The Alt/Post-Ac Makeover: From Field to Function and New Forms – Cardozo

by Out-Ac Coach Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

To run a successful Alt/Post-Ac job search, you first need to grasp some key differences between hiring in academic versus alternative sectors.  Here’s is a partial synopsis:

  1.       Many academic listings are advertised nationally and up to a year in advance.  Jobs in other sectors may be posted only regionally/locally, or not at all.
  2.       Academic searches are often conducted by committee and unfold over months.  In contrast, Alt/Post-Ac hiring may be resolved autocratically by a single hiring manager and, in some cases, move along very quickly.  Busy organizations want a vacancy filled as soon as possible.
  3.       Academic “lines” are hard-won and go through a bureaucratic approval process.  In the private sector or in fast-growing nonprofits, jobs may materialize quickly when staffing needs emerge.

As a result of the above points, networking in academe (while still valuable to gain context) doesn’t impact a search outcome nearly as much as networking can make (or lack of it break) an Alt/Post search.  Networking allows you to be on the radar when jobs open up unexpectedly; managers are more likely to turn to their own professional or personal network for leads on how to fill a position quickly. Networking might even allow you to propose your own job to organizations that may not have realized someone with your particular skill set exists to meet their needs.

The big kahuna of an academic career transition, however, is a shift in focus from field to function.

  1.       In academe, faculty members inhabit similar roles; thus field specialization is emphasized and hair-splitting practically fetishized! (eg, Is it the long 18th century to which you refer?)  In other organizational contexts (including Alt-Ac work on a campus), content expertise may certainly matter, but ROLE differentiation is key.  Your function is the main story, and the real question for any applicant is: can you DO what we need you to do?

Learning to look at job possibilities through this functional lens, rather than that of a field specialist, allows you to consider many different roles across sectors.  It enables you to embrace the both/and principle I discussed in a prior post:  that is, you don’t have to prematurely choose between “Ac” or “non-Ac.”  Rather, apply to jobs based on whether these are ROLES you are able and willing to play, regardless of the sector in which they are located.  For example, I have a client with an internationally-themed humanities PhD with additional experience working in instructional technology.  This person has applied convincingly for administrative jobs in international education programs, a federal research analyst position, editor for an online humanities magazine, and as staff in a center for teaching.

A focus on FUNCTION is ultimately what allows you to play freely with the FORM of your documents, crafting new letters and resumes for alternative roles.  Because academic roles are similar across campuses, application documents follow a similar template emphasizing research, teaching and service. But as mentioned in my post on the Art of Translation, those categories are actually a bundle of many discrete skills and functions.  Alternative jobs range in their key components, thus you have to carefully “unpack” your background to identify pieces relevant to the new role, so you can explain to employers that you’re ready and capable of doing the work. Chapter 60 in The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD into a Job, TPII’s Margy Horton offers a handy list of 100 transferable skills that can help you make your case (and boost your self-confidence astronomically in the process!).

One of the most common strategies I deploy with clients is to design a functional (rather than purely chronological) resume, using whatever category headers are relevant to the new job at hand. Chronology is not typically a friend to the ABD/PhD who has spent most of their life as a student.  But convert all of that time into a thematic accounting of your different projects and lo and behold, a significantly experienced person emerges, one with an impressive array of proven skills, from research to grant/project management to writing/editing and public speaking or team facilitation.

But here’s the rub.  You cannot simply “recycle” your Alt/Post-Ac letters or resumes the way you may have reused their academic counterparts. To stand out in the Alt/Post-Ac pack, you need highly customized letters and resumes. Why?  BECAUSE EVERY NONACADEMIC JOB IS DIFFERENT in its unique configuration of responsibilities, in the organizational context, and in organizational culture.  Take the latter point.  Even if the roles are similar (say, Communications Manager), an informal, dynamic and friendly nonprofit won’t respond as well to the coolly professional letter that may have worked well for your prior application to a stuffy private foundation.  So even if your content doesn’t change much (but most often, it HAS to for each unique job description), a new tone may be in order to convey your fit.

It is a rare individual who opts out of academe to only replicate an equally narrow job search elsewhere, e.g. “seeking positions curating medieval art in urban museums.”  Statistics just aren’t on your side.  Most people diversify their alternative job search and consider multiple roles and organizational contexts.  However, there’s no need to throw spaghetti at the wall indiscriminately.  The current landscape is not a numbers game where more is better.  Selectivity of FIT is still most likely to catapult you to the interview short list or job offer.

So again, focus on FUNCTION and imagine yourself playing a given role, no matter the sector in which it’s located.  If you feel a “click” of recognition (hey, I can do most of these things!) go ahead and apply—ideally after having done some networking to prime the pump.  In such cases, new letters and resume designs flow much more easily.  And of course, should these functions take place in a context where your PhD field expertise is relevant, so much the better!

In my work for TPII these past few years, by far the most financially efficient and popular service has been the 2-application package ($450, or $600 with additional SKYPE consult to strategize and support you while the search in process).  I have never yet worked with a client who “only” needed resume help, or vice versa.  The cover letter always indexes the resume, pointing to the evidence to support the writer’s claims.  In turn, the resume details what the cover letter cannot; they must dovetail. Extracting from academe is a paradigm shift; all documents must be looked at anew.  As one of my clients put it:

“Rather than general, one-size-fits-all recommendations, you taught me how to understand my background as a set of discrete skills and knowledges [and showed me] how these skills can be configured, linked and packaged to make me an attractive candidate in different employment sectors…providing the kind of encouragement that has opened my eyes to all the doors I failed to see.”

I used to tell my clients that this package was best deployed when active deadlines were in view. And that’s true enough (nothing generates motivation more than an actual application deadline!).  However, I’ve had a few clients choose to get their feet wet prior to actually applying for jobs, and they wax just as exuberant:  not only about their document makeover, but about their own self-transformation. They literally see themselves, and the future, more positively as a result of having engaged in this process. That frame of mind makes you a very different contender on the job market: a believer, not a doubter.  I now realize that it may be just as valuable to invest in such a package as a “boot camp” to get you in shape to perform effectively when there is a real deadline at stake.

If you are one of those folks who is waiting “one more year” to see how the academic search pans out, or are on the fence about whether to change paths, or are eager to leave academe but not ready to commit to actual applications, it would be a good investment to develop letters/resumes for a few different Alt/Post-Ac jobs. You will learn from generating these new formats that you are well-qualified to play any number of diverse roles on a campus or beyond.  In so doing, you will have overcome a significant logistical hurdle by taking full inventory of your background to convert your materials for some very different purposes.  When the real deal comes along, you’ll be able to apply effectively and—just as important for your sanity—with a minimum of angst.

For the same reason that that therapists have therapists, writers have editors, and athletes have trainers, we all need fresh eyes on our situation—someone who both understands where we’ve been, and where we want to go.  That’s all of us at TPII.  So whether or not your alternative job search is really “on” yet, consider taking part of your summer to position yourself in the starting gate with an Alt/Post-Ac 2 or 3-application package (you don’t have to complete all the components at once, but can pace yourself as needed).  When the starting gun goes off, you will be leading the pack with the winds of change at your back, running toward your future with confidence.

Beat the Fall Rush: Summer 2016 Updates

Hi everyone!  Today is a brief interruption in our usual editorial policy (devoted, as you know, to alternately despairing and enraged commentary on the total downfall of US academe), to share some scheduling info to help you plan ahead.  Including a webinar next Thursday, on Hacking the Academic Job Market (see below).

This summer, for the first time, we are STAYING OPEN all summer (albeit with limited hours) to better meet the demand for job application help, as well as grant-writing, book proposals, post-academic transition help, productivity coaching, and everything else we offer.  We are already scheduling into July with much of August already filled (late June still has openings).  Please don’t delay if you’re hoping to work with us for the Fall 2016 job market or grants.

FYI: what happens every year is, people wait until August to get in touch, at which point we are scheduling in November, and then people have to pay a rush fee to get one of the few rush slots available that will allow them to meet their September or October deadlines.  Don’t let that be you!  Read about what we offer here.  And email me at

If the cost of individual document editing is a bit beyond your budget, never fear, you can always do our Art of the Cover Letter.   AOCL is a 10-module, self-guided course, all-online, available anytime 24/7, that walks you step by step through the planning, info-gathering, writing, and editing of your academic job cover letter. The Art of the Cover Letter includes new posts and worksheets that teach you how to a) grasp and frame your record for the purposes of job market competition; b) collect all pertinent material in one place and hone it down to cover letter appropriate language; c) refine and edit the complete cover letter to avoid pitfalls like excessive humility, desperation, bragging, emotionalism, self-sabotage, etc.  And at each step it includes short videos by me, that keep you focused on the big picture principles at work.

We’re developing more “Art of”s this summer, for the CV, the TS, the RS, and Interviewing. Stay tuned for those!

Kellee Weinhold continues to do her Unstuck productivity coaching.  While most of the sessions for this summer are filled and have already started, she’s open to launching one more, so get in touch if you’re interested!

Remember that you can always work with our tremendous Out-Ac team!  They are fierce, funny, compassionate, and skilled.  They’ll talk you through the fears and anxieties of a transition out of the academy, and then guide you through the resumes and cover letters and interview skills you need to get the next job. And the initial 20 minute consult is always free, no strings attached.

Finally, next Thursday 6/9 at 6 PM EST I’m giving the only Summer date of Hacking the Academic Job Market, which is the webinar version of the talk that I gave to audiences across the UK and Europe this past month. And because it’s summer, I’m doing a discount.  Use the code Webinar15 for 15% off. ($42.50 instead of $50).  It breaks down the big picture of the current US job market, the elements of a competitive record, the ethos of effective job applications, and the most common pitfalls in interviewing.  Don’t go into the market unprepared!  Hope to see you there!

OK, that’s it. I promise to be back to my usual doom and gloom next week!



The Post-Ac’s Guide to the Cover Letter

by TPII Post-ac Coach Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

A cover letter for a non-academic job is nothing like what you’d write for an academic job. It has to be less about you and more about what you can do for the employer. And short, very short. I previously wrote that resumes get a mean of 6 second review in the first cut. There are no similar studies for cover letters (although you’ll find lots of commentary on whether anyone even reads them), but I can tell you from experience it is much less during that first round of elimination. If you make it past the initial culling, your goal with the cover letter is to show them how you can help them and that you understand how to communicate professionally.

Many PhDs considering the post-ac route worry that they are over-qualified and that this will result in automatic elimination. That is rarely the reason for elimination (in fact some employers have explicit policies against it), but PhDs do have a reputation for being insufferably self-involved. If an employer has any misgivings about hiring someone with a PhD, they will see an unnecessarily long cover letter and resume as proof you don’t get that this isn’t a dissertation and that you probably will make meetings longer and more painful than they already are, drag projects out longer than needed to get the most complicated outcomes, etc. This is your opportunity to show them you don’t fit that stereotype.

The most important part of the cover letter is to do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the employer and the hiring supervisor, using their website, news articles, your professional network, etc. The job ad alone probably won’t tell you what you really need to know—what does the employer most want from this hire? The niche the employer really wants filled by a hire is probably narrower than what is in the job ad, but just in case they can’t find the perfect candidate, the net is cast wider. Often there is one or a few key skills or qualifications among the many listed that are most valued. Once you know what the specific need is, it should be the center of the cover letter. Tell them, briefly and generally, how you can help, demonstrating your abilities with a few key examples of your accomplishments.

Basic formatting

Same as in “The Post-Ac’s Guide to the Resume,” with the following additions:

Letterhead and watermarks. It is usually not appropriate to use the letterhead of the company with which you are currently employed, unless you’re a grad student or post-doc applying to, for example, an industry or government research job. If you use letterhead, make sure to turn the final version of the CL into a .pdf to make sure there are no formatting issues. If there is any chance your application materials will be fed through a computer program (applicant tracking system) to evaluate applicants, don’t use letterhead.

1 page with breaks between short paragraphs. There are a few exceptions to the 1 page limit (industry post-doc or other research and publication jobs), but shorter is better. Absolutely no “wall of text” anywhere. Keep sentences and paragraphs brief. Detailed descriptions of your dissertation and research will not help you. You want them to be able to pick out essential information in that brief scan. If you bog down your letter with unessential, repetitive, or overly-detailed information, no one will read it.


The best cover letters are customized to each job and employer. There two general approaches that are most compelling.

Problem focused. What can you do to meet a specific need or problem facing the employer? In the business world, the overused phrase for an unsolved problem or unmet need is “pain point.” If you can identify what “pain” they need soothed and make this central to your cover letter, it is very compelling and can be accomplished in half a page. Liz Ryan of the “The Human Workplace” doesn’t even call these cover letters—she calls them “pain letters” and if you can make this work, I recommend her method.

Connect Your Resume to the Job Ad. With this approach, think of the resume as the evidence and your cover letter as the interpretation or discussion of that evidence. Write sentences that explicitly and succinctly connect your skills and accomplishments to the employer’s needs and qualifications in the job ad. For example, say something like “Most recently, as a Post-Doctoral Researcher managing the laboratory of a newly hired professor, I set up the entire lab, including recruiting and supervising a team of lab assistants. In addition to overseeing regular laboratory procedures, I can recruit, train, and supervise laboratory staff at Happy Pills Pharma.” Or, “My success obtaining $##K through X granting institution gives me the experience to fund Eco-Cool Nonprofit’s projects.” You don’t need to cover every qualification listed in the job ad, and in fact to keep it to a page you probably can’t, but prioritize the most advanced, talent-dependent, hard-to-train, or rare qualifications.

The Elements

Emails. If you are instructed to submit an application via email, the email is your cover letter and the resume is the only attachment. For email only submissions, It is highly unlikely an applicant tracking system is being used. This tends to flip the order in which your documents are scanned (by a human eye)—the email is typically scanned first and the resume second. If you attach a separate cover letter, it may not even get opened, so make your point in the email.

The salutation. Find out who is the supervisor for this hire so you can address the letter to that person and contact them to learn more about the job.

The opening paragraph. Tell them very simply and succinctly: Who you are professionally, what you can do for them, why you are interested in the job and/or employer. If there is some recent event or success the employer had that you can incorporate into why you are interested in the job, this can be very compelling. Limit to 3-4 sentences at most.

The second paragraph. If you have identified either through your conversations with the hiring supervisor or a careful read of the job description what the most critical duty or qualification is for this hire, then make this the subject of the second paragraph. How will you meet this need?

Paragraphs 3, possibly 4. Point them to the evidence in your resume that you have the experience to get the major duties of the job done. If you can cover it in just one paragraph, then don’t add a fourth. If there are two broad areas (e.g., data analysis and reporting or grant writing and project implementation), then making each area the subject of the each paragraph is reasonable, but keep them short.

Closing paragraph. Keep this very short, 2-3 sentences. If you have nothing more to cover that wasn’t in the previous paragraphs, then simply say how it would be a pleasure to join their team and you look forward to learning more about the position and their organization. Close with “Sincerely,” (or similar) and then type your name. Do not print, sign, and scan—the employer needs to be able to do a keyword search on your letter and that is impossible with a signed and scanned letter. They don’t need your hand written signature.

A final word about choosing your words: Facts, not feelings or opinions.

Avoid saying things like: “I feel that I am highly qualified…,” “I am very enthusiastic about…” “I am a perfect fit for this job.” Everyone says this, yet most applicants have few, if any, qualifications for the job or a remarkable level of enthusiasm. Using these phrases make it sound as if all you have to offer is opinion and emotion, with no facts to back it up because you don’t even think you are qualified or interested enough for the job.

If you find yourself saying such nonsense, check that: 1) you have some skills and qualifications for the job somewhere in your life experience, and 2) that you have documented these in your resume. If so, you are probably letting impostor syndrome seep into your cover letter where it blocks you from saying anything meaningful.

The skills and expertise you gained while earning your PhD are invaluable, you just have to find a place to work that values what you have to offer.

“You’re so Lucky…” and the Job Market – An Anonymous Guest Post

An anonymous guest post.  Read this in conjunction with the piece that just came out this week on Chronicle Vitae, “The ‘Joy’ of Pregnancy in Graduate School.”  I think it relates more broadly to the larger hostility to the idea of “wellness” also, as pointed out in the piece, “When Wellness Is a Dirty Word.”  Academia is a strange, strange world.


Last year I was on the academic job market. Being on the job market was just as terrifying as everyone made it out to be. As many warned (including The Professor is In), the combination of pure exhaustion from striving to complete my dissertation/PhD degree and the complete lack of control over my life, finances, and future geographical circumstances made for some disheartened, angry, and hopeless days.  However, there was one aspect of being on the job market which no one warned me about.

I am a young professional, I am not married, and I do not have children. When I was on the job market, I was shocked by the amount or people, from inside and outside academia, explaining to me how “lucky” I am to be single and childless. While I understand how inflexible and difficult both the job market and academia overall can be for men and women (but mostly women) with children, no one told me how skewed people’s expectations of me would be simply because I am not married and do not have children.

Here are 3 common phrases I encountered while on the job market:

“Well, you are sooo lucky you don’t have to worry about moving with a husband and children. Can you imagine that?!”

Correct, I did not have to navigate the circumstances of moving children and a partner into new a school/job, neighborhood, and city. I have imagined how difficult that would be. At the same time, I coordinated my move to an entirely new city where I knew no one and also found it difficult, emotionally draining, and daunting financially.

“At least you don’t also have to worry about your husband finding a job!”

Correct, while I was on the job market, I did not have to think about my partner moving to another city and looking for employment, which admittedly would be stressful. However, I also didn’t have the second income of a partner to depend on during in-between months or if the job market didn’t work out for me.

“It must be nice, you don’t have a family so you can go anywhere!”

While, I do not have children or a partner (yet) I do have a family and friends.

While I was on the job market, I have a mother who has battled breast cancer three times and a brother and sister-in-law who experienced multiple miscarriages. It was painful for me to move away from them despite knowing it was financially and professionally my only option.

At the end of the day, being on the academic job market is difficult for everyone.

My martial status does not make me lucky. My lack of children does not make me lucky.

I survived the job market because good friends and colleagues supported me. Being on the job market is terrifying for all. Please be respectful and supportive to all.


Thoughts from the UK and Denmark

Kellee and I are heading into the final week of our month in the UK and Europe!  We’ve had an absolutely amazing journey so far.   We visited the Universities of Aberdeen (thank you, Amy Bryzgel), where I did a talk on the US job market, and an interactive talk on women’s leadership for female faculty, and Kellee did an Interview workshop.

Kellee at Aberdeen (with a little help from the sea captain)

Kellee at Aberdeen (with a little help from the sea captain)

Then (as I told you last time) we went on to St. Andrews, where I did a keynote at a Ph.D. careers conference (thank you, Catherine Spencer and Laura Goddard!).  We then traveled to Edinburgh, where I did a workshop to an audience of more than 100! (thank you, Carol MacDonald!)

I’m glad to say we got to fit in some excellent sightseeing in Scotland, and I am now determined to move there – it stole my heart.  But we had to move on to London.  I spoke to a big crowd at Kings College London (Thank you, Kate Murray!)


That went great.  The food poisoning following the dinner afterward, not so much…

Kellee at London School of Economics

Kellee at London School of Economics

So, Kellee took over my talk at London School of Economics, to great acclaim! (of course) (Thank you, Catherine Reynolds, especially for your flexibility with that last minute adjustment!)

We then moved on to Oxford,

Karen at Oxford

Karen at Oxford

where I gave two events: a talk to about 50 on hacking the academic job market in what is surely the loveliest space for a talk I will ever encounter (a restored 18th century chapel),




and a breakout workshop on job documents for a smaller group, while Kellee did a great event on Interviewing.  (Thank you, John Miles!)


Kellee at Oxford

And then on to Cambridge, and a packed and very friendly house of over 200 for the big talk, and another breakout session on job documents. (Thank you, Steve Joy and team!)



At Cambridge


At Warwick

The very next day, it was on to University of Warwick, for an evening talk to about 100 (Thank you, Becky Kaner!)

And after a day of travel to Denmark, we traveled to University of Roskilde, where for the first time I got to work for a full day with a small and intimate group of students and faculty,

Karen at Roskilde

Karen at Roskilde

on the US job market, the post-academic job search, and grant-writing (Thank you, Lisa Ann Richey!)

In my last post, I made the observation that we are all in the same boat, trying to use our Ph.D.s in a time of severely contracting budgets.  No, the UK doesn’t have quite the adjunct situation that we do in the United States, but they do have the breathtakingly quantified rubric of academic productivity represented by the REF.  No Denmark doesn’t have anything like the level of Ph.D. debt that we have in the States (their grad students are generously funded, albeit only for a brisk three-year total program), but they have seen federal grand funding evaporate entirely (I mean, entirely), forcing them to compete for EU grants against a multi-national population of competitors.   On no campus could a majority of Ph.D.s expect to find secure academic work.

The specific pressures we confront are different, but the big picture is the same.  The world has turned sharply in an anti-intellectual direction, and funding for scholarly work has drastically fallen (that is, outside of Oxford and Cambridge, which did seem, as far as I could discern, stunningly insulated from these trends.  But insulated only for those ON the faculty!  When I spoke with my faculty host at High Table dinner, the phrase that most struck me was “So that’s definitely a problem… but we don’t have to worry about it at Oxford.”)  This was of course not the case for the Oxford and Cambridge Ph.D. students and postdocs themselves, who have to seek out work in more prosaic circumstances.

I wondered how my message would be received, and I was relieved to find it was received very well.  Ph.D. students and postdocs at each campus needed the core Professor Is In reminders:

  • Recall this is a job, not a calling
  • Prepare for your career from your earliest days in the program
  • Recognize the ways you “act like a grad student,” and jettison them
  • Claim authority and expertise in your field
  • Make your case for yourself on facts, not on saccharine feelings
  • Recognize that your project doesn’t speak for itself–it requires a careful disciplining of writing and speaking
  • Know that the tenure-line (secure academic) job is the exception, and be open to the non-academic track
  • Cultivate multiple mentors who can provide concrete, reality-based, denial-resistant career advising

I happened to hear President Obama’s commencement address to Howard University while staying in Oxford, and I was struck by a line:  “I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. ”  He was speaking of changing the world through activism and political organization, of course. He went on to say “Not just awareness, but action.  Not just hashtags, but votes.” But I, of course, thought how the thought applies to careers as well.  People who go into the Ph.D. tend to be passionate about their subjects.  And passion fuels you through your many years of study.  But passion alone doesn’t yield jobs in this economy–that requires the discipline, forethought, and calculation of strategy.

It continues to be countercultural to state this so baldly in the academy.  Even more so in the UK and Europe, it seems, where the ivory tower ideal is perhaps more intact than it is in the States.  But I saw my audiences take it in, grapple with it, and engage with it, just like audiences do in the States.  In a world where governments have withdrawn support for scholarly work (particularly in the humanities), we must all become strategists of our careers.


Breast Cancer Pink: My Story of Dissertating, Chemotherapy and Healing With Digital Storytelling (A Guest Post)

More on the theme of bodies, wellness, and healing and our struggle in academia to find and connect with them… a guest post.


by Chelsey Hauge and Kate Reid

Dr. Chelsey Hauge

Dr. Chelsey Hauge

Chelsey is a media artist and writer, and is currently Visiting Assistant Professor at Mills College. She holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of British Columbia and her research interests include digital literacy, youth media production, and girl-led activism. You can find out more about her here:   Find her song and video here.



Kate Reid

Kate Reid


Kate Reid has a Master of Arts in Social Justice, and a Bachelor of Education from The University of British Columbia. She delivers keynotes, concerts, and workshops for secondary and post-secondary schools, and professional organizations. For more information about Kate, please visit


About a year before I (Chelsey) was scheduled to defend my dissertation, I found a lump in my breast. Shortly thereafter, I found myself formatting dissertation chapters from the chemotherapy chair. I dealt with my cancer by diving into my academic work. When that failed, I used my university library access to read everything I could about young women and breast malignancies, and I theorized my cancer. I identified and participated in cancer chats on Twitter and when I wasn’t writing about youth and media, I blogged about my treatment. I met other young women dealing with cancer by leveraging digital media, and I noticed that just as it had been for the youth in my research, social media was networking me in life-saving ways. Even though I was actively building a cancer-community, I felt isolated and invisible and angry. My grad school friends were on the job market and having babies while I made decisions about which body parts to amputate and amassed a wig collection- I couldn’t help but feel terribly left out. And that is why I turned to storytelling.

I was a little shell shocked when within weeks of my mastectomy, I defended my dissertation successfully. All of the sudden, everything was done.  I was no longer a cancer patient. I was no longer a PhD student. I was exhausted, but  couldn’t figure out if it was from months of cancer treatment or from years of dissertation writing. In the midst of my confusion, a grad school friend named Kate approached me and asked if I’d be interested making some music about my experience with cancer. She was a queer, feminist musical storyteller and she thought one of my blog posts would make a great song.

I saw my own work reflected in her request. For years, I have asked youth to trust me enough to make video stories about their lives. I believe in the power of collaborative storytelling and in the relationship between storytelling and social justice. And so even though I can’t sing even remotely in tune, I stepped out of my own comfort zone, and took her up on her offer.

What transpired was nothing short of magical. We sat on her living room couch and I told Kate my cancer story, and she listened. She really, deeply, carefully listened. And then she harmonized my stories, and we worked together to craft a song, Breast Cancer Pink, that beautifully narrated how much I hate the pink ribbon, how angry I felt about my cancer catastrophe and my nascent hope that I might actually survive the whole ordeal.

In my academic work I have written about youth voice in media programming, and about the idea that youth can experience agency by making digital stories. As Kate and I sat together and wrote that song, and later, as we recorded it in a professional music studio and eventually produced a music video for it, I felt like my voice was heard. I felt empowered. I felt agentive. I was experiencing the rush of possibility, the hopefulness, and incredible healing power of art-making that I have so often written about as an academic. And it was awesome.

I listened to the song on repeat. Again and again and again. Like four thousand times. There was something so incredibly healing about this musical artifact that so simply and so clearly communicated about this experience that had previously felt so shameful, so invisible, and so embarrassing. On the morning we were to shoot the music video, my grad school friends all showed up in downtown Vancouver to be part of the chorus I envisioned singing together at the end of the song. I wasn’t alone with the cancer anymore- in the making of this song and music video, I found a tangible way to share my story and bring my community into my experience.

As I reflect on the production of the song and music video alongside my academic work on youth and media, I can’t help but notice the synergy between the projects. I’ve always understood that media can facilitate something really magical for people with a story to tell, that media can make visible stories that have felt shameful or embarrassing, but Breast Cancer Pink gave me an entirely different and deeply embodied way to think about media art, healing, and community. And for that, all I can say is thank you, world, for conspiring to bring so much awesome into my life.


We’re All In the Same Boat

The European tour is going splendidly!  So far I’ve spoken at University of Aberdeen (2 events by me:  Hacking the US Academic Job Market, Academic Leadership for Women; 1 event by Kellee Weinhold: The US Academic Interview), at University of St. Andrews (Keynote for the Making Your Ph.D. Work for You conference), and University of Edinburgh (Hacking the US Academic Job Market).  Here are some pics!

At Aberdeen

At Aberdeen, in the 7th floor room, a blizzard whirling outside!

With the wonderful organizer at St. Aberdeen, Prof. Amy Bryzgel

With the wonderful organizer at St. Aberdeen, Prof. Amy Bryzgel

At St. Andrews

At St. Andrews

With the organizer at Edinburgh, Carol MacDonald

With the organizer at Edinburgh, Carol MacDonald

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Talking to grad students after the event at Edinburgh


The rooms have been packed at each event – with almost 150 people coming at Edinburgh. One surprise—the large number of American students and faculty here in Scotland!  At the undergraduate level as well, apparently.

Here’s what I can say:  the Ph.D. students here have mostly the same anxieties and concerns that they do in the States.  How can I get a job? Where are the jobs? Do I really have to publish? What about postdocs? How important is teaching?

What Ph.D. students here don’t seem to have is huge debt (thankfully).  What they are most worried about is a lack of teaching experience—in their 3-year Ph.D. system, there is no standard practice of TA-ing or teaching.  And they are anxious that while the 3-year program is quick and relatively affordable, it leaves them without time for significant publishing.

The other big question is this:  how is a Scottish Ph.D. read on the American job market?  I have tried to be honest:  like any non-US-elite Ph.D., a Ph.D. from an institution like Aberdeen, St. Andrews, and even to some degree Edinburgh, is going to be harder to interpret for US search committees.  They probably won’t have much familiarity, and may find it more difficult to relate to than a standard “default” like Berkeley, Michigan, Cornell, and the like…

I tell them what I tell all audiences: you can compete to the degree that you render yourself legible to search committees through your record and your materials.  An excellent publication and grant record will make a huge difference. Try and have one US-based recommender if you can.  In an over-stressed job market, with distracted and exhausted search committees in downsized departments, make sure that your record makes sense according to American hiring standards, and makes your case quickly and with evidence rather than rhetoric.

The UK seems not to be as deep into adjunctification as we are in the States, but is far deeper in a quantitative productivity rubric (the REF).  I was interviewed about this in a piece published in The Guardian.

At the same time, Andrew McRae of the University of Exeter argues on his blog that the REF, as well as the National Student Survey, in mandating productivity rubrics, is working against a logic of casualization of labor.  Interesting.  I will be asking my hosts their thoughts about this as I move forward, next to Kings College London and London School of Economics.

In a global contraction of higher ed, we are fighting for our livelihoods and the space to pursue intellectual pursuits free of a profit motive.  What I can say is: we are all in this together.

Chasing Rainbows – An Adjunct Farewell

An email I received earlier this year.  If you are confronting a similar situation, remember that my post-ac team can help, and the initial consult is completely free.
At this point, I am giving up. This interview was my last real shot at academia and it is no longer financially and mentally sound for me to continue working toward the goal that I have desperately been trying to achieve (and thought I would) for eight years. It has been taxing, but now it is too much. I am now living the adjunct’s life I feared, shuttling between campuses to earn a few thousand dollars for each class. I just don’t have the ability to convince myself anymore into thinking that adjuncting is going to pay off.
Moreover, I am also a father. My son was born in 2012, and addition to teaching 3 to 4 classes a semester, I have also been his primary caregiver since my wife had to go back to teaching after 2 months. (In XX city, there is no maternity leave for teachers.) This meant that in addition to teaching, applying for grants and fellowships, revising a dissertation for publication, for 5 days a week from 8 to 5, I was taking care of my son from the time he was two months to now. (Having these roles made me realize how gender inequality in academia works when the duties of the private sphere–which wasn’t even the case with me– are exclusively thrust upon women, while at the same time they are expected to produce as scholars and be great teachers.)  This has also meant that I am not the priority anymore, my son is and always will be. I simply can’t forsake his future happiness and education to continue chasing rainbows.
In short, I am 35 years old and I have been mostly adjuncting for 8+ years now (except for a few years where I received fellowships in exchange for teaching). I have no money–in fact I am $30,000 in debt from undergrad and grad school. All the money we have saved is contributed by my wife, who is an elementary school teacher and has supported me financially and psychologically through the grad school and job market process. Without her, I would not be able to continue through grad school and go on the market, which I feel incredibly terrible about at this point. I just feel universally overwhelmed and rudderless.

The problem is I simply don’t know what to do. I never had a backup to academia. I don’t particularly like the institution of academia (the inequality among adjuncts and the academic 1%, the elitism, snobbery, increasing neoliberalism), but I love teaching. More important to me, I want to keep writing and publishing. I just don’t know where to go do these things. I applied to jobs in the federal government, thinking that might be a start, but I am not sure. But I do know that I do not want to feel this way anymore. I want to earn a living for myself and my son and be rewarded for my work, not underpaid, ignored, and rejected.

I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take the instability and the constant rejection. I can’t keep trying to make people notice me so that I can feed my ego and feel validated. It’s not working.

Reflections On Our Way to Europe

As this goes out to you today, I am on my way, accompanied by my partner in crime Kellee Weinhold, to Scotland to start a month-long speaking tour of Scotland, England, Denmark, and Switzerland.

Here’s the schedule:

University of Aberdeen: April 25-26
University of St. Andrews: April 27
University of Edinburgh: April 29
Kings College London: May 3
London School of Economics: May 4
University of Oxford: May 6
University of Cambridge: May 9
University of Warwick: May 10
Roskilde University, Denmark: May 12
University of Zurich, Switzerland: May 19

I’ll be speaking mainly about the US academic job market, but also, at different points, about the post-ac transition, interviewing, and academic leadership for women.

Here’s where we’re going, pictorially:


University of Aberdeen


University of St. Andrews (founded 1413)


University of Edinburgh


Oxford University


(Kellee and I will be having dinner at High Table at Worcester College, Oxford, invited by historian Josephine Quinn)


Dinner at High Table, Oxford


Cambridge University



Roskilde University (ah, Denmark…)


University of Zurich


There are moments when you wonder, how did I get from where I was, to where I am now?  And you marvel. This is one of those moments.  That is all.

The Post-Ac’s Guide to the Resume

by TPII Post-ac Coach Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal


Many job applicants make common and nearly universal mistakes in their resumes, but some are more specific to people with PhDs. I also made many of these same mistakes until I became a supervisor and realized just how tiresome it is to sift through a stack of resumes that bury what you need to know in way too much detail and overdone formatting. Even though it is part of a supervisor’s job to review resumes, it is one small job duty among many others that are more critical and more demanding. Supervisors aren’t going to spend extra time on your resume if yours takes more effort to read than most of the rest. If you want the job, make your future supervisor’s job easier—give them a resume that shows in simple and clear language what you can do for them.

Pass the <10 Second Scan Test

Professional recruiters only spend a mean of 6 seconds scanning each resume. The first goal with your resume is to pass the scan test that decides whether to put you in a “no” or “consider” pile. That first round of elimination will be done by a computer or an actual human (possibly HR staff, the actual hiring supervisor, or one of your potential future co-workers delegated the task of culling applications). The more applicants there are, the more crude and error prone that first round of elimination. If your value as a potential employee is buried in a bunch of irrelevant text, you increase your chances of elimination because your job materials won’t be read closely enough to uncover it.  If you use the same terminology from the job ad to describe your skills, experience, and accomplishments you have a better chance of passing that first cursory scan. If you make it into the consider pile, your application will get more attention later to determine interview selections.

Large employers have online application submission systems. The best way to deal with these is to go around them and deal directly with the hiring supervisor (more on this in my next few blog posts). Some hiring supervisors are required by policy to hire from the pool of applicants that submitted to the online system. If this is the case, then you should both contact the supervisor directly to find out more about the job and submit to the online system.

Organizations that routinely receive hundreds of applications for some positions may have a uniform policy to use “applicant tracking system” (ATS) software to sort through applicants. This can be as minimal as a source to view and download applications or as substantial as parsing your information into a database and summarizing it into a report with a score for how well your resume matches the job description (for more on this read: 5 Insider Secrets for Beating Applicant Tracking Systems and How to Get the Applicant Tracking System to Pick Your Resume). If your resume is formatted in an unusual way, it may cause reads errors for the ATS and your application will likely just get rejected. Don’t give it a reason to cull your application!

Formatting Basics

No special paper, fonts, tables, or graphics (including watermarks). Attempts to grab attention don’t make anyone look special or stand out (in a good way), ever, only desperate to be special. These sort of tactics are typically employed by those with few or no relevant skills and experience—this is not the group you want to be associated with. You don’t need to grab attention—you are going to apply to jobs and write cover letters and resumes that deserve attention because they have substance.

1 to 2 pages long with breaks between short paragraphs. If the applicant pool is relatively small, the hiring supervisor will likely review about 10-15 applicants. If each applicant has a 1 page resume and a 1 page cover letter, that is 20-30 pages of text to read through and assess. Each page of your application is precious real estate. Shorter is better as long as you’ve covered all elements. Never submit your full and lengthy master resume, thoroughly describing all of your work experience, for any job application. You will edit down a specific version of each job application highlighting your duties, skills, and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job description, with little to no additional information.

Standard 1 inch margins and standard 12pt font. Use a simple, standard and readable font type (such as Calibri, Arial, Georgia, Garamond, or even plain old Times New Roman). What matters is that it is easy to read and not annoying (like Gothic or Script type fonts, seriously).

The Necessary Elements

Name and contact information. List simply and on separate lines: your name, email, phone number and LinkedIn profile address. No fancy bullets or graphics (even simple lines) to separate them. This will mess with the ATS and is visually distracting. Keep it simple!

Work experience. For each item list employer or organization, your title, and dates. Or your title, then employer, then dates. Just don’t put dates first—it will throw-off an ATS that parses resumes. 1-2 sentences that describe the position, followed by bullet points describing your most relevant skills and accomplishments in terms used in the job description.

Don’t try to make your resume more interesting by using similar, but slightly different words. The people reviewing your resume have the words from the job description in mind when scanning your resume, so use those.

Phrase your skills as fact, not opinion. Anyone can say “Excels at data analyses,” however, “Performed multilevel GLM analyses in Stata and SAS for multiple projects” tells the prospective supervisor something specific about your experience.

Work experience doesn’t have to be in chronological order—you can list these in order of relevance for the job you are applying to. Have little to no detail for jobs that are less relevant.

Include your dissertation research! This is where you honed your most important professional skill—managing all aspects of a major project. Your title will be something like “Doctoral Candidate,” “Research Fellow,”  or “Visiting Scholar,” depending on whether you were funded, at a field site or research center, etc. Include any experiences that built the skills you have for the jobs you want and put a title on it. The key is nothing with “student” in it.

Education. Yes, this goes after work experience and not before it. It probably seems most important to you if you’ve recently been steeped in earning it, but your work experience matters more. Also, only use the header “Education” so the ATS can recognize it. List the most recent degree first, with: degree type, department or program, locations, and date received. Nothing more. No details on your coursework, thesis, dissertation, etc.

The Optional Elements

Skills. If you include a section that lists skill separately, do not put it at the top and only use it to summarize skills that are evident in your work experience. This should go at the bottom. Too often applicants use this as a way to stuff in a bunch of keywords that appear in the job description, but not in their work experience, in an effort to get an interview. For this reason, a skills section at the top is a red flag that the applicant may not be qualified—again, not the group you want to be associated with.

Professional associations, certifications, and other credentials. If these are relevant to the job you are applying to, then include them after education. Otherwise, omit them.

The Elements to Exclude

References. No one should call your references until after interviews are completed and they’ve at least narrowed it down to a few equally good candidates. Unfortunately, not all employers follow the rules on references. If you are doing a stealth job search and don’t want your references to know you are on the job market, it is critical you avoid giving them out early. If you have to (some online submissions require it) leave out anyone who you are not ready for them to contact. If you get an interview, you can provide an updated reference list at the appropriate time.

Career goal statement. This is unnecessary and does nothing to showcase your skills and accomplishments. Your immediate goal is obvious—a new job, preferably this one. Don’t waste your precious resume real estate on this.

Applicant summary/profile statement. Again, this does nothing to showcase your skills and accomplishments and wastes precious resume real estate. However, you should absolutely have this on your LinkedIn profile and that is why you will include a link to it at the top of your resume.