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!

indiebound-button-graphicamazon-button-graphicbn-button-graphic target_retailer googlebooks-button-graphic New iBooks Badge - 11 12

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

Revisiting the Cover Letter: Research and Contribution

by Verena Hutter and Karen Kelsky

Karen and Verena

Now that we’ve talked about the intro paragraph of your cover letter, let’s move on to the next paras, the current research and contribution. In a research-oriented Cover Letter, this is going to be about your current project, which in most cases, is the dissertation. It’s what you’ve spent the last few years of your life thinking about, and it is what you’ve sacrificed your social life, your free time and your money for. Like it or not, a good part of your identity is wound up in this piece of writing. And so things get messy.

One of the things we see a lot is dissertation paras that are way, way, way, too long, when all we need is two paras: content and contribution.  Often, candidates get told by their advisers to be really detailed to showcase how special their project is. It may be special, but search committees still have only about 30 seconds to devote to it (out of about 1.5 minutes devoted to the letter as a whole). Search committees need to be able to quickly grasp what your project is about and whether it makes sense. So be short, sweet, and straight to the point.

Avoid Jargon. I don’t care how much you had to deploy it to sound legitimate in your insular and unbelievably pretentious graduate program.  Nobody wants it in a letter.  First off, faculty outside of 2-3 insular and unbelievably pretentious graduate programs absolutely loathe the jargon that those 2-3 programs produce.  Secondly, almost every search committee has an external committee member, and depending on who they are in the university hierarchy, they may be fairly powerful. You need this person on your side. How can they be your champion, if they don’t understand what you’re all about? At TPII, we often tell clients to imagine explaining their topic to an interested upper level undergraduate audience. You need to make your project legible to all of them.  If you think that level is too low, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the conditions of the job search: no time, little energy.   If you are from Comp Lit, English, Ethnic Studies, or Women’s and Gender Studies, please attend to this warning, because I’m talking to most especially TO YOU.

Claim agency.  In the following sentences, the verbs are weak: “My project charts xxxx,” “My dissertation traces yyy,” “My book emphasizes the need to do zzz.” The verbs are not only vague, they also hide your identity as a researcher. During productivity Tuesdays, we talk a lot about the different ways to take agency back. This is one! When you talk about your work, use research action verbs: “analyze”, “compare”, “describe,” “conclude.” Stand by your work, and you won’t have to resort to grandiosity in the next para.

I have written about the difference between content and contribution before:

“In the first dissertation paragraph you talk about the content of your dissertation–main argument, methodology, findings.  In the second paragraph you talk about the contribution your particular argument/findings/approach makes to the larger field you are working in–what does it illuminate, what debates does it intervene in. You have to step back a scale, move away from the topic specifically, and instead use a wider optic to address its advancement of debates in the discipline as a whole.”

It’s essentially the question of how you fit into the academic landscape of your field. Now, because we’re academics, this often means that job candidates veer into one of two extremes: Grandiosity or impostor syndrome. If you’re telling me that the entire school of formal logics has made the same mistake, but that you, the hero of these pages, all alone,  have solved it, forgive me if I am skeptical. Likewise, if you spend the contribution para going on and on about what others didn’t do, or how everybody but you is a blithering idiot, you won’t make any friends. Of course, the other extreme is impostor syndrome, the candidate thinking that they’re not worthy and it’s only a matter of time until they are found out. These candidates often use phrases like “my project follows the tradition of BIG NAME IN MY FIELD and does something very similar.” If you’re not convinced of the contribution and importance of your work, why would you expect the SC to be? The contribution para is the “so what?” question. Why should we care?

I do get asked why on earth we should explain to people in our field how we fit in. Can’t they tell? Actually it doesn’t matter. They nede to hear YOU explain it, so that they know you’ll be able to win funding for the project, and that you’ll be able to show a classroom of undergraduates why it matters. The funding aspect is particularly important: If you show to an SC that you can efficiently communicate your work and its importance, they are more confident that you’ll get grants and funding further down the road.

Writing a solid research/dissertation para gets easier when you step back and remember William Germano’s words: You are not your dissertation. You are not your book. His advice goes hand in hand with what I write early on in the book, long before we’re talking about the nuts and bolts. In chapter 13, I explain that you need to cultivate a professional persona. You may want to talk endlessly about your research, but your “professional persona” will remember to limit the summary to five sentences, because your persona remembers that the job search is about providing actionable information quickly, within the real life time and energy constraints of the search committee. You may want to scream that seriously, you are the only one saving the planet (and if you’ve found the vaccine for HIV, you may), but instead your professional persona will calmly show your work’s importance with evidence and substance, not hysterical posturing, bragging, and grandiosity.

In the long run, cultivating a persona like this will save you from a lot of pain- as you will learn to not take everything that happens as a criticism of you the actual individual, but of your persona and your work. In the short term, it will help you write two fine research and contribution paras.


Working With a Developmental Editor (A Guest Post)

By Dr. Jane Jones

Jane Jones, PhD, an academic editor and writing coach, founded Up In Consulting to work with faculty at all stages of their career to improve the quality of their writing and stay on track. She believes that you do your best writing when you are organized, prepared, have enough time, and have a second pair of eyes to look over your work. Her clients include scholars in the social sciences, humanities, nursing, and public health. They have published in outlets including The American Journal of Sociology, University of Chicago Press, Routledge, and Oxford University Press. You can learn more about her services at*

I decided to become a developmental editor because of my love/hate relationship with academia. When I completed graduate school, it seemed that I had a pretty good gig. I landed a tenure-track job straight out of graduate school, at a small liberal arts college outside of a city in which I enjoyed living. The pay was good and the course load wasn’t terrible. My day-to-day work environment, on the other hand, was awful. The details of that environment are not the important part of my alt-ac journey.  The important moment was three years into this job, when I realized that I hadn’t worked so hard to get a PhD to have a career where there was more that I hated than I loved. I thought hard about the aspects of academic work that excited me –the craft of writing, the exchange of ideas, and the intellectual thrill of research – and how I could incorporate those into a new career. I thought editing would be a perfect fit and so far, it is. Every day I work with clients across disciplines on projects that are fascinating.  It often feels like an indulgence to get to spend so much time reading! I work with writers through different stages of their writing process, as I explain below.

As authors, we often realize something is “off” with our writing, and we may or may not be able to put our finger on what that is. Maybe our thesis seems weak, maybe we’re writing in circles, or maybe we can’t quite articulate a complex argument. Or, we might just recognize that our writing isn’t working –we know we can do better, yet we’re not exactly sure how.

On other occasions, your concerns may emerge during earlier stages of the writing process. You have a wealth of information and content, but are uncertain about how to organize it. Questions about thesis, audience, and organization leave you confused and overwhelmed. Wondering where to start, you don’t, procrastinating instead.

In those situations, you may need a developmental editor.

A developmental editor is a focused, objective reader whose job is to improve the structure, content, and organization of your manuscript. In the world of scholarly writing, developmental editors usually (although not always) have PhDs and work primarily with academic writers. A developmental editor is familiar with the conventions of academic publishing and may specialize in a genre of academic writing like books or articles. Developmental editing is sometimes called manuscript evaluation or substantive editing.

The benefits to working with a developmental editor are many. The most apparent benefit is that your writing improves. Yet, that is not the only advantage. You’ll also work with a reliable outside party who can work with you on your schedule. A developmental editor can also work as a project manager of sorts, helping you to meet deadlines, organize writing projects, and complete revisions in a systematic way.

In the rest of this post, I’ll explain the process of working with a developmental editor and answer commonly asked questions about developmental editing.

How do developmental editors work?

The role of the editor

The relationship you have with a developmental editor is iterative and collaborative.  A developmental editor can work with you to brainstorm ideas, structure and restructure an argument or narrative, or identify a clear and compelling thesis. A developmental editor can see you through multiple drafts of a manuscript, providing the type of exhaustive feedback you may hesitate to request of a colleague or mentor.

A developmental editor will, in some cases, also offer project management. When I work with authors completing a revise and resubmit for instance, we compile a spreadsheet of suggested revisions that serves as the basis for the letter submitted to the editor upon the completion of revisions and develop a timeline for incorporating revisions.

Should the editor be an expert?

You don’t need a subject expert editor for your work. It may feel comforting to have an editor who is familiar with the literature you engage, but it’s not necessary that the person be a specialist. In fact, working with an editor outside of your field can work to your advantage, especially if you desire a reading audience larger than the group of experts in your field.


The process of finding and working with an editor.

When should you start working with a developmental editor?

Although working with a developmental editor early on in is recommended, you can benefit from working with one at many stages of the writing process. For instance, you might want to turn your dissertation into a book. Or, you might have received a revise and resubmit, but feel unsure about how to address the comments and revise the manuscript. Even at later states, you can benefit from an in-depth, substantive critique of a complete draft so you can determine what remains to be done before it’s ready to submit for publication.

How do you find a developmental editor?

There are many developmental editors active on Twitter – if you search hashtags like #altac, #amediting, and #acwri it’s likely you’ll discover quite a few. You can also find a developmental editor through associations like the Editorial Freelancer’s Association. Contact several. During your initial conversations with potential editors, they should ask you how far along you are in your manuscript preparation, what your timeline is, what you believe to be the weaknesses in your manuscript, and where you intend to submit. The D.E should also tell you about their own process. For instance, some editors will only work with complete drafts, while some are willing to intervene at earlier stages. An editor should express interest in your project, and be clear about the timetable during which they are available to work with you.

What you can expect during the process?

A good developmental editor will take her time to prepare an extensive, rigorous critique of your work. You should not expect a marked-up text as you would from a copyeditor or proofreader. Instead, a D.E will write you a memo that outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, addresses any concerns you expressed, and makes suggestions for improving the manuscript. The last step is incredibly important. A developmental editor should not simply tell you what’s wrong and leave you to figure out the rest on your own. They should provide clear, actionable instructions for how you should revise. This process takes time. A book-length manuscript evaluation can take over a month. Be sure to consider this when you consider working with a developmental editor.

Once this memo is complete I have a conversation with my clients (if they desire) to clarify any points that may be confusing or address any additional concerns. At that point, the client has two options: they can revise independently, or I can work with them to complete the revisions. Clients should consider timeline, budget, and personal preferences when deciding how to proceed.

Finally, developmental editing is not for “bad” writers. All writers deserve feedback throughout the writing process. The beauty of a good developmental editor is that the feedback you receive is guaranteed to be timely, organized, and rigorous. Developmental editing is a benefit for every writer.


*I invited Jane to contribute this essay both to explain developmental editing for those who might be interested (it’s not something we do at The Professor Is In) and to provide an example of one successful Ph.D.’s transition from the tenure track to a post-ac, entrepreneurial career ~ Karen K.


Never finished. Never happy. Never mind.

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.

One of the unifying characteristics of the writers I work with is their general unwillingness to be pleased. No matter what they manage to do, when they meet a goal and I acknowledge the accomplishment, the first response is invariably the same:  “Yeah but…”

Me: Congratulations on finishing your introduction draft!

Yeah but, it’s still really rough.

Me: Well done on getting the article submitted!

Yeah but, it took me forever.

Me: How exciting that you got a book contract!

Yeah but, I am lousy at time management. There is no way I can get it done by the deadline.


It’s my theory that “yeah but” is wired into you all as part of the PhD process. How do you prove that you are the smartest kid in the room? Find the error. How do you get ahead in your field? Figure out what the last person failed to do. How do you show that you belong at a conference? Point out what the presenter missed.

The problem is that you quickly come to point that failure-seeking gaze directly at your own work. Slowly, steadily you move from the joy of discovery to the “yeah but” of never enough. (Not to mention frozen in fear as you imagine the next smart kid discovering a flaw in your work!)

The result: In the daily personal relationship of creativity and productivity, you become the very definition of the shitty boss. You are endlessly unhappy with your performance. You “encourage” yourself with put downs and demeaning language. You offer little or no acknowledgement for your effort and in all honesty maybe even less for your accomplishments.

Seriously, it is no wonder you avoid working. I wouldn’t want to work for you either.

The first step to improving as your own boss is not time management or scheduling or any of the other organizational tools that so many of the productivity apps and journals offer.*

The first step is to be in better relationship with yourself.

Pay attention to how you are talking to yourself. Make the conscious choice to be for yourself what you keep hoping your mentor or chair or PI will be for you. BE NICE! Give yourself a pat on the back now and then. BE SUPPORTIVE! Acknowledge what you HAVE done instead of harping on what you haven’t. BE IMPRESSED!

I am not going to lie: It takes work to rebuild the relationship. You have a whole mountain of mistreatment to heal. But kicking “yeah but” to the curb is a good place to start.

*Don’t get me wrong. I am all about small manageable tasks, but they aren’t particularly helpful if you won’t do them.

Listen here as Kellee walks you through a creativity cycle that actually works (and is a helluva lot nicer):

*Starting August 21st, we will begin offering UNSTUCK UNPLUGGED. Available for purchase whenever you need it, UNSTUCK UNPLUGGED gives you access to all of the posts and coaching videos, minus the group interaction and FB group. No waiting for the next interactive session to begin!

I Want to Talk To You About Protesting

[This is an update that I posted on my personal Facebook page on July 25, slightly edited.]

I want to talk to you all about protesting. I want you to understand how powerful it is to stand on the sidewalk every week on Resist Trump Tuesday (so far, still the sidewalk and not the street–but that may come soon the way things are going), holding your sign, looking directly. into. the. eyes. of drivers-by, who are only a few feet away, and showing them how you feel and asking them to — no, MAKING them – register the current political crisis. We sing, dance, wave our signs, and shout: “honk!” and “thank you!”(to the supporters) and “we’re protecting your health care too!” (to the naysayers), and “Impeaaach!”

The responses are endlessly energizing: the countless (because it’s Eugene, Oregon) waves, honks, thumbs-up, shaka signs, fist pumps, and smiles. And of course the occasional middle finger, snarky “Go Trump” shout, or mega-revved engine meant, i think, to intimidate. We have come to know our primary constituencies: ie, (this is not an exhaustive list) middle aged white women in Priuses (love us), middle aged white women in luxury cars (don’t love us), dykes in trucks (TRULY LOVE US), old white men in shitty clunkers (mostly hate us, unless they are hippies, then love us), international students in Lamborghinis (mostly indifferent to us), etc.

Reactions tend to be big. The honks are loud and long, the smiles are huge. The middle fingers are quite emphatic. Today we had a hand-puppet waving eagerly from a sun-roof, the sign of the horns from two rock and rollers on motocycles, and a bag of organic plantain chips from a young woman who stopped traffic to thrust it earnestly out her window … immediately followed by a man who had clearly prepared the small Trump sign he held up to his window with his middle finger.

I love watching all the different people and their reactions, especially the really elderly when they furrow their brows and press their lips together in concentration to manage a small, tentative honk.

But most of all I love watching the kids. The big-eyed, open-mouthed kids, who stare out the windows from the back seats, studying us, taking it all in. I can see the gears working, as they whiz by. I hope it makes a lasting impact.

At the same time, I am conscious that we are a very white (and tbh, old) group, and ponder what that means for the people of color who drive by. Drivers of color are much more restrained;  men of color in particular engage and make eye contact only rarely.  I am aware that protesting the current administration, without centering racism, is an example of and exercise in white privilege. Kellee and I make a point of wearing Black Lives Matter messages prominently.

I believe this is a privilege that white people need to exercise often and without ceasing, because we can do so at the least risk.

About three years ago, I was a driver-by. I passed protests on the street, and wouldn’t even make eye contact. The first time I beeped, I was terrified. It felt so risky. Then I started to beep and wave. Then I joined SURJ and started going to protests. Then I started planning them. Now I’m one of the weekly Resist Trump Tuesday core organizers. I really truly believe that if I can get one person to honk for the first time, I’ve moved them one step closer to taking to the streets when the time comes.

And honestly, Tuesday 12-1 is one of the highlights of my week. Because it’s fun. And meaningful. And great community. And deep and profound work, to look in your neighbors’ eyes and make them recognize the truth of this moment.

I used to watch documentaries of the civil rights movement and think, “I’m pretty sure — well, I hope– *I* would have done the right thing.” Well, when they make the documentaries of this time 20-50 years from now (I mean, if people are still around to make documentaries at that point), I must be able to say that I was among those who were there, and did the right thing. So I keep showing up. I hope that you will join me. Academics can no longer be politically quiescent. The crisis is upon us and we have to declare to our fellow citizens that none of this is ok.

Productivity Tuesday: Not So Happy Feelings

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.

This week’s post is courtesy of a current UNSTUCK: The Art of Productivity* participant, who posted the most wonderful update about her writing this week.


Each facilitated* UNSTUCK session includes membership in a secret Facebook group, where participants talk about their challenges and successes, including insights from the process of adapting a new writing practice.

A core practice of UNSTUCK is designed to reclaim our integrity with ourselves by showing up for short writing sessions. It is built on the habit building idea that writing a small amount every day (keeping your word) is more valuable than a once a month binge session knit together with daily avoidance coated in shame and despair.

The other core practice is to get up close and personal with all the negative messaging we put in our own way. With morning pages and “Questions of the Day,” I invite participants to sit with their feelings rather than run from them. Deal with them so they can get past them to writing.

I clocked my 15 mins of writing a number of times this week. Yet I have been struggling with what happens next. At first, I am all: “Go Me! Woop! Woop!”. Happy feelings. But this is usually quickly followed by “Jesus H Christ: there is still so much needing doing.” These are not so happy feelings. These not so happy feelings are bigger than the happy ones. I feel not so happy WITH them, and not so happy AT them. I am supposed to sit with them. My reaction to this prospect is: “You have GOT to be kidding me.” But I have tried. And I have been all: “Oh sh*t. Maybe I get these ‘still so much to do’ feelings because I want them to come. Maybe I am attached to them. Maybe I am scared at the prospect of what I would do were I to have to write without them as company.”

So that is what I have been thinking about this week.

As it happens, I have also been up to my eyeballs three out of four days this week with interviewing candidates for various kinds of academic jobs. In all of these selection panels, I have been in the chair. This is a relatively new thing. It is rewarding work, but all consuming. I feel as though I have been able to fight the fight from a position of relative power. And I realised something, coming out of an unusually off-the-charts shocking set of deliberations for one of the selection panels. What I have been reminded of is, first: I am a category mistake. I should not, normally, be allowed to be in charge (my lady brain and all). So, simply showing up for the day and making it work is crazy-go-nuts feminist practice. One of my panel members (also having a lady brain) said to be at the end of two solid days of interviewing: ‘You know, I was told that you are scary, and that I should be careful. But I see now that the problem is not you being scary, it’s you being so competent and comfortable with your authority. Were you a man, you would be talked about in very different ways.’

So, I was mulling this over, and mulling over the sh*t that kicked off on a later day this week in a different panel (in which I was also, albeit unexpectedly, in the chair). In this panel, and I kid you not, one of the most institutionally senior members announced at the start of our deliberations as we were summing up our initial impressions: ‘She’s a little girl! She’s no [academic job title].’ (Imagine. And this fellow was not even hobbled by having a lady brain!) Moreover, this observation of him in fact pithily summed up a whole vibe that had been informing much of the interviews that day. So, yours truly [unexpectedly launched into the chair for the final deliberations] felt some strong feelings. They were not happy feelings. But they were powerful feelings. And I took these feelings and doubled down and threw all the tools in my toolkit (smiley face, cross face, happy voice, soliciting voice, stern voice, ‘don’t be a naughty boy’ phrases) at this small group to try and make sure that this was a conversation in which patently illegal pronouncements had no place. Or at least carry no weight in our decision.

So, this morning I woke up tired. And I woke up still with this week of interviewing playing on repeat in my head. And I found myself ‘sitting with my feelings’ about BOTH my writing and my professional practice. And I feel like they had a lot in common. That simply writing is a category mistake. That being the one in charge is a category mistake. That they both give me a fight or flight adrenaline rush. And that pushing on, outwitting it all, is hugely energy consuming.

So, I feel like it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. And that, just maybe, it might make sense to rename my overwhelmedness feelings at the incrementality of my writing progress. That I could rename them more along the lines of how I name my feelings at fighting the fight of the f*ckwit prof and the ‘little girl’ [who got the job, btw]. That is, this all makes me tired. It is a lot of work. Situations that demand structural redress are not about to go away. Writing projects will always be bigger than whatever is do-able on the day. But I would also like to think that I may draw strength from recognising that simply showing up for work –writing or chairing– is in itself subversive. Is in itself transformational. And is in itself a win. And that the problem of tiredness has a solution: it’s called rest.

Listen here as Kellee unpacks the key lessons of this post:

*On August 21st, we will begin offering UNSTUCK UNPLUGGED. Available for purchase whenever you need it, UNSTUCK UNPLUGGED gives you access to all of the posts and coaching videos, minus the group interaction and FB group. No waiting for the next interactive session to begin!

The Intro Paragraph is Your GPS Locator

Co-authored with TPII editor, Verena Hutter

Karen and Verena

Almost every section of the CL has its own intricacies and pitfalls. The tailoring para for example can easily become a place where self-aggrandizing and desperation meet (“I’ll be a great asset to you, and I’ll name my first-born after you, just give me the job”). Likewise, the teaching para easily becomes a list of where you’ve taught, instead of what and how you teach, plus hackneyed invocations of obvious influences (Paulo Freire is a person, not a teaching goal). And while most people can talk A LOT about their research, presenting it in a compact and digestible way to the SC can be challenging. There’s no way around it, writing a good CL is hard.

There is one para however, that is fairly straightforward: the introduction. Yet, many clients, chomping at the bit and excited to get their materials in order, overdo it.

They cram their greatest accomplishments in there right away: The dissertation topic, awards they have won, what reviewers said about their books, all the places they have taught at, and of course, that they would be an ideal candidate.

I know that there are advisers out there that tell their students to see the intro para as kind of  “best-of” so to speak, a “teaser” as I have heard someone say.  Nein. Nyet. Non. No search committee wants to be teased; they want to skim your complete record without any kind of “hard sell.” And a desperately pleading intro paragraph is exactly that: a hard sell.

Imagine the following: you’re at a party, and someone introduces themselves to you. And then they hold forth in a monologue on who they are, all the places they’ve worked at, the awards and prizes they have won, what they are planning to do, what others have said about them…. How does this make you feel? Do you want to stick around? Or flee?

Imagine instead a good introduction; you learn a few tidbits, and you think: “Oh, ok, tell me more…”

So here’s how to write an intro:

Dear NAME OF THE CHAIR and Members of the Search Committee (and variations thereof)

“I am writing to apply to the advertised position of Assistant Professor in XX. I have a Ph.D. in XXX/I am completing a Ph.D. in XXX and will be defending my dissertation on XX, 2018.  Currently I am a….   My research focuses on XX and YY.”

That’s it. Really. The last sentence serves as segue into your research paragraph (a crisp, concise, factual paragraph that outlines your topic, methods, theory, findings, conclusion and funding, in about 5-6 sentences).

The intro is like a business card. Unless your name is “Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons” (in which case I give you permission to disregard everything in this post), your card will not give too much info; it will just situate you.

I always say that the intro paragraph to the CL is your GPS locator. The SC needs to know where you are and where you came from, and that’s about it.

The job letter can get complicated, so allow yourself simplicity at the beginning.

–> If you want more help on the cover letter, check out Art of the Cover Letter, our digital program that walks you through all 9 paragraphs of an academic cover letter, with posts, worksheets, models, and video instruction by me, Dr. Karen. It produces amazing results.

Productivity Tuesday: False Beliefs (with coaching podcast!)

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.

Keep reading and then click on the recording link below to learn how to recognize false beliefs and make friends with your personal Blue Meanies! 🙂

The Topic This Week: False Beliefs

If you are struggling to write, I can pretty much guarantee you that your avoidance is based on false beliefs. Beliefs that you have carefully cultivated and fed until they have become the monsters blocking the door to productivity. And, to make matters worse, every time you walk up to that door and see the snarling beast, you probably freak out and feed it again, with negative self talk (made up of many of the stories I wrote about in last week’s post.)

The thing is, you didn’t come to this dark and twisty place overnight, or with a single bad experience. Rather, you slowly trained the beast (which is actually just your brain) that writing was something to be afraid of.  And you didn’t do it with what you say to yourself, but with actual lived experiences.

Let’s say you sat down to write and you had a rough time. Maybe you couldn’t quite figure out how to say something or the theory was hard to grasp. Whatever it was, it sucked. You sat there staring at the screen and the fear of failure started to rise in your throat. What if I don’t know how to do this? What if I never finish/get a job/get tenure, <fill in the blank>. Now you are FREAKING OUT! Your brain will do anything to get you away from that panic. Time to check Facebook!

Your next writing session comes along. Your ever-helpful brain is poised to categorize the experience.  It finds you remembering that previous experience of writing, feeling anxious, and panicking. Cue the categorization: Writing = anxiety. You start writing already feeling anxious and, well… you know how that ends.

With just a few more writing/anxiety/I suck sessions, you don’t even have to write to feel inadequate. You just THINK about writing and that prehistoric lizard brain of yours goes on high alert. DANGER! RUN! WE ARE GOING TO DIE!

And who delivers the warning? The beasties I lovingly refer to as The Blue Meanies.  The Blue Meanies live in your lizard brain.  And what do they tell you? Every negative thought that has ever made its way into your psyche. All in an attempt to protect you!

But, thankfully, you have read this post, so now you will recognize all of the crap you have been feeding that monster and stop. Phew! Glad that is over!

Oops. Not so fast. The thing is, you can’t just tell Blue Meanies to shut up. They really, really want you to STOP doing the thing that might not work. So, they aren’t going to stop just because you say so.  Fear and loathing don’t work that way. They don’t go away on command. Negative self talk requires engagement.

So, if you are awash in false beliefs that set off a litany of terror, the solution is not to shove them away or cover them with the shame. The path to getting through that door goes right through those thoughts. We need to get up close and personal with the monsters. Talk to them. Schedule visits. Get compassionately curious. It’s the intimacy is what allows us to release the false beliefs.

Want to know more about how to make friends with your Blue Meanies?  In this live coaching session, I tell you how!


“We can use the presence of gnawing self-doubt, as it arises, as a call to open into more spacious awareness. We can look more deeply at the beliefs that give rise to the self-doubt and ask ourselves if we really want to continue investing these presumed inadequacies with our mind’s capacity to endow belief.” Kathleeen Dowling Singh, “The Grace in Living”


PS: Join us on FB Live: Thursdays at 8 a.m. Pacific!


Productivity Tuesday w/ Coaching Session: The Stories We Tell

Kellee Weinhold

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post and Podcast!  Each Tuesday, I will be posting a short blog post plus a recorded coaching session!

Keep reading and then click on the podcast link below!


The topic this week? The Stories We Tell

Writing the stories of our lives is so natural to humans that we rarely if ever notice their construction. We take in our experiences and over time translate them into a narrative (Typically based on patterns that we have experienced over and over again.) Eventually we simply catalogue new experiences as “just like that time” and decree what will occur as a result.

Unfortunately, our brains LOVE to grab onto the bad experiences, velcroing the negative outcomes front and center.

That negative bias in story writing is a valuable tool when we are learning not to put our hand on the stove. It is not so valuable when we have had a hard time doing something and that something shows up again. (writing!). We write the ending before we have begun.

If you have been struggling to write, it is very likely that you have cast yourself as the tragic character of your writing story. “I am too slow.” “I don’t know what I am talking about.” “Everyone else is better at this.”

And perhaps you have become very attached to that story, bringing it out at every new experience as evidence of the failure to come. “I never finish things.” “I can’t <fill in the blank>. Not surprisingly, by constantly re-upping our failure narratives, we hang on to the bumps and bruises of the past rather than letting them disappear in the rearview mirror.

We also cause ourselves untold misery with stories about things that have not happened. Except we get ourselves convinced that it will happen! “It will never get published.” “My advisor will hate it.” “I missed something and will be humiliated.” In embracing the pain of a fictional future (every story we tell about the future is fiction) we miss our chance to engage in the present and WRITE.

Sound familiar?

Trust me. You are not alone. I work with hundreds of academics and each of them struggles with some version of these limiting beliefs.

The first step to intervening? Begin to acknowledge that the things you tell yourself about your writing are not truth. They are stories.

And the wonderful thing about stories, is that you can rewrite them.

So just for today, keep an eye out for the stories you are telling to allow yourself to avoid writing and take the risk of rewriting them.

  • I write as fast as I write.
  • I know what I am talking about and when I don’t, I write my way into knowing.
  • Everyone else is not my problem. I am doing me.
  • I will finish this.
  • The only way to know if it will be published is to submit it.
  • Of course, I will miss something. I am not trying to be perfect. I am trying to be published.

What are your writing stories? What can you learn from them?

Check out these coaching tips for rewriting your story.  (Spoiler Alert: There is nothing wrong with you.)

Productivity Tuesday: Begin at the Beginning

By Kellee Weinhold

Welcome to the inaugural Productivity Post and Podcast.

Each Tuesday, I will be posting a short blog post plus and recorded coaching session.

The topic this week? Rebuilding your integrity.

Do you trust yourself to show up? Do you write when you say you will? Are you confident in what you have to say?

Chances are if you are struggling to write, you are struggling to separate what you know about yourself from what other people do and how other people think and how other people operate.

The solution is to start reclaiming a sense of knowing.

That can start with trusting your own work. Trusting that you’re the one who’s been doing the research. Trusting that no matter where you are in your academic career, you’re the only one doing what you do. In other words, trusting that you’re the expert.

At the same time, rebuilding that trust means believing (and acting like) you know what works best for you in terms of writing. You know when you are the most focused. You know what location feels comfortable. No one else can tell you that. Stop taking what other people do as gospel. It’s just one way. What’s your way?

Unfortunately, that knowledge may be buried under so many “shoulds” that you can’t quite figure it out.

Finding your path requires paying attention! In a particular, paying to how you feel about your writing. When does your writing flow. When do you feel like sitting down and writing? When does the thought of it exhaust you? Why? Attend to the background noise (the chatter in your head). Whose voice is it and is it helping or hurting you? Are you willing to challenge it? To rebuild trust that you will protect yourself from messages that harm? These are the places for reflection, the places to discover the voice that has been drowned out.

Be advised, setting out on your own path, can come with a whole bunch of freaking out. (After all you have been training your brain for a very long time that writing is hell.) Take deep breaths and stick to your commitment.

Want to have daily advice and engagement around these issues? Join the last summer session of UNSTUCK: The Art of Productivity starting July 7th.


(registration ends 7/5 at midnight)


How To Apply for Your Second Job

[Updated July 2017.]

Today is a Special Request Post for Matt, who wishes to know the ins and outs of applying for a second tenure track job.   That is to say, how to apply for a job when you are already in a tenure track position but hope or dream of getting another, different (better) one.

This is an excellent question.

It’s tricky. Maybe one of the trickiest things there is in an academic career. There is usually a certain amount of secrecy involved for at least some part of the process. And secrecy breeds anxiety and stress.

At the same time, sometimes people overestimate just how secretive they actually have to be, and cause themselves unnecessary levels of stress and anxiety.

Before we delve into that question, though, let’s pause to consider the question of when to go back out on the market. While the answer to this will be highly personalized, there are a few considerations. Going back on the market in the first two years of your tenure track job is often a mistake. The market is stressful and time-consuming. It is good to enjoy the stability of your first job to get some solid teaching under your belt, and learn how to be an assistant professor. The job doesn’t have to be perfect.

At the same time, if you discovered that you’ve landed in a viper’s nest and need to leave for your own physical and mental health, then go for it, no matter how soon it is.

At the third year, you have a bit of a chance to look up and ask if you’re happy, and on track for tenure. If for some reason your tenure case is already looking extremely shaky, then you might consider jumping ship as an option. It’s usually a terrible option, because the job market and the hassles of moving and starting a new job will put you even further behind in your writing, most likely. But, if you move to a place with lower tenure expectations, then you might turn out ok.

You can also consider leaving, around the third year, from a position of strength.  If your publications are on track, and you’ve accrued great teaching experience, then you will be well situated to make the move to a better, more appealing, or higher status assistant professor position.

Another well traveled path is to go on the market closer to year four or five. The reason is, you’ve been working toward tenure, and your c.v. looks fantastic. Your book is written and possibly already in press, you’ve been promoting yourself like mad at conferences, and your first blush of reputation is reaching its peak. It’s an ideal time to move up! As long as you can clearly articulate in your materials and interview that you are leaving not because of problems at university #1, but because of your ambitions for a brilliant career at university #2, then you’ll be an appealing candidate for many top tier positions, and may be able to negotiate tenure as part of your offer.

Be aware that when you move without tenure, and you aren’t advanced enough to do the above, then you lose years toward tenure. The publications that you did prior to arriving at university #2 will not count at university #2, unfortunately (unless you make special arrangements at the time of offer), and you may end up having to write a whole second book (!) or another set of articles for the new department’s tenure case. Get the expectations in writing before you sign on the dotted line.

Now, having chosen a time to go back out on the market, be aware that it the trickiest part of the process may be judging whether or not your job search will, if discovered, earn you the universal enmity and resentment of your department.   It might not.  In many universities, going back on the market for a better job is in fact a time-honored tradition, which is practiced for a number of reasons, including:

  • Wanting to elicit a counter-offer to gain some important benefits at institution #1, such as a raise or spousal tenure track offer.
  • Feeling aggrieved and unappreciated at institution #1 and wanting to prove one’s value outside.
  • Needing to accommodate a partner’s career requirements.
  • Actually just wanting a better job.

The important thing to realize here is that every department, and every departmental culture, is different. You have to move cautiously. This is one time when it is really, really critical that you have the advice of a trusted senior mentor, either in your department or outside of it (and in a later post I will be talking about how to find senior faculty mentors). That mentor can tell you what happened to “the last guy” who went back out on the market, whether he was shunned or envied by his colleagues, whether they still talk to him at conferences, whether he got a reasonable counter-offer or not, and what ultimately happened to him. You need to gather this real-life information first, before doing anything.

Now, if your researches reveal that your department is a vile, toxic, back-stabbing environment in which real retaliation follows on acts that colleagues consider disloyal, then you should, indeed, proceed in a very secretive fashion, quietly letting your letter-writers know that you’re on the market, and asking that they keep it quiet.

However, if you find that you are in a more typical departmental environment, one with a reasonable level of collegiality, and learn that assistant professors have indeed moved on to other jobs without being stabbed in the back as they leave, then it is my general opinion that honesty is a better policy. By which I mean, telling your department head. This is a professional courtesy that will gain you a great deal of good will if and when you come to the point of entertaining a counter-offer.

It is important that if you do decide to tell the Head, you tell her some legitimate reasons for wanting to leave. These would include:

  • Wanting to be at a department or institution with more strength in your field
  • Wanting to accommodate a partner’s career
  • Needing to be by elderly parents
  • Being actively recruited by another institution
  • Wanting better conditions of work, such as lower teaching load and more research money
  • Wanting to work with a particular type of student, or graduate students (if you program doesn’t have them)
  • Wanting to move to a more teaching/research oriented institution

Your reasons should not be random complaints about colleagues or the weather (although god knows, those play a role). Your Head will respect you more if you articulate clearly that the things you wish to gain are things that are simply not possible at your current job.

Be aware, though, that your Head MAY come back with an offer to “fight” for you—and to elicit from the Dean many of the goodies you seek. You have to be honest, again: would you consider staying if they give you a raise? If they hire your spouse? If they give you teaching release?

Do not walk into this discussion with the Head (and that includes after you may have already gotten an offer) without knowing your own bottom line. Because the Head should never be put into a position to spend precious capital with the Dean to “buy” you advantages, only to have you thumb your nose at them. That elicits ill will all around.

Returning to the question of whether to tell your Head that you’re on the market, once again, I want to emphasize that ultimately you must be cautious, and look at a multitude of variables, including how supportive your Head has been to date, how short-handed the department is already, how brutalized the department has been by previous departures, and so on. To repeat: the advice of a trusted senior mentor is going to be your very best protection as you move forward.

But the reason I advocate telling the Head, is that ultimately, it can work to your advantage in several ways. First of all, the very best application will include a letter from your current Head or from a senior faculty member in your current department.

Here’s what you may not have considered. The first question that department #2 will ask is: why is he leaving department #1? Was there a problem? Was he hounded out? Was he about to get turned down for tenure? Did everyone hate him? Will we hate him?

The letter from your current Head is your greatest insurance against those doubts and questions. That letter will say something like, “We love Matt. He’s been a great colleague and a fantastic teacher. We’d love to see him stay here for his whole career, but we know that our campus at Eastern Nevada State has few of the resources in rainforest studies that he seeks to support his research agenda, nor do we have a graduate program in the department. So we support him in his ambitions to move to a larger, R1 institution.”

Now, as you proceed in the application process, if you are short-listed, the Head can assist you in other ways.  She may reiterate her desire to fight for you. She might even go to the Dean for what’s called a “pre-emptive counter-offer,” which is an offer made to you that will induce you to drop out of the search, and turn down the campus visit. These are not common, but do happen. They’re most common at more advanced levels.

For assistant professors, particularly at cash-poor institutions, a far more likely response is: “well, we’d be sorry to lose you. I hope you don’t like it there!” And then the Head waits, because there is no point in getting everyone all worked up until she knows if you actually have an offer or not.  But she will be starting the groundwork for a possible counter-offer if you’ve indicated you’d consider one.

The ethics of making campus visits while you’re in the middle of a teaching semester are obviously rather fraught. It really isn’t quite kosher to cancel your classes and fall down on the job you do have in your mad rush to get a better one. Please treat your current students and colleagues with the respect and consideration they deserve. But ultimately, yes, you have to make the campus visit if you’re serious about the job, so plan ahead, and have videos, out-of-class assignments, or guest lectures planned well ahead to drop in at a moment’s notice (as campus visit invites can often be a bit last minute).

When you are on your campus visit at department #2, the single most important rule is not to complain about or criticize department #1 in any personalized or emotional way. Why? Because your would-be future colleagues are closely studying you to see how you talk about you colleagues, and if you come off sounding like a malcontent vis-a-vis department #1, they have no reason to suspect you’ll be different with them. You MAY, on the other hand, speak honestly about the legitimate needs that are not getting met at institution #1, such as:

  • a graduate program
  • abundant research funding
  • a library rich in your field
  • an appealing geographical location (especially when it relates to your work, as opposed to personal desires; for example, the appeal for an Asianist of a job on the West Coast)
  • spousal opportunities

Department #2 will feel flattered and smug about having those things, and will look favorably on you for wanting them for yourself.

Once an offer is made, usually in mid-spring, then it is critical that you tell your department immediately, and communicate as clearly and directly as you can whether you will consider a counter-offer. If you will not, then the department must immediately make plans for your replacement in your scheduled fall classes, committee assignments, etc.

The question of when to tell your graduate students is one of the most fraught. They will panic, and you can’t really prevent that. It is perhaps kindest to tell them rather later, after the offer is 100% sure, rather than cause them to fret and lose sleep for all the months that you are on the market. One thing to remember is that sometimes, if department #2 has the resources, you can negotiate graduate funding for one or more graduate students to “follow” you to the new job.

[As noted in a comment below, the other school of thought is to tell them early in the process, so that they don’t hear vague rumors that they aren’t allowed to substantiate, or have to walk around awkwardly pretending that they don’t know you’re on the market when they do.  In addition, more lead time gives them more time to make their own alternative plans.   This is probably the better advice].

I did that successfully for my first Ph.D. student, who started her graduate studies at Oregon, but completed her Ph.D. At Illinois.

This is more common for more advanced people, but even an assistant professor can pull it off occasionally.

When you have signed on the dotted line, and all is official, have the head of department #1 make an official announcement to the department, so that there is no confusion or backchannel gossip. Be gracious and kind to your colleagues, affect a rueful grimace, and learn to say, “I really wish I could stay, but in the end, the offer from XXX was too good for me and my family, and we had to take it. I’m sorry to leave, though—I’m really going to miss it here.”

[This is a topic that I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of. Readers, please weigh in with your own advice and experiences.]