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.

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

Productivity Tuesday: “Unstuck Has Been Transformative”

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post!
Each(ish) Tuesday, I share some of the ideas and strategies that inform my coaching in UNSTUCK: The Art of Productivity*.

Sometimes, I even record a coaching session! (This is not one of those weeks.)

In response to popular demand, a new Unstuck: The Art of Productivity is starting this week! If you’ve ever wondered what the Unstuck program is like, today’s post is meant to give you some insights.  Today I am turning over the post to a current UNSTUCK participant to SHOW you what happens when you start to take back your writing life.

Participation in UNSTUCK includes membership in a secret Facebook group, where members talk about their challenges and successes, and take the time to share both writing goals reached, and obstacles recognized. Facebook is great for this, and we use it for weekly theme encounters like Tally Tuesday – when participants share their accomplishments since starting the program — and Warrior Wednesday – when participants articulate the interventions (political or otherwise) that they want to make through their work.

Today being Tuesday, this morning I posted this:

It’s Tally Tuesday! Time to acknowledge what you have accomplished since you started your UNSTUCK journey. As you waffle about, anxious about whether to share your experience, remember: 1) Different people started at different times. 2) Word counts/submissions are not the only measure of accomplishment. 3) Comparison is the thief of joy.

Oh and remember that taking time to celebrate will lead to more success!

Share away!

Here is one of the responses (published here with permission):

“I made peace with myself. I’ve accepted that what I write will not be perfect but that any writing I do is progress and a taking part in a discussion, and more importantly, perhaps, that it’s a form of resistance.

This helped me keep the assorted blue meanies at bay so that I could write.

In the last couple of months, I completed my book revisions and wrote two articles. And submitted all of them. And as I wrote, I became happier with what I was writing and could relax and enjoy the meandering process of deep thinking through writing that inevitably takes me to unexpected places. And also, as I wrote, particularly through the book revisions in my response to the readers’ comments, I found a stronger and more confident voice. I learnt a whole bunch of ways to keep the feelings of overwhelm under control, which feels particularly timely, as I’m on my first year of a full-time job.

I’ve worked on my words and my stories – for instance, “I choose to…” instead of “I have to…” (“the only thing I have to do is die” makes me smile every time), which is incredibly empowering – and banished negative self talk.

I’ve seen there are ways to lead a more balanced life and that it’s ok not to be the most productive faculty member. I choose balance.

I accepted that it’s ok to fail, and that even if/when old patterns sometimes re-emerge or I just don’t get to my morning pages one day or don’t make it to the gym for a week, it doesn’t mean I’ve become “that person” again.

I also achieved a bunch of things not work related but that I’d been wanting to do for a long time, mainly getting a CGM for my kid and adopting a kitten.

I started meditating again. And I recommitted to making kindness a guiding principle, be it in my dealing with colleagues, students, friends, family, strangers, or myself, in my teaching, in my reading, or in my writing.

I submitted my article at 2am this morning and was up at 5 with my son. I feel kind of gross physically, but immensely relieved and thankful.

This was the last of my big writing commitments. So today is ALL going to be about taking the time to celebrate and be grateful.

So thank you Kellee and everyone in this group for all the advice, sharing, and support. This has been transformative.”


This kind of breakthrough happens ALL THE TIME in Unstuck!  The combination of daily emails, video coaching, strategies for time management, boundaries, and confidence-building, and the community engagement through Facebook create a powerful culture of support and accountability that change participants’ writing lives forever. Not only do Unstuck participants start sending out those articles and dissertation chapters that had been stalled for months (if not years)…they do it while maintaining a healthy work-life balance and dedicated self-care.

So, don’t be afraid, and give it a try!

If you would like to be part of the UNSTUCK journey, Registration is open for a new session until September 20th at midnight

Leaving Academia: The Trauma of Identity Loss – A #Postac Guest Post

by Lisa Munro, PhD

Dr. Lisa Munro

Lisa’s Bio:  I graduated from the University of Arizona in 2015 with a PhD in Latin American history. I’ve got a long list of non-academic jobs, including being a Peace Corps volunteer (Guatemala, 2004-2006), a veterinary technician, a medical receptionist in a bilingual hospital office, a teacher, a study abroad assistant, and most recently, a crime victim advocate. I’ve lived in Guatemala and Mexico and am currently figuring out how to engineer my life so I can return there. I co-host the biweekly #withaphd chat on Twitter, where academics of all stripes can network and share with each other about life outside of academia. I’m passionate about writing about Latin America, history, archaeology, science and pseudoscience, neoliberalism, critical thinking, the writing process, adoption and child welfare, trauma, memoir, and my post-PhD life.

Blog link:

Twitter link:


This is the first of three post-ac posts by Lisa

People often ask me what I “do” in life now with my PhD in history. I work in crime victim advocacy. I show up on crime scenes to help people who have been victimized. I work with crime victims of all kinds: domestic violence, sexual assault, attempted homicide, bank robberies, armed robbery, assault, stabbings, and kidnapping, just to name a few. I also work with people who have been through traumatic situations that aren’t crimes: survivors of suicide, natural and unexpected death, traffic accidents, and house fires.

After the initial physical violence of the incident, people then suffer a series of traumatic emotional losses: loss of loved ones, loss of a sense of security, loss of control, loss of identity. On scene, I help people make sense of what’s happened to them. I tell them I’m sorry for what happened to them. I tell them about that what happened them is not their fault. I tell them that they did nothing to deserve the awful thing that just happened to them. I validate people’s feelings about their experiences: shame, guilt, rage, grief. I encourage them to start making little decisions about their next steps to help them feel like they’re in control again after experiencing an out of control situation.

I’ve been surprised by how my current job has helped me understand my emotional process after my failure on the job market and subsequent decision to leave academia. Please note: I am in NO WAY suggesting that being the actual victim of a violent crime is equivalent or even comparable to the process of leaving academia. These are very different experiences for many reasons. What I am suggesting is that both involve working through the process of coming to terms with the traumatic loss of identity. Both experiences leave people to remake new lives and identities very different than the ones they thought they had. For crime victims, they have to figure out who they now are after being victimized and how to live through and with the violence and trauma of the crime. For people leaving academia, they have to now figure out who they are without the personal and professional identity that defined them. Regardless of the cause, the underlying emotional process of recovering from the traumatic loss of identity is the same.

I finished my PhD in history in 2015. I’d worked hard in a good graduate program whose graduates often got good jobs. I assumed that I had done all the right things to get a tenure-track academic job or at least a post-doc in a nice place. I’d written a decent dissertation, published in good journals, and faithfully attended my annual meeting. I had good letters of recommendation. Despite my efforts, I got absolutely no traction on the job market. One year, I was shortlisted for two interviews, neither of which went anywhere. The next year, I received no interviews at all, but instead received a slew of rejection emails from search committees who were decent enough to send them. Mostly, search committees ghosted me, leaving me to figure out the rejection on my own. To this date, I have never received an on-campus interview.

I didn’t so much break up with academia all at once as gradually just gave up in defeat. I applied for fewer and fewer jobs, reasoning that I only wanted to spend time and effort on jobs where I actually had a chance. (Plot spoiler: historians of Central America are not a hot commodity.) I stopped checking the job wiki daily and scouring the h-net website. I started applying to non-academic jobs because I was running out of money. Quitting the academic job market made logical sense and I still think it was the right decision for me. However, I was unprepared for the magnitude of feelings of  loss and the realization that I’d now have to redefine myself in new ways. Leaving academia felt like being forced to leave someone I still loved. I felt powerless, betrayed and victimized by a system much bigger and more powerful than I. (Again, don’t get me wrong—feeling victimized by academia is very different than being an actual crime victim.)

I applied for a position in victim advocacy because I’d served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. During my service there, I worked with very poor indigenous people who had suffered decades of nearly unimaginable levels of state-sponsored political violence and corresponding trauma. My Peace Corps experience informed my PhD research: I’d wanted to understand the assumptions that informed the violence and how people healed from their experiences. Helping people understand and process their own traumas seemed like a logical and organic extension of my intellectual interests and professional experience.

My victim advocacy work transformed the way I thought about my perceived failure to get an academic job and my overwhelming feelings of loss. I understood my failures intellectually I knew how neoliberalism has crushed the academy and how corporate models of profitability fail students and bloat administrations. I know how the job market reinforces structural inequalities. However, I struggled with the emotional fallout of leaving academia in ways in didn’t expect. Emotional knowing is different than intellectual knowing. The heart and head understand things in different ways and they don’t always agree. Emotions aren’t intellectual ideas; they’re instinctual, wild, without language, and sometimes frightening in their intensity. People process trauma on a emotional level that has little to do with intellectual understandings of it. Traumatic loss often brings with it feelings of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, betrayal, rage, and anxiety.

Leaving academia will change who you are. Leaving changes your relationship with academia, your relationship with your colleagues, and your relationship with your research. Walking away from something that we love, especially unwillingly, causes loss. I never thought I’d fail on the job market and have to walk away. I had no idea what to do or who I was after my only plan didn’t materialize the way I thought it would. Abandoning hopes for a job, way of life, work I cared about, colleagues, and what felt like my very identity also made me feel alone and isolated. Well meaning friends and family may not understand our experiences, reasoning that we can just “get another job.” People might as well tell us to suddenly shape-shift into barely recognizable people we are not. Identity loss changes who we are on a fundamental level. Who are we now without these old identities that used to define us as people? We’re suddenly not sure. Out of what could we even possibly remake ourselves?

Here are some ideas for processing traumatic identity loss:


  • Meditate.
  • Expressive writing, like journaling.
  • Share your story with safe people who will honor and respect it.
  • Seek out community for emotional support, validation, and empathy.
  • Cultivate emotional resilience.
  • Practice self-care, even when (especially when) it feels like work.
  • Feel feelings rather than intellectually analyzing them. Emotional pain will not actually kill you; it just feels like it will. Just acknowledge the feelings and let them be. You don’t have to DO anything about them. Be self-aware of self-medicating and numbing behaviors, like drinking, emotional eating, or other self-destructive avoidance strategies.
  • Talk to a trusted therapist. If you’re feeling so overwhelmed by feelings that you’re not coping or thinking about hurting yourself or someone else, please reach out to mental health resources in your community or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Healing after traumatic loss of identity isn’t something that we ever “get over.” We start healing when we start being able to tell our stories about ourselves in new ways that empower us. I’m dealing with my losses one day at a time, mostly by letting go of who I thought I was and working on building who I want to be.

Pitfalls of the Publication Para

By Verena Hutter and Karen Kelsky

Karen and Verena

We continue in our series on the elements of the cover letter….  Scroll back over the last couple months to find the previous posts on self-introduction, content and contribution paragraphs!

The heavy lifting is behind you. Now you need to talk about your publications, conference presentations and pending publication plans: past, present, future. Very often, however, this becomes a return to desperate cramming. You mention everything you’ve ever done, every presentation, every book review and entry for your knitting-circle’s newsletter. The result is that you’re ruining the beautiful, structured, professional impression that you’ve just made in your content and contribution para. Often, we also see sentences like “I have 49 publications on the topic!”. That tells us very little. We don’t know about the quality of the 49 publications – ie, the type of each publication (conference proceeding? book review? book chapter? or peer reviewed journal publication?) and the rank/status/impact factor (depending on your field) of its location.

So, you’ve established your professional persona and your platform in the content and contribution paras. The publication para is the one where you provide the proof. You show them that you understand what kind of publications you need to have, and have planned, so that they can give you tenure in five years’ time.

Do not start with “parts of my dissertation have been published” or “My article xxx, based on chapter 4 of my dissertation….”- it makes you look like a graduate student. It is understood that parts of your dissertations have been turned into publications. Also, it takes up a lot of space. Just describe the publications without reference to the dissertation they once were.

Mention the most important of your publications first: here the peer-review article ranks supreme.  Avoid phrases like “top tier journal”, “leading journal” or “highly ranked journal”. The SC is comprised of people who have been longer in the profession than you have. It is safe to assume that they know the leading journals in your field. Also, we would hope that you don’t publish in the National Enquirer (Teen Vogue may be another matter though!).

If the title already says what your article is about, don’t bother giving us a run-down of the content. We don’t need “My article “novels of Thomas Mann” looks at novels of Thomas Mann”. If it’s not as clear cut, make it one snappy clause, or at most one sentence, per article.  You can mention up to about 5 articles in this paragraph; beyond that, it becomes laundry-list-ish.  So just focus on the highlights, if you’re the motivated individual who has more than 5.

If you have an article under review somewhere, mention it in the letter. In some fields, it’s common to name the journal, in others (such as philosophy), it’s not. Know the convention of your field.

If you’re in a book field, and most of TPII’s clients in the humanities and humanistic social sciences are in a book field, tell us about your book plans, and be specific as well as realistic. If you’re telling the SC that you will have your manuscript finished three months after your graduation and send it off to <prestigious university press in your field>, you may get a tired, mild smile out of them before your letter is put to the side. Revising a dissertation for publication is a lot of work (and there is plenty of literature out there on how to do it), and the days of sending in unsolicited manuscripts are over. Most academic presses explicitly tell you to not do that on their websites. Instead, tell them when you will send in your proposal and to which publishers, name two or three. Do your research- know which presses publish in your field (the status of the press matters!) and where your work would fit in. Often I get asked “What if they reject me, and I will publish with someone else?” Cover letters are not contracts written in blood. If it’s tenure time, and you have done your work, published your book with a decent press in your field, nobody will pull out your cover letter, scream “gotcha!” and deny you tenure on the grounds that you’ve gone with another publisher than initially targeted.

I have made it clear how I feel about book chapters in edited volumes or editing volumes (read chapter 16 in the book, and don’t publish in edited volumes, and don’t EDIT VOLUMES, until you are tenured). If my advice has come too late, and you have no other publications, it’s fine to mention the book chapter in your publication para, but don’t try to pass it off as an article. Some edited volumes are in fact peer-reviewed, but your contribution is still not an article.  Book reviews and so on do not merit mention in a cover letter. This is why I tell you not to do more than a 2-3 while you are seeking employment.

Conferences and presentations: If you’ve presented at one of the big conferences in your field, great, mention this here. Do however not name drop who was on your panel, who thought your presentation was “most promising” etc, how dynamic the discussion was, and other subjective, braggy (and desperate sounding) claims. If you’ve submitted an abstract or a panel suggestion, but haven’t received word from the organizers yet, simply say that you’re planning to present your work at the conference.

A lot of clients feel insecure about what they’ve published, where they have published or what they should have published. At this point, it is what it is- look forward, make a plan, and start hacking away at it. So no matter what, if you have a relatively thin publication record, and that’s normal for a new Ph.D., do take a sentence or two to indicate planned publications, so that they can see that you have a promising trajectory.

Claiming Your “Body of Work” – #Postac Post by Karen Cardozo

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

My philosophy of “careering” through life rather than settling on “a” career has been informed not only by years of academic contingency combined with a personality type that thrives on change, but also by my work with hundreds of PhDs and graduate students across the disciplines, whom I’ve helped usher into fulfilling new lives through TPII’s Alt/Out-Ac services. To highlight just five recent clients and their new jobs:

  •         PhD in Botany – VP of Research at a public botanical garden
  •         Phd in International Relations – Academic Dean at a prominent research university
  •         PhD in Psychology – Research Coordinator at a center for child abuse prevention
  •         PhD in Public Health—Program Director, Gates Foundation
  •         PhD in Urban Studies – Consultant, World Bank

None of these folks intended or predicted these outcomes when they matriculated into their doctoral programs, but they are happy with the results so far. And if these new situations lose their appeal over time, my clients will do what non-academics have always done: look for their next fitting opportunity.

Of course, academic socialization in general and the tenure system in particular is the very antithesis of careering toward authenticity, being an unequivocally conformist “track” mentality from K-12 forward. This has been apparent in the way my recent decision to leave the tenure system for an executive position in career development has been received. How people respond is more often a litmus test of how they view their own lives as it is about whether this is the right move for me. A brief sampling of initial reactions:

But what about tenure?!

What about your husband?!

What about the dog?!

Do you really want to live in Virginia?!

I can’t imagine this place without you.

It turns out that a simple “congratulations” is not the most common response, and thus the overall effect has been more like a hybrid “congratudolences.” Nonetheless I will forge ahead! And I do it in part for you, dear reader, because the only legitimacy I have in asking you to take a leap is to practice what I preach.

My coaching philosophy is revolutionary in asking academics to think very differently, by engaging in an iterative feedback loop of exploring opportunities in new sectors and being willing to adjust course in response. And especially for those of you without a secure academic job, why not ask where and with whom you want to live, and conduct a cross-sector job search from there? In these entrepreneurial times, that includes the possibility of your own job creation—this could be a venture you might build first as a “sidecar” off traditional fulltime employment structure (much as I have done by career coaching from the tenure track). Either way, this requires thinking more broadly about your “body of work.”

At my recent job talk for the Executive Director of Career Development position, I distributed a circular visual resume that shows how I originally started out in career services (12 noon on the clockface) and thus—despite decades-long detour into administration and academics (a turn of the clock from 3-9PM), I am in a coming full circle in a deeply meaningful way with my new role at Hollins. The caption above my visual resume is the title of Pamela Slim’s helpful book, Body of Work: Finding the Thread that Ties Your Story Together and the caption below is from Eliot’s “Little Gidding:

And the end of all our exploring

will be to arrive where we started

and know the place for the first time.

Although on an obvious level I am referring to my return to career services, the “place” I have come to know so well is really within me—it is the accumulation of all the experiences, choices, and values that make my life feel authentic, coherent and meaningful.  It is the inner place where I fully recognize and claim my own body of work –something that can’t be contained within any single job.

When working with new clients I always ask them to list commitments and interests that don’t appear on their CVs or resumes, in order to glean the full toolkit with which they might build a new life. I also ask for a brief narrative envisioning their ideal work-life configuration in 5 years (if you can’t express what you want, it’s less likely to happen, but “if you build it, they will come!”). The clients I mentioned above all went through a process of considering multiple and authentic “bridges” out of academe by looking for the threads tying together their own unique bodies of work.

Many academics are so concerned about what they might lose in leaving the Ivory Tower, we overlook not only the potential gains (a better salary and health care coverage, for example) but also what we might be just as happy to leave behind (pressure to publish, grading, snarky colleagues), as well as what we can create.

I know from my own dark nights of the soul that what I am saying may sound like gibberish if you are in despair and experiencing the worst of academe—historic levels of debt, precarity, and devaluation of your professional identity. But the only way to get unstuck is to “get a life” – reclaim what my favorite life coach Martha Beck (herself a recovered academic) calls your “essential self” and follow that trustworthy voice wherever it leads. Just don’t be surprised if authenticity moves you in some unexpected directions!

I don’t know exactly what your next step might be, but I’ll bet that deep down, you do. So although academe has rarely encouraged it, go ahead and follow your own convictions.  I promise they won’t steer you wrong.

My Dissertation on X Examines X

One of the writing problems that stands out the most in this Fall’s job documents is the “painful repetition” problem.

This is when someone writes, “My dissertation, ‘A Study of Elephants,’ is a study of elephants.”

Here are some more:

“I have written a feminist poetry anthology: Waves: A Feminist Poetry Anthology”

“My article, ‘The Novels of Thomas Mann,’ looks at the novels written by Thomas Mann.”

This applies even when you slightly alter the form or order of the words, as in:

“My dissertation, ‘Nations Unbound: Transnationalism and mobility in a globalized age’ is a study of transnational and mobility an age of globalization, when nations are no longer bound by borders.”

What an enormous waste of your most precious job document real estate!  Every word of a job document should introduce fresh new material that advances your case. Repeating the same idea twice squanders that chance.

It’s even worse when you keep doing it, over and over, as some writers do.  Ie,

“My dissertation, ‘Nations Unbound: Transnationalism and mobility in a globalized age’ is a study of transnational and mobility an age of globalization, when nations are no longer bound by borders. I show how globalized populations increasingly cross national boundaries. Looking at border-crossing mobility in this way, I advance the study of transnationalism.”

Please don’t do this. A sure sign of this is simple word repetition (read more on that in this post).  But check further for idea-repetition as well, since just substituting synonyms does not fix it. So don’t think the thesaurus app is going to save you. It isn’t. Word- and idea-repetition is just lazy writing, and you need to do the work to make sure that every single word of a job document is distinct and distinctive.





You are NOT your Shitty Skills

Kellee Weinhold

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post and Podcast! Each Tuesday, I post a short blog post and (sometimes) a recorded coaching session.  For earlier posts see the “Productivity” category (right hand sidebar)

Practice Makes Perfect.

We’ve all heard it. I would go far as to say that we have all applied that idea to some aspect of our lives at some point or another.

Identify a desired skill. Implement a plan to reach it.  This begins by rolling out the internal communications plan to make it happen:

I want to make challah. I’ll find recipes. I’ll take a class. I’ll make a loaf. Hmmm. Ok. But that needs work. I make a few more. I give it to friends. They tell me what’s right and not quite so right based on their challah desires. I try again. After all, practice makes perfect.  Right.

The pithy segue here would be for me to go on about how writing is like making good challah: The fastest way to get better results is to keep doing it. Get feedback. And do it some more.

At which point, you would be completely justified in wandering away muttering, “No f-ing duh, Kellee!”

I think we can all agree that writing often will make you a better writer. But writing often is not the skill most academics are pursuing. The skill many of you have devoted the most effort to mastering is NOT writing.

Yep. You all are very,very, VERY skilled at NOT WRITING.*

That’s what I want to challenge you to examine this week: How and why not writing is one of your major skills.

First thing to notice: You didn’t get good at not writing overnight. You got good at not writing by implementing a regular practice.

Second thing to notice: If you kept up that practice of not writing, it probably wasn’t that long before you started to believe that you were never good at writing.

Third thing to notice: After some amount of time and action (or lack thereof) you translated that belief into a core belief. It is no longer simply that you aren’t writing, now you are a person who doesn’t write.  You are flawed.  Uniquely flawed.  A failure….  Et voila, a practice becomes a skill becomes an identity.

I make challah. I make good challah…. Ergo, I am a baker?

No…  See how silly that sounds?  That “identity” (baker) doesn’t automatically follow the skill.  More accurately: you make good challah.  That’s it. You learned a skill.

First lesson from aforementioned examination: You are not your skills. Your skills may be: Not writing; Struggling with writing; Avoiding writing. Not particularly valuable skills for sure, but still, just things you DO. They are NOT identities. They are not YOU.

Second lesson: You learned and perfected those skills just the way you learned all of your other skills, by repeating them. To unlearn them, or more accurately to replace them, requires the same steady repetition and reinforcement.

Third and final lesson/bitter pill: There is no magic pill to become good at something except doing it, getting feedback and doing it again. (You had to know I would bring it back to the whole practice makes perfect, challah is like writing thing, right?)

So, just for today. Open your document and write one sentence. Not a perfect sentence. Not even a crafted sentence. Just a shitty, no-one-will-ever-see-this-but-me sentence. The beginning-of-a-new-practice sentence.  Then implement your new internal communications plan:

I want to write every day. I’ll look for spare moments. I’ll accept that one sentence is writing. I’ll share it with a writing partner. I’ll do it again tomorrow.

* At least until you join UNSTUCK!

Careering Toward Authenticity – #Postac Post by Karen Cardozo

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Here is a sentence I never thought I’d say: I was tenured and promoted (in April 2017, to Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts).

Now, here is another I never imagined I would utter: I am giving up tenure for a job as Executive Director of Career Development (starting January 2018, a senior staff position reporting to the president of a small women’s college with co-ed graduate programs—Hollins University in Roanoke, VA). After decades in New England, I never expected to move to Virginia mere months after observers worldwide (not, unfortunately, including the U.S. president) condemned White supremacist violence in Charlottesville.

What explains the strange twists and turns of my career path, including my decision to give up tenure almost immediately after gaining it? One word: authenticity.

[I realize a likely alternative may be lunacy, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it!]

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown clarifies that authenticity isn’t an essence that one “has,” it’s the ongoing practice of living in alignment with your deepest values. Likewise, we must reframe the concept of a career—not as a singular outcome, but as a lifelong practice of recalibration that allows you to stay in your sweet spot, where you can freely contribute your unique gifts to the world.

In my forthcoming book Careering Toward Authenticity: A Guide for Academics Who Want to Get a Life, I offer ample evidence that the world and its institutions are changing too rapidly for the traditional vocabulary of “a career” and its “track” to be useful any longer. I just attended an eye-opening symposium at Stanford on The Future of Work that affirmed this strongly. Indeed, the alternative meaning of career is related to the word “careen,” which means to veer uncontrollably in one direction or another! Such is the world of work in the 21st century. No-one knows this better than “the new faculty majority” who have discovered after a long academic slog that there’s no there there. It’s time to stop focusing your “career” and start careering!

Amidst such uncertainty and rapid flux, the best compass is to identify your own core values and strengths, while enacting a full “landscape scan” to identify organizations and allies who share your interests, regardless of the sector (or region!) in which they are located. You need never ask “To Ac or Not To Ac?” Go ahead and apply for academic jobs or strive for tenure while also exploring fitting alternatives. Don’t wait around to see what becomes of “Plan A”—explore all fitting options, including creating your own job as an entrepreneur who can meet needs you’ve identified through your academic expertise and/or personal experience..

As I explained in an early post, my professional life has unfolded largely in Massachusetts, where my two-body problem (plus aging parents and my kids’ preference for their public schools) restricted me to a regional search—a limitation more often experienced by women, for reasons both obvious and subtle. When no tenure-track job materialized after 7 postdoc years, I decided to return to my early roots in career counseling. Yet no sooner had I “switched careers” in 2012 than I landed a unique tenure track job (the only one I applied to that year). In a small department of interdisciplinary studies where I also coordinated Women Studies and Leadership programs, the disparate threads of my prior endeavors came together beautifully. Among other authentically driven pursuits, I pioneered courses such as East Meets West, Leading Women and World of Work , allowing students to explore the ancient and contemporary question at the heart not only of career coaching, but also many intellectual and spiritual traditions: Who am I and Where Am I Going?  Have you asked yourself that question lately? And if so, did you answer honestly?

As my “sidecar” identity as a PhD career coach gained traction (thank you, Karen Kelsky and our amazing clients at TPII!), I began to wish for a role that would integrate both my academic training and my proclivity for career coaching. So when Hollins recruited me out of the blue at the recommendation of a search firm that knew my profile (because I had applied to one other similar job), I was struck by the way that their position contained all my “keywords”–careers, women, leadership, diversity and interdisciplinarity. Wanting to meet the folks who issued this intriguing call (which turned out to include an inspiring president and alumnae/trustees), I agreed to a campus interview. I decided not to worry about relocation just yet, reasoning that the no-holds-barred expression of my values in my job talk would likely eliminate me from consideration—as it has in the past at institutions that did not appreciate my brand of authenticity.

But before I knew it, I was entertaining the Hollins job offer and then accepting the job. I didn’t expect to like the college, its people, and the region as much as I did. As another incentive, the Hollins senior staff is a photonegative of the Trump administration—mostly women, with better representation of people of color than I have been accustomed to “up North.” Don’t get me wrong: I have no illusions that my new campus will be a nirvana where familiar institutional challenges don’t apply and I achieve spiritual enlightenment at last (although I continue to strive toward the latter!). Nor do I know what I might go on to do from there. What I do know is that I genuinely liked the folks I met at Hollins; I love the mandate of championing the ongoing importance of women and the liberal arts in the changing world of work, and I am excited about the prospect of collaborating with alumnae and faculty to create groundbreaking career exploration programs, including an excellent new resource in Designing Your Life.

For all these reasons, I will move to Virginia – a place I never imagined living. This is possible in part because my youngest son just started college. When my partner and I anticipated an empty nest, we never guessed that I would also fly away!  So, like many in today’s economy, we will now experiment with a distance relationship and “creative” telecommuting arrangements. But I knew I would take the job when my dear husband, a lifelong lawyer who prizes stability above all, said: “This is the perfect job for you – you should take it.” With that, I fully submitted to careering as my blogs and forthcoming book encourage you to do. I no longer try to predict the future; I commit only to making informed and authentic choices in the present.

Here’s what careering toward authenticity feels like: going for the biggest job you’ve yet held, while feeling the least stress you’ve ever felt. Exploring an option out of genuine interest rather than desperation. Being pulled toward something rather than running away from something else. It feels… FUN!  And yes, also scary. But in that roller-coaster-riding way in which the adrenalin of a well-chosen risk makes you feel fully alive.

In the end, I couldn’t muster enough counter-arguments about why having tenure should lead me to turn away such a fitting and timely role. So I followed the advice I always give my clients: don’t be avoidance-based; be affinity-driven.  Learn to pivot away from what no longer serves you toward what does. In my next post, I’ll tell you about a number of recent clients who have done just that!

The Job Search is Not a Striptease

One of my pet peeves in job documents is when the job candidate coyly gestures toward a research conclusion, without actually coming out and saying what the conclusion is.

I have no idea why so many job seekers are so invested in this coyness.  The job search is not a striptease; you don’t get points for strategically withholding.  That withholding does not make search committees perk up and take notice. It makes them bored and irritated, and motivated to instantly move on to people who can actually articulate their arguments and conclusions.

This coy withholding is done through the vague meta-claim.  Here are some examples:

“I conclude that gender plays a significant role in xx.”

Really?  And we care why?

No.  We need to know: WHAT ROLE does gender play?  WHAT ROLE????  Spell it out!

“I discovered that there is a relationship between xx and yy.” 

Really?  IS THAT INTERESTING?  (no).

WHAT RELATIONSHIP did you find between xx and yy?  Spell it out!

“I argue that this is an example of neoliberalism.”

SERIOUSLY?  WHAT ISN’T, at this point?   Tell us, instead, HOW, SPECIFICALLY, IS THIS AN EXAMPLE OF NEOLIBERALISM??  What is neoliberal about this particular thing at this particular place and time, among these particular populations?

“I conclude that policy is not linear or static, but multidimensional and changing.”

WHO IN 2017 SAYS ANYTHING IS LINEAR OR STATIC?  Don’t waste our time with idle pseudo-theoretical posturing.  If I were on a search committee I’d throw out the letter from sheer irritation at the combination of tendentiousness, self-importance, and cluelessness.  TELL US A SPECIFIC CONCLUSION: “Policy emerged from the input of [xx actors], [yy actors], and [zz actors], operating in [xx condition] and [yy location], and shifted in response to [xx event] and [yy event].”

Don’t tease, job seekers; show us what you’ve got.

(By the way, this is a close cousin to both stating the obvious, and making claims so painfully general as to be meaningless.  Please read and study these posts and banish generic verbiage.)

Of Wagons, Paths and Cliffs: Unstuck Productivity Post

Kellee Weinhold

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post and Podcast! Each Tuesday, I post a short blog post and recorded coaching session.  For earlier posts see this and this.

We all fall. It’s getting back up that tests us.

This past spring when as I was preparing to launch the UNSTUCK program, Karen and I decided to add a weekly Facebook Live session on productivity to our client engagement. (Thursdays at 11:00 a.m. Eastern)

Our motivation was twofold: We were looking for an efficient way to answer the endless questions about how to stay motivated in this “shit-shellacked era of epic stupid” (Doug Wendig) and we were looking for a way to introduce me and my coaching program to our readership in a way that showcased how I work.

Unlike Karen’s work with client documents, which is done entirely by email, my work with clients in Interview and Job Talk Interventions and One-on-One Coaching is all face to face. We meet. We talk. I provide feedback in the moment. You leave better prepared to face your next challenge.

Karen and I try to mimic that experience on FB: We show up. You show up. We do us. You do you. If we remain willing to listen, we all learn something. From our side of the camera, it is awesome! We love it.

So if something is good why not do more, right?

In July, we decided I should start contributing regularly to The Professor is In blog. The argument for this additional commitment? 1) New information on the blog. 2) More ways for readers to know who I am and how I work.  It would be simple: I would write a short blog post and record a short podcast based on that teaching.

That was in the short term. In the long term, I imagined the productivity posts would evolve into a full blown podcast. We would migrate our FB messages to an additional platform, with guests and coaching and interaction!

Are you noticing a theme here? In addition to having deep convictions (read: endless opinions) and a willingness share them broadly, Karen and I subscribe to the “Cool! That worked! What else can we do?” School of Life.

The whole thing was plugging along. I can’t say that it was my favorite thing. I don’t really enjoy writing or talking into space. I like conversation. But, I had a goal in mind. This was just a shitty first draft, if you will.

Then life happened. (As life so often does when we are just trying to get an idea up and running.)

The first week of August, I was on the Oregon coast with my parents to celebrate my birthday. I dutifully took my laptop and my microphone for recording my weekly commitment and as promised on Tuesday, August 2nd, I uploaded my post.

On Wednesday morning at 5 a.m. I heard my mother calling my name. She had woken up unable to move her right side. She had had a stroke.

And I haven’t written a column since.

Now, before you come over here in my lane and start telling me how it’s all ok, and you understand and I should have some grace with myself…. take a deep breath and let me handle it.

Don’t forget, I am a writer. I coach writers. I know all of the bullshit games we play. I know them because I do them and I see them.

I also know that no matter how good our plan is, no matter how much we have a goal in sight, life happens. We fall off wagons. We lose our way on our carefully planned paths. We fall off unforeseen cliffs into unknown terrain.

We do it for big, life altering reasons. We do it for small, petty, insecure reasons.

So the first lesson of today’s post. We ALL falter. If you think you are the only one, you are not paying attention.

Second lesson: When we falter, we all have the same two options. Stay down or get up.

Notice I didn’t say, return to the wagon, or the path or the top of the cliff. I don’t think we can go back. And I think the desire to “go back” to the time before we faltered is actually WHY we get stuck. It is the backward gaze, longing to erase the shame of not doing what we planned, that allows for more and more days to pass without writing.

Today, you are reading this productivity column on The Professor is In blog not because I went back to August 9th and wrote a column while supporting my parents, but because I am choosing to let that day be the past.

Just like I am letting August 15th — when we dropped the oldest at Berkeley for her first year of college — be the past. And August 22nd when I just could not manage one more thing on my to-do list and writing a column was not on it.

Those three Tuesdays are gone. There is no going back.

When I accept that there can be no other outcome for the those Tuesdays, I am also forced to accept that they were days I didn’t write.  THEN the work is accepting that that not writing is a fact, but it doesn’t have to be a failure. Now THAT is really hard to accept.

It is much more familiar (and therefore easy!) to carry those no writing days as failures. Rocks in my backpack that I can habitually pull out and pet like a beloved companion, all the while reinforcing my story that I “just can’t” write.

It takes a conscious choice to set the past down and face today for what it is: A blank slate where we get to choose: get up or stay down?

Today, I chose to write.

Next week, I’ll add a recording!

Final lesson of today’s post: Lower the barrier to entry. Do whatever you can instead of what you think you “should.”

Let’s Talk Backpacks

Of all my  job market advice, the admonition *Do Not Carry a Backpack* is among the most well known.  Readers meeting me for the first time often proudly display their newly acquired briefcases, and those who email often tell me stories of benighted graduate school peers STILL lugging backpacks around their conferences.

I stand by this advice–in the sense that it is meaningful to sartorially mark your transition from the grad student identity to the job seeker/professional identity.  While the bag you carry will not, in and of itself, determine the job you get (it really won’t!), it plays an important role in delivering an image of professionalism (or lack thereof) to interviewers, and also, I think, in solidifying your own inner sense of professional identity. With the important caveat that there are a few fields, such as Astronomy, where sleek and chic briefcases  — or fancy backpacks of the kind I introduce here —  are absolutely not the norm. If you are in such a field, feel free to disregard this advice. However, PLEASE confirm with several trusted senior mentors that your sense of the field is correct.

Sometimes people balk at the idea that any element of appearance should play a role in the search. Your appearance does communicate many messages about you; believing it doesn’t is denial.  What role exactly it plays, however, is subtle. I go into more detail about this unpredictable and unquantifiable role in the post, Data Point, Data Point, Data Point.

However, I want to update my advice.  My partner Kellee Weinhold, who is also our amazing Unstuck productivity coach, suffers from fibromyalgia.  After two extended speaking tours in the UK and Europe the past two summers, it has become unmistakably clear that she should no longer carry a briefcase because it causes her too much back and shoulder pain.

As a result, I went on the market to find a good, professional-looking backpack option.

And lo, I found many!

It turns out, the world of backpacks includes many really sophisticated options that still accomplish the goal of marking a transition from the ratty Jansport of grad school.  So, in this post, I want to share with you the brands I discovered (my links are to my favorite women’s items, but you can search the sites for options, including men’s bags, messenger bags, etc.).

Be aware: most of these are not cheap!  But a good bag should last you for many years, and is one of the most important investments you’ll make in work-related gear.  And some of them can be found on Zappos and other sites, where you may be able to use discount codes, Ebates, and so on.  All of the ones I list here reflect my personal taste – highly streamlined, in black or gray. But there are color and print options for many of them.

First off, my absolute favorite:

Booq Bags, especially the Cobra Squeeze.  This is one cool backpack.  And award-winning too!

Booq Cobra Squeeze






Next, some Honorable Mentions:

Knomo Bags;  I especially like the Reykjavik

Knomo Reykjavik






Rains  (Motto: Defying Danish Weather Since 2012). They make one “backpack”; here it is:

Rains “Backpack”







Next, the price outliers:

Everlane (the most economical brand on the list – the Nylon Square below is $58)

Everlane Nylon Square






Tumi (the least economical brand on the list – the Carbon Fiber Southington below is $1100, but oh my god, look at it! [and there are “cheaper” options in the $500-700 range…!])

Tumi Carbon Fiber Southington







And last, slightly less streamlined but still sharp:

Crumpler, an Australian brand.

Crumpler Great Thaw Bag

And of course, the cult-favorite San Francisco-based Timbuk2, which are totally customizable.  You can get a Froot Loops print. Should you? That’s a separate question.

Timbuk2 Uptown Pack







So, to conclude if physical issues or your mode of transportation require you to use a backpack, you can still make the same stylistic transition as your briefcase-carrying peers!

Victorinox Charisma

If you’re curious, I carry a lightweight soft-sided Victorinox Charisma Work Tote as my briefcase. As my “personal item” on the flight, it’s almost infinitely stuffable so I can fill it with a blanket, snacks, drink, and magazines and book, as well as laptop, kindle, wallet, and toiletries… but it’s lightweight so it doesn’t kill my shoulder!  Upon arrival I take out all the travel gear and it transforms into a respectable briefcase/laptop bag.

However, in my small carry-on suitcase, I always pack this

My beloved daybag

compact yet roomy, feather-weight nylon backpack daybag, as an easy-to-carry purse for sightseeing, restaurants, shopping, and zipping around town.

It’s light, folds up to almost nothing, never wrinkles, doesn’t show dirt, is easy to clean, is waterproof, has outside pockets, holds lots of stuff, has the ease of a backpack for when you have to grab a subway strap, and still looks stylish and put-together in an urban environment. (Note it’s not big enough to hold most laptops).

Bonus: it has the security feature of the main zipper opening on the inside (ie, next to the body). And it’s incredibly sturdy, which is good, because I’m hard on my travel gear.

Similar-looking models are here and here.   These are all Korean-style-inspired (although I think manufactured in China), as Korea seems to be the home of chic small backpacks.  Amazon will show you countless other options. I tried many before settling on this one, and I love it with all my heart!

Feel free to share your briefcase and backpack recommendations below!

Happy Travels!