by Dr. Annabel Ipsen, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University. Thank you, Dr. Ipsen, for sharing these insights so quickly!
Anyone who has insights on the new normal of interviews and campus visits by Zoom/skype, PLEASE contribute a guest post, anonymously or not! People need help! I pay $150 for accepted posts.
Did the pandemic covid-19 highjack your campus visit? Many academic job seekers are in a similar position, with universities canceling interviews or asking candidates to do virtual campus visits instead. The silver lining, a fabulous job talk story? No waiting for travel reimbursements? But more seriously, most people have little knowledge about how to prepare for these types of interviews and few candidates or search committees have experience with this format. While virtual campus visits are uncommon, they do happen. In fact, when I got the exciting call for a campus visit for my current job, I was in the hospital. Since I was unable to travel in the timeframe they needed, we agreed to a virtual visit. It was not an easy process, but I have some tips to make it smoother for you.
[Karen Edit: THE FOLLOWING ADVICE PREDATED COVID-19; OBVIOUSLY YOU CANNOT WORK OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE. SEE MY ADDENDUM BELOW FOR MORE ON CREATING A HOME SPACE]* First, schedule a formal interview venue. Try to avoid doing the interview at your house unless you have an appropriate room for the interview and the equipment needed. If you work at a university and have access to a conference room, reserve it for your interview. If your university is closed or you do not have access to an appropriate space, ask the committee to reserve a space for you. In many communities, there are conference rooms in libraries/universities/hotels. You should not have to scramble to figure this out on your own. Paying for a conference space is cheaper than a “regular” campus visit. While committees might not offer this option to you, it’s likely because they simply have not thought of it. It is important that you are comfortable with the choice and some people may prefer to do the interview at their home for health or personal reasons.
My interview was during finals week and every single conference room at my institution was booked. I was frantic. Ultimately, two colleagues and I each reserved the maximum blocks of time for the last available library study room. This was not ideal for several reasons and I wish that I had asked the committee to reserve an outside conference space for me. My job talk went off without a hitch, but the room next to mine was full of 20 boisterous undergraduates. I had to say to the committee and all of those watching, “could you hold on for just one minute? I can’t quite hear you,” as I scrambled out of the room to quiet the undergraduates next door. Currently many universities have limited campus access; finding an interview space can take up a lot of your preparation time.]
Second, ask the committee what technologies you need and download them as soon as possible. Are they using BlueJeans, skype, zoom? What is plan A, what is plan B? Are these programs accessible at the venue? If the free version will not work for your interview and your institution does not have access, the committee should provide you with access. Make sure you look at the program and are familiar with the basics. Ask how they will see you and how you will see them. Will it just be with the search committee? Will it be recorded for others to watch? Will you need to take your laptop? If possible, it’s nice to have two screens (or a split screen) to see your slides and the committee and for them to see your slides and you. That way you aren’t looking at a group of people on your tiny computer screen and trying to figure out who just asked you a question.
Third, once you decide on a venue, set up a time to do a test run a day or two before the interview. If possible, ask that a technology expert be present and ask that someone on the committee’s end be available 20 minutes later to test the program you’re using and the sound and video on both ends. Everyone wants to make sure the technology works before the day in question and the only way to do that is to test it beforehand. Make sure you know how to mute the microphone and camera and how to move the camera. This will become important during a long day of interviews. Sometimes you may stand (job talk), sometimes you may sit (one-on-ones with faculty), and sometimes you may loudly eat carrots. If you need a podium, make sure you set that up too.
Fourth, ask for the schedule in advance. Make sure you know what each activity entails. Will I be having phone or video calls with each professor? Will I meet students virtually? Make sure there are breaks for lunch and bathroom visits. Get to the venue early. Reserve it at least 30 minutes before the first event. If the lighting is low, bring a small lamp. Bring a lunch/snacks – easy to eat items that don’t require a refrigerator. Bring water, your beverage of choice, a toothbrush, a headset, hand sanitizer/wipes, an extra shirt, and a mirror. Keep the “extras” out of sight.
Fifth, before the interview, do at least one run through of the full job talk with a friend/colleague/mentor. Ask for comments on the lighting, if you’re making eye contact, make sure they can hear you, test your camera and your microphone in various scenarios.
Sixth, communication is vital. Make sure you have the search chair’s phone number to facilitate the logistics and/or if the technology fails and you need to be put on speaker phone (highly unlikely). Everyone wants to see candidates put their best foot forward. People will understand the extra conversations to figure out the best set up for your campus visit. A one-size-fits-all-set-up will not work for most people. Be kind, flexible, and thoughtful. Communicate what you need and be willing to compromise.
Finally, prioritize your health. Practice social distancing, get enough rest, disconnect from the constant flow of apocalyptic news, eat well, and wash your hands. Take walks outside or meditate to keep some perspective and don’t forget to sanitize the interview venue. Good luck, you’ve got this!
*Karen Edit: You need a home office space. Don’t fret–everyone is in the same boat in COVID-19 and allowances will be made. Set up a small stand or desk in front of an approprtiate wall or bookshelf if possible. Check the backdrop that it’s clean and clear—hang a sheet or wall-hanging if nec! Remember it can be a jerry-rigged temporary set up! You CAN of course use your laptop camera and mic. If you have a better quality camera/mic that’s going to help, but it’s not essential. The main issue is to ensure quiet as best you can (optimally work behind a closed door if you have kids at home), and to get your camera angle to view you from level or slightly above (the most flattering angle) and then to work on lighting. You can do a ton with lighting by moving your desk lamps around and draping sheets of different colors in front of windows and over lights. It’s all trial and error so just experiment. If you CAN order a RING LIGHT please do; it’s the best and easiest lighting option. Here’s one example of what I mean, but you can get a cheaper option of just the light without any of these accessories as well.
I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.These go up on Wednesday. This one is particularly special because it is by Dr. Joycelyn Moody, who is the co-founder, along with Dr. Roxanne Donovan, of WellAcademic – and we just had the chance to talk to Dr. Donovan on our podcast episode that just dropped yesterday! So please do read this post and listen to that episode in tandem!
Also: PLEASE submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration! I want to hear from you! Email me proposals or drafts at email@example.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.
Today’s post is by Joycelyn Moody, PhD. Dr. Moody is WellAcademic Co-founder; experienced coach, mentor and workshop leader; and Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature and Professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
My university is going to remote learning in response to Covid-19, like many/most of yours. I have five workdays to change my face-to-face, highly interactive graduate seminar to an online-only format. Having never taught an online class in any way, shape, or form, the shift is going to require mindboggling effort and time, even as I take advice to lower my standards.
This additional teaching labor sits alongside my complicated feelings about the isolation required to meet social distancing calls to mitigate rapid spread of Covid-19. Frankly, I’m gonna miss seeing my grad students and my gym trainer, not to mention the few precious friends I meet for talk and hugs.
As I grapple with these messy emotions around disconnection, I find my mind drifting back to a certain mountain, to the Elohee Retreat Center, the location of WellAcademic’s Women of Color Faculty Retreats. Even with my beloved partner Lorraine beside me during this coronavirus craziness, I can’t help time traveling to remind myself of the healing, transformative, compassionate sisterlove I’ve invariably experienced among the women I’ve met there. I’m clinging to Roxanne’s brilliant teachings and ancient wisdom. My memories are holding me through this difficult moment. More than simply nostalgic for my sisters, I feel resilient, fortified by them even now. I know my memories will sustain me through the challenges to come.
I share below part of what I wrote after our first WellAcademic retreat because the hope the words held for me seem needed now more than ever. They illustrate the bonds and lessons that are possible in environments where our full humanity is recognized and valued.
Twenty-five women of color faculty and I accepted Roxanne’s call to Elohee’s Bald Mountain for insight and renewal, for sisterhood and rejuvenation. Having participated in numerous workshops with my astounding business partner before, I knew the other participants and I would inevitably have an extraordinary experience. Whatever the others expected, my own expectations were truly exceeded. The difference lay in the fact of community: while Roxanne was our indisputable fulcrum, magic lay in our collectivity.
I doubt many of us anticipated the powerful experience we’d create together.
Almost each retreat participant arrived with trepidation about WellAcademic’s deliberate timing at institutional midterms. Most divulged the challenge of permitting herself to break away for her own revitalization just when others feel free to demand more from us—make-up midterms at students’ convenience, belated committee meetings on chairs’ timetables, and so on. Even retreat participants “on leave” arrived almost panting, as if we’d run the distances from Cincinnati, Madison, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Miami, doubled over by the demands we make on ourselves and we face (or face down) from others who claim power over us.
Perhaps these two short lists capture our transition.
What I expected:
Loving reunion with Roxanne Donovan, one of my closest friends and also my business partner
Committed service to the 14 women I’d pledged to coach individually
Natural beauty transitioning from summer into fall
Nutritious, delicious food
Solitude: no WiFi, a break from schoolwork, a break from infuriating global news
Reunion with my Kennesaw State sisters
A chance to meet Roxanne’s only biological sister
And more than this.
What I gained/Hadn’t imagined receiving:
A community of minoritized academic sisters expressing the same sense of success, insight, stimulation, curiosity, seclusion, need, grief, fatigue, and hope I feel from day to day
Deep fortification— cellular memories, science-based exercises, journaling, workbook sheets, photography, clean mountain water and air
A bed I first mistook for clouds
In-person meeting with the retreat participant with whom I shared the same coach when I was first a client
One sister, aged 50, lifting her arms over her head to illustrate reclaiming victory over her physical body after setting her own terms as a Black feminist professor and administrator
Two shooting stars with Roxanne, coming five minutes apart after the “Firelight Sister Circle,” on a tiny swing uphill of Eucalyptus cabin
We continue with our new column, featuring interviews with PhDs who have charted a course unrelated to the tenure track, putting academia squarely in the rearview mirror.
Our hope is that seeing and hearing from a wide range of PhDs who are celebrating their careers rather than settling for them will inspire every grad student, ABD and PhD to add the road OFTEN traveled to their list of options.
We are excited to hear and share your stories. If you have a PhD and are working outside of the academy and would like to share your experience with TPII readers, we’d love to hear from you!
Today we are pleased to feature Dr. Christopher Cornthwaite.
I received my PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Toronto. I started with the goal of becoming a tenure-track professor. But I was clueless about the realities of the academic job market. My department lied to me about their hiring record, so I didn’t know–although this was also my own fault. For some reason it never occurred to me to google whether or not PhDs get academic jobs.
I actually loved the degree itself. I loved diving deep into a research question and feeling like I’d discovered something when I found an answer that made sense. And academia offered me two other things I really wanted: first, flexibility to work from home to be there with my two young kids, and second, getting research grants to travel the world (yes, the kids came too!).
The reality of the academic job market slowly hit me. Like most students, I thought I would be the exception to the rule and would get a tenure-track job. As I was buried in an avalanche of rejection letters, the realization slowly hit me. I’m not going to get a tenure-track job. I can chase this through visiting positions, post docs, or adjuncting, but I still likely won’t (I didn’t know anyone from my program who ever had). Finally, I had to shift my focus to getting ANY job outside of academia that could feed my family and pay my debt.
Throughout the PhD process, my main source of mental and spiritual support was my spouse–no one else. The lack of institutional support for my career choices post-PhD was a weird thing. Nobody talked about non-academic work, outside of a few mandatory seminars that gave us some ideas. Because of these seminars, the department boasted that they were preparing students for all career tracks. But nobody ever had a serious conversation with me about non-academic jobs, and the few times I asked I regretted it.
Ironically, at the time of my doctoral thesis defense, I was already working outside of academia making over 70k a year. I had moved to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, as my PhD neared its end. I didn’t know anybody and had no plan. But I figured that if I could get a non-academic job anywhere, it would be in Ottawa. I networked like crazy and, after a lot of disappointments and dead ends, got offered a job at a think tank running economic development projects. I left there to start my own consulting business and then got hired by the Canadian government to work on international refugee initiatives. I left this position a few months ago and am currently working hard to start my own research and design company along with my spouse.
To anyone who is thinking about leaving academia post PhD, I have so much say. In fact, I started a blog to talk about my journeys outside: Roostervane. But in a nutshell, I just want people to know they can have great non-academic careers, and that they are worth so much more than crappy adjunct positions. Many PhDs thrive outside of academia, doing amazing things. I know so many PhDs who are having more impact outside than they could have had inside! So, if you want to or need to leave, you do have options. It takes a lot of hard work, and you’ll need to take the initiative to reinvent yourself, but it’s totally possible!
In our Dispatches series, we crowdsource responses to questions we see about the academic job market and career.
This week, the question is: “Help, my campus visit has switched suddenly online. Advice needed: either from candidates who have survived one, or faculty hosts who can share insights and suggestions.”
Despite shaking the bushes just as hard as we could, we only got three substantive responses, and then–sadly–a whole new set of anxious queries. And if that doesn’t reflect our current moment, I don’t know what does. They are all shared below. Because of time constraints, I’m simply pasting them, without my usual framing and visuals. Things are going nuts here at TPII and I’m triaging a lot at once.
We continue weekly Dispatches From the Front questions for your crowdsource responses. Scroll to the bottom for next week’s question – WHICH IS GOING TO REMAIN THE SAME, AS WE STILL NEED THE ADVICE — and the link to share your wisdom and advice.
And one explanatory note: we ask respondents to provide any personal
identifying information in their own words that THEY consider
pertinent to contextualize their responses. Some of them go to ….
interesting places. We only lightly edit them, and I think it’s worth
contemplating what people feel is important to share about their
We made the switch, recommend extra breaks (10 min each hour); and longer breaks, 15 and 30 min in addition (e.g., before talk); we had someone monitoring individual meetings (muted) for keeping people on time; I called candidate afternoon before to go over schedule and plan; make norms explicit to candidate as well as faculty and students (wait till end of talk for Q; write Q in chat box, or raise hand (pick 1); have a couple of facilitators to read out questions to candidate); figure out a way to signal to candidate when they have 10 min and 5 min left (text; chat; something, but they won’t get the visual cues you get in a ftf). Get PPT slides from candidate as a back up; give them your cell phone number; be patient. Recognize that we’re making this up on the fly so a lot of patience, good will, etc. is needed. [60, latina, chair of search committee for senior (full) position]
I’m chairing a TT search now. It’s gonna be wild. But I’d say if you can, get an HD webcam and good quality microphone. Figure out a space you can configure to look like an office or classroom. Job talks are going to be weird but try to find ways to inject some energy and personality. Don’t plan on participation because Zoom doesn’t do too well with lots of voices. Don’t talk about the situation a lot – try to acknowledge and move on. Be as much like you would on campus as possible. Also – if you get an offer, ask if you can visit campus. Don’t want to move somewhere sight unseen if possible. The advice is going to be all over the place. None of us have any clue what we are doing but you’re going to have to pretend like you do. [Tenured,SS; White queer man]
I’ve never served on a search committee, but I have some experience with online job interviews as I’ve had two for positions abroad (in Australia both times). I’m not sure how applicable my advice can be, as neither tried to replicate an American-style campus visit. Both were approximately one-hour long and involved a panel interview and mini research presentation and teaching demos, plus time for my questions. I think the key is to be clear with what you are actually looking for and making that clear to candidates. For example, will they be teaching actual students or will the search committee be serving as students? When it’s the latter, I did a mixture of teaching demo with meta-level discussion of how the lesson is structured. I realize shifting to Zoom or Skype is a massive change for search committee at US institutions but our colleagues abroad seem perfectly satisfied with making long-term hires after these abbreviated processes so it can be done. [NTT Hum, White, female, visiting NTT faculty at an R1 institution]
We are just in the beginning stages of moving our searches online. We have completed initial skype interviews and our next step would have been the campus visit. We have not determined the parameters of the online experience, but it will likely include a job talk and I am hoping it will include a chance for the candidates to meet other members of the faculty. As a member of the search committee, I am looking for the candidate to frame their research in the context of our foundations program. They will be teaching lower level courses and we are looking for an interest in that type of experience as well as a proficiency in the language and tools necessary to teach foundations level visual arts courses. I am advocating for a clear schedule with breaks for candidates in our online visits. What else would make this experience easier for the candidate? [Asst Prof, Arts/Music/Theater; Search committee member, 41 yr old, married white woman working at a small 2 yr Institute (not a community college)]
Q: I only have questions. I do well in in-person interviews; how do I convey that same energy online? Also, is it reasonable for them to expect me to move my life to a new city without seeing it first? [Tenured, Hum, 40s, white, female, straight, married]
Q: How do I not seem awkward during my pre-recorded talk when 1) I’m awful being recorded and 2) I can’t read the audience? [Grad student, STEM]
Q: Do committees expect me to use a visual aid for a virtual research talk and if so how do I do that? Should I prep to give a normal looking talk- standing at the front of the room w a PowerPoint, or sit at my desk and talk to the camera? [I am a 31yo white, cis, married woman in the communication field. I am a 6th year PhD student and visiting instructor who is on the job market and facing an upcoming campus interview for a trans disciplinary team science Post-doc position that was recently moved online]
Q is: My interview is on campus next week in a COVID hot spot where classes already canceled. I am expected to meet with individuals and groups all day and share many meals. Any thoughts on social distancing? My advice is: Be flexible and gracious. Acknowledge unprecedented situation. [Nonac STEM 39 white female married straight]
Q: Seeking guidance and support. Sorry, I’m not in the position to give advice. This sucks. What should job candidates do if given the choice between in-person (risk) or online interview during COVID19 measures? [Graed student, SS; I’m a PhD Candidate POC, early 30s — im supposed to travel next week for a campus visit. Search Chair expressed they prefer for me to do the interview in person. At first, I thought it would be fine, but I am now increasingly concerned as COVID19 are expected to grow exponentially over the course of the next week. I don’t think its fair the candidates before me got a full chance at an in person interview, but risking my health and the health of others for that chance is not okay. Traveling into large transportation hubs is not wise…]
Next Question Remains: How do I prepare for a campus visit that has switched to all-online due to Coronavirus? And Search Comm members: if you’ve made the switch, what do you expect-slash-want to see from candidates?
It’s hard to know what to say at this point: you all know what we’re facing, but nobody has any clear idea how to manage it, especially the willy nilly conversion of your teaching to online platforms. And here I am, with my two college kids home. Seiji, the freshman, makes a surprise appearance!
The Professor Is In is devoted to sharing all we can on the FB page and here on the site to support you in this crisis. For now though, I have one main message: you weren’t prepared for this and cannot expect to do it perfectly; just be kind to yourself. And if you’re at home with kids: please don’t sweat the issues of food, screen time, etc. right now. It’s ok to just lower those bars. No, lower still. Lower. How about, as low as the feds just made the interest rates….. that’ll do.
And for your students, emulate this:
[Makeup and Fashion Notes Below]
Makeup and Fashion Notes:
This super cool sweater is from The Reset. I was worried the whole brand was going to end up being overpriced bullshit, but after 3 years of pondering I finally ordered a few things and they are all amazing, especially this sweater, The Cap Sleeve Sweater. It’s expensive, I’m not gonna lie (hence my years of hesitation). But given I basically haven’t taken it off in three days, I feel I’m going to get good value from it. Same with their cult item: The Modern Jogger. It’s all they say.
Another item I delayed for a year because of cost: RMS “Un” Cover-Up Cream Foundation, in 22.5. My daughter turned me on to this brand, and I’ve got to say–it’s amazing and this foundation in particular is to die for for dry (and, i think aging) skin.
Bobbie Brown Long Wear Eye Base in medium. I finally got tired of just using whatever old random products I had lying around and subjected the eye primer issue to one of my intensive research projects. I tried about five. This was hands down the winner. My eye makeup literally looks the same at 10 PM as it did at 10 AM when I put it on.
We return for round three of Escaping the Land of Stuck.
If you have done the past couple of sessions and neither the The Isle of Perfectionism or The Sea of Change seems familiar, there is one more location where a gzillion people get stuck and you might be right there with them: The Quagmire of Failure.
It’s a nasty little place where stinking thinking sets up shop and dishes out a toxic stew.
That toxicity is created from the stories we tell about rejection. After all, it may be woven into the life of an academic, but that doesn’t make it any less painful when it happens. And not surprisingly, rejection can easily get twisted into you having failed and then in a hop, skip and a jump, you become the failure. Like I said, it’s a nasty place.
So, if you are finding yourself unable to get going because you had a setback, welcome to the Quagmire of “Failure”!
Now let’s get you the hell out.
First, we are going to take a little detour. Or more accurately, we are going to cut off all of the exits from feeling bad. That’s right. I want you to FEEL not getting what you wanted. Too often we skip over the actual feeling bad and move to anger or blame or any number of emotions that are not just straight up disappointment. So, set a timer and cry it out (either literally or figuratively).
Finished? Ok, now, let’s get you back into the arena, because that is where the game is played.
For this last exit strategy, we are going to flip the script a bit. Rather than having you explore your “stuckness,” I am going to ask you to get out that piece of paper and instead begin a list of the stories you are creating.
If I was coaching you individually, and you told me you that thing you wanted and you are unable to muster the will to go back to work, I would ask:
“What do you think this rejection says about you as a scholar?
“What story are you creating about your future?”
“What space in your head are you giving over to other people’s (imagined) opinions?
As you worked out each story (because that’s all they are) I would ask:
“What of that is actual fact rather than your fear or opinion?”
And once you had unpacked the ways you are willfully scaring yourself with fiction, we would begin to explore a more supportive line of questioning.
“What are you forgetting that you do/did successfully?” (Hint: You SUBMITTED IT!)
“What can you learn from this?”
“What can you do to remove fear from the driver’s seat?”
I am going to leave you here with one more resource to get yourself safely out of the quagmire: Check out the podcast we did on dealing with rejection!
I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.These go up on Wednesday.
PLEASE submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration! I want to hear from you! Email me proposals or drafts at firstname.lastname@example.org. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.
Today’s author prefers to remain anonymous. She is an Assistant Professor in the counseling department at a private liberal arts university with over six years teaching experience. She is passionate about training multiculturally conscious counselors how to utilize culturally relevant interventions with diverse clients. Her scholarship explores issues related to race, privilege, and how social media and mediated images of minoritized persons intersect with racial identity development and various mental health challenges. She currently has over six book chapters and scholarly articles published in top tier peer reviewed journals on race and oppression. Working with several national counseling associations, she has dedicated her career as an educator, practitioner, and scholar to illustrating the powerful stories of those who have been historically silenced and over.
Currently, I am coming off the heels of not being offered a position at an R1 university. A disappointing outcome after being shortlisted for a tenure-track faculty position and having an amazing on-campus interview. Ultimately, I was informed that the candidate who was offered the position had a little more grant writing experience and a few more publications than myself. The news hit me like a ton of bricks and took me some time to overcome the what-ifs and the should-haves. The outcome also led me to reflect on my experiences with a lack of mentorship, excessive service responsibilities as a faculty member, and my challenges navigating my identity as a black woman in academia.
It was not until the end of my second year in my doctoral program that I realized that I was behind in publishing. By this time, I just took comprehensive exams and I was in full-blown dissertation mode. While talking to one of my cohort mates, he mentioned that he and one of our professors had submitted a manuscript that was recently accepted. He was excited because this was his third accepted publication. HIS THIRD PUBLICATION?! He was a classmate who I considered to be a friend. Why hadn’t he mentioned anything to me about writing sooner? Bigger than that, one of the two professors who he worked with, was one of my close mentors. Why hadn’t she pulled me in on a research project? I was livid.
I wrestled with doubts about my abilities and feelings of inferiority. What had I done wrong? I thought that I went out of my way to build relationships with the faculty. I sought their mentorship and expressed a desire to work with them on research. But did I try hard enough? Did they feel that I was not smart or capable enough to work with them?
Fortunately, I was offered a faculty position at a teaching university in the Midwest a few months before graduation. During my first two years of teaching, I began writing like a madwoman. When I first began my position, a few white female faculty members approached me about working together on research. Initially, I was excited and felt this was my opportunity to finally receive the research mentorship that I did not receive during my doctoral program. They would bring up working together on occasion. I would then follow up through email, and poof, radio silence. It was almost as though seeing me would invoke some sort of weird obligatory urge within them to reach out to me to fulfill their, “I am a white ally” image. Within my first three months of teaching, I realized that I would have to push forward on my own. Which was fine. I figured it was my career and my responsibility.
Unfortunately, my time writing was not uninterrupted. It was clear that many of my colleagues expected me to play the role of the resident service/mammy hybrid faculty member. Before long, I was the program’s official service mule and the resident mammy to all of our students of color. In fact, some of my white colleagues would refer our minority students to me. Students of color often flooded my office with stories of microaggressions and accounts of overt racism with both white faculty and white students within and outside of the program.
As if that were not enough, I also realized that my white male colleagues were not being asked to participate in service activities as much as I was. In program meetings, they would talk about their five-figure grants and my white female colleagues shared their recent experiences flying to the east and west coasts for ally training. Meanwhile, I shared with the group the measly three journal articles that I had written. Which took the energy of writing 30 manuscripts, because of my nine-credit hour teaching load, 40 student advisee list, 3-4 weekly service committee meetings, and countless hours mentoring our students of color. As my grandmother would say, “something was not clean in the buttermilk.”
Do not get me wrong. I enjoy working closely with my students. I am always honored and humbled that they trust me with their truth. But I was exhausted and frustrated. I dared not express my frustration for fear of being viewed as the “angry black woman”. On the other hand, I think my anger and resentment also grew as a result of not feeling safe enough to express my frustration with my co-workers. Most of our meetings were a two-hour long compilation of various complaints and rants from my white co-workers. Yet, I felt I had to censor myself to a group of people who were not the least bit concerned about my development as a junior faculty member. I was not only mad at them for not caring about me, but I was also even more upset with myself for caring about what they thought about me.
I view my experience as a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, my what-ifs and my should-haves do not amount to much beyond lessons learned. On the other hand, my what-ifs and my should-haves do amount to lessons learned. So, I will continue to feel a sense of gratitude for faculty positions as they come, write like hell, and take heed to these and other life lessons and carry them with me along the way. A friend recently asked me why I have not considered leaving academia. Simply put, for better or for worse, I love academia and I am not ready to give up on it, just yet.
Today we are pleased to feature Dr. Samantha Snively.
I’m a writer in the UC Davis Development and Alumni Relations office. I write customized philanthropic proposals to individual donors giving above $1m as well as executive communications and university-priority messaging, and serve as a writing/editorial consultant for frontline fundraisers across the university. I write compelling cases for supporting students. research in all fields, and the university. [I also have a side gigs: I’m a copywriter for a global translation software company, and I’m the social media and public outreach manager for The Pulter Project: http://pulterproject.northwestern.edu/ ]
I earned my PhD in English literature from UC Davis in 2019.
I began the PhD because I wanted to be a professor. I loved learning, research and talking about ideas with people, and I chose my field because I wanted to learn more about the way narrative shapes and captures history or could be used to push back against dominant narratives–plus I wanted to work with archival texts. I was a pretty good student and liked my undergrad research experience, so my professors thought grad school and academia would be a good fit. I agreed! But for a variety of reasons, those conversations didn’t involve contemporary facts about the job market and real talk about the finances.
About halfway through my PhD, I began to realize that the things I most loved doing in academia could be done elsewhere (with more job security, flexibility and pay!): advocating for the importance of research, engaging with a wide variety of people about a huge range of ideas & research, conveying and translating specialist information to public audiences, writing in many genres.
My health also started to confirm this: the unrelenting stress of grad school and financial precarity was taking some pretty serious physical tolls. (On top of this, I was starting my dissertation in 2016, which only amplified the urgency of my desire for community and stability and the need to advocate for education for all.) It took me a while to come to the decision to not make a tenure-track search at all: everyone wanted me to be a professor, and many folks in academia told me essentially that “if anyone could do it, it would be you” —but the numbers, and most importantly, my own heart, told a different story.
Though grad school was the best and most stable financial option for me when I entered, I started with no car, no savings, no family support. Even though I was able to save a modest amount in grad school, I frankly couldn’t afford an academic job search or weather multiple years of short-term contracts and low pay. To those in a position of power at a university: a daily reminder to advocate for your university to pay ALL workers a living wage.
I’d been preparing myself and gaining expertise to make a non-academic job move since about my third year (primarily communications experience and web articles to demonstrate that I could write beyond academic genres), but it wasn’t until my fifth year that I really committed to an exclusively non-ac job search. I was very lucky and had some excellent mentors in grad school! My dissertation advisor and a former boss were formative in my career decisions–my former boss because she helped me navigate the non-academic world and begin conducting informational interviews in the sector I wanted to work in, and my dissertation advisor because she encouraged me to build the life I wanted rather than living up to other people’s expectations–and always respected my honest evaluation of the costs of graduate school and the need to make a living wage.
One night, while talking about all the pros and cons of leaving academia, my partner said to me, “I hear you telling me what everyone else wants you to do. But what do you want?” That really drove home that I had to act for my own happiness–and in so doing, I’d be able to have more space for public engagement, advocacy, giving back, building my own community, etc. So in the fall of my last year of grad school (year 6), I started applying for jobs–primarily in my partner’s city, but also in the Sacramento area, since I had built a network here. My first phone interview was in late December, and I had a couple good interviews for positions in my partner’s city, but they didn’t pan out. I got a surprise phone call from my current role in late January. The various steps of the interview process kept going well, and I got an offer in mid-February. They wanted me to start almost immediately, but I was in the middle of the quarter, finishing my dissertation, and working part-time jobs that I needed to wrap up–so I finished grad school in late March and started the new job in April. There was about a month of overlap between starting the new job and finishing/filing the dissertation, which I do not recommend doing if at all possible.
Through my public writing and in this job, one thing I learned quickly was that people are *very* interested in the process, subject and impact of research–they’re just not interested in the jargon, the posturing, or the way research/academia can be used to reinforce various privileges. MyPhD–and primarily, teaching at a public land-grant university–also reaffirmed for me that education is a fundamental right and a powerful experience for so many. So I’m not convinced the “throw out the university altogether” strains of discourse–not when my brilliant, largely first-gen students learned to ask questions about structural inequities, read literature that affirms their experience and makes a place for their knowledge in the university, or discovered that they could use writing as a tool to express their own voice. Not when you see what research in action can do, what transformations it can work. I’m even more an advocate for shaping higher education to the way it ought to be now that I’m not an academic, and I’d like to stay in a place where I can keep promoting these ideals over and over.
In addition to a fair bit of personal growth in my new career, I also had to learn to not take things so personally and to give myself grace, even when others don’t. In academia, I’d fallen into the trap of making my job my identity. When I transitioned to this job, that wasn’t sustainable anymore. My job is just a job, and I am more than my current job. My job performance isn’t a statement of my worth as a person nor a moral barometer of my value. The hardest lesson to learn, which I’m still working on, is that mistakes/failures are not indicative of my failure as a person, just that I’m still learning the nuances of a highly complex job. Despite what academia taught me, it is ok if I don’t know everything immediately–and it’s even ok if I make the occasional typo, have to ask questions, or don’t interpret something “correctly.”
My message to PhDs considering leaving the tenure track: It’s wonderful on the other side! And there are so many jobs you can do or train for–and many of them value your expertise with actual money and benefits. I won’t lie and say it’s an easy transition, as you have to rethink your identity, approach to qualification, self-presentation and experience, but I think it’s healthier in the long run. You are not betraying anyone if you decide an academic career isn’t for you. You are allowed to make a career shift just like anyone else. And feel free to roll your eyes at anyone who thinks you won’t have a life of the mind outside academia–that’s incredibly classist, for one, and also, you know what you can do when you don’t work in academia? Pleasure reading! Learning exactly what you want! Learning from others! Learning from your colleagues, who are guaranteed to have interesting career paths and specialized areas of knowledge.
In our Dispatches series, we crowdsource responses to questions we see about the academic job market and career.
This week, the question is: “Those who decided to leave the academy–when did you know it was time to leave, and why?”
We got 26 responses! We will share them in two posts. Today is Part II: Sick of Being Poor, The Body Keeps the Score
Next week is Part II: Overwork, Quality of Life, and Abuse
We continue weekly Dispatches From the Front questions for your crowdsource responses. Scroll to the bottom for next week’s question, and the link to share your wisdom and advice.
And one explanatory note: we ask respondents to provide any personal identifying information in their own words that THEY consider pertinent to contextualize their responses. Some of them go to …. interesting places. We only lightly edit them, and I think it’s worth contemplating what people feel is important to share about their identities.
So, look. It goes without saying that the main catalyst for leaving the academy is the eXpLoItAtIoN and the poverty. Needless to say, many respondents told stories that revolved around that painful reality. But that’s not say the decision is easy; it’s wrenching and painful, especially when your advisor is a jerk about it.
“I knew the odds were against me at the end of my first postdoc. I was always the bridesmaid, never the new TT faculty member. But I persisted into postdoc #2, which caused me to realize that for all my education, for all my fighting, I ended up worse off than where I started (poverty), because not I was still in poverty and $90K deep in student loans. It was rough. I had no plan when I left. I had interviewed for the job I have now, but they hadn’t called me back yet. I woke up one day and sent an email to my boss saying I was giving 1 month notice— she was a total a-hole about it. I packed up my life and set off to be an outdoor guide (which paid better than my postdoc) until I could find something. When I was offered the job, I debated it but those student loans got me. So I negotiated a higher salary than the evil postdoc advisor has; worth it. Now I do some of my own research and I am learning new things like instrument development. It’s pretty good. Trust your gut; you’ll know if/when it’s time to leave. Start planning a year ahead if you can. I needed time to mentally transition and to network. There is light outside the ivory tower. [Nonac STEM I’m 40, white, married queer woman. I grew up in poverty and although my mom got a degree while I was in high school, they couldn’t help me navigate this world. She was and is an addict, which meant I did it all on my own without a safety net.]
After two years of hourly paid teaching I needed a job with a regular salary. [Postdoc, Hum; 50, white, female, married, part time BA & MA, full time self funded PhD ]
Finished my Ph.D in Political Science in 2011; spouse was a post-doc from 2009-11. She received TT offer from institution where we are now. Made fatal error of not negotiating for anything north of adjuncting for me. Did that from 2012-2015, then received this position on staff, which paid solid wages, benefits, etc. Continued applying to academic positions here and elsewhere. No luck here; got a nibble from a similar institution in heartland (4-yr public aspirational) 2.5 years ago, but spouse would not consider move and we had 3 children by then. Still publishing as am able, but I do it because I enjoy it. May even pursue a book project, but not for any instrumental goal. So it was a gradual process that involved thoughts ending in “I would have never made it financially if I had stayed in the academy.”[Professional staff at 4-yr public institution; SS; CIS-gendered (male), straight, married, four children ages 18-mo – almost 10).]
The precarity can include the geographical instability as well – saying no to the need to move every few years.
After staying unhappy for one year in postdoc, I decided to leave academia and find a stable job where I did not have to move across the world considering the employment possibilities of my husband as well. I did not want to keep moving the continents for contractual postdoc positions and always be worried about future. Now, I work for a bank in the Netherlands and feel much more secured and happy. [Postdoc, STEM; I am a 30 years old Indian woman. I did my PhD from India and then moved to Switzerland with my husband for postdoc. Leaving home and moving to a new country with temporary residence (translating to limited options for spouse’s employment) discouraged me from persuing.]
When I was no longer enjoying the research that much. I liked the reading and writing aspect, but not necessarily the being in the lab (being faced with broken down equipment and related frustrations). My role now provides me with all of these, without actually having to do (what I consider) the drudge of repeated experiments. Why? I wanted to not have to move location every few years, and wanted to stop being in a long distance relationship. I also wanted to be respected for what I do and not feel I am constantly competing with others and feeling stupid. Essentially I wanted stability. It has been great being a research development manager at a University supporting academics and being considered to be a funding support professional. I could go on maternity leave and not worry about what happens to my work load. I have a permanent job and have no need to move location to find my next job. I can have a holiday without worrying about my next publication or grant.[Research Dev Manager; STEM; 33, white, female, UK (non British)]
How tragic that PhDs cannot afford to see a doctor when they need to. Or have more than $20 to spend on groceries a week. But it can be the catalyst for deciding: why am I still doing this?
When I hit rock bottom. I was stringing together PT and adjunct jobs, but was being priced out of the city because my jobs were contract or grant-based and I couldn’t qualify for a mortgage; my grocery budget was less than $20 a week, doctors were on emergency basis only, and my only social activities outside of work were online. I started applying for post-docs and VAPs/TTs three years ago and haven’t gotten a single interview, despite the constant refrain of “you belong here, your ideas are great, your students love you, you’re doing great work”. It really hit home when those same people wouldn’t even look twice at my application for jobs at their own institutions. So, I started thinking hard about what I really wanted to do with my life, and whether I was trying to stay in academia because I loved it or because I was still trying to get validation. Eventually I realized that I could still publish my book if I wanted to, go to conferences, be a part of the conversation; I might not get picked up by the major publishing houses, but those only matter for tenure which – and here is the crucial part – NO ONE CARES ABOUT OUTSIDE OF ACADEMIA. So I decided that I would take my talents elsewhere and try living above the poverty line for once. I’m still looking for a full-time job, but now that I’ve blown open my search radius I’m finally looking forward to the possibilities. [Nonac Humanities; 35 single white female]
Everyone has to face the reality: the adjunct positions Is. Not. Going. To. Become. Tenure Track.
I left my full time position in the academy full time after realizing that my position as an adjunct lecturer was going to remain on a quarter-to-quarter system despite having extremely positive student evaluations (over 95% of students reported that they would recommend me as an instructor on my evals). The lease on my car was up and I needed to purchase a new one, but I couldn’t guarantee my long-term income. This, combined with my husband’s military service, meant that the tenure track would simply not be feasible for our family. So, I pursued other employment opportunities and now work as a defense contractor using my research skills in an environment where I can network with those likely to employ me as we move on military orders over time.[Nonac, SS; 33 year old heterosexual woman married to an active-duty Naval Officer plus mother to a three year old and pregnant with my second child]
I’m Alt-Ac, so not completely free of the shackles of academia, but I now work in an administrative position, running a writing/tutoring center. I got out of teaching because after seven years as an adjunct, I had had enough of being poor and taken advantage of. I was frustrated trying to get jobs outside of academia, because the economy was in the post 2008 slump and my industry experience wasn’t “fresh” enough. So in some way the choice was made for me, and I’m still not “out” of academia altogether. I am, however, out of the publish-or-perish rat race, I get to work one on one with students and pass along my years of experience to a new generation of tutors, and most importantly NO GRADING! I’ve been able to reclaim my identity outside of teaching and scholarship and only do the academic work I’m genuinely passionate about, essentially as a hobby. I am still working on a PhD, but I’m doing it for me, for fun, because I want it and not because I HAVE to. It is incredibly liberating when your ability to make mortgage payments no longer rests on your ability to publish. [Admin, Hum; Late 40s, queer white woman.]
In the end, the poverty, anxiety, uncertainty, and struggle just…. break a person.
I knew when I had to bail at the last minute on my field’s annual conference because of a mix of burnout and the inability to put together enough income from my odd freelance editing jobs (I was still in the thick of a nine-month-long job search in the medium-sized city my wife and I had moved to for her non-academic job—there were no field-adjacent adjunct gigs available in the city either) to even pay my share of rent. It seemed insane to pony up for a conference attending which would require sacrificing what was already a pittance of an income. I had even received a travel stipend for underemployed people, but it wouldn’t have been enough to cover the trip. And by that point, I was mentally broken from four years of post-PhD precarity.[Nonac, Hum; Thirty-five y/o white male, heterosexual, married]
Part 2: The Body Keeps the Score*
The problem is, academics live so thoroughly at the beck and call of external validation, we often cannot register exploitation for what it is. Sometimes, it takes listening to the body’s warning signs to realize definitively it is time to stop.
When your flight response is too loud to ignore, get out. It doesn’t matter how many opportunities you have or how much money in scholarships, our bodies have a way of “knowing” reality and sometimes you need to listen. [Grad Student, Humanities, Female, woman identified, queer, married, white, Jewish, under 30]
Do you feel your heart sink when you score an interview? That’s a sign!
I knew it was time to leave during my second year on the academic job market. This was right after my defense and I was working as a contractor for a medical device company as a contractor. The treatment, pay, and working conditions were so much better than what I experienced as a graduate student and better than what I could expect even if I got a TT job. I could pick where I lived and not have to uproot my family or end a significant relationship. I would not be complicit in propping up an academic system that preys on contingent labor. When my heart sank at an interview invite, I knew it was time to leave permanently. [37-year-old white married cis woman with an additional long-term serious partner (ethical nonmonogymy)]
Then there is the brutal reality of academia: that it consistently refuses to accommodate the needs of sick and disabled bodies. There are folks who, with a little bit of understanding, could keep trying…. but academia makes it impossible.
I knew it was time to leave the academy when I was kicked out – my contract was not renewed in the wake of both physical and mental illness that I was not managing well. I was having trouble keeping up with emails and grading, and was unable to figure out how to ask for help – when I did, I was not offered help that would ease my workload. (At one meeting, we reviewed emails I had not answered and was told many of them were not actually important to answer, as the information was in the syllabus, etc.) That said, I have pretty consistently been told to deal with my illnesses myself and had no accommodations offered. My graduate funding was cut off early, although I was recovering from 2009 H1N1 flu with complications. I texted a colleague with supervisor authority over me for help from an ER for cellulitis in my leg that required incisions, and still taught two lab classes the next day, despite doctors wanting me to rest and elevate the leg – I never received a reply and was too embarrassed to follow up. I relocated to a climate that is less stressful to my body and searched for jobs I might be able to sustain on fewer hours. I have been with my current company for 23 months and have been promoted twice, making more money in an area with a lower cost of living. I sometimes miss the intellectual vibrance of academia terribly, but I know that I am still susceptible to infections and am increasingly convinced that I can never go back.[Nonac STEM; 39 year old cis het woman; Jewish; biracial (Tewa Pueblo and Ashkenazi Jew); single; main diagnosis: fibromyalgia, but possibly more (immune problems that are being assessed now). PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology; two postdocs; was contingent (“term”) teaching faculty at American University]
If you find yourself deliberately taking the broken elevator so it might break down and give you an “out”? THAT’S A SIGN.
I ultimately knew it was time to leave when I started deliberately taking our unreliable elevator and willing it to break down so that I could have a moment of quiet without the constant go-go-go pressures. There wasn’t one specific issue, but the combination of pulling 80+ hour weeks, only getting paid $11,000 for 9 months (with almost no summer opportunities), and the ultra competitive environment caused my mental and physical health to deteriorate. Also the university provided health insurance was as good as useless. The History Department faculty oscillated between complete indifference and dire warnings that none of us would find employment upon graduation. At one point, during a graduate student meeting a faculty member who earned his Ph.D in the late 90’s sent around a binder of all his rejection letters from that time. The department fostered a cut throat competitive environment, and used office assignments and the limited coveted RA positions (versus the more ubiquitous TA positions) to further divide us. Actual teaching opportunities were doled out sparingly and frequently taken away. During my first year, we were threatened that our TA positions would be taken away and given to incoming graduate students regardless of our accomplishments, grades, and academic progress. During my second year, I was paired up with an adjunct who berated and insulted me in front of the class (and berated and insulted our UG students during class). When myself, and her other three TA’s filed a grievance, we were told by a TT faculty, that the abuse didn’t matter because “being an adjunct is hard.” I was told to ‘share my research’ with a fellow male Ph.D student, and when I expressed concern about my rights to my own work, I was sent an email saying that I did not know how to work collaboratively (at my previous institution I had worked on several successful collaboration projects without incidence). As I already possessed an MA History from another institution, I did not have an option to master out, however, leaving was definitely a positive decision and I only really regret that I lost two of my earning potential years to a program that clearly had no desire to support their graduate students. [Grad student; Hum; I left my Ph.D History program in 2013, after finishing up my 2nd year. I am a white straight married female – I’m not sure these played a role in my negative experience, other than perhaps my gender. The only indicators that I believe did influence my negative experience were that: 1) I started off as an F1 International student but did become a green card holder during my second year. My F1 status meant that I had less power to complain about unfair TA assignments compared to my peers 2) my SES was lower than other grad students making the ability to live on the stipend ($11,000/year) almost impossible without taking on cc debt. Since leaving in 2013, I have built a career in another field, and successfully completed a second masters’ degree. ]
Updated Next Question: How do I prepare for a campus visit that has switched to all-online due to Coronavirus? And Search Comm members: if you’ve made the switch, what do you expect-slash-want to see from candidates?
I am determined to use The Professor Is In platform to share as much info as I can about dealing with the impact of Coronavirus on academic environments. Please know that like everyone I’m responding quickly to evolving circumstances, so if you feel I’ve missed an opportunity to take up a needed recommendation, please let me know and I’ll try and rectify. For now I’m being responsive to the many queries that are coming in to my inbox and following those leads first.
Today we take up issues related to how to list a cancelled conference on your CV, how to manage the hand-shaking impulse in conferences and campus visits, and larger questions about why shifting your conference and campus visit plan entirely online is a good idea right now.
[And because I strongly believe we all need to keep doing the things that make us happy and strengthen our immune systems, Makeup Notes below.]