Post-Ac or Academic Ronin – Postac Guest Post

by Robert Oprisko

Dr. Robert Oprisko

Dr. Robert Oprisko

While in graduate school, you “count.”  You hold an active affiliation with an R1 university, you are assumed to be capable to teach undergraduate students at said R1 university, and your potential is unlimited.  Once you graduate, if you don’t already have a TT job, that’s over and your identity, as you knew it, crumbles.

You lose your affiliation and become an “Independent Scholar”.  Your value diminishes; no longer can you expect full tuition remission, health insurance and a moderate stipend for teaching a single course.  There is a vague, but palpable feeling in the academy that something must be wrong with you because you don’t already have a new academic home, a new master, and a steady paycheck.

Welcome to being a Ronin.

Ronin were of the samurai caste in feudal Japan who, upon the death or disgrace of their master became homeless, jobless, and were discriminated against by their former peers.  The existence of Ronin provided incentive for others to adhere to social norms and to accept centralized authority.  Samurais’ lives became ever more rigid and their actions more proscribed.  Ronin, on the other hand, were free from said constraints.  More recently, a ronin refers to a professional “salary man” who is “between jobs”.  As are you.

Coming to grips with an Alt/Post-Ac professional existence can be difficult because the structures you face approach you as being of minimal to no value.

That norm is bullshit.

You have value.

You have skill.

You’re an expert.

The only way to escape the torment of un(der) employment is to come up with what you feel to be a fair value for your time and expertise.  Employers, even temporary ones, aren’t going to value you or your time if you don’t.  So, come up with a number.  This number should be the amount of money you feel to be your minimum amount of money you need to make annually in order to not be selling yourself short.  For the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume $50,000.  As a ronin turned mercenary, you’ll need to divide this number into purchasable chunks in order to more easily gain clients.  I suggest the following forms.

Teaching:    Take the salary you feel you deserve and divide it by the number of classes you feel that a full time teaching load should represent.  Having taught a 4/4 load as a VAP, I find that to be a maximum load that can be done well by me.  Dividing $50,000 by eight courses is pretty simple, my rate for adjunct work is $6,250 per course.  Some of you may think, but my current university has set policies for how much they will pay adjuncts.  No they don’t.  They pay a “market price” which only works because some people will foolishly take them.  Salaries aren’t perfectly equitable within the academy, just ask women, people of color, and non-STEM academics.  You have every right and ability to negotiate or set your own rate.  Add more if it requires a long commute.

Writing:    Some people type faster than others and the creative process can be draining.  Take the amount of time you think you need to adequately write and revise 1,000 words and use that as your baseline for scalability.  If you can have a publishable 1,000 words in four hours (remember to include time for research and revision!), your rate is $100/1,000 words, the equivalent of $25/hour or $50,000/year.

Editing:    You can use the equation above to determine how much you should charge for editing documents as well.  Make certain to have multiple rates for depth and intensity of editing.  Light copy-editing is faster than substantive editing is faster than developmental editing, which often restructures entire passages includes a decent amount of original work.  Creating a comprehensive book index is more intense than expected.

Research:    One of the dark secrets of the academy is that there exists a research underground where some academics, usually super-stars, will pay others to do their research and writing for them and then they publish it under their name.  In this way, a TT academic can make six figures annually, produce insane volumes of research, and still golf four days per week.  My gut reaction is to say, “Don’t do it!” because it perpetuates inequality, is, effectively, a gross form of plagiarism, and the pay often doesn’t match the volume and intensity of work.  If, however, you aren’t dissuaded, be certain to make it worthwhile.  Don’t take on original research, especially contracts that include final payment as a product of “publishable quality” in a specific journal because that provides the client with too many escape clauses.  Do the work like a professional contractor and charge professional rates; I suggest double your norm, in our case $50/hour.  I would also mandate that all of your writing kept you as an author in order to build up your portfolio for consideration by future clients.  Remember that other academics aren’t the only potential source for this work.  Think-tanks, policy institutes, government contractors, and any corporation with an R&D division are all viable employers.

Every academic likely is familiar with and comfortable teaching, writing, editing, and conducting research.  Feel free to add your own unique skillset into your pricing structure so that you not only know what services you offer, but also how much you charge for them.  Be sure to bill your client in a timely fashion; if possible, get payment up front.  You have a carefully crafted expertise with a specific set of skills.  It’s time to get well paid for them.

Introducing: The Art of the Cover Letter

Big news here at The Professor Is In! 

Our new product, The Art of the Cover Letter, is about to

go live!  LIVE!  FIND IT HERE

What is The Art of the Cover Letter?

A 10-module self-guided course, all-online, available anytime 24/7, that walks you step by step through the planning, info-gathering, writing, and editing of your academic job cover letter.  Includes worksheets that teach you how to a) grasp and frame your record for the purposes of job market competition; b) collect all pertinent material in one place and hone it down to cover letter appropriate language; c) refine and edit the complete cover letter to avoid pitfalls like excessive humility, desperation, bragging, emotionalism, self-sabotage, etc.  And at each step it includes short videos by me, Dr. Karen, that keep you focused on the big picture of the job search.

Work at your own pace, develop your own materials, learn what you need to say, and how you need to say it!

The Art of the Cover Letter:  Fast, Individualized, Affordable.



Want to know more?  Read on!

Why are we offering The Art of the Cover Letter? 

Because every Fall scores and scores of you can’t get on my calendar in time for your job deadlines or are living on a grad student or adjunct budget that won’t allow for my in-person editing rates.  You want and need help on your cover letter that goes deeper than the blog and the book, is more individualized than the webinar recordings, but costs less than individual editing.

What do you get with The Art of the Cover Letter? 

Once you purchase the online course, you get immediate access to a 10-module program that walks you through each element of the cover letter, from the salutation to the sign-off, with assigned readings in my book The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job (which you must purchase to do the program) and on the blog.

Each module includes worksheets that lead you from the mental process of recognizing the content from your record that “counts,” through the challenge of condensing that content into effective, concise, fact-based language, and finally to the work of refining it into memorable paragraphs that frame your expertise in ways that work for the job market.

Each worksheet also provides you with examples of effective language to describe research, contribution, publications, next project, teaching, diversity, and tailoring.

And you get 10 short videos from me, Dr. Karen, reminding you what search committees are looking for when they read each section of a letter.  I show you how you can avoid the most common forms of self-sabotage, and what you can do to produce an effective, compelling letter that delivers the facts of your record, tailored to the job, without desperation, pandering, hyper-emotionalism, or bragging.

What don’t you get with Art of the Cover Letter?

Personal editing help from Dr. Karen or any live person!  This is entirely a self-guided course. (Once you have completed the program, you do have the option to purchase an ACL-Followup Edit for an additional fee, if you want Dr. Karen [or one of her editing staff] to give your letter a single final edit.)



Fine print:

The Art of the Cover Letter may not be exchanged for any other TPII services.  To be clear: you may not switch out previously or currently scheduled editing services to The Art of the Cover Letter. Please don’t ask.

Once you purchase The Art of the Cover Letter, there are no refunds.

You have access to the course for 30 days.  After that, your access expires.

You are required to purchase Karen’s book The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job, to do the program.  Its list price is $15, and it is available for $8.40 on evil Amazon.  Buy it at Powell’s Online and support a writer and a local business!

The Art of the Cover Letter does NOT involve any editing of your documents by Dr. Karen.  Nor does it involve any emailing with Dr. Karen.  Questions about The Art of the Cover Letter will be answered by ACL staff (Kellee or Mary), not by Dr. Karen.  The price of this product is possible because it is entirely a self-guided course.

The Art of the Cover Letter is hosted on a site called Reach the Next Level, which Kellee has created to host a number of similar self-guided courses, including, eventually, Art of the CV, Art of the Teaching Statement, and Art of the Research Statement, as well as her Unstuck: From Stalled to Submitted Writing Coaching Program.  Do not be alarmed that you have left the TPII site to access The Art of the Cover Letter; it’s still just us (Karen and Kellee) — we’ve just added a new platform to work from.


Interested?  FIND IT HERE


Being an Academic (Alt, Ac, or Otherwise) – Guest Post

I’m happy to welcome Dr. Robert Oprisko to the TPII post-ac blogging team.  Robert has written widely on adjuncting and the decline and fall of academia, and is deep in his own post-academic transition.

Robert’s Bio:

Robert Oprisko earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from Purdue University.  His academic research focuses on International Political Philosophy and the state and business of higher education.  He has taught/researched at Purdue University, Johns Hopkins University, Butler University, and Indiana University.  Having seen the dark side, he embraced his role as a mercenary (post/alt)-academic.  He’s currently Director/Editor at E-International Relations and consults and writes selectively.

He will be contributing three posts; this is the first.  Find him on Twitter at @oprisko.


by Robert Oprisko

Dr. Robert Oprisko

Dr. Robert Oprisko

Conventional wisdom holds that employment within the professoriate is a prerequisite for being an academic. This sentiment stems from indoctrination within graduate school programs, which typically spread this fiction as gospel. Failure to obtain a professorial position, under this guideline, equates to failure as an academic and a substantial, sustained, and crippling identity crisis for many people.  Fear of identity loss and the corresponding feeling of failure has led countless thousands of people to suffer through precarious work as adjuncts, complete with paltry wages and no benefits, in order to maintain their status, if only on the fringe of existence.

Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Being an academic is not contingent upon a specific form of employment, it is about training, competence, and successfully contributing to the field.  This can be done in many ways.  Let us consider where perception and reality diverge on what it takes to be an academic:  who counts and who does not?

Within academe there are many alternative routes for professional development and specialty.  It is not unheard of for professors to effectively suspend their teaching and research to move into administrative roles.  Transitioning into a dean-let or higher role has traditionally been seen as an intuitive move up the food-chain within a college or university, but, in today’s burgeoning academic administration, they are the minority of professional roles that are available as professional alternatives for academics.

The current landscape of the (post) modern academy includes many specialties for professional development.  From NCAA and Title IX personnel to coordinators and directors of language centers, international programs, area studies, undergraduate and graduate research, writing and research labs, and beyond, there is a multitude of services being provided within and around colleges and universities that support the core and peripheral missions.

There are also a number of intuitive transitions out of the university structure that have been accepted as lateral moves for academics.  Journalism is a logical transition within the humanities and social sciences; research labs and industrial positions are common within the natural sciences. Academic publishing offers  a number of career opportunities:  acquisitions, sales, production, managing titles or series, and developing LMS integration, pedagogical artefacts, and interactive lessons.  Think-tanks and policy institutes are bastions of original research that is often published either externally in peer-reviewed journals or internally as white-papers.

As a subject matter expert (SME), which includes all persons who have earned doctorates, you may be a valuable asset not only to these entities, but also to many companies. (Don’t forget that adjunct professorships emerged as vehicles for universities to diversify their course offerings by hiring SMEs with specialties that differed from their tenured and tenure-track faculty as professional consultants.)  There exist a very large number of corporations and firms that compete for grants and contracts with the government and utilize SMEs.  RAND corporation, Raytheon, Booz Allen Hamilton, and many other companies openly recruit doctored researchers, analysts, and specialists from diverse fields.  You can also ignore government contractors and use your Ph.D. to leverage a higher starting salary grade (GS 11) within the United States government.

Finally, there is always the way of the consultant.  By building up your personal toolkit and leveraging your expertise toward the practical, a doctored professional becomes a walking, talking small-business.  Consulting may be publicly vilified, but many people within the professoriate consult on the side and may actually exceed their salary in earnings this way. Notably, academics within the business, medical, and legal disciplines are expected to engage extra-academic entities as a lure for prospective students.

When push comes to shove, doctored applicants are commodities that may be more valued outside of traditional academe than inside it.  The prejudices of institutional prestige may have a residual effect, but for-profit entities typically favor results and production over image; if what you do can be effectively monetized, you’ll likely find a company either already doing so or willing to enter the market.

Though your graduate school faculty may be disappointed that you aren’t emulating their professional path, they don’t have the power to revoke your status as an academic.  In fact, the moment they signed off on your dissertation, they welcomed you into an elite honor group as a peer – you have every right to dismiss their opinions as they may your career path.  Whether you remain within the professoriate, find an alternative academic path, or move beyond the university structure entirely, you are an academic.  You are entitled to enjoy, “all the rights, privileges, and honors thereunto appertaining.”

Don’t let your peers diminish you and your expertise.  You don’t owe them anything, most certainly not indentured servitude.  You’ve made an original contribution to the field with your dissertation so continue that tradition and go forge your own professional path.  No matter where you go or what you do, you will always be an academic.

An Alt-Ac Summer Workshop That Works (A guest post)

This post is contributed by reader Rebecah Pulsifer.  I hope that other programs will read this and consider developing similar initiatives.  Thank you, Rebecah!


Graduate study, as TPII readers know well, is wildly out of step with the current state of the academic job market. Tenure-track positions are scarce and endangered, yet graduate programs have been slow to acknowledge this reality. They continue to peddle the fairy tale of the TT job, often while failing to provide practical advice about the market.

In July, I attended a funded, three-week workshop that offered a different model of graduate education. Jointly administered by the Chicago Humanities Festival and Humanities Without Walls, a consortium of fifteen humanities centers funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Alternative Academic Summer Workshop invited thirty pre-doctoral students in the humanities to explore how academic training can be leveraged for jobs outside the academy.

“This workshop emerged from a conversation at the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes about how to prepare PhDs who can’t get or don’t want jobs in the academy for other career possibilities,” said project manager Jason Mierek. “The center directors saw a need to highlight the skills PhD candidates already have, both for potential employers and for the candidates themselves.”

The workshop offered sessions on networking, writing job documents, and pitching dissertation topics to non-academics. Each day included a field trip to a different workplace in Chicago, where we spoke with humanities PhDs in their natural environments: design, tech, advertising, museums, nonprofits, consulting, public humanities projects, non-academic jobs in the academy, and more.

I came away feeling optimistic about the possibilities for my future career (an unfamiliar experience for many graduate students). This is what graduate-level education could be: experiential, applicable to a range of possible career paths, and pragmatic about the realities of the job market — both academic and non-academic — for PhDs. The following takeaways were particularly affirming.


Graduate students are already academics.

Graduate students are overtly and subliminally trained to be suspicious of any feelings of authority. But in the eyes of non-academicians, the work of a graduate student is the same as that of a professor: we design and teach courses, pursue multi-stage research projects, and perform administrative duties. The alternative academic job search requires a shift in mindset to the conviction that you are already an expert, not only in your field(s) of study, but also in a range of transferable skills. Your graduate education is professional experience and must be presented that way to any potential employer.


Values are as important as skills.

One side effect of the academy’s culture of desperation is that PhDs seeking jobs outside of the academy may throw themselves at any job for which they are remotely qualified. Mearah Quinn-Brauner, assistant director of graduate student career advising at Northwestern University, pointed out that employers are quick to identify applicants whose career values don’t align with the position. She advised us to narrow down potential alternative academic paths by honestly answering questions such as:

  • In what types of work environment am I most successful?
  • What degree of collaboration do I prefer?
  • To what extent is it important for me to have defined responsibilities versus autonomy?
  • How much do I value work/life balance?

If one benefit to abandoning the academy is re-claiming a sense of career fulfillment, it makes no sense to jump into a job that will make you equally unhappy.


Asking people about their career trajectories is part of networking.

The academy is insular and hierarchical, which makes it relatively easy to identify who should be in one’s network. Outside the academy, potential contacts are scattered across many different careers and industries. Establishing an alt-ac network, therefore, can take a lot of time; almost every presenter emphasized that the best way to do this is to conduct informational interviews.

The purpose of an informational interview is not to offer oneself up for a job, but rather to ask someone questions such as:

  • How did you come to be in your current position?
  • What skills are most valued in your profession?
  • Are there experiences you wish you had gained before beginning your current job?
  • What advice do you have for someone seeking to enter your field?

Several presenters mentioned that landing a job after a career transition takes at least 6-12 months, so conducting informational interviews while you still have funding left is a great way to prepare for an alt-ac search.


You can prepare for a non-academic career while finishing your dissertation.

Graduate students are often told that we have more time now than we ever will in our academic careers. What we hear less often is that not all of that time must be dumped into the dissertation or, more likely, hours of immobilizing writing anxiety. Plenty of PhD candidates can and do pursue non-academic projects and jobs while completing the dissertation. Presenters and participants in this workshop were involved in non-academic projects such as founding a film society, consulting for nonprofits, curating museum exhibits, hosting a radio show, and creating documentary films. If you are considering alt-ac, now is the time to volunteer or start a part-time job in a field of interest.


Career paths are often (usually?) messy.

Academics love to profess their exceptionalism, and this is certainly the case when it comes to career trajectories. The most eye-opening aspect of this workshop was the realization that changing careers is not a particularly unusual event outside of academia. Many presenters needed at least ten minutes to explain how they had arrived at their current positions and another several minutes to explain the connection (or lack thereof) between their degrees and their current work. Many of these narratives were stories of happenstance or chasing a passion until it turned into a career.

I left the workshop believing that professional metamorphosis is not only possible but also common. Academics are not alone on the path to imagining flexible careers; we are only a bit late to the game.

Why Do You Think They Give a F**k? Thoughts On Tenure Documents

I’ve been editing a lot of tenure documents lately.  Now that The Professor Is In has been around for over four years, many readers have made it all the way to the point of going up for tenure.  My next book, The Professor Is You: Life After the Ph.D.,  will have a section devoted to the tenure track and another to tenure documents.  So I’m giving a lot of thought to their proper form and approach.

In that light, I’ve been struck by the tidal wave of emotionalism that I’ve encountered in my client tenure docs this Fall.  Lines like (edited for anonymity):

  • What I have found most rewarding in my time at UCSD…
  • It was a particular privilege to be able to teach…
  • I am pleased and delighted at my productivity since arriving on campus
  • It has been gratifying to see these publications emerge
  • I am pleased that my scholarly expertise has led to two invitations to write…

I am genuinely perplexed by this language.  I cannot fathom why the writers believe that their feelings play a role in the institution’s deliberation about their tenurability. Put another way, I cannot fathom why the writers believe that the institution gives a flying fuck what they find personally rewarding or pleasing or gratifying.  Either the record meets the standards for tenure at that institution, or it doesn’t.  You can be as gratified and delighted as you want, but if your publication numbers are low at an R1, or your course evals are weak at a SLAC, it will make no difference. Emotion language has no place in tenure statements, which are meant to simply describe the accomplishments of research and teaching and service, and contextualize them within the department, institution, and field as a whole.

Regular readers of the blog and my new book know the degree to which I rail against emotionalism in academic job documents.  This is not because I personally dislike emotions, but because in any academic context, cases built on emotions have little value and carry little weight.  The Academic Skepticism Principle requires that claims made in the academy must be based on facts or evidence, and defended with arguments and logic.  Expressing thrill, delight, or gratification about some academic claim or another will do nothing to make others accept that claim.  It didn’t work in your grad seminars, it doesn’t work at conferences, and it doesn’t work in your job documents. So why would it suddenly start working at tenure?

It doesn’t.

And furthermore, the continual use of emotion-language sends an additional message of egotism and self-importance.  As if, the truly significant aspect of the candidate’s tenure is not what they provide for the institution, but what the institution provides for them: a stage for a private drama of pleasure and gratification.

I’ll be writing more about tenure documents over the coming year, but for now, I’ll just reiterate the same old point that has applied at every prior stage in job applications, interviewing, and grant-writing—in academia, your feelings don’t count.  Your output does.

My Policy Is… (#Postac Post, Fruscione)

by Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Successful freelancers have concrete policies governing much of their work: from payment and logistics to deadlines, future communication, and handling dissatisfied clients. Effective policies let you protect your labor and do the work on your terms. They also help prevent scope creep, excessive emailing, unpaid labor, and other potential problems.

Follow this good advice from Jo VanEvery: “Sometimes the client is waiting for you to take the lead. As long as you don’t ask for money they might keep asking for work. It requires confidence to define the boundary.” Liana M. Silva agrees: “I know I was able to set boundaries when I was more confident in my abilities and in my reasoning for my rates.”

It’s best to communicate your policies early in the process so your clients know how the work will proceed. Here’s my typical process with new clients:

  • Once we decide to work together, I communicate my basic policies via email (so there’s a paper trail). I reiterate the key policies during our video or phone chat and give clients the chance to request clarification. I then send the project’s scope, our individual responsibilities and expectations, and the payment breakdown.
  • I remind them what my primary tasks are (most often, copy editing or proofreading) and what is beyond the scope of our work (e.g., basic layout, works cited pages, or multiple drafts). If clients want me to do additional work, I remind them that I’ll charge an extra fee.
  • I typically request about half the payment up front, with the rest due when the work is done. Unless I’m doing the work for a friend or trusted colleague, I won’t start until I’ve been paid a portion up front. You could try to get paid in full before doing the work, but be aware that some clients may not be willing or able to do so. Asking for about half up front has been a good middle ground for me.
  • If I’m working on anything longer than 60-70 pages, I request multiple smaller files, which makes the work easier and smoother. (If you’ve ever had to work on a 100+ page Word document, you’ll know what I mean.) This also enables me to return edited portions more quickly, although I’m very clear that the client can’t return revised portions until I’ve finished the entire project. This eliminates confusion and crossed versions while protecting my time and labor.

If you don’t already have set policies or defined boundaries, consider developing some:



  • How much time do you need to do your best work? (Make sure your clients know how many days or weeks you estimate needing to complete the project. You owe it to yourself to hold them accountable if they get you their work late but still expect it returned promptly.)
  • What will and won’t you be responsible for in the project? If you’re primarily doing copy editing, what will you do when a client also expects you to handle basic formatting, layout, works cited, and so on? (If you exclusively want to copy edit or proofread, make sure your clients know from the beginning that you’ll only do certain kinds of work, and that they’re responsible for handling other aspects.)
  • If you’re reviewing a document (e.g., a cover letter draft) that’s already been edited, do you want to see a clean or marked-up copy?
  • How do you want clients to send you their materials?: Word docs or PDFs? GoogleDocs? A single file or smaller files for each section?
  • What would you do if a client didn’t send you quality work (e.g., you were promised a final draft but instead got a messy, incomplete version)?
  • How much regular communication do you want? Would you rather touch base weekly, wait until the project is done, or work on another kind of timeline?


Fees and Payment

  • How do you want to charge: by the hour, page, project, or some other metric? When and how will you communicate your estimate to the client?
  • How much further work—editing, reviewing, emailing, whatever—will you offer without billing the client? Is there a set number of emails or video chats you’ll offer as part of a package? Related, how could you inform clients that you’ll do more work for them but only for an extra fee? (This helps curtail what I playfully call the Columbo Effect: i.e., the “just one more thing” kind of client who keeps asking for more work…but for no extra money.)
  • When and how do you want to be paid?: At the end? Half up front and half at the end? Via PayPal, a check, or some other means?
  • Once a project is done, are you willing to either review a revised version or answer more email queries from the client? If you’ll do either or both, how much will you charge for such additional work?
  • How would you handle a dissatisfied client who wants to end your work together before the originally established date? What will your refund policies be? Will you offer partial refunds? Do you need to prepare a script or some other language to use in case you have problem clients?

It’s better to have clear policies you chose not to enforce for the right person than to wish you had clearer policies for the wrong person. The key, as Jo VanEvery and others say, is confidence. Don’t be hesitant to let a client know if he or she is asking too much or not meeting your criteria, and stand by your estimates and fees if someone expects unreasonably low rates. Be careful about falling into the trap of doing extra, unpaid work for fear of rocking the boat.

Having clear policies helps protect your time and labor. They also support you if you have to speak up to a problem client or ensure that you’re not being overly generous. Consider having a colleague, former client, or fellow freelancer review your policies to ensure that they’re not overly accommodating or overly draconian. It’s worth the labor to design your policies and then communicate them to clients once you begin the work.


Advice for Your First Year on the Tenure Track

This is a repost.

Update 8/22/15:  Dialogue on my FB page made me realize that I need to provide fuller context for this post.  This dates from early years on the blog when I used to do special request posts to respond to reader questions.  “Tricia” was at an R1 institution, and my advice was focused on responding to her concerns about her situation, but I didn’t make that clear.  Much of this advice would not be appropriate for a teaching intensive position.  I’m sorry that I didn’t clarify that in the original post, or in the re-post this week.


Today’s post is a Special Request post for Tricia, who asks, “What advice would you give someone about to start their first year as an assistant professor?”

My advice is: be selfish.

Your job is not to advance the academy. It is not to change the academy. It is not to improve the academy. It is not to make the academy a safe space for women. It is not to defend the humanities against the corporatization of the institution.

Your job is not to be friends with the undergraduates. It is not to rescue the graduate students. It is not to fill gaps in the class schedule with independent studies. It is not to be a therapist to frightened ABDs.

Your job is not to rehabilitate your department. It is not to fix the curriculum. It is not to chair committees. It is not to represent the department on the Faculty Senate.

Your job is not to represent women, or feminists, or queers, or people of color on department and university committees.

Your job is not to win a teaching award.

Your job is not to participate in edited collections or symposia proposed by your new colleagues.


Your job is to be selfish, keep your head down, and get through the year.

Your job is to make friends with other junior faculty in your department and in other departments, and go out to coffee or lunch with them on a regular basis.

Your job is to find a trusted senior colleague as mentor, and to meet with that colleague at least twice a semester. If you are a woman, that mentor should be a woman.

Your job is to schedule a meeting with your Head and find out the expectations for tenure. Your job is to follow up on that meeting with an email that clarifies everything that you discussed, in writing.

Your job, during the Fall, is to apply for at least one significant internal and one significant external fellowship which will buy you at least one full semester, and ideally one full year of research leave in your second year. If these applications are unsuccessful, you will find out why and prepare to apply again in year two.

Your job is to teach your classes as well as you are able. Your job is also to explore avenues for minimizing the amount of time you spend on those classes. Your job is to study how senior faculty in your department cut corners in their teaching in ways that are considered acceptable within the departmental culture.

Your job is to not get any serious writing done for the first semester, and possibly the entire first year. Your job is to not beat yourself up about that. Your job is to forgive yourself for feeling overwhelmed and coming home at the end of the day and binge-watching Scandal. You will be able to do this because you know that you applied for leave time in your second year.

Your job is to serve on only one major committee. The speakers committee or a search committee are the best committees for you. The speakers committee allows you to reach out to and host senior scholars in your field. The search committee allows you to shape the future of your department and have social capital to spend at your national meetings.

Your job is to be agreeable to everyone in the department. Your job is to have opinions that you clearly state in faculty meetings instead of sitting there like a passive mute mouse. Your job is to have a conscience and your own point of view, which you defend, while remaining pleasant and collegial. No one respects a doormat. Your job is to meet with your trusted mentor prior to faculty meetings to thoroughly understand the history and politics of contentious issues before you vote on them in the faculty meetings.

Your job is to avoid departmental factions and civil wars. If things escalate, keep your head down and do not allow yourself to be recruited to “sides.”

Your job is to suck up to the department secretary. If you go on a trip, bring her back a present. Chocolate is always welcome. Bring enough for her to share with other staff in the office. You have no idea the difference she is going to make in your job satisfaction.

Your job is to learn where the money is on campus. You may construe your job as including organizing a symposium or workshop or conference on campus, for which you contact departments and centers around campus to collect financial support. You may feel confident about your use of time in this way because through this you learn how to get money to accomplish your goals, increase your campus-wide visibility, and get the chance to invite “big names” to campus for your event, big names who may someday be your tenure letter writers.

Your job is to go to as many conferences as you can afford. You may feel justified in cancelling class or showing a video or bringing in a guest lecturer or asking one of your TAs to cover.

Your job is to thoroughly investigate how smoothly your predecessors’ tenure cases went, and to use all of the detective skills you can muster to learn whether your Department Head is proficient, or an incompetent ass, in handling tenure cases. If the latter, you will begin the process of indirectly mobilizing your mentor and other senior colleagues to look out for and protect you.

Your job is to maintain some semblance of a home life and a relationship with the important people in your life.

Your job is to maintain a hobby or outside interest that feeds your soul.  This might be running, swimming, yoga, art, music, dance…only you know what it should be.

Your job is to make sure your people at home, if you have them, are pulling their weight in the housework. You are entitled to expect that.  Fight for it now, because the stakes only get higher later.

Your job is to hire a housekeeper and get daycare for your children so you can devote yourself to work.

Your job is to get a cute haircut and go shopping occasionally for clothes that fit, and that make you look like the young professional that you are.

Your job is to look after yourself. You can fight battles and defend the righteous later. Right now, you just need to survive to year two.



From Tenure Track to Alt/Post-Ac – #Postac post by Cardozo

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Who needs Alt/Post-Ac services?  It’s not always the demographic that you imagine.  What began as a trickle last year has become (in my consulting practice, anyway) a full-blown trend.  I am referring to a growing number of people who DID land an elusive tenure-track position but have begun to feel, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, that “there is no there there.”  In addition, there are those who were denied tenure (disproportionately women and women of color, too often for hazy reasons), for whom there is literally no there there.  All of which should remind you: the track metaphor is more fiction than reality—a way to organize academic time and effort that should be taken with a huge grain of salt even as we board the train (remember:  every train has multiple stops, each leading to myriad destinations!).

It’s possible I attract a disproportionate percentage of tenure-track clients who sense in my own bio someone who will understand their deliberations (I believe I am the only member of the TPII team still in a faculty role, and a tenure-track one at that).  But still, the observation remains:  as J.K. Gibson-Graham wrote of capitalocentrism, tenurecentrism prevents us not only from recognizing our varied faculty situations within diverse academic institutions, but also the full range of career options available to us both within and outside the academy.

My clients are awakening from the tenurecentric dream; they are asking:  is this all there is?  More than a few tell me they never intended an academic career when they entered their doctoral programs; they had applied goals for which they thought a PhD would give them a leg up.  But academic socialization and overly narrow advising swept them onto the academic job market along with those who genuinely aspired to a faculty career.  Years later, they wake up on the tenure track like David Byrne of the Talking Heads wondering “how did I get here?”  and singing this excerpt from “Once in a Lifetime ”:

And you may ask yourself

Where does that highway go?

And you may ask yourself

Am I right?… Am I wrong?

And you may tell yourself


So, as the start of another academic year looms, it’s worth repeating:  exploring alternatives to a faculty career is not only the purview of the degraded, despondent, and/or desperate PhD but simply the healthy pursuit of authentic career development.  Now more than ever, authenticity has real value in the rapidly shifting landscape that life coach Martha Beck describes as a “wild new world.”  In this new world, institutions are going from large and staid to lean and—if not mean—more nimble.  The “safe” choices of decades past no longer pay off; the era of the “company man” is largely over and the spoils increasingly go to those who exhibit keen self-awareness, flexibility, and situational responsiveness (i.e. the capacity to adjust The Plan when circumstances warrant it).  This is what Beck calls “following your true nature,” or heeding your own strengths and instincts.  But as I rehearsed in a prior post, the creative and improvisational mode required by today’s economy is the very antithesis of an academic bureaucracy that privileges tradition and stability.  You will have to learn some code-switching!

Self-realization is the job of a lifetime: we need to become the best versions of ourselves and contribute from that place of integrity to a messed-up world that badly needs compassionate, whole, human beings.  Your primary work in life is to find out who you really are and what you really want to be doing.  Increasingly, there’s a place in this entrepreneurial economy for people wholly committed to their missions – ideally those operating in a niche that few others can replicate.  Karen Kelsky and I, along with the whole consulting team at TPII, are but a few examples of how following the unique convergence of your interests and instincts can lead to satisfying and financially sustainable work.  As Karen observes in her must-read new book, TPII is a kind of applied anthropology.  The Professor did not abandon her academic training; it fuels her current business as much as my early roots in career counseling fuel my own niche consulting with PhDs about exploring all of their options.

Is the tenure system the Oakland of career development?  Well, that depends on the person, the position, the discipline and the institution.  Some of my best friends live in Oakland; they love it there!   As we career counselors like to say, objectively speaking, “there’s no such thing as a great job.  Only a great job… for you.”  Like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest (with no-one there to witness it, does it make a sound?), a person executing a job description without affinity for the work is not going to experience it as a “great job” at all.  No amount of survivor guilt can propel you through it, either.  It doesn’t matter how many other people wanted your job and didn’t get it or how lucky you “should” feel.  A bad fit is a bad fit, period.  In addition, depending on your field and institutional type, many a faculty salary can be readily matched or exceeded in other organizational environments, so you can’t necessarily cite golden handcuffs as the primary reason for your captivity.

Whether you are a graduate student, an adjunct, on the tenure-track, or tenured, pursuing authentic career development means exploring ways to be genuine on the job, whether you work on or off a campus.  When disciplinary or institutional cultures and structures inhibit such development, consider pushing back on the system from within (after all, if you fear you’re ultimately going to be denied tenure or may elect to leave anyway – why not live academe on your own terms while you’re there?).  But even as you try to figure out how to live a more genuine life as an academic, you can begin to explore other environments where you may feel less like a square peg in a round hole.

Ultimately, authentic career development at this historic juncture does not require premature decisions about whether to go “Ac” or “Alt/Post-Ac” (especially since you don’t control the job market: you’ll have to wait and see).  Rather, it involves a process of genuine exploration where you seek to maximize your experiences and options across sectors:  only then can you make an informed choice about whether your best fit lies in an Ac, Alt, or Post-Ac environment or some unprecedented combination.

Hope, with Pictures and a Drawing

In a burst of inspiration last weekend, I outlined my next book! I want to share my idea with you, and ask you for your thoughts, comments, stories, and suggestions. It’s going to draw a lot from reader/client experiences.

But first, please check out my Storify “The Professor Is In at Your Place” and find me on Twitter to submit your picture of the book at your house, with your pets, in the hands of concerned partners…by end of day tomorrow to be entered in a drawing for $300 TPII services! Here’s a few!


OK, about the next book.  I’m provisionally calling it:

The Professor Is You: Life After the PhD (or maybe, The Professor Is You: Notes for the Neo-Academic)  [thank you to Scott N. Nolan and Lindsey Dietz for these suggestions, and everybody else in yesterday’s long and wondrous FB discussion of potential titles.]

It’s about the “Ph.D. Brain”*: powerful, analytical, critical, skeptical, productive, logical, goal-oriented, but also obsessive, dismissive, self-critical, narrow, competitive, cynical and judgmental. The Ph.D. Brain is both wonderful and terrible, our best asset and worst enemy. With it, you end up with overdeveloped analytical skills, and underdeveloped intuition and self-care. Those of us who have it are seeing our native habitat collapse (the university, RIP) and we – both those on the tenure stream in the corporatized university, and those who never make it in – must learn how to thrive in a hostile environment. I’ll talk about academic productivity (and yes, getting tenure). But the larger gist is: in a post-acapoctalyptic world, how can you harness your Ph.D. aptitudes, and when necessary overcome them, to make your way forward in a healthy, balanced, financially secure way?

Very sketchy ToC:

I. Intro: The Endangered Ph.D. in a Post-Acapocalyptic World
II. The Ph.D. Brain: Greatest Asset or Worst Enemy?
III. Systems Under Stress: Productivity and Self-Care in a Contracting Academy
IV. How to Get Tenure Without Losing Your Mind
V. The Crux of the Matter: Healthy Productivity
VI. Learning to Value Yourself (and Get Paid)
VII. Activating Your Whole Mind
VIII. Finding a New Path with the Ph.D.

I’m sharing all this process so publicly because I actually want to launch a whole conversation about this. I’ll say more on the blog in coming weeks. But I want us to start talking directly about how our thinking and values have to change to survive and thrive as hyper-specialized species when our habitat is being razed.  I keep telling Kellee (whose dad was a logger): we’re the spotted owls, and we’ve lost our forest!

It seems to have touched a chord. The post got 50+ comments within a few minutes.  Here are a few:

Write it quickly and give me a road map out of here! (You have three years until I finish my dissertation!)

like this idea very much. Have been having many talks lately about how to step from a largely critical, negative brain, one that can question and dismantle languages and systems, to a constructive, joyful mind that can make a life within or outside the academy. I love critique, but I also want to create, and the academy trained me mostly for the former.

Letting go is proving harder than I thought. I want my ivory tower back.

omg this sounds like my diary of my phd experience! lol i will definitely be sending you stories…horror stories..and recovery stories smile emoticon #confessionsofaPhD lol

Oh my gosh — yes! You could have a special section on dissertation babies and the emotional shitstorm that might occur if your academic life comes to a screeching halt AND you pile on post-partum mood issues. I would be happy to talk to you about my experience around this in PMs.

Yes and AMEN! I was just saying to Kellee on Monday that I am total crap at the self-awareness stuff. You nailed it: underdeveloped intuition and self-care. I am considered a successful pre-tenure academic and yet I am SO VERY VERY BAD at this. Sufferings galore! Please write fast!

What do you think? Links, cites, thoughts, and personal stories welcome here or privately through comment or email ( You know I always preserve total anonymity.


*Yes, I realize that’s an absurdly gross generalization. But I’m sticking with it for now. Because after working with 4000 clients across every field of the academy, I believe there is an orientation of mind distinctive to Ph.D.s (although not shared uniformly across individuals, of course) that is the product of the socialization process of Ph.D. training.

I Will do a Reddit AMA on Monday

Sorry to send another post so fast on the heels of the last one, but I want to invite everyone to join me for a Reddit AMA at [ /r/iama] Monday to talk about anything related to the academic job market, the tenure track job search, job docs, interviews, adjuncting, Ph.D. debt, deciding to go post-ac, and whatever else, including any questions you might have about my book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job, the writing process, the blogging process, building a business, and getting a trade book published (with an agent).

It’s Monday 8/10 at 1 PM EST.

IMG_2069Hope to see you there!