Is the Academy Good?

I’ve had two huge changes in my life in the past two years.  The first is, I’ve started dancing in earnest. The second is, I’ve started meditating.  These have both completely transformed my life.  Dancing has allowed me to move from my brain (the natural habitat of the Ph.D., whether in the academy or not) to my body.  And meditating has allowed me to move from my brain to my spirit, by way of my emotions, which I’m learning to observe in a mindful fashion as they come, wreak havoc, and go.

It’s hard to explain how transformative this process has been.  It’s been wonderful.  And it’s been terrible.  Because, it has required me to acknowledge how much time – how many years and decades – I spent out of touch with my body and my spirit, and repressing/ignoring/condemning/acting out from my emotions.

As a post-academic person, I can’t help but relate this to my life in the academy.  I ask:  was I drawn to the academy because I was so emotionally stunted?  Or did I become (more) emotionally stunted by being in a spirit-crushing academy?

Either way, the academy in this equation is the same:  a place that denies the body, the spirit, and the emotions.

Is this a gross generalization?  Yes, it is.  But I don’t see much that contradicts it.  I look at my life in the academy, at my former colleagues, at my current academic friends, at my clients and readers and Facebook and blog commenters, and I see a universe of people in pain but unable to speak openly about it, because the academy requires distance, logic, and irony, and deflects and sometimes openly mocks feelings, intuition, and any admission of weakness.

I mean, think about it! The Professor Is In core principle of job applications is: facts not feelings!  And I stand by this completely, in terms of job applications.  You want to have a job in the academy, you had damned well better learn to make your case on the facts of your record, not your feelings, desires, hopes, aspirations, wishes, and dreams.


Feelings, desires, hopes, aspirations, wishes, and dreams are also the stuff of life.  So I juxtapose the academic job market advice that I give – which works! – and the values that I increasingly see as necessary to a whole and meaningful life.  And I ask:  is the academy destructive, in its premises, to a whole and meaningful life?

I am not implying, just yet, that it is.  I might argue that, someday, but I’m not now.  But right now I am completely absorbed by a question: is the academy good?

This is a shocking question to even contemplate for me.  Of course the academy is good!  The academy is what we fight to preserve from corporatization, and cost-cutting administrators, and vengeful, ignorant Republican governors.  It’s the source of so much knowledge.  Life-saving knowledge, even.  And life-enriching knowledge absolutely.

I love the academy. I’ve always loved the academy since the first time I understood what it was, when I was about 10. I set out to be part of it. Now, outside of it, I still spend every day talking to it, and about it and caring desperately about its welfare.


Is the academy good?

In some ways it’s a terrible time to ask that question, when it plays into the hands of the anti-intellectual, budget-cutting impulses of the present moment.

But in some ways this is exactly the time to ask this question.  Because if we can’t make a case that the academy is good, not just because it feeds our brains, but because it serves a deeper and wider purpose, then there is no hope of defending it against ideologues.

And right now, I don’t know that there is space to talk about its deeper, wider purpose, when so many individual academics (especially in the humanities, which I know best, and especially the tenured) are dedicated to maintaining an ‘ironic distance,’ and productivity above all, and hiding weakness or pain.

Never fear, I will keep giving advice about how to play the academic game according to its rules.  You need a paycheck, and I can help.  Some readers have accused me of reinforcing the academy’s spirit-crushing rules.  But that’s actually not the case.  My entire project of naming the academy’s rules AS rules makes the values of the academy explicit, and thus easier to critique, manage, and reject if you so desire.  I find myself constantly saying, in my talks around the country:  “So, that is the basic rule.  Break it if you want!  But break it intentionally!  Know that you’re choosing to break the rule, and understand the risks.  And then do what feels right to you.  Do you!  Just do it from knowledge, not from ignorance, or delusion.”

I’m so grateful that so many readers have recognized and responded to this.  Countless have written over the last 5 years to tell me that they love making their job documents and interviews better and more effective, and they love doing better on the market. But that what they love most of all is knowing they’re not crazy. The system is what it seems, whether advisors admit it or not. By knowing that the academy has a rigid set of cultural rules and norms and values, you can both learn those rules, and choose the ways that you are willing to engage with them.

When you can separate the culture of the academy from your identity, then you have space to move!  Space to critique.  Space to act.  Space to say no.  That is empowering.

But now I want to take the next step, and ask:  what do we think of those rules?  What purposes do they serve?  What damage might they cause for us as individuals?  And how does that play out in our wider lives, out into “society” as a whole?

If it’s so easy for huge swaths of the population to hate us and think we have no value…  what does that say?  Let’s pause, and take the challenge seriously.  What exactly are we doing? What do we stand for?  What do we deliver?

These are the questions that I think about. That I can’t stop thinking about.  What do you think? I want to know.  If you’re reading this, I want to hear from you.  Let’s make a space where it’s ok to talk about ourselves as whole people.





Negotiating Has Begun, and It’s Not Pretty

(This post replicates today’s Truth Zone newsletter)

I offer Negotiating Assistance* at The Professor Is In, and it’s some of my favorite work. How could it not be?  I get to help people negotiate the coveted tenure track (and sometimes tenured!) offer!  It’s wonderful!  Clients usually start out as nervous wrecks, of course, but quickly see that it’s not a terrible experience, and that it can feel quite empowering to ask for things you want and need to succeed in your career.  My job is to tell you what you can and can’t ask for, and how to make the asks, and then how to read the responses, ultimately deciding how far to push and when to let up.  It’s especially fun when we’re working with the leverage that comes with multiple offers.

As fun as it is, and as successful as the negotiations usually are, I also have to report: things are tight this year.  I’m seeing more jobs than previously that have little or no scope for negotiation.  The spousal hire at the assistant professor level is going the way of the unicorn, it seems.

And, I’ve already had a client who had a job offer rescinded.

It’s always shocking when that happens.  It’s still very rare:  I’ve seen three clients with rescinded offers in the past two years.  But since negotiating season is still in very early stages this job cycle, I’m wondering if I’ll see more this year.  I talk about the rescinded offer at great length in my book, so I won’t repeat it here (read Chapter 50).  But I will say that it’s ever more important that you go into negotiations understanding exactly how they work, and what you can expect, and knowing exactly how to match your requests with the type and status and rank of the department/institution you’re dealing with.  Rescinded offers happen, in every one of the cases I personally know, when a candidate asks for things that are absolutely beyond the pale for the rank/type of institution.  In other words, asking for an R1 offer when dealing with a tiny regional teaching college. Instead of engaging, the department just says, “forget it.”  And that’s it.  There is no going back.  The offer is gone.

I don’t want to see that happen to anyone, so once again, this year, I am offering a free negotiating webinar.  It’s on Thursday December 17, at 6 PM EST.  It is 75 minutes long, and will cover all the nuts and bolts of a successful tenure track negotiation.

It’s free, but you do have to register.  Do that here on the Webinars page.

With the advice in this webinar you’ll be prepared.  Also be aware, if you get an offer, the single most important thing you can do is work with a mentor in the negotiation to read the tea leaves for that particular set of circumstances.  Negotiations are ALWAYS INDIVIDUAL, PARTICULAR, AND LOCAL; don’t expect to apply national salary scales, for example, to your particular case.  (Read more about that in Chapter 48 of my book).  If you need help with negotiating, by all means email me at  I love to help!

(By the way, don’t forget the Campus Visit Webinar will help you get through to the challenge of negotiating!  It’s on Thursday 12/10 6 PM EST; the only date in December.  See it at the same link as above.)

*Here is the info on that if you’re interested:

Negotiating Assistance is $500/first week ($600 for tenured positions), and a week is virtually always sufficient (it goes down to $400 [$500], and then $300 [$400] 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 (no phone calls) for the quick turnaround of responses required by most negotiations.  While I technically don’t work on weekends, 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.   (An R1 Humanities tenure track offer can usually gain $15-30,000 over the initial offer; at a small regional SLAC it may be closer to $2-10,000. An R1 Science offer can sometimes gain $30-60,000 over the initial offer).  If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll invoice you today.  I also have all NA clients sign a contract acknowledging the nature of the work, which i will attach to this email for your reference.

Fine print: You must return the signed contract to proceed with the work. After payment you’ll get a set of instructions on how to provide the offer details; please don’t submit any info until you get that and can follow those instruction.   If your negotiation requires fewer than 7 days I don’t refund payment or apply it as credit to other work.  In the event that your institution refuses to negotiate and you achieve no substantial gains, I will refund 50% of the payment (up to $250).

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.”

Another R1 offer (Sciences) client recently wrote, “I’ve been on the market for several years and had always imagined finally getting an offer as the ‘end’ of the lengthy and exhausting job search process; with that mentality it’s tempting to just flop over with relief and take the first thing thrown at you, thinking that you’re now ‘done’! It was hugely helpful to have someone to remind me that the negotiating phase is as much a part of the job search as any other step!”

The Genuine Job Search (Out-Ac post by Karen Cardozo)

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I am a major proponent of a both/and approach. This proclivity emerges in my bio as an interdisciplinary or, more precisely, an undisciplined scholar: through years of academic contingency, I just decided to focus on whatever the hell I felt like.  And perhaps not coincidentally, I ended up in an unusual TT position where being multifaceted is my mandate! Beyond that, I’m a professor and a career consultant, and those things as well as a musician.  In my life as a spouse and mother, I engage some gender-normative activities (cooking, laundry, nagging) but also ditch domestic duties at the drop of a hat if something more compelling comes along (my family is used to it by now, and have learned to fend for themselves – no need to call social services just yet).

As career coach Barbara Sher says of the polymath types she calls “scanners,” I refuse to choose.  Some weeks my work/life “balance” looks wholly untenable, other weeks—like this one—it is a joyous, thrill of a ride, to wit: a) I submitted an academic conference proposal and found out on the same day that an article I sweated over all summer was accepted for publication; meanwhile, 70 undergrad final paper proposals await my review (yes, I did this to myself – but I find student-centered inquiries fun to facilitate; b) I am enjoying my TPII clients and writing this blog, c) I have not one but two gigs with my band, and I continue feeding the family/walking the dog at assorted intervals throughout d) all of the above. For me it’s not about balance—a fleeting outcome, but balancing—an ongoing practice.

One way to summarize what I have just described is…crazy.  Who in their right mind mixes all these endeavors?!  I prefer the adjective genuine.  I have lately realized that the only truly full-time job I have on this planet is:  being myself.  In conducting these activities as the artist formerly and currently known as ME, I am slowly but surely constructing a genuine life upon the ashes of the prison of academic socialization that I have blasted with my authenticity (notice how that word contains the T, N and T you will need to blow things up?!).  Against conventional wisdom, I have quit several “good” jobs that did not appeal, while pursuing others that no PhD is “supposed” to want.  But as I said in an earlier post, any decision made with integrity from a job search conducted authentically tends to yield… a genuine job!  And by that I mean not just a “real” job, but a job in which you can really be yourself.

For example, my department chair recently came to evaluate my teaching and had to sit through the opening mindful breathing/meditation exercise that I do with all my classes to keep me, and them, on the sanity track. I did not know if he would approve of such methods (as it turned out, he wrote a glowing review), but I did know that I wasn’t going to change my teaching philosophy to impress anyone or to preempt critique.  I am the authority on, and the author of, my own life’s work:  I trust my Source.

How, pray tell, do these idiosyncrasies apply to YOU?  Well, one thing I’ve learned from my TPII clients is that many have a similar both/and thing going on:  more PhDs than you might expect are a multifaceted lot who could envision both an academic career and an alternative one.  The problem is timing.  You may not feel ready to walk away from academe, but you also don’t yet know if you’ll land the academic job (or get tenure, etc.).  Like college kids who leave the nest only to return home unexpectedly, sector transitions (twists, turns, and returns) are increasingly common in what life coach Martha Beck calls the “wild new world.”  Relieve yourself of the burden of thinking you have to decide once and for all.

Whether you have ABD or post-tenure blues, instead of engaging in unnecessarily stressful and premature deliberation about whether to stay in or leave academe, put on your both/and hat to evaluate a range of options based on genuine FIT.  That is, while exploring intriguing Alt/Post alternatives, you might also apply selectively for academic jobs that align with your authentic values: whether around preferred geographic locations, institutional mission or research/teaching/service emphasis.  Different hiring cycles and timelines will probably determine how and when you do this:  for example, you might dedicate Fall to scanning and applying for academic listings and then – while that jury’s out—dive into more networking around alternative jobs that appeal.  Across sectors, if you applied only for “genuine jobs,” you could never go wrong. Whichever job you got and accepted would be the “right” job for you.

In short, you need to ask: WWGMD?  What would “genuine me” do?  Gem, as we might nickname this true self (indeed, your oldest and best friend), would let go of linear track thinking, explore multiple options of interest, and simply choose whichever emerges as the best choice for now.  You are not making a once-and-for-all, irrevocable, decision.  If my own path reveals anything, it’s that.  I thought I’d left academe, but ended up on the tenure-track.  I’m on the tenure-track, but also doing “Alt” work.  Who knows if I’ll stay?  Time (and Gem) will tell.

Meanwhile, what about the job you’re IN?  Reclaim the primary task of being yourself: rinse and repeat.  Start with baby steps. For example, stop saying things you don’t mean (“I particularly admire your painstaking and empirically sound studies confirming Banal’s hypothesis that sleep deprivation results from a lack of restorative sleep.”)   Academe is notorious for being the antithesis of authenticity: we ain’t joking about “discipline and punish” up in here!  However, being authentic, or “living in your integrity,” as Beck would say, is a litmus test for “finding your tribe.” Faking it to make it results in you eventually having to utter this kind of sentence (from a real client of mine):  “my career is on the upswing, and I’m miserable.”

As this article on the “7 habits of highly genuine people” suggests, there’s a paradox here:  we think that working to appeal to or impress others should endear us to them, but for a variety of reasons it does not.  Academe is thus rife with a vicious re/production cycle in which people try hard to impress while also being unimpressed by how hard everyone tries to impress.  In this morass of conformity, those who are genuinely on the job stand out. The only person you should be trying to impress –i.e. “make a mark or design upon”—is Y.O.U.  For such a tough critic, only an authentic design will do.  You will remain unimpressed by anything other, or less, than that.

We worry so much about people finding us out, and then not wanting us as a result.  What we tend to forget is that rejection sets us free: it is a revelatory gift from people we don’t need in our lives, be they flesh and blood, academic colleagues, or “friends” we have picked up along the way.  Like calls to like; deep calls to deep.  As one of my song lyrics goes, “anyone can listen / few can hear.”  You don’t need everyone to listen.  You only need the right people to hear you.  Issue your own authentic call to the universe, and see who returns it.

Ph.D. Debt Survey Revisited

Remember my Ph.D. Debt Survey (who could forget it?) — my crowdsourced google spreadsheet from 2014, of volunteered reader debt information from their undergraduate and graduate studies?  (It’s still open–feel free to add your own info using the form)* It’s not a scientific survey, but it contains lots of individual stories of graduate school debt, including not a few humanities Ph.D.s with debt of over $200,000 and a Psychology Ph.D. with debt of $350K.
Well, two readers went to the trouble of providing graphic representations of the findings.  Karen Lichtman (Ph.D. Spanish) provided the following:

KML PhD debt figure

KML PhD debt pie

KML PhD debt by year

More recently, reader Tanim Islam (Ph.D. Physics) got in touch recently to tell me that he had gone to the trouble of providing us with a bit of statistical analysis of the results, divided between STEM and non-STEM fields.  Here it is.
Thank you, Tanim!
UPDATE 12/2/15:  Tanim and I decided to remove a $750K debt for an English Ph.D., assuming that this was probably a typo.  So text and the graphs have all been updated as of today.

I have done some rudimentary analysis on your google docs spreadsheet, which I have linked to here. I found of the 3022 current records (as of 25 November 2015, 7:18 AM), that I define 2917 records as valid: the record has a total current debt that is not none, and a field of study that isn’t blank or stated as unknown. Of these 2917 entries:

  • 411 are in STEM fields.
  • 2506 are in non-STEM fields.

I have identified the list of 86 fields in the 2917 records that are STEM, in the attached file “stem.txt.” I have identified a list of 250 fields in the 2917 records that are non-STEM, in the attached file “non-stem.txt” I have not done especially thorough systematics to determine how accurate was my classification.

In any case, I have summarized the statistics:

  • for the 411 graduate degree holders in STEM fields in your survey:
    • 205 / 411 (49.9%) have no current debt.
    • The median debt is $300.
    • The mean debt is $22188.
    • The maximum debt is $186000.
  • For the 2506 graduate degree holders in non-STEM fields in your survey:
  • 580 / 2506 (23.1%) have no current debt.
  • The median debt is $40000.
  • The mean debt is $55548.
  • The maximum debt is $425000.

I also have distributions of debts for STEM and non STEM degree holders.

Here they are:
nonstem_debts stem_debts
I hope this is useful.
*Here is the form!


The Dreaded Fit Question Comes First! (by Kellee Weinhold)

by Kellee Weinhold, TPII Interview Intervention Master

Kellee, accompanied by Penelope the Rabbit.

I’m inundated with Interview Interventions right now, doing 4 a day, every day this month.  Let’s just say, I’ve worked with a LOT of interview candidates. By this point in the year, one advantage of the volume is that I have the ability to see patterns both in the mistakes the clients make, and in the current questions that clients get asked. Many report their experiences back to me, and so I get an amazing snapshot of interview trends across the country.

It was one of those reports that prompted this post.

This came from a client this week: “Thanks for a fantastic intervention. As you had suggested, the ‘why did you apply to this job/what caught your eye about this job’ question was the FIRST question they asked.”

The client went on: “I’m so glad we practiced the four-point, ‘you do…I do…’ approach; pre-intervention it wasn’t a question I’d focused on particularly thoughtfully and it would have totally thrown me as the first question.”

Sadly the client is not alone in failing to prepare for the question of why s/he applied for the job. There is a certain logic to that lack of preparation. S/he applied for the job the same reason 200 other people did: it’s one of three listed in the field and they are desperate for a job. The problem is that the search committee does not make its hiring decision based on your desperation for a job. They hire you because you are a good fit.

And that’s what they’re trying to get at with the question. “Why do you apply for this job?” is the oblique way of asking “Why do you think belong here?” Which is basically demanding, “Prove to us that you fit the hole we are trying to fill and that you’re just like us.” Because that’s really what anyone who is looking for in a colleague: someone who solves the problem that they have and also won’t freak them out.

As the client wisely notes, your preparedness for this question is even more important given that a significant percentage of our clients report that this is the FIRST question of the interview. If you are not prepared for the fit question and you’re already nervous because you got yourself worked up and believing that this exact interview is a make or break moment in your life (I’m here to assure you that it’s not) then you are setting yourself for up for a rocky time.

If you are paying attention, at this point you should be wondering, “Well, how AM I supposed to answer that question?”

First let me follow a long-standing TPII tradition and tell you how you’re NOT supposed to answer:

  • You have a great library and archives in my area that I need in my research.
  • My friends and family and a bunch of people I know live in the area so I want to be there.
  • Dude, it’s Harvard. Why wouldn’t I apply?
  • I’m attracted to the intimate environment of a small liberal arts college. I really like small classes. I love undergraduates. blah blah, liberal arts mush.

That’s certainly not an exhaustive list, but they are answers I hear all of the time. They are all facepalm fails.

So, how do you answer?

Here is the four-point, “you do…I do… approach” that I use with my interview intervention clients:

Address the question of fit in four areas 1) the department 2) the faculty 3) programs, initiatives and institutes in the department and on campus 4) the classroom.

Think of each area as a bucket that you are filling with information and are prepared to pour out no matter which way the question comes.

Structure the answer for each as a comparison between the department and you and your contribution. In other words, “You (department) do this and I do this.”

Here’s an example, which I assume you know by now not to use word for word or run the risk of being TPII cookie-cutter material.

1)I am particularly interested in this department because of its commitment to examining media communications from a global perspective, challenging the western media normative model, which I’m doing my own work by examining media portrayals of race and class in the coverage of labor unions in the US and Chile.

You will note, I did not say that I fit. I did not say that I would be a good addition. I simply said you do this and I do this. You want to follow the same pattern with each of the other buckets.

2) I see interesting intersections with my work and [Margaret Smith] (not Professor Smith! first name-last name) and her work on gender normativity and social media.

3) I would look forward being involved with your Institute for Racial Justice, which is examining many of the same issues that I have in my work with  XXX

4) I look forward to teaching your courses in X and Y and bringing my expertise in Z to the XXX classroom.

Got it? Four buckets: you do this…I do this….

One more thing:

There is no faking this answer. You have to decide why this is a good university for you. You do that by digging in and learning about the department. It’s that knowledge and thoughtfulness that show the search committee why you should be their colleague.


Want more guidance? Get on my calendar for a live Skype Interview Intervention, Job Talk Intervention, or Campus Visit Intervention!

Your File Gets 2.5 Minutes Max

Dear readers of the blog, today I’m copying one of my recent Chronicle Vitae columns, “Drowning in Application Files,” here, because I want you all to read it. It’s about 2 things: how should faculty deal with skyrocketing numbers of application files, and how many minutes of review should job candidates expect their files to receive at the initial stage?

Since most of my readers here identify more with the latter question, I want you to grasp the point:   at this point in university hiring your entire application file,  at the point of initial review, is likely read and acted upon in well under three minutes.  When I say, in my book, on this blog, and elsewhere, to BE CONCISE and give them FACTS NOT EMOTIONS, this is why.

Please see the comment thread of the Chronicle Vitae post for more insights from other faculty members, including one who estimates he spends closer to 30 seconds at the initial stage of review.


From Chronicle Vitae:

Q: I would love to see a future column on time management for assistant professors serving on search committees in the humanities. I’m on one now and drowning in files. How do we do justice to applicants without pulling all nighters?

That question was posted on my Facebook page, and quickly inspired the following comment:

I’d love advice on this, too. My tactic was to use the CV, cover letter, and letters of recommendation to narrow things down, then look at more material from the top candidates (writing sample, teaching materials). I hated not being able to read every word of every file, knowing how much work went into it. But one can only do so much.

This struggle of the search committee is the flip side of the job-market crisis, and while the suffering of the securely employed is not, perhaps, the most urgent element in this crisis, it is worth taking a moment to consider.

The overwhelming number of application files is the reason that I begin all of my job-market workshops with this claim: “They want to reject you.” And it’s the reason that my book has a chapter, “Why They Want To Reject You,” in which I write: “They don’t love you. They aren’t excited to see your application come in. On the contrary, they dread dealing with it. But it’s not personal. It’s not you they dread, per se. It’s the search itself. The whole exercise of sifting through applications, evaluating, discussing, interviewing, inviting, and offering in this demoralized and downsized industry.”

Search committees come to love certain candidates later in the search, and generally get very invested in one or more of them — but not at the opening stages, when they are drowning in documents. Remember that, job seekers, when you are wondering whether to send in that writing sample that the committee didn’t ask for.

Anyway, back to the question. Let’s be realistic. If your search draws 300 complete applications, and you spend 4 minutes on each application, that is 1,200 minutes, or 20 hours. I repeat: 20 hours. Very few full-time faculty have 20 free hours to spend on the initial review of files for a search. That would be 4 hours a day for a solid week, or two hours a day for two weeks. (And remember, 300 is not a very large number of files, comparatively speaking, when a single English opening in some specializations can draw 900 or 1,000 applications.)

What does all of that mean? Basically it means that if you on a search committee, and you are confronting more than 100 or 150 applications, you should expect to spend less than 4 minutes reading each one of them.

I can anticipate howls of protest from readers. But, in my experience on search committees, we looked only at the cover letter and CV at the initial stage of review. The secondary documents — the research statement, teaching statement, diversity statement, and letters of recommendation — came into play only after the long shortlist of about 25 to 30 applicants was established. If a search-committee member was conflicted about several files at the initial stage of review, and then perhaps some supporting documents might be examined, very selectively. But that was the exception. The general rule was that only two documents — the CV and cover letter — played a major role at the initial stage. Some of us tended to prioritize the letter, and some of us prioritized the CV. I was one of the former, as I liked to get a sense of the candidate’s “voice” as well as that person’s record, but I had colleagues who felt the CV best delivered the most important information. Either way, the CV could be flipped through in about a minute, and a cover letter in about two. And on that basis, our long shortlists were created.

A tenured professor at a research university once posted on The Professor Is In Facebook page that he had reviewed X number of files in X minutes, spending an average of 2.73 minutes per file. Much shock and consternation ensued in the comments from job-seeking readers.Candidates find it distressing and insulting that the documents they spent untold hours crafting are read under such rushed and haphazard conditions.

It’s safe to say that nobody on any search committee feels that this is a desirable state of affairs. Pretty much everyone finds it deplorable. But there is no real alternative. In the current academy, tenured and tenure-track professors don’t have an extra 35 hours a week to devote to reviewing 300 files in a way that would allow for a leisurely 7-minute perusal of each file. The contraction in the ranks of tenure-line faculty and their increasing administrative burdens have left almost all of them, outside of the most elite, extremely time-stressed.

I don’t recommend that assistant professors pull all-nighters for the sake of a search, as one of the questioners remarked. It’s not healthy, and it sets a bad precedent for other work obligations that are looming for them just down the road.

In short, I think we have reached a point where 3 minutes or less is the amount of time many candidate files will get at the stage of initial review. As an assistant professor on a search committee, don’t martyr yourself trying to give more time than your starved and shrunken institutional infrastructure supports. And job seekers, as unfair as it is, make sure that your two primary documents deliver up your complete record as concisely and directly as possible.
– See more at:

Join the AAUP, People! (Guest Post by Michael Bérubé)

by Michael Bérubé*

Michael Bérubé is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature at Pennsylvania State University, a former president of the Modern Language Association, and a member of AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. 

I was recently in Washington, DC for the fall 2015 meeting of AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. AAUP stands for the American Association of University Professors.**  Discussing updates on the dismantling of tenure in the Wisconsin system– and getting a report on just how badly rigged the University of Iowa’s farcical presidential search was.

Also, going over the first draft of Committee A’s report on Title IX and academic freedom, revising the Association’s policy barring “collegiality” as a criterion in faculty evaluation, and discussing the Association’s defense of due process for contingent faculty members. And much, much else in the course of a two-day, ten-hour meeting and a working dinner.

I got to thinking, as I often do, about the dwindling number of AAUP members who are not in collective bargaining units (a/k/a “advocacy” members). I am always absolutely stunned, stupefied, and gobsmacked by the overwhelming number of my academic friends and associates who are not members of the only organization that defends academic freedom. Including, most amazingly, thousands of faculty members at universities that are under ferocious political and economic assault. Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Carolina, I am looking at you.

It is so, so, so depressing. How depressing, you ask? It makes me want to give up and go home depressing, that’s how depressing.

I’m not giving up and going home, though, because if I do I will not be able to face John Dewey in the afterlife when he asks me what I did to defend the academic freedom he helped to define.


[KK:  You join the AAUP by joining your local chapter. Find a list of chapters here, or consider starting your own!]


Over the years I have heard four varieties of complaint from people trying to justify their refusal to join AAUP.

One: it is an antiquated, elitist association devoted solely to defending the rights of a small handful of tenured professors, ignoring three-quarters of the professoriate– the new faculty majority of contingent labor.

This is just totally and completely untrue, as this handy compilation of AAUP resources on contingent appointments will show.


Two: the dues are too damn high.

For many years this was totally and completely true. Dues were flat fees around $180, and some states and chapters charged fees on top of that. $180 is just way too high for contingent faculty, graduate students (yes, graduate students can join!), junior faculty, and most underpaid faculty generally.

But now the AAUP has a progressive dues structure.

Dues start at $58, and nobody making under $50,000 pays more than $8.08 per month. $8.08. That’s a lunch from a food truck, once a month. And not even the most awesome food truck will defend your academic freedom.


Three: in the past, most notably in the McCarthy era, the AAUP has dropped the ball, failing to do precisely the thing it was founded to do– defend the academic freedom of controversial faculty members.

Also true, as openly acknowledged and discussed in this powerful report from 2011.

But the McCarthy era was quite a while ago. Here in the present, the AAUP position on politically controversial professors was critical for our defense of Steven Salaita and our censure of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

And unlike the “resolutions” debated so hotly by disciplinary associations, AAUP censure actually matters. When I led the investigation of layoffs and program closures at the University of Northern Iowa in 2012, the threat of censure was what brought the administration back to the bargaining table with the faculty union. Read that last bit again: unionization did not protect the UNI faculty from layoffs and closures. The same was true at the University of Southern Maine, where I led an investigation in early 2015.


Four: OK, OK, the AAUP has great policies on the due process rights of contingent faculty members, the dues are reasonable, and the McCarthy era was quite a while ago. But the AAUP still doesn’t do enough. There are all kinds of injustices and outrages to which it does not respond.

Let me go back to the absolutely stunned, stupefied, and gobsmacked part of this post. There are 1.5 million faculty members in the United States. There are just over 40,000 members of the AAUP, and if you subtract the number of members in collective bargaining units, you get fewer than 10,000 “advocacy” members.

The organization is ridiculously, scandalously small, and it has only the number of staff it can afford. That number, too, is ridiculously, scandalously small. The faculty members on AAUP committees, and the faculty members who conduct AAUP investigations, do all their work pro bono. We are operating on a shoestring.

And yet we don’t ask whether people are members, or whether a campus has a chapter, before we take cases or do investigations. We try to represent and defend the entire profession. Merciful Moloch, I honestly don’t know how the AAUP gets as much done as it does.

So if you are complaining that the AAUP doesn’t do more, you can help fix that. Join. Form a campus chapter. This organization should be ten times the size it is now– and even then, it would consist of less than one-third of the professoriate. It will cost you a few bucks a month, but you will be able to face John Dewey in the afterlife.


[KK:  You join the AAUP by joining your local chapter. Find a list of chapters here, or consider starting your own!]


*Michael posted a version of this on Facebook; I saw it there, and asked if he’d be willing to expand it a bit for The Professor Is In. He kindly agreed.

**From the AAUP Website: “The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post?doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities.”

Go Ahead, Lose Your Balance

I have been reading a lot of things by life coach Martha Beck lately, and I found this blog post of hers from a few years ago – Balancing Act: The Dance of an Unbalanced Life –  deeply illuminating.  She basically comes out and says what very few will: that doing everything that our culture expects of women is impossible. Not difficult. Impossible.

“In fact, having done all that research, I can tell you with absolute assurance that it is impossible for women to achieve the kind of balance recommended by many well-meaning self-help counselors. I didn’t say such balance is difficult to attain. I didn’t say it’s rare. It’s impossible. Our culture’s definition of what women should be is fundamentally, irreconcilably unbalanced.”

Beck writes that women should abandon the effort to reconcile impossible expectations:

“Many of these women were haunted by the fear that others were judging them negatively. They were right. Our culture does belittle women who cannot be both professional high-achievers and traditional moms. It questions the devotion of women who attempt to combine the two roles. My conclusion? Balance, schmalance. Trying to establish a harmonious equilibrium between our society’s definition of What a Woman Should Be is like trying to resolve the tension between two hostile enemies by locking them in a room together.”

Instead, she urges us to embrace unbalance:

“If someone condemned you because, say, you failed to prevent Hurricane Katrina, you wouldn’t dissolve in shame or work to overcome your inadequacy. You’d probably conclude that your critic was nuts, then simply dismiss the whole issue. That’s the wonderful thing about seeing that our society makes impossible demands on all women. You free yourself to ignore social pressures and begin creating a life that comes from your own deepest desires, hopes, and dreams. You’ll stop living life from the outside in and begin living it from the inside out.”

In other words, she asks us to think about living authentically, from our own internal values, not those of others (for example, oh I don’t know, your dissertation committee):

“If you feel trapped by contradictory demands, you may want to join this gentle rebellion. You can help create a new cultural paradigm, one that replaces conformity with honesty, convention with creativity, and judgment with kindness. That, in the end, is the gift of the disequilibrium that society has bequeathed to all of us.”

What will this look like?  I can’t actually you. Unlike the proper outline of a tenure track job application cover letter, there is no formula. No formula at all. Absolutely none.

It comes from your own sense of motivation, belief, commitment.

I know that for my part, The Professor Is In arose when I finally admitted defeat–I could not make the academic career work and still protect my kids.  I “failed,” I gave up, I gave in. And then… I manifested a vision that became a livelihood, which in turn has exceeded anything I accomplished as a professor.

As Martha writes, “Being forced to seek balance within ourselves, we can make our unsteady, stumbling days feel less and less like disaster and more and more like a joyful dance—the dance of a wildly, wonderfully, perfectly unbalanced life.”

This has been true for me.

I don’t have answers in this unbalanced quest, answers like the kind I have spent the past 4 years providing for the tenure track job search and academic career.  What I have are some good questions, along with instinct, gut feeling, my bedrock contrarianism, and the conviction of my own experience.  Which tell me that it’s time to tell you: It’s ok to try something different.

The Reviews Are In!

I want to take today’s post to share a few of the Amazon reviews of my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job, which has been the #1 bestseller in its category of Academic Development Counseling since it came out!

The reviews are almost uniformly great.  Sharing them might look a bit like bragging, but hey,  if I can’t brag on my own blog, where can I?  And, the ones I’m sharing here are worth reading–they’re funny, well-written, and make some interesting points about the academy along the way.  I do include one of the less-positive ones at the end, because it too is illuminating.

I hope that if you’re a job seeker, you buy a copy of the book for yourself! And if you’re a professor, that you buy the book for your students, and assign it in your grad and professionalization seminars! (please do let me know if you do).


From 10/8/15:  “Reading college advice guides is a lot like looking at those pictures where they overlap the faces of the 25 hottest stars to show you what beauty is. You can pick out an ear here, an eyelash there, but you realize they’re almost all exactly the same. The Professor Is in: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PH.D. Into a Job is the Quasimodo of this allegory. Karen Kelsky‘s guide to transitioning from grad student to tenure-track faculty doesn’t overlap with books of its ilk, and it looks pretty damn ugly to anyone considering grad school.

If it sounds as though I’m downing Kelsky, rest assured: I’m not. I can’t fault The Professor Is In for any of the ugliness it brings, because it’s a necessity. The outlook for grad students isn’t Hollywood overlap-pretty, and Kelsky isn’t airbrushing its rough edges. Instead, she eviscerates the flaws in the academic system that allow PhDs to languish in adjunct hell for years, and maps out the most hopeful course for those with their eyes on the tenure prize.

Not only has Kelsky identified and appealed to a gap in advice materials available to grad students, but she’s also closed it. Barring great changes for terminal degree holders in the jobs market, The Professor Is In has monopolized and exhausted the conversation. Kelsky leaves few, if any, stones unturned, and she spreads out her information in such a way as to leave no need for other voices. It’s a shrewd and compassionate decision on her part, to offer graduates a single book to answer all their questions. For Kelsky’s readers, there’ll be no combing nearly-identical texts for minor differences in chapters and footnotes, and no competition for the foreseeable future.

It’s worth noting that I almost never purchase copies of books I’ve read digitally, but I ordered a copy of The Professor Is In before I’d even finished it. Kelsky’s words didn’t dissuade me from pursuing a graduate degree, but they have proven vital to that journey. The Professor Is In is the item you grab when it gets dangerous to go alone, and I wasted no time recommending it to friends in the process of applying to graduate programs. If you’re considering a second degree, or know someone who is, put this book in their hands. They’ll thank you later.”


From 9/9/15: “I will say that I was very, very hesitant in purchasing this book as there is always so much information online and it does feel wrong to buy a book to tell me how to get a job. However, Dr. Kelsky is the very necessary slap across the face when you are desiring a job in academia. I am currently a postdoc in a psychology department and on the job market again. I am not an ardent follower of Dr. Kelsky’s blog, but I absolutely adore this book. It is indispensable to graduate student, postdocs, and faculty. I recommend every graduate student purchases a copy and read it when they start graduate school so they can start making the correct decisions right away that are needed for a successful graduate career. For more senior graduate students and postdocs, her advice is very useful in crafting your documents, deciding how you want to market yourself, and preparing for interviews. For faculty members, I would recommend reading this book so you can be a better advisor for your students. I go to every graduate student I work with and tell them about this book. I wish it had been published years ago when I was first starting graduate school! It is worth every penny and every academic-wannabe should see it as a reasonably-price investment in their future!


From 9/2/15: “I discovered Karen’s blog in my darkest time in grad school when I felt like a failure and could not figure out how to turn all the time I spent in school into a paycheck that I could live on. Reading the blog helped me stop wallowing in self-pity, realize that I wanted a non-academic job, get my PhD, and then get that job. I have now bought and read the book and would recommend it to every PhD student and undergraduate contemplating a PhD. The book is well-written, absolutely non-judgmental, and contains career and life advice that almost no one, and definitely not my tenured and neglectful PhD advisor, would share with me.”


From 8/6/15: “If you are a graduate student, considering graduate school, a faculty member, academic support, academic administration, or human; you need to read this book. The American academy is broken. I say this as one of the lucky few with a tenure track job. A system of graduate education was created in a time with circumstances that no longer exist. As Karen Kelsky explains in the opening chapters, the path to secure employment via a doctoral degree is a rocky one with a very uncertain outcome. For those that choose to pursue it, this book (and Kelsky’s blog and social media profiles) provides a frank, honest, and accurate description of what it takes to get something out of the doctoral experience.

– The scope of this book could have been problematic. Yet somehow Kelsky pulled it off: covering what it takes to get a tenure track job, the job market process, and throws in some additional material on grants and leaving the academy….
– Occasionally Kelsky’s experience as an anthropologist does not resonate with my experience in a different field. Almost always Kelsky acknowledges when there are disciplinary or paradigmatic differences and suggests that the reader knows her field.

This book may frighten some people. But it is absolutely essential that anyone that is a part of this process understands how this works. I read the book as a veteran of Kelsky’s blog and consulting. I suspect that reading the entire book would be challenging and/or overwhelming for a young graduate student. I would suggest that an early graduate student read Part I, II, III, and IV carefully and skim the rest for familiarity. A graduate student that successfully passes exams should re-read Parts I-IV and then read V-VII carefully. Parts VIII-X are more topic-specific, but are excellent resources for any scholar.

I believe that faculty should read this entire book with a goal of being better advisors and better academic community members. We all need to take responsibility for the system that currently exists and Kelsky’s book (and other work) may be a good starting point for trying to resolve some of the problems – either as individuals or systematically.

I sincerely hope that Kelsky can carve out time from her consulting work to write a similar book about life on the tenure track and getting tenure. Her blog posts on this topic are fantastic and I suspect that it would be a good “second project” 😉 for her. We all desperately need this sort of frankness and guidance.”


And one that was less positive:  “I bought this book hoping for some good advice on how to succeed post-PhD. Unfortunately, most of this advice is coming too late for me. If you’re still in your grad program (particularly in the early stages), I think you’ll find this book is helpful. If you’re already out and working the adjunct circuit, as I am, I’m not sure it’s particularly helpful. Mostly, it just made me feel like a failure.

(I have to say, I don’t really agree that the book isn’t helpful for those who are beyond the Ph.D., and who are adjuncting.  All the same principles apply in terms of creating a competitive record, crafting your application documents, and interviewing.  Chapter 10 includes notes on how to talk about an adjuncting record.  But a couple reviewers made similar points, so I guess I should have addressed the post-Ph.D. job search a bit more directly.  I will do that in my next book, The Professor Is You: Your Life With a Ph.D.)



A Perspective From the Hiring Committee (A Guest Post)

This is a guest post, volunteered by a tenured reader.  Also check out her previous post.


I and my fellow committee members work in a somewhat technical field at a mid-tier state university.    While every institution and department is different, there are some things that are common to all tenure-track hires.  Frankly many of these things should be obvious, but apparently they aren’t, at least judging by many of the applications we’ve received.

Understand the other side:   It’s tempting to blame the committee for the awful job market and seemingly byzantine hiring process.   But take a moment to understand what it is like to be on a hiring committee.    We are typically recently promoted Full Professors or Associate Professors and are juggling this assignment along with our regular teaching and research load.  This type of service takes a lot more time and effort than what most of colleagues get away with, such as membership on the “Task Force to Re-craft the Mission Statement”, but we undertake this effort because it’s crucial to our future and, frankly, because somebody has to.  Remember how you as a student used to think that your professors enjoyed giving hard midterms until you actually got stuck grading 200 essay exams?   Perhaps we aren’t reading all 200 applications the same weekend, but it’s similar.

We aren’t asking for sympathy, just some empathy, evidenced by you making your application easy to parse.    An additional bonus to demonstrating empathy is that we will assume you can apply this talent with your future colleagues and students.

Tailor your application to the position.   Yes, we know that we aren’t your one true love, and we expect- indeed hope- that you are applying many other places.    But spend at least 15 minutes convincing us that your attempt to land a position with us is more targeted than an oyster’s broadcast spawning.  At a bare minimum, put the position, department and school in the cover letter, and if an actual person’s name is provided, address your letter appropriately.   If we are asking for 3 letters of reference, either include them (if at all possible) or provide your recommenders’ contact information and explicitly mention that the letters will arrive under separate cover.   Our professors both need to teach and do research, so failing to mention either duty in your cover letter would be a fatal flaw.

Don’t dump:    Yes, we know that different committees ask for different materials.   But if we didn’t request a teaching statement, a research statement or a writing sample (which we didn’t), don’t send it.   We aren’t going to read it, and it just makes you seem like you didn’t read our advertisement closely.     Sending in a manuscript not yet even conditionally accepted in a journal smacks of desperation.    One applicant sent us 9 pages of raw computer-generated teaching scores with no explanation of the scale.  If you have an article in a prestigious journal or have been the subject of a glowing report in a relevant trade publication, feel free to mention it in your cover letter and offer to provide it on request, but let us ask for it first.   When we see 13+ attachments that we have to download, we tend to get cranky.

Anticipate objections:   Perhaps you are applying to a department outside of your doctoral study or perhaps you have never taught students before.     Provide evidence of why our concerns are unwarranted, and if you can’t provide such evidence, at least find a way to acknowledge them in your cover letter.    For example:  “While my school does not provide graduate students the opportunity to undertake sole teaching responsibility for classes, I have served as the primary TA for class X….” Don’t think we won’t notice, and you don’t want our one comment on the spreadsheet by your name to be “Not a good fit.”  If you are trying to switch from a tenure track job at another school to us, we are naturally going to wonder why (and also if you’d bail on us after a year or two), unless you tell us that you are attempting to relocate due to a better fit with your research needs, geographic preferences or another plausible reason.    For those of you still ABD who are looking to start in our fall term, the term “expected to defend in Summer 2015” raises concerns when our next academic year starts in the middle of August.   Lock in that date in and, if at all possible, make it before July!

Streamline/simplify your CV:   As Dr. Karen says, don’t shop at Costco.   If you put too much filler in, we might not notice the good stuff.   Here’s what we are looking for:

Research:  Ideally, we’d like you to list publications in reverse chronological order.  You can include acceptances and even “accepted pending minor revisions” as long as they are identified as such, but listing “submitted to Journal X” or “targeted for Journal Y” under “publications” is misleading and instead belongs under a “Work in Progress” section.   We’d rather see 1 publication and evidence of a healthy research pipeline than see 3 journal publications dating back to 2011 with no evidence of new research in progress.  Furthermore, we get accreditation kudos (and you get credits toward tenure) for articles that are published after you start working for us. So, in a perverse way, we would prefer an “accepted pending minor revisions” over an outright publication, once you have at least one relevant intellectual contribution in print.

For teaching experience we’d like to see classes listed in chronological order, indicating role (sole or co-instructor, or TA?) and any teaching evaluation scores with relevant scale and context, such as “Overall evaluation: 4.5 out of 5(best) where the departmental average for this class is 4.2.”   Not including evaluations for classes that should have them or merely providing a few cherry picked student quotations suggests you are hiding something.  We know firsthand the common pitfalls that occur the first time a class is taught, so we won’t hold a few bad evaluations against you- honest!

Service: You should certainly list relevant activities outside of research and teaching:  pertinent industry experience, membership in relevant organizations, (especially any leadership roles), reviews for respected journals in your field.   But as this is the least important section (sorry- it just is!) for most schools please keep it to the point: do we really need to know you were team captain of your college trivia club?

If you can master these basics and have done some decent work, you dramatically increase your chances of being noticed by us and our peers in the other schools you are applying to.