New Year, New Plan – Postac Post by Karen Cardozo

by Out-Ac Coach Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

It’s that mid-hiring cycle season when academic job seekers are in limbo, and thus a good time to preach my both/and gospel once again: unless you are in the rare discipline for which it’s a seller’s market, you should pursue BOTH academic jobs AND alternatives as a matter of course. Especially now, as we face 4 years of unprecedented and unpredictable mayhem in the U.S. political sphere that is likely to impact higher ed negatively.

However, the primary reason to keep your options open isn’t job scarcity (although that’s reason enough).  Rather, exploring organizations of genuine interest across sectors should be a lifelong career exploration process – one that doesn’t assume that academe is your one soul mate and that you’ll never find true love again.  Don’t wait to find out IF you got an academic job to a) ask whether you still want an academic career and, regardless of your answer, b) explore alternatives.  How can you know you are really “choosing” academe if you don’t have any other options to choose from?

It’s time to unsubscribe from the faulty sequential logic of first pursuing Plan A (academic career), and then Plan B (backup).  To riff off the latter’s association with emergency contraception, many graduate students or postdocs are engaging in risky or unprotected professional behavior by putting all their eggs in the academic basket, and regular methods of professional development often fail when most graduate schools don’t encourage you to explore alternative careers.

At this historic juncture, both the research literature on the new world of work and my ongoing coaching experience reinforce the wisdom of adopting a new Plan A:  Authentic career development. Actively pursued, this approach requires no Plan B, ever.  If you consistently take your own inventory and explore fitting opportunities across BOTH academic AND other sectors, you can kiss the discourses of emergency, and scarcity goodbye.  You will have choices. And you will go from feeling like a victim to being an agent in your own right.

I am living proof: my current tenure track job is the ONLY one I applied to during a 2-year span, and that was after I had quit adjuncting to take a new Alt-Ac position!  In this and prior instances, I engaged in a selective search across sectors, applying when I felt affinity for a job description or organization.  As a result, the cover letters I write (and teach my clients to write) are genuinely enthusiastic, informed, and customized to convey that sense of fit.  While this emphasis on authenticity and willingness to switch fields may not make for a linear career path, it is what today’s shifting employment landscape requires. More importantly, it yields a series of genuine jobs.

So as a New Year’s resolution, why not let go of the academic fiction of a permanent one-way “track” and instead, make like a frog in a peaceful pond.  All you need to do is take the next leap. From there, other lily pads come into view, each one bringing you closer to a potentially more welcoming shore.

There’s another benefit to being authentic and selective rather than merely desperate: it adds a certain je ne sais quois to your interactions on the market. It’s pheromonal – just as sharks smell blood in the water, interviewers catch the scent of your calm confidence that you ARE worthy and that you DO have options. But you can’t convey that impression if you’ve done nothing to cultivate any other options!

So don’t wait until it becomes apparent that you need to activate Plan B on an emergency basis. Starting now, replace your tired old Plan A with a new Plan A – a commitment to authentic career exploration across sectors—and watch a host of unpredictable yet appealing options arise.  You can start with a free 20 minute consultation with one of TPII’s Alt/Out-Ac  experts; no premature commitments or decisions required. We are just another lily pad within reach should you choose to embrace your new plan.

How to Present Effectively

A few weeks ago I had the marvelous good fortune to participate in the Legacy Heritage workshop, a professional development workshop for a select group of Ph.D. students sponsored by the Association for Jewish Studies, and held immediately following the AJS annual conference, this year in San Diego.  The theme of this year’s workshop was “Public Presentations”, and the 4 invited speakers (along with the wonderful organizer Rona Sheramy, assisted by Amy Weiss) led a day-long series of talks on the best practices of public presentation of scholarship, a particularly important topic for those who work in Jewish Studies, as they are frequently invited to speak at synagogues and other non-academic or semi-academic locations.

The event was wonderful–warm, supportive, collegial, and filled with humor (and excellent food!).  I remarked to the organizers later that I would have loved to have had an opportunity to attend something like this when I was a grad student. I urge any faculty members reading this to consider organizing a day-long event on professional skills for the Ph.D. students in your charge.

Anyway, my task was to talk about the physical and performative aspects of presenting – issues of speech habits, body language, managing space, and handling Q and A.  This was the first time I’d ever been asked to speak on this subject, and I was at first worried that I wouldn’t have enough to say.

But as soon as I began writing down my thoughts, I could hardly stop.  It turns out, there is almost endless amount of things to be said about good presentation practices.  Eventually, given my time limit, I whittled my primary thoughts down to six slides, which I labeled “Practices of Good Delivery, I-VI.”  These covered Preparation, Connection, Body Language, Speaking Mode, Visuals, and Handling Questions.

In today’s post, I’ll share my talking points on the subject of Speaking Mode:

First, breathe deep into your body, and speak from deep in your diaphragm.  Most of us talk from our throats, even more so when we’re nervous.  But our voices get tense, high and thready when we do, and this isn’t good presentation practice.  So job number one is to discipline the source of your speaking voice, making it richer, and lower in tone.

Second, SLOW DOWN.  The near-universal pitfall for inexperienced speakers is speaking too fast.  It is an inevitable byproduct of nerves, and also of Imposter Syndrome, where you secretly worry or believe that your material is dull and obvious, and unconsciously minimize it through a muttered, indistinct, too quick delivery.   Your material is good, and it deserves a slow and authoritative presentation.

How to do this? Imagine a person of authority – Toni Morrison, perhaps – and channel her voice.  You will be amazed at the instantaneous change in your delivery.  It doesn’t matter who your muse is – he or she can be famous, or just an impressive professor you once had – but model your delivery on theirs, and begin to learn to how feel that authority and poise in your own body.

Beyond this, practice conscious rhythm and pacing.  Pacing is essential to effective delivery, and you must pause for effect and/or modulate your voice to emphasize important points. Pacing and rhythm are your cues to the audience to attend to the development of your argument, and to track the progress of your organization toward a conclusion. Feel free to write notes to yourself in your written material to “pause,” “gesture,” “make extemporaneous comment,” or “look around room.”  Master the dramatic pause. It is your friend.

Interested to learn more about Presentation Techniques?  Please come to my webinar, Hacking the Academic Presentation, Jan 19 at 6 PM EST.  I will share everything I spoke on at the Legacy Heritage workshop, with much more focused specifically on the most high-stakes presentation of all: the Job Talk.  As I remarked at the workshop, without a tenure track job, it’s much harder to get opportunities to speak publicly even in a non-academic context.  The job talk continues to be one of the most critical gatekeeping mechanisms, yet rarely are the job talk presentation best practices taught. Please join me!

(And don’t forget this week is the Negotiating Your Tenure Track Job webinar on Thursday 1/12 at 6 PM EST!)

Find webinars here.  All are $50.  Everybody gets access to a recording of the event, even if you can’t attend the live event.

How Can I Help? Interviews, Campus Visits, and Negotiating edition

I have a lot on my mind right now regarding the impact of Trump on academic life.  Kellee and I ran a free Academic Life Under Trump webinar a couple days ago, and it was good to open space for a conversation about the anxieties and uncertainties and fears this unthinkable situation ahs engendered. I am working up to a blog post on it, but not yet.  It’s still too much; I’m not at the state of coherence yet. I am at the state of resistance, however: I’ve done every form of resistance I can find, including protesting at the Oregon state capitol today, and calling representatives almost daily (about each new outrage). I urge all of you to do what you can: we must resist, and never normalize.

For now, though…

Occasionally I use the weekly blog post to tell you about services and events.  Today is that day for 2016, as we transition from the season of initial review, into the season of interviews, campus visits, and negotiating.

I’m excited to announce an upcoming:

*Live Job Market Twitter chat

My first Twitter chat, on Interviewing, will be January 3 at 11 AM EST.  Use the hashtag #TPIICHAT for live Twitter Q and A on anything you want to know about interviews and campus visits.  Find me at @professorisin

I continue to offer all my regular help for this stage of the job market.  The Interview Intervention, Campus Visit, and Negotiating Webinars ($50) are very helpful; these are offered live on an ongoing basis; we just finished a Winter Webinar Blast, but never fear, they will come again from early January.  The first one is Kellee Weinhold’s Winter Productivity Kickstart and Strategy Session on January 2 at 3 PM EST.

Check this Webinars page for currently scheduled dates. They are also always available in recorded version here at The Prof Shop.

I also edit Job Talks. And wow, do they need it.  As Kellee told last week’s Job Talk Webinar folks, next to cover letters, Job Talks are the genre of client writing that needs the most intensive intervention.  I know that seems unlikely—after all, don’t we all know how to give a research talk by the end of our doctoral studies?  Well, turns out, no, we don’t, not when it’s in the context of a campus visit, for an audience who has never heard your research before.   The Job Talk is a tricky, tricky genre that has to combine an accessible and relatively simple opening with a sophisticated argument, a perfect balance of examples and analysis, and a fine command of pacing, tone, and visuals.  Job Talks are 2 hours of work for two drafts of edits, at $150/hour.  If on a rush basis, a special reduced rush fee of $100 is added.

Any time, you can schedule a live Interview Intervention and/or Job Talk Strategy Session. These are both 50-minute Skype appointments with TPII colleague Kellee Weinhold, who specializes in communications and presentation. (Read more about Kellee here). The former is an intensive mock-interview,  the latter is a practice Job Talk.  The cost for each is $250.

For the Interview Intervention, Kellee takes you through a set of 6 basic interview questions (several of these are described in my blog post, The #Facepalm Fails of the Academic Interview) in a mock interview, stopping after each question to evaluate every answer for its strengths and weaknesses in terms of brevity, spin, word choice, tone, body language, etc., and refining it for effectiveness.  For some basic questions, you may repeat your response 2-3 times until perfect.  It’s grueling, but very effective.   Read some of the testimonials on the Testimonials page to learn more.

For the Job Talk Strategy Session you two plan out your Job Talk, focusing on an organization for the most important sections–the opening, the meat of the research, and the contribution/conclusion.  Kellee helps you to match your content to the job at hand, and provides an evaluation of your organization, approach, balance of theory and data, wording, body language, speech patterns, effectiveness of visuals, etc., with particular attention to the effectiveness of the talk for the particular job.

Both kinds of Skype Interventions are currently scheduled through an on-line calendar: Please go here to schedule.  (If you don’t see a time that works, email Kellee at tpiiintervention@gmail.com to inquire).

Last, should you score that coveted tenure track offer, I offer Negotiating Assistance. Negotiating Assistance is $500/first week ($600 tenured/senior rate), and a week is virtually always sufficient (it goes down to $400, and then $300 for subsequent weeks in the extremely rare event that this is necessary).  I count the week as 7 days of work, and they don’t have to be sequential.  We can start immediately, and I make myself available by email and gchat for the quick turnaround of responses required by most negotiations.  While I technically don’t work on weekends and holidays, for NA clients only I check in to keep up with and respond to urgent updates. I assist you in evaluating the offer, clarifying your requests, crafting email and verbal communications, interpreting responses, and knowing how hard to push and when to stop. Most clients increase their offer by thousands of dollars in salary, research support, travel support, moving expenses, etc.

For a client perspective, I will share a few recent testimonials:

Assistant professor R1 Social Sciences: I increased my offer by $12,000 conservatively. Another major benefit was that I was confident I wasn’t asking for anything crazy, and I wasn’t missing anything obvious. Since this was my first go-around with a U.S. job offer I would have been much more uncertain about it, particularly in my situation where my advisor was unavailable due to a medical condition. Particularly when I had done the interviews and was waiting for an offer, which is a tense time, the fact that I had this service helped make that easier.”

Associate professor with tenure, R1, Humanities:   “As a mid-career academic in the humanities, I knew exactly how important it would be to negotiate good terms for my new position. Karen provided me with: concrete examples of things I could negotiate for; a sounding board for my requests; assistance in clarifying and rewriting my negotiation emails; and overall, tremendous peace of mind in what would otherwise have been an extremely stressful process. I successfully negotiated increases in my salary, start up package, and travel support, totalling 11K. I highly recommend her negotiation assistance services, no matter what career stage you’re in.”

Assistant professor, SLAC, Social Sciences:  “When I got the job offer, I was so terrified to negotiate, specifically for the delayed start date.  I felt a bit lost, and then I went to a yoga class and on the wall was a quotation from Cheryl Strayed which said, ‘The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.’  It was at that time, I knew I should contact you and just get one-to-one help with the negotiation so that I could advocate the best I could for myself without worrying about taking up someone’s time or unsettling a relationship, but also not sabotage myself.  I am glad I reached out, because I think I may not have represented myself as well otherwise.  Thanks for your time, Karen.  I look forward to FINALLY becoming an adult after so many years of training….to earning a good salary, to having a retirement plan, to moving to a place where I could really build a home and a life without a foreseeable expiration date.  Thanks for being one of the people who helped me get to this point.”

Assistant professor, Regional Teaching College, Music: “This morning I officially accepted a tenure track job offer from a regional institution in the southeast. Karen’s negotiating assistance helped me see which of my “wants” were an appropriate ask for a regional institution. She helped me find the proper tone to ask for these things, and she also found some things in my “want” list that might be questioned as uninformed or insulting from the department’s point of view. With TPII’s assistance, I was able to obtain a 6% salary raise, double my moving assistance, and clarify exactly how to obtain $10,000 in start up funds for my line. For a regional academic position in the arts, particularly in the southeast, this type of package is almost unheard of.”

Well, that’s it!  I hope you’re finding success in your searches so far this year.  Best of luck, and get in touch if I can help.  And no matter what, do let me know how things go for you. I love to hear from clients and readers about their interviews, campus visits and overall feelings about being on the market and the whole academic career track in these challenging times.

 

 

Why Your Job Talk Sucks

by Kellee Weinhold, TPII coach and master of our live Skype Job Talk Strategy sessions.

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It is that time of year again. The job applications of August and September are resulting in campus visits in November, which for the Professor is In means a significant uptick in Job Talk Interventions.

It also means a significant uptick in frustration, angst and despair for both clients and me. There is nothing quite so disheartening as pouring hours into a job talk and having someone tell you in no uncertain terms that it is a failure.

And, “frustrated” does not begin to cover my response, as a person devoted to effective communication, to daily evidence of how thoroughly departments fail to prepare grad students in the basics of communicating their research.

IN FACT, because the vast majority of Job Talk Interventions have resulted in massive overhauls, we no longer offer the Job Talk Intervention, and have instead replaced it with a Job Talk Strategy Session, designed to walk you through resolving these key points, for YOUR research, so that you can avoid writing an egregious and totally non-viable first version, and move straight to an effective editable, presentable draft.  (By the way, Karen and her team also edit job talks.  Ask her about that at gettenure@gmail.com).

So, in the long tradition of the Professor is In tough love, here is why your job talk sucks and how to fix it.

  1. Your talk does not address the job ad.
  • Virtually all job calls include something like:
    • “We are especially interested in candidates who use quantitative and mixed methods, and regularly work with the analysis of large complex datasets.”
    • “We are looking for a scholar who has expertise in one or more of the following areas: i) global/transnational XX;  ii) The state/public policy/social regulation; iii) race diversity/immigration”

If have been invited to campus for Job #1 and you do not present a job talk that includes mixed method and large data sets, you have written the wrong job talk. It is also very unlikely that you will get the job.

If you have been invited to campus for Job #2 and your talk does not include a global perspective, you have missed the mark. Of course, it also needs to look at either ii) or iii) but the global/transnational approach has been placed front and center. That means you need to do the same.

 

2. Your talk is too broad.

  • The job talk should provide a window into your larger intellectual enterprise. Think of it in cooking terms; it’s an amusebouche. A small taste of what you do. One that reveals everything about your talent and potential but doesn’t leave the audience in a food coma. And just to be clear, we are not talking those weird overly precious plate constructions. Think sophisticated BUT manageable and accessible. To repeat: Make one basic point, supported with theory and/or evidence. ONE POINT.

 

3.  You overcompensate:

  • You forgot that your research focus and expertise have already done the work of getting you to the campus visit. Instead, you go into the experience thinking you have to justify what you do and to prove the value of both. In my experience that means that you will front load your talk with waaaaaaaay too much information about why your project matters, what theories and research informed it, and worst of all, the journey of how you came to the project i.e. your “interests.”
  • Here is the hard truth: No one actually cares about what interests you. They care about how you and your work are in conversation with them. That’s why the job talk exists. To allow you to further explain what you are doing and show how you engage with the people around you. So, rein in your narrative of self-discovery and provide a clear and compelling snapshot of your research that reveals your maturity, flexibility, and teaching abilities.

 

4.  You argue your case before you make your case:

  • Session after session with clients, I hear them leap into their argument without setting up any groundwork. Just, “Hi. This is what I think.” Jumping directly to your argument can be read in one of two ways: desperate or arrogant. To avoid evoking either response, walk the audience through your methods and results BEFORE you make the argument that answers the question you are taking up in the talk. You are answering a question, right?

 

5.  You forget that not everyone knows what you know:

  • In fact, no one does. Just because you’ve spent a decade on this stuff doesn’t mean the audience know the first thing about it. So, think about what an advanced undergraduate would need to know before he or she could understand the approach and analysis that will follow. This is the who, what, when, where, and why.

 

6. You give up too much real estate to other people’s ideas:

  • While you absolutely need to situate yourself in the existing research, you do not need to explain anything and everything that others have done. The tendency, especially if your talk is based on an article, is to descend into a lit review. Remember, the talk is about your work. Cite only a few sources, noting the question/gap that you are addressing and move on to your own work.

 

7. You forget to answer the question:

  • So you set up this entire talk that is designed to answer the question(s) to make one basic point. Then you proceed to answer something entirely different. Many of you reading this will dismiss this with a wave, “I’m not doing that!” Trust me. I see it more often than not. Look at your question. Look at your results. Make sure the results that you got from your method/approach actually address the question you are engaging. And make sure that the discussion of those results is aimed at your field. Raise the level of complexity.

 

8.  You collapse at the Q&A:

  • The truth is that very strong candidacies are lost at the Q&A. They are lost because this is the main place in the talk where you reveal your collegiality (and confidence). Or you join the host of candidates who routinely crumble in the face of questions, which they perceive as at best, challenges or at worst, attacks. You must learn the art of responding to challenges. I suggest that clients think of the Q&A as being in an improve performance. The number one rule of improv is to accept whatever the audience or your fellow performers throws in your direction. So instead of allowing the screaming fear in your head to take over, pause and listen. Locate the point of entry for you to take up rather than resist the question.

 

9. Your Power Point works against you:

  • The mistakes are legion: You make it about the Powerpoint, using every bell, whistle and sparkle the program has to offer. (Focus on the message.) You use too much text. (Any text should be a headline not a paragraph.) You use small text. (Project it before you go. Stand at the back of the room. If you can’t read it, your audience won’t be able to either.) Your image use is ineffective: Whole screen images with no context. Multiple tiny images with too much going on. Illegible graphs shoved into too small a space. (Again, look at it from the audience perspective BEFORE you go). You don’t proofread. (I assume you know the solution for this?) You read the slides. (Stop it. Just stop. We can read.)

 

If you can correct these content issues and deliver your talk with formal phrasing, emphatic delivery (including a strong falling tone) with no hedging or self-sabotage, you will far surpass almost everyone on the market.

Read more about job talks here and here.

 

What Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Dissertation on X Examines X

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

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

Here are some more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Thank you, dear client!

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

All-caps in original; bolding added by me.

~~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“My Family Lives In Driving Distance” – Or Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

But seriously, nobody prioritizes Harvard because family lives nearby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banish These Words, 2016 Edition

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

The first three are related to my post “adjectives are not arguments”. In my book, I elaborate on this issue: “The simple repetition of the words on this list, over and over in your documents, does not suggest that you have a coherent project, or make a compelling point, or advance an original argument. (…)They are white noise, and devoid of meaning.”

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

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

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

On to nouns:

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

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

Lacuna Matata, Kelsky out.