Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog

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

The_Professor_Is_In.inddLove the blog? Now get it in handy book form!

Buy it at all these places!

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

For bulk orders for use in classes, seminars, and workshops, please call Crown Publishing  (Random House) Customer Service at 1-800-733-3000.



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

  • TT– tenure track
  • VAP–visiting assistant professor (position)
  • ABD–all but dissertation (status)
  • SLAC–small liberal arts college
  • R1–top ranked research-intensive institution with Ph.D.-granting departments, such as University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, etc.
  • R2–research institution with primarily MA-granting departments

Profs and Pints: My Post-Ac Business In Academic Pub Talks – Guest Post

By Peter Schmidt

Peter’s Bio:  In addition to being the CEO of Profs and Pints, Peter Schmidt is a freelance writer and consultant and is working part-time as a Senior Fellow for the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. He was a Senior Writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, where he worked for 21 years. Before that he covered school desegregation, bilingual education, and urban schools for Education Week. He is the author of Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action (Palgrave Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press), and his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and USA Today. He lives in Washington DC.

Find Profs and Pints on the Web

Find Profs and Pints on Facebook

Email Peter at:

[KK:  Peter reached out to tell me about his new initiative, and I invited him to share his story here. If you’re an academic – especially adjunct or NTT instructor – in the DC area, talk to Peter about doing a talk!]


I’ve seen my share of economic decline and disruption. In my first job as a Detroit Free Press paper boy I routinely brought my neighbors news of the closing of automobile factories and the layoffs of their workers. After graduating from college in 1986, I struggled to find a reporting job at one of Michigan’s cash-strapped newspapers and had to scrape by on a poverty-level income as a freelancer for the Ann Arbor News. If my father had not lost our family’s appliance store to NAFTA, recession, and competition from big appliance-store chains, Walmart or Amazon almost certainly would have done it in. In seeking a career of print journalism just as the digital age dawned, I unknowingly enlisted in a fleet bound for a storm.

Despite all of this, it nevertheless came as a shock when I was summoned into a Chronicle of Higher Education office in late August and told I’d be jettisoned as part of their latest round of layoffs. In my 21 years there I had worked tirelessly, covering beats dealing with college access, academic labor, academic freedom, and education research. I had always assumed that my work ethic, expertise, and commitment to the place would give me job security. Not so.

Now here I am, a 53-year-old treading water and looking for another ship—or at least something to keep me afloat. I’m doomed if I become paralyzed by fear or self-pity. I’m having to think fast. Based on my reporting for the Chronicle, I’m well aware know that many of this blog’s readers are in the water with me, barely keeping their own heads above water in trying to earn a living off academe’s tenure track.

I also know how expensive it would be to go back to school. I’d burn through most of my savings, only to step back out into a labor market in which I’d encounter even more age discrimination than I face now. It had  pained me, as an education reporter, to see how rising tuitions have rendered college unaffordable for many, while driving others to study not what truly interests them but what will qualify them for the sort of job that will pay off their student loans. I don’t want to live out the rest of my working life as a cog in some soulless corporate machine.

Such thoughts weighed heavily on me on a day when suddenly-former Chronicle coworkers had summoned me to a pub for a happy-hour sendoff. I asked myself if I would be able to draw on my experience to devise some new way to make a living. I was already encountering career-transition advice that made me cringe, such as suggestions that employers are impressed by statements like “I saved my company X million dollars by shipping Y number of jobs overseas.” I wondered if I could find an occupation that actually would put me out in front of economic trends and yet would not demand that I embrace the economic disruption that I had watched cause so much misery and send the media racing toward the bottom.

I recalled thoughts about higher education that I’d had as a Chronicle reporter but set aside as impossible to entertain seriously while working there: What if we could circumvent much of the cost of higher education by bypassing bloated college administrations and bringing people who love to learn into direct contact with instructors who love teaching? How eager would such instructors be to reach the general public? If I could revive an ancient Greek education model, and essentially sell tickets to hear Socrates, would I draw large enough crowds to make it worth everyone’s time?

I arrived early for my rendezvous at Washington’s Bier Baron Tavern, a pub known mainly for its expansive beer menu and weekend burlesque shows. I caught the attention of one of its managers and boiled my musings about a new education model into a business pitch, telling him I just might have come up with a way to make money by educating the public and fielding college instructors needed work. . His eyes lit up as he told me I just might have the answer to a problem his bar shares with most others, slow weeknights. Profs and Pints was born.

I have been working frantically since then turn Profs and Pints into a viable business with the slogan “No tuition or tests. Just lectures you’ll love.” I’ve built a Web site, learned the ropes of social-media marketing, and already staged six talks, including two by college instructors off the tenure track. All of my instructors I have put on stage have demonstrated a wonderful ability to engage the public and left their audiences pledging to come back to future Profs and Pints events. My line-up has included experts on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, gardening, the Trump administration, and the use of social-media for political shenanigans.

My initial contracts with instructors guarantee them 70 percent of the revenue from $10 tickets. The events room where they speak holds more than 160. Friends have said I’m being too generous, but I want to reward presenters for taking a chance on me, and to offer them incentives to work to draw a crowd. My intent is to alleviate—not exploit—college instructors’ financial woes. I’m confident that I’ll reap dividends, financial as well as karmic, from having a reputation for treating people fairly. The trick will be striking the right balance between offering potential presenters enough to have them knocking on my door and still earning the revenue necessary to have this business thrive and spread to other venues and cities.

I’ve found faculty members at local colleges incredibly supportive. Of the more than 20 I’ve approached, only two have rebuffed me as not offering them enough pay. (Others had short-term conflicts but urged me to get back to them later.)  I’ve encountered a few bumps—my audience sizes have fluctuated wildly as I have struggled to find the right formula for drawing crowds and come up against forces beyond my control, like nasty fall weather. But I have reason to hope this thing will take off. Other venues have approached me. Journalists have begun to report on my efforts. My company’s Meetup social-networking page enlisted more than 100 members in its first day.

My biggest challenge has been reaching the population my business most seeks to help, adjuncts who don’t have a clear network or much of a presence on college Web sites.  So, if you live in the Washington DC area, or come here to visit, please seek out a Profs and Pints event and have a beer with me. And if you’d like to present–please message me here or DM me at the links above! I’m hoping the room will be so full that it will be clear that I’ve sparked a new cultural trend. If so, you can join me in saying cheers to that.

#Makeup Monday: Big News on the Lipcolor Front!

Welcome to Makeup Monday, my weekly series on makeup; academic and postacademic job market and productivity posts will continue on Tuesday and Friday as usual.

Here is my weekly reminder:  I will not engage with makeup-shaming here or on any Facebook or Twitter comment threads. I support your right to not wear makeup, and anyone who dislikes makeup, disapproves of makeup, or wants to argue that no academic woman should be judged on the basis of makeup (which nobody is claiming anyway), I suggest you come back for my other posts on other topics.

For previous posts, see the following:


You guyuz, this weekend, I was strolling through Target looking for the full size of a really great Acure exfoliating face scrub that I found there once in travel size and now use constantly.  This is it.  It is so great that it has now replaced the Philip Thomas Roth FirmX Peeling Gel that I have been using for the past couple of years.  It works BETTER and costs about 1/4 as much. I love that!

Anyway, I didn’t find the full size at my Target (but I will be ordering it, and will be looking into other Acure products as they seem to be really beloved by thousands of people out there on the Internet!) but what I DID find as I was strolling the aisles was…  Cover Girl Outlast All-Day Lipcolor.

Now, you know that I stated firmly at the beginning of this series that I don’t do drugstore makeup.  And that’s true.  But… when I saw the Outlast, I was suddenly reminded that when I did the research for my recent post about long-wear lipcolor, one Buzzfeed reviewer testing various brands ranked this CoverGirl product her favorite (although the rest hated it, and preferred Revlon ColorStay Ultimate Suede, which now of course I will try, also because for years I almost exclusively wore the ColorStay line.)

At the time I thought, “no way can a $7 drugstore lipcolor actually compete with all these other brands.”  But there I was, in Target, looking at it, and it was $7, and I remembered that I’m now writing off all makeup purchases on my taxes because I’m NOW A BEAUTY BLOGGER, so I thought, what the heck, and I bought it and tried it.

And, wow.  This stuff works!  Here I am wearing the Natural Blush shade after my mega- mega-sweaty dance class!  It stayed on just about as well as both Beauty Bakerie and Lipsense, my previously mentioned favorites.

I remember the Buzzfeed testers had issues with its smell, but I – who am certainly one of the most smell-reactive humans on the planet – had no issue with that at all.

Like Lipsense it does include a gloss to wear over and reapply throughout the day for durability.  The gloss is NOT very glossy, just a light sheen, so it doesn’t go too far off the matte look that I prefer.  And the color has the heft of real lipcolor; it’s not a stain. I have worn the Natural Blush non-stop since I bought it, and will definitely be trying some more shades because for $7, why not.

The other cool thing about this product is that it features a skin-tone-matched series of bright “Custom” reds!  I haven’t tried those yet, as red isn’t really my thing (I’m definitely a mauve and rose kind of gal) but I’ll try one and report back!

So readers, I’m interrupting my planned schedule of Makeup Monday posts (today I was planning to talk travel options!) to tell you: if you’re still looking for long-wear lipcolor and the options I mentioned earlier are out of your budget (or even if they aren’t), go ahead and try the CoverGirl.   Let me know how it turns out for you!


Your Academic Cover Letter: Don’t Fall into the Cliché Trap About Teaching!

By TPII editor extraordinaire, Verena Hutter

~This is a continuation of our 2017 series on the Academic Cover Letter. Verena is walking us through the paragraphs of the cover letter.  Scroll back through the blog over the past 10 weeks or so for the preceding paragraphs: self-intro, current research, contribution, publications, and next project)~

Most clients find the teaching para and the teaching statement the hardest to write. This is mostly because they have been taught to talk and write about their research at nauseam, but not about their teaching. While many grad programs have caught on to this, and focus on training their graduate students better, teaching often is still treated as an afterthought. Moreover, we live in a culture that does not value teaching, and hides it in saccharine statements (and you all know what TPII thinks about that).

These days, most clients actively avoid the overly emotional teaching paras and statements, and they do try to follow the model of Show, don’t Tell. Yay!  That being said, they often fall into the cliché trap. Especially, but not exclusively, in the humanities and in the social sciences, clichés are as common as dirt (couldn’t resist here).

Clichés express a “popular and common thought or idea that has lost its originality and impact by long overuse” (thank you, which explains why they are so popular- chances are that we do share notions and ideas about teaching, that most of us who like teaching carry a certain percentage of Dead Poets’ Society Mr. Keating inside us. And that is fine! Especially in this shit shellacked era of stupid, we need good teachers.

Still, don’t retort to clichés, please.

Here are the clichés that pop up again and again in teaching paras:

  1. Methodological buzzwords: Socratic method, communicative approach, flipped classroom, skill-based pedagogy, active learning models, student-centered approach, Freirean/Diltheyan/famouspersonean Pedagogy, the list goes on. These approaches are all fine and good, but they won’t tell us much about YOUR teaching. In fact, if you’re telling us that you’re implementing so and so’s pedagogy, it comes across as if you didn’t think for yourself (something none of these pedagogic leaders would approve of). Instead, tell us what you want students to take away from your classes, and follow up with a concrete, specific example.
  2. Adjectives that are fine once, but don’t overuse them: critical, hands-on, real-world (that phrase needs to die anyway). Look at the following: “In my teaching, I stress critical thinking. In my course xxx, students first watch film yyy, to then critically analyze power relationships between the protagonists. In their final essays, I ask students to compare film yyy critically to a film of their choice. Students’ thoughtful interpretations then were read aloud in class and their classmates respectfully critiqued them.”  See the issue?  “critical” is there four times.  If everything is critical, nothing is.
  3. “My teaching, like my research…”- “My dedication to xxx also inspires my teaching”- Oy veh. Those are TPII sentences! They are true, but overused. You’ve probably read them in the sample docs! Unfortunately, at this point, please don’t use them any longer, they’ve become cliché as well.
  4. Hollow statements about your teaching: “My courses are entertaining and quickly paced, with enough time spent on each topic for all students to understand the material, but not so much to bore them”. – “I challenge students, without overwhelming them”- “I grade fairly and without bias”.   Why are these bad?  Because:  THIS KIND OF THING IS THE BARE MINIMUM AND IT IS EXPECTED OF YOU.   Instead, we need to know: What do you actually do in class? Remember, the SC hasn’t seen you teach, so you need to give us examples of what you do, not take us to common lowest denominator town.

This is a short list of the most common clichés. Avoid them like the plague.

Makeup Monday: More on Lipsticks and Introducing Shae

Alert followers of Makeup Monday will note that I missed last week’s post. Sorry about that!  I ended up making a sudden unplanned trip to visit my 16 year old son at his school in Colorado to help him recover from an adverse reaction to a medication. The situation remains unresolved so today’s post will be brief…

Welcome to Makeup Monday, my weekly series on makeup; academic and postacademic job market and productivity posts will continue on Tuesday and Friday as usual.

Here is my weekly reminder:  I will not engage with makeup-shaming here or on any Facebook or Twitter comment threads. I support your right to not wear makeup, and anyone who dislikes makeup, disapproves of makeup, or wants to argue that no academic woman should be judged on the basis of makeup (which nobody is claiming anyway), I suggest you come back for my other posts on other topics.

For previous posts, see the following:


The very first post in this series was about Long-Wear Lipcolor. In that post I shared my efforts to find truly long-wear lipcolor–ie not the usual, “stay on for one hour and call that long-wear” thing.  I tried a lot of the popular matte long-wear options like Tarteist and Stila All-Day, and they were all beautiful, and they do last a couple hours, but absolutely nowhere near the “all day” wear that they claim. I even tried the $36 Yves St. Laurent Tatouage Couture Matte Lip Stain, which is supposed to be ALL THAT, and….   No. Just No.  It comes off with the first meal, and the “stain”-y effect has no heft or shape to it.  It’s just this sad, thin, half-transparent color. I am mystified by the effusive reviews.

Anyway, in the end, as I mentioned in the earlier post, I found two products:  Beauty Bakerie’s Lip Whip, which has tremendous staying power and a wonderful heavy matte effect.  Watch the video below to see just how long-wear this stuff really is!  At the same time, these heavy matte liquid lipcolors are challenging to apply, so watch this video with some good advice about how to do it.

And then there is Lipsense, which really does live up to the hype.  That stuff just does not come off – I mean, even for up to 24 hours – as long as you put on the three coats, and cover with one of the patented glosses (which include matte, pearl, glossy, etc.). Lipsense is only sold by distributors, so here is a link to a good one on Ebay I’ve ordered from.  HOWEVER, commenters on this blog have noted that the company appears to support the Trump administration, and that’s certainly a major consideration in this political moment. We need to both look gorgeous AND support #Resistance!

So if you want to get a long-wear lipcolor and at the same time support a small, indie, vegan and cruelty-free company that is the post-ac passion project of a queer Feminist Studies Ph.D., then go immediately and get yourself Endurance Matte Cream Lipstick made by Shae Face and Body, founded by Shae Miller, Ph.D.

Here is what Shae has to say about her company:

I have a PhD in Sociology with an emphasis in Feminist studies, so research is kinda my thing. So is teaching, which is part of how I came to make my own face and body products.

Teaching college courses about gender and health meant discussing dangerous ingredients in many beauty products and the psychologically damaging ways that these products are often marketed. This prompted me to think about what was in my own cosmetics and led me to think about what a body positive beauty brand would look like.

I was inspired to research alternatives and began formulating my own products– first eyeliner, then mascara, then matte cream lipstick (fierce was the debut color). And while it took a LOT of attempts (and the feedback of many dedicated and supportive friends) I had stumbled onto something I really loved doing.

And others loved what I was making, too, so I started to share my creations and take requests for new products.

Which brings us, more or less, to today…the culmination of a dream to create a brand that celebrates femininity, masculinity, and everything in between.

Shae kindly sent me her lipcolor to try, in Harold and Mauve, and Bowie, and Bowie has become an item I carry in purse at all times!  Here’s me (below) in a no-makeup-except-for-Shae-Endurance-Matte-Cream-Lipstick-selfie. Endurance lasts for about 4 hours on me, with an absolutely gorgeous color and the nice thick matte heft that I love.

I am always thrilled when academics turn their passions into a fulfilling business. I’m particularly excited about Shae, because she’s a queer femme (like me) who uses makeup to express herself in all of her complexity.  Here’s what she has to say.

As a queer, feminine person whose gender is fluid I was also concerned with how to counter social beliefs that femininity is weak, artificial, or validated only when attached to certain bodies and identities.

Body positivity, self-expression, and self-care are at the heart of everything I do at Shae Face & Body.

My products are not intended to “fix” your “flaws”… Instead they are about providing you with resources for indulging in self-care, and for expressing your fabulousness in ways that celebrate you for who you are.

I love makeup and skincare, and I want to make them fun, affirming, and available to everyone. This means that you are a part of my process, and that I have you in mind each time I formulate a new creation.

Here’s Shae in one of her blog posts about the fluid nature of gender presentation. Be sure and order from Shae Face and Body, and tell her Karen sent you!

Effective Slides for Your Job Talk and Beyond: 9 Myths To Stop Believing – Guest Post

By Echo Rivera, PhD

Independent Research and Evaluation Consultant

Owner, Creative Research Communications, LLC

Hi! I’m Dr. Echo Rivera. My passion is helping researchers, academics, scientists, and evaluators become effective visual communicators. I love to teach people how to create astronomically awesome slide presentations for lectures, conferences, and workshops. Check out one of my free resources, available on my website, to help you get started. I also love to draw comics and want to see more comics used in research and teaching.


Website:; Twitter: @echoechoR

[Karen:  I encountered the original version of this post originally published on Echo’s blog. I loved it and invited her to reprise it in shorter form here, for all of you planning your job talks.  STUDY #7 IN PARTICULAR!  TAKE IT TO HEART!]


Everyone hates boring presentations, but they’re everywhere. How can something so hated be so widespread?

The answer? Bad advice.

Here are 9 myths stopping you from creating effective presentations.

  1.  # Slides = X Amount of Time

This myth will. Not. DIE. It goes a little something like this:

“This presentation doesn’t need to be long. Can you create 10 slides?”

Take the 10-20-30 rule, which recommends 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation. I forgot what the 30 is but that’s not important.

We must disassociate time from the number of slides in your presentations. Pretend the correlation is r = .0002, p = .800 (Rivera, 2017, personal communication with myself). Otherwise, you get tunnel vision and cram your slides with text just so you can stick to an arbitrary rule.

If you did 10 slides in 20 minutes. That’s TWO WHOLE MINUTES per slide (at best)! In audience years, that’s forever. Even 1 minute per slide can be too long.

From now on, don’t worry about the number of slides. Instead, try to have only 1-3 points per slide. Yes, this applies when you have a complex topic, as you should be breaking it up into multiple slides to walk your audience through it.

I get why people believe this. Most people cram 50+ words on a slide, blabber forever, then repeat that for 20 slides. Telling people to limit their slides feels like low-hanging fruit. But the number of slides is not the root of the problem.

  1. It’s the audience’s responsibility to pay attention and learn

Some believe the responsibility of learning rests entirely on the audience. But effective presenters believe it’s the presenter’s responsibility to do everything they can to make learning engaging and memorable.

Is it your fault if a student zones out? Not necessarily. People are distracted, it’s hard to hold their attention. But chances are, there are strategies you could use to make your presentation worth paying attention to (e.g., storyboarding, visuals).

  1. Visuals are just a bonus

If you want your audience to pay attention, understand, remember, and use the information you share, then use visuals. Period. No excuses. Fin.

By visuals, I don’t just mean stock photos. Visuals also include: drawings, screenshots, icons, your own photos, and videos.

  1. “I have lots of data” is a legit excuse for bad design

Whenever I tweet about how you should limit the text on your slide, there’s always someone who says, “Yeah I mostly agree, except when I have to show a lot of data.”

That is not an acceptable reason to make ineffective slides. You do not have to show all your data at once. You should be walking people through your data in pieces and in a way that tells a story.

  1. “But I need to post my slides online” is a legit reason for using too much text

A lot of people also say, “Yeah I mostly agree, but what about slides that need to go online?”

There is a long answer for this one, but the short answer is: Online materials are consumed in a different format than live presentations. That means the material should be different (i.e., customized).

  1. Good dataviz is enough

Dataviz is hot right now, as it should be. But here’s the thing: good presentation design involves more than dataviz.

Good presentation design means:

  • Good content (storyboarding)
  • Good information design (contrast, fonts, colors, alignment)
  • Effective visuals (placement, size, orientation)
  • Data visualization

Presentations aren’t “good” or “bad” based on one slide or a couple of slides. Presentations are a package deal.

Dataviz is one of the last steps in a design package. If you don’t have a good story or your slides are walls of text, then your dataviz won’t have an impact.

  1. Your audience cares about you (or the facts) more than the story

Think about how we start our presentations. A huge mistake I’ve made in the past, and see almost every other presenter make, is that we save the good stuff for the middle (e.g., results) without giving the audience a reason to pay attention all the way through.

The kiss of death? Starting a presentation by talking about yourself.

Unless you’re a celebrity in your field, your name is not the most important thing to people. It’s better to assume that no one cares who you are. Get into the mindset that you need to convince your audience they should listen to you. Assume they have a problem and they want you to solve it. Your background won’t solve their problem. Start your presentations by reassuring them you’re going to solve their problem–even if it’s just a knowledge gap.

  1. It’s okay to take “baby steps” … for years

OK look. I believe that change is incremental. If your slides have 130+ words on them and contain no visuals, it’d be hard to make slides with 3 words and all visuals. But, the only time I’ve heard “cut me some slack, I’m taking baby steps” is when people are using it as an excuse to maintain their outdated practice.

It’s like watching someone sloooowly remove a big band-aid off their arm.

If you’re telling yourself that you’re just making change in “baby steps,” then challenge yourself to take bigger steps. You don’t need 30 years to start making stellar slides.

  1. I don’t need training on how to create effective presentations

Did you receive training on how to be an effective communicator? Probably not, because of the myth that effective communication can be “picked up” over time.

Were you able to pick up statistics just by watching other people do them? Nope. There are graduate degrees in communication, yet many of us assume we can learn the same strategies on our own.

Creating effective presentations requires training. To get started, check out my FREE email course, Countdown to Stellar Slides.




The UK Job Market, Part III: “I Beg Your Pardon, But May I Have This Job?” (The Winning Cover Letter)

By Alice Kelly, Ph.D.

Alice Kelly is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She completed her PhD in English at Cambridge in 2014, with a year as a Fox Fellow at Yale, and before that she studied at Sussex, Reed College (Portland, Oregon), and Oxford. She has taught English and History in the US and the UK. Having applied for academic jobs on both sides of the pond, she understands the challenges and opportunities of being on the transatlantic academic job market. Alongside her academic research on twentieth century literature and culture, she advocates healthy writing practices. At Oxford she founded the TORCH Academic Writing Group, which she has written about in Times Higher Education.  @DrAliceKelly

KK:  This is Part III of Alice’s 4-Part series on the UK job application process, which I requested after meeting Alice at Oxford and hearing her take on the job market there.

Her first post in the series – the big picture

Her second post in the series – the REF


So you’ve decided to apply for a job in the UK – great work! Now comes the part where you sit down and draft the cover letter.

The cover letter is, by and large, the most important document in your dossier. (On that note, do not use the word “dossier” in the UK – no one will know what you are talking about). If a separate research statement is required, you may be able to shorten and simplify your cover letter a bit, but it is still the most important document in pulling together the different strands of your application and more broadly, your academic profile and identity. This is the place where you will summarise what your scholarship and publications have focused on to date, your current and future research, your teaching experience, your academic administrative experience, and sometimes your experience of public engagement, i.e. communicating your research to the general public. The key thing to remember is that the cover letter is where the focus is on the benefits and contribution you can make to them [esteemed university seeking an applicant], rather than what interests you about working there.

Next, let’s play word swap. If you have used any of the following words, delete them immediately and insert my version instead:

US  v. UK translation:


UK: We use “thesis” and “dissertation” in the UK to refer to doctoral dissertations, so don’t assume that someone is talking about a Masters degree if they refer to their thesis


Advisor/Advisory Committee

UK: Supervisor/Supervisors



UK: Only to be used by academics holding Professorships or named Chairs. Everyone else is “Dr.”



UK:  Term (apart from a handful of universities, including Bath, Leeds and St Andrews, which operate on a semester system)



UK:  Course



UK:  Marking


Freshmen, Sophomores, etc

UK:  First-years, Second-years, etc.

It’s not going to tank your application to use any of the American words, but some translation demonstrates a familiarity with the UK academic scene, and your reader isn’t going to stumble over an out-of-context word. Check the spelling in your letter with either a British spellcheck or a British person too.

Other words/terms to deliberately use in the Cover Letter (with some knowledge of what they mean – see my second blog): “public engagement”, “outward-facing” (about yourself as an academic), “interdisciplinary” (as long as your research actually has genuinely interdisciplinary elements)

Other words/phrases to deliberately avoid (much like the US): “passion”, “groundbreaking”, “pathbreaking”, “outstanding”, “shed new light on”, “At your institution I am interested in.”

A word on length: Although there is a strict limit in the US on length (2 pages max. for any self-respecting applicant), in the UK a 2.5 page letter is acceptable, as long as you are not rambling and every sentence in your cover letter is necessary and useful. If you can use letterhead, do so. If you can’t, it is not the end of the world.

Now we’ve sorted out language and length, let’s think about structure. Like most other types of academic writing, a cover letter has a formula – and you can therefore write your letter in a paint-by-numbers type of way. Below I’ve provided a paragraph-by-paragraph guide of what needs to go into the cover letter. Some of this is the same as the American cover letter, but some is different.

As for the US cover letter (see The Professor Is In, Ch. 22), the letter should begin with the date (left justified), then a line break, then the postal address of the recipient, then a line break, then “Dear Professor [X] and Members of the Committee.”

PARAGRAPH 1: This should begin “I am writing to apply for the position of [X] ” or some such similar statement. Then state as concisely as possible who you are, what stage you are, your PhD dissertation/research expertise, and what makes you a particularly good candidate for this job (this might be your extensive research experience in the area advertised, the match of your research with their departmental interests/theme that year, your years of experience teaching in a similar institution, etc.). For example,

“I would bring to [insert name of institution] my high impact research trajectory focusing on [X], my proven track record of communicating my research to academic and more popular audiences, and my wide experience of teaching in a number of universities. My research specialisms, alongside my public engagement and organization skills [or whatever the application names as key skills], would allow me to make a valuable contribution to [X].”

In the opening sentence, you’ve established that you’re a REF-able candidate with an interest in public engagement and demonstrable teaching experience, as well as hopefully being an organized colleague.

PARAGRAPH 2: The second paragraph details your research expertise in depth, e.g. gives a detailed summary of your dissertation and book project, including intended publication date and what stage you are at with the manuscript. Remember that some UK positions are a means to improve a university’s REF submission, so high-quality research that you will actually publish before 2020 will be looked on favorably. The most important thing I have learned is that the second and third paragraphs shouldn’t just state what you research, but what your research project does in terms of contributing to the discipline, and the nature of your wider scholarly project. This paragraph should therefore include:

  • The scope of your research (topic, timeframe, research materials used – people sometimes forget the obvious bits)
  • What your dissertation/book project argues
  • How it develops/reassesses/interrupts/perceives the end of your academic field as you know it
  • When you plan to submit the dissertation, or the book manuscript to a publisher (and in which case, do you already have a contract)

PARAGRAPH 3: If you are at the stage of thinking about your second project, discuss it here – including in as brief terms as possible the answers to all the bullet points in paragraph 2 (scope, etc). If not, use this paragraph to give a summary of your publications to date (your “outputs” in REF terms), and discuss what you’re working on alongside your dissertation/monograph, and any other exciting scholarly ventures you’re currently involved in. What is key to, and different about, your scholarly profile? For example, beyond my monograph I’m interested in public scholarship, so my third paragraph begins: “My expertise in First World War culture is demonstrated through my recent publications and podcasts for both scholarly and public audiences, which restore neglected and previously unknown First World War documents and demonstrate my ability to build research impact outside the academy.” Give some examples and then bring the paragraph back to how your research profile can be of benefit to their university/department.

PARAGRAPH 4: This is a summary of your teaching, highlighting the experience most relevant to the position you’re applying to. Give as much detail as possible. The key here is to be specific – what courses did you teach, where, when and to how many students, and in what teaching mode (lectures, seminars, tutorials, etc). How will your particular teaching experience and expertise be useful to their department?

There is usually no separate teaching philosophy document required in the UK – and frankly, trying to include an American style teaching philosophy would get your letter binned (sorry, put in the trash). Karen has already taught us to get rid of the weepy teaching statement, and in the UK I’m sorry to say that any teaching statement is considered pretty weepy (stiff upper lip and all that). You can communicate your “passion”, if you must, for teaching through specific examples of exercises that worked really well with students in this paragraph. You may be asked about these examples in an interview, so don’t make them up.

PARAGRAPH 5: In this paragraph you show that you have actually read the application and done some homework on the department. How would you teach the classes they ask you to teach in the application, and if appropriate, what else could you offer at their institution? This should be specific with course titles and one or two sentence outlines of courses. Finish the paragraph with any ideas you have for collaboration with other department members, which of their research strands your work would complement and develop, etc. Find this out via some serious reading of their department website.

PARAGRAPH 6: The final paragraph is usually where you demonstrate your relevant teaching administration, organizational and pastoral experience, but it can also be where you show that you fulfill their ‘desirable’ criteria (you should have already show your competency in their ‘essential criteria’ by this point in this letter). This might include conferences or seminar series you have organized, participation in academic steering committees, any interesting projects you have spearheaded or overseen – and most importantly, how you would use this experience in your new position at [X].

Complete the letter with a dignified and concise sign-off:

“I would be happy to expand on any of the above in interview. I look forward to hearing from you.


[Signature – electronic is okay]

[Typed Name and Current Position]”

Don’t tell them to expect letters from your esteemed referees, or ask them to call you if they require any further information. They won’t.

In terms of order, received wisdom says that you should reorder your cover letter according to which type of job you are applying for, i.e. for a teaching job, you should reorder your letter to put your teaching paragraphs above your research paragraphs. The jury is out for me on this one. Given the REF and the pressure to publish in the UK, even teaching-heavy jobs will require you to maintain a serious research profile. You can reorder your paragraphs if you like, or you can foreground your research to demonstrate your authority as a scholar before you move onto teaching. I think either will work, as long as you make it clear in the opening paragraph that you know what type of job this is and prioritise your relevant skills accordingly in your summary sentence at the end of that paragraph.

To Do: Draft your cover letter according to instructions above and send to a friend who knows their stuff. Then edit and redraft and edit and redraft until it is a winning cover letter.

Until next time, when I will discuss interviews and campus visits.


Makeup Monday: Brows Get Their Own Post, Because Of Course They Do

Welcome to Makeup Monday, my weekly series on makeup; academic and postacademic job market and productivity posts will continue on Tuesday and Friday as usual.

Here is my weekly reminder:  I will not engage with makeup-shaming here or on any Facebook or Twitter comment threads. I support your right to not wear makeup, and anyone who dislikes makeup, disapproves of makeup, or wants to argue that no academic woman should be judged on the basis of makeup (which nobody is claiming anyway), I suggest you come back for my other posts on other topics.

For previous posts, see the following:


Some of you were probably wondering why last week’s Makeup Monday post, All About Eyes, didn’t include any mention of brows. Well, that’s because it’s 2017: the year of the fetishized eyebrow! And brows need their own dedicated blog post.  I mean, seriously, you would have to be living under a rock not to be aware of the intense brow obsession of our current moment.

This image from Anastasia, THE brow product company, illustrates the multi-step madness of the au courant brow of 2017.

Do I do this brow? I most certainly do not. I do not comprehend this recent brow thing, and I often find myself deeply mystified by  the massive painted on brows that one sees on young people these days, especially at Sephora and the like. And, who decided we need powders, pomades, gels, crayons, and pencils… all just for the brow?

But, even I have been influenced by the brow moment. It began, I’m really sorry to say, with a Facebook ad that got me.  The ad was for Glossier Boy Brow. I actually do have rather thin and sparse brows, and so when the ad popped up, after avoiding it for a couple of months, I finally gave in and clicked. Only to discover that Glossier Boy Brow is a bit of a cult item. I didn’t know anything about it, but I decided to give it a try, and my daughter was unprecedentedly impressed. It is literally the only known case of makeup traveling Mom –> teenage daughter.

Boy Brow is a good product: it does exactly what it says, and it stays on, and doesn’t flake (much; I think it does a little, after a long day).  Here’s what some Buzzfeed testers have to say about it:

Nina’s thoughts: Hands down, the best one of the four. I always thought people were overhyping Glossier products, but this is a truly standout brow gel. It’s not too rigid and the applicator makes it easy to get your lil hairs in place. If I had to buy and use a brow gel, this would be it.

Lara’s thoughts: THE REAL MVP. I hate that I like this so much because it’s so small and $16, but I will most definitely purchase this and use it every day of my life when I am not using Benefit. It’s a great color, great texture, and it just looks natural but makes my brows look way better. I’m freakin’ sold. Damnit.

Alice’s thoughts: Definitely my favorite of the four. It had the best balance of hold and color. I was so happy to see that it actually made my hairs stay put! I thought maybe the color was going to come off too dark, but it looked fine once I put it on. Will definitely be adding this to my “only-got-10-minutes-to-get-ready” morning kit.

Our overall rating: 5/5

I used Boy Brow for a few months, and liked it, until I realized that I just really didn’t have the patience to for the meticulous application of what is basically mascara on my brows.  So I simplified, and went back to the old-standby eyebrow pencil. However, even this was harder than you’d think, because it’s actually rather hard to find a REALLY DARK BROWN brow pencil that is not black.  So my issue with pencils was not so much the struggle to find a durable, quality product, so much as it was to find the one among many good products that was actually the right color.

This search took me through: Billion Dollar Brow Brows on Point (from Rite Aid), to Estee Lauder Double Wear, to Anastasia Brow Wiz, to Benefit Precisely My Brow Pencil, and finally back to Anastasia Brow Wiz in the right color for me (which somehow I had missed the first time).

So what I now use is Anastasia Brow Wiz in Ebony.

In truth, Anastasia has been the brow specialist for a couple decades, long pre-dating the current brow obsession. So, it’s a great line, with the best color range of products that I’ve seen:




I don’t have much more to say about brows, except:  you always want to use highlighter on your browbone. I like It Cosmetics Hello Light Anti-Aging Luminizer in Radiance, which lends a nice subtle sheen!

Looking Presentable on Webcam – A Guest Post

by Jennifer Bernstein, PhD

Instructor, Spatial Sciences Institute, University of Southern California


[Karen:  Jennifer offered this post, and I gladly accepted.  I’ve purchased the items she recommends and plan to start using them next week!  I apologize for the sketchy formatting of this post; the photos didn’t transfer well but I hope you get the idea!]

Like many of you, I spend more and more time on webcam. I defended my PhD remotely, I had my first full-time academic job interview remotely, and now I teach remotely in the Spatial Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California. As I progressed in my academic career and the caliber of videoconferences became higher, I realized that I didn’t like what I saw when I flipped open my Macbook and switched on the webcam. Weird shadows, back lighting, and- ahem- extra chins- made me anxious, not like the competent, confident academic I wanted to present myself as. So, with some advice from a photographer friend, I set up my office as a videoconferencing studio for about $125 (if this is beyond what you can afford- read on, I have more affordable alternatives). The results have surpassed those I see when I speak with people from professional videoconferencing studios. Now, I am certain that when I turn on my webcam, day or night, the picture is clear, I look professional, and I come across in a way that doesn’t distract from the conversation or presentation (Note: we at USC use Bluejeans as our videoconferencing service).

Me on webcam from my home office:






Behind the scenes- closed blinds and professional lighting (and yes, I have a plant addiction):







The Background

First, check your background. For academic purposes, you can’t go wrong with books (scholarly ones, of course). Make sure the books are arranged vertically, “fronted”, and no papers or folders are strewn about. Be careful of reflective surfaces- I have a fantastic map of Los Angeles from 1894, but I removed it from the wall behind my webcam because on camera it turns into a distracting glare. Family photos are a humanizing touch, and a plant (not dead or dying) never hurts.

The Camera

I bought this webcam, for no better reason that it’s a best seller and relatively affordable[1]. I also purchased a tripod so I can adjust the webcam based on whether I am sitting or standing, or what monitor I am using. The webcam and tripod help me avoid a major pitfall of videoconferencing- the “from below” camera angle. You should be looking up at your camera, not down. If you don’t want to see the nose hair of the person you are chatting with, they probably don’t want to see yours either. If the price point of a new webcam and tripod is too much, a simple alternative is to set your laptop on stack of books or a cardboard box.

What NOT to do- looking down at your webcam with overhead lighting:









The Lighting

With respect to a lighting setup, I did some internet research and consulted my photographer friend, Mikki Skinner. First rule- do not use a single overhead light, unless it’s Halloween and you are dressing up as a tired zombie. You need two sources of light- a key light (the primary light source) and a fill light (a medium-intensity source). Place your fill light and key lights on either side of you. You want to diffuse the light so that it is not pointed directly at you, but rather bounces off another surface and creates a soft glow. This sounds complicated, but lucky for us, the professionals have it figured out. I ordered this lighting kit off of Amazon (currently priced at $50!) and I cannot tell you what a difference it has made. It contains tripods (3!), bulbs, and reflective umbrellas, including a gold umbrella, which makes your skin look warm even if you have spent the last 3 days revising and resubmitting. At first I felt self-conscious about making the investment, but in retrospect I am incredibly satisfied with the purchase. The only downside is that this set up is cumbersome if you set up and take down your lighting on a daily basis. If you don’t want to invest in a professional lighting set-up, an alternative would be to take two floor lamps, remove their shades, and hang a white sheet behind your webcam. The lamps serve as the fill light and the key light, and the white sheet serves as the diffuser. If you choose this approach, make sure to use a light-colored sheet (which will flatter all skin tones) because your face will reflect the color (and no one looks good with a greenish cast).

The goods: Two tripods (the set includes 3), two fluorescent bulbs, two reflective umbrellas:








Tripods on either side of my desk:







Tripods complete with fluorescent bulbs and reflective umbrellas installed:

What about natural light? Natural light is tricky, but can be a good plan if you don’t video-conference regularly. If you have a window in your office, set up your webcam in front of it to create “flat light” (when the subject is parallel to the light source). If you have blinds that let in some light, partially or fully close them. Watch out for sun shining directly on your face and creating odd shadows. It goes without saying that if you choose natural light as your primary lighting option, schedule your calls during the day.

Natural light- not bad, but could be better!







…and of course, test it out before the big presentation!

Before your big interview or presentation, you will want to “test drive” your set-up. Make sure your platform detects the correct webcam, the audio works, and that there are no surprises in the background. On one of my early “high stakes” calls, I didn’t know the person with whom I was meeting could see my picture of Jerry Garcia in the background. While luckily he was a Deadhead, I wasn’t quite ready for my new colleague to immediately be aware of my hippie roots. Last-minute surprises add anxiety.

Personally, I love Jerry Garcia. But do I want a potential employer to know that during our first meeting?




As more and more of our interactions and professional lives take place remotely, it is an act of honoring one’s self and one’s work to present well on camera. Just in the same way that we would do our best to dress appropriately for an interview or practice a job talk, we can control our appearance on videoconferences. This eliminates stress and allows us to focus on the task at hand.



  • Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 ($55.68),via Amazon
  • Desk Clamp Mount Suspension Boom Scissor Arm Tripod ($19.98), via Amazon
  • CowboyStudio Soft Reflective Umbrella Continuous Triple Lighting Kits ($49.95), via Amazon
  • Framed picture of Jerry Garcia: Priceless


[1] I am not sponsored by the makers of any of these products.



Makeup Monday: All About Eyes

Welcome to Makeup Monday, my weekly series on makeup; academic and postacademic job market and productivity posts will continue on Tuesday and Friday as usual.

Here is my weekly reminder:  I will not engage with makeup-shaming here or on any Facebook or Twitter comment threads. I support your right to not wear makeup, and anyone who dislikes makeup, disapproves of makeup, or wants to argue that no academic woman should be judged on the basis of makeup (which nobody is claiming anyway), I suggest you come back for my other posts on other topics.

For previous posts, see the following:


Eye makeup has been the really steep learning curve for me, and if I were to write about all the different products I’ve used over the past two years, trying to figure out how to update my look from the techniques that worked once but in middle age work no longer, I’d have to write ten blog posts at least. So, I’m going to abide by Professor Is In rules of writing, skip the “narcissistic narrative of personal discovery” and stick entirely to what I use now, and why.

The single biggest issue for middle-aged eyes (for me at least) is droopy eyelids (otherwise known as hooded eyes).  The outcome of droopy eyelids is that your eyeliner, eyeshadow, etc. transfers onto your upper lid, and you end up with sad stripes in some places and blank spots in others… and, it’s just really annoying.

So of course, what one needs is a good eyeshadow primer. Dutifully, I tried all the major brands – Urban Decay, Smashbox, Too Faced.  None of them worked for me. I can see they’re  probably good. They just not good enough for truly hooded eyes. Finally, in desperation I turned to the 50+ makeup youtuber world (Angie at HotandFlashy is my favorite), and discovered that the go-to “primer” of choice in this demographic is the Mac Pro Longwear PaintPot. And I tried it and indeed, it worked. Once dry, that stuff holds your shadow and liner in place like nobody’s business, even when there’s a droopy eyelid resting on the lashline. I use the “Painterly” shade, which I found for just $12 at Nordstrom Rack–score!

For eyeshadow, I use the Tarte Tartelette Amazonian Clay Matte Palette, and I do my eye makeup similar to the diagram below.  On the Tartelette palette, I use Super Mom (lol) as the first all-over shade, up to my brow, Natural Beauty as the main shadow along the crease and in a thin line under the eye, and Multi Tasker as the dark accent shade on the outer corner.  If I want more intensity, I switch to Power Player for the main shadow.  These mauve shades work well with my hazel eyes.

For the bright highlighting that you see on the inner upper and lower eye in the diagram, I switch away from the matte shadows, and use Nars Velvet Shadow Stick in Goddess, a sort of matte-shimmer cream/peach shade.  I use this because all-matte can be a bit dull on older skin that is already a bit flat, and the subtle shimmer adds some campus-appropriate shine and pop without going into a Kat Von D or Wet N’ Wild metallic sparkle. I apply this with a micro-brush since the crayon shape would never reach into those corners.

Now once the shadow is on, the real point of contention arrives, which is: eyeliner. I’ve gone through so many eyeliners, it’s really just tragic.  I’ve used Revlon Colorstay (which is a great product line overall), Mac Pro Longwear, Mac PenUltimate, Urban Decay 24/7…. the list goes on. As you may recall from previous posts, my absolute non-negotiable requirement for all makeup is: extreme durability. It has to last through a 12+ hour day on a campus, as well as a midsummer dance class. None of the products above delivered, or delivered without leaving me red-eyed and sniffling from my extreme sensitivites.

But after years of searching, I finally found one that did:  Eyeko Sport Waterproof Eyeliner.  Eyeko Sport has a cult following, and yes, it does what it says. Both the mascara (which I’ll mention below) and the eyeliner go on, and they. do. not. come. off.  In fact, you have to be careful how you apply! Because any mistake you make, no matter how small, will be sitting there all day.  In the end, after weeks of frustrating smears and smudges, I finally started applying it with a small detail brush. That worked great.

However, having just sung the praises of the Eyeko Sport Eyeliner, I do have to tell you that I have recently switched over from a pencil liner to applying the charcoal-black Fashionista powder shade from my Tartelette eyeshadow palette as a liner, with a small angled brush.  The fact is, it’s almost impossible to carry off a bold black eyeliner look when you’re dealing with middle-aged eye wrinkles. 🙁  The powder, being much more blendable, is a softer and better look on older eyes, imo – at least for me with my priority of a relatively natural and unobtrusive makeup look.

Now we reach mascara: the truly heartrending struggle of my makeup life. There are so many hundreds of high-impact mascaras, but in the end they all smudge, or clump, or run, or if they don’t do any of those–then I’m allergic to them and I’m crying rivers of inky black tears while I’m walking out to the car. But after years of searching, I finally found two precious items, that I love dearly: No.7 StayPerfect Long Lasting Volume Mascara, and Eyeko Sport Waterproof Mascara.

The No. 7 is my go-to item for 12+ hour travel days or long days of talks. Coming in at about $10, it performs better than fancy designer brands that cost 3 or 4 times as much. It uses tubular technology, meaning that each lash is enveloped in a tube-shaped film that gives this smooth, elongated, flexible look with absolutely no clumps. And it stays… and stays, and stays. Until I wash it off with… just warm water! Amazing, right? There are lots of other brands that make a tubular mascara option, but I haven’t tried them, because I don’t need to. No.7 is the best, especially because it uses a small molded plastic/rubber wand that in contrast to stupid bushy brushes, allows for precision application.  And, it comes in a shiny gold tube – yay!

But even my precious No.7 can’t quite stand up to my sweaty face at dance class. So my search continued. I tried Tarte Lifted Waterproof Mascara which makes claims for sport-level-durability. I got a sample in an Ipsy bag.  No.  It did not work. Now, I did have a huge allergic reaction to it, so that could have been the issue. But after my test-class at dance, there was no mascara left on my lashes.

Anyway, the search continued until I read about Eyeko Sport online. Not having ever heard of this brand, I hesitated for months, but finally, I gave it a try and, yeah: this stuff is the real deal.

The Best Wand

Apparently it’s loved by athletes, and I can attest: this Eyeko mascara and eyeliner look as fresh at the end of my dance class as they do at the start.  It is truly remarkable.

My only complaint about Eyeko is its huge curved brush that scatters mascara everywhere. Not to make everything about age, but another aspect of middle-aged eyes is thin eyelashes. They won’t hold mascara bulk, and if you’re not very very careful, the product flies through them onto your skin. After weeks of frustrating mistakes, I finally started just applying it with my beloved No.7 wand.  Whatever works, amirite.

I’d actually like to tell you about all the brushes and tools I use for all of the eye makeup I’ve talked about so far, but it’s late and this post is already too long. So I’ll leave brushes and tools for another post.

But before I sign off, I do want to mention one rather obscure product that has made a big difference for me: Tarte Fake Awake Eye Highlight. This pale peachy colored product goes on the inside of the lower rim, to cover redness, and perk up tired eyes. It’s way better than the white-eyeliner-on -inner-rim trick that I learned from a famous newscaster, because white is… not a naturally occurring color… on even the palest caucasian face.  So Fake Awake is an improvement, at least for peachy-colored white people. While I find this product too chalky and clumpy for any of its other supposed highlighting uses,  on the inner rim, for someone with chronically allergic red eyes like me, it really helps.

And before I let you go, let me share one final product that I love with all my heart and cannot live without: Elf Makeup Remover Pen. This little item, which costs all of $3, precisely removes each and every smudge and blotch and smear and run, without interrupting the rest of your makeup. I use it daily without fail.  If you are not using a makeup remover pen in your routine, well, trust me: you’re going to want to start.



The UK Job Market Part II: Research By Numbers, or The REF

By Alice Kelly, Ph.D.

Alice Kelly is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She completed her PhD in English at Cambridge in 2014, with a year as a Fox Fellow at Yale, and before that she studied at Sussex, Reed College (Portland, Oregon), and Oxford. She has taught English and History in the US and the UK. Having applied for academic jobs on both sides of the pond, she understands the challenges and opportunities of being on the transatlantic academic job market. Alongside her academic research on twentieth century literature and culture, she advocates healthy writing practices. At Oxford she founded the TORCH Academic Writing Group, which she has written about in Times Higher Education.  @DrAliceKelly

See her first post in the series here.


Post Two: Research by Numbers?  The REF

Thinking of applying for an academic job in the UK? You will need to have a sense of the current academic landscape and climate of the UK academy, the different preoccupations of the UK job market, and some idea of where it’s going. For the foreseeable future (i.e. the next three to five years), these boil down to two key things: the REF/TEF (predicted for 2021) and the impact of Brexit. To give you some context:

The REF, or Research Excellence Framework – previously the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) – is a controversial form of assessment that evaluates the level of research excellence – via the research outputs produced – across the disciplines in British higher education institutions. Outputs (plural, in British English) include articles, monographs and book chapters, and the faculty selected to be included in their university’s REF submission submit up to four outputs each. The results are used to allocate research funding in subsequent years, so universities take it very seriously. Research submissions are evaluated by a body of assessors which measure ‘originality, significance and rigor’ with a star system, with the highest ranking being a four-star submission.

A new aspect of the last REF in 2014, and probably the most controversial aspect, was its attempt to assess impact, defined as ‘any effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’ – essentially how scholarly research has an impact on the public, assessed mostly via case studies. This is admirable in theory – who doesn’t want their research to have an impact beyond the ivory tower of academia, right? – but hard to assess in practice and in impartial terms. There are other reasons why the REF is controversial – despite being an exercise in assessing research excellence, scholars are pushed towards quantity, rather than quality, in publication. There’s also been talk of REF ‘gaming’, where universities poach top scholars at the last minute in order to improve their REF submission.

That said, you have to talk the REF talk if you are serious about an academic career in the UK – and show how you are a “REFable” applicant. Like any good researcher, you should google these terms and read up on them (for example, there is a Key Facts document about the 2014 REF here). Following the last REF, the Stern Review (which came out in 2016) gave a number of recommendations for REF 2021, including increasing interdisciplinary and collaborative ventures at the institutional level, and developing the links between research and public engagement. You will therefore need to consider for most (not all) applications across the disciplines how your research can be developed in interdisciplinary ways or could contribute to an interdisciplinary conversation. You will also need to demonstrate that you are a “public-facing” academic, with interest and experience in translating your scholarly research for a broader public audience.

The TEF, or Teaching Excellence Framework, is a new scheme concocted by the current universities minister which – similar to the REF – attempts to measure excellence in undergraduate teaching. The results from this exercise are graded through a bronze, silver or gold award, and these awards may or may not be used in the future to determine whether universities are allowed to raise tuition fees – with fees already being a contentious topic. The first results from this came out in June 2017 (with a number of universities appealing their grade) and the outcomes of this new scheme are not yet clear, but it’s important for you as an applicant to be aware that your teaching may be assessed under this scheme in the future.

Now, on Brexit – the elephant hanging precariously over our continent – don’t get me started. Essentially, we’re not sure, and are not likely to be sure any time soon, of the implications of this decision for the research and knowledge economy in the UK. Some potential consequences are the withdrawal of major European Union funding bodies from collaborative work with UK research councils; a drop in the number of overseas students; and a decreased ability to attract overseas researchers.

I’m sorry to say that we don’t know yet how hard it will be to get a job in the UK as an overseas citizen after Brexit – they’re still negotiating the whole thing. It’s safe to say that we won’t know for a while, so watch this space. (And don’t give up on us, yet!)

To Do: Start reading Times Higher Education and Guardian Higher Education regularly. If it helps, get it delivered to your inbox, but only if you’re going to read the emails and not automatically delete them. What are the latest, more localized preoccupations in the academy? Keep informed on ongoing Brexit discussions and their potential impact on British universities and the academic landscape.

Now you can hold your own in a staffroom with British colleagues and know something of the current shape of the British academy and the different preoccupations of the British job market. Next week we’ll learn how to write a winning cover letter.