The Teaching-Centric Letter

In response to many requests, I am devoting today’s post to the teaching-centric letter.  The absence of a post on this subject before now might seem surprising on a blog that purports to cover every aspect of the academic job search.  But that absence was intentional.  The fact is, very few tenure track jobs outside of community colleges actually need a teaching-centric letter, and this is a point of great confusion among job seekers.  Many liberal arts colleges, mid-rank universities and small teaching colleges claim to be “teaching-focused,” and “student-centric,” but decisions about hiring and tenure will nevertheless be firmly focused on research.

Job seekers routinely mis-identify the jobs that require a teaching-focused letter, because they naively take institutional rhetoric about the importance of teaching at face value.  As I said, the vast majority of institutions, departments, and positions weight research far more heavily than teaching, regardless of the PR on their websites.  (See this guest post on the inner workings of a search at just such a department).

However, there are indeed times when a teaching focused letter is appropriate.  Those include:

  • For a community college
  • For jobs seeking Masters level hires
  • For a temporary replacement hire at a teaching focused institution
  • For an ongoing instructor position at any institution, as long as it carries no research expectation whatsoever; this will be clear from the ad, which will make no reference to research in any way.
  • For tenure track positions at teaching colleges and liberal arts colleges that are low-ranked; regional; possibly religiously-affiliated.  The well known SLACs [Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, Davidson, Smith, Grinnell, and so on] should get research-focused, NOT teaching-focused, letters.

With regard to the third position type listed above, note that temporary replacements (ie, Visiting Assistant Professorships) at research-oriented universities and elite SLACs will likely need to see a letter that balances research and teaching equally. In other words, while the teaching is of course central, and the candidate will need to reference specific courses listed in the ad, the committee’s deliberations will likely weight the research profile of the candidates heavily, because they want active researchers even among their temporary faculty).

If after careful thought and consultation with mentors, you determine that a position does indeed require a teaching-centric letter, then begin by reading the blog posts The Dreaded Teaching Statement: 8 Pitfalls, The Weepy Teaching Statement, Just Say No, Teaching: Not When and Where but What and How  and When I Say Be Specific, What Do I Mean? and at all costs avoid blathering on about your love of and passion for student learning. Keep your emotions about the teaching enterprise to yourself.  While I know that you are convinced that your passion sets you apart, in an environment in which everyone is peddling the same passion, it functions only as white noise.  For more on that, please see my post, Those Twelve Sentences.

If the job posting states that you may be expected to teach specific classes, you must address those classes specifically, and describe the teaching method, approach, readings, and assignments you’ll use.  If no courses are identified by name, then address the bread-and-butter classes you will likely be expected to handle.  It is unlikely that a teaching-only ad will be asking for sophisticated small seminars; chances are, you are being hired to teach the large intro courses, surveys, methods courses, and so on (but judge each ad on its own merits).

Base your letter on the following template; you can of course adjust the phrasing, but stick to this order of approach:



Professor XXX, or if name unknown, “Search Committee Chair”
Street Address
City, State Zip

Dear Professor XXX/Chair of Search Committee:

PARA 1: I am applying for job X in the department Y.  My Ph.D. is in XXX, from the University of XXX, in the field of XXX (20XX).  I am currently XXX.  My teaching specializations are XXX and YYY, with an additional expertise in ZZZ.

PARA 2:  My teaching focuses on… [your core teaching philosophy with key thematics and goals relevant to your discipline and subfield, as appropriate].  For example, in XXX course, I use YYY readings to help students understand ZZZ, with the goal of increasing their awareness of QQQ….  Similarly in YYY course, I….   Etc. [2-3 courses in total; these will respond to the courses mentioned in the ad, or be the basic courses you are likely to be asked to teach].  I am also prepared to teach courses such as XXX, YYY, and ZZZ.  [Do not tether any of your past teaching experiences or courses named to the other campuses at which you taught; render your teaching capacities as general and portable.]

PARA 3: My success in the above efforts has led to: awards, increased responsibility [no runner-up “almost” awards].  My effectiveness in the classroom is attested by my quantitative evaluations. [1 or 2 quantitative averages, no cheesy student quotes].

PARA 4: Additional areas of teaching/pedagogy focus [discipline specific], study abroad, directing a program, innovative curriculum, etc.  Here address any additional pedagogical requirements mentioned by the ad.

PARA 5:  Research description [if you have/if necessary for the job—not necessary for teaching-ONLY instructor positions].  Approximately six sentences: your dissertation topic; its material/data/texts; its theoretical or conceptual approach; the questions/themes pursued; your core conclusion; contribution to the field.

PARA 6: Publications [if you have/if necessary for the job—not necessary for teaching-ONLY instructor positions]

PARA 7: X and Y make this job particularly appealing/your department particularly attractive.  [To write this paragraph, also consult the blog posts How to Tailor a Cover Letter (Without Flattering, Pandering, or Begging) and Tailoring: Beginning and Advanced; focus on courses to develop, teaching synergies with current faculty, and program or curriculum potential.]

PARA 8: I look forward to hearing from you soon.  Thank you.





An Inconvenient Truth (A Guest Post)

A reader got in touch to tell me about an infuriating experience at a recent conference. I asked her to write it up as a guest post, and here it is. Professors: stop the madness. Tell graduate students the goddamned truth.


Dear Karen,

I just attended the annual conference for the XXXX Association. All was going swimmingly until the final panel of the conference, which was led by a group of graduate students from an R1 program that is prominent in my discipline. They had clearly been sent by their institution to promote their program and encourage others to consider pursuing a doctorate there. There is nothing inherently wrong with this shameless self-promotion, I suppose, but when one of the PhD candidates on the panel announced that the interdisciplinary program boasted 60 PhD students, I was shocked, and then angered. You see, as a contingent faculty member who has been on the job market for a tenure-track position for 2 years, I wondered if these PhD candidates had any idea what lies ahead for them in their pursuit of the ever-elusive tenure-track assistant professorship.

So I asked them what their post-PhD plans were – if they planned to continue their scholarship through Academia or through an alternate course. The naivete of their responses demonstrates quite clearly what is wrong with higher education, and specifically, doctoral programs that aim to attract large doctoral cohorts.

I was befuddled when the first PhD candidate stated that if he couldn’t find a tenure-track position at an R1, there would be reasonable alternatives at elite liberal arts colleges. I then asked what I think was a much needed follow-up question: “How many of you are aware that only around 25% of faculty across all U.S. higher education institutions are tenured or on the tenure-track?”


Then, a very sweet female PhD candidate announced that she could continue her research for a while after her defense and write a book until she was able to land a job.

I asked her how she planned to fund her research and whether she had been awarded any external grants.

More silence.

I looked around the audience for some support. Yes, my questions were pointed, but I was delicate and supportive. These graduate students needed to consider the realities of the job market.

And then, a colleague I had met the day before chimed in: “If you can’t find a tenure-track position right away, if you’re married, you can always ask for a spousal hire. That’s how I got my job at XXXX University. My husband was offered a tenure-track job in XXXX Department, and he insisted that they hire me, too.”

At this point, I’m pretty sure I saw a unicorn dancing over a rainbow towards a leprechaun holding a pot of gold. Did that really just happen? Did my colleague just tell these students not to worry because they could be hired if their spouse was made an offer?

I was dumbfounded. And then, clearly defeated by the most illogical advice ever, I sat silently until the end of the presentation.

I turned to my colleague and asked if she had ever been an adjunct. She had.

I still don’t know what to make of her advice. Perhaps she was just being polite. Fortunately, a number of the PhD students on the panel pursued me afterwards and thanked me for my candor. I had given them something to think about. Mission accomplished, for now.

Since returning from the conference, I’ve realized that I may have been the only, or at least one of the only contingent faculty members attending my discipline’s expensive annual conference. At a total cost of more than $1200 for travel, hotel, meals, and the conference fee, I doubt many contingent faculty could afford to attend. I was fortunate, in that my institution paid the full bill for me to attend.

The under-representation of contingent faculty at my annual conference is egregious, especially given that it is a discipline devoted to social justice, but perhaps that’s a guest post for another time. And so I was the lone adjunct telling the inconvenient truth of the academic job market to a group of spectacularly bright young scholars, whose naivete is likely to continue until they officially enter the races with me and the thousands of other tenure-track hopefuls.

But hey, at least they have the option of a spousal hire…if they’re married, that is.

Yours truly,

One disgruntled adjunct

One-Body Problem Postscript: Don’t Be Sibyl, Be Selective

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

In response to my series on “The One Body Problem,” reader S.R. asked me to

“say a little more about ways of managing these different roles psychologically and mentally? How to switch between roles quickly and without lag time? How to switch on the right persona at the right time, without letting the ‘other’ persona seep in or otherwise get in the way??

These are great (and TOUGH) questions!

Let me start by saying that a dual Ac/Alt search is definitely easier for people who are more extroverted or have experience with improvisational modes – they don’t hold any given persona too tightly and are quick to follow the cues of any given situation.  The multi-pronged search will be particularly draining not only for those who like familiar routines, but also for shy or introverted people, especially when the Alt/Post search involves entering new arenas.

This is why I discussed personality in Part 3 of the blog series: folks who thrive in predictable structures should NOT choose the “Sibyl” option and should segment their Ac/Alt searches (even within shorter periods of the same year) rather than running simultaneous searches.  You will feel more coherent and efficient this way.  Likewise, very shy or introverted people need to develop a good pace for the networking or application process so you have time to recharge.  In networking, for example, your model might be to make one new contact a week or month, while a more extroverted performer might take a single day to meet with 4 or 5 people.

While you can’t control application deadlines, the configuration of your search process IS something you can shape, so choose logistics you can live. One size does NOT fit all. You need to select whatever process makes you feel most comfortable and competent, not one that drives you crazy.  You may think you are “foregoing” great opportunities if you don’t go all out and apply for anything and everything. But you won’t increase your chances of success if you don’t feel good about, and in, the search process.

A crucial and possibly counterintuitive point: the successful search is NOT a numbers game.  I know folks who applied to 100 jobs and landed 3 interviews and others who applied to only 10 jobs and landed 3 interviews.  In my own case, as I joked in an earlier column (because it’s so improbable), I applied to exactly one tenure track job in the past 3 years and got it.  Success doesn’t depend on the volume of applications, but on their fit.  (And plain, dumb, luck). You need to be discerning and selective about what to apply for, customizing your materials as much as possible to emphasize that fit.  Networking helps a lot – both by informing you about what an employer is really looking for, and (especially in the Alt/Post-Ac world) increasing the chances that they may actually solicit your application.

To the larger points raised by S.R., I would use the analogy of being bilingual. There’s a double learning curve to developing fluency in two languages and it needs to be front loaded. However, once a general competency is achieved, switching back and forth is more organic or seamless. Your vocabulary or roles become very familiar and it doesn’t take much mental work to re-enter them. In the case of job-searching, the process is supported by written documents which get more refined with experience and can readily “remind” you of who you need to be in any given context.  In fact, revising those documents is itself the “rehearsal” that prepares you to play your part(s) with conviction.

Of course, as with bilingual folks, occasionally the “other” words seep out. That is par for the course and usually the stakes aren’t high for small foibles or mix-ups.  It’s the larger struggles you need to watch out for – i.e. mixed vocabulary or genres that will make you seem incoherent or unintelligible in any given application.  This probably means you are too tired, working too quickly, or have taken on too much volume in applications to pay sufficiently nuanced attention.  Remember, it’s not a numbers game.  It’s about finding the fit. You know you have a good fit when the words and ideas come easily, when you DON’T have trouble remembering your persona in a particular application context.

If the dual search process ends up feeling too difficult or inauthentic to you, it’s a clue that you are barking up the wrong tree(s). Even with the logistical challenges and mental complexity involved in the One Body problem,” you should still feel surges of positive engagement and interest in both paths: otherwise you shouldn’t be on them – they’re not for you, and you won’t be a convincing applicant.

Finally, though, there’s the possibility of a really wonderful form of “seepage” where the dual process reveals a BRIDGE between searches and personas: when something from the academic side illuminates a contribution you might make to an Alt-Ac job or vice-versa — something you learned from interviewing for a non-academic position informs a future faculty application. Such moments of resonance or synergy can make you a more compelling applicant on either path and more importantly, continue to clarify who you really are and what you really want.

So, if you can stand it, there is much to be learned from engaging in both academic and Alt/Post-Ac searches over the same general period of time.  But as I delineated in Part 3 of this series, the WAY you do that can and should vary according to your own preferences and needs.  You only have one body.  Take care of it!

Adjectives Are Not Arguments, Part I

It is time that all of you grasped a simple yet profound truth of academic writing: adjectives are not arguments.

Simply repeating the words:

  • complex
  • multivalent/multidirectional/multiplicitous
  • unique
  • diasporic
  • transnational
  • intersectional

over and over in your documents, does not suggest that you have a coherent project, or make a compelling point, or advance an original argument.

The first three adjectives on the list above are the worst, because they are, frankly, pointless. Tell me a Ph.D. research project that is NOT on a complex, multiplicitous, or unique topic.  Tell me. Tell me!  There is none!  None!


Therefore, to mobilize these words to describe your work is to say, precisely, nothing. They are white noise and devoid of meaning.  Indeed, they make an implicit straw man move, because you are always implying that something “out there” — some topic, phenomenon, or analysis — is simple and unitary and entirely derivative.  But that’s patently untrue, and you know it.

So stop implying it.

It’s a stealth form of grad student grandiosity.

“Complex” is far and away the worst culprit.  Rather than try to tell you about how bad this epidemic is, I’ll show you, by giving you a collection of cases that I gathered in less than one week at the Professor Is In.

  • This work surveys [XX composer’s] complex influence on the musical poetics of authors
  • this book offer a more complex narrative of the relationship between sexuality, consumer culture and power.
  • Four case studies of XXX are used to illuminate this complex nation building process.
  • a particularly effective means of demonstrating the complex cultural logics that form the common sense assumptions underlying political power.
  • many opportunities to discuss the complex interrelationship of structural and cultural forces that reproduces urban poverty.
  • [XXX’s] place was more complex and profound not only in the history of nation, but also that of region as a whole
  • I challenge students to immerse themselves in the complex socio-cultural contexts surrounding each text.
  • Chinese XXX actually has a long, complex history.
  • I examine the complex interplay of publishing, reading, and circulation that imbued vernacular fiction with meaning in early modern XXX
  • My second article, xxxx, analyzes the complex strategies employed by a highly acculturated ethnic population.

Don’t think that transforming the adjective complex into the noun complexity helps, by the way.

  • This role-playing exercise builds skills while also building a deeper understanding of the complexities of globalization.
  •  Understanding this past complexity prepares us for the challenge of working to improve…

And don’t think that substituting some other tired adjective for complex makes it any better:

  • My research examines the intricate relationship between religion and politics in [XXX]

No, this is all just a cheap and–i’ll just go ahead and say it–lazy substitute for actual engagement in ideas.  Do better. Dig deeper.  Find things to say about the world, and about your work, that are meaningful and substantive, and not just a placeholder adjective that mimics substance while saying nothing at all.

In another post, I will take up the problem with the repetition of more substantive terms like these:

  • diasporic
  • transnational
  • intersectional

These are words that seem important and meaningful, but are often so simplistically over-repeated in the space of a single document, in place of an actual developing argument, that they too come to function like mere white noise.  I’ll take that up next week.


3 Stories From #Post-ac Consulting – Jessica Langer

In this post Jessica Langer opens a window onto the work she’s been doing in Post-Ac Consulting with The Professor Is In.  Her clients have been extraordinarily successful in getting the interviews and jobs she’s helped them prepare for. I asked her to tell us about the work.

Stay tuned for a new webinar she’ll be offering next week on “creating your post-ac story.”  As she explained,

One of the things I do daily as a marketer is help companies figure out how to tell their story to the public. I think that post-ac folks could use that sort of thing, too, because after all, the job interview process (and materials) are really marketing materials…So often, my clients are really worried about how to conceptualize their departure from academia. They don’t know how to explain it in a way that’s positive and not negative. I generally encourage them to discuss it not in terms of going “away from” academia but rather going “toward” whatever else they’re doing – but then they get stuck on how to make that leap. I want to help people to understand how folks from different fields have managed to make the transition to post-ac life in a way that seems smooth and part of a coherent narrative.

That’s next week. Meanwhile, read on for more about her work!


by Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Many of my clients thus far have been in STEM fields, whether in the social sciences or hard sciences. No mathematicians yet, but plenty of people whose work would make my brain hurt.

Know what’s interesting? No matter the field, whether they’re in my own home humanities field(s) or all the way over in the hard sciences, the narrative is so much the same. There’s a deep dissatisfaction and sense of betrayal: academia is a broken system, we are all coming to realize, and none of us is immune.

(Names and all identifying details have been changed. If you think you know who any of these people are, I guarantee you don’t.)

One of my clients, Beth, is a social scientist who’s looking for work in the Canadian government. She’s done some amazing international fieldwork in Southeast Asia, both for her PhD and for a private consulting company, and for her doctoral work she coined a really interesting new framework for what she was investigating.

Beth’s biggest problem was that she was hesitant to take ownership of her accomplishments. In her job search materials as she sent them to me, she would discuss how she was “striving towards” and “working towards” things that she had already done.. and had been doing for years. She had the mindset of a student and hesitated to describe herself as an expert in her field, when in fact the PhD process is one of developing expertise.

(I’m happy to report that of the two jobs for which I helped her work on her application materials, she’s now been scheduled for interviews for both of them.)

Another client, Antoinette, has an incredibly interesting background; a “portfolio career”, as the Times Higher Ed has dubbed a work life in which one is able to pursue many different interests professionally. An historian by training, with a PhD in early modern, she has an impressive academic career including teaching, publishing and a stint as a guest curator at a major history museum in Boston. She also has a few years’ experience in the business world and speaks 4 major languages.

Antoinette, however, struggled to see herself as a good candidate for anything. She saw her experience as a curator as expected, not impressive. Similarly, her facility with languages was dismissed as somehow not impressive.

“I’m just an unemployed PhD,” she told me once. “Who would hire me?”

The cognitive dissonance was astounding. Here was this woman who had just finished up a gig at a museum that any of us reading this will have heard of, with a doctorate, 4 languages, and even some experience in business… and she considered herself unhireable? My first order of business was to help her change this mindset: to work with her to understand that the culture inside of academia is very different from that on the outside, and that accomplishments that seem pedestrian on the inside are incredibly impressive on the outside.

Thomas also has a “portfolio career”, though he’s trying to balance two things at once. He’s working on his PhD in political science at one of the top schools in his field, and has just received a major grant to travel to Eastern Europe for some archival research. At the same time, he’s cofounded a small ed-tech startup with one of his friends and is trying to manage the sales and client service side of the business. His days are long and his time is pressed. My role, more than anything, was to help him decide which path to take: academia, business, or a bit of both.

One of the things I find most interesting about Thomas is that he actually flouts the conventional narrative of feeling-like-a-failure. If he leaves academia, it will be because he likes something else better, not because he felt like he couldn’t make it as an academic. But even in the best possible case, choosing to take one’s academic degree into a non-academic context can be hard… because for many of us, Thomas included, our work is genuinely fascinating to us. We love it.

And here’s where I confess that even though I make my living outside of academia, I haven’t fully “left”. I still teach occasionally – granted, I teach business school, but the substance is the same (and the money is better, but not that much better). I still publish in my field; I have an interview with a major figure in a major journal coming out early next year, and I still write at least a book chapter or article a year. But the best part is that the work is so much more fun, it’s so much sweeter and more fulfilling, when I do it for the sheer love of it and not because I’m worried about whether it will get me tenure or promotion.

The big secret is that “leaving academia” doesn’t have to mean leaving forever. It doesn’t have to mean leaving entirely. It doesn’t mean burning down the building, or even slamming the door and locking it. It can mean choosing to do something else to make a living and pursuing one’s academic work as a hobby or in our spare time. It could just mean reading articles and enjoying them. None of this fixes the broken academic system… but on an individual level, it might work for you. Leaving academia doesn’t have to mean walking away from something. It could very well mean choosing something else to walk towards.

Which is why it’s so important for those of you who are “traditional” academics to support the work of independent scholars… but it’s also important for those of us who make our living outside of academia to, frankly, stop giving a toss what academia thinks of us.

And which is why it’s so crucially important for those of us who forge paths that aren’t the traditional academic path to have streetlights and signposts along the way.

Consider this one: you are not a failure. You are choosing a path that works for you, for your life. You are honouring your circumstances and your needs. And in doing so, you have already succeeded.


Stop Acting Like a Grad Student, Redux: “After My Defense, I Will…”

I am always telling clients to stop “sounding like a grad student.”  But the trouble is, clients don’t understand all the ways that they do this.

Some are obvious.  “While a grad student in the English Ph.D. program, I…..”  is a sure giveaway.  Delete any language that depicts you AS a student–either grad student, or, god forbid, undergraduate (see this column I wrote for Vitae for more on that particular misstep).

However, most cases are more subtle.  Today, I highlight one common one:  the constant reference to grad school process/status.

Language like the following:

  • After my defense I will develop a book proposal…
  • I have am writing an article based on chapter two of my dissertation…
  • I am giving two conference papers derived from this dissertation research…
  • After receiving feedback from my dissertation committee, I will incorporate revisions into the book manuscript…
  • As a graduate student teaching assistant, I taught a course on….
  • I have six terms of experience as a TA in the xxx course, and in that course I focus on
  • I not only autonomously taught these three courses, but I was also responsible for creating the syllabi and lesson content

The second example – “I am writing an article based on chapter xx of my dissertation”  — is the most common case.  Check your letter and research statement now for this modifying clause, and remove it.

All of the final three examples are rampant in teaching paragraphs.  The final example is a case of over-explaining information in a way that inadvertantly makes you look less experienced, rather than more.  If you simply explain how you taught the class, you look like a faculty member.  If you laboriously articulate that you were “responsible for creating the syllabi…” etc., you look like a grad student.

In a similar vein, nobody but you actually cares what chapter your article derives from.  They care that you WROTE an article, and that that article is published, in a high ranking journal. Period.  To anxiously look backward to the chapter it once was is to rehearse your grad student anxieties in public.

Because you have already devoted one or two complete paragraphs to describing the dissertation, its topic, methods, theories, conclusions, and contribution in the cover letter and research statement, there is no reason to keep referring back to it as the context for other professional accomplishments.

Your book proposal, articles, conference papers, and book manuscript are stand-alone achievements that signify your status as a professional in the field. They do not, in any way, shape, or form, need to be tethered to an old and outdated graduate school identity, or graduate school requirements.  To continually do so is to reveal yourself to be over-invested in that past graduate student identity, and unclear on the nature of an autonomous, fully independent, scholarly identity.

It’s subtle, but it’s telling.

Explain your dissertation, yes.  And then move on.


Revenue Generating Activities, or, Time IS Money and Don’t Be Afraid to Think of It That Way

By Sarita Jackson

Sarita Jackson

Sarita Jackson

As a former tenure track professor, I was often inundated by numerous service requests and invitations to participate in various activities just within the first year alone. However, I realized that I had the power to politely decline many of those requests to avoid burnout and an unproductive year. Therefore, only those requests that aligned with my research agenda, added value to my courses and enhanced my research productivity, while also contributing to the enhancement of the university, were accepted.

Time, while on the tenure track, meant research productivity. Research productivity to me meant seeing the final results of my research and conference proceedings published in some of the top journals in my field. I emphasized research productivity, because my goal was to be marketable beyond the tenure requirements of my institution at the time. The prestige of publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals, contributing to important debates in the area of international trade and sharing my findings with students brought about great satisfaction. That satisfaction outweighed the interest in getting a monetary return on the additional time and money spent outside of the office to produce. Nevertheless, producing on a consistent basis to limit any chance that I would be denied tenure in the area of research required guarding how I spent my time both inside and outside of the office. As a result, last year I successfully earned tenure and was promoted to associate professor.

In my current role as the founder of a think-tank and consulting firm, the same approach applies, but my focus has expanded. My time now means my money now! In addition to emphasizing prestige, I also focus on getting the true value of my expertise and work. This goal determines the activities and meetings that I participate in. In other words, with extremely limited time, I spend much of my work time on revenue generating activities (RGAs).

This past year and a half has been similar to the early part of my tenure track process. There are still requests for meetings, service and assistance. This time, business owners, non-profit organizations, and other individuals become solicitors of my time. I find myself politely declining some requests. For example, I have been asked to give a series of workshops on international trade, review economic development proposals, develop international trade strategies, conduct cost-assessments for exporters, and advise on setting up an import/export business. For some reason, some portion of the population feels that this level of work and expertise should just be handed over for free.

Furthermore, I have learned to detect those meetings with individuals who “just want to pick your brain” and/or push their product or service on me, which costs time with little to nothing in return. While it is flattering that there is interest in what I do, I have had to push the passion-motive to the side, since passion alone will not sustain a company or pay the bills. Again, time now means my money now!

So here are three key tips to help those academics who venture into the territory of entrepreneurship to get the true value of their worth:

  1. Define your RGAs


An RGA includes those activities that will have a direct or indirect impact on your ability to get paid for your time, financial investment and expertise. Assess each meeting and activity in terms of whether or not it will lead to a paying customer or client; increased exposure to the appropriate audience; paid workshops, seminars and keynote speeches; and/or sponsorships, contracts or grants.

2. Create RGAs

When you create your RGAs, you are placing a value on your time and thus, focusing on getting paid what you are worth. You can begin by using tools such as Google Calendar to track your time. Tracking your time allows you to see clearly the amount of effort and resources to fulfill a request such as the completion of research for someone. Knowing this information will help you to make sure that you are compensated adequately for the time and resources that you have used to satisfy someone else’s need.


Additionally, you will have to research the rates of your competitor and collaborators in the field to know how much you should charge for your time on any work completed. Once these rates have been set, stick to them. This shows that you value your work and that others should too.


Finally, set a clear payment policy so that you will have control over your own value and attain the type of customer or client who will appreciate your worth.


3. Know your value within those RGAs

Having a clear understanding of your value and being able to communicate that effectively becomes important when trying to get paid for the value of what you offer. Know and clearly communicate what you bring to the table besides just a Ph.D. such as the impact of your research in the practical world, your networks, your team and/or specific results of any given project.

There are a number of other tips that can be added to this list. Nevertheless, these three have been key for me in terms of getting my first client, receiving exposure through the media and public speaking, and developing a team. Time does not just mean being organized to complete everything, rather being organized enough to cut out some things, as I learned as an academic focused on research productivity. The transition toward entrepreneurship requires broadening one’s mindset to focus on getting paid his/her true value, because your time now is your money now!

“My Family Lives In Driving Distance” – Or Not

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

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

Can we all agree that this is madness?

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

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

Nobody prioritizes Harvard because family lives nearby.

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

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

The One-Body Problem, Part 3: Finding the Things You CAN Control

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

This is part three of a three-part series on bridging the academic and post-academic markets at the same time. Find part one here, and part two (with great resume advice!) here.


Most folks at the crossroads struggle to figure out how hard to push on the Alt/Post-Ac market.  It depends on what the academic market does.  It depends on how quickly your Alt/Post network and opportunities develop.  If presented with a great job on the Alt/Post side first, you might forego the academic market and just leap.  But if you had a close-but-no-cigar year on the academic market and a faculty career remains your first choice, it might be reasonable to make another foray and pull back on the Alt/Post front while doing so.

Here are some rules of thumb that might help you decide how to handle your one body problem:

  1.       Know your viability on the academic market as well as how your own personality type operates.  If you’re just starting out in your academic career and have reason to be hopeful, it might be best to segment things and just focus on the demanding academic search first (not least if you still have a dissertation to finish, etc.).  Especially if it’s your first time out, give the academic search your full effort and attention (in a competitive market, you may as well not attempt it if you’re going to be half-assed!).

But personality also plays a part here. People with a “one thing at a time” orientation will be driven insane from a back and forth, multi-pronged job search process.  For such types, going all out in the academic search and THEN doing an equally committed Alt/Post-Ac search if the academic job does not materialize may be the best way to go.  For others with a more flexible or spontaneous orientation, keeping multiple options open may help you cope with the academic search by reasserting a sense of agency and even fun as you discover what else is out there.

  1.       If you are ready to travel both paths simultaneously for a while, prioritize the academic search, keyed as it is to the academic year and particular interviewing seasons and venues by discipline.  Develop a job search calendar and To-Do list that privileges your academic materials and application deadlines.  However, knowing that the Fall will be driven by Ac deadlines, you might carve out some time over the summer to have a preliminary Alt/Post-Ac consult or do some initial thinking about where the other path might take you, should your year on the academic market not go well.

Once you are underway with the academic application cycle, you can turn as time allows to Alt/Post exploration. This could be as minimal as beginning to read alternative job listings to get a feel for what interests you and is a good fit. You might also consider networking with one new contact per month as well as taking on an Alt/Post -Ac internship or job (especially if you have already done sufficient teaching, gaining nonacademic work experience will be a real asset). Come Spring or summer, if you’ve gotten no strong nibbles on the Ac market, you might start getting your Alt/Post-Ac materials together and maybe even apply to some positions to test those waters.  With an established sense of how to apply for academic jobs, you might decide go out again another year, but now you’re also ready to pursue alternative careers assertively.

  1.       If you’re an adjunct feeling locked into dead-end positions, or if you’ve been on the academic market long enough to doubt your future viability, or if you know there is something else you’d much rather do, a more aggressive Alt/Post-Ac search is in order.  For some (if your exit hasn’t already been imposed upon you), the best way to make this happen is through an affirmative decision to end your academic affiliation – don’t renew the contract, don’t apply for other academic jobs.  Knowing there is no institutional safety net and that you HAVE to move on is what pushes some folks to fully take the Alt/Post-Ac plunge.

Another option is the half-way house.  If you’re already adjuncting part-time (or if you can reduce your load accordingly), step up your efforts to find supplementary Alt/Post-Ac work that could be the way in to a more viable fulltime job or career.  Either the opportunity will arise to go fulltime within your other organization or you can use that part-time Alt/Post-Ac role as the launching pad for other applications.

Some find it necessary to continue in academe fulltime while exploring Alt/Post-Ac options: as long as your search efforts are vigorous and you keep envisioning yourself elsewhere, the risk of inertia will be offset by the positive anticipation of a change ahead.  Again, networking often provides both the information and support you’ll need to make a transition.  Don’t go it alone.

Wherever you stand in relation to these diverging paths, and whatever your theological outlook, you will probably benefit from the AA prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Cliché, yes.  But clichés survive for a reason.  Learning to tell the difference between the things you can’t control and the things over which you have real agency is the key to negotiating your one body problem.  It’s what turns the problem into possibility and eventually probability of success and contentment.

You can’t control the number of positions available in your academic field in a given year, nor the idiosyncratic behavior of search committees (which is why you shouldn’t rule yourself out prematurely: as Dr. Karen says, “anything can happen in a search”).  You CAN make sure you apply to an appropriate number and range of jobs.  You CAN make sure your academic application is in the best possible shape (remember:  The Professor IS In!).

You can’t control whether you get job offers.  But you CAN decide what happens next (accept or turn down a particular job if offered, foray the market again, or go all out in the Alt/Post-Ac vein).  Becoming an agent in your own right is the surest way to resist the learned helplessness of the academic job market and indeed, academic culture in general.

You can’t control the number or timing of Alt/Post-Ac openings (which unlike the academic job cycle appear randomly year-round).  But through dedicated networking you CAN exponentially increase your chances of being considered or informed when those jobs become available.  At its best, the networking process can even lead to job creation, when others realize you have a unique skill set, or you join forces with those who inspire your own entrepreneurial energies.

Which brings us back to serenity and courage  –  accepting what you can’t change and being brave enough to take the steps towards the changes that you CAN make.  The speaker in Frost’s “Road Not Taken” reflects that “way leads on to way” and thus we must be prepared to live with our choices.  He looks back upon his two roads with a sigh, remembering that he “took the one less traveled by.”

I don’t know what was lost to the road not taken.  But I do know this: many academics who have found alternative work (including Dr. Karen and my fellow Alt/Post-Ac bloggers at TPII) are breathing sighs of relief, secure in the knowledge that their decision to quit the faculty track “has made all the difference.”

The One Body Problem, Part 2: Resumes Aren’t CVs!-Cardozo

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

In my last post I noted that it is increasingly likely that you may have to foray onto both Ac and Alt/Post markets simultaneously, and hence you will need to get comfortable with different application contexts.

For example: The Professor makes crystal clear in her highly useful Academic Cover Letter and CV webinar that the academic job application does NOT benefit from undue narrative gloss or streaks of personality.  The harried and overworked academic search committee wants to “locate” you as quickly as possible with regard to stage of your career, scholarly areas of expertise, evidence of productivity and hence, tenureability, etc.  They don’t want to hear your autobiography or the origin story of your dissertation (“I was commuting to campus, flipping between the Business and Lifestyle sections, when it hit me that I should write the history of the wedding planning industry!” There’ll be no Working Girl shining moment for you here*).

* Although, to take a lesson from Working Girl, the biggest risks reap the greatest rewards (such as having Harrison Ford pack your lunch on the first day of your wonderful new job).  In the unlikely event that a search committee responds positively to your heartfelt and offbeat cover letter (which means you’ve ignored everything TPII advises), you will have found the Holy Grail: kindred spirits in academe!

In contrast, storytelling may actually be effective in an Alt/Post cover letter.  For example, I know a lawyer who transitioned from a soul-crushing position in a large corporate firm to a satisfying small-town practice.  In his cover letter, he summarized the impressive expertise he had gained at the big firm but explained that he had grown up in a rural area where a close family friend was an attorney much admired by the townsfolk.  Being a community-based lawyer, wrote this applicant, was his dream job; he had only entered corporate practice to pay off his student loans.  Can you imagine talking about dreams and loans in an academic cover letter?!  Gawd help you if you do.  Serious scholars don’t have dreams (or ‘fess up to historic levels of debt). They have second books or “future projects!”

Think of it from the hiring side in this nonacademic instance.  In a small law firm, personality and character matter greatly to the collective, which is also co-dependent financially.  The knee-jerk reaction of a small law firm would typically be:  “we can’t match his corporate salary; he’s not going to be happy in this small practice, etc.” (This is similar to the dynamic of non-elite, small or rural colleges being skeptical of hiring folks from Ivy League or urban institutions, but academic search is still more likely to privilege the applicant’s pedigree over fit).  This guy’s sincere story provided the rationale for his “downwardly mobile” move to small-time law and charmed his future partners.  The emphasis here is on sincere, however. Such rhetoric rarely works as a mere strategy.

In another example of Ac vs. Alt difference, Dr. Karen is also very clear that your CV won’t benefit from superfluous information that detracts from your academic identity (e.g. sections on “Interests” or “Community Service” – unless the faculty position is framed around community engagement, and sometimes not even then).  Academic search committees don’t WANT a whole person: they only want the half (or preferably 9/10ths) of you that is single-mindedly focused on getting tenure and helping the department and institution rise in the rankings.  If they like or admire you personally, that’s a bonus, but mostly beside the point.  Whether you are “interesting” is also beside the point.

But in organizations where people work in close proximity, in teams, or are otherwise together most of the time, the hiring side may care a good deal about likeability and fit.  Here it is often the “Other” items on your resume (still appropriately listed at the bottom in a section like “Additional Skills/Interests”) that may capture the imagination of Alt/Post-Ac employers—especially if there is any sense that these “extras” could be vehicles for new business generation or improved community relations.

For example, let’s say the organization to which you’ve applied has a long-running competition with another organization in the city’s summer softball league.  You just happen to have been an award-winning pitcher.  In a saturated market where many applicants meet the requisite skills and experience requirements, THIS might be the nugget on a resume that distinguishes you!  It may not be fair; it may not be right, but it is human – people are affinity-seeking organisms.

Providing a broader profile may appeal in other ways, too. Let’s say the resume notes that you are a musician.  An employer may think that’ll make for more fun at the annual office holiday party.  Or maybe the org promotes the creative arts and thus, although your job is not performance-related, your music background suggests that you will understand and support their mission.  Or, let’s say your “Additional Activities” section mentions that you are actively involved in Relay for Life and it happens that the hiring manager has lost friends and family to the Big C.  You’ve just won big points with her.

Allow me to state the obvious for a moment:  getting a life is a huge asset in the Alt/Post-Ac search.  While broadening your horizons runs counter to the single-minded focus of disciplinary culture and graduate school, it’s not only healthy but strategic to gain personal and professional experiences beyond the strictly academic (just don’t put them on your CV)!  Especially if you haven’t yet gotten to the proverbial crossroads, see if you can begin to take a few steps down the “Alt/Post-Ac” path by adding some new contacts, activities, or alternative paid work to your bag of tricks.

An important caveat about all this:  “additional skills and interests” are never THE reason you land the Alt/Post interview or job.  Everything I’m saying is predicated on the assumption that you are already a convincing applicant:  these other aspects just attract additional attention to you, in a positive way.

However.  The more you reveal about your person or politics, the more you increase the chances that someone on the hiring side is going to misinterpret or not like something you’ve disclosed. Some people purposely use these “other” aspects on a resume as a litmus test of organizational values [e.g. listing queer activism or your affiliation with a particular political party].

A less risky choice might be to leave controversial stuff off the resume in hopes of landing the interview, and then take the face to face opportunity to put out feelers about your fit with organizational culture.  Keep in mind that if you reveal nothing about the “real” you before accepting a job offer, a troublesome fit may ensue.

In any event, let’s say you’ve grasped the different norms of Ac vs. Alt presentation and are willing to attempt being one body on two paths.  In my next post I’ll talk a bit more about how to handle the logistics and mindset.