Work-Life Balance? Post 1 of Many

This was originally posted in 2011. As you can see from the title, at the time I expected to write a lot more posts about work-life balance. I’m just getting to that now, in 2016!


Since opening The Professor Is In, the question I’ve been most often asked, by women, is “how can I maintain some kind of work-life balance while pursuing a career in academia?” (The question I’ve been asked almost as often is, “when should I decide to throw in the towel and quit trying to have an academic career?” That question I will confront next week).

This question is difficult. The fact is, maintaining a work-life balance has become almost impossible in any job in the downsizing U.S. economy. We are expected to do more and more with less and less. Hours are increasing while pay is falling in most professional sectors (law, medicine, etc.) Even the “booming” sectors of the economy, like IT and Finance, are based on truly inhumane expectations for hours of work. The eight hour day and the weekends for home life are becoming things of the past.

In that context is the academy. Academic pay scales are declining while work expectations are increasing. Expectations for tenure go up, class sizes go up, administrative duties go up, and support goes down.

Women in the academy are trying to juggle, on the job, writing, research, teaching, service, and if tenure track, the clicking tenure clock, and, at home, partners, children, home life, spirit-sustaining personal interests, and the biological clock. Even thinking about timing a pregnancy, for a graduate student or assistant professor, can be overwhelming.

Senior female colleagues are not always that helpful either as models or mentors. Once, as a new assistant professor, at a dinner at a national conference, I turned to the woman sitting next to me, a highly productive, prolific department head about 40 years old, and earnestly, oh so earnestly asked, “HOW did you manage to have two kids??” Barely glancing my way she replied, with a sneer in her voice, “well, I had sex with my husband….” before turning away to talk to someone more important.

The senior women with children in my departments mostly fell into two camps: those who paused after tenure to dedicate themselves to child-rearing and remained affably at the Associate level, and those who handed their children over to full-time nannies and worked ridiculous hours, and made it to Full.

I was never happy with either of those choices.  In the end, chaotic life circumstances placed me into the former category, although I was never affable.

In my first year on the tenure track I applied for and won two major research and writing fellowships, including the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for University Professors. My department generously allowed me to stagger them, and I ended up with two full years off. I spent those two years writing my book and commencing a second project. And having my first child. When I returned to work full time, my tenure case was secure, so I felt comfortable having a second child.

After the insanity of the first year, and its all new class preps and the unfamiliar rounds of committee meetings and department obligations, and demands of undergraduate and graduate students, my life came to feel sort of balanced. When I went back to work after my 2 years of leave, my children were in daycare, but I religiously picked them up before 5 PM, and dedicated my time at home, when they were awake, to hanging out with them. I did not work a lot on weekends, and limited my conferences to two large national meetings a year. I woke early and wrote while they slept.  I worked out every day.  And I had a spouse who did his part—got the kids up and fed and dressed for the day, cooked dinner, and did a lot around the house.

Basically, my experience of the tenure track echoed my experience of graduate school: balance of personal and academic life is possible when you are well and abundantly funded, freed from excessive teaching or service responsibilities, and have support at home.  It’s why I am so fixated on grant-writing, FYI.

I know that for many, these resources are unavailable. TAs, adjuncts, the un- and underderemployed, assistant professors on the tenure track in penny-pinching, chaotic departments—so many in our world are scrambling desperately to keep their heads above water.

What struck me at my R1 institution, however, was the degree to which even those who did enjoy access to these resources refused to use them to ease their lives. Indeed, they just seemed to work harder.

My tenured colleagues never let up. They were always in their office. They were always working. They never had time for lunch or dinner or coffee. They were always at this conference or that symposium, or if not actually there, then writing the paper in preparation. They weren’t just grading, or in meetings, or in class. They were launching a new university-wide initiative, or spearheading a new major, or starting a film festival, or creating a regional consortium.

None of these things is bad. In fact a lot of them are good. But what I could never entirely understand, was: why? The hours the faculty put in to accomplish all of this were impossible. They didn’t make sense. They seemed counter-productive.

I came to feel that university faculty are more thoroughly interpellated into the logic of capital than anyone else in the economy. Because after tenure they’re basically given a choice about how much they’ll work, and they STILL work themselves practically to death.

Why couldn’t senior faculty just take a break? Why couldn’t they slow down? Why couldn’t they sit still for a moment, and take a breath?

It’s my view that they don’t want to. Tenured professors have a choice, and too many choose to have lives out of balance. Why, I’m not sure. But I increasingly suspect it’s because if they slow down, if they sit still, then they might have to notice.

  • Notice the disintegration of their workplace.
  • Notice the whittling away of their power in the institution.
  • Notice the marginalization of their voice in society.
  • Notice the scared graduate students and the struggling adjuncts and the anxious assistant professors.
  • Notice that their privilege rests on countless others’ exploitation.

Professors are smart. So they keep moving. To keep that knowledge at bay as long as they can.






How to Get Clients and Keep Them – Postac Post by Margy Horton

By Margy Thomas Horton, Ph.D.*

Dr. Margy Horton

Dr. Margy Horton

Three years ago, I thought morning and night about how to get enough clients to fill my schedule at my business, ScholarShape. I knew I could help researchers write better and more efficiently, but there was such a gap between what I knew I could do and what the general population of potential clients (who didn’t yet know I exist) believed I could do. I had to find a way to show people that I could understand their problems and help them define and realize their goals.

Today, when people ask how I get clients, I vaguely reply, “Oh, word-of-mouth, Google, client referrals.” It’s true: I never pay for advertising, yet somehow clients fill my schedule, often booking weeks in advance. My vague answer is unhelpful to a prospective business owner who wants to know about the process of building a client base, rather than what the resulting client flow looks like. How do you get influencers with no financial stake to refer clients to you? How do you write blog posts that Google will find? How do you persuade your first few clients to write glowing testimonials for your website?

The answers to these questions depend on what you’re selling and to whom. But no matter your business model, in order to make a living, a wide audience of potential clients or customers needs to become aware of and confident in the product you offer.

Three years ago, when I set out to communicate about my services to the people who might benefit from them, I tried every tactic I could think of. Given my target audience, I studied academic resource websites, looking for clues about what unmet needs were being felt by whom and in what way. I cold-emailed administrators and professors to “let them in on” the new kinds of services I was offering in case they knew of anyone who might need my help. I scrolled through elance and odesk, but it seemed futile to try selling a service there on quality, not price, so I never made an account. I strolled around the university campuses near me, soaking in the vibe and trying to imagine the world through my potential clients’ eyes. I foisted my open laptop upon near-strangers, asking them what they thought of my homepage. I read every website and library book I could find about how to create a product people would want to buy. I printed business cards and left them in stacks at coffee shops. In one coffee shop I was scolded by the barista for “advertising something for-profit” within the confines of an establishment where I can only assume all coffee, pastries, and logo tee-shirts were handed out for free.

I scattered so many seeds that it’s hard to know now which specific strategies ultimately worked best. In hindsight, I think that more than any single strategy, what has made my business, ScholarShape, work is that it has always been about what clients need. The way I’ve framed my services has grown directly out of my communication with friends, strangers, clients, potential clients, collaborators, and the influencers I admire. This constant give-and-take tells me what is working and what needs adjusting. Five practices have been especially helpful to me in getting and keeping clients:

  1.     Offering the services I’m best at, and being clear on what I’m offering.

In my early days, I used to take on light proofreading/formatting jobs, fixing margins and typos. Now I’ll only do that kind of polishing for clients I’m helping in a substantive capacity. Focusing on the services that most distinguish me as an editor, and that I most enjoy, sets me up to offer services that the client will be thrilled to receive–customized writing consultation, developmental feedback, and substantive editing. I regularly revise my services menu as I gain clarity on how I can best help my clients, and as I make choices about which direction to take ScholarShape. Next up: my very own spin on a writing retreat!

  1.     Getting the right clients.

The right clients are the ones who choose you for the qualities you want to be chosen for, who are willing to trust you, and who value the product you’re offering. For me, the best way to get the right clients is to require payment in advance. This not only simplifies my record-keeping; it also ensures that people have carefully decided whether to hire me and are confident my approach is the one they’re looking for.

  1.     Managing client expectations.

My standard service contract has grown from one to four single-spaced pages in the past two years. Like a syllabus that grows each year to account for contingencies you never could have imagined in your first semester, my contract now details my clients’ and my rights and responsibilities within our working relationship. As my lawyer has explained, the most important function of a service contract is not to resolve a conflict once it has occurred, but rather to establish clear expectations such that most conflicts never arise at all.

  1. 4.  Monitoring client experience.

This includes checking in with clients at natural pauses in the workflow, building in feedback mechanisms to the service process, and creating moments of pleasant surprise for the client. With the services I offer, all of this happens naturally because my services are so high-contact and customized. But it’s important regardless of what you’re selling. Aspire to be like the waiter who refills the water glass before it’s even empty.

  1.     Following up.

Unlike most businesses, which have a newsletter or automated emailing system to maintain client relationships over months and years, my current “system” is just to exchange emails and texts with “inactive” clients from time to time. I still need to figure out my long-term plan for keeping in touch and following up–whether a MailChimp newsletter, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, or some combination of the two–so that I have a more systematic way stay connected with clients who aren’t actively working on projects with me.

Those of us who make our livelihoods from small businesses must live by a cardinal rule: love thy clients. Our clients are the reason our little enterprises are humming along, and we owe it to them that we can earn our livelihoods doing what we do best. And as long as we keep up our end of the bargain, they’ll make sure our businesses grow–so that we can start losing sleep over what exciting new direction to take our businesses next.

*Margy Horton is a TPII Out-Ac Coach and Consultant and can help you envision and plan your own exit from academia in the form of a small business.  Contact us at to learn more!

How to Write Your Own Rec. Letter, plus All of my Vitae columns

In my two+ gratifying and enjoyable years of writing for Chronicle Vitae, I’ve only had one column rejected by them, and it is this one, which I submitted late in December as an end-of-year compendium of all my columns, organized thematically. I thought it was a great gift to readers to help them navigate among all my many and varied writings, but the editors disagreed.  So, I’m putting it here today, on The Professor Is In. Like all my Vitae advice columns, it does begin with a reader question: in this case, on how to write your own recommendation letter when your recommenders demand you do so.  And it goes on from there.  I hope you like it…


Q: My problem: Since starting graduate school, no one has written me a letter of reference. To be more clear: My referees have signed letters of reference for me, but I have drafted the text in all cases. I’m out of grad school now, but this behavior only seems to spreading. While writing my own letters disturbs me–I find it unethical on many levels–I don’t see any way to challenge the request. When I ask a referee for a letter, and he asks for a draft, I’m gently given to understand that what I don’t write won’t be written. I don’t have a huge roster of people to ask, so I can’t afford to antagonize any of my referees, which means I’m stuck writing the letters.

While there’s plenty to say about the corrosive effects of this practice, I could really use some practical advice. What’s the formula for a solid letter of reference? I’ve had referees coming from all three of my disciplines ask me for draft letters. I’ve asked around among my circle in academia, and while many referees still do write their own letters, there seem to be more and more who drop it onto the students.

Higher education has been acting more and more like an extraction industry—treating its primary source of value (the basic human relationship between teachers and students)–as something that needs to be used up in order to add to the bottom line.

A: I agree that this is an abhorrent practice. Recommenders should write their own letters. If they can’t write letters for each job, then they should certainly write one generic letter for a dossier service, such as Chronicle Vitae’s or Interfolio. I’m happy to provide advice on how to write your own recommendation letter, except that I’ve already devoted a column in this space to the structure of an effective recommendation letter.

Reading this question reminded me that I actually see questions arise pretty often that I’ve previously answered. I’ve been writing this column for Chronicle Vitae for over two years, and I’ve covered a lot of topics! So, for this end-of-year holiday season, I’m going to give you readers a reference list to the main advice topics I’ve covered.

On how to write a recommendation letter, read Only Positive Recommendations Please. (Be sure the follow the link in the column to a post on my blog for more!) Other recommendation advice can be found at The Three Letters of Recommendation You Must Have and Getting a Reference When You’re New.

For advice on constructing your applications to tenure track jobs, read Search Committees Are Made of People! (about letter length), Why Letterhead Matters, Making Sense of the Diversity Statement, When CVs Get Complicated, CV or Resume? They Didn’t Ask for a Research Statement-Can I Send One Anyway? Research Statements vs. Research Proposals, Research Plans, Proposals and Statements, The Weepy Teaching Statement, Should You Mention Your Blog in Your Job Application? Here’s My Application, Part Two (on applying for a job a second time), The Fine Art of Choosing a Writing Sample, Don’t Tell an Adjunct Tale, I’m an Internal Candidate; Why Wasn’t I Interviewed? I’m Queer, Am I a Diversity Hire? (includes a discussion of service as well), White Male in Black Studies, The Meaning of Inclusiveness in a Job Ad, The Posdoc App: How It’s Different and Why, What Will Your Service Yield for You? Will the Candidate Stay? (on providing evidence that you’ll stay at a low-ranking institution) It’s Not Your Fault (on applying when your program has been eradicated) and Don’t Become Liberal Arts Mush!

On the perennially stressful topic of interviewing and campus visits, read Surefire Ways to Screw Up Your Campus Visit, Interviewing the Interviewers, How to Deliver a Halfway Decent Job Talk, Job Talk Q and A, Your Teaching Headspace, Dinner Before the Interview, What Should I Wear? Asking About the Adjuncts’ Work, Will They Remember Your Topic? Who’s Your Ideal Candidate? How to Interview for a Joint Appointment, and Stamp This Candidate Acceptable or Unacceptable.

I’ve written about negotiating in Disappointed With the Offer?, Negotiating Temporary Insurance, and OK, Let’s Talk About Negotiating Salary.

Beginners should be sure and check out First Timer on the Market? Finding Traction on the Academic Job Market, Learning the Ropes as an International Graduate Student, and What If I’ve Never Taught Solo?

General career strategizing advice can be found in How to Build Your CV, How to Tailor Your Online Image, Choosing the Right Holding Pattern, Should You Attend That Interdisciplinary Conference? I Know What You Need to Do This Summer, One Too Many East Asianists, How to Score that Elusive Partner Hire, Should I Write a Book? Should I Publish With a Low-Rent Press? Does Cold Calling Ever Work? and Can I Apply for Two Jobs on One Campus?

Women on the job market might check out Do I Sound Pushy? Should My Letters Mention the Baby? And Ignore the Haters and Toot Your Own Horn.

Those on the tenure track should check out Tenure Expectations, Do I Really Have to Play Baseball? Decorating Your Office, Going Back on the Market for Your Spouse, Getting External Review Letters, A Nasty External Review, Changing Jobs as an Assistant Professor, Drowning in Application Files, and Stopping the Senior Snipers.

Those further along might read When to Make Your Move, and How Do I Pitch Myself for Associate Level Positions?

I’ve even written a bit about writing. See When Reviewers Disagree, and Should You Skip Revise and Resubmit?

Last of all, a general explanation of why I do what I do, as an advice columnist, blogger, career coach, and entrepreneur, that relates to the undervaluation of labor in academia: To Think, You First Must Eat.

I hope these help you as you progress in your academic endeavors! Good luck!




Here’s Hoping! Post-Ac Post by Karen Cardozo

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

To everyone struggling under the weight of your New Year’s resolutions, I empathize and salute you!

Cynical as we academics may be, few can entirely resist the powerful turn of the calendar that pushes us to take inventory:  to see what’s in stock, what’s expired, and what new items we need to bring into the warehouse of our lives. In so doing, we act “as if” we shape our own futures.  True, many things are out of our control.  But much remains within our sphere of influence.  No matter how bad things get, there are still choices we can make. Speak or be silent. Apply or don’t. Stay or go. When we assert our agency, against the odds, hope tweets.

Academe has multiple new years built right in.  At the start of every semester, we have a chance to reconsider how and why we do things.  Ideally we would take a moment to consider our big rocks—those priorities into which we most want put our time and energy. This allows us to focus on what we can control and change. When we feel most overwhelmed by our obligations, we need to identify the self-imposed burdens: the places where we have confused “I should” with “I must.”

Must = all the non-negotiables for which there will be stark consequences, such as when you don’t eat, pay your rent, or show up for work.  But it also includes essentials that feed your humanity and sanity, such as creative pursuits or spending time with loved ones. Without these, you starve in a different way.

Should = negotiable ideas about the “best” way to live or work.  There is no objective measure here; such prescriptions tend to be an unholy mixture of social pressures and our own insecurities. There is always a different (and possibly better) way to do things.  So go ahead: change your mind about what you “should” be doing.

Must is the essence of WHAT we most need to have, do, or be; should is the nagging voice that tells us HOW to engage in our pursuits—it often means holding ourselves to unreasonable, unrealistic and rigid standards.  Liberation beckons when you stop “shoulding” all over yourself and aim for flexible rather than dogmatic, good enough rather than perfect, genuine rather than impressive.

I leave it you to imagine the potentially freeing applications of this idea in your professional and personal lives (for example, in your teaching, domestic, or social practices).  But I assure you, clarifying the difference between “must” and “should” might be the crucial difference between living YOUR life and someone else’s.  So, instead of resolving to achieve particular outcomes in 2016, why not commit to a process of sifting out the musts, and letting the shoulds fall where they may?!  In so doing, more fitting steps on your path will emerge.

We teach (or blog) what we need to learn. Now on the tenure-track, where I never expected to land, I am working harder than ever to tell must from should.  In my current work/life context, this distinction does not map neatly onto the familiar hierarchy that privileges research and publication over teaching and service.  Thus I am not merely reissuing the conventional wisdom to protect your time for what the academic hierarchy considers more “productive” pursuits (although that may indeed be something you decide you must do).

Rather, I am talking more broadly about the capacity to decide what is essential and what is dispensable in any given moment…to YOU.  This may mean prioritizing a troubled student over a writing deadline, a campus event over a family dinner, or a meeting over yoga; in other institutional and personal contexts, it may mean exactly the reverse.  Each of us will draw the line between must and should in a different place at different times, but to be able to live comfortably with your choices, you still have to draw the line.  Only you know where to put it.

To the wonderful clients I’ve met through TPII, those yet to come, and all the readers I will never meet, I invite you to embrace your own little bird of hope in the coming year, small and fragile as it may be. Risk a whole new you—doing only what you must—and maybe you will eventually “shake your head in wonder/when it’s all too good to be true.” That is my hope for you.

On the Death of a Former Colleague

My former UIUC colleague, Korea anthropologist Nancy Abelmann, died this past week, after a long and protracted battle with cancer.  It was very sad. She was only 56.

Nancy Abelmann

Nancy Abelmann

Those who were fortunate enough to know Nancy loved, above all, her incredible generosity and unfailing kindness.  She was a gifted mentor to countless people, especially her many Ph.D. advisees, but also junior faculty, colleagues and peers, as well as random academics she met along the way.  She had time for everyone.  It’s a mystery how she did it.

There’s been a collective outpouring of grief and remembrances on Facebook, where these things happen nowadays.  It’s amazing to see how many people she touched, of every rank and status in our academic cosmos.

Her death has been difficult for me not just because the world has lost a very special person (and East Asian anthropology a very gifted colleague) but because I never really reconnected with Nancy after my loud, public, and acrimonious departure from UIUC in 2009.  A snapshot of that departure is preserved here, in this guest post I wrote not too long afterwards on the Worst Professor Ever (now Tech in Translation) blog.

I made a kind of amends to Nancy for the way I left, about a year ago, but she was already very sick by then and was occupied with other things. I never got to really sit down with her and apologize in person.

And I owed her an apology.  While the UIUC was indeed a wretched place for me, Nancy Abelmann was never anything but kind and generous and good to me, as she was to others. She is actually the person who hired me to the tenured position at UIUC, and she was a steadfast supporter, even coming to my aid in one of the many court battles involved in my custody dispute.

I have been reflecting on why I was unable to distinguish between the bad that I experienced on that campus in general, and the good that I knew from Nancy, when I left and for most of the years afterward.  I tarred all of UIUC with a single brush; I could not then or for a long time afterwards, see any variations or shades of gray.

Part of it is, I’m sure, that I was traumatized.  As I explain in the post above, I had to leave Illinois not just because I was miserable at UIUC, but because I was involved in a threatening and terrifying custody battle, in which I was not, at many points, sure of my own or my childrens’ physical safety.  I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of that trauma for the almost six years I’ve been back in Eugene, Oregon. I’m only now seeing how it consumed and warped me.

I look back now and see that when I left UIUC I was, in a way, out of my mind.  It felt like I was fleeing for my life. The misery of that campus and the misery of my life collapsed onto each other, entwined in each other, and squeezed me tighter and tighter until I was frantic and desperate, and could only repudiate the entire place and all the people in it, and indeed, the entire academic career. I was not in my right mind. Not that I should have stayed, of course.  But I do look back kind of stunned at the way that I left.

I was angry. I was angry that nobody at UIUC would speak publicly about the meanness, the coldness of life there – the astonishing racism and sexism – even though Nancy and I had many candid private conversations about it all.  I felt, in general, abandoned.  Now of course I know that one abandons oneself. I abandoned myself. It wasn’t my colleagues’ job to be different than they were, for my comfort.

I’ve been thinking about all this in light of the piece, “How to Read a CV,” by Monica Casper.  In this amazing piece of writing she narrates the personal backstory of love, heartbreak, loss, babies, moves, despair, desire, behind each line of the CV.  One part reads:

Executive Director, Intersex Society of North America, Seattle, WA (2003)
Yes, I am “that” woman – the one who leaves a tenured position at UCSC (the dream job!) to raise babies on Whidbey Island. I can no longer stomach academia’s nasty politics and its contradictions (e.g., labor stickers on shiny new Volvos). Also, it is unbearable to live in such a beautiful place as Santa Cruz while listening to a litany of complaints from privileged colleagues. My head hurts from the undercurrent of hostility and my heart is empty, so I flee north.


This is familiar.

Casper goes back to the academy, ultimately.  I do not.

Nancy was a connecter of people. I admire that about her.  I’m more of a separater.  I’ve been working on that.  But separating is what has made The Professor Is In possible. I separated from the academy, and then fought to get my readers to separate from (the self-serving mythologizing of) their advisors and departments, so that some clarity and truthfulness could find space to emerge–truthfulness about the job market, the nature of Ph.D. training, the ugliness of many aspects of academic life, things that are often shrouded in denial.  With separation could come autonomy, and with autonomy, a regaining (or finding) of personal truth based on intentionality and choice, beyond the constant bludgeoning of the academy’s external judgment. For readers, and for me.

But I regret the lost connection that was there, that I forgot to remember in my trauma, while Nancy was still alive. I regret that I couldn’t sit down with her and say: sorry I did that the way I did.  And thanks for being one of the good ones. One of the best, really.




Building Solidarity Across the Profession – A Guest Post

By Miranda Merklein


Miranda Merklein lives in Seattle, WA where she works as a faculty organizer for SEIU Local 925. She is a former adjunct professor with a PhD in English from the University of Southern Mississippi, an MA in liberal arts from St. John’s College, and a BA in political science from College of Santa Fe.


By now everyone is aware, inside and outside of academia, of the wave of faculty organizing taking place across the country. I became involved in the movement two years ago during Campus Equity Week where I once trembled at a table with handouts thinking–knowing!–that I would most certainly be fired just for speaking out and bringing attention to the horror of “the profession.” This was preceded by my wake-up moment upon learning of the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko. However, I didn’t get fired then, so the successive risks I took got bigger. Finally, I decided to take an extended hiatus from teaching one year ago to eventually find full-time employment as an SEIU faculty organizer in Seattle.

Throughout my adjunct journey of loss and humiliation, the solidarity I found in the network of activists and leaders across the country always kept me focussed on one overarching goal: to do what it takes to improve the lives of faculty and students by organizing faculty and disrupting the conditions that make it possible to exploit and degrade an entire industry of professional educators in Higher Ed. The way I see it is that we have a duty to stand up and stop institutions from undermining the public good and the educational experience of our indebted students, who are also struggling to survive, some of them homeless and dependent on food banks, just like their favorite professors.

My own experience working as an adjunct was typical: I earned poverty-level wages working at multiple institutions and saw our courses cut for the specific purpose of denying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which so many of us voted for without ever imagining the cutthroat, heartless reaction from our employers. Despite the setbacks, every semester I shuttled between one and three campuses while struggling to keep gas in the car and avoid eviction for myself and my son. Several of my colleagues and I tried our best to get organized and fight back, but there were few prospects in resource-deprived New Mexico, which seems to exist in an organizational black hole when compared to Higher Ed organizing in coastal cities. Unfortunately, this is the case in several landlocked states–the situation looks and feels hopeless.

Although being on the tenure track means more security than any instructional position I have personally experienced, I don’t know too many tenured faculty who would argue that tenure itself provides sufficient due process against the assault on public Higher Ed, as there are plenty of cases where faculty have been fired, found their positions defunded, or have otherwise seen tenure eroded by rogue administrations and vengeful politicians, as in the case of Scott Walker in Wisconsin, which serves as a nightmare, worst-case scenario for faculty all over the country.

Faculty whose positions were once stable are increasingly subjected to irrational performance metrics and restrictive speech codes that essentially place a gag order on faculty’s right to academic freedom to the point where it is hardly viewed as a defendable policy in the institutional sense. Economic security is not as common as it once was, to say the least, even at prestigious R1s, due to wage compression and shrinking state funding that has reduced prominent researchers to frantic grant-hustlers trying to constantly fund their own positions only to lose half their awards to opaque administrative overhead after which they are forced to account for through legal perjury before the US government.

In my opinion, executive management and presidential salaries should be in line with those of modest civil servants; this would undoubtedly weed-out the professionalized profit-seekers. And governance in any case should be left to faculty and students. However, in order to accomplish real change on the ground, It is not enough to simply vent about the decline of the profession to each other in the hallways, social media outlets and comment sections. We have to equip ourselves with resources to apply the collective force necessary to push back and obstruct the pipeline of exploitation.

The problems in Higher Ed are painfully clear to most of us, yet not all faculty are able to improve working conditions through collective bargaining, whether it be due to anti-union state laws, fear of retaliation in the workplace, or because of the isolating reality of the work itself. This is why it’s important to build power organically and help faculty and students find professional organizing support on a national level. We must also continue bringing attention to the unsustainability of student debt through organizations like The Debt Collective.

By coordinating collective actions and walkouts in the spirit of National Adjunct Walkout Day, we can accomplish a lot in terms of shifting the power dynamic in our favor. In addition to work in the for-profit sector, Faculty Forward Network campaigns include: fighting for a renewed public investment in higher education, investing in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), where full professors can expect to earn little more than half of their counterparts at non-HBCU institutions, and ending the parking toll on teaching–because people who can’t afford a sandwich or medical care don’t deserve to pay outrageous parking fees just to do their jobs.

The gains made since Margaret Mary’s death are just the beginning. Faculty Forward Network is an opportunity to expand faculty organizing beyond current collective bargaining campaigns in order to mobilize a broad base. Building power collectively through membership and pooled resources is especially critical leading up to the Supreme Court case, Friedrichs vs. CTA, which will most likely result in national right-to-work legislation for the entire public sector.

It is time to act in order to rebuild the profession, support our students, and push these no-talent banksters out of Higher Ed where they have until now enjoyed free reign at taxpayers’ expense. This is our profession and we need to take back the agency we’ve lost as teachers, researchers, and workers. I invite you to join me and Faculty Forward Network today.

Facing Fear in the New Year

Hi everyone, Happy New Year!  I hope you had a good break and are ready for Spring semester/Winter term.  I had a great break, visited family (my niece moved to the Northwest!), celebrated my son’s 15th birthday with our traditional 5 AM donut run, danced a ton, meditated like crazy (is that a thing?), got to see my book at the Amazon brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle, and contemplated the changes I want to set in motion in the coming year.

My book at the Amazon bookstore in Seattle!

My book at the Amazon bookstore in Seattle!

On a personal level, I resolve that this is the year I deal with fear.  The fear that I’ve lived with my whole life–fear of not doing enough, having enough, being enough.  I know from my mindfulness practice so far that the goal isn’t to defeat fear, or banish it, or reject it.  The goal is to make friends with it. “Ah, fear, here you are again, old friend.  Come, have a cup of tea.  You’re welcome to visit (but I might be occupied with other things…)”  I love the idea of this!  The practice, though… that’s been a challenge.

Fear drives the academic psyche, of course.  Academia thrives on all of us fearing that we don’t know enough and aren’t good enough. I’m sure it’s possible to be an academic without fear.  I just don’t think it’s very likely.  And the financial contraction and job insecurity just intensify it all.  Those of you who determine to leave academia have to confront fear first–the fear of what your advisors and colleagues will think, fear of being seen as a failure, fear of making your way in an unknown out-ac world.  But even those who stay in academia might face the role that fear has in their lives, driving workaholism and the sense of never doing enough.  As I write in my book, it’s a system built on external validation.  And one day or another you realize, that never satisfies.  Only inner validation can bring peace.  Over the coming year I will be writing more about how academics and post-academics can recognize fear-based thinking and overcome it, for a more balanced and sane life, whatever route you choose. (Here is my first post on that theme, ICYMI).

And, as part of this new direction, I want to hear from YOU.  I want to know, what are you stressed about? What are your goals?  What are your challenges? What can I help with?  So, to that end, for the first time in two years, I’ve reopened live one-on-one Skype Advising Sessions with me. We can start as early as next week, and dates will continue on in Jan and Feb.  Once you get in touch, I’ll schedule a slot at your convenience.  If you’re stressed about your job search, your career planning, your record, your advisor, your students…  I can help.  I look forward to talking.

Besides the Live Skype Advising Sessions, here are other cool things coming up in 2016 at The Professor Is In.

Job Talk Webinar – a new webinar!  Coming up Jan 21.

In this brand new webinar, we will delve into the challenges of the all-important job talk. I’ll explain the role of the job talk in the campus visit (it’s the single most important element), and what it is meant to show about you as a candidate (it’s not what you think). I’ll explain the most common pitfalls of the job talk, which are legion. And I’ll provide a template for job talk structure that will ensure yours showcases your research, engages the audience, and establishes your scholarly profile AND collegiality. Finally, I’ll discuss the treacherous Q and A after the talk–what kinds of questions to expect, how to handle the audience, and most importantly, how to handle challenging, critical, or inappropriate questions. Includes 30 minutes of Q and A.

Joining our wildly successful Art of the Cover Letter online course, we are developing Art of the CV, Art of the Teaching Statement, Art of the Research Statement, Art of the Interview, and Art of the Job Talk.  These are self-guided programs that use videos and worksheets and exclusive content to walk you through the writing job docs and prepping for interviews.

We are creating a membership site, where you can pay a flat annual rate and have access to all of the “Art of” courses as well as webinar recordings and other services, products, and discounts, at no additional cost.

We’ll be creating institutional memberships so that institutions can pay an annual fee to provide the above access to all grad students, postdocs, and/or faculty at the institution.  All of these things will be launching this Spring and Summer.

Lastly, we are opening limited services to Ph.D. program applications.  If you are applying to Ph.D. programs we will help edit your statement of purpose, and assist with application interviews.  You will get a lecture from us about ALL of the risks.  But if you are determined to persist… we can help.  Here’s a testimonial from an early client: “Thank you, TPII, for everything. I feel SO much better about applying this time, and seeing how drastically my documents have improved, it’s really no wonder that I didn’t make the cut the before. This has been one of the best investments I’ve made in myself. I have been singing your praises and will continue to do so.” This is starting now.

In other news, Dr. Karen is on the road!  I just came back from the American Astronomical Society meetings in Orlando, and I’ll be speaking at the U of Oregon, Washington State, U of New Mexico, Duke (virtually), and UNC Chapel Hill (virtually) soon.  Then, I go on two speaking tours:  I’m speaking at Brown March 18 and Harvard March 21, and then a tour of the UK in April and May: U of Aberdeen in Scotland April 25-26, U of St. Andrews April 27, U of Edinburgh  April 29, Kings College London May 3, London School of Economics May 4, Oxford May 6 , Cambridge May 9, and University of Warwick May 10.  Possible dates in Denmark and Switzerland as well.

I’m excited about all these new things for 2016.  And I’m scared as hell.  Every one one of the things above is scary.  It’s scary to make a new webinar (what if nobody comes?) It’s scary to do live advising (what if I say something dumb?)  It’s scary to change the business (what if it doesn’t work?)  It’s scary to move into Ph.D. application help (what if it’s a bad idea?)  And it’s scary to go around the world speaking (what if I miss my flight?)

But I’m doing it anyway. “Ah, hello, fear. I see you’re back. Here’s the tea. But excuse me while I go ahead and do this stuff. And, you can see yourself out.”

Here’s to a steadfast 2016.



Advisors, #dobetter

A reader wrote to share a case of useless department head job market advice.  I pass it on with his/her full permission,* in the hopes that those of you who are advisers will reflect on your own practices, and do better.
The department head response below ignores the very targeted, excellent questions the Ph.D. student poses about phone interviews, teaching demos, and negotiating, and instead proffers nothing but lazy, shallow, anodyne generalizations that frankly insult the student’s intelligence. There is nothing in the response that actually TRAINS the job seeker in how to manage the specific pressures of an academic search.
Advisors, you need to do better. This is no time, no time at all, for complacent, tone-deaf, philosophical musings on the “beauty and challenge of human interactions.”  DO BETTER.  #dobetter.
Dear Dr. Karen,
I have to thank you again for all of the support and advice you have given me via your blogs, book, and website. I am one of those that you write about – one who has been truly left alone to figure out the tenure-track job search with no help from my department (my chair retired and moved right after defense – so that was a double blow). Thanks to you, I have already made the short list twice and am optimistic there are more to come!
But that is not why I am really writing. You rage against the Academy for falling down on the job of preparing grad students for the academic job search (rightly so) and I love your courage for speaking out and bringing this issue out of the closet. I have forwarded many articles written by you to my department head and doctoral coordinator and have gotten absolutely no response. I have enjoyed needling them, however, and calling into the light some things they need to be doing that they are not. It has not won me any friends, needless to say.
So, I decided – despite the history of nothingness – to ask for help once again as I prepare for interviews – just to see what the response would be- because I am following the advice in your book very closely. What follows below is first my email, and then the response of my department chair. I am sending it to you asking that if you use this in a blog (and I hope you will) that I remain anonymous. I just wanted to join you in the raging against the machine of indifference and provide you with a real-life example of just how bad it can be out here. (I will NOT replicate this pattern when I am a professor, I swear to you!)


I am wondering if you all have anything from past or upcoming searches you could share with me to help me prepare for interviews and campus visits. If possible, I would love to see:

1) questions you ask on phone interviews
2) questions asked at committee interviews on site
3) schedule of a campus visit
4) requirements for the teaching demo – how does a stranger just show up in class and teach??

Anything else you can give me? I have a 2 hour skype presentation and interview coming up in January. They will send me info on what they are looking for but the above will help me prepare for  this and others.

I appreciate your help. I really need to not go into this cold. Tips for negotiating salary would also be great!! Thanks.

I’ve been on lots of interviews and every one has been different. That’s the beauty and challenge of human interaction, and one reason social science is so difficult. The best preparation you can do is to really know your own work.  You should be able to articulate what you’ve done at the Ph.D. level and where your research and scholarship is headed. Additionally, you should know something about where you’re interviewed. This means researching the department, college and university in question. The search committee wants to know that you really want to come to university “x” and that it’s not just a job. Even learning something about the community is always a positive. What everyone wants more than anything is someone who will be a good colleague, so think about collaborative opportunities in the department, and how you might contribute to service responsibilities. Sometimes all it takes is being in the right place at the right time. Good luck!
I was like, no sh#% Sherlock!! Now tell me something I don’t know!!!!

By the way, a new junior faculty person hired two years ago forwarded my email to another junior faculty member asking if she had anything that could help me. God bless the young professors.

*Reader says: “Ah jeez. Well. We know he doesn’t read you LOL.”


Feminist Stripper with a PhD Makes Good – Out-Ac Guest Post

I asked Lux ATL/Dr. Byron to contribute this guest post. Karen


Most folks know me as “Lux ATL,” the pole-dancing feminist activist. However, just a few years ago, the name I heard most often was “Dr. Byron,” and the closest I came to a stage was behind the podium in English 101.

As a child I had dreams of becoming an artist. However, in the business-worshipping 1980s of my youth, I was lead to believe that such a life was impossible, even irresponsible. I’ve been a writer for as long as I could write, and although I wanted to write novels–or more accurately, wanted to live a life that would someday justify an autobiography–I decided that devoutly following an academic path could create a route to socially-acceptable “success” that also allowed the pursuit of art as part of the profession. I’d teach literature courses and write novels, you see–a Toni Morrison kind of life. My office would be panelled in the finest of wood.

I believed this scenario to be the course of my future until I was four years deep into a PhD in American Literature. Exams finished, dissertation looming, infant at my breast, slowly and grimly the consequences of the upcoming job search became ever the more real to me: leaving Atlanta, a place that had become beloved to me, disrupting my husband’s professional success, which has been hard-won and only recently achieved, and abandoning my newly-developed passion for pole dance in exchange for a 5/5 teaching 101s to sleepy freshmen and a lifetime of glamourless grading. Turns out, there are very few wood-panelled offices left up for grabs these days.

Although pole dance had become a new passion due to a timely Groupon, I was no stranger to the art form. All of those years that I’d been gathering degrees, I’d also been twirling around poles in strip clubs, funding trips around the world and a house full of furniture. I’ve been stripping since my 18th birthday. Stripping is in my DNA. I took to pole dance like a fish to water, or more accurately like a seasoned stripper to chrome.

As my passion for pole dance took off, my reputation within the pole community followed, and I began to doubt my desire to continue in the academy (you can read about my journey of academic disillusionment on my old blog, as well as in this interview with the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s blog, Vitae).  Although my scholarly work  uncovering the voices of silenced women compelled me deeply, I began to see academic publication as an intellectual circle jerk in which we fail to reach those outside of our socio-economic circle of cultural privilege–a conversation in which we reaffirm our own genius among ourselves but never actually affect the world outside.

My disillusionment grew. I started searching for ways to pursue my professional life on my own terms. It was this search that lead me to The Professor Is In.

I came to The Professor Is In looking for a way to take control over my academic life. However, at TPII I found not only resources for controlling my professional trajectory–furthermore, I discovered an innovative post-academic business model that continues to inspire me today. “Here is a woman who left the academy and created a useful, practical, smart, and unprecedented business model,” I mused of TPII creator Karen Kelsky. I wanted to do that. I wanted to live life on my own terms, make my money meaningfully, and help folks (particularly women) in ways that were tangible and real. I hoped I could do this through pole dance.

I began working occasional nights at a strip club for the first time in years in order to save money for this potential professional pole dancing pursuit–wild dream that it was.

Around the same time, however, I accepted a “temporary position” as a Fellow at a prestigious local university. I begrudgingly applied for a couple more local positions–non-tenure-track, high-hour, low-wage, crazy commutes. Using the lessons I learned on the TPII website, I made it to the final round for one position–even got taken to dinner by the hiring committee. When I didn’t get the job, I sat in my closet in a pile of dirty clothes and wept, still programmed to think myself a failure without an academic appointment to legitimize my existence.

A week later, I arrived to class to teach my all-male, frat-brother-dominated classroom at Prestigious Local University to discover a ten-foot ejaculating dick drawn across the entirety of my whiteboard.

That was the day I announced to my students, “I quit this bitch.”

I didn’t bother reapplying for the “temporary position.” I didn’t bother continuing my research. I didn’t bother keeping up my CV. I dropped out of the academy entirely and dedicated myself to my dream of becoming a professional pole dancer.

Side note: “pole dancer” is not synonymous with “stripper.” Pole dance exists as an international subculture based very much online, with pole dance studios serving as local hubs all over the globe. In pole dance culture, certain talented dancers and online personalities can ascend to an internet fame that fuels an income made touring pole studios across the world, teaching and performing. This was the goal I set for myself. As you might imagine, the number of folks who truly make a living this way is small. I considered my plunge into this pursuit to be perhaps my final chance at living an artist’s life.

And so this lifelong stripper returned to her old stomping grounds to fund the pursuit of her dream. Although I never expected to re-enter the trap house as a doctor in my thirties, and the 6 am bedtimes were harder for me now that I had a family, working as a stripper full-time allowed me to make twice the money I’d been making in the academy in half the time, providing me with the time and income to invest in “Lux ATL.”

I knew that my dream was an unlikely one. Indeed, the life I imagined for myself–touring the world as a feminist artist, writer, and motivational speaker, inspiring women worldwide to interrogate the dominant narrative and live radically–that life did not exist before me. There are no models for me, for this life I have imagined.

And yet here I am, living it.

How did I get here? By deciding resolutely to abandon a life that was no longer feeding my soul. By not looking back. By believing in myself. By dancing and training for hours a day, building my brand on social media, generating a fan base tens of thousands deep, studying the leaders of the pole industry and other entrepreneurs to learn their formulas for success, and most pivotally, developing my signature feminist pole dance workshop, Stripcraft.

After one year of stripping full-time, my investment in myself began paying off in earnest, as studio owners across the U.S began contacting me to come teach Stripcraft at their studios. In 2015, I drove over 15,000 miles to teach hundreds of women at dozens of studios from California to Florida. In 2016, I am scheduled to tour not only nationally, but also internationally, as I spend a month teaching in the UK.

Here’s what the PhD didn’t do for me: secure gainful employment in my field of professional training.

Here’s what the PhD did do for me: cultivated dedication, self-reliance, critical thinking, social awareness, and the ability to craft a framework for the execution of big ideas. All of those years researching alone, planning projects, making outlines, writing articles–with no supervision, little support, and tons of expectations–conspired together to create a person who could identify a bad situation, evaluate her options, and bravely pursue a life more meaningful. Ironically, my PhD armed me with the wisdom and confidence to reject the academy entirely.

I no longer need unfulfilling academic labor to legitimize my life. I no longer need stripping to fund my existence. Through Stripcraft, I’m making more money than I’ve ever made, seeing the world, helping women love themselves, and coming to understand my own limitless and beautiful potential. Stripcraft has impacted more women’s lives than any of my most impassioned, successful academic work. I have not only found my career; I’ve found my calling.

And I’m just getting started.

Is the Academy Good?

I’ve had two huge changes in my life in the past two years.  The first is, I’ve started dancing in earnest. The second is, I’ve started meditating.  These have both completely transformed my life.  Dancing has allowed me to move from my brain (the natural habitat of the Ph.D., whether in the academy or not) to my body.  And meditating has allowed me to move from my brain to my spirit, by way of my emotions, which I’m learning to observe in a mindful fashion as they come, wreak havoc, and go.

It’s hard to explain how transformative this process has been.  It’s been wonderful.  And it’s been terrible.  Because, it has required me to acknowledge how much time – how many years and decades – I spent out of touch with my body and my spirit, and repressing/ignoring/condemning/acting out from my emotions.

As a post-academic person, I can’t help but relate this to my life in the academy.  I ask:  was I drawn to the academy because I was so emotionally stunted?  Or did I become (more) emotionally stunted by being in a spirit-crushing academy?

Either way, the academy in this equation is the same:  a place that denies the body, the spirit, and the emotions.

Is this a gross generalization?  Yes, it is.  But I don’t see much that contradicts it.  I look at my life in the academy, at my former colleagues, at my current academic friends, at my clients and readers and Facebook and blog commenters, and I see a universe of people in pain but unable to speak openly about it, because the academy requires distance, logic, and irony, and deflects and sometimes openly mocks feelings, intuition, and any admission of weakness.

I mean, think about it! The Professor Is In core principle of job applications is: facts not feelings!  And I stand by this completely, in terms of job applications.  You want to have a job in the academy, you had damned well better learn to make your case on the facts of your record, not your feelings, desires, hopes, aspirations, wishes, and dreams.


Feelings, desires, hopes, aspirations, wishes, and dreams are also the stuff of life.  So I juxtapose the academic job market advice that I give – which works! – and the values that I increasingly see as necessary to a whole and meaningful life.  And I ask:  is the academy destructive, in its premises, to a whole and meaningful life?

I am not implying, just yet, that it is.  I might argue that, someday, but I’m not now.  But right now I am completely absorbed by a question: is the academy good?

This is a shocking question to even contemplate for me.  Of course the academy is good!  The academy is what we fight to preserve from corporatization, and cost-cutting administrators, and vengeful, ignorant Republican governors.  It’s the source of so much knowledge.  Life-saving knowledge, even.  And life-enriching knowledge absolutely.

I love the academy. I’ve always loved the academy since the first time I understood what it was, when I was about 10. I set out to be part of it. Now, outside of it, I still spend every day talking to it, and about it and caring desperately about its welfare.


Is the academy good?

In some ways it’s a terrible time to ask that question, when it plays into the hands of the anti-intellectual, budget-cutting impulses of the present moment.

But in some ways this is exactly the time to ask this question.  Because if we can’t make a case that the academy is good, not just because it feeds our brains, but because it serves a deeper and wider purpose, then there is no hope of defending it against ideologues.

And right now, I don’t know that there is space to talk about its deeper, wider purpose, when so many individual academics (especially in the humanities, which I know best, and especially the tenured) are dedicated to maintaining an ‘ironic distance,’ and productivity above all, and hiding weakness or pain.

Never fear, I will keep giving advice about how to play the academic game according to its rules.  You need a paycheck, and I can help.  Some readers have accused me of reinforcing the academy’s spirit-crushing rules.  But that’s actually not the case.  My entire project of naming the academy’s rules AS rules makes the values of the academy explicit, and thus easier to critique, manage, and reject if you so desire.  I find myself constantly saying, in my talks around the country:  “So, that is the basic rule.  Break it if you want!  But break it intentionally!  Know that you’re choosing to break the rule, and understand the risks.  And then do what feels right to you.  Do you!  Just do it from knowledge, not from ignorance, or delusion.”

I’m so grateful that so many readers have recognized and responded to this.  Countless have written over the last 5 years to tell me that they love making their job documents and interviews better and more effective, and they love doing better on the market. But that what they love most of all is knowing they’re not crazy. The system is what it seems, whether advisors admit it or not. By knowing that the academy has a rigid set of cultural rules and norms and values, you can both learn those rules, and choose the ways that you are willing to engage with them.

When you can separate the culture of the academy from your identity, then you have space to move!  Space to critique.  Space to act.  Space to say no.  That is empowering.

But now I want to take the next step, and ask:  what do we think of those rules?  What purposes do they serve?  What damage might they cause for us as individuals?  And how does that play out in our wider lives, out into “society” as a whole?

If it’s so easy for huge swaths of the population to hate us and think we have no value…  what does that say?  Let’s pause, and take the challenge seriously.  What exactly are we doing? What do we stand for?  What do we deliver?

These are the questions that I think about. That I can’t stop thinking about.  What do you think? I want to know.  If you’re reading this, I want to hear from you.  Let’s make a space where it’s ok to talk about ourselves as whole people.