Get Unstuck! Productivity Coaching from The Professor Is In

by Kellee Weinhold

Kellee Weinhold is the TPII expert in charge of live Skype Interview Interventions, Job Talk Interventions, Campus Visit Interventions, the UNSTUCK writing coaching program, and technology.


It’s that time in the Academic Life Cycle when attention turns from cover letters and research statements to productivity and all its attendant anxieties:  Why do I procrastinate?  What should I work on first to move myself forward? How do I manage all of the other demands on my time and still get my work published? What do I do when I simply cannot make myself sit down and write?

To help you answer those questions, we are introducing several new opportunities for you to get face-to-face answers and support.  We get a lot of requests for one-on-one coaching.  Last year, we responded to the demand for writing support with UNSTUCK: From Stalled to Submitted: A 12 week course that was ostensibly designed to walk clients through the writing and submission of a journal article. In reality, while participants worked on everything from dissertation chapters to journal articles to tenure documents to book chapters, what they really tackled was their own procrastination and isolation.

Here is a brief testimonial from last summer’s session:

“UNSTUCK completely rewired my physical and emotional approach to writing.  It taught me how to set-up an everyday practice that in the long-term will allow me to reach my writing goals without the guilt and drama that used to surround writing for me, and this in itself is a miracle.  It is the single best investment I could have made to teach myself the tools I need to attain tenure.”

To build on the success of UNSTUCK, starting immediately, I will be offering one-on-one coaching with everything from one-time strategy sessions to ongoing intensive support.


Let’s Talk (50 minutes) $250

A 50-minute Skype conversation covering the topic(s) of your choice regarding productivity. Let me help you get out of your own way and get published!  Book your appointment here.

Academic Life Reboot Strategy Session (90 minutes) $350

Session includes assessment of current challenges, including identification of what’s got you stuck; strategies for overcoming those barriers, organizational and accountability tools and personalized goal achievement plan. Book your appointment here.

Writing Project Planning Strategy Session (90 minutes) $350

Session includes assessment of specific project components and projected timelines to completion (based on hard deadline); identification of real and imagined roadblocks; strategies for daily productivity with motivational tips, and complete project timeline with weekly goals. Book your appointment here.

For those who want more, I will also offer PLATINUM LEVEL UNSTUCK COACHING  PACKAGES

Maintaining a productive publishing trajectory in the face of the demands of an academic life is an ongoing challenge for many junior faculty. Improving your productivity with personalized support and guidance will decrease your stress, help you get your work submitted faster and move you one step closer to tenure. Contact me, Kellee at to arrange, ask questions, and learn more:

UNSTUCK Platinum Consulting packages can cover many areas, including:

  • Procrastination
  • Time Management
  • Teaching Demands
  • Over-Scheduling
  • Negative Self-talk
  • Prioritization, etc.
  • Workflow Improvement
  • Project Management

UNSTUCK PLATINUM30 – 30 days ($950)

You are feeling bogged down or overwhelmed and you want to get on track and move forward NOW. After an initial session examining what you have in place, we will identify what area(s) you want to kick start and make a clear plan to get you there.

Three (3) 50-minute coaching calls over 30 days focusing on goals established in an initial 30-minute strengths and weaknesses assessment, personalized writing plan (including specific assignments) to move you forward, daily accountability check-ins and email support.

UNSTUCK PLATINUM3 – 3 Month ($1,650/$550 month)

You are near the end of a project (and perhaps have been stuck there for a very long time), and you are facing a critical deadline. No more time to procrastinate. You need to get this project finished and need someone to hold your feet to the fire to make it happen.

Six (6) 50-minute coaching calls over 3 months, plus initial strengths and weaknesses assessment, personalized writing plan, daily accountability check-ins and email support.

UNSTUCK PLATINUM6 – 6 Month ($3,150/$525 month)

You are at a critical point in your academic career and need to make the most of the next six months. You are ready to face your own self-sabotage, identify how YOU work best and create a realistic, personal strategy for success.

Twelve (12) 50-minute coaching calls over 6 months, plus initial strengths and weaknesses assessment, personalized writing plan, daily task management, weekly accountability check-ins and email support.

UNSTUCK PLATINUM12  – 12 Month ($6,000/$500 month)

You are at a turning point in your academic career and need to make the most of the next year. You need to establish better writing habits, learn what is keeping you from doing what you know needs to be done, talk through your ideas and have someone hold you accountable.

Twenty-four (24) 50-minute coaching calls over 12 months, plus an initial 30 minute strengths and weaknesses assessment, weekly motivational emails with productivity tips, bi-weekly accountability check-ins (between skype meetings), personalized productivity plan and email support.

Email me, Kellee, at to learn more or sign up!


Finally, before I sign off, a look ahead:  Starting June 1st, UNSTUCK will be available as a 12-module, on-line course with weekly Q&A sessions for all participants. As with the course last summer, participants will receive daily emails with tips and encouragement. You will also have access to a membership forum to share frustrations, successes and encouragement. This is a self-paced course that you can access based on your schedule.  Stay tuned for more info on this new on-line version!

UCLA Allows Sexual Harassment- Guest Post and Call to Action

by Cassia Roth

[Includes Call to Action at bottom. Please take action. Karen Kelsky]

Dr. Cassia Paigen Roth

Cassia Paigen Roth


A sexual harassment case is currently rocking UCLA.* Professor Gabriel Piterberg, a professor of Middle Eastern history, has been accused of harassing two female graduate students repeatedly beginning in 2008, with behavior that to me appears to be sexual assault.

In 2013, the women went to Pamela Thomason, the Title IX authority at UCLA, who proved dismissive and ineffective in handling the case. Thomason discouraged the women from filing formal complaints. The subsequent University investigation (which never went before any governing board) was conducted in secrecy “to avoid the cost, uncertainty, and inconvenience of an administrative proceeding.” The settlement did not require Piterberg to acknowledge any wrongdoing or misconduct, slapped him on the wrist with a $3,000 fine, and made him take one quarter off without pay. Administration also allowed him to find a cushy sabbatical gig for the quarter before temporarily relieving Piterberg of his duties and pay at UCLA. He is slated to return this summer, and while he has restrictions on when he can meet with students, that’s it.

As a response, in the summer of 2015 the two women filed a federal lawsuit against the University for failure to act on sexual harassment complaints. The lawsuit is not about the harassment itself, but about how the University and Title IX officer handled the complaints. And to put it simply, both parties really screwed up.

The details of the case are not pretty. I don’t want to rehash them here. I can only imagine how both these courageous women felt telling these stories, and how they must feel now that the details of those experiences are publically available. But what is clear is that Piterberg repeatedly used his position of power to sexual harass and assault these graduate students. His actions demonstrate how misogyny can run rampant in a hierarchical setting that pretends its egalitarian. We all know our advisers can make our break our career; and, apparently, so do they. Some use it to their advantage.

It’s clear that a complacent and dysfunctional administration won’t fire Piterberg. From people I’ve spoken to at UCLA, the History Department could have been more transparent in their communication, but they essentially hold no power in this situation, as administrators call the shots. So colleagues and graduate students have taken matters into their hands.

On February 18, a group of 38 history faculty members sent a letter to Chancellor Gene Block and Vice-Chancellors Scott Waugh, Jerry Kang and Carole Goldberg. In it, faculty members stated they do not believe Piterberg has a place back in the department. We have a big department at UCLA, so the 38 signatures means a lot of faculty members did not sign the letter. Various professors who research and write about gender and power were conspicuously absent from the list. As has been said for other sexual harassment cases in higher ed, the idea that we should rely on shame as a sufficient punishment is not a compelling argument.

The faculty letter states that “From what we know, Piterberg has expressed neither remorse about his actions nor awareness of the damage it has caused to the Department of History.”  They express concern that because he will not be able to engage in certain departmental tasks, he will “benefit from reduced service and overall workload” as well as bring with him a “dysfunctional working environment” that poses a threat to students, staff, and faculty. They end by arguing that “Piterberg’s public presence on campus will signal that an effective climate of tolerance for harassment persists at UCLA.” I can’t disagree with that. I mean this is an administration that thought a punishment for being a serial sexual harasser was a reduced teaching and service load.

Alumni have also taken a vocal stance against Piterberg’s return, sending their own letter to the History Department on February 16, calling on the Department to perform their own “independent and rigorous” investigation to assess whether Piterberg still presents a risk to female students and junior faculty.

And graduate students have begun organizing as well. The History Graduate Students Organization (HGSA) drafted a letter outlining our concerns and “standing in solidarity” with the defendants. Sixty-seven graduate students signed. One main concern was the process by which sexual harassment is addressed on campus. “The fact that the majority of students first learned of these incidents from major media outlets instead of our own university reflects the broader culture of silence and secrecy surrounding cases of sexual assault and harassment in universities and undermines any reasonable trust in UCLA’s juridical processes.” We asked Chancellor Block about his May 30th, 2015 letter to the UCLA community in which he declared UCLA to be committed “to our shared responsibility for preventing sexual violence.” Hmmm.

On March 2, graduate students staged a protest of Piterberg’s return. As graduate student Scottie Buehler stated, “If we don’t speak out we’re just perpetuating this culture of silence.”

And on March 3, Linus Kafka, a UCLA history PhD and lawyer, sent a letter to the Associate Vice Chancellor of Alumni Affairs. In it he stated that “the university was specifically warned about Dr. Piterberg” in the past. In 2005/2006, Kafka had told university auditors that Piterberg had “made inappropriate, abusive, and hateful statements to students and staff,” and that in his “opinion as a lawyer,” he believed that “Dr. Piterberg’s behavior fostered a hostile work environment, was not protected by any concept of academic freedom, and was not only ethically wrong but exposed the university to liability.” UCLA did nothing.

I hope Piterberg’s case follows the path of UC Berkeley’s Geoff Marcy, who was accused of years of sexual harassment. In response, UC Berkeley gave him a slap on the wrist, telling Marcy, “Don’t do this again.” But a concerted effort on the part of his field forced Marcy to resign in 2015.

Like Marcy, Piterberg should leave. And while the events of the last few weeks are encouraging, it angers me that it takes federal lawsuits, letter-writing campaigns, and protests to fire a known sexual harasser. I thought we had the legal and administrative framework in place to enforce sanctions. Apparently, those in charge just don’t care.


Call to Action:

Contact UCLA directly to protest non-action on Piterberg.
Chancellor Gene Block

UCLA Chancellor’s Office
Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh

UCLA Office of the Chancellor
2147 Murphy Hall, Box 951405
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405

Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang

UCLA School of Law
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Los Angeles, CA, 90095
Vice Chancellor of Academic Personnel Carole Goldberg

Stephen Aron, Chair, Department of History


*From Cassia: “I have copies of all of the letters I cite, which I can make available  (some of them are already posted on-line to the LA Times, and I have linked to them in the article).


Fiction Editing, Part I: Editors – Out-Ac Post by Joe Fruscione

by TPII Out-Ac Coach and Consultant, Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Dr. Joe Fruscione

As a freelancer, you have different options for projects. Developmental, STEM, and academic editing are well suited to post-ac freelancers. Post-acs with Humanities backgrounds might also do well editing fiction. I’ve copy edited two novel manuscripts before the authors shopped them around. Both projects came through word-of-mouth. Since my PhD and teaching background are in English and Writing, I enjoyed the work.

For this post and the follow-up, I’ll discuss two sides of freelance fiction editing: this one features three editors, and the next will feature three writers who’ve hired freelancers. These pieces will help current and future post-ac freelancers better

1)    see the different editing opportunities available,

2)    understand the diverse writing marketplace,

3)    expand their client base,

4)    frame their academic background and skills effectively for fiction editing, and

5)    network with colleagues and potential clients.

I’ve gotten some projects and many new colleagues on Twitter. The conversations and hashtags give freelancers a great lay of the land, as well as offer new post-acs a thriving online community (see #WithAPhD, #FreelanceLife, and #Postac). I met all three of these editors on Twitter, and we chat regularly about editing, networking, language, and other facets of freelance life.

Blake Leyers is a developmental editor who works with novelists to help shape and fine-tune their work. She evaluates structure, plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, tone, clarity, and style. Karen Conlin is primarily a copy or line editor, but she also offers “developmental critiques”—what she calls the 30,000-foot level. Katie Rose Guest Pryal is a fellow post-ac who’s thrived as a freelance writer and editor; I’ll be drawing on her expertise here and in the follow-up piece.


Blake, Karen, and Katie have much to offer in terms of helping new and future post-acs network, get projects, and work effectively. They all rely, at some level, on referrals and social media to get new projects.

Blake: I was a beta reader for many writers and received much encouragement, so I decided to pursue a career as a freelance editor. Twitter makes all the difference in the world. It allows me to interact with people I probably wouldn’t meet otherwise. It gives me the opportunity to learn from my peers, as well as generate new business.

Karen: I’m very active on Google+ and Twitter, as are many of my clients; they talk me up pretty regularly. Twitter has put me in contact with some publishing-house pros I’d never have met otherwise. I’ve learned so much from them and the lexicographers and linguists. It’s also given my clients and me a platform for marketing and for getting a few jobs.

After you’ve connected with a client, establish the project scope, timeline, and payment up front:

Blake: When approached by a prospective client, I provide details of my services and what tools I use, ask for basic information about the manuscript (genre, synopsis, length), and seek clarification on what type of editorial help is wanted.

Katie: When deciding on scope of work, it’s really important to decide that in advance. Is this developmental editing? Is it line editing? Proofing? These are all different kinds of work that take wildly different amounts of time. In my experience working as an editor with first-time authors, they almost always think their books are a stage beyond where the books actually are. Clients will say, “It just needs some proofing” when it actually needs heavy line editing. Or, “If you could just line edit for me” when it really needs some seriously developmental work.

Whether it’s Katie’s “stage beyond,” Karen’s “30,000-foot level,” or something special you offer, knowing what insight you’ll give your clients is key. The more rigorous your editorial work, the higher your fee structure should be. Editing is work; don’t undersell yourself.


I asked them what mistakes they’ve made, learned from, and would caution other freelancers to avoid. Every new freelancer makes mistakes, perhaps in not having strong policies to protect your time and labor.

Blake: When I was charging by page, I quickly learned to clarify that my rates were based on the standard format for manuscript submissions: 1” margins all around, 12 point font in Times New Roman or Courier typeface. With a per-page pricing model, these details can make a big difference. I also learned to always clarify my scope of work and verify the client’s expectations and intentions. If a former client approaches me about a new project, I outline my services for them again in case anything has changed since our last project.

Karen: Don’t overschedule yourself. Now that I’ve been doing this and have a stable client base with many repeats, I know I can handle up to 200K words in a calendar month, generally speaking. Even so, I know some clients require more attention and work than others. Learning who needs what is a vital part of the job.

Katie: Start freelancing soon. Don’t wait. Don’t worry. You don’t have to quit your day job. Start building up freelancing income streams now. Make friends. Make contacts in your field. You may never be able to quit your day job. But you can always freelance.

I’ve overbooked myself and not read a writing sample closely enough—both of which led to a harried editing schedule. Before doing any work, request a writing sample to help you prepare an estimate, and look for things the client might not be as aware of as you are: wordiness, small point size or margins, formatting issues, and the like. Knowing what kinds of work you can and will do helps you budget your time and labor accordingly.


If you’ve left or are planning to leave academia, Always Be Connecting—whether via email, social media, or talking about your career change. Like Blake, Karen, and Katie, I’ve gotten a lot of editing work simply from friends and professional acquaintances knowing that I switched careers. The more your network knows what you do and how well you do it, the more freelance projects you’ll have.

If you’re on Twitter or LinkedIn, connect with Blake, Karen, Katie, and others doing similar work. The freelance community—especially among post-acs—is generally helpful for seeking advice, connections, and potential collaborators. I regularly stress how important it is for post-acs to network with colleagues, former professors, other freelancers, and clients to strengthen their freelancing presence. If, like Blake and many others, your “ear for grammar and love for story” complement your editing skills, you can add fiction projects to your repertoire. The opportunities are out there.

My Top Five Tips for Turning Your Dissertation Into a Book–A Special Request Post

This is a repost from 2011.


Today is another Special Request Post.  This one is from Maria, who asks, do I have a template (like my Foolproof Grant Template) for turning a dissertation into a book?

No, Maria, I do not.  The process of turning the dissertation into a book will be different for every writer, and doesn’t lend itself to a template.  But there are some tips that I can offer for easing the process and making it more efficient.  This post is my Top Five Tips for Turning Your Dissertation Into a Book.

Why should you turn your dissertation into a book, you ask?

If you are in a book field, the fact is, your dissertation must be transformed into a book to be of full value to you.  The dissertation alone counts for little in the academic career.  The dissertation serves you only insofar as you can quickly transform it into the commodities that bring value on the market—peer reviewed articles (preferably published before you defend and start the job search), high profile grants that funded the research, high profile conferences in which you present the research publicly, and finally, the advance contract for the book from a major (NOT minor) academic press.  These are the tangible accomplishments that you must have to be competitive for a tenure track position at this point in time.

So here are The Professor’s Top Five Tips for Turning your Dissertation into a Book.

1)  Write the dissertation as a book to begin with.

Write from day one with a wide market of undergraduates in mind.  You want the book to be assigned as a text in undergraduate courses in your field.  Write it so those undergraduates can read it.  Don’t spend endless pages on tiresome, tedious obscurities of interest to 10 people in your sub- sub- sub-field.  Remember that the methodology section will be entirely removed from the book mss.  And the literature review will be almost entirely removed, with a small section folded into the Introduction or other chapters.  Conceptualize and write the entire thing remembering that these sections, while critical to your committee, are short-lived.  Don’t obsess about them; do the minimum, and move on.   In the meantime, put extra effort into a catchy, appealing Introduction and Conclusion.  These speak to readers, and to the editors and reviewers who will judge your mss. for publication.

2)  Make it short.

Academic publishing is in the same epic financial crisis as the rest of the academic world.  Publishers are going out of business right and left, and those that remain are under pressure to publish books that actually sell and make a profit (unlike the old days when it was understood that scholarly monographs rarely broke even).  Publishers must keep their production costs low, and this means they want shorter books.  I can promise you that if you present them with a 500 page monograph on the significance of the turtle as a symbol in 12th century religious iconography in Spain, for example, they are going to send it back with a polite email telling you they won’t be considering it until it is cut in half.

3) Know your market.

The dissertation may be treated like the intellectual achievement par excellence in your doctoral program, but in the real world of jobs with benefits, it is a commodity that has value only when it can be traded for gain on the market.  Ask yourself what sort of class your diss/book is suited for.  Do a google search of such classes and find out what kinds of books are assigned.  Take a look at those books and see what their main selling points seem to be.  Then ask yourself how you can adjust and mold your dissertation to be the kind of book that serves that market (without losing sight of your actual project and findings, of course!).  When you send the mss. to presses, you will be able to feature this “market research” prominently in your cover letter.

4) Don’t be boring.

Write with style and flair.  Just because you *can* write clunky, graceless prose in academia, and get away with it, doesn’t mean you *should.*  Be provocative.  Be original.  Be incendiary.  If your committee shies away from such showmanship, write a shadow chapter that you include once you’ve defended and are ready to send the mss. out to presses.  Presses are not interested in “solid scholarship.”  They are interested in products that sell.  Products that sell have to be differentiated from the competition–ie, they have to be exciting, new, and different.

5) Remember that your committee is not the world.

You have to please your committee to get a Ph.D., but you have to impress the presses to get a career.  Your committee controls you for a few years, but your book establishes your career trajectory for decades.  Set your eye on the prize, and don’t lose sight of it.  Do what you have to to satisfy your committee, but don’t ever forget who is in charge:  you.  You have an agenda, and that is publishing an influential, high-profile book with a top press.  Do not be derailed by committee politics and wrangles over whether you included XX citation in chapter 3 or properly acknowledged ZZ’s work in chapter 4.  Follow your own star, defend your positions, compromise when you must, and move on as efficiently as you can.  The best dissertation is a finished dissertation that is already a press-ready mss.

Here is my dissertation story:

I wrote a doctoral dissertation on why some young, single Japanese women in the early 1990s were demonstrating a striking enthusiasm for studying abroad, living abroad, working abroad, and finding white Western men to be their lovers and husbands.  My peers and professors in my graduate program severely disapproved of this project, and I was told by countless people that it wasn’t “legitimate” anthropology.  However, when I sent the mss. out to presses, not only did I get two competing advance contracts, I ended up getting an actual ADVANCE from the press.  This is practically unheard of for young academic writers peddling scholarly monographs.  The reason?  My book was provocative. It was original.  It had some naughty pictures.  I ignored the negative comments in my department.  And while I was absolutely committed to the project as a scholarly project  – based on the highest standards I could muster of ethnographic fieldwork, theoretical engagement, and disciplinary contribution —  I also wrote it to sell.  And, while it was published in 2001,  in 2015, I am still getting a (microscopically small) royalty check!

The World of the Freelance Writer – Viviane Callier

by Viviane Callier, new TPII Out-Ac Coach

Dr. Viviane Callier

Dr. Viviane Callier

The world of freelance writing is an exciting one. Freelancing attracts academics and former academics because we value the intellectual freedom to work on and write about what we find interesting. And most of us have things to say!

So here’s a whirlwind introduction to the world of freelancing. I’ll focus here on freelance science writing, because that’s my expertise, but I think much of my experience applies more broadly to freelancing as a whole.

First, it is important to understand the ecosystem of the freelance writing world. I’ll focus on three types of writing work: op-ed writing, journalism, and communications. (there’s also technical writing, manuscript writing, white papers, regulatory writing, etc. which I won’t discuss here).

An op-ed is a short (800 words max) piece that makes an argument. It is usually pegged to a news hook. Many academics and former academics are in a position to write a compelling op-ed based on their expertise, and they can often provide perspectives that are new and interesting. Op-ed writing does not typically pay anything–the reason to write one is to share an argument of public value.

Journalism is the work done by an independent reporter who is beholden only to his or her readers. The ideal journalist brings value to the reader and has no connections or ties to sources and certainly no financial conflicts of interest that would prevent them from reporting objectively. An ethical journalist avoids reporting on issues for which he or she has a conflict of interest. Freelance journalism pays, but not very much.

Communications is the work done by an institution (government, non-profit, academic, private) to promote its own work, activities, or products. The communicator is beholden not to his or her readers, but to the entity which is paying them to promote their work. The fact that a communicator writes about the entity from which they receive a paycheck precludes completely objective reporting. That doesn’t mean that communicators have to lie. But it means that there is always an agenda. Communications work typically pays well.

Remember: as a journalist you are beholden to your readers. As a communicator you are beholden to the person who pays you (usually the entity you are writing about).

Now for the big reveal (ahem): journalism is in crisis. Staff positions are few and far between. Freelance journalism rates are lower than they have ever been. Journalists are going “alt-journ” at the same rates as academics are going “alt-ac.” It’s extremely challenging to make a living as a freelance journalist these days, and most successful freelancer journalists have spent years establishing themselves, back when the freelancing climate wasn’t so tough.

Does that mean you should not do any freelance journalism or op-ed writing? No. There are many reasons to write and not all of them have to do with money. If you have an interesting story, if you have something that needs to be said–then you should say it. But for the love of everything holy, don’t count on making a living at it full time.

You, the sensible readers of TPII, have the sense not to rely on adjuncting full-time to make a living. Freelance journalism, like adjunct teaching, can be worthwhile if you’re doing it for the right reasons (and that reason is not money).

Instead, use your other work to subsidize these passion projects. In the case of freelancing you are in luck because your same skillset can be used to command more money as a communicator. Government agencies have to inform the public about their activities and programs. Universities communicate about the exciting research that is being conducted on their campuses. Private companies produce a variety of materials to promote their products. These are just some of the plentiful opportunities in communications work, and they pay much better than journalism.

Most freelancers that I know have a varied portfolio of work that includes journalism as well as communications. The trick is to keep the communications work separate from the journalism to avoid any conflicts of interest. If you’re not sure if something is a conflict of interest, it’s usually best to explain the situation to your editor and let them make the call. Be transparent; it’s better to pass on an assignment than to lose an editor’s trust.

When you have a mix of journalism and communications work, some of the well-paying work is going to subsidize the work that matters to you but doesn’t pay as well. There is nothing wrong with subsidizing some projects with better paying ones. Everybody does it. Even tenured professors do. Have you ever met a tenured professor who enjoyed sitting in on committee meetings? Me neither. Serving on committees is the work that subsidizes them to do the work they love–usually research.

As a freelancer, you’ll have to be very clear with yourself about what each of your assignments is providing for you. Some assignments will pay really well, although they might be tedious or boring. Some assignments won’t pay as well, but the client might be a delight to work with, and could be on a topic of interest to you. It helps to make a list of all the things you need from your freelance work (money, nice clients, interesting subject matter, ability to work on projects of your choice, variety, room to follow your curiosity, etc.). It is unlikely that you will find one assignment that will meet all of those needs–but as a smart freelancer, you can find infinite ways to assemble a varied portfolio that meets those needs as a whole.

Academia, You Don’t Own Me Any Longer: Or, Why I Started a Small Business While On Sabbatical – Guest Post by Adeline Koh

by Adeline Koh


Bio: Adeline is an associate professor at Stockton University, an independent web designer and the founder of a skincare product startup, Sabbatical Beauty. She’s passionate about teaching, web design, technology, and the darker side behind tech: inequality and oppression. She writes a lot about gender, race, ethnicity, issues in higher education, digital pedagogy and the digital humanities. She runs Digital Academic Consulting by Adeline Koh, where you can hire her to build you a website, or buy her webinar to build one of your own. Adeline loves teaching and helping people to get more digitally connected, and to show them how web pages work ‘under the hood.’ She also loves helping people fall in love with their skin through her Sabbatical Beauty products.
Discount code at Sabbatical Beauty for Professor Is In readers:  PROFISIN for 10% off  –good until 2/29.

I’m completely untrained to do what I currently do in my small business (handmake my own skincare products), except for the fact that I’ve done a lot of research (e.g: reading cosmetic science textbooks), am good at conducting said research, and have practiced a lot (on myself and on my friends) before selling products on my own platform. But my lack of traditional training is exactly why my small business is so sustaining for me: because it is a way outside of academic noise, because it allows me to learn new things and thus to see the world from a perspective that I’m unaccustomed to. Through Sabbatical Beauty, I’m making something tangible with my own hands, something that I’ve never done before. I’m learning about creating rapport with my customers, about various marketing strategies, about product photography and the ins and outs of establishing a small business.

Sabbatical Beauty started as a part of my self care to recover from academia.In essence, academia is toxic. It’s so toxic that taking the risks of starting a small business in a recovering US economy seemed like a less toxic option. As Jessica Langer has noted, many dynamics within academic culture bear striking similarities to those of an abusive relationship, while others have noted that academia is like a cult (also here, here and here); academic culture asks you to champion some ways of thinking over others (in the humanities: capitalism/neoliberalism = bad!, not getting a tenure-track job at a research institution=failure), in ways which are often completely uncritical, but imperative for one to fit into the culture. At the core of this is what Rebecca Schuman has called “life-boating”, whereby academics who have “succeeded” in the system in the “traditional” ways blame the people who have left for somehow being deficient, and hence being unable to get into the “life-boat” of the tenure track.

Like many others, I’m tired of academia. I’m disappointed and disillusioned by a lot of the promises academia has made and failed to deliver on. Like many a bright-eyed young ingenue, I went into academia because I believed in the power of ideas. I believed that ideas could change people, that knowledge was progress, and that when people knew more, they would use this knowledge to better the world around them. But academia, being composed of institutions and systems, rewards conservatism rather than change. Like the close confines of a warped mirror maze, academia appears to allow change, but what you think is change is often just distortion of the norm echoed back at you. Academic freedom, if it ever really existed, is a joke. More recently, academics who dare to speak out against the endemic, structural racism and sexism of academic institutions (See the Steven Salaita case, the Melissa Click case, the Divya Nair case for a few examples) receive harsh censure for their troubles.

So I started making my own beauty products as a hobby. And then I started making them for my friends, who wanted them after seeing their results on my skin, and then wanted me to open a store. Sabbatical Beauty and the work it involves is first of all refreshing because it is new to me, but also because it has allowed me to see my own value outside of a space whereby affiliations with certain ideologies, certain names and certain institutions are paramount. This is not to say that business is all peaches and cream in comparison, because it is not. The squabbles within the new industry I’m in share many similarities with academic turf wars, and can get even more ugly.

I know that I’m incredibly privileged to be able to start my small business and create a separate space for living for myself while steadily employed in a tenured position. I even work for an institution that I like, for the most part, and with a department of people that I get along with and greatly respect. I also get a lot of joy out of teaching my students, many of whom have blossomed into complex, interesting people since graduation. My problems are not with my job per se. Neither are they with many fellow academics, who are caught in the same struggles and are similarly disempowered. They are with academia as a larger structure and institution.

Sabbatical Beauty has taught me a lot of things. It’s taught me to struggle comfortably with my own lack of expertise, and to ask for help when I need it. It’s also given me a newfound joy in rediscovering abstract research questions after making things with my own hands. I’m also really grateful that through this business finding an academic community of women and men who enjoy doing things other than show off all day about Foucault or some app someone has made. (Disclaimer: I actually like Foucault a lot as well, just not listening to someone wax lyrical about him for hours on end.)

To sum up: I started my small business while on sabbatical because part of my self care has had to incorporate finding other types of work that are rewarding personally and financially. Ultimately, I started my small business so I did not need to take in the continued noise of people on the academic life-boat about what a good academic does and doesn’t do. The funhouse of academic mirrors isn’t enough to base one’s existence on because it is utterly morally deficient in so many ways. Even if you are somewhat successful within the system of academic validation, it doesn’t mean that you have somehow escaped the anxious noise of the system. For me and for many others I suspect, academia does not, and should not, have to be the only, and ultimate measure of your self worth. You are worth more, can do so much more, and can value yourself so much more if you dare to step outside the funhouse.


This was originally posted here.

A Scientist Leaves the Pyramid Scheme of Academia – Out-Ac Guest Post

by Viviane Callier

Dr. Viviane Callier

Dr. Viviane Callier

Vivianne is one of our new Out-Ac Coaches. Please learn more about her here, and get in touch at if you’d like to work with her or any of the Out-Ac team.


I left the lab in August 2013, just shy of 2 years into my postdoc. A variety of factors precipitated this decision. I was depressed about my research, about the job market, about my future. I was overworked. I did not see eye to eye with my postdoc supervisor, and working in his lab felt exhausting and thankless. More importantly, I was very isolated, socially and intellectually. Postdocs–being institutionally invisible, transient satellites–are frequently isolated and can have trouble putting down roots and plugging into local communities (in the lab and/or in the larger community). In my struggle with depression, I eventually lost the motivation and passion for my research that had fueled me throughout graduate school.

When I visited home, I talked to a friend who had left the lab 2 years prior and was now working in a consulting company in the greater Washington DC area. When a science writing position opened up at her company, I applied, and got the job. Now, I’m a science writer at the Office of Communications and Public Liaison at the National Cancer Institute.

The challenges in making the transition were several. First, leaving the lab meant the loss of my identity as a scientist and as a member of the scientific community.  Related to that, leaving can often feel like exile, and so there is a loss of one’s identity and role within a community. It was disorienting, and I grieved the loss of that identity. It was also disheartening to see that my academic accomplishments (publications and prizes) held little weight in the “real world.”

But I also saw my departure as giving me the room to redefine my own values and figure out what was most important to me. I rejected the cult of academia and its principal values: workaholism, individualism, and the cult of the “superstar researcher.” I refused to jump through any more academic hoops. The jig was up.

My departure followed my realization of the appalling pyramid scheme that the scientific enterprise is built on: principal investigators need cheap labor (in the form of graduate students and postdocs) to produce data, publications, and grants that will keep their lab afloat. The system sucks in many smart, hardworking, and idealistic trainees every year–but does not give them anywhere to go. These trainees are deluded (or at least, little-informed) about their job prospects, and many principal investigators collude in their delusion because the lab’s survival depends on it. Trainees in the lab desperately need a reality check about their job possibilities, and they need guidance, tools, training, and networking opportunities to launch themselves into careers outside the ivory tower.

I felt, as a postdoc, that if I became an assistant professor, my success would be dependent on exploiting trainees. That did not sit well with me. I was tired of feeling exploited, but I didn’t want to become the exploiter! Better instead to build a better (saner) life for myself, and model that example for trainees coming after me.

The most important thing I did soon after moving to DC was to find new opportunities to build confidence, whether it is by learning a new skill, hobby, or sport. Another key piece was to plug into new communities through work, hobbies, sports, book clubs, or social media. There are many methods that will help the alt-ac PhD re-build self-confidence and connect with supportive people.

Building a saner life to me meant working shorter hours; joining a master’s swimming team and a local running club. These hobbies gave me a place to build confidence in myself and to meet new friends. They also, incidentally, proved to be good networking opportunities and I connected with several career mentors this way. I also started freelancing part-time, which gave me the intellectual freedom to work on projects of my choosing–an opportunity that I used to believe was only available to me within the ivory tower. I started to dissect what I valued as an academic (intellectual freedom, scheduling flexibility, membership within a community) and started to find ways to get these things outside of the ivory tower. Although the transition was challenging at times, I feel like leaving academia was the beginning of my journey towards better stewardship of my own well-being, and I am excited about the direction in which I am going.

How To Negotiate Your Tenure Track Offer

Negotiating season is in full swing!  I’m working with a whole crew of clients on negotiating their offers, and I’ve got plenty of room in my schedule for more. Please consider getting in touch; clients routinely increase their offers by $10,000-$50,000 (and more if you’re in the sciences). This was originally posted in 2011, with a few updates added since then.  If you have an offer and are interested in getting this help, please email me at


Today’s post is a Special Request post for Ally and Katy and several other clients and readers who wrote asking for help on negotiating their contract after receiving an offer. I’m happy to oblige, but keep in mind that this particular matter, more than any other, is U.S.-specific. I’ve been told that in the U.K., negotiating is not done and the attempt alone might cost you the job. Other countries, I can’t say. But in the U.S., negotiating is de rigeur [2016 update: except on the rare but increasing occasions where it leads to an offer being rescinded, about which more below, and also please check the chapters in my book on Negotiating]. And women, in particular, are terrible at it, as this recent Chronicle piece points out.

So what follows are my recommendations for how to proceed when (gasp!) you are the recipient of the coveted offer of a job.

Do not, under any circumstances, accept the offer the same day they make it. When they call or email, answer pleasantly and politely, “Oh thank you. That is good news. I’m so pleased.” And then say, “I’d like to know more about the offer. When can we discuss the details, and when can I expect a written contract?” If the Department Head tries to push you for a commitment, simply repeat, “I am very happy for the offer, but I will need to discuss the terms and see the contract before I can make a final commitment. I very much look forward to discussing this further. I hope we can begin soon.”

Now, there are several things you need to know. Once an offer has been made to you, the institution cannot legally offer the job to anyone else for a certain amount of time. While that amount of time may vary by institution, be assured that you have at least one week to contemplate your response, and possibly as much as two or three. During that time you are in the driver’s seat. While unscrupulous or panicky or pushy Department Heads may try to hustle you, do not allow yourself to be hustled. You are now the one in charge. Bask in that.

[2012 Addendum:  As noted in comments below, more and more frequently candidates are finding offers being rescinded, either for budgetary reasons, or administrative foul-ups, or most appallingly, sheer institutional malfeasance.  Check out the Job Wiki page “Universities to Fear” for more stories of this nature.  I am unable to say with any certainty how common this is, and how much it should influence your actions vis-a-vis the offer. My sense is that it is still uncommon enough that you should treat all offers as open to negotiation.  The most important thing is to be guided by a trusted senior mentor from the moment the offer is made.   In the meantime, I am soliciting a guest post from someone with more direct experience with the rescinded offer. (The guest post is up). ]

[2014 Addendum:  I’ve seen two offers rescinded in three years of helping clients negotiate offers, and heard one other such story from a reader. In all cases the institution abruptly shut out the client when the client simply asked for more information about/initially raised the option of negotiating elements of the offer, with a email that said something like, “thanks for your interest in the position; we will be moving on to another candidate. Good luck with your career.”  These were all very low-ranking, regional institutions. It is shocking and unconscionable.]

[2016 Addendum:  rescinded offers are on the rise.  It’s a buyers market.  Please read a recent Chronicle Vitae column about this, and PLEASE get help, from me or from a trusted advisor, on negotiating your offer. Email me at]

(2014: With the above caveats…) Most offers have room for negotiation. You should first see what the formal offer is in terms of salary, summer salary, teaching load, leave time, research support, expectations for tenure, graduate student funding, service expectations (particularly if it is a joint appointment), support for a spousal hire, and other matters. Until you have these in writing you cannot make an informed response.

Once you receive these, decide what you’re going to come back with in negotiation. Because, you ALWAYS come back asking for more. You are entitled. It is expected. Do not miss this one-time-only opportunity to negotiate greater gain for yourself and your family.  

[2016 addendum: Here are elements for which you can negotiate:

Negotiating Priorities:


Start up funds

Teaching release first year

Guaranteed junior sabbatical

Computer and software

Conference travel

Moving expenses

Paid visit to look at houses

Summer salary (this is additional salary NOT connected to teaching offered on a short term basis for 1-3 years. Note that this refers to summers AFTER your first year teaching, not preceding it.  Useful as a backup if permanent raise request is unsuccessful)

Insurance coverage in the summer prior to starting the new position, if needed

Spousal position

Tenure expectations (if appropriate, ie, if you’re trying to come in with tenure credit)

If a second job:  credit toward tenure/credit toward sabbatical

[Please read comment stream for more elements of an offer that should be up for negotiation].

What you ask for will depend on you and your goals. A single person with no children might decide to prioritize research support —ie, additional leave time and a larger research budget to pay for overseas research. A person supporting a family might forgo additional research funding to prioritize a higher salary. A person seeking a position for their spouse might forgo both research support and salary in order to prioritize a spousal appointment. The point is, in all cases, this is the one AND ONLY time in your early years in the department that you can attempt to turn circumstances in your favor. So do it.

Always proceed courteously and professionally. I advise that you work by email not phone, especially for the first couple of exchanges.  Inexperienced, brand new Ph.D.s have no ability to instantly absorb the elements of an offer and evaluate them, let alone compose effective negotiating responses to them.  You need time to study them, discuss them with mentors, and craft your replies.  While old school (and usually male) faculty strongly favor the phone, my equally strong belief is that for every new Ph.D., but particularly for women and minorities, and first generation scholars, etc., it is critical that you preserve the breathing space of email, while also being hypervigilant to issues of tone (which so often can go awry in email. This is why you need a good negotiating email editor, just sayin’!)

Respond quickly to emails and calls, and never leave them hanging, even if just to say, “I received your latest email; thank you. I will study it and respond by tomorrow.” Ideally you should have a trusted senior colleague assist you in these negotiations. It is critical that you maintain positive relations with your likely future colleagues. But although they might grumble a bit as the negotiations carry on for a week or two, they will respect you. This is how the game is played.

Now, one aspect to consider is if you have another competing offer or possible offer. If you do, first off, lucky you—you have rocked the system. This is the absolute best position to negotiate from. If you are waiting on an offer from a second school, you may contact that second school and inform them of the offer you received from school one. You will write something to this effect, “Dear Steve, Thank you again for having me out to visit your department at XXX U. I enjoyed the visit immensely. I am writing to let you know that I have received an offer from another institution. My timeline for accepting this offer is approximately one week. I wonder if I could receive a response regarding your search within that time frame. I want to reiterate my interest in your position. I hope to hear from you soon. Sincerely, XXX”

You can be assured that this email will send a jolt of terror through the spine of Steve, if you are his department’s first choice. The greatest fear of departments once an offer is made is that the offerree will reject it and accept an offer elsewhere. The department may have a solid alternate candidate available, but often they do not. Departments often end up voting all but the top candidate as “unacceptable,” so failure to get the top candidate means a failed search, and the risk of losing authorization to hire that year. So all their eggs are in one basket, and that basket is you.

If you are their top candidate, and they just haven’t told you yet because they haven’t had a chance to complete their voting and offer process (offers may have to be vetted by the Dean before they can be made to the candidate), this small, courteous email will send the department into a panic. And a panicked department is what you want. Because a panicked department, sensing that they might lose you to institution one, will be more likely to agree to your demands for salary, leave time, research support, and spousal positions.

Now all departments have financial and logistical limitations. You cannot negotiate above those. If you try, you will quickly alienate them. They will not withdraw the offer, but they will resent you, and those feelings of resentment are dangerous for a soon-to-be junior faculty member. The key to negotiating is to always maintain good faith and honesty, and always have a highly delicate sense for when you are hitting a true wall of “we can’t do that.” Because when you hit that, that’s when you stop.

In terms of salary upper limits, this is particularly serious. Be aware that many public institutions suffer from salary compression problems. That means that associate and full professors’ salaries have not kept pace with the national market, and consequently new assistant professors are offered salaries nearly as high as those of the tenured faculty who have been on campus for years. Salary compression creates terrible feelings of resentment and low morale in departments suffering from it. The Head will be all too well aware of these feelings. When the Head tells you, “we cannot go higher than $68,000 for your starting salary, or we will offend some faculty,” take that as a hard no, because it most likely reflects the Associate level salary scale in the department. This doesn’t mean no additional money is possible—it just needs to be one-time-only, or short-term money instead of a recurring commitment. So, turn your efforts to summer salary for one to three years, one-time research support, a guaranteed graduate research assistant, and other shorter-term forms of compensation that don’t put pressure on an already overburdened salary structure.

In terms of the dreaded spousal issue…this is the hardest negotiation of all. In general, wait until you have a firm offer before you bring up the spouse. Any mention earlier than that could well work against you in the minds of the faculty, consciously or unconsciously. Once the offer is in hand, mention your spouse to the Department Head. Be aware that this is the one and only chance that you will have to negotiate for a spousal hire, so DO NOT WASTE IT! Push as firmly as you can for the actual tenure-track offer, and don’t be put off with the range of one-year, two-year, three- year, instructor, adjunct, and visiting positions that they will try to pawn off on you.

They may say something like “oh we can revisit your husband’s tenure case later, when this contract is up,” but DON’T BELIEVE IT. It is never, ever revisited after you lose the leverage of the initial offer (that is, until you gain the leverage of an external offer, and that’s a pain and time-consuming to manage).

Accept nothing in negotiations, but absolutely nothing in the case of spousal negotiations, that is not in writing. Any “informal” agreements or understandings that you may have with the current Head or Dean are meaningless if not in writing, because Heads and Deans change, and with no written agreement, all arrangements are void.

Make sure that your spouse is debut-ready. His or her cv should be spit-shined, the dissertation finished, and a polished research and teaching statement prepared. Be clear what departments the spouse would be eligible for an appointment in, and the full range of positions for which he/she is qualified.

Be flexible about any offered position that is tenure-track. There are many painful and difficult negotiations that have to take place to line up a spousal hire, and some departments and department heads will play ball more than others. Some Heads are incompetent while others are savvy. To some extent you are at the Head’s mercy.

Be aware of how spousal hires are paid for. Generally, the original department will pay one third of the spousal hire’s salary, the Dean’s office will pay one third, and then the spouse receiving department will pay one third. This obviously has a great deal of appeal for the receiving department as they are getting one full line for 1/3 cost. However, they may resent being forced to accept a faculty member whom they did not go out and recruit on their own, and they may fear that the spouse hire will derail the actual hiring goals they have in place (ie, that the Dean will say, “well you got a full line hire this year, so we won’t approve your other, original search requests”). Thus the interested parties may have to knock on several doors to find a department willing to take this “free gift,” and may well find it impossible, in the end, to accomplish.

The important thing, once again, is to hold firm and politely repeat, “My biggest priority is a position for my spouse,” without any escalation or emotionalism or drama, day after day, to person after person, until you either get the spousal offer, or get a flat-out NO that you read as unmistakable. As long as they are still talking to you about it, don’t waver.

Once you make your decision, call or email both departments immediately, and courteously and professionally express your gratitude for their offers, and accept one with warmth and enthusiasm, and turn down the other with kindness and respect. Remember that the colleagues in the rejected department will continue to play a role in your professional life for many years to come. You will see them at conferences, they might be external reviewers for your journal article or book mss., and who knows, one of them might end up one of your tenure writers one day. So preserve your good relations with these people at all costs. They will not be angry that you rejected their offer. They will just be disappointed. Be very friendly when you next run into them at a conference.


Re-examining Life in Academia in the Face of Death – A Post-Ac Guest Post

By Cassia Roth


From Karen:  Upon learning of Cassia’s story, I asked her if she’d be willing to share her story in a guest post.  She kindly agreed.  Then, I also encountered Darcy Hannibal’s story, which we posted last week.  These two stories of reevaluating the academic career in the face of profound loss and grief are very powerful.  I hope that you find them as meaningful as I do. 


Cassia Roth is a PhD candidate in History. She is a contributing writer at Nursing Clio, where she blogs on reproductive justice, human rights, and women’s health. You can find her on Twitter @Mixmastercass.


Last academic year started out typically for me. I was set to defend my dissertation and receive my PhD in history. With the help of my adviser and The Professor Is In, I had gone on the job market. I received an interview and was the finalist for several post-docs. I felt good about my work, and I was excited about going into the Academy. My partner Clayton, who I had met during fieldwork in Brazil, was making plans to move here. We were going to get married and begin the process of getting him a visa. He supported my career and was willing to follow me wherever I needed to go. Everything seemed to be on the right track.

Then, on April 28, 2015 my life changed forever. Just a few weeks before Clayton was supposed to board a plane for the first time and come to the United States, he was brutally murdered. Clayton was a police officer in Rio de Janeiro. On the evening of the 28th, three drug traffickers followed him as he drove his motorcycle home from work. When they got close enough on their own bikes, they shot him in the back 20 times. He survived for more than five hours before dying on April 29, 2015 at 12:45 a.m. The injustice of the situation is staggering (you can read the whole story here). But to summarize the situation, drug trafficking had been on the rise on the region where he worked. Clayton was targeted and executed for being an honest police officer who stood in the way of both trafficking and police corruption.

Before Clayton’s murder, I felt secure in my future. What had started out as a path to getting my PhD morphed into something bigger. I had gone to Brazil to do fieldwork, and then I met Clayton. He hadn’t drawn me to the country, but soon he became an integral part of my connection to Brazil. I loved him, and that love supported me not only emotionally but also intellectually. And now he has been cruelly executed. My feelings for my work are inextricably tied to Clayton’s murder. A shaky academic foundation indeed.

In the months since his death, I have felt (among many emotions) confused as that once-solid career path has disintegrated before me. Now, I am not sure I will be joining the tenure rat race. And I have begun to feel liberated. That feeling of freedom—I have so many options I can choose from! I don’t have to move to Podunk, USA because it’s a “good” job!—also makes me feel incredibly guilty. Did I really need the murder of my partner to come to the conclusion I can make a career decision that is best for me (instead of just doing what is expected)? And not just best for me in a moment of extreme pain and grief, but for the rest of my life. I felt like I had finally spit out the Kool-aid and surfaced from a cultish trance. Clayton’s death exposed many of the misgivings I have always felt about an academic career but never fully examined. These doubts have only been reinforced since his murder.

For example, the indifference and downright harshness of the peer-review process amidst my grief underlined the hidden inhumanity of academia. Several months after Clayton died, I received the anonymous peer reviews on an article. All three reviewers gave important feedback (and the article needed serious revision). But one of the reviewers decided that being mean was the only way to get their point across. Were the comments on “poor writing” and “unsurprising” omissions really necessary? This is not to say that other employment sectors will not harshly review one’s work, or that people can be much crueler if they are allowed to work anonymously. Rather, I feel that this anonymous cruelty has become so normalized in the Academy that its pervasiveness is now hard to pinpoint and root out. Constructive criticism always makes our work stronger. But do we have to bludgeon you to death before bringing you back to life? And then do we have to pretend we don’t do that? As TPII says, it’s an extremely hierarchical system that disavows that hierarchy. That makes it even more insidious.

Or take an interview I got last month. The committee gave me 23 hours notice, and one of them walked out in the middle of our Skype session. Again, this disorganization and lack of manners is not specific to Academia. But since we pretend to be much more civilized than other sectors, can we at least try to live up to our rhetoric?

And while I have been amazed with the support I have received by people within my department, university, and field of study, I have also been unsurprised with the disappearances of other, important people in my academic career. I feel an unabated rage towards colleagues and professors who theorize about violence but have gone AWOL when it hits so close to home. Us Latin Americanists have a tendency to idealize poverty and violence in the region. I want to tear up the books and storm out of the talks that pretend to really get at the issue of urban violence but end up sounding like one-sided diatribes against whoever Academia thinks is to blame (in Rio de Janeiro, that’s often the police).

But I haven’t turned my back just yet. There are good people wandering the ivory tower. Take my adviser, who during this time has been nothing but supportive. In fact, without his help, I would not have been able to get through the months after Clayton’s death. He galvanized the department and the field to come to my aid. And many, many people did. I am forever grateful for an adviser who not only expertly guided me through my graduate career but also provided support and friendship beyond campus. But I feel this support is rare for most graduate students.

So as I navigate the raw and jagged contours of my life without Clayton, I am heeding the words of a good friend of mine: choose happiness. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that happiness means a life away from Academia.

Transition Without Guilt or Shame – Post-Ac Guest Post (Hannibal)

By Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

Darcy Hannibal is one of three new Out-Ac consultants starting this Winter.


I come from a mostly working class background, and while it is totally possible to go from that to a PhD and a tenure track job, the distance and challenges are great, and so the cumulative probability of ending up on a different career path is also greater. Ending up somewhere else is not a failure for me. It is just part of the route I took to get out of the circumstances I grew up with, and to some place where I want to live, doing work I find intellectually challenging. As much as I love science, primatology, and anthropology, I rarely felt the love coming back to me. Looking back, I realistically just had a tremendous distance to grow into an academic profession where there is relatively little effort to mentor students. It was a constant struggle to make myself acceptable to the academy. Making it our struggle, combined with the myth that we labor within a primarily merit-based system, sets us up to make it our guilt and shame when we do not get a tenure track job. This is absurd—particularly when there are far more PhDs produced than there are tenure track jobs. There are so many options open to us post-PhD and they are all valid and rewarding career options if they fit your interests and skills.

The need for a backup plan to make myself employable outside of academia, without being pulled back into a life I did not want to return to, was automatic for me. I did not sit down and plan this from the start, but built it somewhat haphazardly, by responding to what resources I had and the options I thought were possible. The graduate school experiences I built in data management and analysis, as well as choosing to work with the primate species most widely used in research, are what allowed me to transition to a different career relatively easily. The catalyst, though, that finally led me to let go of the limited and traditional view of a career path in academia, without guilt or shame, was a life-changing event.

My husband Jord and I had just bought a house. Since he was a contractor, our plan was for him to remodel it while I finished graduate school, and then have a nicely fixed-up house to put on the market at some point. I had just finished collecting my dissertation data and was looking forward to working on the analyses and write-up. I was also three months pregnant with our first child. Unfortunately, and unknown to us, Jord had a clot in his vertebral artery from a neck injury. When it broke loose, it caused a brain stem stroke. This is a particularly devastating type of stroke, which almost always leads to death or complete paralysis. We are incredibly lucky that he survived and has regained so much, even though he is still permanently disabled. We are even luckier still for the tremendous outpouring of emotional, physical, and financial support we received from friends, family, and the people in the Anthropology Department where I received my degree—all of whom made his recovery possible. In many ways, however, the people we were died on that day. The grief that event brought to us overshadows any sense of loss, guilt, or shame I could possibly feel over not pursuing a tenure track job. Jord had to work incredibly hard to re-learn everything from breathing on his own to walking with a brace. I took a year off from school to work with him on his rehabilitation, at least as much as I could before our son arrived. Even with all the help we had, in the early months after coming home from the hospital, it felt like we were treading open water with no idea which direction to go in to find land.

By the time I returned to finish my degree, the university environment felt like a bizarre dream-world where people fretted and fumed about arcane crap that did not matter. I could not relate and I could not be bothered to care about anything that did not feed, clothe, shelter, or heal my family. My main reason for finishing my degree was that it was a direction to go in to find some land to plant my feet on. I was close enough to finishing it that I felt it would be better to just do it, but I knew that was most likely not going to lead to an academic job. I went back to assistant teaching and began to actually look at my data. Working with my data and writing became a path back to finding that kernel of what I originally loved about academics.

I finished my degree in 2008—the year a tight academic job market became a market of cancelled searches. The data-related work I did early in grad school as a research assistant quickly became essential, along with some adjunct teaching, to having an income while I was on the job market. I cast my job search wide for both academic and non-academic jobs, but only applied when I felt competitive for one. By January 2011, I was employed in a staff position at the University of California Davis—a job I absolutely loved, earning a better salary than most anthropologists. I have since moved into a quasi-academic position, with more grant and publication writing. This is a great fit for me right now, doing work that I love and being paid pretty well for it.

I arrived where I am without guilt or shame not because I am somehow impervious to these processes, but because other events in my life overshadowed them and have minimized their effect on my life. My hope for those of you experiencing a similar transition is that you can take from my experience the benefit of understanding this without having to experience far greater upheavals to overshadow it. It is time for you to move ahead, find dry land, and set your feet upon it.