What Now?

A reader wrote to ask for my views on what the Trump win means for academia, academic hiring in particular.  I’ll be honest. I’m so shattered by this win (I was all-in for Hillary and as many of you know used my Professor Is In platform to fight for her campaign), and so devastated by the explosion of attacks on people of color, Muslims, and LGBT people in subsequent days, and so frightened by what the Republican dominated government means for myself as a Jewish queer woman, for my biracial children, for my conspicuously butch partner, and for all people and the planet, that I can’t even sleep normally, or eat normally, or think clearly. I’m in no position to make prognostications.

But I told the reader I would write something, so I will, even at the risk of stating the obvious.  I think his win is catastrophic for higher ed in every possible respect. Because words are failing me so thoroughly (although I find myself edified by this analysis) I will limit myself to a bullet point list of outcomes I see as already happening or likely to occur. I hope I can write more eloquently in the future.  Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, as I’m sure that I’m only grasping limited ways that this will likely play out.

  • Open, vicious, terrifying attacks on and threats against students of color, and their campus groups and organizations that exceeding the ability of bumbling campus police/security to control.
  • Open, vicious, terrifying attacks on and threats against women students and their campus groups and organizations
  • Open, vicious, terrifying attacks on and threats against queer students and their campus groups and organizations
  • Open, vicious, terrifying attacks on and threats against Muslim students and their campus groups and organizations
  • Open, vicious, terrifying attacks on and threats against Jewish students and their campus groups and organizations, and swastika graffiti
  • Emboldened Republican governors and legislatures accelerating the defunding of state higher ed budgets
  • The systematic defunding and dismantling of federal support for research, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, National Science Foundation, and so on.
  • Chilled environment for debate and argument, especially combined with campus carry.
  • An explosion of guns on campus, from an even more energized NRA.
  • A further decline in tenure-line hiring as universities and colleges absorb these other cuts to funding.
  • A more complete embrace of the corporatization of higher ed
  • Threats to or dismantling of affirmative action.
  • Increased surveillance of faculty speech and social media posting, with more open retaliation.
  • Decreased enrollment of first generation and poc students due to a further decline in K-12 education, Head Start, and other preparatory and/or remedial programs.
  • This list can go on but I’ve run out of steam. Please add in comments below.

Here is a widely shared Facebook status update by Michael Berube, from November 9. I think it captures the moment as well as anything.

“I believe I am supposed to be in Salt Lake City today through Sunday for the National Humanities Conference, hosted by the National Humanities Alliance. I woke up this morning at 5 am for a 6:30 flight, got the news I was afraid to get, and promptly cancelled my hotel. I will eat the airfare. I wrote a brief email to all the people I was planning to meet.

We have just lost the Supreme Court, and with it, abortion rights, gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act, what remains of the Voting Rights Act, and any hope of fair redistricting. We have lost the tiny glimmer of hope that came out of the Paris accord. We have lost the treaty with Iran. Mike Pence and Paul Ryan have carte blanche to do everything on their very long to-do lists. I have to say I do not see much point in talking about the future of the humanities right now, least of all with the NHA, since there will be no National Endowment for the Humanities by this time next year. My apologies to all the people who are making the trip to Salt Lake City anyway, and I wish them safe travels.

And we have elected to the Presidency an actual real live fascist pig, all because I stepped on that one butterfly in the Cretaceous. I am sorry, everyone. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones as best you can.”

I also believe, of course, that the election will also result in a newly energized opposition and activism from students of color, women, and other marginalized groups and their allies. What the outcome of that will be, I don’t know. I do know that I have been to two rallies in two days on the University of Oregon campus. Yesterday the Black Student Union and other groups organized a rally in response to a blackface incident, and a horrific racist threat against one of the women who reported the incident. It was heartwrenching and inspiring. A lot of people, including white people, came, but not nearly as many as should have.

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I urge all of you reading this to reach out to your people, especially to people of color, queer people, Muslims, and other vulnerable people you know to check on them and offer your support. Commit to activism to defend your values. Speak out bluntly and clearly in the face of bigotry in your family and friend circle. Commit to defend those who are under attack when you are out in public, and show this publicly by wearing a safety pin whenever you leave the house.

We are in a true crisis, and we must do more than talk about it and study it.  We have to act.

 

My Dissertation on X Examines X

One of the writing problems that stands out the most in this Fall’s job documents is the “painful repetition” problem.

This is when someone writes, “My dissertation, ‘A Study of Elephants,’ is a study of elephants.”

Here are some more:

“I have written a feminist poetry anthology: Waves: A Feminist Poetry Anthology”

“My article, ‘The Novels of Thomas Mann,’ looks at the novels written by Thomas Mann.”

This applies even when you slightly alter the form or order of the words, as in:

“My dissertation, ‘Nations Unbound: Transnationalism and mobility in a globalized age’ is a study of transnational and mobility an age of globalization, when nations are no longer bound by borders.”

What an enormous waste of your most precious job document real estate!  Every word of a job document should introduce fresh new material that advances your case. Repeating the same idea twice squanders that chance.

It’s even worse when you keep doing it, over and over, as some writers do.  Ie,

“My dissertation, ‘Nations Unbound: Transnationalism and mobility in a globalized age’ is a study of transnational and mobility an age of globalization, when nations are no longer bound by borders. I show how globalized populations increasingly cross national boundaries. Looking at border-crossing mobility in this way, I advance the study of transnationalism.”

Please don’t do this. A sure sign of this is simple word repetition (read more on that in this post).  But check further for idea-repetition as well, since just substituting synonyms does not fix it. So don’t think the thesaurus app is going to save you. It isn’t. Word- and idea-repetition is just lazy writing, and you need to do the work to make sure that every single word of a job document is distinct and distinctive.

 

 

 

 

Asking to Speak to Other People of Color on a Campus Visit

Today’s post is adapted from an email followup from a client, who wanted to report back to me her experience as a black female job candidate on a campus visit.  In a webinar this client had asked whether or not it was a good idea to ask the search committee to arrange a meeting or meetings with other faculty of color from anywhere across campus beyond the department. Her insights show that my response in the webinar was incorrect.

I am happy to be able to share better advice now.

Thank you, dear client!

The short version is: if you are a scholar of color, of course ask to speak to other scholars of color on campus, no matter where they may be located.  A really savvy and sensitive search committee (are you reading this, search committees???) will make arrangements for this proactively, without you having to ask.  If any department is shocked or offended by such a request, it speaks volumes about the climate.

All-caps in original; bolding added by me.

~~~~~~~

Thank you for writing such a phenomenal resource. I am a recent graduate (2015) with a PhD in [Humanities] from U of XX, and I got 2 (!!) job interviews and 2 offers on the market this year after a successful postdoc year at U of XX. I accepted a position as an assistant professor of [Humanities] at the University X.

Aside from reading your book several times (particularly during the plane rides to both interviews), I did your Job visit/on campus interview workshop and it was so invaluable to me. I used all of your advice (even down to brushing my teeth before I met the committee member at the airport), and all of it helped me feel confident, prepared, and relatively calm during both of my interviews.

I wanted to email you to offer a little more insight on a question I asked during the webinar that seemed to have stumped you a bit. I wondered if it was appropriate to ask to speak to black people – ANY BLACK PEOPLE – when I went on a campus interview to a SLAC.  You suggested that it might be weird to ask to speak to someone who wasn’t at least in my field, and would turn unnecessary attention to race during the interview period. [KK:  Just to clarify, my advice was that she should definitely ask to speak with other faculty of color in the department or a closely related department, but not to ask to speak to “anyone from anywhere”  across campus]

After speaking to two different black, woman professor friends, I decided to disregard that advice and I did mention that I wanted to speak to someone (particularly a black woman) who would have some insight on issues of diversity in the community.

The response was that one of the committee members appeared to be shocked that a meeting with the SOLE other black faculty member (who was in Math) wasn’t already scheduled. She personally rearranged several of my meetings to make it happen. And it was EXTREMELY insightful. I did not choose that job based on a lot of things I learned in that meeting.

I should add here that the institution I accepted offered me a very comparable salary + research package despite its being a much smaller/non-research school.

After speaking to a few other professors about the issue, it is pretty clear to me that if the university and the committee aren’t very upfront about issues of race and diversity then it’s probably not going to be great place to work and live as a non-white person. If the committee is shocked or put off by your request, they will also probably be shocked and put off when you bring up any of the many things that you will, no doubt, encounter as a faculty member of color– this especially if you are also a woman.

It cannot and should not be an unspeakable mystery to your future colleagues that you are facing unique challenges that need to be addressed. Based on my limited experience and the anecdotes of others, a great committee will have thought of this prior to your arrival. Well-meaning folks will take your request seriously and understand why it is important to you.

~~~~~~

 

“My Family Lives In Driving Distance” – Or Not

For Fall 2016 I am reposting the top 25 posts on academic job applications.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the past month a client wrote in his tailoring section that he was excited to apply to a position at the University of Chicago, because his “family lives in driving distance.”

And another write that a position at Berkeley was exciting to him because “I have friends and family in the area.”

Can we all agree that this is… um… less than ideal cover letter rhetoric?

Rule of thumb:  if the institution is one of the top-ranked institutions in the world, hotly coveted, and the object of academic dreams, then mentioning the existence of family and friends in the area comes across as laughable.

Of course, if an institution is small, low-ranking, or located in a far-flung region…ie, an institution that you can imagine might have trouble attracting or retaining hires, then mentioning the existence of family in the area makes sense, as long as it’s done without undue hysteria, desperation, or emotionalism. Just stay brief and factual. One sentence in a paragraph that primarily focuses on SUBSTANTIVE connections related to research and teaching.

But seriously, nobody prioritizes Harvard because family lives nearby.

If your family does, sure, that’s icing on the cake, and a great thing.

But don’t mention it in the application. It makes you look fundamentally unserious. And like you don’t grasp the unspoken but unyielding rules of hierarchy that shape academia status.

“I’m the Ideal Candidate for Your Position!”

During Fall 2016 I am reposting the top 25 blog posts about the academic job market.  Today’s post is yet another post on job letters.

This one is on that object of contention: the fit sentence.

You know the one—it’s the sentence that says, “with my background in xxx and yyy, I am the ideal candidate for your position in zzz.”

Sometimes it says, “my combination of experience in xxx and yyy make me an excellent fit for your position in zzz.”

Why do advisors keep telling their graduate students to include those? I mean, really? Does anybody actually take these things seriously? Is a search committee member really going to take the CANDIDATE’S word for their suitability for the position? If we’re going to do that, why search at all? Why not just take the one who says he’s “ideal”?

Was I born YESTERDAY????” a senior professor friend of mine with countless searches under his belt responded. “Do they think I’m that NAIVE….? Do they think I’ll just BELIEVE them????”

I mean, professors don’t take anything at face value, not anything at all. So why in the world would they believe a job letter that claims the writer is an “ideal fit” for their advertised position?

As a colleague, whom I shall call Professor Snark, recently remarked,

“Gosh and golly! How could I, seasoned professor that I am, have failed to noticed the so plainly obvious fact, until you pointed it out, that among all the eminently qualified candidates for this job, you, yes you alone among them, are the ideal candidate for the position? I stand humbled before you in all your awesome idealness.”

Seriously, job candidates, remember the rule of good writing: Show, Don’t Tell.

Writing “I am the ideal candidate for your position”?  That  is telling.

Writing a letter full of evidence of intellectual prowess and scholarly productivity, award-winning teaching, and a long-standing commitment to the field of work identified by the job ad?  That, on the other hand, is showing.

So show us the money, candidates! Remember, talk is cheap.

Banish These Words, 2016 Edition

Every season I note a new batch of trite, overused words cropping up in job and grant documents. I’ve already written about some of the most critical to banish from your vocabulary here, and here. Here is the newest set of words that need to go.

The first three are related to my post “adjectives are not arguments”. In my book, I elaborate on this issue: “The simple repetition of the words on this list, 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. (…)They are white noise, and devoid of meaning.”

Innovative If you have to say it, it ain’t so. Hardly anything in the academy is innovative, and if it is, then you should let your research speak for itself.

Rich “Rich” is actually something that I call a “cheap” adjective. It doesn’t really tell us anything about your data, your project, your book, and it is incredibly vague. What exactly, is rich about the data? Unless you talk about money, don’t use this adjective.

Provocative-This often goes together with “innovative.” I know, I know, you’re a rebel. But, really, if you have or are getting a Ph.D., you’re as much of a rebel as Green Day are punk rock. And that’s ok- the one thing the academy is not looking for is rebels. They are looking for an intelligent colleague who will work with them.

On to nouns:

Thrust (in any lexical variation):  see my previous post on “deep”. Just no.

Lacuna it’s pretentious, and nothing else. Using lacuna doesn’t make you look smarter, it doesn’t make your research better. See my post on grad student grandiosity.

Lacuna Matata, Kelsky out.

Cancer on the Tenure Track – an invited guest post

By Martha Lincoln, Ph.D.

Prof. Martha Lincoln

Prof. Martha Lincoln

Earlier this spring, I got hired to a tenure-track position at my dream department. After some celebrating, I started to strategize for the next steps of my career. I took a webinar with Dr. Karen – Surviving Your First Year on the Tenure Track). I took care of some practicalities like switching bills to auto-pay and catching up on my to-do list. And I scheduled a physical with my nurse practitioner – one less thing to think about during the academic year.

Everything was looking good, except for a breast mass that was getting bigger and annoying me. A previous biopsy had found it negative, so I wasn’t worried when my NP referred me to a specialist for a follow-up procedure. When she called me with the results, I didn’t understand why she asked if I was somewhere I could talk.

“Are you driving?” she asked. “Is it quiet there?”

A minute later, the five-year plan for research, teaching, and tenure that I had developed post-webinar caught fire and exploded.

* * *

I’m a medical anthropologist. My research explores how health care, disease, and concepts of the body express sociopolitical priorities and cultural meaning. So it felt like an almost embarrassing coincidence to be diagnosed with breast cancer, as if I’d become subject matter instead of scientist. And despite my expertise in the subject of illness, I didn’t know what my diagnosis meant – except that it would make it impossible to start teaching in the fall.

The news came at a curious time, right between things. I had a few months left to go at my postdoctoral position. At my university position, I had course assignments for the fall, but had barely started furnishing my office. Knowing that I was about to disappoint my new colleagues, who had worked hard to secure the tenure line and poured time into the search and my hire, it took me a while to figure out how to share the news.

When I did disclose my diagnosis, both at my postdoc and my university, I also regretted rupturing the illusion that I was up-and-coming and invulnerable. Suddenly I felt disabled, even though I didn’t have any physical symptoms. However, a succession of emails with my two human resources departments seemed to suggest that despite my status as a cancer patient, I might not be totally protected. My postdoc was expiring too soon to allow me to take paid leave, and at my new department I wouldn’t be eligible for benefits or leave, as I had yet to teach a single class.

Ultimately, I lucked out. I got reappointed at my postdoctoral position, and was permitted to start teaching in spring instead of fall. I’ll get to keep my postdoc insurance, whose unusually good schedule of benefits will keep me from going into thousands of dollars of medical expense-related debt. But from a financial perspective at least, it could have been much worse.

With that said, this has been no average summer of catching up on non-academic reading on the beach. I fell behind on publications and grant applications while I went to diagnostic appointments and managed the administrative parts of being ill. Though I wrote some essays that I’m proud of, work has mostly been on ice. During the diagnostic workup, some concerns arose about metastasis, prompting me to anticipate dying somewhat sooner than I’d previously intended. (Happily, that got resolved.) Now it’s September and the school year is underway, but I’m still in the middle of treatment.

I’ll be healthy and back to work soon, I trust. However, I anticipate stigma surrounding my future status as a cancer survivor – an identity that’s incongruous with most notions of what a university professor should be. Having cancer compels embodiment where we might prefer disembodiment, emotion where we privilege intellect, and transparency where we’d rather have occlusion. Indeed, having cancer is a deeply personal – even “human” – experience. In this way, I imagine that having this disease on the tenure track might be like being pregnant, or having kids, or having a relative who needs a lot of care. It might be like having chronic illness or mental illness or another type of disability.

However, cancer brings aspects of my future productivity into view in a way that can feel exposing. Though I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to be supported by my colleagues, and though policy protects me from discrimination, I’m sensitive to the questions of future indeterminacy that my diagnosis compels. While I’ve always known that the tenure process will evaluate my work with an eye to the future, cancer presses this home in a way that feels morbidly personal. I imagine my colleagues and employers wondering things I’ve wondered too: Will my cancer kill me? Will it mess up my single-minded pursuit of success? Will I relapse and make everyone scramble to cover my commitments? (BTW: no, no, and I hope not.)

In university settings – where professionalism is virtually defined by the ability to keep personal and professional matters separate – cancer makes it impossible to maintain the secure, aloof façade of an academic persona. When Dr. Karen suggested I write something for her, I struggled about whether to use my name or not. Ultimately I wanted to use my name, so others would be able to contact me if they found themselves in a situation like mine. I also want to share the following suggestions.

Whether or not you are diagnosed with cancer (or another serious illness) in a tenure-track position, review your health insurance options carefully when choosing a plan. Ask yourself what benefits you would want if you had a medical emergency. In my case, having a PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) policy allowed me to move from the clinic where I was originally referred to a hospital that is a national leader in cancer care. Review details with your own situation in mind, bearing in mind that unexpected things can happen even if you are young and (apparently) healthy.

If you are on the tenure track and are diagnosed with a serious illness, think carefully about how you want to communicate regarding your situation to others – colleagues, students, and employers. Some members of your department and administration will need to know at least a little bit about your diagnosis, but you can still be strategic about disclosure. When you share information, consider making an explicit request for confidentiality.

Also remember that people may respond to your news in ways that you find unhelpful or upsetting. I found that it felt safer to control information more tightly when I was still unsure about my treatment and prognosis. As I knew more, I felt more secure about sharing details. I was also fortunate to have a chair who asked for my input in crafting the message he shared with the department about my situation.

If you are newly diagnosed, know that cancer is time-consuming, and can come to seem like a second job. It is likely to sap your energy and focus, distract you, and cause you free-floating anxiety. Anticipate that normal things will become difficult, and then potentially more difficult. Find shortcuts in the “activities of daily life” wherever possible (for example, using a grocery-delivery app instead of doing your own shopping), lower your standards and delegate tasks where possible, and ask your friends and family for help. If you’re going to need chemotherapy or radiation, ask your doctor to help you with a request to the DMV for a temporary-disability placard for your car.

Cancer treatment and recovery last for months. I’ve found that my usual approach to getting through difficult times – battening hatches and buckling down – is inadequate, given the drawn-out, stressful, and unpredictable experience of getting care. I benefited from mental health support. Some hospitals may provide access to therapists, wellness practitioners, and social workers (who can help with the horrifying paperwork burden of cancer, and with access to other useful resources).

Remember that there are institutional policies to protect you. Contact the disability office on your campus to inquire about accommodations. Contact human resources to figure out your options for medical leave (under the Family Medical Leave Act) and short-term disability. Contact your department chair and dean to discuss the details of leave and request a stop on your tenure clock.

At the same time, remember that your department, HR representative, and administration may not have had a situation like yours in the past, and that there may be some improvisation required before all the details are settled. Expect many email exchanges, some of which you will have to initiate proactively, and some of which will need you to follow up by phone or in person. Some people will drop the ball. If you become frustrated, express dissatisfaction in ways that don’t sacrifice good will that you’ll need later.

If your coping mechanisms compel you to understand the medical details of your cancer, use institutional resources to access the most current and reputable literature. Consider asking colleagues with experience in medicine or science (or even your institution’s reference librarians) to help you access and interpret research. The rich humanities and social sciences literature on cancer supply other forms of context and meaning (c.f. Jain 2013, Livingston 2014, Lora-Wainwright 2013, Lorde 1997, Mukherjee 2010, Sontag 1978). Reading memoirs of illness and disability in academia can also be both useful and cathartic (c.f. Crosby 2016, Felstiner 2005).

If you are diagnosed, entertain the possibility that it will affect your focus and trajectory, intellectually and professionally, in ways that you cannot predict. For all that I’ve come to loathe the notion that cancer is somehow a spiritual experience, my diagnosis has undeniably shifted my relationship to my life and work. It has compelled me to ask what’s deathless in my field – or, rather, what gives me life. Your priorities and interests may also shift as a result of having cancer, potentially in ways that you will find wonderful.

Finally, remember that this won’t last forever. With luck, you will have one good shot at surviving cancer, and you will give it all the resources you can: finding the best health care, minimizing stress and commitments, setting priorities that serve you, and taking the time and resources you need to heal and recover. When it is over – god willing – you will get back on the tenure track, and move on.

~Martha Lincoln is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at San Francisco State University.

 

References

Crosby, Christina

2016  A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain. New York: NYU Press.

Felstiner, Mary Lowenthal

2005  Out of Joint: A Private and Public Story of Arthritis. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Jain, S. Lochlann

2013  Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Livingston, Julie

2014  Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic. Raleigh, NC: Duke University Press.

Lora-Wainwright, Anna

2013 Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Lorde, Audre

1997 The Cancer Journals: Special Edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.

Mukherjee, Siddhartha

2010  The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. New York: Scribner.

Sontag, Susan

2013  Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and its Metaphors. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

#JobMarketRitual – Guest Post by Kellee Weinhold

by Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach and Interview Intervention Coach

IMG_4151 One of the remnants of my life as a journalism professor is attending to the success and failure of advertising campaigns. I wasn’t in the field of advertising, but many of my students were advertising majors and many of my favorite colleagues were (and are) advertising faculty. Advertising campaign successes and failures were the stuff of hallway conversations.

Which is a long-winded explanation for how I came upon the new Revlon campaign- #revlonritual. The agency that created it had been charged with reviving an aging brand. Their first step was to engage with women around the country about things that made them feel beautiful. The agency recruited 710 women, sent them beauty supplies, and asked them to do a seven-step ritual once a day for at least four days.

Here is the ritual:

1. Look at yourself in the mirror.
2. Use your favorite fragrance.
3. Apply your eye makeup.
4. Have a piece of chocolate.
5. Put on a new lipstick or gloss.
6. Take a deep breath.
7. Smile at yourself.

Let me pause briefly to say to all of you who don’t really know about me, I am not remotely engaged with the idea that beauty and self-love come from fragrances, eye makeup and lipstick (if you’re curious, Karen wrote about me in this blog post, How To Dress for an Interview As a Butch Dyke). For me, they are cis-gendered and anxiety producing, and make me feel slightly nauseous. But I also recognize that for many who identify as cis-gendered females, they are a joy.

The campaign got me thinking about rituals of self-care. The ones that make you feel better about yourself, whoever you define that “self” to be. And because here at TPII we are all about the academic job market, I eventually landed on pondering what daily ritual might offer respite from the stress and anxiety of looking for a job.

So, here is my complete rip off of the Revlon campaign. I invite you take part in the academic job market version of a self-care ritual. For at least a week try the following things and let us know if it has any effect on improving your state of mind as you start your day in the ego bruising experience of applying for academic jobs.

1. Look at yourself in the mirror brush/comb your hair and teeth and smile.
2. Dress as if you are going to coffee with a friend. In other words, something other the dirty sweats, yoga pants or boxers you picked up off your bedroom floor.
3. Put on your favorite adornment: Bracelet. Hat. Necklace. Cologne. Glasses. Ear Gauge. Anything that makes you feel good.
4. Listen to your favorite song, sing it at the top of your lungs and move! (Power ballads for the win!)
5. Fix yourself your favorite tea, coffee, smoothie or juice.
6. Write a single sentence of encouragement and post it on your computer.
7. Take a deep breath.

And then, and only then…

  1. Begin those job applications

Working with my Unstuck coaching clients has taught me that one of the biggest challenges to consistency and productivity is lack of self-care. Contrary to the myth of academia, working more and harder does not equate to producing more. Indeed, the rabbi of our synagogue recently remarked that when her friends ask her how she gets so much accomplished despite taking a full 24 hours off each week for Shabbat, she responds, “I get so much accomplished BECAUSE I take a full 24 hours off each week for Shabbat.”

Rest and rejuvenation are essential. My coaching clients report amazing results when they actually take the time off that their bodies and minds are telling them they need.

So, let’s adapt this for the job market. Try these eight steps of self-care. Let me know if they make a difference. Let’s call it: #JobMarketRitual

~~~

If you’re interested in working with me on Unstuck Productivity Coaching, email me at tpiiintervention@gmail.com.

Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Research Statement

For the Fall 2016 Job Market I am re-posting the essential job application posts.  We’ve looked at the Cover Letter and the CV  and the Teaching Statement.  Today we look at the Research Statement.

An expanded and updated version of this post can now be found in Chapter  27 of my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. I am keeping a shortened version here, but for the complete discussion, including examples of common teaching statement errors, please do purchase the book, which compiles all my major job market posts along with 50% entirely new material.

Today, at long last, and in response to popular demand, a post on the Research Statement.

I have, perhaps, procrastinated on blogging about the Research Statement because at some level I felt that the rules might be more variable on this document, particularly with regard to length.

But in truth, they really aren’t.

The RS should be be two pages long for any junior candidate in the humanities or soft social sciences.  Two pages allows for an elaboration of the research well beyond the summary in the cover letter that gives the search committee substantial information to work with. Those junior candidates in the hard sciences and fields like Psychology can have 3-4 page research statements.

I strongly urge all job-seekers to investigate the norms of their individual fields carefully, and follow the advice they receive on this matter from experts in their own fields.  Just never simply ASSUME that longer is better in an RS or in any job document.

By the way, the RS to which I refer here is the document sometimes requested as part of a basic job application.  This is NOT the “research proposal” required by specific fellowship or postdoc applications!   Those will specify a length, and should be written to follow the outline I describe in Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template.) They are a totally different genre of document; don’t confuse the two!

Anyway, back to the RS: there are undoubtedly a number of excellent reasons that people could give for writing a longer RS, based on thoroughness or detail or concerns for accuracy. And I would acknowledge those principles as valid ones.

But they would all come second to the single most important principle of all job market writing, in my view, which is the principle of search committee exhaustion.

Search committee members are exhausted, and they are overwhelmed and distracted. There simply is no bandwidth in their brains or their psyches to handle the amount of material they are required to read, when searches routinely garner between 300 and 1000 applications.

Anything that feels “long” is going to be resented just by virtue of its length. And resentment is categorically what you don’t want a search committee member feeling about your job application materials.

So, in short, the Research Statement, just like the Teaching Statement, needs to be one to two pages in length, single spaced.  And like the TS, it needs to be in 11 or 12 point font, and have decent one-inch margins.

What are the other rules? Here they are:

  • Print the RS on regular printer paper. Do not use letterhead for this or the TS, and do not use any special high grade paper.
  • Put your name and the words “Research Statement” centered at the top.
  • If unsure how to structure, use a 5-paragraph model as follows:

[… edited… ] 

Here are some additional principles:

  • A RS (like a TS) is not tailored to a school overtly. While you may subtly adjust your project descriptions to speak to a specific type of job, you do not refer to any job or department or application in the statement itself.
  • Do not refer to any other job documents in the RS (ie, “As you can see from my CV, I have published extensively….”)
  • As in all job documents, remain strictly at the level of the evidentiary. State what you did, what you concluded, what you published, and why it matters for your discipline, period. Do not editorialize or make grandiose claims (“this research is of critical importance to…”).
  • Do not waste precious document real estate on what other scholars have NOT done. Never go negative. Stay entirely in the realm of what you did, not what others didn’t.
  • Do not position yourself as “extending” or “adding to” or “building off of” or … [what follows is edited…]
  • Do not refer to other faculty or scholars in the document. The work is your own. If you co-authored a piece…
  • Do not refer to yourself as studying “under” anybody…
  • Do not forget to articulate the core argument of your research. I am astounded at how often (probably in about 80% of client documents) I have to remind clients to …
  • Give a sense of a publishing trajectory, moving from past to present…
  • Make sure you are not coming across as a one-trick pony. The second major project must be clearly distinct …
  • Use the active voice as much as possible, but beware a continual reliance on “I-Statements”, as I describe in this post, The Golden Rule of the Research Statement.

I will stop here. Readers, please feel free to add more in the comments.  I will add to this post as further refinements come to mind.

The Dreaded Teaching Statement: Eight Pitfalls

For the Fall 2016 Job Market I am re-posting the essential job application posts.  We’ve looked at the Cover Letter and the CV; today we look at the Teaching Statement.

An expanded and updated version of this post can now be found in Chapter  25 of my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. I am keeping a shortened version here, but for the complete discussion, including examples of common teaching statement errors, please do purchase the book, which compiles all my major job market posts along with 50% entirely new material.

Here at The Professor Is In we have reached the point in the Fall job market season in which many of our clients have finished work on their job letters and their c.v.s—and damn, do they look good!–and have moved on to their teaching statements.

And once again, I am struck by how many really brilliant and talented young scholars, including those who are otherwise terrific writers, fall flat on their faces in their teaching statements. It’s just painful. The teaching statement first drafts are, by and large, simply excruciating to read.

Apparently these things are just brutal to write.

But why?

I think there are several reasons, actually. A partial, speculative list would include these:

  • The audience and its expectations are unclear
  • The genre is rarely explained
  • The genre allows for great variation, with few obvious parameters for length and tone
  • The expected content at first blush seems overly “obvious” and rote (ie, “I am passionate about teaching”)
  • Feelings about teaching are often intense and hard to articulate in academic prose.

The mistakes that teaching statement writers make seem to fall into fairly consistent patterns that derive from the confusions and mystifications listed above. In this post I am going to identify the major pitfalls of the worst teaching statements, and offer suggestions to guide you as you craft your own.

Error #1: It is too long

There are fewer hard and fast rules of teaching statements than there are for things like c.v.s and cover letters. So, there may be scholars and departments and search committees that have no problem with lengthy ones. But it is the official position of Dr. Karen that a teaching statement should be no longer than one page.

The reason is that a teaching statement is always a subsidiary document to a larger job application, which already includes a job letter, a c.v., references, and possibly a writing sample. It is simply not realistic or reasonable to expect the search committee to wade through a 3 page single-spaced teaching statement on top of all of that. While some dedicated individuals might, the vast majority will not. So, be your own best advocate, and make your statement as easy as possible to digest.

Believe me, everything you actually NEED to say in a teaching statement can be easily said in one page.

And while we’re on the subject, I don’t mean one page in 11pt font with 1/2” margins either. I mean one page with nice one inch wide margins on all sides, and a nice legible 12 pt font that is easy on middle-aged eyes.

It is one of the principles I try to inculcate in my TPII work, that white space on a page communicates expansiveness and confidence. Line upon line of miniscule font, crammed up to the edges of the paper, by contrast, communicates insecurity and desperation.

You know how when you get ready for a long backpacking trip, and they tell you to pack your backpack with everything you think you need, walk around the block with it, come back, and take half out? Well, when you write a professional job document, write everything you think need to say, then go back and take half out. Always write less.

Error #2: You tell a story instead of making statements supported by evidence.

This is probably the single most common pitfall of the teaching statement. For some reason candidates think that the genre requires the “story of my teaching life.” Ie, “I always like to use multi-media materials in the classroom. I first discovered the value of these when I taught ‘Introduction to Cultural Anthropology’ at the Eastern Tennessee State last spring.  In that class I had the opportunity to use a wide range of videos and online materials. Students told me that they really loved these, and I came to feel that these are excellent methods for promoting in-class discussions. I plan to use them in future classes as well.”

I’ll bet some of you reading this post think that the above is totally great. It isn’t. It’s rambly and utterly enmeshed in the single greatest principle of bad writing, which is that it Tells, when it needs to Show.

We don’t want the Story of Teaching. We want principles of teaching, and evidence that you exemplify these principles in specific classroom goals and practices.

Remember that this piece of writing is sometimes called a Teaching Philosophy. Now I dislike that term, because I think ti encourages writers to be even more wooey and tell-y than otherwise, but it does point to one major goal: the statement has to articulate a wide general good that can be achieved through university pedagogy at its broadest level. Then the writer demonstrates, in concrete and specific terms, how this good is manifested in specific teaching strategies, with examples. Then evidence is provided to show it was done effectively. Then there is a conclusion. And the essay is finished.

To repeat: wide general good—>teaching strategies that manifest this good –>examples from specific classes —evidence that the strategies were effective –>conclusion

The most important point here is that you provide evidence that SHOWS (rather than tells) how you teach. This does not mean teaching evals or numerical outcomes per se, but rather that you describe a course, a specific teaching strategy that you used and why, what the outcomes were, and feedback from students that was illuminating.

Error #3: You express sentiments that are saccharine, obvious and indistinguishable from countless other applicants.

Error #4: You mis-read your audience

Error #5: You are excessively humble, especially if you are female

Error #6: You are excessively emotional, especially if you are female.

Language such as

I am delighted when students tell me…”

“I would be thrilled to teach your course in xxx…”

“I am so excited to use new materials…”

“It would be a great pleasure to create new courses…”

“I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy…”

may seem friendly and engaged, but it is actually  overly-emotional and highly feminized in ways that, again, are self-sabotaging on the tenure track job market.

Women in particular must beware of their tendency to over-invest in a “nice” persona in their teaching statements. Teaching at the tenure track level is not about being nice. It is about being a professional.

Realize that the “nicer” and “sweeter” you sound, the more you are characterizing yourself as the classic female perennial one-year replacement adjunct.

Those who are competitive in the tenure track market, by contrast, articulate a teaching persona that is completely consistent with their researcher persona: serious, intellectually hard-hitting, disciplinarily cutting edge, demanding, and with high standards and expectations.

Error #7: You fail to link your research and teaching into a single consistent whole.

Error #8:  You don’t have a Conclusion

For the complete updated version of my Teaching Statement advice, see my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job.