Day to Day Work at a Prep School – #Postac Guest Post (Part 2 of 3)

Ric Rader is a classicist and “recovering academic” who taught in non-tenure-track positions at Ohio State, USC, UCLA and UCSB over the course of 7 years. He now teaches in the Foreign Languages Department at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. He writes, “the fortunate thing is that I finally got out of the academy and it has been the best decision of my life.”  Feel free to get in touch with him personally at ric.rader@montgomerybell.edu.

Part I of this Prep School series is here.

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So what’s it like to work at a school like mine? Rather like a “real-world” job you will be required to be on campus every day all day. While I miss the flexibility and openness of my schedule at my former universities (a privilege, I realize, that many like my wife did not have at her teaching-heavy SLAC), I quite like the responsibility of daily presence. You may also be required to dress up for work, which for men means wearing a tie. Believe it or not, dressing up will make you feel like a professional. Like an adult. As anyone in the business world will tell you, your appearance is an important aspect of your authority at work.

You will likely be required to participate in extracurricular activities after school, which means that when, for example, your sport is in season the days can stretch ever later. I coach junior-school football and baseball, and while these are nowhere near as serious and time-consuming as varsity, during the season I normally get home between 6 and 7pm, sometimes later if an away game is out of town. This irks my wife a bit – she’s with our very energetic toddler all day – but fortunately between the two seasons I have about 4 months during which I’m generally home by 4pm. And with the exception of exams or major tests and quizzes I almost always get my grading and prep done during my free periods. I rarely bring work home!

You will occasionally have to come to school on the weekend for games, service outings, dances, admissions-related events, dinners and the like. Sure, you’ll have to give up a part of your Saturday or Sunday, but in most cases you will be fed (spectacularly well if it’s a dinner-related event), you’ll get to meet with parents who adore you for teaching their children, you’ll get to hang out with your colleagues and basically just have fun. Yes, it’s work but it ain’t really work. You will show yourself to be a good citizen of the school community. And good citizenship is rewarding in both senses of the term: you get fulfillment and you also get professional and financial promotion.

One of the real perks of teaching at a prep school is the continuous personal involvement with students you will have over many years. During your time in the university you may have gotten to know a decent handful of students personally, but rarely are college students able to take more than 3 or 4 classes with the same professor over the course of their studies. At the secondary level, however, in your classes and on your teams you will watch young men and women transition year by year from as young as 10 to 18 years old. And what a change that is! It’s not hard to understand how this kind of multi-year relationship produces the most meaningful connections with students, their parents and their other teachers. When alumni of my school return for visits or events, for example, the love and affection they show for their former teachers is moving. This love in fact was the inspiration for a very famous movie from the late 80s that you, like me, probably watched with one of your high school teachers.

The best part of your job will be your colleagues. They will be the nicest, most well-adjusted people you’ve ever worked with – especially if your school (like mine) rewards them personally, professionally and financially for their hard work and commitment. You’ll have some personalities and idiosyncrasies among your faculty, of course, but there are none of the types I came to know during my years in the university: the intransigent, the bitter, the envious, the unkempt, the antisocial, the unproductive, the defensive, the predatory. You’ll have colleagues who’ve been there 20, 30, 40 years, many of whom either went to that very school or one like it and learned as students that a career in teaching can be a desirable choice and not just a consolation prize or fallback. Why would they leave a fulfilling job that provides a comfortable life? Where on any given weekend they can get together with colleagues outside of school for family gatherings, b’nei mitzvahs, athletic engagements, church and intellectual collaboration?

I suspect the simple reason prep school colleagues are such good people is that at this level you won’t have the pressure to publish. Your mission at any secondary school – but especially those (like mine) that pride themselves on small, intimate learning environments – is first and foremost to be effective as teachers, and that requires a fair amount of gregariousness and geniality. This isn’t to suggest that brilliant researchers, prolific publishers and effective grant-writers can’t be gregarious and genial, only that the aims of research and grant-seeking aren’t necessarily compatible with pedagogical goals. I say that as someone who published a decent amount on what in my field would be considered very canonical (literary) material, the kind of material in other words you’d likely see in an undergraduate survey course. I tried and tried to bring my research into the classroom – and insisted upon the necessity of such an approach to many a search committee – but it never quite fit. (More on research later)

Teaching In The Non-Believer’s Closet (A Guest Post on Christian Colleges)

The writer is an Instructor at a small Christian college.

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“God bless you!”

I hadn’t just sneezed. I was holding open the door for a colleague struggling under the weight of a file box. “That looks heavy,” I replied, demonstrating for the zillionth time my ability to master in remarkably quick order that which is supremely obvious. “New Bibles!” she enthused. “Ah,” I said, “that would explain it.” And a wayward shoelace captured my attention.

Welcome to Religious Identity U, where I have taught on an adjunct and VAP basis over the course of a decade – and where I have done so in the closet, because I am a non-believer. I teach here because I need the money, because it’s actually a nice place to work, and because most of the schools where I live are just like RIU. I was asked to share some thoughts about teaching at a religiously affiliated university as a non-believer.

Spoiler alert: They talk about God a lot. You’d better, too.

The term, “religiously affiliated institution,” covers a lot of ground. At one end there’s places like Boston College and Georgetown – Catholic institutions, but not usually thought of as being especially “churchy.” At the other end are places like Biola University (an acronym for “Bible Institute of Los Angeles”) and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, where promoting the denomination and faith are explicit parts of the mission statement. In between are hundreds of small colleges and universities associated with one or another Christian — and usually Evangelical — denomination, where unsuspecting ABDs and newly minted Ph.D.’s often apply to job ads without really understanding what it means to be inside them. Places like RIU.

Bottom line: like RIU, many these schools sincerely want to educate and not indoctrinate, but not at the cost of the faith – so the faith comes first. Sometimes this is made explicit: at one school in my area, faculty must affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman in order to teach, while at another non-married faculty must affirm in writing they will not engage in sexual behavior. At RIU, faculty must incorporate content into every syllabus that – to the institution’s credit – can either affirm or challenge students’ faith. But at a minimum, this means that to teach successfully here as a non-believer one needs to be conversant in Christianity generally and the denomination specifically.

That the faith comes first will often be reflected in the professional achievements of your colleagues. At RIU, publishing is much less important than being a “good Christian” and getting good teaching evaluations (and RIU takes evaluations very seriously – department chairs review every one, every semester, with every faculty member). As an outsider, then, you’d do well to spend less time in research and writing and more in going to lunch – and be sure to be heard during the prayer.

RIU is an equal-opportunity employer, but with very few exceptions non-Christians need not apply. Co-denominationalists will know the “secret handshake” and will receive a preference in hiring, tenure, and promotion. There is a caste system at RIU. Faculty who are Christians, but not of the denomination, are less-than-first-class citizens, and the more liberal the flavor of Christianity (Episcopalians are especially suspect), the closer one gets to second-class. Indeed, even those from the wrong side of the Great Intra-Denominational Schism of the 1970s will struggle (resentment still festers over the introduction of guitar-accompaniment to the hymnal). There are no Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or Muslims, and there are no non-believers (not even me, because I lie about it – adjunct job security, you see).

And of course there are no LGBT faculty. Because Jesus.

Except for life in the closet, RIU is a lovely place to work, even as an adjunct. Other than the relatively low pay (typical of Evangelical schools) and extortionate teaching load, it’s pretty much a dream adjunct gig: office and computer and phone and mailbox and helpful support staff; ladder faculty who invite you to join them for lunch or dinner at their homes; invitations to meet the deans and even the president; supervisors who appreciate and acknowledge your teaching skills; and your colleagues who seem genuinely happy to be there. They even dress for work, especially compared to the stereotypically shabby faculty of the R-1 where I received my training (and yes, it’s ties for the gents and skirts for the ladies).

But make no mistake: because RIU is small, gossip and not scholarship is stock-in-trade. Who you are as a person – as a Christian – is infinitely more important than who you are as a scholar. Take a job at RIU, and your secrets won’t stay secret long. Administrators talk, faculty talk, and students talk, and the “real” members of the community – those of the school’s specific denomination – will see each other many times a week at chapel. And that talk matters – tenure isn’t necessarily a protection against apostasy.

None of this will be in the job ad, of course. RIU is an equal-opportunity employer. But understand this: if you want tenure, you’d do well to burnish your classroom skills, you’d do well to go to chapel, you’d do well to say, “God bless you!” an awful lot.

Because at RIU, there’s never a wrong time to invoke the Almighty.

Teaching at a Prep School – A #Postac Guest Post (Part 1 of 3)

Ric Rader is a classicist and “recovering academic” who taught in non-tenure-track positions at Ohio State, USC, UCLA and UCSB over the course of 7 years. He now teaches in the Foreign Languages Department at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. He writes, “the fortunate thing is that I finally got out of the academy and it has been the best decision of my life.”  Feel free to get in touch with him personally at ric.rader@montgomerybell.edu.

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About a year ago I saw two articles on the TPII website by Jason Tebbe describing his move from academia to prep-school teaching. I read with delight that he found far more satisfaction in the environment of secondary education than in his academic job, even though it entailed more time and more (if different kinds of) work. I’d also known a rather large number of folks who had PhDs and were working at the secondary level, most of whom spoke glowingly of their jobs, their cities, their homes (they owned homes!) and, best of all, their financial security. Over the course of 7 post-PhD years – during my many months of anticipation, delight, frustration and ultimately failure in the academic market – I had flirted with the idea of giving the prep-school market a go. It wasn’t even much of a flirtation at first: as Karen has noted and as so many others have voiced, teaching at a prep school was never discussed as a career option during my days in graduate school. Certainly no one at my second-tier Midwestern public looked down on it or explicitly judged such a job as inferior, but the fact that it was never proffered as an academic opportunity shows that it ranked low in my advisors’ opinion.

If you decide you want to give prep schools serious consideration, there are a number of things you need to know. I’ll do my best in the space below to address them based on my experience of failure over the course of three years and, ultimately, landing my first (and hopefully last) job.

First things first: Beware that the prep school market is rather like the academic market. There won’t be a plethora of jobs. The competition, especially from folks who have actually taught at the secondary level, will be high. The prep schools themselves will often show the same elitism you have come to expect in the academy: preference will be given to candidates from the Ivies in particular and the Northeast in general. Your PhD, the one thing that absolutely sets you apart from the rest, may have some effect but not as much as you think.

In fact don’t be surprised at first when you get passed over. What little cache is provided by having a PhD and teaching courses at the university level cannot cover your glaring lack of experience teaching at the secondary level. You might well be more intelligent or knowledgeable in your subject area than a typical highschool teacher, but intellectual ambition is less important than effective teaching and mentoring. (What academic hasn’t had a brilliant and prolific professor who was terrible in the classroom?) If you land an interview, prepare for the first question to always be: “Why do you want to move from the university to secondary-level teaching?” You should already have addressed this very concern in your thoughtfully tailored letter in fact. (In my first year alone I’ve witnessed candidates for positions at my school imprudently focus on the upper-level, college-style courses they’d like to teach.) Intellectual and/or emotional talk about the future of higher education, whether positive or negative, won’t win you over to deans and department heads looking for you to explain practically how teaching 12-18-year-olds will be different from college-age students. You must not under any circumstance predicate your desire to teach at the prep-school level on a failure in or disappointment with the academy. Rather like me, you’ve probably experienced a fair share of failure and disappointment; you could probably talk a blue streak about the wrongs you’ve suffered at the hands of others. Eat it. Write a nasty FOAD to your enemies and don’t send it. Revisit it in your low moments and revel in the injustice of the world. Just don’t mention it during your interview. Because if you’re the kind of person to bitch about students, colleagues and administrators at the university – or, worse, the kind to bitch on social media – you’re probably the kind of person to bitch about students, colleagues and administrators at the prep-school level. And no one wants to hire a bitchy victim.

You will have to present yourself not as a failed or bitter academic looking for a way out of the system but rather as a teacher looking to contribute to a community of students, teachers and advisors. The community aspect in fact is what matters most. Unlike the university, at the secondary level you are required to be involved in your students’ lives outside the classroom: as athletic or academic coaches, as formal and informal advisors, as liaisons between students and parents and as good citizens of the school (attending their sporting events, driving them to their mock trial competitions, supervising their service obligations, chaperoning their homecomings and proms). If you cannot articulate a desire to do these things or a vision for where you might fit in them, you stand no chance of making the cut.

“I’m Sorry I Wasn’t More Clear”: Gendered Pitfalls in Presentations–A Guest Post

The writer is a regular reader of TPII.

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I’m a young, female, non-tenure-track faculty member and longtime reader of this blog. A few of its posts, specifically “The Top 5 Mistakes Women Make in Academic Settings,” “Stop Negotiating Like a Girl” and “The Six Ways You’re Acting Like a Grad Student (And how that’s killing you on the job market)” have had a lasting effect on my perception of women’s behavior in academia. These posts have made me painfully aware of how female academics continue to reproduce gender norms in professional settings through words and gestures. I now can’t help but regularly catch myself and my fellow female colleagues of all ages “acting like girls.”

Recently I was at a conference where I actually became distracted by the gendered conduct of the participants. This was a topic-based conference attended by a select group scholars of different institutional ranks, from postdocs to endowed chairs. 90% of the attendees identified as women and feminists and used gender as a critical lens in their research. I knew a handful of them as charismatic teachers and strong mentors who boldly challenged my arguments, at times, dismantling them on the spot. However, during their presentations, almost all of the participants made the kinds of mistakes that Karen identifies in her blog posts:

  1. Beginning a talk by undervaluing their work or apologizing – “I’m sorry that I can’t do justice to this material,” “I hope to make just a tiny contribution to this complex topic,” “When I was first approached to speak about this topic, I didn’t want to do it,” or “I’m now embarrassed by how under-theorized my talk is”
  2. Using “um” and “uh” too much
  3. Rushing through the talk and not making eye contact
  4. Doing the verbal upswing and the head tilt, sometimes at the same time
  5. Smiling or laughing while discussing serious topics
  6. Beginning a response to a question by apologizing – “I’m sorry, I probably wasn’t clear enough” or “I’m so sorry, it looks like I completely misinterpreted your article in my talk.”

I share these observations not to shame my unnamed colleagues but to continue to address these problems of public speaking and assertiveness as they manifest among female and otherwise marginalized scholars.

I’m still striving to unlearn my particular tendencies to undermine my work through language and demeanor. When complimented on a good presentation, I’ll sometimes say “Oh you really thought so?” or much worse, “No, it wasn’t! You’re just saying that.” Beyond the conference setting, I’ll deny that I’m a good teacher or won’t take credit for my part in organizing an event by saying “No, colleague X did all the real work!” This struggle to “toot my own horn” and to present myself professionally has especially high stakes for me as someone who lacks job security. I depend on department chairs to advocate for me in renewing my position and to write strong recommendation letters that portray me as a colleague instead of a subordinate.

As difficult as it is to unlearn habits, I find that awareness and behavioral intervention go a long way. Just identifying my personal gendered tics helps me to minimize them. Conferences, invited talks and campus visits are performative affairs that require preparation. As a result, they give us opportunities to rewrite scripts. I used to prefer giving “off the cuff” talks but discovered that when the material was relatively fresh my speech became peppered with a lot of “uhs” and “ums.” These days, I write out my presentations, but as talks, not papers. This way, I know exactly how I’m going to open, specifically reminding myself not to begin with an apology, excuse or compliment for the preceding presenter, such “Wow, that was such a great talk! I don’t know how I can possibly follow that!” I make sure that I leave myself time to take pauses and make eye-contact with the audience. When practicing my talk at home (or in my hotel room), I make a conscious effort to lift my eyes from the paper. Though I lose out on some of the spontaneity of an “off the cuff” presentation, I make up for this by giving a confident talk that, with enough rehearsal, sounds natural and engaging. I also mentally prepare for the Q&A, reminding myself to answer directly and, again, avoid apologizing.

The worst is when scholars respond to a question with “I’m sorry, I haven’t thought of that” or “Yes, I still need to do research on that.” I often begin my responses by thanking the person who posed a particularly relevant or challenging question. I don’t thank every single questioner, but thanking the people who ask hard questions shows confidence, as Karen describes in her post How Women Can Speak Better in Public: Stop Apologizing and Get a Career.  I can see way that it demonstrates that I am still in control, evaluating the quality of the questions before answering them.

In other words, I avoid some of the gendered pitfalls of communication by scripting my conference performances. By de-naturalizing women’s mistakes in an academic setting through observation and intervention, I manage to actually relax and have meaningful exchanges at academic conferences.

 

So You Have an Idea for an App? (#Postac Guest Post)

by Dr. Sean Miller
Co-founder, Ivy League Edge
drsean@ivyleagueedge.com
http://ivyleagueedge.com

Sean-circle-V1

In a recent post  on the The Professor Is In, Margy Horton described a conversation she had with a group of humanities PhDs about entrepreneurship. One participant asked whether Margy, Karen, and their ilk hadn’t already grabbed all the low hanging fruit. In other words, she wondered how many businesses where academics help fellow academics the market could bear. It’s a fair question, and Margy had an astute answer, in which she likened academic entrepreneurship to space colonization. She also provided a list of business ideas that extended beyond academics serving academics—brand consultancies, marketing firms, and writing consultation businesses, to name a few.

As we academics contemplate the post-ac landscape, we’re faced with the question that all freelancers face: will people want what I have to offer? And as educators, when brainstorming viable business ideas, we tend to gravitate towards services—like the ones Margy listed—as opposed to products. This post is for those of you who feel the entrepreneurial itch, but are considering how to make and sell products, rather than or addition to services. To get more specific, this is for those of you who consider yourselves fairly tech-savvy, but not necessarily hackers by nature.

A bit of background: Academia was my third career. After college, I worked for a number of years as a network engineer. Then I tried my hand at teaching English overseas. I graduated from the University of London in 2010 with a PhD in English. Shortly afterwards, I landed a two-year research postdoc at Nanyang Technological University. While there, I published an adaptation of my doctoral thesis, on the cultural currency of string theory as a scientific imaginary, with the University of Michigan Press. But like most newly minted PhDs, I didn’t find a permanent academic post. So I got a job back home in Portland, Oregon as a software trainer. It was while toiling away at that relatively unfulfilling job that I worked up the nerve to strike out on my own as an entrepreneur. I had an idea for an app that would teach high school students how to read with critical acumen. Inspired by a passage from Roland Barthes, I called it Readerly.

In light of this new venture, I’m struck by the naiveté of the question posed to Margy. As I’m sure Karen and her post-ac consultants can attest, when it comes to starting a business, there is no low hanging fruit! It takes creativity, dogged persistence, and most importantly, courage. Many of us think we have a great idea for a product or service—a ton of great ideas. But the fact of the matter is that ideas are cheap. It’s the execution that counts. The appeal of making products, though, is that they, unlike labor billed hourly, can scale. Make a product once, sell it a hundred thousand times. And we happen to be living in a Golden Age of opportunity for a particular kind of product, namely, software.

To make software, though, you have to know how to code. Oddly enough, during all those years in IT, I managed to avoid learning how to code. I was blocked, perhaps akin to writer’s block. This app idea was the impetus to finally stick my neck out and learn to do it. I found a great tool for reluctant hackers called LiveCode. It’s an application development platform that features an easy-to-understand natural language script—and ports to all the major operating systems. With one code base, you can build apps for the iPhone, Android, Mac, Windows, and soon, HTML5. After a couple false starts, I quit my job and threw myself full-time into coding. Four months later, I’m happy to say I have 2 apps just about ready for the market, Readerly, and Foyl, an app that helps high school students prepare for their college interviews.

The patron saint of Silicon Valley, Paul Graham, is fond of saying, “A startup is a company designed to grow fast.” To grow fast, a company needs to sell something that scales—that serves a critical mass of people simultaneously, even when its creators have gone to bed. Software can do just that, whether it’s an app or SaaS, software as a service, delivered via a web browser and purchased by subscription.

Unfortunately, what we as entrepreneurs think potential customers want and what they’re actually willing to pay for, more often than not, don’t align. This is where the wisdom of Silicon Valley’s other patron saint, Eric Ries comes in. Ries is the most prominent advocate of the lean startup method, which he defines as “a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers’ hands faster.” It’s essence is a tight cycle of product development. You get what’s called a minimum viable product (or MVP) out on the market as quickly and cheaply as possible. Then you seek out what he calls “validated learning—a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty.” Startups use the results from experiments based on small product variations to tweak the product in order to fuel the engine of growth. Ries calls this the “lean startup process,” a virtuous circle of “learn, build, measure.”

What I’m learning in my ongoing adventure in software development is that, if we academics have the gumption, we’re well positioned to succeed. Software development requires three overlapping skills: you need to know how to code, to design, and to write. These skills can be learned. We’re all excellent learners. And coding, unlike writing, holds a certain satisfaction in that it either works or it doesn’t. There’s really no wrangling over hermeneutics. Learn, build, measure. Rinse and repeat.

So, you have a great idea for an app? What I suggest is that you spend a few days shopping around for a development platform. Then take a deep breath and dive right in. Start making your own apps—simple ones as first, then work towards making your great idea a reality. I recommend LiveCode. Or you can try your hand at the internet standard, JavaScript, through a learning website like Codecademy. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, with a little effort, you could be building basic apps with LiveCode in a matter of hours.

I’ll talk more in future posts about the ins-and-outs of software development and internet marketing. Take a moment to answer the following questions in Comments section below. What’s your idea for an app? If you haven’t started building it, what’s holding you back?

My Graduate School Debt and Post-Ac Life (A Guest Post)

This post is by Honey Smith (pseudonym), a staff writer for the personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly.

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By the time I finished my PhD program in rhetoric and composition, I was geographically bound by my partner’s job — as an attorney, he made much more than an English professor ever would. None of the institutions of higher ed in the area where he was working happened to be hiring a tenure-track position in my subspecialty the first year I looked. I compromised by getting an alt-ac position managing graduate programs at a large state university in the town where my partner was working, and taking a year to revise my already-defended dissertation.

The thinking was that I wouldn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of life as an adjunct while attempting the job market again. Not only would I be guaranteed a steady paycheck, I’d have the same retirement benefits and health insurance as faculty at the university where I was working. I’d be underpaid of course (but aren’t many faculty, also?), but I’d be going on the market not just ABD, but having already successfully defended. Unfortunately, I was hired to manage those graduate programs in July 2008. Can you guess what happened next?

If you guessed the Great Recession, you guessed right. Mere weeks after I was hired, the university where I worked implemented a hiring freeze. Tenure-track searches around the country dried up, turning my academic job search into an exercise in futility. Next came furlough (read: a 10% pay cut). I had over $15,000 in credit card debt and just over $100,000 in student loan debt, and I was making less than $40,000 per year. Sometimes I cried at the grocery store because I didn’t know how I’d pay for food, and once I didn’t wash my hair for a month because I couldn’t afford shampoo. In desperation, I turned to personal finance blogs to help me gain some traction over my situation.

As a result of what I learned on those blogs, my partner and I moved from a three-bedroom house in the suburbs to a two-bedroom condo less than five miles from my job. I became a whiz with the slow-cooker and brought my lunch to work every day. I started couponing (though I never quite became an extreme couponer!) and buying generics. I put my student loans in forbearance for a year to focus on my credit card debt.

Four years later, my partner and I were married and my credit card debt was gone, though the needle on my student loan debt hadn’t really budged. There was that year of forbearance, and in addition I am on an extended graduated payment plan (I believe they stopped offering these around the time IBR plans became popular). This meant that while my payments would rise every two years over the course of a 25-year repayment, in the early years I was paying about $350 per month. This was not even enough to cover interest.

Just before my wedding, a favorite PF blog of mine called Get Rich Slowly announced that one of its writers was leaving the site. I emailed the blogger who ran it and asked if they were looking for a replacement. He allowed me to audition, and I was eventually offered the gig: two blog posts a month with an in-the-trenches, newbie-learning-the-ropes perspective. He told me I’d need to have a thick skin, and boy howdy was he right.

My post on how I accumulated my student loan debt got over 300 comments. Some comments from other student loan debtors commiserated with my situation or lauded my bravery in blogging about such a topic. However, the vast majority of The Interwebs seemed to agree that I was stupid, irresponsible, and selfish. While the blogging didn’t allow me to close the door on my debt, it did open a window into the world of side gigs. I started hustling, and between my day job and my expanding nights-and-weekends work writing web content, soon I was earning enough to give myself some breathing room.

By that time, however, I’d gone stale on the tenure-track job market. I’d let my research slide while focusing on writing that paid, and I hadn’t taught a class in years. That was fine with me, though. I had an alt-ac career I loved in a city that I no longer wanted to leave. Furlough was a thing of the past, and eventually I even got a modest raise.

Slowly, however, I realized that alt-ac life wasn’t a bed of roses. Despite a more than 30% increase in responsibilities, I only received two raises in seven years (and honestly one of them could barely be called a raise at just over $800/year!). The graduate students I worked with found my help invaluable, but I felt like the faculty in my department didn’t respect my expertise even though I was just as credentialed as they were. I applied for other positions on campus and used my performance evaluation to advocate for a promotion, but was getting nowhere.

So I started applying for jobs in the “real world” (not MTV). I was eventually offered a position editing search-engine optimized (SEO) content for professionals and small businesses. It paid almost 30% more than I had been making and I’d always thought of myself as a writer at heart, so I leapt at the chance. I’m still in the early stages of my new post-ac life, but not only is my compensation more aligned with my abilities, I’m part of a team and no longer ruled by the academic year. This means there are people who can cover for me if I go on vacation, and I’m no longer bound by things like application season, recruitment season, or fall welcome.

Now that I’m in the non-academic world, I find it interesting that I was intimidated by it for so long. Having spent years cultivating an inferiority complex, I’m now surrounded by people who find my academic credential rare and impressive. My skill set is considered unique and valuable — and when I say valuable, I mean there’s an appropriate dollar amount associated with it! I’m finally starting to make rapid headway on my debt and I couldn’t be more excited for life as a post-ac.

VAPS and Why They Suck – A Guest Post

This guest post is co-written by two veterans of the VAP-front who know whereof they speak.  All too painfully.

A followup from one of them:  “One of these co-authors is taking another VAP because she hates herself.”

This piece was originally published on Academic Happy Hour.

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Recently, a well-meaning senior colleague told me that I should be excited to apply to one-year positions. “They can lead to a tenure track, and moreover, it gives you the chance to get an overview of the different institutions out there, before you settle somewhere.

Bless his out-of-touch and away-from-reality heart. Here are the reasons the Visiting Appointment sucks:

1) It doesn’t lead to tenure track positions: As Nate Silber of “Das Zugunglueck” writes about his field of German Studies, the chances that you get a Tenure Track job after several Visiting Assistant Professorships is small. Heck, the chance that you get a tenure track job is small, since they are vanishing.

2) Moving expenses: Fewer and fewer universities offer help with moving expenses, and if they do, they barely cover a minimum of the actual costs. Those fresh out of grad school will put it all on a credit card, thinking they can then pay it off once the first paycheck comes in. Then, you need to add the cost of traveling back and forth to see your significant other/spouse/family, who live away from you. So, if you live frugally, don’t have any family or medical expenses, you may even be able to save something of their pay for- drumroll please- the next move.

3) Productivity (or lack thereof): Most of the time, all these positions require is a warm body who can teach while so and so is on sabbatical or enjoying other privileges of the tenure track life. This means that you will get a 3/3 or more teaching load, and it won’t be courses you necessarily enjoy teaching. You’ll be teaching intro classes until the cows come home.  Then add office hours, meetings to which you are obliged to go, talks (to show how invested you are in the place) etc. If you do your job, we’re talking about a good 50-60 hour week. Unless you prefer to live like a medieval monk (and hey, nothing’s wrong with that), your research will slow down. You thought one year should be enough to crank out an article and that book manuscript, if you write a dedicated hour every day? It can be done, but mostly isn’t. Which then in turn looks bad when you apply for tenure track somewhere else.

4) Campus Community I: The Pariah: Most of your new colleagues will be… nice. And that’s pretty much it. While there are exceptions (see the next point), most people will be friendly, but they will keep you at a distance. They know you won’t stay, and during the job season they will show sympathy, but at the end of the day, you are not in the same boat. Yes, you do the same work, you are in the same field, but still, they have no idea what it is like to apply for jobs every damn year. And most of them don’t want to know. So, you engage as much as you can, you attend all the talks, you promise to keep in touch, and finally, you leave.

5) Campus Community II: Leaving the Party when it’s in full swing: I made wonderful friends in my last two VAP’s, personal and academic. We worked well together and the numbers of majors enrolled skyrocketed (ok, they rose). They all wanted me to stay, but couldn’t really do anything about it. This led to awkward silences in departmental meetings, personal conversations, and in the end, a lot of heartache.

6) You live in places in which you don’t want to be buried:  Admittedly, I am torn on the issue. Having an open mind is not a bad thing, and experiencing different lifestyles and different opinions hasn’t hurt anybody. But then, try to be black/jewish/gay/liberal/atheist in central Oklahoma, and you’ll ask yourself whether you really have to experience EVERYTHING or whether it’s ok to have read about a few things and only possess second hand knowledge. In these places, the university campus is usually your safe island, and that says it all.

7) Your social life sucks: Granted, living the “life of the mind”, you shouldn’t care about things as shallow and trite as friendships or even relationships. But if you do, be prepared for a lot of heartache. You will slowly start  to get to know people, and then you’ll leave. If you start dating someone, and that’s a big if (see #4), because you will see this expression on their face when you tell them you’re here for a year, and no, you have no idea where you’ll be next year. And then you’ll never hear from them again.

8) Bureaucracy: Breaking leases, extending leases, paying double rent, getting your driver’s license changed, switching insurances, switching whatever benefits your previous employer gave you to the current employer, getting your mail forwarded, telling your bank you’re moving- it all may seem trivial until you have spent two days running around and on the phone taking care of stuff. Most junior academics I know could easily write an ethnography of the DMV’s of the United States  from having spent so much time there.

9) The mental drain of constantly being in limbo: Three months after you arrive on your new campus, you start applying to jobs again. You update your materials, you frantically check the job wiki, you don’t sleep, and you don’t eat.  And at some point, you stop having dreams- whether you’re ever going to have a family or settle somewhere you like seems to be out of your hands.

 

The “I Believe” Statement, Post-Ac Edition – Langer #Postac Post

By Jessica Langer
Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

You wouldn’t believe the number of cover letters I see – both in my work here at TPII and as a hiring manager who hires employees and freelancers for my agency – that include some variation of the statement “I believe I am an ideal candidate for the position.” Sometimes it’s phrased “I believe that my experience and expertise make me a good candidate for the position.” Sometimes it’s even more aggressive: “My experience combined with my knowledge and education make me the ideal candidate for the position.”
Don’t do this. (And please recall Dr. Karen insists that on the *academic* side, one must never employ this trite, overused, desperate-sounding phrase).  But, unlike in academia, you can – if you’d like – include an “I believe” statement as part of your cover letter. The key is to word it properly so that you’re pointing out a piece of information about yourself, not telling the hiring manager what she or he wants in a candidate.
My ideal “I believe” statement? “I understand from the job description posted on [wherever] that you are seeking a candidate with skills in [X, Y, Z] and expertise in [A, B, C]. I believe that my skills in [X, Y, Z, though rephrased slightly] and experience [A,B,C though rephrased slightly], as well as [other allied skills and expertise], fit this description well.
The detail of my “I believe” statement is the key here. It’s a suggestion rather than aggression. You’re not telling the hiring manager that you are the ideal candidate, because you can’t know what they’re looking for, and it’s rude and aggressive to presume that you do, and comes off badly; You’re not telling them what to think, how to feel, or anything else like that. You’re pointing out that, in your opinion, your skills and experience match well with what they say they are looking for. It’s not an assumption about what they are looking for. It’s a submission that, based on what they say they are looking for, you fit the job description.
This kind of statement is also key in getting through some non-academic keyword gateways; that is, a lot of major companies and organizations, particularly government organizations, will literally run a keyword data search on resumes and cover letters automatically, and automatically reject anything that doesn’t come close enough. So an “I believe” statement of this type is a way to get keywords from the job description into the cover letter. And it’s also a way to demonstrate that the candidate has read the description carefully and taken the time to determine that her or his skills and experience are a match for what’s stated there.
So: it’s a matter of wording, yes. But these statements are a lot more common and accepted outside of academia than in academia.

What Not To Do at Your Campus Visit

Today I share some remarks by a tenured client, who just completed a search at her department, and wrote to tell me about it:

“We just finished doing a job search here and an offer has been made.  I wanted to share with you something the last candidate did because I was shocked.

The candidate walked around most of the time she was here with earphones in her ears listening to music. At one point she started dancing in the hall!

She was wearing a dress that looked like she was going out for cocktails.  It looked like this, but in two tones (beige and black):

unnamed

I am not very judgmental about dress, and it didn’t bother me at first, but then it did  at the point that she was dancing down the hallway to her own music.  I’ll be honest, it freaked some of my colleagues (the science types) out.

Also, she was left in my colleague’s office to prepare for her talk; when my colleague came back into the office she was on my colleague’s computer without permission, surfing the web.

She is very young, but…yikes.  I felt like I was back in my son’s teen years.

The grad students also didn’t like her; she was very unengaged at the graduate student lunch.

By contrast, our first choice asked each student what they were reading at the moment  at his lunch with them and commented on every book they named. He also asked them what they were working on and made recommendations for readings.

We were blown away by this guy. His job talk was excellent–even the [distant subdiscipline] people understood it; he was just a humble but brilliant guy.  After he left I told my students: ‘take note, that is how you do a perfect interview.’

Meanwhile, the ‘dancing candidate’ is still the talk of the hallways.  In a very bad way.

I truly wondered who advised her in grad school and almost feel compelled to call her after all is said and done to give her advice.  Anyway, I thought you might want to add earphones, cocktail dress, and dancing in the hall to your ‘do not do this on a job interview’ list for grad students.”

Are Academic Businesses Low-hanging Fruit? Horton #postac Post

I’m excited about this #postac post by Margy Horton, the genius behind the business, ScholarShape.  Entrepreneurship is a topic very close to my heart; I even have a chapter on it in my forthcoming book.  I want to see more academics pursue entrepreneurial opportunities and get over their fear of going into business for themselves.

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by Margy Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Every Q & A needs one audacious question, so I was grateful recently when, after I’d given a starry-eyed talk to some humanities PhDs about entrepreneurship as a partial solution to the academic jobs crisis, one audience member put her hand up and said (I’m paraphrasing), “No offense, but I see what you and The Professor Is In and some other academic entrepreneurs are doing, and I think, how many businesses like that can there be–businesses that academics create to support other academics? Didn’t you guys already pick all the low-hanging fruit?”

In other words, hadn’t we taken all the easy business ideas?

Some background: Two years ago, I launched a business, ScholarShape, that offers editorial support, coaching, and consultation to academics across the disciplines. I’m not an entrepreneur in a seismic-shift kind of way, but I am entrepreneurial in the sense that I like solving problems by inventing new solutions rather than by looking for prefabricated ones. While my business model might seem obvious now, when I was first launching, most of my academic colleagues and friends were like, “What? Academics aren’t going to pay you for those services.”

But back to that skeptical audience member. Her point is an important one: For an academic starting a business, the most comfortable clientele is other academics. That market is not limitless, though, and if all the PhD. entrepreneurs simply stake their tents on the grounds of academia, we have not solved the jobs crisis at all. Rather than opening the floodgates, we will have merely carved out another inlet, where endless academic entrepreneurs toil in vain to sell their services back and forth to one another.

What if the academic entrepreneurship trend isn’t creating a clogged inlet, but instead building the first settlement on an uninhabited planet like Mars? As I see it, a few academics have now survived the perilous journey through the vacuum of outer space, set up a makeshift station on their adopted planet, and written home to Earth that the space colony thing is pretty doable. Now the next wave of settlers will come, and they may not all fit in the original station, but we’ll work together to build an annex to accommodate them. Next year, when the third wave of settlers comes, we’ll expand our little station into a village. Eventually another village will spring up, and another, until the whole planet is populated with academic entrepreneurs launching all manner of brand consultancies, community development initiatives, marketing firms, policy consultation practices, and writing consultation businesses. Some will even write historical novels, or sexy historical novels. (Yes, writing and selling novels counts as entrepreneurship!)  And the more businesses these academic entrepreneurs create, the more new jobs and opportunities there will be for the settlers who come later.

And none of them have to become Republicans unless they want to.

The entire point of entrepreneurship is that it opens up infinite possibilities. The entrepreneurial mindset is promising precisely because we don’t know what direction it will take us next. Of course entrepreneurship isn’t the whole solution to joblessness, in academia or anywhere else. Of course not everyone is cut out for the lifestyle, which can be unpredictable and grueling. And of course I fully recognize that in plenty of academic circles, entrepreneurship is still conflated with philistinism and greed. But I’ve seen for myself that when frustrated academics try on an entrepreneurial way of thinking–by which I mean, looking around for ways to solve problems through the provision of goods and services for pay–the result can be profoundly freeing. Suddenly, no one but you has to give you permission to do meaningful work for a living.

So I’m glad to see that people are starting to see academic businesses as “low hanging fruit.” This means that entrepreneurship is beginning to seem like a viable option, like a thing that people do. Two years ago, launching an academic support businesses marked a person as a freakish aberration, or worse, a moral failure. Today, it’s zeitgeisty–an intriguing if dubious possibility. By next year, the Mars settlement will be thriving. And when it gets crowded, the boldest among us will pack up and give Jupiter a try.