No Missed Opportunities on the Campus Visit

Today I posted the biggest Job Market Digest I’ve ever put up in the three years I’ve been posting them.  I am so pleased to see how many clients got tenure track and other recurring/full time jobs, both in and out of the academy. Please take a moment to read. And if you have gotten a job, or had some other career-related success (including gaining the clarity to leave the academy entirely, which I view as great success!) please do write me at and let me know. I just love to hear from both readers and clients.  Always know that total confidentiality is assured.

People who write love to tell me stories of their searches, and I love to read them!  Because of space limitations, most of those stories do not end up in the Job Market Digest. But I read them closely and file them away as reference for myself in my future work with clients.

Here are two of my favorites this week. I love the first because of the “you annoyed me to no end” (LOL) and the second because TPII could help this immigrant scholar gain a small measure of security in these awful times.

TT offer, client, Dance: “I want to thank you for your help. After you had fixed my documents ( CV, CL, TS, and RS), I was back on the market this year got several invitations to campus and then got a retention offer at my current institution! Your methods do work… You annoyed me to no end, but you are a genius!”

TT job offer, client, Psychology: “Your advice was spot on every time and truly invaluable. Throughout my campus interview the faculty repeatedly told me that my application materials were “tight”, so tight in fact, they had almost no further questions! The job talk went well and even when the “intellectual” Dean gave me a tough time about omitting effect sizes (!), I was prepared thanks to your webinar. Your webinar also prepared me for a sticky illegal question regarding my ethnicity–altogether, I cannot thank you enough.

It has been a hellish emotional journey and you are a big part of my making it to the other side. I feel so fortunate to have made it to a tenure track position before they all vanish. I hope you know just how meaningful and important your work is to continued scholarship in this country.”

One of the listings this week included a story from a client’s search. I am going to share this story as a post, because it points to an important principle for the job search, especially the campus visit.

My client wrote that during her campus visit, the Search Committee Chair sent her a preliminary schedule that had blank time spots, and asked if she had other people she wanted to meet on campus to pencil into those slots. My client sent names of people in the Department and people across the campus with whom she saw strategic departmental growth potential. My client got the job.  She also later found out that none of the other candidates had sent names.  She told me, “This was reportedly a major point in my favor.”

There is a large principle at work here.  Just as the question of “Do you have any questions for us” is actually an essential and substantive element of the interview (as described in this post by Kellee Weinhold [and be sure and click through to my Vitae post that is linked]), any opportunity to demonstrate your interest in potential colleagues and collaborations in the department and across campus should be energetically maximized.  It SHOWS your interest in the job and the campus, and it SHOWS the kind of colleague you will be.  This kind of action speaks louder than words.  And so does the refusal.  Saying (or showing), “No, I’m not really curious about you,” is a mark against you that is quite difficult to overcome.

Don’t let any opportunity to demonstrate your substantive, educated interest in the department and campus pass you by.

Productivity In a Time of Crisis

My latest Chronicle Vitae post, somewhat misleading titled (by my editor) Five Steps to Productivity, is actually about the seemingly impossible effort to maintain some semblance of forward momentum as the world burns around us. So I am sharing it here. I don’t know that there is any more urgent question for American (and global) academics right now than finding a path to stay professionally afloat in the face of constant assaults on our institutions, funding, jobs, national security, personal safety, and indeed on the very notions of “truth,” “facts,” or “reality.”

When I say “stay professionally afloat,” I don’t mean to prioritize careerism. I mean, get enough written, enough published, enough accomplished, to keep moving toward your goal of employability and financial stability.  I fully expect that you, my readers, may like me be spending ever larger chunks of your time calling your representatives, attending protests, and education yourselves on the issues, and I applaud that. But we all need to also keep food on the table, and for most of us, protesting is NOT a paying job.  So balance is needed.

I hope that these steps will prove useful for you. If you have other ideas that have worked, please share them in the comments.


Q:  This isn’t exactly an academic career question, except it sort of is. I can’t really focus on the job market in the midst of the ongoing political turmoil. I spend my time obsessively reading the news, signing petitions and things, and going to protests, which feels valuable, but I’m also just so distracted, and also drained. It’s really hard for me to muster the energy to apply for jobs, or get my writing done.
A: At The Professor Is In, my clients tell me daily how difficult it has been for them to focus on the work of editing their job documents, let alone charting a research trajectory or finding the concentration to complete major writing tasks. So, first, know that you’re not alone.
It is all too common in academia for people to feel that they are the only ones struggling, and “everyone else is getting their work done.” This is never true, but let me assure you, it is particularly untrue right now. I don’t know anyone anywhere, of any status in the academic circles I frequent — grad student, full professor, administrator — who has not been struggling with issues of productivity during the first few months of this year.
Second, there are excellent, valid reasons for this distractedness. You or someone you know may be directly in the line of fire of recent executive orders. You may be unsettled by the president’s public attacks on the judiciary and the news media. This is all particularly unsettling for academics whose very existence is based on a belief in the existence of knowledge and facts, and the value of scholarly inquiry.
Finally, there is the simple question of time management. If you have, like so many Americans, been “activated” by the current crisis, you’ve been spending time writing letters, making calls to representatives, and protesting, in unprecedented ways. All of which removes you from your desk, your lab, your office, your laptop, for hours at a time.
So what to do? This turmoil clearly isn’t going to stop any time soon, so how can we regain some level of balance in the midst of personal and political upset, and reclaim the productivity that remains urgent to our well being, particularly for those applying for jobs. My fellow Vitae columnist, Theresa MacPhail, offered good advice earlier this month on “Writing Through Our Political Tailspin.”
Here at The Professor Is in, my colleague Kellee Weinhold deals with these tensions directly in her academic productivity coaching, and she offers the following five-part approach.
Part 1: Tell the truth. You are struggling. Don’t deny it, or try to bury it. You may be scared, angry, sad, devastated — these are all real feelings, so allow yourself to acknowledge them. If you don’t, they’ll continue to quietly sap at your energy and resolve. At the same time, understand that the fear and rage you’re feeling (especially if you’re white and a citizen) may be something others in the country (immigrants, people of color, Muslims, to name a few) have felt for a long time. Heed the words of more experienced activists, and allow yourself time to feel, to grieve, to vent, and to recharge.
Kellee’s specific advice: Take time to panic and fall down. Set a timer. Lie down on your floor and cry for 30 minutes. Then get back up and go to your desk.
Part 2: Take a big view. Circumstances will change, and in ways that we don’t expect. Of course things might get worse. But they might not. The point is we don’t know. And fretting is debilitating. So aim for the 30,000-foot view of your life. Think back five or more years ago. Remember the things you did then, that led to where you are now. Remember that the things you do now will carry you forward to the next stage. Let go of the story that everything is a disaster and all hope is lost. Nobody actually knows. The academy will not entirely collapse in a year. Get out of the news and social-media firehose, so that you can remember who you were before all this started, and reaffirm the goals that inspired you then.
(At the same time, it’s OK to allow the current moment to inform your choices. If you find yourself more and more certain that academia is a less urgent location for your energy than, say, politics or activism, listen to that quiet urge. Don’t act on it rashly, but give it scope to grow and inspire action that, over time, may open new career priorities for you).
Part 3: Work on tiny tasks. In the academy we tend to say things like, “I’m spending this year writing my dissertation,” or “I’m spending this break writing a book,” or “I’m spending the day writing an article.” But are you actually writing a “dissertation” or a “book”? In other words, when you sit down at your desk one Tuesday, and then rise up again a couple hours later, have you produced a “dissertation”? No. You’ve produced (if you’re lucky) a few pages at most, a few pages of just one chapter of what will eventually be a dissertation. The tasks we set ourselves are simply too big when they’re defined in that way, and they intimidate us and swamp our already strained coping mechanisms. And as we get more stressed and anxious, even small tasks begin to feel too big.
The solution here: Embrace the tiny. When you sit down to “write your job application,” realize that in a single sitting, you may write only the teaching paragraph of your cover letter. Just one paragraph. And that’s fine. Write that paragraph. The next day, write one more paragraph. Break each task into smaller and smaller tasks, until you reach a level that is actually doable for you. Shift your mindset from “OMG I still haven’t finished my job letter,” to “wow, I finished the teaching paragraph of the job letter!” Think about it: which of those is more likely to motivate you to write more the next day?
Part 4: Erect guardrails around your (good and bad) habits. If you know that you are most energetic late at night, then plan on doing labor-intensive tasks late at night. Don’t fight your own tendencies by, for example, forcing yourself to wake up at 5 a.m., because that’s what “productive people” do. If you know that you are helpless before the siren song of social media, work at a place that has no Wifi. Or use the Freedom app to block your own access to the internet for certain periods of time.
The point here (returning to Part 1) is: Tell the truth. If you lose focus after 30 minutes of writing, arrange to write for 30 minutes and then move on. Don’t sit there for two hours, beating yourself up because you’ve only managed 30 minutes of actual writing. You are a person who writes in 30-minute chunks. This is your truth right now, and it is sufficient unto itself.
Part 5: Celebrate accomplishments. Celebrate everything that you achieve, no matter how tiny. When you finish a paragraph of your cover letter, text a friend, “I finished the teaching paragraph of my cover letter!” If you trust yourself to visit social media for awhile, tweet about it. Tell your family. Put on music and dance around your room for five minutes. Go out and plant a spring plant. Each thing you do is a vast achievement right now, and should be celebrated.
I can vouch that these strategies work, because they work for me, and for Kellee and for our clients. Try them, and let me know how it goes.


How (Not) to Negotiate a Tenure Track Salary

It’s offer season, and negotiations are underway. I have written a lot about negotiating tenure track offers; here are some links:

Part VII of my book, on Negotiating

OK, Let’s Talk About Negotiating Salary

Will My Offer Be Rescinded If I Negotiate?

Today I want to write about a common mistake that people make when asking for more salary, which is of course the major element of any job negotiation. Many inexperienced candidates will propose verbiage (for an email or a phone conversation) like this:

“I would like to ask for a salary of $XXX because of the high cost of living in XXX/because I will be supporting a family of four/because real estate is very expensive in XXX”

These are not usable rationales for seeking a raise.  The reason is, that everyone at the new institution is dealing with the same high cost of living, and the same price of real estate, and the same struggle to support their families.  You are not special because you are confronting these challenges.  And claiming that you are makes you look entitled and prima-donna-ish.

As I’ve said before, in the column Disappointed in the Offer?, academic salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living. Even fancy Stanford salaries, for example, at the assistant professor level are not necessarily equal to the challenges of maintaining a middle class standard of living in Palo Alto.  And this is all the more so for University of California or Cal State salaries in Los Angeles or the Bay Area, or CUNY salaries in NYC, and so on. This is a national problem, and no academic, with the exception of a few superstars, is exempt. So making a case that you need more money because you can’t afford the rents only makes you look self-involved, and as I said, entitled.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for more salary. But your case for more salary hinges on your own record and achievements, not on the struggles that everyone faces. So you can construct verbiage like, “I’d like to ask for a salary of $XXX reflecting my background in XX and my experience in YY.”  These are actually distinguishing characteristics, which may (with no guarantees) legitimate a higher salary within the realm of what is possible within the salary scales (and possible salary compression scenarios) of the department and campus.

Believe me, I am sympathetic to the struggle to support a family in an obscenely expensive city on an academic salary.  I’m not saying it’s not hard. I’m just saying that asking for “special privileges” based on that challenge will inadvertently send a poor message of collegiality.

These are the kinds of totally unconscious errors of tone that negotiators often make. This is why I am so adamant that negotiators get help from experienced mentors. If you have advisors to help you, please use them. If you don’t, please consider working with me. Here is the information on that for your reference. When clients work with me but get NO gains of any kind from our efforts, I refund half of the payment.

Best of luck!


Negotiating Assistance is $500/first 7 days ($600 for tenured positions), and 7 days are virtually always sufficient (it goes down to $400 [$500], and then $300 [$400] for subsequent weeks in the extremely rare event that this is necessary).  The 7 days of work don’t have to be sequential. We can start immediately, and I make myself available by email and gchat (no phone calls) for the quick turnaround of responses required by most negotiations.  While I technically don’t work on weekends, for NA clients only I check in to keep up with and respond to urgent updates. I assist you in evaluating the offer, clarifying your requests, crafting email and verbal communications, interpreting responses, and knowing how hard to push and when to stop. Most clients increase their offer by thousands of dollars in salary, research support, travel support, moving expenses, etc.  (An R1 Humanities tenure track offer can usually gain $15-30,000 over the initial offer; at a small regional SLAC it may be closer to $2-10,000. An R1 Science offer can sometimes gain $30-60,000 over the initial offer).  If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll invoice you today.  I also have all NA clients sign a contract acknowledging the nature of the work, which i will attach to this email for your reference.

Fine print: You must return the signed contract to proceed with the work. After payment you’ll get a set of instructions on how to provide the offer details; please don’t submit any info until you get that and can follow those instruction.   If your negotiation requires fewer than 7 days I don’t refund payment or apply it as credit to other work.  In the event that your institution refuses to negotiate and you achieve no gains, I will refund 50% of the payment ($250).

For a client perspective, I will share a few recent testimonials:

Assistant professor R1 Social Sciences: I increased my offer by $12,000 conservatively. Another major benefit was that I was confident I wasn’t asking for anything crazy, and I wasn’t missing anything obvious. Since this was my first go-around with a U.S. job offer I would have been much more uncertain about it, particularly in my situation where my advisor was unavailable due to a medical condition. Particularly when I had done the interviews and was waiting for an offer, which is a tense time, the fact that I had this service helped make that easier.”

Associate professor with tenure, R1, Humanities:   “As a mid-career academic in the humanities, I knew exactly how important it would be to negotiate good terms for my new position. Karen provided me with: concrete examples of things I could negotiate for; a sounding board for my requests; assistance in clarifying and rewriting my negotiation emails; and overall, tremendous peace of mind in what would otherwise have been an extremely stressful process. I successfully negotiated increases in my salary, start up package, and travel support, totalling 11K. I highly recommend her negotiation assistance services, no matter what career stage you’re in.”

Assistant professor, SLAC, Social Sciences:  “When I got the job offer, I was so terrified to negotiate, specifically for the delayed start date.  I felt a bit lost, and then I went to a yoga class and on the wall was a quotation from Cheryl Strayed which said, ‘The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.’  It was at that time, I knew I should contact you and just get one-to-one help with the negotiation so that I could advocate the best I could for myself without worrying about taking up someone’s time or unsettling a relationship, but also not sabotage myself.  I am glad I reached out, because I think I may not have represented myself as well otherwise.  Thanks for your time, Karen.  I look forward to FINALLY becoming an adult after so many years of training….to earning a good salary, to having a retirement plan, to moving to a place where I could really build a home and a life without a foreseeable expiration date.  Thanks for being one of the people who helped me get to this point.”

Assistant professor, Regional Teaching College, Music: “This morning I officially accepted a tenure track job offer from a regional institution in the southeast. Karen’s negotiating assistance helped me see which of my “wants” were an appropriate ask for a regional institution. She helped me find the proper tone to ask for these things, and she also found some things in my “want” list that might be questioned as uninformed or insulting from the department’s point of view. With TPII’s assistance, I was able to obtain a 6% salary raise, double my moving assistance, and clarify exactly how to obtain $10,000 in start up funds for my line. For a regional academic position in the arts, particularly in the southeast, this type of package is almost unheard of.”

1859 Feels Shockingly Contemporary: A Window on Teaching Under Turmp

So many readers and clients are wondering how to keep going under the turmpocalypse.  It’s hard.  Between protesting, writing emails, signing petitions, attending town halls, and sobbing in our beds, it’s quite difficult to get anything else done. Who has time to think, let alone publish?

But at the same time, outrage is productive of new kinds of engagement, and moribund civic practices are seeing new life. Citizens are showing up in ways that we haven’t in a long time: acting, thinking, writing, gathering, and resisting in unprecedented configurations. Where this all will lead, nobody knows.  It is utterly opaque. Indeed, in a world where we find Teen Vogue, the Park Service, Budweiser, and Frederick Douglass emerging as active thought leaders in the #resistance,  it’s safe to say that we are in a strange time. To paraphrase a beloved anthropological principle: it’s making the familiar strange, and the strange (all too) familiar.

Anyway, in that light, I’m pleased to share a wonderful comment thread from my friend Eleanor Courtemanche’s Facebook page (shared with permission of all participants), about teaching  literature at the present moment. Come to find out, in an authoritarian, neo-fascist kleptocracy that is spinning wildly out of control, standard survey texts don’t read quite the same as they did a few months ago. Dickens and George Eliot and Chaucer, et al are suddenly  leaping off the page and speaking directly, in unexpected ways, to the day’s news.

As an anthropologist I actually can’t stop thinking, since the week of the election, about the 1987 text, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, by James C. Scott.  As I watch myself, my friends and compatriots, and all of us in the resistance engage in ever more methodical forms of sabotage, foot-dragging, mockery, evasions, graffiti, veiled speech, and so on (along with, of course, the more overt forms of protest that are for the time being still permitted in this country), I keep asking myself – how weak are we? How authoritarian is the US?  How much like the Malaysian peasants of his study have we become? And what can this classic ethnography teach us?  If I were in a classroom right now, you can bet I’d be teaching this text.

If there was ever proof of the continued vitality and dynamism of the humanities – the NEED for the humanities and humanists to teach them – in the present moment, this shows where we find it: in our classrooms, in the ways that faculty and students continually discover new insights in old sources.

Read on. Then, please share your own recent teaching moment in the comment thread! I’d love for this to turn into a crowd-source inspiration, to use when all hope feels lost, and we are seeking a reminder of why we love what we love, and do what we do.


Eleanor Courtemanche (English, UIUC): Every time you teach a work of literature, it’s different, because the world has changed. Last time I taught a Dickens novel, Trump wasn’t a serious contender for President, so a world in which villains LOOK like villains felt cartoonish, unreal, and morally sketchy. Melodrama is the new realism.

Carolyn Williams (English, Rutgers) But melodrama always WAS a form of “realism” — according to some principles of realism — a) realism is relative, and therefore “more realistic than” always rules (and melodrama was more realistic than poetic drama, since it was written in prose and featured ordinary people, as the novel did) and b) realism is descendental, so uglier-than, dirtier-than, lower-than, seamier-than, more sordid-than etc reads out as more-realistic-than. The villain IS a special case, I admit, one might say a pre-realistic condensation — of social forces that are too complex to be understood — into a character — or, as Jameson has recently argued, the principle of “evil” in the world gives way to more mixed motives the more realistic fiction becomes, esp in Eliot (only he leaves out the fact — I think! I will have to read again! — that this evolution toward complexity of the villain was happening in melodrama too — where the villain became less a representative of “evil” than a representative of capitalism, e.g. in the second half of the c19). 

[EC: Well Dickens certainly thinks melodrama is realism. “IT IS TRUE,” he asserts about his portrayal of Nancy in Oliver Twist — and the “streaky bacon” passage in that novel is about how the way he interleaves pathos & humor may SEEM fake but in fact it’s actually the structure of human experience.]

Andrea Kaston Tange (English, Macalaster):  Currently teaching A Tale of Two Cities and utterly unable to think about anything but contemporary politics. It’s amazing what a difference context makes. For what it’s worth, students are drawing all of these connection –to the corrupt Monsignor who only wants govt officials who will agree with him rather than caring about their expertise, to the ones in my drama class who couldn’t stop talking about the Federalist papers’ discussions of governance while reading Hamilton, to those looking at Mill’s On Liberty and fixated on passages about what creates the most dangerous tyranny. My class on 1859 feels shockingly contemporary in its ideas; only the syntax of the sentences feels “old” to them.

Daniel Purdy (German, Penn State): same applies to the Weimar Republic, about which everyone wants to know more these days.  [EC: Life is a Cabaret!] [KK: Tomorrow…belongs…to me!}

Pam Thurschwell (English, Sussex): This is so true. I’m teaching The Line of Beauty on Monday which I always loved for its subtle Jamesian exposure of the ruses of power and now I just want to kill all the rich people in it in a really nasty way.

Carolyn Betensky (English, U of Rhode Island) I taught George Eliot’s Janet’s Repentance last week and found an astonishingly relevant exchange between the bully character and someone who dared to challenge him on “facts.” #fakenews.

Lauren Goodlad (English, UIUC) I remember having a whole new vision of Barchester Towers when our campus was going through the awful [Stephen Salaita] unhiring fiasco. Now it would probably feel more like a parable of Kellyanne Conway’s failed efforts to rule the Old Boys network (a la Mrs. Proudie).

John Levi Barnard (English, Wooster) Just taught Federalist #1 (by Hamilton, everyone’s favorite “Founding Father”), in which we (re-)discovered this: “a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”  Students discovered the relevance of the Federalist with no prompting from me.

Rob Barrett (English, UIUC) I suppose the current emergency would draw a line under the resistance of the commoner birds to the vainglorious eagles in Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls

Matt Walker  (Cellist, ALIAS Chamber Ensemble:) The “Best of times, worst of times” thing seems to have gained a lot of relevance, with the recent discussions of growing wealth inequality.

Diana Maltz (English, Southern Oregon): All the novels I am teaching have sociopaths and psychopaths in them, I am discovering. Moreau in the fall. Jekyll and Hyde was a doozy.  I should add, abusive fathers too.





Five Tips for a Successful Teaching Demonstration (Learned From Failure)

~Productivity and Self-Care in a Time of Turmoil – a Special Webinar with Karen Kelsky and TPII Productivity Coach Kellee Weinhold, March 2~


I’m delighted to introduce our second guest post on the Teaching Demo by Katherine Dugan.  See her first post on the Teaching Demo here. Katherine is now offering individual Teaching Demo assistance!  Please contact us at for more information.

Katherine Dugan is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Springfield College in Massachusetts. She earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Northwestern University in 2015 and spent two years on the job market before her current position. She studies contemporary Catholicism in the U.S. while teaching a range of religion courses.

I may never forget how terrible my first on-campus teaching demonstration was. In the weeks leading up to the demonstration, I prepped and prepped and prepped. I rehearsed the mini-lectures, over-tweaked my powerpoints. I held mock demonstration with faculty and other graduate students.

It could not have gone worse. I could not get the students to respond to me. My ideas were convoluted and instructions unclear. I remember thinking maybe fifteen minutes had passed when I was only five minutes into the 40-minute demonstration. My cheeks burned red and I had to force myself not to cry.

I did not get that job.

Here’s what I did get, though: a lot of information on what to do differently in the future. During my next cycle on the job market, I had to give teaching demonstrations on two of my on-campus interviews. Additionally, one of the job talks I gave was also supposed to be part teaching demonstration. I was offered two of those three jobs.

Here’s what I learned:

Make it simple

You will most likely have around 30 minutes for your demonstration (maybe up to 45, possibly as few as 20). Less really is more. Be ruthless with yourself (and ask others’ opinions) about how long a short (short!) lecture or discussion will take. Anticipate that you will be nervous and plan how to keep yourself slowed down. Resist the temptation to rush through as many things as possible in order to demonstrate just how good you are at this.

Also: have a back-up plan. Just because what you present is simple does not mean that your plans must be. Prepare for an activity to fall apart or for students to be unresponsive. One way I planned for this (the next time…) was to have a pile of index cards at the ready. If students didn’t want to talk, I had planned to ask them to jot ideas down on the index card and then collect a few to read aloud. Or you might rely on “think, pair, share” to get students talking to each other before the whole classroom.

Teach what you know

One of the things that blew up on my face in my first teaching demonstration was that I was trying to be the kind of professor that I imagined the committee wanting me to be, not the kind I actually am. While a teaching demonstration is the time to show that you will engage students and contribute exciting classes to the life of the department, it is also the time to choose which strengths of yours you are most able to bring their classrooms. This means two things.

First, choose a topic that you know inside and out. Sometimes this will be impossible. I had one teaching demonstration where I was assigned the topic (which I happened to know absolutely nothing about). Before I even imagined how to teach it, I set myself to a crash-course on the topic. After that, I taught what I now knew about the topic—and nothing more. Keep it simple (see #1).

Second, I am not saying that you should “just be yourself” in the teaching demonstration. Instead, you need to be honest with yourself about what you are good at in the classroom and what you are not. If you are not good at getting students to have a conversation, do not organize your teaching demonstration around a 20-minute, large-group analysis of a text. But if you are good at creating small-group activities that get students talking with each other, do that.

Be creative, but not too creative.

We are all proud of the uber-creative moments we have had in classrooms—those laboriously developed plans that work out like magic. But part of the reason that magic happened was because you knew your students. You spent time (at least weeks, maybe months) building rapport in the classroom. You do not have that at a teaching demonstration.

What you do have is 20-40 minutes to show that you can be creative AND effective in the classroom. So be creative, but not too creative. Be memorable for your thoughtfulness in planning a solid lesson, not your wackiness. I admit, this is a thin line. For one of my teaching demonstrations I hauled a couple of ice cube trays with me and asked students to brainstorm as many different uses for the blue objects as they could, but not making ice (I was making a point about changing perspectives). I suspected it would work because of the way members of the search committee had described their teaching styles. But on another campus, where the committee was much more buttoned-up, I would not have done this activity.

Practice with undergrads, not colleagues

I recommend practicing your teaching demonstration with a group of actual undergraduates, if at all possible. My colleagues did their best, but there really is no replacement for the idiosyncrasies of 20-year olds. (Of course, undergraduates are different by institution, but they are more like each other than graduate students or faculty pretending to be undergrads). I actually used the lesson plan from one of the classes I was teaching at the time to frame one of my teaching demonstrations. In another case, I tested out one of my activities on my regular students in order to see how/if it worked. Remember—the students in the demo classroom haven’t seen your regular bag of teaching tricks.

Bring syllabi—and hand them out

What you demonstrate for 30-40 minutes is part of a larger class. You’ll most likely be asked to talk about your teaching demonstration after you do it.  This is the chance to pull out the syllabus from which your teaching demonstration would have been pulled. Even if you have never taught the class, you must show how your demonstration fits into your larger teaching portfolio. Have the syllabi ready to distribute. It makes you look committed to the job and prepared to hit the ground running as a productive teaching colleague.

There is much more to say about how to use (or not use) powerpoint presentations, how to rebound after a flubbed moment, and how to talk about your teaching demonstration to the committee after the fact. These are five tips to get you started. Chime in in the comments if you have other lessons learned to share.

Schadenfreude: An Interview with Rebecca Schuman

I’m delighted to feature an interview today with Rebecca Schuman, about her new memoir, Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For

It comes out… TOMORROW! (Tuesday, Feb 7)

We all need a break from the endless misery of life in America just now–let Rebecca’s hilarious, smart, insightful new book be yours!



KK: Tell me about your journey from academic job seeker to author of Schadenfreude, A Love Story, your much-anticipated memoir.

RS: Sorry, I’m too busy laughing ruefully at “much-anticipated.” I hope that some people buy and read and enjoy this book, but I don’t have any delusions of authorial grandeur. I’m glad to hear that you anticipate it, though. That’s really all I need. The Kelsky demographic! Here’s my journey: After I crashed and burned in academia and Slate published “Thesis Hatement,” in 2013, several literary agents contacted me. I ended up going with the wonderful Alia Habib (also your agent!), and it was the best decision of my life. But it took almost two years to go from agent-with-interest to book deal in hand. Two years and—I’ve never talked about this publicly before—four different proposals, most of which didn’t make it out of Alia’s email inbox, because they were embarrassing. Once I eventually managed to eke out the Schadenfreude proposal in my ever-decreasing spare time, several houses were interested in earnest, almost immediately.

(Alia kept telling me she was sorry it was taking “so long,” by which she meant a week. A week! Can you academics imagine?)

My current editor at Flatiron bought the project on proposal in what the publishing industry calls a “pre-empt,” which is an offer that pre-empts an auction. When I called my family to tell them it happened, they were like, What book? I hadn’t told anyone I even had a proposal out with publishers.


Speaking of “Thesis Hatement,” that was, obviously, the piece that brought your journey out of academia to my attention. I was a fan of it, but many academics (and non-academics) weren’t. If you could write “Thesis Hatement” again now, what would you do differently?

I would have made it much more about adjuncting and less about my anger (or, at any rate, I would have channeled my anger to talk about adjuncting more, and better). I also wouldn’t have used the word “bat-shit” to describe my own research, which was my attempt to be modest but to this day brands me as an anti-intellectual who Doesn’t Believe In Her Ideas. Otherwise, no regrets.


In academic publication, the toughest part (aside from meeting deadlines) is probably contending with peer review. Is there a similar gatekeeping process in commercial publishing? In what ways did you have to compromise your vision to get this book into existence?

I had to compromise everything, all the time. Commercial publishing is not for the Ayn Rand set. (In fact, even Ayn Rand compromised in the publication of Atlas Shrugged. She refused to let them cut some long-winded speech and paid for the extra printing costs herself. But I digress. I loathe Ayn Rand, but I somehow know a lot about her. [KK:  weirdly, so do I. I even wrote about her for a Rhodes Scholarship application as an 18 year old college student!])

Anyway, this is a stone-cold fact: if you want to succeed in commercial publication, you have to be willing to do everything your agent says, and then you have to be willing to do almost everything your editor says (which may contradict your agent). I abide by the 90/10 rule. I cave to 90 percent of what they want, and then fight for the 10 percent that really matters to me. If you go in to a commercial project insisting on fighting for 100 percent of your darlings, you’ll never sell a thing, and be miserable the whole time.


You have been vocal about regretting your PhD in German—but without it, you would have neither the experience nor the literary knowledge to have written this book, which you have called, pithily (just now in an email), “a German literary and philosophical primer disguised as a tawdry sex memoir full of cigarettes and bad decisions.” Was your PhD actually instrumental to your journey?

Yes. I’ll readily admit it. I give. In the end, I can’t really be too angry about how things turned out. I wouldn’t recommend my own trajectory for anyone else, but I did, indeed, land on my feet, and I do, indeed, appreciate all of the knowledge and skills the doctorate forced me to gain. Don’t tell anyone, though. (Whoops, too late.)


When I was working with Alia to sell my book, we had a cringingly bad meeting with an editor from a famous university (*cough* Chicago *cough*) press, which contrasted painfully with the highly efficient and professional meetings we had with editors from commercial presses. If there was ever anything that drove home that final nail in the coffin of academia for me, it was that meeting with that smugly clueless (or was it cluelessly smug) editor, who was living in this weird fantasy of elite status that was totally divorced from his and his press’s actual position vis-a-vis me and my book manuscript! To spell it out, he thought he was dealing with a desperate and almost totally powerless academic… and not somebody with a large platform, a highly-marketable (in certain circles) manuscript, and plenty of competing options.  I’d never really seen the tattered elitism of academic so painfully displayed.  Hey, look what I just did, I used a “question” as an opportunity to make a long-winded speech about my own experience. You can take the person out of academia but…

So typical! They must have been gobsmacked at your reaction. “Wait, you’re NOT bowing and scraping for poorly-paid or completely unpaid PUBLICATION? BEGONE, PLEB!” Ha.


Did you have any surprising or weird experiences in the commercial publication process—from fomenting idea to finished book on the shelf—that you’ve never told anyone, that you want academics to know about?

Here’s an embarrassing story, and it also has to do with unfortunate intersections of academic and commercial publication. I’ve never told it in public before. My first idea for a crossover book was a non-academic introduction to German literature and philosophy. It was 2013 and I had a chip on my shoulder about proving I was smart. I wrote three painstaking chapters of this project on spec. I was just barely out of academia, so to me these chapters were so accessible, so edgy, and would so scandalize my academic peers because of their regular-person prose and openly anti-academic bent. Well, the commercial publishers passed. To the one they found it “way too academic.” The closest I got was the trade imprint of a well-known academic house—but, much to my horror and surprise, they submitted it to peer review. This was when I was at peak infamy with academics and academia, just spewing bile from every rooftop, so you can imagine the peer review was scathing. The funniest part was that the publisher didn’t care. They still wanted to buy it—it just fell through at acquisitions for budget reasons. But in the end I’m glad that project fizzled. Schadenfreude still snuck a lot of that literature and philosophy in, but it’s woven into (what I hope is) a rollicking narrative.


Your critics often complain that you are too self-absorbed, and that your critiques of academia would have been more powerful if they’d not focused so much on your personal story. What does a memoir—the most navel-gazing of all genres—possibly have to offer these readers (or hate-readers)?

This is an interesting dilemma, because even in answering this question I sound self-absorbed, especially now, under the constant noxious cloud of our new authoritarian regime. Let me digress for a second and say that of course it is unbelievably awkward to be promoting a memoir at this historical juncture. But I believe writing of this kind is still essential. My thinking is: Donald Fucking Trump is ruining the world at precipitous speed, but one thing we can use to fight him is our freedom of artistic expression. Everyone should go out and buy (or check out!) my book and ALL the books, especially by authors of color, women, LGBT authors, Muslim authors, immigrant authors—any voice that Donald Fucking Trump wants to marginalize and silence, we should amplify. Do I hope everyone will consider my voice among this chorus? Yes!

OK, digression over. I write memoir because that’s the genre I most like to read. I am always honored when honest people are willing to reveal their vulnerabilities and to let readers, strangers, into their lives. I don’t find it exhibitionistic. I find it brave and exhilarating (when other people do it). I admire this kind of writing in other people, so it’s only natural that I would attempt it myself. Often I relate to writers’ personal struggles and triumphs, but just as often I don’t, and I still love their stories. I read a memoir or book of personal essays a week, almost always by women: Shonda Rimes, Meghan Daum, Roxane Gay, Lindy West, Jessica Valenti, Felicia Day, Sarah Hepola. Love them all. I fully understand if memoir isn’t someone’s bag, but for many of us, using our personal stories lends an urgency and immediacy—and, yes, bravery—to our opinions. The other reason I write about myself is that I have a really scathing sense of humor, and it’s nasty to use it on other people.


Besides writing and marketing this book, what are you doing with yourself?

Still writing—for Slate, the Chronicle, the Atlantic, The Hairpin, and more. I’m spending a lot of 2017 doing research and translation for the Jewish Museum of Switzerland. But primarily, I am a full-time parent to a spirited and sensitive kid who just turned two, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m hanging on by my fingernails most of the time. I have limited child care, and I have to be laser-focused during the few hours a week I do get to work. The fact that I wrote this book with a newborn on my chest, and revised it with a crawling dervish who wouldn’t sleep, and did an intense round of edits (basically rewrote the whole thing in nine weeks) while my kid was teething molars in agony—you know what? That was fucking heroic. All parents who somehow eke out any work outside of their caregiving are heroes. I salute you all. And I salute myself.


What’s your longer term life plan going forward?



Any last advice for the Ph.D. crowd?

Funnily enough, also “survive.”

Thanks for interviewing me, Karen. It’s always a pleasure.  [KK: the pleasure is mine! Best of luck with the book, and I hope you get to do a book tour!]

The Teaching Demonstration: 3 Goals

by Katherine Dugan

Katherine Dugan is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Springfield College in Massachusetts. She earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Northwestern University in 2015 and spent two years on the job market before her current position. She studies contemporary Catholicism in the U.S. while teaching a range of religion courses.

The teaching demonstration part of on-campus interviews is, I think, one of the most awkward parts of these marathon-styled interviews. As candidates, we are charged with showing that we can teach, but have to do so with an unknown set of students, often in a course that is unrelated to what we would actually teach in the position, and do so while members of the faculty making undergraduates in a classroom uncomfortable (and tight-lipped!). All the while, we have to show knowledge in subject area and ability to engage students. The task is daunting!

Regardless of this inherent awkwardness, teaching demonstrations are common parts of on-campus interviews, especially on SLACs and institutions with heavy teaching loads. These institutions tend to be concerned with our ability to communicate effectively with their students. In this post, I want to outline three goals of teaching demonstrations and provide suggestions on how you can meet those goals through your demonstration.

While there are a wide variety of scenarios for teaching demos, they share three main goals.

The first is to see if all of the great words in your teaching statement/philosophy actually apply to the way you teach. Since you’ve landed the on-campus interview, feel confident that the committee likes what you have to say about teaching. They know from your materials that you are competent in the subject and that you know how to talk the talk of current pedagogical trends. But now they need to know if you can actually do it.

You can meet this goal my aligning your documents, interview, and on-campus teaching interview. Plan to demonstrate a piece of your teaching style that you described in the conference/phone/Skype interview or teaching philosophy. From my own experience, I took care to describe my ability to prompt in-class discussion through small groups. I made sure to show that in my demonstrations. If you have promised that you are a rockstar at having students dig into texts, have a short paragraph for them to work on. If you have trumpeted your ability to explain a complex topic clearly, do that.

The second goal of a teaching demonstration is to see how you align with the demographics of their students. Committees want to know that you can relate to what they think of as their very unique student population. If they have a diversity initiative in the forefront of their minds, they want to see you teach to diverse population of students. If faculty feel that the institution caters to pre-professional students, they want to see that you can spark students’ interest in a general education requirement. Committees need to see how you engage with their undergraduate students.

This goal is in the more nebulous character of “fit” in the hiring process. But you can do a lot to de-mystify this as you meet this goal. During your preliminary interview, ask the committee about their students. Pay attention to how some of the faculty describe the student population on campus. Do some research: visit the institution’s website and Facebook pages; watch any videos of students talking about their professors or about their reasons for choosing to attend this school. I once actually found a Youtube video of one of a committee member teaching his own class. Ask any of your peers if they know anything about this institution. Make a list of the characteristics of students and keep it in mind as you design your demonstration. You won’t be able to cater to every possible student, but work to have a feel for the demographics.

The third goal of these teaching demonstrations is for over-worked faculty with a heavy teaching load to determine what kind of colleague you will be. Will you contribute to a dynamic teaching environment or will negative course evaluations be a drag on their department? Will you need a lot of hand-holding to get through the semester or are you a confident and competent new professor?  Will you bring students into your classes or have to scrounge to fill seats? This is the sales pitch part of your teaching demonstration. You want to show the department that you are an asset and that you will make their lives easier. Of course, you will be doing this throughout the on-campus interview, but it is particularly important during the teaching demonstration.

You can meet this goal by take charge of the room when it is handed over to you. The 30-40 minutes you have for this teaching demonstration is not the time to ask permission or appear meek. This is the time for you to provide clear management of the classroom. Practice your presentation until you know it backwards and forwards. Outline your objectives for the class period and write them on the board or include on a powerpoint slide. Give clear instructions for activities you want students to do (provide handouts with concise guidelines). Speak confidently, stand tall, and do not fidget. Lighten the mood with a quick joke or two (not too much; you are a professor, not a goofball). But please do not undercut your classroom authority by laughing at yourself. Try to ignore the observing faculty—they are watching you, not engaging with you. Treat the students like human beings by doing things like asking them to tell you their names and responding to them. These stylistic choices will show that you are prepared to be a partner in the high teaching demands.

While there are certainly additional goals of teaching demonstrations unique to each kind of position and style of demonstration, these three are generalizable. To meet these goals: (1) Show you can do what you say you can do; (2) Demonstrate your fit with the student population; and (3) Take charge of the classroom.


Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure – Guest Post

By Patricia Matthew

Patricia Matthew is an associate professor of English at Montclair State University.  She is writing a book about representations of the body and the discourse of disease and illness in Romantic-era fiction. She is the co-editor of a special issue for Romantic Pedagogy Commons (“Novel Prospects: Teaching Romantic-Era Fiction”) and has published essays and reviews in Women’s Writing, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, and the Keats-Shelley Journal. She is the editor of Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and has published essays and books reviews on diversity in higher education in PMLA, The ADE Bulletin, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, The New Inquiry and The Atlantic.

Find her on Twitter as @triciamatthew and visit the Written/Unwritten Facebook page for more information.


In my first semester of graduate school, a footnote in my methods book, The Art of Literary Research, cracked me up:

This moment is as appropriate as any to point out that it is a faux pas, no less deplorable than eating peas with a knife, to speak of our professional publications as “magazines.”  Magazines are publications of miscellaneous content for the lay reader: Time and Smithsonian are magazines. The proper generic terms to use is periodicals; if the periodicals are devoted mainly to research, they are journals; if to criticism, reviews. But never “magazines.”

The tone made me laugh, and I imagined the book’s authors as some amalgam of John Houseman in “The Paper Chase” and Emily Post.  The directive also made me feel like an insider because of course I knew the difference between a periodical and a magazine (I had a BA in English, thank you very much).  When I was a new assistant professor and was teaching my own methods course, I would read that footnote to my students and show them the kind of research problems we were asked to solve each week, in the days before ubiquitous internet access, when the MLA bibliography was only in print.  We all laughed, and they got to feel like insiders too.

And then, during my tenure appeal, when I was preparing the case to convince the (now retired) provost to overturn his decision to recommend against tenure, a union representative told me that the problem with my tenure file was that I was using the wrong term to describe my peer-reviewed work.  I’m not sure why I never learned that I was supposed to call what I write for periodicals “articles”, but, according to this union rep, I had committed a rather deplorable faux pas by using the wrong term (“essay”) and was going to lose my job because it. “It makes you sound like as student” she told me, and while I wanted to argue the point on several fronts, it seemed prudent to just change the wording for my appeal. So I went through my tenure narrative and changed “essay” to “article.”

Then I turned my attention to the rest of my appeal, which rested on whether or not my essays/articles needed to be in print to count towards tenure.  Here is how I resolved that. A former colleague heard that the problem with my file was that my articles were not “in print” and was kind enough to send me an email exchange he’d had with a dean confirming that “in print” was not the rule for a publication to count towards tenure. My department personnel committee used that information in their letter urging the provost to grant me tenure.

To be clear, no one was questioning the value of my research or the rate of productivity.  I wasn’t a troublemaker and my teaching was fine.  According to the Provost, even as he was trying to fire me, I’d done what I was supposed to do to get tenure, except for this “in print” criterion no one had told me about, and I didn’t know to ask about.

That and, apparently, not knowing the right labels for my work meant I was about to be out of a job. With the help of people from across my college (I had the support of my department personnel committee, my department chair, and an interim dean), I ended up getting tenure, and in the years since I started doing research on the topic of diversity and tenure for my anthology Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure, I’ve been curious about what I may have missed during my tenure case.

When I asked the Provost point blank why he hadn’t told me “in print” was the standard he told me that if he’d answered that question I would then want to know how many articles I needed.  He knew things were unclear and why they like to keep them that way.

My colleague knew too.  But he had had the foresight to ask the right questions, get clarity about what counted, and then was smart enough to get it in writing.  This was in the early 00s, so we didn’t know that The Professor was In, and I was so busy trying to get my work done I never took the time to learn how to present it.  And no one took the time to help me figure that out.  But he knew.  We were both bright and hardworking, but he had an edge I didn’t.

I’ve wondered about the differences between that colleague and me from time to time. Yes, yes, yes, he is white and male and heterosexual all at the same time, but it’s too simple to reduce his understanding of this process to those things.  One thing he had was successful academics in his extended family and so, I suspect, moved in a world where these processes were topics of regular conversation. Neither of my parents graduated from college, and I still remember explaining to my mother that my thesis was not an eight-page paper but a book-length study.

There were other consequential issues that were probably based in our familial legacies. Although we were friendly when we worked in the same department, we moved in different social worlds.  I quickly cordoned myself off, so I didn’t have the same informal access to strategies and information that he did.  More than this, I simply did not understand that some part of the review process is people making their own experiences and ideas institutional, and if you don’t speak the same language that they do you’re at risk.   The lesson I should have learned while I was chuckling at the image of eating peas with a knife (I mean, seriously, how is that even a possible thing to do) is that part of the work of being untenured is figuring out a few things:

  1.  How to make your accomplishments legible to those who will evaluate you
  2.  How to get your colleagues to help you learn what the institution will seek in your file and the evaluative discourse of your institution
  3.  How to develop and maintain a healthy academic community as far away from your institution as possible so you can understand your experience within some larger context
  4.  Where you are willing to draw the line to succeed at your institution


It’s not fair, by the way. These processes are loaded and decided on things that have virtually nothing to do with the quality of a scholar’s work.  I know this not only based on my own experience but on the research I undertook in order to provide a critical and historical context for the narratives in Written/Unwritten.

In public talks about the anthology I’ve said a time or two that whiteness protects mediocrity and have felt the very air in the room shift.  White people narrow their eyes at me while their colleagues of color raise their eyebrows in solidarity.  They all know that the rumpled, scattered, I’m-so-brilliant-I can’t-be-bothered-to learn-how-things-function-persona works well for so many white people—not because they are necessarily better or more productive than their peers but because they have built their careers on the benefit of the doubt.    Faculty of color rarely have that luxury—regardless of how many people assume we skate through the academic world on white liberal guilt.

Of course, you can do the things above and still not get reappointed or get tenure. It’s important to understand how deeply invested people are in not making the process transparent.  It’s not only possible, but highly, likely that I could have asked the same questions as my more strategic colleague and not been given a clear answer or gotten that answer in writing.

There are many reasons for this, but elitism is behind most of it. The feeling is that if you have to ask certain questions about process than you’re probably not qualified for the job in the first place. In a world that claims to care about “groundbreaking” research, innovation, and the new, you’re only allowed to be different in a very narrow way.  For some, the whole point is to only work with people who don’t need to be told not to eat peas with a knife.  I think that’s why number 4 above is so important.  You need to carefully (and with guidance) draw those lines for yourself.  One way to measure that is to see how many colleagues around you are willing to share what they know to help you out.  If no one is reaching out to you to see if you feel prepared for your personnel reviews, you need to pay attention to that, and if no one seems willing to give you concrete answers to reasonable questions like what counts towards tenure, you need to note that too.


Sick and Contingent: A Guest Post on Illness in the Academy

A guest post by TPII Editor, Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya.


Watching congress begin the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act this week forced me to finally share a detailed narrative about my experience with our health care system. I wrote the piece many months ago, after leaving my last job, to share with job seekers some “lowlights” of managing life with chronic disease while attempting to finish the PhD and then to hold down contingent faculty positions while also maintaining a long-distance relationship. Some of the challenges that I describe are endemic to our health care system and some to higher education. The essay was meant to highlight the intersection of these systems and how it can hurt individuals who lack job security.

Full disclosure: I have never been covered under ACA. However, one does not need to have Obamacare to be affected by it. ACA guarantees important benefits and protections to people with private plans. My friends and family members are covered by Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid. Moreover, as you will see from my account, I have gone for periods of time without any coverage and have suffered the consequences. I am also intimately familiar with the chaos of dealing with our insurance systems and, while whole-heartedly supporting a single-payer system, can confidently say that poorly managed and expensive coverage plans are better than no plans.

In my third year of graduate school I was diagnosed with Lupus. Like others who discovered they had  a chronic illness during their graduate studies, I had to learn how to navigate my academic career and my healthcare. I was still in the writing phase of my dissertation when my partner, also an academic, accepted a full-time lecturer position in another location. Because we were in a committed relationship and I was familiar with the area, I decided to move with him. The relocation required me to take a leave of absence from my university, which also meant that I had to pay for my insurance plan out of pocket and be subject to out-of-network fees. Moreover, I could only keep the plan for a short period of time. We looked into getting a local plan or coverage through his university. This was before Obamacare. The former option was unaffordable because I had a pre-existing condition. The latter option was unavailable to us because we were not legally married. As a result, I let my coverage lapse. I just stopped seeing doctors and started to ration my medications.

My partner and I were so focused on establishing our academic careers that my, and his, health stopped being a priority. After MLA interviews, I experienced a flare. At first, I ignored it because I thought that I was simply “run down” by the job search. Soon enough I began to have trouble breathing and ended up in the emergency room without health insurance. It turned out that I had inflammation in my lungs. I spent much of my visit crying because I feared not for my well-being but future medical bills and the impact of the flare on my dissertation writing schedule. Fortunately, I went to a county hospital and was able to receive retroactive health coverage available to the local low-income population. To avoid using the ER as health care in the future, my partner and I decided to get married, despite our criticisms of marriage and the connection between marriage, employment and benefits. Our marriage very quickly became a long-distance marriage.

While I was still recovering from my flare I accepted a VAP position at a university in the Midwest. This was my first job and I was happy to have secured employment just before defending my dissertation. I was also excited about exploring a different part of the country while making the transition from graduate student to faculty member. I was still experiencing symptoms and my blood-work caused my doctors concern. However, I was determined to make the cross-country move in hopes that my position would lead to permanent employment. Very soon after my arrival in the new city, I learned that there was no hope of my position becoming tenure-track. In fact, during my second year of the position, the system to which the university belonged would lose tenure altogether. But, at that moment, I had no knowledge of this and simply focused on being “discreet” and “appropriate.” I was also profoundly influenced by the “keep your cards close to your chest” mentality of the job market. This is what I told myself: “Don’t tell them about your partner. Certainly don’t tell them about your disease. Basically, don’t show that you are a human being living in a capitalist economy where health care is big business and disability = incompetence. Not until you get that tenure-track offer in hand, maybe not even until you get tenure.”

During my two years in the Midwest I made a lot of good friends. Only a few of those people know that I was struggling with health problems almost the entire time that I was there. Why did I reveal my condition to some of them? Because on a couple of occasions I needed practical assistance with my health care, such as transportation to the ER or doctors’ appointments. Otherwise, the secrecy quietly ate away at me, but I still saw it as completely normal. The fact that I did not tell the majority of my friends speaks to some aspects of academic culture that I had internalized. As a junior scholar and contingent faculty member, I felt that my problems were not as important as those of my senior colleagues. The most important problems in academia have to do with research, money and politics. My senior colleagues were already burdened with these problems; I saw them as being stretched thin by their commitments to the university and the field as well as their own challenges of balancing work and life, which for some also included long-distance relationships. Disclosing to these overworked people my health issues, which I wrongfully saw as being deeply personal and not systemic, seemed unprofessional. And, of course, I didn’t want them to see me as a liability or wonder if I was doing my job adequately. In hindsight, I see this as an uncharitable view of my colleagues. But at the time I did not expect the kindness that they would show me. Those who learned of my illness offered to bring me food and go with me to my appointments. A senior colleague fought hard on more than one occasion to extend my position, not knowing anything about my health-related hardships.

Here comes the truly messed up aspect of my attitude during my two VAP positions. A part of me thought that I deserved what was happening to me, drawing illogical connections between what I perceived to be my physical weakness and my weakness as a scholar. Yes, my disease made it harder for me to be a good academic, but wasn’t it also the case that if I had been a better academic, I would not be in the awful position of dealing with disease as a contingent faculty member? If I had finished the top program in my field, published more, networked better, I would be in a tenure-track job, with a lighter teaching load, more job security and a sense of being of value to an institution. This was a vicious cycle that always led to self-blame. Most universities say that community is one of their core values. However, this value is often seriously compromised by academia’s pressure on the faculty to be productive. We, especially in the humanities, where collaboration is discouraged, are supposed to be self-directed and self-reliant; our able-bodiedness is assumed. As a result, we get to take sole credit for our successes or our failures at being cutting-edge or prolific. Managing my chronic illness while teaching 5 days per week made it very difficult for me to maintain a productive research program. But this was my disease, my problem, my fault. At least that’s how I saw things.

In addition to the emotional worries, I dealt with the practical disadvantages that come with temporary employment and long-distance relationships. When I first arrived in the Midwest I found myself once again without health insurance, though thankfully for a limited period of time. The insurance provided by the university kicked in after the start of classes. However, I had to come to town well before that to move into my new apartment and get to know my new workplace. After the insurance became active, I still had no idea how to use it. I was new to the PPO system and had no actual information about my plan (not even my ID number) for about a month because the university took so long to process the benefits of new and contingent faculty. A month doesn’t sound like long, but with a chronic illness, it can be damaging. That’s how I ended up in the emergency room without proof of insurance or knowledge about whether the hospital was in my network.

One of the difficulties of having a chronic illness and changing jobs and locations is “starting up” – finding new doctors, locating the nearest urgent care and ER facility, learning about the insurance plan, transferring  medical records. Because I was in a long-distance relationship, I had the added hardship of working in one part of the country and then spending summer and winter breaks in a different part of the country. For winter breaks, when I actually had a flexible schedule, I avoided going to the doctor to avoid out-of-network fees. For summers, I would transfer to my partner’s insurance. We did this several times. I had doctors back home and in the Midwest and they did not communicate effectively. When one would fax over medical records, the other wouldn’t receive them. Somehow this happened almost every time.

I was exhausted and demoralized by the end of my two years in the Midwest – exhausted because I developed another chronic condition that I could not successfully manage, and demoralized because I saw the university’s tenure system come under attack from its government. I desperately wanted to return home, but I didn’t. Instead, I accepted another visiting position. This was not an easy decision. I spent a full week thinking it over, consulting with my partner and doing a lot of crying. Why did I accept this position? My contract in the Midwest could no longer be renewed and I was terrified of not having a salary and being out of academia. I also did not yet have a diagnosis for my new condition, only a set of symptoms that I hoped would go away.

VAP job #2 created even more distance between me, my partner, my family and my dog. This time, I would move to the East Coast to start work at a small liberal arts college. I approached my new job once again determined to be stoic about my “personal struggles.” Once again I had a delusional sense of stakes about my professional future. Maybe this time, I would find myself in a position that would turn tenure-track. I better not risk the opportunity by showing my weakness. But soon my biggest desire would be to go home and curl into a ball in a quiet corner. A few factors contributed to this situation. I was having a difficult time managing my new gastrointestinal illness, which required a diet (low fat and low fiber, which…good luck with that…). I did not have a car, which made grocery shopping complicated in a pedestrian-unfriendly environment, and I simply did not make eating appropriately a priority. My priority was once again: ACADEMIA, so I did not take care of myself, and suffered, and felt guilty about not taking care of myself.

Then, shortly after my arrival, I became plagued by a completely unexpected problem. I received countless medical bills for treatments that I had undergone during my previous job. I had left the Midwest, but the Midwest wouldn’t leave me. Somehow the insurance company decided that I had other coverage during the time of these services (I did not) and retroactively denied their responsibility. I found myself trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare of letters and phone-calls. The whole thing was a misunderstanding but it took me the length of an academic year to prove that the insurance company was in the wrong. In the meantime, I struggled to take care of my new health problem and “start up” with my new insurance plan in a new place. This plan had its own rules about what it would and would not cover and I found myself simultaneously making phone-calls to this insurance company in the hopes of understanding why one blood test was not approved while all of the other blood tests on the same standard Lupus panel were. The battle continued after I left the East Coast, when I had to deal with the company’s decision to retroactively deny me coverage for a medical procedure I underwent during my first week of classes. Just like the Midwest wouldn’t leave me on the East Coast, the East Coast won’t leave me in on the West Coast (where I currently reside). However, at the time, I was mostly disappointed to realize that my new plan had a deductible and that, in fact, I needed to pay two deductibles (actually 4; there were separate deductibles for treatment and drugs), because the academic year does not line up with the insurance company’s (standard) calendar year. This is another way in which 1-year faculty members are at a disadvantage.

My Lupus was under control but the medical bills and gastrointestinal problems rattled me on a daily basis. My partner and I were teaching five days per week and, as a result, went months without seeing each other. I also had a hard time forming a support network at the college, in part, because it was much smaller than my previous institution. I feared that opening up to people would lead to rumors and that my colleagues wouldn’t trust me to do my job. The truth of the matter was that the people who learned of my condition were extremely supportive. A couple of my colleagues became true friends to whom I could open up without fear of judgement. They also gave me practical and emotional support and bettered my life by infusing it with some lightness and humor. Still I couldn’t shake my sense of isolation and vulnerability. I stopped trusting myself to “show up” to social events and to my job, even as I successfully (I think) kept up the appearance of wellbeing. I began to have panic attacks before and  while teaching. I also, for the first time in my life, experienced what would soon be diagnosed as major depressive disorder. I didn’t think that I would last the year. In fact, I seriously considered quitting after the fall, but did not go through with it. Instead I began to see a therapist, for the first time since joining academia, and learned some coping strategies for my physical and psychological symptoms. Also, in the spring, one of my courses was canceled. Normally I would be distressed about this. But this time, I was thankful. With a lighter teaching load, I had more time for my doctor’s appointments, my research and even a little time for rest. And, of course, the knowledge that I would get to return to the West Coast helped me see the finish line.

My position was renewed and I was offered the opportunity to continue, but, for the first time in my life, I turned down a job. Despite all of the above, this was an extremely difficult decision, which entailed the risk of never teaching again. To reiterate, a certain degree of privilege allowed me to make this decision. I had a supportive partner, a place to return to, prospects of alt-ac employment and access to health insurance through my partner’s employer. If my partner were to lose his position now or if we were to separate, I would once again be without health insurance. So long as this country ties coverage to employment it continues to treat healthcare as a privilege and not a human right. ACA is broken system that needs to be fixed, not repealed. It may not be the safety net that we want, but it’s one that we desperately need at this moment.

New Year, New Plan – Postac Post by Karen Cardozo

by Out-Ac Coach Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

It’s that mid-hiring cycle season when academic job seekers are in limbo, and thus a good time to preach my both/and gospel once again: unless you are in the rare discipline for which it’s a seller’s market, you should pursue BOTH academic jobs AND alternatives as a matter of course. Especially now, as we face 4 years of unprecedented and unpredictable mayhem in the U.S. political sphere that is likely to impact higher ed negatively.

However, the primary reason to keep your options open isn’t job scarcity (although that’s reason enough).  Rather, exploring organizations of genuine interest across sectors should be a lifelong career exploration process – one that doesn’t assume that academe is your one soul mate and that you’ll never find true love again.  Don’t wait to find out IF you got an academic job to a) ask whether you still want an academic career and, regardless of your answer, b) explore alternatives.  How can you know you are really “choosing” academe if you don’t have any other options to choose from?

It’s time to unsubscribe from the faulty sequential logic of first pursuing Plan A (academic career), and then Plan B (backup).  To riff off the latter’s association with emergency contraception, many graduate students or postdocs are engaging in risky or unprotected professional behavior by putting all their eggs in the academic basket, and regular methods of professional development often fail when most graduate schools don’t encourage you to explore alternative careers.

At this historic juncture, both the research literature on the new world of work and my ongoing coaching experience reinforce the wisdom of adopting a new Plan A:  Authentic career development. Actively pursued, this approach requires no Plan B, ever.  If you consistently take your own inventory and explore fitting opportunities across BOTH academic AND other sectors, you can kiss the discourses of emergency, and scarcity goodbye.  You will have choices. And you will go from feeling like a victim to being an agent in your own right.

I am living proof: my current tenure track job is the ONLY one I applied to during a 2-year span, and that was after I had quit adjuncting to take a new Alt-Ac position!  In this and prior instances, I engaged in a selective search across sectors, applying when I felt affinity for a job description or organization.  As a result, the cover letters I write (and teach my clients to write) are genuinely enthusiastic, informed, and customized to convey that sense of fit.  While this emphasis on authenticity and willingness to switch fields may not make for a linear career path, it is what today’s shifting employment landscape requires. More importantly, it yields a series of genuine jobs.

So as a New Year’s resolution, why not let go of the academic fiction of a permanent one-way “track” and instead, make like a frog in a peaceful pond.  All you need to do is take the next leap. From there, other lily pads come into view, each one bringing you closer to a potentially more welcoming shore.

There’s another benefit to being authentic and selective rather than merely desperate: it adds a certain je ne sais quois to your interactions on the market. It’s pheromonal – just as sharks smell blood in the water, interviewers catch the scent of your calm confidence that you ARE worthy and that you DO have options. But you can’t convey that impression if you’ve done nothing to cultivate any other options!

So don’t wait until it becomes apparent that you need to activate Plan B on an emergency basis. Starting now, replace your tired old Plan A with a new Plan A – a commitment to authentic career exploration across sectors—and watch a host of unpredictable yet appealing options arise.  You can start with a free 20 minute consultation with one of TPII’s Alt/Out-Ac  experts; no premature commitments or decisions required. We are just another lily pad within reach should you choose to embrace your new plan.