I Made Myself Indispensable – Day 2

Every piece of post-ac advice pretty much tells you to focus on the skills you need to transition to a non-academic job—both polishing and promoting those you already have, and gaining new ones that might not have been part of your graduate training. But what are those skills, and how do you acquire them?   Sometimes you have to start at the bottom, which is hard—but Stephanie’s story shows how starting at the bottom doesn’t mean staying at the bottom (and sometimes strategically mobilizing the academic credentials that you do have can be an effective way to gain authority in the new setting).

by Stephanie Day

Stephanie Day

Stephanie Day

After graduating with my Master’s degree in Anthropology, I moved in with my parents, and, determined to fill my time and get the all-important work experience, I took on an un-paid grant-writing internship, volunteered with several non-profits, and marketed my private tutoring services to pay my bills. I also spent time studying private-sector skills and re-crafted my CV into a serviceable resume.   Eventually, a temp service sent me out to work for a start-up ed-tech company doing basic data entry.

The job was painfully dull, required no high school diploma, and paid just above minimum wage– but it was full-time so while it was not enough to get me out of my parents’ house, it did buy me some time while I decided whether or not to bite the bullet and get a Ph.D. after all (which at the time still felt like my only other option).

What I found was that my boring 9-5 work was quite easy and undemanding.  I had time to ask questions, learn the industry, join in on lunchroom conversation with my higher-paid colleagues, sit-in on meetings I otherwise would not have been invited to. In other words, I became what I had been trained to be – a participant-observer.  While my Master’s degree in anthropology did not turn any heads in a world of developers, designers and MBAs, it turns out that being a good listener, showing genuine curiosity, and demonstrating an ability and connect complex ideas DID make me more interesting to my colleagues. They gave me special projects, introduced me to different people, and asked more of my time. I delivered, and in return asked for an increase in pay, while still under a temporary contract.

While I was becoming more interesting to my colleagues, my work was becoming more interesting to me.  I learned that rather than being driven solely by the bottom line, there are many, many passionate people working in the private sector who, like my academic friends, hoped to make a difference through their work.  It even seemed possible that the better-funded, quicker moving, more innovative and for-profit high-tech industry may be more capable of implementing change than the non-profit and academic jobs I had coveted.

About six months after I started temping, the company hired a new director who would become my future-boss. He asked to meet with me on his second day on the job. I had hoped he would want to interview me but in fact he just needed my help. He had already met with many people across the company and while he had received plenty of information, coming from outside the education industry he still did not have a clear understanding of the purpose our technology solutions served.  I grabbed a dry-erase marker and a white board and through a series of arrows, circles and squiggles, I walked him through each of our products, describing its purpose, the stakeholders and its role in the overall mission of the company.

None of the information I shared was my own original thought, but I had collected it, consolidated it, understood it and translated it in a way that was very natural for me as an anthropologist, yet ground-breaking for him. He offered me a job the following week on his newly-formed Pre-Sales team, a customer-facing group bridging the gap between sales and marketing. While my starting pay would be only a modest increase, he allowed me to write my own job description – which as it turns out is gold for a social scientist in the private sector.

Knowing that the company would have little idea how my education could apply to my work, I took the opportunity to write myself into a job that differentiated me. I included duties that I knew were needed – ranging from the technical to the administrative – but also included 1-2 bullet points that I knew I could align with anthropology. Perhaps for my own consolation, I included “Master’s degree” as the educational requirement for the position.

Over the next year I performed all of my duties and anything else asked of me. I gained tremendous technical skill and industry knowledge and earned the trust and respect of my other team members (all of whom dwarfed me in age and experience by 15+ years).

Rather than downplay my education as inconsequential, I talked frequently about my degrees and continued to read and share books combining social sciences and technology. I gave an original presentation on ethnographic sales methods to sales people, and spoke with undergraduates at my alma mater about what to do with their social science degrees. I spoke to anyone who would listen, practicing and perfecting how I conveyed the value of my degree to others. Knowing that a native understanding would require me to get into the “field”, I asked for and was granted permission to accompany account managers on their trips across the country to speak with potential customers about their problems, goals and needs, and delivered their insights back to the sales force in digestible, actionable ways.

Armed with new confidence, I requested and received a promotion after our small start-up was acquired by an educational giant.   Sure of my value but unsure of where to place me, my company once again allowed me heavy involvement in outlining my new role. In addition to a significant raise, I included responsibilities even more in line with what I was now referring to as “corporate anthropology”.  Three years later, my formal title is “Education Sales Strategy Consultant”, but most on my team know me as the resident anthropologist. My job today is not one I imagined while surfing Monsters.com on my mother’s couch, but it is one I know I do exceptionally well and continues to provide me with an interesting and challenging intellectual environment.

It still stings a bit to make my monthly payment to my student loans, but not nearly as much as before.  I hope to someday do “real” anthropology – but my definition of real anthropology has changed dramatically. I no longer envision working for a university, conducting highly-specialized research in remote corners of the world and writing articles that only my peers will read. Rather, I’d like to do Anthropology at Large – teaching new industries what my discipline has to offer about the highly ritualistic uses of technology, the cultural barriers to change and the value of shared memory and organizational narratives… and helping translate these lessons into real, organizational results.


The Career Counselor Is In – Cardozo 3

Strong stuff: Cardozo writes, “For many if not most, being an adjunct is the professional equivalent of domestic abuse, PTSD and Stockholm syndrome rolled into a single despairing plight that has only one feasible resolution: as with any dysfunctional relationship, at some point you must first DECIDE to go, then GO.  The terrible thing is that we lack the professional equivalent of transition shelters.  However, The Professor is providing one kind of safe space with the Alt/Post-Ac Initiative, and I mention others below. ”


by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

I began my visit to The Professor’s virtual office with a post on the problems of tenurecentrism, followed by musings on freeing the academic elephant from its limited range of motion.  Here I recount my own journey off, on, and all around The Track in hopes it might generate some transferable insights.

Not everything begins with a strategic plan; being open to what the universe sends is another option (read: you can thrive despite being clueless and indecisive). My first job after getting my B.A. in English from Haverford College was in the Harvard Office of Career Services—an administrative assistant position landed by filling out a generic application at the U’s HR department. I soon learned the ropes of counseling Arts and Sciences under/grads interested in a range of professions, a hilarious irony considering I had never had a fulltime job before, let alone a career.  But I loved that generalist work and was promoted in a few years to an actual counseling position.  This encouragement, along with constant exposure to other kinds of employers, only reinforced my sense that I belonged in higher education.

So I then obtained my M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration, Planning and Policy at Harvard and went on to hold multiple dean’s roles in academic and student affairs at Mount Holyoke College before completing my Ph.D. in English/American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2005. Pursuing my Ph.D. was the most downwardly-mobile decision I have ever made.  I have no doubt that, had I not embarked on the doctoral path, I’d still be a dean somewhere with a more advanced title and exponentially higher salary.  But I have no real regrets since it engendered diverse experiences that now leave me feeling pregnant with possibility.

Speaking of being pregnant, I got on the PhD track not only out of intellectual interest but also because my dean’s job didn’t comport well with infant parenting (it required carrying a beeper and working on site many evenings and weekends, and my partner had an all-consuming legal job).  Although counter-intuitive, having kids in grad school may be the “best” time to have them, considering the terrifying alternative of raising young kids while on the job market/tenure track.  The paradox of modern parenting (one of few major vocations that can still be practiced without a license) and the academy’s perennial “baby penalty” are huge topics in themselves, as suggested by Mary Ann Mason and an abundance of other literature (e.g. Mothers in Academia or Mama PhD book and blog ).  The larger problem, of course, is the normalization of a medieval model of being “married to the institution”: an ethos of overwork, insufficient boundaries, and narrow notions of “excellence” and “productivity” that advantages the subset that complies most fully while leaving those with different values and significant personal or civic responsibilities (not just mothers) at a distinct disadvantage.

As a doctoral student-parent with prior work experience, however, I was saved from the worst of disciplinary indoctrination.  I always knew there were other lives, other options.  Not only did having kids connect me to the wider community in different ways, but professionally I had already consorted with administrators and others who weren’t faculty, i.e. “Those of Whom We Do Not Speak” (cf. Night Shyalaman’s The Village, a great allegory for escaping any ideological enclosure).

Many of us are prevented by disciplinary myopia from seeing alternatives in our larger environments.  Do you have a genuine interest in career exploration or do you feel about the faculty role as you might about a soul mate – that there is only one profession for you, for better or worse till death do you part?  As Miya Tokumitsu has brilliantly noted, academics are fairly crippled by an overwhelming sense of vocation, making us ripe for the exploitation we are experiencing en masse.  Combined with the hair shirt of academic discipline and attendant loss of self-esteem, it becomes nigh impossible to understand:  you can be happy in other jobs.  There are other contexts where one teaches, writes, researches, or works with young people; there also jobs where you might enjoy doing none of these things!  Someone else will love you.  More precisely, someone will love you, elsewhere.

I spent a decade floating around the Five College Consortium of Western Massachusetts as a “visiting” professor due to the two-body problem that circumscribed where I could apply (my partner is a partner in a small law firm – a hard-won situation difficult to replicate across state lines). Most of my contracts were decent fulltime and multi-year gigs with benefits, not per course adjunct arrangements.  That is as good as it gets, but still temporary. Eventually I tired of being a perpetual applicant.

Here’s the thing, adjuncts:  your chances of “converting” to a secure academic job decrease with every semester—they almost NEVER hire the devil they know.  As a woman of color (diversity hire potential!) with exceptional teaching evaluations on five elite campuses, respectable publications, prior administrative experience, an admiring network of students and colleagues as well as a proven commitment to the geographic area, I had the tantalizing delusion that I would be an exception to this grim rule. NOPE.  Way later than I should have, I decided to seek work that promised advancement or at least a longer shelf life.  If you need stronger medicine here, try Rebecca Schuman’s Thesis Hatement.

For many if not most, being an adjunct is the professional equivalent of domestic abuse, PTSD and Stockholm syndrome rolled into a single despairing plight that has only one feasible resolution: as with any dysfunctional relationship, at some point you must first DECIDE to go, then GO.  The terrible thing is that we lack the professional equivalent of transition shelters.  However, The Professor is providing one kind of safe space with the Alt/Post-Ac Initiative, and I mention others below.

I was better treated than most working off the tenure track and had a safety net in my partner; I know that I cannot imagine the worst of what some of my adjunct colleagues are experiencing. Yet anyone who is untenured (including TT faculty) ultimately confronts the same dynamic:  at some point we have to decide whether our circumstances are worth hanging on to, or else pursue a change.  To achieve the latter, we cannot identify as helpless victims, engage in crippling rationalizations, or indulge in wishful thinking. You can’t control what others do, but you CAN decide what YOU will do.

In 2012, I decided to end my role as a faculty “Kelly girl” and went on a broader Alt/Post-Ac search. That was a nerve-wracking but hopeful time with plenty of ups, downs, and interesting nibbles.  Networking (more on that in a future post) and applying for a wide range of jobs was a laboratory on how to (re)present myself.  I learned to fashion strikingly different versions of a cover letter and resume, all of which drew selectively from my background in accordance with new position requirements but still made sense on their own terms (more on this “Art of Translation” in a future post).  Ultimately, I took a job as Director of a new Career Discovery Program at Williams College.

Once again, I discovered that I. LOVE. CAREER. COUNSELING.  It felt great to use my emotional intelligence freely, to teach without grading, and to “punch out” so a weekend was … a weekend! Ironically, while I joked to students (by way of alerting them to the uncertainties of the academic market) that I had come full circle and returned to the job I held when I was 24, this new role actually threw the value of my academic training into full relief, since 1) as an interdisciplinary thinker and researcher, I could engage credibly with people from a wide range of fields, 2) career counseling is advising and teaching by other means and 3) it enabled a key “bridging” function that allowed me to evaluate the core academic mission from the vantage point of student exit.

Essentially, career counseling invites backwards design; it asks us to evaluate a college education by considering what graduates go on to do and become, as well as what the world needs now (FYI, it’s still love, sweet love).  The tired dichotomy between liberal and vocational education is not only false but unproductive:  we need to talk about applied liberal learning.  Surprisingly, then, I found real intellectual challenge in college career counseling (even if the field itself doesn’t always elicit such conversations).

Similarly, thinking about the full range of careers for PhDs gives us a very different view of the doctoral mission, as suggested by the Woodrow Wilson and Carnegie foundations or The Versatile PhD (press your institution or scholarly association into membership – there are no individual subscriptions). These sites remind you, as I did in “Demystifying the Dissertation,” that your career angst is NOT an individual problem but an institutionally and socially constructed one. Unfortunately, most doctoral faculty members have worked primarily in academe, so they are not well-situated to advise students on a range of career options, or even on academic missions and cultures beyond their own R1 environments.

In any case, my return to career counseling was “Alt-Ac” in the best sense of work that was varied, stimulating and made good use of my academic training even though a Ph.D. was not required – an important reminder that you may need to move “over or down” in order to move out and (hopefully, eventually) up.  While you may not have an alternative career field to return to as I did, I assure you that the skills you’ve gained from academic training ARE highly transferable, not only within Higher Ed but to myriad outside organizations that will value your capacity to think, research, write, and/or teach. There are also jobs that look nothing like academic life, but which may nonetheless be a great fit (your capacity for making a more radical transition depends on your willingness to discover or claim new aspects that academic work may have suppressed). Either way, to convince others of your fit for Alt/Post-Ac work, you first have to believe it yourself.  We’ll talk about how to stoke the fires of that belief next time.

There’s an unexpected twist to my story that may offer strange hope to any academic debating (cue up the Clash): should I stay or should I go?  Just months in to my new career counseling job, I saw an unusual tenure-track job listing in Interdisciplinary Studies, with responsibility to also coordinate the Women’s and Leadership Studies minors, at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA)—one of few public SLACS in the country.  Had the institutional culture at Williams seemed more embracing of change, I might have envisioned a future there.  But since I was unsure whether the Career Center and College would transform as I hoped, I threw in for the position at MCLA, a more humble yet evolving institution.

Gentle reader, eight years after getting my PhD and a few years after I had stopped applying for TT jobs, I got on The Track for the first time at the tender age of 48 (confirming academe as the true location of the Fountain of Youth –where professors can be “Assistants” at any age, even permanently!).  Because MCLA is committed to experiential learning, my career counseling background was seen as value added rather than as evidence that I wasn’t scholarly enough. In addition, Interdisciplinary Studies promised a capacious home for my diverse teaching and scholarly engagements (21 discrete course preps thus far).  So, a la The Sopranos, “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!”  I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this.  Did I get scared, and veer from my true North Star just because my trainer tugged my chain again, or might this actually be the long-sought professional home that can make room for my varied interests, including career counseling and being a singer-songwriter?  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, what can I tell you?  I applied for exactly one tenure track job last year and I got it.  I’m batting a thousand!  Seriously, I’m not suggesting that my situation is replicable or that you should put all your eggs in one basket.  Rather, I’m saying that you might need to ditch the basket.  That’s what I did, never imagining that my exit off the track would lead to an on-ramp back.  Like my unplanned start in career counseling, it’s a reminder that we don’t control the universe – all we CAN control is the decision to put ourselves out there, and to respond when opportunity knocks.

If my story is helpful, it won’t be because my path is representative, but because it speaks to the value of setting new possibilities in motion by making an affirmative decision to quit, which as The Professor assures us, is always OK.  If you are in adjunct hell or any another soul-crushing academic situation, success is defined as any job that effectively relocates you. Don’t put unrealistic pressure on yourself by waiting for a perfect match (as in love, rebound relationships are par for the course).  Just know that breaking free is the first step in a journey of a thousand unpredictable but potentially wondrous miles.

In my case, there’s been another benefit.  My faculty career already died (or so I thought), so I don’t operate from the fearful outlook that being on the tenure track engenders in many.  I don’t feel like a hapless damsel trussed to The Track (hence my decision to blog under my own name).  It’s not that I’m immune to professional worry, but when such moments arise I remind myself that I left the faculty once before and can do so again.  They can’t kill you twice.

While my pre-doctoral path may have made me less vulnerable to the stultifying resignation engendered by disciplinary socialization, you can still deploy your inherent brute strength to free yourself from the academic stake that tethers you in place.  As discussed in my last post, change begins in the mind.  What new possibilities will you begin to imagine today?

How I Left Academia: A Recovering Academic’s Introduction – Polizzi 2

Allessandria Polizzi is a certified coach who currently leads education for 7-Eleven. She has been in corporate education, change management and organizational development for over 15 years, earning several honors in her field including a 2012 ”Best Place to Learn in Dallas” award from the American Society for Training and Development, a “Top Innovator Award” from Chief Learning Officer magazine, and Training magazine’s ”Top 40 Under 40? award. She serves on the board of directors for the DFW Learning and Development Director’s Roundtable. She has a PhD in English with a specialization in 20th century American literature from the University of North Texas (2001).

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

My name is Allessandria, and I am a recovering academic.

Not a lot of my coworkers at 7-Eleven know this about me. They don’t know that I once spent hours on end reading about the trials and tribulations of 18 year olds, filling the margins of papers with phrases like “tell me more” or “show don’t tell.” They don’t know that there is a difference between a degree in Poetry and Literature, and that the decision to pursue the Literature PhD was because it seemed like the more realistic thing to do. They don’t understand the fear of opening envelopes from literary magazines, hoping for their approval, the dread of another conference entry proposal, and the fact that someone would put all of their bets on the slim chance of landing a tenure-track position.

It is just this dream I was going after when I moved my husband and myself to Texas in  1995. We were the only ones to move away for our home town and were full of excitement. I had recently left a very supportive department, where I won the graduate dean’s medal and had started a literary criticism magazine for our campus. I had presented my first conference paper with a close friend of mine and was feeling like, despite the odds, I was going to get through this doctorate program in a tidy 3 years and move on to some romanticized  college town where we would live happily ever after.

And then I began my doctorate program.

A few things happened that dampened my dreams. First off, I did not have the support from the department I was used to. Day one of classes, I had students complain to the department head that my syllabus was too long.  The head told me to shorten it.  I was disappointed that she didn’t back up my expectations for the class.  Later I was student rep on a search in the department. This provided great insight into the whole process…. And I found it to be extremely intimidating and staggeringly unfair. We interviewed some amazing candidates, but the department made an offer to a man who, while greatly talented in his field, tried to pick up on the student driving him to the airport (& who ultimately only lasted only a few years in the actual position). This disappointed me greatly, but I failed to be discouraged.

One summer, I could not get classes to teach and had to find other employment. I landed a temp job as a legal assistant reading construction documents for an asbestos case, which was as boring as it sounds. Standing at the copier, the warm light flashing out in some dusky basement, I vowed I would never take another soul-sucking job again.

A lot of my friends taught technical writing. They always had classes.  I decided this would be my next move.  It was this decision that forever changed the course of my future.

Teaching technical writing allowed me to get a spot a few summers later as a temp for a local telecom company’s training department. I had completed all of my coursework and passed my oral exams, at this point, and was gearing up for a solid year of working on my dissertation. A friend of mine was getting married and asked if I could fill in for him as a technical writer for a communications and training team working on the implementation of a system called SAP. I didn’t know what any of these things were.

I did know, however, that I was going to make more in an hour than I did in a day teaching, so I snatched up the opportunity.

I had never been exposed to the world of business. This was a magical land full of team meetings and group emails. It was a world of deadlines and collaborative discussions. There were bosses and lunches and changes in direction. People said things like alignment, synergy, and at the end of the day. Acronyms were used with a blithe lack of irony. There were cubicles and ID badges.

I loved it.

I kept teaching a few of my classes that fall while continuing to work part-time at the telecom company. I was beginning to make friends in the office, to understand what they were talking about. I thought I had the perfect gig. I could teach a little, work a little, and still make progress on my dissertation. I encouraged my husband to quit his job so he could finish his degree (after supporting me for 6 years, I thought he deserved it). It was only a few months in that I experienced one of the biggest things people worry about. I got laid off.

When I went to discuss this with my dissertation director, she said that academia wasn’t for everyone and perhaps it was good that I leave.  The main thing I took from the meeting was that it was clear to me she had no idea what I was talking about.  In fact, no one in my inner circle had a clue what I was going through.  No one I knew worked in a corporate position. I had a family of educators and government employees. I was on my own, searching for postings online for tech writers and course developers. I dealt with people who thought having a PhD meant you “didn’t know how to work” or that it made you “too stuffy and unapproachable.” And I made a lot of mistakes.

But I finally landed a job editing and then writing training materials. This evolved into a job teaching these classes, which turned into a position leading a project team of developers and trainers. I traveled the world, I learned about business systems, I made friends and grew my résumé, all while I continued to write my dissertation. This process was not easy. My dissertation director dropped me, I was disconnected from campus, and no one seemed interested in seeing me finish.

I did finish, though.

It was surreal going into work after having defended my dissertation and officially earning those three letters. I knew it was a great accomplishment but no one around me could understand it. They would ask me what I wrote my dissertation about, which I would avoid answering because it was on whiteness, work and cultural identity, which makes no sense to anyone and would garner strange looks on the rare occasion I would try to explain it. I didn’t know how to translate this work, the thing I had devoted so much time to, into something meaningful in my new world. To be honest, I still don’t.

One thing I can do, however, is share my experience and help others who would like to learn more about making the transition from an academic path to a corporate one. I can share some of the pitfalls, some of the hardships in the transition, and help others navigate through the process.

It is not easy.  These are very different worlds, with different languages, ways of working, and expectations. I am here to say, however, that it can be done. That you can find a way to add value to the world, to feel fulfilled, outside of the college campus.  And I am here to help.

One step at a time.


The Rescinded Offer: Who Is In the Wrong?

I keep getting asked about the recent rescinded offer in Philosophy at Nazareth College, which originally popped up on Philosophy Smoker, (with a response from the rescindee, “W,” here), went to Jezebel, then Forbes, and shows no signs of stopping.

Many readers have written panicked messages asking if negotiating is now out of the question for tenure track job seekers.

It is not.

You should still expect to negotiate your tenure track job offer in nearly all cases.*

Here are my thoughts, summarized:

I write about the rescinded offer phenomenon in two places on the blog, my post, How To Negotiate Your Tenure Track Offer, and Job Market Horror Stories: The Rescinded Offer. I am also quoted in the Inside Higher Ed piece about this particular case from Nazareth.

In short, 3 points: 1) rescinding an offer when a client attempts to negotiate is outrageous and unethical; 2) the institutions that rescind offers strongly tend to be tiny teaching colleges with current or former religious affiliations, so if you are dealing with one of those, tread VERY carefully; 3) this candidate, W, made some grievous errors in her approach to the negotiations, showing a tone-deaf lack of sensitivity to the needs of the institution. That does not justify the rescinding. But if she had worked with me on negotiating, I would have told her to remove or rephrase many of the elements on her list of requests, because they were inappropriate to such a small, teaching oriented, resource-poor, service-heavy kind of institution. However, again, her sin of negotiating ineptly is miniscule compared to the sin of an institution summarily rescinding an offer.

And for others wondering what to do: the vast, vast majority of offers are still negotiated (out of about 100 Negotiating Assistance clients with whom I worked, 2 had offers rescinded). Expect to negotiate. Do not succumb to a culture of fear and exploitation. But if you are dealing with a tiny teaching college with a current or former religious institution, move carefully.

What specifically was wrong?  I will enumerate. First, here is the email that “W” wrote to the department:

As you know, I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to Nazareth. Granting some of the following provisions would make my decision easier.

1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.

2) An official semester of maternity leave.

3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock.

4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years.

5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc.

I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.

Here is what’s wrong:

Salary:  She asked for a significant increase in salary (in her later followup comment she says it was an increase of “less than 20%” which I am going to take to mean somewhere between 10% and 20%). That is unreasonably high for any new assistant professor position in the humanities, even at an R1 or elite SLAC.  10% is the maximum raise that should be requested at the assistant professor level.

She adds, “which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.”  This is presumptuous and also inaccurate. Never lecture an institution on what is supposedly “in line with” national salary “norms.” You, an assistant professor candidate, are not privy to national salary standards at every rank of school.  Salaries for new assistant professors vary by some $20,000 across ranks of schools. I am not making this number up; I know it because I offer Negotiating Assistance as a service, and I have my hand in numerous negotiations at any one time. A humanities hire at an R1 will be offered $75,000 and at a small teaching college $55,000.  These are real figures.  You do not get to dictate to the institution what their salary “norm” is or should be.  That is determined entirely at the institutional level and reflects rank, endowments, budgets, current salary structures, and local pressures of salary compression/equity.

Maternity Leave:  W writes in the followup that she had already discussed this with them and understood it to be official policy. If it is official policy, don’t bring it up in negotiations. That sounds pushy and untrusting.  It’s not that departments won’t grant maternity leave. It’s that they virtually never guarantee it ahead of time. You don’t know when you’ll have a baby, or even IF you’ll successfully have a baby.  Babies resist planning. Therefore departments will be unlikely to commit to maternity leave until the baby has a real and imminent due date looming.  But the larger point is that asking for something in writing that is already policy makes a candidate sound neurotic, untrusting, or uncollegial.

Pre-Tenure Sabbatical:  This is absolutely the norm at R1s and fancy elite SLACs, and absolutely not the norm everywhere else.  It shouldn’t be on this list for this particular job.

Limited New Class Preps:  This is common for R1s and elite SLACs, and inappropriate for the rank of school and the conditions that prevail there.  The candidate absolutely could have asked for limited accommodation relating to new class preps. Asking for this much, in this way, sounds high-handed and arrogant.

A Delayed Start Date:  Very common for R1s and elite SLACs, and incredibly difficult to manage for everyone else. Understand that the school has to staff its classes.  They are hiring you to do that.  If you don’t do it, they have to scramble to find someone else.  Big, elite schools will have a pool of adjuncts around to possibly serve this need. A school like Nazareth will not. They need a warm body to stand in front of those classes, and that warm body is you. You need to show up.

Now, faced with this admittedly quite tone-deaf email what should Nazareth have done?  They should have responded, “we can do x, but not x, x, or x.  With regard to x, we already have policy in place to provide it.   At our institutions the expectations for teaching are xxxx.  We do not commonly support xxx and xxx.  We can explain further in a phone call if you’d like.”

In other words, give the offeree—presumably a brand new, wet behind the ears Ph.D. who only really knows how things are at her R1 Ph.D. department, the chance to hear and understand the conditions that prevail at this particular rank and type of SLAC.  The offeree is not evil and is not the enemy. The offeree is probably just clueless and inexperienced.  Departments should not summarily dump an offeree who seeks an inappropriate level of negotiation; they should respond with information so that both sides can make a more educated decision about fit.  Many, many former elite Ph.D.s have found meaningful careers at teaching colleges. Sometimes it just takes a little time to understand and adjust.

*At the risk of beating a dead horse: Unless your offer is from a tiny teaching college with a current or former religious affiliation; then move very carefully.



Breaking Into Government: The Pathways Program – Fanetti 1

Tina Fanetti currently works as a Survey Specialist for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture. In this post she explains the Pathways Program, created by Obama to ease the transition into federal service. Dr. Fanetti graduated from the University of Missouri –St. Louis in 2011 with a Ph. D. in Education, Teaching and Learning Processes, with an emphasis in science education.  She also has Masters’ degrees in Physics and Astrophysics. Email Tina at tfanetti@gmail.com


by Tina Fanetti

Tina Fanetti

Tina Fanetti

Once upon a time, I used to count sheep to fall asleep.  Now I don’t count just sheep, but goats, fish, horses, cows, and turkeys, especially turkeys.  I don’t count them to fall asleep anymore either; I count them every day at my job.  I am a survey specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service.  I’m a government bean counter.  Seriously.  My job entails conducting surveys to count and estimate all of the different agricultural products (including beans!) that the United States produces.  Technically my job title is survey analyst/specialist (it keeps changing).  As soon as my Pathways year is up, I will apply to become a mathematical statistician.

I have an MS in physics and in astrophysics and a Ph.D. in Education, Teaching and Learning Processes, with an emphasis in science education.  I’ve worked as full-time community college instructor, an adjunct professor and as a science educator.  I graduated with my Ph. D. in 2011 and have been unable to secure an academic job and have only had 2 interviews.  Although I’m still hopeful that I will find that elusive post-doc, I can’t survive on dreams and had to make a living.

As a survey analyst/specialist, I use many of the same analytical skills I used working on my dissertation as well as some of the people skills I developed as a teacher.  I analyze data, looking for anything that might require further investigation.  Further investigation can simply mean calling the farmer or rancher and talking to them or it could involve exploring historical data or even industry trends.   I also look for trends and cycles within the data.  For example, I would expect more turkeys to be hatched 6-7 months before Thanksgiving than are hatched in January.   Finally, I need to be able to communicate my findings to others.  At my current level, I’m explaining information to my team lead and to HQ commodity statisticians.  As I progress, I will be speaking with different agricultural organizations and businesses.  I’m really excited right now because I’ve mentioned to one of my supervisors that infographics might be an excellent way to present some of the data NASS has and he is allowing me to put one together as a trial run.

Currently, I am responsible for the turkey surveys for my regional office.  I’m learning more about turkeys than I ever knew was possible.  (Did you know that domestic turkeys look more like really, really large chickens and not like their wild cousins?)  I have a responsibility at every step of the process.  Some of the things I do are very similar to the work I did for my dissertation.  Headquarters sends out a survey draft and I review it to make sure there are no errors.  I then contact everyone in my sample that has been pulled by HQ.  Once that data comes in from my farmers and ranchers, I enter it into a program and begin examining the data.  Does it make sense?  Is it entered correctly?  Was the math done correctly?  Once the data is collected, I then compile the data to come up with a total turkey number for my region.  I look at the number of turkeys my region has had and some of the trends in the turkey industry.  I then decide how many turkeys there are in my region and write comments justifying my estimate.

It can be incredibly difficult to enter service with the United States Government.  I’m at a slight disadvantage because veterans, people with certain disabilities, and current/displaced federal employees get preference.  President Obama started a program known as the Pathways Program.  It’s a program to introduce college graduates (within 2 years of the degree but there is a specific exception for veterans) into government service.  There’s a mentoring component as well as a training component.  Most Pathways programs are a year, but there are some two-year programs.  It’s basically a trial period.  If everything goes well and the agency and your superiors like you, you will likely be kept on (but it is not guaranteed).

There are Pathways programs in every government agency.  This means that there are all kinds of positions with all kinds of skills needed.  I have seen many jobs for working with the Veterans’ Administration to working with the one of the banking divisions.  All government jobs are listed on www.usajobs.gov  and it is the only way to apply for government jobs.  The Pathways jobs and more information about them are placed here: https://www.usajobs.gov/StudentsAndGrads That site has a link that can help you line up your major with a federal occupation.  Each job announcement will have what skills are required and what will need to be submitted with then application. You will need a resume/work history at the least and most likely your transcripts.  I don’t believe I actually submitted a cover letter and many times they are optional.  Your resume will need to reflect that you have whatever skills they are looking for.  You can upload a resume but you will also be typing it in.  Even if you don’t believe that you have the educational background for a position, it doesn’t hurt to read what the job specifically requires.  To be a mathematical statistician with NASS, you need a combination of 24 credit hours in mathematics and statistics, with at least 6 being in statistics.  I had no problem satisfying the math requirement with a physics degree and NASS counted my quantitative research classes from the College of Education as fulfilling the statistics requirement.  Even though I don’t have a math or a statistics degree, I qualified.

Whatever position you apply for, you need to be able to relate your experience to what skills they are specifically looking for in an employee, especially during the interview.  I gave many examples from my work as a graduate student and from my dissertation.  When asked how I handled multiple deadlines, I mentioned graduate school deadlines and meeting them as well as meeting grading deadlines as an instructor.  I was also asked about my analytical skills and this is where I really brought forth my dissertation experience.  I talked about how I analyzed all of the data and how I drew conclusions.  I also tried to bring in some non-academic experience I possessed to balance out my skills.  This came up when I was asked about project management.  The example I used, so as to give the interviewers a break from hearing about my dissertation, was how I was the photography assistant for a friend who had a short-term book contract.  I helped research what to photograph, did all of the scheduling, kept track of what had been photographed and kept him motivated.  This was a great example of project management from beginning to end.

Like with any job, it is what you make of it.  There have been some rough parts as NASS has implemented the Pathways program.  I’m hopeful I’ll be able to advance and work in either the training group or with the survey methodology section designing and researching the surveys.

The Prof Is Dead, Long Live the Person – Tebbe 1

Jason Tebbe left a tenure track position to pursue work as a high school teacher. In this post he explains the constellation of personal and professional reasons for making the leap.


By Jason Tebbe

Jason Tebbe

Jason Tebbe

I never thought I would be a teacher.  My mother taught for thirty years, and I knew all too well how hard it was, and how little appreciation and compensation she got for the massive amounts of work and care she put into it.  (My youngest sister is a teacher too, as is my wife.)  For me, an academic job meant moving on up and having a more fulfilling job than the work my parents did.  I respected what my mother did, but coming from my background having the titles of “doctor” and “professor” really meant something special.


Three years ago I had a tenure track job, I had achieved the dream, but I was desperately trying to flee from it to be a teacher. I knew full well what I was getting into when I left the assistant professorship I had fought so hard to get in order to take a position teaching at a private high school in Manhattan.  Despite my trepidations about being a teacher, my current job has brought me joy in ways I never could have anticipated.  Last year, when the first class of students I taught in eleventh grade history graduated, I provided some remarks at their senior dinner.  I told them that I had spent years trying to turn myself from Jason into Dr. Tebbe, but now Dr. Tebbe was dead, and Jason was alive again, and all the better for it.


A lot happened between grad school, when I thought that being a teacher meant failing and settling, to later being overjoyed at going into what has become the family profession.  The five years I endured after getting my doctorate brought home to me with each passing day how foolish I had been to valorize the academic discipline, and how short-sighted I had been in disdaining a career in secondary education.


I spent the first two years after my degree in the contingent world as a visiting assistant professor at a rapidly growing state university in Michigan.  While many of my non-contingent colleagues were wonderful and helpful people, others treated me like the help and would literally not give me the time of day.  It became obvious very quickly that my lone teaching expectation was not to do anything that would cause a student to complain to the chair.  The fact that I worked about 80 hours a week during my first semester to make my courses work the first time around meant absolutely nothing.


As bitter as I became about being turned into the academic equivalent of a pack mule, my spirits were lifted after getting a tenure-track position at a state university in rural east Texas.  Achieving my dream, one I had fought for over the course of a decade, soon turned out to be a huge mistake.  My chair had me teaching core classes outside of my field, meaning that even though I was a Europeanist, I taught mostly American history classes.  Another professor laid claim to he upper level classes in my field in the catalog, which meant I rarely, if ever, taught in my specialization.  My publications were treated as threats, and despite the presence of some truly wonderful people I still count as friends, the department’s politics became nastier with each passing year due to some truly rotten apples with plenty of power to wield.


From a personal point of view, things were even worse.  My wife was in New Jersey, and while I tried hard to get a job in the area, which included frenzied work on publications, the job market had cratered in the wake of the 2008 crash.  It seemed the harder I tried and the more I published, the fewer interviews I got.  I lived in a town in Louie Gohmert’s Congressional district, and the local culture most certainly reflected the politics of a man who would liken Obamacare to Nazism on the House floor and rant about terrorist “anchor babies” on national television. The locals tended to look suspiciously upon any outsiders, and the university was treated like a pariah, with hardly any businesses that catered to students and professors.  There were many days when I woke up in my bed in a sprawling, faceless apartment complex on the edge of town, trudged to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror, and wondered just what I had done with my life.  Sure, I loved being the “professor” commanding the room, with an office to to hold court in, but it turned out that these things alone were not enough to sustain me.


For the spring semester of 2011 I decided I needed a change of pace, and volunteered to teach a section of the American history survey at the local high school, which the department did every year.  (It allowed advanced students to take an actual college course, rather than an AP facsimile.)  Honestly, part of my motivation was to spend as little time in my department as possible.  I also secretly wondered if teaching high school students would be an improvement.  Turned out, it was.  Their energy and care dwarfed that of my commonly cynical undergrads, and my three trips to the high school to teach were the highlights of my week.  If I could do that every day as my job, I figured I could be pretty happy


In the midst of a horrible late winter marked by my father’s cancer diagnosis, the death of a pet, and increasing bullying and dysfunction in my department, I decided it was time to make the leap.  Taking that leap meant rethinking job applications and acquainting myself with the rules and mores of a new profession.  It was no small task, but my desperate desire to save my life from ruin made it possible.  I’ll talk about how I made that happen next time.

Introducing More #Post-Ac Experts: Tina Fanetti and Jason Tebbe

One of my main goals in launching the Post-Ac help at The Professor Is In is to make sure I have people on my Panel of Post-Ac Experts who represent many of the major areas of opportunity for people with Ph.D.s.  Today I am introducing Jason Tebbe and Tina Fanetti.  Jason works as a teacher in a private high school, and Tina works for the U.S. government.  Their posts will illuminate the things you need to know if you’re interested in pursuing those routes.

Dr. Jason Tebbe

Jason Tebbe

Jason Tebbe is a former academic who has been teaching for three years at an independent high school in New York City.  He received his PhD in German History from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign in 2006, and went on to be a visiting professor for two years and an assistant professor for three years after that before seeing the light.  He is the author of the blog Notes from the Ironbound  (KK: where he has excellent post-ac content) and still maintains active research projects on the history of memory and travel.  Find him on Twitter at @wernerherzbear.

Jason has a number of posts planned.  The first is called “Killing the Prof to Save the Person.”  The next is about the differences between teaching high school and being a professor, and it will be called “Teaching Teenagers Without Tweed Armor.” The third post is about how to apply and transition to high school teaching, and called “Learning To Speak A New Educational Language: Applying For Private School Jobs.”

Jason’s Consulting Philosophy:

I am a former academic with experience on both the contingent and tenure tracks who has made the transition to teaching at an independent high school in Manhattan.  Having recently made this change, I have a lot of expertise in applying for jobs at private schools, and plenty of advice on how to navigate the culture of private schools, which differs quite a bit from the academic application process.  I can provide tips for finding jobs, fashioning application materials, interviewing, and adjusting to life in a new profession.

 Dr. Tina Fanetti

Tina Fanetti

Dr. Tina M. Fanetti currently works as a Survey Specialist for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture.  Dr. Fanetti graduated from the University of Missouri –St. Louis in 2011 with a Ph. D. in Education, Teaching and Learning Processes, with an emphasis in science education.  In addition to a Ph. D., Dr. Fanetti has Masters’ degrees in Physics and Astrophysics.  In her free time, Tina enjoys hiking, landscape and macro-photography and quilting. Email Tina at tfanetti@gmail.com

Tina’s first post is titled, “Breaking Into Government: The Pathways Program.”

[Tina is not available for consulting]

Stop Negotiating Like a Girl

A re-post


This post comes from an email exchange this week, with a client who is working with me on Negotiating Assistance.  Discipline, institution, etc. all excised.

She has more than one offer, and drafted an email to her job #1–a R1– seeking to negotiate a few elements of the offer.

What I wrote in response to her initial draft is this:

“Thank god you found me. This email is a vortex of female self-sabotage. It’s all emotion, diffidence and excuses…. stop!”

Below I give her original email draft.  I bold every term and phrase that diminishes, juvenilizes, genders, sabotages or makes excuses for the candidate.  My rewrite is below that. Read and learn, ladies, read and learn.

P.S.: Occasionally men do this too, but less often.


I just wanted to get back to you and discuss a little more about the offer.

I would again like to let you know that xx is my priority but I also have an offer from xxx which is offering me $xxK. I understand that you many have some constraints but would you consider increasing the starting salary to some extent? Also, I was wondering if you could add a start-up research fund. I understand that conference travels are generally covered, but I would like to make sure that I get covered for two conferences each year in order to stay productive. In terms of teaching load, would it be possible to have a x course load during the second year? In addition, I will really appreciate if I could get covered for the house hunting trip for my husband and myself. It is going to be a long move from xxx, so we would like to visit and make sure that we find a nice place for our family.
Also, I would really appreciate if you could consider extending the deadline just a few more days. Again, my priority is xx but I just want to make sure that I know all the options before I make my decision and I am expecting to hear from a few schools within next week.


New version:

Dear XXX,

Thank you again for the generous offer..  XXX is my top choice and I’m excited about joining the faculty there. However, I have a few issues related to the offer that need to be resolved before I can give a final commitment. I want you to know that I have another offer in hand as well as several possible offers that I am to hear about shortly.

My current offer brings a salary of $xxK. I would like to request that XX match that.

I would also like a start-up research fund of $xxxxx, to fund things like travel for research and a research assistant.

In terms of teaching load, I’d like to request a course release for the second year as well.

I would like to make a trip to xxx with my partner to look at houses, and I’d like to know if the department can cover some or all of that expense.

And finally, I want to ask for a further extension of the deadline by one week. I am very grateful for your flexibility on the deadline so far. But because several offers seem to be pending, I wish to know all of my options before I make a final decision.

I want to reiterate my seriousness about the xx position, and hope that we can reach an agreement quickly.

Sincerely, xx

Cutting Bait on Academe – Day 1

By Stephanie Day

Stephanie Day decided against continuing on to the Ph.D. after her MA in anthropology, and instead took her social science training into the private sector.  She uses ethnographic methods to match the needs of customers with the educational software developed by her company, Scantron.  In this post she explains how she came to that decision, and how she feels about it.

Stephanie Day

Stephanie Day

Why did I decide to leave the academic track?  The more appropriate question is probably “Why did I decide to get onto the academic track to begin with?”.  As a first generation college freshman, a life in academia wasn’t always on my radar.  But I was curious about people, loved writing papers, hated math and was perfectly happy to spend days at a time in my school’s library.  More importantly – anthropology seemed to hold incredible explanatory power for all of the things that interested, excited and confused me in my world.

When I graduated in 2009, in the middle of the economic downturn where hopes of employment for any college grad seemed dismal, graduate school seemed like as good a place as any to ride out the recession and the opportunity to study the topics I had just begun to scratch the surface of was instantly appealing. It wasn’t until I was actually accepted to several competitive programs that reality hit home. With an eye on my looming undergraduate loans, I chose the program that offered the most generous financial package and was extremely fortunate to have supportive fiancé who moved across the country with me. I remember being a bit skeptical at being asked to chose a narrow region and topic of study right off the bat, particularly because it was the broad applications of anthropology that most interested me in the discipline, but I chose one to the best of my ability based on my narrow 22 year-old understanding of the world and my interests.

For one year, we were able to keep our head above water in a high cost-of-living city without incurring too much debt, so long as he worked six days a week while I held down two part-time campus jobs and a teaching assistantship. I loved every minute of graduate school –lectures, symposiums, thesis reviews, even grading papers. But I was acutely aware that after my first year, there was no guarantee of additional funding. On top of that, I experienced all of the symptoms of the often-cited imposter-syndrome, and I had tremendous self-doubt over my ability to vest the same amount of passion, interest and inquiry into my narrow research topic over six, seven years, or the rest of my life. Far from allowing me the expertise to collaborate on and apply my research across disciplines, each stage of my research seemed to isolate me further until there was only a handful of individuals interested and capable of discussing my focus with any depth.

The first few months of graduate school proved to me that I lacked a passion for knowledge for knowledge’s sake that drove many of my peers. I came to a panicky realization that even if I was (smart/driven/good/fill-in-the-blank) enough to carve out a life in academia, the end goal was not as appealing as it once was. If I truly wanted to be in the top 10% of whatever I did while also enjoying the journey to get there, I was unlikely to be one of the rare few who finds that in academia, either by luck or by talent.

So I met with my advisor and found out what I needed to do to graduate with my M.A. within the year, while I still had some funding.  She discouraged it, because it wouldn’t give me enough time to do the conference circuit and publications necessary to be competitive in Ph.D. applications, but I insisted. By taking on three quarters of heavy class loads, doubling up on paper-writing and sacrificing one of my academic jobs in favor of a part-time receptionist gig that let me work on my thesis when not answering phones, I graduated early with a degree in hand and no clue what to do next.

At the time I felt like a failure, but looking back I am glad I got out when I did, while there was still time for me to re-think my career from the ground up and my student loans were still in the five-digits.

I am now an Education Sales Strategy Consultant for Scantron testing corporation.  I work in what is known as “Pre-Sales”, but now as a strategy consultant and subject matter expert.  Most frequently, that means I help translate the needs of existing and potential customers to the features and functionality of our educational software, and vice versa. I work from home unless traveling, and my day-to-day tasks consist of conducting needs analyses, providing high-level and technical demonstrations of our solutions, and helping inform our sales force by providing real use-cases, and compelling value propositions that speak to the immediate and long-term needs of administrators, parents, teachers and students.  Being able to code-switch from talking with educators to talking with software developers has helped me bridge gaps, and share useful insights about our customers with my company.

That makes up about 80% of my work, but I am most excited about the other 20%, which is usually made up of special projects that I pitch the powers-that-be as being important and relevant to the advancement of our business, but which we don’t currently have dedicated time or resources to perform. At the moment, my project is an internal survey of people from all different parts of our company to uncover shared values, themes, and differentiators.  I conduct open-ended interviews with people at every level of the company, consolidate and compare the data to identify important points of agreement and divergence, use the information to inform our sales and marketing strategies and share it broadly with the company to help establish a culture of shared goals, customer advocacy and collaborative discourse in an otherwise fractured environment of mergers, acquisitions and change.  Sound like anthropology, much? I think so.

The down-side of course is that these projects are secondary to my primary responsibilities, and are thus prioritized only as time permits, which is most often my evenings and weekends.   Still, I’ve found that these projects receive significant visibility in my company, and by taking them on I hope to not only make my company more sustainable and relevant in their markets, but also help me do my current job better while building my experience and credibility to eventually find myself in a position where such work makes up 40%, 50% or even 100% of my time.

One of the biggest obstacles to this transition was the complete loss of my carefully constructed professional network. I quickly discovered that my professors who were quite well-connected in academia were, at best, at a loss and at worse, disinterested when it came to helping me apply the discipline outside of academic research. I literally had to start from scratch, find new mentors, make new kinds of connections – and it was a much more difficult task than I had ever imagined.  I started by joining professional communities for working anthropologists, making connections with scholars conducting research in my field of work, and finding new mentors outside academia who were interested in the path I was paving. It is something I still struggle with.

My biggest fear in leaving the academic track, believe it or not, was a financial one. I didn’t want to think that I had wasted money getting my degree, and I wasn’t sure if I could get a decent paying job with it outside of academia. This fear was sometimes debilitating, and often came close to convincing me that the safest path, or at least the path of least resistance was actually to get my Ph.D., because that’s what people like me did. And if that’s what people do, then there must be a reason, right? I wasn’t looking for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but I did dream of financial security and maybe 1-2 small comforts of life.  I was surprised to find that my social science skills are in fact, highly valued in the workforce, so long as I could translate those skills to the every day needs and challenges of business. I know now that the either-or choice between using my degree or paying my bills is a false one, but it scared me to death at the time.