In Response to Popular Demand, More on the 5-Year Plan

This is a repost of an older post.  It follows sequentially from last week’s on the five-year plan.


In response to the flood of inquiries about what, exactly, a 5-Year Plan should look like, following on last week’s post, Why You Need a Five-Year Plan, I am sharing the plan produced many years ago by my first Ph.D. student, who is now an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at an R1 institution. (2014 update: she just got tenure!)

This student was the rock star of 5-Year Plans.  I first encountered her as an undergraduate student.  She began working with me then on an independent study, and then proceeded on to graduate school with me as her advisor.  She finished her Ph.D. in 7 years, and this included lost time from a switch of institutions when I moved to take my second job.  From her earliest days in graduate school, she had a 5-year plan.  She updated it annually and always shared it with me.

The plan I reproduce here dates from about her 3rd year of graduate school.  2003 shows a series of deadlines for submission to the major conferences in her field—the Association of Asian Studies and the American Anthropological Association.   November of 2003 shows the multiple deadlines for dissertation fieldwork fellowships.  June and July 2004 show her preliminary exams, and August includes her proposal defense (this followed the requirements of the program).  August 2004 also shows that she is finishing a book chapter (her first publication), and moving to Japan for fieldwork.  December of 2004 shows deadlines for dissertation writing grants to take up the following year, after return from fieldwork.  I believe, although I can’t exactly recall, that JPN: Genders, which appears in Dec. ’03, then in June ’04, and again in September ’05, was a refereed journal article that she was working on.

You will note that 2006 and 2007 are mostly empty except for continuing major conference submission deadlines, and an anticipated defense date.   This was typical, and as these years drew closer they were filled in.

I’m not 100% sure what all the colored arrows refer to, but they seem to refer to time “chunks,” as in, “time in the field,” “summer,” and so on.

In sifting through the many reactions to the 5-year plan idea on facebook and twitter and in the comment stream to the post, I have gotten the  impression that for many readers, the 5-year plan feels like a large, epic, “major life goals” kind of endeavor.  

But as you can see from this example, it’s really more of a “stay on top of deadlines” kind of endeavor.  

And now, let me be perfectly clear.  

Staying on top of deadlines is exactly what allows a person to achieve  huge life goals.  

Yes, I’m quoting Thomas Edison:  “success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration.”  The people who succeed in getting into the national conference are, first and foremost, the ones who actually remember to submit the proposal to the national conference, by the deadline, properly formatted.

One of the most important outcomes of the 5-year plan is that you never miss a submission deadline for a conference or a funding opportunity.  As you learn of new conferences and funding opportunities, you simply add them in, without losing track of the other deadlines. You also plan out a publication schedule, and put your own deadlines for submission to journals there in the plan.  And money racks up, and publications rack up, and networks rack up, and voila, the cumulative effect 5 years later is—an epic CV that gets you an epic job offer, or tenure.

This student obtained, in total, some $200,000 of research funding in graduate school (in cultural anthropology–a field that does not have massive grants), in addition to her basic TA funding package.  She had several publications before finishing, and secured a tenure track position at an R1 institution in her first year on the market.  She is solidly on track for tenure, and this past year she won another major research fellowship that gave her a year’s leave time for new fieldwork on a second project.

While many people certainly accomplish these things without a 5-year plan in an Excel grid, I am confident that in this student’s case, her prodigious level of organization kept her on track, productive, and out ahead of the competition at each step of the game.

Example of a 5-Year Plan

You Have an Interview. Now What? — Fruscione #3

From this week we are moving from a general “buck up, little soldier”  support for your decision to transition to the post-ac search, toward targeted advice about the search itself.  We’ll be focusing on all the core elements of the job search–resumes, job letters, interviewing, etc.  Over time most of the panel of experts will be weighing in on each of these topics, so you’ll get a variety of viewpoints on what to do, and how to do it.  Today Joe talks about a recent interview, how he prepared for it, and how he is framing the experience even though he didn’t get the job. I appreciate that, by the way.  This transition requires throwing a lot of pasta at a lot of walls to see what sticks, and rejections will be part of the experience.  Don’t get discouraged–learn from them!  It’s a new world and it will take a while to figure out your place in it.

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione



When you get an interview for a post-ac job, you shouldn’t experience the kinds of horror stories academics sometimes share. (Say, an interviewer reclining on a bed and asking no actual questions.) Navigating the process as a post-ac job seeker may be tricky, but at least you can expect to meet in a conference room or hiring manager’s office.

I was fortunate to get an interview for the first post-ac job to which I’d applied: it began with a pre-screening phone discussion. I’d talked to a Twitter friend—who originally told me about the job opening—to get some basic information. Having some background, such as what the hiring manager wanted from an editor, helped me prepare. I’d also learned that the hiring manager was concerned that I’d be overqualified. An additional tricky part is that the company does science consulting—clearly a far cry from the literary studies work I’d been doing for almost 15 years. I knew I’d have to address this, as well as emphasize that more experience would make me a stronger editor.


The pre-screening began as I’d expected: Why are you leaving your career as a professor? I gave her a short, positive version: Given the academic job market, I’m looking for a new field that lets me draw on my strong editing and proofreading skills. We discussed the projects they handle and some recent editing work I’d done. In response to her concern about my being overqualified, I said, As I see it, my experience will make me a stronger editor, because I’ve commented on a lot of writing. (Prepare several answers to the “overqualified” question, depending on the position.)

By the end we’d scheduled an in-person interview for the following Wednesday. Things went well. I met with four people: the hiring manager and three writer/project managers. The first question was expected: How does your background in literature prepare you for editing science writing? I responded:


The content is different, but my skills as a writing professor, author, and editor are transferable. I’ve always had strong copy editing and proofreading skills, which I’ve strengthened with some recent projects.


When asked about how I multitask, I drew from my years of teaching de facto 4-4 loads across two universities:


I used to have 70-80 students per semester requiring different kinds of class prep and assignments, and I stayed organized and on schedule while doing my own research and professional work.


At their request, I showed them some recent edited projects I’d done, explained the editing needs for each one, and provided references.

I sold myself and my skills as well as I could, and at some level I assuaged doubts about how my English background could translate into editing scientific writing. At the end, I talked with the hiring manager about logistics and my desired salary (Is the $70,000/year range doable?, I asked). I inquired about their telework policy and learned that, except for emergencies, they don’t do it. Because my wife and I are adopting a baby soon, I’m looking for freelance telework to match our plan for me to be the stay-at-home parent. (I didn’t mention this at the interview, though.)

It’s always smart to end with something like What’s the next step? or When do you anticipate making a decision? to keep communication open. Be professional and tactful, and always write a follow-up note the next day thanking them—even if you think you bombed the interview. Act as if you want the job.

Yet, I didn’t get the job. I had a feeling that they’d choose a comparably experienced editor with a science background. It was frustrating but not demoralizing, because I didn’t need this job. The hiring manager said to check in if I hadn’t heard from her within two weeks: I did, and she replied with the formal rejection email. Nevertheless, I gained a lot of experience and practice describing and marketing my work.


We won’t always have friends on the inside. In these cases, do your homework before an interview: reread the ad; review the website and any social media presence the company has; self-reflect and prepare; make sure your resume stresses the skills and experience of the specific job; ask non-academic friends for advice. As Chris Humphrey reminds us, “The bottom line is that you’ll need a clear rationale for your career change, because a lot of folks still think a PhD = academic.” Craft, practice, share, and refine your story. Be ready to draw on it when you’re asked—and you will be asked—why you’re leaving academia.

This is self-evident, but…don’t forget to stay focused on the interview and organization at hand. They may not know (or care) how bad the academic job market is, or that you (like I did) felt stuck as a full-time part-timer. Practice your career-change story, and have a few positive variations on it for different kinds of jobs.

When eyeing specific jobs and wondering whether to apply, heed some advice I got from a fellow postac expert: don’t self-select out of a job just because you might not seem ideal for it. How many times have we all heard, You never know…? I wound up with a valuable, well-paying editing project that I almost declined applying for because I’m not an expert in its topic area (religious history). In some emails and a phone interview with the project editor (who knew me from Twitter), I sold my lack of expertise as an asset: because I’d be objective, I’d focus primarily on grammar, wordiness, typos, and the like—just the kinds of detail-oriented work they needed. She offered me the job after about 30 minutes of talking You never know, indeed.

As in any interview situation, emphasize your strengths and interest in the position, and mute any criticisms you have (no matter how justified) of the profession you’re leaving. They’ll likely wonder about why you’re changing careers, but they’ll likely care the most about whether you’re capable of doing the work they’re considering hiring you to do.

Why You Are a #Postac Diamond in the Rough – Gover #1

Maggie Gover, Director of Graduate Student Professional Development at UC Riverside, has worked with hundreds of Ph.D.s in their transition to non-academic, alt-academic, and post-academic work.  She will be sharing the knowledge she’s gained in this work.  This is her first post.  In it, she urges Ph.D.s to think of themselves as “diamonds in the rough” for the postac workplace–with manifold skills in complex project management, multitasking, working to deadline, managing and delegating, and a host of other tasks.



by Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover

Maggie Gover


There are so many narratives about the woes of the academic job market, the exploitation of adjunct faculty positions, and the hopelessness of attempting to market your Ph.D. elsewhere. These stories increased when I was completing my Ph.D. They are proliferating still. Amidst these stories I thought, is this really what I want for my life? I had all the anxieties of those finishing a degree and looking around for work. It was my second year on the academic job market. Despite getting a couple of interviews, I hadn’t been offered the coveted campus visit. After winter break, I began seriously searching for a non-academic position.

While beginning this search, I considered what I found most satisfying about my academic career. I discovered that I didn’t have to go far to find all of these characteristics in a non-faculty position. For five years during my Ph.D., I had worked in an administrative office on campus that focused on the recruitment, support, and retention of graduate students from diverse backgrounds. I loved my research, but I also loved meeting with students from all over campus to talk about their own research. Being able to advise students on how to proceed with their graduate careers was satisfying, and—here is the big confession from an English PhD—I truly adore auto-calculating spreadsheets! I had experience working administratively at two other universities and volunteered as an advisor for a student organization at a third (I still do, in fact). So, it turns out, I was very well suited for an “alt-ac” career. I modified my job search materials and went on the market. I was one of the few lucky people I know who had a full-time job that was scheduled to begin two weeks after graduation.

Currently, I serve as the Director of Graduate Student Professional Development at the University of California, Riverside. My job is extremely satisfying to me because it is completely dedicated to supporting graduate students. I coordinate support to help them successfully complete their degrees with the best mental, physical, and emotional health possible. I also help them tackle the academic and non-academic job markets. While my story may seem exceptional, I am here to tell you that it is more common than you think. The longer I work in this capacity, the more past graduate students contact me to tell me about the amazing and wonderful non-academic jobs they have. With each personal story, I learn more about how these people got where they are.

As the academic job market continues to flag in nearly all fields, I have pondered the ethical dilemma of graduate education as a whole. I often come back to the following questions:

Is graduate education still useful? In a word: yes. It is valuable for the individual as well as the larger community. Spending 4-7 years researching a topic that is particularly interesting to you should be seen as a privilege and a joy. Although there may be moments of frustration, for the most part, you should enjoy what you are doing. I do not subscribe to the notion that one must suffer in order to be a good academic. Besides enjoying your research, you are also building skills that, although many still don’t believe it, are valuable in many industries. Ph.D. programs produce analytical thinkers who are trained to look for the far-reaching implications of proposed solutions to problems. They can communicate abstract and complex ideas to audiences with varying degrees of expertise. Ph.D.s are multi-taskers who can sustain one project for a long period of time while simultaneously beginning and completing many smaller projects. They prioritize tasks on daily, weekly, yearly, and even multi-yearly scales. They create timelines and budgets to navigate the esoteric and mundane aspects of their work. They are detail-oriented and can complete complicated tasks. Most have teaching, mentoring, and supervising experience, which means they can train others to do these tasks and delegate work accordingly. In short, society needs more Ph.D.s who are working outside of academia!

Are employers biased against job seekers with Ph.D.s? The rhetoric surrounding the non-academic job market might lead you to believe so. You may feel like Ph.D.s are a dime a dozen. After all, as a graduate student, you are often surrounded by people who are close to completing their Ph.D.s, have recently finished, or who are professors. The articles that rethink the Ph.D., or even attack it, and those narratives about failed job searches in which hundreds of people are vying for the same TT job, might also lead you to believe that the entire world is flooded with Ph.D.s. In actuality, according to statistics from 2013, only around 1.7% of adults in the USA have a Ph.D. (see here for more information). So, you are, in actuality, a diamond in the rough. This rarity means that many employers have never worked with or supervised a PhD. They may not even know one. They don’t know what the degree means, what specialized skills you might have, or why you might want the job they are offering. So, are they biased against Ph.D.s? Probably not. They simply do not understand what holding a Ph.D. means. This is why it is so important to communicate your skills clearly to employers and non-academic audiences.

How can we make Ph.D.s more relevant in the job market? There was a time in the not too distant past where a bachelor’s degree was not required for most jobs. Now, bachelor’s degrees are required for many middle class positions where content knowledge background is not important. You simply need a bachelor’s degree to be considered. For example, at many police departments in the US, you will not be considered for employment without a bachelor’s degree. The degree can be in English literature, history, engineering, or any other seemingly unrelated field. Applicants’ majors don’t matter because the skills learned during their college experience are valued. In many industries, master’s degrees are looked upon in much the same way. As more college graduates entered the job market after WWII, the degree became the norm in many industries. The key now is to get more Ph.D.s working outside of academia where they can show others that Ph.D.s are valuable additions to the workforce.

My plan is to give you specific steps to take so that you can be the next non-academic search success story. My posts will sometimes be motivational and sometimes be woeful. The goal of all my posts is to be specific and useful. Stay tuned for my next blog post which discusses how to effectively convert your CV into a resume. This post will be followed by a webinar with specific examples of such conversions. I invite you to submit your own experiences and documents to serve as our examples. I will remove any identifying markers from the presentation.

In the future, I hope to address networking, cover letters, and identifying your marketable skills. If you have specific questions or topics you would like for me to discuss, please let me know! I am on twitter @MaggieGPhD or


Why You Need a 5-Year Plan

This is a re-post of a previously published post.  In the wind-down weeks of Spring, we will focus on big-picture planning for your career trajectory in the immediate and longer term.


When I trained my own Ph.D. students, I always urged them to create a 5-year plan. Some did it as a list, and some as a grid. Either way, the plan laid out a month-by-month schedule of plans and goals and deadlines for the next five years.  My very first Ph.D. student was a master of the 5-year plan (indeed, she’s the one who inspired me to make it a regular requirement), and she just got tenure at an R1 this spring!

Things that are on the 5-year plan include:

    • Specific writing projects with deadlines for completion, submission, and revision
    • Graduate program deadlines for exams, proposals, and defense
    • Major conferences with deadlines for submission of abstracts and proposals
    • Job market deadlines
    • Major funding deadlines, including both small grants to support short research trips, and large grants to fund dissertation fieldwork.
    • Networking goals, including reminders to get in touch with certain individuals related to emerging new research or writing projects
    • Teaching dates
    • Submission dates for awards and honors

This week I recommended that a client create a five year plan, as part of our work on CV-building, and when she sent back her first draft, she remarked, “Once I began drafting them, I realized how vague and perhaps unrealistic my goals may be – especially in terms of landing a tenure-track job. (Yikes!)   Thinking long term has been so useful, if not startling; I only wish I had thought to map out the next few years sooner!”

I don’t think anybody should ever be in graduate school, or on the tenure-track, without a five-year plan. The proper stance to these endeavors is: look up, evaluate, and adjust, look up, evaluate, and adjust. Spend too much time looking down, at the minutiae of your project, and you’ll find that critical opportunities have passed you by, opportunities to publish, get funding, attend meetings, make connections…

Some of my clients are masters of the five-year plan, and even have things like getting pregnant in there. I admire that, even while I know that “the best laid plans…” You can’t plan for everything (or, you can, but your plans may not work out). But the core point of planning is this: that you’re taking control of your process into your own hands, and not leaving it out there somewhere, in the hands of your advisor, your department, or “fate.” You decide when you’ll write, when you’ll defend, when you’ll publish, and so on. These are all your decisions to make.

Addendum:  please see more on the 5-year plan, with an example, in this follow-up post.

Spinning Your #Postac Web: Networking 101–Cardozo #4

I just came back from giving an all-day series of workshops on the job market at University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and one of the workshops was dedicated to networking. We delved into academic networking, and then we delved into the world of postac/non-ac networking.  I was at pains in both of them to point out that networking is NOT just ‘sucking up to important people.’  Rather, it’s building relationships with a wide variety of people who occupy a variety of positions in your area of professional interest.  As such, it’s not just vertical or hierarchical; rather, think of it as spherical.  Networking includes building relationships with people who occupy a whole range of positions in your various social systems, and not only the powerful movers and shakers. It really is thinking more in terms of a rich and engaging “web” of connections. The uncertainty principle that I talk about in the academic job search applies here too, although differently: in this case, you really NEVER KNOW which of your many connections might ultimately be the conduit to that line on a new position, “in” with the interviewer, or insight into a new professional field.  Be open, and cast your net widely.



by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

You’ve been caught in the sticky web of academia.  Now you need to spin your own web (like Charlotte, you can incorporate your own words and maybe save a life besides).  While making new connections is readily aided and abetted by social media, you shouldn’t underestimate talking to people in real places in real time to find out “what’s out there” and how you can lure it in.

Above all, one thing bears emphasizing:

This process is the antithesis of the academic search!  In few other sectors are job descriptions posted a year in advance of the start date and candidates so expensively, painstakingly, and time-consumingly selected by committee.  While there is plenty of cronyism in academe, typically, faculty hiring is not done unilaterally but through an arduous process designed to solicit (or pretend to solicit) communal input.  The rest of the world operates largely on autocratic and just-in time hiring as well as “right place, right time, right connection” dynamics to slot candidates into positions.  Yes, academe is increasingly a just-in-time operation as well, so networking doesn’t hurt there either, but you take my point: the academic search process (including conference interviews) is not the norm in the wider world of work.

As a result, networking looms particularly large on the Alt/Post-Ac market.  You need to think of “it” as a regular activity, like eating, sleeping, or working out (hmm – have you not done much of those lately either? Remember, taking care of yourself WILL help you perform better on the job market, as well as maintain some perspective). Being engaged in a robust networking practice means you have your ear to the ground, and are steadily increasing your exposure to others whose ears are also to the ground. With all those ears on so much square footage (I wish I were a gifted cartoonist right now), someone will eventually respond when you announce your availability and describe your capabilities and interests.  So, let’s get started with Web Spinning 101 (sounds nicer than networking doesn’t it?).

Who and Where

Selecting your “targets” is often a misunderstood aspect of networking.  For many, the dreaded term conjures up suits and fancy business functions, or hours spent loitering near elevators till you just “happen” to bump into the CEO.  By all means, don’t ignore large, important or relevant gatherings where you can meet up with those who have leadership or hiring influence [obvious contenders:  trade association meetings; conferences (even academic ones); civic events in the region you want to work].

For such events, yes: dress appropriately, carry business cards (you can get simple ones fairly cheaply online with your name and contact info, perhaps including a website with more information) and prepare an “elevator pitch” using one of your major transferable skills:  distillation. You’ve written a dissertation abstract for god’s sake.  You can sum up your life and career goals in 30 seconds, no problem!

However, as the selectivity of FaceBook friends or Linked In connections demonstrates, networking is most effective when someone who knows you well, is invested in seeing you do well, and/or simply wishes you well* is willing to endorse you for a job, meet with you to share advice or information, circulate your resume, or use their own influence to get you in the door.

*Sorry if the tripartite criteria eliminates most of your academic department!

This means that some of the most useful networking is really going to happen in THESE kinds of places and situations:  walking your kid/dog/pet tarantula around town, dinners and parties, coffee shops, the gym, the childcare center, PTO meetings, book club, religious services, weddings, or family and college reunions. Don’t neglect your alumni network either (a concept that makes more sense in U.S. educational contexts than in countries with nationalized public higher education): whether or not YOU feel the bond, the idea that you are somehow kin to those with whom you went to school can be a relatively easy means of finding people who work in fields or places of interest; some alumni or campus career offices will even help you find them.  Especially if you are relatively introverted, THIS is the way network – with people you already know and around whom you are reasonably comfortable.

Don’t presume you know who’s “worth” talking to, either.  While what you know about someone may make it appear that they are not perfectly positioned for your interests, each person has their own friends, family members, and employers, as do their friends, family members and employers!  So just talk.  And then talk some more. [Also, take good notes and keep good records.]  Thus does your web begin to take form….

Don’t get me wrong: I continue to be impressed by the kindness of strangers.  As Wandering Scientist suggests, most people like to talk about themselves, and are genuinely sympathetic about how tough the job market is.  So don’t neglect to reach out to a stranger or pursue something of deep interest because your personal network doesn’t align with it.  Just know that you may have to crank up your creativity and persistence to get seen and heard in such “cold calling” cases.  A higher percentage networking practice involves working outward from your closest personal connections.

What to Say

Your main messages:  1) I am looking for a job—not in a bitter failed-academic way, but in a ready-to-make-an-exciting-change kind of way (fake it till you make it!), 2) I am a good and trustworthy person (i.e. vouching for me will not soil your reputation); 2) I am sensible, smart and versatile: my academic skills along with a, b, and c experiences have left me well-situated to do x, y and z.

Your main questions:  1) Have you heard about any job openings?  2) Can you think of anything that might fit my background in particular? 3) How did YOU get into your job/field? 4) Whom else should I talk to?

SIDEBAR TIP: Unless your contact knows you are unemployed (if you are), it’s always best to present yourself as someone in one work situation looking for a better fit.  Here’s where academe’s baffling inner workings can provide some cover.  You may be thinking, “I only have two months to finish this damn dissertation, and I don’t have a job … AAAGHHH!”  But you can say: “I’m at the University focusing on my research right now, but I’d love to apply what I’ve learned to the nonprofit world.”

Besides communicating the above, the end game is simple:  don’t leave without another lead – a contact name, a tip about a job opening, a suggestion about where to get more information.  If you’re in a limited field or regional search, you will feel the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon effect pretty soon.  You’ll know you’re doing a thorough job when the same information begins to resurface in different settings.  At that point just stay on the radar and keep that ear to the ground.  For anyone willing to entertain a broader search (by function or field or region), networking can be engaged to infinity and beyond.  But hopefully you will land a job before you have to go there!

How and When

No time is “off limits” for networking, so spin your web at every opportunity.  But be sensitive to what can be accomplished when.  You may wish to adjust your tone and approach for, say, a funeral (which suggests—a little gallows humor here—that a job may have just opened up).  Bumping into someone in the grocery store might require a follow-up coffee date or informational interview** rather than forcing your potential mentor to watch their ice-cream melt while you run down your list of attributes.

Always accommodate others as much as possible; be willing to go on their dog walk if that’s when they’re available.  Don’t become the person that they will eventually pretend not to see in the grocery store!  Always, always, say thank you and express your genuine appreciation for the time and support others have given.  And: pay it forward.  Responding to others’ networking inquiries – in addition to being decent – is also an organic way of expanding your own web.


I think you know.

** An informational interview (“I’d love to take you to coffee and learn more about your company/job/career path” or “Could we set up a time for me to come by your office and discuss this a bit more?”) is a great way to accomplish the goals of getting someone on board with your potential job candidacy while gaining information you need..  Both parties tend to have a more genuine exchange when there isn’t a specific job on the line.

However, never think that informational interviews aren’t “real” interviews – they CAN lead to a job if people are impressed by and remember meeting you. So remember: whatever the circumstances, you are always ON when you are networking . While you can’t control the time frame in which results happen, you CAN ensure that you’re “out there” in sufficient measure and appear attractively ripe for the plucking when the right time comes along.

The Top Three Things To Know About Corporate Jobs – Polizzi #4

by Allessandria Polizzi

Dr. Allessandria Polizzi

When I was pregnant with my first child, I bought this book with a very worried looking woman in a horrible maternity outfit called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” They have since updated it with a spunky looking pregnant lady, no longer in a rocking chair, but the gist is the same. We all worry and have lot of questions when facing something new for the first time, especially something daunting and life changing like childbirth.

The same might be said of career change.

Like having a child, your sleep patterns will probably change (I say this from experience having previously enjoyed a midday nap to get me through some late night writing or grading or reading in prep for class). You will probably lose friends because you no longer have as much in common with them, wanting to talk about your new life as much as they want to talk about your old one. There may even come a surreal and existential moment when your look at the change you have made and question yourself, longingly thinking about your former life when you had more control over your schedule and it didn’t take you so long to leave the house.

I say these things not to scare you, but to try and set expectations if you choose to switch from academia to a corporate career. So with that, I would like to share some of my observations about what to expect in a corporate career. I am pulling these from two places: 1) my own transition and 2) having had a few former academics work for me in the past. I am sure this won’t cover everything, which is why I am open to questions. But until then, here are the top 3 things to expect.

1. You will no longer own your time completely –When I was in academia, I was very driven to publish and present in service to beefing up my CV with an eye on a tenure-track position. These deadlines and goals were self driven. I owned my syllabus. I told students when things were due and when I would have them graded. I set my own office hours, and if I had a yoga class at 10, did not have office hours at that time. As mentioned before, if I got tired at 3 (which I still do over a decade later), I could take a nap.

I am sure you can imagine that, some silicon valley start ups aside, napping in the office is, as a general rule, frowned upon (I say “general rule” because I once worked with a guy who would literally pull out a pillow and nap every once and a while. He was a contractor; he didn’t last long). In a corporate position, there are deadlines set by external forces. You are expected to be in the office during normal work hours (and even if they say they have flexibility, I would strongly recommend you be in the office when your boss is in the office… It causes fewer questions. Side note: this was why I enjoyed working for a CA based company. When my boss came in early, it was still 2 hours later for me in Texas, so I could sleep in). While people will say they don’t care abut how you get things accomplished as long as you get the outcome (or they should say this), they only kind of mean it. They really want to know that you are working hard, so being present and visible, available when they have a question is hugely important. They aren’t just paying for your production; they are paying for your time.

2. Politics is nothing compared to stakeholder management: –People talk a lot about politics in the work environment. After having worked in both, here is what I have to say about that: the world is full of people and people make decisions, some of which impact you. It’s how you navigate within this that makes a difference. Managing your manager, be it the head of your department or the person who writes you annual review at ABC Widgets Inc, is something we all have to do if we are going to have someone else worry about the details of where the money comes to pay us or give us benefits. You could say being an independent contractor or entrepreneur would make this less of an issue, but I will let the experts in this space speak to that.

What I can say, however, is that there is another layer in the corporate space that I did not expect. These are called stakeholders. Stakeholders are the folks who believe, either correctly or incorrectly, that they have a “stake” in whatever it is you are doing. Sometimes, it will be obvious who these folks are; other times, you will be shocked to find out that someone unrelated to the project felt left out (& did not support your decision).

Personally, I still struggle with this because there are a lot of inefficiencies, and the more political the culture, the more you will have to deal with it. One thing that has never failed me was advice I had early on in my change management career: identify the opinion leaders you are working with and bring them in the kitchen. Over-communicating to people who, when asked, say that they absolutely agree with the direction you are taking is invaluable, so getting them involved early is extremely helpful.

This seems important to mention to you because it is very different from the academic life (or at least the student one). I found this out when I had my first intern (& have seen it in myself, as well as others). As a student, you are used to being given an assignment, going off by yourself and completing it and then handing it in for a grade. In talking to someone about taking on an intern, she said this was a big issue she had seen with them, as they would take the project assignment, create what they thought was wanted, and then be devastated when there were changes needed (or worse, they got it wrong). This is true of myself and many others I have seen from academia. They don’t realize there is a process called stakeholder management, which has many steps between assignment and completion. There is alignment on outcomes, agreement in goals, draft/initial proposal reviews, and meetings before meetings.

And feedback is not a grade; it’s an opinion. It’s an opportunity for you to get better and improve the outcome. It’s needed, for both yourself and the person giving it. That’s right… The feedback you will receive will be as much about the person giving it feeling important and involved as it is about you and your project. I wish I would have known this when I first started; it would have prevented a lot of heartache.

3. You will get to / have to work with people – people, people everywhere, and rarely a place to think. Between cubicles, and meetings, and group emails, and team off sites, and mid year reviews and annual reviews, you are going to have a lot of people to contend with. When I was teaching, I had three groups of people  around me: students (who I saw only a few hours a week), friends/family (who I also saw a few hours a week), & strangers (at the library, the grocery store, etc). I spent a lot of time by myself reading, writing, and grading. The papers I wrote, for the most part, were written from the comfort of my home, with only the company of a snoring pug and a warm cup of coffee.

In a corporate environment, you will be evaluated on your “how” as well as your “what.” Depending on the company you work for, your “how” (or the way you work with others) can be measured as much if not more than the things you accomplish. Some people would say this is politics, but I see it very differently. It is about how you work with others to accomplish your task, which in many cases will be a team effort and not an independent one. If you hurt someone’s feelings because you said something out of turn (or in my case, too bluntly), you may find yourself attending a training on interpersonal interactions.

Once you get the hang of it, though, it can be a lot of fun. You get to know people in new ways. You also learn a lot about yourself: what you like, what you don’t, what’s energizing, who you can be in a variety of situations. Which is why it is a lot like parenting. You never realize until a few years in that, despite the terrifying experiences of having no idea what you are doing, you are finally able to make it. You will know what you are doing. You will feel confident and capable.

And then you’ll get promoted…


Teaching Teenagers Without Tweed Armor – Tebbe #2

A lot of Ph.D.s contemplating the postac route look closely at the world of high school teaching.  Jason Tebbe is here to tell us what that job looks and feels like.  First surprise: students are more engaged.



by Jason Tebbe

Jason Tebbe

Jason Tebbe


A friend of mine from grad school likes to call the jackets he wears to class his “tweed armor.”  When I was a college professor, that metaphor totally made sense to me.  Getting up in front of large classes, sometimes in lecture halls, meant having to play the part of The Professor.  Part of this meant creating a layer between myself and my students.  My tweed jackets were part of this mystique.

As a grad student I had acquired a few that actually fit me at the local Salvation Army.  Some of my peers mocked or chided me for getting dressed up for the classroom, but I thought looking the part would help win me respect from students, and give me the confidence I needed.

Now that I am a high school teacher, I still wear my tweed, but usually only to keep warm or look professional, not to create some kind of aura or to armor myself in the classroom.  Being a high school teacher is very different in many respects from being a college professor, and one of the biggest differences is my relationship with my students.  As in most other independent schools, there are a handful of students I advise, and this advising goes far beyond planning schedules.  I see the students I teach every day, and our relationship is much more personal and less distant than it is between professors and undergrads.  Many academics I know hold undergrads in distant contempt, an attitude that will not be tolerated at private high schools.  With that in mind, here are some other ways that teaching at a private high school is different than being a professor.  Be warned, if these things don’t appeal to you, making the leap into a teaching job may not be the best decision for you.


Teaching high school is hard work in the traditional sense

Having been a professor and a teacher, I can tell you that teaching is harder work.  I do not mean more intellectually difficult or even more time consuming.  I probably work fewer hours than I did as a professor, and I am no longer spending as much time poring over documents written in 19th-century German or plowing through dense academic monographs.  (That’s actually become my hobby.)  The hours I am working, however, are much, much more intense and can be physically and emotionally draining.  I taught a 4/4 load with 160 students per semester and no TA when I was on the tenure track, but that’s nothing compared to spending all day, every day in the classroom.  I also teach at a progressive school, which means I lecture very little and spend a lot of time leading discussions, guiding projects, and constructing elaborate classroom activities.  Standing for fifty minutes in a hall and performing a lecture -no matter how interactive- is a lot easier than that.  There is also the matter of having to focus the attention of teenagers and manage the classroom environment, and to grade more regular homework.  On the days when the students are distracted or tired trying to keep them on track and focused feels like trying to walk for an hour into a hurricane-force wind.  Much of my lunch break is spent counseling and helping students, and my free periods can be eaten up by spot-subbing for other teachers or chaperoning field trips.  On my train ride home every day I usually pass out from exhaustion.


Parents are present

Although it is getting more common for parents to intervene in the education of their college student children, it is easy for profs to brush them off by yelling “FERPA! FERPA! FERPA!” at them.  For high school students, it’s different.  Teachers have to talk with parents quite often about the progress of their children.  As you can imagine, this can often be tricky or frustrating.  However, it can just as often be enlightening and enjoyable.  I have liked getting to know many of the parents, who are often wonderful, engaging people.  Having parents present can also be invaluable in giving you the tools to reach and help struggling students, something that professors aren’t able to do.


Your level of responsibility is higher

When you teach high schoolers your students are minors, which already implies a different level of responsibility toward them.  You might have to adjudicate verbal disputes, break up fights, assist a student having a seizure, or alert guidance counselors and parents to troubling behavior.  If a student is doing poorly in your class, you are expected to get in touch with parents and advisors, not just let them twist in the wind.  Private school teachers are also usually expected to be responsible for chaperoning overnight field trips, advising clubs, or coaching sports.  But I think the responsibility goes much deeper than maintaining a curfew on a road trip or knowing which students have epi-pens for their food allergies.  As a teacher you will see the same students every day for the entire school year, not two or three days a week for fourteen weeks.  You are responsible for them for a significant chunk of their waking lives, and while that fact daunted me in my first year, I soon learned that it created a much deeper and fulfilling relationship with my students.  The responsibility can be challenging, but I wouldn’t trade the payoff for the world.


Students are more engaged

After hearing all of this, you might wonder why I prefer my current line of work to academia.  Despite all of the issues I have listed above, my work is so much more fulfilling, and that has everything to do with the attitude of the students.  It’s not just the deeper connections, it’s also their general attitude.  I find my students to be much more engaged in their studies and far less jaded than college undergrads, who are often (quite rightly) more interested in exploring their newfound independence and defining themselves than in giving themselves over to their studies. Many undergraduates maintain that commitment, but the percentage of students who still viscerally care is much higher.  Also, because the students have a deeper relationship with their teachers, they feel less alienated from their work and more motivated to do well.  To put it more simply, when I am away on break I miss my students, and graduation is a bittersweet parting.
So these days I still teach in my tweed, but I’ve discarded my armor and let my guard down.  The reward has been immeasurable, as difficult as my job can be.

Job Market PTSD

RE-posted from 2011.  When this went up the first time, it got very little response.  That surprised me.  I think this is a real thing.  Readers?


Today’s post is another Special Request post, this time coming from Kate, who wrote an eloquent email asking for advice on how to cope with what I will call “Job Market PTSD.”

By Job Market PTSD (hereafter JMPTSD), what I mean is the state of being so traumatized by the academic job search that even when it is successful, and you get the coveted tenure track position, you cannot stop feeling anxious, inadequate, panicked and insecure.   This isn’t any kind of “official” diagnosis–it’s just something I’ve observed.

JMPTSD includes the survivor’s guilt that you feel toward the comrades-in-arms you left behind as you boarded what seems like the last helicopter out of The Search. It includes classic trauma symptoms in that the sustained terror of potential joblessness/insolvency, combined with the psychological warfare of hope offered and then snatched away (particularly in the new phenomenon of searches and offers canceled at the last minute), steals away your sense of security in the world. It includes a large component of Imposter Syndrome, in that you wonder “Why me? Why did I get this position?” And it includes an element of Stockholm Syndrome, in that your gratitude for the offer is so abject that your normal emotional boundaries evaporate in a frantic attempt to please your new employer.

I believe that JMPTSD is more widespread than commonly acknowledged. And in current market conditions, it is likely to get worse.

There is certainly a variety of JMPTSD that afflicts those who are ultimately unsuccessful on the job market. And that variety may be the more serious.

But for today I want to address the JMPTSD that afflicts those who DID get the tenure track job, but find themselves struggling to leave behind the trauma of the search.

Because what I’m hearing is, search trauma is having an impact on these assistant professors’ performance on the job. Instead of being a triumphant transition into professional security and financial solvency, the move to assistant professorhood provokes renewed fear and anxiety and self-doubt.

While all of us who have been through the assistant professor stage remember the struggle to cope and keep our heads above water, this seems to be qualitatively different.

This is a kind of sustained state of fear that saps your confidence and sense of well-being. Its primary symptom is a profound feeling of unworthiness that arises when the conditions for hiring are so chaotic and opaque and seemingly random, that it is impossible for you, the successful candidate, to feel that you actually deserved the job more than anyone else.

Given that the fundamental logic of assistant professorhood is based entirely on external approval to begin with, this effort can have toxic results. The main one seems to be an extreme susceptibility to exploitation.

Basically, not to put too fine a point on it, assistant professors are so abjectly grateful for the job that they find it impossible to say no.

Teach more? Sure! Take furlough days? Absolutely! Increase your class size? No problem! Give up your TAs? That’s ok—I can TA my own classes!

As one new assistant professor told me, “It made me less willing to negotiate, to speak up for myself, or to assert my wishes as to what I would teach.”

The marketplace has done to assistant professors what the eradication of tenure promises to do to their seniors: remove the possibility of resistance to disintegrating conditions of work.


What to do?

Well, at the risk of being cliché, I say: first, get therapy. This is legitimate trauma and should be treated as such.

Find other new assistant professors and start a regular lunch group. Don’t make this a writing group. Make it a support group. Share your experiences. Hold each other accountable for doing what it takes to stay mentally healthy.

Get outside and get in your body. Exercise regularly, eat well, and get enough sleep. Find a good doctor in your new town and schedule an appointment for the Fall term.

Find a trusted senior mentor if you can. Don’t expect this person to really “get it,” though. If they’re already tenured, then they won’t really get it. But they can help you navigate your department and set healthy boundaries and avoid over-exploitation from service expectations.

Forgive yourself for needing downtime that seems to be “unproductive.” It is ok to watch TV and play with your kids and hang out with your partner and sit on the sofa and stare at nothing.

Keep creative, right-brain activities in your life.  Draw, journal, write poetry, throw pots, build a fence, plant a garden, restore an old car, make jewelry, sing, knit…. whatever speaks to you.

Remember that you deserve to be there and you are a full-fledged member of the department. You have the same rights as every other faculty member.  You are not a graduate student and not a second class citizen. You do not need to apologize for existing. You are entitled to ask for what you want. If trauma prevented you from negotiating everything you wish you had at the time of the offer, let your department head and your trusted senior mentor know what you need now.

You were hired to be a scholar. Insist on the time you need to produce scholarship, both at the department and in your home life.

You deserve the job you have. You deserve to enjoy it. And you deserve to succeed at it. And you deserve the support to make that happen. Don’t let anyone (including your own insecurities) tell you otherwise.

~~Readers:  Please let me know your experiences of Job Market PTSD.  I’d really like to hear them~~



Should I Blog About My #Postac Decision? – Fruscione 2

Last week on Facebook, a commenter wrote, “I quit my PhD in December and I still carry the ‘shame’ with me, as if I did something horribly wrong. ‘But you’ve already put so much work into it I was told. Four and a half years to be exact – I know! I was able to ‘convert’ the PhD course work into a Masters and now find myself telling people ‘…but I only have a Masters now,’ like it’s a bad thing.”

I think it’s safe to say that virtually every Ph.D. (at least in most areas of the humanities and social sciences, where work outside the academy is not an obvious choice or option) experiences feelings of shame and despair about the postac transition. The issue is, what are you going to do about those feelings?  They can be utterly debilitating (as they were for me for over a year), and you need resources and strategies to confront and overcome them.  Joe Fruscione suggests sharing your experience publicly, through blogging and other means, despite possible risks.  He explains why in this post.  There is a large postac community now–don’t be afraid to seek its help and support.


By Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Should you blog about your career change? Do we need more entries in the growing Quit Lit GoogleDoc? (I say yes, but make your own choice.) What I’ve done—PBS NewsHour appearances in March 2013 and February 2014 and a video for Adjunct Voices—clearly isn’t for everyone. I’m in a relatively safe position: I’m part of a contingent faculty union, and I never say anything too incendiary or combative that would get me fired or make me unhireable. (What else would you expect from Adjunct Yoda?) Maybe I’m just naturally extroverted and good at being the face of something, or I’m trying to get others to join me in front of the camera.

Regardless of whether you go public with your choice, deciding to leave academia may embolden you to talk about what you’re doing, collaborate with new alt-ac and post-ac colleagues, and begin translating your experiences into marketable skills. Speaking out has been incredibly cathartic. If it would be for you too, write something. Outlets like Chronicle Vitae, Hybrid Pedagogy, Adjunct Action, and others are interested in hearing about post-ac or “Quit Lit” narratives, and writing about your soon-to-be old career may lead you to a new one.

Let’s remember, as Allessandria Polizzi reminds us, that blogging about academia and/or your decision to leave it has inherent risks: we’re all Google-able, so who’s to say a potential employer won’t find some of your work? If you’re criticizing your former university, an employer may think, you may later criticize them publicly. Given this (very real) risk, remember to write with purpose and balance if you’re publicly criticizing your university and/or higher ed while using your own name. Save the ranting and raving—no matter how justified—for private groups and/or anonymous blogging.

Also remember this: networking isn’t necessarily a dirty word. Though it may conjure up images of schmoozing and shady backroom deals, expanding your connections is key to expanding your post-ac career. Build a network of professional contacts inside and outside academia. If this prospect seems overwhelming, set manageable goals: start by making 1-2 new professional contacts per week via LinkedIn or Twitter. Then, check the followers and/or contacts of someone you admire who’s doing similar work. Their connections can then become your connections.

Amid my various forms of outreach and activism, I’ve been reflecting on how to market my academic skills in the private sector. The trick for all post-ac job seekers is virtually the same: stressing how our rich academic backgrounds and sets of skills are transferable in the private sector. Regardless of our areas of expertise, we’ll draw on the various thinking, writing, and editing skills our years of teaching and researching have given us. I’ve already had to do this during a pre-screening and formal interview for an editing job. Although I didn’t get the job, I began crafting my story about how 15+ years inside academia will help me outside it.

Consider a few things:

If you’ve published a book and/or edited a collection, how can you make an employer see these writing, editing, and organizational skills as necessary for them? What aspects of the writing and publishing processes would help you do the kinds of work the employer does?

How will all those pages of student writing you’ve commented on help market you as a skilled consultant, writer, and editor?

How can you get your feet wet, so to speak, in your new post-ac career? What opportunities are there to do the kinds of work—speaking, writing, blogging, reviewing, lobbying, whatever—your new career will entail? Is freelance work an option? What kinds of skills can you develop in a relatively short time frame (such as while you’re still teaching)?

What current connections inside academia can help you outside it? Who can vouch for you as a thinker, writer, and colleague? Who “might know someone” and be willing to help ease your career transition? Who could steer some work your way to help you get started?

I was fortunate, for instance, to work with a former graduate school professor on his book manuscript. His press had given him the “revise and submit” response, and he needed new eyes on it. I first read and commented on the manuscript (about 400 pages), made suggestions for cutting and restructuring, and then looked at a revised final chapter and conclusion a few months later. He was thrilled with the work I did; he wrote a short testimonial about my editing that I put on my LinkedIn profile. He was (and still is) supportive and willing to help me build my editing portfolio and client list.

If I can reiterate something from my first post: talk about your post-ac decision and progress. You might find someone willing and able to help you transition. You never know whose spouse, partner, or friend is looking to hire someone with your interests and qualifications, even if only on a part-time basis. I’ve gotten two freelance copy editing projects and a job interview simply by publicizing my process of changing careers.

As I continue narrating my reinvention, I’ll surely be sharing mistakes, questions, might-have-been moments, feelings of ambivalence and being stuck, and so on. My experiences won’t necessarily be universal or relatable, and there’s definitely no one-size-fits-all approach to post-ac. What I most hope is that my successes, failures, experiences, and strategies become learning moments other post-ac job seekers can adapt to their own needs.

Remember: you’re not in this alone. There’s a very strong and enriching we in the growing post-ac community. Lean on and learn from it.

From Academia to Small Business Ownership (Part 1): Making Peace with Capitalism – Horton 1

Margy Horton, introduced last week, runs a successful scholarly writing consulting, coaching, and editing business named ScholarShape.  She’s here to illuminate the transition to small business entrepreneurship, the post-ac route closest to my own heart.  Today, she demystifies the “world outside”:  it’s not as bleak as you think!

by Margy Horton

Margy Horton

Margy Horton

You believe that academic work is your calling and that academic people are your tribe. The thought of leaving behind the socialist utopia that is the University and selling your soul for a bit of filthy lucre makes you want to cry red tears. But unless you’re a woodland creature or the resident of an actual socialist utopia, money is what you use to put a roof over your head and food in your mouth. And getting money by selling your labor on the free market, rather than essentially giving yourself away as an adjunct, is a sound and responsible thing to do—not a sign of moral and professional failure.

First of all, we’re not talking about embezzling elderly people’s retirement savings or forcing undocumented persons into servitude at a sweatshop. We’re talking about providing useful products to people at prices that that they, the people, freely decide are worth paying. Honest, hardworking entrepreneurs provide goods and services that save people time and money and improve their quality of life.

Second of all, being an entrepreneur does not have to mean giving up the work you love. Take me, for instance.  Here’s what made me happy while I worked in academia: Talking with students during office hours and helping them to sort out the ideas they wanted to express in their papers; drinking cups of tea by the dozens while analyzing students’ essays and writing suggestions for improvement; and working long after dark with my dachshund, Herman, snoring softly in my lap. Here’s what makes me happy as the owner of my own writing consultation/editing business: Talking with clients and helping them figure out how to express in writing what their research means; drinking cups of coffee by the dozens while analyzing clients’ work and writing revision suggestions; and working long after dark with my dachshund, Herman, snoring softly in my lap (and my other dachshund, my husband, and my son snoring softly elsewhere).

Perhaps you’re wondering how I got from there to here. How exactly did I leave behind traditional academic work—a move that, to many in academia, is tantamount to abandoning the balmy comfort of the earth’s atmosphere for the terrifying vacuum of outer space? And how, in leaving, did I manage to bring with me all the aspects of academic work that I most loved? If I must answer in one sentence, I’d say that I got here through some combination of forced introspection, NPR podcasts, and self-help books.

My son was born five weeks after my dissertation defense, in the middle of the academic job season. I spent my first few months of motherhood doing little more than nursing my growing baby and thinking about the tenure-track job I was supposed to be pursuing. Every day that went by, academia felt more and more remote from me, and yet I really did miss working with my brain.  Somehow in the midst of those achingly sleep-deprived months, as I listened to hours and hours of NPR podcasts to keep my brain sharp, and as I read self-help books propped up on my son’s breastfeeding pillow, my writing consultation business gradually took shape in my mind. I literally came up with the name of my business, ScholarShape, while changing my son’s diaper. I’m grateful for those months not only because I got to be with my son as he adjusted to life outside the womb, but also because my circumstances forced me, at that crucial moment in my life, to assess what really mattered to me, what I considered worth working for, and which direction I wanted to point my life.

Only gradually did I realize that the world beyond academia is not a dark vacuum at all. It is, in fact, a lot like academia itself: it’s a diverse marketplace of ideas, a bustling world full of people and their problems and solutions. All of the multiplicity, the flexibility, and the uncertainty that I enjoyed in academia are present in equal or greater measure in the outside world. I set out into that world to discover whether entrepreneurship was a viable option for a post-academic like me. What I found was that entrepreneurship is actually the perfect option for a person who wants to fashion a personalized career out of favorite scraps from academia.

In the series of posts to follow, I’ll give you specific suggestions for how to begin the transition out of academia and into small business ownership. You will begin by identifying your own marketable skills, matching these skills to an unmet need in the marketplace, and developing a strategy for building a profitable business that suits you perfectly while also filling a real need for other people. In describing my own experiences, I’ll point out some elements of my story that are generalizable to readers contemplating a similar move from academia to the free market. Finally, I’ll discuss in more detail the varied work of editors and consultants, who sell their intellectual expertise, because this work is a natural fit for many Ph.D.s.

 If you’re not yet done with the Ph.D. and you do plan to finish, your first step will be to figure out how to complete your degree in a timely way. Check out my blog post that lists 101 Tips for Finishing your Ph.D. Quickly. If you’re done with your doctorate or don’t plan to finish, now is the time for some serious reflection on what you have to offer the world. Get to it, you budding capitalist, and we’ll talk again soon.