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

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.]


Laid Off From the Tenure Track – a Guest Post

Stephanie Hinnershitz is currently an assistant professor in the Department of History at Cleveland State University in Ohio where she specializes in U.S. immigration history. Her first book, Race, Religion, and Civil Rights, was published by Rutgers University Press in 2015, and her second book, A Different Shade of Justice: Asian American Civil Rights in the South, will be published by UNC Press in October of 2017. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 2013 and taught at Valdosta State University for three years before coming to Cleveland State in 2016.


On August 4th, 2015 I was gearing up to prepare my pre-tenure review while entering my third academic year of teaching at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Two days later, I found myself sitting in the Dean of the College of Arts and Science’s office processing the news that due to an enrollment crisis, my contract would be terminated at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year.

Just like that, I was laid-off from my tenure-track position. “This isn’t supposed to happen,” I told myself while I sat in my car in the parking lot, armed with an endless supply of HR paperwork detailing ways to turn a CV into a resume and frantically wondering how to tell my husband that my job was gone. “This isn’t supposed to happen,” friends and family, fellow academic and non-academics alike, told me day after day that year as I applied to job after job, many in the academy and some not, knowing that this could be the end of my academic career.

Why me? Was it because I failed to publish? Or conduct myself appropriately in the classroom? No, it was because when faced with declining enrollment, the administration looked at which programs had lost the most credit hours and chose to make the cuts there. Myself and seven other tenure-track faculty members (all from the College of Arts and Sciences) found ourselves on the chopping block that year because we didn’t have tenure. In this case, tenure provided the administration with the opportunity to take the path of least resistance and treat tenure-track faculty as contingent laborers.

My experience is part of a larger trend and the attack on tenure has been widely publicized within the past months. State legislators in Iowa and Missouri have recently proposed bills to end the tenure system, citing the coddling of “bad professors” as reason for seeking to dismantle the protections of free speech and controversial undertakings enshrined in the AAUP’s Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure of 1940. Politicians present their arguments in a way that frame a desire to do away with tenure as a response to a growing chasm between the professors it protects and the public that universities serve. Many academics argue that such maneuvers are not only a threat to the very nature of higher learning (producing knowledge free from administrators’ ideological restraints), but also an effect of a growing political regime that leaves no room for dissenters who, in turn, might prohibit the free speech of more conservative students. Attacks on tenure are attacks on university and college professors more generally and serve as proof of the political and ideological pressure on higher education.

While this is a sexy portrayal of the undermining of tenure in the United States, it hides the less exciting and more insidious ways that tenure is crumbling. With state legislators slashing funding for public education and universities and colleges engaging in building projects of epic proportions to attract “customers” (students), there is little room left to provide the type of long-term support required for nurturing junior faculty members on the tenure track. Money and funding continue to fuel the undermining of tenure, not only openly political or ideological attacks. These are distractions from the ways in which university administrators have slowly killed tenure for the past two decades and made tenure-track faculty contingent laborers. “Enrollment crises,” “program mergers,” and “program prioritization” will sound the death knell for tenure rather than proposed bills of state legislators or the angry cries of political agitators.

Florida State University, Clark Atlanta University, Ashland University, and my former institution, Valdosta State, have all laid off tenure-track faculty members within the past five years. What’s more troubling is that all of these universities did so without declaring “financial exigency,” or severe economic distress—one of the acceptable reasons for laying-off faculty under AAUP best-practices guidelines. While financial exigency provides administrators with a ready explanation for dropping tenured and tenure-track faculty members, they are hesitant to do so because such a declaration could have a negative impact on their financial reputation. All of the universities mentioned above are not unionized, which explains to some degree why they were easy targets. However, the larger message is clear: Administrators see tenure as a hindrance to achieving economic goals for their institutions. The situations at Florida State, Valdosta State, Ashland, and Clark Atlanta occurred well before the Wisconsin state legislature and Governor Scott Walker made the “jobs-for-life” guarantee with tenure obsolete and moved to make it easier for tenure-track and tenured professors to be laid-off during times of financial emergency. All eyes were on Wisconsin because of its reputation as a premier research institution, but a repeated lack of attention paid to lay-offs at other universities allowed a Wisconsin scenario to emerge.

Chiseling away at tenure through financial moves is nothing new, and I am not arguing that political attacks and economic attacks on tenure are mutually exclusive. In fact, with an increasing number of college presidents and administrators coming from political backgrounds, it makes sense that the economic means are used to justify the political or ideological ends. However, as tenure-track faculty become part of the contingent labor force in higher education, tenure will naturally suffer a slow and painful death as the tenured retire and/or leave their institutions. I was lucky enough to find another job in academia (with a unionized university), but others have not been as fortunate. Rather than martyrs for the cause of academic freedom, faculty members will become victims of a system of higher education in this country that sees no value in economically investing in its own employees. To any and all on the academic job market, you’ve been warned: Lay-offs in academia do happen and they will no doubt occur more frequently in the coming years.

An Adjunct’s Letter to Her Union-Busting College President

Ruth DeFoster, an adjunct professor at a university called St. Catherine’s, in Minnesota, wrote to me today to share news of the anti-unionization campaign by her college administration, and the letter to the president she wrote in response. I am happy to be able to share it here.  Ruth writes:  “St. Kate’s is one of the 43 remaining women’s colleges left in the country. We are in the midst of attempting to unionize, and the university has responded with a falsehood-filled anti-union campaign.”

Ruth’s Bio:  I am an adjunct professor of Communication Studies at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I hold a doctorate in Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota. I study media coverage of crime, terrorism, and mass shootings. My first book is coming out next month from Peter Lang.  I teach courses on gender, feminist theory, race and intercultural communication.

Thank you for writing and sharing this amazing letter with us, Ruth!  Your courage inspires.

Academia as Identity – a UK/US Comparison

Kellee and I have done speaking tours in the UK for two years now, and the time we spent there has been immensely valuable for us, in learning what parts of the academic experience are shared between the UK and the US, and what parts diverge.  There are many things I could mention, such as impact of the REF, or the peculiar (to us Americans) UK academic interview process (see also this), but right now, I want to focus on the question of the academic career as identity.

When I speak about the academic job search in the UK, I’ve often been struck by the fact that although the UK academic job market is virtually as bad as it is in the States, UK Ph.D.s seem by and large to approach the issue with far less panic and agitation than American Ph.D.s.   It’s really quite striking.  “I’m really not sure what I’ll do after graduation,” people I meet tend to say. “I might go on to an academic career, if it works out.  Or I’ll do something else.”  “I’m flexible…” they say, without particular anxiety in their voices.  This is in contrast to the wild-eyed stares and clenched jaws of many US Ph.D.s I encounter on campuses, contemplating their futures.

I’ve pondered reasons.  I think there could be a few.  First, I think that the UK is a bit behind the States in academic professionalization:  campuses there remind me of US campuses 10 or 15 years ago, when the idea that Ph.D. training would be overtly linked to — banish the thought! — an actual hunt for a job and a salary was anathema!  I think many UK Ph.D.s get through their grad school process without a clear understanding of how awful their academic job market actually is (it’s bad!) and with fantasies of an academic career trajectory relatively intact.

But at the same time, that explanation only goes so far. After all, somebody invited Kellee and me to campus to talk about professionalization!  And on every campus I encounter career services staff and academic faculty members who are dedicated to reality-based grad student career training.

So what else could be going on?   Well, I’ll just remark that when you have a somewhat intact social safety net (for now), and guaranteed health insurance, then of course the stakes of employment are lower.  I see Americans of all kinds – not just academics – carrying around a ruinous psychic load of anxiety as a result of our collective lack of public benefits and our vulnerability in the face of unemployment.

But on this trip, I noticed something else.  It had to do with identity.  The UK Ph.D.s I met were very serious and committed to their work, but they didn’t really seem to be, in general, defined by it.  They seemed to have a certain psychic distance from the academic role that I almost never see in the U.S. It’s hard to pinpoint how to define this except to say that the individuals I met seemed to talk about their potential future in the academy with a bit more calm, a bit more humor (and I don’t mean the gallows of humor of so many American grad students), a bit more curiosity about what in the end they might end up doing…

As I pondered this observation and talked it over with people there, I recalled that in the UK, Ph.D. programs are basically three years in length.  That’s it.  Three years.  I understand it is sometimes possible to petition for a 4th year, but that’s the absolute outside limit.

I’ve been aware of the short UK Ph.D. for years, and in general I haven’t been a fan. There is a lot that I could critique about such a short Ph.D. training and how it prevents grad students from gaining the experience in grant-writing, conferencing, teaching, and publishing that I think they need to pursue an academic career most effectively.

However, this time around, I realized that all of these critiques might be counterweighted by one massive truth:  with a three year Ph.D., you can get in and get out without the Ph.D. entirely disrupting your life trajectory or ruining you for any other future besides the academy.  In other words, three year Ph.D. training allows UK Ph.D.s to view their studies as one short stage of life, rather than the be-all-and-end-all of life, which it all too often becomes in the States.

Just think. A US Ph.D. takes on average 5-10 years to complete–the lower end in STEM, the upper end in the Humanities and Education.  (I just got an email today from someone seeking advice, who has been in a graduate program for 22 years… what?) Ten years in an area of study like Medieval French Poetry, to take one example – ten years in which you live entirely in an academic setting, and are surrounded entirely by academics, and set up as your external evaluators only those who operate as professionals in the field of Medieval French Literature, and are judged entirely on your success in passing qualifying exams and producing a 350 page dissertation on a narrow specialized topic within the already narrow confines of the field and subfield – are very likely to socialize a person (especially if she is young) into a highly warped sense of potential life options, and to reduce that person’s ability to both see non-academic job possibilities, and also PREPARE for those opportunities in a meaningful way. In short, the length of the US Ph.D. indoctrinates American grad students into an almost total identification with the academic career and the academic value system.

When I go to campuses and talk to American Ph.D. students on the job market, I see many, many people for whom this option just HAS to work out, because there isn’t (in their minds) any realistic alternative. Thus the wild eyes, and the clenched jaws.

Now, I’ve said since the beginning of TPII that academic is a cult-like system that recruits vulnerable young people into a rigid and insular system of narrowly shared values that over time prevents them from being able to imagine life independent of the approval of cult leaders (advisors, mentors, etc), or to imagine casting aside their judgments to do something else.  So I’m not really saying anything new here.  The insight is, that it’s not ACADEMIA that is a cult; it’s AMERICAN ACADEMIA that is a cult, as a result of very specific economies of training, in which because our universities require years of labor from Ph.D. students in the form of teaching to operate, they thereby absorb students into this cult-like system that warps students’ understanding of reality and their own self-interest.

The UK Ph.D. demonstrates that this warping is not essential to the academic training process.

Now, I am aware that any discussion of grad school has to relate to the undergraduate system, and the fact that US undergraduate study is allowed to remain very broad, by intention, while UK undergraduate study is much more narrow, rigid, and specialized.  Thus a UK undergraduate may come out more poised for graduate study than a US student, who will need to spend a few years doing coursework in the graduate program, and this is not in itself a negative. I am not making facile recommendations here about how to structure undergraduate or graduate training.

I am only remarking that American Ph.D.s might want to seriously examine the ways that year-by-year, you allow themselves to be indoctrinated into a value system, and an economy, that does not necessarily serve your interests in an era when only a tiny minority of Ph.Ds will get academic positions.  This indoctrination does not have to be inevitable. You can maintain independence even while you work your way through our complex system of classes, research, writing, teaching, conferencing, and publishing, and remember that even if it’s years in length, the US Ph.D. is still just a step in a multi-faceted and flexible life.

Productivity – Where To Find It?

After U of Manchester Productivity Workshop


Kellee and I just got back from our 3 1/2 week speaking tour of Ireland, Scotland, and England. We visited University of Manchester, University College Dublin, Maynooth University, St. Andrews University, University of Glasgow, SOAS (in an event hosted by a group of London universities), Oxford, and De Montfort University in Leicester.  We had a wonderful time.

University of Glasgow

Kellee speaking to standing-room only crowd at SOAS in London

During the trip I spoke on the U.S. job market and career planning, and Kellee spoke on

The oddly sauna-like meeting space at Wadham College, Oxford

academic interviewing and productivity.  But no matter the posted topic of the talk, it was inevitably the themes of PRODUCTIVITY and IMPOSTER SYNDROME that prevailed.  These challenges seem to be universal to the academic experience, especially right now in the current political turmoil. Whether in Ireland, Scotland or the rest of the UK, whether at De Montfort University or Oxford–everyone is struggling to get their

Speaking at St. Luke’s Chapel, Oxford

writing done, and to battle the voices in their heads saying…  you’re not good enough; you don’t know what you’re talking about; you’ll never finish this; nobody will read it; this will never get published…  and on and on and on.

Kellee ended up doing versions of her Unstuck Productivity coaching almost everywhere we went, focused on overcoming the two elephant-sized roadblocks to productivity — procrastination &isolation.  Kellee especially focuses on writing and productivity as *feminist* and *anti-racist* interventions in a world that was not built for those who come from outside the ranks of elite white males.

A TPII reader who randomly ran into us at University College Dublin!

The conversations she had on this trip inspired us to move mountains (in the midst of train travel, and hiking, and wildly inconsistent wifi) to keep doing our new weekly Facebook Live Productivity sessions, every Thursday at 11 AM EST. Please join us for those on the TPII Facebook page!

And they also inspired Kellee’s new live and online productivity program that is starting this week  – Unstuck: The Art of Productivity, which makes her coaching principles available to anyone since her individual coaching calendar is now almost totally full. (Please note: This session is only open until this Wednesday, May 24 at midnight, so if you’re interested, don’t delay. And if you click  through the link, you can see a special preview video of Kellee explaining how it all works!) Here is more info:

UNSTUCK: The Art of Productivity is a self-directed online course devoted to changing your writing habits and overcoming debilitating feelings of Imposter Syndrome, anxiety, and insecurity, while recognizing and challenging self-sabotaging patterns of thought and behavior.

Loosely following the structure ofWriting Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success,” the course is divided into Twelve Steps to Productivity. Each step is devoted to 1) setting up your writing practice for success and 2) moving you step by step through the standard parts of an academic publication.

As I watched Kellee lead workshop after workshop based on her coaching principles, and the ways that her audiences responded to her elemental but subtle principles of honesty, integrity, boundaries, and self-care, I was struck anew that no matter where you are in the world, the academic career can inculcate an overwhelming sense of inadequacy that is truly, if it’s not checked,

With Valerie Heffernan, who invited us to Maynooth U in Ireland.

damaging to your mental and physical health. What Kellee’s coaching does is provide not only tools for writing, but also a vocabulary for a newly energized ethos of self-value, ie, a valuing of your ideas, your research, your time, and your boundaries. It was truly transformative, not just for those lucky enough to be in her audiences, but for me as well.  (Many of you may not know that it was Kellee who inspired me to start The Professor Is In in the first place! I tell that story near the end of my book).


Anyway, working with Kellee on an individual basis is quite wonderful, as her clients can attest. [Here some testimonials!

Kellee is, by far, the best mentor and writing coach I’ve ever had. The UNSTUCK program has encouraged me to reach out to colleagues, it’s provided me with an excellent group of scholars who offer daily support and encouragement and it’s forced me to be honest about what I can and should accomplish this summer. Overall, the last 6 weeks have been (realistically) productive and a pleasure. Can’t say enough good things about Kellee’s program and guidance.

I am a professional slacker! Can a weekly hour long writing workshop actually change habits that took almost a decade and a half to solidify? The answer is a very strong yes! I have written and worked more on my research in the last six weeks than in the last several months combined. The wonderful coach that Kellee is, the very structured approach to writing she teaches, the methods I learned on how to approach writing when it appears to be a very angry Hulk, have indeed changed my work habits. I still get anxiety about writing, I still get the nagging feeling that my work is not good enough, but now, I work as opposed to just worrying and being anxious about tenure. When I read my paper now, I see progress. It is not a paper I have been sitting on for a year now, it is a project that is getting close to submission. I write and I make lists and approach the paper from an entirely new and much improved perspective. I have also noticed an improvement in my non-work related habits. I have just become so much more proactive about so many other things.  I might actually stop seeing my therapist as regularly so it saves money too!! ???? 


I suggested that we list our accomplishments for the month in honor of your birthday, Kellee, and everything that you’ve done to help ALL of us at various points in our careers.  Here’s the list:
-5 journal articles submitted, under review, or in revision
-1 sample chapter submitted for a book proposal
-1 fellowship submitted
-consistent writing EVERY day, even with kids, jobs, and service
-personal sanity and a professional support network in this crazy academic life
As a group, we are definitely “unstuck” thanks to you and The Professor Is In site. I hope you will copy and paste this for a special blast on Facebook so others can post what they’ve accomplished with your help or “like” covertly from the shadows.  Whether it’s job applications, career advice, or writing support, we could not have done it without you!]

But since she only occasionally has open spots for new individual clients, she wanted to provide a way to make these principles available to everyone, at a more accessible price.  And that is the origin of Unstuck: The Art of Productivity.  Here is a bit more info on this new way to work with Kellee. But please don’t delay- you can only register for this program until Wednesday May 24 at midnight!

Kellee with happy Productivity Workshop participants at Oxford

The Twelve Steps to Productivity come with five days of information beginning with a daily (M-F) email reminder. In addition to a daily “practice,” which is simply an idea to consider about your thinking and approach to writing, the course content includes a brief post and video offering concrete guidance on how to reach your goals.

In addition to the online modules, participants will have access to a secret FB page, cohort of support and accountability and FB live sessions with Kellee, who will take up common struggles and concerns. The course, FB group, and FB lives sessions combine to provide structure AND community. The two things so often lacking in an academic writing life.

Especially now when so many of us are glued to news and social media trying to keep up with the latest outrage, or despairing for our countries (the UK under Brexit too!) or even fearing for our own safety and security in an increasingly threatening campus milieu, building a strong connection to our own personal motivation and mission is especially urgent. I encourage you to learn more about working with Kellee through Unstuck: The Art of Productivity.  It will make a difference not just in your career, but in your life.

Rethinking Rejection – by Karen Cardozo

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

A recent Chronicle article on how to survive rejection linked to a blog post urging writers to aim for 100 rejections a year.  How (existentially) low can you go?!  This method of throwing literary spaghetti at the wall is par for the course in a saturated creative writing market.  Such blind persistence makes some sense, given that history is rife with examples of early rejection letters to famous talents. Likewise, stories abound in the music industry of bands rejected by a major label only to make it big in the end. So if you are an artist, by all means: believe in yourself, and never give up!

However, the analogy between academe and the arts breaks down right quick. You are unlikely to have an independent fan base to correct an academic hiring committee’s decision. Moreover, there is a limited window through which you may clamber into a tenure track compartment — if you miss it, it’s not likely we’ll be reading about you decades hence as the Nobel laureate whom Harvard famously rejected.  There’ll be no Pretty Woman comeuppance where you return triumphantly to Hahvahd Yahd and proclaim that they made a “big mistake, HUGE!”

Like creative writers, academics are encouraged to apply to as many institutions as possible. But the new Plan A of authentic career development demands the opposite:  mount fewer, more targeted, applications to those organizations with which you feel best aligned.  Even in this time of job scarcity, you should evaluate institutional mission, geographic preference and particular job configurations, applying only to those that resonate and blowing off any others for which you’d have to twist your profile (or your lifestyle) into knots.  In academe, as in all sectors, it still comes down to a sense of fit:  basic qualifications being met, organizations want to know you have good reasons for prioritizing them (sadly, your need for a paycheck is not their primary concern).  Perhaps counterintuitively in our age of panic and scarcity, you are better served by supplementing fewer, well-chosen academic applications with pursuit of well-fitting opportunities in other sectors.

In today’s working world, merely increasing the number of applications doesn’t yield more offers.  Why?  Because outside of academe, most hiring does not go through a protracted search process involving job listings posted far in advance.  Rather, prospective candidates tend to be funneled through networking. Employers want to hire someone they already know, or who is recommended by someone they trust.  Downloading a stranger’s application from is not the preferred route. This means you will have to engage outside of your library carrel to become known to other employers and their networks.

But here again, no need to just throw spaghetti at the wall or aim for 100 rejections!  Choose your networking, social, volunteer and other activities from genuine affinity whenever possible. Under Trump, the next 4 years will be awash in new opportunities for activists to connect in a truly passionate, mission-driven way. From these authentic engagements, job offers or even new ventures may arise because you will be in the right place at the right time.  Best of all, it will be YOUR place and time—in the sense of being an obvious and organic fit for the situation.

This brings to mind a recent client who got me thinking about the need to rethink rejection. In my three years with TPII, I’ve reviewed the materials of hundreds of applicants from across the disciplines.  Most, if not all, have the chops to succeed in academe. Indeed, it is downright painful to witness in their CVs what Marc Bousquet has called the “waste product” of an academic system now built around contingent labor (required reading: How the University Works).  They have won awards, published, and proven their capacity for exemplary teaching and service – to no avail when it comes to landing a tenure track job.

Even so, this particular client impressed me more than most. I was struck by the elegant concision of her teaching and research statements, her weighty CV, and the compelling voice in her cover letters.  Over the last 5 years, she has garnered several interviews (some at elite institutions) but no job offers. She was feeling defeated, but still not quite ready to embrace “Plan B” or an Alt/Out-Ac search.  She wanted to be sure nothing was wrong with her academic materials.  In fact, nothing was wrong. Remember, an invitation to interview is evidence that your documents are working!  After that, other variables come into play (such as your interview performance, and who else is in the finalist pool—the former is a factor you can control; the latter is one you cannot). [KK:  I feel compelled to point out here that when academic job market clients *repeatedly* get interviews but no offers, it usually indicates something needs to be addressed in their interview technique, because many academics have self-sabotaging habits that often derive from Imposter Syndrome or lack of training.  Learn more about the interview help here.  This is not to take away from Karen C’s larger points and my absolute agreement that rejection is the norm, not the exception, on the tenure track job market, and everyone needs to seriously consider the non-ac/post-ac route!]

Here’s the bottom line, for my client and for you:  permanent full-time jobs are scarce in academe, which is not a meritocracy but a high stakes system that breeds conformity. Yet many of you are still not correcting your thinking.  You continue to labor under the delusion/illusion that if you could just improve your documents, you will lasso that elusive unicorn. Yes, there is a certain level of professionalism you must achieve in your materials and interviewing (and TPII can certainly help you do that). But in a deep pool of well-qualified people, it’s not always about what YOU did or did not do. It is sometimes about what others did differently: you can’t change your background. More likely, it is about the local politics that lead an idiosyncratic search committee to select one candidate over others.

In short, rejection usually isn’t personal.  Not in the sense that you were tried and found wanting.  But it IS personal in another important way. Being ignored, rejected, or otherwise not selected is an opportunity to think harder about what you really want, and who might really want YOU. Use this data to fine tune a cross-sector search for organizations and people with whom you are really well-aligned.

The more you embrace this mentality, the more you can reframe rejection. Instead of a controlling narrative of judgment—that you are inadequate—view your job search as a litmus test of mutual fit.  Think about it: if among hundreds of applicants you made a first round interview or were a finalist, you were hardly “rejected.”  You made your case well enough to be considered seriously.  And if you didn’t make any short lists, it likewise doesn’t mean you’re not worthy (there really are too few positions for too many talented applicants). It just means that it wasn’t the right fit, if only on the most basic level: they didn’t choose you!

Knowing this frees you to move on without hard feelings and keep hopping around till you find a better lily pad to land upon (a reference to the frog metaphor from my last post). In contrast, clinging to the foolhardy notion of a sequential Plan A-then-Plan B makes you another kind of frog–one who is about to be boiled alive, yet fails to react because the heat is turned up so very slowly in academe’s kitchen!  Remember, authentic career development requires exploring ALL fitting options across sectors at every life stage. This means knowing when to hop out of the pot.

Subscribing to this “free frog” mentality enables you to go from being a supplicant to being an applicant. The academic job scarcity with which we came of age has made sad supplicants of most, like 6th graders lined up for dodgeball teams at recess: “Oh, pick ME! Please, please, pick me!” Instead, start behaving authentically like an applicant who has multiple options, of which an academic career is only one. In so doing, you may ultimately discover that it is you who rejects academe, not the other way around.