Introducing TPII Staff–Dr. Verena Hutter

Over Summer 2016 I’ll be introducing the wonderful members of the Professor Is In staff (Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya is here and Dr. Petra Shenk is here) who assist me in editing client academic job and grant documents and welcoming and directing old and new clients to the best range of services available for them suited to their particular needs.  We work side by side (in a virtual sense–since we’re scattered across the country), corresponding by email and text throughout the day, every day, on client documents, evaluating not just the writing, but also the fit of the documents for the particular job or grant, and beyond that, tracking new and emergent trends in the job market to constantly adapt and update the editing and advising help we provide.  We pool our years of experience with different disciplines, campuses, departments, jobs, and grants, and departmental politics in a kind of continual, ongoing daily training in all elements of the academic (and postacademic) experience.  I constantly learn from my staff, and the expertise they bring from their respective fields (as a social scientist I’m particularly grateful for their expertise coming from the humanities and sciences).  The Professor Is In is what it is because of them!  Feel free to say hello in the comments, or ask them any questions you might have for them!


Dr. Verena Hutter

Dr. Verena Hutter

Verena Hutter completed a Ph.D. in German Studies with an emphasis in Feminist Theory at the University of California, Davis in 2012.  Having experienced the ups and downs of the job market for many years, she hopes that TPII helps clients to survive the job market as sane as possible. An enemy of unnecessary jargon and a friend of succinct prose, Verena will tell you when to keep it real.  She lives in Portland.


What do you do for TPII?

I edit job market documents, as well as book proposals and grants. I also schedule clients’ appointments. One of my favorite job documents are job talks- it is so interesting to see more of people’s research!

What did you do before TPII?  Tell us about your bakckground and career path to this point.

I received my PhD in German from UC Davis in 2012. I was the only graduate to receive a job offer that year and so I moved with my partner and three cats to Indiana, where I taught German at DePauw University in Greencastle. After two years my VAP there ended, and my deteriorating health (I have Crohn’s Disease) and meager job perspectives pushed me to ask some hard questions: Was I going to spend my best years moving from job to job in places I didn’t want to live? Was I going to spend most of our savings on cross-country moves? Did I want to spend the next few years trying to prove my research’s worth to a field that hasn’t moved past the Frankfurt School? The magic eight ball said “hell, no!” Initially, I fell softer than most people deciding to leave cagefighting/ the academic job market. We moved to Portland, OR, and I got my dream of the nineties in form of a rambunctious boxer puppy that I imported from Germany to add to my zoo. I also got a job with Karen (even though I was a needy client from hell!), and I started teaching at the Sophie-Scholl Schule (a German Saturday School) in Portland.

Verena and puppy

Verena and puppy


And then the depression kicked in. No affiliation, no access to libraries, no GQ (German Quarterly) arriving in the mail that I could lovingly recycle right away. Then my stomach ruptured, and I spent months in and out of the hospital. During that time, I received such an outpouring of love and kindness (including Karen, who offered to drive up to Portland to help out!). Except for most of my academic friends. While my friend Harriett, an adjunct instructor at UC Berkeley, scratched her last money together to fly up and help me, there was silence from the tenured (except for one). This put me in the rage stage of grieving (I am fully aware that the stages of grieving are reversed here), but I am slowly moving on. I am the healthiest I have ever been, I have actual hobbies (remember that, academics?), when I write, I actually take the time and don’t just snot incoherent thoughts on paper, and I have jobs that fulfill me. Oh, and a functioning relationship.

What was the biggest surprise for you about working for TPII?

I had thought I knew how abysmal the academic job market was, yet, I had been very focused on my own field. Working with our brave clients and hearing their stories really opened my eyes. I like to think that the work at TPII makes a difference in the fairground of vanities that is academia, even if we’re acting in the background- like a team of academic hitwomen.

The academic hitwomen

The academic hitwomen

How do you like being an academic job market editor?

Every day I am amazed at the outstanding research and teaching our clients do. It is a rewarding job to help them present their work in the best way possible, strategize their career movements with them, and in many cases, give them back the pride in their work. I also like deleting unnecessary jargon.

Editing however, has also helped me become a better writer- my writing used to be list and dyad city!

What do you wish clients knew about applying for jobs or grants?

Search Committees like structure and they like clarity, both in writing and in how you present yourself at an interview.

You don’t want your job application to be a Wagner Opera (long, pompous and/or overly meek, and going up in flames at the end). Good job materials are like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony- start out loud and clear, adhere to a motive, and finish strong!

And a Pet-Peeve: Don’t use the phrase “real-world.” You are undermining everything you do using that phrase, because you suggest that academia, the university and education in general somehow is less “real” than what you do.

What’s your big picture plan for yourself, now and moving forward?

I will continue to be an editor, teacher, and writer, or I’ll become an academic style consultant. Perhaps I’ll get more dogs.



Introducing TPII Staff: Dr. Petra Shenk

Over Summer 2016 I’ll be introducing the wonderful members of the Professor Is In staff (previous one here), who assist me in editing client academic job and grant documents and welcoming and directing old and new clients to the best range of services available for them suited to their particular needs.  We work side by side (in a virtual sense–since we’re scattered across the country), corresponding by email and text throughout the day, every day, on client documents, evaluating not just the writing, but also the fit of the documents for the particular job or grant, and beyond that, tracking new and emergent trends in the job market to constantly adapt and update the editing and advising help we provide.  We pool our years of experience with different disciplines, campuses, departments, jobs, and grants, and departmental politics in a kind of continual, ongoing daily training in all elements of the academic (and postacademic) experience.  I constantly learn from my staff, and the expertise they bring from their respective fields (as a social scientist I’m particularly grateful for their expertise coming from the humanities and sciences).  The Professor Is In is what it is because of them!  Feel free to say hello in the comments, or ask them any questions you might have for them!

Petra Shenk

Dr. Petra Shenk

Dr. Petra Shenk

Petra completed a B.A. in linguistics in 2001 from the University of Oregon and with an interest in documenting endangered languages went on to complete an M.A. and PhD in linguistics from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2008. During her time as a graduate student, she cultivated a parallel career track as an academic editor and student advisor and mentor, focusing on nontraditional and international college students. She is an editor for The Professor Is In and The Doc Doc and identifies as an educator and writing/language specialist who uses a specific skill-set to assist people with their academic and professional goals.

What do you do for TPII?

The majority of the editing work consists of job documents, grant proposals, and book proposals, but I also work on course syllabuses, dissertation abstracts, and the occasional article and book chapter. I work with clients via Skype to prepare them for job interviews, including conference interviewing, the campus visit, and the job talk.

What did you do before TPII?  Tell us about your background and career path to this point.

I completed a PhD in Linguistics from UC Santa Barbara in 2008 at which point I went on the academic job market and applied for exactly one position at the University of Oregon. I recall only four openings that year in my area of specialization that I would consider a “good fit.” Nevertheless, three of those I had no interest in applying to for a variety of reasons, not the least of which I was a new mom with a 3 month old baby, which I’m not ashamed to say blew my ever-loving mind. I didn’t get the one job but was offered an adjunct position. Then, I transitioned into a student services position where I worked as the writing and foreign language specialist and advisor/mentor for a specific group of underrepresented students. While I grieved the loss of the “professor of linguistics” dream (it was much like a grieving process), I was grateful to enjoy the work I was doing.

Petra's daughter depicts life with a TPII editor mom!

Petra’s daughter depicts life with a TPII editor mom!

Also, I met you (Karen) there! You were working in the same department and we instantly got on like a house on fire. As your business rapidly grew, I began working for TPII and then started my own side business “The Doc Doc” where I get to work on bigger projects with people: book manuscripts diss -> mss, dissertations, journal articles, and book chapters. As of 2013, it is my sole source of income and work.

What was the biggest surprise for you about working for TPII?

Hmmm. I guess it’s how very much alike we academics are. In fact, I often feel a sense of camaraderie with clients from vastly different disciplines and faraway places. Much of what we do at TPII can be described as mentorship, and regardless of whether you feel like you have a supportive chair/committee or are abundantly aware that you do not, we all either *want* or *need* to be told what we’re doing wrong and what we’re doing right without mincing words.

How do you like being an academic job market editor?

I get to work with language and people, the two things a functional linguist needs! More specifically, because so many newly minted PhDs did not get the mentoring and professionalization skills they need to be competitive, we are doing what I think is crucial work. As more former clients become faculty, more graduate students will get the advising they need. We’re playing the long game at TPII.

What do you wish clients knew about applying for jobs or grants?

That it’s not a solely meritorious system and excellent candidates are rejected time and again and marvelous proposals are too. I used to think, “If I just win this prestigious award, get accepted to that summer workshop, work better, harder, faster, and more productively than all my peers, I will succeed.” That is just not accurate. Yes, absolutely do all these things because you’re driven and ambitious and curious, but know that the resulting success in the form of a dream job and the admiration of your peers is not a foregone conclusion. And remember that if you haven’t had a grant proposal rejected, you haven’t applied for enough of them.

What’s your big picture plan for yourself, now and moving forward?

For the immediate future, I plan on continuing to do exactly what I’m doing now. I like my job, my community, my family, and the stability that comes with that sense of contentedness. At some point, I will write something of my own again. I still don’t know what it will be, though. Maybe something with dragons.


Introducing TPII Staff: Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya

Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing the wonderful members of the Professor Is In staff, who assist me in editing client academic job and grant documents and welcoming and directing old and new clients to the best range of services available for them suited to their particular needs.  We work side by side (in a virtual sense–since we’re scattered across the country), corresponding by email and text throughout the day, every day, on client documents, evaluating not just the writing, but also the fit of the documents for the particular job or grant, and beyond that, tracking new and emergent trends in the job market to constantly adapt and update the editing and advising help we provide.  We pool our years of experience with different disciplines, campuses, departments, jobs, and grants, and departmental politics in a kind of continual, ongoing daily training in all elements of the academic (and postacademic) experience.  I constantly learn from my staff, and the expertise they bring from their respective fields (as a social scientist I’m particularly grateful for their expertise coming from the humanities and sciences).  The Professor Is In is what it is because of them!  Feel free to say hello in the comments, or ask them any questions you might have for them!

Margarita (Maggie) Levantovskaya

Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya

Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya

Maggie completed a PhD in Literature at the University of California, San Diego in 2013. She has taught a wide range of courses at UCSD, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Lafayette College, from Russian language to graduate seminars in Translation Studies. She brings this experience to her work at TPII, where she helps clients of all disciplinary backgrounds wow search committees by presenting their qualifications in specific and exciting ways. Maggie will make your materials stand out within ever-growing pools of applications! She currently lives in the Bay Area, where continues to teach, write and live her best life as a culture vulture.

What do you do for TPII?

I edit job market documents, job talks, grant proposals and book proposals. I also help clients strategize about ways to make their record stronger.

What did you do before TPII?  Tell us about your background and career path to this point.

In 2013, I received a PhD in literature from UC San Diego. My research is in Russian-Jewish literature and I have been an active member in the fields of Slavic Studies, Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies. After defending my dissertation, I took a couple of visiting positions in different parts of the country (Midwest and East Coast), leaving my partner and the rest of my family in California. I gradually learned that VAP-hopping was, for me, not conducive to managing my chronic illness or achieving personal and professional fulfillment. For this reason I decided to return to the Bay Area. Currently, I’m working for TPII, adjuncting at a local university and figuring out my Plan B.

What has been the biggest surprise for you about working for TPII?

By far, the biggest surprise was how fast I became at identifying client writing issues! When I first started, I spent a long time identifying problems, racking my head over how best to help clients solve them. Now, I spot mistakes a mile away and I have a whole reserve of solutions for all kinds of job document pitfalls. Basically, I’ve become very efficient about problem solving, whereas I always thought of myself as a “slow but meticulous” editor. Similarly, our clients learn that they can get very good at this. Producing good documents requires skills, not magical powers. I’ve also been very pleasantly surprised by our clients’ ability to take constructive criticism and maintain a positive attitude throughout the editing process. Our clients often make me laugh and it’s always delightful to see academics have a sense of humor about their (often) serious research projects.

Maggie hard at work on client docs

Maggie hard at work on client docs

How do you like being an academic job market editor?

This job has been empowering for me in a number of different ways. Being an editor at TPII has helped me gain a sense of control over the job market, albeit in a limited way. I feel confident in my ability to produce strong materials that are going to catch the attention of the search committee. I still cannot do anything about the shrinking job market, the fickleness of search committees or that elusive problem of fit. However, I can represent myself honestly and clearly and can help others do the same. Also, for me, editing and teaching are intersecting and mutually-beneficial activities. My editing makes me a better teacher, especially when it comes to working on students’ writing. Working at TPII has only helped me in this. On the other hand, I bring my teaching into my editing. The most rewarding aspect of working at TPII is helping clients express themselves better and learn from the editing process. What I didn’t expect was the pedagogical nature of my work at TPII.

What do you wish clients knew about applying for jobs or grants?

That it’s a nearly full-time job. Producing documents that sing takes a lot of time and labor – intellectual and emotional! Some clients say that producing job and grant documents is more difficult than conducting research and writing. Throughout the job market process, clients have to keep an open mind and do the tough work of figuring out what their research is about, who they are as scholars and teachers. I think that most clients do not expect to have to tackle existential questions while working with us. However, the ones who use the application process to define their academic identities, end up gaining something valuable, regardless of how their search turns out.

What’s your big picture plan for yourself, now and moving forward?

I plan to continue working as a teacher, writer and editor. My current goal is more abstract than it has been in a while: to remain intellectually engaged while striking a work/life balance.





This was my newsletter post* from a couple days ago; turns out this particular newsletter was met with a highly unusual number of unsubscribes.  Is it the gun control stuff? The queer stuff?  Or just being political at all?  I have no way of knowing.  But this is how I feel, so I’m putting it up on the blog too.


I can’t muster a newsletter post this time, folks, I’m sorry.  As a queer person I am too undone by the news from Orlando, and by the hatefulness of our political sphere.  I do see signs of hope, in the way people have rallied in support of LGBTQ communities in Orlando and elsewhere (and as some of my clients have pointed out–that at this juncture the police came to protect the gays, not harass them), and at Senator Chris Murphey’s 15 hour gun control filibuster. And that a community of people who have had to organize and fight steadily for decades to gain and protect basic rights are now on the case of gun control.  As the FB meme puts it: “these queens get shit done!”  But I’m still struggling.  I leave in a few minutes to go to a fundraiser dance party at Eugene’s gay club, The Wayward Lamb, raising money for #Orlando.  That feels like the most important work to do at this moment. That, and signing petitions and calling your senator to limit the sale of assault weapons and other firearms.


*Be sure and subscribe to the newsletter if you haven’t done so already. Do it from the popup box you see at the lower right when you scroll through posts.

Entrepreneurship for Academics: An Interview with Adeline Koh

Today’s post is an interview with Dr. Adeline Koh, Associate Professor of Literature, and Director of Digital Humanities, at Stockton University. One of my earliest clients, Adeline has gone on to enormous success as a scholar, teacher, digital humanist, and now… budding entrepreneur. Adeline and I have an ongoing dialogue about the pleasures and challenges of entrepreneurship, so I asked her to share her thoughts about running her new business, Sabbatical Beauty, and the potential appeal of starting your own business (either a side gig, or full time) for academics — a subject close to my heart!

Dr. Adeline Koh

Dr. Adeline Koh


Tell me about what you’re doing now, in ac and non-ac realms

I’m currently finishing up my year of sabbatical (sob), am currently teaching a summer class online. I’ve been doing all the usual academic things one generally does–working on my book and other research, giving talks in different places, attending conferences, peer reviewing articles and T&P dossiers… the usual.

In non-academic realms, I run my own web design company (Digital Academic Consulting by Adeline Koh), and have designed quite a few academic websites for different people, as well as run a few how-to-create-your-own-website webinars.

Most recently, I’ve started a new skincare company called Sabbatical Beauty, which focuses on effective Korean-beauty natural botanical ingredients that’s been really taking off quite well.

What is Sabbatical Beauty? Why did you decide to start Sabbatical Beauty?

Sabbatical Beauty is a skincare company that is on a mission to change the beauty industry. I started Sabbatical Beauty because I’m a skincare nerd who was frustrated by the available products out there. While many products are marketed based on their active ingredients (the ingredients that actually do the “work” on your skin), the majority of products have actives in extremely low concentrations. I wanted products that would actually showcase the active ingredient in a big way. There was no way around that other than to start making my own products.

So I did what every academic is good at doing: I started doing my own research on how to make skincare products, as well as reading about active ingredients in cosmetic science textbooks. Then I started practicing–first on myself. The moment my friends saw the effects of my products on my skin, though, they demanded I start making some for them. So I started selling the products to my friends in small batches in a little skincare co-op. Then my friends demanded that I start an online shop, so that they could share the love with their family and friends who weren’t in the co-op. The rest is history.

How is it going?

It’s going really well, actually. The big push came when we were featured in Slate in January. The demand was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and I had to get friends and family to pitch in. Since then we’ve been doing a good job of maintaining the demand, and we’ve also been featured in places like Cosmopolitan UK, Shape Magazine, and Women’s Wear Daily.

Sabbatical Beauty was really a hobby to start off with, I never expected it to turn into a business the way it is now. But I love so much of it. I love planning and creating the products–because I’m a huge skincare nerd. I love making the products as well, which can be very calming and relaxing.

What I’m enjoying the most now is learning about business development, planning product line life cycles, and maintaining a hyper-engaged community of users. Sabbatical Beauty really has the best customers–they are in general feminist academic women, who find this aspect of self-care very empowering, and really support one another. We have a really great Facebook group which many of my customers say is one of the best aspects of the company. Unlike big box skincare brands, your SB experience doesn’t end with you buying the product; when you join the Facebook group (open to anyone interested!) you get to tap into a community of likeminded people who love the same products you do, and can offer advice about how they hack products in their routine, as well as offer support in self-care rituals.

What do you see are the best parts of running your own business?

Far and away, what I appreciate the most is the autonomy I get. I was somehow under the illusion that tenure brings one autonomy, but it’s actually the opposite; you just get more enmeshed in the network of dependencies and loyalties and egos etc. I absolutely love that I get to decide what happens with SB, and if I want to do something, I can execute it immediately, and see what happens. That’s so different from so many areas of academe where you have to write a zillion grant proposals before you actually do something, and you may not ever wind up doing it; or present a proposal for curriculum development to a million committees before it finally gets implemented (if ever).

I also love that I get to see results so quickly. Unlike traditional academic publishing, where you have to wait a zillion years to get your peer-reviewed article in print (I just had one come out last week that was accepted in 2010!), I get to see almost immediately what works, and what doesn’t work, and make changes based on this.

Finally, in a lot of ways I have found that maintaining the SB relationship to customers is somehow more straightforward than most academic relationships. When my SB customer is unhappy, it is a fixable problem–they are unhappy with customer service, or the product, or the results of the product. When you have an issue with someone in academia (peer reviewer? colleague?), it’s often to do with the person being unhappy because of something you (or your work) represents to them, but it’s often buried under the guise of something else (academic rigor? collegiality? fit?) and is much more complex to resolve. Maintaining the SB to customer relationship is a lot easier to me, and simpler.

What are the challenges of running your own business?

Financial security–making sure that I will earn enough to pay any associates that work with me, making sure that I have reliable revenue etc. Since I’ve started implementing a marketing strategy and product life cycle, this has become a lot less challenging for me, and is a lot of fun.

Other challenges–self-employment tax (which your employer pays in a regular job)–can take a lot out of your take-home income, plus the issue of benefits, if you don’t have a spouse who has a good benefits package you can ride on.

Do you feel like your academic training and background has been helpful or unhelpful in this new venture? Or, both?  Explain!

I would say it’s only ever been helpful, really. I couldn’t do what I do without my research background. Although I don’t have a science background, I’m able to research the heck out of whatever I’m interested in (maybe due to my comparative literature training, which was really about being able to do a critical reading of any discipline), and I can do research really quickly. This helped me to get boned up on cosmetic science pretty quickly, as well as to learn a lot about business development and marketing.

My digital humanities background–in terms of web design and social media management–has been integral to my being able to style my own website and update it to my liking, as well as building a vibrant social media community. Finally, the English literature background means that I’m able to write effective copy on my own–and my own press releases, which resulted in the Shape and Women’s Wear Daily features.

Advice for other Ph.D.s considering starting their own business?

It’s a LOT of hard work, but very exhilarating. If you’re the kind of Ph.D. like I am, who is unhappy with the state of academia, and wants to create their own job/their own opportunities, you’re going to love it, because in this business I have learned WAY more than I have in the past five years as an academic, because I’ve gotten experience in so many different fields. It’s also scary, so if you’re the kind of person that needs security and a paycheck, it may be too intimidating for you.

What are the challenges and risks you see in doing entrepreneurship full time?

Well, there’s a lot. Obviously the first and most important thing is whether you can sustain enough sales to make this a full time gig. Secondly running your own business and growing it you’ve to deal with the question of scale in a way which has real life consequences you don’t need to deal with as a tenured professor, especially if you aren’t in administration. For example, if you hire someone to help you, you become responsible for their livelihood. What happens if you don’t make enough sales to break even? How do you pay them? And what do you do when you decide to grow, do you hire and train people to take over what you do, or do you outsource part of your work to someone else? Hiring and training others, especially in a product-based business like mine, requires space and a lease–all adding to potential risk for your operation. Failure in any of these aspects has very real consequences on your life and other people’s lives. As a tenured professor, you can fail, but you will still get paid. As an entrepreneur who has had a bad year, the consequences are a lot more dire. However, the rewards can also be a lot more outstanding. Not everyone has the stomach for this risk I think. I thought I didn’t, but now I’m realizing how much I’m enjoying the challenge. I’m sure part of this is because I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs.

What’s your plan for the next 5 years?

I’ve asked for–and just heard that my department has approved–a year of unpaid leave to grow Sabbatical Beauty. I’m really grateful that they worked together with me to allow this. It’s my hope that I can grow the business to a sustainable enough level to leave academia full time. Since I started working full time on SB I’m so much happier than I used to be as an academic.

I want to grow Sabbatical Beauty to a point where it becomes a well-known brand that you will be able to purchase at Sephora or Nordstroms–and even have our own brick and mortar shops. I would love to be able to have Sabbatical Beauty achieve this in five years, but I’m still mapping out the plans for that.

The Alt/Post-Ac Makeover: From Field to Function and New Forms – Cardozo

by Out-Ac Coach Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

To run a successful Alt/Post-Ac job search, you first need to grasp some key differences between hiring in academic versus alternative sectors.  Here’s is a partial synopsis:

  1.       Many academic listings are advertised nationally and up to a year in advance.  Jobs in other sectors may be posted only regionally/locally, or not at all.
  2.       Academic searches are often conducted by committee and unfold over months.  In contrast, Alt/Post-Ac hiring may be resolved autocratically by a single hiring manager and, in some cases, move along very quickly.  Busy organizations want a vacancy filled as soon as possible.
  3.       Academic “lines” are hard-won and go through a bureaucratic approval process.  In the private sector or in fast-growing nonprofits, jobs may materialize quickly when staffing needs emerge.

As a result of the above points, networking in academe (while still valuable to gain context) doesn’t impact a search outcome nearly as much as networking can make (or lack of it break) an Alt/Post search.  Networking allows you to be on the radar when jobs open up unexpectedly; managers are more likely to turn to their own professional or personal network for leads on how to fill a position quickly. Networking might even allow you to propose your own job to organizations that may not have realized someone with your particular skill set exists to meet their needs.

The big kahuna of an academic career transition, however, is a shift in focus from field to function.

  1.       In academe, faculty members inhabit similar roles; thus field specialization is emphasized and hair-splitting practically fetishized! (eg, Is it the long 18th century to which you refer?)  In other organizational contexts (including Alt-Ac work on a campus), content expertise may certainly matter, but ROLE differentiation is key.  Your function is the main story, and the real question for any applicant is: can you DO what we need you to do?

Learning to look at job possibilities through this functional lens, rather than that of a field specialist, allows you to consider many different roles across sectors.  It enables you to embrace the both/and principle I discussed in a prior post:  that is, you don’t have to prematurely choose between “Ac” or “non-Ac.”  Rather, apply to jobs based on whether these are ROLES you are able and willing to play, regardless of the sector in which they are located.  For example, I have a client with an internationally-themed humanities PhD with additional experience working in instructional technology.  This person has applied convincingly for administrative jobs in international education programs, a federal research analyst position, editor for an online humanities magazine, and as staff in a center for teaching.

A focus on FUNCTION is ultimately what allows you to play freely with the FORM of your documents, crafting new letters and resumes for alternative roles.  Because academic roles are similar across campuses, application documents follow a similar template emphasizing research, teaching and service. But as mentioned in my post on the Art of Translation, those categories are actually a bundle of many discrete skills and functions.  Alternative jobs range in their key components, thus you have to carefully “unpack” your background to identify pieces relevant to the new role, so you can explain to employers that you’re ready and capable of doing the work. Chapter 60 in The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD into a Job, TPII’s Margy Horton offers a handy list of 100 transferable skills that can help you make your case (and boost your self-confidence astronomically in the process!).

One of the most common strategies I deploy with clients is to design a functional (rather than purely chronological) resume, using whatever category headers are relevant to the new job at hand. Chronology is not typically a friend to the ABD/PhD who has spent most of their life as a student.  But convert all of that time into a thematic accounting of your different projects and lo and behold, a significantly experienced person emerges, one with an impressive array of proven skills, from research to grant/project management to writing/editing and public speaking or team facilitation.

But here’s the rub.  You cannot simply “recycle” your Alt/Post-Ac letters or resumes the way you may have reused their academic counterparts. To stand out in the Alt/Post-Ac pack, you need highly customized letters and resumes. Why?  BECAUSE EVERY NONACADEMIC JOB IS DIFFERENT in its unique configuration of responsibilities, in the organizational context, and in organizational culture.  Take the latter point.  Even if the roles are similar (say, Communications Manager), an informal, dynamic and friendly nonprofit won’t respond as well to the coolly professional letter that may have worked well for your prior application to a stuffy private foundation.  So even if your content doesn’t change much (but most often, it HAS to for each unique job description), a new tone may be in order to convey your fit.

It is a rare individual who opts out of academe to only replicate an equally narrow job search elsewhere, e.g. “seeking positions curating medieval art in urban museums.”  Statistics just aren’t on your side.  Most people diversify their alternative job search and consider multiple roles and organizational contexts.  However, there’s no need to throw spaghetti at the wall indiscriminately.  The current landscape is not a numbers game where more is better.  Selectivity of FIT is still most likely to catapult you to the interview short list or job offer.

So again, focus on FUNCTION and imagine yourself playing a given role, no matter the sector in which it’s located.  If you feel a “click” of recognition (hey, I can do most of these things!) go ahead and apply—ideally after having done some networking to prime the pump.  In such cases, new letters and resume designs flow much more easily.  And of course, should these functions take place in a context where your PhD field expertise is relevant, so much the better!

In my work for TPII these past few years, by far the most financially efficient and popular service has been the 2-application package ($450, or $600 with additional SKYPE consult to strategize and support you while the search in process).  I have never yet worked with a client who “only” needed resume help, or vice versa.  The cover letter always indexes the resume, pointing to the evidence to support the writer’s claims.  In turn, the resume details what the cover letter cannot; they must dovetail. Extracting from academe is a paradigm shift; all documents must be looked at anew.  As one of my clients put it:

“Rather than general, one-size-fits-all recommendations, you taught me how to understand my background as a set of discrete skills and knowledges [and showed me] how these skills can be configured, linked and packaged to make me an attractive candidate in different employment sectors…providing the kind of encouragement that has opened my eyes to all the doors I failed to see.”

I used to tell my clients that this package was best deployed when active deadlines were in view. And that’s true enough (nothing generates motivation more than an actual application deadline!).  However, I’ve had a few clients choose to get their feet wet prior to actually applying for jobs, and they wax just as exuberant:  not only about their document makeover, but about their own self-transformation. They literally see themselves, and the future, more positively as a result of having engaged in this process. That frame of mind makes you a very different contender on the job market: a believer, not a doubter.  I now realize that it may be just as valuable to invest in such a package as a “boot camp” to get you in shape to perform effectively when there is a real deadline at stake.

If you are one of those folks who is waiting “one more year” to see how the academic search pans out, or are on the fence about whether to change paths, or are eager to leave academe but not ready to commit to actual applications, it would be a good investment to develop letters/resumes for a few different Alt/Post-Ac jobs. You will learn from generating these new formats that you are well-qualified to play any number of diverse roles on a campus or beyond.  In so doing, you will have overcome a significant logistical hurdle by taking full inventory of your background to convert your materials for some very different purposes.  When the real deal comes along, you’ll be able to apply effectively and—just as important for your sanity—with a minimum of angst.

For the same reason that that therapists have therapists, writers have editors, and athletes have trainers, we all need fresh eyes on our situation—someone who both understands where we’ve been, and where we want to go.  That’s all of us at TPII.  So whether or not your alternative job search is really “on” yet, consider taking part of your summer to position yourself in the starting gate with an Alt/Post-Ac 2 or 3-application package (you don’t have to complete all the components at once, but can pace yourself as needed).  When the starting gun goes off, you will be leading the pack with the winds of change at your back, running toward your future with confidence.

Beat the Fall Rush: Summer 2016 Updates

Hi everyone!  Today is a brief interruption in our usual editorial policy (devoted, as you know, to alternately despairing and enraged commentary on the total downfall of US academe), to share some scheduling info to help you plan ahead.  Including a webinar next Thursday, on Hacking the Academic Job Market (see below).

This summer, for the first time, we are STAYING OPEN all summer (albeit with limited hours) to better meet the demand for job application help, as well as grant-writing, book proposals, post-academic transition help, productivity coaching, and everything else we offer.  We are already scheduling into July with much of August already filled (late June still has openings).  Please don’t delay if you’re hoping to work with us for the Fall 2016 job market or grants.

FYI: what happens every year is, people wait until August to get in touch, at which point we are scheduling in November, and then people have to pay a rush fee to get one of the few rush slots available that will allow them to meet their September or October deadlines.  Don’t let that be you!  Read about what we offer here.  And email me at

If the cost of individual document editing is a bit beyond your budget, never fear, you can always do our Art of the Cover Letter.   AOCL is a 10-module, self-guided course, all-online, available anytime 24/7, that walks you step by step through the planning, info-gathering, writing, and editing of your academic job cover letter. The Art of the Cover Letter includes new posts and worksheets that teach you how to a) grasp and frame your record for the purposes of job market competition; b) collect all pertinent material in one place and hone it down to cover letter appropriate language; c) refine and edit the complete cover letter to avoid pitfalls like excessive humility, desperation, bragging, emotionalism, self-sabotage, etc.  And at each step it includes short videos by me, that keep you focused on the big picture principles at work.

We’re developing more “Art of”s this summer, for the CV, the TS, the RS, and Interviewing. Stay tuned for those!

Kellee Weinhold continues to do her Unstuck productivity coaching.  While most of the sessions for this summer are filled and have already started, she’s open to launching one more, so get in touch if you’re interested!

Remember that you can always work with our tremendous Out-Ac team!  They are fierce, funny, compassionate, and skilled.  They’ll talk you through the fears and anxieties of a transition out of the academy, and then guide you through the resumes and cover letters and interview skills you need to get the next job. And the initial 20 minute consult is always free, no strings attached.

Finally, next Thursday 6/9 at 6 PM EST I’m giving the only Summer date of Hacking the Academic Job Market, which is the webinar version of the talk that I gave to audiences across the UK and Europe this past month. And because it’s summer, I’m doing a discount.  Use the code Webinar15 for 15% off. ($42.50 instead of $50).  It breaks down the big picture of the current US job market, the elements of a competitive record, the ethos of effective job applications, and the most common pitfalls in interviewing.  Don’t go into the market unprepared!  Hope to see you there!

OK, that’s it. I promise to be back to my usual doom and gloom next week!



The Post-Ac’s Guide to the Cover Letter

by TPII Post-ac Coach Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

A cover letter for a non-academic job is nothing like what you’d write for an academic job. It has to be less about you and more about what you can do for the employer. And short, very short. I previously wrote that resumes get a mean of 6 second review in the first cut. There are no similar studies for cover letters (although you’ll find lots of commentary on whether anyone even reads them), but I can tell you from experience it is much less during that first round of elimination. If you make it past the initial culling, your goal with the cover letter is to show them how you can help them and that you understand how to communicate professionally.

Many PhDs considering the post-ac route worry that they are over-qualified and that this will result in automatic elimination. That is rarely the reason for elimination (in fact some employers have explicit policies against it), but PhDs do have a reputation for being insufferably self-involved. If an employer has any misgivings about hiring someone with a PhD, they will see an unnecessarily long cover letter and resume as proof you don’t get that this isn’t a dissertation and that you probably will make meetings longer and more painful than they already are, drag projects out longer than needed to get the most complicated outcomes, etc. This is your opportunity to show them you don’t fit that stereotype.

The most important part of the cover letter is to do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the employer and the hiring supervisor, using their website, news articles, your professional network, etc. The job ad alone probably won’t tell you what you really need to know—what does the employer most want from this hire? The niche the employer really wants filled by a hire is probably narrower than what is in the job ad, but just in case they can’t find the perfect candidate, the net is cast wider. Often there is one or a few key skills or qualifications among the many listed that are most valued. Once you know what the specific need is, it should be the center of the cover letter. Tell them, briefly and generally, how you can help, demonstrating your abilities with a few key examples of your accomplishments.

Basic formatting

Same as in “The Post-Ac’s Guide to the Resume,” with the following additions:

Letterhead and watermarks. It is usually not appropriate to use the letterhead of the company with which you are currently employed, unless you’re a grad student or post-doc applying to, for example, an industry or government research job. If you use letterhead, make sure to turn the final version of the CL into a .pdf to make sure there are no formatting issues. If there is any chance your application materials will be fed through a computer program (applicant tracking system) to evaluate applicants, don’t use letterhead.

1 page with breaks between short paragraphs. There are a few exceptions to the 1 page limit (industry post-doc or other research and publication jobs), but shorter is better. Absolutely no “wall of text” anywhere. Keep sentences and paragraphs brief. Detailed descriptions of your dissertation and research will not help you. You want them to be able to pick out essential information in that brief scan. If you bog down your letter with unessential, repetitive, or overly-detailed information, no one will read it.


The best cover letters are customized to each job and employer. There two general approaches that are most compelling.

Problem focused. What can you do to meet a specific need or problem facing the employer? In the business world, the overused phrase for an unsolved problem or unmet need is “pain point.” If you can identify what “pain” they need soothed and make this central to your cover letter, it is very compelling and can be accomplished in half a page. Liz Ryan of the “The Human Workplace” doesn’t even call these cover letters—she calls them “pain letters” and if you can make this work, I recommend her method.

Connect Your Resume to the Job Ad. With this approach, think of the resume as the evidence and your cover letter as the interpretation or discussion of that evidence. Write sentences that explicitly and succinctly connect your skills and accomplishments to the employer’s needs and qualifications in the job ad. For example, say something like “Most recently, as a Post-Doctoral Researcher managing the laboratory of a newly hired professor, I set up the entire lab, including recruiting and supervising a team of lab assistants. In addition to overseeing regular laboratory procedures, I can recruit, train, and supervise laboratory staff at Happy Pills Pharma.” Or, “My success obtaining $##K through X granting institution gives me the experience to fund Eco-Cool Nonprofit’s projects.” You don’t need to cover every qualification listed in the job ad, and in fact to keep it to a page you probably can’t, but prioritize the most advanced, talent-dependent, hard-to-train, or rare qualifications.

The Elements

Emails. If you are instructed to submit an application via email, the email is your cover letter and the resume is the only attachment. For email only submissions, It is highly unlikely an applicant tracking system is being used. This tends to flip the order in which your documents are scanned (by a human eye)—the email is typically scanned first and the resume second. If you attach a separate cover letter, it may not even get opened, so make your point in the email.

The salutation. Find out who is the supervisor for this hire so you can address the letter to that person and contact them to learn more about the job.

The opening paragraph. Tell them very simply and succinctly: Who you are professionally, what you can do for them, why you are interested in the job and/or employer. If there is some recent event or success the employer had that you can incorporate into why you are interested in the job, this can be very compelling. Limit to 3-4 sentences at most.

The second paragraph. If you have identified either through your conversations with the hiring supervisor or a careful read of the job description what the most critical duty or qualification is for this hire, then make this the subject of the second paragraph. How will you meet this need?

Paragraphs 3, possibly 4. Point them to the evidence in your resume that you have the experience to get the major duties of the job done. If you can cover it in just one paragraph, then don’t add a fourth. If there are two broad areas (e.g., data analysis and reporting or grant writing and project implementation), then making each area the subject of the each paragraph is reasonable, but keep them short.

Closing paragraph. Keep this very short, 2-3 sentences. If you have nothing more to cover that wasn’t in the previous paragraphs, then simply say how it would be a pleasure to join their team and you look forward to learning more about the position and their organization. Close with “Sincerely,” (or similar) and then type your name. Do not print, sign, and scan—the employer needs to be able to do a keyword search on your letter and that is impossible with a signed and scanned letter. They don’t need your hand written signature.

A final word about choosing your words: Facts, not feelings or opinions.

Avoid saying things like: “I feel that I am highly qualified…,” “I am very enthusiastic about…” “I am a perfect fit for this job.” Everyone says this, yet most applicants have few, if any, qualifications for the job or a remarkable level of enthusiasm. Using these phrases make it sound as if all you have to offer is opinion and emotion, with no facts to back it up because you don’t even think you are qualified or interested enough for the job.

If you find yourself saying such nonsense, check that: 1) you have some skills and qualifications for the job somewhere in your life experience, and 2) that you have documented these in your resume. If so, you are probably letting impostor syndrome seep into your cover letter where it blocks you from saying anything meaningful.

The skills and expertise you gained while earning your PhD are invaluable, you just have to find a place to work that values what you have to offer.

“You’re so Lucky…” and the Job Market – An Anonymous Guest Post

An anonymous guest post.  Read this in conjunction with the piece that just came out this week on Chronicle Vitae, “The ‘Joy’ of Pregnancy in Graduate School.”  I think it relates more broadly to the larger hostility to the idea of “wellness” also, as pointed out in the piece, “When Wellness Is a Dirty Word.”  Academia is a strange, strange world.


Last year I was on the academic job market. Being on the job market was just as terrifying as everyone made it out to be. As many warned (including The Professor is In), the combination of pure exhaustion from striving to complete my dissertation/PhD degree and the complete lack of control over my life, finances, and future geographical circumstances made for some disheartened, angry, and hopeless days.  However, there was one aspect of being on the job market which no one warned me about.

I am a young professional, I am not married, and I do not have children. When I was on the job market, I was shocked by the amount or people, from inside and outside academia, explaining to me how “lucky” I am to be single and childless. While I understand how inflexible and difficult both the job market and academia overall can be for men and women (but mostly women) with children, no one told me how skewed people’s expectations of me would be simply because I am not married and do not have children.

Here are 3 common phrases I encountered while on the job market:

“Well, you are sooo lucky you don’t have to worry about moving with a husband and children. Can you imagine that?!”

Correct, I did not have to navigate the circumstances of moving children and a partner into new a school/job, neighborhood, and city. I have imagined how difficult that would be. At the same time, I coordinated my move to an entirely new city where I knew no one and also found it difficult, emotionally draining, and daunting financially.

“At least you don’t also have to worry about your husband finding a job!”

Correct, while I was on the job market, I did not have to think about my partner moving to another city and looking for employment, which admittedly would be stressful. However, I also didn’t have the second income of a partner to depend on during in-between months or if the job market didn’t work out for me.

“It must be nice, you don’t have a family so you can go anywhere!”

While, I do not have children or a partner (yet) I do have a family and friends.

While I was on the job market, I have a mother who has battled breast cancer three times and a brother and sister-in-law who experienced multiple miscarriages. It was painful for me to move away from them despite knowing it was financially and professionally my only option.

At the end of the day, being on the academic job market is difficult for everyone.

My martial status does not make me lucky. My lack of children does not make me lucky.

I survived the job market because good friends and colleagues supported me. Being on the job market is terrifying for all. Please be respectful and supportive to all.


Thoughts from the UK and Denmark

Kellee and I are heading into the final week of our month in the UK and Europe!  We’ve had an absolutely amazing journey so far.   We visited the Universities of Aberdeen (thank you, Amy Bryzgel), where I did a talk on the US job market, and an interactive talk on women’s leadership for female faculty, and Kellee did an Interview workshop.

Kellee at Aberdeen (with a little help from the sea captain)

Kellee at Aberdeen (with a little help from the sea captain)

Then (as I told you last time) we went on to St. Andrews, where I did a keynote at a Ph.D. careers conference (thank you, Catherine Spencer and Laura Goddard!).  We then traveled to Edinburgh, where I did a workshop to an audience of more than 100! (thank you, Carol MacDonald!)

I’m glad to say we got to fit in some excellent sightseeing in Scotland, and I am now determined to move there – it stole my heart.  But we had to move on to London.  I spoke to a big crowd at Kings College London (Thank you, Kate Murray!)


That went great.  The food poisoning following the dinner afterward, not so much…

Kellee at London School of Economics

Kellee at London School of Economics

So, Kellee took over my talk at London School of Economics, to great acclaim! (of course) (Thank you, Catherine Reynolds, especially for your flexibility with that last minute adjustment!)

We then moved on to Oxford,

Karen at Oxford

Karen at Oxford

where I gave two events: a talk to about 50 on hacking the academic job market in what is surely the loveliest space for a talk I will ever encounter (a restored 18th century chapel),




and a breakout workshop on job documents for a smaller group, while Kellee did a great event on Interviewing.  (Thank you, John Miles!)


Kellee at Oxford

And then on to Cambridge, and a packed and very friendly house of over 200 for the big talk, and another breakout session on job documents. (Thank you, Steve Joy and team!)



At Cambridge


At Warwick

The very next day, it was on to University of Warwick, for an evening talk to about 100 (Thank you, Becky Kaner!)

And after a day of travel to Denmark, we traveled to University of Roskilde, where for the first time I got to work for a full day with a small and intimate group of students and faculty,

Karen at Roskilde

Karen at Roskilde

on the US job market, the post-academic job search, and grant-writing (Thank you, Lisa Ann Richey!)

In my last post, I made the observation that we are all in the same boat, trying to use our Ph.D.s in a time of severely contracting budgets.  No, the UK doesn’t have quite the adjunct situation that we do in the United States, but they do have the breathtakingly quantified rubric of academic productivity represented by the REF.  No Denmark doesn’t have anything like the level of Ph.D. debt that we have in the States (their grad students are generously funded, albeit only for a brisk three-year total program), but they have seen federal grand funding evaporate entirely (I mean, entirely), forcing them to compete for EU grants against a multi-national population of competitors.   On no campus could a majority of Ph.D.s expect to find secure academic work.

The specific pressures we confront are different, but the big picture is the same.  The world has turned sharply in an anti-intellectual direction, and funding for scholarly work has drastically fallen (that is, outside of Oxford and Cambridge, which did seem, as far as I could discern, stunningly insulated from these trends.  But insulated only for those ON the faculty!  When I spoke with my faculty host at High Table dinner, the phrase that most struck me was “So that’s definitely a problem… but we don’t have to worry about it at Oxford.”)  This was of course not the case for the Oxford and Cambridge Ph.D. students and postdocs themselves, who have to seek out work in more prosaic circumstances.

I wondered how my message would be received, and I was relieved to find it was received very well.  Ph.D. students and postdocs at each campus needed the core Professor Is In reminders:

  • Recall this is a job, not a calling
  • Prepare for your career from your earliest days in the program
  • Recognize the ways you “act like a grad student,” and jettison them
  • Claim authority and expertise in your field
  • Make your case for yourself on facts, not on saccharine feelings
  • Recognize that your project doesn’t speak for itself–it requires a careful disciplining of writing and speaking
  • Know that the tenure-line (secure academic) job is the exception, and be open to the non-academic track
  • Cultivate multiple mentors who can provide concrete, reality-based, denial-resistant career advising

I happened to hear President Obama’s commencement address to Howard University while staying in Oxford, and I was struck by a line:  “I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. ”  He was speaking of changing the world through activism and political organization, of course. He went on to say “Not just awareness, but action.  Not just hashtags, but votes.” But I, of course, thought how the thought applies to careers as well.  People who go into the Ph.D. tend to be passionate about their subjects.  And passion fuels you through your many years of study.  But passion alone doesn’t yield jobs in this economy–that requires the discipline, forethought, and calculation of strategy.

It continues to be countercultural to state this so baldly in the academy.  Even more so in the UK and Europe, it seems, where the ivory tower ideal is perhaps more intact than it is in the States.  But I saw my audiences take it in, grapple with it, and engage with it, just like audiences do in the States.  In a world where governments have withdrawn support for scholarly work (particularly in the humanities), we must all become strategists of our careers.