Finding Inner Conviction – Part 2 of 3 (Cardozo)

This is a continuation of Karen Cardozo’s 3 part series on developing new ways to “track” unexpected opportunities as you pursue your post-ac transition.   In last week’s post she told us about recent writing by Martha Beck on the philosophical transformations needed to reinvent yourself away from outdated linear academic career tracks.  She introduces the other ways of knowing that Beck argues are now required:  Wordlessness (non-verbal awareness), Oneness (connection with your environment), Imagination (the capacity to perceive what doesn’t yet exist) and Forming (the ability to manifest what you’ve imagined).  I’ll say it again–some of your are going to positively hate this new agey stuff.  But if you’re ready for this kind of transformation, it will inspire you.

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Unsurprisingly, the four modes that Beck emphasizes are the orientations least valued in academe, which is ruled in contrast by verbal rationality (not Wordlessness), division or specialization (not Oneness), and adherence to traditional structures (not Imagining or Forming new ones).

The subtitle of Finding Your Way is: “Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want.”  Beck argues that amidst such rapid flux, the safest, truest, course is not to seek security in (crumbling) institutions but to adopt the habits of trackers in the wild – wordlessly taking in every scent, every clue, that suggests where to go and what to do next.

Doing what comes naturally means paying close attention to all of the internal and environmental evidence that you’ve been schooled to ignore, and following what Beck calls “the hot track.”  If the trail goes cold, go back to the last place you saw a signpost and recalibrate.  Doing this in the wild new world will eventually yield success—emotional, financial, and professional.  Why?  Because you’re responding to what’s ACTUALLY happening, not what you or others thought was “supposed to” happen.

Case in point: me.  I left adjunct faculty life to become a career counselor, and only THEN landed the tenure-track job that had previously eluded me.  Weirder still, although I am now “on the track,” I am also an active singer-songwriter and an Alt/Post-Ac consultant helping others step off the track!  In ways I could never have predicted, everything I’m doing is the outcome of many different moments in which I followed my “true nature” and not a social prescription.  Of course, I didn’t always realize this, and so there were some miserable moments along the way.  But things have finally started to click for me and—if you trust yourself enough—they eventually will for you too.

If the arc of history is long but bends toward justice, the arc of wayfinding is likewise long and bends toward contentment.  What if stepping off the track or pursuing a new work-life course means you’re not a failure but an innovative wayfinder?  What if, instead of being late to your academic career, you’re actually ahead of the curve in terms of finding your place in this new world order?

Here’s what Finding Your Way is NOT about:  Thinking of your career as a track.  Seeing yourself as a failure.  Identifying as a victim.  Clinging to bitterness.  Trafficking in cynicism.

Here’s what being a wayfinder IS about:  Curiosity.  Discovery.  Healing.  Hope.  Innovation.  Opportunity.  Satisfaction.

Reading Finding Your Way is a great litmus test of what you may (or may not) be ready for.  The person who thrills to Beck’s message is ready to leap into uncharted waters.  The person who is repelled by it is not.  I say this entirely without judgment, only to point out that effective decision-making depends on cultivating self-awareness, and aligning your choices accordingly.

 

I-Me-My

An effective job document will employ varied sentence structures that do not revolve continuously around the words I, me, and my.

If you are reading this and on the market, pull up your job documents and do a universal search for each of these terms.  If they show up more than a handful of times, revise.

A lot of job documents boil down to this:

“I examine…I explore….I consider….I intervene….I develop…I argue….I conclude….I contribute….I have published…I am writing…I teach….I show….I prioritize….I would look forward to….”

Or this:

“My research….my dissertation….my first chapter….my second chapter….my methods…..my theoretical orientation….my argument….my conclusion….my publications….my next book project….my teaching….my pedagogical commitments….my classes….my students….my interests…”

Or a combination of the two.

When you submit job documents that use a monotonous series of I-me-my sentences, you come across as self-absorbed.  And your material is more boring than it needs to be.

The fixes are easy, and the payoff is big.

 

Finding Inner Conviction – Part I of 3 (Cardozo)

Karen Cardozo offers a 3-part series on developing new ways to “track” unexpected opportunities as you pursue your post-ac transition.  She draws from the work of Martha Beck, which I also love. I know this kind of wooey Oprah-talk will alienate some of our academic readers.   Nevertheless, I have found everything she writes about here to be 100% true in my own life.  It’s what led directly to the creation of The Professor Is In–an absolute conviction that this work had to be done, and I was the one who had to do it.  I have also found that the cynicism and skepticism that pervades the academic ethos stunts our ability to imagine other ways of being and thinking.  If you are contemplating a move out of academia, I urge you to look for your own inner convictions and intuitions about what you need to do.   

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

As interest in our services grows, The Professor has urged the Alt/Post-Ac consulting team to get practical and offer concrete, tactical, advice on job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, etc.  This we have done and will continue to do (check out the bevy of recent and very useful posts)!

However, who can say what’s truly most practical or productive when it comes to changing careers?  Today I want to turn to a few other “Ps” that are crucial to any job hunting or life-changing process:  the psychological and philosophical.

Psychology:  It’s intangible and hard to explain, but I see it time and time again: when you’re filled with ambivalence, anxiety, or self-doubt, it is hard to sell yourself in an application process.  True conviction operates at a sub-molecular level invisible to the naked eye, but when it’s there it changes everything:  the tone of your cover letter, the clarity of your resume design, the firmness of your handshake, and the warmth of your eye contact – all of the things that say: “I’m on the right path and I’m really into this!”

Can people get job offers by faking it?  Sure, it happens all the time.  But such “success” is short-lived:  the proof is in the pudding and the pudding usually comes out in the wash (if I may mix my metaphors).  I’m more interested—as I think YOU should be—in the inverse:  the organic way in which things work out when people take action out of genuine affinity towards something, unclouded (or at least not incapacitated) by fear and worry.

This kind of positive momentum requires a dedicated practice of both self-awareness and detachment.  You need to believe, REALLY BELIEVE, that you are doing what’s best for yourself, and that everything will be okay.  You have to know, REALLY KNOW in your bones, that the world isn’t going to end if you don’t get the job, if you leave academe, if you leave the relationship, if you never finish your dissertation, if you… (fill in your own terrifying blanks here).

If we are honest, we often discover that our deepest fears aren’t about literal survival, but more about the loss of deeply cherished identities and the stories that go along with them—the death of a particular sense of Self.  That’s the hardest part about abandoning faculty life (or being abandoned by it):  who are you without the institutional affiliation you’ve held most of your life, without your degree(s), and accompanying narratives?  What we tend to forget (or never knew) is that there are other ways of being that we might enjoy, I mean REALLY ENJOY!

Philosophy:  Most of you have had to write a Teaching Philosophy to showcase your best thinking and evidence of who you are in the classroom—a clear description of your pedagogical beliefs and how you operationalize them.  But have you put the same effort into crafting a Life Philosophy?  Have you considered with equal rigor the kind of person you want to be and how you want to live?

Academic training has a way of shutting off these larger existential questions:  the means are supposed to justify the ends, and the value of those ends goes without saying.  But common sense can be a dangerous thing.  The implosion of the academic job market and the crisis in higher education that it signals is a perverse gift:  you are now free to question both means and ends.  And you should.

Whether you’re engaged in a job-hunt narrowly conceived or career exploration writ large, a successful outcome depends on cultivating a robust dialectic between the philosophical and the practical, reflection and action, trial and error.   This is what moves us towards real knowledge and enables us to act in informed ways –not only at the concrete level of mounting a job application, but also at the metaphysical level that ensures what we seek is aligned with who we are or want to be.  All the practical advice in the world can’t help you if your other P’s aren’t in order:  you need to get your head and heart right (which tends to have a salutary effect on your body as well).

In recent months of Alt/Post-Ac consulting, I have been struck yet again by how often academics are unhappy, unhealthy, and wounded beings—some prior to academic training and some because of it.  We’re easy with critique, but short on compassion (including for ourselves).  Expert in some areas, but out of tune with self and others.  Brilliant at solving theoretical conundrums, but unable to find solutions to problems in our own lives.  This is learned helplessness.

The pursuit of academic expertise entails many erasures in which a privileged way of knowing colonizes your indigenous methods and inherent authority—the capacity to write your own life.  What I love most about Alt/Post-Ac coaching is watching you good folks remember your immense potential, reawaken dormant dreams, and reclaim forgotten experiences.  To a person, the clients I’ve worked with are multifaceted, multi-talented and most important – brave enough to explore something new.  That courage, that curiosity, that risk, will help you find your right life.

It all begins with  Freeing the Academic Elephant, breaking away from the “river reed thinking” —academe’s version of discipline and punish—that makes us feel smaller and less capable than we really are.  When I wrote that post I had just read Finding Your North Star by Martha Beck, a recovered academic who has found her true calling as a life coach.  Funny, irreverent and extremely well-informed, she balances emotional and other intelligences in impressive ways.  Here, for example, she debunks myths of valuing self and others, an essential step for any Alt/Post-Ac seeker.

More recently, I’ve been blown away by her subsequent book,Finding Your Way in Wild New World, which provides additional context for my argument in Beyond Tenurecentrism that we need new ways of thinking about the Alt/Post-Ac situation.  In this book, Beck makes a much larger claim about the current era of rapid social and technological change – of which the crumbling academic market is but one example.  The problem with “train-track careers” and other old-school navigation metaphors, says Beck, is that they presume stable terrain but that landscape no longer exists.

This wild new world demands other ways of knowing, of which Beck highlights four:  Wordlessness (non-verbal awareness), Oneness (connection with your environment), Imagination (the capacity to perceive what doesn’t yet exist) and Forming (the ability to manifest what you’ve imagined).  These are the deeply intuitive technologies of those that anthropologist Wade Davis has called wayfinders and that Beck (drawing on Jungian archetypes) calls menders—people with a yearning to heal themselves and the planet.  These folks are finding new ways of moving through the world.  Are you one of them?

Finding Inner Conviction – Part 3 of 3 (Cardozo)

Karen Cardozo concludes her 3 part series on developing new ways to “track” unexpected opportunities as you pursue your post-ac transition, based on Martha Beck’s new book Finding Your Way.    See Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

It’s not easy: imagining a new life is a creative endeavor at odds with staid academic culture.  As Julia Cameron wrote in The Artist’s Way, “the art of creative construction meets with scanty support, understanding or approval” in institutional contexts wherein “most academics know how to take something apart, but not how to assemble it.”  Of course, deconstruction has its place – but that mode (as many an anguished dissertator knows) is incompatible with nurturing seedling dreams.  This is what the Alt/Post-Ac transition is really about if you’re willing to go all in:  relying on the full range of your experiences and intuition to Imagine your way to a new reality.

Interestingly enough, the more one begins to explore the wild new world, the less significant the categories “academic” or “nonacademic” appear to be.  Wayfinders are not a job sector; we are everywhere.  There are ethical and kind academics claiming their true nature by living the life they want in higher education, while some of their peers – although tenured and secure – are miserable, and take that misery out on their students and colleagues.

Then there are those who have left academe but can’t shake a feeling of failure and loss, while other recovered academics are living full and joyful lives. Of the happy latter category, some may feel that academic life was a temporary mistake that they have since corrected, but most see it as a necessary part of the journey that led them to where they are now.  As a guru I know is fond of saying: “on the path to self-realization, there’s no right or wrong way, only a short or long way!”  Wherever you go, there you are.  And right on time, too.

Despite the worst of academic life with its committee meetings, deadlines, grading and April, the cruelest month, many academics hang in there for the seasonal cycles that allow us some precious time to pause.  But even those who don’t hold faculty positions tend to take time off in the summer to engage in another important P:  play.  Beck insists that experimental play is the true “work” of the wayfinder and the surest method of finding solutions.

So get to it. Whether you are Ac, Alt, or Post, now is the perfect time to get your Ps on while also dabbling in some Rs—reading, reflection and rest.  Explore the links I’ve provided and use any other means necessary to improve your psychological condition and clarify your life philosophy.  But, remember, reading alone won’t do it.

Ultimately, you will need to drop into Wordlessness and experience Oneness to begin to Imagine who you really are and where you might be going.  Right now, that might be the most practical and productive thing you can do.

 

 

Adjuncts, Assistant Professors, and a Broken Faculty Life Cycle

As many of you know, I went to Santa Fe last week as the invited speaker of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities Council of Academic Affairs national conference.*  Translated, this is a conference of provosts (and a few vice chancellors and the like) from public R1 and R2 institutions.

I was very anxious about this talk, because I have no experience with provosts.  I don’t entirely understand their role in the new, corporatized university, and I had no idea–to tell the truth–why I’d been invited to speak on this panel on the “Faculty Life Cycle,”  on mentoring and support for new tenure track hires.

But, never one to turn down a challenge, I wrote a talk, and I went.  And I prefaced the talk with a disclaimer: “I am flying completely blind here. I have no idea what provosts talk about, and if what I’m about to say totally common sense and preaching to the choir, or anathema that’s going to outrage you all.  I’m just going to say my piece, and I’ll be interested to hear your response.”

And then I spoke about what I call Job Market PTSD (yes I know many of you object to this term; the arguments for and against are played out in the comment thread to this post).  I called my talk, “Job Market PTSD: Adjuncts, Assistant Professors and A Broken Faculty Life Cycle.” My point was, tenure track hires today are often harmed by the destructive conditions of the job market, even when they have been successful in it.  They are harmed by the years of anxiety, the pervasive sense of panic and uncertainty, the indignities of years of adjuncting at poverty wages, by 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars of debt, and by a kind of ‘survivor’s guilt’ vis-a-vis all their friends and comrades still laboring in the adjunct trenches.

I spoke of a pervasive “loss of faith” in the ideals of the university, specifically:

  • The university is fundamentally good and worthy
  • The university is a realm devoted to something other than money and profit
  • An academic career is possible
  • An academic career is morally defensible
  • The Ph.D. was a financially responsible choice
  • My sense of self (as a scholar/academic) is secure

Then I proposed four interventions:

1) Stop growing the traumatized population—cut Ph.D. programs

2) Institute mandatory career training in all Ph.D. programs

3) Stop hiring adjuncts and improve conditions for the ones hired

4) Mentor new tenure track hires in new ways

To me it was essential to intervene in the idea that there continues to be a “faculty life cycle” that is organic, unchanging, and predictable in a time of 76% adjunctification.

I also wanted to point to the new needs of assistant professors –always at risk of feeling isolated and overwhelmed — when they are coming in in drastically reduced cohorts, and dependent on mentoring from increasingly overburdened and disaffected tenured faculty.

I did provide some specific recommendations for mentoring assistant professors, around perennial questions like supporting writing, protecting from excessive service, and illuminating the mystery of the external tenure reviewer (who are they, where to find them, how to cultivate them).

But, while my primary request was to stop hiring adjuncts, I ended with the exhortation to create a larger campus community that included both adjuncts (who will continue to be hired) and new assistant professors.  I said that a caste system in which one group was viewed as the “untouchable” was damaging and traumatizing for everyone, including those occupying the privileged tenure track position.

That was my talk. Now here’s the surprise:  the provosts seemed mostly pretty open to this message.  Those who spoke in the Q and A and privately to me afterward did not dispute my argument at all.  Mostly, they wanted to share initiatives on their campuses to replace adjuncts with longer-term instructors with benefits.  While in an audience of 60 or so I’m sure there was a range of opinion, not always expressed, by and large the reception was amazingly non-defensive, open, and interested in change.

“We’re chief academic officers!” one said.  “We are constantly fighting a battle inside ourselves.  On the one hand we must be the leading proponents of the corporatized model.  On the other hand, we come from faculty, and support faculty, and support the academic mission of the university.  Every day is a battle between the halves of our brains.” The audience ruefully laughed.

I must say, it never occurred to me that upper administrators would be struggling (or would admit to struggling) with the corporate model in quite this way.  It was heartening.

While I know that one panel talk won’t change the world, I’m glad I went, and I did see some glimmers of possibility, at least from one corner of administration. The one thing I learned is that it isn’t quite right to tar all “administrators” with the same brush.  Yes, they’re all complicit, and all earning large salaries as part of the escalation of administration at the expense of the educational mission.  But they don’t seem to all feel exactly the same, or totally positive, about it.

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*If you’re curious, here is the program of panels:

Efficiency Studies, Administrative Costs, and the University Narrative

Data Analytics for Student Success, Advising and Alerts

Relationship with Community Colleges

Metrics and Indicators of Institutional Quality

Human Resources and Reform and Shared Services**

Faculty Career Life-Cycles

Whither Competency-Based Education

**I sat in on the end of this one, and the upshot was—provosts and others on the side of academic affairs, trying to support the educational mission of the university, find themselves in constant state of disconnect with HR, which is imposing generic legal policies from the world of government and business that simply do not work. One provost told the story of her new faculty orientation, run by HR on her campus. “It was four days on parking and benefits!  I have no idea how they filled four days on parking and benefits!  It covered NOTHING that new faculty actually need, like tenure policies, how to use Blackboard… I eventually had my office take it over.”  Another remarked, dryly,  “These offices need to understand they are in SUPPORT of a larger mission.”

Provosts have some pretty familiar struggles–who knew?

How to Plan Your Research and Writing Trajectory on the Tenure Track

This is a re-post.  Various readers and clients are looking ahead to the new jobs they are starting in the fall, and I want you all to have a very firm handle on the nature of a tenure track research trajectory.  This post is written from the perspective of an R1 book field, so please get your own tenure expectations in writing from your department head as soon as you can.  And then, as this post explains, work BACKWARDS from Spring of your 5th year to plot out a writing and research schedule.

**This is my last post until I return from summer vacation in early August.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today’s post is a Special Request Post for Ana and Lauri, who both wrote in requesting advice on how they, as new assistant professors, could best plan out a research trajectory.

I was actually a little startled to encounter this particular query. For myself, my research trajectory as an assistant professor was relatively clear. But by the same token, I landed in a good and supportive department for my first position, a department in which senior colleagues took pains to make sure that the expectations for tenure were clear.  This might not be the case for everyone.  And actually, as Department Head, when I had my annual meetings with the assistant professors to go over their research trajectories, they got so. stressed. out.  But they thanked me later–yes, they ALL got tenure.

So, I want to share here some general advice for thinking about a pre-tenure research trajectory. I am going to limit my comments to book-based fields in the humanities and social sciences at R1 institutions.

Now, before I begin:  any discussion of your research trajectory must begin with a discussion of your tenure expectations. These will vary according to field, department, and university setting,. You must schedule an appointment with your department head, and get, in writing, a clear picture of your tenure expectations. In addition, attend any and all workshops held on your campus about the tenure process, especially anything organized by specialized groups such as the Center for Women and Gender Studies, etc. You want to see this thing from as many angles as possible, as early as possible.

Now, once you have a clear sense of the expectations, sit down with your dissertation and other research, and map out a plan.

For the sake of this blog post, I am going to assume that you need a book and five articles for tenure, with your case starting in Spring of the 5th year. This is a relatively rigorous set of expectations, most likely seen at an R1 institution, but not the most rigorous imaginable. However, if you do confront more rigorous expectations than these, chances are you’re at a super-elite institution that has relieved you from quite a bit of teaching and service, and awarded leave liberally.

Of the five articles, three will most likely be based on the dissertation research or closely related work. Two will then be on a major second, post-book project. Be aware that a second major project is a critical element to a successful tenure case at a research institution.

Lay out a timeline, working backward from Spring of your 5th year, which is when the tenure file will be sent out to your external reviewers. At that time, you need your book and all of your articles to be published or in press. The reviews will come back in Fall of your 6th year, your department will vote on your tenure in or around September, your file will be submitted to the College in or around October, and then wend its way through upper committees, with your final decision coming to you in about May.

It takes approximately one year from first submission to a press to having a book reach the stage of being “in press.” Therefore, the book mss. must be finished and ready for submission, at the very latest, by Spring of your 4th year.

Working backward yet again, we know that you will undergo a Third Year Review in Spring of your third year. At that time, it will be quite apparent whether or not the book is shaping up to be submitted to a press within one year’s time.  Your third year review committee will judge the state of your manuscript very severely indeed.  Your article production will also be examined at this time.

As you can see, there is very little room for missteps in this timeline. What there most definitely is not room for is switching topics in mid-stream. If you have a dissertation, then that dissertation needs to be the foundation of your book. I understand that some assistant professors find themselves bored with their dissertation topic and involved with fresh new research early on the job. Rarely, very rarely, does that work out well for the individual’s tenure case. The new research must be kept aside as the major second, post-book project.

Basically, an ideal research and writing trajectory will look something like this:

Year One: Start work on the book mss.; Apply for research leave

Year One Summer: Article #1;

Year Two: Book mss.; Apply for research leave (if you didn’t get it yet)

Year Two Summer: Article #2

Year Three: Book mss.; Apply for research leave (if you didn’t get it yet)

Year Three Summer: Article #3 and book mss.

Year Four (ideally on post-third year review automatic research leave): book manuscript completely finished and submitted.

Year Four Summer: Article #4 (on new project); Possible research and fieldwork on new project.

Year Five: Book revisions and copyediting, and Article #5 (on new project)

As you can see, the key to maintaining a succcessful research and writing program is research leave.  It is not possible to reach the standards of productivity expected of young assistant professors in this day and age without leave.  You must prioritize applying for internal and external leave over all other writing in your first and second Fall semesters.  If you are unsuccessful in obtaining external leave within the first two years, speak to your department chair about the possibility of an automatic post-third-year-review leave, or negotiating, minimally, one semester of teaching release.  Do not consider applications for leave time as in any way secondary to the other writing that you do.

As you develop the articles for publication, one of the best and most efficient methods for getting them written and out, is to commit yourself to presenting them at major national conferences in your field. You don’t have to have a 35-page mss. with full citations and bibliography for the conference itself (unless, I’ve learned, you’re in philosophy, in which case you need those just to apply!). The 12-ish page double-spaced “paper” for presentation can suffice. But those 12 pages should be the core of an actual journal submission.  In good time, get that article expanded and submitted.

The early set of articles is tricky because they must build excitement about the coming book, but not reveal its contents.  It’s critical that they be in the highest status journals you can get into, as they establish your voice and authority, and lay the groundwork for the reception of your book.  They also help build credibility for you to get the contract for the book at the best presses.  Note publishers will likely not accept your book for publication if more than 50% of the manuscript has been previously published as articles.  Thus if it’s a 5 chapter book, then two chapters can have been published, but if that number rises to three, then it will be difficult to sell the book project.

The second major project does not have to be in book form for most tenure cases (we do hear of some Ivy Leagues expecting two books for tenure), although it does need to exist in article, conference paper, and grant form.

The second major project needs to show a natural development of the research trajectory that you began with the dissertation/first book, a kind of organic move forward, while still being quite new and original. In other words, deep thematics remain consistent while the topic is clearly distinct.

As you can imagine, a major squeeze happens in Year Four Summer and Year Five, when you must produce refereed journal articles on this new original second project, without any real time to conduct new research. Sometimes the second major project is a product of a certain amount of smoke and mirrors, and some creative thinking about how to conjure up a major project without doing lengthy fieldwork or research, or going overseas.

Thinking ahead about this squeeze, it is good to begin thinking about the second major project while still in your first year on the job. Begin a file for it, start reading some of the literature, and eventually, in year three or so, start presenting papers at panels on the new project. You want to have the core of an idea that is feasible and plausible by Year Four, so that AS SOON AS the book manuscript leaves your desk, you are ready to hit the ground running on two new publishable pieces on the second topic.

In general, plan to submit all of your best work to refereed journals. Chapters in edited collections are significantly lower status in a tenure case (particularly at an R1), and can sink a weak case.

It goes without saying that your tenure case cannot rest, if you are at a research-oriented institution, on an edited collection.

I understand that edited collections can serve for tenure at teaching or lower ranking institutions. However, if you have aspirations to move to a higher ranking institution, then the edited collection will do you little good. And beware—the edited collection takes at least as much time as a monograph, and often more. These are the reasons, as you know from this post, that I advocate just saying no to edited collections until after tenure.

There are countless other considerations in planning a research trajectory, but many of them are too individualized to be discussed in a general post. Readers, if you have some tips, however, please do contribute them in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Create Your Own Post-ac Job

by Margy Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Have you been reading all the posts about how to write a resume and what to say in interviews and thinking, “These posts are great, but I don’t have any jobs to apply for”? Maybe you’re geographically limited in your job search, or you’re bored by every job posting you read, or you’re riddled with guilt over the prospect of stealing some Art History major’s job, or (my personal favorite) you hate the idea of taking orders from anyone besides yourself, especially after having suffered the indignities of the academic labor market. If any of these conditions applies to you, then perhaps the reason you’re feeling so frustrated by the post-ac transition is that the job you’re looking for does not yet exist. Perhaps the person who is going to hand you your dream job is, cue swelling music, you!

At this moment, as you lie curled on your couch with 15 open tabs on your computer mocking you with postings for 15 different impossible jobs (jobs in distant cities, jobs that require coding expertise, jobs that pay less than the cost of childcare), the idea of creating your own job might seem just as impossible. How would you even begin to build a business? What would you sell? Who would give you a paycheck? And how soon? Adding to your unease may be the awareness that most small businesses fail within 18 months, and that your academic colleagues are likely to look down on you even if, or especially if, you succeed.

But I want to suggest that you have a much better than average chance of success in small business for two reasons: (1) given the skills you honed in academia, you can start a knowledge-based business that requires almost zero startup capital, and (2) your desperate thirst for challenging and meaningful work is going to make it impossible for you to give up until you find a way to do that work every day. I predict that, once you discover the Big Idea for your business and commit to making it happen, you’ll fall so in love with the project that you’ll actually start feeling happy and inspired again as you go about the work of creating your business: of designing your services and experimenting with your marketing message and figuring out what works for you and your clients. It may be slow going at first, but you can always ramp up gradually as you continue a steady day job.

In an earlier post I proposed some exploratory questions that you might ask as you prepare to write your business plan. After answering these basic questions, like “What can I do?” and “What do people need?”, you can move onto the specific questions that will undergird your business plan. You may opt to write a traditional, highly researched business plan or go with my own preference, an improvisational “lean start-up” plan. Either way, as you develop your business plan, don’t just guess what the answers are to these questions. Conduct some type of market research, even if informally.

1. What service(s) will I offer?

You might consider coaching, consulting, or editing, as these are all knowledge-based services that correspond to your skills honed in academia. In a coachingrelationship, the coach helps the client to achieve competency in a specific area, but does so mostly by asking questions rather than prescribing a course of action. By contrast, consulting tends to be more directive; the consultant provides expert advice for how the client ought to proceed.  Editorial services, broadly construed, involve written feedback on a work in progress. The lines among these three services can be blurry, of course. For example, in my business I provide writing consultation, which as it happens, can be more like coaching than like other forms of consulting. I do not prescribe solutions to my clients so much as ask them questions, help them tease out ideas that they hadn’t clarified before, and suggest strategies for revision. The client maintains full ownership of the project.

2. Who are my clients?

These people are the heart of your business, so know them well and love them deeply. A few considerations: Are your target clients aware of the need you propose to solve? If not, how can you help them see the need? What has kept them from meeting this need before now? Will they find your solution uniquely compelling? Also, consider whether you’ll target individuals or institutions, or both. If institutions, who are the decision-makers with whom you need to develop relationships? If both, will you need two distinct marketing messages? No matter who your clients are, be sure to design your solution (services) in a way that it will fit their time and money constraints.

3. What’s my Unique Value Proposition (UVP)?

This is key. Think of your UVP as the thesis of an argument: the concise, compelling articulation of what makes your your business both unique and important. Answering this big question requires attention to what similar services others are providing. How do those other people describe their services? What qualifications do those people have? How are you similar to or different from other people offering similar services? How can you communicate unique value so that you are not competing on price alone? For me, developing a UVP is not just a marketing technique. It is, far more significantly, a way to see oneself and one’s “competitors” as a community of unique individuals who respect one another and even collaborate. Call me Millennial, but I find this perspective far more inspiring than one of zero-sum competition.

4. How will I communicate with potential clients?

This begins with choosing a name for your business, which will succinctly and evocatively communicate the essence of your brand to the public at large. After you’ve decided on a business name and bought the url, you’ll want to think about what combination of web presence and in-person networking you’ll use to get your name out there. Again, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish without spending a cent. Once you create a genuinely compelling Unique Value Proposition and tell everyone in your network about it, the news about your business will have a way of spreading on its own. For me and many others with knowledge-based service businesses, the entirety of the marketing budget is the annual fee for website hosting–under $100 a year. I do spend lots of time building relationships, but this is the fun part of entrepreneurship! One note of caution against relying on online marketplaces such as Elance, Fiverr, Craigslist to generate new business. On these sites, people compete with one another based on price alone and do so at well below market rates. Avoid the commodity trap! Focus on quality relationships, and as much as possible, work with clients who appreciate the value of what you do.

5. Which resources do I need?

When launching your business, don’t spend money for something without first trying to get it for free. The public library, for example, is where I found this book on building a consulting practice. Believe me, I worked my way through the entire Business and Marketing section. I also found Quora to be a valuable resource, a place to ask questions of a brilliant community of people in all spheres of life. Canva is my source for graphics, and plain old Excel and PayPal are sufficient for my current accounting purposes. Obviously, social media accounts are free. The trick with those is to choose only two or three platforms in which to invest time in a purposeful way, rather than trying to be present on every platform.

Suffice it to say that creating a business plan is, like writing a dissertation, a recursive process. Even now, I still revisit and reimagine my business plan. At the moment, I am working out the details of an exciting expansion (I’ll be announcing my first Associate within 3-6 months!), so I am thinking a lot about how other people’s services fit within the ScholarShape brand. For me, this endless room for growth is what makes entrepreneurship fun, energizing, challenging, and rewarding–all of the adjectives that most of us are looking for in a job.  In my next post, I’ll discuss two different approaches to self-employment, entrepreneurship and freelancing, and I’ll explain why the distinction is important. Until then, keep dreaming and scheming!

 

Rape Threats Revisited

Most folks active in the academic blogosphere are aware of the nightmarish situation that developed over the past week around Sarah Kendzior and rape threats she received, and the insanely escalating blizzard of abuse directed at her upon Jacobin magazine making them public.  Sarah Kendzior describes the events in an essay, “On Being a Thing.” She writes, “I want people to stop sending me rape threats. I want to do my work. I want to stop being treated like a thing – or, shall I say, like a woman.”

The path to this place is convoluted in a way only internet disputes mostly mediated by Twitter can be.  But the upshot is that a whole bunch of leftists–mainly men, but a solid sprinkling of women mixed in–have spent a week dissecting why Sarah a) didn’t get any rape threats, b) did get rape threats but didn’t talk about the rape threats correctly, c) shouldn’t have felt threatened by rape threats, d) is deserving of rape threats because of her personal and/or professional politics.

A whole crew of Sarah’s political opponents felt empowered to take the opportunity to mock and belittle her.  When she spoke out about the rape threats, they escalated, and eventually directed, I understand, toward her young daughter.

Josh Shahryar articulates the outrage many of us felt while watching this unfold, in a 44-tweet Twitter rant (storified by @Teobesta).

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Being that is a woman, the threats to her are – as our rotting society goes – of sexual nature – rape to be precise. 7/n

In the past few days, those threats have been belittled and amplified by the actions of certain “left wing” individuals and . 8/n

No one would give a shit abt what thinks or any of the other no-name trolls. is more valuable than them all. 9/n

However, their attempts at gaining some kind of traction by disgustingly attempting to harm exposes sth else. 10/n

Many of these people questioning the rape threats against are supposedly “liberal”, “progressive” and “left wing”. 11/n

Yet, none of them seem to realize that by questioning or belittling her experience exposes to more rape threats. 12/n

~~~~~~~~~~~

The fact is, so-called radicals and progressives are no less likely than others to use rape threats and other threats of violence to police, discipline, and silence women who write political commentary in the public sphere, especially if they depart from “approved” ideological party lines.  Robin (@caulkthewagon) describes her own experience with rape threats in the post “On Rape Threats and a Culture That Enables Them.”

‘I’d guess that I received dozens of them, mostly of the, “bitch, your [sic] gonna get raped” variety. I’ve gotten rape threats off and on throughout the years, but have been receiving them with alarming frequency since the beginning of this year. … After the MRA mass killing in Santa Barbara, I received two very grisly, detailed threats of rape and murder against me from two different accounts impersonating the killer. Last night I received another threat. (Side note: I am hoping that the acceleration of rape threats is just about me, and isn’t indicative of a larger trend.)’

Robin’s account makes it clear:  rape threats happen when women speak out against privilege to which different sorts of men (in varied sorts of contexts, including quote-unquote radical politics) feel entitled.

‘The link between all of the aforementioned rape threat “outbreaks,” as it were, that I experienced is that they were always perpetrated during a time when I used Twitter to speak in opposition to power, usually of the patriarchal sort. In this sort of scenario, rape is a weapon: rape is about power. The ability to threaten a woman without any accountability or consequence must be very tempting to the men who wish to maintain patriarchal power. It is an almost foolproof tactical maneuver.’

It is reprehensible and barbaric to use the threat of violence as a response to a person’s politics, and it is equally reprehensible to then turn the person’s fear of that violence into further fodder for mockery, dismissal and intensified threats. While speaking out about threats often incites more threats, I think it’s vital to name this dynamic so that other women who encounter it know they are not alone.  That is why I write this post.

Ask the Post-Acs #2 — What’s It Like to Work With You One-on-One?

Dear Post-acs,

Can you tell me what it’s like to work with you on a one-on-one basis? What happens in the free initial 20-minute consultation?  And, once we’ve decided to work together further, what happens in the 50-minute Skype consultations? How do consultations differ from document editing?

 

From Karen Cardozo:

I manage the initial consultation by circulating some diagnostic questions ahead of time and then formulating an agenda for discussion based on your responses. As an experienced career counselor (and someone who has experienced a lot of transition in my own academic and nonacademic work), I’m especially interested in helping you break from academe’s patterned mindset and narrow values to compose a satisfying life from the full toolkit of your aspirations, experiences, and skills.

As for the consult/editing distinction, I find these to be different processes only in degree rather than kind:  that is, document editing is often a vehicle for a more in-depth career consult because the devil is always in the details–document work brings out the nuance in a client’s background and goals in ways that a general consult may not.  For example, it was only in working on a resume for an advising position that one client disclosed (in response to my prompt about geographic connections) that she had attended high school in the very same city where she was applying for the Alt-Ac job!  Following conventional wisdom she had deleted high school from her resume; in this case, that history gave real credence to her desire to return to that community (in an application that otherwise made her look like someone new to the area).  We decided she wouldn’t put high school on the resume, but would mention it in her cover letter as part of the rationale for relocation: returning to a part of the country she knew and liked and where she had strong personal connections. This might reassure any search committee concerned about her retention.

Overall, whether in consulting appointments or in document work, I emphasize how important it is to be willing to rethink your story, and tell it in fresh and responsive ways for each new job application – much more so than in the academic application, which follows a more predictable generic format.  The Alt/Post search requires a greater willingness to change up the presentation in accordance with the requirements of each new job situation. My hope is that after showing you how to do this in a few concrete cases, you’ll gain the creativity and discernment to do it confidently for yourself in the future.

From Maggie Gover:

In my 20 minute consultation I will try to get to know who you are and what you need in regards to assistance with a job search.  I begin by asking about your background.  If you already have an academic career, some of the things we might then discuss are what you find satisfying about that career and would like to continue to find in your new career.  We may discuss different career opportunities and the different skills you would like to highlight in order to transition out of academia.  If you are very early in the process, we may talk about how you can position yourself for a career out of academia.

I like to end my session with “next steps.”  For those early in their career, I might suggest an early draft of a resume.  If you already have documents ready for editing, I will spend a few minutes talking in generalities about how they can be improved or which sections might have to be modified for different job descriptions.  The goal of my 20 minute session is for us to get to know each other and to find out if further consultations would be helpful.

From Jessica Langer:

I’ve done a couple of 20-minute consults now, as well as a few longer consults. I usually use the 20-minute consult to listen to the person, mirror back what I understand their meaning to be – which often gives them some insight into trends in their thinking that they may not have understood on their own, being too close to their own thoughts – and help them to establish goals for themselves (and for possible future work). I ask for a short bio and their application materials beforehand, spend 5 minutes looking them over, and I ask a lot of questions based on what jumps out at me. Most of these questions are “why” questions, designed to get them to think. I also give them “homework” of a few questions that I’d like them to answer for themselves.

My goal with the 20-minute consult is to help the potential client decide whether they would benefit from a longer consultation – but I also want them to get at least one actionable thing out of the consult, even though it’s free, because I really do want to help!
From Joe Fruscione:

I recently finished my initial Skype consult with a client looking into career-changing. Specifically, she needed help converting her teaching-geared resume & cover letter into materials for non-academic jobs. She was also interested in how to frame herself as a strong candidate for a writing or editing job in the private sector. She sent drafts of her sample resume, letter, and Statement of Purpose to familiarize me with her writing style and qualifications. I then clarified the realistic purpose of the consult–i.e., to talk and advise, not to fix her resume immediately or perfect her self-presentation in 20-30 minutes.

I started by asking her how she’d most like to proceed–with me asking the questions, or her asking them, or just me doing a lot of listening. I posed these questions throughout our conversation:

  1. Strengths: What are your strengths as a teacher and thinker? What labels or terms can you use to describe them, and how can you then use this lexicon on your resume, cover letter, and interviews?
  2. Concerns: What areas of improvement or concerns do you have about applying for and then doing a non-academic job?
  3. Network: What contacts do you have outside academia? Who do you know who’s doing the kinds of teaching or writing & editing work you’d like to do?
  4. Informational Interviews and Freelancing: Can one of your contacts set you up with an informational interview with a supervisor or director in the profession? (Informational interviews can be incredibly helpful for getting a frank, honest assessment of the field, your “fit” in it, and your areas of improvement. Because you’re not officially being interviewed, the industry professional isn’t as limited by HR rules and the like.)

What opportunities are there to do freelance or part-time work in a writing or editing field? Since it’s possible that you won’t get a full-time job right away, how can you start small, so to speak, and gain valuable experience? (I reiterated the freelance/part-time approach as baby steps toward full-time work.)

  1. Resume: What do you think needs to stay in your resume, and what’s expendable? (We discussed how to tighten the writing and rearrange the material based on the jobs being applied to. I also reminded her that she can have a short self-description at the top that echoes the language of the job ad. The key thing I stressed was to foreground the writing and editing skills she already has from her teaching & presentation experience.)

These, I hope, are the kinds of questions other post-ac job seekers can ask themselves when changing careers. Self-reflecting on your strengths, weaknesses, and transferable skills often improves your manner and language of self-presentation as a job seeker. And, while you’re doing this self-reflection, do a little self-advertising as well: when friends, former professors, colleagues, and others know you’re looking for new work, your net is cast all the more widely.

From Margy Horton:

I view the free 20-minute “mini-session” as a chance to explore how we work together and to see whether we’re a good fit. Beforehand, I ask you to share some basic info with me via email or the intake form on my website: info such as your degree field, geographic region, transition timeline, and general goals. My post-ac specialty is helping people figure out how to earn a living by “selling” their knowledge-based skills (ie, as freelancers, contractors, consultants, or small-business owners). So, I like to spend consultation sessions (both the 20-minute session and the proceeding sessions) helping clients to identify and label their most marketable skills, and then figuring out a specific plan for selling those skills. What service will you provide, and to whom, and at what rate, and how will you get the word out to prospects? As we conclude each session, you state the next steps in your process. For example, if you’re starting a small tutoring business, we might spend some time working to define the target market, services, and marketing message, and we conclude with you affirming that you plan to write a first draft of your business plan within a week. I usually follow up by emailing some free resources and/or suggestions for further reading.

As for the editing service, please note that I do not edit resumes and cover letters; I leave that to the experts who know those genres better than I! However, I do edit business plans and marketing materials. (In my “day job,” ScholarShape, I’m a scholarly editor and writing consultant.) For me, the distinction between consultation and editing is that consultation is a discussion (one that’s focused, rigorous, collaborative, task-focused), and editing is written feedback, in the form of revision suggestions and comments. In many cases, you could feasibly opt for either consultation or editing. People tend to select services based on (a) whether they have a draft worth commenting on (if not, consultation is an obvious choice because it can help you plan and produce said draft), and (b) whether they prefer engaging with ideas in texts or in person (if the former, they choose editing; if the latter, consultation). Some my clients opt for both consultation and editing at different stages of the transition process. One scenario for combining consultation and editing is to spend a consultation session talking through the business plan, and then draft the business plan on your own, and finally send me your business plan to so that I can provide a detailed, substantive edit/critique. I say more about the distinction between consultation and editing on the Services page of my website. But of course, these distinctions and approaches can vary from one service provider to another, so always check with the person you’re thinking of hiring! And good luck!

The Bottom Line:

Your free 20-minute session is an opportunity to experience, with no strings attached, what it actually feels like to work with the post-ac expert of your choice. Because you and the consultant prepare for the session by exchanging basic information, you get to spend most of your 20 minutes actually having a productive discussion about your post-ac transition. You will experience first-hand the approach that your post-ac consultant describes explicitly in his or her consulting philosophy and implies in the blog posts. Each of the post-ac experts has a distinct approach to consulting and editing, but all of the experts are committed to arming you with the specific knowledge, skills, and strategies that you need to transition into post-ac work that suits you perfectly.

The Professor Is In is Hiring

[July 2014 Update:  this search has been completed and I have hired two new staff members.  Please stay tuned for future searches moving forward].

I am seeking to hire two editors for The Professor Is In, to start immediately, contingent upon successful completion of training, and to continue through the 2014-15 academic year.  The hours are approximately 10 hours a week, and hours are flexible to suit your schedule.  Editors work directly with me to manage client inquiries and scheduling, and edit client documents.

Applicants must have previously worked with me on their job documents!  I want editors to be familiar with the process from both sides.

I will select the successful candidates based on background experience, performance in a set of editing tests and an interview.  The successful candidates will join a team of editors who all work closely together with me on a daily basis.  You can be located in any geographical location, but you must have been trained in a U.S. Ph.D. program, be active in an American academic context, and have received your Ph.D. within the last ten years.  You must be able to commit for the whole next academic year.

To answer a question I am often asked:  if hired, you do not have to “go public” that you are working for me; it is optional if you want your name listed on my “People” page.

If you are interested, please email me at gettenure@gmail.com for more information about the test process, training process and the pay.  Please send your CV with the email, and let me know when we previously worked together (I’ll probably remember, but just in case!)