How to Write a Recommendation Letter

The wonderful Shit Academic Say (@AcademicsSay) retweeted a hilarious parody of American vs. British recommendation letters this week.


Posted by Shit Academics Say on Thursday, December 8, 2016


It’s so painfully accurate that it immediately brought back traumatic memories of my time as a department head.  European tenure letters were the bane of my existence. (Indeed here is the first comment on FB:  Britta Hoyer the German style:” I confirm that Jones has worked here as a PhD student. “)

I spent hours undoing the damage caused by purportedly “positive” letters written by UK and European writers to my junior faculty members’ tenure cases.  So today I share my post on how to write a recommendation letter, American style.  May it produce the hoped-for results.


Today I offer a special request post for all the people who have asked for information on writing recommendation letters. A few of these folks have been letter-writers, but most of them are the sorry subjects of letters that they they were horrified to have had the chance to see.  Others have been asked to write their own recommendation letters by irresponsible and lazy recommenders. I disapprove of this practice completely.  Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong. I don’t care. Recommendations are to be written BY THE PERSON WHOSE NAME IS AT THE BOTTOM.

Anyway, recommendation letter-writing is really a little-understood art, considering the major role that these letters play in every scholar’s career. And if anyone thinks those letters aren’t really read—think again. They are taken very, very seriously, and pored over, and deconstructed, and discussed. And sometimes, acknowledged as works of writing in their own right as when I once overheard one tenured colleague say to another: “I loved the letter you wrote for XXX; it was a beautiful piece of writing.  Nicely done!”

So, what needs to happen in a recommendation letter?

I will first lay out a paragraph structure. This is just a suggestion. Obviously this kind of writing will be completely personalized.

  1. An opening that indicates a general but not excessive warmth. “I am pleased to write this letter on behalf of xxxx.” Followed by explanation of who writer is, how they know the subject of letter, in what capacities, and for how long. Brief sketch of the subject in terms of discipline and topical/thematic focus. General comparison of the subject within the field/fields. “XXX is among the very top young cultural anthropologists of Japan, and promises to ….”
  2. Substantive description of major research work (diss or otherwise), describing the topic, but then, more importantly, providing critical context for the topic within a field or fields, or body of literature. The most important thing a letter can do is contextualize a candidate’s research for its larger scope, import, and promise. Many times on searches one of us would remark, “the advisor understands the candidate’s project better than the candidate does.” By this we were referring to the ability to see not just the trees of the project, but also the forest. This of course was not good for the candidate’s chances…. but it does indicate a powerful and memorable letter.
  3. A second paragraph continuing from above about the status of the main writing project. The most effective letter will reassure skittish search committees that the dissertation is in fact done or almost done, and/or that the book manuscript will be quickly forthcoming. Pace of work and productivity are valuable here. The key  is that the candidate be described as a (soon-to-be) scholar, not as a graduate student still enmeshed in the minutiae of a graduate program or dissertation.
  4. Evidence of the wider success of the candidate in the profession—the grant support, awards, and of course publications associated with the primary research. Conference activity can be mentioned here.
  5. A brief indication of next steps in research and publishing, so that search committees feel reassured that the candidate has a long-range plan.
  6. Discipline-specific attributes, such as experience in country of research, language fluency, technical skills, or other such things. For example, because I sometimes visited my Ph.D. students in the field in Japan, I had the opportunity to see them operate in their field settings, in Japanese. I always made a point to provide my “objective” account of their skills.
  7. Description of teaching abilities. This will be specific, mentioning course names, and methods used by the candidate, and departmental observations, evaluations, or feedback, to the extent the writer has this information available. Ideally the writer will have personally witnessed teaching by the candidate. If he/she has, this must be specified in the letter. Awards given for teaching should be mentioned.
  8. Service if applicable. One of my Ph.D. students was active in mobilizing the graduate students to overturn an outdated requirement in the program. The student’s effectiveness in this work demonstrated a real ability in departmental administrative responsibilities, and I made a point to mention it in my letter. One of the fears of search committees is that a candidate will be tiresomely focused on their research, and will be unable to assist in the running of the department. The letter can assuage those fears.
  9. A brief final remark about character and personality, insofar as these pertain to the candidate’s potential collegiality. This must be non-emotional and strictly non-gendered. Attributes to emphasize include resourcefulness, responsibility, good humor, organization, energy, etc. For women candidates it is essential to avoid anything that depicts them as any of the following: nice, selfless, giving, caring, bubbly, sweet, warm, nurturing, maternal, etc.
  10. In sum, I expect XXX to have a career in the first rank of xxxx scholars in the country, and give him/her my unqualified recommendation. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at [phone number and/or email address] if you should require any additional information.”

Some basic expectations of the recommendation letter:

1. It will be at least two solid single spaced pages long.

2. It will be on letterhead

3. It will not gush or wax emotional

4. It will stay strictly at the level of evidence and substance

5. It will not rely on cheap and empty adjectives such incredible, remarkable, extraordinary, amazing, etc.

6. It will not damn with faint praise (“XX is one of the better graduate students we’ve had in the department”)

7. It will emphasize depictions of the candidate as a professional scholar, NOT a graduate student.

8.  It will remember to include the wider context, providing a discipline-level view of the candidate’s accomplishments and promise.

9. It will provide specific information or examples about research, argument, methods, teaching, or service–not vague generalities. The exception to this is (as noted in the comment stream): if you are in a position of a certain amount of obligation to the subject (as in, on their committee), but don’t feel able to write a detailed letter, and are also aware that the absence of your letter would send a strong but unwarranted negative message about the subject’s position in the department, and also feel positively disposed toward the subject in general, then write a generic letter that “first, does no harm,” but–and this is important–make sure the candidate knows that he or she needs another letter that will be more detailed.

10.  It will be unfailingly (although not gushingly) positive.  Any writer who cannot be 100% positive about the subject should not write a letter. In the event that you are ambivalent about the subject, it is better to tell the subject that you cannot write the letter.  A tactful method is to say you don’t know the record well enough to write a detailed letter.  

And indeed, if the subject is really problematic in your view, you are doing the subject a favor by stating that clearly, and not “enabling” self-destructive or substandard performance through misplaced “niceness” or conflict avoidance.

When candidates write their own letters, they typically fall afoul of #3 and #5 in particular. Remember: stay at the factual, don’t go emotional!  And #8, which, after all, no candidate is really positioned to write.

Now, some of you will wonder where the warmth comes in. Indeed, warmth is necessary for an effective letter. But in reality, the warmth comes through, even without a lot of cheap adjectives. Any writer who can speak with great care and thoroughness and respect about a candidate’s achievements is a writer demonstrating warmth about and investment in that candidate. Extra efforts to “sound warm” just end up muddying the message and in the case of female candidates, overly-gendering the profile in ways that do not work to women’s benefit on any professional job market.

Bonus tip for European, Asian and other international letter-writers:  American letters of recommendation, like American tenure file external review letters, must be entirely and energetically and overtly positive (but without degenerating into gushing or encomium).  “Objective” and “realistic” are not qualities of this genre of writing.  As a department head, I had more than one tenure case almost derailed by European external review letters that very reasonably provided a “strengths and weaknesses” assessment of the candidate.  In the U.S. context, there can be no mention of weaknesses.  I’m not saying this is good.  I’m just saying this is true.  So international writers for the U.S. market: please be alert to this cultural difference, and have an American colleague review your letters when possible.  Candidates with international references:  consider sharing this post with them!



Why Your Job Cover Letter Sucks (and what you can do to fix it)

An expanded and updated version of this post can now be found in Chapter  22 of my new book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. I am keeping a shortened version here, but for the complete discussion including the template for a job cover letter, please do purchase the book, which compiles all my major job market posts along with 50% entirely new material.

In my 15 years as a faculty member I served on approximately 11 search committees. Some of these search committees I chaired. These committees brought in ten new assistant professors into my departments.

Estimating that each search brought in an average of 200 applications (a conservative estimate for a field like Anthropology, a generous estimate for a much smaller field like East Asian Languages and Literatures), that means I read approximately 2200 job applications.

I’ve also read the cover letters of my own students, and a passel of Ph.D. students who came to me for advice, as well as a large number of clients since opening The Professor is In (as of July 2014 let’s say 1000).

So let’s say I’ve read (3200) job cover letters. Of those (3200) job cover letters, it is safe to say that (3000) sucked. Sucked badly. Sucked epically. Sucked the way Cakewrecks cakes suck.

What’s up with that?


Here’s what’s up with that.

Advisers don’t teach their grad students how to write cover letters. They send them out pathetically, humiliatingly ill-informed.

It is, in my opinion, a criminal degree of neglect.


I am on a mission to get Ph.D. students, in the social sciences and humanities especially, to stop sending out worthless, embarrassing, self-sabotaging job cover letters.

I am infuriated that close colleagues of mine in the top programs in the country–think Ivy Leagues–routinely allow their Ph.D.s to send out job letters to departments across the country–to potential colleagues and peers and reviewers across the country– that make those Ph.D.s look ill-trained, unqualified, and un-hireable.

How do I know that? Again, because I was on the hiring committees that received the letters from those Ph.D.s, the students I knew well, had met at conferences, and recognized as the students of my friends and colleagues at prestigious departments in the field.


So, anyone reading this now, here is why your cover letter sucks, and what you need to do to fix it.

1. It Is Too Long. And 1a. It’s Not on Letterhead. And 1b. It must follow proper letter norms of etiquette

Your letter must be on letterhead if you have a current academic affiliation of any kind. This is not negotiable. It has come to my attention that some departments are denying their graduate students access to letterhead. This is unacceptable, and any act is justified in response. You may steal the letterhead. You may Photoshop the letterhead. Do what you must, but send all professional letters of every kind on the letterhead of the department with which you affiliated.

If you do not have an affiliation because you finished your Ph.D. and have no academic employment at all, including adjuncting, then you must submit without letterhead (although a very sober, understated, and proper personal letterhead can sometimes be a nice touch).  You may not use letterhead to which you’re not entitled.  That is unethical, and it is also stupid, because your readers are smart, and they notice.

Your letter must be two pages max. No longer. Do not argue with me. If you are arguing with me, you are wrong. It must be two pages max.

It must be 12 point (ok, *maybe* 11.5) font, and have a minimum of 3/4″ margins.

It must follow normal letter etiquette, which means that it will include the date (fully written out) just under the letterhead, then a space, then the full snail mail address of the person/committee to whom the letter is being sent just below the date, left justified, and then a space, and then the address:  “Dear Professor XXXX/Members of the Search Committee:” Then it will have another space, and commence: “I am writing in application to the advertised position in XXX at the University of XXXX.  Etc. Etc.”  Nothing in this heading material may be left out.  Similarly, nothing beyond this may be added in, including any kind of memo heading or title such as “Re: position in XXX.”  LETTERS DO NOT HAVE TITLES! 

Why must it be these things? I will tell you. Because the care you show in the norms and forms of proper letter etiquette represent you as a fully adult, functioning professional.  It demonstrates that you are a full-fledged member of the tribe, and not an embarrassing wanna-be.

And the length?  Because the faculty members on the committee reviewing your letters are tired, distracted, irritated, and rushed. They will give your cover letter 5 minutes. They will not hunt for your main point, they will not squint, they will not strain their eyes, they will not pore over it.

Serve up your brilliance, your achievements, and your delightful collegial personality loud and clear, in legible large font, and a considerate quantity of verbiage. You are respecting your future colleagues’ time and eyesight, and believe me, they notice.

Do I hear whining, that you “can’t possibly say all you need to” in 2 pages? Tough. Do you want a job or don’t you? Do it.

2. You Are Telling, Not Showing.

All academics in the world, by virtue of being academics, require evidence to accept a proposition. Even the wooiest humanists have to be persuaded with some form of evidence that a claim is valid.

Your letter must include evidence. Empty claims like “I am passionate about teaching,” or “I care deeply about students,” or “I am an enthusiastic colleague” contain no evidence whatsoever. They can be made by anyone, and provide no means of proof. They are worthless verbiage.

Show, don’t tell: Instead of “I am passionate about teaching,” you must write, “I used new technologies to create innovative small group discussion opportunities in my large introductory classes, technologies that were later adopted by my colleagues in the department.” Or, “I worked one on one with students on individual research projects leading to published articles. Several students later nominated me for our campus’s “Best Undergraduate Teacher” award, which I won in 2011.”

Get it? Don’t waste our time with unsubstantiated and unsubstantiatable claims.

3. You Drone On and On About Your Dissertation

We actually don’t care about your dissertation. Seriously, we don’t. Your dissertation is in the past. It’s in the past even if you’re actually still writing it. It’s what you did *as a student*, and we’re not hiring a student. We’re hiring a colleague…. 

4. Your Teaching Paragraph is All Drippy and Pathetic

5. You Present Yourself as a Student, Not a Colleague

6. You Don’t Specify Publication Plans

7. You Don’t Have a Second Research Project

8. You Didn’t Do Your Homework

9. You’re Disorganized and Rambling

10. You Didn’t Tailor

For the rest of this post, please see Chapter 22 of my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job.


Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Academic CV

Reposting classics on the basic job market documents as we gear up for the 2016 job search!


Today’s post is a long overdue post on CVs. 

While the CV genre permits a wide range of variation, and there is no consensus on the value or desirability of one particular style, I am going to present a list of expectations that govern my own work at The Professor Is In.

These expectations will produce a highly-readable, well-organized CV on the American academic model. British and Canadian CV-writers will note that the font is larger, the length is greater, the margins wider, and the white spaces more abundant than you may be used to. These are the typical norms for American CVs (again, admitting of enormous variation among fields and individuals).  

These norms govern the “paper” CVs that are submitted as elements of a job application. The CV can be created in a program like Word but submitted as a PDF to ensure proper formatting on the receiving end.

These rules do not encompass online CVs, which may employ elements such as bullet points that I reject. 

Candidates seeking work in the UK or Canada might want to consult with experts from those countries for opinions on whether this American model CV will work against candidates in searches there.

Without further ado: Dr. Karen’s Rules of the CV.


I.  General Formatting Rules

One inch margins on all four sides.

12 point font throughout

Single spaced

No switching of font sizes for any element, EXCEPT the candidate name at top, which can be in 14 or perhaps 16.

Headings in bold and all caps.

Subheadings in bold only.


One or two full returns (ie, blank lines) before each new heading.

One return/blank line between each heading and its first entry.

Left justify all elements of the cv.

Do not full/right justify any element of the cv.

No bullet points at all, ever, under any circumstances. This is not a resume.

No “box” or column formatting of any kind. This interferes with the constant adjustments a dynamic professional CV will undergo on a weekly/monthly basis.

No “XXXX, cont’d” headings. Page breaks will constantly move as CV grows.

YEAR (but not month or day) OF EVERY ENTRY THROUGHOUT CV LEFT JUSTIFIED, with tabs or indent separating year from substance of entry. Why, you ask? Because candidates are evaluated by their productivity over time. Search and tenure committees wish to easily track yearly output. When you produce is as important as what you produce. Year must be visible, not buried in the entry itself.   (table formatting another option as described in comment stream)

NO NARRATIVE VERBIAGE ANYWHERE. Brits, I’m talking to you.

No description of “duties” under Teaching/Courses Taught

No paragraphs describing books or articles.  

No explanations of grants/fellowships (ie, “this is a highly competitive fellowship…”).

No personal stories.

No “My work at the U of XX is difficult to condense…” etc. etc.

One possible exception: a separate heading for “Dissertation” with a VERY short paragraph abstract underneath. I disapprove of this. Some advisors insist on it. One year or so beyond completion, it should be removed.


II.  Heading Material:

Name at top, centered, in 14 or 16 point font.

The words “Curriculum vitae” immediately underneath or above, centered, in 12 point font.  This is a traditional practice in the humanities and social sciences; it might be optional at this point in time, and in various fields.  Please doublecheck with a trusted advisor.

The date, immediately below, centered, is optional.   Senior scholars always date their cvs.

Your institutional and home addresses, tel, email, parallel right and left justified.


III.  Content:

1. Education. Always. No exceptions.  List by degree, not by institution.  Do not spell out Doctor of Philosophy, etc.; it’s pretentious.  List Ph.D., M.A., B.A. in descending order.  Give department, institution, and year of completion.  Do NOT give starting dates.  You may include Dissertation/Thesis Title, and perhaps Dissertation/Thesis Advisor if you are ABD or only 1 year or so from Ph.D.. Remove this after that point.  Do not include any other verbiage.  

2. Professional Appointments/Employment. This must go immediately under education, assuming that you have/had these.  Why?  Because the reader must be able to instantly “place” you institutionally.  These are contract positions only– tenure track or instructorships.  Ad hoc adjunct gigs do not go here; only contracted positions of 1+ years in length.  Postdoctoral positions also go here.  Give institution, department, title, and dates (year only) of employment.  Be sure and reflect joint appointments if you have one.  ABD candidates may have no Professional Appointments, and in that case the Heading can be skipped.   TA-SHIPS, ETC. ARE NOT LISTED UNDER PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYMENT. COURSES THAT YOU TAUGHT AS AN ADJUNCT ARE NOT LISTED UNDER PROFESSIONAL APPOINTMENTS.

3. Publications. Subheadings: Books, Edited Volumes, Refereed Journal Articles, Book Chapters, Conference Proceedings, Encyclopedia Entries, Book Reviews, Manuscripts in Submission (give journal title), Manuscripts in Preparation, Web-Based Publications, Other Publications (this section can include non-academic publications, within reason).  Please note that forthcoming publications ARE included in this section. If they are already in the printing stage, with the full citation and page numbers available, they may be listed the same as other published publications, at the very top since their dates are furthest in the future.  If they are in press, they can be listed here with “in press” in place of the year.

4. Awards and Honors. Give name of award and institutional location. Year  at left. Always in reverse descending order. Listing $$ amount appears to be field-specific.  Check with a trusted senior advisor.

5. Grants and Fellowships (if you are in a field where these differ categorically from Awards and Honors). Give funder, institutional location in which received/utilized, year span. Listing $$ amount appears to be field-specific.  Check with a trusted senior advisor. Year at left.

6. Invited Talks. These are talks to which you have been invited at OTHER campuses, not your own. Give title, institutional location, and date. Year only (not month or day) at left.  Month and day of talk go into entries.

7. Conference Activity/Participation. Subheadings: Panels Organized, Papers Presented, Discussant. These entries will include: Name of paper, name of conference, date. Year (Year only) on left as noted above. Month and date-range of conference in the entry itself (ie, March 22-25).  No extra words such as: “Paper title:”   Future conferences SHOULD be listed here, if you have had a paper or panel officially accepted.  The dates will be future dates, and as such they will be the first dates listed.

7a.  Campus or Departmental Talks.  These are talks that you were asked to give in your own department or on your own campus. These do not rise to the level of an “Invited Talk” but still may be featured under the heading of Campus Talks or Departmental Talks.  List as you would Invited Talks.  Under no circumstances may guest lectures in courses be listed here or anywhere on the CV. That is padding.

8. Teaching Experience. Subdivide either by area/field of teaching or by institutional location, or by Graduate/Undergraduate, or some combination of these as appropriate to your particular case. 

ADDENDUM 9/18/13: Format in this way:  if you’ve taught at more than one institution, make subheadings for each institution.  Then list the courses vertically down the left (ie, do NOT use the year-to-left rule that applies everywhere else).  To the right of each course, in parentheses, give the terms and years taught. This allows you to show the number of times you’ve taught a course without listing it over and over.  Give course titles BUT NEVER GIVE COURSE NUMBERS! Course numbers are meaningless outside your campus.

If your quantity of courses taught exceeds approximately 15, condense this section; it is not essential for a highly experience teacher to scrupulously list every single course taught, every single time.  Just cover your general range of competencies.

TA experience goes here.  No narrative verbiage under any course title. No listing of “duties” or “responsibilities.”  There is one small exception to this rule, as noted in the comment stream (near comment #100).  If your department is one that has its “TAs” actually design and sole-teach courses, then this needs to be clarified.  Language to be added can include, “(Instructor of record)” after course title, or “(As TA I designed and sole-taught all courses listed here),” etc.  Keep it short and sweet.

9.  Research Experience. RA experience goes here, as well as lab experience.  This is one location where slight elaboration is possible, if the research was a team effort on a complex, multi-year theme.  One detailed sentence should suffice.  

10. Service To Profession. Include journal manuscript review work (with journal titles [mss. review CAN be given its own separate heading if you do a lot of this work]), leadership of professional organizations, etc. Some people put panel organizing under service; check conventions in your field.

11. Departmental/University Service. Include search committees and other committee work, appointments to Faculty Senate, etc.  Sorry to be a pain, but here the convention is that the Title or Committee is left justified, with the year in the entry.  Don’t ask me why, and only a convention, not a strict rule.

12. Extracurricular University Service. [Optional. ] Can include involvement in student groups, sporting clubs, etc.

13. Community Involvement/Outreach. [Optional.]  This includes work with libraries and schools, public lectures, etc.

14.  Media Coverage. [Optional.] Coverage of your work by the media.

15.  Related Professional Skills. [Optional.] Can include training in GIS and other technical skills relevant to the discipline. More common in professional schools and science fields; uncommon in humanities.

16. Non-Academic Work. [Optional—VERY optional!] Include only if relevant to your overall academic qualifications. More common in Business, sciences. Editorial and publishing work possibly relevant in English and the Humanities.  

17.  Teaching Areas/Courses Prepared To Teach.  [Optional].  You can give a brief list of course titles (titles only!) that represent your areas of teaching preparation.  No more than 10 courses should be listed here.

18. Languages. All languages to be listed vertically, with proficiency in reading, speaking, and writing clearly demarcated using terms such as: native, fluent, excellent, conversational, good, can read with dictionary, etc.

19. Professional Memberships/Affiliations. All professional organizations of which you are a member listed vertically. Include years of joining when you are more senior and those years recede into the past—demonstrates length of commitment to a field.

20. References. List references vertically. Give name and full title. Do not refer to references as “Dr. xxx,” or “Professor xxx.” This makes you look like a graduate student. Give full snail mail contact information along with tel and email. To do otherwise is amateurish, even though we know nobody is going to use the snail mail address. Do not give narrative verbiage or explanation of these references (ie, “Ph.D. Committee member,” etc.). The only exception is a single reference that may be identified as “Teaching Reference.” This would be the fourth of four references.


IV.  Principle of Peer Review.  

The organizing principle of the CV is prioritizing peer review and competitiveness. Professional appointments are extremely competitive, and go first. Publications are highly competitive, and go second, with peer reviewed publications taking place of honor. Awards and honors reveal high levels of competition, as do fellowships and grants. Invited talks suggest a higher level of individual recognition and honor than a volunteered paper to a conference—this is reflected in the order. Teaching in this context, ie, as a list of courses taught, is not competitive, and thus is de-prioritized. Extra training you seek yourself, voluntarily, is fundamentally non-competitive. Etc. Etc.

What is never included:

ANYTHING FROM YOUR UNDERGRADUATE YEARS!!!  Remove all undergraduate content, other than listing your BA degree under Education.

Overseas travel

Career goals

Anything you’d see on a business resume.


Please read the comment thread closely—it contains many more refinements and additions to the advice here.



Getting Ready for the Job Search

[Sharing this week’s Chronicle Vitae column for all of you who are gearing up for the Fall 2016 job market]


I’m gearing up to go on the academic job market this fall. What should I do to get ready?

I answered a similar question in a semi-facetious mode last summer, so be sure and read that. This year I’ll respond in a more serious manner.

Your first task: Hammer out your candidate platform. That is a list of six to eight bullet points that describe your basic experiences and goals— i.e., your current and future plans regarding research, teaching, grant-writing, program-building, and potential collaborations. Each of those points is a statement of “this, not that.” Meaning, that with each one you establish who you are as a candidate in ways that are distinctive to you. I discuss how to do this in more detail in my book (see Chapter 8). But a key point to remember: Make sure your platform is oriented firmly forward to your identity as a professional and not backward to your identity as a graduate student.

Prepare different platforms for the different fields or areas that you are targeting in your job search. For example, as a cultural anthropologist of Japan, I would have one platform oriented toward positions in cultural anthropology, and another oriented toward jobs in Asian studies.

Start drafting your job-application documents now. These documents are extremely easy to write badly, and extraordinarily difficult to write well. They will each require many, many drafts to rise above the standard level of dreck that most applicants produce on their first (or second, or third) try. You can find plenty of advice here and in my book.

Write different versions of your cover letter and research statement for the different fields or areas you are targeting. You will emphasize distinct themes and courses depending on the field. To use my own example, in a cover letter for an anthro job, I would focus the teaching paragraphs on important anthropology courses such as “Intro to Cultural Anthropology,” “Ethnographic Methods,” “Social Theory,” or topical courses such as “Gender and Globalization,”while for an Asian-studies letter, I would focus on courses such as “Intro to Japan,” “East Asian Popular Culture,” “Women in East Asia,” and “Gender and Sexuality in Japan.”

Write out a master list of references, and establish whom you’ll ask to recommend you for the different types of jobs to which you anticipate applying. Contact those references to share your updated CV and drafts of your cover letter. The point of doing that is not to get their comments or edits on your documents (although you can incorporate any valuable suggestions offered), but rather to give your references a thorough sense of you as a job seeker, as opposed to a graduate student. Make sure to update your references on any and all accomplishments such as publications, grants, conferences, and so on.

Apply for relevant major grants and conferences with summer deadlines, to make sure your CV has current content in those categories. If you know that you’ll be attending a fall conference, get in touch now with senior scholars or book editors whom you might wish to meet while there — not necessarily because they have any connection to your immediate job search, but because valuable networking yields results over the long term.

Make sure to submit at least one article for publication this summer and/or finish up revisions on any articles that are in revise-and-resubmit. Publications are the gold standard of the job market and you won’t make any headway without them. Use what’s left of the summer to fill the pipeline.

If you are in a book field, hammer out a timeline for submitting your book proposal to major academic presses, and lay out a five-year writing trajectory that includes all the articles necessary for the type of job you hope to attain, as well as the book manuscript.

Gather about you a group of friends, allies, and mentors who will support you — body and soul — as you launch into the fray. The job market will brutalize you. You need to ensure that you are caring for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally through things like exercise, recreation, hobbies, and friendship.

Good luck!

– See more at:

Introducing TPII Staff: Dr. Kristy Lewis

[Over Summer 2016 I’ll be introducing the wonderful members of the Professor Is In staff (Dr. Verena Hutter is here, Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya is here, Dr. Petra Shenk is here) who assist me in editing client academic job and grant documents and welcoming and directing old and new clients to the best range of services available for them suited to their particular needs.  We work side by side (in a virtual sense–since we’re scattered across the country), corresponding by email and text throughout the day, every day, on client documents, evaluating not just the writing, but also the fit of the documents for the particular job or grant, and beyond that, tracking new and emergent trends in the job market to constantly adapt and update the editing and advising help we provide.  We pool our years of experience with different disciplines, campuses, departments, jobs, and grants, and departmental politics in a kind of continual, ongoing daily training in all elements of the academic (and postacademic) experience.  I constantly learn from my staff, and the expertise they bring from their respective fields (as a social scientist I’m particularly grateful for their expertise coming from the humanities and sciences).  The Professor Is In is what it is because of them!  Feel free to say hello in the comments, or ask them any questions you might have for them!]

Dr. Kristy Lewis

Dr. Kristy Lewis

Dr. Kristy Lewis

Kristy completed her Ph.D. in Oceanography and Coastal Sciences from Louisiana State University in 2014.  Outside of her research as a quantitative and applied fisheries ecologist, she focuses on helping graduate students prepare for the next phase in their careers. She is also interested in closing the gender gap in the STEM fields and currently leads a Women in Science Lunch Series at her university. Kristy handles most of TPII’s hard science clients. She currently lives in Washington, D.C. and works as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at George Mason University. This fall, she will be transitioning to a one-year position as Visiting Assistant Professor in Biology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.


What do you do for TPII?

I edit the basic job documents for TPII with an emphasis on the “hard science” clients. Dr. Karen acknowledges that outside of the humanities and social sciences  there are a number of areas of flexibility for our natural and medical science clients when developing the job documents. I work hard to help these clients present their research in a way that removes the jargon and allows for a succinct presentation of their work that is easily digestible for search committees.


What did you do before TPII?  Tell us about your background and career path to this point.

I received my PhD in Oceanography and Coastal Sciences in 2014 from Louisiana State University. Before receiving my PhD, I already began work on my next project, which transitioned into a full postdoctoral fellowship at George Mason University. So, I have been working at George Mason and TPII for about the same length of time. I have spent these last two years as a postdoc honing my job documents and applying for many positions. I’m excited to say that my hard work and guidance from the TPII brain trust paid off, and I’ll be starting a new appointment (albeit for only one year) at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.I have seen first hand how the TPII model works and am excited to pass these skills onto our clients.


What was the biggest surprise for you about working for TPII?

I’m a very active mentor in my current appointment and this involves everything from providing career advice and editing student theses and dissertations.  I gain so much fulfillment from helping people find “their voice,” much like Dr. Karen did for me. And so, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that working with TPII would provide a similar sense of fulfillment, but it did.  I remember telling Karen, “I think I enjoy editing more than I enjoy doing my own research!”  While, of course I’m passionate about my research, I have found that seeing a document go  “train wreck” to a sleek and well packaged message is one of the most exciting parts of this job.


How do you like being an academic job market editor?

I love it. Like I mentioned above, the sense of fulfillment gives me the drive to keep forging ahead, even when days and hours can be long. I’m thankful every day for the TPII team and how caring and attentive we are to each other. Although we are indeed scattered across the country, I tend to talk to the TPII editors more than I talk to my family. So, the editing is fulfilling, the family-like support is uplifting, and being able to learn from each other’s varied areas of expertise make every moment of this job worth it. I’m honestly a better scholar because of TPII.

Kristy enjoying work-life balance!

Kristy enjoying work-life balance!

What do you wish clients knew about applying for jobs or grants?

I think the big take-home message for grant applications is making sure to follow the outline Dr. Karen provides–with huge emphasis on ensuring that the hero-narrative comes out loud and clear. Clients have to nail those first few paragraphs if they want to have a chance to be successful. I have sat on many panels reviewing grant applications, and those that didn’t clearly communicate their message within the first 2 paragraphs were thrown in the “not funding” pile. In terms of applying for jobs, I would suggest NOT just relying on the normal job posting websites to look for positions, but also think about where you want to be in the world (if that matters) and make a list of the cities, states, countries you want to end up. Create a list of schools in those areas and systematically frequent those HR pages. In my own experience, I have found jobs that were not posted on the normal Vitae and Chronicle pages, so that is just a little personal approach I use to ensure I’m finding ALL the potential jobs that may be out there.


What’s your big picture plan for yourself, now and moving forward?

While I’m starting a new position this fall, I’ll immediately be going back on the tenure track job market as soon as I start at St. Mary’s. My ultimate goal is to land a tenure-track position, either at a SLAC or an R1 or R2 university. I’m not picky about the type of college or university, as long as I fill a niche and need for the department. I’ll be focusing this year on publishing more papers, because in my field, I won’t even be considered for many positions if I don’t have upwards of 7-10 pubs. My plan is to continue working with TPII as an editor and eventually helping to create “Dr. Karen’s Science Corner,” which I envision to be a place that our hard science and medical science clients can go to find information and tips specific to these unique fields.

Introducing TPII Staff–Dr. Verena Hutter

Over Summer 2016 I’ll be introducing the wonderful members of the Professor Is In staff (Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya is here and Dr. Petra Shenk is here) who assist me in editing client academic job and grant documents and welcoming and directing old and new clients to the best range of services available for them suited to their particular needs.  We work side by side (in a virtual sense–since we’re scattered across the country), corresponding by email and text throughout the day, every day, on client documents, evaluating not just the writing, but also the fit of the documents for the particular job or grant, and beyond that, tracking new and emergent trends in the job market to constantly adapt and update the editing and advising help we provide.  We pool our years of experience with different disciplines, campuses, departments, jobs, and grants, and departmental politics in a kind of continual, ongoing daily training in all elements of the academic (and postacademic) experience.  I constantly learn from my staff, and the expertise they bring from their respective fields (as a social scientist I’m particularly grateful for their expertise coming from the humanities and sciences).  The Professor Is In is what it is because of them!  Feel free to say hello in the comments, or ask them any questions you might have for them!


Dr. Verena Hutter

Dr. Verena Hutter

Verena Hutter completed a Ph.D. in German Studies with an emphasis in Feminist Theory at the University of California, Davis in 2012.  Having experienced the ups and downs of the job market for many years, she hopes that TPII helps clients to survive the job market as sane as possible. An enemy of unnecessary jargon and a friend of succinct prose, Verena will tell you when to keep it real.  She lives in Portland.


What do you do for TPII?

I edit job market documents, as well as book proposals and grants. I also schedule clients’ appointments. One of my favorite job documents are job talks- it is so interesting to see more of people’s research!

What did you do before TPII?  Tell us about your bakckground and career path to this point.

I received my PhD in German from UC Davis in 2012. I was the only graduate to receive a job offer that year and so I moved with my partner and three cats to Indiana, where I taught German at DePauw University in Greencastle. After two years my VAP there ended, and my deteriorating health (I have Crohn’s Disease) and meager job perspectives pushed me to ask some hard questions: Was I going to spend my best years moving from job to job in places I didn’t want to live? Was I going to spend most of our savings on cross-country moves? Did I want to spend the next few years trying to prove my research’s worth to a field that hasn’t moved past the Frankfurt School? The magic eight ball said “hell, no!” Initially, I fell softer than most people deciding to leave cagefighting/ the academic job market. We moved to Portland, OR, and I got my dream of the nineties in form of a rambunctious boxer puppy that I imported from Germany to add to my zoo. I also got a job with Karen (even though I was a needy client from hell!), and I started teaching at the Sophie-Scholl Schule (a German Saturday School) in Portland.

Verena and puppy

Verena and puppy


And then the depression kicked in. No affiliation, no access to libraries, no GQ (German Quarterly) arriving in the mail that I could lovingly recycle right away. Then my stomach ruptured, and I spent months in and out of the hospital. During that time, I received such an outpouring of love and kindness (including Karen, who offered to drive up to Portland to help out!). Except for most of my academic friends. While my friend Harriett, an adjunct instructor at UC Berkeley, scratched her last money together to fly up and help me, there was silence from the tenured (except for one). This put me in the rage stage of grieving (I am fully aware that the stages of grieving are reversed here), but I am slowly moving on. I am the healthiest I have ever been, I have actual hobbies (remember that, academics?), when I write, I actually take the time and don’t just snot incoherent thoughts on paper, and I have jobs that fulfill me. Oh, and a functioning relationship.

What was the biggest surprise for you about working for TPII?

I had thought I knew how abysmal the academic job market was, yet, I had been very focused on my own field. Working with our brave clients and hearing their stories really opened my eyes. I like to think that the work at TPII makes a difference in the fairground of vanities that is academia, even if we’re acting in the background- like a team of academic hitwomen.

The academic hitwomen

The academic hitwomen

How do you like being an academic job market editor?

Every day I am amazed at the outstanding research and teaching our clients do. It is a rewarding job to help them present their work in the best way possible, strategize their career movements with them, and in many cases, give them back the pride in their work. I also like deleting unnecessary jargon.

Editing however, has also helped me become a better writer- my writing used to be list and dyad city!

What do you wish clients knew about applying for jobs or grants?

Search Committees like structure and they like clarity, both in writing and in how you present yourself at an interview.

You don’t want your job application to be a Wagner Opera (long, pompous and/or overly meek, and going up in flames at the end). Good job materials are like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony- start out loud and clear, adhere to a motive, and finish strong!

And a Pet-Peeve: Don’t use the phrase “real-world.” You are undermining everything you do using that phrase, because you suggest that academia, the university and education in general somehow is less “real” than what you do.

What’s your big picture plan for yourself, now and moving forward?

I will continue to be an editor, teacher, and writer, or I’ll become an academic style consultant. Perhaps I’ll get more dogs.



Introducing TPII Staff: Dr. Petra Shenk

Over Summer 2016 I’ll be introducing the wonderful members of the Professor Is In staff (previous one here), who assist me in editing client academic job and grant documents and welcoming and directing old and new clients to the best range of services available for them suited to their particular needs.  We work side by side (in a virtual sense–since we’re scattered across the country), corresponding by email and text throughout the day, every day, on client documents, evaluating not just the writing, but also the fit of the documents for the particular job or grant, and beyond that, tracking new and emergent trends in the job market to constantly adapt and update the editing and advising help we provide.  We pool our years of experience with different disciplines, campuses, departments, jobs, and grants, and departmental politics in a kind of continual, ongoing daily training in all elements of the academic (and postacademic) experience.  I constantly learn from my staff, and the expertise they bring from their respective fields (as a social scientist I’m particularly grateful for their expertise coming from the humanities and sciences).  The Professor Is In is what it is because of them!  Feel free to say hello in the comments, or ask them any questions you might have for them!

Petra Shenk

Dr. Petra Shenk

Dr. Petra Shenk

Petra completed a B.A. in linguistics in 2001 from the University of Oregon and with an interest in documenting endangered languages went on to complete an M.A. and PhD in linguistics from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2008. During her time as a graduate student, she cultivated a parallel career track as an academic editor and student advisor and mentor, focusing on nontraditional and international college students. She is an editor for The Professor Is In and The Doc Doc and identifies as an educator and writing/language specialist who uses a specific skill-set to assist people with their academic and professional goals.

What do you do for TPII?

The majority of the editing work consists of job documents, grant proposals, and book proposals, but I also work on course syllabuses, dissertation abstracts, and the occasional article and book chapter. I work with clients via Skype to prepare them for job interviews, including conference interviewing, the campus visit, and the job talk.

What did you do before TPII?  Tell us about your background and career path to this point.

I completed a PhD in Linguistics from UC Santa Barbara in 2008 at which point I went on the academic job market and applied for exactly one position at the University of Oregon. I recall only four openings that year in my area of specialization that I would consider a “good fit.” Nevertheless, three of those I had no interest in applying to for a variety of reasons, not the least of which I was a new mom with a 3 month old baby, which I’m not ashamed to say blew my ever-loving mind. I didn’t get the one job but was offered an adjunct position. Then, I transitioned into a student services position where I worked as the writing and foreign language specialist and advisor/mentor for a specific group of underrepresented students. While I grieved the loss of the “professor of linguistics” dream (it was much like a grieving process), I was grateful to enjoy the work I was doing.

Petra's daughter depicts life with a TPII editor mom!

Petra’s daughter depicts life with a TPII editor mom!

Also, I met you (Karen) there! You were working in the same department and we instantly got on like a house on fire. As your business rapidly grew, I began working for TPII and then started my own side business “The Doc Doc” where I get to work on bigger projects with people: book manuscripts diss -> mss, dissertations, journal articles, and book chapters. As of 2013, it is my sole source of income and work.

What was the biggest surprise for you about working for TPII?

Hmmm. I guess it’s how very much alike we academics are. In fact, I often feel a sense of camaraderie with clients from vastly different disciplines and faraway places. Much of what we do at TPII can be described as mentorship, and regardless of whether you feel like you have a supportive chair/committee or are abundantly aware that you do not, we all either *want* or *need* to be told what we’re doing wrong and what we’re doing right without mincing words.

How do you like being an academic job market editor?

I get to work with language and people, the two things a functional linguist needs! More specifically, because so many newly minted PhDs did not get the mentoring and professionalization skills they need to be competitive, we are doing what I think is crucial work. As more former clients become faculty, more graduate students will get the advising they need. We’re playing the long game at TPII.

What do you wish clients knew about applying for jobs or grants?

That it’s not a solely meritorious system and excellent candidates are rejected time and again and marvelous proposals are too. I used to think, “If I just win this prestigious award, get accepted to that summer workshop, work better, harder, faster, and more productively than all my peers, I will succeed.” That is just not accurate. Yes, absolutely do all these things because you’re driven and ambitious and curious, but know that the resulting success in the form of a dream job and the admiration of your peers is not a foregone conclusion. And remember that if you haven’t had a grant proposal rejected, you haven’t applied for enough of them.

What’s your big picture plan for yourself, now and moving forward?

For the immediate future, I plan on continuing to do exactly what I’m doing now. I like my job, my community, my family, and the stability that comes with that sense of contentedness. At some point, I will write something of my own again. I still don’t know what it will be, though. Maybe something with dragons.


Introducing TPII Staff: Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya

Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing the wonderful members of the Professor Is In staff, who assist me in editing client academic job and grant documents and welcoming and directing old and new clients to the best range of services available for them suited to their particular needs.  We work side by side (in a virtual sense–since we’re scattered across the country), corresponding by email and text throughout the day, every day, on client documents, evaluating not just the writing, but also the fit of the documents for the particular job or grant, and beyond that, tracking new and emergent trends in the job market to constantly adapt and update the editing and advising help we provide.  We pool our years of experience with different disciplines, campuses, departments, jobs, and grants, and departmental politics in a kind of continual, ongoing daily training in all elements of the academic (and postacademic) experience.  I constantly learn from my staff, and the expertise they bring from their respective fields (as a social scientist I’m particularly grateful for their expertise coming from the humanities and sciences).  The Professor Is In is what it is because of them!  Feel free to say hello in the comments, or ask them any questions you might have for them!

Margarita (Maggie) Levantovskaya

Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya

Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya

Maggie completed a PhD in Literature at the University of California, San Diego in 2013. She has taught a wide range of courses at UCSD, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Lafayette College, from Russian language to graduate seminars in Translation Studies. She brings this experience to her work at TPII, where she helps clients of all disciplinary backgrounds wow search committees by presenting their qualifications in specific and exciting ways. Maggie will make your materials stand out within ever-growing pools of applications! She currently lives in the Bay Area, where continues to teach, write and live her best life as a culture vulture.

What do you do for TPII?

I edit job market documents, job talks, grant proposals and book proposals. I also help clients strategize about ways to make their record stronger.

What did you do before TPII?  Tell us about your background and career path to this point.

In 2013, I received a PhD in literature from UC San Diego. My research is in Russian-Jewish literature and I have been an active member in the fields of Slavic Studies, Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies. After defending my dissertation, I took a couple of visiting positions in different parts of the country (Midwest and East Coast), leaving my partner and the rest of my family in California. I gradually learned that VAP-hopping was, for me, not conducive to managing my chronic illness or achieving personal and professional fulfillment. For this reason I decided to return to the Bay Area. Currently, I’m working for TPII, adjuncting at a local university and figuring out my Plan B.

What has been the biggest surprise for you about working for TPII?

By far, the biggest surprise was how fast I became at identifying client writing issues! When I first started, I spent a long time identifying problems, racking my head over how best to help clients solve them. Now, I spot mistakes a mile away and I have a whole reserve of solutions for all kinds of job document pitfalls. Basically, I’ve become very efficient about problem solving, whereas I always thought of myself as a “slow but meticulous” editor. Similarly, our clients learn that they can get very good at this. Producing good documents requires skills, not magical powers. I’ve also been very pleasantly surprised by our clients’ ability to take constructive criticism and maintain a positive attitude throughout the editing process. Our clients often make me laugh and it’s always delightful to see academics have a sense of humor about their (often) serious research projects.

Maggie hard at work on client docs

Maggie hard at work on client docs

How do you like being an academic job market editor?

This job has been empowering for me in a number of different ways. Being an editor at TPII has helped me gain a sense of control over the job market, albeit in a limited way. I feel confident in my ability to produce strong materials that are going to catch the attention of the search committee. I still cannot do anything about the shrinking job market, the fickleness of search committees or that elusive problem of fit. However, I can represent myself honestly and clearly and can help others do the same. Also, for me, editing and teaching are intersecting and mutually-beneficial activities. My editing makes me a better teacher, especially when it comes to working on students’ writing. Working at TPII has only helped me in this. On the other hand, I bring my teaching into my editing. The most rewarding aspect of working at TPII is helping clients express themselves better and learn from the editing process. What I didn’t expect was the pedagogical nature of my work at TPII.

What do you wish clients knew about applying for jobs or grants?

That it’s a nearly full-time job. Producing documents that sing takes a lot of time and labor – intellectual and emotional! Some clients say that producing job and grant documents is more difficult than conducting research and writing. Throughout the job market process, clients have to keep an open mind and do the tough work of figuring out what their research is about, who they are as scholars and teachers. I think that most clients do not expect to have to tackle existential questions while working with us. However, the ones who use the application process to define their academic identities, end up gaining something valuable, regardless of how their search turns out.

What’s your big picture plan for yourself, now and moving forward?

I plan to continue working as a teacher, writer and editor. My current goal is more abstract than it has been in a while: to remain intellectually engaged while striking a work/life balance.





This was my newsletter post* from a couple days ago; turns out this particular newsletter was met with a highly unusual number of unsubscribes.  Is it the gun control stuff? The queer stuff?  Or just being political at all?  I have no way of knowing.  But this is how I feel, so I’m putting it up on the blog too.


I can’t muster a newsletter post this time, folks, I’m sorry.  As a queer person I am too undone by the news from Orlando, and by the hatefulness of our political sphere.  I do see signs of hope, in the way people have rallied in support of LGBTQ communities in Orlando and elsewhere (and as some of my clients have pointed out–that at this juncture the police came to protect the gays, not harass them), and at Senator Chris Murphey’s 15 hour gun control filibuster. And that a community of people who have had to organize and fight steadily for decades to gain and protect basic rights are now on the case of gun control.  As the FB meme puts it: “these queens get shit done!”  But I’m still struggling.  I leave in a few minutes to go to a fundraiser dance party at Eugene’s gay club, The Wayward Lamb, raising money for #Orlando.  That feels like the most important work to do at this moment. That, and signing petitions and calling your senator to limit the sale of assault weapons and other firearms.


*Be sure and subscribe to the newsletter if you haven’t done so already. Do it from the popup box you see at the lower right when you scroll through posts.

Entrepreneurship for Academics: An Interview with Adeline Koh

Today’s post is an interview with Dr. Adeline Koh, Associate Professor of Literature, and Director of Digital Humanities, at Stockton University. One of my earliest clients, Adeline has gone on to enormous success as a scholar, teacher, digital humanist, and now… budding entrepreneur. Adeline and I have an ongoing dialogue about the pleasures and challenges of entrepreneurship, so I asked her to share her thoughts about running her new business, Sabbatical Beauty, and the potential appeal of starting your own business (either a side gig, or full time) for academics — a subject close to my heart!

Dr. Adeline Koh

Dr. Adeline Koh


Tell me about what you’re doing now, in ac and non-ac realms

I’m currently finishing up my year of sabbatical (sob), am currently teaching a summer class online. I’ve been doing all the usual academic things one generally does–working on my book and other research, giving talks in different places, attending conferences, peer reviewing articles and T&P dossiers… the usual.

In non-academic realms, I run my own web design company (Digital Academic Consulting by Adeline Koh), and have designed quite a few academic websites for different people, as well as run a few how-to-create-your-own-website webinars.

Most recently, I’ve started a new skincare company called Sabbatical Beauty, which focuses on effective Korean-beauty natural botanical ingredients that’s been really taking off quite well.

What is Sabbatical Beauty? Why did you decide to start Sabbatical Beauty?

Sabbatical Beauty is a skincare company that is on a mission to change the beauty industry. I started Sabbatical Beauty because I’m a skincare nerd who was frustrated by the available products out there. While many products are marketed based on their active ingredients (the ingredients that actually do the “work” on your skin), the majority of products have actives in extremely low concentrations. I wanted products that would actually showcase the active ingredient in a big way. There was no way around that other than to start making my own products.

So I did what every academic is good at doing: I started doing my own research on how to make skincare products, as well as reading about active ingredients in cosmetic science textbooks. Then I started practicing–first on myself. The moment my friends saw the effects of my products on my skin, though, they demanded I start making some for them. So I started selling the products to my friends in small batches in a little skincare co-op. Then my friends demanded that I start an online shop, so that they could share the love with their family and friends who weren’t in the co-op. The rest is history.

How is it going?

It’s going really well, actually. The big push came when we were featured in Slate in January. The demand was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and I had to get friends and family to pitch in. Since then we’ve been doing a good job of maintaining the demand, and we’ve also been featured in places like Cosmopolitan UK, Shape Magazine, and Women’s Wear Daily.

Sabbatical Beauty was really a hobby to start off with, I never expected it to turn into a business the way it is now. But I love so much of it. I love planning and creating the products–because I’m a huge skincare nerd. I love making the products as well, which can be very calming and relaxing.

What I’m enjoying the most now is learning about business development, planning product line life cycles, and maintaining a hyper-engaged community of users. Sabbatical Beauty really has the best customers–they are in general feminist academic women, who find this aspect of self-care very empowering, and really support one another. We have a really great Facebook group which many of my customers say is one of the best aspects of the company. Unlike big box skincare brands, your SB experience doesn’t end with you buying the product; when you join the Facebook group (open to anyone interested!) you get to tap into a community of likeminded people who love the same products you do, and can offer advice about how they hack products in their routine, as well as offer support in self-care rituals.

What do you see are the best parts of running your own business?

Far and away, what I appreciate the most is the autonomy I get. I was somehow under the illusion that tenure brings one autonomy, but it’s actually the opposite; you just get more enmeshed in the network of dependencies and loyalties and egos etc. I absolutely love that I get to decide what happens with SB, and if I want to do something, I can execute it immediately, and see what happens. That’s so different from so many areas of academe where you have to write a zillion grant proposals before you actually do something, and you may not ever wind up doing it; or present a proposal for curriculum development to a million committees before it finally gets implemented (if ever).

I also love that I get to see results so quickly. Unlike traditional academic publishing, where you have to wait a zillion years to get your peer-reviewed article in print (I just had one come out last week that was accepted in 2010!), I get to see almost immediately what works, and what doesn’t work, and make changes based on this.

Finally, in a lot of ways I have found that maintaining the SB relationship to customers is somehow more straightforward than most academic relationships. When my SB customer is unhappy, it is a fixable problem–they are unhappy with customer service, or the product, or the results of the product. When you have an issue with someone in academia (peer reviewer? colleague?), it’s often to do with the person being unhappy because of something you (or your work) represents to them, but it’s often buried under the guise of something else (academic rigor? collegiality? fit?) and is much more complex to resolve. Maintaining the SB to customer relationship is a lot easier to me, and simpler.

What are the challenges of running your own business?

Financial security–making sure that I will earn enough to pay any associates that work with me, making sure that I have reliable revenue etc. Since I’ve started implementing a marketing strategy and product life cycle, this has become a lot less challenging for me, and is a lot of fun.

Other challenges–self-employment tax (which your employer pays in a regular job)–can take a lot out of your take-home income, plus the issue of benefits, if you don’t have a spouse who has a good benefits package you can ride on.

Do you feel like your academic training and background has been helpful or unhelpful in this new venture? Or, both?  Explain!

I would say it’s only ever been helpful, really. I couldn’t do what I do without my research background. Although I don’t have a science background, I’m able to research the heck out of whatever I’m interested in (maybe due to my comparative literature training, which was really about being able to do a critical reading of any discipline), and I can do research really quickly. This helped me to get boned up on cosmetic science pretty quickly, as well as to learn a lot about business development and marketing.

My digital humanities background–in terms of web design and social media management–has been integral to my being able to style my own website and update it to my liking, as well as building a vibrant social media community. Finally, the English literature background means that I’m able to write effective copy on my own–and my own press releases, which resulted in the Shape and Women’s Wear Daily features.

Advice for other Ph.D.s considering starting their own business?

It’s a LOT of hard work, but very exhilarating. If you’re the kind of Ph.D. like I am, who is unhappy with the state of academia, and wants to create their own job/their own opportunities, you’re going to love it, because in this business I have learned WAY more than I have in the past five years as an academic, because I’ve gotten experience in so many different fields. It’s also scary, so if you’re the kind of person that needs security and a paycheck, it may be too intimidating for you.

What are the challenges and risks you see in doing entrepreneurship full time?

Well, there’s a lot. Obviously the first and most important thing is whether you can sustain enough sales to make this a full time gig. Secondly running your own business and growing it you’ve to deal with the question of scale in a way which has real life consequences you don’t need to deal with as a tenured professor, especially if you aren’t in administration. For example, if you hire someone to help you, you become responsible for their livelihood. What happens if you don’t make enough sales to break even? How do you pay them? And what do you do when you decide to grow, do you hire and train people to take over what you do, or do you outsource part of your work to someone else? Hiring and training others, especially in a product-based business like mine, requires space and a lease–all adding to potential risk for your operation. Failure in any of these aspects has very real consequences on your life and other people’s lives. As a tenured professor, you can fail, but you will still get paid. As an entrepreneur who has had a bad year, the consequences are a lot more dire. However, the rewards can also be a lot more outstanding. Not everyone has the stomach for this risk I think. I thought I didn’t, but now I’m realizing how much I’m enjoying the challenge. I’m sure part of this is because I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs.

What’s your plan for the next 5 years?

I’ve asked for–and just heard that my department has approved–a year of unpaid leave to grow Sabbatical Beauty. I’m really grateful that they worked together with me to allow this. It’s my hope that I can grow the business to a sustainable enough level to leave academia full time. Since I started working full time on SB I’m so much happier than I used to be as an academic.

I want to grow Sabbatical Beauty to a point where it becomes a well-known brand that you will be able to purchase at Sephora or Nordstroms–and even have our own brick and mortar shops. I would love to be able to have Sabbatical Beauty achieve this in five years, but I’m still mapping out the plans for that.