Laid Off From the Tenure Track – a Guest Post

Stephanie Hinnershitz is currently an assistant professor in the Department of History at Cleveland State University in Ohio where she specializes in U.S. immigration history. Her first book, Race, Religion, and Civil Rights, was published by Rutgers University Press in 2015, and her second book, A Different Shade of Justice: Asian American Civil Rights in the South, will be published by UNC Press in October of 2017. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 2013 and taught at Valdosta State University for three years before coming to Cleveland State in 2016.


On August 4th, 2015 I was gearing up to prepare my pre-tenure review while entering my third academic year of teaching at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Two days later, I found myself sitting in the Dean of the College of Arts and Science’s office processing the news that due to an enrollment crisis, my contract would be terminated at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year.

Just like that, I was laid-off from my tenure-track position. “This isn’t supposed to happen,” I told myself while I sat in my car in the parking lot, armed with an endless supply of HR paperwork detailing ways to turn a CV into a resume and frantically wondering how to tell my husband that my job was gone. “This isn’t supposed to happen,” friends and family, fellow academic and non-academics alike, told me day after day that year as I applied to job after job, many in the academy and some not, knowing that this could be the end of my academic career.

Why me? Was it because I failed to publish? Or conduct myself appropriately in the classroom? No, it was because when faced with declining enrollment, the administration looked at which programs had lost the most credit hours and chose to make the cuts there. Myself and seven other tenure-track faculty members (all from the College of Arts and Sciences) found ourselves on the chopping block that year because we didn’t have tenure. In this case, tenure provided the administration with the opportunity to take the path of least resistance and treat tenure-track faculty as contingent laborers.

My experience is part of a larger trend and the attack on tenure has been widely publicized within the past months. State legislators in Iowa and Missouri have recently proposed bills to end the tenure system, citing the coddling of “bad professors” as reason for seeking to dismantle the protections of free speech and controversial undertakings enshrined in the AAUP’s Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure of 1940. Politicians present their arguments in a way that frame a desire to do away with tenure as a response to a growing chasm between the professors it protects and the public that universities serve. Many academics argue that such maneuvers are not only a threat to the very nature of higher learning (producing knowledge free from administrators’ ideological restraints), but also an effect of a growing political regime that leaves no room for dissenters who, in turn, might prohibit the free speech of more conservative students. Attacks on tenure are attacks on university and college professors more generally and serve as proof of the political and ideological pressure on higher education.

While this is a sexy portrayal of the undermining of tenure in the United States, it hides the less exciting and more insidious ways that tenure is crumbling. With state legislators slashing funding for public education and universities and colleges engaging in building projects of epic proportions to attract “customers” (students), there is little room left to provide the type of long-term support required for nurturing junior faculty members on the tenure track. Money and funding continue to fuel the undermining of tenure, not only openly political or ideological attacks. These are distractions from the ways in which university administrators have slowly killed tenure for the past two decades and made tenure-track faculty contingent laborers. “Enrollment crises,” “program mergers,” and “program prioritization” will sound the death knell for tenure rather than proposed bills of state legislators or the angry cries of political agitators.

Florida State University, Clark Atlanta University, Ashland University, and my former institution, Valdosta State, have all laid off tenure-track faculty members within the past five years. What’s more troubling is that all of these universities did so without declaring “financial exigency,” or severe economic distress—one of the acceptable reasons for laying-off faculty under AAUP best-practices guidelines. While financial exigency provides administrators with a ready explanation for dropping tenured and tenure-track faculty members, they are hesitant to do so because such a declaration could have a negative impact on their financial reputation. All of the universities mentioned above are not unionized, which explains to some degree why they were easy targets. However, the larger message is clear: Administrators see tenure as a hindrance to achieving economic goals for their institutions. The situations at Florida State, Valdosta State, Ashland, and Clark Atlanta occurred well before the Wisconsin state legislature and Governor Scott Walker made the “jobs-for-life” guarantee with tenure obsolete and moved to make it easier for tenure-track and tenured professors to be laid-off during times of financial emergency. All eyes were on Wisconsin because of its reputation as a premier research institution, but a repeated lack of attention paid to lay-offs at other universities allowed a Wisconsin scenario to emerge.

Chiseling away at tenure through financial moves is nothing new, and I am not arguing that political attacks and economic attacks on tenure are mutually exclusive. In fact, with an increasing number of college presidents and administrators coming from political backgrounds, it makes sense that the economic means are used to justify the political or ideological ends. However, as tenure-track faculty become part of the contingent labor force in higher education, tenure will naturally suffer a slow and painful death as the tenured retire and/or leave their institutions. I was lucky enough to find another job in academia (with a unionized university), but others have not been as fortunate. Rather than martyrs for the cause of academic freedom, faculty members will become victims of a system of higher education in this country that sees no value in economically investing in its own employees. To any and all on the academic job market, you’ve been warned: Lay-offs in academia do happen and they will no doubt occur more frequently in the coming years.

An Adjunct’s Letter to Her Union-Busting College President

Ruth DeFoster, an adjunct professor at a university called St. Catherine’s, in Minnesota, wrote to me today to share news of the anti-unionization campaign by her college administration, and the letter to the president she wrote in response. I am happy to be able to share it here.  Ruth writes:  “St. Kate’s is one of the 43 remaining women’s colleges left in the country. We are in the midst of attempting to unionize, and the university has responded with a falsehood-filled anti-union campaign.”

Ruth’s Bio:  I am an adjunct professor of Communication Studies at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I hold a doctorate in Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota. I study media coverage of crime, terrorism, and mass shootings. My first book is coming out next month from Peter Lang.  I teach courses on gender, feminist theory, race and intercultural communication.

Thank you for writing and sharing this amazing letter with us, Ruth!  Your courage inspires.

Academia as Identity – a UK/US Comparison

Kellee and I have done speaking tours in the UK for two years now, and the time we spent there has been immensely valuable for us, in learning what parts of the academic experience are shared between the UK and the US, and what parts diverge.  There are many things I could mention, such as impact of the REF, or the peculiar (to us Americans) UK academic interview process (see also this), but right now, I want to focus on the question of the academic career as identity.

When I speak about the academic job search in the UK, I’ve often been struck by the fact that although the UK academic job market is virtually as bad as it is in the States, UK Ph.D.s seem by and large to approach the issue with far less panic and agitation than American Ph.D.s.   It’s really quite striking.  “I’m really not sure what I’ll do after graduation,” people I meet tend to say. “I might go on to an academic career, if it works out.  Or I’ll do something else.”  “I’m flexible…” they say, without particular anxiety in their voices.  This is in contrast to the wild-eyed stares and clenched jaws of many US Ph.D.s I encounter on campuses, contemplating their futures.

I’ve pondered reasons.  I think there could be a few.  First, I think that the UK is a bit behind the States in academic professionalization:  campuses there remind me of US campuses 10 or 15 years ago, when the idea that Ph.D. training would be overtly linked to — banish the thought! — an actual hunt for a job and a salary was anathema!  I think many UK Ph.D.s get through their grad school process without a clear understanding of how awful their academic job market actually is (it’s bad!) and with fantasies of an academic career trajectory relatively intact.

But at the same time, that explanation only goes so far. After all, somebody invited Kellee and me to campus to talk about professionalization!  And on every campus I encounter career services staff and academic faculty members who are dedicated to reality-based grad student career training.

So what else could be going on?   Well, I’ll just remark that when you have a somewhat intact social safety net (for now), and guaranteed health insurance, then of course the stakes of employment are lower.  I see Americans of all kinds – not just academics – carrying around a ruinous psychic load of anxiety as a result of our collective lack of public benefits and our vulnerability in the face of unemployment.

But on this trip, I noticed something else.  It had to do with identity.  The UK Ph.D.s I met were very serious and committed to their work, but they didn’t really seem to be, in general, defined by it.  They seemed to have a certain psychic distance from the academic role that I almost never see in the U.S. It’s hard to pinpoint how to define this except to say that the individuals I met seemed to talk about their potential future in the academy with a bit more calm, a bit more humor (and I don’t mean the gallows of humor of so many American grad students), a bit more curiosity about what in the end they might end up doing…

As I pondered this observation and talked it over with people there, I recalled that in the UK, Ph.D. programs are basically three years in length.  That’s it.  Three years.  I understand it is sometimes possible to petition for a 4th year, but that’s the absolute outside limit.

I’ve been aware of the short UK Ph.D. for years, and in general I haven’t been a fan. There is a lot that I could critique about such a short Ph.D. training and how it prevents grad students from gaining the experience in grant-writing, conferencing, teaching, and publishing that I think they need to pursue an academic career most effectively.

However, this time around, I realized that all of these critiques might be counterweighted by one massive truth:  with a three year Ph.D., you can get in and get out without the Ph.D. entirely disrupting your life trajectory or ruining you for any other future besides the academy.  In other words, three year Ph.D. training allows UK Ph.D.s to view their studies as one short stage of life, rather than the be-all-and-end-all of life, which it all too often becomes in the States.

Just think. A US Ph.D. takes on average 5-10 years to complete–the lower end in STEM, the upper end in the Humanities and Education.  (I just got an email today from someone seeking advice, who has been in a graduate program for 22 years… what?) Ten years in an area of study like Medieval French Poetry, to take one example – ten years in which you live entirely in an academic setting, and are surrounded entirely by academics, and set up as your external evaluators only those who operate as professionals in the field of Medieval French Literature, and are judged entirely on your success in passing qualifying exams and producing a 350 page dissertation on a narrow specialized topic within the already narrow confines of the field and subfield – are very likely to socialize a person (especially if she is young) into a highly warped sense of potential life options, and to reduce that person’s ability to both see non-academic job possibilities, and also PREPARE for those opportunities in a meaningful way. In short, the length of the US Ph.D. indoctrinates American grad students into an almost total identification with the academic career and the academic value system.

When I go to campuses and talk to American Ph.D. students on the job market, I see many, many people for whom this option just HAS to work out, because there isn’t (in their minds) any realistic alternative. Thus the wild eyes, and the clenched jaws.

Now, I’ve said since the beginning of TPII that academic is a cult-like system that recruits vulnerable young people into a rigid and insular system of narrowly shared values that over time prevents them from being able to imagine life independent of the approval of cult leaders (advisors, mentors, etc), or to imagine casting aside their judgments to do something else.  So I’m not really saying anything new here.  The insight is, that it’s not ACADEMIA that is a cult; it’s AMERICAN ACADEMIA that is a cult, as a result of very specific economies of training, in which because our universities require years of labor from Ph.D. students in the form of teaching to operate, they thereby absorb students into this cult-like system that warps students’ understanding of reality and their own self-interest.

The UK Ph.D. demonstrates that this warping is not essential to the academic training process.

Now, I am aware that any discussion of grad school has to relate to the undergraduate system, and the fact that US undergraduate study is allowed to remain very broad, by intention, while UK undergraduate study is much more narrow, rigid, and specialized.  Thus a UK undergraduate may come out more poised for graduate study than a US student, who will need to spend a few years doing coursework in the graduate program, and this is not in itself a negative. I am not making facile recommendations here about how to structure undergraduate or graduate training.

I am only remarking that American Ph.D.s might want to seriously examine the ways that year-by-year, you allow themselves to be indoctrinated into a value system, and an economy, that does not necessarily serve your interests in an era when only a tiny minority of Ph.Ds will get academic positions.  This indoctrination does not have to be inevitable. You can maintain independence even while you work your way through our complex system of classes, research, writing, teaching, conferencing, and publishing, and remember that even if it’s years in length, the US Ph.D. is still just a step in a multi-faceted and flexible life.

Productivity – Where To Find It?

After U of Manchester Productivity Workshop


Kellee and I just got back from our 3 1/2 week speaking tour of Ireland, Scotland, and England. We visited University of Manchester, University College Dublin, Maynooth University, St. Andrews University, University of Glasgow, SOAS (in an event hosted by a group of London universities), Oxford, and De Montfort University in Leicester.  We had a wonderful time.

University of Glasgow

Kellee speaking to standing-room only crowd at SOAS in London

During the trip I spoke on the U.S. job market and career planning, and Kellee spoke on

The oddly sauna-like meeting space at Wadham College, Oxford

academic interviewing and productivity.  But no matter the posted topic of the talk, it was inevitably the themes of PRODUCTIVITY and IMPOSTER SYNDROME that prevailed.  These challenges seem to be universal to the academic experience, especially right now in the current political turmoil. Whether in Ireland, Scotland or the rest of the UK, whether at De Montfort University or Oxford–everyone is struggling to get their

Speaking at St. Luke’s Chapel, Oxford

writing done, and to battle the voices in their heads saying…  you’re not good enough; you don’t know what you’re talking about; you’ll never finish this; nobody will read it; this will never get published…  and on and on and on.

Kellee ended up doing versions of her Unstuck Productivity coaching almost everywhere we went, focused on overcoming the two elephant-sized roadblocks to productivity — procrastination &isolation.  Kellee especially focuses on writing and productivity as *feminist* and *anti-racist* interventions in a world that was not built for those who come from outside the ranks of elite white males.

A TPII reader who randomly ran into us at University College Dublin!

The conversations she had on this trip inspired us to move mountains (in the midst of train travel, and hiking, and wildly inconsistent wifi) to keep doing our new weekly Facebook Live Productivity sessions, every Thursday at 11 AM EST. Please join us for those on the TPII Facebook page!

And they also inspired Kellee’s new live and online productivity program that is starting this week  – Unstuck: The Art of Productivity, which makes her coaching principles available to anyone since her individual coaching calendar is now almost totally full. (Please note: This session is only open until this Wednesday, May 24 at midnight, so if you’re interested, don’t delay. And if you click  through the link, you can see a special preview video of Kellee explaining how it all works!) Here is more info:

UNSTUCK: The Art of Productivity is a self-directed online course devoted to changing your writing habits and overcoming debilitating feelings of Imposter Syndrome, anxiety, and insecurity, while recognizing and challenging self-sabotaging patterns of thought and behavior.

Loosely following the structure ofWriting Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success,” the course is divided into Twelve Steps to Productivity. Each step is devoted to 1) setting up your writing practice for success and 2) moving you step by step through the standard parts of an academic publication.

As I watched Kellee lead workshop after workshop based on her coaching principles, and the ways that her audiences responded to her elemental but subtle principles of honesty, integrity, boundaries, and self-care, I was struck anew that no matter where you are in the world, the academic career can inculcate an overwhelming sense of inadequacy that is truly, if it’s not checked,

With Valerie Heffernan, who invited us to Maynooth U in Ireland.

damaging to your mental and physical health. What Kellee’s coaching does is provide not only tools for writing, but also a vocabulary for a newly energized ethos of self-value, ie, a valuing of your ideas, your research, your time, and your boundaries. It was truly transformative, not just for those lucky enough to be in her audiences, but for me as well.  (Many of you may not know that it was Kellee who inspired me to start The Professor Is In in the first place! I tell that story near the end of my book).


Anyway, working with Kellee on an individual basis is quite wonderful, as her clients can attest. [Here some testimonials!

Kellee is, by far, the best mentor and writing coach I’ve ever had. The UNSTUCK program has encouraged me to reach out to colleagues, it’s provided me with an excellent group of scholars who offer daily support and encouragement and it’s forced me to be honest about what I can and should accomplish this summer. Overall, the last 6 weeks have been (realistically) productive and a pleasure. Can’t say enough good things about Kellee’s program and guidance.

I am a professional slacker! Can a weekly hour long writing workshop actually change habits that took almost a decade and a half to solidify? The answer is a very strong yes! I have written and worked more on my research in the last six weeks than in the last several months combined. The wonderful coach that Kellee is, the very structured approach to writing she teaches, the methods I learned on how to approach writing when it appears to be a very angry Hulk, have indeed changed my work habits. I still get anxiety about writing, I still get the nagging feeling that my work is not good enough, but now, I work as opposed to just worrying and being anxious about tenure. When I read my paper now, I see progress. It is not a paper I have been sitting on for a year now, it is a project that is getting close to submission. I write and I make lists and approach the paper from an entirely new and much improved perspective. I have also noticed an improvement in my non-work related habits. I have just become so much more proactive about so many other things.  I might actually stop seeing my therapist as regularly so it saves money too!! ???? 


I suggested that we list our accomplishments for the month in honor of your birthday, Kellee, and everything that you’ve done to help ALL of us at various points in our careers.  Here’s the list:
-5 journal articles submitted, under review, or in revision
-1 sample chapter submitted for a book proposal
-1 fellowship submitted
-consistent writing EVERY day, even with kids, jobs, and service
-personal sanity and a professional support network in this crazy academic life
As a group, we are definitely “unstuck” thanks to you and The Professor Is In site. I hope you will copy and paste this for a special blast on Facebook so others can post what they’ve accomplished with your help or “like” covertly from the shadows.  Whether it’s job applications, career advice, or writing support, we could not have done it without you!]

But since she only occasionally has open spots for new individual clients, she wanted to provide a way to make these principles available to everyone, at a more accessible price.  And that is the origin of Unstuck: The Art of Productivity.  Here is a bit more info on this new way to work with Kellee. But please don’t delay- you can only register for this program until Wednesday May 24 at midnight!

Kellee with happy Productivity Workshop participants at Oxford

The Twelve Steps to Productivity come with five days of information beginning with a daily (M-F) email reminder. In addition to a daily “practice,” which is simply an idea to consider about your thinking and approach to writing, the course content includes a brief post and video offering concrete guidance on how to reach your goals.

In addition to the online modules, participants will have access to a secret FB page, cohort of support and accountability and FB live sessions with Kellee, who will take up common struggles and concerns. The course, FB group, and FB lives sessions combine to provide structure AND community. The two things so often lacking in an academic writing life.

Especially now when so many of us are glued to news and social media trying to keep up with the latest outrage, or despairing for our countries (the UK under Brexit too!) or even fearing for our own safety and security in an increasingly threatening campus milieu, building a strong connection to our own personal motivation and mission is especially urgent. I encourage you to learn more about working with Kellee through Unstuck: The Art of Productivity.  It will make a difference not just in your career, but in your life.

Rethinking Rejection – by Karen Cardozo

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

A recent Chronicle article on how to survive rejection linked to a blog post urging writers to aim for 100 rejections a year.  How (existentially) low can you go?!  This method of throwing literary spaghetti at the wall is par for the course in a saturated creative writing market.  Such blind persistence makes some sense, given that history is rife with examples of early rejection letters to famous talents. Likewise, stories abound in the music industry of bands rejected by a major label only to make it big in the end. So if you are an artist, by all means: believe in yourself, and never give up!

However, the analogy between academe and the arts breaks down right quick. You are unlikely to have an independent fan base to correct an academic hiring committee’s decision. Moreover, there is a limited window through which you may clamber into a tenure track compartment — if you miss it, it’s not likely we’ll be reading about you decades hence as the Nobel laureate whom Harvard famously rejected.  There’ll be no Pretty Woman comeuppance where you return triumphantly to Hahvahd Yahd and proclaim that they made a “big mistake, HUGE!”

Like creative writers, academics are encouraged to apply to as many institutions as possible. But the new Plan A of authentic career development demands the opposite:  mount fewer, more targeted, applications to those organizations with which you feel best aligned.  Even in this time of job scarcity, you should evaluate institutional mission, geographic preference and particular job configurations, applying only to those that resonate and blowing off any others for which you’d have to twist your profile (or your lifestyle) into knots.  In academe, as in all sectors, it still comes down to a sense of fit:  basic qualifications being met, organizations want to know you have good reasons for prioritizing them (sadly, your need for a paycheck is not their primary concern).  Perhaps counterintuitively in our age of panic and scarcity, you are better served by supplementing fewer, well-chosen academic applications with pursuit of well-fitting opportunities in other sectors.

In today’s working world, merely increasing the number of applications doesn’t yield more offers.  Why?  Because outside of academe, most hiring does not go through a protracted search process involving job listings posted far in advance.  Rather, prospective candidates tend to be funneled through networking. Employers want to hire someone they already know, or who is recommended by someone they trust.  Downloading a stranger’s application from is not the preferred route. This means you will have to engage outside of your library carrel to become known to other employers and their networks.

But here again, no need to just throw spaghetti at the wall or aim for 100 rejections!  Choose your networking, social, volunteer and other activities from genuine affinity whenever possible. Under Trump, the next 4 years will be awash in new opportunities for activists to connect in a truly passionate, mission-driven way. From these authentic engagements, job offers or even new ventures may arise because you will be in the right place at the right time.  Best of all, it will be YOUR place and time—in the sense of being an obvious and organic fit for the situation.

This brings to mind a recent client who got me thinking about the need to rethink rejection. In my three years with TPII, I’ve reviewed the materials of hundreds of applicants from across the disciplines.  Most, if not all, have the chops to succeed in academe. Indeed, it is downright painful to witness in their CVs what Marc Bousquet has called the “waste product” of an academic system now built around contingent labor (required reading: How the University Works).  They have won awards, published, and proven their capacity for exemplary teaching and service – to no avail when it comes to landing a tenure track job.

Even so, this particular client impressed me more than most. I was struck by the elegant concision of her teaching and research statements, her weighty CV, and the compelling voice in her cover letters.  Over the last 5 years, she has garnered several interviews (some at elite institutions) but no job offers. She was feeling defeated, but still not quite ready to embrace “Plan B” or an Alt/Out-Ac search.  She wanted to be sure nothing was wrong with her academic materials.  In fact, nothing was wrong. Remember, an invitation to interview is evidence that your documents are working!  After that, other variables come into play (such as your interview performance, and who else is in the finalist pool—the former is a factor you can control; the latter is one you cannot). [KK:  I feel compelled to point out here that when academic job market clients *repeatedly* get interviews but no offers, it usually indicates something needs to be addressed in their interview technique, because many academics have self-sabotaging habits that often derive from Imposter Syndrome or lack of training.  Learn more about the interview help here.  This is not to take away from Karen C’s larger points and my absolute agreement that rejection is the norm, not the exception, on the tenure track job market, and everyone needs to seriously consider the non-ac/post-ac route!]

Here’s the bottom line, for my client and for you:  permanent full-time jobs are scarce in academe, which is not a meritocracy but a high stakes system that breeds conformity. Yet many of you are still not correcting your thinking.  You continue to labor under the delusion/illusion that if you could just improve your documents, you will lasso that elusive unicorn. Yes, there is a certain level of professionalism you must achieve in your materials and interviewing (and TPII can certainly help you do that). But in a deep pool of well-qualified people, it’s not always about what YOU did or did not do. It is sometimes about what others did differently: you can’t change your background. More likely, it is about the local politics that lead an idiosyncratic search committee to select one candidate over others.

In short, rejection usually isn’t personal.  Not in the sense that you were tried and found wanting.  But it IS personal in another important way. Being ignored, rejected, or otherwise not selected is an opportunity to think harder about what you really want, and who might really want YOU. Use this data to fine tune a cross-sector search for organizations and people with whom you are really well-aligned.

The more you embrace this mentality, the more you can reframe rejection. Instead of a controlling narrative of judgment—that you are inadequate—view your job search as a litmus test of mutual fit.  Think about it: if among hundreds of applicants you made a first round interview or were a finalist, you were hardly “rejected.”  You made your case well enough to be considered seriously.  And if you didn’t make any short lists, it likewise doesn’t mean you’re not worthy (there really are too few positions for too many talented applicants). It just means that it wasn’t the right fit, if only on the most basic level: they didn’t choose you!

Knowing this frees you to move on without hard feelings and keep hopping around till you find a better lily pad to land upon (a reference to the frog metaphor from my last post). In contrast, clinging to the foolhardy notion of a sequential Plan A-then-Plan B makes you another kind of frog–one who is about to be boiled alive, yet fails to react because the heat is turned up so very slowly in academe’s kitchen!  Remember, authentic career development requires exploring ALL fitting options across sectors at every life stage. This means knowing when to hop out of the pot.

Subscribing to this “free frog” mentality enables you to go from being a supplicant to being an applicant. The academic job scarcity with which we came of age has made sad supplicants of most, like 6th graders lined up for dodgeball teams at recess: “Oh, pick ME! Please, please, pick me!” Instead, start behaving authentically like an applicant who has multiple options, of which an academic career is only one. In so doing, you may ultimately discover that it is you who rejects academe, not the other way around.

No Adjuncts Allowed – A Guest Post On a Lost Prize

By Nazima Kadir

Nazima Kadir is an urban anthropologist with a PhD in anthropology from Yale. Her book, “The Autonomous Life?,” published by Manchester University Press, is based on living and working in a squatters community in Amsterdam for over 3 years.  Prior to squatting, she received awards from the Fulbright program and the U.S National Science Foundation. She’s lived and worked all over the world, including the U.S, Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, and Northwest Europe. She is fluent in English and Spanish and can chat in Dutch. She currently lives in London with her husband and works in design and innovation.

[KK:  This came as a message on Facebook, and Nazima kindly agreed to allow me to post it, and requested that it not be anonymous. Thank you, Nazima.]

I’ve corresponded with you before and thought you would find the following story interesting, given your tireless campaigning against the exploitation of labor in universities.

My book, The Autonomous Life?, was shortlisted for the BBC Radio 4 Ethnography Award. However, I learned a couple of days before they were to announce the winner that I was removed from the shortlist because I am not employed by a UK university.

I think this story is interesting because it regards how rampant precarious labour conditions and low wages in UK universities impact on scholarship. Its also about the refusal of institutions such as the BBC and the British Sociological Association to confront what this means for scholarship and the state of academia.

I moved to the UK in 2011 amidst a context of immense public sector cuts. Despite a PhD in Anthropology from Yale, I could not find work in a university. I refused to pursue part time lectureships because I did not believe in subsidizing universities with free/low paid labor. As a result, I went into the design world and have been working as an applied anthropologist successfully.

My book was published in 2016 and this year, I was invited by Radio 4 to be on Thinking Allowed, a program that showcases ethnographies. I submitted my book for the annual Ethnography Award and within 2 months, learned that the book was on the shortlist. However, last week, I was devastated to learn that the book was removed because I was not associated or employed by a UK university.

Instead of using my case as an opportunity to discuss how talented, early career researchers may be dissuaded from an academic career due to poor labour conditions, sadly, Radio 4 has decided to remove my book from the shortlist. I think that this is a really interesting case because despite the quality of the academic work and the relative ‘premium’ credentials, the work has been excluded because I refuse to participate in an exploitative labour environment.

I’m quite disappointed with the program-Thinking Allowed– which picks the shortlist and the winners, because it specializes in ethnography, which means understanding the context of a situation. In this situation, I explained to them that 1) I couldn’t find a job in academia and 2) the available jobs, if any, were so low paying and precarious, that I refused to participate. Yet, this information made no difference.

Say Thank You!

Co-authored post by Karen Kelsky and Verena Hutter.

Karen and Verena at Karen’s book launch party 2 years ago.

We are the point in the cycle where clients are working on Job Talks and Campus Visit Interventions. (And getting offers—be sure and check out the weekly Job Market Digest each Friday on Facebook!)

The campus interview process is, of course, long and intense. In my book I give advice on what to wear, what to do with your hands, even what to eat (stay away from anything messy!). One issue that pops up again and again however, is the thank you note afterwards.

I am probably asked about the post-campus visit thank you note more than almost any other element of the application process.

It has also been brought to my attention that there are candidates that don’t send thank yous. Why, candidates, why?

Like the cover letter is incomplete without the tailoring para, the campus interview is incomplete without the thank you note.

Here is why the department appreciates a thank you note: Campus interviews are stressful for both the department AND the interviewee. Aside from the logistics that go into organizing a campus interview (airplane tickets, booking hotel rooms, coordinating interviews, teaching demos, campus tours, restaurant reservations, etc.), the committee is preparing for your interview, taking mental notes, and once you’re gone, discussing their impression among themselves. And usually, the deliberations afterward are time consuming and excrutiating. In addition to all this, campus visits are expensive!  So sending them a thank you note is appreciated, because it shows your understanding of their side and that they made an effort.

Here are the most important things about the thank you note:

  • Email is fine and commonly accepted, no need for busting out that fountain pen, and that Japanese silk-screen paper (unless you wish to). When you email them, use the email address you’ve previously used to communicate with them; depending on the aggressiveness of the spam filters of the university, you may otherwise end up filed in spam.
  • Whom to email: In a larger institution, emailing the chair of the committee is completely fine and acceptable. In a small teaching college, emailing colleagues you have interacted with specifically is definitely a plus.
  • Personalize but keep it short: Thank them for hosting you, if you’ve given a job talk, then thank them for letting you talk about your research on xxx. If you’ve given a teaching demo, mention that you enjoyed teaching course xxx.
  • If you have interacted with the department secretary, do thank her or him, too. As I write in my book: “They can make or break your quality of life if you get the job… and they remember. They do the lion’s share of work in most departments and rarely are acknowledged for it. Make sure you do”
  • The sign-off: Even if the interviewing faculty kept it casual at the interview with you- still remain professional in your sign-off. “Sincerely” always works.

Sometimes, you’ll receive a response, but don’t be upset when you don’t.  At this point, let the chips fall where they may- you have done everything you could do to convince them of your aptitude for the job. Do your laundry, take a walk, and distract yourself. As Cheryl Strayd says: “Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. Say thank you”

You Need a Refueling Stop – Productivity Tips from Kellee Weinhold

Kellee Weinhold

Academic writing is an idea-fueled system. In other words, to produce a piece of writing, we go to our ideas, shaping them into a form that has never existed before in the history of time.

What this means is, you are a creator. Academics don’t often think of ourselves in this way, but you are.

To ensure that we have something to work with when we sit down to write, our intellectual reserve should ideally be like a well-stocked pantry: We have everything on hand from spices and condiments to pastas, beans, rice and proteins, with a few pre-made sauces around for a quick fix. And much like our pantry, if we don’t attend to upkeep, a long stretch of writing will leave the cupboards bare.

Take time to think. To read. To talk with scholars in your field. Not to KEEP from writing (beware the “I need more feedback” excuse for sitting on your manuscripts), but to enliven and support your writing.

Consider this…

You are not just an intellectual. You are a creative. No different than a painter or potter, you create something new from your imagination.

Creativity requires stimulation.

For academics, that stimulation comes in the form of ideas. Ideas lead to questions that lead to research that leads to scribbling that leads to ideas that lead to questions that lead to research that leads to questions that lead to ideas that lead to answers that lead to writing: Your writing.

So just like the painter who studies colors and technique but also simply stares out into the middle distance and imagines how his or her vision will materialize, intellectuals need time to read and think and talk about their ideas.

Today’s Goal:

Make a coffee date with your writing buddy or a friend who will engage in your topic, with the intent of sharing and brainstorming (AKA refueling).

Remember, people are bored easily, so don’t make a big deal out of it. “Hi Susan, do you have time for a coffee?  I would love to run my journal article argument by you. Don’t worry. Not a big monologue! I just want to see how it sounds when I say it out loud. I’d welcome your feedback on whether it is clear.” Then do it.

Before the meeting, return to your draft. Write down a single positive thought that you have about the draft. It can be broad (This meets the criteria for submission!) or narrow (That’s a good sentence!) Once you have set your sights on the positive, go for it.

It is easy to lose track of the necessity of this “refueling” stop. All too often we see taking time to read and think as an indulgence, rather than as a critical component to successful creativity and in turn, productivity. But it’s actually the origin of productivity.

Make a regular commitment to restocking your intellectual pantry, and you’ll see results.



For more productivity advice from Kellee Weinhold, please join us for our new weekly Facebook Live series, every Thursday at 11 AM EST!  It’s free, and anyone can join in!  Kellee will share her insights from her Unstuck Productivity Coaching work, and together Karen and Kellee talk over challenges of the week, and respond to live questions and comments from the audience. Visit us on Facebook here.

No Missed Opportunities on the Campus Visit

Today I posted the biggest Job Market Digest I’ve ever put up in the three years I’ve been posting them.  I am so pleased to see how many clients got tenure track and other recurring/full time jobs, both in and out of the academy. Please take a moment to read. And if you have gotten a job, or had some other career-related success (including gaining the clarity to leave the academy entirely, which I view as great success!) please do write me at and let me know. I just love to hear from both readers and clients.  Always know that total confidentiality is assured.

People who write love to tell me stories of their searches, and I love to read them!  Because of space limitations, most of those stories do not end up in the Job Market Digest. But I read them closely and file them away as reference for myself in my future work with clients.

Here are two of my favorites this week. I love the first because of the “you annoyed me to no end” (LOL) and the second because TPII could help this immigrant scholar gain a small measure of security in these awful times.

TT offer, client, Dance: “I want to thank you for your help. After you had fixed my documents ( CV, CL, TS, and RS), I was back on the market this year got several invitations to campus and then got a retention offer at my current institution! Your methods do work… You annoyed me to no end, but you are a genius!”

TT job offer, client, Psychology: “Your advice was spot on every time and truly invaluable. Throughout my campus interview the faculty repeatedly told me that my application materials were “tight”, so tight in fact, they had almost no further questions! The job talk went well and even when the “intellectual” Dean gave me a tough time about omitting effect sizes (!), I was prepared thanks to your webinar. Your webinar also prepared me for a sticky illegal question regarding my ethnicity–altogether, I cannot thank you enough.

It has been a hellish emotional journey and you are a big part of my making it to the other side. I feel so fortunate to have made it to a tenure track position before they all vanish. I hope you know just how meaningful and important your work is to continued scholarship in this country.”

One of the listings this week included a story from a client’s search. I am going to share this story as a post, because it points to an important principle for the job search, especially the campus visit.

My client wrote that during her campus visit, the Search Committee Chair sent her a preliminary schedule that had blank time spots, and asked if she had other people she wanted to meet on campus to pencil into those slots. My client sent names of people in the Department and people across the campus with whom she saw strategic departmental growth potential. My client got the job.  She also later found out that none of the other candidates had sent names.  She told me, “This was reportedly a major point in my favor.”

There is a large principle at work here.  Just as the question of “Do you have any questions for us” is actually an essential and substantive element of the interview (as described in this post by Kellee Weinhold [and be sure and click through to my Vitae post that is linked]), any opportunity to demonstrate your interest in potential colleagues and collaborations in the department and across campus should be energetically maximized.  It SHOWS your interest in the job and the campus, and it SHOWS the kind of colleague you will be.  This kind of action speaks louder than words.  And so does the refusal.  Saying (or showing), “No, I’m not really curious about you,” is a mark against you that is quite difficult to overcome.

Don’t let any opportunity to demonstrate your substantive, educated interest in the department and campus pass you by.

Productivity In a Time of Crisis

My latest Chronicle Vitae post, somewhat misleading titled (by my editor) Five Steps to Productivity, is actually about the seemingly impossible effort to maintain some semblance of forward momentum as the world burns around us. So I am sharing it here. I don’t know that there is any more urgent question for American (and global) academics right now than finding a path to stay professionally afloat in the face of constant assaults on our institutions, funding, jobs, national security, personal safety, and indeed on the very notions of “truth,” “facts,” or “reality.”

When I say “stay professionally afloat,” I don’t mean to prioritize careerism. I mean, get enough written, enough published, enough accomplished, to keep moving toward your goal of employability and financial stability.  I fully expect that you, my readers, may like me be spending ever larger chunks of your time calling your representatives, attending protests, and education yourselves on the issues, and I applaud that. But we all need to also keep food on the table, and for most of us, protesting is NOT a paying job.  So balance is needed.

I hope that these steps will prove useful for you. If you have other ideas that have worked, please share them in the comments.


Q:  This isn’t exactly an academic career question, except it sort of is. I can’t really focus on the job market in the midst of the ongoing political turmoil. I spend my time obsessively reading the news, signing petitions and things, and going to protests, which feels valuable, but I’m also just so distracted, and also drained. It’s really hard for me to muster the energy to apply for jobs, or get my writing done.
A: At The Professor Is In, my clients tell me daily how difficult it has been for them to focus on the work of editing their job documents, let alone charting a research trajectory or finding the concentration to complete major writing tasks. So, first, know that you’re not alone.
It is all too common in academia for people to feel that they are the only ones struggling, and “everyone else is getting their work done.” This is never true, but let me assure you, it is particularly untrue right now. I don’t know anyone anywhere, of any status in the academic circles I frequent — grad student, full professor, administrator — who has not been struggling with issues of productivity during the first few months of this year.
Second, there are excellent, valid reasons for this distractedness. You or someone you know may be directly in the line of fire of recent executive orders. You may be unsettled by the president’s public attacks on the judiciary and the news media. This is all particularly unsettling for academics whose very existence is based on a belief in the existence of knowledge and facts, and the value of scholarly inquiry.
Finally, there is the simple question of time management. If you have, like so many Americans, been “activated” by the current crisis, you’ve been spending time writing letters, making calls to representatives, and protesting, in unprecedented ways. All of which removes you from your desk, your lab, your office, your laptop, for hours at a time.
So what to do? This turmoil clearly isn’t going to stop any time soon, so how can we regain some level of balance in the midst of personal and political upset, and reclaim the productivity that remains urgent to our well being, particularly for those applying for jobs. My fellow Vitae columnist, Theresa MacPhail, offered good advice earlier this month on “Writing Through Our Political Tailspin.”
Here at The Professor Is in, my colleague Kellee Weinhold deals with these tensions directly in her academic productivity coaching, and she offers the following five-part approach.
Part 1: Tell the truth. You are struggling. Don’t deny it, or try to bury it. You may be scared, angry, sad, devastated — these are all real feelings, so allow yourself to acknowledge them. If you don’t, they’ll continue to quietly sap at your energy and resolve. At the same time, understand that the fear and rage you’re feeling (especially if you’re white and a citizen) may be something others in the country (immigrants, people of color, Muslims, to name a few) have felt for a long time. Heed the words of more experienced activists, and allow yourself time to feel, to grieve, to vent, and to recharge.
Kellee’s specific advice: Take time to panic and fall down. Set a timer. Lie down on your floor and cry for 30 minutes. Then get back up and go to your desk.
Part 2: Take a big view. Circumstances will change, and in ways that we don’t expect. Of course things might get worse. But they might not. The point is we don’t know. And fretting is debilitating. So aim for the 30,000-foot view of your life. Think back five or more years ago. Remember the things you did then, that led to where you are now. Remember that the things you do now will carry you forward to the next stage. Let go of the story that everything is a disaster and all hope is lost. Nobody actually knows. The academy will not entirely collapse in a year. Get out of the news and social-media firehose, so that you can remember who you were before all this started, and reaffirm the goals that inspired you then.
(At the same time, it’s OK to allow the current moment to inform your choices. If you find yourself more and more certain that academia is a less urgent location for your energy than, say, politics or activism, listen to that quiet urge. Don’t act on it rashly, but give it scope to grow and inspire action that, over time, may open new career priorities for you).
Part 3: Work on tiny tasks. In the academy we tend to say things like, “I’m spending this year writing my dissertation,” or “I’m spending this break writing a book,” or “I’m spending the day writing an article.” But are you actually writing a “dissertation” or a “book”? In other words, when you sit down at your desk one Tuesday, and then rise up again a couple hours later, have you produced a “dissertation”? No. You’ve produced (if you’re lucky) a few pages at most, a few pages of just one chapter of what will eventually be a dissertation. The tasks we set ourselves are simply too big when they’re defined in that way, and they intimidate us and swamp our already strained coping mechanisms. And as we get more stressed and anxious, even small tasks begin to feel too big.
The solution here: Embrace the tiny. When you sit down to “write your job application,” realize that in a single sitting, you may write only the teaching paragraph of your cover letter. Just one paragraph. And that’s fine. Write that paragraph. The next day, write one more paragraph. Break each task into smaller and smaller tasks, until you reach a level that is actually doable for you. Shift your mindset from “OMG I still haven’t finished my job letter,” to “wow, I finished the teaching paragraph of the job letter!” Think about it: which of those is more likely to motivate you to write more the next day?
Part 4: Erect guardrails around your (good and bad) habits. If you know that you are most energetic late at night, then plan on doing labor-intensive tasks late at night. Don’t fight your own tendencies by, for example, forcing yourself to wake up at 5 a.m., because that’s what “productive people” do. If you know that you are helpless before the siren song of social media, work at a place that has no Wifi. Or use the Freedom app to block your own access to the internet for certain periods of time.
The point here (returning to Part 1) is: Tell the truth. If you lose focus after 30 minutes of writing, arrange to write for 30 minutes and then move on. Don’t sit there for two hours, beating yourself up because you’ve only managed 30 minutes of actual writing. You are a person who writes in 30-minute chunks. This is your truth right now, and it is sufficient unto itself.
Part 5: Celebrate accomplishments. Celebrate everything that you achieve, no matter how tiny. When you finish a paragraph of your cover letter, text a friend, “I finished the teaching paragraph of my cover letter!” If you trust yourself to visit social media for awhile, tweet about it. Tell your family. Put on music and dance around your room for five minutes. Go out and plant a spring plant. Each thing you do is a vast achievement right now, and should be celebrated.
I can vouch that these strategies work, because they work for me, and for Kellee and for our clients. Try them, and let me know how it goes.