The Job Search is Not a Striptease

One of my pet peeves in job documents is when the job candidate coyly gestures toward a research conclusion, without actually coming out and saying what the conclusion is.

I have no idea why so many job seekers are so invested in this coyness.  The job search is not a striptease; you don’t get points for strategically withholding.  That withholding does not make search committees perk up and take notice. It makes them bored and irritated, and motivated to instantly move on to people who can actually articulate their arguments and conclusions.

This coy withholding is done through the vague meta-claim.  Here are some examples:

“I conclude that gender plays a significant role in xx.”

Really?  And we care why?

No.  We need to know: WHAT ROLE does gender play?  WHAT ROLE????  Spell it out!

“I discovered that there is a relationship between xx and yy.” 

Really?  IS THAT INTERESTING?  (no).

WHAT RELATIONSHIP did you find between xx and yy?  Spell it out!

“I argue that this is an example of neoliberalism.”

SERIOUSLY?  WHAT ISN’T, at this point?   Tell us, instead, HOW, SPECIFICALLY, IS THIS AN EXAMPLE OF NEOLIBERALISM??  What is neoliberal about this particular thing at this particular place and time, among these particular populations?

“I conclude that policy is not linear or static, but multidimensional and changing.”

WHO IN 2017 SAYS ANYTHING IS LINEAR OR STATIC?  Don’t waste our time with idle pseudo-theoretical posturing.  If I were on a search committee I’d throw out the letter from sheer irritation at the combination of tendentiousness, self-importance, and cluelessness.  TELL US A SPECIFIC CONCLUSION: “Policy emerged from the input of [xx actors], [yy actors], and [zz actors], operating in [xx condition] and [yy location], and shifted in response to [xx event] and [yy event].”

Don’t tease, job seekers; show us what you’ve got.

(By the way, this is a close cousin to both stating the obvious, and making claims so painfully general as to be meaningless.  Please read and study these posts and banish generic verbiage.)

Of Wagons, Paths and Cliffs: Unstuck Productivity Post

Kellee Weinhold

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post and Podcast! Each Tuesday, I post a short blog post and recorded coaching session.  For earlier posts see this and this.

We all fall. It’s getting back up that tests us.

This past spring when as I was preparing to launch the UNSTUCK program, Karen and I decided to add a weekly Facebook Live session on productivity to our client engagement. (Thursdays at 11:00 a.m. Eastern)

Our motivation was twofold: We were looking for an efficient way to answer the endless questions about how to stay motivated in this “shit-shellacked era of epic stupid” (Doug Wendig) and we were looking for a way to introduce me and my coaching program to our readership in a way that showcased how I work.

Unlike Karen’s work with client documents, which is done entirely by email, my work with clients in Interview and Job Talk Interventions and One-on-One Coaching is all face to face. We meet. We talk. I provide feedback in the moment. You leave better prepared to face your next challenge.

Karen and I try to mimic that experience on FB: We show up. You show up. We do us. You do you. If we remain willing to listen, we all learn something. From our side of the camera, it is awesome! We love it.

So if something is good why not do more, right?

In July, we decided I should start contributing regularly to The Professor is In blog. The argument for this additional commitment? 1) New information on the blog. 2) More ways for readers to know who I am and how I work.  It would be simple: I would write a short blog post and record a short podcast based on that teaching.

That was in the short term. In the long term, I imagined the productivity posts would evolve into a full blown podcast. We would migrate our FB messages to an additional platform, with guests and coaching and interaction!

Are you noticing a theme here? In addition to having deep convictions (read: endless opinions) and a willingness share them broadly, Karen and I subscribe to the “Cool! That worked! What else can we do?” School of Life.

The whole thing was plugging along. I can’t say that it was my favorite thing. I don’t really enjoy writing or talking into space. I like conversation. But, I had a goal in mind. This was just a shitty first draft, if you will.

Then life happened. (As life so often does when we are just trying to get an idea up and running.)

The first week of August, I was on the Oregon coast with my parents to celebrate my birthday. I dutifully took my laptop and my microphone for recording my weekly commitment and as promised on Tuesday, August 2nd, I uploaded my post.

On Wednesday morning at 5 a.m. I heard my mother calling my name. She had woken up unable to move her right side. She had had a stroke.

And I haven’t written a column since.

Now, before you come over here in my lane and start telling me how it’s all ok, and you understand and I should have some grace with myself…. take a deep breath and let me handle it.

Don’t forget, I am a writer. I coach writers. I know all of the bullshit games we play. I know them because I do them and I see them.

I also know that no matter how good our plan is, no matter how much we have a goal in sight, life happens. We fall off wagons. We lose our way on our carefully planned paths. We fall off unforeseen cliffs into unknown terrain.

We do it for big, life altering reasons. We do it for small, petty, insecure reasons.

So the first lesson of today’s post. We ALL falter. If you think you are the only one, you are not paying attention.

Second lesson: When we falter, we all have the same two options. Stay down or get up.

Notice I didn’t say, return to the wagon, or the path or the top of the cliff. I don’t think we can go back. And I think the desire to “go back” to the time before we faltered is actually WHY we get stuck. It is the backward gaze, longing to erase the shame of not doing what we planned, that allows for more and more days to pass without writing.

Today, you are reading this productivity column on The Professor is In blog not because I went back to August 9th and wrote a column while supporting my parents, but because I am choosing to let that day be the past.

Just like I am letting August 15th — when we dropped the oldest at Berkeley for her first year of college — be the past. And August 22nd when I just could not manage one more thing on my to-do list and writing a column was not on it.

Those three Tuesdays are gone. There is no going back.

When I accept that there can be no other outcome for the those Tuesdays, I am also forced to accept that they were days I didn’t write.  THEN the work is accepting that that not writing is a fact, but it doesn’t have to be a failure. Now THAT is really hard to accept.

It is much more familiar (and therefore easy!) to carry those no writing days as failures. Rocks in my backpack that I can habitually pull out and pet like a beloved companion, all the while reinforcing my story that I “just can’t” write.

It takes a conscious choice to set the past down and face today for what it is: A blank slate where we get to choose: get up or stay down?

Today, I chose to write.

Next week, I’ll add a recording!

Final lesson of today’s post: Lower the barrier to entry. Do whatever you can instead of what you think you “should.”

Let’s Talk Backpacks

Of all my  job market advice, the admonition *Do Not Carry a Backpack* is among the most well known.  Readers meeting me for the first time often proudly display their newly acquired briefcases, and those who email often tell me stories of benighted graduate school peers STILL lugging backpacks around their conferences.

I stand by this advice–in the sense that it is meaningful to sartorially mark your transition from the grad student identity to the job seeker/professional identity.  While the bag you carry will not, in and of itself, determine the job you get (it really won’t!), it plays an important role in delivering an image of professionalism (or lack thereof) to interviewers, and also, I think, in solidifying your own inner sense of professional identity. With the important caveat that there are a few fields, such as Astronomy, where sleek and chic briefcases  — or fancy backpacks of the kind I introduce here —  are absolutely not the norm. If you are in such a field, feel free to disregard this advice. However, PLEASE confirm with several trusted senior mentors that your sense of the field is correct.

Sometimes people balk at the idea that any element of appearance should play a role in the search. Your appearance does communicate many messages about you; believing it doesn’t is denial.  What role exactly it plays, however, is subtle. I go into more detail about this unpredictable and unquantifiable role in the post, Data Point, Data Point, Data Point.

However, I want to update my advice.  My partner Kellee Weinhold, who is also our amazing Unstuck productivity coach, suffers from fibromyalgia.  After two extended speaking tours in the UK and Europe the past two summers, it has become unmistakably clear that she should no longer carry a briefcase because it causes her too much back and shoulder pain.

As a result, I went on the market to find a good, professional-looking backpack option.

And lo, I found many!

It turns out, the world of backpacks includes many really sophisticated options that still accomplish the goal of marking a transition from the ratty Jansport of grad school.  So, in this post, I want to share with you the brands I discovered (my links are to my favorite women’s items, but you can search the sites for options, including men’s bags, messenger bags, etc.).

Be aware: most of these are not cheap!  But a good bag should last you for many years, and is one of the most important investments you’ll make in work-related gear.  And some of them can be found on Zappos and other sites, where you may be able to use discount codes, Ebates, and so on.  All of the ones I list here reflect my personal taste – highly streamlined, in black or gray. But there are color and print options for many of them.

First off, my absolute favorite:

Booq Bags, especially the Cobra Squeeze.  This is one cool backpack.  And award-winning too!

Booq Cobra Squeeze






Next, some Honorable Mentions:

Knomo Bags;  I especially like the Reykjavik

Knomo Reykjavik






Rains  (Motto: Defying Danish Weather Since 2012). They make one “backpack”; here it is:

Rains “Backpack”







Next, the price outliers:

Everlane (the most economical brand on the list – the Nylon Square below is $58)

Everlane Nylon Square






Tumi (the least economical brand on the list – the Carbon Fiber Southington below is $1100, but oh my god, look at it! [and there are “cheaper” options in the $500-700 range…!])

Tumi Carbon Fiber Southington







And last, slightly less streamlined but still sharp:

Crumpler, an Australian brand.

Crumpler Great Thaw Bag

And of course, the cult-favorite San Francisco-based Timbuk2, which are totally customizable.  You can get a Froot Loops print. Should you? That’s a separate question.

Timbuk2 Uptown Pack







So, to conclude if physical issues or your mode of transportation require you to use a backpack, you can still make the same stylistic transition as your briefcase-carrying peers!

Victorinox Charisma

If you’re curious, I carry a lightweight soft-sided Victorinox Charisma Work Tote as my briefcase. As my “personal item” on the flight, it’s almost infinitely stuffable so I can fill it with a blanket, snacks, drink, and magazines and book, as well as laptop, kindle, wallet, and toiletries… but it’s lightweight so it doesn’t kill my shoulder!  Upon arrival I take out all the travel gear and it transforms into a respectable briefcase/laptop bag.

However, in my small carry-on suitcase, I always pack this

My beloved daybag

compact yet roomy, feather-weight nylon backpack daybag, as an easy-to-carry purse for sightseeing, restaurants, shopping, and zipping around town.

It’s light, folds up to almost nothing, never wrinkles, doesn’t show dirt, is easy to clean, is waterproof, has outside pockets, holds lots of stuff, has the ease of a backpack for when you have to grab a subway strap, and still looks stylish and put-together in an urban environment. (Note it’s not big enough to hold most laptops).

Bonus: it has the security feature of the main zipper opening on the inside (ie, next to the body). And it’s incredibly sturdy, which is good, because I’m hard on my travel gear.

Similar-looking models are here and here.   These are all Korean-style-inspired (although I think manufactured in China), as Korea seems to be the home of chic small backpacks.  Amazon will show you countless other options. I tried many before settling on this one, and I love it with all my heart!

Feel free to share your briefcase and backpack recommendations below!

Happy Travels!


Revisiting the Cover Letter: Research and Contribution

by Verena Hutter and Karen Kelsky

Karen and Verena

Now that we’ve talked about the intro paragraph of your cover letter, let’s move on to the next paras, the current research and contribution. In a research-oriented Cover Letter, this is going to be about your current project, which in most cases, is the dissertation. It’s what you’ve spent the last few years of your life thinking about, and it is what you’ve sacrificed your social life, your free time and your money for. Like it or not, a good part of your identity is wound up in this piece of writing. And so things get messy.

One of the things we see a lot is dissertation paras that are way, way, way, too long, when all we need is two paras: content and contribution.  Often, candidates get told by their advisers to be really detailed to showcase how special their project is. It may be special, but search committees still have only about 30 seconds to devote to it (out of about 1.5 minutes devoted to the letter as a whole). Search committees need to be able to quickly grasp what your project is about and whether it makes sense. So be short, sweet, and straight to the point.

Avoid Jargon. I don’t care how much you had to deploy it to sound legitimate in your insular and unbelievably pretentious graduate program.  Nobody wants it in a letter.  First off, faculty outside of 2-3 insular and unbelievably pretentious graduate programs absolutely loathe the jargon that those 2-3 programs produce.  Secondly, almost every search committee has an external committee member, and depending on who they are in the university hierarchy, they may be fairly powerful. You need this person on your side. How can they be your champion, if they don’t understand what you’re all about? At TPII, we often tell clients to imagine explaining their topic to an interested upper level undergraduate audience. You need to make your project legible to all of them.  If you think that level is too low, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the conditions of the job search: no time, little energy.   If you are from Comp Lit, English, Ethnic Studies, or Women’s and Gender Studies, please attend to this warning, because I’m talking to most especially TO YOU.

Claim agency.  In the following sentences, the verbs are weak: “My project charts xxxx,” “My dissertation traces yyy,” “My book emphasizes the need to do zzz.” The verbs are not only vague, they also hide your identity as a researcher. During productivity Tuesdays, we talk a lot about the different ways to take agency back. This is one! When you talk about your work, use research action verbs: “analyze”, “compare”, “describe,” “conclude.” Stand by your work, and you won’t have to resort to grandiosity in the next para.

I have written about the difference between content and contribution before:

“In the first dissertation paragraph you talk about the content of your dissertation–main argument, methodology, findings.  In the second paragraph you talk about the contribution your particular argument/findings/approach makes to the larger field you are working in–what does it illuminate, what debates does it intervene in. You have to step back a scale, move away from the topic specifically, and instead use a wider optic to address its advancement of debates in the discipline as a whole.”

It’s essentially the question of how you fit into the academic landscape of your field. Now, because we’re academics, this often means that job candidates veer into one of two extremes: Grandiosity or impostor syndrome. If you’re telling me that the entire school of formal logics has made the same mistake, but that you, the hero of these pages, all alone,  have solved it, forgive me if I am skeptical. Likewise, if you spend the contribution para going on and on about what others didn’t do, or how everybody but you is a blithering idiot, you won’t make any friends. Of course, the other extreme is impostor syndrome, the candidate thinking that they’re not worthy and it’s only a matter of time until they are found out. These candidates often use phrases like “my project follows the tradition of BIG NAME IN MY FIELD and does something very similar.” If you’re not convinced of the contribution and importance of your work, why would you expect the SC to be? The contribution para is the “so what?” question. Why should we care?

I do get asked why on earth we should explain to people in our field how we fit in. Can’t they tell? Actually it doesn’t matter. They nede to hear YOU explain it, so that they know you’ll be able to win funding for the project, and that you’ll be able to show a classroom of undergraduates why it matters. The funding aspect is particularly important: If you show to an SC that you can efficiently communicate your work and its importance, they are more confident that you’ll get grants and funding further down the road.

Writing a solid research/dissertation para gets easier when you step back and remember William Germano’s words: You are not your dissertation. You are not your book. His advice goes hand in hand with what I write early on in the book, long before we’re talking about the nuts and bolts. In chapter 13, I explain that you need to cultivate a professional persona. You may want to talk endlessly about your research, but your “professional persona” will remember to limit the summary to five sentences, because your persona remembers that the job search is about providing actionable information quickly, within the real life time and energy constraints of the search committee. You may want to scream that seriously, you are the only one saving the planet (and if you’ve found the vaccine for HIV, you may), but instead your professional persona will calmly show your work’s importance with evidence and substance, not hysterical posturing, bragging, and grandiosity.

In the long run, cultivating a persona like this will save you from a lot of pain- as you will learn to not take everything that happens as a criticism of you the actual individual, but of your persona and your work. In the short term, it will help you write two fine research and contribution paras.


Working With a Developmental Editor (A Guest Post)

By Dr. Jane Jones

Jane Jones, PhD, an academic editor and writing coach, founded Up In Consulting to work with faculty at all stages of their career to improve the quality of their writing and stay on track. She believes that you do your best writing when you are organized, prepared, have enough time, and have a second pair of eyes to look over your work. Her clients include scholars in the social sciences, humanities, nursing, and public health. They have published in outlets including The American Journal of Sociology, University of Chicago Press, Routledge, and Oxford University Press. You can learn more about her services at*

I decided to become a developmental editor because of my love/hate relationship with academia. When I completed graduate school, it seemed that I had a pretty good gig. I landed a tenure-track job straight out of graduate school, at a small liberal arts college outside of a city in which I enjoyed living. The pay was good and the course load wasn’t terrible. My day-to-day work environment, on the other hand, was awful. The details of that environment are not the important part of my alt-ac journey.  The important moment was three years into this job, when I realized that I hadn’t worked so hard to get a PhD to have a career where there was more that I hated than I loved. I thought hard about the aspects of academic work that excited me –the craft of writing, the exchange of ideas, and the intellectual thrill of research – and how I could incorporate those into a new career. I thought editing would be a perfect fit and so far, it is. Every day I work with clients across disciplines on projects that are fascinating.  It often feels like an indulgence to get to spend so much time reading! I work with writers through different stages of their writing process, as I explain below.

As authors, we often realize something is “off” with our writing, and we may or may not be able to put our finger on what that is. Maybe our thesis seems weak, maybe we’re writing in circles, or maybe we can’t quite articulate a complex argument. Or, we might just recognize that our writing isn’t working –we know we can do better, yet we’re not exactly sure how.

On other occasions, your concerns may emerge during earlier stages of the writing process. You have a wealth of information and content, but are uncertain about how to organize it. Questions about thesis, audience, and organization leave you confused and overwhelmed. Wondering where to start, you don’t, procrastinating instead.

In those situations, you may need a developmental editor.

A developmental editor is a focused, objective reader whose job is to improve the structure, content, and organization of your manuscript. In the world of scholarly writing, developmental editors usually (although not always) have PhDs and work primarily with academic writers. A developmental editor is familiar with the conventions of academic publishing and may specialize in a genre of academic writing like books or articles. Developmental editing is sometimes called manuscript evaluation or substantive editing.

The benefits to working with a developmental editor are many. The most apparent benefit is that your writing improves. Yet, that is not the only advantage. You’ll also work with a reliable outside party who can work with you on your schedule. A developmental editor can also work as a project manager of sorts, helping you to meet deadlines, organize writing projects, and complete revisions in a systematic way.

In the rest of this post, I’ll explain the process of working with a developmental editor and answer commonly asked questions about developmental editing.

How do developmental editors work?

The role of the editor

The relationship you have with a developmental editor is iterative and collaborative.  A developmental editor can work with you to brainstorm ideas, structure and restructure an argument or narrative, or identify a clear and compelling thesis. A developmental editor can see you through multiple drafts of a manuscript, providing the type of exhaustive feedback you may hesitate to request of a colleague or mentor.

A developmental editor will, in some cases, also offer project management. When I work with authors completing a revise and resubmit for instance, we compile a spreadsheet of suggested revisions that serves as the basis for the letter submitted to the editor upon the completion of revisions and develop a timeline for incorporating revisions.

Should the editor be an expert?

You don’t need a subject expert editor for your work. It may feel comforting to have an editor who is familiar with the literature you engage, but it’s not necessary that the person be a specialist. In fact, working with an editor outside of your field can work to your advantage, especially if you desire a reading audience larger than the group of experts in your field.


The process of finding and working with an editor.

When should you start working with a developmental editor?

Although working with a developmental editor early on in is recommended, you can benefit from working with one at many stages of the writing process. For instance, you might want to turn your dissertation into a book. Or, you might have received a revise and resubmit, but feel unsure about how to address the comments and revise the manuscript. Even at later states, you can benefit from an in-depth, substantive critique of a complete draft so you can determine what remains to be done before it’s ready to submit for publication.

How do you find a developmental editor?

There are many developmental editors active on Twitter – if you search hashtags like #altac, #amediting, and #acwri it’s likely you’ll discover quite a few. You can also find a developmental editor through associations like the Editorial Freelancer’s Association. Contact several. During your initial conversations with potential editors, they should ask you how far along you are in your manuscript preparation, what your timeline is, what you believe to be the weaknesses in your manuscript, and where you intend to submit. The D.E should also tell you about their own process. For instance, some editors will only work with complete drafts, while some are willing to intervene at earlier stages. An editor should express interest in your project, and be clear about the timetable during which they are available to work with you.

What you can expect during the process?

A good developmental editor will take her time to prepare an extensive, rigorous critique of your work. You should not expect a marked-up text as you would from a copyeditor or proofreader. Instead, a D.E will write you a memo that outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, addresses any concerns you expressed, and makes suggestions for improving the manuscript. The last step is incredibly important. A developmental editor should not simply tell you what’s wrong and leave you to figure out the rest on your own. They should provide clear, actionable instructions for how you should revise. This process takes time. A book-length manuscript evaluation can take over a month. Be sure to consider this when you consider working with a developmental editor.

Once this memo is complete I have a conversation with my clients (if they desire) to clarify any points that may be confusing or address any additional concerns. At that point, the client has two options: they can revise independently, or I can work with them to complete the revisions. Clients should consider timeline, budget, and personal preferences when deciding how to proceed.

Finally, developmental editing is not for “bad” writers. All writers deserve feedback throughout the writing process. The beauty of a good developmental editor is that the feedback you receive is guaranteed to be timely, organized, and rigorous. Developmental editing is a benefit for every writer.


*I invited Jane to contribute this essay both to explain developmental editing for those who might be interested (it’s not something we do at The Professor Is In) and to provide an example of one successful Ph.D.’s transition from the tenure track to a post-ac, entrepreneurial career ~ Karen K.


Never finished. Never happy. Never mind.

Kellee Weinhold

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post and Podcast! Each Tuesday, I post a short blog post and recorded coaching session.

One of the unifying characteristics of the writers I work with is their general unwillingness to be pleased. No matter what they manage to do, when they meet a goal and I acknowledge the accomplishment, the first response is invariably the same:  “Yeah but…”

Me: Congratulations on finishing your introduction draft!

Yeah but, it’s still really rough.

Me: Well done on getting the article submitted!

Yeah but, it took me forever.

Me: How exciting that you got a book contract!

Yeah but, I am lousy at time management. There is no way I can get it done by the deadline.


It’s my theory that “yeah but” is wired into you all as part of the PhD process. How do you prove that you are the smartest kid in the room? Find the error. How do you get ahead in your field? Figure out what the last person failed to do. How do you show that you belong at a conference? Point out what the presenter missed.

The problem is that you quickly come to point that failure-seeking gaze directly at your own work. Slowly, steadily you move from the joy of discovery to the “yeah but” of never enough. (Not to mention frozen in fear as you imagine the next smart kid discovering a flaw in your work!)

The result: In the daily personal relationship of creativity and productivity, you become the very definition of the shitty boss. You are endlessly unhappy with your performance. You “encourage” yourself with put downs and demeaning language. You offer little or no acknowledgement for your effort and in all honesty maybe even less for your accomplishments.

Seriously, it is no wonder you avoid working. I wouldn’t want to work for you either.

The first step to improving as your own boss is not time management or scheduling or any of the other organizational tools that so many of the productivity apps and journals offer.*

The first step is to be in better relationship with yourself.

Pay attention to how you are talking to yourself. Make the conscious choice to be for yourself what you keep hoping your mentor or chair or PI will be for you. BE NICE! Give yourself a pat on the back now and then. BE SUPPORTIVE! Acknowledge what you HAVE done instead of harping on what you haven’t. BE IMPRESSED!

I am not going to lie: It takes work to rebuild the relationship. You have a whole mountain of mistreatment to heal. But kicking “yeah but” to the curb is a good place to start.

*Don’t get me wrong. I am all about small manageable tasks, but they aren’t particularly helpful if you won’t do them.

Listen here as Kellee walks you through a creativity cycle that actually works (and is a helluva lot nicer):

*Starting August 21st, we will begin offering UNSTUCK UNPLUGGED. Available for purchase whenever you need it, UNSTUCK UNPLUGGED gives you access to all of the posts and coaching videos, minus the group interaction and FB group. No waiting for the next interactive session to begin!

I Want to Talk To You About Protesting

[This is an update that I posted on my personal Facebook page on July 25, slightly edited.]

I want to talk to you all about protesting. I want you to understand how powerful it is to stand on the sidewalk every week on Resist Trump Tuesday (so far, still the sidewalk and not the street–but that may come soon the way things are going), holding your sign, looking directly. into. the. eyes. of drivers-by, who are only a few feet away, and showing them how you feel and asking them to — no, MAKING them – register the current political crisis. We sing, dance, wave our signs, and shout: “honk!” and “thank you!”(to the supporters) and “we’re protecting your health care too!” (to the naysayers), and “Impeaaach!”

The responses are endlessly energizing: the countless (because it’s Eugene, Oregon) waves, honks, thumbs-up, shaka signs, fist pumps, and smiles. And of course the occasional middle finger, snarky “Go Trump” shout, or mega-revved engine meant, i think, to intimidate. We have come to know our primary constituencies: ie, (this is not an exhaustive list) middle aged white women in Priuses (love us), middle aged white women in luxury cars (don’t love us), dykes in trucks (TRULY LOVE US), old white men in shitty clunkers (mostly hate us, unless they are hippies, then love us), international students in Lamborghinis (mostly indifferent to us), etc.

Reactions tend to be big. The honks are loud and long, the smiles are huge. The middle fingers are quite emphatic. Today we had a hand-puppet waving eagerly from a sun-roof, the sign of the horns from two rock and rollers on motocycles, and a bag of organic plantain chips from a young woman who stopped traffic to thrust it earnestly out her window … immediately followed by a man who had clearly prepared the small Trump sign he held up to his window with his middle finger.

I love watching all the different people and their reactions, especially the really elderly when they furrow their brows and press their lips together in concentration to manage a small, tentative honk.

But most of all I love watching the kids. The big-eyed, open-mouthed kids, who stare out the windows from the back seats, studying us, taking it all in. I can see the gears working, as they whiz by. I hope it makes a lasting impact.

At the same time, I am conscious that we are a very white (and tbh, old) group, and ponder what that means for the people of color who drive by. Drivers of color are much more restrained;  men of color in particular engage and make eye contact only rarely.  I am aware that protesting the current administration, without centering racism, is an example of and exercise in white privilege. Kellee and I make a point of wearing Black Lives Matter messages prominently.

I believe this is a privilege that white people need to exercise often and without ceasing, because we can do so at the least risk.

About three years ago, I was a driver-by. I passed protests on the street, and wouldn’t even make eye contact. The first time I beeped, I was terrified. It felt so risky. Then I started to beep and wave. Then I joined SURJ and started going to protests. Then I started planning them. Now I’m one of the weekly Resist Trump Tuesday core organizers. I really truly believe that if I can get one person to honk for the first time, I’ve moved them one step closer to taking to the streets when the time comes.

And honestly, Tuesday 12-1 is one of the highlights of my week. Because it’s fun. And meaningful. And great community. And deep and profound work, to look in your neighbors’ eyes and make them recognize the truth of this moment.

I used to watch documentaries of the civil rights movement and think, “I’m pretty sure — well, I hope– *I* would have done the right thing.” Well, when they make the documentaries of this time 20-50 years from now (I mean, if people are still around to make documentaries at that point), I must be able to say that I was among those who were there, and did the right thing. So I keep showing up. I hope that you will join me. Academics can no longer be politically quiescent. The crisis is upon us and we have to declare to our fellow citizens that none of this is ok.

Productivity Tuesday: Not So Happy Feelings

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post and Podcast! Each Tuesday, I post a short blog post and recorded coaching session.

This week’s post is courtesy of a current UNSTUCK: The Art of Productivity* participant, who posted the most wonderful update about her writing this week.


Each facilitated* UNSTUCK session includes membership in a secret Facebook group, where participants talk about their challenges and successes, including insights from the process of adapting a new writing practice.

A core practice of UNSTUCK is designed to reclaim our integrity with ourselves by showing up for short writing sessions. It is built on the habit building idea that writing a small amount every day (keeping your word) is more valuable than a once a month binge session knit together with daily avoidance coated in shame and despair.

The other core practice is to get up close and personal with all the negative messaging we put in our own way. With morning pages and “Questions of the Day,” I invite participants to sit with their feelings rather than run from them. Deal with them so they can get past them to writing.

I clocked my 15 mins of writing a number of times this week. Yet I have been struggling with what happens next. At first, I am all: “Go Me! Woop! Woop!”. Happy feelings. But this is usually quickly followed by “Jesus H Christ: there is still so much needing doing.” These are not so happy feelings. These not so happy feelings are bigger than the happy ones. I feel not so happy WITH them, and not so happy AT them. I am supposed to sit with them. My reaction to this prospect is: “You have GOT to be kidding me.” But I have tried. And I have been all: “Oh sh*t. Maybe I get these ‘still so much to do’ feelings because I want them to come. Maybe I am attached to them. Maybe I am scared at the prospect of what I would do were I to have to write without them as company.”

So that is what I have been thinking about this week.

As it happens, I have also been up to my eyeballs three out of four days this week with interviewing candidates for various kinds of academic jobs. In all of these selection panels, I have been in the chair. This is a relatively new thing. It is rewarding work, but all consuming. I feel as though I have been able to fight the fight from a position of relative power. And I realised something, coming out of an unusually off-the-charts shocking set of deliberations for one of the selection panels. What I have been reminded of is, first: I am a category mistake. I should not, normally, be allowed to be in charge (my lady brain and all). So, simply showing up for the day and making it work is crazy-go-nuts feminist practice. One of my panel members (also having a lady brain) said to be at the end of two solid days of interviewing: ‘You know, I was told that you are scary, and that I should be careful. But I see now that the problem is not you being scary, it’s you being so competent and comfortable with your authority. Were you a man, you would be talked about in very different ways.’

So, I was mulling this over, and mulling over the sh*t that kicked off on a later day this week in a different panel (in which I was also, albeit unexpectedly, in the chair). In this panel, and I kid you not, one of the most institutionally senior members announced at the start of our deliberations as we were summing up our initial impressions: ‘She’s a little girl! She’s no [academic job title].’ (Imagine. And this fellow was not even hobbled by having a lady brain!) Moreover, this observation of him in fact pithily summed up a whole vibe that had been informing much of the interviews that day. So, yours truly [unexpectedly launched into the chair for the final deliberations] felt some strong feelings. They were not happy feelings. But they were powerful feelings. And I took these feelings and doubled down and threw all the tools in my toolkit (smiley face, cross face, happy voice, soliciting voice, stern voice, ‘don’t be a naughty boy’ phrases) at this small group to try and make sure that this was a conversation in which patently illegal pronouncements had no place. Or at least carry no weight in our decision.

So, this morning I woke up tired. And I woke up still with this week of interviewing playing on repeat in my head. And I found myself ‘sitting with my feelings’ about BOTH my writing and my professional practice. And I feel like they had a lot in common. That simply writing is a category mistake. That being the one in charge is a category mistake. That they both give me a fight or flight adrenaline rush. And that pushing on, outwitting it all, is hugely energy consuming.

So, I feel like it’s ok to feel overwhelmed. And that, just maybe, it might make sense to rename my overwhelmedness feelings at the incrementality of my writing progress. That I could rename them more along the lines of how I name my feelings at fighting the fight of the f*ckwit prof and the ‘little girl’ [who got the job, btw]. That is, this all makes me tired. It is a lot of work. Situations that demand structural redress are not about to go away. Writing projects will always be bigger than whatever is do-able on the day. But I would also like to think that I may draw strength from recognising that simply showing up for work –writing or chairing– is in itself subversive. Is in itself transformational. And is in itself a win. And that the problem of tiredness has a solution: it’s called rest.

Listen here as Kellee unpacks the key lessons of this post:

*On August 21st, we will begin offering UNSTUCK UNPLUGGED. Available for purchase whenever you need it, UNSTUCK UNPLUGGED gives you access to all of the posts and coaching videos, minus the group interaction and FB group. No waiting for the next interactive session to begin!

The Intro Paragraph is Your GPS Locator

Co-authored with TPII editor, Verena Hutter

Karen and Verena

Almost every section of the CL has its own intricacies and pitfalls. The tailoring para for example can easily become a place where self-aggrandizing and desperation meet (“I’ll be a great asset to you, and I’ll name my first-born after you, just give me the job”). Likewise, the teaching para easily becomes a list of where you’ve taught, instead of what and how you teach, plus hackneyed invocations of obvious influences (Paulo Freire is a person, not a teaching goal). And while most people can talk A LOT about their research, presenting it in a compact and digestible way to the SC can be challenging. There’s no way around it, writing a good CL is hard.

There is one para however, that is fairly straightforward: the introduction. Yet, many clients, chomping at the bit and excited to get their materials in order, overdo it.

They cram their greatest accomplishments in there right away: The dissertation topic, awards they have won, what reviewers said about their books, all the places they have taught at, and of course, that they would be an ideal candidate.

I know that there are advisers out there that tell their students to see the intro para as kind of  “best-of” so to speak, a “teaser” as I have heard someone say.  Nein. Nyet. Non. No search committee wants to be teased; they want to skim your complete record without any kind of “hard sell.” And a desperately pleading intro paragraph is exactly that: a hard sell.

Imagine the following: you’re at a party, and someone introduces themselves to you. And then they hold forth in a monologue on who they are, all the places they’ve worked at, the awards and prizes they have won, what they are planning to do, what others have said about them…. How does this make you feel? Do you want to stick around? Or flee?

Imagine instead a good introduction; you learn a few tidbits, and you think: “Oh, ok, tell me more…”

So here’s how to write an intro:

Dear NAME OF THE CHAIR and Members of the Search Committee (and variations thereof)

“I am writing to apply to the advertised position of Assistant Professor in XX. I have a Ph.D. in XXX/I am completing a Ph.D. in XXX and will be defending my dissertation on XX, 2018.  Currently I am a….   My research focuses on XX and YY.”

That’s it. Really. The last sentence serves as segue into your research paragraph (a crisp, concise, factual paragraph that outlines your topic, methods, theory, findings, conclusion and funding, in about 5-6 sentences).

The intro is like a business card. Unless your name is “Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons” (in which case I give you permission to disregard everything in this post), your card will not give too much info; it will just situate you.

I always say that the intro paragraph to the CL is your GPS locator. The SC needs to know where you are and where you came from, and that’s about it.

The job letter can get complicated, so allow yourself simplicity at the beginning.

–> If you want more help on the cover letter, check out Art of the Cover Letter, our digital program that walks you through all 9 paragraphs of an academic cover letter, with posts, worksheets, models, and video instruction by me, Dr. Karen. It produces amazing results.

Productivity Tuesday: False Beliefs (with coaching podcast!)

Kellee Weinhold

By Kellee Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Welcome to the Productivity Post and Podcast! Each Tuesday, I post a short blog post and recorded coaching session.

Keep reading and then click on the recording link below to learn how to recognize false beliefs and make friends with your personal Blue Meanies! 🙂

The Topic This Week: False Beliefs

If you are struggling to write, I can pretty much guarantee you that your avoidance is based on false beliefs. Beliefs that you have carefully cultivated and fed until they have become the monsters blocking the door to productivity. And, to make matters worse, every time you walk up to that door and see the snarling beast, you probably freak out and feed it again, with negative self talk (made up of many of the stories I wrote about in last week’s post.)

The thing is, you didn’t come to this dark and twisty place overnight, or with a single bad experience. Rather, you slowly trained the beast (which is actually just your brain) that writing was something to be afraid of.  And you didn’t do it with what you say to yourself, but with actual lived experiences.

Let’s say you sat down to write and you had a rough time. Maybe you couldn’t quite figure out how to say something or the theory was hard to grasp. Whatever it was, it sucked. You sat there staring at the screen and the fear of failure started to rise in your throat. What if I don’t know how to do this? What if I never finish/get a job/get tenure, <fill in the blank>. Now you are FREAKING OUT! Your brain will do anything to get you away from that panic. Time to check Facebook!

Your next writing session comes along. Your ever-helpful brain is poised to categorize the experience.  It finds you remembering that previous experience of writing, feeling anxious, and panicking. Cue the categorization: Writing = anxiety. You start writing already feeling anxious and, well… you know how that ends.

With just a few more writing/anxiety/I suck sessions, you don’t even have to write to feel inadequate. You just THINK about writing and that prehistoric lizard brain of yours goes on high alert. DANGER! RUN! WE ARE GOING TO DIE!

And who delivers the warning? The beasties I lovingly refer to as The Blue Meanies.  The Blue Meanies live in your lizard brain.  And what do they tell you? Every negative thought that has ever made its way into your psyche. All in an attempt to protect you!

But, thankfully, you have read this post, so now you will recognize all of the crap you have been feeding that monster and stop. Phew! Glad that is over!

Oops. Not so fast. The thing is, you can’t just tell Blue Meanies to shut up. They really, really want you to STOP doing the thing that might not work. So, they aren’t going to stop just because you say so.  Fear and loathing don’t work that way. They don’t go away on command. Negative self talk requires engagement.

So, if you are awash in false beliefs that set off a litany of terror, the solution is not to shove them away or cover them with the shame. The path to getting through that door goes right through those thoughts. We need to get up close and personal with the monsters. Talk to them. Schedule visits. Get compassionately curious. It’s the intimacy is what allows us to release the false beliefs.

Want to know more about how to make friends with your Blue Meanies?  In this live coaching session, I tell you how!


“We can use the presence of gnawing self-doubt, as it arises, as a call to open into more spacious awareness. We can look more deeply at the beliefs that give rise to the self-doubt and ask ourselves if we really want to continue investing these presumed inadequacies with our mind’s capacity to endow belief.” Kathleeen Dowling Singh, “The Grace in Living”


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