Three DC Events This Week

This is a special post to let you know about three live events I’m doing in Washington, DC this week.  One is open to all, one is at the AAA (Anthropology) meetings, and one is at the University of Maryland, for grad students there.

1) Public Event for All:



When:  Thursday, December 4, 4:30-6:30

Where:  UC Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Ave. NW

Cost:  $120
Use GRAD25 for 25% off [$90]

In this two hour live and interactive workshop, I will walk you through the fundamental principles and practices of the tenure track academic job search. My goal is to demystify the process, and help you gain the knowledge and skills you need to understand the true obstacles, overcome the daunting challenges, and make your best possible case for a tenure track position. The event will feature live Interview Interventions with willing volunteers.

If there is audience interest, we can also talk about the post-ac transition.

We will cover:

  • Approaching the academic job search in a downsizing academy
  • The elements of a competitive CV
  • The 5 most common errors made by job-seekers
  • Fundamentals of scholarly self-promotion
  • Interview techniques that work, and pitfalls to avoid
  • Live Interview Intervention role plays with audience volunteers

This workshop is open to anyone from any discipline. 

You are welcome to bring your dinner!

Throughout the event, abundant time for Q and A with participants.  My promise: I will answer your questions, confirm your suspicions, fill in gaps in your knowledge, and provide a counterpoint to evasions and misinformation that might be circulating around your department. Attendance is capped at 25. This is an interactive conversation. Please join me.

Use discount code GRAD25 for 25% off [$90]

Register here.

2) For Anthropologists at the AAA:

Live Workshop:  Hacking the Academic Interview, Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Thursday 12/4: 9-12
Register at the AAA National Meetings Workshop Registration!

3) For University of Maryland Folks

Live Workshop: Ph.D. Completion Project–CVs and Cover Letters.

Friday, Dec. 5, 2-4 PM, Stamp Student Union Rm 2208

I walk you through the fundamentals of academic cover letters and CVs, provide examples of effective language, and workshop your documents.

Register by emailing

The Status of the Press Matters, Still!

A debate has simmered on the comment thread to my post, Does the Status of the Press Matter, in recent weeks, on the question: is Palgrave MacMillan a press with high enough status for a US R1 tenure case?  My position has always been, based on my years at two R1 universities (in a total of four departments due to joint appointments in Anthropology and East Asian Languages and Cultures): don’t count on it.  While as far as I remember this was not put to the test during my years in the academy, I do know that I was told point blank that anything less than a major university press was thin ice for my own tenure case. This was also the explicit message I received from the Associate Dean for the Humanities who worked with me when I was Department Head, handling my first tenure cases.

In other words, a monograph out with Palgrave MacMillan or another reputable and well known non-university press of that ilk was not an absolute torpedo to a tenure case in the humanities and social sciences at an R1, but it was a definite weaker link.

I believe that these presses would be absolutely fine for tenure cases at lower ranked institutions — R2s, teaching colleges, and so on.  But not at R1s or Ivy Leagues.

And then–the field may play a role: Brill, for example, is a strong press in some humanities fields (art history springs to mind), but not others. You must know your field context.

So the status of the press must be evaluated for every tenure candidate’s individual case: what is your institution? what is your field and subfield? what are your departmental and campus expectations and standards?

Understand that the principle here is the rigor of the peer review process.  The top presses will subject every manuscript to a lengthy and exhaustive peer review process and will not bend on its outcomes—if the reviewers say that X and Y are invalid scholarly claims, they will not publish the book until X and Y are rectified.  The process is long and time consuming and grueling.

By contrast, many of the lesser presses will do either no peer-review process, or a relatively truncated peer review process, in which the mss is sent out to academic reviewers, but the standards are lax, and most things will pass with a few general critiques.  The process is shorter and easier.  As a result, as one commenter below says, these presses  “seemingly publish anything that is sent their way….” and “show signs of poorly digested junior rank scholarship–as if they don’t really have to worry about trying to sell the books and so don’t demand quality.”

There is no free lunch here. If you go with a lesser press that is known to have lax peer review standards and a quick timeline, your book will not achieve a top-rank reputation or value for purposes of the job market or tenure.  You and your mother may be thrilled to death to see your dissertation in print, but everyone else is making judgments about it based on the status and rank of the press that put it out.

If you observe that some famous senior people in your field are publishing with these presses, do NOT assume that this guarantees they are safe for you, just starting your career.  Many senior academics publish with lesser presses late in their career because they already have established reputations and don’t want or need the hassle of an extended peer-review process.  The presses often lavish them with perks and series editorships and various vanity opportunities.  You, however, have no such luxury. You NEED the extended peer-review process to demonstrate that you are deserving of a place at the table.

Nobody can produce a definitive ranking of academic presses that can account for every single field and subfield and institutional bias.  There is no shortcut to you doing the work of thoroughly investigating your own field and subfield, asking hard questions of trusted senior advisors re the ranking of presses, and then making a conscious and intentional choice for yourself about how hard you want to work and how much time you want to spend.  If you are aiming for a career at the R1 level, know that anything other than the top presses is risky.

Below I will paste some of the comments I received about this question, to help young academics understand the scope of opinion on this matter, and judge for themselves where they consider submitting their manuscripts for publication.


 As for Palgrave Macmillan, in my field they’re not the same as a university press (or, I should say, a top university press). I’m an historian, and I work on early modern Europe, and there are only a handful of presses that are actually top presses: Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, Chicago, and formerly, Johns Hopkins (they’re moving out of early modern). There are other presses that publish in my field, U Toronto, Duke, Penn State, Penn, California, Stanford, for example, but they’re not as good in my view. The private presses can likewise be ranked: Ashgate is among the best, if only because they publish a lot in early modern history/Renaissance studies.

Palgrave, Routledge, Rowan and Littlefield, Scholars  Press, and even Brill are all minor players, who seemingly publish anything that is sent their way–then charge exorbitant amounts for it.

Price point is something that scholars don’t often take into consideration, but they should: a book like my most recent that is priced at $35 will be purchased by individuals, while something priced at $100 (or above!) will only be purchased by institutions (and typically only those with subscriptions or standing orders). For example, Brill’s books are outrageously priced, and they show signs of poorly digested junior rank scholarship–as if they don’t really have to worry about trying to sell the books and so don’t demand quality. Routledge and Palgrave are the same–although they publish less in my field. I was approached by Palgrave to put together a “Handbook”, and I declined when they told me that the organized volume (which is what this was intended to be) would result in my getting “one copy” of the book. I told them, much to their displeasure, that by paying peanuts, they would only get monkeys. Those monkeys, increasingly, are junior scholars who need to build their resumes, and British academics who need–desperately–to publish in order to boost their department’s rankings on the RAE. It’s a sad state of affairs, but the private publishers, esp. Routledge, Palgrave, and Brill, live off of it.

Full Prof, History, R1


My first book was with Brill and it was more than enough for tenure (2014) at George Fox University. My field is religious studies and I consider Palgrave a major publisher but not quite as good as a university press.

Tenured Prof, George Fox,  a private Christian liberal arts college


I guess there are a bunch of important things here: discipline, country where one is employed (eg, US versus UK), specific regional fields, but for the most part university presses almost always trump the private academic presses. This matters most at the time of tenure decisions. If you want to do a Palgrave book in cultural anthropology, do it as a post-tenure book. That said, I think that if a department wants to tenure someone, they will find a way to do so. And in that case, it doesn’t matter if their book comes out from University of California Press or Berghahn.

Consider what I call The Book Room Test: at the annual conference of your discipline, what are the publisher’s booths you do not miss going to? And what are the ones that if you don’t have time to go to their booth, you can maybe just grab a catalogue and (perhaps) look at it later….?

Full Prof, Anthro, R1


A negative R1 tenure review letter I have seen tells the candidate, “Your book was your dissertation that was essentially neither peer reviewed nor edited, and was published by what is in many academic circles considered a non-reputable publisher.” [this publisher is one of the ones listed in the first comment above.]

Karen’s personal experience


“I encourage you to warn folks about Left Coast Press. In a recent campus visit I named it among four presses that are interested in my work (the others were all university presses) and was warned – by a department chair where I was interviewing – that LCP is considered undependable because only some of their books go through peer review or editing, and the press is not transparent about which ones those are (or aren’t). I always knew that LCP was a para-academic press, but this insight was great enough that I removed the mention from my cover letter (and rehearsed interview answers).”

A client on the job market, in social sciences

Four Tips for Getting Hired at a Christian University (A Guest Post)

Today’s anonymous author is a tenured professor in the field of religion at a mid-sized Christian University. He has sat on and chaired numerous search committees for both faculty and administrative hires. He sees the enormous stack of applicants for each open position, but insists that there are certain methods for distinguishing yourself from the crowd.

I realize that I am fortunate to follow this horrendous academic job market from the other side of the desk. With that said, in every search, I see scores of applicants make simple mistakes that sink their candidacy. Here are some common-sense tips when applying to a Christian University. Remember, the faculty and administration at my type of institution see themselves quite differently. My advice applies specifically for member schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), but it is also may be helpful for any institution with some religious affiliation.

  1. Research the School’s History

You must research the religious heritage of the institution and situate your candidacy accordingly. For example, if you applying to any of the Methodist related institutions, such as Greenville College, then you should be able to speak to Wesleyan theology and its influence on your own career trajectory. If you are applying to a Jesuit institution such as Santa Clara University, explain why you would want to work there if you are not Jesuit. Anything is helpful. Did you go to a Mennonite high school or were you deeply influenced by the writing of Yoder? Then you should inform the search committee of Eastern Mennonite University. Just a couple of sentences can demonstrate that you have some familiarity with the religious culture of the institution.

[NOTE:  Of course, you need to research and get a feel for the way this is played out. For example, Johns Hopkins University and Earlham School of Religion were both founded by Quakers. But obviously, the Quaker influence will be much more pronounced on the latter school.]

  1. Show Your Integration of Faith and Learning

The idea of the integration of faith and learning is pretty important for these schools. Be sure to demonstrate how faith informs your field. If you are a sociologist, you may want to explain how faith compels you to develop your research regarding income discrepancies along racial categories. If you are a biologist, you could speak to the wonder of creation that nurtured a love for all living things. Be sure to speak to tangible ways that this integration of faith and learning influences your teaching.

  1. A Hiring Committee is Not a Dissertation Committee

If you are coming from a top tier PhD program, remember that these schools want to be academically respectable (and generally speaking, I believe that they are), but that also have other mandated missions, particularly service to society and communities of faith. I’ve seen colleagues at my school make the assumption that “Candidate A went to (insert prestigious R1) so I’m worried that he/she will not be satisfied teaching our heavy load in this type of environment.” I personally believe that these assumptions are tremendously unfair. But if you finished your PhD at Harvard, remember that you do not need to prove that you are smart. Instead, you need to prove that your heart matches the institutional mission, which may involve an outreach beyond the academe.

  1. Be Authentic

I know that the nebulous idea of “fit” is maddening to candidates. But if you cannot do #1-3 authentically, then you will be absolutely miserable at a school like mine. If it’s not a fit, then it may be better to move on to another type of school where you truly be yourself!


What an Editor Does- STEM edition (Fruscione #postac post)

by Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

For the first installment of this series, I talked with three editors doing Humanities or Social Sciences-based work—in other words, my comfort zone. Since I’ve been telling current and would-be post-acs to expand their networks and get out of their comfort zones, I’m taking my own advice in writing about something far afield from my training in literary studies: STEM editing.

There’s some overlap between my typical copy editing and proofreading work and that which these and other STEM editors do regularly: getting details right, trimming text, fixing grammar and style, finding extra spaces and other typos, and “translating” complex work for a wide audience. The most successful freelancers typically have connections outside their chosen field(s). If you’re exceptionally good at proofreading or making text more concise, a client might want an editor with a different background and knowledge base. I’ve been chosen to edit pieces on religious history, business leadership, international development, and defense contracting because I brought an objective, detail-obsessed set of eyes to the projects. Just as you should try to avoid self-selecting out of certain jobs, your background shouldn’t necessarily dissuade you from applying outside your field. For instance, STEM client dealing with projects for a wide audience might appreciate the sensitivity to language and audience a former Rhet/Comp professor can offer.

Mededitor (another colleague from Editing Twitter) writes, commissions, assigns, and edits articles about science, medicine, and the business of medical practice. (He also has a great Tumblr on language and usage.) This includes forays into law, finance, regulation, and similar matters. For him, “this work demands a well-rounded body of knowledge and isn’t a field one would enter directly. Rather, these skills took a fair amount of time to acquire through general editing work and journalism.” As I did with Benjamin Dreyer in my previous piece, I asked Mededitor about any experiences or concerns he’s had with academics transitioning into STEM editing:

My greatest concern would be that the person would lack experience in editing the work of others. Knowledge of the field of medicine isn’t really required to edit medical materials. With an Internet connection, everything can be researched and checked. What is needed most is the ability to take turgid, clumsy, and unfocused prose and turn it into polished, coherent material. The errors most often encountered aren’t mistakes in fact. They are problems of composition. However, academics from disciplines in the Humanities who have extensive backgrounds in grading and correcting student essays may have developed skill in this area.

If you have these kinds of transferable skills, you might be a promising fit for an editing job with a STEM client seeking accessible, polished writing for a variety of readers. Teaching writing-intensive courses for undergraduates and graduate students, collaborating on a research project or presentation, editing a collection, and similar projects all may have required evaluating and revising others’ work.
A fellow post-ac editor whose academic background has helped advance her career, Viviane Callier is a Senior Science Writer at a consulting company that supports such federal agencies as NIH and the EPA. She writes a lot of meeting summaries, teleconference minutes, and technical reports, as well as does some freelance writing. For her:

My scientific background definitely helps me understand the meetings I attend. The material is highly technical in some cases, so I rely on my scientific knowledge to understand the presentations and discussions. My background also helps me understand how the committees and review panels that I support work. The main difficulty is learning how to write for a variety of audiences. Sometimes, the audience is a group of scientists, but sometimes the document is public and anyone (with or without a scientific background) should be able to understand it. Some clients prefer detailed summaries, whereas others prefer a more synthetic, big-picture view. Understanding what each client wants is key.


A post-ac STEM job might entail making complex arguments and research accessible for an uninformed audience. Viviane has “had to ruthlessly purge academic jargon” from her own professional work, as well as work on “tighter deadlines” than she did as an academic. Whether your academic background was in STEM, Humanities, or something else, you should be prepared to work with tighter turnaround times and deadlines; I’ve heard from a handful of professionals that some post-acs have struggled in making the transition to careers with less flexible deadlines. If you’re good with deadlines and timeliness, stress such abilities in cover letters and interviews.

Closer to home for me is Jill Thomas, an editor at the U.S. Department of Justice who comes from a Humanities background. Jill primarily edits for consistency and understanding: “I approach each piece as a general reader, meaning if I don’t understand it, then someone else won’t either. We ultimately try for plain language, which can be difficult to obtain in some STEM fields.” Jill’s work echoes what Gwendolyn Beetham does in translating academic work for a broader audience. For Jill:

My preferred editing style is Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method, which strives for clear and concise sentences. I work for a statistical agency, which requires editing numerous tables and figures. For these, I refer to published reports and use context clues across the report to edit for consistent information. Each table and figure must be able to stand alone separate from the text, so it falls on me to ensure that each component has been included.

Such editing work is possible for post-acs from various backgrounds. When applying for jobs outside academia, it’s always helpful to know how employers view those of us transitioning careers, which can help you frame a cover letter, present yourself in an interview, or revise your LinkedIn profile:

I look for the ability to communicate clearly and compromise, as well as a meticulous eye for detail. Editing is a lot like teaching, as the interaction between author and editor is very similar to the interaction between student and teacher. It’s a dance to strive for clarity while not stepping on the author’s toes. My teaching background helped me understand that how I approach the author with my edits impacts how likely they will be incorporated. Queries are generally better than demands, and praise is sometimes necessary to make the author comfortable with your suggestions. If an author doesn’t like an edit but you feel strongly, then suggest working together to come up with a compromise.

Jill’s interaction with her authors echoes the developmental editing Liana M. Silva and others do. As writers, we’re always supposed to know and consider our audience; as editors, we should make sure we know and consider our authors, too. Some may need more guidance or encouragement than others—perhaps in the same ways our students once did, too.

Regardless of your field, make sure you keep connecting with professionals from different disciplines and career levels—both these three editors and others doing similar work. That dissertation you may have written in a Women’s Studies or History department may, in unexpected ways, have prepared you to edit or proofread something in a subject area you thought you’d never be reading. As a post-ac, you have many of the adaptable writing and editing skills different kinds of employers value—regardless of how close or far away you are from your comfort zone.


In the next installment of this series, I’ll be writing about editors who’ve worked with scholars and graduate students inside academia, as well as addressing potential successes and struggles for academics who’ve worked with editors. Feel free to contact me if you’ve worked with an editor on a scholarly project.

What an Editor Does (and Can Do) – Joe Fruscione

By Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Editing, like writing, is fluid. The work ranges from handling multiple drafts, nip-tucking to meet the required length, and fine-tuning a text to running a blog, column, or book series. It can be a welcome career for post-acs, because many kinds of editing draw from academic experience. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve done some developmental editing and consulting for graduate students. Colleagues such as Laura Fowler Graham and fellow TPII consultant Margy Thomas Horton do similar work, which is great for gaining experience and recommendations.

To give a sense of the spectrum of editing jobs and skills, I called on my Twitter circle: two former academics and one long-time copy editor. I asked them about the kinds of work they regularly do, as well as about the usefulness of academic experience in an editing career. Academic skills are transferable for editing, but not always automatically or flawlessly.

Gwendolyn Beetham, who does content and copy editing for University of Venus and Feministing, works on “translating” academic work for a larger audience:

This type of translation can be a challenge, since many academic disciplines use specific terminology not widely understood outside the discipline, let alone academia. And we are rewarded for presenting ideas this way in the academic context, so scholars are sometimes resistant to leaving more obscure terminology behind. But this is also part of the reason I do this work—I have dedicated most of my career to bridging the “activist/practice” divide. For me, there is no greater reward than helping scholars get their ideas out of the tower, or giving someone in the non-academic community access to powerful feminist theory.  

If you’re still engaged with the research you did—or perhaps are still doing—in academia, work like Gwendolyn’s can help you segue into a new career. Having the ability to help academics be, well, less academic in their writing is valuable and marketable, so foreground it in a cover letter or interview.

Another fellow post-ac, Liana M. Silva, does work similar to Gwendolyn’s, as well as developmental editing. She started as a Managing Editor for Sounding Out! A Blog About Sound Studies, and then branched out to freelance work before landing her current job as Editor-in-Chief for the professional newsletter Women in Higher Education.

I was doing developmental editing before I even knew it was developmental editing. For me, it was the approach we had (and still have) at Sounding Out!: we consider every first post an initial draft. So we help them hone their ideas, bring other sources to their attention, and ask them to consider questions about the relationship of sound to other issues.

If you’ve taught writing in your courses or written your own dissertation or thesis, you have the transferable skills required for overseeing a project through multiple stages:

Because of my training as editor and experience as a first-year composition instructor, I became comfortable with writers’ drafts and helping them see the potential past the first one. I enjoy engaging with their ideas on an abstract level, talking with writers about their work and watching them push it further.

Such developmental work can be fulfilling and engaging, especially when the writer appreciates the time and effort it takes to shape multiple versions. It’s another important skill to emphasize when marketing yourself professionally.

Like (Post-)Academic Twitter, Editing Twitter is a wellspring of good ideas, lively discussions, and experienced people from diverse backgrounds. Benjamin Dreyer—Vice President, Executive Managing Editor, & Copy Chief at Random House—offers useful information about trade publishing. He runs a department at Random House, so he only occasionally works on specific titles. As he reminds us,

A copy editor’s responsibilities are the same as they’ve always been: to check spelling and grammar, to point out logistical problems (e.g., plot holes) or other inconsistencies, to make note of pet words an author is overusing, and so on. As I always say, a copy editor’s job is to help make a book into the best possible version of itself it can be.

At one point, I considered trade publishing as a career path; I still might pursue it on a freelance basis, but not without heeding Benjamin’s advice:

This work is done almost invariably on a freelance basis, and is supervised by in-house production editors. If I have a particular concern about potential copy editors who are coming from an academic background, it’s that they tend to copyedit a bit too severely and strictly. Knowing and applying the basic rules of prose is of course a great thing; actually listening to an author’s voice is just as important.

Post-ac job seekers should know what trade publishing entails. The trick, as always, is gaining meaningful experience. As Benjamin reminds us, “It helps, at least as far as Random House is concerned, for a potential freelancer to already have a good amount of experience, and even reasonably experienced potential freelancers may be asked to take a copy editing or proofreading test.” Such tests are common in publishing, whether it’s trade, scholarly, or something else. You might need to review the nitty-gritty rules of grammar, spelling, and usage you’ve perhaps not had to think about for a while.

As Liana points out, “academics who want to delve into editing must remember that it is not like teaching writing or exchanging drafts with your peers or peer review. When you edit, you make decisions about what works or what doesn’t. Don’t tell them to add a comma; go ahead and add it. My rule is, if the problem is at the level of ideas, of content, I will ask about the sentence or offer a suggestion. If the problem is in how it’s phrased, I’ll make the change. Editors can make those changes! But that doesn’t mean we should be rude about it either. Writers are people too—and chances are editors are also writers.”

I’ve also learned a lot from #CopyeditingProTip, which Benjamin and many others use to rant about/calmly discuss common misspellings (“soft-peddle”), redundant phrases (“12 midnight”), incorrect usages (“Daylight Savings Time,” or “Frankenstein” for the name of the creature), when to use an en-dash, and other issues. Join in and see the different issues that come up—and, more importantly, to prepare yourself for the kinds of knowledge and connections you’ll need regardless of whether you’re doing copy, developmental, or another kind of editing.

My only other advice is to continue your post-ac networking—Always Be Connecting, remember—and follow these and other experienced, supportive editors on Twitter or LinkedIn. A key step in figuring out the ideal post-ac career path is to connect with mentors and others doing the kinds of work you’d like to do. Gwendolyn, Liana, Benjamin, and other editors have a lot to say: find them and learn from their experience. Such professional connections can, if we rethink something Benjamin said above, help make you into the best possible post-ac version of yourself you can be.


The Teaching-Centric Letter

In response to many requests, I am devoting today’s post to the teaching-centric letter.  The absence of a post on this subject before now might seem surprising on a blog that purports to cover every aspect of the academic job search.  But that absence was intentional.  The fact is, very few tenure track jobs outside of community colleges actually need a teaching-centric letter, and this is a point of great confusion among job seekers.  Many liberal arts colleges, mid-rank universities and small teaching colleges claim to be “teaching-focused,” and “student-centric,” but decisions about hiring and tenure will nevertheless be firmly focused on research.

Job seekers routinely mis-identify the jobs that require a teaching-focused letter, because they naively take institutional rhetoric about the importance of teaching at face value.  As I said, the vast majority of institutions, departments, and positions weight research far more heavily than teaching, regardless of the PR on their websites.  (See this guest post on the inner workings of a search at just such a department).

However, there are indeed times when a teaching focused letter is appropriate.  Those include:

  • For a community college
  • For jobs seeking Masters level hires
  • For a temporary replacement hire at a teaching focused institution
  • For an ongoing instructor position at any institution, as long as it carries no research expectation whatsoever; this will be clear from the ad, which will make no reference to research in any way.
  • For tenure track positions at teaching colleges and liberal arts colleges that are low-ranked; regional; possibly religiously-affiliated.  The well known SLACs [Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, Davidson, Smith, Grinnell, and so on] should get research-focused, NOT teaching-focused, letters.

With regard to the third position type listed above, note that temporary replacements (ie, Visiting Assistant Professorships) at research-oriented universities and elite SLACs will likely need to see a letter that balances research and teaching equally. In other words, while the teaching is of course central, and the candidate will need to reference specific courses listed in the ad, the committee’s deliberations will likely weight the research profile of the candidates heavily, because they want active researchers even among their temporary faculty).

If after careful thought and consultation with mentors, you determine that a position does indeed require a teaching-centric letter, then begin by reading the blog posts The Dreaded Teaching Statement: 8 Pitfalls, The Weepy Teaching Statement, Just Say No, Teaching: Not When and Where but What and How  and When I Say Be Specific, What Do I Mean? and at all costs avoid blathering on about your love of and passion for student learning. Keep your emotions about the teaching enterprise to yourself.  While I know that you are convinced that your passion sets you apart, in an environment in which everyone is peddling the same passion, it functions only as white noise.  For more on that, please see my post, Those Twelve Sentences.

If the job posting states that you may be expected to teach specific classes, you must address those classes specifically, and describe the teaching method, approach, readings, and assignments you’ll use.  If no courses are identified by name, then address the bread-and-butter classes you will likely be expected to handle.  It is unlikely that a teaching-only ad will be asking for sophisticated small seminars; chances are, you are being hired to teach the large intro courses, surveys, methods courses, and so on (but judge each ad on its own merits).

Base your letter on the following template; you can of course adjust the phrasing, but stick to this order of approach:



Professor XXX, or if name unknown, “Search Committee Chair”
Street Address
City, State Zip

Dear Professor XXX/Chair of Search Committee:

PARA 1: I am applying for job X in the department Y.  My Ph.D. is in XXX, from the University of XXX, in the field of XXX (20XX).  I am currently XXX.  My teaching specializations are XXX and YYY, with an additional expertise in ZZZ.

PARA 2:  My teaching focuses on… [your core teaching philosophy with key thematics and goals relevant to your discipline and subfield, as appropriate].  For example, in XXX course, I use YYY readings to help students understand ZZZ, with the goal of increasing their awareness of QQQ….  Similarly in YYY course, I….   Etc. [2-3 courses in total; these will respond to the courses mentioned in the ad, or be the basic courses you are likely to be asked to teach].  I am also prepared to teach courses such as XXX, YYY, and ZZZ.  [Do not tether any of your past teaching experiences or courses named to the other campuses at which you taught; render your teaching capacities as general and portable.]

PARA 3: My success in the above efforts has led to: awards, increased responsibility [no runner-up “almost” awards].  My effectiveness in the classroom is attested by my quantitative evaluations. [1 or 2 quantitative averages, no cheesy student quotes].

PARA 4: Additional areas of teaching/pedagogy focus [discipline specific], study abroad, directing a program, innovative curriculum, etc.  Here address any additional pedagogical requirements mentioned by the ad.

PARA 5:  Research description [if you have/if necessary for the job—not necessary for teaching-ONLY instructor positions].  Approximately six sentences: your dissertation topic; its material/data/texts; its theoretical or conceptual approach; the questions/themes pursued; your core conclusion; contribution to the field.

PARA 6: Publications [if you have/if necessary for the job—not necessary for teaching-ONLY instructor positions]

PARA 7: X and Y make this job particularly appealing/your department particularly attractive.  [To write this paragraph, also consult the blog posts How to Tailor a Cover Letter (Without Flattering, Pandering, or Begging) and Tailoring: Beginning and Advanced; focus on courses to develop, teaching synergies with current faculty, and program or curriculum potential.]

PARA 8: I look forward to hearing from you soon.  Thank you.





An Inconvenient Truth (A Guest Post)

A reader got in touch to tell me about an infuriating experience at a recent conference. I asked her to write it up as a guest post, and here it is. Professors: stop the madness. Tell graduate students the goddamned truth.


Dear Karen,

I just attended the annual conference for the XXXX Association. All was going swimmingly until the final panel of the conference, which was led by a group of graduate students from an R1 program that is prominent in my discipline. They had clearly been sent by their institution to promote their program and encourage others to consider pursuing a doctorate there. There is nothing inherently wrong with this shameless self-promotion, I suppose, but when one of the PhD candidates on the panel announced that the interdisciplinary program boasted 60 PhD students, I was shocked, and then angered. You see, as a contingent faculty member who has been on the job market for a tenure-track position for 2 years, I wondered if these PhD candidates had any idea what lies ahead for them in their pursuit of the ever-elusive tenure-track assistant professorship.

So I asked them what their post-PhD plans were – if they planned to continue their scholarship through Academia or through an alternate course. The naivete of their responses demonstrates quite clearly what is wrong with higher education, and specifically, doctoral programs that aim to attract large doctoral cohorts.

I was befuddled when the first PhD candidate stated that if he couldn’t find a tenure-track position at an R1, there would be reasonable alternatives at elite liberal arts colleges. I then asked what I think was a much needed follow-up question: “How many of you are aware that only around 25% of faculty across all U.S. higher education institutions are tenured or on the tenure-track?”


Then, a very sweet female PhD candidate announced that she could continue her research for a while after her defense and write a book until she was able to land a job.

I asked her how she planned to fund her research and whether she had been awarded any external grants.

More silence.

I looked around the audience for some support. Yes, my questions were pointed, but I was delicate and supportive. These graduate students needed to consider the realities of the job market.

And then, a colleague I had met the day before chimed in: “If you can’t find a tenure-track position right away, if you’re married, you can always ask for a spousal hire. That’s how I got my job at XXXX University. My husband was offered a tenure-track job in XXXX Department, and he insisted that they hire me, too.”

At this point, I’m pretty sure I saw a unicorn dancing over a rainbow towards a leprechaun holding a pot of gold. Did that really just happen? Did my colleague just tell these students not to worry because they could be hired if their spouse was made an offer?

I was dumbfounded. And then, clearly defeated by the most illogical advice ever, I sat silently until the end of the presentation.

I turned to my colleague and asked if she had ever been an adjunct. She had.

I still don’t know what to make of her advice. Perhaps she was just being polite. Fortunately, a number of the PhD students on the panel pursued me afterwards and thanked me for my candor. I had given them something to think about. Mission accomplished, for now.

Since returning from the conference, I’ve realized that I may have been the only, or at least one of the only contingent faculty members attending my discipline’s expensive annual conference. At a total cost of more than $1200 for travel, hotel, meals, and the conference fee, I doubt many contingent faculty could afford to attend. I was fortunate, in that my institution paid the full bill for me to attend.

The under-representation of contingent faculty at my annual conference is egregious, especially given that it is a discipline devoted to social justice, but perhaps that’s a guest post for another time. And so I was the lone adjunct telling the inconvenient truth of the academic job market to a group of spectacularly bright young scholars, whose naivete is likely to continue until they officially enter the races with me and the thousands of other tenure-track hopefuls.

But hey, at least they have the option of a spousal hire…if they’re married, that is.

Yours truly,

One disgruntled adjunct

One-Body Problem Postscript: Don’t Be Sibyl, Be Selective

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

In response to my series on “The One Body Problem,” reader S.R. asked me to

“say a little more about ways of managing these different roles psychologically and mentally? How to switch between roles quickly and without lag time? How to switch on the right persona at the right time, without letting the ‘other’ persona seep in or otherwise get in the way??

These are great (and TOUGH) questions!

Let me start by saying that a dual Ac/Alt search is definitely easier for people who are more extroverted or have experience with improvisational modes – they don’t hold any given persona too tightly and are quick to follow the cues of any given situation.  The multi-pronged search will be particularly draining not only for those who like familiar routines, but also for shy or introverted people, especially when the Alt/Post search involves entering new arenas.

This is why I discussed personality in Part 3 of the blog series: folks who thrive in predictable structures should NOT choose the “Sibyl” option and should segment their Ac/Alt searches (even within shorter periods of the same year) rather than running simultaneous searches.  You will feel more coherent and efficient this way.  Likewise, very shy or introverted people need to develop a good pace for the networking or application process so you have time to recharge.  In networking, for example, your model might be to make one new contact a week or month, while a more extroverted performer might take a single day to meet with 4 or 5 people.

While you can’t control application deadlines, the configuration of your search process IS something you can shape, so choose logistics you can live. One size does NOT fit all. You need to select whatever process makes you feel most comfortable and competent, not one that drives you crazy.  You may think you are “foregoing” great opportunities if you don’t go all out and apply for anything and everything. But you won’t increase your chances of success if you don’t feel good about, and in, the search process.

A crucial and possibly counterintuitive point: the successful search is NOT a numbers game.  I know folks who applied to 100 jobs and landed 3 interviews and others who applied to only 10 jobs and landed 3 interviews.  In my own case, as I joked in an earlier column (because it’s so improbable), I applied to exactly one tenure track job in the past 3 years and got it.  Success doesn’t depend on the volume of applications, but on their fit.  (And plain, dumb, luck). You need to be discerning and selective about what to apply for, customizing your materials as much as possible to emphasize that fit.  Networking helps a lot – both by informing you about what an employer is really looking for, and (especially in the Alt/Post-Ac world) increasing the chances that they may actually solicit your application.

To the larger points raised by S.R., I would use the analogy of being bilingual. There’s a double learning curve to developing fluency in two languages and it needs to be front loaded. However, once a general competency is achieved, switching back and forth is more organic or seamless. Your vocabulary or roles become very familiar and it doesn’t take much mental work to re-enter them. In the case of job-searching, the process is supported by written documents which get more refined with experience and can readily “remind” you of who you need to be in any given context.  In fact, revising those documents is itself the “rehearsal” that prepares you to play your part(s) with conviction.

Of course, as with bilingual folks, occasionally the “other” words seep out. That is par for the course and usually the stakes aren’t high for small foibles or mix-ups.  It’s the larger struggles you need to watch out for – i.e. mixed vocabulary or genres that will make you seem incoherent or unintelligible in any given application.  This probably means you are too tired, working too quickly, or have taken on too much volume in applications to pay sufficiently nuanced attention.  Remember, it’s not a numbers game.  It’s about finding the fit. You know you have a good fit when the words and ideas come easily, when you DON’T have trouble remembering your persona in a particular application context.

If the dual search process ends up feeling too difficult or inauthentic to you, it’s a clue that you are barking up the wrong tree(s). Even with the logistical challenges and mental complexity involved in the One Body problem,” you should still feel surges of positive engagement and interest in both paths: otherwise you shouldn’t be on them – they’re not for you, and you won’t be a convincing applicant.

Finally, though, there’s the possibility of a really wonderful form of “seepage” where the dual process reveals a BRIDGE between searches and personas: when something from the academic side illuminates a contribution you might make to an Alt-Ac job or vice-versa — something you learned from interviewing for a non-academic position informs a future faculty application. Such moments of resonance or synergy can make you a more compelling applicant on either path and more importantly, continue to clarify who you really are and what you really want.

So, if you can stand it, there is much to be learned from engaging in both academic and Alt/Post-Ac searches over the same general period of time.  But as I delineated in Part 3 of this series, the WAY you do that can and should vary according to your own preferences and needs.  You only have one body.  Take care of it!

Adjectives Are Not Arguments, Part I

It is time that all of you grasped a simple yet profound truth of academic writing: adjectives are not arguments.

Simply repeating the words:

  • complex
  • multivalent/multidirectional/multiplicitous
  • unique
  • diasporic
  • transnational
  • intersectional

over and over in your documents, does not suggest that you have a coherent project, or make a compelling point, or advance an original argument.

The first three adjectives on the list above are the worst, because they are, frankly, pointless. Tell me a Ph.D. research project that is NOT on a complex, multiplicitous, or unique topic.  Tell me. Tell me!  There is none!  None!


Therefore, to mobilize these words to describe your work is to say, precisely, nothing. They are white noise and devoid of meaning.  Indeed, they make an implicit straw man move, because you are always implying that something “out there” — some topic, phenomenon, or analysis — is simple and unitary and entirely derivative.  But that’s patently untrue, and you know it.

So stop implying it.

It’s a stealth form of grad student grandiosity.

“Complex” is far and away the worst culprit.  Rather than try to tell you about how bad this epidemic is, I’ll show you, by giving you a collection of cases that I gathered in less than one week at the Professor Is In.

  • This work surveys [XX composer’s] complex influence on the musical poetics of authors
  • this book offer a more complex narrative of the relationship between sexuality, consumer culture and power.
  • Four case studies of XXX are used to illuminate this complex nation building process.
  • a particularly effective means of demonstrating the complex cultural logics that form the common sense assumptions underlying political power.
  • many opportunities to discuss the complex interrelationship of structural and cultural forces that reproduces urban poverty.
  • [XXX’s] place was more complex and profound not only in the history of nation, but also that of region as a whole
  • I challenge students to immerse themselves in the complex socio-cultural contexts surrounding each text.
  • Chinese XXX actually has a long, complex history.
  • I examine the complex interplay of publishing, reading, and circulation that imbued vernacular fiction with meaning in early modern XXX
  • My second article, xxxx, analyzes the complex strategies employed by a highly acculturated ethnic population.

Don’t think that transforming the adjective complex into the noun complexity helps, by the way.

  • This role-playing exercise builds skills while also building a deeper understanding of the complexities of globalization.
  •  Understanding this past complexity prepares us for the challenge of working to improve…

And don’t think that substituting some other tired adjective for complex makes it any better:

  • My research examines the intricate relationship between religion and politics in [XXX]

No, this is all just a cheap and–i’ll just go ahead and say it–lazy substitute for actual engagement in ideas.  Do better. Dig deeper.  Find things to say about the world, and about your work, that are meaningful and substantive, and not just a placeholder adjective that mimics substance while saying nothing at all.

In another post, I will take up the problem with the repetition of more substantive terms like these:

  • diasporic
  • transnational
  • intersectional

These are words that seem important and meaningful, but are often so simplistically over-repeated in the space of a single document, in place of an actual developing argument, that they too come to function like mere white noise.  I’ll take that up next week.


3 Stories From #Post-ac Consulting – Jessica Langer

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

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

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

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


by Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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