The 30,000 Foot View – a STEM Postac Guest Post

By Brandon Cochenour, Ph.D.


It would seem lately that a lot of the discussion around “alt-ac” are mostly “Variations on a Theme”…

Get PhD
Search for tenure track position
Receive tenure track position (or not)
Fall out of love with Academia
Figure out what the heck you’re going to do next

Indeed, there are some heroic stories and lots to learn from those brave enough to “make the leap” after you get to the last step.  It occurs to me though that most of this discussion assumes that “alt-ac” is something that you only arrive at after all else fails.  But why does this have to be the case?  Why can’t “alt-ac” be the plan all along?  Why does getting a PhD presume the only logical conclusion is landing a professorship?  And why does it assume that being “academic” can only take place in “Academia”?

Some of this perspective may stem from my own personal experience.  I went to work at a Navy research lab immediately after the undergrad, and only pursued graduate education to enhance an “alt-ac” career that was already in progress.  Revisiting Academia provided me with the opportunity to develop and fine-tune skills I needed to be successful in my field, while my prior experience as a practicing engineer allowed me not to get lost in the Ivory Tower.  It’s a path that’s served me well, and affords the opportunity to mix the best parts of “in-ac” and “out-ac” into a hybrid pathway.

But what can you, as a current or aspiring PhD student in a STEM field, do to develop your alt-ac skills and set yourself on a path that provides you with the most options after the defense?

To this end, I see two broad “alt-ac” career paths for us STEM folk.  One is being an Academic…just not in Academia.  After all, you know how to operate in a lab.  You’re technically competent.  Maybe you know how to code.  None of this means a life destined to Academia.  In my own experience, I’ve been able to do cutting edge research without having to be on the tenure track at a major research university.  I can teach and mentor young engineers without the pressures of course loads and student reviews.  I can collaborate with industry, small businesses, and start-ups to help bring new technologies to bear in my field.  And, I have the work-life balance that allows me to pursue other passions outside of STEM, like my other ‘job’ as a jazz pianist.  There are plenty of opportunities outside the University to maintain your scientific prowess, if that’s what you desire.

On the other hand, what if you end up wanting to leave the lab bench all together?  Fortunately, I think we STEM folks are inherently well set up for success here too simply due to the nature of our studies.

How so?

Someone once told me that in the STEM disciplines, a B.S. student knows how to perform an experiment, an M.S. student knows how to design an experiment, and a PhD knows which experiment to do next.  In other words, STEM PhDs, through their training, are placed at the forefront of the “state-of-the-art”.  They’re able to use their training to see into the future and connect dots that aren’t yet connected.

In the end, we Scientists and Engineers are problem solvers.  While our initial training may be in the nuts and bolts of a particular scientific field, there’s always some bigger picture.  What solution does this science address?  What are the implications?  What are the potential real-world useful applications of this technology?  Point being, once you zoom out from the textbook, the “alt” options become clear.  Business Development.  Public Health.  Policy.  Non-profit.  Technical Communications/Journalism.  Law. Tech Transfer (i.e. – Entrepreneurship or Venture Capital).  Taking a 30,000 ft. view of the field may help overcome the initial obstacle of, “what do I do if I don’t do science?”.  Remember, you’re the expert in your area!

In future posts, I hope to be able to share with you some practical ideas on how to start building these alt-ac skills while pursuing your STEM PhD, and how to leverage everyday Academic experiences to develop your “alt-ac” swagger.


Bio: Dr. Brandon Cochenour has served as an Electrical Engineer with the U.S. Navy since 2004.  In his current role, Brandon collaborates with industry, academia, small business, and other federal labs to develop next generation laser imaging and communication technologies for ocean exploration.  Brandon obtained his M.S. and PhD both while maintaining his duties as a Navy engineer, an experience that gives him unique insight into the worlds of academia, industry, and government service.  Brandon is an avid supporter of STEM outreach, appearing before thousands of young students interested in STEM fields through classroom visits, science fairs, laboratory tours, and mentoring. He has twice been named Navy Scientist and Engineer of the Year, and is a Maryland Academy of Sciences Outstanding Young Engineer.  On weekends, you can find him moonlighting as a jazz pianist in the Washington DC area. On the Twitter, you can find him moonlighting as @DocBrando.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not not necessarily reflect any official policy or position of the U.S. Navy or any other federal agency.

Starving the Beast

“I’m glad it’s sunny out today.  Because it sure is dark in here.”

So said a grad student during the Q and A following my talk last week at the University of Oregon. The talk, “Hacking the Academic Job Market,” is a talk that I’ve given at almost 50 universities and disciplinary association meetings over the past three years.

The talk starts by pointing to the “crisis” in academic hiring, and then immediately repudiates the term “crisis.”

Because “crisis” means an immediate or short-term moment of emergency or calamity, and/or a turning point, or a watershed moment.  But the current moment in academic hiring is none of these things. It is merely the latest point in a perfectly consistent, predictable, and totally transparent 40-year trend replacing tenure line and tenured faculty members with contingent instructors.  In 1980 75% of university instructors were tenure stream and 25% contingent. Now 25% are tenure stream and 75% are contingent.

This is not news.  Every single source of data confirms it. The depredations of the adjunct population have burst onto national consciousness. New stories of adjunct debt and poverty, and the efforts of NTT faculty to unionize, come across Twitter and Facebook daily.  If this were merely an outcome of economics, it would be improving with the so-called improvement of the economy.  It is not.  It is a systematic POLITICAL disinvestment in the idea of higher education as a public good.  Learn more from the new documentary, Starving the Beast: The Battle to Disrupt and Reform America’s Universities.

And yet, talk after talk, campus after campus, grad student after grad student, my message—that only a tiny minority of Ph.D.s get tenure track jobs, that the tenure track job is the “alternative” job in virtually all fields, that the financial costs of the Ph.D. in terms of debt and opportunity cost (ie, payment into social security or another job retirement fund, for example) are skyrocketing, and ivory tower idealism, perpetrated by self-serving advisors, departments, and graduate colleges,  mystifies the actual existing price tag of graduate school — comes as a total shock to the majority of the audience, who turn pale, slump in their seats, and look around anxiously.

I speak not to brand new first year grad students, mind you, but almost exclusively to advanced ABDs, new Ph.D.s, and postdocs. How is it possible that I am the first person to deliver this message to these audiences of highly intelligent adults who have been working in the academy for 5 or 10 years or more?


Well, a combination of denial, self-interest, and deliberate misinformation.

Grad students remain enmeshed in denial. Why, I do not know.

Faculty, meanwhile, are motivated by self-interest; they  will almost never voluntarily give up the prestige of their own Ph.D. students and Ph.D. programs in their departments. (There are exceptions to this, I’m glad to say. But they are rare). Indeed, I continually hear of departments that are CREATING — incredibly, unbelievably — new Ph.D. programs.

And there is deliberate obfuscation by administrators, who know that their campus will lose essential teaching staff, tuition dollars, and AAU ranking and prestige, if the supply of naive, manipulable new graduate students ever dries up.

Where will it stop?  When will people face the truth?  In almost all fields jobs are disappearing. Debt is increasing.  When I did the Ph.D. Debt Survey two years ago, many contributors from the humanities and social science had six figure debt–some as high as $200,000 or even $400,000.

Now, the National Science Foundation provides the latest data:

More people are pursuing Ph.D.s than ever.  American universities awarded 54,070 research doctorates in 2014, the highest total in the 58 years that the National Science Foundation has sponsored the Survey of Earned Doctorates, a new edition of which was released Friday.

Number of Doctorate Recipients by Field of Study

Field 2004 2009 2014
All 42,123 49,553 54,070
Life sciences 8,813 11,403 12,504
Physical sciences 6,047 8,324 9,859
Social sciences 7,043 7,829 8,657
Engineering 5,777 7,642 9,568
Education 6,635 6,528 4,793
Humanities 5,210 4,891 5,486

The number of those Ph.D.s leaving with jobs is down. Note that the figures below are NOT figures for secure tenure track placement!   “Job commitment” means only a job of some kind, including contingent, visiting, instructorship, postdoc, etc.

Percent of Doctorate Recipients With Job or Postdoc Commitments, by Field of Study

Field 2004 2009 2014
All 70.0% 69.5% 61.4%
Life sciences 71.2% 66.8% 57.9%
Physical sciences 71.5% 72.1% 63.8%
Social sciences 71.3% 72.9% 68.8%
Engineering 63.6% 66.8% 57.0%
Education 74.6% 71.6% 64.6%
Humanities 63.4% 63.3% 54.3%



And debt continues to increase.

Debt of New Doctoral Degree Graduates, 2014

Field Mean Cumulative Debt % With Debt > $70,000
All $22,392 12.6%
Life sciences $19,605 9.8%
Physical sciences $12,365 5.1%
Social sciences $34,999 22.6%
Engineering $11,645 5.1%
Education $36,260 23.3%
Humanities $29,953 17.4%


Almost a quarter of those finishing Ph.D.s in Education and the Social Sciences carry debt of more than $70,000.

Please.  Stop the madness.  Faculty: stop admitting new Ph.D. students.  Students: stop going into Ph.D. programs.  If you’re in one, calculate the real likely ROI, in terms of your years out of the job market, the financial cost, the opportunity costs in terms of lost wages and lost payments into social security/retirement, and the debt accrued.  Face reality.

How to Be a Fiction Editor, Part II: Novelists’ Views – Postac Post by Joe Fruscione

By Postac Coach and Consultant, Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione


In Part I of this series, we heard from three editors who’ve worked on fiction projects. Now we flip the conversation and hear from two writers who’ve worked with freelancers to edit their work. Erika Robuck has published Hemingway’s Girl, Call Me Zelda, and The House of Hawthorne, among other works. Fellow post-ac Katie Rose Guest Pryal has published Entanglement and Love and Entropy, among other fiction and nonfiction works. Their perspectives will help expand your client base, frame any edits or comments you have, and understand the marketplace for creative writing.

I’ve tightened, proofread, and polished several fiction and nonfiction manuscripts before they went to press. My background in English and Writing studies helps me edit fiction, but post-acs from various academic backgrounds can also do this kind of work. Frame your editing experience and marketplace knowledge effectively. A STEM or Social Sciences background might be an incentive for hiring you, depending on the writer’s subject and needs. Writers often need an educated non-specialist’s perspective on a manuscript to help them see if their work appeals to a wide audience.


A successful freelancer is an active freelancer. Although some projects might fall into your lap, you should be proactive in advertising your services and expanding your client base. Remind friends and colleagues of your editing work, and ask former clients for references or referrals. Always be connecting:

Katie: The editors I’ve “hired” I’ve met through workshops and conferences, mostly. Some I’ve never met in person—only through social media. Many are former academics. It’s important to decide the scope of work in advance. Don’t be surprised or defensive if an editor comes back to you and suggests that your book needs more work than you think it needs. At the same time, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

Erika: I hired a freelance editor in 2011 before sending Hemingway’s Girl to agents. I met my editor at a writing conference where I had an opportunity to work in instructional and critique sessions with her and several other freelancers. We had a connection, and she had an understanding of what I was trying to accomplish. Her website clearly listed her pricing, and she offered a slight discount to participants she met through the workshop. Because my budget was tight, I hired her for a partial edit: the first 100 pages. I couldn’t have been more pleased with her suggestions and insights, and I ended up receiving multiple agent offers. I believe the workshop and her editing contributed to my success.


Writers, like students, have different preferences for discussing their work. Communication is key at all stages of an editing relationship: from deciding on the kind of editing needed to sharing your revisions and queries. During an initial Skype or phone chat to discuss your standard practices, ask your potential clients how they prefer getting feedback.

Erika: My ideal editor would have a phone conversation with me about my project, themes, and goals. He or she would provide thoughtful feedback in terms of both content and style—within the body of the manuscript and in an editorial letter—and would allow for one or two follow-up conversations. It is helpful to hear what works well and what needs work.

Katie: I went through one of the roughest workshop experiences imaginable during my creative writing master’s degree, so I’m pretty much bullet-proof now with feedback. Aside from ad hominem attacks, I want a reader/editor to tear up my writing, pulling no punches. I recognize, however, that most people are a little more personally attached to their writing. They might perceive attacks on their writing to be ad hominem because they have a hard time separating their selves from their writing. A good editor realizes this and can personalize feedback to the person. I want a Word document so covered in comments and tracked changes that I have to make it quintuple-spaced to read them in the margin. The more the better.


I asked Erika and Katie what would comfort and concern them about working with a post-ac freelancer. Learn from their answers when marketing yourself as an editor who can work on fiction.

Erika: Of comfort would be the technical expertise, the well-rounded background in literature, and the deeper understanding of fiction, in particular, they might have from teaching. What would concern me would be their removal from the marketplace and the possibility of an affinity for an outdated style. I would like an academic-turned-editor to have a clear pulse for the market (blog posts or social media presence) that demonstrates they are both savvy and capable.

Katie: What I would look for in post-ac editor is one who wrote for discourse communities beyond academia while still an academic. Does this person write…a foodie blog? Regular letters to the editor? Literally anything beyond the super-narrow genres expected of her field? If so, then she can likely move across discourses. Ideally? The person would have written the same genre, or at least a similar one, that I am hiring her to edit. If I’m hiring a person to edit a novel, it would be great if she had published, say, a long-form narrative essay on Medium. Her narrative essay-writing would tell me that she is likely comfortable with narrative genres.


“We write how we practice,” notes Katie. “If the only writing that you have done is a certain genre for a certain discourse community, then that is the genre and discourse that you will have perfected. It is difficult to move between discourse communities if you don’t have practice doing so.” Practice—and then keep practicing—how to move between different writing communities. If you want to edit fiction, learn more about the marketplace, and explore options to get your work published outside academic circles. Post-ac freelancers aren’t pigeonholed by field in the same way academics are. The more you can edit or write across genres, the more attractive you’ll be as a freelancer.

Self-Criticism and the Academy — Postac Post by Jessica Langer

by Post-ac Career Coach Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Academia is a climate of constant and unrelenting criticism.

This is obvious in a professional sense: our work is often called “criticism” as a catch-all, and in the process of building upon our field colleagues’ existing work it is often necessary to counter it. Some of this work is necessary: reading “against the grain” of dominant cultural or critical texts, for example, and identifying problematic elements in texts.

After a while, criticism may become the academic’s dominant mode of thinking. This can be great in a professional sense: you become attuned to minutiae and intricacies in arguments that you wouldn’t otherwise have identified, and you gain a more nuanced perspective in your work.

And if it ended there, it would be perfect. But most of the time – particularly, though certainly not exclusively, for women, people of colour and other people who are variously and/or intersectionally marginalized – it isn’t. Because when you are trained to look at everything with a critical eye, it’s almost inevitable that such a critical eye will turn inward.

There is no “you are good enough as you are” in academia. There is no “you are enough”, in fact. There is, instead, a constant drumbeat of necessity for accomplishment after accomplishment, paired with the constant risk of failure. And this doesn’t end when you pass your comps or go ABD or get your PhD or get a tenure-track job or even when you get tenure (especially since tenure itself is changing and, potentially, ending). There is an endless lineup of paper submissions and conference presentations and manuscript reviews and student evaluations, all of which represent instances in which you are being explicitly judged. Judgment after judgment, often carried out anonymously (and viciously).

In academia, you are your work – as I’ve discussed before, the academic system deliberately cuts its acolytes off from their outside support networks and from outside sources of income, so as to develop total devotion to the system on pain of failure that is not only professional but personal. And if you are your work, and your work is constantly criticised as part of its purpose, then academics live in a state of constant surveillance and criticism – and junior academia live in a state of constant self-surveillance and self-criticism, as they add ‘try not to piss off anyone senior or important’ to the list.

One of the most significant things I’ve noticed in my post-academic work with clients transitioning out of academia is the extent to which they have gotten into the habit of extraordinarily harsh and total self-criticism, to the extent that they are sometimes unable to recognize their own accomplishments as accomplishments. One of my clients teaches at an Ivy League university that everyone reading this has heard of; she actually didn’t mention it initially, and when I told her – incredulously and with no small amount of awe – that literally any employer would be impressed by the fact that she taught at this school, she demurred and said, “Oh, but I’m just an adjunct there!” (Protip for the reader: no one outside of academia cares if you were an adjunct. If you teach at Major Ivy, they will be impressed as hell.) My clients will have incredible things on their resumes, things that would impress almost any non-academic employer – years-long stints abroad doing fascinating work, major grants, speaking gigs at European embassies – and will demur because they simply cannot see these things as the impressive, high-status things they are.

What’s more, these people with these incredible experiences and accomplishments will often see themselves as failures because they don’t have a TT job in academia. For no other reason than because they aren’t on the tenure track. It’s astonishing. But I think I know why.

My theory: because academia trains you to be abusive to yourself. To constantly criticize your own work as well as others’, and never to be satisfied or even content with your work. To put yourself in situations in which you are infantilized and made powerless within a strict hierarchical system in which you are a waste product, not an intended outcome. To accept negativity from yourself that you would never allow to be directed towards someone you love.

This constant self-criticism and inability to see or accept success is very common among my clients and among people leaving academia in general, and it breaks my heart.

So here is my message to you:

Your accomplishments are worthwhile, and they mean something, and they are important. You are not a failure. The academy does not get to determine whether you are OK. You are OK no matter what.

And if you can’t accept that, then here’s a shorter message, especially if you’re leaving academia: 

You are no longer obligated always to second-guess and think twice and surveil yourself. You are allowed to be who you are.

You are free.


Don’t Be That Asshole (by Kellee Weinhold)

We continue in our series of interview-focused posts by Kellee Weinhold, the master of Interview Interventions, Job Talk Interventions, and Campus Visit Interventions here at TPII.


Kellee, accompanied by Penelope the Rabbit.

Kellee, accompanied by Penelope the Rabbit.

Several years ago, at a Yom Kippur break fast with a group of professor friends, the conversation turned to my work preparing newly minted PhDs for academic job interviews. After the requisite job market horror stories (Theirs, not mine–I DO NOT discuss client names, disciplines or search details ever, under any circumstances!), a senior colleague at an R1 institution announced, rather dramatically:

“The thing they don’t understand is that they’re being surveilled from the minute they walk on campus until the minute they leave!”

Others chimed in. It’s not just at the campus visit, they said, but from their very first engagement with the potential colleague’s work. “Yes, we want them to be good scholars,” a Department Chair said. “Yes, we want to know what they can teach. AND… we are trying to figure out whether they’re going to be colleagues we enjoy, or assholes.”

Colleagues or assholes?  That is the question.

That one conversation established my core ethos for the live Skype Interview Interventions: A) You are being surveilled;  B) Don’t be an asshole.

What is surveilled? Your scholarship, your potential for tenure, your teaching, and your collegiality. And the most challenging element, without wandering into arrogance and self-absorption, is that last one:  collegiality.

Turns out, it’s kind of hard for new Ph.D.s to illustrate that they are not assholes.

This isn’t personal, it’s structural.  Think about it: if you ask someone to be utterly absorbed by one single obsessive project for 6 to 10 years in order to produce a document proving that you are worthy of the PhD, it’s going to be almost impossible NOT to come out sounding self-absorbed.

This basic truth of academia colors the job search. Faculty members know that many, many Ph.D.s leave their graduate programs sounding like self-absorbed prima donnas.  (Yes, I see the irony in those who bear responsibility for creating potential assholes trying to screen them away). As another colleague of mine was fond of saying after faculty meetings in his department, “We build an entire cohort of people who want to be left alone to do their own thing, who don’t play well with others, then we ask them to work together.” One more of academia’s little paradoxes.)

But enough about the causes. What can you do? For the job candidate, the challenge is facing a potentially bizarre array of questions designed to determine: “Are you an asshole?”

There are several forms these questions can take.

Some institutions simply use the fit question. “What do you want to be here?” or “Why did you apply for this position?”

They want to know that you’ve thought about being there. That you know a little bit about them. Your answer needs to be more than simply “This is how your department and university serves my agenda and goal.” What is about THEM that attracts you?

Your answer should include who they are and how you fit into that ethos. Check out my post “The Dreaded Fit Question” for a complete workup on how to handle this question.

Some departments stretch a little further and include the contribution question: “How do you see yourself contributing to XXX Department?

Once again, they want to know you’ve thought about being there. Do you have a plan for going out and shining in the larger discipline and reflecting positively on their R-1? Do you have ideas about how to grow the profile of the department on campus? Have you thought about how you would advise students at a SLAC? Can you articulate how you would work with graduate students at an R-1? Are you able to explain the role of the academic adviser for a teaching college?

In other words, are you going to play well with others and serve the department’s interests as well as your own or hide in your office focused on your own work, drain resources and be an asshole?

Remember academics contribute in three ways: scholarship, service and teaching. So your answer needs to address what you will bring in all three.

Some departments rely heavily on the “Do you have any questions for us?” query. The tricky part here is that your questions should not be to get information. They are to show that you are thinking about what they want you to think about. Check out this post for more on the minefield of “questions for them.

Some departments fall back on more traditional private sector questions:

  • “What do you value in yourself as a colleague/in other colleagues?”
  • “Tell us about the biggest challenge you faced as an academic, how you faced it, and what you’d do differently now?”
  • “Tell us about a conflict you had with a colleague and how you have handled it?”
  • “What has been your biggest challenge with a student and how have you handled it?”
  • “What do you do when students challenge you or have conflicts with each other about controversial issues in class?

These questions may be designed to deal with issues in the department. Maybe they are protecting against someone messing up a good thing and/or attempting to avoid repeating or exacerbating existing problems. At any rate, they dig deeper to get insight into how you cope with the vagaries of an academic (and real) life.

See the theme here: When you compare yourself to other people and/or shit goes wrong, how do you handle it? Does your answer indicate that you focus on being slighted? On being the victim? On being persecuted? Does it show that you have no backbone, buckle under the slightest pressure, give in to keeping the peace at all cost? Will they see the flashing warning lights of a rigid ideologue who cannot adapt to the inevitable changes of life in the university/department/classroom?

Here is one model response: “One significant challenge I faced recently in the classroom was with a young man/woman who strongly disagreed with the author of a piece we were reading. It is important to me that my classroom be a place that is safe for all viewpoints and that they be engaged with in a respectful way. I set that up in the first class by establishing the criteria for respectful communication, including engaging based on evidence not beliefs. So, with this student, when she got really frustrated, I was able to respectfully redirect her to focus on her evidence and facts and keep those students who disagreed with her focused on their evidence as well. It ended up being a very productive conversation where all the participants were able to engage with a range of ideas.”

I know you hear this over and over again from The Professor Is In, but it bears repeating: Faculty members are over-extended, called on to manage multiple demands from increasingly large constituencies. The last thing they want to add to their lives is a colleague who sucks up administrative and emotional resources without a concern for the larger collective project.

Don’t be that asshole.

Can I Negotiate? Advice For All, Especially International Ph.D.s

I am regularly asked “can I negotiate my offer when it’s my only offer?”

People constantly seem to think you need multiple offers to have leverage.

This is not true.   For the vast majority of schools, you can and should negotiate your offer. The only time you should beware of negotiating is when there are red flags about the school itself, or the specific department you’re dealing with, red flags that I explain in my post, The Rescinded Offer: Who Is In the Wrong, and in more detail in the chapter on rescinded offers in my book.

But barring the danger signs explained there, you should absolutely expect to negotiate your offer.  Sometimes you might gain only a couple thousand dollars additional salary–but as a recurring gain, that amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary, raises, and retirement over your career, so don’t neglect to get it!

And at R1s, you’ll negotiate a whole set of things, including salary, startup, moving, course releases, conference funding, lab equipment, and so on, that amount immediately to tens or hundreds (if in the sciences) of thousands of dollars up front, and massive gains over your career.

You should always get help with negotiating, as no new Ph.D. knows how to do it, or how to do it well (and frankly, neither do mid-career folks, which is why about a quarter of my Negotiating Assistance clients are tenured!).  I work on hundreds of negotiations with clients each year, and I am constantly either PUSHING HARD to get over-diffident, insecure clients to ask for what they deserve, or more rarely, PULLING HARD against over-entitled clients who think they should be given R1 offers at tiny teaching colleges, and become angry and petulant (and very inappropriate in their email correspondence drafts) when they don’t.  While some negotiations go like buttah, these two extremes tend to predominate.

And yes, women tend to fall into the first category.  And while the latter category has a varied membership, I can say at this point, after three years of this work (which has grown exponentially as a part of The Professor Is In business), that if you are from South Asia, the Middle East, or Western Europe, you –whether you are male or female — might, possibly, fall into it.  There are clearly strong and varied cultural elements at play, which are beyond the scope of this blog post.  (And indeed, my East Asian clients overwhelmingly fall into the first category – one Chinese client cancelled our planned negotiating work last week saying, “I am sure I could get a better offer by working with you but I think right now I am not ready to take any risk.”). But, if you’re from the three parts of the world I just mentioned, and have a tenure track offer in the US, please move carefully.  One Middle Eastern client had an offer rescinded early this year because she disregarded my advice and plowed ahead with a set of asks at a small teaching college that were both inappropriate in substance, and alienating in tone.

Please know that I would not name cultural groups in this way, if I didn’t see a very clear and distressing pattern.

So, if you don’t have anyone you trust to help you, please do contact me for help at  Contact me the instant you get a verbal or email indication of an offer–the work starts from that moment!

And meanwhile, remember: you can negotiate almost all offers, barring specific red flags, whether or not you have any competing offers.

Good luck!

UCLA Makes Excuses About Sexual Harassment – Guest Post Part II

by Cassia Roth

[KK: please take action by contacting the people below. Stand up for the victims of this serial sexual harasser who is being protected and enabled by his institution.  Letter texts below]

As readers of the TPII Blog know, I recently wrote about how faculty, alumni, and graduate students from the UCLA Department of History have publically voiced their indignation for how the University handled the sexual harassment case of Professor Gabriel Piterberg. Since that post, many women (often wanting to remain anonymous) have stood in solidarity with the victims, some even declaring they also had been sexually harassed by Piterberg. This chorus of voices—both old and new—have made clear that Piterberg’s repulsive behavior has been going on for a long time and harmed a lot of people.

In two nearly identical letters dated from March 4 and March 11, the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang responded to faculty and graduate student concerns, respectively. His letters were addressed “on behalf” of himself, Chancellor Gene Block, and Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh.

Kang believed that three questions lay at the heart of recent concerns: “Did the punishment fit the “crime”? Did confidentiality trump public accountability? How can the community be restored?” I find it interesting that Kang used “scare quotes” around the word “crime.” Really, are we still debating whether Piterberg’s actions were harassment? From the get-go, Kang trivializes the experiences of the victims, delegitimizes their claims, and erases their existence. It’s like they’re silenced over and over again.

In terms of the “severity of the sanction,” Kang reminds us that Piterberg didn’t simply pay a $3,000 fine. Rather, he lost 1/3 of his pay during the 2014-2015 and was forced to resign as Director of UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES). Kang cites different amounts for Piterberg’s salary reduction in his two responses ($57,700 in the faculty letter and nearly $64,000 in the graduate student letter). This seems like a big slip-up on Kang’s part, as we don’t actually know how much Piterberg suffered financially. In fact, in his letter to graduate students, Kang mentions that UCLA is “in the process of conducting an internal audit to make sure that Prof. Piterberg experienced the full financial loss.” In other words, the administration also doesn’t know how much Piterberg lost.

Kang continues by pointing out that in the coming years, Piterberg will no longer receive the salary bump from his former directorship (figured at $39,700 in the faculty letter and $40,800 in the graduate student letter). Here, Kang tells the faculty that “he [Piterberg] was required to resign directorship of an institute,” while he informs graduate students that Piterberg was “deemed ineligible for renewal as director of the center.” Kang continues by writing to graduate students that “it’s of course impossible to know counterfactually whether Prof. Piterberg would have been renewed and for how long without this settlement.” It appears that Kang is telling the faculty that Piterberg resigned because of the harassment case, while notifying graduate students that perhaps Piterberg’s position wouldn’t have been renewed at all.

And if we look at the California State Salary Website, we can see that Piterberg will still be making nearly $150,000 annually. Compare that to the $20,000 the graduate students he harassed make, if that. Remember, one victim said she didn’t want to come forward because Piterberg sat on the History Department’s funding committee.

Additionally, in neither letter does Kang account for the fact that Piterberg received a Fernand Braudel Senior fellowship at the European University Institute (EUI) from March to May 2015. The EUI Department of History and Civilization that hosted Piterberg has a September 30 fellowship application deadline for the following academic year (September to June). This means that Piterberg applied for the fellowship in September 2013 (after the initiation of the UCLA Early Resolution process). Essentially, UCLA allowed Piterberg to delay the settlement for nine months, so he could take a fellowship that coincided with the quarter he took off in spring 2015.

More important than the individual figures, however, is the issue of prestige. Reputation and prestige are everything in academia. By covering up the sexual harassment case and allowing Piterberg to get the Braudel fellowship, UCLA protected Piterberg’s reputation. Piterberg’s “quarter off” may have cost him financially, but it actually boosted his real academic capital, his research status. And it also enhanced UCLA’s own academic standing. The International Institute said as much when they posted a news article in March 2015 entitled “Professor Gabriel Piterberg granted prestigious fellowship.”

On the second point, the “opacity or secrecy” of the proceedings and decision, Kang really let the excuses fly. In both letters he argued that “those with concerns today must understand that this matter all took place before the new Title IX Office was created, before the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion was created, and before new policies and procedures on sexual harassment and violence were adopted.” (Emphasis mine). This response is laughable if not infuriating. Oh, I wasn’t there, so don’t blame me? Ummm we had a pretty crappy system in the past, oops! (Oh, and BTW, we don’t really seem to be changing it).

Kang finished both letters by saying that “the greatest challenge is to restore the community.” So what were some of the things he came up with? Well, rest assured female graduate students and junior faculty members, the administration is “thinking intensely and creatively” about options like “office location, teaching time, teaching arrangements, and service responsibilities.” Of course, the administration does not want to “inadvertently reward” bad behavior.

I think I found a simple solution, albeit not that “creative,” and it only took me a second to think up. Piterberg resigns. Others have, miraculously, come to the same decision. If the recent “indefinite leave” of the Dean of Berkeley’s law school demonstrates anything, it is that sexual harassment is much more pervasive and entrenched in higher education than any of us want to admit. And it has got to go. So let’s start with the harassers.

Second Call to Action:

Contact UCLA directly to protest non-action on Piterberg.


Chancellor Gene Block

UCLA Chancellor’s Office

Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405


Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh

UCLA Office of the Chancellor

2147 Murphy Hall, Box 951405

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405


Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang

UCLA School of Law

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East

Los Angeles, CA, 90095


Vice Chancellor of Academic Personnel Carole Goldberg


Stephen Aron, Chair, Department of History




letter_Page_1 letter_Page_2

2016 03 11 VC Kang reply to Graduate Students re Piterberg Matter_Page_12016 03 11 VC Kang reply to Graduate Students re Piterberg Matter_Page_2

Get Unstuck! Productivity Coaching from The Professor Is In

by Kellee Weinhold

Kellee Weinhold is the TPII expert in charge of live Skype Interview Interventions, Job Talk Interventions, Campus Visit Interventions, the UNSTUCK writing coaching program, and technology.


It’s that time in the Academic Life Cycle when attention turns from cover letters and research statements to productivity and all its attendant anxieties:  Why do I procrastinate?  What should I work on first to move myself forward? How do I manage all of the other demands on my time and still get my work published? What do I do when I simply cannot make myself sit down and write?

To help you answer those questions, we are introducing several new opportunities for you to get face-to-face answers and support.  We get a lot of requests for one-on-one coaching.  Last year, we responded to the demand for writing support with UNSTUCK: From Stalled to Submitted: A 12 week course that was ostensibly designed to walk clients through the writing and submission of a journal article. In reality, while participants worked on everything from dissertation chapters to journal articles to tenure documents to book chapters, what they really tackled was their own procrastination and isolation.

Here is a brief testimonial from last summer’s session:

“UNSTUCK completely rewired my physical and emotional approach to writing.  It taught me how to set-up an everyday practice that in the long-term will allow me to reach my writing goals without the guilt and drama that used to surround writing for me, and this in itself is a miracle.  It is the single best investment I could have made to teach myself the tools I need to attain tenure.”

To build on the success of UNSTUCK, starting immediately, I will be offering one-on-one coaching with everything from one-time strategy sessions to ongoing intensive support.


Let’s Talk (50 minutes) $250

A 50-minute Skype conversation covering the topic(s) of your choice regarding productivity. Let me help you get out of your own way and get published!  Book your appointment here.

Academic Life Reboot Strategy Session (90 minutes) $350

Session includes assessment of current challenges, including identification of what’s got you stuck; strategies for overcoming those barriers, organizational and accountability tools and personalized goal achievement plan. Book your appointment here.

Writing Project Planning Strategy Session (90 minutes) $350

Session includes assessment of specific project components and projected timelines to completion (based on hard deadline); identification of real and imagined roadblocks; strategies for daily productivity with motivational tips, and complete project timeline with weekly goals. Book your appointment here.

For those who want more, I will also offer PLATINUM LEVEL UNSTUCK COACHING  PACKAGES

Maintaining a productive publishing trajectory in the face of the demands of an academic life is an ongoing challenge for many junior faculty. Improving your productivity with personalized support and guidance will decrease your stress, help you get your work submitted faster and move you one step closer to tenure. Contact me, Kellee at to arrange, ask questions, and learn more:

UNSTUCK Platinum Consulting packages can cover many areas, including:

  • Procrastination
  • Time Management
  • Teaching Demands
  • Over-Scheduling
  • Negative Self-talk
  • Prioritization, etc.
  • Workflow Improvement
  • Project Management

UNSTUCK PLATINUM30 – 30 days ($950)

You are feeling bogged down or overwhelmed and you want to get on track and move forward NOW. After an initial session examining what you have in place, we will identify what area(s) you want to kick start and make a clear plan to get you there.

Three (3) 50-minute coaching calls over 30 days focusing on goals established in an initial 30-minute strengths and weaknesses assessment, personalized writing plan (including specific assignments) to move you forward, daily accountability check-ins and email support.

UNSTUCK PLATINUM3 – 3 Month ($1,650/$550 month)

You are near the end of a project (and perhaps have been stuck there for a very long time), and you are facing a critical deadline. No more time to procrastinate. You need to get this project finished and need someone to hold your feet to the fire to make it happen.

Six (6) 50-minute coaching calls over 3 months, plus initial strengths and weaknesses assessment, personalized writing plan, daily accountability check-ins and email support.

UNSTUCK PLATINUM6 – 6 Month ($3,150/$525 month)

You are at a critical point in your academic career and need to make the most of the next six months. You are ready to face your own self-sabotage, identify how YOU work best and create a realistic, personal strategy for success.

Twelve (12) 50-minute coaching calls over 6 months, plus initial strengths and weaknesses assessment, personalized writing plan, daily task management, weekly accountability check-ins and email support.

UNSTUCK PLATINUM12  – 12 Month ($6,000/$500 month)

You are at a turning point in your academic career and need to make the most of the next year. You need to establish better writing habits, learn what is keeping you from doing what you know needs to be done, talk through your ideas and have someone hold you accountable.

Twenty-four (24) 50-minute coaching calls over 12 months, plus an initial 30 minute strengths and weaknesses assessment, weekly motivational emails with productivity tips, bi-weekly accountability check-ins (between skype meetings), personalized productivity plan and email support.

Email me, Kellee, at to learn more or sign up!


Finally, before I sign off, a look ahead:  Starting June 1st, UNSTUCK will be available as a 12-module, on-line course with weekly Q&A sessions for all participants. As with the course last summer, participants will receive daily emails with tips and encouragement. You will also have access to a membership forum to share frustrations, successes and encouragement. This is a self-paced course that you can access based on your schedule.  Stay tuned for more info on this new on-line version!

Cut From the Tenure Track – A Guest Post

by Katheryn Bilbo

Dr. Katheryn BilboKatheryn Bilbo holds an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her research interests include traditional Japanese theatre, Linklater and Rodenburg vocal techniques, and racial and gender disparity in professional theatre.


In May 2011, I was teaching at a small private Methodist college in rural East Texas.  I was a neophyte junior faculty member on the tenure track for the first time, and simply grateful to be able to teach.  I knew little about academia, and was ignorant of the financial ramifications of the recession on higher education.  I had two evaluation sessions that year with my Chair and the Dean; informal sit-downs that were pleasant, relaxed and friendly.  I was told I was doing well, and an asset to the department and the college at large.

There was absolutely no warning.

The day after commencement I came to work for what I assumed was our annual post-year faculty meeting.  The Chair walked into my office with an envelope and a grimace.  It was a short termination letter. “You have 24 hours to clear out your office,” said the Chair.  She wouldn’t look me in the eye.   She told me the college was experiencing severe financial exigency and they would be laying off at least a third of the faculty.  “A layoff?  Will they ask me back when things turn around?” I asked, hopefully.  She didn’t answer.  On her way out, she turned and said, “If you try to contest this in court, they will testify you were fired for not doing your job satisfactorily.”

But my evaluations, I stammered, my evaluations were exemplary!  “It doesn’t matter,” she said.  “They are prepared to lie.  The documents have already been destroyed.”

I was given no advance notice.  My final paycheck never arrived.  I was not given a severance package, nor offered COBRA.  Within a year, the entire faculty was furloughed and the President was under indictment for mismanagement of a $1.3 million endowment.  By the summer of 2012, the 158-year old college was officially closed forever.  Tenured faculty members close to retirement who had devoted up to 40 years of service were terminated with no pension.

Because of community solidarity and the religious implications of the affiliation with the church, the final clutch of employees still in residence worked for free for three months, trusting they would receive back pay.  They stayed silent under an “optional” gag order, refusing to discuss details when approached by the press.  A television station contacted me a few weeks after I was terminated, asking for a statement.  I spoke with them willingly, but got cold feet when they asked for an on-camera interview.  I worried it would hurt my chances of employment in the future, knowing our situation was already desperate.

It was nearly June, and hiring season was, for all practical purposes, over.  I called every lead I could find; called in every favor I had with anyone who would listen, but came up empty handed.

I was also seven months pregnant.  I finagled my way into an interview for a small high school, but as I walked in the door I saw the principal’s eye immediately drawn to my belly, and I knew it was over before it began.  He called me a half hour after I got home to tell me they had hired someone else.  We had nowhere to go.  We had used up all our savings to move to this small town.  We still had unopened boxes.

We struggled to pay bills on one income.  I searched for jobs everywhere, applying to every educational position I could find, then anything at all.  Applications to temp agencies went unanswered.  I put in resumes at Target, Walmart, and fast food restaurants, eventually realizing they don’t want to hire folks with an advanced degree, and knowing in my heart that even if I were to be hired, we’d never be able to afford child care while I worked for minimum wage.  I developed severe, crippling anxiety.  It was the darkest time in my life.

The President had seemed like a nice man, with a talent for galvanizing morale and convincingly promising future fiscal prosperity; but if I had been more experienced or fully researched the school before applying I would have felt my ears pricking from the beginning.  Paychecks were consistently late and the electricity had been shut off twice that year from unpaid bills, but we were told the funding was held up because of diocesan bureaucracy, or red tape, or…  We believed it all.

Even more astonishing, the college also lied to students, offering astronomical financial aid even in the face of impending doom.  Aid never came, and students were unable to pay.  The college continued to recruit high school students even after Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Like Chicago State University, the outcome was due in part of the lack of federal financial support.  Like CSU’s demographics, our student population was comprised largely of minorities, and the effect on their families and the already struggling community was palpable.  Many of these young people were first generation college students, and the financial drain from the high cost of tuition – misrepresented to them by the promise of scholarships – prevented them from re-enrolling in nearby community colleges.

It’s been almost five years since the day I was kicked out of my office, but recalling the shock and what it meant for my family is still painful.  We are still trying to recover financially.  I made the mistake of choosing to trust an authority figure because of their paternal affability rather than noticing what the issues surrounding the institution might mean for my academic future.  I’ve been skittish ever since, and I probably always will be.  In every university interview I’ve had since, the first thing I say when prompted, “Do you have any questions for us?” is “Do you anticipate any university or departmental financial issues that would preclude you from continuing this position?”  I’ve been met with everything from bewildered frowns to understanding looks.  But I’ll never interview again without asking it.

UCLA Allows Sexual Harassment- Guest Post and Call to Action

by Cassia Roth

[Includes Call to Action at bottom. Please take action. Karen Kelsky]

Dr. Cassia Paigen Roth

Cassia Paigen Roth


A sexual harassment case is currently rocking UCLA.* Professor Gabriel Piterberg, a professor of Middle Eastern history, has been accused of harassing two female graduate students repeatedly beginning in 2008, with behavior that to me appears to be sexual assault.

In 2013, the women went to Pamela Thomason, the Title IX authority at UCLA, who proved dismissive and ineffective in handling the case. Thomason discouraged the women from filing formal complaints. The subsequent University investigation (which never went before any governing board) was conducted in secrecy “to avoid the cost, uncertainty, and inconvenience of an administrative proceeding.” The settlement did not require Piterberg to acknowledge any wrongdoing or misconduct, slapped him on the wrist with a $3,000 fine, and made him take one quarter off without pay. Administration also allowed him to find a cushy sabbatical gig for the quarter before temporarily relieving Piterberg of his duties and pay at UCLA. He is slated to return this summer, and while he has restrictions on when he can meet with students, that’s it.

As a response, in the summer of 2015 the two women filed a federal lawsuit against the University for failure to act on sexual harassment complaints. The lawsuit is not about the harassment itself, but about how the University and Title IX officer handled the complaints. And to put it simply, both parties really screwed up.

The details of the case are not pretty. I don’t want to rehash them here. I can only imagine how both these courageous women felt telling these stories, and how they must feel now that the details of those experiences are publically available. But what is clear is that Piterberg repeatedly used his position of power to sexual harass and assault these graduate students. His actions demonstrate how misogyny can run rampant in a hierarchical setting that pretends its egalitarian. We all know our advisers can make our break our career; and, apparently, so do they. Some use it to their advantage.

It’s clear that a complacent and dysfunctional administration won’t fire Piterberg. From people I’ve spoken to at UCLA, the History Department could have been more transparent in their communication, but they essentially hold no power in this situation, as administrators call the shots. So colleagues and graduate students have taken matters into their hands.

On February 18, a group of 38 history faculty members sent a letter to Chancellor Gene Block and Vice-Chancellors Scott Waugh, Jerry Kang and Carole Goldberg. In it, faculty members stated they do not believe Piterberg has a place back in the department. We have a big department at UCLA, so the 38 signatures means a lot of faculty members did not sign the letter. Various professors who research and write about gender and power were conspicuously absent from the list. As has been said for other sexual harassment cases in higher ed, the idea that we should rely on shame as a sufficient punishment is not a compelling argument.

The faculty letter states that “From what we know, Piterberg has expressed neither remorse about his actions nor awareness of the damage it has caused to the Department of History.”  They express concern that because he will not be able to engage in certain departmental tasks, he will “benefit from reduced service and overall workload” as well as bring with him a “dysfunctional working environment” that poses a threat to students, staff, and faculty. They end by arguing that “Piterberg’s public presence on campus will signal that an effective climate of tolerance for harassment persists at UCLA.” I can’t disagree with that. I mean this is an administration that thought a punishment for being a serial sexual harasser was a reduced teaching and service load.

Alumni have also taken a vocal stance against Piterberg’s return, sending their own letter to the History Department on February 16, calling on the Department to perform their own “independent and rigorous” investigation to assess whether Piterberg still presents a risk to female students and junior faculty.

And graduate students have begun organizing as well. The History Graduate Students Organization (HGSA) drafted a letter outlining our concerns and “standing in solidarity” with the defendants. Sixty-seven graduate students signed. One main concern was the process by which sexual harassment is addressed on campus. “The fact that the majority of students first learned of these incidents from major media outlets instead of our own university reflects the broader culture of silence and secrecy surrounding cases of sexual assault and harassment in universities and undermines any reasonable trust in UCLA’s juridical processes.” We asked Chancellor Block about his May 30th, 2015 letter to the UCLA community in which he declared UCLA to be committed “to our shared responsibility for preventing sexual violence.” Hmmm.

On March 2, graduate students staged a protest of Piterberg’s return. As graduate student Scottie Buehler stated, “If we don’t speak out we’re just perpetuating this culture of silence.”

And on March 3, Linus Kafka, a UCLA history PhD and lawyer, sent a letter to the Associate Vice Chancellor of Alumni Affairs. In it he stated that “the university was specifically warned about Dr. Piterberg” in the past. In 2005/2006, Kafka had told university auditors that Piterberg had “made inappropriate, abusive, and hateful statements to students and staff,” and that in his “opinion as a lawyer,” he believed that “Dr. Piterberg’s behavior fostered a hostile work environment, was not protected by any concept of academic freedom, and was not only ethically wrong but exposed the university to liability.” UCLA did nothing.

I hope Piterberg’s case follows the path of UC Berkeley’s Geoff Marcy, who was accused of years of sexual harassment. In response, UC Berkeley gave him a slap on the wrist, telling Marcy, “Don’t do this again.” But a concerted effort on the part of his field forced Marcy to resign in 2015.

Like Marcy, Piterberg should leave. And while the events of the last few weeks are encouraging, it angers me that it takes federal lawsuits, letter-writing campaigns, and protests to fire a known sexual harasser. I thought we had the legal and administrative framework in place to enforce sanctions. Apparently, those in charge just don’t care.


Call to Action:

Contact UCLA directly to protest non-action on Piterberg.
Chancellor Gene Block

UCLA Chancellor’s Office
Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh

UCLA Office of the Chancellor
2147 Murphy Hall, Box 951405
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405

Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang

UCLA School of Law
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Los Angeles, CA, 90095
Vice Chancellor of Academic Personnel Carole Goldberg

Stephen Aron, Chair, Department of History


*From Cassia: “I have copies of all of the letters I cite, which I can make available  (some of them are already posted on-line to the LA Times, and I have linked to them in the article).