Resumes for Post-Acs – Gover #2

Continuing from yesterday, more on the postac resume. This time by Maggie Gover.  As you can see, there are different ways to approach this critical document.

Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover

One of the biggest problems my recent graduate students face is converting their CV into a resume. They wonder how to explain their graduate school experience in a way that will appeal to non-academic employers. Here is a brief primer in resume writing for those of us who have unconventional job experience!


First are the basic conventions. The header of your resume should NOT say Resume. Instead, it should simply say your name. This is followed by your mailing address, email address, and telephone number. These should be your personal addresses, not the ones at your institution. That means your home address, an email address at a etc., and your home or cell phone number. This is because it is considered poor form to apply for a new job using contact information provided to you by your current employer. This is strange if you are still a graduate student and are told to use your institutional information! However, this is the convention for resumes.

The formatting should be consistent and easy to read. I like all of the dates aligned on the far right of the page, but you may want to align them all on the far left of the page. Whichever you choose, be sure that the format is consistent throughout. Use boldface and underlining sparingly, but also consistently.

The conventional sections of the resume are as follows: objective, summary, education, experience, skills (technical skills, lab skills, language skills depending on your field), accomplishments, professional affiliations, professional training, activities/interests. Not all of these must be listed. The ones that must appear are education and experience. Other than those, use the job posting to guide your choices about what to include.

Experiences should be listed in reverse-chronological order. If you have two or more experiences that happened or have happened concurrently, choose the one you have held the longest to appear first (i.e. 2008-Present before 2011-Present) or chose the one that most closely fulfills the needs of the job listing to appear first. Information to include is your job title, the company that employed you as such, city/state of employer, and month/year of employment. Each should be followed by bullet points of explanation of your responsibilities in this position. How many bullet points will be dictated by the type of job to which you are applying. If it is entry-level, shoot for 3-5 bullet points. For managerial, shoot for 5-10 bullet points.

Use action verbs in your resume. Use past tense for any experience that is listed in the past. You can use simple present tense for anything that is current or you can stay consistent and use past tense for the entire document. Also, echo some of the language from the job posting in your resume. Many companies use resume reading software that will narrow the 500 or so applications down to 30 or so for the HR person to actually read. You will need for that software to pick up on some of the key words in your resume.

Thinking About How To Present Yourself

Experiences are often thought of as different jobs that you have had. However, don’t limit yourself to thinking of jobs as different experiences for which you were paid. As a post-ac your career probably includes many volunteer positions that you have done without thinking much about it as work experience. The biggest mistake I see people making is listing Graduate Student as the only experience in the past 5-10 years! If you did not have an official title, use one that best describes what the position was, but don’t over-inflate the job. For example, if you helped coordinate the annual graduate student conference think about what your primary duty was. Were you the lead coordinator who delegated duties to others and ensured that the conference took place? Then you were the conference coordinator. Were you in charge of ensuring that the continental breakfasts, buffet lunches, and conference dinner were ordered and paid for? You were the catering coordinator.

Remember that this is a document meant to communicate with a particular employer. That means that you should begin by thinking about this employers needs, not your particular experiences. That means the resume should be revised for every specific job to which you apply! While your experience won’t change, you may highlight different things, use different language, or reorder the responsibilities beneath each experience. Mirror the structure of the job posting for the ordering of your responsibilities. Job postings will often list the most important competencies first, so you should address those first. You also have some leeway in the ordering of the different sections. While I would always put education at the top, you may choose to put your “skills” section after education and then list experience if the position calls for specialized skills that you do have.

Be specific about your responsibilities and list accomplishments with them whenever possible. For example, instead of just saying you managed a budget say the exact amount of that budget.

My Unconventional Advice

Following is some of my advice that is unconventional, but which is gleaned from my experience as a potential employer who has been on the other side of the process. Use at your own risk!

In my experience, the objective section is not always necessary. If you use it, it must be very specific to the job. For example, “To obtain the position of Grant Writer for the ABC Company.” However, I find this to be a dated convention. Gone are the days when you would walk from company to company dropping off resumes with employers who are not actively listing work. If you are leaving unsolicited resumes, this might be an important section in which to say what type of position you are seeking. The other reason you may find it useful is to explain your change in career. As a post-ac, you are a career changer. This section could state something about the transition, so instead of “to obtain the position of” you might write “to transition to a career,” and what you are specifically looking for in this new career path. If you are not going to use it in this way, it is likely you are applying for a job through some sort of online portal or in response to a specific posting. If this is the case, there is no need to state this in an objective section. Most of the time, I am comfortable with this section being left off.

Some post-ac students prefer to format their experiences in a “functional” resume which is used primarily for career changers or for those with gaps in their work history. Many are actually encouraged to do so. It is thought that this type of resume highlights the skills the job seeker has rather than the lack of chronological experience. Speaking as someone who has sat on three different hiring committees within the last twelve months, I greatly discourage this. In my experience, functional resumes actually highlight the fact that you DON’T have the preferred years of experience. For post-acs, I think it let’s you off too easy! No one who has completed a PhD and now might be working in an academic setting has been able to convince me that they don’t have enough relevant experience to fill a chronological resume! However, three hiring committees in twelve months is small beans. When I asked Lindsey David, an HR Generalist at Fox Sports, about the functional resume, she stated, “I personally don’t like them. They make our job more difficult because we compare applicants by years of experience.” Additionally, studies have shown that resume readers look at the education first, and then at the time of the most recent employment. I don’t want the second thing that a potential employer is looking for to be obscured by the format of my resume. Instead, really think about the different things you have been doing for the past several years and communicate them in a way that the employer will value.

If a cover letter is requested, use that document to do the work of the summary and objective sections. This will allow you to create a shorter resume, more concise, and more focused resume!


Does it have to be one page?

No! The length should be suitable for the job. If this is a managerial position with many required competencies, the employer is looking for someone with lots of experience. This means that the resume might be longer than one page. For ease of reading, I try to keep a resume for any job, even a very high level job, between two to three pages. If the position is entry-level, then try to keep it to a page.

How do I address teaching experience in a resume?

If the job asks specifically for teaching experience, address it in much the same way as you would a CV. If the classes you taught directly relate to what the position is asking you to teach (so, for example, you are applying to be a Sexual Health Educator with Planned Parenthood and you taught Human Sexuality as a graduate student), list the classes you taught and your responsibilities. If the job listing asks for teaching in a general way (mentorship, supervision, presentations to audiences, etc.), list all of your teaching as one experience and list all of your responsibilities under that. Also, do not overestimate your teaching experience by listing every university, community college, and class you have taught as a different work experience unless you are applying for a teaching position. Many post-acs get caught up in talking about their teaching experience as mentorship, long term project planning, conflict resolution, and all other competencies the posting requests. While these may all be part of your role as a teacher, you do many of these in other areas of your experience as well. Do not overly rely on teaching as your only work experience. Only list it once, and list all of those competencies in that one entry. Then highlight those competencies in other experiences as well.

Should I list education last or simply not list my PhD so as to not call attention to it?

Many resumes will list education last, especially when you are getting into more managerial positions. The conventional wisdom is that as you get further up the corporate ladder, you get further away from your education. In recent years, this has changed. For the same reason that I do not like the “functional resume,” I don’t like listing the education portion last. Studies have shown that employers look first at education and then at the dates of your most recent employment. I never like to bury the information that employers are looking for first. So, I would always advise listing education first. I would always advise against omitting PhD work. I view this the same way I would as listing a degree one does not have. It is falsifying your educational information. If you decide to leave it off, you must put something in the title of the section that hints at the fact that the information is incomplete. For example, you can use “relevant education.” I would not personally feel comfortable omitting it because I would not want to work in an environment that is hostile to PhDs.

What kinds of professional organizations should I list?

I would list professional organizations that relate to the job to which you are applying. For example, if you are a member of the National Council of Teachers of English and you are applying to work for Everybody Wins! (a literacy foundation), then that is definitely one you should list. If there is a particular career in which you are interested that has its own professional association, think about joining that association. This isn’t just to list on your resume, although it may help, it may actually offer you opportunities to network and meet people. Don’t worry too much if you don’t have any relevant professional organizations.

What types of “skills” should I list and what do I do if I don’t have any relevant skills?

This should come directly from the job posting. If they are looking for someone who knows C++, has worked with Final Cut Pro, and has experience with Adobe CS6, you should list any of those skills that you have. If the posting says that they position requires working with Spanish language speakers, and you are fluent in Spanish, list that. If it is a research position in industry, your technical lab skills may be valued. The job posting may not say exactly the skills that they are seeking, but you may be able to get a sense of what they need in order to list it.

Can I leave off some job experiences if they do not seem relevant?

Unlike education, it is fine to leave off different work experiences if you do not feel that they are relevant to the position for which you are applying, especially if they would make your resume very long. In fact, for every experience you list, ask yourself, “What will this employer like about this experience?” If the answer is, “I don’t know,” the employer won’t know either. Think about removing that work experience, or explaining it in a different way so that it specifically relates to the employer’s mission or job posting.

I am a graduate student. Is that my job title?

Always, you should be comfortable with the terminology you use in your resume. However, I wouldn’t use Graduate Student as my job title. If you were a Graduate Research Assistant, use that instead. In this case, your resume line might look something like this:

Graduate Research Assistant                                                                    2010-Present

Water Propulsion Laboratory, University of the Palisades, CA

If you did not have such a title, you can use Graduate Researcher or something similar. If you are a humanities or social science person who does not have a specific lab to claim, your entry might look more like this:

Graduate Researcher                                                                                 2010-Present

Department of History, University of the Palisades, CA

Or you might have a specific archive in which you worked:

Graduate Researcher                                                                                 2010-Present

William Powell Archives, University of the Palisades, CA


The Art of Translation (of CV to Resume) – Cardozo #5

The crux of the matter: how do you convert your CV to a resume?   It might seem elementary, but it actually takes a completely fresh new conceptualization of your past experiences.  The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis maintains that language shapes our thoughts.  Yes, arguing about this has kept linguists occupied for 70 years or so.  But even so, the academic categories of “research, teaching, and service” are keeping you from grasping the real breadth and depth of skills you command. Karen Cardozo tells you what needs to happen, and how to stop being trapped by academic categories of achievement.


by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

When you’re ready to jump off the academic ledge, it is often the very experiences that were dutifully OMITTED from your CV—along with transferable academic skills—that form your life-saving Alt/Post-Ac bungee cord.  Freeing the academic elephant means stepping back to take a fresh inventory of all that you are, all that you have done, and all that you have to offer.  It’s about recognizing skills you didn’t know you even had, and naming them for others.

Translation studies have been fairly hot in the past decade.  A central tension concerns whether the primary task of the translator is fidelity to the original versus re-presenting the original text in terms most likely to convey its essential spirit for a new audience.  When it comes to translating your story for a non-academic audience, there’s no debate:  you’ve got to use terms THEY understand – even if that means changing all the original words.

Let’s talk about this translational work on two levels: 1) the broader issue of identifying transferable experiences and skills and 2) the specific conversion of a CV to a resume.

In a recent consult with someone considering the Alt/Post-Ac route, I was struck by the complete lack of articulation between his CV and resume: it was as if I were looking at two different lives, two different people. This person failed to effect any translation between academic and alternative careers—he approached the Post-Ac application as the inverse of its academic counterpart, cutting out all things academic in favor of nonacademic experiences.  But in so doing he put a huge hole in his work history, and left out a lot of relevant transferable experience.

This strict division in CV/resume content makes more sense on the first side, since the academic job market has little interest beyond research, teaching and service.  With some exceptions for applied disciplines, academic search committees don’t tend to consider how alternative work relates to or enhances academic engagements.  Academic means are their own ends.

The reverse is not true, however.  Many other units within higher education (the Alt-Ac scene) along with outside organizations (the Post-Ac landscape) would be very interested in the integrative sum of your parts, IF you could explain how your knowledge or skills would benefit them.  The problem is that many academics can’t identify their own transferable skills or put them in terms employers can understand.  In part, this is because the familiar categories of Research, Teaching and Service are actually complex bundles of discrete and variegated forms of work that need to be unpacked in order to be seen and discussed as transferable skills.

A little story here might illustrate the point.  In Mindfulness, psychologist Ellen Langer talks primarily about its inverse –mindLESSness, which she argues stems from three major sources:  1) automated behavior, 2) entrapment by category, and 3) an inability to view situations from multiple perspectives.  To explain categorical entrapment, she tells this story (and I paraphrase):

Imagine you are awakened in the wee hours by a knock on the door. It’s a well-dressed man claiming to be a member of The Millionaire’s Treasure Hunt Club.  He needs a 3 x7 piece of wood to win the treasure hunt and if you can supply him with one, he will give you half of his $1M winnings.  You’ve never been so motivated in your life!  But after tearing apart your house and its environs, you admit defeat—there is no such item to be found.  Off he goes, taking your windfall with him.  The next morning you pass a nearby construction site where you see a whole stack of 3×7 wooden planks!  What are they?  Why, doors, of course.  In fact, your house was full of them, but you saw “doors” instead of “3×7 pieces of wood.”  Your search was not conducted mindfully.

After years of CV polishing, most academics suffer from a severe case of entrapment by category.  Successful Alt/Post-Ac job seekers must therefore 1) look carefully at any given Alt/Post job description to identify what primary functions are involved and then 2) consider the full range of their prior experiences – including but not limited to academic work—to find the professional planks of wood that will open new doors.

However, to state the obvious:  some things are just not wood no matter what you call them.  So the first step is to reasonably identify jobs for which your experience and skills ARE transferable rather than ridiculously far-fetched.  On the other hand, the more complex or diversified the professional role, the less likely that any single candidate will have all attributes in equal measure.

So, don’t eliminate yourself from the pool because you can’t meet every criterion: strike a balance and apply to any jobs for which you have MOST of the required skills (and of course, don’t discuss what’s lacking in your cover letter; just stack the deck as much as you can in favor of all the assets you DO bring and hope they’ll find you appealing enough to let you learn the rest on the job).

Now, let’s talk about how you can identify and translate prior experiences in order to convert your CV into a resume.  The division of duties in most professional positions could be organized under three general competency domains:  administrative, conceptual, and interpersonal skills.  Respectively, these involve task, idea, and people orientations.  What’s tricky is that these do not align neatly with the academic divisions of Research, Teaching and Service because they cut across the major modes of academic engagement.  For example, let’s look at Teaching.

Commonly understood as an interpersonal engagement, teaching actually draws heavily on all three of the basic functional categories.  Administratively, you are a scheduler and project manager (exponentially so with a high advising/teaching load of numerous students and discrete preps).  Conceptually, you are a researcher, program designer, visionary, and problem-solver, not only in thinking through intellectual questions as they arise in your courses, but in managing the range of issues that bubble up around a population whose prefrontal cortexes are not yet fully developed!  Interpersonally, you are a coach, instructor and supervisor; you also negotiate around difficult colleagues and navigate complex bureaucracies.

Then there are overarching skills needed in all three areas: speaking, writing, presentation and technological skills are used in administrative, conceptual AND interpersonal contexts.  If you work out of the trunk of your car on myriad campuses as many adjuncts do, you can add “flexibility and effective use of limited resources” to your many talents.  The list of attributes and potential to put a positive spin on your work history is potentially infinite.  You just have to see the planks of wood.

For the Alt/Post-Ac search, this usually means ditching the basic chronological resume and tripartite “Experience/Education/ Skills” structure (a form best suited to early career individuals and/or those with a unified trajectory in one profession).  Instead, you need to get creative and produce a thematic or FUNCTIONAL RESUME that 1) highlights your different competencies and 2) translates and sequences those categories in terms that MATCH the language and hierarchy of value in the specific Alt/Post-Ac job description.

For example, if the organization is a non-profit that uses the term “Youth Services,” your category header wouldn’t say “Teaching Experience” but rather, something like “Youth-Related Work” – wherein you’d list college teaching along with camp counseling, facilitating a church youth group, and any other work related to young ‘uns.  Where you place that category on the resume depends upon whether this hypothetical role is more heavily weighted toward administrative, conceptual or interpersonal work.  A careful analysis of the job description usually tells you how to proceed (and who better than an academic to engage such close reading?).

Let’s say this is a program director role emphasizing communications skills in a youth services non-profit.  Your resume might lead with “Administrative/Non-Profit Management Experience” followed by “Communications and Media Experience,” then “Youth-Related Work” and “Additional Skills” where you mention any relevant certifications, language, or technological skills.  This resume would be saying (amplified by the discussion in your cover letter) that you have what it takes to direct a program, communicate its mission effectively, AND understand the population served.  In some candidates, these competencies developed from “coming up through” a related field; in the Alt/Post-Ac career conversion, they are more likely derived from different jobs and settings.

NOTE: Sometimes the functional approach means you have to mention the same job in multiple categories as you highlight different aspects of the work.  If that’s going to happen more than a time or two, it’s probably best to do the equivalent of an MLA Works Cited list and provide a “Work Summary” up front – a simple chronological history of employers and dates to which more detailed entries under various functional categories can be keyed with minimal fuss..

Point being:  the terms of translation and the sequence of categories should be determined entirely by the specifics of the job description and/or field context. In the same way that you learned to construct a Research/Teaching/Service hierarchy in response to academic norms, you have to match the language and hierarchies of value for new roles or fields.  The challenge is that Alt/Post-Ac pursuits are more varied, so you have to may have to employ different strategies each time.  As a career consultant, this is what I teach people to do.  Once I have worked with clients in a few different application contexts (to illustrate the limitless and varied art of translation), they are more readily able to effect the conversion process themselves.

So far we’ve been talking about translation—the transmission of similar content in different words.  However, the Alt/Post-Ac adventure can take you far beyond translation.  It could be an opportunity to write a whole new story.  Here is your chance to engage in genuine vocational exploration and the attendant questions of fit or motivation that all of your academic slogging may have squelched.  So if you’re going to jump off the ledge, leap big.  My last post described how networking can help you explore new alternatives and my next post will talk more about how to take your own inventory, to figure out who you are and where you might be going. Soon you won’t be translating as much as creating, writing your life anew.


UK Job Market Advice-Help From Readers

A reader posted on Facebook a month or so ago, asking some very specific questions about the UK job market. Several readers took the time to respond in detail. I am pasting their responses below.  If you’ve been wondering about mysteries like the UK interview system (everyone is invited on the same day!) or the REF, read on.   The questions themselves are replicated in the first set of responses.


Response 1:

How do you craft a job letter for the UK system? Someone in the UK told me that the letter needed to explicitly address the specific “duties” or “qualifications” listed in the job ad, and so the language seemed slightly different from the US ones/your templates.

-       I think this is a red herring. Yes, they say you should specifically address the “qualities” listed in the job announcement, but in reality this would make your cover letter very “tell-y” rather than “show-y”. I worked with Karen on my cover letter, which never directly spoke to the job specifications. Rather, I “showed” how I was qualified by using specific examples without ever falling into the tedious trap of parroting the job announcement. I submitted US-style cover letters (with slight tweaks) for all the UK jobs I applied for. Out of 10 applications or so, I was shortlisted for 5 jobs, was the second choice for 2, and recently got a permanent, full-time position at an R1-equivalent. FYI, I am in Modern Languages.

What do you do if you can’t make the designated time/date of the visit? My sense was that there’s no room for negotiation at all, but I’m not sure…

-       Generally, there’s no room to move the interview/presentation (e.g. job talk), because all of the candidates are interviewed/present on the same day. However, they will usually allow you to do it by Skype if you can’t make it.

What should the tone of the presentation/job talk be? I read in blogs that it should not be like a conference paper, but I didn’t quite know what that meant.

-       This is tricky, and it can really vary by school and department (not least by discipline). In fact, I have had specific instructions from several schools that they wanted a “conference” style paper. I interpreted that as meaning that they wanted me to present on one or two specific aspects of my current (usually) research in-depth, rather than a large overview. Be aware that job talks are much shorter in the UK – generally between 15-20 minutes, so in that sense they are more like a conference paper. One thing where I would differ from Karen on with regards to UK job talks is that they often want to hear about your current/future research BEYOND the dissertation (or thesis, as we call it in the UK). This can mean presenting on something that you actually don’t know like the back of your hand. But you can always clarify with the head of department/head of the committee, who are generally happy to answer questions about what they’re expecting.

Can the presentation be read, if disciplinarily appropriate (like anthro) or should I not read no matter what? (I ended up giving a 10 minute presentation without reading, based on some blogs)

-       Again, I think this is discipline-specific. I wrote a presentation as if it was a paper, then practiced it until I almost knew it verbatim. I then delivered it as if I was talking, but had my paper on hand to refer to at points, particularly where I was giving a mini close reading. The most important thing re. the delivery, in my opinion, is to give a lively presentation, e.g. don’t mumble or keep eyes glued to the paper, make sure to make eye contact with the audience, walk around a bit, etc. Having said this, I have heard of presentations where the audience was bowled over because the candidate delivered the paper without notes.

Reading your (Karen’s)advice on the job talk backwards, do Brits then prefer a more informal approach to the presentation? (Karen: my British clients tend to be WAY too chatty and informal in their job talks for the US market)

-       I’m not sure what you mean by “informal”? They certainly want you to take your research seriously, otherwise why would they take you seriously? On the other hand, I have often been told they are looking for someone “nice” – presentations/job interviews are very brief in the UK compared to the States, but they could be working with you for the next 10 years, so it’s important to come across as affable.

How should I prepare for the interview? What kinds of questions might they ask? What are the different people looking for (people from the department, admin people, dean-type person, an external scholar, etc)?

-       They will ask about REF/impact (if you don’t know what that is you aren’t ready to apply for the UK market). Often the first job is why do you want the job/what attracts you to the university (e.g. looking for fit, but also enthusiasm). They will usually ask about your doctoral research, your next project, maybe a course you could teach (although they generally don’t lob one of those “how would you teach a survey course in XXX?” the way they do in the States, at least in my experience). You will also get stupid management-speak questions, which you need to answer seriously.
-       I only had interviews at R1-equivalent schools, and the people on the committee were all academics who wanted to talk seriously about research (in particular the writing samples), that is, there weren’t any HR-type people, even if some academics had to ask similar questions. For the last two interviews, there was the head of the interviewing department, the head of the school, the dean or vice-provost or similar, the direction of research for the school, someone “external” from another school, someone who oversees “impact” and funding, etc. But again, there were no HR people. I have heard this can be different at other institutions.
-       There are lists of questions on the internet that seem pertinent, but there is also quite a bit of overlap with US interview questions. I did Karen’s Interview Intervention, which was still enormously helpful, and it translated very well into a UK environment.

I know that in the UK there isn’t much room to negotiate the job offer, but what can be negotiated, and how? In my case, I was able to negotiate the salary, but only that. And it was a very friendly process.

-       I negotiated a slightly higher salary (e.g. a “spinal point”) within the academic “grade” I was in. I also negotiated a slightly earlier starting date. I have been told you can negotiate for a shorter probation period, and I imagine for start-up costs in scientific-type positions, but things like leave are almost always the same across the board.

Are there specific things that UK schools are looking for, especially from candidates coming out of the US? I.e. how best to make oneself appealing to a UK institution?

-       Can’t really speak to this, but I do think that UK academics can be wary of a certain style of US academic (in particular graduate student or recently-minted PhD) who comes across as too bombastic. But I think this is a minor concern, really.

How horrible is the REF, really? Someone in the UK told me that it just means 1 output a year, and there isn’t even pressure to produce a book. So how much do I believe people in the US who told me how awful the REF and audit culture is in the UK, when the tenure process in the US is also terrible?

-       The REF is an oddity, as is the US tenure process. There are two major differences, in my opinion: an “early career researcher” will only (normally) have to submit two “outputs” (horrid word) for the REF, whereas in the States the pressure is on in the first five years to put out a book, 4-5 articles, organize panels at major conferences, etc. Obviously if you want to be promoted in the UK you still need to do all these things, but the existence of your job is not exclusively dependent on them. However, unlike with tenure, when the pressure to publish then eases off some, in the UK it never stops, because the REF works in approximately 6 year cycles.

There’s no tenure in the UK but it also means that the job is not contingent on tenure. I was told that unless I do something stupid, I have the job for life (after the probationary period). And if you don’t produce much, they still won’t fire you, they just won’t promote you and/or they’ll give you a heavier teaching load. No promotion doesn’t mean no job. And university staff are unionized so there’s that protection too. How do I understand all of this in better context, i.e. how do I make an educated decision comparing the US and UK?

-       There is also more mobility in the UK. It’s common for people to move institutions even after they’ve been promoted to quite senior positions. It is rare that they’ll fire you if you don’t publish, but you could be marginalized and suffer the disdain of other academics, which I think can be a powerful depressant, actually. Also, if the university goes through hard times and wants to lay off staff they will undoubtedly get rid of the “unproductive” ones. University staff are not automatically unionized – you have to join the union (I did, even as a teaching assistant and adjunct). The union does provide some protection, but workplace protections are just better in the UK in general (e.g. maternity leave, holiday entitlements, etc.). More often I find the union is a mobilizing/activist force.

How difficult is it to return to the US system later on? What would one need to do to keep that possibility open?
-       I can’t speak to this.



Response 2:

If you can’t make the designated time/date:
Basically no room for negotiation, there were no other interviews and job talks for candidates that did not attend the designated days. I know for the PhD scholarship I won they offered the potential for Skype interviews if you were based abroad but that was not mentioned in the original advertisement and was only mentioned when I had already made it onto the shortlist. Even then the Skype interview had to be on the same day as the other interviews. However I don’t know about this at the academic job level. Basically: if it really is impossible to attend the designated time/date and they don’t mention skype/other form of video conference I suppose it is worth asking on the basis of ‘if you don’t ask you’ll never get’ but the client would be clutching at straws.

Tone of presentation:
I haven’t been to a conference (well one not entirely composed of phd students) yet so don’t know what is meant by the tone of a conference paper well enough to really comment.

Reading the presentation:
Do not read the presentation. Refer to notes briefly on occasion – yes, read – NO.

Informal approach in job talk:
The committee knows the job talk is stressful and people have their own preferred presentation styles. Rather than informal I would say personable is a better description of what they should be aiming for.

Finally thank you for the blog and free resources. Though I have so far been entirely UK based I discovered your blog whilst still a masters student and took the the general attitude from it (particularly How Not to Act Like a Graduate Student) and won a fully funded PhD. Though the materials are not geared towards the UK your website is still one of the first I recommend to friends contemplating applying for a PhD.

Also forgot to mention Q&A featured a fair bit of planned future articles/research output and how you plan to build on current work. Perhaps most importantly about funding sources and what research can be carried out even if funding applications do not come through – one candidate I saw made a convincing case for articles which could be written up on existing data or could be based in the UK minimising costs. The department knows funding is competitive and knows no one will be a 100% successful all of the time so ideally a client should be able to make a case for a plan b which will cover a year or two in the mean time if asked. They need to know how the funding councils work and which ones they can apply for (they shouldn’t forget there is now a European wide funding council as well).

On REF, yes theoretically you only have to have one output a year, but that is a baseline. Also the REF will score someone by the prestige of the journal they publish in and citations. Furthermore departments may choose not to submit someone for REF in which case they won’t lose their job (if they are not on a fixed term contract or on probation) but they won’t be promoted and have their research sidelined to make more room for teaching. But yes promotion and a permanent contract will hinge almost entirely on a persons REF score. Allowances are made for things like maternity leave (paternity leave beyond the previous 2 weeks is only starting to be a thing) or prolonged illness, any formal leave of absence. One thing I have seen in the arts and humanities is anger about how research is weighted with books being perceived to be under-weighted leading to a shift in articles even in disciplines that don’t normally focus on them (such as history). Also this REF for the first time has a 20% weighting for “impact” which arts and humanities almost entirely as well as large swathes of social sciences (mostly people doing qualitative research essentially) despise, the wording is vague and no one has a clue how it is going to turn out.

Your summation of the UK and lack of tenure is correct as far as I am aware. Also maybe worth mentioning is that any permanent resident (and their dependants) of the UK is entitled to free healthcare so an American (or anyone else) does not have to sort out health insurance if they don’t want to (as a type 1 diabetic I’m eternally grateful for this, one run in with a hospital in the states when I was on vacation was terrifying!).


Response 3:

Making the designated time/date is usually quite important. They often have listed in the job description the exact dates for interviews. Dont be surprised if you are interviewing at the same time as others and end up sitting together in the ‘waiting room’ and having dinner together with staff. Interviews are usually one long intense day with the usual presentation, individual meetings with staff, meeting grad students etc. Decisions are usually made very quickly, with offers often made the same day as interview. There is usually pressure to make a very quick decision.

Each university has a pay scale for each grade (lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, etc.), which is made public. It is nearly impossible to negotiate beyond the limit of that pay scale. After the probation period, jobs are ‘for life’. There is no tenure system and you cannot be fired unless something insane happens. Yes, there are plenty of lecturers who never produce anything after they are hired, but cannot be fired. You just never get promoted beyond Lecturer.

The REF is the end-all be-all of the UK system and you will live and die by it. The closer it gets to the REF deadline, the more UK hiring is all about your REF-submittable publications. The REF just happened, so the next one isnt until 2018. There are various qualifications for the how much you have to submit for REF based on how far after the PhD you are, whether you have been on maternity/paternity leave, etc. I have never seen any importance given to a book in my field (anth/archaeology).

The job talks are usually fairly relaxed powerpoint presentations. I wouldnt suggest you read something or give a formal conference-type presentation. Since you will be a permanent addition to the faculty it important to make clear not just your own research, but how you would fit into the department as a whole.

The top question I have seen candidates trip up on is “who would you want to collaborate with in our department? how does your research fit with the research of X person?”. Admin work also seems to be a bigger part of the job description for the UK. They will want to know that you are willing to take on things like running a Master’s degree program or organizing the undergrad class schedule or tutor groups.



Response 4:

I’m an American working in the UK for the last 7.5 years. In the first few years I was here, I got calls from US universities interested in recruiting me. But after I had been here about 4-5 years, when I did think about moving back, I put in a bunch of applications in the US and didn’t even get a single interview. Because the funding of PhD students is on such a different system here, I consider the two systems to be increasingly divergent so figure I’m “stuck” in the UK for now. As for the REF, it was a lot of very stupid paperwork and no one knows yet what the outcome will be.



Response 5:

the letter needed to explicitly address the specific “duties” or “qualifications” listed in the job ad, and so the language seemed slightly different from the US ones/your templates.

Yes, they assess qualifications against a particular list stated in the ad. Address all of these!!! Some universities have particular essay forms on the applications where they ask you to answer particular questions related to some of the qualifications.

- What do you do if you can’t make the designated time/date of the visit? My sense was that there’s no room for negotiation at all, but I’m not sure…

Expect to receive an email with a date and TIME for an interview. If you’re lucky, you’ll get invited to a webform where you choose out of 2 or 3 timeslots (if the other candidates haven’t taken them first).
UK positions are most often offered the day of the interview. I would not expect any flexibility on the date of interview.
Even when I stated, in the application, that I was not available on a particular day, they insisted on interviewing me on that day via skype, despite the difficulties.

- How should I prepare for the interview? What kinds of questions might they ask? What are the different people looking for (people from the department, admin people, dean-type person, an external scholar, etc)?

Interviews are generally done in a panel format, where you interview with everyone at the same time. They may have a list of questions that each person asks in turn. (I find this similar to US phone interviews, just conducted in person, YMMV.)
Compared to US interviews, expect a shorter time (maybe 1-2 hours rather than all-day). Campus tours, if any, may be given a few hours apart.
Don’t be surprised if you meet your competitors. Be nice! And make friends!

- Are there specific things that UK schools are looking for, especially from candidates coming out of the US? I.e. how best to make oneself appealing to a UK institution?

Read the comparators of the CHE:
Check career advice from the website:
Be aware of the recent changes in tuition fees (except in Scotland).
Know what the REF is, and how your work would contribute:
For background some other suggestions:
Know the differences in the educational system in the US vs. the UK — e.g. more vocational training
Know the different types of universities (e.g. “modern university” etc.)
Response 6:

Best website I’ve seen on academic careers abroad is:

e.g. for the UK section, see
See also the ERA watch, e.g. report linked here:


An addendum for UK jobs. Among the advice (there is lots on their website, all worthwhile), they also offer three pamphlets about writing cover letters at different levels:

Just rediscovered them. The “before-after” examples will be of interest even for those targeting jobs outside the UK.


The Pros and Cons of Corporate – Day 3

Academics I know tend to look upon the corporate world with some combination of fear, contempt, and horror. And yet, there are many academics who have made the transition to work in corporations successfully, and even find professional satisfaction therein.  The first thing to do is demystify and de-objectify the corporate job (and of course, there is no one “corporate job”) and gain a more nuanced sense of what it entails. Stephanie Day continues to help us with this task in this post on what she finds most and least satisfying in her work for Scantron.

by Stephanie Day.

Stephanie Day

Stephanie Day


In many ways, my transition to working in corporate settings has required me to sacrifice depth for breadth. In academia, there is a tendency to talk with people with whom you, for the most part, fundamentally agree.  This makes sense, because it requires a certain level of common ground in order to debate the higher-order complexities and intricacies of a discipline. In my work, most of my interaction is with individual who are truly fundamentally different from myself and each other. I work with developers, engineers, sales people, designers, educators … none of whom approach things in the same way. We don’t share the same assumptions, backgrounds, or perspectives, so it is unsurprising that we often disagree. Things that seem like they should be simple can quickly become complicated, and sometimes the things that seem the most important and fundamental to what we do gets overlooked.  This can be very frustrating.

The intersection of education and technology is fascinating to me, and I long to talk theory, unpack philosophical differences, and examine market trends, initiatives and failures under a social scientist’s microscope.  But the nature of private sector is that for most people, the first and foremost concern is with doing their job, not necessarily understanding it.  To make up for this, I have taken to signing up for online courses (MOOCs) to keep my analytical brain fresh and I spend time on the weekends working pet projects that allow me to think deeper about my work.

The flip side of that coin, of course, is that from my colleagues I’ve learned how to build a business argument, make a compelling sales pitch, talk numbers and invoices, produce and deliver effective presentations, discuss database architecture, and otherwise make myself more marketable to the real and immediate needs of the high-tech industry.  I’ve been able to share anthropology with people whose only previous reference to the discipline came from Indiana Jones, and in doing so I’ve learned to talk about anthropology in a way that is accessible and interesting to everyone. While my specific degrees will probably not immediately qualify me for any now or in the future, it is my worldview, and I bring it with me everywhere I go, along with the technical skills I pick up along the way, to add value to the position that most others cannot. In doing so, I have become far more confident than I ever was in academia that I am capable of bringing something new and important to the table.

I have had to give up on the idea that academic work was somehow more pure and less mundane than private-sector jobs.  I had fallen into the idealistic trap of academia to assert its own inherent, non-monetizeable value. On top of my own bias, I also perceived a bias from my academic friends, people who I had admired and modeled myself from. Psychologically, that was rough. But at the end of the day – aside from one very direct comment about “selling out” – most of the disdain I perceived was more a product of my own insecurity about my decision than any willful disdain from my academic friends. Still, I believe a palpable bias does exist that prevents graduates students from talking about transitioning to non-academia with their peers and advisors, which probably leads to the assumption that it “just isn’t done”.


Small Business Ownership II: Take What You Love, Leave What You Don’t –Horton #2

In this post Margy Horton continues with Part II of her series on launching your own small business.

by Margy Horton

Margy Horton

Margy Horton

Let’s say that you’re contemplating the wacky plan of launching an entrepreneurial career. Before you embark, consider this checklist of qualities that characterize many a successful business owner: optimism, organizational skills, a tolerance of risk and uncertainty, a willingness to advocate for oneself and one’s talents, an insane work ethic, and an ability to envision the future and get other people excited about that vision. If you’ve gotten through (or are getting through) a doctoral program, I’m guessing you have most or all of these qualities. Which means that you, yes you, can become the proprietor of a thriving small business.

Once you’ve made your peace with capitalism (as I discussed in my last post) and decided to leave academia for entrepreneurship, your next step will be to start developing your business model. Basically, this means identifying the need you’re going to fill in the marketplace, figuring out how you’re going to fill it, and determining how much money you should charge to the people whose needs you are meeting. If you’re still feeling a little glum about leaving academia behind, don’t worry. The materials you’re going to use to build your new business are the very scraps you carried with you out of academia–your favorite fragments of the life of the mind, salvaged from your flameout of an academic career like scrap metal from a house fire. (Just kidding; that’s a little joke from one entrepreneur to another.) Here’s what’s next.

  1. Banish the notion that academics are superior to other people. If you’ve been spending all your time with academics, you may have absorbed the idea that academics are the only truly cultured, rational, and enlightened people on earth, and beyond that, you might assume that these qualities are the only ones that matter. If you hold onto these distorted views, they can keep you from seeing the value in people from other backgrounds–and from making yourself useful in the world at large.
  2. Figure out what you loved and loathed about academia. My list of “pros” included the intellectual challenges, the centrality of written and spoken language, the significance of the university’s mission, the opportunities to help other people grow and develop, and the schedule flexibility. Cons included boring meetings, geographical limitations, and the lack (as I saw it) of a clear causal link between effort and reward. Once I’d made this pro-con list, I found it easier to conceptualize what I was looking for in my new career.
  3. Learn about the world–and think about where you’re needed. Read up on current events, technology, the economy, politics, marketing, building construction, pastry arts, or whatever it is that you’re interested in. Study the New York Times, skim the job postings on, browse the magazine section at your local bookstore. Your goal is to get a sense of the world outside your tiny discipline or university. Find connections between your academic work and the problems in the world. What unmet needs do you discover? Whom can you help? What problems can you solve? Ask schools, businesses, nonprofits, and private citizens what tough problems they’re facing. I can hardly begin to imagine hypothetical scenarios to illustrate to you what you might encounter once you start looking for problems to solve. And the solution isn’t always entrepreneurship: Maybe you’ll realize that your town needs you to run for mayor or that the local radio station needs a sharp commentator. Stephanie Day’s recent post for Dr. Karen shows how you can create opportunities for yourself simply by situating yourself such that the people around you discover how very indispensable you are.
  4. Take inventory of your strengths, knowledge, and skills, thinking in terms of what people might pay you to do. Ask people who know you well, “What am I good at?” Read books that inspire self-reflection, whether self-help books like Now Discover Your Strengths, academia-specific books like So What Are You Going to Do With That?, or more literary texts, like Walden. (Or if you’re like me, read all three.) Make notes as you go along–specific steps to take, ideas to investigate, people to contact, websites to watch. As a start, run through the following list of marketable skills and mentally circle the ones you possess: presentation/public speaking, writing/content development, data collection and analysis, coaching/teaching, editing, course design/project management, storytelling, organizing information, synthesizing multiple viewpoints, identifying and solving problems. Find a sensible person who is a good listener to help you define your marketable skills, clarify how your offerings are distinct from everyone else’s, and develop a specific plan of action for how to making a living from your knowledge and skills.
  5. Realize that there are no shortcuts. In transitioning from academia to a post-ac career, you’re undertaking one of the most significant projects of your life. Writing your dissertation wasn’t easy, and this won’t be either. Think of this project as the opposite of Tic Tac Toe: It’s worthwhile and exciting precisely because your course isn’t mapped out for you and because the possibilities at this moment are boundless. Who wants to spend a lifetime putting Xs and Os into a prescribed grid, when you can choose instead to have all the letters of the alphabet and a grid that’s as expansive as the universe?

By the way, for all the parallels that delight me between academic work and small business ownership, I have found some differences that delight me just as much. I get to live in the place of my choice, the Research Triangle of North Carolina. I only work with people who are deeply invested in their projects—meaning that I never again have to convince a skeptical student that writing matters. I can measure my effectiveness in the actual dollars that I’m paid and the actual number of clients who work with me repeatedly and refer their friends. I represent an institution that, because I designed it, reflects my own most cherished vision of what the world can be: a place where academic writing is not a tedious, inefficient, demoralizing task but rather a satisfying process of discovery that is integral to the academic’s overall work life. Basically, establishing ScholarShape has meant creating my own dream job. And it hasn’t taken me too far from academia, after all. My hope for you is that you’ll figure out how to build your own dream job, too.


In my next post, I’ll talk more specifically about the editing and writing consultation work that I do at ScholarShape. The purpose of the post will be to help readers who are contemplating their own move into editing or consulting to think through various approaches to this kind of work.

In Response to Popular Demand, More on the 5-Year Plan

This is a repost of an older post.  It follows sequentially from last week’s on the five-year plan.


In response to the flood of inquiries about what, exactly, a 5-Year Plan should look like, following on last week’s post, Why You Need a Five-Year Plan, I am sharing the plan produced many years ago by my first Ph.D. student, who is now an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at an R1 institution. (2014 update: she just got tenure!)

This student was the rock star of 5-Year Plans.  I first encountered her as an undergraduate student.  She began working with me then on an independent study, and then proceeded on to graduate school with me as her advisor.  She finished her Ph.D. in 7 years, and this included lost time from a switch of institutions when I moved to take my second job.  From her earliest days in graduate school, she had a 5-year plan.  She updated it annually and always shared it with me.

The plan I reproduce here dates from about her 3rd year of graduate school.  2003 shows a series of deadlines for submission to the major conferences in her field—the Association of Asian Studies and the American Anthropological Association.   November of 2003 shows the multiple deadlines for dissertation fieldwork fellowships.  June and July 2004 show her preliminary exams, and August includes her proposal defense (this followed the requirements of the program).  August 2004 also shows that she is finishing a book chapter (her first publication), and moving to Japan for fieldwork.  December of 2004 shows deadlines for dissertation writing grants to take up the following year, after return from fieldwork.  I believe, although I can’t exactly recall, that JPN: Genders, which appears in Dec. ’03, then in June ’04, and again in September ’05, was a refereed journal article that she was working on.

You will note that 2006 and 2007 are mostly empty except for continuing major conference submission deadlines, and an anticipated defense date.   This was typical, and as these years drew closer they were filled in.

I’m not 100% sure what all the colored arrows refer to, but they seem to refer to time “chunks,” as in, “time in the field,” “summer,” and so on.

In sifting through the many reactions to the 5-year plan idea on facebook and twitter and in the comment stream to the post, I have gotten the  impression that for many readers, the 5-year plan feels like a large, epic, “major life goals” kind of endeavor.  

But as you can see from this example, it’s really more of a “stay on top of deadlines” kind of endeavor.  

And now, let me be perfectly clear.  

Staying on top of deadlines is exactly what allows a person to achieve  huge life goals.  

Yes, I’m quoting Thomas Edison:  “success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration.”  The people who succeed in getting into the national conference are, first and foremost, the ones who actually remember to submit the proposal to the national conference, by the deadline, properly formatted.

One of the most important outcomes of the 5-year plan is that you never miss a submission deadline for a conference or a funding opportunity.  As you learn of new conferences and funding opportunities, you simply add them in, without losing track of the other deadlines. You also plan out a publication schedule, and put your own deadlines for submission to journals there in the plan.  And money racks up, and publications rack up, and networks rack up, and voila, the cumulative effect 5 years later is—an epic CV that gets you an epic job offer, or tenure.

This student obtained, in total, some $200,000 of research funding in graduate school (in cultural anthropology–a field that does not have massive grants), in addition to her basic TA funding package.  She had several publications before finishing, and secured a tenure track position at an R1 institution in her first year on the market.  She is solidly on track for tenure, and this past year she won another major research fellowship that gave her a year’s leave time for new fieldwork on a second project.

While many people certainly accomplish these things without a 5-year plan in an Excel grid, I am confident that in this student’s case, her prodigious level of organization kept her on track, productive, and out ahead of the competition at each step of the game.

Example of a 5-Year Plan

You Have an Interview. Now What? — Fruscione #3

From this week we are moving from a general “buck up, little soldier”  support for your decision to transition to the post-ac search, toward targeted advice about the search itself.  We’ll be focusing on all the core elements of the job search–resumes, job letters, interviewing, etc.  Over time most of the panel of experts will be weighing in on each of these topics, so you’ll get a variety of viewpoints on what to do, and how to do it.  Today Joe talks about a recent interview, how he prepared for it, and how he is framing the experience even though he didn’t get the job. I appreciate that, by the way.  This transition requires throwing a lot of pasta at a lot of walls to see what sticks, and rejections will be part of the experience.  Don’t get discouraged–learn from them!  It’s a new world and it will take a while to figure out your place in it.

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione



When you get an interview for a post-ac job, you shouldn’t experience the kinds of horror stories academics sometimes share. (Say, an interviewer reclining on a bed and asking no actual questions.) Navigating the process as a post-ac job seeker may be tricky, but at least you can expect to meet in a conference room or hiring manager’s office.

I was fortunate to get an interview for the first post-ac job to which I’d applied: it began with a pre-screening phone discussion. I’d talked to a Twitter friend—who originally told me about the job opening—to get some basic information. Having some background, such as what the hiring manager wanted from an editor, helped me prepare. I’d also learned that the hiring manager was concerned that I’d be overqualified. An additional tricky part is that the company does science consulting—clearly a far cry from the literary studies work I’d been doing for almost 15 years. I knew I’d have to address this, as well as emphasize that more experience would make me a stronger editor.


The pre-screening began as I’d expected: Why are you leaving your career as a professor? I gave her a short, positive version: Given the academic job market, I’m looking for a new field that lets me draw on my strong editing and proofreading skills. We discussed the projects they handle and some recent editing work I’d done. In response to her concern about my being overqualified, I said, As I see it, my experience will make me a stronger editor, because I’ve commented on a lot of writing. (Prepare several answers to the “overqualified” question, depending on the position.)

By the end we’d scheduled an in-person interview for the following Wednesday. Things went well. I met with four people: the hiring manager and three writer/project managers. The first question was expected: How does your background in literature prepare you for editing science writing? I responded:


The content is different, but my skills as a writing professor, author, and editor are transferable. I’ve always had strong copy editing and proofreading skills, which I’ve strengthened with some recent projects.


When asked about how I multitask, I drew from my years of teaching de facto 4-4 loads across two universities:


I used to have 70-80 students per semester requiring different kinds of class prep and assignments, and I stayed organized and on schedule while doing my own research and professional work.


At their request, I showed them some recent edited projects I’d done, explained the editing needs for each one, and provided references.

I sold myself and my skills as well as I could, and at some level I assuaged doubts about how my English background could translate into editing scientific writing. At the end, I talked with the hiring manager about logistics and my desired salary (Is the $70,000/year range doable?, I asked). I inquired about their telework policy and learned that, except for emergencies, they don’t do it. Because my wife and I are adopting a baby soon, I’m looking for freelance telework to match our plan for me to be the stay-at-home parent. (I didn’t mention this at the interview, though.)

It’s always smart to end with something like What’s the next step? or When do you anticipate making a decision? to keep communication open. Be professional and tactful, and always write a follow-up note the next day thanking them—even if you think you bombed the interview. Act as if you want the job.

Yet, I didn’t get the job. I had a feeling that they’d choose a comparably experienced editor with a science background. It was frustrating but not demoralizing, because I didn’t need this job. The hiring manager said to check in if I hadn’t heard from her within two weeks: I did, and she replied with the formal rejection email. Nevertheless, I gained a lot of experience and practice describing and marketing my work.


We won’t always have friends on the inside. In these cases, do your homework before an interview: reread the ad; review the website and any social media presence the company has; self-reflect and prepare; make sure your resume stresses the skills and experience of the specific job; ask non-academic friends for advice. As Chris Humphrey reminds us, “The bottom line is that you’ll need a clear rationale for your career change, because a lot of folks still think a PhD = academic.” Craft, practice, share, and refine your story. Be ready to draw on it when you’re asked—and you will be asked—why you’re leaving academia.

This is self-evident, but…don’t forget to stay focused on the interview and organization at hand. They may not know (or care) how bad the academic job market is, or that you (like I did) felt stuck as a full-time part-timer. Practice your career-change story, and have a few positive variations on it for different kinds of jobs.

When eyeing specific jobs and wondering whether to apply, heed some advice I got from a fellow postac expert: don’t self-select out of a job just because you might not seem ideal for it. How many times have we all heard, You never know…? I wound up with a valuable, well-paying editing project that I almost declined applying for because I’m not an expert in its topic area (religious history). In some emails and a phone interview with the project editor (who knew me from Twitter), I sold my lack of expertise as an asset: because I’d be objective, I’d focus primarily on grammar, wordiness, typos, and the like—just the kinds of detail-oriented work they needed. She offered me the job after about 30 minutes of talking You never know, indeed.

As in any interview situation, emphasize your strengths and interest in the position, and mute any criticisms you have (no matter how justified) of the profession you’re leaving. They’ll likely wonder about why you’re changing careers, but they’ll likely care the most about whether you’re capable of doing the work they’re considering hiring you to do.

Why You Are a #Postac Diamond in the Rough – Gover #1

Maggie Gover, Director of Graduate Student Professional Development at UC Riverside, has worked with hundreds of Ph.D.s in their transition to non-academic, alt-academic, and post-academic work.  She will be sharing the knowledge she’s gained in this work.  This is her first post.  In it, she urges Ph.D.s to think of themselves as “diamonds in the rough” for the postac workplace–with manifold skills in complex project management, multitasking, working to deadline, managing and delegating, and a host of other tasks.



by Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover


There are so many narratives about the woes of the academic job market, the exploitation of adjunct faculty positions, and the hopelessness of attempting to market your Ph.D. elsewhere. These stories increased when I was completing my Ph.D. They are proliferating still. Amidst these stories I thought, is this really what I want for my life? I had all the anxieties of those finishing a degree and looking around for work. It was my second year on the academic job market. Despite getting a couple of interviews, I hadn’t been offered the coveted campus visit. After winter break, I began seriously searching for a non-academic position.

While beginning this search, I considered what I found most satisfying about my academic career. I discovered that I didn’t have to go far to find all of these characteristics in a non-faculty position. For five years during my Ph.D., I had worked in an administrative office on campus that focused on the recruitment, support, and retention of graduate students from diverse backgrounds. I loved my research, but I also loved meeting with students from all over campus to talk about their own research. Being able to advise students on how to proceed with their graduate careers was satisfying, and—here is the big confession from an English PhD—I truly adore auto-calculating spreadsheets! I had experience working administratively at two other universities and volunteered as an advisor for a student organization at a third (I still do, in fact). So, it turns out, I was very well suited for an “alt-ac” career. I modified my job search materials and went on the market. I was one of the few lucky people I know who had a full-time job that was scheduled to begin two weeks after graduation.

Currently, I serve as the Director of Graduate Student Professional Development at the University of California, Riverside. My job is extremely satisfying to me because it is completely dedicated to supporting graduate students. I coordinate support to help them successfully complete their degrees with the best mental, physical, and emotional health possible. I also help them tackle the academic and non-academic job markets. While my story may seem exceptional, I am here to tell you that it is more common than you think. The longer I work in this capacity, the more past graduate students contact me to tell me about the amazing and wonderful non-academic jobs they have. With each personal story, I learn more about how these people got where they are.

As the academic job market continues to flag in nearly all fields, I have pondered the ethical dilemma of graduate education as a whole. I often come back to the following questions:

Is graduate education still useful? In a word: yes. It is valuable for the individual as well as the larger community. Spending 4-7 years researching a topic that is particularly interesting to you should be seen as a privilege and a joy. Although there may be moments of frustration, for the most part, you should enjoy what you are doing. I do not subscribe to the notion that one must suffer in order to be a good academic. Besides enjoying your research, you are also building skills that, although many still don’t believe it, are valuable in many industries. Ph.D. programs produce analytical thinkers who are trained to look for the far-reaching implications of proposed solutions to problems. They can communicate abstract and complex ideas to audiences with varying degrees of expertise. Ph.D.s are multi-taskers who can sustain one project for a long period of time while simultaneously beginning and completing many smaller projects. They prioritize tasks on daily, weekly, yearly, and even multi-yearly scales. They create timelines and budgets to navigate the esoteric and mundane aspects of their work. They are detail-oriented and can complete complicated tasks. Most have teaching, mentoring, and supervising experience, which means they can train others to do these tasks and delegate work accordingly. In short, society needs more Ph.D.s who are working outside of academia!

Are employers biased against job seekers with Ph.D.s? The rhetoric surrounding the non-academic job market might lead you to believe so. You may feel like Ph.D.s are a dime a dozen. After all, as a graduate student, you are often surrounded by people who are close to completing their Ph.D.s, have recently finished, or who are professors. The articles that rethink the Ph.D., or even attack it, and those narratives about failed job searches in which hundreds of people are vying for the same TT job, might also lead you to believe that the entire world is flooded with Ph.D.s. In actuality, according to statistics from 2013, only around 1.7% of adults in the USA have a Ph.D. (see here for more information). So, you are, in actuality, a diamond in the rough. This rarity means that many employers have never worked with or supervised a PhD. They may not even know one. They don’t know what the degree means, what specialized skills you might have, or why you might want the job they are offering. So, are they biased against Ph.D.s? Probably not. They simply do not understand what holding a Ph.D. means. This is why it is so important to communicate your skills clearly to employers and non-academic audiences.

How can we make Ph.D.s more relevant in the job market? There was a time in the not too distant past where a bachelor’s degree was not required for most jobs. Now, bachelor’s degrees are required for many middle class positions where content knowledge background is not important. You simply need a bachelor’s degree to be considered. For example, at many police departments in the US, you will not be considered for employment without a bachelor’s degree. The degree can be in English literature, history, engineering, or any other seemingly unrelated field. Applicants’ majors don’t matter because the skills learned during their college experience are valued. In many industries, master’s degrees are looked upon in much the same way. As more college graduates entered the job market after WWII, the degree became the norm in many industries. The key now is to get more Ph.D.s working outside of academia where they can show others that Ph.D.s are valuable additions to the workforce.

My plan is to give you specific steps to take so that you can be the next non-academic search success story. My posts will sometimes be motivational and sometimes be woeful. The goal of all my posts is to be specific and useful. Stay tuned for my next blog post which discusses how to effectively convert your CV into a resume. This post will be followed by a webinar with specific examples of such conversions. I invite you to submit your own experiences and documents to serve as our examples. I will remove any identifying markers from the presentation.

In the future, I hope to address networking, cover letters, and identifying your marketable skills. If you have specific questions or topics you would like for me to discuss, please let me know! I am on twitter @MaggieGPhD or


Why You Need a 5-Year Plan

This is a re-post of a previously published post.  In the wind-down weeks of Spring, we will focus on big-picture planning for your career trajectory in the immediate and longer term.


When I trained my own Ph.D. students, I always urged them to create a 5-year plan. Some did it as a list, and some as a grid. Either way, the plan laid out a month-by-month schedule of plans and goals and deadlines for the next five years.  My very first Ph.D. student was a master of the 5-year plan (indeed, she’s the one who inspired me to make it a regular requirement), and she just got tenure at an R1 this spring!

Things that are on the 5-year plan include:

    • Specific writing projects with deadlines for completion, submission, and revision
    • Graduate program deadlines for exams, proposals, and defense
    • Major conferences with deadlines for submission of abstracts and proposals
    • Job market deadlines
    • Major funding deadlines, including both small grants to support short research trips, and large grants to fund dissertation fieldwork.
    • Networking goals, including reminders to get in touch with certain individuals related to emerging new research or writing projects
    • Teaching dates
    • Submission dates for awards and honors

This week I recommended that a client create a five year plan, as part of our work on CV-building, and when she sent back her first draft, she remarked, “Once I began drafting them, I realized how vague and perhaps unrealistic my goals may be – especially in terms of landing a tenure-track job. (Yikes!)   Thinking long term has been so useful, if not startling; I only wish I had thought to map out the next few years sooner!”

I don’t think anybody should ever be in graduate school, or on the tenure-track, without a five-year plan. The proper stance to these endeavors is: look up, evaluate, and adjust, look up, evaluate, and adjust. Spend too much time looking down, at the minutiae of your project, and you’ll find that critical opportunities have passed you by, opportunities to publish, get funding, attend meetings, make connections…

Some of my clients are masters of the five-year plan, and even have things like getting pregnant in there. I admire that, even while I know that “the best laid plans…” You can’t plan for everything (or, you can, but your plans may not work out). But the core point of planning is this: that you’re taking control of your process into your own hands, and not leaving it out there somewhere, in the hands of your advisor, your department, or “fate.” You decide when you’ll write, when you’ll defend, when you’ll publish, and so on. These are all your decisions to make.

Addendum:  please see more on the 5-year plan, with an example, in this follow-up post.

Spinning Your #Postac Web: Networking 101–Cardozo #4

I just came back from giving an all-day series of workshops on the job market at University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and one of the workshops was dedicated to networking. We delved into academic networking, and then we delved into the world of postac/non-ac networking.  I was at pains in both of them to point out that networking is NOT just ‘sucking up to important people.’  Rather, it’s building relationships with a wide variety of people who occupy a variety of positions in your area of professional interest.  As such, it’s not just vertical or hierarchical; rather, think of it as spherical.  Networking includes building relationships with people who occupy a whole range of positions in your various social systems, and not only the powerful movers and shakers. It really is thinking more in terms of a rich and engaging “web” of connections. The uncertainty principle that I talk about in the academic job search applies here too, although differently: in this case, you really NEVER KNOW which of your many connections might ultimately be the conduit to that line on a new position, “in” with the interviewer, or insight into a new professional field.  Be open, and cast your net widely.



by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

You’ve been caught in the sticky web of academia.  Now you need to spin your own web (like Charlotte, you can incorporate your own words and maybe save a life besides).  While making new connections is readily aided and abetted by social media, you shouldn’t underestimate talking to people in real places in real time to find out “what’s out there” and how you can lure it in.

Above all, one thing bears emphasizing:

This process is the antithesis of the academic search!  In few other sectors are job descriptions posted a year in advance of the start date and candidates so expensively, painstakingly, and time-consumingly selected by committee.  While there is plenty of cronyism in academe, typically, faculty hiring is not done unilaterally but through an arduous process designed to solicit (or pretend to solicit) communal input.  The rest of the world operates largely on autocratic and just-in time hiring as well as “right place, right time, right connection” dynamics to slot candidates into positions.  Yes, academe is increasingly a just-in-time operation as well, so networking doesn’t hurt there either, but you take my point: the academic search process (including conference interviews) is not the norm in the wider world of work.

As a result, networking looms particularly large on the Alt/Post-Ac market.  You need to think of “it” as a regular activity, like eating, sleeping, or working out (hmm – have you not done much of those lately either? Remember, taking care of yourself WILL help you perform better on the job market, as well as maintain some perspective). Being engaged in a robust networking practice means you have your ear to the ground, and are steadily increasing your exposure to others whose ears are also to the ground. With all those ears on so much square footage (I wish I were a gifted cartoonist right now), someone will eventually respond when you announce your availability and describe your capabilities and interests.  So, let’s get started with Web Spinning 101 (sounds nicer than networking doesn’t it?).

Who and Where

Selecting your “targets” is often a misunderstood aspect of networking.  For many, the dreaded term conjures up suits and fancy business functions, or hours spent loitering near elevators till you just “happen” to bump into the CEO.  By all means, don’t ignore large, important or relevant gatherings where you can meet up with those who have leadership or hiring influence [obvious contenders:  trade association meetings; conferences (even academic ones); civic events in the region you want to work].

For such events, yes: dress appropriately, carry business cards (you can get simple ones fairly cheaply online with your name and contact info, perhaps including a website with more information) and prepare an “elevator pitch” using one of your major transferable skills:  distillation. You’ve written a dissertation abstract for god’s sake.  You can sum up your life and career goals in 30 seconds, no problem!

However, as the selectivity of FaceBook friends or Linked In connections demonstrates, networking is most effective when someone who knows you well, is invested in seeing you do well, and/or simply wishes you well* is willing to endorse you for a job, meet with you to share advice or information, circulate your resume, or use their own influence to get you in the door.

*Sorry if the tripartite criteria eliminates most of your academic department!

This means that some of the most useful networking is really going to happen in THESE kinds of places and situations:  walking your kid/dog/pet tarantula around town, dinners and parties, coffee shops, the gym, the childcare center, PTO meetings, book club, religious services, weddings, or family and college reunions. Don’t neglect your alumni network either (a concept that makes more sense in U.S. educational contexts than in countries with nationalized public higher education): whether or not YOU feel the bond, the idea that you are somehow kin to those with whom you went to school can be a relatively easy means of finding people who work in fields or places of interest; some alumni or campus career offices will even help you find them.  Especially if you are relatively introverted, THIS is the way network – with people you already know and around whom you are reasonably comfortable.

Don’t presume you know who’s “worth” talking to, either.  While what you know about someone may make it appear that they are not perfectly positioned for your interests, each person has their own friends, family members, and employers, as do their friends, family members and employers!  So just talk.  And then talk some more. [Also, take good notes and keep good records.]  Thus does your web begin to take form….

Don’t get me wrong: I continue to be impressed by the kindness of strangers.  As Wandering Scientist suggests, most people like to talk about themselves, and are genuinely sympathetic about how tough the job market is.  So don’t neglect to reach out to a stranger or pursue something of deep interest because your personal network doesn’t align with it.  Just know that you may have to crank up your creativity and persistence to get seen and heard in such “cold calling” cases.  A higher percentage networking practice involves working outward from your closest personal connections.

What to Say

Your main messages:  1) I am looking for a job—not in a bitter failed-academic way, but in a ready-to-make-an-exciting-change kind of way (fake it till you make it!), 2) I am a good and trustworthy person (i.e. vouching for me will not soil your reputation); 2) I am sensible, smart and versatile: my academic skills along with a, b, and c experiences have left me well-situated to do x, y and z.

Your main questions:  1) Have you heard about any job openings?  2) Can you think of anything that might fit my background in particular? 3) How did YOU get into your job/field? 4) Whom else should I talk to?

SIDEBAR TIP: Unless your contact knows you are unemployed (if you are), it’s always best to present yourself as someone in one work situation looking for a better fit.  Here’s where academe’s baffling inner workings can provide some cover.  You may be thinking, “I only have two months to finish this damn dissertation, and I don’t have a job … AAAGHHH!”  But you can say: “I’m at the University focusing on my research right now, but I’d love to apply what I’ve learned to the nonprofit world.”

Besides communicating the above, the end game is simple:  don’t leave without another lead – a contact name, a tip about a job opening, a suggestion about where to get more information.  If you’re in a limited field or regional search, you will feel the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon effect pretty soon.  You’ll know you’re doing a thorough job when the same information begins to resurface in different settings.  At that point just stay on the radar and keep that ear to the ground.  For anyone willing to entertain a broader search (by function or field or region), networking can be engaged to infinity and beyond.  But hopefully you will land a job before you have to go there!

How and When

No time is “off limits” for networking, so spin your web at every opportunity.  But be sensitive to what can be accomplished when.  You may wish to adjust your tone and approach for, say, a funeral (which suggests—a little gallows humor here—that a job may have just opened up).  Bumping into someone in the grocery store might require a follow-up coffee date or informational interview** rather than forcing your potential mentor to watch their ice-cream melt while you run down your list of attributes.

Always accommodate others as much as possible; be willing to go on their dog walk if that’s when they’re available.  Don’t become the person that they will eventually pretend not to see in the grocery store!  Always, always, say thank you and express your genuine appreciation for the time and support others have given.  And: pay it forward.  Responding to others’ networking inquiries – in addition to being decent – is also an organic way of expanding your own web.


I think you know.

** An informational interview (“I’d love to take you to coffee and learn more about your company/job/career path” or “Could we set up a time for me to come by your office and discuss this a bit more?”) is a great way to accomplish the goals of getting someone on board with your potential job candidacy while gaining information you need..  Both parties tend to have a more genuine exchange when there isn’t a specific job on the line.

However, never think that informational interviews aren’t “real” interviews – they CAN lead to a job if people are impressed by and remember meeting you. So remember: whatever the circumstances, you are always ON when you are networking . While you can’t control the time frame in which results happen, you CAN ensure that you’re “out there” in sufficient measure and appear attractively ripe for the plucking when the right time comes along.