Get Out There: Connecting, Negotiating, & Getting Paid–Fruscione

by Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

As few months into it, my freelance journey is by turns fun, challenging, rewarding, and (as academic entrepreneurship can be) a bit scary. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d have edited three World Bank Reports, a business motivation memoir, and a religious history book so far. I’d still consider myself a post-ac expert-in-training, although I’m gaining a lot of knowledge, experience, and professional acumen.

Here are three key things I’ve learned so far about getting out there—and moving forward:

  1. Be patient. For those of us new to the game, freelancing has its ups and downs: I’ve had quiet weeks followed by a logjam of projects followed by more quiet weeks. It takes work to find work, especially at the beginning: reaching out to placement agencies, landing informational interviews, and checking LinkedIn and Craigslist for job ads. If you go into freelancing, bring your patience.
  2. Always be looking. I’ve been collaborating with a former colleague to help her with some overload for a few Master’s thesis projects. A friend in a Humanities Ph.D. program is on the lookout for anyone in his cohort who would need someone like me. I’ve also emailed the graduate studies directors at my former schools to remind them of my availability. In all these cases, my background as a professor has helped me market myself as someone who won’t simply fix comma splices, correct formatting, close extra spaces, and so on. Some graduate students have needed the extra guidance I can offer, and I tell every potential client in the first email that I’m a former professor. If, like me, you’ve gone through graduate school, taught, and done a dissertation, thesis, or other major project, you might be well suited to helping other advanced students. A free 20–30 minute Skype consultation—thank you for the idea, Karen—with each client at the beginning of the process helps me assess whether I’ll just be copy editing the projects or doing some coaching at the same time.
  3. Get paid for your work. After almost 15 years in academia, I’m now making sure I don’t do projects “for valuable C.V. experience” or for “when a full-time position opens up.” Always make sure you’ll get compensated for your work, and don’t be afraid to turn down a freelance gig if the pay or other conditions aren’t fair. (An example in a minute.) A liberating change I’ve seen is being paid for work I used to do for free, such as contributing to a forthcoming essay collection.

 

Here are some ways to negotiate a price for the work you can do—and be paid for—based on scenarios I’ve encountered this year:

This sounds like a great opportunity, especially because I know so much about X and Y. Can I ask how you can compensate me for this?

(In May, I received an email asking me to participate in a start-up project a professor was doing. I talked on the phone with one of the organizers, asked about modest compensation…and never heard back. Beware of falling into the trap that, for instance, is set for many adjunct professors: doing a lot of low-paying, labor-intensive work for “valuable experience.” Especially when someone comes to you about some service or knowledge you can offer, don’t give away your magic for free. Our time has value and should be treated accordingly.)

I generally charge between $X and $Y per hour, or $Z as a flat rate. If that works with your budget, send me a sample section and I’ll prepare an estimate.

(I learned this the hard way: if you’ll be editing, review a writing sample and talk with the client before establishing your fee. When asked to copy edit a manuscript, I underestimated the page length and level of detail-oriented work the text, formatting, and notes required. Request a writing sample, and read it closely.)

I know we initially agreed to $X for this work. I’m happy to continue with This and That additional stage you’re asking me to do, but I would need to be paid $Z more.

(For the same book project, the managing editor was so impressed that she asked me to review her changes to the manuscript, as well as look over the page and cover proofs. We negotiated a price fair to the project’s budget and my labor. Given my evolving post-ac identity and the managing editor’s interest, I felt confident in asking for additional pay for additional labor. This has been one of the biggest—and most refreshing—differences from academia.)

I’m exploring multiple freelance options right now, and I’m sorry that Reason 1 and Reason 2 prevent me from taking on this project.

(I inquired with a publisher about doing some freelance copy editing or proofreading work. The pay was low [< $20/hour], and checks were customarily cut 3-4 months after invoicing. I consulted with a few trusted professionals to verify that this pay system was not worth it. The low rate and slow turnaround time made this impractical for me, and—unlike some past moments in academia—I wasn’t afraid to say no.)

 

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Part of a freelancer’s journey is to always be looking—for new projects, new connections, and new ways of advertising services. As I wrote here earlier this year, you owe it to yourself to talk, write, or tweet about your career change. Often. In a few cases—most recently this week—a friend of a friend was looking for editors and writing consultants. She sent my resume to the contact person, and I’m currently communicating about logistics, timelines, and rates. And, thanks to a nudge from fellow freelance academic Katie Pryal, I started my own WordPress site (“The Consulting Editor”) as a one-stop shop for my editing work, activism, and developing post-ac identity. Do whatever you can to keep networking, accept viable freelance projects, build resume experience, and make sure you get paid fairly.

All with a healthy dose of patience, of course.

 

We Don’t Need Your New Perspective

If you have the words “a new perspective” in any of your job documents, get rid of it.

It’s the tritest and most hackneyed of all job document language (that is not in the hyper-emotional-passion vein.)

Who is not doing something from a new perspective? How would you have gotten a Ph.D. otherwise?

This is the problem of meso-level specificity. You think you’re being specific, but it’s just another kind of vague.

Instead of telling us you bring a “new perspective,” tell us what the damned perspective IS!

“New” is just another (stealth) cheap adjective. The kind I talk about in This Christmas, Don’t Be Cheap.

Think, people.  If anyone can say it, it’s meaningless.

 

How to Get Experiences Corporate Employers Are Looking For

by Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

When I first moved to Texas to begin my PhD, I was a pretty ambitious and cocky gal. I was meeting a houseful of fellow grad students, going around the room and introducing ourselves. One person said he taught “tech writing.” I had never heard of such a thing. When he explained what it was and that it was the best way to get a spot during the summers, I scrunched up my nose and said, “but then you would have to teach TECH WRITING.” Little did I know that teaching technical writing would be the gateway to my academic departure and future career.

So, lets begin exploring how you can beef up your experiences rather than turn up your nose to opportunity, as I did.

My guess is that you have probably done a few things other than teaching in your adult life. In beginning to explore this world of post-acs, of which I have been a member for 15 years, I have noticed that a lot of people have taken on tangential work, from editing to coaching. That’s a great start to getting the experiences corporate employers are looking for (& very helpful for you in determining what you would like to do full time). If you haven’t, don’t worry. We will get you there.

Let’s start with the basics. Potential employers only understand their world (& recruiters can be pretty literal). Any work you do will have to be translated for them. I will talk more about that in a later “Lost in Translation” post. The main focus for you as you start your transition is building up experiences that will as closely tie to the work you want as possible so no translation is needed.

Secondly, you don’t have to get years and years of experience here. You just need enough to be able to tell a complete “STAR” story. “STAR” stands for Situation, Task or Action, and Result. Results are big for potential employers. They don’t just want to know that you did something; they want to know the impact you made (because that is what they will want).

The other thing to note is that recruiters like work that is tidy and connected to a job because that’s what the other candidates will have. You will be competing with people who might have fewer years or experience than you do, but may have experience in specific jobs that closely tie to the position, so you need to look comparable. Therefore, you will be looking for ways to beef up roles, not just your individual skills. All of these will have STARs under them, which will use the same exact language as the position posted.

Finally, you will notice I do not suggest you take more courses. As someone from an academic background, this will more than likely be your first thought. RESIST THIS URGE. To many outsiders, you are going to be overly educated enough. And, personally, I would have used “I should go back to school” as a way to avoid taking the plunge. Focus at first on experience. This is what you will need and what they will be looking for. Also, once employed, education and training is often covered by your company, so you will still be ale to take classes later, but you can do it on their dime.

As I mentioned in a prior post, the best way to learn about potential positions is to look at current openings, so I suggest you comb through any that interest you and capture the specific skills you will need. For illustration purposes, here are a couple lines for an available position as an instructional designer on one of my former teams ( which I use because I will know from an employer’s perspective what I would be looking for):

“-Uses project management skills to lead project teams and outside vendors to deliver projects on time within cost

– Defines learning objectives based on customer requirements and sound ID expertise

– Drives conversations to gain alignment and synthesizes thoughts to action”

 

Now that we know what we need to get our STAR, let’s talk about how we would get it:

  • on-campus work: start looking around campus for places where the work you  want to do exists. For our purposes, we need some project management experience, preferably in an educational environment. Start asking around campus to see if there are any projects going on around curriculum design, perhaps. More than likely this will not be paid, but it will be an investment in your future and you won’t be doing it forever. Your STAR would be under your current position as a professor since it is for the same employer and might be something like “leveraged project management skills to partner with ___ and successfully implement ___ project ___weeks early and $___ under budget.”
  • contract work: While employers may be hesitant to take on a full time employee with experiences they don’t understand, contract companies tend to be a lot more flexible. You might also be able to do these jobs while you are teaching because they could be project-based. I have personally hired a couple people to help with course editing or other work who have full time jobs elsewhere. In many cases, however, you will be hired by a contracting company, not an employer. You can even join a contracting company as part of their team. All of these are things you can search for online (and if you want to know more about this, let me know and I can write a post about it). In our illustration, I would focus on getting experience in defining learning objectives, although your years of teaching are very helpful in this space, as well. And make sure the work you do leads to a STAR, so if it is only part of a project, you can still articulate the outcome, such as “utilized instructional design expertise to establish learning outcomes to create courses that were developed ___ faster and produced a ___% improvement in ___.”
  • create your own: sometimes it is just easier to craft your own project to get exactly what you need. This also fits tidily under the role you have today, making your résumé less complicated. Remember, employers are looking for skills that you have, so anything you have done that demonstrates that and can be equated back to a position is helpful. For me, I worked with a friend to create a literary magazine on campus. This translated into a few STARs that tied to positions I wanted. For the one above, for example, I would say something like “founded and managed literary magazine, successfully partnering with stakeholders to align on publication outcomes and drive production and distribution,  resulting in ____ % higher readership and a ___% improvement in sponsorships.”
  • volunteer work: working with volunteer organizations can be helpful, but it may be more difficult to tie it to a specific job. I wouldn’t focus too heavily here, unless you had a leader role that you will be able to flesh out more fully as a position that reflects the skills you need in your future role. If you were president of gifting and are looking for a role in development or something like, you should highlight it boldly. Also, and I believe this goes without saying, unless you want to restrict yourself in your search, leave off anything potentially political. This doesn’t mean you can’t be who you are… Just don’t limit yourself right out of the gate. I am a very liberal, feminist democrat (proudly so), but I don’t put my Women’s Studies degree on my résumé. I have still worked for liberal companies. I am not saying I agree with this, that you should be ashamed of who you are or that you wont be able to find a pace that aligns with your values. I just recommend you make that decision AFTER you get an interview (which I will go through in a future post).

 

While not exhaustive, these tips should help you get a few more STAR bullets on your résumé. And that’s what potential employers are looking for: someone with skills they can understand. Hopefully, you will be able to see those opportunities and seize them, rather than scoffing at them, as I did.

And, who knows, maybe you will even LIKE them!!

The 4 Terrors of the Academic Entrepreneur

by Margy Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Academic entrepreneurship has long been an obvious choice for patent-holding scientists, and according to the Huffington Post, the career option has also become popular among academics seeking supplemental income. In July, Kerry Ann Rockquemore, founder of an academic support service, published a series describing how established academics can think like entrepreneurs to solve problems on campus and grow side projects into new businesses, as Rockquemore herself has done. On this very blog, Jessica Langer and I have cheerfully urged academics to launch entrepreneurial enterprises, and Dr. Karen offers a how-to webinar on the subject. Recently a reader even created a hashtag in honor of our favorite academic entrepreneur.

The truth is, academic entrepreneurs celebrate their chosen career path not only because it is feasible and rewarding, but also because entrepreneurs cannot help but tend toward optimism. As the saying goes, an entrepreneur is a person who leaps off a cliff and builds an airplane on the way down. I would add that, while falling, the entrepreneur enjoys shouting up to the people still perched on the cliff, “This plummeting-to-earth thing is a blast!! Try it!!!”

The optimism of the entrepreneur–part joy, part faith, part nervous energy–makes possible that leap off the cliff. The entrepreneur’s grandiose desire to build an enterprise larger than herself distinguishes her from the freelancer who simply trades hours for money.

But Oscar Wilde said it best: “The basis of optimism is sheer terror.” The boldness of the entrepreneur both causes and is caused by living in a sort of free-fall, working constantly and frantically to improvise the contraption that might or might not save your life. In my own free-falling journey of academic entrepreneurship, I’ve encountered four distinct terrors. I share them here to prepare you for what you, too, might encounter if you take on an entrepreneurial venture.

First is the terror of differentiation, alluded to in my first post: the feeling of departing from your tribe of kindred spirits. When you first decide to start a business, the reactions from your academic friends and colleagues may range from apathetic (“Hmm”) to skeptical (“Well, I guess you can try”) to confused (“Why aren’t you going for the tenure track?). Eventually, though, you grow comfortable with your new entrepreneurial self. You realize that, as irrevocable as that leap off the cliff was, it was you doing the leaping. And now, as you cultivate your entrepreneur self, you will continue to be you–learning, reading, thinking, discovering, and living the life of the mind. In Rockquemore’s description of the difference in mindset between academics and entrepreneurs, she rightly points out that people can switch at will between the two mindsets. In fact, academics ought to relish shifting perspective now and then.

Once past the terror of differentiation, another terror awaits you: the terror of money. You’ll initially fear not making any, of course, but at a deeper level, you’ll also fear the money itself–having to be right up close to it. You’ll feel uncomfortable having to deal directly with every dollar you earn from a client, rather than having money magically appear in your bank account like it had when you were someone else’s employee. Moreover, you’ll feel afraid while working long unpaid hours to get your business off the ground. Your time is what your life is made of, so by spending time on building your business, you invest your very life in a cause that isn’t guaranteed to succeed, notwithstanding your moments of irrational certainty that it will. Eventually, once clients or customers are coming steadily, the money terror mellows into a gentle discomfort, which flares up only while dealing with billing, collecting, and taxes. You realize that money-work is scary to you for the same practical and ideological reasons that it is for most academics, and that the only way you can expel the terror is to swallow and digest it first.

Once your terror of money dissipates, another terror sets in: the terror of over-work. You discover that having a new business, like having a new baby, is an exercise in over-extending yourself in order to meet others’ needs. Just as it takes awhile before you can wean your baby, it takes awhile before you can begin to extricate your self from your business and set limits: no working through the dinner hour, no working after midnight, no smartphone while playing with your child. The terror of overwork begins to diminish the moment you recognize it for what it is and decide where to set the boundaries in your life. (I type this at 12:03 am, in clear violation of rule #2 above.)

The fourth terror, which to be honest I’m still learning to manage, is the terror of unraveling. As your business grows and the stakes get higher, you’ll worry about miscalculating your taxes, losing your best employee, or leaving inadvertent loopholes in your contracts. You’ll consult experts for help, but still, the sheer volume of details and the professional and personal consequences of messing up will weigh on you sometimes. You might worry about being hauled off for tax evasion, Al Capone-style, or winding up paralyzed in a hospital bed like Ted Beneke. Even though you don’t believe in the concept of rivalry, you might worry that someone else will find a way to copy what you do and offer your product faster, cheaper, and with more sparkles than you can. But naming your fears helps you to keep them at bay. You allow yourself to list them out, then you get back to work.

What terror comes next in the journey of entrepreneurship? I suspect that the fifth terror will, in the words of Wilson Harrell, have something to do with “the same thing that leads us to start companies in the first place–some basic, semiconscious need to make our mark in the world, to leave our footprints in the sands of time.” According to Harrell, the elemental terror of the entrepreneur is “that we might become another member of the herd and pass into oblivion.” Come to think of it, this is not so different from the existential terror of the traditional academic who fears that her research will not outlive her.

Amidst such terror, whether in entrepreneurship, academia, or life in general, optimism is a choice–one that’s made in the midst of uncertainty, scarcity, danger. Choosing optimism isn’t always easy, but it is what enables us to paint visions of the future, and it makes forward movement possible.

To speak again as my academic self, I’ll quote Shakespeare’s As you Like It: “The threads of our lives are of mingled yarn, the good and ill together.” The academic entrepreneur is one who weaves together mingled yarn, and then looks to Shakespeare for the words to explain what she’s doing.

Managing Your Postdoc Year(s): Avoid These Mistakes (A Guest Post)

A few months ago I wrote a column in Chronicle Vitae about managing your time for a postdoc; the main point being, get your writing done!  A reader wrote to follow up and share her own story about failing to effectively manage her writing time on a prestigious three-year postdoc.  What it shows is that it’s not just essential to get your writing done, but to get it done with a constant eye to job market timelines.  The postdoc is not a glorious space of unbroken writing time; when you factor in slow academic publication processes and searches that commence a year in advance of employment, the postdoc is much shorter than it seems. The time has to be closely managed to ensure you leave the postdoc employed.  As this guest poster writes, “I believe that the multi-year postdoc as it’s referred to in US academia, is a blight upon my CV, as peers and more seniors weigh up my modest publication record against the three golden years I had at Oxford.”  Take care, readers!

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In the early spring of 2010, I was awarded one of the coveted, prestigious junior research fellowships (JRFs, as it is known in Oxbridge) in Oxford, United Kingdom. It was my final semester at Duke, where I was wrapping up my dissertation. Needless to say, it was a grand and unique opportunity. It offered 3 years of unstructured research time, came with accommodation and SCR privileges (wining and dining rights in the senior common room, which only Fellows at Oxford and Cambridge have access to at their respective Colleges), and a modest stipend. Most importantly though, this particular JRF did not require any teaching and thus expected junior Fellows to devote their attention solely to research. The professed goal of these Fellowships were to help early career scholars to achieve a tenure track position. A dream come true, for a young aspiring scholar, but yet a double edged sword: if I failed to produce, it would count against me on the job market.

And double edged sword indeed did it prove to be. For various reasons I will explain, the publications were too few, and came too late, for the prestige of the Oxford JRF to help me on the market. I was lucky to secure a tenure track position within my first couple of weeks on the US job market, at a Research 1 university. Nevertheless, I believe that the multi-year postdoc as it’s referred to in US academia, is a blight upon my CV, as peers and more seniors weigh up my modest publication record against the three golden years I had at Oxford. Hindsight is perfect, so they say, and now I know the mistakes I made and the obstacles that proved daunting. Let my experience prove a cautionary tale.

My graduate program was elite, not CHYMPS, but in the top-10 and prior to 2008, did place students in top-30 R1 positions without publications or with just one revise resubmit. As an entering cohort, in 2004, we were told that our placement record was stellar, and that a good dissertation plus promising research agenda would be all we would need. Thus, although the resources were vast and seemingly endless (until 08), faculty well known and uber-productive, and methodological training top-notch, we weren’t taught or encouraged to publish. I myself had tried to launch projects with various colleagues, all of which had gone nowhere.

Thus, I arrived in October, 2010 to Oxford with no publication experience. I knew next to nothing about the publication process; to illustrate my ignorance: I did not know what a cover letter to the Editor would entail. I did not know ScholarOne, or any of the details that go into actual submission. I was *that* clueless. Suddenly I was left on my own, in my lodgings in Oxford, to go forth and publish. A mentorship program supposedly existed, but I never got any mentorship. Most other Fellows were from the UK system and were already safely ensconced within their networks and continued to work with their thesis advisers.

I had heard advice that I should seek ‘informal’ feedback on manuscripts, that is cold email academics working on similar topics and see if they’d provide feedback. This faulty advice meant that I waited 9 months for ‘informal’ feedback. In the interim, I revised a chapter of my dissertation to fit the format of the intended journal, not knowing that that is the last step, mostly done after copyright transfer to a journal. I also mistakenly transposed an artificial theoretical framework to make my piece publishable. All these unnecessary changes stemmed from the mistaken belief I’d acquired as a graduate student that scholars only got published by working diligently and for years on ‘masterpieces’. Maybe, back in the day.

In a nutshell, I spent exactly one calendar year to submit my first piece, which four months later resulted in a rejection that might have been avoided without the artificial theoretical transplant. I later published the piece in a similarly ranked top journal by going back to basics-to my original theoretical framework. I also chanced upon an excellent discussant at our annual conference, who provided on point feedback for another paper. That became my first and quickest publication. Instead of awaiting more feedback, I went just with her feedback, plus some advice regarding journal choice from other postdocs at Oxford.

I also did not calculate that the glorious 3 year post-doc in fact translated to 2 years before I’d be on the US market. My field peaks around October for tenure track jobs. It also goes without saying that I had no idea how journal submissions or timelines functioned. Little did I know that for fast-track journals, if all goes well, the time from submission to acceptance could be the same length of time to create a human being, and more for online first publication, and yet more for in print. A more typical scenario are 2-3 rejections before an acceptance, or approximately 2 years from first submission to an acceptance and possibly 3 or more for in print. Even more depressing cases have been reported by senior faculty of 7 years from submission to publication, with 7 rejections in the interim.

Meanwhile, for personal reasons I’d also decided to go on the UK market. Again, my strategy of sitting on manuscripts to get informal feedback proved suicidal for my chances on the UK. I am among the lucky few who now know the markets on both sides of the pond. Academic year ’12-13 unfortunately also coincided with the pre-REF (research excellence framework) for UK higher education. Early career scholars may be prorated down to 3 or 2 publications but the more is better logic meant that someone with a modest record had a probability of obtaining a job interview statistically indistinguishable from zero.

I also was torn between pursuing a book as opposed to publishing article length work. I knew even less about book publishing than about article submissions. Thus, without making a plan, I left the book question up in the air. Whilst my field is article driven, and more so for quantitative scholars, a book can sometimes be the cherry on top that distinguishes you from the application pile.

Without further ado then, from the things I did wrong here are my tips for the lucky few among you embarking on postdocs.

  • Plan the postdoc, as you would plan an intricate vacation. Have writing and research goals in mind that are not general but as specific as possible. Break them down according to semester or term (at Oxbridge, we had 8 week terms plus 6 week off term time), in the least. Then play your days so that you devote time to daily writing and then work on the other research relevant tasks-transcription, data coding, data compilation, analysis, the reading, you know the fun bits!
  • Submit, submit, and submit. Simply reading, taking notes, and writing are not enough if you ultimately do not have the output to show for it. As a colleague recently put it, academia is ruthless in that good intention and effort count for next to nothing; output is where it’s at. Another angle on this is the threat of being scooped. Talking about your research to colleagues and presenting at conferences places you at a vulnerable spot for these ideas to be harnessed and packaged by better funded, better known, and better placed scavengers to proceed ahead with them. In addition, great minds think alike, and you will never be able to prove the difference, if you do not act quickly and quietly. Remember that your job as a graduate student began as a consumer of ideas and by now you should be a producer.
  • Have goals: Similar to the above but on a slightly different note, decide if you will prioritize articles or book or both. This will depend on how your field works and what it values and on the length and nature of your postdoc. I am writing from the experience of a research-only postdoc. However, having taught a 2-2 load off the bat as an assistant professor, even if you have to teach, limit your hours from the outset. Otherwise, teaching will take up your life. You are warned.
  • Seek advice. If you are still in contact with your committee, their advice is invaluable. The informal reviewers, the journal reviewers, and colloquia attendees will not have the patience or time to read your material as closely as your advisor and committee members have. Also leverage the mentorship and networking opportunities provided by your postdoc. At Oxford, the College system has pros and cons in this regard. It provided no mentorship, and we’d be housed in Colleges where there might be one or two scholars in the same discipline and no one in your subfield. (Nuffield was an exception for the social sciences). Take initiative in emailing the departmental members, attending events, and introducing yourself, much as you would at a conference.
  • Know the market and know which market(s) you will be on: I also mistakenly thought I’d be able to get another cushy, if not three year, postdoctoral position. That was my fall back, maybe borne out of the graduate school environment where we were coddled and told all would be swell, given our elite pedigrees. I never thought VAPs or worse, adjuncts would be on the horizon. Thus, when I did eventually go on the market, R1 TTs plus few SLACs with research focus were all I applied to. Again, to reiterate the obvious, I was extremely lucky. There are institutions that still will look to fit and reward potential and there are cases in which the first or second choice candidates will fly off to greener pastures. I was up against that year’s market superstar, who eventually landed a CHYMPS postdoc and is now at Harvard but regardless, the first offer was made to me.
  • Coauthor cautiously, if at all:  Your solo work, especially as a recent graduate, comes first and foremost. I began 2+1 papers with someone in 2009; they are still not published. They will be some time, hopefully before I attain tenure, but had I depended on these pieces to be the career making articles, I’d most likely have zero on the CV right now. That is not to say do not coauthor but when you do, choose your projects and coauthors wisely. I was led astray on 7 (!) projects, some submission ready, others data work, others conference papers, that failed for various reasons that can be summed up by lack of commitment on their part for that project. Do not waste time on projects that are unpublishable, or relinquish those that could be, and do not overcommit to prospective coauthors who will not commit to you. Much like dating and relationships!
  • Do not volunteer for optional teaching. My postdoc was one of those with no requirements for teaching. Those who wanted to, taught tutorials within College. Unlike traditional classroom lecturing or seminars, these are akin to one to one or at most small group private tutorials, as the name specifies, where one goes over students’ papers and assignments for a course in your field. Make no mistake, while not requiring Powerpoint prep, lecture notes, or any of the usual tasks and minutiae inherent on ‘teaching prep’ in the US, these can be a time suck. One golden piece of advice I received was to avoid such commitments as pure research freedom would not come again. Teaching experience does look good on the CV but if you are aiming for the R1 world, it will only count at the margins.
  • And last but not least, have hobbies, or something else outside of academia that helps structure your time. In saying this, I go back to square 1 as in point 1. During what I now look back upon as the best three years of my adult life fitness became my passion. It will keep you sane, and also serve to divide up your days.

 

I would end with a congratulations to those of you fortunate enough to have postdocs in hand. Please remember that this is a golden opportunity that can come back to bite you. In fact, I’d venture to say that the more prestigious and cushier the postdoc, the more you will be penalized for failing to produce. That, was also a naïve assumption on my part –that the Oxford name would count for something. First off, foreign postdocs, be they Oxford, or Cambridge, or any other fancy name, are not well known in the US and their multi-year nature immediately raises a few well-placed questions (as happened to me on a phone interview with an elite private R1). Second, your postdoc is not your pedigree. It only counts insofar as you leverage it, by publishing first and foremost, and by networking, and making use of the resources provided (Data, libraries, gym). You are not permanent; even cases that are renewable are few and far between, much less cases of postdoc to permanent position (again there is an inverse relationship between the probability of such an occurrence and the prestige of the postdoc). To echo the above, again last but not least, enjoy the year(s) but do not enjoy them too much, as I did, to the extent that you turn a blind eye upon the looming job market.

Four (Somewhat) Easy Ways to Network – Gover

by Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover

For some, networking is the most pleasurable part of their professional lives.  For others, the very word produces fear and anxiety.  If you are a natural networker, you are lucky!  When asked how people got their jobs, the number one answer involves some sort of networking.  Many of my graduate students and clients know that they should be networking, but they are puzzled by exactly what this means.  Here are the four easiest and most effective ways that I have found to network.

  1. The Informational Interview

The informational interview can give you a lot of bang for your buck.  Not only can you learn a great deal about a profession you are considering, but you can also start building your professional network.  In an informational interview, you will be asking questions about a specific job at a particular company.  You will also be finding out about other opportunities. You can ask if this person knows anything about current or upcoming job openings at his/her company or others.

The person you are interviewing can also point you toward two of the other networking opportunities.  Find out if they know of volunteering or internship positions that might give you both professional experience and the opportunity to meet others in the field.  Also find out if there are professional associations or groups that you could join.  Make sure that the conversation is not dominated by asking whom the person you are interviewing can connect you to.  Instead, primarily ask information-gathering questions and ask about ways that you can connect yourself to others in the field.  Most importantly, do not lose touch with the person you have interviewed as soon as the interview is over.  Instead, connect to them on LinkedIn!

  1. LinkedIn.com

LinkedIn.com is the latest rage in professional networking, and enthusiasm for it is only growing.  This is also a rather easy platform for networking.  If you don’t have an account, you should definitely set one up, update it often and, even when you have a job, keep it updated.  Just like a resume, it is hard to update your LinkedIn page if you have not been steadily refreshing it.

Connect with whomever you know who already has a LinkedIn account.  At first, it may look like only those in your current profession, academia, are linked to you.  However, soon you will find that your friends and acquaintances will start connecting with you as well.  As you connect with more people, endorse their skills as appropriate.  You can also request that they endorse your skills.  As you do so, you are building not only a resume but an online presence with people who are vouching for your effectiveness as a worker.  As you complete informational interviews, connect on LinkedIn.  If you have volunteer or interning experiences, connect on LinkedIn.  As you make professional connections, connect on LinkedIn.  When you meet people in bars, connect on LinkedIn.  Okay, maybe not bars all the time, but here is a guide for when you should connect on LinkedIn.  If a business card was exchanged, if you talked about how your work intersects with the other person’s work, or if a business card exchange would have been appropriate in the Mad Men days, you should connect on LinkedIn.

 

  1. Volunteering or Interning

You are a graduate student or an already incredibly busy working academic.  You have a family, or a significant other, or a cat that requires more attention than you can give.  You don’t have time to volunteer or intern.  I get it.  But I also know that this is one of the best ways to show off your skills to potential employers and to get references who, when called, can talk about practical skills you can bring to the work place.

Interning and volunteering can give clout to your application when you are applying for a position.  Instead of saying, “I have always been interested in working for a theater non-profit” with little proof that this is the case, you can show that you have always been interested in a theater non-profits by talking about your volunteer work during the local elementary school spring play.  Instead of saying, “after my PhD, I am excited to translate my passion for environmental science research to the environmental science industry,” you can show that you have experience writing and editing an air quality blog on the county’s website.  Additionally, people you work with can do things like endorse your skills on LinkedIn, point you to jobs openings, be listed as references, suggest additional trainings you might need to advance to higher paying jobs, and generally become part of your professional network.

  1. Joining and Attending Professional Association Meetings or Group Events

Look for professional groups or associations that meet your interests.  Those you have interviewed may have given you a few leads as will those with whom you have interned.  However, you may want to do some exploring on your own as well.  Think about professional organizations that fit the types of employment in which you are interested.  Are you interested in the non-academic side of university life?  Try the National Academic Advising Association.  They offer discounted memberships to those who are still students and allow those who are not currently working at an institute of higher education to join and attend conferences and regional meetings. Do you want to use all of your conference-planning prowess to move into professional event planning?  Try the Event Planners Association.  They too offer a student or entry-level membership.  Or you can seek professional networks that connect a special interest group that may or may not be confined to one industry.  The Association for Women in Communications  or the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources might be for you, and both offer student or recent graduate membership options.  In general, look for professional associations that have student or entry-level memberships that are under $100 annually and have regional meetings in your area.

Don’t be afraid to seek more informal opportunities as well.  These will often be cheaper and easier to fit into your schedule.  Are you an environmental researcher or have you always been interested in environmentally friendly products and lifestyle choices?  Why not start attending Green Drinks meetings?   You can even find meet-up groups in your area that might help you connect. Just type in your zip code and select how far you are willing to travel to explore the opportunities in your area.  My favorites are the young professionals and the entrepreneurs groups in various cities, but try others that are interesting to you!  The point to all of these is that you will be meeting other people with like interests and professional networks.

Whichever methods or combinations of methods you choose for networking with others, remember that networking is not a one-time thing.  You must periodically touch base with your group, just as you do with your friends.  So find an option that works well for you, and make sure it becomes a regular event in your agenda.

 

Those 12 Sentences: Evaluating Cover Letter Advice

Many of you have undoubtedly seen the blog post by Philip N. Howard that has been circulating around the internet for the past couple of weeks, called A Dozen Sentences That Should Appear in Your Academic Cover Letter.  It was originally published on the University of Washington Graduate College Mentor Memo site, and was later reprinted in Inside Higher Ed.

Many readers sent me the link to ask for my reaction.  This post is my response.

First off, I’m pleased that anyone is providing hands-on advice of this kind.  This information is so desperately needed, and I’ve been operating in such a vacuum for so long, that I’m very glad to see that somebody, anybody, is actually trying to provide concrete and specific job market advice.

That is not to say that I agree with everything Philip Howard writes.  I will comment on each of the twelve sentences in turn.

1. I would like to be considered for the position of [title copied from job ad] in [exact department name from job ad] at the [exact institution name from job ad]. I am an advanced doctoral candidate in [your department].

Yes, indeed, except that this sentence contains feeling-talk (I would like) that job candidates routinely overuse. I would recommend, “I am writing in application to the position…”  While “I would like” is not a problem in isolation, added to the rest of the feeling-talk that Howard recommends in later sentences, it becomes a bit excessive.  The bottom line about feelings in job letters is that candidates always think that their strong feelings are the key to getting jobs, and if they just communicate their “passion” and “excitement,” and “eagerness,” that will surely get them hired. Remember that you and 250 other people are all trying to pitch the same passion, eagerness and excitement, and it’s old before you even start.  Actually, what gets you hired is SHOWING, rather than telling, that you have pursued an energetic course of research, publication and teaching, without recourse to cheap emotion words.

2. My doctoral project is a study of [cocktail party description]. Much of the research on this topic suggests that [characterize the literature as woefully inadequate]. But I [demonstrate, reveal, discover] that contrary to received wisdom, [your punch line].

Yes indeed.

3. To complete this research I have spent [X years] doing [fieldwork/lab work/archival work/statistical analysis]. I have traveled to [these cities or libraries], interviewed [X number of experts], created [original datasets/original compositions/original artwork].

Howard elaborates:  “This sentence should be followed by a paragraph with the story of your research process. Overwhelm the committee with the volume of artifacts you’ve studied, people you’ve talked to, time you have dedicated or places you’ve been.”

The sentence itself is indeed essential. Search committees need to know what you examined.  However, never, ever, EVER “overwhelm” a search committee with information, and good god don’t write a “story” of your research “process”!!  9 out of 10 job candidates believes that their dissertation is SO fascinating, SO compelling, SO urgent, SO earth-shattering that they would gladly overwhelm every person they meet with endless quantities of minutiae about it, AND the endless tale of how they discovered this, and then turned to that, and then developed an interest in this (see below), and then were “fortunate enough to have the opportunity to” do that…etc. etc. ad nauseum.  Ain’t nobody got time for that. Deliver this information crisply, factually, in no more than 2 sentences.

4. I have completed [X] of [Y] chapters of my dissertation, and I have included two substantive chapters as part of my writing sample.

This is ok, although telling them what chapters you have finished in the dissertation is less important than telling them a concrete defense date in the first sentence, in my view.  Talk is cheap, but a defense date doesn’t lie.

5. I have well-developed drafts of several other chapters, and expect to defend in [month, year]. OR Having defended in [month, year], I plan to [turn it into a book-length manuscript for a major scholarly press/select key chapters for publication in disciplinary journals].

Howard elaborates: “If any of your committee members are unwilling to commit to even a season of the year for your defense date, or you don’t have two substantive chapters to submit to the hiring committee, it’s too early for you to be on the academic job market.”

He is absolutely right about plans for publication. He is mostly right about the too early to go on the market, except that sometimes it is good to go on the market early to get your worst mistakes out of the way while your still have a cushion of time, affiliation, and, we presume, support.

6. Although my primary area of research is [disciplinary keyword here], I have additional expertise in [another disciplinary keyword here] and am eager to teach in both areas. I have [taught/served as a teaching assistant] in courses about [A, B and C]. In the next few years, I hope to develop courses in [X and Y].

Of course you must describe teaching competencies, but don’t do it with vague claims and emotion-talk.  Eager?  Hope?  How does that help us?  Again, 250 other people will resting their cases on exactly the same feelings. Give us facts and specifics instead.

7. For the most part, my approach to research is through [social science or humanistic method keyword here], and I would be interested in developing a methods class on this approach to research.

All candidates need to be prepared to teach both specialized classes related to their research, and bread-and-butter classes such as Intro, Methods, and Theory.  Thus, he is correct that you should be able to discuss a methods class. However, again, he reverts to feeling-talk (“I would be interested”).  Candidates overuse the word interest almost as much as they overuse the words passion and excited, and are often already so self-involved that their letters devolve into an endless vortex of “I am interested in xxxx, and I have an additional interest in yyy, and I would be interested in teaching zzzz, and I have a great interest in the work of pppp and my interests in qqqq coincide…..”  It’s an addiction. I have a whole post on it called, “Nobody Cares What You Are Interested In.” By which I mean, don’t TELL search committees that you’re interested in this or that. SHOW them you’re interested with specifics.

8. Although I have been focused on my graduate research for several years, I have been actively involved in conversations with [scholars in the department you are applying to, or scholars at other universities/professional associations/conferences/other disciplines].

What?  How do conversations help anything?  Talk is cheap, and anybody can converse, particularly a grad student, about his dissertation. That does not distinguish you.

Howard elaborates, “This can be the one paragraph about service, highlighting conferences you’ve attended, workshops you’ve organized, and other ways you’ve supported your discipline.”

The key here is conferences. Those are peer-reviewed and your attendance at them will set your record apart.  Never hang your hat on service.

9. In the next few years, I hope to be able to investigate [reasonably related problems or questions].

Everybody needs a second project.  However, please don’t articulate it in vague aspirational feeling language like “hope.”  Are you really that unsure?  That doesn’t inspire confidence.  And while we’re on the subject, don’t try, attempt, endeavor, or seek, either.  Read my post: Do. Or Do Not. There Is No Try.

10. I am interested in this post for a variety of reasons: [something about the character of the department/university/community/city].

This is tailoring, and it’s essential.

11. Because of my graduate training, my doctoral research, and my teaching [experience/interests], I am uniquely qualified for this job.

Oh good god.  Really?  Uniquely qualified?  Did your mom tell you that?

When a search committee reads 250 letters that each say the applicant is “uniquely qualified” (which, by the way, they do already as it is, even without his post telling them to), those words are emptied of meaning. They constitute pitiful, desperate rhetoric. Connect your achievements and record with the position without recourse to wheedling claims.

12. In the next few months, I will be attending [conference A] and [conference B]. If you or your colleagues are also planning to attend, I would be happy to meet for an informal conversation.

To my eye this also reads as desperate.  The academic job search is a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” situation. If they want you, they’ll ask.

Howard finishes:

Shoot for two and a half pages of content: less than that and you might not seem like an advanced doctoral candidate well -immersed in a project; more than that and committee members may stop reading.

No, two pages is plenty.  He is opening many doors here, through the constant emotion and interest talk, for excessive and self-involved verbiage.  Good editing and a focus on the facts rather than feelings easily keep letters within two pages.

As you write, drop in the names of granting agencies that have supported you, or the journals that are publishing or reviewing your work.

Yes

Ideally several faculty members will write letters on your behalf. If possible, at least one letter-writer can come from a university other than yours. Hiring committees love reference letters on different university letterheads; it shows that you have social capital beyond your home department.

100% agreed. I have a blog post on this subject–“Why You Need a Recommender From Outside Your Department.”

Address your letter to the person heading the search or the department head. A greeting such as “Dear Committee Members” shows you haven’t done enough research. Ask a friend to proofread your document for grammar and spelling.

For sure.

Finally, follow up with the department. Hiring committees do not always tell candidates whether they are on the shortlist. If you finish another dissertation chapter, or get an article published, a few weeks after submitting your letter, submit an update by email and ask that this example be added to your file and where the committee is in the hiring process.

Follow up with additional information like this, yes. However, don’t follow up to querulously ask if you’ve been short-listed, etc. Candidates are always asking me when they should do that.  Don’t do that.  Again: “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

How To Tailor a Job Letter (Without Flattering, Pandering, or Begging)

This is a re-post

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today’s post is going to address the difficult matter of tailoring a job letter. In the work my clients do on their job market materials, it seems that nothing gives them as much trouble as the one small paragraph, in their job letters, tailored to the job. (Well, nothing, maybe, except the dreaded teaching statement).

I am always startled at how often the tailoring that I tell them to do comes back in the form of pandering, flattering, or begging.

Proper tailoring is none of these things.

Now, before I get to what good tailoring looks like, let me take a step back and consider the letter as a whole. My working principle, when I was on the job market myself, when I trained my own Ph.D. students, and now as a coach and consultant, is that a candidate has one basic job letter template, which is then adjusted into 4-8 subsidiary templates, depending on the type of institution, department, and specialization of the specific job being applied for.

The basic templates vary only a little. Your dissertation, your teaching, your publications, your second book project: these remain mostly constant across platforms. And so, there is only one part of the templates that changes substantially, in the Dr. Karen cover letter model, and that is the “tailoring paragraph” which comes at the end of the letter.

The basic goal of the tailoring paragraph is to identify programs, initiatives, centers, emphases, and specializations on the campus to which you are applying, in which you, the candidate, could productively participate.

I do not approve of “fit” sentences in academic job letters. I know that, in this, I depart from some other advice circulating in academic circles. To my eyes, however, a sentence in a job letter that claims, “My expertise in xxx and xxx makes me an excellent fit for your position,” will only rile up the academic temperment that will inevitably respond, “I will be the judge of THAT!” No amount of telling your reader about your fit can replace a paragraph effectively showing it. 

In addition, of course, such language is painfully overused and thus trite.  Particularly the line, “I am uniquely qualified…”  Uniquely?  Really?  Did your mom say so?  And qualified?  You and 50 other people are all “qualified” for the position. You better be  setting your bar a hell of a lot higher than “qualified.”

For more, refer to my post on the subject:  “I’m the Ideal Candidate!

In a previous post on job letters I advocated mentioning specific faculty by name, as people with whom you might collaborate or co-teach. However, after working with many clients since publishing that post, I’ve come to understand that this advice does not yield the results I had hoped for.

Simply listing some faculty members in the department—ie, “I would look forward to working with faculty such as Nelson and Smith on transnational history”–is not terrible, but it is not, I now feel, the sole demonstration of familiarity with or enthusiasm for the campus and its strengths. In other words, yes, you should list a few people by name and how you anticipate collaborating with them. But that should be augmented with other content.

The other content is all too often abject eagerness, undignified flattery, or desperate pandering.  Here are examples:

Abject eagerness to fill adjunct-level teaching needs: ie, “I would be happy to teach any of your introductory courses, including Anth 103, 105, 112, or 121.”

Undignified flattery: ie, “I would be thrilled to be a part of a department like yours with such a long and illustrious history in the field of Asian Studies.”

Desperate pandering: ie, “it would be a great honor to join the dynamic faculty of the English department at the University of XXX and I would strive to be a productive member.”

Tailoring, done correctly, is demonstrating your familiarity with real, substantive ongoing initiatives that already exist in the department and on campus, and signalling your enthusiasm for participating in them.

A good tailoring paragraph might read something like this:

I would particularly look forward to participating in the Ethnicity, Race and Nationalism interest group in the department, and envision developing an upper level undergraduate course, “Ethnic Nationalisms in Eastern Europe,” as part of that dedicated curriculum. I can envision collaborating with Smith on projects related to Eastern European politics and economics, and with Nelson on work related to the post-socialist transition. I am also interested in the activities of the Center for Democracy Studies on campus, and would look forward to bringing an anthropological and Eastern European perspective into those cross-disciplinary conversations. ”

Why is this good? Because in addition to showing a real familiarity with both a departmental emphasis, as well as a campus-wide program, this paragraph communicates that the candidate is a good potential colleague who is willing to adjust his teaching to the needs of the department, AND to represent the department and its interests in cross-campus, interdisciplinary venues.

The candidate does not look slavishly pandering in this, but rather like an active, dynamic, and imaginative scholar who is alert to new ways for his own fields of expertise to coincide with and further the aims of his wider intellectual community.

Here is another tailoring paragraph example:

The department’s long-standing strengths in Francophone cinema make this position a particularly appealing one for me. I would look forward to the opportunity to develop courses on emergent cinemas from West Africa and the Caribbean, and can also envision bringing material on those cinemas into introductory courses such as “Introduction to World Film.” I am familiar with the annual Film Festival hosted by the Center for Media Studies on campus, and I would enjoy collaborating with those organizers to increase the representation of Francophone cinema in that Festival’s offerings.”

Why is this good? Because it shows the candidate is already thinking like a departmental colleague, asking how she can be instrumental in widening the department’s geographical and cultural coverage. She is also demonstrating that she is an involved and generous campus citizen who will add to the visibility and prestige of the department by getting involved in one of the campus’s most high profile events, the annual Film Festival.

In neither of them is the department or the campus explicitly flattered or pandered to. In both of them, the already existing strengths and priorities of the department/campus are acknowledged, and the potential of the candidate to be an active participant highlighted.

To conclude, in your tailoring paragraph, above all else, do not flatter. Sentences like :

Your department is an exciting and dynamic intellectual community,” or

As one of the top ranked programs in the country, your program is very exciting to me,” or

Being home to one of finest student bodies in the country, your campus would be an ideal location for me to start my teaching career”

will not get you the job. They will just make you look desperate.

Even in this job market—no, ESPECIALLY in this job market— the basic rule of all job searches in all times and all places still holds true: you have to make them want you.

You make them want you by retaining your dignity and your sense of self (and definitely your sense of humor), and comporting yourself like a scholar and colleague worthy of pursuing.

 

Grad Student Grandiosity

Grad students tend to veer between two extremes: I know nothing and I know everything.  The latter position is an over-compensatory response to fear of the former.

As you gain experience you find a middle ground of calm confidence. However, at the point of applying for your first tenure track job, these two extremes predominate.

Most of my writing attacks the former, ie, the grad student default to “I’m not worthy.”  However, this Fall I’m inundated with cases of the latter: “I am a genius, I tell you, a GENIUS.”

This position is of course communicated not directly, but indirectly through what I’ve come to call “grad student grandiosity.”  Grandiosity can be seen in purple prose, pretentious verbs and adjectives, pedantic or tendentious claims for the originality of the work, bragging and judging.  In this post I give examples, adapted from actual client documents, of how grandiosity appears in job application documents.

Grandiosity is most often found in excessive claims for the work’s import:

My work transforms understandings of civil society

My book will serve a milestone function in the academic panorama and all major academic libraries will be interested in this work.

My work represents a case study of balance between the academic mission of uncovering understudied phenomena and the intellectual duty to spur global debates on the current world.

This is an essential topic in our own time

I call this framework XXX/XXX, much like Michel Foucault’s knowledge/power paradigm

As Western academia’s first comprehensive work concerning…

My research not only contributes to XXXX history and politics, but pushes the boundaries in understanding the implications and contributions of

My dissertation, then, not only offers a novel interpretation of a central figure, texts, and topics in the history of Western thought; it enlarges disciplines and discourses of crucial interest to academic and wider public audiences.

 

And self-important fancy words:

The abiding concerns of my research pertain to the relationship of…

My next work recalibrates the concluding arguments of my dissertation

The dissertation draws together nascent theories of

The significance of my research is captured in two interdependent points of contribution.

Understanding this past complexity prepares us for the challenge of working to improve

 

Pretentious modifiers are always a sure sign of grandiosity:

The relationship between xxx and xxx has been a troubled and, at times, tragic one in both the distant and recent past. Untangling its intricacies requires a perspective hearkening back to a point at which the traditions were indistinct.

 

As is the impulse to judge and condemn other scholars’ failings:

“The ill-considered tendency, here, to rationalize the xxx as merely illustrative of narrative xxx exploits or symbols of elite status limit the interpretative potential of these objects. This narrowed perspective undermines the dense materiality of the xxxx themselves, from which a broad field of valuable insight is lost.”

Postures that correctly see in the xxx century “the first century of xxxx” (e.g. cite and cite) risk presenting those traditions as spoken into being by xxxx , thus relying on xxx for the very definition of their objects of inquiry.

The very act of making the term xxx plural is enough to bring the ire of several scholars in the field.

To date, even the most thoughtful proponents of a model of continued interfusion between xxx and xxx  in the middle ages (e.g., cite and cite) leave unanswered questions of…

 

There is pedantic lecturing:

The 21st century can be characterized by change and transaction.  In this environment it is important that undergraduate education teaches students how to learn. It is more important that students know how and where to find information than to know all of the answers.  Be able to challenge core assumptions rather than share the standard one.  Recognize a variety of viewpoints rather than molding experience to a single viewpoint.

 

Besides classroom and labgroup responsibilities, community science outreach is an increasingly important and relevant aspect of science education. Whether it be through demonstrations and conversations in high schools, malls, and community organizations or media and public lecture discussions, scientists, and especially xxxx, should reach out and describe what we are doing to the general public and how the field of xxx  improves and affects lives in a positive way.

 

And there is pretentious posturing about teaching:

These methods play to my strengths as a pedagogue

Both my dissertation and classroom work evince a strong interest in

Because skills acquired in the classroom can perdure for a lifetime

My emphasis on rhetorically-situated teaching reticulates well with service-learning courses

My classes are also praxis spaces, which require my teaching to be iterative

A meaningful problem within which the student is invested and the resolution of which will stimulate the student’s creative and analytical abilities.

Experiential learning dovetails with ethnographic training and complements in-class instruction.

My teaching is motivated by a deep commitment to probing the ways that

This approach brings balance to considerations, piquing the thought of the student, while pointing to their potential to develop new insight.

One of my primary teaching goals is to “de-fetishize” both the triumphal globalization of the modern and the obstinate parochialism of the past, and show why both are true but partially

 

It also arises in the tailoring sections, when a candidate “presumes to judge” the department and its faculty:

I find XXX’s work on xxx particularly intriguing, as it is consistent with my own approach…

I am impressed by the department’s commitment to xxx 

I find the program’s position on xxx correct and would support

 

 

Sometimes candidates claim a broader view than they are really entitled to:

“Over the course of my academic career, I have always…”  [candidate is ABD]

 

And sometimes candidates combine the grandiose and the over-humble:

My thesis hopes to be part of this crucial conversation…

 

It is easy to see why job candidates fall prey to grandiosity.  Their position could not be more insecure; it’s natural to overcompensate. However, effective documents will eschew grandiose claims, and will present the record calmly, without excessive rhetorical flourishes, and with a focus on just the facts. As Julie Beck notes in this month’s Atlantic: “Counterintuitively, grandiose vocabulary diminishes participants’ impressions of authors’ cerebral capacity. Put another way: simpler writing seems smarter.”*

*Julie Beck, How to Look Smart. Atlantic, August 13, 2014; citing Oppenheimer, “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity” (Applied Cognitive Psychology, March 2006).

 

 

Break The Cycle of List-Addiction (Or, Just Say No To Flabby Logic)

[This is a repost]

Too many of you are addicted to lists in your writing. What does this look like? Well, something like this:

In sum, my dissertation uses interviews, surveys, textual analysis, and internet research in order to explore the impact of Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace on the social networks, family connections, and romantic relationships among a range of undergraduate students at large universities as well as small colleges, in order to analyze the differences in usage patterns by variables such as race, gender, sexuality, and age.”

Sigh…..

The list is the flabbiest form of a scholarly argument. It is basically additive instead of analytical, and it simply piles on new variables instead of doing the work of winnowing and ordering them to make a clear, focused argument.

List-addiction is epidemic among young scholars who are trying to please everyone instead of fighting the good fight of declaring an argument and seeing it through to its singular conclusion.  Or who are trying to prove that they can do everything and have no gaps in the project.  Or who are just imprecise writers.

Here is a typical example, adapted from a client document:

My research focuses on transnational Latin American history and culture, comparative race and ethnicity, and critical geography. At its core, my work is interested in how cultural and economic processes produce social inequality and how ordinary people interpret, inhabit, and influence these processes. I employ critical theories of race and space to investigate how national and transnational histories of war, empire, labor, and migration articulate through Latin American social and cultural practices. My research explores how these histories shape the formation of LatinAmerican identities and communities in relation to the production of racialized landscapes.

Count the dyads (8), and the lists (3).

The outcome is a dizzying and tedious jumble of words that skims over a giant set of variables instead of clarifying a project.

If you find lists in your job documents, and this would include lists of methods, fields, variables, and in particular courses that you propose to teach, remove them immediately.

This one in common: “I am prepared to teach any of the following courses on your course listing: ANTH 101, ANTH 102, ANTH 124, ANTH 125, ANTH 303, ANTH 364, ANTH 401, ANTH 402, and ANTH 499, as well as other courses as appropriate.”

Who wants to read a list of course numbers?

Some lists are necessary—sometimes you must list the texts you study, the methods you utilized, or the topics you cover.  The litmus test is not the appearance of a single list, but of a series of lists. If you have lists in every sentence, and dyads as far as the eye can see then that is list addiction.  Want a quick diagnosis?  Do a universal search for “and” in your document–if you have a case of list addiction, it’ll light up.

A mature job candidate will articulate a singular position, take a stand, and be prepared to defend it. And that courage of conviction—manifested in the choice of one thing as the best thing—is what makes a scholarly reputation, and gets tenure track jobs.