The Power of Writing Groups for Women of Color – WOC Guest Post

~I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Andrea Hernandez Holm, PhD. Dr. Hernandez Holm is the Program Coordinator for the Writing Skills Improvement Program at the University of Arizona. She is a writing specialist and provides tutoring, teaching, and editing to writers both inside and outside of the university. Andrea facilitates the People of Color Writing Groups, a project that has been supported by the UA Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the UA Commission on the Status of Women. The most rewarding part of her job is the time she spends working directly with students and clients, supporting their development as writers and helping them to claim their voices. Andrea has over 20 years of experience as a teacher, tutor, editor, and writing consultant. She is also a published researcher, essayist, and poet. Her research focuses on the ways that identities intersect with writing, particularly among women in the Borderlands.~

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Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the anger, the strengths of a woman under triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. A woman with power is feared.

What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s time? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.—Alice Walker. I have never seen so much power in the ability to move and transform others as from that of the writing of women on color. (Gloria Anzaldúa)

One morning, a student in a writing group I facilitate asked if she could close the meeting by reading a selection from Gloria Anzaldúa’s essay “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers.” Anzaldua is a foundational theorist in Chicanx and Mexican American Studies, widely recognized for her contributions surrounding identity, including her discussions about the power of language and writing for women. I am familiar with her work, but guessed it would be new to the other members of the group, who study in areas within Education, Natural Resources, and Latin American Studies. But as the student read the excerpt above, I noticed gentle smiles forming and heads bobbing in agreement. It was clear that Anzaldúa’s words resonated with them.

Among the women of color graduate students I have worked with in my role as a writing specialist at my university, many have been searching for a space to process issues that are subsequently affecting their writing. Through course papers, theses, and dissertation projects, they are developing their voices as scholars while making space in the academy for the important issues they research. Yet, most do not experience writing as empowering. They struggle with concerns that their writing isn’t “good enough” and that their voices don’t matter.

These concerns are grounded in experiences that include being told their writing is not university material, their use of language is non-academic, their topics are not rigorous, and on. While many students struggle under similar circumstances, it is important that we recognize that these issues are often compounded for people of color by micro- and macro-aggressions related to race. Under this type of pressure, persistence toward degree completion is often a daily struggle.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, people of color are the fastest growing student populations in higher education, but have a low percentage completion. In the 2013-14 academic year, among the doctoral degrees earned, 6% were by Hispanic students; 7% were by African American students; and 11% by Asian American students, compared to 62% by White students. And in Beyond the Asterisk: Understanding Native Students in Higher Education (2013), scholars point out that statistical information about Native American students in higher education is often absent from research altogether.

As a first-generation college graduate and one of an estimated 3% of Hispanic-identified women to earn a doctorate, I share many of these experiences and understand how they can weigh a person down, slow their progress, and sometimes even stop it all together. Folks in academia have asked when I learned English. I have been asked if I have connections in the South (i.e. Mexico) to get quality marijuana. I have been called a hot and/or hot-tempered Latina innumerable time. In addition to being generally humiliating, these types of encounters have pushed me to consider leaving academia. It has been through the support of community, most often women of color, that I have persisted.

In “Writing as Mentoring and Empowerment,” Flint, Manas, and Serra argue that writing groups can serve as a strategy to respond to institutional challenges by creating a space where women of color can develop writing fluency, process experiences, and grow cross-discipline and cross-cultural relationships with other women in the academy. I wondered if our writing support program could facilitate such a group. In our existing individual and small group tutoring sessions, our goal was to improve facility in academic English (i.e. grammar, style, organization, and content development). I proposed to add the level of community building specifically for women of color.

When I advertised the organization of one group for master’s students in 2016, I was shocked at the outpouring of interest. Over twenty master’s and doctoral students responded within the first week for a group with four seats. Since then, we have developed 12 multidisciplinary, multi-cultural groups, and the requests to join a group for people of color is consistent. Our groups offer facilitated non-evaluative peer tutoring, but we also intentionally make space for students to build relationships, share their experiences, and lend their support to one another.

I ask students to complete evaluations at the end of each academic semester and from their feedback, garner that the groups have been effective in helping to increase writing skills and confidence. Several students have successfully completed their academic programs, and no students have left the academy. However, for me, the greatest successes show themselves during our group meetings, where I witness students offering one another feedback, concrete advice, and resources for both their writing and their general experiences on campus. It’s beyond commiserating about obstacles– they are forming a network of support and resources that help them to process what is happening and to move forward.

Not long ago, I found one of those “You should be writing” memes on the internet. In it, Gloria Anzaldúa stands confidently, seeming to look out of the frame and directly at me. I hear her say, “A woman who writes has power.” I printed it and taped it to my office door, under my nameplate and next to my placard declaring that I am a First Generation university graduate. I see it every time I enter my office and I smile. It is a reminder for me and my students that our words are important and our voices matter.

#MakeupMonday: My Travel Set-Up and An Amazing Dress

Kel and I are in Dublin and I continue to be deeply unsettled (what day even is it??) and wiped out after two loooong days on the University College Dublin campus (they work us hard over here, lol. But they were absolutely wonderful. Great, engaged audiences, and some profound, vulnerable feminist talk, especially with the assistant professor group).

So today I just share my lovely travel setup. I love it. I have spent years perfecting it. It’s so good. And read to the end for an amazing travel dress!

As you can see, I have a lighted mini makeup mirror (1x and 10x) a complete set of brushes in small travel sizes, a set of mini glass bottles of my skin care regimen, plus travel sizes of all my hair care products. AND, lest you miss it, a Pink. Sparkle. Travel. Size. Hair Straightener (found on clearance for $18 at Sally Beauty).

Not shown is the bag I use to transport all this, which is in itself the product of endless experimentation. With the right bag, I can carry my full size eyeshadow and contour palette – which I can’t live without – because everything else is so miniaturized!

Note the adorable fold-up organizers: $6.38 for a pack of two on Amazon! I pack them flat at the bottom of my suitcase (in a little Ipsy bag I had around) and set them up at each new stop to keep my brushes and products perfectly organized! They weigh nothing and bring huge value. The palettes and flat items like travel size blush and highlighter stack neatly beside them.

Here you see tiny glass vials that I fill with my Sabbatical Beauty Asian Powerhouse Marine, and Dorian Gray serums, my Sabbatical Beauty Sleeping Beauty oil, my Volition Snow Mushroom serum, my Lancer Omega Hydrating Oil. Also stored here are small jars of my Sabbatical Beauty Donkey Milk cream and Perricone Cold Plasma Eye Cream. The plastic container is a small food storage container I found in a pack of four at Safeway and immediately realized was the perfect size to stack my glass vials sideways in two layers (I secure with a rubber band). The travel size Big Sexy Hair Spray and Play and Root Boost are packed separately but placed in the plastic holder to keep the vials from tipping over.

I carry my primers (face and eye) in repurposed Sabbatical Beauty travel size jars (about 1 inch in size), and got travel options for my Hourglass blush and Ofra highlighter (glasses for scale!)

Here I am looking cute for today’s events at University College Dublin! (One older woman in the audience came over to me during the break to exclaim – “I love your work, etcv. etc., and…. oh my god you LOOK AMAZING, THIS WHOLE ENSEMBLE {waves broadly at my shoes, outfit, face, and hair} I LOVE IT!” “Thank you SO much!,” i responded, “I work really, really hard at it!” “Do you?” She replied, and nodded solemnly.) Other travel items in plastic bags–eyebrow gel, sample foundation, etc.)

See my handy Beauty Bakerie Syruptitious in the mirror! But I didn’t wear it! I’m continuing my experiments in bold lips here on tour, and yesterday wore my new love, Maybelline Artist. Which I loved (and my outfit was SO CUTE–matching polka dots with a subtle stripe jacket). But I did have the vague sense that the bold color didn’t “play” quite as well on the UCD campus as it did in Eugene. Why, I have no idea…. It just seemed a bit … overdone.

Today I wore Rimmel Provocalips in Kiss Fatal. It worked better on campus. It lasted great through a 6 hour day:


And finally, a huge shout-out to this Pact Organic Featherweight Sweatshirt Dress. This beauty is $45, totally organic, amazingly soft, and made by a lovely company with sustainable practices in Boulder! You can wear it as a tunic, or belt it for a minidress, or layer as above with a deconstructed jacket and tights and boots for a sharp “event” outfit! It’s the ULTIMATE travel dress!


When a Cup of Coffee Means More Than a Cup of Coffee: Mentoring as a Woman of Color – WOC Guest Post


I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post’s author is an assistant professor of education at a research-intensive public university on the West Coast. She is Asian-American, a first-generation college student, and a mother of three. Prior to graduate school, she taught in public middle and high schools for 10 years. Her research focuses on improving K-12 teaching and learning through examining how policy changes affect teachers’ classroom practices. Her life outside the university includes hiking, gardening, cooking and baking, spending time with her children, and reading for pleasure.

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I am writing this post anonymously because my professional world is very small and the incident I am about to share involves people I will continue to cross paths with in the future. The incident happened a few years ago when I was in graduate school, and although time has passed, my feelings about the situation remain unchanged. In fact, I feel more strongly than before that one of my roles as a woman of color in the academy is to stand up for myself and other People of Color, especially in a field where White scholars continue to build prestige for themselves by seeming to care about and conducting scholarship on “disadvantaged” and “underrepresented” People of Color, including children, while they go home at the end of the day to their White families and suburban lives. I feel that it is unpopular and likely career-ending for me as a junior scholar to even hint at the hypocrisy of these White colleagues, for they are lauded as pillars of our professional community for focusing their scholarship on Black and Brown folks. Never mind that they can talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, as the saying goes. They can write all they want about how the “voices” of these poor people need to be heard, but they will never understand the lived reality of being a Person of Color in a racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic society. I do not claim to represent all People of Color—all I can do is share my own experiences and reflect on why I feel the way I do.

The incident was a turning point for me. I had been a full-time graduate student in a well-regarded doctoral program for a few years, and I admit that I had a little flutter of pride in my chest every time somebody asked me out for a cup of coffee to chat about graduate-school related things. I was somebody! I knew things and could impart my wisdom to less experienced others over a latte served in a cute turquoise mug in a cozy café somewhere in our middle-of-nowhere college town. I admit that I also asked out others for coffee—it seemed like the thing to do. After all, graduate school was challenging enough with its written and unwritten rules, and it seemed better to be helpful and generous than competitive.

Looking back, I think I was proud to serve as a mentor because it made me feel like I was being successful in academia. As a woman of color, I was always aware of the racial makeup of a room of people, whether it was a classroom, research group meeting, or dinner party. White privilege and dominance in academia means that I am constantly evaluating my performance and worth compared to White colleagues. Thus, being asked out for a cup of coffee and some advice, especially by White colleagues, seemed to validate my place in the academy.

So, a few years ago, I was serving as an unofficial mentor to a White woman. Unlike me, she was tall and slender, blonde and blue-eyed. For whatever reason, she had sought me out, and we would meet occasionally for coffee to talk about things like navigating courses and program requirements, working with faculty, and securing summer funding. I initially disliked her, partly because of her too cheery disposition and apparent need to be liked by everybody. Despite my initial dislike, we eventually became friends and would hang out and talk about personal things. We had many mutual friends so it was difficult to not invite her to things without feeling like a complete asshole.

One day, she posted something on social media that made me so upset that I almost vomited. She shared a video made by a popular White, apparently middle- or upper-middle-class family that used Black culture as a source of parody. I was upset because I had become increasingly aware of the White privilege that she and others had in our program and profession. Moreover, these White colleagues were self-proclaimed “social justice warriors” who patted themselves on the back for caring about Black and Brown people, for saving the environment and eating only local and “happy” free-range chicken (never mind that free-range organic chicken costs more and is therefore unaffordable for poor folks), for wearing pink pussyhats and marching for women’s rights (never mind that feminism in this country often means only White feminism), and so on.

I usually scrolled through my social media feed, liking a post here or there but rarely commenting. This time, however, I couldn’t let it slide. I had to say something but even thinking about what to say or how to say it made me sick to my stomach. Literally. I didn’t know how she would react to my calling her out. So instead of commenting on the post, I sent her a private message.

And her response?

She thought that the video was okay to share because it was funny. Later, I could see that others had called her out publicly, but I hadn’t. So, what did it mean that we were friends yet I felt sick to my stomach when I had to call her out on racist shit? Was I being overly sensitive?

Afterwards, she tried to reconcile with me and asked multiple times to meet for coffee. But, a line had been crossed for me—the fact was that she hadn’t listened to me. She had disregarded my concern and instead offered her defense that the video couldn’t be taken seriously as racist because it was funny. It was just a joke! And this reasoning came from a person who claimed to care about People of Color, who used words like equity and diversity in her scholarship.

The hypocrisy was stunning.

And I was kicking myself for not trusting my initial instincts about her.

Our mutual friends urged me to make up with her because she was a nice girl, and she didn’t really mean it, and she had learned her lesson and was trying to be a better person, right? They made me feel like I was being the unreasonable one. Forgive and forget, they had advised, let’s just all be friends and go back to the way things were.

I rejected this reasoning. Why?

Because I realized that she could never know how sick and anxious it made me to even think about confronting her. Because I realized that, as a White woman and scholar doing so-called social justice work in a White supremacist society and academy, she benefited from an association with me in a way that I would never benefit from an association with her. In other words, she could claim to have Black and Brown and Red and Yellow friends as evidence of “being woke” yet admitting that we’re all racist because we’ve all been raised in a racist society is the first step towards a more just society. She could use People of Color to her professional benefit and not even understand that that’s what she’s doing. In her mind, she’s just a nice person who cares about diversity, and who wouldn’t want to be friends with a nice person?

But let’s call it what it is—White woman savior complex, which positions White women as helpers of those less fortunate than themselves. At the end of the day, however, White women are the ones who ultimately benefit from this positioning by affirming to each other how “good” and “nice” they are. They are promoted by other White women (and men), and the existing social hierarchy continues to be reproduced, generation after generation.

So, if you ask me out for a cup of coffee, and I say no, please understand that it’s not you. It’s me. I’ve learned to value myself and my knowledge and experiences, and I get to choose what I want to share and with whom I want to share it with. And if you’re a White woman (or man), and I’m a little guarded, then please understand that we live in a world where you have an advantage over me simply because of your skin color.

I refuse to be used. Not today!

“Transferable Skills” Are A Lie – #RealAc Guest Post by Adrienne Posner

Adrienne Posner is one of our most requested #Realac (#Postac) coaches. She shares thoughts on the transition here.

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In my last two posts, I talked a bit about my grad school experience and then about how I decided to quit academia for good. This post is about actually applying for and getting a job outside of academia. More particularly it’s about what many people call “transferable skills,” those mysterious experiences, aptitudes and competencies that many people, mostly academics considering leaving academia, so often reference but can so rarely really define.

I want to start by saying point blank that “transferable skills” are not a real thing. Period.

What academics mean when they use this phrase – that there is some special academic experience that needs to be carefully explained in order have it all make sense to someone outside of academia – is actually a myth. If you are considering leaving academia, I believe it’s a myth that may be hurting your ability to see yourself in a job outside of academia. If you are currently looking for a non-academic job, it is likely negatively impacting your job search.

And yet, this myth, however damaging, is extremely pervasive. Perhaps this is because the academy encourages extreme specialization: academics spend their lives becoming masters of a tiny corner of their already specific field. The result is that academics often feel pretty special. Even if they are not personally invested in the idea of the “ivory tower,” even if they are the first to balk at the usually offhanded or even accidental but nevertheless manifest elitism of the academy, it’s still pretty difficult to not feel like academia isn’t somewhat of a city on a hill, special because highly specialized. Of course there is some truth to all of this: when you are one of the world’s leading experts in anything, it’s normal to see yourself as unique and privileged. It’s because, truly and without judgment, you are.

But the result is that, when academics, for whatever reason, decide to leave the academy, there is often a lot of hand wringing and angst about how to present their experiences in a way that is “translatable” to others, as if recruiters or hiring managers in other industries literally spoke another language.

In working with clients, I have realized that there are two seemingly opposing reasons for this belief, but in reality they usually occur simultaneously: 1) the belief that, because academic work is so highly specialized, it simply won’t make sense to others and will have to be explained, 2) the fear that, because academic work is so highly specialized, it has nothing to do with the “real world” in which “work” happens, and that therefore academics are likely unqualified. In other words, the anxiety about leaving academia is all too often equal parts fear of leaving a safe harbor in which specific interests and passions are truly appreciated, and fear of leaving a safe harbor in which, because those interests and passions are so specific, those that have them couldn’t possibly succeed in “real life.” In a nutshell, the anxiety lies in not being able to decide if your work is unique and therefore special, or unique and therefore irrelevant.

But there’s good news: skills are skills no matter where they are picked up in the same way that knowledge is knowledge no matter where it is acquired; this means that your experiences don’t need to be laboriously “translated” in order to be intelligible to others.

Perhaps equally important to remember: individuals are not collections of skills that can be picked up from one job and plopped down in another. People are qualified and successful for a wide variety of reasons, and their individual skills and experiences are just one part of the algorithm. After all, the main thing a good recruiter is looking for when they pick up a resume is concrete evidence that the candidate meets the minimum qualifications, and ideally some of the preferred qualifications, for the job posting. They are generally less concerned with exactly where this experience occurred and are instead motivated to contact candidates that can succinctly and clearly demonstrate that they have already been successfully exercising the skills that are needed for the particular job in question.

What this means in real life is that academics should frankly have a leg up in a non-academic job market. Many academics have spent the greater part of their adult lives working enormously hard to hone their abilities and to build up the competencies that allow them to be successful in a highly demanding career. As a result, they tend to be focused, persistent, naturally curious, highly driven critical thinkers who express themselves well in writing, have outstanding organizational skills, and often have better than average communication and “soft skills.” Additionally, due to the lack of funding for humanities and social science PhDs, they also very often have a lot of eclectic and compelling work and life experiences that can all add up to make a very interesting, well-rounded individual.

Academic work builds competence in areas that are highly valuable to employers. Let me be specific:

If you’ve ever completed a thesis, dissertation or a book project, you definitely have more than adequate project management skills.

*If you’ve ever designed a syllabus or written exams or developed homework and other assignments for your students, you have experience with learning and instructional design.

*If you’ve ever taught a class or mentored or tutored a student, you can demonstrate leadership and solid communication skills.

*If you’ve ever administered a test of your own design or taken stock of student performance and then adjusted your teaching style accordingly, you have experience using data to inform critical decisions.

*If you’ve ever conducted a study and analyzed the data to make decisions about or to inform the direction of a research project, you have skills central to business analytics.

*If you’ve ever written a grant or an application for funding and been successful in securing that funding, you have demonstrated skill in drafting business proposals.

These are not “transferable skills” so much as they are just collections of competencies that, when contextualized properly, will make it clear to a recruiter that you have a high predictability of success in another role that requires similar competencies.

Once you stop investing in the cycle of doubt that the myth of “transferable” skills can precipitate, it is easier to take stock of what you like to do and what you are good at. Once you know your own skill set, you can look for jobs that exercise that skill set.

The trick from there is simple: start seeing the resume not as an explanatory list of all your experiences and accomplishments, but as an opportunity to contextualize your skills, to show how what you’ve already done demonstrates your ability to successfully do the job to which you are applying.

Once you are no longer laboring under the illusion that you have to somehow explain or justify yourself, once you’ve moved past the nagging feeling that you have to translate your academic work to someone who may not understand or appreciate it, you’ll find yourself more able to comfortably and confidently talk about yourself and to see yourself as a capable and even desirable candidate on the job market.

#MakeupMonday: Still With the New Colors

The last MakeupMonday post got the most extraordinary response on FB – the most of any post to date! And I’m delighted by the positive FB messages in response to the would-be makeup-shamer who commented on the blog this week.

Today I’m packing to leave for our 5 week speaking tour in Europe so no time! So I’ll just share a few further lipcolor updates. I posted a few of these as UPDATES on last week’s post but here they are again. Remember: this is all an effort to match Marc Jacobs Kiss Pop in Headliner, which has no staying power (and sorry for the bizarre captions–i can’t make them work right!):

L: Maybelline Artist
L: Smashbox Jam On It
Smashbox–no staying power, Grrrrrrr
Loving the Smashbox Fig (with Lipstick Queen lip liner)
Only the lipliner is left–after but a small meal! WUT.
Stunning color match with Pat McGrath Sorry Not Sorry (suggested by an FB reader!)
Bad pic, but: BLOTCHY, no staying power, once again lipliner weirdly sticking out…

I have a gorgeous Givenchy in Framboise Velours, delivered up in a Temptalia color dupe-search (thank you for the tip FB reader!) that so far is also not lasting through a single cup of coffee…

But another FB reader suggested I try Mac Prep and Prime Lip to see if I can coax more wear out of any of these, so that’s plan B (actually plan Q I think, at this point). I’ll experiment with it and the Marc Jacobs, Pat McGrath, and Givenchy…

I would be lying if I didn’t say I am just a BIT frustrated! As I said to Kel, who charges $38 for a lipstick that won’t even stay on through a single meal? (Kel responded, “……………….. did……….you say…… 38? dollars?…………….”)

Only careful experimentation will yield desired results

But in the midst of all this I did notice one thing. I have LONG thought that makeup appeals to me for many the same reasons that academic research does. There is something deeply satisfying about it, and I’ve struggled to articulate what.

#Science

As I was sitting at my mirror rubbing off one lipcolor and applying the next, it occurred to me: it’s about problem solving! You have blotchy skin? Makeup can help! But has to be the right one! You have a drooping eyelid? (I do) Makeup can help! But you have to research just what and how. You want a lipcolor that actually lasts 8 hours—-well, some do and some don’t! And guess how you find out? Experimentation! Careful methodology! Manipulating conditions to test for particular outcomes! And good documentation!

#SCIENCE

Of course the expense of all this experimentation could be problematic, but the great thing is, both Ulta and Sephora take used items back as long as you sign up for membership (which is free). I return items constantly.

So there you have it. Of course it’s also perfectly fine to wear no makeup at all, and to loathe the thought of it. Nobody has to feel obliged to use it, or judged because they either wear makeup, or don’t.

But for those of us who do, I leave you with this thought: We don’t enjoy makeup in SPITE of being academics. We enjoy makeup BECAUSE we are academics.

We have a winner from last week’s Stash/Samples Giveaway. Emma is an archaeology grad student! I’m not going to run any more giveaways until I get back from the 6 week speaking tour in Europe! Keep reading, and we’ll start those up again in June!

Missing Mentors: Why Young Academics Feel Lost in the Ivory Tower, and How Experienced Faculty Can Help – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, about your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, MAKEUP and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here. Today’s post is by a writer who wishes to remain anonymous for now. She is an assistant professor at a small, teaching focused HBCU. I appreciate how this posts builds on last week’s post about the need for community, mentorship, and acceptance.

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Imagine this: You’re the chair of a department at a small, teaching focused HBCU. You are having a casual conversation with one of your junior faculty members. It’s her first week.

She tells you she plans to enroll in a loan forgiveness program because she’s drowning in debt. You’re confused. You know of at least three fellowships she could have applied for and gotten. Why did she need to borrow money?

“Why would you take out loans when you could have gotten a fellowship to pay for your doctorate?” you ask.

It’s a fair question.

Nevertheless, when my chair asked me the very same thing two years ago, I wasn’t sure how to answer.

The truth was, I didn’t even know what a fellowship was until the last year of my graduate program. As a first generation college student, everything I knew about college and graduate school was self-taught. Consequently, I thought the “rules” of paying for graduate school were the same as the rules of paying for undergrad. I applied for a scholarship to cover some of the cost, I received some tuition reimbursement from my job, and after that, I found the rest of the money any way I could. That meant taking out loans.

The availability of fellowships is common knowledge in the academic world, but for me, it felt like insider information. That feeling, the awareness that others were privy to essential information that somehow eluded me, was a common thread throughout my academic journey.

It wasn’t that I didn’t ask questions. I was always asking questions. The problem was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know- so I never knew which questions to ask.

When I became junior faculty, the knowledge gaps became more apparent. I didn’t know how to get funding, how to find the right journals for my work, or a myriad of other things that, despite never having been taught, I was expected to know. I asked anyone I could find. Senior faculty, junior faculty, and even the professors of Reddit all responded the same way. They answered the question, but then, in a snide, flippant, condescending tone, they would say, “You know, you really should know this stuff already. Your advisor/mentor/fairy godmother should have taught you.” That response stung every time.

Eventually, I found a few people who I could talk to. But by then, I was playing a serious game of catch-up.

Senior faculty sometimes don’t realize how much graduate students and junior faculty struggle to find guidance. In my case, as a graduate student, I had been a woman of color in a predominantly white, male, program. It was rough. I wasn’t discriminated against, mind you. My professors taught me exactly what they should’ve.  I know all of the right theories and methodologies for my field. There are things, though, that aren’t taught in class. There are tips and strategies that get passed on from one generation of scholars to the next through office chats, research collaborations, and independent study arrangements. Those things always evaded me.  Over and over I saw relationships develop between my professors and my white male peers, but that sort of connection remained unattainable for me. I never became anyone’s protégé. (Before you ask, I’ll answer. Yes, I approached them. Repeatedly. Nothing ever materialized).

In the absence of the guidance I needed, I searched online. That’s when I stumbled on The Professor Is In blog. Suddenly, the answers I had been looking for we’re right there, peering back at me from my laptop screen. I devoured every post.  Through the blog, Karen taught me how to reformat my job documents, buy the right suit for my interview, and act like a colleague, not a grad student. When Karen’s book came out, you better believe I bought it. I meticulously studied those pages, and I attribute getting my TT job to Karen. The virtual mentorship I received from her, someone I had never met, was greater than anything I had ever gotten from people I had known in real life.

It’s been two years since I started my position and I’ve decided to go for a TT job at another school.  I landed a phone interview and immediately knew I wanted to talk to my “mentor.” I had learned much of what I needed from her book, but now I messaged her to ask her about salary negotiation. It was the one thing I didn’t do the first time around.

She suggested I schedule an interview intervention with Kel Weinhold before even thinking about negotiation. I took her advice, scheduled the intervention, and I’m so glad I did. It was phenomenal. Kel was patient but direct. She went through every question she thought I might encounter- it turns out she accurately predicted each one. I’m sure I would have completely bombed the interview without the intervention. Instead, I received a campus invite.

I appreciate the services offered by TPII, but I’m most grateful that Karen and Kel understood, instinctively, that what I needed was guidance without judgment. Unlike people in my past, Kel never made me feel foolish for lacking knowledge. And she really could have. In that short 50 minute window, I made several blunders:

I never, ever, in the whole 50 minutes, was able to answer one mock interview question coherently. (Thankfully the actual interview went much more smoothly!)

I pronounced pedagogy incorrectly.

We discovered part of my process for collecting data in my dissertation was incorrect (Yep, you read that right. My advisors never even caught it).

My “any questions for us?” question was about travel funding. (Big no no).

And the biggest one… When Kel asked me why HBCUs are important, I unwittingly characterized HBCUs as helpful to first generation and low income students of color, which, in a way, perpetuates stereotypes of HBCUs and minorities. Yes, some HBCUs are primarily comprised of students in that demographic. In fact, my current university serves exactly this type of student. However, that doesn’t mean all of them do. As someone who studied exclusively at PWIs, I hadn’t thought about the distinction.

These are all things that I was able to learn from Kel without feeling small or foolish. She never once said, “Well duh, you should know that,” like so many academics from my past. She corrected me and moved on. That means the world to me and I will never forget it.

One final note:

If you are an academic, especially on the tenure track, you might come from an environment where your students received quality, comprehensive guidance from people who share their racial and economic background. Maybe, where you come from, faculty take extra care to foster students’ holistic development into competent scholars and professionals. That would explain why, when you come across grad students and junior faculty who lack fundamental knowledge about academia and the way it works, you don’t understand.  You might be tempted to belittle them, brush them off, or worse, ignore them all together. I encourage you not to do that.

Instead, answer their question respectfully and without judgment. If you’re really feeling generous, hand them your business card and tell them, like you tell your students, that your door is always open. It will mean more to them than you know.


Losing and Finding a Sense of Belonging in Academia – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here. Today’s post is by Dr. Jessica Owens-Young.

Dr. Owens-Young is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Studies at American University. Her work broadly focuses on social and economic inequities and its impacts on health among Black communities. Prior to American University, Dr. Owens-Young worked as a Program Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Dr. Owens-Young completed her PhD in Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, specializing in Health and Public Policy. When she is not teaching, Dr. Owens-Young is at the gym or at home painting, cooking, spending time with her wife or scrolling for pictures of houseplants on Instagram.

I’m feeling an unprecedented sense of loss these days. Sure, the semester is ending. That always makes me feel a bit untethered. I am beyond ecstatic that summer is coming; days of writing and reading are somewhat promised to me as a faculty member on the tenure track. But I always grieve a little at the close of classes. I’ll never have this group of students in a classroom meeting every week again and that makes me a bit sad.

My grief is different this time. This semester, I’ve also lost the sense of a collective, a family of sorts whose members are facing the same challenges and doubts the tenure track, and academia more broadly, throws at me. Since I transitioned into academia from philanthropy in 2016, I’ve been a part of a network called New Connections made of underrepresented and marginalized scholars like myself. Rolling along the tenure track as a Black, queer woman whose work centers people like me is not easy. Having a group of people who look like me, speak like me, and sees the world, and its potential and challenges, like me is a lifesaver in academia.


Voice and representation matter in academia. Being able to commiserate with other people who face the same issues and navigate similar waters is a gift. But it is more than just a gift. I did not realize how much I rely on connecting with other scholars like me and how much this connection, this sense of belonging somewhere, is necessary to survive and thrive in academia. I am learning that now.

The network I was a part of is evolving. It’s no longer going to be a separate program, but is being absorbed throughout the large foundation that supported this program for 11 years. The logic behind this decision is sound. It makes sense to integrate the principles of supporting underrepresented scholars throughout an entire organization’s practice rather than placing the responsibility for diversity and inclusion on only one program. But it also makes sense to keep and maintain a sacred space for scholars who may not have such spaces on their own campuses to tell them that yes you are valued and that you do belong here.

The need to belong is critical for underrepresented scholars. Many of us on our journey to becoming academics have trained in places where faculty members, institutions, and even syllabi did not reflect us or our experiences. We’ve become uncomfortably accustomed to being one of the few, or the only one, of us in our classrooms, school events, or professional conferences. And this trend becomes even more acute in making the transition to academia.

Constantly feeling like an “other” is not healthy. It takes its toll. This feeling can lead to imposter syndrome, manifesting itself in self-doubt every time you place your hands on the keyboard to write or stand up in front of a classroom. It comes as anxiety when you’re getting ready to go to campus or feelings of guilt when you’re spending time for self-care and not writing. It is a barrier to doing what needs to be done to earn tenure. It can be difficult to share these feelings with other faculty members who are also building a career but do not face similar challenges in the academy.

Networks like New Connections matter to faculty like me. It is a sacred space where I can be seen, heard, and validated. I can share my struggles related to my multiple identities with no sense of shame or judgment and learn about how other faculty members are working through and managing similar challenges. At events, we are reminded that we are not alone and that there are ways we can navigate the academy and work through its unwritten rules and expectations. So, when I learned last year that New Connections will no longer exist in its current form, I was, understandably, saddened.

New Connections held its final symposium, an event where network members gather to discuss professional development, work on grants, and connect with other scholars, last month. I think that everyone, including the New Connections staff, felt the heaviness that was behind our smiles as we reconnected with old friends and met new scholars during the symposium. We talked about how to keep the feelings of belonging that we found in New Connections as we move forward. I savored each moment I had in the presence of other scholars like me, and, in a way, am still running on that energy as I wrap up another semester and academic year and move closer to tenure.

I hope another network like New Connections emerges. These spaces matter. The energy in networks like New Connections is often an underrepresented faculty member’s lifeline. It was definitely mine.

Like the semester coming to an end, I will never experience having all of the same scholars in the same place at once again. I will grieve the network as it was. But I will take what I’ve learned to help students and junior scholars coming after me find how they belong in academia. In that sense, the space created by New Connections will live on.

How to Prepare for a #RealAc Career Shift to Academic Editing – Guest Post

By Laura Portwood-Stacer, Ph.D.

Laura Portwood-Stacer runs Manuscript Works, an editing and consulting business whose mission is to help academic authors achieve clarity and confidence in their published work. I invited her to submit this post.

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If you’re a scholar who spends any time on Twitter, you have plenty of evidence that this can be a tough time of year for academics. For those on the job market, a select few will be signing contracts on new positions that will allow them to stay on the teaching/research path for another few years. But most will be coming to terms with the fact that they are facing another year in contingent, precarious, or non- employment. Some will be deciding, finally, to seek another career path entirely.

Seeing various tweets documenting all three of these experiences over the past few weeks reminded me that my decision to become a freelance developmental editor and publishing consultant came around this time of year, in 2015. I had finished a visiting assistant professorship 6 months prior and was doing one more semester as an adjunct in the same department (which had predictably declined to short-list me for a tenure-track position and couldn’t renew the temporary contract either). After 5 years on the market, I had already decided I wouldn’t be applying to any other academic positions. My VAP had afforded me the privilege of living in the same city as my partner for three years, and we’d just gotten married and were trying to have a kid, so I had no interest in moving anywhere or putting myself through the stress of the academic job hunt for another year.

Fortunately, I was able to use my time as a VAP and adjunct to lay the groundwork for my career shift, even if I didn’t have a master plan to do that all along. I wanted to write this #RealAc post to share some ideas with you if you too are considering a pivot to the field of academic editing. The general principles also apply no matter what field you may be interested in pursuing outside or alongside academia.

Connect with people who are where you want to be.

When I was a PhD candidate, my advisor organized a visit from a university press acquisitions editor. We were supposed to be learning how to publish books when we graduated, but I remember hearing him talk about his job and thinking “I wish I was doing that instead of this.” This was a very quiet thought in my head at the time, because I wasn’t ready to admit that academia wasn’t quite the right place for me. I wish I’d asked more questions about how to get into his line of work. As a PhD student, I might have even been able to do an internship at an academic press to learn more about careers in that field and gain in-house experience.

Although I didn’t do those things at the time, I did eventually make connections with other freelance and in-house editors, who served as role models and sources of information. I also joined multiple Facebook groups for editors, which have been invaluable sites of professional community and support over the past 4 years. It’s never too early to start lurking in places like that and testing what it feels like to try on a new professional identity for yourself. The earlier you start looking for these connections, the easier it will be to make a transition if and when you decide being a professor is not for you.

Pursue opportunities to gain experience that you may draw on later.

I’ve always enjoyed editing scholarly work, which has made it easy to say yes when I’ve been presented chances to do it formally. For instance, when I was a VAP, a senior colleague in my department invited me to come on board as an associate editor at a journal in my field, co-editing the section of each issue devoted to short essays and book reviews. The job was of course absurdly underpaid for the work involved, but it gave me excellent experience working with academic authors to improve their writing. In that position, my co-editor and I had to formulate original calls for papers, field dozens of submissions and then provide actionable feedback that would get the selected pieces into shape that met our standards of publishability. We had to do all that in the span of a couple months, and we had to do it 6 times per year. It was a crash course in understanding what makes academic writing effective for readers and how to efficiently communicate with authors in a way that makes them want to improve their work in the ways suggested, which are skills that I use every day in my current work.

Other means of getting this kind of experience as an editor might include editing special journal issues or multi-author anthologies or serving as a managing editor on a scholarly journal (these positions are often filled by graduate students). Teaching writing-intensive courses or working at your university’s writing center might help as well. Again, the earlier you decide you’ll pursue opportunities to gain alternative career skills, the more chances you’ll have to apply for and say yes to things that could get you further down that path.

Get training in your new field.

Interest and relevant experience are important for success as a freelance editor, but don’t sleep on formal training too. Courses, workshops, and other professional development opportunities are not hard to come by in the editing field, and many can be done remotely. For example, in June the Editorial Freelancers Association is offering a webinar on acadmic developmental editing, plus a 6-week online course in the fall (full disclosure: I’m teaching both). When I’ve enrolled in such activities in the past, I’ve found them helpful for three key reasons: 1) they teach you things that help you do your job better; 2) they show you what you don’t know well enough (yet); and 3) they build your confidence in the services you do offer.

During my last semester as an adjunct, I took an evening course in publishing at my university’s school for professional studies. While it wasn’t targeted specifically at academic editing, it did let me practice different kinds of services that freelance editors commonly offer and, most importantly, allowed me to get feedback from a working editor. Hearing “you’re good at this!” was huge for giving me the guts to launch my business at the end of the semester. Accepting invitations to subcontract for other experienced academic editors also gave me helpful insight into my work and the confidence to keep going (and raise my rates!). On the flip side, taking continuing education courses in copyediting and indexing taught me that, actually, I have a lot more to learn in those areas and can run my business more effectively if I just refer or subcontract out those kinds of jobs and focus on the developmental and consulting work I’m best at.

Nearly 4 years after going freelance, I feel like this is what I was always meant to do. I have to acknowledge that a savings cushion and a supportive partner have made this move possible for me. But the forms of preparation above have also been key to my thriving in this new field. I hope they will help you find something equally fulfilling for yourself if you’re ready to get off the academic job market merry-go-round.


#MakeupMonday: My New Colors

3 Updates Added!

About a year ago I found a Marc Jacobs Kiss Pop for $6 at TJMaxx in the color “Headliner” and I fell completely and totally in love. I fell in love with it even though it is utterly impossible to apply (being shaped like a toddler crayon) and has no staying power whatsoever. It is truly a stupid product, except that… except that… the color is unbelievable.

I mean, look at it! It’s like a raspberry…. but also a rose. It’s not too purple, not too pink, not too magenta, not too berry … Which turns out, is basically unheard of. I’ve spent the last year trying to match it in a product that will actually stay on, to no avail. Every time I get close, and think I’ve found it, I discover, when I put them side by side, that alas, no. The products that look like it in the tube come out … just wrong. Mostly, too fuscia.

In despair, I figured out that if I paint it on with a lip brush, and line it with a Clinique Quickliner Intense lipliner, I can at least solve the application problem, and by layering and blotting patiently, I can coax a tiny bit of wear out of it. Here it is after dance class.

But finally, I decided…. if I love this raspberry-rose shade so much, why not just make it my new go-to color palette? Ie, just start buying in the color family, and see what happens. I have adored my go-to Beauty Bakerie Lip Whip in Syruptitious, but it’s a really cool rose-neutral and I’m tired of neutrals! I want to break out! I want to wear something that stands out, that’s more of a statement. I want to be vivid! And while I adore Beauty Bakerie Take Me To Pomegranate and Cranberry Stiletto – those are strong reds, not this family of berry/rose.

By the way, this is very much a rage against the machine moment for me. I am 54 years old and the fact is, at this age, I *should* be invisible. I should just be fading into the scenery and not making a spectacle of myself. And I say, in 2019, fuck that. I will not go quietly into that good night. I will be loud and flamboyant, and queer and femme, and sexy and large–in all senses of the word. And for me, this is all encapsulated in a brilliant berry-colored lipstick.

So I took advantage of Ulta’s 20% off coupon this week (ends April 18!), and went to my local Ulta and tried some options.

<— In this pic left to right are my original Marc Jacobs KissPop, Stila Stay-All-Day in Bacca, Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink in Artist, Ruler, and (a seasonal shade) Fearless, and Nars PowerMatte Lip Pigment in American Woman. Full disclosure, I’ve been wearing the Nars for a few months now–i just finally sprang for a full size (I had a deluxe sample!) As you can see, it’s very much a cool neutral like Syruptitious, so as much as I love it, it’s not really part of the new direction.

And then in a huge departure, I strayed from my liquid lipcolors, and also got Smashbox Ultimate Lipstick in Jam On It and Fig!

Since then I’ve worn one a day and so far I adore them all! It’s giving me life to wear these vivid standout colors, and reactions have been awesome. I wore one to dance class and my teacher stopped in the middle of a step to peer at me and say “damn, you look hot today!” Mission accomplished, I say. That was Smashbox Jam day.

Blotchy Jam

The Smashbox Fig, sadly, is absolutely gorgeous (actually a terrific match) but no real staying power. Better than the Marc Jacobs, but just not the level I like and need. You can see it starting to fade unevenly in this pic, for example–and that’s just after running a few errands.

But the Maybelline? OMG. They STICK. And, they have just a tad more sheen and give to them than the ultra-matte, ultra-opaque Beauty Bakerie LipWhips. Here I am yesterday in Ruler, feeling very pleased.

Today’s experiment: Maybelline Fearless. It’s definitely a bit more brown than I want, but with its deep purpley mauve undertone, it’s still pretty cool!


Spectacular staying power through dance—->


<——And here’s a bit more long-wear evidence — about 24 hours after the first pic, as you can see the Marc Jacobs is nearly gone. The Stila is half-gone (I’ve never been a huge fan of this *supposedly but not really long-wear* product but I wanted to try the color), the Nars is decent, and and the Maybellines are still going strong.

Tomorrow, Maybelline Artist. I will continue to report back!

Update: Reporting back with Maybelline Artist!

I like it!!! It’s not exactly the Marc Jacobs – once again it is missing that particular rose cast – but dayummmm, it’s nice!

Update 2: Smashbox Jam On It! Kel likes this one a tad better than yesterday’s Maybelline. I like it a lot but as you can see below, it is missing the lovely sheen (it IS a matte product tho). (Also using a fuscia-toned lip pencil which i do NOT like but ignore that).


Update 3: Today on FB Live I had on the Stila Stay-All-Day in Bacca. I liked it but it was pretty fuscia, and more problematically, it wore off after ONE CUP OF COFFEE. UGH this product drives me nuts because they claim it’s long-wear and it simply IS NOT.

Grrrrrrr
Next: Trying what y’all suggested on FB! Pat McGrath and Givenchy (plus two awesome samples–YSL and Laura Mercier!)

I’m pleased to announce that we have a winner of last week’s Sample Pack giveaway, Megan Von Bergen, a PhD student in English at UT Knoxville (name shared with permission)! To enter this week’s, please just comment on the Facebook thread with some substantive comment related to lipcolor, makeup in general, skincare, or any other related topic. I’ll choose one commenter at random, using the online Random Number Generator.


The Adjunct Underclass: An Interview with Author Dr. Herb Childress

It is my pleasure to host this interview with Dr. Herb Childress, author of the new book The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission

KK: First, tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to academia.

HC: My mom was a high school grad, and my dad had dropped out of school somewhere around seventh or eighth grade, when his family left Arkansas for California in the 1930s. I did fine in high school, but when it came time for college, no one in my family had any knowledge or experience about what that meant. So I picked one and went. I did what people told me, went where people pointed, got my bland three point something, and dropped out after two years. I did fine, but there was no larger narrative to tie anything to.

I got married, spent five years on the quest to become a professional bowler, and then worked in retail for a few years after it became clear that I was an awfully good bowler but never going to be good enough. By that point, we were living in Oakland, and I was bored, so I went back to Laney College. California community colleges in the 1980s charged about five dollars per credit, so it was a low-risk decision.

And I learned that I was really interested in architecture, Tom Turman of their architecture department was a terrific teacher, and I was able to transfer to Berkeley, where my love of architecture was crushed. But I got something better: architectural history. That really fed my interest in the material culture aspects of design, seeing buildings and cities as records of decisions, of power, of aspirations. All the stuff I’d been drawn to in the first place now had a home. Paul Groth, who taught American vernacular design history, showed me that it was meaningful to ask questions about things as mundane as silos and streetsigns. He showed me a life in which curiosity was valued.So I got my bachelor’s at 31, worked for a couple of years, and then started a PhD at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where they had an architecture program in what was called environment-behavior studies.

I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I got my PhD in 1996 at age 38; SUNY Press published my dissertation pretty shortly after. But by that point, it was clear that the wheels had already come off the wagon. I was interdisciplinary, I was old, I’d come from a less prestigious university, and I still didn’t understand white-collar culture well enough to know the right moves. I didn’t even know that there were right moves.

KK: What are you doing now, and how do you like it?

HC: I’m a writer. My wife and I do some consulting work, I do professional development work and accreditation work with a few colleges here and there, but fundamentally, I’ve written full time since 2013 when I left higher ed. Fiction, mostly, though it’s the higher-ed nonfiction that’s gotten the traction. But really, the fiction and nonfiction both stem from the same motive: trying to tell stories of people who have to figure out the world when the rules changed beneath them. I can’t imagine better work, though I can imagine lots of ways to make more money.

KK: What made you initially decide to get a PhD and want to become a professor?

HC: Paul Groth, Heather Clendenen, and David Littlejohn at Berkeley. Full stop. They took joy in their teaching, and they were great at it. They took joy in their intellectual lives, and they were great at it. And they believed in me enough to give me opportunities and guidance I’d never had before.

I didn’t know what it meant to be a professor. I didn’t know what it meant to be an academic. I wanted to be a college teacher, and that’s the way I framed it. I wanted to be the kind and generous guide that Paul and Heather and David were, and I wanted to live forever in that place of rigorous curiosity.

KK: What has been your experience of the academic job market?

HC: Complete random confusion. For instance, I didn’t know how insular architecture is as a discipline, so I didn’t know that their academic postings were most often in the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture newsletter; I relied on the Chronicle of Higher Ed as my sole source of job ads, and probably missed some interesting possibilities. And being interdisciplinary,

When I finished my PhD, I needed to work, and I was living in California after doing my dissertation research there. So I was selling furniture, distant from any daily academic conversations, and from my former faculty. But really, I’d never had any meaningful conversations with any of them about the blunt facts of getting work anyway. So I sold furniture, kept publishing journal articles, and went absolutely nowhere.

Gabrielle Foreman of U. Delaware once said that “For first generation students and students of color, asking for help feels like begging. For more privileged students, asking feels like networking.” And as a forty-year-old working-class guy, I didn’t want to beg, didn’t want to admit that I was confused and scared, didn’t even know how confused I was. I wouldn’t have known what to ask. So I did it all on my own, wandering in the wilderness, and remained perpetually lost.

KK: How would you describe the experience of being an adjunct, both professionally and personally?

HC: It was surprisingly similar to the job market, now that I think about it. I had loads of intellectual freedom and no guidance. I wasn’t connected to the larger curricula that I taught within, wasn’t connected to any colleagues. Just as with my failed foray into the faculty job market, I was really isolated from any institutional structures.

Like all adjuncts, I got hired at the last minute, and I lost courses at the last minute. That happened even after the shoe was on the other foot. My very first semester as an administrator, one of the adjunct faculty I’d hired called me two hours before his second week of class and told me that his immigration lawyer said he couldn’t teach, that teaching was outside his work visa. So I picked up that class myself with 90 minutes notice. That kind of stuff is invisible, and normal, and it’s wrenching to be inside it.

KK: In the book you talk about PhD job seekers being in an unhealthy and manipulative relationship with academia. How?

Erving Goffman wrote a wonderful early essay called “On Cooling the Mark Out,” about how con men ease people through the experience of being swindled so that they don’t go to the cops. He identifies two common ways of cooling the mark. The first is to offer “a status which differs from the one he has lost or failed to gain but which provides at least a something or a somebody for him to become.” The second is to offer “another chance to qualify for the role at which he has failed.” In both cases, the victim is allowed a new way to keep participating in his own demise.

In academia, the first strategy is called adjunct faculty or visiting scholar or professor of the practice, and the second is called postdoctoral fellow. The adjunct instructor is not the status that was hoped for, but at least it provides a role to play in our desired community. The postdoc is also not the status that was hoped for, but the promise is that it represents merely a hold against payment sure to come.

We were all recruited by flattery. We were all separated from the herd, told we were special. We were given Greek terms like summa cum laude, mathematically demonstrated to approach or meet the 4.0 limit. We were welcomed to office hours, given special tasks. We were told by the undergraduate community that we were worthy, and that worth was affirmed as we were recruited by the doctoral community.

In grad school, we got straight A’s in the core, we killed the qualifying exams, we taught the intro courses and got the strong evals, we defended the proposal that allowed us to work independently, and then we defended the work we’d done. All five committee members agreed that we’d crushed it, they took us to dinner, told us we were the best ever. There’s never been another one like you…?

And the phone never rang again. We were ghosted. We freaked out, asked our friends if we had spinach in our teeth or B.O. Or we went silent ourselves, hiding in shame, convinced of our failure. Or we got all needy at conferences, asking about job openings during the Q&A after the keynote, buttonholing a senior scholar over a drink as they desperately scanned the horizon for rescue.

And then we were offered a chance to be cooled: to adjunct, to be a postdoc. Our love for that former life, for that validation and reconnection, makes us all vulnerable to any murmured affection, no matter how impermanent.

KK: What ultimately led you to write this book?

HC: I’d published a previous book with University of Chicago Press, The PhDictionary: A Glossary of Things You Don’t Know (but Should) about Doctoral and Faculty Life. It was an attempt to explain academic culture through its language, for people who didn’t natively speak that language. After that book came out in 2016, my editor, the remarkable and heroic Elizabeth Branch Dyson, said that she wanted a general-readership book about the adjunct phenomenon, and thought that I had the right writing voice for it. I made it clear that I wanted to avoid what I called the “combat narratives” of evil administrators versus beleaguered faculty, or philistine state legislators undermining intellectual life. I wanted to write an ecology, a systemic study of the changes both within and beyond higher ed that have led us to this disaster.

There are plenty of stories about the plight of individual adjuncts, like the horrific and heartwrenching story of Dr. Thea Hunter just published last week in The Atlantic. What I wanted to do was to place those individual tragedies within a larger frame, to help us see the systemic loss of what higher ed could be, and sometimes is.

KK: What do you hope readers get from the book?

HC: There are about twenty million people involved in higher ed at any moment, as students and teachers and staff; ten times as many people as all of the branches of military service, for instance. It just seems like part of our culture that we should all understand better.

So for that general audience, I hope that they understand better what their kids will encounter—or what they’ll encounter themselves, now that college students are increasingly “non-traditional,” a term that I hope will soon be a historical artifact like “co-ed.” I hope they’ll understand, in a way my own family didn’t, that the word “college” is like the word “restaurant,” a category that covers a range of experiences from The French Laundry to Denny’s. I hope it’ll help give some context to the flurry of college closures, and to stories of Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin buying admission for their kids. And I hope it’ll help people see that colleges aren’t some remote culture—they’re expressions of who we are and what we collectively value.

For the internal audience, I want to bring more precision to understanding how and where adjuncts are deployed, and what that implies for the whole enterprise. I also want to bring more precision to the idea of “administrator,” a category that shouldn’t include relatively powerless people working in financial aid or student affairs or IT. But more broadly, I hope that the higher ed community can understand that the adjunct crisis is not upon us because of any single causal variable; it’s an ecological collapse, with faculty as the species die-off that marks even larger turmoil.

KK: Are you surprised by the strong response to the book so far?

HC: I am. I’ve gotten used to working in isolation, so being part of a larger conversation has been a real blessing. The folks at Chicago have been marvelous about helping this argument reach a broad community; the fact of a review in the New Yorker is a treat because, you know, it’s the New Yorker, but more importantly, it’s a sign that the book can do the larger work of speaking to a civilian as well as a professional audience.

KK: What do you want to say to Ph.D. job seekers?

HC: First, it’s not an individual sport. Don’t be afraid to ask your committee members for advice and for support, and remember that every conference you go to is part of the recruitment and networking system. When you make friends with faculty members at other schools, ask them what they’re hearing about who might have positions open, and keep in contact with them about what they’re up to as well. This is a networking project, not an isolated test of how good your own work is.

Second, be aware of the numbers. We’re putting 50,000 new PhDs every year into a market that might absorb 10,000. You can do everything right and still not have it pan out. The job market is an impersonal phenomenon, not a reflection on your merit. It’ll feel like you’re failing, but you aren’t, the structure is.

And finally, try to remember exactly why you went into this in the first place. We want a place to exercise our curiosity, we want ways to mentor young people and get them excited about a body of ideas. We want to have our moment to influence some larger body of thought. Academia is one place where we can do that, but perhaps there are others. The work of generosity and mentorship can take many forms.

KK: What do you want to say to tenured professors?

HC: Congratulations. You’ve made it through a narrow passage; good on you. Now that you’re there, do your work to its utmost; don’t be the person that the rest of us look at and say “Really? Him? Her? Really?

Recognize that your ability to work with upper division students and with grad students is supported by an invisible workforce who take care of the first- and second-year students, the undeclared, the students struggling to find their footing. Let adjuncts and term faculty know their work is valued, that their presence is valued. Ask them for advice about the early stages of the curriculum, which they know far better than you. And find ways to advocate for them, to express their value to the chair and the dean, to bring them into greater security and greater membership.

KK: What do you want to say to administrators?

HC: I know you’re struggling with the same fluidity and uncertainty as everyone else in higher ed. I get that. But you need to be a counterforce to that. People surrender in the face of “market forces,” but if we took the same attitude toward the force of gravity, we’d all be in one-story buildings and never have invented skyscrapers or airplanes or ladders. We are not helpless in the face of market forces; we can invent ways for people to rise up and be secure above the ground.

Invest in your first and second year undergrads. Don’t take 25% first-year attrition as the norm, don’t abandon those incoming students to the least supported faculty. Your early-career undergrads are trying to enter an unfamiliar culture, and you need to provide secure membership to the teachers who will lead them through that wilderness so that they can better mentor those students into membership themselves. What happens inside the classroom is not enough.

KK: What would you say to someone who says they want to get a Ph.D.?

HC: It’s not the same as being a good student, working on your own projects in isolation. It’s not just getting more individual A’s. You’re entering a community that creates rather than absorbs knowledge; the real core of doctoral education comes after you’ve passed your dissertation proposal, when you become a nascent scholar. You need to be evangelical about some way of understanding the world, and commit yourself to never understanding it as well as you want to. You always want to be confused, you always want to be over your head, you always want to figure out the unfamiliar, building temporarily secure platforms from which you can explore even further.

When you’re choosing from among doctoral programs, remember that there are about 4,800 departments in the US that offer the PhD, and that only about a quarter of them will gain you access to the right conversations in the right community. The others might give you a wonderful intellectual experience, but they won’t carry much weight once your CV is being read in a batch of 200. Aim for the uppermost tier of programs, and be prepared to be way over your head for quite a while. The alternative is being the best house in a bad neighborhood, which never sells.

Make friends. Make friends among your cohort, make friends among your faculty, make friends with people in your discipline all over. Be known not merely through your writing, but as a person. (Tough gig for an introvert like me, but I think it’s accurate.)

If you’re married or partnered, remember that your family is more important than anything else. Discuss everything as a team, make your choices together. Your job is only part of your life, and your life is what matters.

KK: Final thoughts.

HC: I’ve been lucky, and privileged. I’ve never had to worry about where food will come from, I’ve always had some other job. I’m older, and white, and cismale, and straight, and childless. I am not the face of the adjunct nation, which is more than half women and increasingly scholars of color and increasingly desperate, supporting not just themselves but their families by piecework. But if I can use my luck and my privilege to draw attention to this wholesale abandonment of two generations of scholars, I hope my contributions will be useful.