classroom. (And these are just the micro/macro-aggressions I have space to include in this piece.)

After years of feeling like I had to justify my very existence (and earning tenure in spite of it all), I left for another position. But I carry the baggage with me. 

Every time my name is raised, I wait for the backhanded compliment. Every time someone says something kind about me, I wait for the undermining comment to follow. I even took my new department’s evaluation of my pre-tenure review dossier to my union president because I had a hard time accepting there weren’t any hidden digs. There weren’t, but I simply didn’t believe the positive and highly-ranked review was real.

And as I enter my third year at my current institution, all of that anxiety is coming back. Because it was in my third year at my last position the microaggressions became more consistent. It was in my third year the macroaggressions became apparent. It was in my third year I realized I didn’t belong.

While I am mostly confident I belong at my current institution, the trauma of years 3-6 at my last one still linger. As I (hopefully) move past tenure, I can’t help wondering if life will repeat itself. I can’t help wondering if life is already repeating itself, but it’s a more subtle form so I’m missing it.

I know I’m not the only person to deal with the toxicity of academia. Nor am I the only one who has left, either to a new position or to a position outside of academia altogether, to get away from it. Nor am I the only one navigating the long-term impacts of the toxicity.

But I do have a lot of questions about it. Questions that, if answered, might help all of us navigate it better. 

Questions like: What are the long-term impacts of this toxicity? What is the impact of constantly tensing up, or feeling anxious or scared every time we’re in a meeting or our name comes up? How much productivity is lost because we are always on the lookout? What decisions are made (or not), actions taken (or not) and relationships forged (or not) because “[we] are not experiencing the same reality that [others] are”?

And, perhaps more importantly, who is most impacted by Posttraumatic Scholar’s Disorder? And how does that long-term impact of academic toxicity and trauma continue to limit academia’s ability to be an equitable and inclusive space?

I don’t have any answers. And I’m sure there are others who have done much more work on this topic than I who can speak on it with more clarity. But I really wish we talked about it more, if for no other reason than to put a name to a problem so many of us deal with.