Advice for Your First Year on the Tenure Track

This is a repost.

Update 8/22/15:  Dialogue on my FB page made me realize that I need to provide fuller context for this post.  This dates from early years on the blog when I used to do special request posts to respond to reader questions.  “Tricia” was at an R1 institution, and my advice was focused on responding to her concerns about her situation, but I didn’t make that clear.  Much of this advice would not be appropriate for a teaching intensive position.  I’m sorry that I didn’t clarify that in the original post, or in the re-post this week.


Today’s post is a Special Request post for Tricia, who asks, “What advice would you give someone about to start their first year as an assistant professor?”

My advice is: be selfish.

Your job is not to advance the academy. It is not to change the academy. It is not to improve the academy. It is not to make the academy a safe space for women. It is not to defend the humanities against the corporatization of the institution.

Your job is not to be friends with the undergraduates. It is not to rescue the graduate students. It is not to fill gaps in the class schedule with independent studies. It is not to be a therapist to frightened ABDs.

Your job is not to rehabilitate your department. It is not to fix the curriculum. It is not to chair committees. It is not to represent the department on the Faculty Senate.

Your job is not to represent women, or feminists, or queers, or people of color on department and university committees.

Your job is not to win a teaching award.

Your job is not to participate in edited collections or symposia proposed by your new colleagues.


Your job is to be selfish, keep your head down, and get through the year.

Your job is to make friends with other junior faculty in your department and in other departments, and go out to coffee or lunch with them on a regular basis.

Your job is to find a trusted senior colleague as mentor, and to meet with that colleague at least twice a semester. If you are a woman, that mentor should be a woman.

Your job is to schedule a meeting with your Head and find out the expectations for tenure. Your job is to follow up on that meeting with an email that clarifies everything that you discussed, in writing.

Your job, during the Fall, is to apply for at least one significant internal and one significant external fellowship which will buy you at least one full semester, and ideally one full year of research leave in your second year. If these applications are unsuccessful, you will find out why and prepare to apply again in year two.

Your job is to teach your classes as well as you are able. Your job is also to explore avenues for minimizing the amount of time you spend on those classes. Your job is to study how senior faculty in your department cut corners in their teaching in ways that are considered acceptable within the departmental culture.

Your job is to not get any serious writing done for the first semester, and possibly the entire first year. Your job is to not beat yourself up about that. Your job is to forgive yourself for feeling overwhelmed and coming home at the end of the day and binge-watching Scandal. You will be able to do this because you know that you applied for leave time in your second year.

Your job is to serve on only one major committee. The speakers committee or a search committee are the best committees for you. The speakers committee allows you to reach out to and host senior scholars in your field. The search committee allows you to shape the future of your department and have social capital to spend at your national meetings.

Your job is to be agreeable to everyone in the department. Your job is to have opinions that you clearly state in faculty meetings instead of sitting there like a passive mute mouse. Your job is to have a conscience and your own point of view, which you defend, while remaining pleasant and collegial. No one respects a doormat. Your job is to meet with your trusted mentor prior to faculty meetings to thoroughly understand the history and politics of contentious issues before you vote on them in the faculty meetings.

Your job is to avoid departmental factions and civil wars. If things escalate, keep your head down and do not allow yourself to be recruited to “sides.”

Your job is to suck up to the department secretary. If you go on a trip, bring her back a present. Chocolate is always welcome. Bring enough for her to share with other staff in the office. You have no idea the difference she is going to make in your job satisfaction.

Your job is to learn where the money is on campus. You may construe your job as including organizing a symposium or workshop or conference on campus, for which you contact departments and centers around campus to collect financial support. You may feel confident about your use of time in this way because through this you learn how to get money to accomplish your goals, increase your campus-wide visibility, and get the chance to invite “big names” to campus for your event, big names who may someday be your tenure letter writers.

Your job is to go to as many conferences as you can afford. You may feel justified in cancelling class or showing a video or bringing in a guest lecturer or asking one of your TAs to cover.

Your job is to thoroughly investigate how smoothly your predecessors’ tenure cases went, and to use all of the detective skills you can muster to learn whether your Department Head is proficient, or an incompetent ass, in handling tenure cases. If the latter, you will begin the process of indirectly mobilizing your mentor and other senior colleagues to look out for and protect you.

Your job is to maintain some semblance of a home life and a relationship with the important people in your life.

Your job is to maintain a hobby or outside interest that feeds your soul.  This might be running, swimming, yoga, art, music, dance…only you know what it should be.

Your job is to make sure your people at home, if you have them, are pulling their weight in the housework. You are entitled to expect that.  Fight for it now, because the stakes only get higher later.

Your job is to hire a housekeeper and get daycare for your children so you can devote yourself to work.

Your job is to get a cute haircut and go shopping occasionally for clothes that fit, and that make you look like the young professional that you are.

Your job is to look after yourself. You can fight battles and defend the righteous later. Right now, you just need to survive to year two.



From Tenure Track to Alt/Post-Ac – #Postac post by Cardozo

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Who needs Alt/Post-Ac services?  It’s not always the demographic that you imagine.  What began as a trickle last year has become (in my consulting practice, anyway) a full-blown trend.  I am referring to a growing number of people who DID land an elusive tenure-track position but have begun to feel, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, that “there is no there there.”  In addition, there are those who were denied tenure (disproportionately women and women of color, too often for hazy reasons), for whom there is literally no there there.  All of which should remind you: the track metaphor is more fiction than reality—a way to organize academic time and effort that should be taken with a huge grain of salt even as we board the train (remember:  every train has multiple stops, each leading to myriad destinations!).

It’s possible I attract a disproportionate percentage of tenure-track clients who sense in my own bio someone who will understand their deliberations (I believe I am the only member of the TPII team still in a faculty role, and a tenure-track one at that).  But still, the observation remains:  as J.K. Gibson-Graham wrote of capitalocentrism, tenurecentrism prevents us not only from recognizing our varied faculty situations within diverse academic institutions, but also the full range of career options available to us both within and outside the academy.

My clients are awakening from the tenurecentric dream; they are asking:  is this all there is?  More than a few tell me they never intended an academic career when they entered their doctoral programs; they had applied goals for which they thought a PhD would give them a leg up.  But academic socialization and overly narrow advising swept them onto the academic job market along with those who genuinely aspired to a faculty career.  Years later, they wake up on the tenure track like David Byrne of the Talking Heads wondering “how did I get here?”  and singing this excerpt from “Once in a Lifetime ”:

And you may ask yourself

Where does that highway go?

And you may ask yourself

Am I right?… Am I wrong?

And you may tell yourself


So, as the start of another academic year looms, it’s worth repeating:  exploring alternatives to a faculty career is not only the purview of the degraded, despondent, and/or desperate PhD but simply the healthy pursuit of authentic career development.  Now more than ever, authenticity has real value in the rapidly shifting landscape that life coach Martha Beck describes as a “wild new world.”  In this new world, institutions are going from large and staid to lean and—if not mean—more nimble.  The “safe” choices of decades past no longer pay off; the era of the “company man” is largely over and the spoils increasingly go to those who exhibit keen self-awareness, flexibility, and situational responsiveness (i.e. the capacity to adjust The Plan when circumstances warrant it).  This is what Beck calls “following your true nature,” or heeding your own strengths and instincts.  But as I rehearsed in a prior post, the creative and improvisational mode required by today’s economy is the very antithesis of an academic bureaucracy that privileges tradition and stability.  You will have to learn some code-switching!

Self-realization is the job of a lifetime: we need to become the best versions of ourselves and contribute from that place of integrity to a messed-up world that badly needs compassionate, whole, human beings.  Your primary work in life is to find out who you really are and what you really want to be doing.  Increasingly, there’s a place in this entrepreneurial economy for people wholly committed to their missions – ideally those operating in a niche that few others can replicate.  Karen Kelsky and I, along with the whole consulting team at TPII, are but a few examples of how following the unique convergence of your interests and instincts can lead to satisfying and financially sustainable work.  As Karen observes in her must-read new book, TPII is a kind of applied anthropology.  The Professor did not abandon her academic training; it fuels her current business as much as my early roots in career counseling fuel my own niche consulting with PhDs about exploring all of their options.

Is the tenure system the Oakland of career development?  Well, that depends on the person, the position, the discipline and the institution.  Some of my best friends live in Oakland; they love it there!   As we career counselors like to say, objectively speaking, “there’s no such thing as a great job.  Only a great job… for you.”  Like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest (with no-one there to witness it, does it make a sound?), a person executing a job description without affinity for the work is not going to experience it as a “great job” at all.  No amount of survivor guilt can propel you through it, either.  It doesn’t matter how many other people wanted your job and didn’t get it or how lucky you “should” feel.  A bad fit is a bad fit, period.  In addition, depending on your field and institutional type, many a faculty salary can be readily matched or exceeded in other organizational environments, so you can’t necessarily cite golden handcuffs as the primary reason for your captivity.

Whether you are a graduate student, an adjunct, on the tenure-track, or tenured, pursuing authentic career development means exploring ways to be genuine on the job, whether you work on or off a campus.  When disciplinary or institutional cultures and structures inhibit such development, consider pushing back on the system from within (after all, if you fear you’re ultimately going to be denied tenure or may elect to leave anyway – why not live academe on your own terms while you’re there?).  But even as you try to figure out how to live a more genuine life as an academic, you can begin to explore other environments where you may feel less like a square peg in a round hole.

Ultimately, authentic career development at this historic juncture does not require premature decisions about whether to go “Ac” or “Alt/Post-Ac” (especially since you don’t control the job market: you’ll have to wait and see).  Rather, it involves a process of genuine exploration where you seek to maximize your experiences and options across sectors:  only then can you make an informed choice about whether your best fit lies in an Ac, Alt, or Post-Ac environment or some unprecedented combination.

Hope, with Pictures and a Drawing

In a burst of inspiration last weekend, I outlined my next book! I want to share my idea with you, and ask you for your thoughts, comments, stories, and suggestions. It’s going to draw a lot from reader/client experiences.

But first, please check out my Storify “The Professor Is In at Your Place” and find me on Twitter to submit your picture of the book at your house, with your pets, in the hands of concerned partners…by end of day tomorrow to be entered in a drawing for $300 TPII services! Here’s a few!


OK, about the next book.  I’m provisionally calling it:

The Professor Is You: Life After the PhD (or maybe, The Professor Is You: Notes for the Neo-Academic)  [thank you to Scott N. Nolan and Lindsey Dietz for these suggestions, and everybody else in yesterday’s long and wondrous FB discussion of potential titles.]

It’s about the “Ph.D. Brain”*: powerful, analytical, critical, skeptical, productive, logical, goal-oriented, but also obsessive, dismissive, self-critical, narrow, competitive, cynical and judgmental. The Ph.D. Brain is both wonderful and terrible, our best asset and worst enemy. With it, you end up with overdeveloped analytical skills, and underdeveloped intuition and self-care. Those of us who have it are seeing our native habitat collapse (the university, RIP) and we – both those on the tenure stream in the corporatized university, and those who never make it in – must learn how to thrive in a hostile environment. I’ll talk about academic productivity (and yes, getting tenure). But the larger gist is: in a post-acapoctalyptic world, how can you harness your Ph.D. aptitudes, and when necessary overcome them, to make your way forward in a healthy, balanced, financially secure way?

Very sketchy ToC:

I. Intro: The Endangered Ph.D. in a Post-Acapocalyptic World
II. The Ph.D. Brain: Greatest Asset or Worst Enemy?
III. Systems Under Stress: Productivity and Self-Care in a Contracting Academy
IV. How to Get Tenure Without Losing Your Mind
V. The Crux of the Matter: Healthy Productivity
VI. Learning to Value Yourself (and Get Paid)
VII. Activating Your Whole Mind
VIII. Finding a New Path with the Ph.D.

I’m sharing all this process so publicly because I actually want to launch a whole conversation about this. I’ll say more on the blog in coming weeks. But I want us to start talking directly about how our thinking and values have to change to survive and thrive as hyper-specialized species when our habitat is being razed.  I keep telling Kellee (whose dad was a logger): we’re the spotted owls, and we’ve lost our forest!

It seems to have touched a chord. The post got 50+ comments within a few minutes.  Here are a few:

Write it quickly and give me a road map out of here! (You have three years until I finish my dissertation!)

like this idea very much. Have been having many talks lately about how to step from a largely critical, negative brain, one that can question and dismantle languages and systems, to a constructive, joyful mind that can make a life within or outside the academy. I love critique, but I also want to create, and the academy trained me mostly for the former.

Letting go is proving harder than I thought. I want my ivory tower back.

omg this sounds like my diary of my phd experience! lol i will definitely be sending you stories…horror stories..and recovery stories smile emoticon #confessionsofaPhD lol

Oh my gosh — yes! You could have a special section on dissertation babies and the emotional shitstorm that might occur if your academic life comes to a screeching halt AND you pile on post-partum mood issues. I would be happy to talk to you about my experience around this in PMs.

Yes and AMEN! I was just saying to Kellee on Monday that I am total crap at the self-awareness stuff. You nailed it: underdeveloped intuition and self-care. I am considered a successful pre-tenure academic and yet I am SO VERY VERY BAD at this. Sufferings galore! Please write fast!

What do you think? Links, cites, thoughts, and personal stories welcome here or privately through comment or email ( You know I always preserve total anonymity.


*Yes, I realize that’s an absurdly gross generalization. But I’m sticking with it for now. Because after working with 4000 clients across every field of the academy, I believe there is an orientation of mind distinctive to Ph.D.s (although not shared uniformly across individuals, of course) that is the product of the socialization process of Ph.D. training.

I Will do a Reddit AMA on Monday

Sorry to send another post so fast on the heels of the last one, but I want to invite everyone to join me for a Reddit AMA at [ /r/iama] Monday to talk about anything related to the academic job market, the tenure track job search, job docs, interviews, adjuncting, Ph.D. debt, deciding to go post-ac, and whatever else, including any questions you might have about my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job, the writing process, the blogging process, building a business, and getting a trade book published (with an agent).

It’s Monday 8/10 at 1 PM EST.

IMG_2069Hope to see you there!

A Big Week at The Professor Is In: My Book Comes Out!

The day finally arrived!   On Tuesday the book came out and The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. into a Job was officially launched onto the world. 480 pages, half of it newly updated and revised versions of the most essential academic blog posts, and half of it entirely new material, on things like adjuncting, grad student debt, and the post-ac job search.


You can buy it at all these places:


indiebound-button-graphicbn-button-graphicgooglebooks-button-graphicamazon-button-graphicNew iBooks Badge - 11 12

[For bulk orders for use in classes, seminars, and workshops, please call Random House Customer Service at 1-800-733-3000. ]


I couldn’t sleep very well on Monday night.  I was too excited.  (I will pause to note that I was never this excited about my first book, my monograph-for-tenure, Women on the Verge: Japanese Women, Western Dream.)

“Happy on-sale day!” emailed my agent, editor, and publicity team at Random House on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday night my family and friends (100 of us!) had a book launch/Kellee birthday party in the glorious twinkle-lit barn on the grounds of a historic filbert orchard, in Eugene, Oregon. It was magical.


Karen and Verena

Kellee and Verena

Kellee and Verena

Verena and Petra

Verena and Petra

Book signing table

Book signing table


Karen signs books

On Wednesday the book hit #163 in ALL BOOKS on Amazon.

It currently has three five star reviews on Amazon! (Thank you, anonymous reviewers!)


The book and I got some great coverage this week.

Rebecca Schuman did a terrific interview on Slate. (Thanks, Rebecca!)

IHE published a really engaging interview with reporter Colleen Flaherty. (Thanks, Colleen!)

Hippo Reads published an excerpt, on adjuncting as addiction.

Books for Better Living published an adaptation, about women and imposter syndrome

“Why They Want to Reject You,” an excerpt, got featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education Academic Workplace 2015.


Readers are enthusiastic!  On Twitter, lots of folks posted pictures of the book arriving at their desks, and into their hands.

 Best present ever! Thanks @mhbastian

— Larissa Pschetz (@entretags) August 7, 2015




Looking forward to all the wisdom in ‘s new book!


.@ProfessorIsIn Your book arrived today. My dog adopted it immediately. Clear vote for what I am reading next!

— Eliza Bliss-Moreau (@eblissmoreau) August 4, 2015


And even this:

My non-academic husband has finished reading ‘s book. Thanks for writing a book to explain it all!


And people immediately started putting the book to good use!

60 pages into and I’ve already started applying her advice

There are more interviews and essays coming.

I’m going to do a Reddit AMA on Monday 8/10 at 1 PM EST.  Find it on [ /r/iama].  Join me to talk about anything related to the academic job market, adjuncting, Ph.D. debt, and the post-ac transition.

Also, my response to Sarah Kendzior’s piece in Chronicle Vitae about me, called “The Paradoxical Success of The Professor Is In.”  That’s coming out Monday.  Be sure and check it out!

And Inger Mewburn of The Thesis Whisperer will be reviewing the book soon!

26 pages in and already I totally love your book.



What does all this mean for you?  Why, you too should buy my book!  If you’re reading this blog, you need the book.  If you are a grad student, will be a grad student, love a grad student, know a grad student, are the bewildered parent or partner of a grad student, were a former grad student, are a Ph.D., a new Ph.D., an old Ph.D., an adjunct, an assistant professor, a tenured professor, an advisor of Ph.D.s, a Career Center advisor, support staff of a graduate program, a DGS, a DUS, a Dean of a Graduate College, a Dean of any college, a Provost, a Chancellor…  this is the book for you.

Here are a couple little tastes of it:

“Adjectives are not arguments.  The simple repetition of words on this list [complex, multiplicitous, unique], over and over in your documents, does not suggest that you have a coherent project, or make a compelling point, or advance an original argument. The adjectives on this list are simply pointless.  These is no Ph.D. researqch project that is not on a complex, multiplicitous, and unique topic, and there is no anaysis that you can coduct at the Ph.D. level that is not complex, multiplicitous, and unique.  Therefore, to use these words to describe your work is to say precisely nothing.”

“The recruitment of new Ph.D. students into humanities and social science degree programs that routinely offer inadequate ‘full’ funding packages is the academic equivalent of subprime lending–the predatory lending practices that target vulnerable and unqualified borrowers.  The inevitable foreclosures on these borrowers’ properties, while catastrophic to them, only increase the banks’ profits.  In academia, the university is the bank, and the faculty are the bankers.  Faculty are incentivized to increase graduate student enrollment, and suffer no personal consequences from graduate students’ ruinous circumstances post-graduation.  The university benefits from  — indeed depends upon — graduate student labor in teaching and research, and transfers the costs of maintaining the labor force back on the laborers themselves, in the form of personal debt….”

How To Write A Book Proposal

I am on summer vacation through August 3, 2015.  I am re-posting previous posts on perennial topics.  Today, the book proposal.


You all know that the book proposal is the cornerstone to a successful tenure track career in most areas of the humanities and social sciences. Sure, some parts of psychology and economics and other fields are not book-based, but basically, the law of the land is: write a book.

What you may not be aware of is that the book proposal should be an element in your job applications. I don’t mean you send a proposal with your job applications, of course, but rather that you dedicate several sentences in the job letter to the book proposal and where you are in discussions with presses.

In this job market, you have to be looking ahead to the book, and able to speak intelligently about the book and its publishing plan, from the earliest days, ie, even when you are ABD and still finishing the dissertation. You don’t yet need a book to get a job in most cases (although yes, it’s true, assistant professors with books under their belt will have an advantage over new Ph.D.s for some jobs), but you do need a book PLAN to get a job, and the more substantive that plan is—as in, accompanied by a completed book proposal, a timeline for submission to presses, actual discussions with specific presses, or best of all, an advance contract—the better you’ll do on the market.

The fact is, the dissertation does not get you a job. The anticipated book gets you the job.

OK, having established the necessity of writing a book proposal from early, early stages in your career, we now turn to the proposal itself.

I’m going to start by speaking in general terms about what you must submit to a press to get a contract. This is actually a collection of items, and not just a proposal.

In general, you do not submit a complete dissertation manuscript to a press.

Repeat: do NOT submit your full dissertation manuscript to presses!

Why? Two reasons:

  1. Because editors at presses are as overworked and overwhelmed as the rest of us and don’t have the time to wade through 300 pages of unknown quality.
  2. Because, frankly, your dissertation isn’t that good. No, I’m sorry, it really isn’t. This is true even if it won awards at your university and got passed with distinction, etc. etc. Here’s why: dissertations are not books. They’re dissertations. And the best dissertation in the world is not going to be the same as a marketable book. Dissertations are written to prove your legitimacy and to demonstrate mastery and to satisfy an impossible set of mutually contradictory demands set up by your advisor and committee. None of these things make for a marketable book that appeals to the widest possible audience. I will elaborate further below.

So what do you submit to presses? You submit the following:

  • an 6-8 page proposal (shorter if so specified by the press)
  • an annotated table of contents for the book
  • 2 sample chapters
  • a c.v.
  • a cover letter

Every one of these elements is indispensable, most especially the cover letter. Today, however, we will restrict ourselves to discussing the book proposal itself.

I will pause to say that of course, you should carefully check the requirements for submission listed on the press website. They may differ from what I’ve written above, and they will of course take precedence.  And ideally, you will have been in conversations with an editor or series editor at the press prior to submitting your package.  Blind, or unsolicited submissions, with no advance footwork, have a significantly lower success rate.  Please refer to my post, How To Work the Conference (Part 3 of 3) for ideas on using your national conference’s Book Exhibit as an opportunity to encounter editors at presses.

Be aware that you ARE permitted to multiple-submit to different presses simultaneously! This differs from refereed journal articles.   This simply has to be fully disclosed in the cover letter.

The Book Proposal

The book proposal is a sales document. It is entirely dedicated to showing that your book has a market and will sell.

Gary Smailes of BubbleCow, in a guest post on the excellent PhD2Published blog, says it best:

Here’s the first mistake most writers make when preparing a book pitch:

They think like writers and forget they are selling a product!

Book publishers are in the business of making money – even not-for-profit academic publishers need to keep themselves afloat. It’s true that many of them love books and want to see new knowledge disseminated, but at the end of the day they will not acquire a book unless they think it will sell enough copies to make back enough money to at least break even.

It’s your job to convince publishers that your book has what it takes to make it in the marketplace that that publisher specialises in. In reality this means you must pitch more than a unique contribution to knowledge. You must demonstrate that your book has a readymade, and accessible, academic readership, which means that your query letter and proposal are, in a sense, sales documents.

So, you thought you were in the business of having ideas, but what you must now take onboard is that you also in the business of selling them!

Hear, hear, Gary of Bubblecow (and be sure and check out Bubblecow for more information–albeit UK-focused– on book proposals)! The sad fact is that university presses are dropping like flies in this economic downturn, and can no longer publish small, obscure specialized monographs the way they used to when our disciplines were younger. University libraries are also under extreme budgetary strain, and have drastically reduced their purchases of new monographs, so the potential market for university press books has shrunk considerably.

Read what Ken Wissoker, the Editorial Director of Duke University Press, has to say (in another recent post on PhD2Published) about the state of academic publishing and library acquisitions:

Libraries have made deeper and deeper cuts in their budget for books to pay for…big journal packages.  In the early 80s a huge proportion of a library budget went on books. Now the proportions are reversed and books make up only a small percentage of a library’s budget. The recent library trend of “patron-driven acquisitions” which sounds like patrons choosing (it’s a great neoliberal term), but really means postponing or avoiding purchases as long as possible, will only make this worse. This results in a whole set of books that would have been publishable in a form individual scholars could afford five or ten years ago, but which will no longer have enough sales to be viable.  It means books (and fields) that I would have been proud to publish a decade ago, I no longer consider.

Nowadays presses will not accept a book unless they are sure that it will make a profit or at least make back the expenses of publication. So, as you conceptualize your dissertation (while you’re still writing it), and as you plan your revisions (after you’re done), make sure that foremost in your mind are the elements that have the widest, most interdisciplinary, and potentially popular (think NYT readership) appeal.  Refer to this post for suggestions on how to do this.

Above all, be aware that the book mss. has to be shorter rather than longer. Publishers recoil in horror from over-long manuscripts because more pages mean more costs.   One of your top priorities should be to ensure that your book manuscript is within the acceptable word count of standard books recently published by that press in your field.

The book proposal has to summarize your ideas, but it has to do it in a way that shows

a) there is a market for them

b) they are market-ready

These are two huge variables. Your treatise on the image of the turtle in 14th century Ottoman religious iconography may have pleased you and your advisor, but if there isn’t a market of scholars and students out there seeking to know more about 1) the Ottoman Empire; 2) medieval iconography; 3) pictures of turtles, then you are in trouble. And secondarily, suppose there are no fewer than three separate markets of scholars clamoring for more information on 14th century Ottoman turtle pictures, but your manuscript bears all the marks of a classic narrow, boring dissertation, is far too long, and has not been revised for prime time…then you are still in trouble.

So in summary, the book proposal proves that you have valid ideas, that those ideas have a market, and that those ideas are presented in a marketable way.

How to do this?

Opinions vary widely on what makes a good book proposal as a piece of writing, so I want to state at the outset that I am suggesting what worked for me and most of the colleagues and students with whom I’ve worked closely in the humanities and humanistically-oriented social sciences.

My recommended book proposal contains the following:

Introductory Section of one to two paragraphs that follows the model of the introduction in Karen’s Foolproof Grant Proposal—ie, begins with a large topic of widespread interest, discusses 2+ bodies of scholarly work on that topic, reveals a gap in that work, demonstrates the urgency of that gap (ie, the dire consequences of ignorance), introduces the author as Hero filling that gap, and unveils a clear statement of the book project as Heroic Enterprise.

A Deeper Background/Elaboration of Topic section will go more in-depth into the “story” of the topic—the who, what, when, where and how. Information for non-specialists on the historical or geographical or cultural context, the major players, the touchstone events, and major texts and their reception, etc. will also be provided. This is a tricky section, actually, because you can’t lose focus and drone on and on. It has to stay focused and concise, with each piece of information providing essential information for a new reader with no background in your field or topic to grasp the core issues to understand that context and import of your topic.

A brief Summary and Chapter Breakdown of the proposed book, which will give a basic word length for the finished manuscript, and then walk through the chapters, no more than three to four sentences dedicated to each chapter, with particular attention to the Introduction and Conclusion. This section will also reference how any lingering dissertation-ese will be eradicated and how dissertation-centric chapters such as the “literature review” and “methodology” will be removed.

A BRIEF Disciplinary and Inter-disciplinary Discussion of the scholarly context of the work—who has written what about this subject over the years, how has a major debate in the field emerged, and how does this book intervene in that debate/turn that debate on its head. If your field is tiny, then you want to show that you intervene in debates beyond your immediate disciplinary context. This not a comps exam and you need not be comprehensive.  This is a quick sketch of major works to establish the scholarly context only.

A Timeline to Completion section, which clearly articulates the revisions that have been/will be made that eradicate every last trace of dissertation-ese from the prose and that complete the chapters in a timely and feasible manner. Any new research that is anticipated—new fieldwork or archival research, etc.–will be clearly noted in this timeline as well. You will also list here the research leave time that you have gained/expect to gain to complete the book (particularly important if you are on the tenure track). Finally you will clearly disclose your plan for other publications, such as journal articles, based on the research, and show a savvy calculation for using these articles in high status journals to build excitement and anticipation for the book. This section should give a specific month-by-month timeline for the work, and give a deadline for completion of the manuscript for submission.

Finally, you will have the Marketing section. This is the section in which you explicitly discuss how well you expect the book to sell, who it will sell to, and how the press should best market it.

Now the market for most scholarly monographs is admittedly small and no amount of verbiage will change that. But if it’s a narrow but deep market, then you want to make sure you communicate that. And if your work spans several small markets, then you most definitely want to communicate that.

The markets to consider here are:

  • the market of academic libraries
  • the market of fellow scholars in your field(s)
  • the market of courses in your discipline (especially large courses)
  • the market of educated readers generally (again, think NYT readers)

You will want to address each of these markets individually, by showing how your work will appeal to it. This is the place where you mention other scholarly works that are similar to your work, and discuss, to the best of your knowledge, how well they sold and how big an impact they had on the field/fields. You will focus particularly on books published by the press to which you are currently submitting, and speak directly, to the extent possible, to the major themes prioritized in their recent and current lists, and to specific book series they are currently promoting.

You will write something like, “my book investigates similar themes to those in XXX by xxx, recently published by University of California Press. That book has had a major impact on the field and was widely reviewed in journals such as XXX and YYY. As I wrote my book to refute XXX, and to be explicitly in dialogue with xxxx, I anticipate that it will similarly gain wide exposure and be acquired by scholars and readers who are interested to see two sides of a pressing contemporary problem.”

The primary way that academic presses make money is through the sale of books for use in large undergraduate classes. Just think: if your book becomes the go-to case study on xxx in the Introduction to U.S. Society and Culture course, enrollment 350, taught in both Fall and Spring semesters in 25 universities across the nation—-how much cha-ching is that for the press? The more you can envision your book as a core text for use in large undergraduate classes, the better off you’ll be. You can certainly mention graduate seminars, but seriously—how much good are 10 graduate seminars annually, enrollment 8 students each, going to do the press?

Finally, you will end with a strong, concise Conclusion. This is an often neglected element to many genres of proposal, and one that I feel is indispensable. Remember that you want to sound, throughout this entire book proposal document, powerful, important, influential, well-prepared, and confident. The Conclusion is where you drive home this tone. In the Conclusion you end with a broad and expansive gesture toward the wider import and significance of your work. You strongly imply that your work is going to radically change the state of your field/fields, and have a major impact on scholarship and public discourse for years to come, and that the press would be foolish to miss the opportunity to be the publisher of your work.

As in all professional documents, the book proposal must reject any hint of querulousness or insecurity or inadequacy or anxiety. It must, from first sentence to last, display a calm command of the material, the genre, and your professional trajectory. You will engage with the press as a full-fledged professional who is confident in your abilities and excited to work with them on this next stage in your professional development. When you write, “I anticipate that this book will have a major impact on the fields of xxx, yyy, and zzz, and look forward to working with XXX Press in its publication,” that is the message you are conveying.





The “Tenuous Track” (A Guest Post)

by Anonymous, Ph.D.

Given that the vast majority of faculty members now teach off the tenure track, landing one of these coveted positions feels like winning the academic lottery. Before accepting my current tenure track position, I was actually fortunate enough to have the choice between two positions.

Doing due diligence, I inquired about the financial health of the institution at which I ultimately accepted an assistant professorship. I was assured that the institution was financially sound…only to find out a few months later that the board of trustees was demanding that we reduce our faculty by more than ten percent.

While specific cuts have yet to be announced, it has been made clear that tenure-track positions may be eliminated as the administration tries to balance our budget.

My goal for this blog post is to outline some steps institutions might take to soften this devastating blow. While I realize, as I have heard muttered in the halls over the past few weeks, people in business get fired all the time, I am still of the mind that the tenure system implies a degree of mutual commitment between an individual and the institution.  Fortunately, a few administrators also still maintain vestiges of this arcane belief.

In devising this list, I asked myself what assistance would I find most helpful if I should find a pink slip in my mailbox next semester, and then began sharing these suggestions with various individuals at my institution.

Course Reduction: Considering that peer-reviewed publication is the most valued currency in the academic world, it is advisable for all junior faculty to maintain an active scholarly agenda. All too often, however, class preparation, advising, and committee responsibilities take precedence because of their immediacy. This may be especially true at teaching-focused institutions with relatively modest scholarship requirements. Thus a candidate returning to the market can find him or herself at a disadvantage precisely because he or she was doing the current job so well. To help the faculty members that will be cut be more successful in finding a new job, the institution could grant a course release during one or both semesters of the individual’s terminal year.  Some may balk at this suggestion, pointing out that they cannot afford this when already in a state of financial exigency. To this I would point out that the institution will soon have to do more with less anyways…and this might be an opportunity to phase in the curricular changes that will inevitably accompany downsizing.

Additional Travel Funds: Travel funding for conferences varies widely by institution. Some institutions only fund a faculty member if he or she is presenting at the conference while others provide funds regardless of one’s degree of participation. While anyone newly returning to the job market probably should be presenting at his or her conference, there may be valid reasons why that is not happening. Either way, because it is still the norm in many disciplines to conduct preliminary interviews at the national conference, job seekers cannot afford to miss these opportunities. If a faculty member is being dismissed through no fault of her own, it seems that the ethical thing to do is for the institution to help defray the costs of her being back on the market.

Institutional Recommendation Letter: Having served on academic search committees, I always wonder why someone several years into a tenure track appointment would be applying for an entry-level position. Was their 3-year review unsuccessful? Are they the kind of person who cannot get along with colleagues? The answer is probably no, but knowing that I have thought these things about others now makes me wonder how my own potential jump might be viewed. While Karen here at the Professor Is In has made suggestions about how to craft one’s cover letter in situations like these, I would also recommend that the highest ranking members of academic affairs (i.e. the dean, provost, and/or president depending on institutional type) draft a recommendation letter for the dismissed faculty member(s) indicating: (1) that this dismissal is in no way a reflection upon the applicant’s performance and (2) that the decision to terminate the applicant’s contract was based on financial exigency.

Job Market Consultation: An assistant professor’s job application materials are presumably less than six years old, but since the competitiveness of the market has been increasing at an exponential rate, these materials must be carefully revised. In many cases, the best advice for revisions will come from an objective third party. Readers of this blog are likely already familiar with the consultation services Karen provides. Administrators may not be. Ask them to pay for these services (After all, what’s the worst they can do to you–fire you?). Yes there will be an expense associated with this, but I imagine that will be less damaging to the institution than the potential bad press associated with dismissing a number of strong, early-career scholars who cannot find suitable employment.

Granted, this list is not exhaustive and there are certainly other things that an institution can do to help junior faculty who are being dismissed through no fault of their own. Principal among these is giving the soon-to-be dismissed faculty members notice of their status as early as possible. If notices aren’t made until December or later, many of the tenure-track searches for which a candidate could have applied will already be in the interview phase. And if you should find yourself ‘safe’ from these cuts, find ways to help your imperiled junior colleagues. When someone is trying to update their job application materials and increase their scholarly output on top of regular teaching duties, an offer to cover a few classes or even babysit for a few hours could make a world of difference.

On Selling Out: A Semi-Manifesto – Langer #postac post

by Jessica Langer
Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

I’ve got news for you: if you take a tenure-track position at a university that uses a significant amount of adjunct labour, you have sold out.
This may come as a surprise to you. Academia is the opposite of selling out, you may think. Academia is where we go to fight and write against systems of oppression! It’s where we can get tenure and then use our power to speak out! Or at least, it’s where we can live the life of the mind and contribute to the intellectual history and prowess of the human race!
There are two problems with that.
1. Academics aren’t the only people, or even necessarily the most significant people, to contribute intellectually to the world.
This is surprisingly non-obvious to a lot of people who are transitioning out of academia – and people who are still in academia. The ivory tower of higher learning is a seductive ideal and a compelling image.
But… think about it. Who innovates in every space outside of academia? Where do thought leaders come from in industry? Who comes up with new and different ways to use technology, to build homes, to create sustainable urban spaces? Who thought up the Apple Watch? Who writes for the New York Times? Who’s in charge of getting astronauts safely to Mars in 2020? Mostly non-academics.
The idea that academia is the be-all and end-all of the “life of the mind” is one of the most pervasive and most destructive lies that academia has ever told.
2. Academia itself is an oppressive system. It always amazes me, the extent to which some academics will consider leaving for industry a failure of morals as well as of ability. Capitalism is an oppressive system; workers are alienated from their labour in the context of a large corporation or organization; the people at the top get paid many, many times what the people at the bottom make.They’re right, of course. It’s the system in which we all function, and it is oppressive; and by being a successful businessperson, I am participating in that oppression.
But so are academics who work on the tenure track.
The reason they are able to be on the tenure track at all, to teach the courses they do, to make the salaries they do, to have the departmental funding and the job security they do, is because the “grunt” labour of teaching undergraduate students is done largely by a proletarian class of labourers who have none of those things. These labourers are paid shockingly badly (in the States, at least), are generally not eligible for departmental funding, get the last pick of courses, and have no job security. They are the sweatshop of academia: the tenure-track folks are the customers who tut-tut at the labour practices of the factories while at the same time loading up their carts with cheap T-shirts.
So: is there any way not to be a sell-out? 
The short answer? No, there isn’t. Not in this system.
We all sell out. We all make the compromises that we need to make in order to keep ourselves alive, clothed and fed. We all compete with each other, and we all close our eyes to injustices in the interest of furthering our own self-interest.
We all try our best to live our ideals, but here is my radical idea: accept the fact that you live in a system that requires you to “sell out” in order to live, and be deliberate about your choices with the understanding of that. In the current university system, you will be selling out whether you take an academic job or leave academia. Don’t worry about selling out. Worry about how your work, whatever it is, is going to impact the world at large and yourself, your family and your community specifically – and make your choices based on a nuanced understanding that goes beyond fear and into deliberate action.

Making Good Choices in an Ugly Time

It a brutally ugly time to be an American.  I am enraged, furious, heartbroken, grief-stricken at the racist mass murder at AME Church in Charleston, and at the shameful, hateful, self-serving denial of racism as motive by the media and white Americans who will not face the truth of white supremacy in this country.  It is painful to watch Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and other commentators and people I know twist themselves into knots trying to find an “explanation” for killings that the murderer himself openly admitted were racially-motivated and derived from specific events in racist American history.

In the face of this outrage, there is little to say on the subject of academic job market preparation that doesn’t seem trifling and pointless.
However,  this week I received an email from a former client, an email that is about choosing love over fear, and connection over alienation. In anthropological terms, choosing affiliation over achievement.  And that seems something worth sharing today.   We all need to make choices–to care for ourselves, care for others, do the right thing, not the expedient thing.
So I leave you with this.  And the request: speak up, white Americans.  Be an ally to the black community that is staggering under the weight of systemic violence.  It’s time for white people in this country to step up and speak out: racism is real, white privilege is real, black people are being targeted in systemic violence. Here are some posts on how to be a white ally.
We all have a choice–stay silent, focused on our private interests, and perpetuate our privilege, or reach out, connect, listen, join, support, fight.
Dear Karen,
I was a new PhD client of yours in 2012. I have already thanked you for whipping my job materials into shape, but I haven’t yet thanked you for whipping my work/life balance priorities into shape afterwards.
We met up at the XXX meetings in 2013, shortly after I started my TT job. I had had two offers, one at an R2 in a lovely but small location, and another at a competitive R1 in a city. I chose the city and the stress of an R1 track, in part because I was single and wanted to meet someone. You schooled me: why choose more stress? Has the gamble paid off or are you still single? Indeed, I was. My personal life was not a priority.
Our conversation motivated me to write up the blog post Trailer Park Professor the very next day. The process made me rethink why academia has always been my priority, and why I was so worried about always trying to act the part of a junior R1 professor.
As I finished writing the blog post, I got an email from a colleague around my age, in my same field, that I had met 6 months earlier when giving a talk. Even then we had chemistry. But I ignored it, as I did when she was in my same session at the conference, because it was not “strategic” to date someone in the same field. I had been running away from her for months…
But then I asked, why? Because if all went well between us, it might mean I have to leave my big TT position one day? Would I deny myself personal happiness for the sake of this job?
For the very first time in my life, I decided that personal was more important than professional. We went out, soon we were engaged. We got married last weekend, with the support of our family, friends, and colleagues (photo attached).
She got a TT job in another state within long driving distance (and hired you to help negotiate). Our next challenge is to find positions in the same state, dare I say city. We’re already strategizing…and will contact you once we have a lead. (I was shortlisted at XXX this year, and although I was a close second, no offer. I’m relieved!).
Thank you for helping me see the psychosis behind prioritizing academics over a personal life. I could have ended up taking a very different, very miserable path.
[The client attached an adorable picture of their wedding, but she asks me not to share it just yet].

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate – Fruscione #Postac post

by Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

In the year since I left academia and began writing things for The Professor Is In, the biggest difference I’ve seen between the academic and post-ac worlds is the attitude toward collaboration. My experience collaborating in academia consisted exclusively of planning one conference and a few panels. I didn’t coauthor or coedit anything, in part because I knew such projects wouldn’t have the same CV weight as the articles and book I published, and in part because coauthorship isn’t too common in the Humanities. It’s been much the opposite in the post-ac world—thankfully. Collaboration is both more possible and more valued in the private sector. Since the post-ac world rewards experience and collaboration, tackling a project cooperatively can boost your resume, expand your network, and strengthen your skill set.

For instance, I’ve worked with fellow editor Bridget Rector (Tall Sister) on a few M.A. capstone projects: I handled the final rounds of copy editing, and Bridget handled APA formatting and citations. This was a pragmatic decision for us in terms of time management and playing to our strengths. Most recently, I’ve been working with freelancer Lisa Munro on copy editing a scholarly collection. I got this project through word of mouth: a colleague remembered my Facebook posts about changing careers and contacted me to help polish the collection’s 15 essays before it went to press. After communicating about the scope, timeline, and price, we had an arrangement. (This is an important step: don’t forget it.) I brought in Lisa because of her abilities and because splitting up the editing worked best with our schedules. Once we got a batch of essays, Lisa and I worked on the same draft and compared notes to make sure we were essentially doing the same things. From there, halved the remaining work, and we communicate regularly about issues or judgment calls that arise.

All of this is to say that collaboration in the post-ac world is helpful, valuable, and—especially as you’re starting out—necessary. For Lisa:

One thing that I think is interesting is that in so many disciplines (at least in history), the individual monograph and independent research are considered the gold standard. It’s been surprising to realize how different things are outside academia: it’s been more of a Here’s a problem, how can we best solve it? approach that welcomes working with others. I’m hard pressed to think of times when I’ve used that approach in academia.

So far in this project, I’ve seen how freelancers can learn from and help each other. Like Lisa, I’ve been impressed by my post-ac colleagues’ openness to working together or sharing experiences and advice. I’d like to see new or would-be post-acs do the same thing. (More collaboration inside academia could be good as well, as Gregory Semenza has recently written about.) Collaborating with a fellow freelancer can help both of you gain experience, connections, and knowledge, as well as prepare you for tackling future projects jointly.

Blogging or tweeting about your experiences can help other post-acs see the benefits of collaborating. #Postac Twitter is a wonderful resource for networking, sharing ideas and experiences, and coming to terms with a new career, as well as potentially getting new projects. Most current and future post-ac tweeters I’ve met have been open to sharing advice about topics ranging from finding work and contacts to handling taxes and payment logistics. If you’re not already doing so, join these conversations to expand your network. Jennifer Polk, founder of From Ph.D. to Life, runs the #WithAPhD chat and is working on a “Hire a Ph.D.” page to help prospective clients find experienced freelancers. As she told me recently, “I feel much more part of a community now than I did dissertating. Community is huge for me.” Find and follow Jennifer, Lisa Munro, me, and such post-ac tweeters as Liana Silva, Katie Pryal, Kelly Baker, and Chris Humphrey. I’ve traded notes and ideas with them and many others, which has helped all of us navigate the post-ac journey. For Katie, “collaboration is a path to success in a way that it never was during my eleven years within academia. There, we’re siloed in our institutions, our departments, even in our offices with our own research agendas. Beyond academia, we accomplish more together, as part of a network. My friends are writers, coaches, editors—but more importantly, they are there for me, for just about anything that I ask for.”

As I’ve written before, always be looking for new colleagues, new clients, and new opportunities to collaborate. The more you connect with others doing the same kinds of work, the more likely you are to find an ideal collaborator: perhaps someone who needs your sharp proofreader’s eye after doing the developmental editing. Regardless of who does what, you’ll teach each other a few things along the way.

Effective collaboration depends, of course, on effective communication: before you start this kind of work, make sure you’re on the same page as your collaborator regarding how you’ll handle the work, deadlines, and method of payment. Think about logistics, too. If you’re working on two parts of the same document, decide early who’s responsible for merging the files or otherwise combining the work for the client. When I cowrote this piece with Allessandria Polizzi last year, we first identified what we’d each bring to the discussion: Allessandria wrote from the perspective of a long-time corporate educator, and I wrote from that of a new post-ac shedding academic language in my professional correspondence. We shared a GoogleDoc and Skyped a few times. The work went smoothly because we communicated throughout the process about our experiences, writing habits, and progress.

Much private sector work involves collaborating—e.g., writing and editing multiple stages of a project, or publishing something as a cohort without attributing individual authors. Doing joint work as a freelancer can give you valuable job experience, resume language, and material to share in an interview. Since many of us have worked independently in academia, working collaboratively on writing or editing projects may seem unusual or unwelcome. Try your best to get past this mental hurdle. The more you’re open to collaboration and networking among colleagues, the more you’ll be in a position to add to your experience and skill set.