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

by Post-ac Career Coach Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Academia is a climate of constant and unrelenting criticism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here is my message to you:

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

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

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

You are free.


Don’t Be That Asshole (by Kellee Weinhold)

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


Kellee, accompanied by Penelope the Rabbit.

Kellee, accompanied by Penelope the Rabbit.

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

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

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

Colleagues or assholes?  That is the question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several forms these questions can take.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some departments fall back on more traditional private sector questions:

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be that asshole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

UCLA Makes Excuses About Sexual Harassment – Guest Post Part II

by Cassia Roth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Call to Action:

Contact UCLA directly to protest non-action on Piterberg.


Chancellor Gene Block

UCLA Chancellor’s Office

Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405


Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh

UCLA Office of the Chancellor

2147 Murphy Hall, Box 951405

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405


Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang

UCLA School of Law

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East

Los Angeles, CA, 90095


Vice Chancellor of Academic Personnel Carole Goldberg


Stephen Aron, Chair, Department of History




letter_Page_1 letter_Page_2

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

Get Unstuck! Productivity Coaching from The Professor Is In

by Kellee Weinhold

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


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

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

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

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

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


Let’s Talk (50 minutes) $250

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

Academic Life Reboot Strategy Session (90 minutes) $350

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

Writing Project Planning Strategy Session (90 minutes) $350

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

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

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

UNSTUCK Platinum Consulting packages can cover many areas, including:

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

UNSTUCK PLATINUM30 – 30 days ($950)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cut From the Tenure Track – A Guest Post

by Katheryn Bilbo

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


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

There was absolutely no warning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCLA Allows Sexual Harassment- Guest Post and Call to Action

by Cassia Roth

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

Dr. Cassia Paigen Roth

Cassia Paigen Roth


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Call to Action:

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

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

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh

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

Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang

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

Stephen Aron, Chair, Department of History


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


Fiction Editing, Part I: Editors – Out-Ac Post by Joe Fruscione

by TPII Out-Ac Coach and Consultant, Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Dr. Joe Fruscione

As a freelancer, you have different options for projects. Developmental, STEM, and academic editing are well suited to post-ac freelancers. Post-acs with Humanities backgrounds might also do well editing fiction. I’ve copy edited two novel manuscripts before the authors shopped them around. Both projects came through word-of-mouth. Since my PhD and teaching background are in English and Writing, I enjoyed the work.

For this post and the follow-up, I’ll discuss two sides of freelance fiction editing: this one features three editors, and the next will feature three writers who’ve hired freelancers. These pieces will help current and future post-ac freelancers better

1)    see the different editing opportunities available,

2)    understand the diverse writing marketplace,

3)    expand their client base,

4)    frame their academic background and skills effectively for fiction editing, and

5)    network with colleagues and potential clients.

I’ve gotten some projects and many new colleagues on Twitter. The conversations and hashtags give freelancers a great lay of the land, as well as offer new post-acs a thriving online community (see #WithAPhD, #FreelanceLife, and #Postac). I met all three of these editors on Twitter, and we chat regularly about editing, networking, language, and other facets of freelance life.

Blake Leyers is a developmental editor who works with novelists to help shape and fine-tune their work. She evaluates structure, plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, tone, clarity, and style. Karen Conlin is primarily a copy or line editor, but she also offers “developmental critiques”—what she calls the 30,000-foot level. Katie Rose Guest Pryal is a fellow post-ac who’s thrived as a freelance writer and editor; I’ll be drawing on her expertise here and in the follow-up piece.


Blake, Karen, and Katie have much to offer in terms of helping new and future post-acs network, get projects, and work effectively. They all rely, at some level, on referrals and social media to get new projects.

Blake: I was a beta reader for many writers and received much encouragement, so I decided to pursue a career as a freelance editor. Twitter makes all the difference in the world. It allows me to interact with people I probably wouldn’t meet otherwise. It gives me the opportunity to learn from my peers, as well as generate new business.

Karen: I’m very active on Google+ and Twitter, as are many of my clients; they talk me up pretty regularly. Twitter has put me in contact with some publishing-house pros I’d never have met otherwise. I’ve learned so much from them and the lexicographers and linguists. It’s also given my clients and me a platform for marketing and for getting a few jobs.

After you’ve connected with a client, establish the project scope, timeline, and payment up front:

Blake: When approached by a prospective client, I provide details of my services and what tools I use, ask for basic information about the manuscript (genre, synopsis, length), and seek clarification on what type of editorial help is wanted.

Katie: When deciding on scope of work, it’s really important to decide that in advance. Is this developmental editing? Is it line editing? Proofing? These are all different kinds of work that take wildly different amounts of time. In my experience working as an editor with first-time authors, they almost always think their books are a stage beyond where the books actually are. Clients will say, “It just needs some proofing” when it actually needs heavy line editing. Or, “If you could just line edit for me” when it really needs some seriously developmental work.

Whether it’s Katie’s “stage beyond,” Karen’s “30,000-foot level,” or something special you offer, knowing what insight you’ll give your clients is key. The more rigorous your editorial work, the higher your fee structure should be. Editing is work; don’t undersell yourself.


I asked them what mistakes they’ve made, learned from, and would caution other freelancers to avoid. Every new freelancer makes mistakes, perhaps in not having strong policies to protect your time and labor.

Blake: When I was charging by page, I quickly learned to clarify that my rates were based on the standard format for manuscript submissions: 1” margins all around, 12 point font in Times New Roman or Courier typeface. With a per-page pricing model, these details can make a big difference. I also learned to always clarify my scope of work and verify the client’s expectations and intentions. If a former client approaches me about a new project, I outline my services for them again in case anything has changed since our last project.

Karen: Don’t overschedule yourself. Now that I’ve been doing this and have a stable client base with many repeats, I know I can handle up to 200K words in a calendar month, generally speaking. Even so, I know some clients require more attention and work than others. Learning who needs what is a vital part of the job.

Katie: Start freelancing soon. Don’t wait. Don’t worry. You don’t have to quit your day job. Start building up freelancing income streams now. Make friends. Make contacts in your field. You may never be able to quit your day job. But you can always freelance.

I’ve overbooked myself and not read a writing sample closely enough—both of which led to a harried editing schedule. Before doing any work, request a writing sample to help you prepare an estimate, and look for things the client might not be as aware of as you are: wordiness, small point size or margins, formatting issues, and the like. Knowing what kinds of work you can and will do helps you budget your time and labor accordingly.


If you’ve left or are planning to leave academia, Always Be Connecting—whether via email, social media, or talking about your career change. Like Blake, Karen, and Katie, I’ve gotten a lot of editing work simply from friends and professional acquaintances knowing that I switched careers. The more your network knows what you do and how well you do it, the more freelance projects you’ll have.

If you’re on Twitter or LinkedIn, connect with Blake, Karen, Katie, and others doing similar work. The freelance community—especially among post-acs—is generally helpful for seeking advice, connections, and potential collaborators. I regularly stress how important it is for post-acs to network with colleagues, former professors, other freelancers, and clients to strengthen their freelancing presence. If, like Blake and many others, your “ear for grammar and love for story” complement your editing skills, you can add fiction projects to your repertoire. The opportunities are out there.

My Top Five Tips for Turning Your Dissertation Into a Book–A Special Request Post

This is a repost from 2011.


Today is another Special Request Post.  This one is from Maria, who asks, do I have a template (like my Foolproof Grant Template) for turning a dissertation into a book?

No, Maria, I do not.  The process of turning the dissertation into a book will be different for every writer, and doesn’t lend itself to a template.  But there are some tips that I can offer for easing the process and making it more efficient.  This post is my Top Five Tips for Turning Your Dissertation Into a Book.

Why should you turn your dissertation into a book, you ask?

If you are in a book field, the fact is, your dissertation must be transformed into a book to be of full value to you.  The dissertation alone counts for little in the academic career.  The dissertation serves you only insofar as you can quickly transform it into the commodities that bring value on the market—peer reviewed articles (preferably published before you defend and start the job search), high profile grants that funded the research, high profile conferences in which you present the research publicly, and finally, the advance contract for the book from a major (NOT minor) academic press.  These are the tangible accomplishments that you must have to be competitive for a tenure track position at this point in time.

So here are The Professor’s Top Five Tips for Turning your Dissertation into a Book.

1)  Write the dissertation as a book to begin with.

Write from day one with a wide market of undergraduates in mind.  You want the book to be assigned as a text in undergraduate courses in your field.  Write it so those undergraduates can read it.  Don’t spend endless pages on tiresome, tedious obscurities of interest to 10 people in your sub- sub- sub-field.  Remember that the methodology section will be entirely removed from the book mss.  And the literature review will be almost entirely removed, with a small section folded into the Introduction or other chapters.  Conceptualize and write the entire thing remembering that these sections, while critical to your committee, are short-lived.  Don’t obsess about them; do the minimum, and move on.   In the meantime, put extra effort into a catchy, appealing Introduction and Conclusion.  These speak to readers, and to the editors and reviewers who will judge your mss. for publication.

2)  Make it short.

Academic publishing is in the same epic financial crisis as the rest of the academic world.  Publishers are going out of business right and left, and those that remain are under pressure to publish books that actually sell and make a profit (unlike the old days when it was understood that scholarly monographs rarely broke even).  Publishers must keep their production costs low, and this means they want shorter books.  I can promise you that if you present them with a 500 page monograph on the significance of the turtle as a symbol in 12th century religious iconography in Spain, for example, they are going to send it back with a polite email telling you they won’t be considering it until it is cut in half.

3) Know your market.

The dissertation may be treated like the intellectual achievement par excellence in your doctoral program, but in the real world of jobs with benefits, it is a commodity that has value only when it can be traded for gain on the market.  Ask yourself what sort of class your diss/book is suited for.  Do a google search of such classes and find out what kinds of books are assigned.  Take a look at those books and see what their main selling points seem to be.  Then ask yourself how you can adjust and mold your dissertation to be the kind of book that serves that market (without losing sight of your actual project and findings, of course!).  When you send the mss. to presses, you will be able to feature this “market research” prominently in your cover letter.

4) Don’t be boring.

Write with style and flair.  Just because you *can* write clunky, graceless prose in academia, and get away with it, doesn’t mean you *should.*  Be provocative.  Be original.  Be incendiary.  If your committee shies away from such showmanship, write a shadow chapter that you include once you’ve defended and are ready to send the mss. out to presses.  Presses are not interested in “solid scholarship.”  They are interested in products that sell.  Products that sell have to be differentiated from the competition–ie, they have to be exciting, new, and different.

5) Remember that your committee is not the world.

You have to please your committee to get a Ph.D., but you have to impress the presses to get a career.  Your committee controls you for a few years, but your book establishes your career trajectory for decades.  Set your eye on the prize, and don’t lose sight of it.  Do what you have to to satisfy your committee, but don’t ever forget who is in charge:  you.  You have an agenda, and that is publishing an influential, high-profile book with a top press.  Do not be derailed by committee politics and wrangles over whether you included XX citation in chapter 3 or properly acknowledged ZZ’s work in chapter 4.  Follow your own star, defend your positions, compromise when you must, and move on as efficiently as you can.  The best dissertation is a finished dissertation that is already a press-ready mss.

Here is my dissertation story:

I wrote a doctoral dissertation on why some young, single Japanese women in the early 1990s were demonstrating a striking enthusiasm for studying abroad, living abroad, working abroad, and finding white Western men to be their lovers and husbands.  My peers and professors in my graduate program severely disapproved of this project, and I was told by countless people that it wasn’t “legitimate” anthropology.  However, when I sent the mss. out to presses, not only did I get two competing advance contracts, I ended up getting an actual ADVANCE from the press.  This is practically unheard of for young academic writers peddling scholarly monographs.  The reason?  My book was provocative. It was original.  It had some naughty pictures.  I ignored the negative comments in my department.  And while I was absolutely committed to the project as a scholarly project  – based on the highest standards I could muster of ethnographic fieldwork, theoretical engagement, and disciplinary contribution —  I also wrote it to sell.  And, while it was published in 2001,  in 2015, I am still getting a (microscopically small) royalty check!

The World of the Freelance Writer – Viviane Callier

by Viviane Callier, new TPII Out-Ac Coach

Dr. Viviane Callier

Dr. Viviane Callier

The world of freelance writing is an exciting one. Freelancing attracts academics and former academics because we value the intellectual freedom to work on and write about what we find interesting. And most of us have things to say!

So here’s a whirlwind introduction to the world of freelancing. I’ll focus here on freelance science writing, because that’s my expertise, but I think much of my experience applies more broadly to freelancing as a whole.

First, it is important to understand the ecosystem of the freelance writing world. I’ll focus on three types of writing work: op-ed writing, journalism, and communications. (there’s also technical writing, manuscript writing, white papers, regulatory writing, etc. which I won’t discuss here).

An op-ed is a short (800 words max) piece that makes an argument. It is usually pegged to a news hook. Many academics and former academics are in a position to write a compelling op-ed based on their expertise, and they can often provide perspectives that are new and interesting. Op-ed writing does not typically pay anything–the reason to write one is to share an argument of public value.

Journalism is the work done by an independent reporter who is beholden only to his or her readers. The ideal journalist brings value to the reader and has no connections or ties to sources and certainly no financial conflicts of interest that would prevent them from reporting objectively. An ethical journalist avoids reporting on issues for which he or she has a conflict of interest. Freelance journalism pays, but not very much.

Communications is the work done by an institution (government, non-profit, academic, private) to promote its own work, activities, or products. The communicator is beholden not to his or her readers, but to the entity which is paying them to promote their work. The fact that a communicator writes about the entity from which they receive a paycheck precludes completely objective reporting. That doesn’t mean that communicators have to lie. But it means that there is always an agenda. Communications work typically pays well.

Remember: as a journalist you are beholden to your readers. As a communicator you are beholden to the person who pays you (usually the entity you are writing about).

Now for the big reveal (ahem): journalism is in crisis. Staff positions are few and far between. Freelance journalism rates are lower than they have ever been. Journalists are going “alt-journ” at the same rates as academics are going “alt-ac.” It’s extremely challenging to make a living as a freelance journalist these days, and most successful freelancer journalists have spent years establishing themselves, back when the freelancing climate wasn’t so tough.

Does that mean you should not do any freelance journalism or op-ed writing? No. There are many reasons to write and not all of them have to do with money. If you have an interesting story, if you have something that needs to be said–then you should say it. But for the love of everything holy, don’t count on making a living at it full time.

You, the sensible readers of TPII, have the sense not to rely on adjuncting full-time to make a living. Freelance journalism, like adjunct teaching, can be worthwhile if you’re doing it for the right reasons (and that reason is not money).

Instead, use your other work to subsidize these passion projects. In the case of freelancing you are in luck because your same skillset can be used to command more money as a communicator. Government agencies have to inform the public about their activities and programs. Universities communicate about the exciting research that is being conducted on their campuses. Private companies produce a variety of materials to promote their products. These are just some of the plentiful opportunities in communications work, and they pay much better than journalism.

Most freelancers that I know have a varied portfolio of work that includes journalism as well as communications. The trick is to keep the communications work separate from the journalism to avoid any conflicts of interest. If you’re not sure if something is a conflict of interest, it’s usually best to explain the situation to your editor and let them make the call. Be transparent; it’s better to pass on an assignment than to lose an editor’s trust.

When you have a mix of journalism and communications work, some of the well-paying work is going to subsidize the work that matters to you but doesn’t pay as well. There is nothing wrong with subsidizing some projects with better paying ones. Everybody does it. Even tenured professors do. Have you ever met a tenured professor who enjoyed sitting in on committee meetings? Me neither. Serving on committees is the work that subsidizes them to do the work they love–usually research.

As a freelancer, you’ll have to be very clear with yourself about what each of your assignments is providing for you. Some assignments will pay really well, although they might be tedious or boring. Some assignments won’t pay as well, but the client might be a delight to work with, and could be on a topic of interest to you. It helps to make a list of all the things you need from your freelance work (money, nice clients, interesting subject matter, ability to work on projects of your choice, variety, room to follow your curiosity, etc.). It is unlikely that you will find one assignment that will meet all of those needs–but as a smart freelancer, you can find infinite ways to assemble a varied portfolio that meets those needs as a whole.