Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog

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

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

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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

What Not To Do at Your Campus Visit

Today I share some remarks by a tenured client, who just completed a search at her department, and wrote to tell me about it:

“We just finished doing a job search here and an offer has been made.  I wanted to share with you something the last candidate did because I was shocked.

The candidate walked around most of the time she was here with earphones in her ears listening to music. At one point she started dancing in the hall!

She was wearing a dress that looked like she was going out for cocktails.  It looked like this, but in two tones (beige and black):


I am not very judgmental about dress, and it didn’t bother me at first, but then it did  at the point that she was dancing down the hallway to her own music.  I’ll be honest, it freaked some of my colleagues (the science types) out.

Also, she was left in my colleague’s office to prepare for her talk; when my colleague came back into the office she was on my colleague’s computer without permission, surfing the web.

She is very young, but…yikes.  I felt like I was back in my son’s teen years.

The grad students also didn’t like her; she was very unengaged at the graduate student lunch.

By contrast, our first choice asked each student what they were reading at the moment  at his lunch with them and commented on every book they named. He also asked them what they were working on and made recommendations for readings.

We were blown away by this guy. His job talk was excellent–even the [distant subdiscipline] people understood it; he was just a humble but brilliant guy.  After he left I told my students: ‘take note, that is how you do a perfect interview.’

Meanwhile, the ‘dancing candidate’ is still the talk of the hallways.  In a very bad way.

I truly wondered who advised her in grad school and almost feel compelled to call her after all is said and done to give her advice.  Anyway, I thought you might want to add earphones, cocktail dress, and dancing in the hall to your ‘do not do this on a job interview’ list for grad students.”

Are Academic Businesses Low-hanging Fruit? Horton #postac Post

I’m excited about this #postac post by Margy Horton, the genius behind the business, ScholarShape.  Entrepreneurship is a topic very close to my heart; I even have a chapter on it in my forthcoming book.  I want to see more academics pursue entrepreneurial opportunities and get over their fear of going into business for themselves.


by Margy Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Every Q & A needs one audacious question, so I was grateful recently when, after I’d given a starry-eyed talk to some humanities PhDs about entrepreneurship as a partial solution to the academic jobs crisis, one audience member put her hand up and said (I’m paraphrasing), “No offense, but I see what you and The Professor Is In and some other academic entrepreneurs are doing, and I think, how many businesses like that can there be–businesses that academics create to support other academics? Didn’t you guys already pick all the low-hanging fruit?”

In other words, hadn’t we taken all the easy business ideas?

Some background: Two years ago, I launched a business, ScholarShape, that offers editorial support, coaching, and consultation to academics across the disciplines. I’m not an entrepreneur in a seismic-shift kind of way, but I am entrepreneurial in the sense that I like solving problems by inventing new solutions rather than by looking for prefabricated ones. While my business model might seem obvious now, when I was first launching, most of my academic colleagues and friends were like, “What? Academics aren’t going to pay you for those services.”

But back to that skeptical audience member. Her point is an important one: For an academic starting a business, the most comfortable clientele is other academics. That market is not limitless, though, and if all the PhD. entrepreneurs simply stake their tents on the grounds of academia, we have not solved the jobs crisis at all. Rather than opening the floodgates, we will have merely carved out another inlet, where endless academic entrepreneurs toil in vain to sell their services back and forth to one another.

What if the academic entrepreneurship trend isn’t creating a clogged inlet, but instead building the first settlement on an uninhabited planet like Mars? As I see it, a few academics have now survived the perilous journey through the vacuum of outer space, set up a makeshift station on their adopted planet, and written home to Earth that the space colony thing is pretty doable. Now the next wave of settlers will come, and they may not all fit in the original station, but we’ll work together to build an annex to accommodate them. Next year, when the third wave of settlers comes, we’ll expand our little station into a village. Eventually another village will spring up, and another, until the whole planet is populated with academic entrepreneurs launching all manner of brand consultancies, community development initiatives, marketing firms, policy consultation practices, and writing consultation businesses. Some will even write historical novels, or sexy historical novels. (Yes, writing and selling novels counts as entrepreneurship!)  And the more businesses these academic entrepreneurs create, the more new jobs and opportunities there will be for the settlers who come later.

And none of them have to become Republicans unless they want to.

The entire point of entrepreneurship is that it opens up infinite possibilities. The entrepreneurial mindset is promising precisely because we don’t know what direction it will take us next. Of course entrepreneurship isn’t the whole solution to joblessness, in academia or anywhere else. Of course not everyone is cut out for the lifestyle, which can be unpredictable and grueling. And of course I fully recognize that in plenty of academic circles, entrepreneurship is still conflated with philistinism and greed. But I’ve seen for myself that when frustrated academics try on an entrepreneurial way of thinking–by which I mean, looking around for ways to solve problems through the provision of goods and services for pay–the result can be profoundly freeing. Suddenly, no one but you has to give you permission to do meaningful work for a living.

So I’m glad to see that people are starting to see academic businesses as “low hanging fruit.” This means that entrepreneurship is beginning to seem like a viable option, like a thing that people do. Two years ago, launching an academic support businesses marked a person as a freakish aberration, or worse, a moral failure. Today, it’s zeitgeisty–an intriguing if dubious possibility. By next year, the Mars settlement will be thriving. And when it gets crowded, the boldest among us will pack up and give Jupiter a try.


Buy My Book!

Love the blog? Now get it in handy book form–only $11.40!  Available for pre-order now–comes out August 4!


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

Each year tens of thousands of students will, after years of hard work and enormous amounts of money, earn their Ph.D. And each year only a small percentage of them will land a job that justifies and rewards their investment. For every comfortably tenured professor or well-paid former academic, there are countless underpaid and overworked adjuncts, and many more who simply give up in frustration.

Those who do make it share an important asset that separates them from the pack: they have a plan. They understand exactly what they need to do to set themselves up for success.  They know what really moves the needle in academic job searches, how to avoid the all-too-common mistakes that sink so many of their peers, and how to decide when to point their Ph.D. toward other, non-academic options.

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

“Karen Kelsky tells the disheartening truth about the difficulties of getting through graduate school and finding a tenure-track job in a funny, irreverant, and ultimately encouraging way. Getting a job is about more than being smart; read this book if you want to be prepared, professional, and on your game.”
-Elizabeth Reis, Professor and Chair, Women’s and Gender Studies Department, University of Oregon

“There’s no one way to guarantee that you get a job in academia, but there’s a thousand ways to lose one. In this book, Karen Kelsky levels the playing field, providing practical insider knowledge to demystify the job market and help you improve the odds”. – David M. Perry, Director of Undergraduate Research, Dominican University



I’m so pleased with the accessible price of the book, and the speed of production.  It will be out August 4, 2015, just in time for the Fall 2015 job market.

Table of Contents. 

(About half of the book is material adapted from the blog, and half is new material.  Notice that the entire last section is devoted to the post-ac transition!)

Part I:  Dark Times in the Academy

Chapter One:  The End of an Era
Chapter Two:  Breaking Out of the Ivory Tower
Chapter Three: The Myths Grad Students Believe

Part II:  Getting Your Head in the Game

Chapter Four: The Tenure Track Job Search Explained
Chapter Five:  Stop Acting Like a Grad Student
Chapter Six:  The Attributes of Successful Tenure Track Candidates
Chapter Seven:  Building a Competitive Record
Chapter Eight: Your Campaign Platform
Chapter Nine:  Why They Want to Reject You
Chapter Ten:  When To Go on the Market and How Long to Try
Chapter Eleven:  Where Are the Jobs? Institution Types and Ranks
Chapter Twelve:  Where to Find Reliable Advice
Chapter Thirteen: Why ‘Yourself’ Is The Last Person You Should Be

Part III:  The Nuts and Bolts of a Competitive Record    

Chapter Fourteen: Take Control of Your CV
Chapter Fifteen:  Getting Teaching Experience
Chapter Sixteen:  Publish This, Not That
Chapter Seventeen:  Why You Want and Need Grants
Chapter Eighteen:  Cultivating Your References
Chapter Nineteen:  Applying to Conferences
Chapter Twenty:  How to Work the Conference

Part IV:  Job Documents That Work

Chapter Twenty-one:  The Academic Skepticism Principle
Chapter Twenty-two:  What’s Wrong With Your Cover Letter
Chapter Twenty-three:  Tailoring With Dignity
Chapter Twenty-four:  Rules of the Academic CV
Chapter Twenty-five:  Just Say No to the Weepy Teaching Statement
Chapter Twenty-six:  Evidence of Teaching Effectiveness
Chapter Twenty-seven:  The Research Statement
Chapter Twenty-eight:  What Is a Diversity Statement, Anyway?
Chapter Twenty-nine:  The Dissertation Abstract

Part V:  Techniques of the Academic Interview

Chapter Thirty:  Academic Job Interview Basics
Chapter Thirty-one: The Key Questions in an Academic Interview
Chapter Thirty-two:  The Conference Interview (including Phone and Skype)
Chapter Thirty-three:  The Campus Visit
Chapter Thirty-four: The Job Talk
Chapter Thirty-five:  The Teaching Demo
Chapter Thirty-six:  How To Talk to the Dean
Chapter Thirty-seven:  They Said What? Handling Outrageous Questions
Chapter Thirty-eight:  Waiting, Wondering, Wiki

Part VI:  Navigating the Job Market Minefield

Chapter Thirty-nine:  Good Job Candidates Gone Bad
Chapter Forty:  Fear of the Inside Candidate
Chapter Forty-one:  Wrangling Recalcitrant References
Chapter Forty-two:  Managing Your Online Presence
Chapter Forty-three:  Evaluating Campus Climate
Chapter Forty-four:  When You Feel Like You Don’t Belong….
Chapter Forty-five:  What If You’re Pregnant?
Chapter Forty-six:  What Not To Wear
Chapter Forty-seven:  Covering the Costs

Part VII:  Negotiating an Offer

Chapter Forty-eight:  Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
Chapter Forty-nine:  The Rare and Elusive Spousal Offer
Chapter Fifty:  The Rescinded Offer–Who Is In the Wrong?

Part VIII:  Grants and Postdocs

Chapter Fifty-one:  The Foolproof Grant Template
Chapter Fifty-two:  Proving Your Project is Worthy
Chapter Fifty-three:  The Postdoc Application: How It’s Different and Why
Chapter Fifty-four:  The Good and the Bad of Postdocs

Part IX:  Some Advice About Advisors

Chapter Fifty-five: Best Advisors, Worst Advisors
Chapter Fifty-six:  A Good Advisor Is Not Nice
Chapter Fifty-seven:  Ph.D. Debt and Ethical Advising

Part X:  Leaving the Cult

Chapter Fifty-eight:  It’s OK to Quit
Chapter Fifty-nine:  Let Yourself Dream
Chapter Sixty:  100+ Skills That Translate Outside the Academy
Chapter Sixty-one:   Collecting Information
Chapter Sixty-two:  Applying While Ph.D.
Chapter Sixty-three:  Breaking Free: The Path of the Entrepreneur

Conclusion: Declaring Independence


I can’t wait for it to come out!

My partner Kellee asked me yesterday if I was this excited about my first book, my ethnographic monograph for tenure (Women on the Verge: Japanese Women, Western Dreams, Duke University Press).  I had to think about that.  I finally said, “No, I was not.  I was excited, but not this excited. Because this book I did entirely by myself.  There was no infrastructure of graduate school and advisor and dissertation to lay out the path.  This book I created from whole cloth.”

And I’m also excited because this book will help so many.  What does a monograph do? I’m still not entirely sure.  But this book, this book has a mission.  To get you ready for the job market, yes.  But more importantly, to empower all graduate students and Ph.D. job seekers to understand the unspoken rules about how academy works, make informed choices about your careers, and protect your financial security and mental health.

3 Ways In Which Academia Is Your Abuser – Langer #Postac Post

by Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Here’s something most people who know me and who know my work at TPII wouldn’t guess:

This year, I went on the academic job market.

No, I didn’t do a full search. I didn’t even do a halfhearted search. I applied for one single solitary job, because the combination of sub-sub-subfield (exactly mine) and location (in Canada) seemed to match perfectly. And, I suppose, because I wanted to take one more swing at the fences to see what would happen. At this point, I’m five and a half years out from my PhD, but I’ve been publishing as if I’m in a TT position mostly because I enjoy it… and I also have a very well-received monograph from a very well-regarded publisher in my subfield. (Postcolonialism and Science Fiction, if you’re interested and don’t feel like Googling.)

Reader: I got an MLA interview. I actually went to MLA for the interview instead of doing it by Skype, in part because I love to travel and in part because I wanted to see my friends, and in large part because I know that meeting people in person gives one a leg up.

And then I was invited for a campus interview. And I went. And it went extraordinarily well.

And then they offered the job to someone else.

(Please don’t get me wrong, especially if you know which job I’m talking about, which isn’t hard to figure out; I was treated impeccably through the entire process, and nearly every person I encountered during the search was lovely, friendly, intelligent and welcoming. This is not a post in which I denigrate the university that invited me to interview; quite the opposite. They are wonderful, and I wish them well. This is a post about academia as a whole, and the unhealthy dynamics that happen in academia.)

This has been an interesting experience, because in my post-ac life, I am basically rocking it. I have a really successful little business that affords me and my family a lovely house in a beautiful neighbourhood in my favourite city, and plenty of time to spend together. I have a husband I love, two little kids, and a great community. I have work that I love doing and am excited to do every day, both in my business and here at TPII. I have essentially everything I want.

And yet? Going through the process of post-interview anxiety about this job brought me right back to feeling not good enough. To feeling stupid, worthless, pointless, and like an abject failure. Because somehow, none of that good stuff mattered to my psyche while I stared down the barrel of yet another academic job interview that turned into no offer. What’s wrong with me? I thought. Why I am I good enough for everyone else in my life, but not good enough for academia? Does this mean I’m just not smart enough, just not good enough, to be a real scholar, a real intellectual, a real person who’s doing good, important work?

Spoiler alert: it means none of those things. It means that academia is capricious. But as I wrote to Karen and Kellee – with whom I did some interview prep for my MLA interview that turned into a campus invite; they really do work wonders! – more than anything, it felt like I had escaped a dysfunctional relationship, turned around and given the person one more chance, and gotten burned again.

Having thought about it a little more, I’ve identified some of the ways in which academia really is like a dysfunctional, perhaps even abusive, interpersonal relationship:


  1. Academia has a Madonna/whore complex.

I am going to expand on this in a future post, I think. But the short version: academia greatly privileges both pedigree and lack of experience. That is: research universities in particular, but most universities and colleges in general, tend to choose candidates who are ABD or new PhDs and who have a lot of “potential” rather than a lot of experience. Candidates who are virginal, if you will.

This is why internal candidates and current adjuncts so often lose out on tenure-track positions to new, exciting outside candidates. This is why adjuncting in a department is usually a disadvantage, rather than an advantage, in getting a tenure-track job there. And this is why, the more teaching experience you get as an adjunct and the more varied that experience is – especially if you teach at the community college level, which far too many universities denigrate for reasons that have little to do with quality concerns and much to do with classism and implicit racism – the less likely you are to get a full-time job as a professor.

Once you’re an adjunct, it’s not just that you’ve failed to get a TT job immediately. You’ve now been around the block one too many times. You’ve had too many students. You’re sullied, in a way that echoes the Madonna/whore dichotomy to an extent that’s actually pretty disturbing.

  1. Academia isolates you from family and friends.

One of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional romantic relationship is a partner who seeks to isolate you from your support network: your family, friends and wider community. Sometimes they do this by claiming that they don’t like those people, or that those people don’t like them, for a good reason; sometimes they decide that it’s “us against the world”. Whatever the reason or motivation, the effect is to create a scenario in which you are cut off from the people who have your best interests in mind, and are more easily controlled.

The cultural bias in academia towards career at all costs and against life outside of work, which very often becomes material discrimination against people (generally, but not always, women) who choose to prioritize or even participate in family and social life, has this effect. In academia you are, on pain of failure, coerced into a culture in which the influences and requirements of outside life are not welcome. And, of course, this makes it much easier for academia’s constant drumbeat of anxiety and what Aimee Morrison calls “systematic infantilization” to inculcate itself deep into your own sense of yourself and your inherent worth.

  1. Academia forces you into financial dependence upon its own structure.

This was one of the important points of contention in the recent strikes at the University of Toronto (my undergraduate alma mater) and York University (where, full disclosure, I am a member of CUPE3903 Unit 2 when I am teaching there, though I am not currently a union member). Very often, contracts for graduate assistantships pay very little – at U of T, the minimum is $15,000 per year, literal poverty wages in the city, and this amount is what is normally given to humanities grad students.

However, that’s not the most insidious part: these U of T contracts bar students from taking any outside employment whatsoever, and from making any money outside the bounds of the contract. In short: graduate students at U of T, and at hundreds or thousands of other universities, are literally forced into poverty if they choose to be in their programs full-time, because they are made entirely dependent upon the university for their financial well-being. And in this way, the university is able to control them more easily.

We have a word for that when it happens in interpersonal relationships, and it’s not “graduate assistantship”.

So, in short: this experience has given me a lot of clarity about why I wanted to be an academic so badly, and why I have never been more glad to be happily post-ac.


Introducing a New Way to Work with The Professor Is In

I’m excited to announce that over the next two months I’ll be launching a new podcast/subscription service that makes TPII help available at low cost for those who need it.

The basic idea (we are still finalizing details) is this:  a 4-6 week subscription service that will provide individual access to exclusive instructions and worksheets to help you generate all your core academic job application documents, as well as recorded videos and/or podcasts by me, Karen, walking you through the principles for the work, and providing catalyzing questions as well as examples, explanations, and commentary.   Of course I’ll still expect you to read the blog posts!  But I’ll also be talking you through the main points I want you to get from the posts, the ways to apply the ideas to your own record, examples of common misunderstandings, challenges, and pitfalls, and stories of successful readers and clients who made the principles work for them.  My goal is to provide a package of written, audio, and visual materials that give you more extensive information than you can get from the blog posts alone, at a rate that is accessible to many. (Price details to come).

I’m hoping to gather a small group of beta-testers to help Kellee (TPII technical expert as well as Interview Intervention guru extraordinaire) and me work out the kinks.  If you are someone who is advanced ABD or Ph.D., is on the tenure track job market, is a faithful reader of The Professor Is In, has never signed up for one-on-one work with me on your job documents, and is interested in being part of a focus group that tests the new products, I’d like to hear from you.  We’ll be keeping this group small and make the final selection based on ensuring a representative range of different disciplines (humanities/social science/science/professional) and statuses (ie, ABD/Ph.D./adjunct/NTT/tenure track).

Once we get this launched, we’ll be creating a post-ac series as well!  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, if you have questions, comments, a request to be considered for the beta-testing group, and or suggestions for content, let me know here in the comment thread, or by email at  I can’t wait to get started!

Three Truths and a Lie? Negotiations at the Christian College (A Guest Post)

Today’s anonymous author is a tenured professor in the field of religion at a mid-sized Christian University. He has sat on and chaired numerous search committees for both faculty and administrative hires. He sees the enormous stack of applicants for each open position, but insists that there are certain methods for distinguishing yourself from the crowd.

Most of us watched with horror at the story of the rescinded offer at Nazareth College last year. While these cases are spectacularly rare (I actually have never heard of one), remember that Christian Universities represent a distinct subset of the academy. If you are sitting on an offer, I offer some negotiation advice in the form of the popular Protestant Youth Camp Ice Breaker, “Three Truths and a Lie.” My advice primarily applies to those with job offers at member schools of the Council of Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) or the Association for Theological Schools (ATS).

Truth #1: Christian Institutions of Higher Education are extremely economically stressed.

Of course, all colleges are under economic duress, but this is particularly true for many Christian institutions of higher education for a variety of reasons. For example, most Christian mainline denominations (Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc) are contracting in size, number and financial resources. In the past Christian schools depended on generous financial support from these churches, but that is simply no longer the case. The end effect is that many of these CCCU and ATS schools have limited financial resources. Thus, a tenure-track hire is extraordinarily risky for them. A low-ball offer may be a way to hedge that risk so be aware.


Truth #2: “God told us to pay you less.”

I admit that this isn’t very fair of a subtitle. But Christian institutions view their mission in terms of service to a community of faith. The administrators and board members often couch the language in terms of ministry. This effects perceptions of faculty pay. They may consider the vocation of professor more similar to the pastor than an accountant or engineer. This puts a tremendous bind on negotiations, because such discussions may implicitly or even explicitly take on the aspect of divine calling. You should be aware of this, expect this and respond accordingly. For example, if the provost/dean says that the position is a matter of calling more than finances, then you can respond, “Yes, I agree ultimately that it is a matter of call and that is the biggest component of my discernment process, though should I accept, I would expect fair and just compensation to be somewhat commensurate to my contributions to the university mission.” See what I did there? If they try to negotiate through Christian morality (calling), acknowledge, but do the same thing back to them (justice).


Truth #3: See your salary in the bigger financial picture

Yes, salaries are generally lower, but for some of these schools, so are expectations. Because the research demands at some of these institutions can be considerably less, there may be latitude to take on additional work on small and large scale. I know of professors that actually take on entire 2nd jobs (pastors, hospital chaplains) to supplement income. Some schools will look at this quite favorably, as it puts the professors deep in these religious communities and the heart of the institutional mission. If you need the money, then you need to consider your options. Many of my colleagues find creative ways to do so outside their university salary, even with a 4-4 load. If it is still not feasible, then you should consider better paying institutions or moves to (gasp!) non-academic careers.

The Secret Lie:

Ok, so perhaps this is not a blatant lie, but it is certainly misleading. Many of these schools claim to operate on an equality pay scale out of ideological principal, and deans may outright claim that salary is not negotiable. Some schools will have just three categories: assistant professor, associate professor and full professor. Others will add on a subcategory of years of service. But I know that in certain CCCU or ATS institutions, these pay scales are not followed and that there is room for negotiation for candidates that they really want. With that said, unless you are a superstar, it is wise that you try to negotiate within reason of their pay scale. Much of the TPII content is very applicable such as this this and this.

Despite the somewhat derisive tone of this post, I have truly enjoyed working at a Christian university. I appreciate many aspects of my professorial life that are vastly different from a professorship at an elite R1.

Like most things in life, there is both good and bad, though I learned that wise negotiation can help tilt it a bit more to the good.

A View From the Other Side of the Table: Playing the Endgame (A Guest Post)

This is a guest post by a tenured reader at a mid-tier public university.


If you been invited for a campus visit, congratulations.  This means that you are part of an elite group of 5 or so who have been chosen over the hundred or so other applicants.   Let’s assume you gave a decent job talk, didn’t commit any major faux pas during the interviews and actually liked the school and the people that you met.   What to do next to seal the deal and get the best offer possible?  Having just served on a hiring committee for a mid-tier public university, I have some suggestions.

Be thankful:   Send a brief email to EVERY faculty member and high level admin (Dean, etc.) that you had an interview or serious interaction with (you can skip those who just showed up to the job talk or for free food at the buffet).   It doesn’t have to be long, but it should have the following elements:

  1. Your appreciation for their time and hospitality
  2. Your continued interest in the position
  3. If you mention something specific to your interaction with them, you get bonus points.

Not doing 1) makes you look like an ingrate.  We know that campus visits are exhausting obstacle courses, as we all went through them ourselves.   But don’t be fooled that faculty enjoy taking time out of their schedules to listen to a series of job talks and hold interviews,  repeating the same things to a series of candidates.  Even those free restaurant meals get old after the 3rd time.   If you only thank some of the faculty, the others who interviewed you (especially if they were on the hiring committee) will naturally conclude that you think that they aren’t important enough to be bothered with.  Is that the message you really want to send?  For the record we compare notes on whether and where you sent thank-yous.

Doing 1) but not 2) makes it seem like you are giving us the polite brush off.  You are interviewing us as well during your visit, and we would understand if there’s something about the school or the department that made you decide “uh, not where I want to spend the next few decades of my life.”  So if you are still interested in the position, SAY SO.     You don’t need to plead, but playing ambivalent is not conducive to getting an offer.  Don’t make the hiring committee sit around and second guess your interest level.

Be considerate:   If you are no longer interested in joining our faculty for whatever reason, contact us and tell us that you’d like to withdraw your application.  If you do get an offer from us and you don’t plan to accept it, reject us as soon as possible so we can contact our next choice.    Asking to have an offer extended makes it seem like you are hoping for something better elsewhere, so do that only if you are prepared for us say “sorry, no extensions will be possible.”

Be forthright: Entertaining another offer while interviewing is a wonderful, yet stressful conundrum to have, especially as most offers have firm deadlines.  Let us know what your deadline is.  Alas, we may not be able to respond in time (for example, if we are bringing in more candidates over the next 2 weeks for a single position, we cannot cancel their trips, and it would violate our HR rules to bring people out for a visit if an offer has been tendered to another).  However, if we are able to, that may light a fire under our collective posteriors, in addition to signalling that, yes, others want you.   Of course, if you do have other offers, be sure to communicate your enthusiasm for joining our faculty, or we may assume you plan to use any offer from us merely as leverage to bargain with your true love elsewhere.

Be prepared to negotiate: I’d never let my Dean see me say this, but we expect, perhaps even want, some negotiation.  If you have a better offer on the table, let us know the amount.  Even if you don’t, know that the first offer typically holds a little back.  Be realistic: we aren’t going to be able to offer $25K/year more to match that well-endowed private school, especially if that would bump your salary beyond what more senior faculty make!   Even if we can’t increase the salary, we may be able to offer additional perks like summer stipends or course releases.   In addition to getting you some goodies and showing you aren’t a pushover, it actually benefits us, too. We can go to Administration and say “School X is offering $Y more than we are for a similar position, so we need to be able to offer a higher salary than you have allotted to us.”  Likewise, if you do turn us down for another higher paid job elsewhere, our consolation prize is that we can use this information to make us more competitive in future job searches.

In conclusion:    Once we’ve weeded out the inevitable one or two obvious misfits, it’s likely that each of the remaining candidates who visited has his or her own advantages.  Perhaps one is doing more compelling research but another has a more prestigious pedigree, and the question we must consider is how to weigh these attributes in an overall ranking.  Or perhaps faculty opinion is divided as to who is the best. Even if a clear winner emerges across all categories, it’s likely these differences are minor.   So know this:  we would likely rather have any one of our remaining “A” list candidates than have to slog once again through the selection process and another round of campus visits with the “B” list.  This concern becomes more important as the hiring season progresses, with the applicant pool dwindling as more popular applicants accept offers elsewhere.     So we may select the person who we feel is the most likely to accept our offer, even if his/her publication record isn’t quite as solid or teaching experience is less established than more ambivalent candidates.   If you follow the steps above, that could earn you the edge …and the offer.


I Don’t Know You

In last week’s Job Offer Digest, one of my successful clients wrote this:

“Still, don’t kid yourself; working with Dr. Karen is hard! It forces you to take a long hard look at yourself, your work, and your presentation of your work. As she knows you ONLY through these documents, the feedback you get from her reflects what a committee will think when evaluating you. This reflection is sometimes harsh but, if you work with her, you have the benefit of improving and learning from each draft. Everything she says WILL make you better. As a result, I am coming out of this whole process more confident and secure in myself and my research.”

This is the crux of my work with clients:  I know you only through the documents. So I’m an excellent stand-in for a search committee reader.

You may be blessed with excellent advisors who are doing their best to help you. I hope you are.  But your advisors KNOW you.  And that means that they are constantly – albeit unconsciously – filling in quantities of information/background/rationalizations as they read your cover letter and other documents.  I don’t blame them for this. I did the same with my own Ph.D. students.  I was not a brilliant advisor by any means.

But as The Professor Is In, I can do something different.  I can look at your job documents with an objective eye. I have no information to add.  I take everything exactly at face value.  If you don’t write it, I don’t know it. If you don’t write it well, I don’t understand it.  If you write too much, I am instantly bored.

I say all this not for marketing purposes, but for explanatory ones.  Many people still wonder what it is I do, and why it has a value beyond what advisors can provide.  This, I think, is the value.  I subject your writing to the judgment of a perfect stranger.  And that is a good thing, although not an easy one.

For Post-ac Scientists: The “Applications Scientist” Track

I don’t have a post-ac blog post this week.

So, I’ll share this link sent to me by a client.  It is from the Science Careers blog of the journal Science, and it describes the career track of the Applications Scientist.

Applications scientists provide support to customers of companies in the laboratory equipment, reagents, or lab-services industry, and according to the author, is one of “the best stepping stones from the bench to a range of opportunities in industry.”

What do they do?

“When technical inquiries from customers can’t be met by telephone and e-mail tech-support teams, they escalate to applications scientists. “Especially when they require lab work, an applications scientist speaks with the customer and can go so far as to test samples or specific applications,” Herzer continues. Herzer has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Rutgers University; such high-level credentials are common among applications scientists, and often are necessary for dealing with the complexity of modern research tools.

Applications people, Herzer says, can be either in the lab or in the field. In the lab, applications scientists tend to have more hands-on experience and often a higher education level than the front-line technical support staff. Their training — and the labs they have at their disposal — enables them to approach customer problems in a more sophisticated way. The field applications scientist (often referred to by the acronym FAS) works in the field, helping customers do their own work and working on collaborative projects. They also provide training, set up equipment, and deliver presentations and product demonstrations at customer sites and conferences.

“Field applications scientists troubleshoot via phone and e-mail as well, but they do have a significant amount of travel expected of them because much of what they do is face-to-face with the customer,” Herzer continues, raising an aspect of the job — travel — that can be either a plus or a minus. Few people travel more than field applications scientists.”

Read more here. 

How to Apply for a Dean Position (A Guest Post in the form of an interview)

The writer of this post is dean at a public liberal-arts-and-science college in the Midwest. S/he has spent a career in public higher education at comprehensive and baccalaureate campuses in a number of instructional and administrative roles.


Karen:  Sketch for us the Dean’s job.  How do you fill your days?  What skills and aptitudes do you need to display on a daily basis?  How do these differ from those you depended on as a faculty member?

My days are typically a combination of planned work and reaction to what comes to me (usually by e-mail, occasionally by phone or walk-in).  I’m the dean of a small college, which is part of a mid-sized organization.

In terms of planned work, it’s a combination of providing information to my college community, to the main administration (provost’s office, chief business officer’s office, chancellor’s office, etc.), and to the off-campus community, as well as working with those units that report to me to solve problems or plan for future initiatives.

As dean of this college, I have a lot of contact with the community, and so interaction with the community is a large part of my job (formal via service organizations of which I am a member, with elected officials, and with county and municipal employees; and informal through casual/occasional meetings).  Our college has its own library, IT, academic affairs, student affairs, and business offices, which report to me, so oversight of these units’ directors (various titles for each – director, asst. dean, associate dean, manager, etc.) leads to both planned and unplanned work.

Karen:  What are the most important qualities sought in an Academic Dean candidate?  How do these differ from faculty searches?

The most important qualities are really not so different for an academic dean than they are for a successful faculty member.  That is, the dean needs to be an effective communicator, needs to be an analytical thinker, needs to be diplomatic in working with a variety of colleagues, students, and community members.  Each of these qualities should define a successful faculty member (I realize I’m not referring to expertise in a particular academic field, which is a given for a faculty-position candidate).

The differences occur in areas such as budget management (most faculty candidates are not judged on this), personnel management (again, most faculty positions do not come with personnel management), and ability to raise money for the college (deans did not used to be fund raisers; in the last 15 – 20 years, though, this has become an expectation).  In each of these areas, however, the qualities I mention above are critical.

Karen:  Who reviews Dean applications and makes the final decisions?  Can you share any stories or generalizations about the politics and practices of these searches (i.e., insider knowledge)?

There will be a search committee, of course.  Some colleges and universities are now employing search firms at dean-level searches, though this is not yet as common as at the provost or president level.  In any event, the search committee or search firm will typically be the first level of review of applications (I say “typically,” because there may be cases where an HR department has a level of initial review).  Whether the committee, firm, or HR department does the initial review, the search committee will do subsequent reviews, interviews (usually first by phone or off-campus for semi-finalists – i.e., the “airport interview” – and then on campus for finalists); there will usually be anywhere from 3 to 5 finalists, though 3 is most typical.  The committee will make recommendations to the provost or president, depending on the hiring authority.  The provost or president will make the final decision.

DISCLAIMER: the above is how the institutions I’ve worked with and applied to have operated.  I can’t generalize for all, of course.

I’m going to decline to give anecdotal information.  Every institution is a bit different.  My inclination is to take at face value what is put in position notices such as seeking candidates from across ethnic, racial, and gender categories and from disciplines represented in the college doing the search.

Karen:  When search committees discuss Dean candidates, what kinds of things do they talk about?  What do they admire?  What do they dismiss or ignore?  What do they see as red flags?  What do they reject out of hand?

Search committees are looking for candidates who have strong academic and experiential credentials.  Regarding the former, a terminal degree is nearly always a necessity, as well as a record of teaching and scholarship that is comparable to a successful faculty member.  Regarding the latter, the candidate should have administrative experience that prepares him or her for a full-time administrative role in which collaboration is essential (the successful dean is more of a facilitator than a leader).  Most often, this is a term or two as department chair.  It can also be experience with administering large grants, serving as an asst. or assoc. dean, etc.  In each of these examples, the candidate will have had budget experience, personnel decision-making experience (of some kind), and – especially for chairs and asst./assoc. deans – experience working with the public and with administrators further up the organizational ladder.  It’s not a given that a committee will ignore applicants without some administrative experience, but it’s very likely to happen.

Red flags are most likely to go up if a candidate has moved from position to position in relatively short periods.  There may be good reason for this (rapid turnover in positions above, family circumstances, etc.), and so the candidate’s letter should address anything on their CV that could raise such questions.  I discuss letters more below.

For an academic dean’s position – unless there’s explicitly a decision to consider non-academics, or the college is highly specialized – it is very likely that an application from a non-academic will not go far.  There are certainly exceptions to this, however.  If the college has a specific focus (fine arts, business, health sciences, for example), it would be less likely for immediate rejection to happen.  If the college is multi-disciplinary or not a professional school (humanities, liberal arts and science, social sciences, etc.), an application from a non-academic will not go far.

An application with a poorly-written letter will not get past the first cut.  I address this below.

Karen:  How long should a Dean application cover letter be, and what should it include?  Can you give us a suggested paragraph breakdown, akin to the ones Karen provides for tenure track cover letters (her 9-paragraph model)?

Length is subjective.  Don’t try to second-guess the committee, unless the announcement is explicit (e.g., “a cover letter of no more than two pages”).  Say what you need to say, don’t be repetitive, don’t waste space with extraneous information (hobbies, for example, are irrelevant in an application letter; that’s something to mention during an interview, if it comes up).  Personally, I am put off by brief letters that say little more than “I’m applying for your position, find my vita enclosed.”  I’m exaggerating, of course, but a letter of only two or three paragraphs will simply not introduce the applicant to the committee.

I haven’t thought about the number of paragraphs, but 9 or 10 are probably about right.  Most important is to A) demonstrate why you are a good “fit” with the college; B) that you are qualified for a dean’s position – credentials and experience – and C) you fully understand the institution to which you are applying.

Somewhere in the letter, either in the introductory or summary paragraph or paragraphs, explain why you are interested in and qualified for this particular institution.  If the only reason is because you (the applicant) want to leave where you are, then you probably shouldn’t be applying for the position.

Do a thorough investigation of the institution, and especially the college within the institution before writing the letter.  After this investigation, use the position description to design the outline of the letter, focusing on how the applicant’s abilities and experience align with the requirements of the job.  If an expectation of the job will be new – in the sense of not having much or any experience; fundraising, for example – say so, but focus on analogous experience that may lead to success with the expectation.  If there’s something about your career track that you suspect will raise a “red flag,” address it.  It’s better to be proactive than to have to be explaining something later.

Finally, edit, edit, edit; proofread, proofread, proofread.  Consider that many on the search committee are likely to be faculty sensitive to spelling errors, incorrect grammar, and repetition.  Lengthy letters are not off-putting if they are informative; they are off-putting if they are filled with extraneous information, repetitive statements, etc.

Karen:  What should a Dean CV include, and (how) should it differ from a faculty CV?

A CV for an academic dean’s position need not differ greatly from a faculty CV.  I’ll admit that this is subjective.  Personally, I find resumes off-putting (goals statements like “find a leadership position in which I can inspire others to succeed” are not useful to a search committee).  The academic CV can serve to establish the candidate’s academic bona fides, which reduces the need to expand greatly on teaching and research in the cover letter.

A caveat I would add is that a faculty CV may or may not include much information on community interaction/outreach.  If the candidate has been active in his or her community through service organizations, church/mosque/synagogue activity, occasional volunteer work, this should be listed.  It will show the search committee that the candidate is ready to take on the public, off-campus work that most deans need to do today.

Karen:  What mistakes do you see Dean candidates making?  Can you identify the places where candidates routinely THINK they need to show xxx, but in fact, they should really be showing yyyy?

The biggest mistake is not really knowing the institution to which candidates are applying.  I think this can happen most commonly if applicants are using a scatter-shot approach to applying.  Being selective, limiting applications to a handful of institutions each hiring “season” will give candidates the time needed to investigate fully the colleges they choose to pursue.  This investigation will also likely bring to light aspects of the searching institution that may result in an applicant not applying or at least result in the applicant being able to show that he or she knows the state of the institution (enrollment declines or spikes, budget shortfalls or recent large gifts, etc.)

Karen:  What experiences are the most valuable for Dean candidates?  What should they highlight in their application materials, what should be minimized?

It’s very important that the candidate demonstrate that he or she understands the academic culture of the institution to which he or she is applying (is there tenure or not; what level of shared governance is there, etc.).  Being able to show experience that provides this understanding is important.  Administrative experience, as I have described above, is equally important, especially experience that emphasizes collaboration with colleagues to reach a goal.

Karen:  Do Dean search committees want to know about research and teaching?

For an academic dean position (as opposed to dean of students, for example), a brief paragraph about teaching and research is OK.  The members of the search committee, many of whom will be faculty members, want to see that their incoming dean knows about their professional lives.  However, the committee members are not looking for a discussion of teaching philosophy or method or a discussion of the candidate’s research agenda (past or present).  If a letter were to dwell on these areas, it may lead some on the committee to wonder if the candidate was really interested in long-term administration, as opposed to a means to gain a faculty position (most deans’ positions come with tenure).

Karen:  Any tips for Dean interviews?  Good examples?  Bad examples?

Be a good listener, really focus on what the committee members are asking and what they are saying.  Despite all of the research I did prior to my interviews for my current position, I found that I learned more about the college from listening to committee members’ questions and comments than I did from all of my reading.  For example, during the course of my on-campus interview I was able to refer during the afternoon to information I had learned at breakfast that morning.

Regarding bad examples, also related to listening, be sure to answer the questions asked.  That is, don’t come to the interview with answers to anticipated questions so well-rehearsed that you end up answering questions that were not asked, while ignoring the question.  Also, don’t bloviate.  The committee – and the rest of the college community during the on-campus interview – wants to know of your experience and successes, but don’t go on ad nauseam and don’t appear to brag (too much of “I did this” and “I did that” may cause committee and college faculty and staff to conclude that you are not collaborative).

Karen:  Anything else you want to share?

What is also important to get across in the letter, without being blatant about it, is that the applicant is a hard worker.  He or she knows that being a dean is a 7-day-a-week job (I’m always the dean, no matter where I am in town).  This means being available to everyone, on campus and off, early in the morning and late at night.  Being an administrator means you don’t get to come and go as you please anymore.  It means giving up a lot of what used to be flexible time.  The letter obviously doesn’t state all of this, but it needs to be clear from the letter and during the interview process that the applicant knows that being a “leader” means being on the job all of the time.

Finally, above I referred to successful deans being those who are collaborative and facilitate solutions to problems.  Ultimately, there will come a time when the dean has to make the final decision (usually on budget or personnel or a student issue).  However to the extent that this decision can be made after thorough consultation and discussion, the more acceptable the outcome will be.  Dean candidates need to demonstrate that they have this collaborative and consultative approach.  If they are perceived as a “top-down” or “my-way-or-the-highway” style of administrator, they will either not get an offer or, having received the appointment, will not last long.