The European Project-Based Postdoc

I’ve worked with a handful of clients applying to project-based postdocs in Europe.  We’ve had some bumps in the road, as I had to learn the expectations of these postdocs.  A successful reader recently gave me a few pointers, which are below.  The most important is, these postdocs–although often in the humanities or social sciences —  require the applicant to fit into a larger pre-existing project (similar to lab-based science postdocs).  Also, they emphatically do NOT cover the revision of the dissertation into a book.  In these matters they are quite different from the typical North American social science or humanities postdoc, which typically exists to support the production of a first book or series of articles based on the dissertation.  Proceed with caution!
In Europe, especially as a result of the increasing importance of grant programs such as Marie Curie, they are the most common type of post-docs. The project’s over-arching topic is defined by the original team, and usually staff (post-doctoral and doctoral researchers) are hired only after the grant is awarded. This means that particular attention should be given to the fit of one’s research with the general goal of the project. I think that your suggestions on “how to tailor” are particularly useful in this stage: one should remain true to his/her interests and adapt them to the context at the same time. However, understanding the project’s nuances from the one-page published in the call for applications can be tricky. I found it useful to research the profiles of the team members, and see what their interest in the project may be and then pitch the proposal accordingly.
It is important to note that in these cases the applicant’s dissertation really belongs to the past: although it may be discussed in the interview (it was in my case) and must be mentioned in the letter, the goal of the post-doc is to develop new research on a new topic (which obviously may stem from the dissertation or build on some of its findings). In these post-doc there is no space for dissertation publishing, therefore the focus must be on the new project, which needs to be relatively developed and not just a vague idea.
Materials-wise, this spring I have applied to two project-related post-docs and both required:
- a CV
- a cover letter
- a project proposal (in one case the page limit was 2 (!!!), in the other 5 pages (2.500 characters) plus
- a writing sample
– only one required recommendations letters (two)
Your grant writing template works great as a template for the proposal (it was fine also for the shorter one), the difficult thing is to find that golden balance between the applicant’s research interests and the project’s scope and general goals.Sometimes the post-doc is expected to take additional tasks: one of the positions was for a post-doctoral researcher/network coordinator. Accordingly, things like international research experience and the coordination aspects of other service and job activities should be emphasized.

The interview covered the following topics: profile and research interests in general, dissertation, current research, project proposal (a lot and in depth – both theory, methodology and practical issues like organization of fieldwork and context specifics), future plans, availability to move to the particular country, and so on.

What Will You Gain When You Lose? – Langer #2

You know the Special K cereal commercials with the tag line, “What will you gain when you lose?”  I actually can’t stand those commercials or any advertising that try to glamorize dieting, market thin-centrism, and sell women on some kind of highly processed food-commodity as the key to weight loss, let alone happiness, success, or, in the Special K campaign–‘sass.’

However, it is true that in many cases in life, when you lose something, you do gain something else.  And that’s why the Special K line instantly popped into my head as I read Jessica Langer’s latest post on leaving academia.  Sure you’re losing the academia career [cue for violins], but, what are you gaining?  Make a list and tape it next to your computer, next to your bed, next to your toilet, wherever you need a reminder. Leaving academia can mean gaining a whole world of opportunity to do new things, and to free yourself from the cramped, narrow judgments that circumscribe the academic mind.


by Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer


For many of us, the most difficult thing about leaving academia isn’t finding work outside of it. It isn’t the practical concerns. It’s the emotional and psychological pull, the geas that’s put by the institutional cult of academia on each and every one of us as we enter graduate school and keeps its claws in our souls no matter what we do.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But maybe not.

I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who has found success and happiness outside of academia, so know that it’s possible. But academia is like a drug gang in more ways than one: every time we try to leave, it pulls us back in, whether materially or psychologically.

In short: leaving academia isn’t just changing career paths. It’s leaving a way of life and a way of looking at the world; because of this, it requires a real, active shift in the way you envision yourself, your relationship to your work, and your relationship to the wider world around you.

Here’s how I’ve made my own transition as psychologically healthy as possible:

  1. Really, truly believing that I am not a failure for leaving academia.

How I did this: I read all I could about the value of failure. I spent a day or two (ok, maybe a week or two. Or a month. Or a little longer than a month) really inhabiting the idea of being a failure, mourning it, and letting the feelings exist so that I could work through them, like one might climb one’s way out of a ditch.

I enumerated every success in my life, even the really small ones, to build up a little bulwark against the academic cult’s insistence that to leave is to fail.

And I had to start understanding academia as just one value system among many possible value systems, and not even necessarily the best one. It’s common for academia to inculcate its subjects into believing that it is the bearer of the only possible value system for smart people, in a way that quite literally replicates the more cultish of religions. It takes time, energy and insight to get rid of this. But you must if you want to free yourself from the paralyzing fear that leaving equals failure – and that failure is always bad or wrong – that academia so often engenders.

  1. Making a really long list of the positive aspects of my post-ac path.

In my post-academic life, I don’t get to make a living primarily from academic work. But I do get to live in Toronto, my hometown and favourite city. I get to live 2 blocks from my parents (this is not for everyone, but it works for me.) I get to raise my children here. I get to live in a city where I can afford a nice house and a nice lifestyle.

Also? I don’t have to read any journal article I don’t want to read. I don’t have to deal with academic departmental politics. I don’t have to worry that if I piss off the wrong professor, I won’t get an article accepted to Journal X. I don’t have to spend seven years terrified that I won’t get tenure and will have to uproot my entire family.

How I did this: I made an actual, physical list of pros. No cons, just pros: this isn’t a decision-making process, this is a commitment. I wrote it out, put it up next to my computer, and read it over and over.

(There’s a story here: when I went through my first really big breakup as a teenager, I made a list of people I could call anytime if I needed to talk, and taped it to my lamp next to my bed. I only actually called anyone from it a few times, but just the knowledge that it was there was an enormous help, psychologically. Just knowing the list is there – having it written out and contemplatable at any time – is going to be helpful to you, most likely.)

  1. Stay active in your academic field, if you want to… but only on your own terms.

Some people kind of shut themselves out of the academic community when they go alt- or post-ac to avoid the pain of seeing others on the path they used to tread. But I find that the mind is good at imagining the darkest and most hurtful possible realities when it’s cut off from information. Instead, understand that it will be painful, but follow those others’ trajectories… but make sure to follow every part of them. It’s easy to look at new TT folks and imagine that they all work in sunny offices with endless bookshelves and deep institutional pockets. Don’t romanticize; also pay attention to their tweets about how they’ll have to pay out of pocket for this year’s conference, to the field scuttlebutt about the departments that are viper pits. And remember that even a TT job isn’t a guarantee that you won’t be poor.

How I did it: It was a journey for me, and it continues to be, to be honest. I still publish, when it suits me and when I feel like it, and now I’m publishing in two broad, sometimes interrelated fields: consumer culture theory (marketing, in which I work and research now) and literature and film/media (in which I did my PhD). The freedom, now, is that I get to write and publish whatever the heck I want and it has no bearing whatsoever on whether I get to keep my job.

Similarly, I teach what I want, when I want, and I take the semester off if I want. I had a baby this fall, and instead of negotiating maternity leave and worrying about my tenure clock, I just… decided not to teach that semester, and did most client meetings by Skype for that few months. There’s a lot to be said about the unfair situation of adjuncts, and I’ve said a fair bit of it myself, and I don’t disagree that a lot of adjuncts are treated badly and paid abominably. But the flip side of occasional adjuncting as one element of a post-ac career is that it can be flexible on both sides. You aren’t tied down to one job, one city, for an entire career. You aren’t terrified during your T-T years of being uprooted eventually. You just… teach, and enjoy it, and then go home and do something else.

What’s the upshot here? Yes, you’re losing something when you leave academia. It’s a loss, and you can mourn it as a loss. But you’re also gaining something. You have the opportunity now to create your own future, in a way that almost no academic in the entire world does.

And finally: it’s important to understand that it’s OK and normal to always be a little sad or wistful about the academic path, because the loss of a dream is still a loss. But that sadness and wistfulness isn’t a signifier that they should have done anything different. It’s the logical consequence of the road not taken. No matter what, you’d have that wistfulness. So feel it, breathe through it, let it ride along with you for a while… and then let it go, as you launch yourself into that bright future of yours.

ASK THE #POST-ACS – How do I describe my academic work experience in post-ac interviews?

The following is the first in a new occasional series, “Ask the #Postacs.”  The panel of postacademic experts (bios here) will weigh in on reader questions as a collective.  Please send your questions for future columns to  We really want to hear them!


Dear Post-acs,

I’ve already had two job interviews (for the same company in New York), and I am encountering two questions that are giving me anxieties. The first is, “All you have is teaching experience; why should we hire you?” Well, that’s actually not true, as I have three years of non-academic professional experience, but I replied as best I could–responding that being a teacher at the college level gives you so many skills that are transferable in the business world: crafting presentations, managing multiple projects concurrently, client service skills, etc. But it’s tough not to get discouraged, especially since I feel like I’ve answered that question over and over again since leaving academia.

The second has to do with my resume and the perception that I’ve “jumped around” since graduating. I feel like my international experience and my work in multiple fields should be an asset, but I’m gathering that what people see is a professional who cannot commit to one place, one field. And that, frankly, frightens and perplexes me, particularly since I pride myself on my commitment to projects; one doesn’t get a PhD without a degree of fortitude and commitment, after all. I don’t know if this is a problem of spinning, or a problem that can be fixed with a bit of resume editing, or what, but I suspect it will come up again.

Reply from Margy Horton:

I’ll let the corporate post-ac people speak to the resume-writing issue. What I see in these questions is not so much an anxiety about the questions themselves, as a deeper sense of identity confusion. The question “Why should we hire you?” is essentially, “What do you have to offer (to our organization, to the world outside academia, to the universe as a whole)?” The question “Why have you jumped from job to job?” is essentially, “Why does your employment history make no sense (to us in this organization, to people outside academia, to the universe as a whole)?” Once these implicit, existential questions are made explicit, we can see that the issue here is less about “spin,” and more about developing a clear, confident sense of self. Ideally, you will get to the place where, when asked, “Why should we hire you?” the first thought is, “Duh, obviously hire me for my fabulous skills in A, B, and C, which I honed while researching D and pursuing E in the cities of F and G, and which will enable me to do H, I, and J for you. BTW, even though I hail from the foreign land of academia, I am already fluent in the language and cultural mores of your institution.” (But maybe just exude that last part, rather than stating it baldly.)

I’d suggest that you undertake a careful reflection upon the various pieces of your experience and identity, weigh the significance of each piece, figure out how the pieces relate to one another, and assemble the pieces into a new post-ac self. In a sense, this painful process is simply the universal process of human growth and maturation (said the person who wrote her dissertation on the Bildungsroman). For anyone making a post-ac transition, the most daunting yet rewarding task is to construct a cohesive narrative that ties together all of one’s disparate experiences and skills. It’s like applying for academic jobs all over again, only in different language and with different emphases. But the great part is, in the post-ac world, there are so many more possible right answers!

Reply from Alessandria Polizzi:

As one of the corporate folk, let me say this about the resume: moving around means very little. The days of having a 1-page résumé with 5-10 years per job are in the past.  What’s more important is that the résumé tells a story of skills, actions and accomplishments. These can be industry and location agnostic but should speak to the specific qualifications for the potential role.

Reply from Maggie Gover:

In regards to the first question, it worries me that you have three years of non-academic experience, yet people are seeing that you “only have teaching experience.”  I would love to see your resume, which I imagine needs some serious re-working!  Your teaching experience should not be foregrounded, in fact should only be a single bullet point, if you are applying for jobs where you don’t think this would be valued.

In regards to the second question, I have several answers.  First, it is increasingly uncommon for companies to be looking for the employee who has one fifteen-year work experience on their resume.  In fact, a close friend of mine who works in HR talks about passing over people who are “stale” because they have been in the same job for over 7 years.  However, there are still a few industries and companies where loyalty reigns supreme.  This means that you need to employ those researching skills every time you revise your resume for submission.  This is where LinkedIn is very helpful.  Look at others who have been hired at that company in the last two years.  Their LinkedIn resumes will be pretty accurate.  If they had a variety of experiences in their backgrounds, you should reflect that kind of pattern in your resume.  If they are mostly entry-level and just out of undergrad, you should probably look to those who would be your peers in the company.  If their work experience is all at this company, or if they have one long experience in their past, you will want to reflect this in your resume.  In this case, you should be presenting yourself as a woman who has long experience in her company (university) with increasing responsibility.  This is, in fact, the case!  This is one of those stories that really illustrates that one must tailor each resume to the specific post!  Both of your questions lead me to believe that your resume is looking too CVish and not resumeish enough.

My next piece of advice is as someone who sits on the other side of these types of interviews and, I hope will dispel a very common assumption: IT IS NOT JUST YOU!  We (the interviewing committee) will ask these questions of everyone!  We are evaluating if you will be happy here and if we will be happy to have you here.  So this question is important.  For someone who has one long work experience on his/her resume we would ask why s/he stayed so long at the last place of employment and why s/he is interested in making the change now.  If they say that they were looking for upward mobility and I know that the job I am offering is entry-level with no advancement opportunities, I know they don’t fit.  If I see someone who has a variety of experiences, I may very well think of it as a strength of the applicant.  I am still going to ask questions that help me gauge how long the applicant is interested in staying in this position, what they expect this position to be like, etc.  The fact that you have gotten interviews to me means that this company does not view your past experience skeptically, but that they are attempting to evaluate if the position they are offering is a good fit for you and if you are interested in making this a career.  Overall, you can’t answer in order to please the jury.  You may think they are looking for you to say that you want to be there forever, and they may be looking for someone who wants to work in this particular position for only one or two years and then move up to another position.  Instead, always answer honestly.  Explain why this position interests you, how long you imagine you might be happy in this position, the kind of advancements/training/development you are looking to gain from this position, etc.

Reply from Joe Fruscione:

Let me reiterate how important it is that you stressed the transferability of the skills you’ve gained from teaching. As someone also in the middle of a career transition out of academia, I know how key it is to likewise underscore your fit and usefulness for the position based on these transferable skills. If you haven’t already done so, I’d also suggest both stating and showing the interviewers/employer that you’re not the “typical academic” some people envision–i.e., introverted, somewhat socially awkward, non-collaborative, unused to a ‘real’ 9-to-5-type schedule, and so on. Be sure to connect your professional personality with your transferable skills.


Reply from Karen Cardozo:

My colleagues have offered great advice—including Margy’s reminder that you DID get the interviews. Thus you have an objective reason to reorient yourself from feeling discouraged, worried or perplexed: getting the interview is a very positive sign.   It’s important to remember that because however subtly, self-doubt DOES affect the vibe of interview conversations.  If YOU believe, THEY will believe.  And if they don’t, quite possibly it just isn’t the right fit.  Mentally, it helps to remember that (despite the power differential) this is a mutual exploration. Those who are compelled by your transferable skills would be promising people to work with and for.  You don’t want to work for people who don’t get it, do you?!


I would add that it’s very difficult to answer this question generically, without knowing the specifics of the job or of your academic background. Sometimes effective career conversions come out of an organic link between one’s scholarly or methodological background and the particular tasks of the new job or mission of the new organization.  For example, I once worked with a history PhD trying to get into advertising.  The person’s subject area was not “advertising” in any way.  However, it turned out she had studied the post-war period that aligned with the rise of mass media and marketing AND had a strong background in comparative ethnic studies.  She was able to convey a “deep background” on American cultural studies and new markets that could be brought to bear upon market research initiatives.  She offered illuminating frameworks and perspectives that others did not.  Another person I worked with studied themes of exile and trauma in diasporic literature:  she highlighted the transferability of her deep understanding of the impact of displacement on immigrant identity to alt-ac advising work—a substantive way to respond to the description’s cue about “working with diverse populations.”

The point is: if you’re feeling discouraged it’s likely because the work of translation is difficult, rather than because you don’t have what it takes.  Keep believing in yourself, and keep mining your background for new ways to talk about what you have to offer, while looking for very specific links between what you have done in the past, and what the new company needs you to do.


The Bottom Line:

Take heart. You DO have skills, strengths, and qualifications that make you an excellent candidate for post-ac positions. Through a combination of introspection, resume-tweaking, and interview practice, you’ll figure out how to present yourself as the cohesive, confident professional you are.


Resumes for Post-Acs – Gover #2

Continuing from yesterday, more on the postac resume. This time by Maggie Gover.  As you can see, there are different ways to approach this critical document.

Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover

One of the biggest problems my recent graduate students face is converting their CV into a resume. They wonder how to explain their graduate school experience in a way that will appeal to non-academic employers. Here is a brief primer in resume writing for those of us who have unconventional job experience!


First are the basic conventions. The header of your resume should NOT say Resume. Instead, it should simply say your name. This is followed by your mailing address, email address, and telephone number. These should be your personal addresses, not the ones at your institution. That means your home address, an email address at a etc., and your home or cell phone number. This is because it is considered poor form to apply for a new job using contact information provided to you by your current employer. This is strange if you are still a graduate student and are told to use your institutional information! However, this is the convention for resumes.

The formatting should be consistent and easy to read. I like all of the dates aligned on the far right of the page, but you may want to align them all on the far left of the page. Whichever you choose, be sure that the format is consistent throughout. Use boldface and underlining sparingly, but also consistently.

The conventional sections of the resume are as follows: objective, summary, education, experience, skills (technical skills, lab skills, language skills depending on your field), accomplishments, professional affiliations, professional training, activities/interests. Not all of these must be listed. The ones that must appear are education and experience. Other than those, use the job posting to guide your choices about what to include.

Experiences should be listed in reverse-chronological order. If you have two or more experiences that happened or have happened concurrently, choose the one you have held the longest to appear first (i.e. 2008-Present before 2011-Present) or chose the one that most closely fulfills the needs of the job listing to appear first. Information to include is your job title, the company that employed you as such, city/state of employer, and month/year of employment. Each should be followed by bullet points of explanation of your responsibilities in this position. How many bullet points will be dictated by the type of job to which you are applying. If it is entry-level, shoot for 3-5 bullet points. For managerial, shoot for 5-10 bullet points.

Use action verbs in your resume. Use past tense for any experience that is listed in the past. You can use simple present tense for anything that is current or you can stay consistent and use past tense for the entire document. Also, echo some of the language from the job posting in your resume. Many companies use resume reading software that will narrow the 500 or so applications down to 30 or so for the HR person to actually read. You will need for that software to pick up on some of the key words in your resume.

Thinking About How To Present Yourself

Experiences are often thought of as different jobs that you have had. However, don’t limit yourself to thinking of jobs as different experiences for which you were paid. As a post-ac your career probably includes many volunteer positions that you have done without thinking much about it as work experience. The biggest mistake I see people making is listing Graduate Student as the only experience in the past 5-10 years! If you did not have an official title, use one that best describes what the position was, but don’t over-inflate the job. For example, if you helped coordinate the annual graduate student conference think about what your primary duty was. Were you the lead coordinator who delegated duties to others and ensured that the conference took place? Then you were the conference coordinator. Were you in charge of ensuring that the continental breakfasts, buffet lunches, and conference dinner were ordered and paid for? You were the catering coordinator.

Remember that this is a document meant to communicate with a particular employer. That means that you should begin by thinking about this employers needs, not your particular experiences. That means the resume should be revised for every specific job to which you apply! While your experience won’t change, you may highlight different things, use different language, or reorder the responsibilities beneath each experience. Mirror the structure of the job posting for the ordering of your responsibilities. Job postings will often list the most important competencies first, so you should address those first. You also have some leeway in the ordering of the different sections. While I would always put education at the top, you may choose to put your “skills” section after education and then list experience if the position calls for specialized skills that you do have.

Be specific about your responsibilities and list accomplishments with them whenever possible. For example, instead of just saying you managed a budget say the exact amount of that budget.

My Unconventional Advice

Following is some of my advice that is unconventional, but which is gleaned from my experience as a potential employer who has been on the other side of the process. Use at your own risk!

In my experience, the objective section is not always necessary. If you use it, it must be very specific to the job. For example, “To obtain the position of Grant Writer for the ABC Company.” However, I find this to be a dated convention. Gone are the days when you would walk from company to company dropping off resumes with employers who are not actively listing work. If you are leaving unsolicited resumes, this might be an important section in which to say what type of position you are seeking. The other reason you may find it useful is to explain your change in career. As a post-ac, you are a career changer. This section could state something about the transition, so instead of “to obtain the position of” you might write “to transition to a career,” and what you are specifically looking for in this new career path. If you are not going to use it in this way, it is likely you are applying for a job through some sort of online portal or in response to a specific posting. If this is the case, there is no need to state this in an objective section. Most of the time, I am comfortable with this section being left off.

Some post-ac students prefer to format their experiences in a “functional” resume which is used primarily for career changers or for those with gaps in their work history. Many are actually encouraged to do so. It is thought that this type of resume highlights the skills the job seeker has rather than the lack of chronological experience. Speaking as someone who has sat on three different hiring committees within the last twelve months, I greatly discourage this. In my experience, functional resumes actually highlight the fact that you DON’T have the preferred years of experience. For post-acs, I think it let’s you off too easy! No one who has completed a PhD and now might be working in an academic setting has been able to convince me that they don’t have enough relevant experience to fill a chronological resume! However, three hiring committees in twelve months is small beans. When I asked Lindsey David, an HR Generalist at Fox Sports, about the functional resume, she stated, “I personally don’t like them. They make our job more difficult because we compare applicants by years of experience.” Additionally, studies have shown that resume readers look at the education first, and then at the time of the most recent employment. I don’t want the second thing that a potential employer is looking for to be obscured by the format of my resume. Instead, really think about the different things you have been doing for the past several years and communicate them in a way that the employer will value.

If a cover letter is requested, use that document to do the work of the summary and objective sections. This will allow you to create a shorter resume, more concise, and more focused resume!


Does it have to be one page?

No! The length should be suitable for the job. If this is a managerial position with many required competencies, the employer is looking for someone with lots of experience. This means that the resume might be longer than one page. For ease of reading, I try to keep a resume for any job, even a very high level job, between two to three pages. If the position is entry-level, then try to keep it to a page.

How do I address teaching experience in a resume?

If the job asks specifically for teaching experience, address it in much the same way as you would a CV. If the classes you taught directly relate to what the position is asking you to teach (so, for example, you are applying to be a Sexual Health Educator with Planned Parenthood and you taught Human Sexuality as a graduate student), list the classes you taught and your responsibilities. If the job listing asks for teaching in a general way (mentorship, supervision, presentations to audiences, etc.), list all of your teaching as one experience and list all of your responsibilities under that. Also, do not overestimate your teaching experience by listing every university, community college, and class you have taught as a different work experience unless you are applying for a teaching position. Many post-acs get caught up in talking about their teaching experience as mentorship, long term project planning, conflict resolution, and all other competencies the posting requests. While these may all be part of your role as a teacher, you do many of these in other areas of your experience as well. Do not overly rely on teaching as your only work experience. Only list it once, and list all of those competencies in that one entry. Then highlight those competencies in other experiences as well.

Should I list education last or simply not list my PhD so as to not call attention to it?

Many resumes will list education last, especially when you are getting into more managerial positions. The conventional wisdom is that as you get further up the corporate ladder, you get further away from your education. In recent years, this has changed. For the same reason that I do not like the “functional resume,” I don’t like listing the education portion last. Studies have shown that employers look first at education and then at the dates of your most recent employment. I never like to bury the information that employers are looking for first. So, I would always advise listing education first. I would always advise against omitting PhD work. I view this the same way I would as listing a degree one does not have. It is falsifying your educational information. If you decide to leave it off, you must put something in the title of the section that hints at the fact that the information is incomplete. For example, you can use “relevant education.” I would not personally feel comfortable omitting it because I would not want to work in an environment that is hostile to PhDs.

What kinds of professional organizations should I list?

I would list professional organizations that relate to the job to which you are applying. For example, if you are a member of the National Council of Teachers of English and you are applying to work for Everybody Wins! (a literacy foundation), then that is definitely one you should list. If there is a particular career in which you are interested that has its own professional association, think about joining that association. This isn’t just to list on your resume, although it may help, it may actually offer you opportunities to network and meet people. Don’t worry too much if you don’t have any relevant professional organizations.

What types of “skills” should I list and what do I do if I don’t have any relevant skills?

This should come directly from the job posting. If they are looking for someone who knows C++, has worked with Final Cut Pro, and has experience with Adobe CS6, you should list any of those skills that you have. If the posting says that they position requires working with Spanish language speakers, and you are fluent in Spanish, list that. If it is a research position in industry, your technical lab skills may be valued. The job posting may not say exactly the skills that they are seeking, but you may be able to get a sense of what they need in order to list it.

Can I leave off some job experiences if they do not seem relevant?

Unlike education, it is fine to leave off different work experiences if you do not feel that they are relevant to the position for which you are applying, especially if they would make your resume very long. In fact, for every experience you list, ask yourself, “What will this employer like about this experience?” If the answer is, “I don’t know,” the employer won’t know either. Think about removing that work experience, or explaining it in a different way so that it specifically relates to the employer’s mission or job posting.

I am a graduate student. Is that my job title?

Always, you should be comfortable with the terminology you use in your resume. However, I wouldn’t use Graduate Student as my job title. If you were a Graduate Research Assistant, use that instead. In this case, your resume line might look something like this:

Graduate Research Assistant                                                                    2010-Present

Water Propulsion Laboratory, University of the Palisades, CA

If you did not have such a title, you can use Graduate Researcher or something similar. If you are a humanities or social science person who does not have a specific lab to claim, your entry might look more like this:

Graduate Researcher                                                                                 2010-Present

Department of History, University of the Palisades, CA

Or you might have a specific archive in which you worked:

Graduate Researcher                                                                                 2010-Present

William Powell Archives, University of the Palisades, CA


The Art of Translation (of CV to Resume) – Cardozo #5

The crux of the matter: how do you convert your CV to a resume?   It might seem elementary, but it actually takes a completely fresh new conceptualization of your past experiences.  The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis maintains that language shapes our thoughts.  Yes, arguing about this has kept linguists occupied for 70 years or so.  But even so, the academic categories of “research, teaching, and service” are keeping you from grasping the real breadth and depth of skills you command. Karen Cardozo tells you what needs to happen, and how to stop being trapped by academic categories of achievement.


by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

When you’re ready to jump off the academic ledge, it is often the very experiences that were dutifully OMITTED from your CV—along with transferable academic skills—that form your life-saving Alt/Post-Ac bungee cord.  Freeing the academic elephant means stepping back to take a fresh inventory of all that you are, all that you have done, and all that you have to offer.  It’s about recognizing skills you didn’t know you even had, and naming them for others.

Translation studies have been fairly hot in the past decade.  A central tension concerns whether the primary task of the translator is fidelity to the original versus re-presenting the original text in terms most likely to convey its essential spirit for a new audience.  When it comes to translating your story for a non-academic audience, there’s no debate:  you’ve got to use terms THEY understand – even if that means changing all the original words.

Let’s talk about this translational work on two levels: 1) the broader issue of identifying transferable experiences and skills and 2) the specific conversion of a CV to a resume.

In a recent consult with someone considering the Alt/Post-Ac route, I was struck by the complete lack of articulation between his CV and resume: it was as if I were looking at two different lives, two different people. This person failed to effect any translation between academic and alternative careers—he approached the Post-Ac application as the inverse of its academic counterpart, cutting out all things academic in favor of nonacademic experiences.  But in so doing he put a huge hole in his work history, and left out a lot of relevant transferable experience.

This strict division in CV/resume content makes more sense on the first side, since the academic job market has little interest beyond research, teaching and service.  With some exceptions for applied disciplines, academic search committees don’t tend to consider how alternative work relates to or enhances academic engagements.  Academic means are their own ends.

The reverse is not true, however.  Many other units within higher education (the Alt-Ac scene) along with outside organizations (the Post-Ac landscape) would be very interested in the integrative sum of your parts, IF you could explain how your knowledge or skills would benefit them.  The problem is that many academics can’t identify their own transferable skills or put them in terms employers can understand.  In part, this is because the familiar categories of Research, Teaching and Service are actually complex bundles of discrete and variegated forms of work that need to be unpacked in order to be seen and discussed as transferable skills.

A little story here might illustrate the point.  In Mindfulness, psychologist Ellen Langer talks primarily about its inverse –mindLESSness, which she argues stems from three major sources:  1) automated behavior, 2) entrapment by category, and 3) an inability to view situations from multiple perspectives.  To explain categorical entrapment, she tells this story (and I paraphrase):

Imagine you are awakened in the wee hours by a knock on the door. It’s a well-dressed man claiming to be a member of The Millionaire’s Treasure Hunt Club.  He needs a 3 x7 piece of wood to win the treasure hunt and if you can supply him with one, he will give you half of his $1M winnings.  You’ve never been so motivated in your life!  But after tearing apart your house and its environs, you admit defeat—there is no such item to be found.  Off he goes, taking your windfall with him.  The next morning you pass a nearby construction site where you see a whole stack of 3×7 wooden planks!  What are they?  Why, doors, of course.  In fact, your house was full of them, but you saw “doors” instead of “3×7 pieces of wood.”  Your search was not conducted mindfully.

After years of CV polishing, most academics suffer from a severe case of entrapment by category.  Successful Alt/Post-Ac job seekers must therefore 1) look carefully at any given Alt/Post job description to identify what primary functions are involved and then 2) consider the full range of their prior experiences – including but not limited to academic work—to find the professional planks of wood that will open new doors.

However, to state the obvious:  some things are just not wood no matter what you call them.  So the first step is to reasonably identify jobs for which your experience and skills ARE transferable rather than ridiculously far-fetched.  On the other hand, the more complex or diversified the professional role, the less likely that any single candidate will have all attributes in equal measure.

So, don’t eliminate yourself from the pool because you can’t meet every criterion: strike a balance and apply to any jobs for which you have MOST of the required skills (and of course, don’t discuss what’s lacking in your cover letter; just stack the deck as much as you can in favor of all the assets you DO bring and hope they’ll find you appealing enough to let you learn the rest on the job).

Now, let’s talk about how you can identify and translate prior experiences in order to convert your CV into a resume.  The division of duties in most professional positions could be organized under three general competency domains:  administrative, conceptual, and interpersonal skills.  Respectively, these involve task, idea, and people orientations.  What’s tricky is that these do not align neatly with the academic divisions of Research, Teaching and Service because they cut across the major modes of academic engagement.  For example, let’s look at Teaching.

Commonly understood as an interpersonal engagement, teaching actually draws heavily on all three of the basic functional categories.  Administratively, you are a scheduler and project manager (exponentially so with a high advising/teaching load of numerous students and discrete preps).  Conceptually, you are a researcher, program designer, visionary, and problem-solver, not only in thinking through intellectual questions as they arise in your courses, but in managing the range of issues that bubble up around a population whose prefrontal cortexes are not yet fully developed!  Interpersonally, you are a coach, instructor and supervisor; you also negotiate around difficult colleagues and navigate complex bureaucracies.

Then there are overarching skills needed in all three areas: speaking, writing, presentation and technological skills are used in administrative, conceptual AND interpersonal contexts.  If you work out of the trunk of your car on myriad campuses as many adjuncts do, you can add “flexibility and effective use of limited resources” to your many talents.  The list of attributes and potential to put a positive spin on your work history is potentially infinite.  You just have to see the planks of wood.

For the Alt/Post-Ac search, this usually means ditching the basic chronological resume and tripartite “Experience/Education/ Skills” structure (a form best suited to early career individuals and/or those with a unified trajectory in one profession).  Instead, you need to get creative and produce a thematic or FUNCTIONAL RESUME that 1) highlights your different competencies and 2) translates and sequences those categories in terms that MATCH the language and hierarchy of value in the specific Alt/Post-Ac job description.

For example, if the organization is a non-profit that uses the term “Youth Services,” your category header wouldn’t say “Teaching Experience” but rather, something like “Youth-Related Work” – wherein you’d list college teaching along with camp counseling, facilitating a church youth group, and any other work related to young ‘uns.  Where you place that category on the resume depends upon whether this hypothetical role is more heavily weighted toward administrative, conceptual or interpersonal work.  A careful analysis of the job description usually tells you how to proceed (and who better than an academic to engage such close reading?).

Let’s say this is a program director role emphasizing communications skills in a youth services non-profit.  Your resume might lead with “Administrative/Non-Profit Management Experience” followed by “Communications and Media Experience,” then “Youth-Related Work” and “Additional Skills” where you mention any relevant certifications, language, or technological skills.  This resume would be saying (amplified by the discussion in your cover letter) that you have what it takes to direct a program, communicate its mission effectively, AND understand the population served.  In some candidates, these competencies developed from “coming up through” a related field; in the Alt/Post-Ac career conversion, they are more likely derived from different jobs and settings.

NOTE: Sometimes the functional approach means you have to mention the same job in multiple categories as you highlight different aspects of the work.  If that’s going to happen more than a time or two, it’s probably best to do the equivalent of an MLA Works Cited list and provide a “Work Summary” up front – a simple chronological history of employers and dates to which more detailed entries under various functional categories can be keyed with minimal fuss..

Point being:  the terms of translation and the sequence of categories should be determined entirely by the specifics of the job description and/or field context. In the same way that you learned to construct a Research/Teaching/Service hierarchy in response to academic norms, you have to match the language and hierarchies of value for new roles or fields.  The challenge is that Alt/Post-Ac pursuits are more varied, so you have to may have to employ different strategies each time.  As a career consultant, this is what I teach people to do.  Once I have worked with clients in a few different application contexts (to illustrate the limitless and varied art of translation), they are more readily able to effect the conversion process themselves.

So far we’ve been talking about translation—the transmission of similar content in different words.  However, the Alt/Post-Ac adventure can take you far beyond translation.  It could be an opportunity to write a whole new story.  Here is your chance to engage in genuine vocational exploration and the attendant questions of fit or motivation that all of your academic slogging may have squelched.  So if you’re going to jump off the ledge, leap big.  My last post described how networking can help you explore new alternatives and my next post will talk more about how to take your own inventory, to figure out who you are and where you might be going. Soon you won’t be translating as much as creating, writing your life anew.


UK Job Market Advice-Help From Readers

A reader posted on Facebook a month or so ago, asking some very specific questions about the UK job market. Several readers took the time to respond in detail. I am pasting their responses below.  If you’ve been wondering about mysteries like the UK interview system (everyone is invited on the same day!) or the REF, read on.   The questions themselves are replicated in the first set of responses.


Response 1:

How do you craft a job letter for the UK system? Someone in the UK told me that the letter needed to explicitly address the specific “duties” or “qualifications” listed in the job ad, and so the language seemed slightly different from the US ones/your templates.

–       I think this is a red herring. Yes, they say you should specifically address the “qualities” listed in the job announcement, but in reality this would make your cover letter very “tell-y” rather than “show-y”. I worked with Karen on my cover letter, which never directly spoke to the job specifications. Rather, I “showed” how I was qualified by using specific examples without ever falling into the tedious trap of parroting the job announcement. I submitted US-style cover letters (with slight tweaks) for all the UK jobs I applied for. Out of 10 applications or so, I was shortlisted for 5 jobs, was the second choice for 2, and recently got a permanent, full-time position at an R1-equivalent. FYI, I am in Modern Languages.

What do you do if you can’t make the designated time/date of the visit? My sense was that there’s no room for negotiation at all, but I’m not sure…

–       Generally, there’s no room to move the interview/presentation (e.g. job talk), because all of the candidates are interviewed/present on the same day. However, they will usually allow you to do it by Skype if you can’t make it.

What should the tone of the presentation/job talk be? I read in blogs that it should not be like a conference paper, but I didn’t quite know what that meant.

–       This is tricky, and it can really vary by school and department (not least by discipline). In fact, I have had specific instructions from several schools that they wanted a “conference” style paper. I interpreted that as meaning that they wanted me to present on one or two specific aspects of my current (usually) research in-depth, rather than a large overview. Be aware that job talks are much shorter in the UK – generally between 15-20 minutes, so in that sense they are more like a conference paper. One thing where I would differ from Karen on with regards to UK job talks is that they often want to hear about your current/future research BEYOND the dissertation (or thesis, as we call it in the UK). This can mean presenting on something that you actually don’t know like the back of your hand. But you can always clarify with the head of department/head of the committee, who are generally happy to answer questions about what they’re expecting.

Can the presentation be read, if disciplinarily appropriate (like anthro) or should I not read no matter what? (I ended up giving a 10 minute presentation without reading, based on some blogs)

–       Again, I think this is discipline-specific. I wrote a presentation as if it was a paper, then practiced it until I almost knew it verbatim. I then delivered it as if I was talking, but had my paper on hand to refer to at points, particularly where I was giving a mini close reading. The most important thing re. the delivery, in my opinion, is to give a lively presentation, e.g. don’t mumble or keep eyes glued to the paper, make sure to make eye contact with the audience, walk around a bit, etc. Having said this, I have heard of presentations where the audience was bowled over because the candidate delivered the paper without notes.

Reading your (Karen’s)advice on the job talk backwards, do Brits then prefer a more informal approach to the presentation? (Karen: my British clients tend to be WAY too chatty and informal in their job talks for the US market)

–       I’m not sure what you mean by “informal”? They certainly want you to take your research seriously, otherwise why would they take you seriously? On the other hand, I have often been told they are looking for someone “nice” – presentations/job interviews are very brief in the UK compared to the States, but they could be working with you for the next 10 years, so it’s important to come across as affable.

How should I prepare for the interview? What kinds of questions might they ask? What are the different people looking for (people from the department, admin people, dean-type person, an external scholar, etc)?

–       They will ask about REF/impact (if you don’t know what that is you aren’t ready to apply for the UK market). Often the first job is why do you want the job/what attracts you to the university (e.g. looking for fit, but also enthusiasm). They will usually ask about your doctoral research, your next project, maybe a course you could teach (although they generally don’t lob one of those “how would you teach a survey course in XXX?” the way they do in the States, at least in my experience). You will also get stupid management-speak questions, which you need to answer seriously.
–       I only had interviews at R1-equivalent schools, and the people on the committee were all academics who wanted to talk seriously about research (in particular the writing samples), that is, there weren’t any HR-type people, even if some academics had to ask similar questions. For the last two interviews, there was the head of the interviewing department, the head of the school, the dean or vice-provost or similar, the direction of research for the school, someone “external” from another school, someone who oversees “impact” and funding, etc. But again, there were no HR people. I have heard this can be different at other institutions.
–       There are lists of questions on the internet that seem pertinent, but there is also quite a bit of overlap with US interview questions. I did Karen’s Interview Intervention, which was still enormously helpful, and it translated very well into a UK environment.

I know that in the UK there isn’t much room to negotiate the job offer, but what can be negotiated, and how? In my case, I was able to negotiate the salary, but only that. And it was a very friendly process.

–       I negotiated a slightly higher salary (e.g. a “spinal point”) within the academic “grade” I was in. I also negotiated a slightly earlier starting date. I have been told you can negotiate for a shorter probation period, and I imagine for start-up costs in scientific-type positions, but things like leave are almost always the same across the board.

Are there specific things that UK schools are looking for, especially from candidates coming out of the US? I.e. how best to make oneself appealing to a UK institution?

–       Can’t really speak to this, but I do think that UK academics can be wary of a certain style of US academic (in particular graduate student or recently-minted PhD) who comes across as too bombastic. But I think this is a minor concern, really.

How horrible is the REF, really? Someone in the UK told me that it just means 1 output a year, and there isn’t even pressure to produce a book. So how much do I believe people in the US who told me how awful the REF and audit culture is in the UK, when the tenure process in the US is also terrible?

–       The REF is an oddity, as is the US tenure process. There are two major differences, in my opinion: an “early career researcher” will only (normally) have to submit two “outputs” (horrid word) for the REF, whereas in the States the pressure is on in the first five years to put out a book, 4-5 articles, organize panels at major conferences, etc. Obviously if you want to be promoted in the UK you still need to do all these things, but the existence of your job is not exclusively dependent on them. However, unlike with tenure, when the pressure to publish then eases off some, in the UK it never stops, because the REF works in approximately 6 year cycles.

There’s no tenure in the UK but it also means that the job is not contingent on tenure. I was told that unless I do something stupid, I have the job for life (after the probationary period). And if you don’t produce much, they still won’t fire you, they just won’t promote you and/or they’ll give you a heavier teaching load. No promotion doesn’t mean no job. And university staff are unionized so there’s that protection too. How do I understand all of this in better context, i.e. how do I make an educated decision comparing the US and UK?

–       There is also more mobility in the UK. It’s common for people to move institutions even after they’ve been promoted to quite senior positions. It is rare that they’ll fire you if you don’t publish, but you could be marginalized and suffer the disdain of other academics, which I think can be a powerful depressant, actually. Also, if the university goes through hard times and wants to lay off staff they will undoubtedly get rid of the “unproductive” ones. University staff are not automatically unionized – you have to join the union (I did, even as a teaching assistant and adjunct). The union does provide some protection, but workplace protections are just better in the UK in general (e.g. maternity leave, holiday entitlements, etc.). More often I find the union is a mobilizing/activist force.

How difficult is it to return to the US system later on? What would one need to do to keep that possibility open?
–       I can’t speak to this.



Response 2:

If you can’t make the designated time/date:
Basically no room for negotiation, there were no other interviews and job talks for candidates that did not attend the designated days. I know for the PhD scholarship I won they offered the potential for Skype interviews if you were based abroad but that was not mentioned in the original advertisement and was only mentioned when I had already made it onto the shortlist. Even then the Skype interview had to be on the same day as the other interviews. However I don’t know about this at the academic job level. Basically: if it really is impossible to attend the designated time/date and they don’t mention skype/other form of video conference I suppose it is worth asking on the basis of ‘if you don’t ask you’ll never get’ but the client would be clutching at straws.

Tone of presentation:
I haven’t been to a conference (well one not entirely composed of phd students) yet so don’t know what is meant by the tone of a conference paper well enough to really comment.

Reading the presentation:
Do not read the presentation. Refer to notes briefly on occasion – yes, read – NO.

Informal approach in job talk:
The committee knows the job talk is stressful and people have their own preferred presentation styles. Rather than informal I would say personable is a better description of what they should be aiming for.

Finally thank you for the blog and free resources. Though I have so far been entirely UK based I discovered your blog whilst still a masters student and took the the general attitude from it (particularly How Not to Act Like a Graduate Student) and won a fully funded PhD. Though the materials are not geared towards the UK your website is still one of the first I recommend to friends contemplating applying for a PhD.

Also forgot to mention Q&A featured a fair bit of planned future articles/research output and how you plan to build on current work. Perhaps most importantly about funding sources and what research can be carried out even if funding applications do not come through – one candidate I saw made a convincing case for articles which could be written up on existing data or could be based in the UK minimising costs. The department knows funding is competitive and knows no one will be a 100% successful all of the time so ideally a client should be able to make a case for a plan b which will cover a year or two in the mean time if asked. They need to know how the funding councils work and which ones they can apply for (they shouldn’t forget there is now a European wide funding council as well).

On REF, yes theoretically you only have to have one output a year, but that is a baseline. Also the REF will score someone by the prestige of the journal they publish in and citations. Furthermore departments may choose not to submit someone for REF in which case they won’t lose their job (if they are not on a fixed term contract or on probation) but they won’t be promoted and have their research sidelined to make more room for teaching. But yes promotion and a permanent contract will hinge almost entirely on a persons REF score. Allowances are made for things like maternity leave (paternity leave beyond the previous 2 weeks is only starting to be a thing) or prolonged illness, any formal leave of absence. One thing I have seen in the arts and humanities is anger about how research is weighted with books being perceived to be under-weighted leading to a shift in articles even in disciplines that don’t normally focus on them (such as history). Also this REF for the first time has a 20% weighting for “impact” which arts and humanities almost entirely as well as large swathes of social sciences (mostly people doing qualitative research essentially) despise, the wording is vague and no one has a clue how it is going to turn out.

Your summation of the UK and lack of tenure is correct as far as I am aware. Also maybe worth mentioning is that any permanent resident (and their dependants) of the UK is entitled to free healthcare so an American (or anyone else) does not have to sort out health insurance if they don’t want to (as a type 1 diabetic I’m eternally grateful for this, one run in with a hospital in the states when I was on vacation was terrifying!).


Response 3:

Making the designated time/date is usually quite important. They often have listed in the job description the exact dates for interviews. Dont be surprised if you are interviewing at the same time as others and end up sitting together in the ‘waiting room’ and having dinner together with staff. Interviews are usually one long intense day with the usual presentation, individual meetings with staff, meeting grad students etc. Decisions are usually made very quickly, with offers often made the same day as interview. There is usually pressure to make a very quick decision.

Each university has a pay scale for each grade (lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, etc.), which is made public. It is nearly impossible to negotiate beyond the limit of that pay scale. After the probation period, jobs are ‘for life’. There is no tenure system and you cannot be fired unless something insane happens. Yes, there are plenty of lecturers who never produce anything after they are hired, but cannot be fired. You just never get promoted beyond Lecturer.

The REF is the end-all be-all of the UK system and you will live and die by it. The closer it gets to the REF deadline, the more UK hiring is all about your REF-submittable publications. The REF just happened, so the next one isnt until 2018. There are various qualifications for the how much you have to submit for REF based on how far after the PhD you are, whether you have been on maternity/paternity leave, etc. I have never seen any importance given to a book in my field (anth/archaeology).

The job talks are usually fairly relaxed powerpoint presentations. I wouldnt suggest you read something or give a formal conference-type presentation. Since you will be a permanent addition to the faculty it important to make clear not just your own research, but how you would fit into the department as a whole.

The top question I have seen candidates trip up on is “who would you want to collaborate with in our department? how does your research fit with the research of X person?”. Admin work also seems to be a bigger part of the job description for the UK. They will want to know that you are willing to take on things like running a Master’s degree program or organizing the undergrad class schedule or tutor groups.



Response 4:

I’m an American working in the UK for the last 7.5 years. In the first few years I was here, I got calls from US universities interested in recruiting me. But after I had been here about 4-5 years, when I did think about moving back, I put in a bunch of applications in the US and didn’t even get a single interview. Because the funding of PhD students is on such a different system here, I consider the two systems to be increasingly divergent so figure I’m “stuck” in the UK for now. As for the REF, it was a lot of very stupid paperwork and no one knows yet what the outcome will be.



Response 5:

the letter needed to explicitly address the specific “duties” or “qualifications” listed in the job ad, and so the language seemed slightly different from the US ones/your templates.

Yes, they assess qualifications against a particular list stated in the ad. Address all of these!!! Some universities have particular essay forms on the applications where they ask you to answer particular questions related to some of the qualifications.

- What do you do if you can’t make the designated time/date of the visit? My sense was that there’s no room for negotiation at all, but I’m not sure…

Expect to receive an email with a date and TIME for an interview. If you’re lucky, you’ll get invited to a webform where you choose out of 2 or 3 timeslots (if the other candidates haven’t taken them first).
UK positions are most often offered the day of the interview. I would not expect any flexibility on the date of interview.
Even when I stated, in the application, that I was not available on a particular day, they insisted on interviewing me on that day via skype, despite the difficulties.

- How should I prepare for the interview? What kinds of questions might they ask? What are the different people looking for (people from the department, admin people, dean-type person, an external scholar, etc)?

Interviews are generally done in a panel format, where you interview with everyone at the same time. They may have a list of questions that each person asks in turn. (I find this similar to US phone interviews, just conducted in person, YMMV.)
Compared to US interviews, expect a shorter time (maybe 1-2 hours rather than all-day). Campus tours, if any, may be given a few hours apart.
Don’t be surprised if you meet your competitors. Be nice! And make friends!

- Are there specific things that UK schools are looking for, especially from candidates coming out of the US? I.e. how best to make oneself appealing to a UK institution?

Read the comparators of the CHE:
Check career advice from the website:
Be aware of the recent changes in tuition fees (except in Scotland).
Know what the REF is, and how your work would contribute:
For background some other suggestions:
Know the differences in the educational system in the US vs. the UK — e.g. more vocational training
Know the different types of universities (e.g. “modern university” etc.)
Response 6:

Best website I’ve seen on academic careers abroad is:

e.g. for the UK section, see
See also the ERA watch, e.g. report linked here:


An addendum for UK jobs. Among the advice (there is lots on their website, all worthwhile), they also offer three pamphlets about writing cover letters at different levels:

Just rediscovered them. The “before-after” examples will be of interest even for those targeting jobs outside the UK.


The Pros and Cons of Corporate – Day 3

Academics I know tend to look upon the corporate world with some combination of fear, contempt, and horror. And yet, there are many academics who have made the transition to work in corporations successfully, and even find professional satisfaction therein.  The first thing to do is demystify and de-objectify the corporate job (and of course, there is no one “corporate job”) and gain a more nuanced sense of what it entails. Stephanie Day continues to help us with this task in this post on what she finds most and least satisfying in her work for Scantron.

by Stephanie Day.

Stephanie Day

Stephanie Day


In many ways, my transition to working in corporate settings has required me to sacrifice depth for breadth. In academia, there is a tendency to talk with people with whom you, for the most part, fundamentally agree.  This makes sense, because it requires a certain level of common ground in order to debate the higher-order complexities and intricacies of a discipline. In my work, most of my interaction is with individual who are truly fundamentally different from myself and each other. I work with developers, engineers, sales people, designers, educators … none of whom approach things in the same way. We don’t share the same assumptions, backgrounds, or perspectives, so it is unsurprising that we often disagree. Things that seem like they should be simple can quickly become complicated, and sometimes the things that seem the most important and fundamental to what we do gets overlooked.  This can be very frustrating.

The intersection of education and technology is fascinating to me, and I long to talk theory, unpack philosophical differences, and examine market trends, initiatives and failures under a social scientist’s microscope.  But the nature of private sector is that for most people, the first and foremost concern is with doing their job, not necessarily understanding it.  To make up for this, I have taken to signing up for online courses (MOOCs) to keep my analytical brain fresh and I spend time on the weekends working pet projects that allow me to think deeper about my work.

The flip side of that coin, of course, is that from my colleagues I’ve learned how to build a business argument, make a compelling sales pitch, talk numbers and invoices, produce and deliver effective presentations, discuss database architecture, and otherwise make myself more marketable to the real and immediate needs of the high-tech industry.  I’ve been able to share anthropology with people whose only previous reference to the discipline came from Indiana Jones, and in doing so I’ve learned to talk about anthropology in a way that is accessible and interesting to everyone. While my specific degrees will probably not immediately qualify me for any now or in the future, it is my worldview, and I bring it with me everywhere I go, along with the technical skills I pick up along the way, to add value to the position that most others cannot. In doing so, I have become far more confident than I ever was in academia that I am capable of bringing something new and important to the table.

I have had to give up on the idea that academic work was somehow more pure and less mundane than private-sector jobs.  I had fallen into the idealistic trap of academia to assert its own inherent, non-monetizeable value. On top of my own bias, I also perceived a bias from my academic friends, people who I had admired and modeled myself from. Psychologically, that was rough. But at the end of the day – aside from one very direct comment about “selling out” – most of the disdain I perceived was more a product of my own insecurity about my decision than any willful disdain from my academic friends. Still, I believe a palpable bias does exist that prevents graduates students from talking about transitioning to non-academia with their peers and advisors, which probably leads to the assumption that it “just isn’t done”.


Small Business Ownership II: Take What You Love, Leave What You Don’t –Horton #2

In this post Margy Horton continues with Part II of her series on launching your own small business.

by Margy Horton

Margy Horton

Margy Horton

Let’s say that you’re contemplating the wacky plan of launching an entrepreneurial career. Before you embark, consider this checklist of qualities that characterize many a successful business owner: optimism, organizational skills, a tolerance of risk and uncertainty, a willingness to advocate for oneself and one’s talents, an insane work ethic, and an ability to envision the future and get other people excited about that vision. If you’ve gotten through (or are getting through) a doctoral program, I’m guessing you have most or all of these qualities. Which means that you, yes you, can become the proprietor of a thriving small business.

Once you’ve made your peace with capitalism (as I discussed in my last post) and decided to leave academia for entrepreneurship, your next step will be to start developing your business model. Basically, this means identifying the need you’re going to fill in the marketplace, figuring out how you’re going to fill it, and determining how much money you should charge to the people whose needs you are meeting. If you’re still feeling a little glum about leaving academia behind, don’t worry. The materials you’re going to use to build your new business are the very scraps you carried with you out of academia–your favorite fragments of the life of the mind, salvaged from your flameout of an academic career like scrap metal from a house fire. (Just kidding; that’s a little joke from one entrepreneur to another.) Here’s what’s next.

  1. Banish the notion that academics are superior to other people. If you’ve been spending all your time with academics, you may have absorbed the idea that academics are the only truly cultured, rational, and enlightened people on earth, and beyond that, you might assume that these qualities are the only ones that matter. If you hold onto these distorted views, they can keep you from seeing the value in people from other backgrounds–and from making yourself useful in the world at large.
  2. Figure out what you loved and loathed about academia. My list of “pros” included the intellectual challenges, the centrality of written and spoken language, the significance of the university’s mission, the opportunities to help other people grow and develop, and the schedule flexibility. Cons included boring meetings, geographical limitations, and the lack (as I saw it) of a clear causal link between effort and reward. Once I’d made this pro-con list, I found it easier to conceptualize what I was looking for in my new career.
  3. Learn about the world–and think about where you’re needed. Read up on current events, technology, the economy, politics, marketing, building construction, pastry arts, or whatever it is that you’re interested in. Study the New York Times, skim the job postings on, browse the magazine section at your local bookstore. Your goal is to get a sense of the world outside your tiny discipline or university. Find connections between your academic work and the problems in the world. What unmet needs do you discover? Whom can you help? What problems can you solve? Ask schools, businesses, nonprofits, and private citizens what tough problems they’re facing. I can hardly begin to imagine hypothetical scenarios to illustrate to you what you might encounter once you start looking for problems to solve. And the solution isn’t always entrepreneurship: Maybe you’ll realize that your town needs you to run for mayor or that the local radio station needs a sharp commentator. Stephanie Day’s recent post for Dr. Karen shows how you can create opportunities for yourself simply by situating yourself such that the people around you discover how very indispensable you are.
  4. Take inventory of your strengths, knowledge, and skills, thinking in terms of what people might pay you to do. Ask people who know you well, “What am I good at?” Read books that inspire self-reflection, whether self-help books like Now Discover Your Strengths, academia-specific books like So What Are You Going to Do With That?, or more literary texts, like Walden. (Or if you’re like me, read all three.) Make notes as you go along–specific steps to take, ideas to investigate, people to contact, websites to watch. As a start, run through the following list of marketable skills and mentally circle the ones you possess: presentation/public speaking, writing/content development, data collection and analysis, coaching/teaching, editing, course design/project management, storytelling, organizing information, synthesizing multiple viewpoints, identifying and solving problems. Find a sensible person who is a good listener to help you define your marketable skills, clarify how your offerings are distinct from everyone else’s, and develop a specific plan of action for how to making a living from your knowledge and skills.
  5. Realize that there are no shortcuts. In transitioning from academia to a post-ac career, you’re undertaking one of the most significant projects of your life. Writing your dissertation wasn’t easy, and this won’t be either. Think of this project as the opposite of Tic Tac Toe: It’s worthwhile and exciting precisely because your course isn’t mapped out for you and because the possibilities at this moment are boundless. Who wants to spend a lifetime putting Xs and Os into a prescribed grid, when you can choose instead to have all the letters of the alphabet and a grid that’s as expansive as the universe?

By the way, for all the parallels that delight me between academic work and small business ownership, I have found some differences that delight me just as much. I get to live in the place of my choice, the Research Triangle of North Carolina. I only work with people who are deeply invested in their projects—meaning that I never again have to convince a skeptical student that writing matters. I can measure my effectiveness in the actual dollars that I’m paid and the actual number of clients who work with me repeatedly and refer their friends. I represent an institution that, because I designed it, reflects my own most cherished vision of what the world can be: a place where academic writing is not a tedious, inefficient, demoralizing task but rather a satisfying process of discovery that is integral to the academic’s overall work life. Basically, establishing ScholarShape has meant creating my own dream job. And it hasn’t taken me too far from academia, after all. My hope for you is that you’ll figure out how to build your own dream job, too.


In my next post, I’ll talk more specifically about the editing and writing consultation work that I do at ScholarShape. The purpose of the post will be to help readers who are contemplating their own move into editing or consulting to think through various approaches to this kind of work.

In Response to Popular Demand, More on the 5-Year Plan

This is a repost of an older post.  It follows sequentially from last week’s on the five-year plan.


In response to the flood of inquiries about what, exactly, a 5-Year Plan should look like, following on last week’s post, Why You Need a Five-Year Plan, I am sharing the plan produced many years ago by my first Ph.D. student, who is now an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at an R1 institution. (2014 update: she just got tenure!)

This student was the rock star of 5-Year Plans.  I first encountered her as an undergraduate student.  She began working with me then on an independent study, and then proceeded on to graduate school with me as her advisor.  She finished her Ph.D. in 7 years, and this included lost time from a switch of institutions when I moved to take my second job.  From her earliest days in graduate school, she had a 5-year plan.  She updated it annually and always shared it with me.

The plan I reproduce here dates from about her 3rd year of graduate school.  2003 shows a series of deadlines for submission to the major conferences in her field—the Association of Asian Studies and the American Anthropological Association.   November of 2003 shows the multiple deadlines for dissertation fieldwork fellowships.  June and July 2004 show her preliminary exams, and August includes her proposal defense (this followed the requirements of the program).  August 2004 also shows that she is finishing a book chapter (her first publication), and moving to Japan for fieldwork.  December of 2004 shows deadlines for dissertation writing grants to take up the following year, after return from fieldwork.  I believe, although I can’t exactly recall, that JPN: Genders, which appears in Dec. ’03, then in June ’04, and again in September ’05, was a refereed journal article that she was working on.

You will note that 2006 and 2007 are mostly empty except for continuing major conference submission deadlines, and an anticipated defense date.   This was typical, and as these years drew closer they were filled in.

I’m not 100% sure what all the colored arrows refer to, but they seem to refer to time “chunks,” as in, “time in the field,” “summer,” and so on.

In sifting through the many reactions to the 5-year plan idea on facebook and twitter and in the comment stream to the post, I have gotten the  impression that for many readers, the 5-year plan feels like a large, epic, “major life goals” kind of endeavor.  

But as you can see from this example, it’s really more of a “stay on top of deadlines” kind of endeavor.  

And now, let me be perfectly clear.  

Staying on top of deadlines is exactly what allows a person to achieve  huge life goals.  

Yes, I’m quoting Thomas Edison:  “success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration.”  The people who succeed in getting into the national conference are, first and foremost, the ones who actually remember to submit the proposal to the national conference, by the deadline, properly formatted.

One of the most important outcomes of the 5-year plan is that you never miss a submission deadline for a conference or a funding opportunity.  As you learn of new conferences and funding opportunities, you simply add them in, without losing track of the other deadlines. You also plan out a publication schedule, and put your own deadlines for submission to journals there in the plan.  And money racks up, and publications rack up, and networks rack up, and voila, the cumulative effect 5 years later is—an epic CV that gets you an epic job offer, or tenure.

This student obtained, in total, some $200,000 of research funding in graduate school (in cultural anthropology–a field that does not have massive grants), in addition to her basic TA funding package.  She had several publications before finishing, and secured a tenure track position at an R1 institution in her first year on the market.  She is solidly on track for tenure, and this past year she won another major research fellowship that gave her a year’s leave time for new fieldwork on a second project.

While many people certainly accomplish these things without a 5-year plan in an Excel grid, I am confident that in this student’s case, her prodigious level of organization kept her on track, productive, and out ahead of the competition at each step of the game.

Example of a 5-Year Plan

You Have an Interview. Now What? — Fruscione #3

From this week we are moving from a general “buck up, little soldier”  support for your decision to transition to the post-ac search, toward targeted advice about the search itself.  We’ll be focusing on all the core elements of the job search–resumes, job letters, interviewing, etc.  Over time most of the panel of experts will be weighing in on each of these topics, so you’ll get a variety of viewpoints on what to do, and how to do it.  Today Joe talks about a recent interview, how he prepared for it, and how he is framing the experience even though he didn’t get the job. I appreciate that, by the way.  This transition requires throwing a lot of pasta at a lot of walls to see what sticks, and rejections will be part of the experience.  Don’t get discouraged–learn from them!  It’s a new world and it will take a while to figure out your place in it.

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione



When you get an interview for a post-ac job, you shouldn’t experience the kinds of horror stories academics sometimes share. (Say, an interviewer reclining on a bed and asking no actual questions.) Navigating the process as a post-ac job seeker may be tricky, but at least you can expect to meet in a conference room or hiring manager’s office.

I was fortunate to get an interview for the first post-ac job to which I’d applied: it began with a pre-screening phone discussion. I’d talked to a Twitter friend—who originally told me about the job opening—to get some basic information. Having some background, such as what the hiring manager wanted from an editor, helped me prepare. I’d also learned that the hiring manager was concerned that I’d be overqualified. An additional tricky part is that the company does science consulting—clearly a far cry from the literary studies work I’d been doing for almost 15 years. I knew I’d have to address this, as well as emphasize that more experience would make me a stronger editor.


The pre-screening began as I’d expected: Why are you leaving your career as a professor? I gave her a short, positive version: Given the academic job market, I’m looking for a new field that lets me draw on my strong editing and proofreading skills. We discussed the projects they handle and some recent editing work I’d done. In response to her concern about my being overqualified, I said, As I see it, my experience will make me a stronger editor, because I’ve commented on a lot of writing. (Prepare several answers to the “overqualified” question, depending on the position.)

By the end we’d scheduled an in-person interview for the following Wednesday. Things went well. I met with four people: the hiring manager and three writer/project managers. The first question was expected: How does your background in literature prepare you for editing science writing? I responded:


The content is different, but my skills as a writing professor, author, and editor are transferable. I’ve always had strong copy editing and proofreading skills, which I’ve strengthened with some recent projects.


When asked about how I multitask, I drew from my years of teaching de facto 4-4 loads across two universities:


I used to have 70-80 students per semester requiring different kinds of class prep and assignments, and I stayed organized and on schedule while doing my own research and professional work.


At their request, I showed them some recent edited projects I’d done, explained the editing needs for each one, and provided references.

I sold myself and my skills as well as I could, and at some level I assuaged doubts about how my English background could translate into editing scientific writing. At the end, I talked with the hiring manager about logistics and my desired salary (Is the $70,000/year range doable?, I asked). I inquired about their telework policy and learned that, except for emergencies, they don’t do it. Because my wife and I are adopting a baby soon, I’m looking for freelance telework to match our plan for me to be the stay-at-home parent. (I didn’t mention this at the interview, though.)

It’s always smart to end with something like What’s the next step? or When do you anticipate making a decision? to keep communication open. Be professional and tactful, and always write a follow-up note the next day thanking them—even if you think you bombed the interview. Act as if you want the job.

Yet, I didn’t get the job. I had a feeling that they’d choose a comparably experienced editor with a science background. It was frustrating but not demoralizing, because I didn’t need this job. The hiring manager said to check in if I hadn’t heard from her within two weeks: I did, and she replied with the formal rejection email. Nevertheless, I gained a lot of experience and practice describing and marketing my work.


We won’t always have friends on the inside. In these cases, do your homework before an interview: reread the ad; review the website and any social media presence the company has; self-reflect and prepare; make sure your resume stresses the skills and experience of the specific job; ask non-academic friends for advice. As Chris Humphrey reminds us, “The bottom line is that you’ll need a clear rationale for your career change, because a lot of folks still think a PhD = academic.” Craft, practice, share, and refine your story. Be ready to draw on it when you’re asked—and you will be asked—why you’re leaving academia.

This is self-evident, but…don’t forget to stay focused on the interview and organization at hand. They may not know (or care) how bad the academic job market is, or that you (like I did) felt stuck as a full-time part-timer. Practice your career-change story, and have a few positive variations on it for different kinds of jobs.

When eyeing specific jobs and wondering whether to apply, heed some advice I got from a fellow postac expert: don’t self-select out of a job just because you might not seem ideal for it. How many times have we all heard, You never know…? I wound up with a valuable, well-paying editing project that I almost declined applying for because I’m not an expert in its topic area (religious history). In some emails and a phone interview with the project editor (who knew me from Twitter), I sold my lack of expertise as an asset: because I’d be objective, I’d focus primarily on grammar, wordiness, typos, and the like—just the kinds of detail-oriented work they needed. She offered me the job after about 30 minutes of talking You never know, indeed.

As in any interview situation, emphasize your strengths and interest in the position, and mute any criticisms you have (no matter how justified) of the profession you’re leaving. They’ll likely wonder about why you’re changing careers, but they’ll likely care the most about whether you’re capable of doing the work they’re considering hiring you to do.