3 Stories From #Post-ac Consulting – Jessica Langer

In this post Jessica Langer opens a window onto the work she’s been doing in Post-Ac Consulting with The Professor Is In.  Her clients have been extraordinarily successful in getting the interviews and jobs she’s helped them prepare for. I asked her to tell us about the work.

Stay tuned for a new webinar she’ll be offering next week on “creating your post-ac story.”  As she explained,

One of the things I do daily as a marketer is help companies figure out how to tell their story to the public. I think that post-ac folks could use that sort of thing, too, because after all, the job interview process (and materials) are really marketing materials…So often, my clients are really worried about how to conceptualize their departure from academia. They don’t know how to explain it in a way that’s positive and not negative. I generally encourage them to discuss it not in terms of going “away from” academia but rather going “toward” whatever else they’re doing – but then they get stuck on how to make that leap. I want to help people to understand how folks from different fields have managed to make the transition to post-ac life in a way that seems smooth and part of a coherent narrative.

That’s next week. Meanwhile, read on for more about her work!


by Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Many of my clients thus far have been in STEM fields, whether in the social sciences or hard sciences. No mathematicians yet, but plenty of people whose work would make my brain hurt.

Know what’s interesting? No matter the field, whether they’re in my own home humanities field(s) or all the way over in the hard sciences, the narrative is so much the same. There’s a deep dissatisfaction and sense of betrayal: academia is a broken system, we are all coming to realize, and none of us is immune.

(Names and all identifying details have been changed. If you think you know who any of these people are, I guarantee you don’t.)

One of my clients, Beth, is a social scientist who’s looking for work in the Canadian government. She’s done some amazing international fieldwork in Southeast Asia, both for her PhD and for a private consulting company, and for her doctoral work she coined a really interesting new framework for what she was investigating.

Beth’s biggest problem was that she was hesitant to take ownership of her accomplishments. In her job search materials as she sent them to me, she would discuss how she was “striving towards” and “working towards” things that she had already done.. and had been doing for years. She had the mindset of a student and hesitated to describe herself as an expert in her field, when in fact the PhD process is one of developing expertise.

(I’m happy to report that of the two jobs for which I helped her work on her application materials, she’s now been scheduled for interviews for both of them.)

Another client, Antoinette, has an incredibly interesting background; a “portfolio career”, as the Times Higher Ed has dubbed a work life in which one is able to pursue many different interests professionally. An historian by training, with a PhD in early modern, she has an impressive academic career including teaching, publishing and a stint as a guest curator at a major history museum in Boston. She also has a few years’ experience in the business world and speaks 4 major languages.

Antoinette, however, struggled to see herself as a good candidate for anything. She saw her experience as a curator as expected, not impressive. Similarly, her facility with languages was dismissed as somehow not impressive.

“I’m just an unemployed PhD,” she told me once. “Who would hire me?”

The cognitive dissonance was astounding. Here was this woman who had just finished up a gig at a museum that any of us reading this will have heard of, with a doctorate, 4 languages, and even some experience in business… and she considered herself unhireable? My first order of business was to help her change this mindset: to work with her to understand that the culture inside of academia is very different from that on the outside, and that accomplishments that seem pedestrian on the inside are incredibly impressive on the outside.

Thomas also has a “portfolio career”, though he’s trying to balance two things at once. He’s working on his PhD in political science at one of the top schools in his field, and has just received a major grant to travel to Eastern Europe for some archival research. At the same time, he’s cofounded a small ed-tech startup with one of his friends and is trying to manage the sales and client service side of the business. His days are long and his time is pressed. My role, more than anything, was to help him decide which path to take: academia, business, or a bit of both.

One of the things I find most interesting about Thomas is that he actually flouts the conventional narrative of feeling-like-a-failure. If he leaves academia, it will be because he likes something else better, not because he felt like he couldn’t make it as an academic. But even in the best possible case, choosing to take one’s academic degree into a non-academic context can be hard… because for many of us, Thomas included, our work is genuinely fascinating to us. We love it.

And here’s where I confess that even though I make my living outside of academia, I haven’t fully “left”. I still teach occasionally – granted, I teach business school, but the substance is the same (and the money is better, but not that much better). I still publish in my field; I have an interview with a major figure in a major journal coming out early next year, and I still write at least a book chapter or article a year. But the best part is that the work is so much more fun, it’s so much sweeter and more fulfilling, when I do it for the sheer love of it and not because I’m worried about whether it will get me tenure or promotion.

The big secret is that “leaving academia” doesn’t have to mean leaving forever. It doesn’t have to mean leaving entirely. It doesn’t mean burning down the building, or even slamming the door and locking it. It can mean choosing to do something else to make a living and pursuing one’s academic work as a hobby or in our spare time. It could just mean reading articles and enjoying them. None of this fixes the broken academic system… but on an individual level, it might work for you. Leaving academia doesn’t have to mean walking away from something. It could very well mean choosing something else to walk towards.

Which is why it’s so important for those of you who are “traditional” academics to support the work of independent scholars… but it’s also important for those of us who make our living outside of academia to, frankly, stop giving a toss what academia thinks of us.

And which is why it’s so crucially important for those of us who forge paths that aren’t the traditional academic path to have streetlights and signposts along the way.

Consider this one: you are not a failure. You are choosing a path that works for you, for your life. You are honouring your circumstances and your needs. And in doing so, you have already succeeded.


Stop Acting Like a Grad Student, Redux: “After My Defense, I Will…”

I am always telling clients to stop “sounding like a grad student.”  But the trouble is, clients don’t understand all the ways that they do this.

Some are obvious.  “While a grad student in the English Ph.D. program, I…..”  is a sure giveaway.  Delete any language that depicts you AS a student–either grad student, or, god forbid, undergraduate (see this column I wrote for Vitae for more on that particular misstep).

However, most cases are more subtle.  Today, I highlight one common one:  the constant reference to grad school process/status.

Language like the following:

  • After my defense I will develop a book proposal…
  • I have am writing an article based on chapter two of my dissertation…
  • I am giving two conference papers derived from this dissertation research…
  • After receiving feedback from my dissertation committee, I will incorporate revisions into the book manuscript…
  • As a graduate student teaching assistant, I taught a course on….
  • I have six terms of experience as a TA in the xxx course, and in that course I focus on
  • I not only autonomously taught these three courses, but I was also responsible for creating the syllabi and lesson content

The second example – “I am writing an article based on chapter xx of my dissertation”  — is the most common case.  Check your letter and research statement now for this modifying clause, and remove it.

All of the final three examples are rampant in teaching paragraphs.  The final example is a case of over-explaining information in a way that inadvertantly makes you look less experienced, rather than more.  If you simply explain how you taught the class, you look like a faculty member.  If you laboriously articulate that you were “responsible for creating the syllabi…” etc., you look like a grad student.

In a similar vein, nobody but you actually cares what chapter your article derives from.  They care that you WROTE an article, and that that article is published, in a high ranking journal. Period.  To anxiously look backward to the chapter it once was is to rehearse your grad student anxieties in public.

Because you have already devoted one or two complete paragraphs to describing the dissertation, its topic, methods, theories, conclusions, and contribution in the cover letter and research statement, there is no reason to keep referring back to it as the context for other professional accomplishments.

Your book proposal, articles, conference papers, and book manuscript are stand-alone achievements that signify your status as a professional in the field. They do not, in any way, shape, or form, need to be tethered to an old and outdated graduate school identity, or graduate school requirements.  To continually do so is to reveal yourself to be over-invested in that past graduate student identity, and unclear on the nature of an autonomous, fully independent, scholarly identity.

It’s subtle, but it’s telling.

Explain your dissertation, yes.  And then move on.


Revenue Generating Activities, or, Time IS Money and Don’t Be Afraid to Think of It That Way

By Sarita Jackson

Sarita Jackson

Sarita Jackson

As a former tenure track professor, I was often inundated by numerous service requests and invitations to participate in various activities just within the first year alone. However, I realized that I had the power to politely decline many of those requests to avoid burnout and an unproductive year. Therefore, only those requests that aligned with my research agenda, added value to my courses and enhanced my research productivity, while also contributing to the enhancement of the university, were accepted.

Time, while on the tenure track, meant research productivity. Research productivity to me meant seeing the final results of my research and conference proceedings published in some of the top journals in my field. I emphasized research productivity, because my goal was to be marketable beyond the tenure requirements of my institution at the time. The prestige of publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals, contributing to important debates in the area of international trade and sharing my findings with students brought about great satisfaction. That satisfaction outweighed the interest in getting a monetary return on the additional time and money spent outside of the office to produce. Nevertheless, producing on a consistent basis to limit any chance that I would be denied tenure in the area of research required guarding how I spent my time both inside and outside of the office. As a result, last year I successfully earned tenure and was promoted to associate professor.

In my current role as the founder of a think-tank and consulting firm, the same approach applies, but my focus has expanded. My time now means my money now! In addition to emphasizing prestige, I also focus on getting the true value of my expertise and work. This goal determines the activities and meetings that I participate in. In other words, with extremely limited time, I spend much of my work time on revenue generating activities (RGAs).

This past year and a half has been similar to the early part of my tenure track process. There are still requests for meetings, service and assistance. This time, business owners, non-profit organizations, and other individuals become solicitors of my time. I find myself politely declining some requests. For example, I have been asked to give a series of workshops on international trade, review economic development proposals, develop international trade strategies, conduct cost-assessments for exporters, and advise on setting up an import/export business. For some reason, some portion of the population feels that this level of work and expertise should just be handed over for free.

Furthermore, I have learned to detect those meetings with individuals who “just want to pick your brain” and/or push their product or service on me, which costs time with little to nothing in return. While it is flattering that there is interest in what I do, I have had to push the passion-motive to the side, since passion alone will not sustain a company or pay the bills. Again, time now means my money now!

So here are three key tips to help those academics who venture into the territory of entrepreneurship to get the true value of their worth:

  1. Define your RGAs


An RGA includes those activities that will have a direct or indirect impact on your ability to get paid for your time, financial investment and expertise. Assess each meeting and activity in terms of whether or not it will lead to a paying customer or client; increased exposure to the appropriate audience; paid workshops, seminars and keynote speeches; and/or sponsorships, contracts or grants.

2. Create RGAs

When you create your RGAs, you are placing a value on your time and thus, focusing on getting paid what you are worth. You can begin by using tools such as Google Calendar to track your time. Tracking your time allows you to see clearly the amount of effort and resources to fulfill a request such as the completion of research for someone. Knowing this information will help you to make sure that you are compensated adequately for the time and resources that you have used to satisfy someone else’s need.


Additionally, you will have to research the rates of your competitor and collaborators in the field to know how much you should charge for your time on any work completed. Once these rates have been set, stick to them. This shows that you value your work and that others should too.


Finally, set a clear payment policy so that you will have control over your own value and attain the type of customer or client who will appreciate your worth.


3. Know your value within those RGAs

Having a clear understanding of your value and being able to communicate that effectively becomes important when trying to get paid for the value of what you offer. Know and clearly communicate what you bring to the table besides just a Ph.D. such as the impact of your research in the practical world, your networks, your team and/or specific results of any given project.

There are a number of other tips that can be added to this list. Nevertheless, these three have been key for me in terms of getting my first client, receiving exposure through the media and public speaking, and developing a team. Time does not just mean being organized to complete everything, rather being organized enough to cut out some things, as I learned as an academic focused on research productivity. The transition toward entrepreneurship requires broadening one’s mindset to focus on getting paid his/her true value, because your time now is your money now!

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.