Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog

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

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The definitive career guide for grad students, adjuncts, post-docs and anyone else eager to get tenure or turn their Ph.D.  into their ideal job.

Karen Kelsky has made it her mission to help readers join the select few who get the most out of their Ph.D. As a former tenured professor and department head who oversaw numerous academic job searches, she knows from experience exactly what gets an academic applicant a job. And as the creator of the popular and widely respected advice site The Professor is In, she has helped countless Ph.D.’s turn themselves into stronger applicants and land their dream careers.

Now, for the first time ever, Karen has poured all her best advice into a single handy guide that addresses the most important issues facing any Ph.D., including:

-When, where, and what to publish
-Writing a foolproof grant application
-Cultivating references and crafting the perfect CV
-Acing the job talk and campus interview
-Avoiding the adjunct trap
-Making the leap to nonacademic work, when the time is right

The Professor Is In addresses all of these issues, and many more.

If you would like your academic career to begin in delusion and end in disillusionment, then by all means, ignore Karen Kelsky. If, however, you want unvarnished straight talk about the academic job market—and how to navigate it—then heed her, and heed her now.” —Rebecca Schuman, education columnist for Slate.



I post once a week, usually on Friday, on topics related to the academic job market, academic life and politics, general professionalization skills related to writing, publishing, conferencing, networking, and scholarly comportment, and the tenure process.

I also put up posts on the Post-Ac/Non-Ac job search by my Panel of Post-Ac Experts, on Monday or Tuesday.

Let me know if there’s a topic you want to see me post on!  I am always happy to put Special Requests into the queue. Comment here, or email me at:

You can  always get to a particular Category by clicking it in the Categories column to the right.———>

Please note that as of January 2013  the rate of comments to this blog has exceeded my ability to respond individually to each one. I’m sorry that not all comments will get a personal response by Dr. Karen.  If you have a really pressing question, do consider getting in touch to get on my calendar to work together.  I strive to make services affordable to all.

Here’s a short glossary to help you follow the discussions in the blog:


TT– tenure track


VAP–visiting assistant professor (position)


ABD–all but dissertation (status)


SLAC–small liberal arts college


R1–top ranked research-intensive institution with Ph.D.-granting departments, such as University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, etc.


R2–research institution with primarily MA-granting departments

“My Family Lives In Driving Distance” – Or Not

For Fall 2016 I am reposting the top 25 posts on academic job applications.


In the past month a client wrote in his tailoring section that he was excited to apply to a position at the University of Chicago, because his “family lives in driving distance.”

And another write that a position at Berkeley was exciting to him because “I have friends and family in the area.”

Can we all agree that this is… um… less than ideal cover letter rhetoric?

Rule of thumb:  if the institution is one of the top-ranked institutions in the world, hotly coveted, and the object of academic dreams, then mentioning the existence of family and friends in the area comes across as laughable.

Of course, if an institution is small, low-ranking, or located in a far-flung region…ie, an institution that you can imagine might have trouble attracting or retaining hires, then mentioning the existence of family in the area makes sense, as long as it’s done without undue hysteria, desperation, or emotionalism. Just stay brief and factual. One sentence in a paragraph that primarily focuses on SUBSTANTIVE connections related to research and teaching.

But seriously, nobody prioritizes Harvard because family lives nearby.

If your family does, sure, that’s icing on the cake, and a great thing.

But don’t mention it in the application. It makes you look fundamentally unserious. And like you don’t grasp the unspoken but unyielding rules of hierarchy that shape academia status.

“I’m the Ideal Candidate for Your Position!”

During Fall 2016 I am reposting the top 25 blog posts about the academic job market.  Today’s post is yet another post on job letters.

This one is on that object of contention: the fit sentence.

You know the one—it’s the sentence that says, “with my background in xxx and yyy, I am the ideal candidate for your position in zzz.”

Sometimes it says, “my combination of experience in xxx and yyy make me an excellent fit for your position in zzz.”

Why do advisors keep telling their graduate students to include those? I mean, really? Does anybody actually take these things seriously? Is a search committee member really going to take the CANDIDATE’S word for their suitability for the position? If we’re going to do that, why search at all? Why not just take the one who says he’s “ideal”?

Was I born YESTERDAY????” a senior professor friend of mine with countless searches under his belt responded. “Do they think I’m that NAIVE….? Do they think I’ll just BELIEVE them????”

I mean, professors don’t take anything at face value, not anything at all. So why in the world would they believe a job letter that claims the writer is an “ideal fit” for their advertised position?

As a colleague, whom I shall call Professor Snark, recently remarked,

“Gosh and golly! How could I, seasoned professor that I am, have failed to noticed the so plainly obvious fact, until you pointed it out, that among all the eminently qualified candidates for this job, you, yes you alone among them, are the ideal candidate for the position? I stand humbled before you in all your awesome idealness.”

Seriously, job candidates, remember the rule of good writing: Show, Don’t Tell.

Writing “I am the ideal candidate for your position”?  That  is telling.

Writing a letter full of evidence of intellectual prowess and scholarly productivity, award-winning teaching, and a long-standing commitment to the field of work identified by the job ad?  That, on the other hand, is showing.

So show us the money, candidates! Remember, talk is cheap.

Banish These Words, 2016 Edition

Every season I note a new batch of trite, overused words cropping up in job and grant documents. I’ve already written about some of the most critical to banish from your vocabulary here, and here. Here is the newest set of words that need to go.

The first three are related to my post “adjectives are not arguments”. In my book, I elaborate on this issue: “The simple repetition of the words on this list, over and over in your documents, does not suggest that you have a coherent project, or make a compelling point, or advance an original argument. (…)They are white noise, and devoid of meaning.”

Innovative If you have to say it, it ain’t so. Hardly anything in the academy is innovative, and if it is, then you should let your research speak for itself.

Rich “Rich” is actually something that I call a “cheap” adjective. It doesn’t really tell us anything about your data, your project, your book, and it is incredibly vague. What exactly, is rich about the data? Unless you talk about money, don’t use this adjective.

Provocative-This often goes together with “innovative.” I know, I know, you’re a rebel. But, really, if you have or are getting a Ph.D., you’re as much of a rebel as Green Day are punk rock. And that’s ok- the one thing the academy is not looking for is rebels. They are looking for an intelligent colleague who will work with them.

On to nouns:

Thrust (in any lexical variation):  see my previous post on “deep”. Just no.

Lacuna it’s pretentious, and nothing else. Using lacuna doesn’t make you look smarter, it doesn’t make your research better. See my post on grad student grandiosity.

Lacuna Matata, Kelsky out.

Cancer on the Tenure Track – an invited guest post

By Martha Lincoln, Ph.D.

Prof. Martha Lincoln

Prof. Martha Lincoln

Earlier this spring, I got hired to a tenure-track position at my dream department. After some celebrating, I started to strategize for the next steps of my career. I took a webinar with Dr. Karen – Surviving Your First Year on the Tenure Track). I took care of some practicalities like switching bills to auto-pay and catching up on my to-do list. And I scheduled a physical with my nurse practitioner – one less thing to think about during the academic year.

Everything was looking good, except for a breast mass that was getting bigger and annoying me. A previous biopsy had found it negative, so I wasn’t worried when my NP referred me to a specialist for a follow-up procedure. When she called me with the results, I didn’t understand why she asked if I was somewhere I could talk.

“Are you driving?” she asked. “Is it quiet there?”

A minute later, the five-year plan for research, teaching, and tenure that I had developed post-webinar caught fire and exploded.

* * *

I’m a medical anthropologist. My research explores how health care, disease, and concepts of the body express sociopolitical priorities and cultural meaning. So it felt like an almost embarrassing coincidence to be diagnosed with breast cancer, as if I’d become subject matter instead of scientist. And despite my expertise in the subject of illness, I didn’t know what my diagnosis meant – except that it would make it impossible to start teaching in the fall.

The news came at a curious time, right between things. I had a few months left to go at my postdoctoral position. At my university position, I had course assignments for the fall, but had barely started furnishing my office. Knowing that I was about to disappoint my new colleagues, who had worked hard to secure the tenure line and poured time into the search and my hire, it took me a while to figure out how to share the news.

When I did disclose my diagnosis, both at my postdoc and my university, I also regretted rupturing the illusion that I was up-and-coming and invulnerable. Suddenly I felt disabled, even though I didn’t have any physical symptoms. However, a succession of emails with my two human resources departments seemed to suggest that despite my status as a cancer patient, I might not be totally protected. My postdoc was expiring too soon to allow me to take paid leave, and at my new department I wouldn’t be eligible for benefits or leave, as I had yet to teach a single class.

Ultimately, I lucked out. I got reappointed at my postdoctoral position, and was permitted to start teaching in spring instead of fall. I’ll get to keep my postdoc insurance, whose unusually good schedule of benefits will keep me from going into thousands of dollars of medical expense-related debt. But from a financial perspective at least, it could have been much worse.

With that said, this has been no average summer of catching up on non-academic reading on the beach. I fell behind on publications and grant applications while I went to diagnostic appointments and managed the administrative parts of being ill. Though I wrote some essays that I’m proud of, work has mostly been on ice. During the diagnostic workup, some concerns arose about metastasis, prompting me to anticipate dying somewhat sooner than I’d previously intended. (Happily, that got resolved.) Now it’s September and the school year is underway, but I’m still in the middle of treatment.

I’ll be healthy and back to work soon, I trust. However, I anticipate stigma surrounding my future status as a cancer survivor – an identity that’s incongruous with most notions of what a university professor should be. Having cancer compels embodiment where we might prefer disembodiment, emotion where we privilege intellect, and transparency where we’d rather have occlusion. Indeed, having cancer is a deeply personal – even “human” – experience. In this way, I imagine that having this disease on the tenure track might be like being pregnant, or having kids, or having a relative who needs a lot of care. It might be like having chronic illness or mental illness or another type of disability.

However, cancer brings aspects of my future productivity into view in a way that can feel exposing. Though I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to be supported by my colleagues, and though policy protects me from discrimination, I’m sensitive to the questions of future indeterminacy that my diagnosis compels. While I’ve always known that the tenure process will evaluate my work with an eye to the future, cancer presses this home in a way that feels morbidly personal. I imagine my colleagues and employers wondering things I’ve wondered too: Will my cancer kill me? Will it mess up my single-minded pursuit of success? Will I relapse and make everyone scramble to cover my commitments? (BTW: no, no, and I hope not.)

In university settings – where professionalism is virtually defined by the ability to keep personal and professional matters separate – cancer makes it impossible to maintain the secure, aloof façade of an academic persona. When Dr. Karen suggested I write something for her, I struggled about whether to use my name or not. Ultimately I wanted to use my name, so others would be able to contact me if they found themselves in a situation like mine. I also want to share the following suggestions.

Whether or not you are diagnosed with cancer (or another serious illness) in a tenure-track position, review your health insurance options carefully when choosing a plan. Ask yourself what benefits you would want if you had a medical emergency. In my case, having a PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) policy allowed me to move from the clinic where I was originally referred to a hospital that is a national leader in cancer care. Review details with your own situation in mind, bearing in mind that unexpected things can happen even if you are young and (apparently) healthy.

If you are on the tenure track and are diagnosed with a serious illness, think carefully about how you want to communicate regarding your situation to others – colleagues, students, and employers. Some members of your department and administration will need to know at least a little bit about your diagnosis, but you can still be strategic about disclosure. When you share information, consider making an explicit request for confidentiality.

Also remember that people may respond to your news in ways that you find unhelpful or upsetting. I found that it felt safer to control information more tightly when I was still unsure about my treatment and prognosis. As I knew more, I felt more secure about sharing details. I was also fortunate to have a chair who asked for my input in crafting the message he shared with the department about my situation.

If you are newly diagnosed, know that cancer is time-consuming, and can come to seem like a second job. It is likely to sap your energy and focus, distract you, and cause you free-floating anxiety. Anticipate that normal things will become difficult, and then potentially more difficult. Find shortcuts in the “activities of daily life” wherever possible (for example, using a grocery-delivery app instead of doing your own shopping), lower your standards and delegate tasks where possible, and ask your friends and family for help. If you’re going to need chemotherapy or radiation, ask your doctor to help you with a request to the DMV for a temporary-disability placard for your car.

Cancer treatment and recovery last for months. I’ve found that my usual approach to getting through difficult times – battening hatches and buckling down – is inadequate, given the drawn-out, stressful, and unpredictable experience of getting care. I benefited from mental health support. Some hospitals may provide access to therapists, wellness practitioners, and social workers (who can help with the horrifying paperwork burden of cancer, and with access to other useful resources).

Remember that there are institutional policies to protect you. Contact the disability office on your campus to inquire about accommodations. Contact human resources to figure out your options for medical leave (under the Family Medical Leave Act) and short-term disability. Contact your department chair and dean to discuss the details of leave and request a stop on your tenure clock.

At the same time, remember that your department, HR representative, and administration may not have had a situation like yours in the past, and that there may be some improvisation required before all the details are settled. Expect many email exchanges, some of which you will have to initiate proactively, and some of which will need you to follow up by phone or in person. Some people will drop the ball. If you become frustrated, express dissatisfaction in ways that don’t sacrifice good will that you’ll need later.

If your coping mechanisms compel you to understand the medical details of your cancer, use institutional resources to access the most current and reputable literature. Consider asking colleagues with experience in medicine or science (or even your institution’s reference librarians) to help you access and interpret research. The rich humanities and social sciences literature on cancer supply other forms of context and meaning (c.f. Jain 2013, Livingston 2014, Lora-Wainwright 2013, Lorde 1997, Mukherjee 2010, Sontag 1978). Reading memoirs of illness and disability in academia can also be both useful and cathartic (c.f. Crosby 2016, Felstiner 2005).

If you are diagnosed, entertain the possibility that it will affect your focus and trajectory, intellectually and professionally, in ways that you cannot predict. For all that I’ve come to loathe the notion that cancer is somehow a spiritual experience, my diagnosis has undeniably shifted my relationship to my life and work. It has compelled me to ask what’s deathless in my field – or, rather, what gives me life. Your priorities and interests may also shift as a result of having cancer, potentially in ways that you will find wonderful.

Finally, remember that this won’t last forever. With luck, you will have one good shot at surviving cancer, and you will give it all the resources you can: finding the best health care, minimizing stress and commitments, setting priorities that serve you, and taking the time and resources you need to heal and recover. When it is over – god willing – you will get back on the tenure track, and move on.

~Martha Lincoln is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at San Francisco State University.



Crosby, Christina

2016  A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain. New York: NYU Press.

Felstiner, Mary Lowenthal

2005  Out of Joint: A Private and Public Story of Arthritis. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Jain, S. Lochlann

2013  Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Livingston, Julie

2014  Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic. Raleigh, NC: Duke University Press.

Lora-Wainwright, Anna

2013 Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Lorde, Audre

1997 The Cancer Journals: Special Edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.

Mukherjee, Siddhartha

2010  The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. New York: Scribner.

Sontag, Susan

2013  Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and its Metaphors. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

#JobMarketRitual – Guest Post by Kellee Weinhold

by Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach and Interview Intervention Coach

IMG_4151 One of the remnants of my life as a journalism professor is attending to the success and failure of advertising campaigns. I wasn’t in the field of advertising, but many of my students were advertising majors and many of my favorite colleagues were (and are) advertising faculty. Advertising campaign successes and failures were the stuff of hallway conversations.

Which is a long-winded explanation for how I came upon the new Revlon campaign- #revlonritual. The agency that created it had been charged with reviving an aging brand. Their first step was to engage with women around the country about things that made them feel beautiful. The agency recruited 710 women, sent them beauty supplies, and asked them to do a seven-step ritual once a day for at least four days.

Here is the ritual:

1. Look at yourself in the mirror.
2. Use your favorite fragrance.
3. Apply your eye makeup.
4. Have a piece of chocolate.
5. Put on a new lipstick or gloss.
6. Take a deep breath.
7. Smile at yourself.

Let me pause briefly to say to all of you who don’t really know about me, I am not remotely engaged with the idea that beauty and self-love come from fragrances, eye makeup and lipstick (if you’re curious, Karen wrote about me in this blog post, How To Dress for an Interview As a Butch Dyke). For me, they are cis-gendered and anxiety producing, and make me feel slightly nauseous. But I also recognize that for many who identify as cis-gendered females, they are a joy.

The campaign got me thinking about rituals of self-care. The ones that make you feel better about yourself, whoever you define that “self” to be. And because here at TPII we are all about the academic job market, I eventually landed on pondering what daily ritual might offer respite from the stress and anxiety of looking for a job.

So, here is my complete rip off of the Revlon campaign. I invite you take part in the academic job market version of a self-care ritual. For at least a week try the following things and let us know if it has any effect on improving your state of mind as you start your day in the ego bruising experience of applying for academic jobs.

1. Look at yourself in the mirror brush/comb your hair and teeth and smile.
2. Dress as if you are going to coffee with a friend. In other words, something other the dirty sweats, yoga pants or boxers you picked up off your bedroom floor.
3. Put on your favorite adornment: Bracelet. Hat. Necklace. Cologne. Glasses. Ear Gauge. Anything that makes you feel good.
4. Listen to your favorite song, sing it at the top of your lungs and move! (Power ballads for the win!)
5. Fix yourself your favorite tea, coffee, smoothie or juice.
6. Write a single sentence of encouragement and post it on your computer.
7. Take a deep breath.

And then, and only then…

  1. Begin those job applications

Working with my Unstuck coaching clients has taught me that one of the biggest challenges to consistency and productivity is lack of self-care. Contrary to the myth of academia, working more and harder does not equate to producing more. Indeed, the rabbi of our synagogue recently remarked that when her friends ask her how she gets so much accomplished despite taking a full 24 hours off each week for Shabbat, she responds, “I get so much accomplished BECAUSE I take a full 24 hours off each week for Shabbat.”

Rest and rejuvenation are essential. My coaching clients report amazing results when they actually take the time off that their bodies and minds are telling them they need.

So, let’s adapt this for the job market. Try these eight steps of self-care. Let me know if they make a difference. Let’s call it: #JobMarketRitual


If you’re interested in working with me on Unstuck Productivity Coaching, email me at

Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Research Statement

For the Fall 2016 Job Market I am re-posting the essential job application posts.  We’ve looked at the Cover Letter and the CV  and the Teaching Statement.  Today we look at the Research Statement.

An expanded and updated version of this post can now be found in Chapter  27 of my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. I am keeping a shortened version here, but for the complete discussion, including examples of common teaching statement errors, please do purchase the book, which compiles all my major job market posts along with 50% entirely new material.

Today, at long last, and in response to popular demand, a post on the Research Statement.

I have, perhaps, procrastinated on blogging about the Research Statement because at some level I felt that the rules might be more variable on this document, particularly with regard to length.

But in truth, they really aren’t.

The RS should be be two pages long for any junior candidate in the humanities or soft social sciences.  Two pages allows for an elaboration of the research well beyond the summary in the cover letter that gives the search committee substantial information to work with. Those junior candidates in the hard sciences and fields like Psychology can have 3-4 page research statements.

I strongly urge all job-seekers to investigate the norms of their individual fields carefully, and follow the advice they receive on this matter from experts in their own fields.  Just never simply ASSUME that longer is better in an RS or in any job document.

By the way, the RS to which I refer here is the document sometimes requested as part of a basic job application.  This is NOT the “research proposal” required by specific fellowship or postdoc applications!   Those will specify a length, and should be written to follow the outline I describe in Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template.) They are a totally different genre of document; don’t confuse the two!

Anyway, back to the RS: there are undoubtedly a number of excellent reasons that people could give for writing a longer RS, based on thoroughness or detail or concerns for accuracy. And I would acknowledge those principles as valid ones.

But they would all come second to the single most important principle of all job market writing, in my view, which is the principle of search committee exhaustion.

Search committee members are exhausted, and they are overwhelmed and distracted. There simply is no bandwidth in their brains or their psyches to handle the amount of material they are required to read, when searches routinely garner between 300 and 1000 applications.

Anything that feels “long” is going to be resented just by virtue of its length. And resentment is categorically what you don’t want a search committee member feeling about your job application materials.

So, in short, the Research Statement, just like the Teaching Statement, needs to be one to two pages in length, single spaced.  And like the TS, it needs to be in 11 or 12 point font, and have decent one-inch margins.

What are the other rules? Here they are:

  • Print the RS on regular printer paper. Do not use letterhead for this or the TS, and do not use any special high grade paper.
  • Put your name and the words “Research Statement” centered at the top.
  • If unsure how to structure, use a 5-paragraph model as follows:

[… edited… ] 

Here are some additional principles:

  • A RS (like a TS) is not tailored to a school overtly. While you may subtly adjust your project descriptions to speak to a specific type of job, you do not refer to any job or department or application in the statement itself.
  • Do not refer to any other job documents in the RS (ie, “As you can see from my CV, I have published extensively….”)
  • As in all job documents, remain strictly at the level of the evidentiary. State what you did, what you concluded, what you published, and why it matters for your discipline, period. Do not editorialize or make grandiose claims (“this research is of critical importance to…”).
  • Do not waste precious document real estate on what other scholars have NOT done. Never go negative. Stay entirely in the realm of what you did, not what others didn’t.
  • Do not position yourself as “extending” or “adding to” or “building off of” or … [what follows is edited…]
  • Do not refer to other faculty or scholars in the document. The work is your own. If you co-authored a piece…
  • Do not refer to yourself as studying “under” anybody…
  • Do not forget to articulate the core argument of your research. I am astounded at how often (probably in about 80% of client documents) I have to remind clients to …
  • Give a sense of a publishing trajectory, moving from past to present…
  • Make sure you are not coming across as a one-trick pony. The second major project must be clearly distinct …
  • Use the active voice as much as possible, but beware a continual reliance on “I-Statements”, as I describe in this post, The Golden Rule of the Research Statement.

I will stop here. Readers, please feel free to add more in the comments.  I will add to this post as further refinements come to mind.

The Dreaded Teaching Statement: Eight Pitfalls

For the Fall 2016 Job Market I am re-posting the essential job application posts.  We’ve looked at the Cover Letter and the CV; today we look at the Teaching Statement.

An expanded and updated version of this post can now be found in Chapter  25 of my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. I am keeping a shortened version here, but for the complete discussion, including examples of common teaching statement errors, please do purchase the book, which compiles all my major job market posts along with 50% entirely new material.

Here at The Professor Is In we have reached the point in the Fall job market season in which many of our clients have finished work on their job letters and their c.v.s—and damn, do they look good!–and have moved on to their teaching statements.

And once again, I am struck by how many really brilliant and talented young scholars, including those who are otherwise terrific writers, fall flat on their faces in their teaching statements. It’s just painful. The teaching statement first drafts are, by and large, simply excruciating to read.

Apparently these things are just brutal to write.

But why?

I think there are several reasons, actually. A partial, speculative list would include these:

  • The audience and its expectations are unclear
  • The genre is rarely explained
  • The genre allows for great variation, with few obvious parameters for length and tone
  • The expected content at first blush seems overly “obvious” and rote (ie, “I am passionate about teaching”)
  • Feelings about teaching are often intense and hard to articulate in academic prose.

The mistakes that teaching statement writers make seem to fall into fairly consistent patterns that derive from the confusions and mystifications listed above. In this post I am going to identify the major pitfalls of the worst teaching statements, and offer suggestions to guide you as you craft your own.

Error #1: It is too long

There are fewer hard and fast rules of teaching statements than there are for things like c.v.s and cover letters. So, there may be scholars and departments and search committees that have no problem with lengthy ones. But it is the official position of Dr. Karen that a teaching statement should be no longer than one page.

The reason is that a teaching statement is always a subsidiary document to a larger job application, which already includes a job letter, a c.v., references, and possibly a writing sample. It is simply not realistic or reasonable to expect the search committee to wade through a 3 page single-spaced teaching statement on top of all of that. While some dedicated individuals might, the vast majority will not. So, be your own best advocate, and make your statement as easy as possible to digest.

Believe me, everything you actually NEED to say in a teaching statement can be easily said in one page.

And while we’re on the subject, I don’t mean one page in 11pt font with 1/2” margins either. I mean one page with nice one inch wide margins on all sides, and a nice legible 12 pt font that is easy on middle-aged eyes.

It is one of the principles I try to inculcate in my TPII work, that white space on a page communicates expansiveness and confidence. Line upon line of miniscule font, crammed up to the edges of the paper, by contrast, communicates insecurity and desperation.

You know how when you get ready for a long backpacking trip, and they tell you to pack your backpack with everything you think you need, walk around the block with it, come back, and take half out? Well, when you write a professional job document, write everything you think need to say, then go back and take half out. Always write less.

Error #2: You tell a story instead of making statements supported by evidence.

This is probably the single most common pitfall of the teaching statement. For some reason candidates think that the genre requires the “story of my teaching life.” Ie, “I always like to use multi-media materials in the classroom. I first discovered the value of these when I taught ‘Introduction to Cultural Anthropology’ at the Eastern Tennessee State last spring.  In that class I had the opportunity to use a wide range of videos and online materials. Students told me that they really loved these, and I came to feel that these are excellent methods for promoting in-class discussions. I plan to use them in future classes as well.”

I’ll bet some of you reading this post think that the above is totally great. It isn’t. It’s rambly and utterly enmeshed in the single greatest principle of bad writing, which is that it Tells, when it needs to Show.

We don’t want the Story of Teaching. We want principles of teaching, and evidence that you exemplify these principles in specific classroom goals and practices.

Remember that this piece of writing is sometimes called a Teaching Philosophy. Now I dislike that term, because I think ti encourages writers to be even more wooey and tell-y than otherwise, but it does point to one major goal: the statement has to articulate a wide general good that can be achieved through university pedagogy at its broadest level. Then the writer demonstrates, in concrete and specific terms, how this good is manifested in specific teaching strategies, with examples. Then evidence is provided to show it was done effectively. Then there is a conclusion. And the essay is finished.

To repeat: wide general good—>teaching strategies that manifest this good –>examples from specific classes —evidence that the strategies were effective –>conclusion

The most important point here is that you provide evidence that SHOWS (rather than tells) how you teach. This does not mean teaching evals or numerical outcomes per se, but rather that you describe a course, a specific teaching strategy that you used and why, what the outcomes were, and feedback from students that was illuminating.

Error #3: You express sentiments that are saccharine, obvious and indistinguishable from countless other applicants.

Error #4: You mis-read your audience

Error #5: You are excessively humble, especially if you are female

Error #6: You are excessively emotional, especially if you are female.

Language such as

I am delighted when students tell me…”

“I would be thrilled to teach your course in xxx…”

“I am so excited to use new materials…”

“It would be a great pleasure to create new courses…”

“I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy…”

may seem friendly and engaged, but it is actually  overly-emotional and highly feminized in ways that, again, are self-sabotaging on the tenure track job market.

Women in particular must beware of their tendency to over-invest in a “nice” persona in their teaching statements. Teaching at the tenure track level is not about being nice. It is about being a professional.

Realize that the “nicer” and “sweeter” you sound, the more you are characterizing yourself as the classic female perennial one-year replacement adjunct.

Those who are competitive in the tenure track market, by contrast, articulate a teaching persona that is completely consistent with their researcher persona: serious, intellectually hard-hitting, disciplinarily cutting edge, demanding, and with high standards and expectations.

Error #7: You fail to link your research and teaching into a single consistent whole.

Error #8:  You don’t have a Conclusion

For the complete updated version of my Teaching Statement advice, see my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job.



Why Your Job Cover Letter Sucks (and what you can do to fix it)

An expanded and updated version of this post can now be found in Chapter  22 of my new book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. I am keeping a shortened version here, but for the complete discussion including the template for a job cover letter, please do purchase the book, which compiles all my major job market posts along with 50% entirely new material.

In my 15 years as a faculty member I served on approximately 11 search committees. Some of these search committees I chaired. These committees brought in ten new assistant professors into my departments.

Estimating that each search brought in an average of 200 applications (a conservative estimate for a field like Anthropology, a generous estimate for a much smaller field like East Asian Languages and Literatures), that means I read approximately 2200 job applications.

I’ve also read the cover letters of my own students, and a passel of Ph.D. students who came to me for advice, as well as a large number of clients since opening The Professor is In (as of July 2014 let’s say 1000).

So let’s say I’ve read (3200) job cover letters. Of those (3200) job cover letters, it is safe to say that (3000) sucked. Sucked badly. Sucked epically. Sucked the way Cakewrecks cakes suck.

What’s up with that?


Here’s what’s up with that.

Advisers don’t teach their grad students how to write cover letters. They send them out pathetically, humiliatingly ill-informed.

It is, in my opinion, a criminal degree of neglect.


I am on a mission to get Ph.D. students, in the social sciences and humanities especially, to stop sending out worthless, embarrassing, self-sabotaging job cover letters.

I am infuriated that close colleagues of mine in the top programs in the country–think Ivy Leagues–routinely allow their Ph.D.s to send out job letters to departments across the country–to potential colleagues and peers and reviewers across the country– that make those Ph.D.s look ill-trained, unqualified, and un-hireable.

How do I know that? Again, because I was on the hiring committees that received the letters from those Ph.D.s, the students I knew well, had met at conferences, and recognized as the students of my friends and colleagues at prestigious departments in the field.


So, anyone reading this now, here is why your cover letter sucks, and what you need to do to fix it.

1. It Is Too Long. And 1a. It’s Not on Letterhead. And 1b. It must follow proper letter norms of etiquette

Your letter must be on letterhead if you have a current academic affiliation of any kind. This is not negotiable. It has come to my attention that some departments are denying their graduate students access to letterhead. This is unacceptable, and any act is justified in response. You may steal the letterhead. You may Photoshop the letterhead. Do what you must, but send all professional letters of every kind on the letterhead of the department with which you affiliated.

If you do not have an affiliation because you finished your Ph.D. and have no academic employment at all, including adjuncting, then you must submit without letterhead (although a very sober, understated, and proper personal letterhead can sometimes be a nice touch).  You may not use letterhead to which you’re not entitled.  That is unethical, and it is also stupid, because your readers are smart, and they notice.

Your letter must be two pages max. No longer. Do not argue with me. If you are arguing with me, you are wrong. It must be two pages max.

It must be 12 point (ok, *maybe* 11.5) font, and have a minimum of 3/4″ margins.

It must follow normal letter etiquette, which means that it will include the date (fully written out) just under the letterhead, then a space, then the full snail mail address of the person/committee to whom the letter is being sent just below the date, left justified, and then a space, and then the address:  “Dear Professor XXXX/Members of the Search Committee:” Then it will have another space, and commence: “I am writing in application to the advertised position in XXX at the University of XXXX.  Etc. Etc.”  Nothing in this heading material may be left out.  Similarly, nothing beyond this may be added in, including any kind of memo heading or title such as “Re: position in XXX.”  LETTERS DO NOT HAVE TITLES! 

Why must it be these things? I will tell you. Because the care you show in the norms and forms of proper letter etiquette represent you as a fully adult, functioning professional.  It demonstrates that you are a full-fledged member of the tribe, and not an embarrassing wanna-be.

And the length?  Because the faculty members on the committee reviewing your letters are tired, distracted, irritated, and rushed. They will give your cover letter 5 minutes. They will not hunt for your main point, they will not squint, they will not strain their eyes, they will not pore over it.

Serve up your brilliance, your achievements, and your delightful collegial personality loud and clear, in legible large font, and a considerate quantity of verbiage. You are respecting your future colleagues’ time and eyesight, and believe me, they notice.

Do I hear whining, that you “can’t possibly say all you need to” in 2 pages? Tough. Do you want a job or don’t you? Do it.

2. You Are Telling, Not Showing.

All academics in the world, by virtue of being academics, require evidence to accept a proposition. Even the wooiest humanists have to be persuaded with some form of evidence that a claim is valid.

Your letter must include evidence. Empty claims like “I am passionate about teaching,” or “I care deeply about students,” or “I am an enthusiastic colleague” contain no evidence whatsoever. They can be made by anyone, and provide no means of proof. They are worthless verbiage.

Show, don’t tell: Instead of “I am passionate about teaching,” you must write, “I used new technologies to create innovative small group discussion opportunities in my large introductory classes, technologies that were later adopted by my colleagues in the department.” Or, “I worked one on one with students on individual research projects leading to published articles. Several students later nominated me for our campus’s “Best Undergraduate Teacher” award, which I won in 2011.”

Get it? Don’t waste our time with unsubstantiated and unsubstantiatable claims.

3. You Drone On and On About Your Dissertation

We actually don’t care about your dissertation. Seriously, we don’t. Your dissertation is in the past. It’s in the past even if you’re actually still writing it. It’s what you did *as a student*, and we’re not hiring a student. We’re hiring a colleague…. 

4. Your Teaching Paragraph is All Drippy and Pathetic

5. You Present Yourself as a Student, Not a Colleague

6. You Don’t Specify Publication Plans

7. You Don’t Have a Second Research Project

8. You Didn’t Do Your Homework

9. You’re Disorganized and Rambling

10. You Didn’t Tailor

For the rest of this post, please see Chapter 22 of my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job.


Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Academic CV

Reposting classics on the basic job market documents as we gear up for the 2016 job search!


Today’s post is a long overdue post on CVs. 

While the CV genre permits a wide range of variation, and there is no consensus on the value or desirability of one particular style, I am going to present a list of expectations that govern my own work at The Professor Is In.

These expectations will produce a highly-readable, well-organized CV on the American academic model. British and Canadian CV-writers will note that the font is larger, the length is greater, the margins wider, and the white spaces more abundant than you may be used to. These are the typical norms for American CVs (again, admitting of enormous variation among fields and individuals).  

These norms govern the “paper” CVs that are submitted as elements of a job application. The CV can be created in a program like Word but submitted as a PDF to ensure proper formatting on the receiving end.

These rules do not encompass online CVs, which may employ elements such as bullet points that I reject. 

Candidates seeking work in the UK or Canada might want to consult with experts from those countries for opinions on whether this American model CV will work against candidates in searches there.

Without further ado: Dr. Karen’s Rules of the CV.


I.  General Formatting Rules

One inch margins on all four sides.

12 point font throughout

Single spaced

No switching of font sizes for any element, EXCEPT the candidate name at top, which can be in 14 or perhaps 16.

Headings in bold and all caps.

Subheadings in bold only.


One or two full returns (ie, blank lines) before each new heading.

One return/blank line between each heading and its first entry.

Left justify all elements of the cv.

Do not full/right justify any element of the cv.

No bullet points at all, ever, under any circumstances. This is not a resume.

No “box” or column formatting of any kind. This interferes with the constant adjustments a dynamic professional CV will undergo on a weekly/monthly basis.

No “XXXX, cont’d” headings. Page breaks will constantly move as CV grows.

YEAR (but not month or day) OF EVERY ENTRY THROUGHOUT CV LEFT JUSTIFIED, with tabs or indent separating year from substance of entry. Why, you ask? Because candidates are evaluated by their productivity over time. Search and tenure committees wish to easily track yearly output. When you produce is as important as what you produce. Year must be visible, not buried in the entry itself.   (table formatting another option as described in comment stream)

NO NARRATIVE VERBIAGE ANYWHERE. Brits, I’m talking to you.

No description of “duties” under Teaching/Courses Taught

No paragraphs describing books or articles.  

No explanations of grants/fellowships (ie, “this is a highly competitive fellowship…”).

No personal stories.

No “My work at the U of XX is difficult to condense…” etc. etc.

One possible exception: a separate heading for “Dissertation” with a VERY short paragraph abstract underneath. I disapprove of this. Some advisors insist on it. One year or so beyond completion, it should be removed.


II.  Heading Material:

Name at top, centered, in 14 or 16 point font.

The words “Curriculum vitae” immediately underneath or above, centered, in 12 point font.  This is a traditional practice in the humanities and social sciences; it might be optional at this point in time, and in various fields.  Please doublecheck with a trusted advisor.

The date, immediately below, centered, is optional.   Senior scholars always date their cvs.

Your institutional and home addresses, tel, email, parallel right and left justified.


III.  Content:

1. Education. Always. No exceptions.  List by degree, not by institution.  Do not spell out Doctor of Philosophy, etc.; it’s pretentious.  List Ph.D., M.A., B.A. in descending order.  Give department, institution, and year of completion.  Do NOT give starting dates.  You may include Dissertation/Thesis Title, and perhaps Dissertation/Thesis Advisor if you are ABD or only 1 year or so from Ph.D.. Remove this after that point.  Do not include any other verbiage.  

2. Professional Appointments/Employment. This must go immediately under education, assuming that you have/had these.  Why?  Because the reader must be able to instantly “place” you institutionally.  These are contract positions only– tenure track or instructorships.  Ad hoc adjunct gigs do not go here; only contracted positions of 1+ years in length.  Postdoctoral positions also go here.  Give institution, department, title, and dates (year only) of employment.  Be sure and reflect joint appointments if you have one.  ABD candidates may have no Professional Appointments, and in that case the Heading can be skipped.   TA-SHIPS, ETC. ARE NOT LISTED UNDER PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYMENT. COURSES THAT YOU TAUGHT AS AN ADJUNCT ARE NOT LISTED UNDER PROFESSIONAL APPOINTMENTS.

3. Publications. Subheadings: Books, Edited Volumes, Refereed Journal Articles, Book Chapters, Conference Proceedings, Encyclopedia Entries, Book Reviews, Manuscripts in Submission (give journal title), Manuscripts in Preparation, Web-Based Publications, Other Publications (this section can include non-academic publications, within reason).  Please note that forthcoming publications ARE included in this section. If they are already in the printing stage, with the full citation and page numbers available, they may be listed the same as other published publications, at the very top since their dates are furthest in the future.  If they are in press, they can be listed here with “in press” in place of the year.

4. Awards and Honors. Give name of award and institutional location. Year  at left. Always in reverse descending order. Listing $$ amount appears to be field-specific.  Check with a trusted senior advisor.

5. Grants and Fellowships (if you are in a field where these differ categorically from Awards and Honors). Give funder, institutional location in which received/utilized, year span. Listing $$ amount appears to be field-specific.  Check with a trusted senior advisor. Year at left.

6. Invited Talks. These are talks to which you have been invited at OTHER campuses, not your own. Give title, institutional location, and date. Year only (not month or day) at left.  Month and day of talk go into entries.

7. Conference Activity/Participation. Subheadings: Panels Organized, Papers Presented, Discussant. These entries will include: Name of paper, name of conference, date. Year (Year only) on left as noted above. Month and date-range of conference in the entry itself (ie, March 22-25).  No extra words such as: “Paper title:”   Future conferences SHOULD be listed here, if you have had a paper or panel officially accepted.  The dates will be future dates, and as such they will be the first dates listed.

7a.  Campus or Departmental Talks.  These are talks that you were asked to give in your own department or on your own campus. These do not rise to the level of an “Invited Talk” but still may be featured under the heading of Campus Talks or Departmental Talks.  List as you would Invited Talks.  Under no circumstances may guest lectures in courses be listed here or anywhere on the CV. That is padding.

8. Teaching Experience. Subdivide either by area/field of teaching or by institutional location, or by Graduate/Undergraduate, or some combination of these as appropriate to your particular case. 

ADDENDUM 9/18/13: Format in this way:  if you’ve taught at more than one institution, make subheadings for each institution.  Then list the courses vertically down the left (ie, do NOT use the year-to-left rule that applies everywhere else).  To the right of each course, in parentheses, give the terms and years taught. This allows you to show the number of times you’ve taught a course without listing it over and over.  Give course titles BUT NEVER GIVE COURSE NUMBERS! Course numbers are meaningless outside your campus.

If your quantity of courses taught exceeds approximately 15, condense this section; it is not essential for a highly experience teacher to scrupulously list every single course taught, every single time.  Just cover your general range of competencies.

TA experience goes here.  No narrative verbiage under any course title. No listing of “duties” or “responsibilities.”  There is one small exception to this rule, as noted in the comment stream (near comment #100).  If your department is one that has its “TAs” actually design and sole-teach courses, then this needs to be clarified.  Language to be added can include, “(Instructor of record)” after course title, or “(As TA I designed and sole-taught all courses listed here),” etc.  Keep it short and sweet.

9.  Research Experience. RA experience goes here, as well as lab experience.  This is one location where slight elaboration is possible, if the research was a team effort on a complex, multi-year theme.  One detailed sentence should suffice.  

10. Service To Profession. Include journal manuscript review work (with journal titles [mss. review CAN be given its own separate heading if you do a lot of this work]), leadership of professional organizations, etc. Some people put panel organizing under service; check conventions in your field.

11. Departmental/University Service. Include search committees and other committee work, appointments to Faculty Senate, etc.  Sorry to be a pain, but here the convention is that the Title or Committee is left justified, with the year in the entry.  Don’t ask me why, and only a convention, not a strict rule.

12. Extracurricular University Service. [Optional. ] Can include involvement in student groups, sporting clubs, etc.

13. Community Involvement/Outreach. [Optional.]  This includes work with libraries and schools, public lectures, etc.

14.  Media Coverage. [Optional.] Coverage of your work by the media.

15.  Related Professional Skills. [Optional.] Can include training in GIS and other technical skills relevant to the discipline. More common in professional schools and science fields; uncommon in humanities.

16. Non-Academic Work. [Optional—VERY optional!] Include only if relevant to your overall academic qualifications. More common in Business, sciences. Editorial and publishing work possibly relevant in English and the Humanities.  

17.  Teaching Areas/Courses Prepared To Teach.  [Optional].  You can give a brief list of course titles (titles only!) that represent your areas of teaching preparation.  No more than 10 courses should be listed here.

18. Languages. All languages to be listed vertically, with proficiency in reading, speaking, and writing clearly demarcated using terms such as: native, fluent, excellent, conversational, good, can read with dictionary, etc.

19. Professional Memberships/Affiliations. All professional organizations of which you are a member listed vertically. Include years of joining when you are more senior and those years recede into the past—demonstrates length of commitment to a field.

20. References. List references vertically. Give name and full title. Do not refer to references as “Dr. xxx,” or “Professor xxx.” This makes you look like a graduate student. Give full snail mail contact information along with tel and email. To do otherwise is amateurish, even though we know nobody is going to use the snail mail address. Do not give narrative verbiage or explanation of these references (ie, “Ph.D. Committee member,” etc.). The only exception is a single reference that may be identified as “Teaching Reference.” This would be the fourth of four references.


IV.  Principle of Peer Review.  

The organizing principle of the CV is prioritizing peer review and competitiveness. Professional appointments are extremely competitive, and go first. Publications are highly competitive, and go second, with peer reviewed publications taking place of honor. Awards and honors reveal high levels of competition, as do fellowships and grants. Invited talks suggest a higher level of individual recognition and honor than a volunteered paper to a conference—this is reflected in the order. Teaching in this context, ie, as a list of courses taught, is not competitive, and thus is de-prioritized. Extra training you seek yourself, voluntarily, is fundamentally non-competitive. Etc. Etc.

What is never included:

ANYTHING FROM YOUR UNDERGRADUATE YEARS!!!  Remove all undergraduate content, other than listing your BA degree under Education.

Overseas travel

Career goals

Anything you’d see on a business resume.


Please read the comment thread closely—it contains many more refinements and additions to the advice here.



Getting Ready for the Job Search

[Sharing this week’s Chronicle Vitae column for all of you who are gearing up for the Fall 2016 job market]


I’m gearing up to go on the academic job market this fall. What should I do to get ready?

I answered a similar question in a semi-facetious mode last summer, so be sure and read that. This year I’ll respond in a more serious manner.

Your first task: Hammer out your candidate platform. That is a list of six to eight bullet points that describe your basic experiences and goals— i.e., your current and future plans regarding research, teaching, grant-writing, program-building, and potential collaborations. Each of those points is a statement of “this, not that.” Meaning, that with each one you establish who you are as a candidate in ways that are distinctive to you. I discuss how to do this in more detail in my book (see Chapter 8). But a key point to remember: Make sure your platform is oriented firmly forward to your identity as a professional and not backward to your identity as a graduate student.

Prepare different platforms for the different fields or areas that you are targeting in your job search. For example, as a cultural anthropologist of Japan, I would have one platform oriented toward positions in cultural anthropology, and another oriented toward jobs in Asian studies.

Start drafting your job-application documents now. These documents are extremely easy to write badly, and extraordinarily difficult to write well. They will each require many, many drafts to rise above the standard level of dreck that most applicants produce on their first (or second, or third) try. You can find plenty of advice here and in my book.

Write different versions of your cover letter and research statement for the different fields or areas you are targeting. You will emphasize distinct themes and courses depending on the field. To use my own example, in a cover letter for an anthro job, I would focus the teaching paragraphs on important anthropology courses such as “Intro to Cultural Anthropology,” “Ethnographic Methods,” “Social Theory,” or topical courses such as “Gender and Globalization,”while for an Asian-studies letter, I would focus on courses such as “Intro to Japan,” “East Asian Popular Culture,” “Women in East Asia,” and “Gender and Sexuality in Japan.”

Write out a master list of references, and establish whom you’ll ask to recommend you for the different types of jobs to which you anticipate applying. Contact those references to share your updated CV and drafts of your cover letter. The point of doing that is not to get their comments or edits on your documents (although you can incorporate any valuable suggestions offered), but rather to give your references a thorough sense of you as a job seeker, as opposed to a graduate student. Make sure to update your references on any and all accomplishments such as publications, grants, conferences, and so on.

Apply for relevant major grants and conferences with summer deadlines, to make sure your CV has current content in those categories. If you know that you’ll be attending a fall conference, get in touch now with senior scholars or book editors whom you might wish to meet while there — not necessarily because they have any connection to your immediate job search, but because valuable networking yields results over the long term.

Make sure to submit at least one article for publication this summer and/or finish up revisions on any articles that are in revise-and-resubmit. Publications are the gold standard of the job market and you won’t make any headway without them. Use what’s left of the summer to fill the pipeline.

If you are in a book field, hammer out a timeline for submitting your book proposal to major academic presses, and lay out a five-year writing trajectory that includes all the articles necessary for the type of job you hope to attain, as well as the book manuscript.

Gather about you a group of friends, allies, and mentors who will support you — body and soul — as you launch into the fray. The job market will brutalize you. You need to ensure that you are caring for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally through things like exercise, recreation, hobbies, and friendship.

Good luck!

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