The One-Body Problem, Part 3: Finding the Things You CAN Control

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

This is part three of a three-part series on bridging the academic and post-academic markets at the same time. Find part one here, and part two (with great resume advice!) here.


Most folks at the crossroads struggle to figure out how hard to push on the Alt/Post-Ac market.  It depends on what the academic market does.  It depends on how quickly your Alt/Post network and opportunities develop.  If presented with a great job on the Alt/Post side first, you might forego the academic market and just leap.  But if you had a close-but-no-cigar year on the academic market and a faculty career remains your first choice, it might be reasonable to make another foray and pull back on the Alt/Post front while doing so.

Here are some rules of thumb that might help you decide how to handle your one body problem:

  1.       Know your viability on the academic market as well as how your own personality type operates.  If you’re just starting out in your academic career and have reason to be hopeful, it might be best to segment things and just focus on the demanding academic search first (not least if you still have a dissertation to finish, etc.).  Especially if it’s your first time out, give the academic search your full effort and attention (in a competitive market, you may as well not attempt it if you’re going to be half-assed!).

But personality also plays a part here. People with a “one thing at a time” orientation will be driven insane from a back and forth, multi-pronged job search process.  For such types, going all out in the academic search and THEN doing an equally committed Alt/Post-Ac search if the academic job does not materialize may be the best way to go.  For others with a more flexible or spontaneous orientation, keeping multiple options open may help you cope with the academic search by reasserting a sense of agency and even fun as you discover what else is out there.

  1.       If you are ready to travel both paths simultaneously for a while, prioritize the academic search, keyed as it is to the academic year and particular interviewing seasons and venues by discipline.  Develop a job search calendar and To-Do list that privileges your academic materials and application deadlines.  However, knowing that the Fall will be driven by Ac deadlines, you might carve out some time over the summer to have a preliminary Alt/Post-Ac consult or do some initial thinking about where the other path might take you, should your year on the academic market not go well.

Once you are underway with the academic application cycle, you can turn as time allows to Alt/Post exploration. This could be as minimal as beginning to read alternative job listings to get a feel for what interests you and is a good fit. You might also consider networking with one new contact per month as well as taking on an Alt/Post -Ac internship or job (especially if you have already done sufficient teaching, gaining nonacademic work experience will be a real asset). Come Spring or summer, if you’ve gotten no strong nibbles on the Ac market, you might start getting your Alt/Post-Ac materials together and maybe even apply to some positions to test those waters.  With an established sense of how to apply for academic jobs, you might decide go out again another year, but now you’re also ready to pursue alternative careers assertively.

  1.       If you’re an adjunct feeling locked into dead-end positions, or if you’ve been on the academic market long enough to doubt your future viability, or if you know there is something else you’d much rather do, a more aggressive Alt/Post-Ac search is in order.  For some (if your exit hasn’t already been imposed upon you), the best way to make this happen is through an affirmative decision to end your academic affiliation – don’t renew the contract, don’t apply for other academic jobs.  Knowing there is no institutional safety net and that you HAVE to move on is what pushes some folks to fully take the Alt/Post-Ac plunge.

Another option is the half-way house.  If you’re already adjuncting part-time (or if you can reduce your load accordingly), step up your efforts to find supplementary Alt/Post-Ac work that could be the way in to a more viable fulltime job or career.  Either the opportunity will arise to go fulltime within your other organization or you can use that part-time Alt/Post-Ac role as the launching pad for other applications.

Some find it necessary to continue in academe fulltime while exploring Alt/Post-Ac options: as long as your search efforts are vigorous and you keep envisioning yourself elsewhere, the risk of inertia will be offset by the positive anticipation of a change ahead.  Again, networking often provides both the information and support you’ll need to make a transition.  Don’t go it alone.

Wherever you stand in relation to these diverging paths, and whatever your theological outlook, you will probably benefit from the AA prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Cliché, yes.  But clichés survive for a reason.  Learning to tell the difference between the things you can’t control and the things over which you have real agency is the key to negotiating your one body problem.  It’s what turns the problem into possibility and eventually probability of success and contentment.

You can’t control the number of positions available in your academic field in a given year, nor the idiosyncratic behavior of search committees (which is why you shouldn’t rule yourself out prematurely: as Dr. Karen says, “anything can happen in a search”).  You CAN make sure you apply to an appropriate number and range of jobs.  You CAN make sure your academic application is in the best possible shape (remember:  The Professor IS In!).

You can’t control whether you get job offers.  But you CAN decide what happens next (accept or turn down a particular job if offered, foray the market again, or go all out in the Alt/Post-Ac vein).  Becoming an agent in your own right is the surest way to resist the learned helplessness of the academic job market and indeed, academic culture in general.

You can’t control the number or timing of Alt/Post-Ac openings (which unlike the academic job cycle appear randomly year-round).  But through dedicated networking you CAN exponentially increase your chances of being considered or informed when those jobs become available.  At its best, the networking process can even lead to job creation, when others realize you have a unique skill set, or you join forces with those who inspire your own entrepreneurial energies.

Which brings us back to serenity and courage  –  accepting what you can’t change and being brave enough to take the steps towards the changes that you CAN make.  The speaker in Frost’s “Road Not Taken” reflects that “way leads on to way” and thus we must be prepared to live with our choices.  He looks back upon his two roads with a sigh, remembering that he “took the one less traveled by.”

I don’t know what was lost to the road not taken.  But I do know this: many academics who have found alternative work (including Dr. Karen and my fellow Alt/Post-Ac bloggers at TPII) are breathing sighs of relief, secure in the knowledge that their decision to quit the faculty track “has made all the difference.”

The One Body Problem, Part 2: Resumes Aren’t CVs!-Cardozo

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

In my last post I noted that it is increasingly likely that you may have to foray onto both Ac and Alt/Post markets simultaneously, and hence you will need to get comfortable with different application contexts.

For example: The Professor makes crystal clear in her highly useful Academic Cover Letter and CV webinar that the academic job application does NOT benefit from undue narrative gloss or streaks of personality.  The harried and overworked academic search committee wants to “locate” you as quickly as possible with regard to stage of your career, scholarly areas of expertise, evidence of productivity and hence, tenureability, etc.  They don’t want to hear your autobiography or the origin story of your dissertation (“I was commuting to campus, flipping between the Business and Lifestyle sections, when it hit me that I should write the history of the wedding planning industry!” There’ll be no Working Girl shining moment for you here*).

* Although, to take a lesson from Working Girl, the biggest risks reap the greatest rewards (such as having Harrison Ford pack your lunch on the first day of your wonderful new job).  In the unlikely event that a search committee responds positively to your heartfelt and offbeat cover letter (which means you’ve ignored everything TPII advises), you will have found the Holy Grail: kindred spirits in academe!

In contrast, storytelling may actually be effective in an Alt/Post cover letter.  For example, I know a lawyer who transitioned from a soul-crushing position in a large corporate firm to a satisfying small-town practice.  In his cover letter, he summarized the impressive expertise he had gained at the big firm but explained that he had grown up in a rural area where a close family friend was an attorney much admired by the townsfolk.  Being a community-based lawyer, wrote this applicant, was his dream job; he had only entered corporate practice to pay off his student loans.  Can you imagine talking about dreams and loans in an academic cover letter?!  Gawd help you if you do.  Serious scholars don’t have dreams (or ‘fess up to historic levels of debt). They have second books or “future projects!”

Think of it from the hiring side in this nonacademic instance.  In a small law firm, personality and character matter greatly to the collective, which is also co-dependent financially.  The knee-jerk reaction of a small law firm would typically be:  “we can’t match his corporate salary; he’s not going to be happy in this small practice, etc.” (This is similar to the dynamic of non-elite, small or rural colleges being skeptical of hiring folks from Ivy League or urban institutions, but academic search is still more likely to privilege the applicant’s pedigree over fit).  This guy’s sincere story provided the rationale for his “downwardly mobile” move to small-time law and charmed his future partners.  The emphasis here is on sincere, however. Such rhetoric rarely works as a mere strategy.

In another example of Ac vs. Alt difference, Dr. Karen is also very clear that your CV won’t benefit from superfluous information that detracts from your academic identity (e.g. sections on “Interests” or “Community Service” – unless the faculty position is framed around community engagement, and sometimes not even then).  Academic search committees don’t WANT a whole person: they only want the half (or preferably 9/10ths) of you that is single-mindedly focused on getting tenure and helping the department and institution rise in the rankings.  If they like or admire you personally, that’s a bonus, but mostly beside the point.  Whether you are “interesting” is also beside the point.

But in organizations where people work in close proximity, in teams, or are otherwise together most of the time, the hiring side may care a good deal about likeability and fit.  Here it is often the “Other” items on your resume (still appropriately listed at the bottom in a section like “Additional Skills/Interests”) that may capture the imagination of Alt/Post-Ac employers—especially if there is any sense that these “extras” could be vehicles for new business generation or improved community relations.

For example, let’s say the organization to which you’ve applied has a long-running competition with another organization in the city’s summer softball league.  You just happen to have been an award-winning pitcher.  In a saturated market where many applicants meet the requisite skills and experience requirements, THIS might be the nugget on a resume that distinguishes you!  It may not be fair; it may not be right, but it is human – people are affinity-seeking organisms.

Providing a broader profile may appeal in other ways, too. Let’s say the resume notes that you are a musician.  An employer may think that’ll make for more fun at the annual office holiday party.  Or maybe the org promotes the creative arts and thus, although your job is not performance-related, your music background suggests that you will understand and support their mission.  Or, let’s say your “Additional Activities” section mentions that you are actively involved in Relay for Life and it happens that the hiring manager has lost friends and family to the Big C.  You’ve just won big points with her.

Allow me to state the obvious for a moment:  getting a life is a huge asset in the Alt/Post-Ac search.  While broadening your horizons runs counter to the single-minded focus of disciplinary culture and graduate school, it’s not only healthy but strategic to gain personal and professional experiences beyond the strictly academic (just don’t put them on your CV)!  Especially if you haven’t yet gotten to the proverbial crossroads, see if you can begin to take a few steps down the “Alt/Post-Ac” path by adding some new contacts, activities, or alternative paid work to your bag of tricks.

An important caveat about all this:  “additional skills and interests” are never THE reason you land the Alt/Post interview or job.  Everything I’m saying is predicated on the assumption that you are already a convincing applicant:  these other aspects just attract additional attention to you, in a positive way.

However.  The more you reveal about your person or politics, the more you increase the chances that someone on the hiring side is going to misinterpret or not like something you’ve disclosed. Some people purposely use these “other” aspects on a resume as a litmus test of organizational values [e.g. listing queer activism or your affiliation with a particular political party].

A less risky choice might be to leave controversial stuff off the resume in hopes of landing the interview, and then take the face to face opportunity to put out feelers about your fit with organizational culture.  Keep in mind that if you reveal nothing about the “real” you before accepting a job offer, a troublesome fit may ensue.

In any event, let’s say you’ve grasped the different norms of Ac vs. Alt presentation and are willing to attempt being one body on two paths.  In my next post I’ll talk a bit more about how to handle the logistics and mindset.

The Hash-Slinging Slasher

This fall, a new phenomenon has emerged in job documents—the slash/dash addiction.

I think, if you read the examples below (which are shared with permission of the authors), you’ll see the problem.  In a way, it’s just another manifestation of desperate cramming , and a very close cousin to list addiction and dyad addiction.

When you resort to tactics like this to wedge in additional words,  it’s an undignified attempt to cover all bases out of fear of seeming inadequate. While you might imagine it looks sophisticated, you really come across as indecisive, a sloppy editor, desperate, and in some cases a poststructuralist poseur.

If a word is worthy of mention, it should get its own dedicated spot in a sentence.  If it is interchangable with another word, then it is not a word worth utilizing.  Editing means making these hard choices.


my work unpacks ongoing shifts in ecological/rural development approaches.

My primary areas of specialization are rhetorical theory, composition theory, discourse analysis, service-learning, and embodiment/affect studies.

I displace subjectivity, identity/identification, and sex/gender difference as the primary frameworks through which to conceptualize XXX.  [sex/gender is obviously a well-established and substantive formulation; identity/identification, however, is not].

For example, I asked them to relate/link Donatello’s David with the description of young men in the comedies. When it was the turn of Michelangelo’s David they had to compare the two representations and then assess/understand/explain the statue through the lens of a/the suddenly changed political scenario.

In highlighting the forms of women’s participation in the XXX movement’s crusade for social reform, it moves away from the women-as-objects-of-social-reform model of historical analysis. In foregrounding the discourse and activities of women and about women in the Movement, it unsettles the nationalist-women-as-chief-articulators-of-women’s-reform model of feminist history writing. In providing a region-specific focus on activism in the cause of women’s reform, it underscores the diversity of experience under colonialism in India and dislodged Bengal-as-the-norm model of colonial history writing.


The One-Body Problem: When You’re Both Alt and Ac – Part I (Cardozo)

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

No doubt you’ve heard of the two-body problem, which folks struggle to reframe as a two-body opportunity.  This comes up frequently in Alt/Post-Ac conversations, since relocating for (or having relocation prevented by) a partner’s job is why many PhDs end up exploring alternative careers.

In so doing, however, you are likely to experience the inverse twist:  if the dual-career couple has the problem of two bodies but only one job, those of you at the Ac or Alt crossroads face the problem of how to handle two job markets with only one body!  Whereas the speaker standing at the fork in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” laments that he “could not travel both / And be one traveler,” chances are many of you will end up exploring both Ac and Alt job markets simultaneously at some point.

Those of you who have already had Ac/Post-Ac experience prior to or during graduate school may be genuinely torn about which path to take, so a comparative search can be clarifying.  Others – the academic market being what it is – may decide to explore both markets to maximize your options. This multiplicity raises many logistical, psychological and technical questions (not least: can I clone myself?).

At these crossroads, my Alt/Post-Ac clients seem to fall into three general groups:

  1.       Those for whom an academic job remains a clear preference and viable choice (the road most taken).  It’s what you really want, and you’re in that finishing or post-doc window where it still seems reasonable to try. There’s evidence that you will do well on the market (encouraging statistics in your field, unwavering support from recommenders, an impressive CV, etc.).  So you might seek a preliminary consultation to learn about Alt/Post-Ac options, but you’ll focus on the academic search.
  2.       Those who suspect they won’t land an academic job or are no longer willing to adjunct (poised at the fork).  You may hit the academic search for another year or two but are now committed to also conducting an assertive Alt/Post search.  Your situation breeds the most logistical and psychological challenges because it requires an overlapping commitment to BOTH paths.
  3.       Those (from grad students to tenured faculty) who are actively pursuing Alt/Post-Ac options (the road less traveled) – not as Plan B, but out of the conviction that their right life lies elsewhere.  This group can go whole hog on the Alt/Post-Ac search, a full-fledged commitment which is often both efficient and freeing.  As with all searches, networking will be key to the career transition process.

So, what happens when you find yourself on both Ac and Alt paths at once?  How do you develop multiple job market personalities without going Sibyl [fair warning; the Sibyl backstory is fascinating and will lead you to procrastinate on your applications!].   Seriously, shuttling between different contexts and conventions CAN be disorienting.  You will need a flexible attitude.

The healthiest way to approach the One Body Problem is through a sense of performance and play (otherwise you may end up dissociating like the aforementioned Sibyl, which is no fun). Think of yourself as an actor auditioning for two different parts.  Pursuing both Ac and Alt options simultaneously means you must enact different personas, genres and rhetorical rules.  So loosen up the reins on that coherent identity, put on your Trickster hat, and get ready for some code-switching, folks!

Banish These Words, 2014


Here is a new set of painfully overused, excruciatingly tedious, annoyingly self-important, and frustratingly vacant words  to be banished in 2014:


Banish these adjectives:

real-world  (what does that mean, anyway?)

profound  (your topic/analysis/approach is far less profound than you believe)

crucial   (nothing we do in the academy is actually crucial. I’m sorry. It just isn’t.)


Banish this word in every form:




deepen  (no.  Just no.  In particular, please, i beg you, don’t tell us how you’re going to “deepen your analysis.”)


Banish this word in every form:



nuancing (yes, some of you, I’m sorry to say, make it a verb.)

For further elaboration, please see: Grad Student Grandiosity

Get Out There: Connecting, Negotiating, & Getting Paid–Fruscione

by Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

As few months into it, my freelance journey is by turns fun, challenging, rewarding, and (as academic entrepreneurship can be) a bit scary. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d have edited three World Bank Reports, a business motivation memoir, and a religious history book so far. I’d still consider myself a post-ac expert-in-training, although I’m gaining a lot of knowledge, experience, and professional acumen.

Here are three key things I’ve learned so far about getting out there—and moving forward:

  1. Be patient. For those of us new to the game, freelancing has its ups and downs: I’ve had quiet weeks followed by a logjam of projects followed by more quiet weeks. It takes work to find work, especially at the beginning: reaching out to placement agencies, landing informational interviews, and checking LinkedIn and Craigslist for job ads. If you go into freelancing, bring your patience.
  2. Always be looking. I’ve been collaborating with a former colleague to help her with some overload for a few Master’s thesis projects. A friend in a Humanities Ph.D. program is on the lookout for anyone in his cohort who would need someone like me. I’ve also emailed the graduate studies directors at my former schools to remind them of my availability. In all these cases, my background as a professor has helped me market myself as someone who won’t simply fix comma splices, correct formatting, close extra spaces, and so on. Some graduate students have needed the extra guidance I can offer, and I tell every potential client in the first email that I’m a former professor. If, like me, you’ve gone through graduate school, taught, and done a dissertation, thesis, or other major project, you might be well suited to helping other advanced students. A free 20–30 minute Skype consultation—thank you for the idea, Karen—with each client at the beginning of the process helps me assess whether I’ll just be copy editing the projects or doing some coaching at the same time.
  3. Get paid for your work. After almost 15 years in academia, I’m now making sure I don’t do projects “for valuable C.V. experience” or for “when a full-time position opens up.” Always make sure you’ll get compensated for your work, and don’t be afraid to turn down a freelance gig if the pay or other conditions aren’t fair. (An example in a minute.) A liberating change I’ve seen is being paid for work I used to do for free, such as contributing to a forthcoming essay collection.


Here are some ways to negotiate a price for the work you can do—and be paid for—based on scenarios I’ve encountered this year:

This sounds like a great opportunity, especially because I know so much about X and Y. Can I ask how you can compensate me for this?

(In May, I received an email asking me to participate in a start-up project a professor was doing. I talked on the phone with one of the organizers, asked about modest compensation…and never heard back. Beware of falling into the trap that, for instance, is set for many adjunct professors: doing a lot of low-paying, labor-intensive work for “valuable experience.” Especially when someone comes to you about some service or knowledge you can offer, don’t give away your magic for free. Our time has value and should be treated accordingly.)

I generally charge between $X and $Y per hour, or $Z as a flat rate. If that works with your budget, send me a sample section and I’ll prepare an estimate.

(I learned this the hard way: if you’ll be editing, review a writing sample and talk with the client before establishing your fee. When asked to copy edit a manuscript, I underestimated the page length and level of detail-oriented work the text, formatting, and notes required. Request a writing sample, and read it closely.)

I know we initially agreed to $X for this work. I’m happy to continue with This and That additional stage you’re asking me to do, but I would need to be paid $Z more.

(For the same book project, the managing editor was so impressed that she asked me to review her changes to the manuscript, as well as look over the page and cover proofs. We negotiated a price fair to the project’s budget and my labor. Given my evolving post-ac identity and the managing editor’s interest, I felt confident in asking for additional pay for additional labor. This has been one of the biggest—and most refreshing—differences from academia.)

I’m exploring multiple freelance options right now, and I’m sorry that Reason 1 and Reason 2 prevent me from taking on this project.

(I inquired with a publisher about doing some freelance copy editing or proofreading work. The pay was low [< $20/hour], and checks were customarily cut 3-4 months after invoicing. I consulted with a few trusted professionals to verify that this pay system was not worth it. The low rate and slow turnaround time made this impractical for me, and—unlike some past moments in academia—I wasn’t afraid to say no.)




Part of a freelancer’s journey is to always be looking—for new projects, new connections, and new ways of advertising services. As I wrote here earlier this year, you owe it to yourself to talk, write, or tweet about your career change. Often. In a few cases—most recently this week—a friend of a friend was looking for editors and writing consultants. She sent my resume to the contact person, and I’m currently communicating about logistics, timelines, and rates. And, thanks to a nudge from fellow freelance academic Katie Pryal, I started my own WordPress site (“The Consulting Editor”) as a one-stop shop for my editing work, activism, and developing post-ac identity. Do whatever you can to keep networking, accept viable freelance projects, build resume experience, and make sure you get paid fairly.

All with a healthy dose of patience, of course.


We Don’t Need Your New Perspective

If you have the words “a new perspective” in any of your job documents, get rid of it.

It’s the tritest and most hackneyed of all job document language (that is not in the hyper-emotional-passion vein.)

Who is not doing something from a new perspective? How would you have gotten a Ph.D. otherwise?

This is the problem of meso-level specificity. You think you’re being specific, but it’s just another kind of vague.

Instead of telling us you bring a “new perspective,” tell us what the damned perspective IS!

“New” is just another (stealth) cheap adjective. The kind I talk about in This Christmas, Don’t Be Cheap.

Think, people.  If anyone can say it, it’s meaningless.


How to Get Experiences Corporate Employers Are Looking For

by Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

When I first moved to Texas to begin my PhD, I was a pretty ambitious and cocky gal. I was meeting a houseful of fellow grad students, going around the room and introducing ourselves. One person said he taught “tech writing.” I had never heard of such a thing. When he explained what it was and that it was the best way to get a spot during the summers, I scrunched up my nose and said, “but then you would have to teach TECH WRITING.” Little did I know that teaching technical writing would be the gateway to my academic departure and future career.

So, lets begin exploring how you can beef up your experiences rather than turn up your nose to opportunity, as I did.

My guess is that you have probably done a few things other than teaching in your adult life. In beginning to explore this world of post-acs, of which I have been a member for 15 years, I have noticed that a lot of people have taken on tangential work, from editing to coaching. That’s a great start to getting the experiences corporate employers are looking for (& very helpful for you in determining what you would like to do full time). If you haven’t, don’t worry. We will get you there.

Let’s start with the basics. Potential employers only understand their world (& recruiters can be pretty literal). Any work you do will have to be translated for them. I will talk more about that in a later “Lost in Translation” post. The main focus for you as you start your transition is building up experiences that will as closely tie to the work you want as possible so no translation is needed.

Secondly, you don’t have to get years and years of experience here. You just need enough to be able to tell a complete “STAR” story. “STAR” stands for Situation, Task or Action, and Result. Results are big for potential employers. They don’t just want to know that you did something; they want to know the impact you made (because that is what they will want).

The other thing to note is that recruiters like work that is tidy and connected to a job because that’s what the other candidates will have. You will be competing with people who might have fewer years or experience than you do, but may have experience in specific jobs that closely tie to the position, so you need to look comparable. Therefore, you will be looking for ways to beef up roles, not just your individual skills. All of these will have STARs under them, which will use the same exact language as the position posted.

Finally, you will notice I do not suggest you take more courses. As someone from an academic background, this will more than likely be your first thought. RESIST THIS URGE. To many outsiders, you are going to be overly educated enough. And, personally, I would have used “I should go back to school” as a way to avoid taking the plunge. Focus at first on experience. This is what you will need and what they will be looking for. Also, once employed, education and training is often covered by your company, so you will still be ale to take classes later, but you can do it on their dime.

As I mentioned in a prior post, the best way to learn about potential positions is to look at current openings, so I suggest you comb through any that interest you and capture the specific skills you will need. For illustration purposes, here are a couple lines for an available position as an instructional designer on one of my former teams ( which I use because I will know from an employer’s perspective what I would be looking for):

“-Uses project management skills to lead project teams and outside vendors to deliver projects on time within cost

– Defines learning objectives based on customer requirements and sound ID expertise

– Drives conversations to gain alignment and synthesizes thoughts to action”


Now that we know what we need to get our STAR, let’s talk about how we would get it:

  • on-campus work: start looking around campus for places where the work you  want to do exists. For our purposes, we need some project management experience, preferably in an educational environment. Start asking around campus to see if there are any projects going on around curriculum design, perhaps. More than likely this will not be paid, but it will be an investment in your future and you won’t be doing it forever. Your STAR would be under your current position as a professor since it is for the same employer and might be something like “leveraged project management skills to partner with ___ and successfully implement ___ project ___weeks early and $___ under budget.”
  • contract work: While employers may be hesitant to take on a full time employee with experiences they don’t understand, contract companies tend to be a lot more flexible. You might also be able to do these jobs while you are teaching because they could be project-based. I have personally hired a couple people to help with course editing or other work who have full time jobs elsewhere. In many cases, however, you will be hired by a contracting company, not an employer. You can even join a contracting company as part of their team. All of these are things you can search for online (and if you want to know more about this, let me know and I can write a post about it). In our illustration, I would focus on getting experience in defining learning objectives, although your years of teaching are very helpful in this space, as well. And make sure the work you do leads to a STAR, so if it is only part of a project, you can still articulate the outcome, such as “utilized instructional design expertise to establish learning outcomes to create courses that were developed ___ faster and produced a ___% improvement in ___.”
  • create your own: sometimes it is just easier to craft your own project to get exactly what you need. This also fits tidily under the role you have today, making your résumé less complicated. Remember, employers are looking for skills that you have, so anything you have done that demonstrates that and can be equated back to a position is helpful. For me, I worked with a friend to create a literary magazine on campus. This translated into a few STARs that tied to positions I wanted. For the one above, for example, I would say something like “founded and managed literary magazine, successfully partnering with stakeholders to align on publication outcomes and drive production and distribution,  resulting in ____ % higher readership and a ___% improvement in sponsorships.”
  • volunteer work: working with volunteer organizations can be helpful, but it may be more difficult to tie it to a specific job. I wouldn’t focus too heavily here, unless you had a leader role that you will be able to flesh out more fully as a position that reflects the skills you need in your future role. If you were president of gifting and are looking for a role in development or something like, you should highlight it boldly. Also, and I believe this goes without saying, unless you want to restrict yourself in your search, leave off anything potentially political. This doesn’t mean you can’t be who you are… Just don’t limit yourself right out of the gate. I am a very liberal, feminist democrat (proudly so), but I don’t put my Women’s Studies degree on my résumé. I have still worked for liberal companies. I am not saying I agree with this, that you should be ashamed of who you are or that you wont be able to find a pace that aligns with your values. I just recommend you make that decision AFTER you get an interview (which I will go through in a future post).


While not exhaustive, these tips should help you get a few more STAR bullets on your résumé. And that’s what potential employers are looking for: someone with skills they can understand. Hopefully, you will be able to see those opportunities and seize them, rather than scoffing at them, as I did.

And, who knows, maybe you will even LIKE them!!

The 4 Terrors of the Academic Entrepreneur

by Margy Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Margy Thomas Horton

Academic entrepreneurship has long been an obvious choice for patent-holding scientists, and according to the Huffington Post, the career option has also become popular among academics seeking supplemental income. In July, Kerry Ann Rockquemore, founder of an academic support service, published a series describing how established academics can think like entrepreneurs to solve problems on campus and grow side projects into new businesses, as Rockquemore herself has done. On this very blog, Jessica Langer and I have cheerfully urged academics to launch entrepreneurial enterprises, and Dr. Karen offers a how-to webinar on the subject. Recently a reader even created a hashtag in honor of our favorite academic entrepreneur.

The truth is, academic entrepreneurs celebrate their chosen career path not only because it is feasible and rewarding, but also because entrepreneurs cannot help but tend toward optimism. As the saying goes, an entrepreneur is a person who leaps off a cliff and builds an airplane on the way down. I would add that, while falling, the entrepreneur enjoys shouting up to the people still perched on the cliff, “This plummeting-to-earth thing is a blast!! Try it!!!”

The optimism of the entrepreneur–part joy, part faith, part nervous energy–makes possible that leap off the cliff. The entrepreneur’s grandiose desire to build an enterprise larger than herself distinguishes her from the freelancer who simply trades hours for money.

But Oscar Wilde said it best: “The basis of optimism is sheer terror.” The boldness of the entrepreneur both causes and is caused by living in a sort of free-fall, working constantly and frantically to improvise the contraption that might or might not save your life. In my own free-falling journey of academic entrepreneurship, I’ve encountered four distinct terrors. I share them here to prepare you for what you, too, might encounter if you take on an entrepreneurial venture.

First is the terror of differentiation, alluded to in my first post: the feeling of departing from your tribe of kindred spirits. When you first decide to start a business, the reactions from your academic friends and colleagues may range from apathetic (“Hmm”) to skeptical (“Well, I guess you can try”) to confused (“Why aren’t you going for the tenure track?). Eventually, though, you grow comfortable with your new entrepreneurial self. You realize that, as irrevocable as that leap off the cliff was, it was you doing the leaping. And now, as you cultivate your entrepreneur self, you will continue to be you–learning, reading, thinking, discovering, and living the life of the mind. In Rockquemore’s description of the difference in mindset between academics and entrepreneurs, she rightly points out that people can switch at will between the two mindsets. In fact, academics ought to relish shifting perspective now and then.

Once past the terror of differentiation, another terror awaits you: the terror of money. You’ll initially fear not making any, of course, but at a deeper level, you’ll also fear the money itself–having to be right up close to it. You’ll feel uncomfortable having to deal directly with every dollar you earn from a client, rather than having money magically appear in your bank account like it had when you were someone else’s employee. Moreover, you’ll feel afraid while working long unpaid hours to get your business off the ground. Your time is what your life is made of, so by spending time on building your business, you invest your very life in a cause that isn’t guaranteed to succeed, notwithstanding your moments of irrational certainty that it will. Eventually, once clients or customers are coming steadily, the money terror mellows into a gentle discomfort, which flares up only while dealing with billing, collecting, and taxes. You realize that money-work is scary to you for the same practical and ideological reasons that it is for most academics, and that the only way you can expel the terror is to swallow and digest it first.

Once your terror of money dissipates, another terror sets in: the terror of over-work. You discover that having a new business, like having a new baby, is an exercise in over-extending yourself in order to meet others’ needs. Just as it takes awhile before you can wean your baby, it takes awhile before you can begin to extricate your self from your business and set limits: no working through the dinner hour, no working after midnight, no smartphone while playing with your child. The terror of overwork begins to diminish the moment you recognize it for what it is and decide where to set the boundaries in your life. (I type this at 12:03 am, in clear violation of rule #2 above.)

The fourth terror, which to be honest I’m still learning to manage, is the terror of unraveling. As your business grows and the stakes get higher, you’ll worry about miscalculating your taxes, losing your best employee, or leaving inadvertent loopholes in your contracts. You’ll consult experts for help, but still, the sheer volume of details and the professional and personal consequences of messing up will weigh on you sometimes. You might worry about being hauled off for tax evasion, Al Capone-style, or winding up paralyzed in a hospital bed like Ted Beneke. Even though you don’t believe in the concept of rivalry, you might worry that someone else will find a way to copy what you do and offer your product faster, cheaper, and with more sparkles than you can. But naming your fears helps you to keep them at bay. You allow yourself to list them out, then you get back to work.

What terror comes next in the journey of entrepreneurship? I suspect that the fifth terror will, in the words of Wilson Harrell, have something to do with “the same thing that leads us to start companies in the first place–some basic, semiconscious need to make our mark in the world, to leave our footprints in the sands of time.” According to Harrell, the elemental terror of the entrepreneur is “that we might become another member of the herd and pass into oblivion.” Come to think of it, this is not so different from the existential terror of the traditional academic who fears that her research will not outlive her.

Amidst such terror, whether in entrepreneurship, academia, or life in general, optimism is a choice–one that’s made in the midst of uncertainty, scarcity, danger. Choosing optimism isn’t always easy, but it is what enables us to paint visions of the future, and it makes forward movement possible.

To speak again as my academic self, I’ll quote Shakespeare’s As you Like It: “The threads of our lives are of mingled yarn, the good and ill together.” The academic entrepreneur is one who weaves together mingled yarn, and then looks to Shakespeare for the words to explain what she’s doing.

Managing Your Postdoc Year(s): Avoid These Mistakes (A Guest Post)

A few months ago I wrote a column in Chronicle Vitae about managing your time for a postdoc; the main point being, get your writing done!  A reader wrote to follow up and share her own story about failing to effectively manage her writing time on a prestigious three-year postdoc.  What it shows is that it’s not just essential to get your writing done, but to get it done with a constant eye to job market timelines.  The postdoc is not a glorious space of unbroken writing time; when you factor in slow academic publication processes and searches that commence a year in advance of employment, the postdoc is much shorter than it seems. The time has to be closely managed to ensure you leave the postdoc employed.  As this guest poster writes, “I believe that the multi-year postdoc as it’s referred to in US academia, is a blight upon my CV, as peers and more seniors weigh up my modest publication record against the three golden years I had at Oxford.”  Take care, readers!


In the early spring of 2010, I was awarded one of the coveted, prestigious junior research fellowships (JRFs, as it is known in Oxbridge) in Oxford, United Kingdom. It was my final semester at Duke, where I was wrapping up my dissertation. Needless to say, it was a grand and unique opportunity. It offered 3 years of unstructured research time, came with accommodation and SCR privileges (wining and dining rights in the senior common room, which only Fellows at Oxford and Cambridge have access to at their respective Colleges), and a modest stipend. Most importantly though, this particular JRF did not require any teaching and thus expected junior Fellows to devote their attention solely to research. The professed goal of these Fellowships were to help early career scholars to achieve a tenure track position. A dream come true, for a young aspiring scholar, but yet a double edged sword: if I failed to produce, it would count against me on the job market.

And double edged sword indeed did it prove to be. For various reasons I will explain, the publications were too few, and came too late, for the prestige of the Oxford JRF to help me on the market. I was lucky to secure a tenure track position within my first couple of weeks on the US job market, at a Research 1 university. Nevertheless, I believe that the multi-year postdoc as it’s referred to in US academia, is a blight upon my CV, as peers and more seniors weigh up my modest publication record against the three golden years I had at Oxford. Hindsight is perfect, so they say, and now I know the mistakes I made and the obstacles that proved daunting. Let my experience prove a cautionary tale.

My graduate program was elite, not CHYMPS, but in the top-10 and prior to 2008, did place students in top-30 R1 positions without publications or with just one revise resubmit. As an entering cohort, in 2004, we were told that our placement record was stellar, and that a good dissertation plus promising research agenda would be all we would need. Thus, although the resources were vast and seemingly endless (until 08), faculty well known and uber-productive, and methodological training top-notch, we weren’t taught or encouraged to publish. I myself had tried to launch projects with various colleagues, all of which had gone nowhere.

Thus, I arrived in October, 2010 to Oxford with no publication experience. I knew next to nothing about the publication process; to illustrate my ignorance: I did not know what a cover letter to the Editor would entail. I did not know ScholarOne, or any of the details that go into actual submission. I was *that* clueless. Suddenly I was left on my own, in my lodgings in Oxford, to go forth and publish. A mentorship program supposedly existed, but I never got any mentorship. Most other Fellows were from the UK system and were already safely ensconced within their networks and continued to work with their thesis advisers.

I had heard advice that I should seek ‘informal’ feedback on manuscripts, that is cold email academics working on similar topics and see if they’d provide feedback. This faulty advice meant that I waited 9 months for ‘informal’ feedback. In the interim, I revised a chapter of my dissertation to fit the format of the intended journal, not knowing that that is the last step, mostly done after copyright transfer to a journal. I also mistakenly transposed an artificial theoretical framework to make my piece publishable. All these unnecessary changes stemmed from the mistaken belief I’d acquired as a graduate student that scholars only got published by working diligently and for years on ‘masterpieces’. Maybe, back in the day.

In a nutshell, I spent exactly one calendar year to submit my first piece, which four months later resulted in a rejection that might have been avoided without the artificial theoretical transplant. I later published the piece in a similarly ranked top journal by going back to basics-to my original theoretical framework. I also chanced upon an excellent discussant at our annual conference, who provided on point feedback for another paper. That became my first and quickest publication. Instead of awaiting more feedback, I went just with her feedback, plus some advice regarding journal choice from other postdocs at Oxford.

I also did not calculate that the glorious 3 year post-doc in fact translated to 2 years before I’d be on the US market. My field peaks around October for tenure track jobs. It also goes without saying that I had no idea how journal submissions or timelines functioned. Little did I know that for fast-track journals, if all goes well, the time from submission to acceptance could be the same length of time to create a human being, and more for online first publication, and yet more for in print. A more typical scenario are 2-3 rejections before an acceptance, or approximately 2 years from first submission to an acceptance and possibly 3 or more for in print. Even more depressing cases have been reported by senior faculty of 7 years from submission to publication, with 7 rejections in the interim.

Meanwhile, for personal reasons I’d also decided to go on the UK market. Again, my strategy of sitting on manuscripts to get informal feedback proved suicidal for my chances on the UK. I am among the lucky few who now know the markets on both sides of the pond. Academic year ’12-13 unfortunately also coincided with the pre-REF (research excellence framework) for UK higher education. Early career scholars may be prorated down to 3 or 2 publications but the more is better logic meant that someone with a modest record had a probability of obtaining a job interview statistically indistinguishable from zero.

I also was torn between pursuing a book as opposed to publishing article length work. I knew even less about book publishing than about article submissions. Thus, without making a plan, I left the book question up in the air. Whilst my field is article driven, and more so for quantitative scholars, a book can sometimes be the cherry on top that distinguishes you from the application pile.

Without further ado then, from the things I did wrong here are my tips for the lucky few among you embarking on postdocs.

  • Plan the postdoc, as you would plan an intricate vacation. Have writing and research goals in mind that are not general but as specific as possible. Break them down according to semester or term (at Oxbridge, we had 8 week terms plus 6 week off term time), in the least. Then play your days so that you devote time to daily writing and then work on the other research relevant tasks-transcription, data coding, data compilation, analysis, the reading, you know the fun bits!
  • Submit, submit, and submit. Simply reading, taking notes, and writing are not enough if you ultimately do not have the output to show for it. As a colleague recently put it, academia is ruthless in that good intention and effort count for next to nothing; output is where it’s at. Another angle on this is the threat of being scooped. Talking about your research to colleagues and presenting at conferences places you at a vulnerable spot for these ideas to be harnessed and packaged by better funded, better known, and better placed scavengers to proceed ahead with them. In addition, great minds think alike, and you will never be able to prove the difference, if you do not act quickly and quietly. Remember that your job as a graduate student began as a consumer of ideas and by now you should be a producer.
  • Have goals: Similar to the above but on a slightly different note, decide if you will prioritize articles or book or both. This will depend on how your field works and what it values and on the length and nature of your postdoc. I am writing from the experience of a research-only postdoc. However, having taught a 2-2 load off the bat as an assistant professor, even if you have to teach, limit your hours from the outset. Otherwise, teaching will take up your life. You are warned.
  • Seek advice. If you are still in contact with your committee, their advice is invaluable. The informal reviewers, the journal reviewers, and colloquia attendees will not have the patience or time to read your material as closely as your advisor and committee members have. Also leverage the mentorship and networking opportunities provided by your postdoc. At Oxford, the College system has pros and cons in this regard. It provided no mentorship, and we’d be housed in Colleges where there might be one or two scholars in the same discipline and no one in your subfield. (Nuffield was an exception for the social sciences). Take initiative in emailing the departmental members, attending events, and introducing yourself, much as you would at a conference.
  • Know the market and know which market(s) you will be on: I also mistakenly thought I’d be able to get another cushy, if not three year, postdoctoral position. That was my fall back, maybe borne out of the graduate school environment where we were coddled and told all would be swell, given our elite pedigrees. I never thought VAPs or worse, adjuncts would be on the horizon. Thus, when I did eventually go on the market, R1 TTs plus few SLACs with research focus were all I applied to. Again, to reiterate the obvious, I was extremely lucky. There are institutions that still will look to fit and reward potential and there are cases in which the first or second choice candidates will fly off to greener pastures. I was up against that year’s market superstar, who eventually landed a CHYMPS postdoc and is now at Harvard but regardless, the first offer was made to me.
  • Coauthor cautiously, if at all:  Your solo work, especially as a recent graduate, comes first and foremost. I began 2+1 papers with someone in 2009; they are still not published. They will be some time, hopefully before I attain tenure, but had I depended on these pieces to be the career making articles, I’d most likely have zero on the CV right now. That is not to say do not coauthor but when you do, choose your projects and coauthors wisely. I was led astray on 7 (!) projects, some submission ready, others data work, others conference papers, that failed for various reasons that can be summed up by lack of commitment on their part for that project. Do not waste time on projects that are unpublishable, or relinquish those that could be, and do not overcommit to prospective coauthors who will not commit to you. Much like dating and relationships!
  • Do not volunteer for optional teaching. My postdoc was one of those with no requirements for teaching. Those who wanted to, taught tutorials within College. Unlike traditional classroom lecturing or seminars, these are akin to one to one or at most small group private tutorials, as the name specifies, where one goes over students’ papers and assignments for a course in your field. Make no mistake, while not requiring Powerpoint prep, lecture notes, or any of the usual tasks and minutiae inherent on ‘teaching prep’ in the US, these can be a time suck. One golden piece of advice I received was to avoid such commitments as pure research freedom would not come again. Teaching experience does look good on the CV but if you are aiming for the R1 world, it will only count at the margins.
  • And last but not least, have hobbies, or something else outside of academia that helps structure your time. In saying this, I go back to square 1 as in point 1. During what I now look back upon as the best three years of my adult life fitness became my passion. It will keep you sane, and also serve to divide up your days.


I would end with a congratulations to those of you fortunate enough to have postdocs in hand. Please remember that this is a golden opportunity that can come back to bite you. In fact, I’d venture to say that the more prestigious and cushier the postdoc, the more you will be penalized for failing to produce. That, was also a naïve assumption on my part –that the Oxford name would count for something. First off, foreign postdocs, be they Oxford, or Cambridge, or any other fancy name, are not well known in the US and their multi-year nature immediately raises a few well-placed questions (as happened to me on a phone interview with an elite private R1). Second, your postdoc is not your pedigree. It only counts insofar as you leverage it, by publishing first and foremost, and by networking, and making use of the resources provided (Data, libraries, gym). You are not permanent; even cases that are renewable are few and far between, much less cases of postdoc to permanent position (again there is an inverse relationship between the probability of such an occurrence and the prestige of the postdoc). To echo the above, again last but not least, enjoy the year(s) but do not enjoy them too much, as I did, to the extent that you turn a blind eye upon the looming job market.