Why You Don’t Need ExtenZe®

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. What I am actually here to speak about today is why you don’t need “extends.”

What is “extends”? “Extends” is what practically every single one of you says that your research does. You either say that it “extends” the work of so-and-so, or such-and-such a field, OR you say, later in the doc, that your anticipated next project “extends” your dissertation work on blah blah blah.

Seriously, what is it with all this extending? Was Freud right AGAIN?

What I am here to say today is that nobody wants it. We don’t want to hear that your research extends other work, and we certainly don’t want to hear that your next project extends your first project. Why would we, the hiring department, spend good money to get someone whose work is basically derivative or predictable?

Stop it! Just stop it! Stop using that word!

Let me be explicit, so that you understand. Do NOT EVER SAY that your work extends the work of some scholar, set of scholars, or field.

DO NOT EVER SAY that your second project extends your dissertation research.

Please do a universal search of your job docs and if you find this word, take out the entire sentence in which you find it. The sentence, and the thought behind it, is ill-conceived and self-sabotaging on the job market.

Your work may well have been influenced by other work—everyone’s is. This is not newsworthy! In a job doc your dissertation work must be depicted as original, distinctive, and above all, autonomous.

Your second project can of course grow organically out of the concerns of the dissertation project (as I explain in this really good post that I want everyone to click through to: “Why You Need a Second Project“). But again, it must be original, distinctive, and autonomous. Nobody wants a one-trick pony.

This is an easy problem to fix because it really comes down to this one word. Eradicate it, and eradicate the thinking behind it.*  You are an autonomous thinker and scholar and your work stands on its own merits, and makes its own independent contribution to the field.

*No, I’m wrong.  It’s just as bad when it’s in any form of the word “continue.”  Ie, “the new project is a continuation of my dissertation research”; “this project continues my dissertation focus”; etc.  Eradicate that as well.

On Leaving the Cult (A Letter From a Client)

I get a pretty regular stream of fan mail from clients and readers, and I read all of it, respond to all of it, and deeply appreciate all of it.  When I get a letter from someone telling me how the reading the blog and/or working with me changed their life in some important way, I sit with it for a moment, and take it in, and feel humbled and grateful that I can do this important work, and I ponder ways I can do it better.  What I love about the fan mail that I get is that you, my readers, are such beautiful writers (being all writers as you are)–so articulate and eloquent, so darkly funny, so self-deprecating and wry, so fiercely critical of the academic-industrial complex, so ironic and yet so sincere.

I led the Surviving Your First Year on the Tenure Track webinar last week, and in an unplanned prefatory remark (which you’ll hear on the new recorded version now for sale) I said, “my favorite parts of the business are helping people get tenure track jobs, and helping people make the decision to leave the academy.”

I realized as I was saying it how weirdly schizo that is, but it’s true.   Both are huge achievements, the end-product of years of struggle and anguish.  Both are intensely meaningful.

I got this email last week, from a client who has left the academy, and it stands out as one of the most affecting ones I’ve ever received.  I got teary-eyed when I read it, and then I read it to my partner and my mother-in-law and they got teary-eyed too.

I don’t actually know if I’m the first person to say that academia is a cult, but I know that saying it is one of the foundational interventions I hope to make with The Professor Is In.  I believe that meaningful change is possible at individual and institutional levels only when academics deprogram themselves from the cult, and start understanding academic work as a form of labor.  You don’t have to leave academia, or become post-academic, to do this.  You just have to stop mystifying and fetishizing the nature of academic work.

Anyway, testimonials like the one in this email are critical to understanding the ways that the cult works, and the ways that it’s possible to leave it.

Thank you so much, client, for writing and sharing.


Dear Karen,

I am a reader and client (I purchased your interview webinar recording in January 2013), and I am writing to tell you about the job I landed as a result of your help and the way in which your blog has transformed my life.

I finished a PhD in [Humanities] from [Ivy League University] in 2012. I was in a terrible state after the defense and deposit. People often talk about writing a dissertation in terms of birth metaphors–the genesis of an idea, the gestation process, the diss as baby, etc. Well, I truly felt as though I had given birth to a stillborn. I knew that I would never turn the diss into a book because I knew that I had no interest in an academic career, no desire to go on the job market, no interest in moving to a remote location, kissing more professor ass, continuing my serf-like status, etc etc. But knowing this with certainty didn’t help or make me feel good in any way, because a) I didn’t know what I would do instead and b) I felt like a total failure and loser.

It was about two months before I turned in the dissertation that I discovered your blog, and I spent all night reading it. I found myself laughing repeatedly as I read your posts, not hee hee laughs but rather deep belly laughs –at recognizing myself in all you wrote about grad students, and at the irony of discovering your blog just as I was in the final months of a near-decade grad school experience, i.e. too late for me to start from the beginning and do everything ‘right’.

As I moved into the summer and fall of my post-grad school life (unemployed and miserable), I read your blog fervently and felt it was the only form of true advice I had as I tried to figure out what to do next. But it wasn’t the advice on how to secure the TT job or succeed as an academic that I gravitated to–it was the information on how to deprogram myself and recover my own sense of value as a person and professional.

In retrospect, I know the specific paragraphs you wrote that ‘cured me’–in a post you wrote called “Ageism and the Academy”:

Here is the one thing I do know, with a great deal of certainty: academia is a kind of cult, or cult-like environment. It is a closed and insular system with massive barriers to entry. The Ph.D. process is the indoctrination process that over many years inculcates practitioners into the correct values and norms of the closed group. The end product is successful to the extent that they have thoroughly accepted these values and norms, and made them into their own operating principles.

What I have observed in my work with clients is that older students are more resistant to the indoctrination process than younger students. Their identities are more fully formed, and they have more years of previous values and habits that have to be displaced to make room for the new ones. The process of indoctrination of older students is more likely to be incomplete and tentative. And that has serious consequences for the older Ph.D. as end product of the system.


So you understand: I am not an older student. I started graduate school at age 25. But what I took from the post was the specific phrase “resistant to the indoctrination process” and an idea (not one that you intended in this specific context, but still), that maybe the fact that I wasn’t sold on the academic life was a strength and not a weakness. I was no longer a failure–I was RESISTANT TO INDOCTRINATION!!!! And what academic type would not consider that a virtue? I had gone through eight years of brainwashing and had emerged with some remnants of my identity intact! I had been told by people with substantial power over me for almost a decade what to value and what to despise, and at the end of it I still didn’t completely believe them! I’d been shuttered away in an academic cloister for most of my adult years and yet still retained minimal contact with the outside world, where intelligent people I knew had functional relationships and interesting jobs that paid good salaries and actually lived sovereign lives! Considered in this heroic light—and I write this in jest but mean it in earnest—I began to feel almost a little proud of myself, for the first time in years.

With this reframing of perspective, I was able to let go of my feelings of failure and less-than-ism. In my specific case, that meant leaving research behind and refocusing on teaching as a profession. Teaching has always been my true professional interest—I taught before going to graduate school and found the most satisfaction during the Ph.D. process in the classroom as a TA. So I started looking for high school jobs late last fall. Not many schools offer my subject, which made the options slim, but this past spring I was offered a position as a high school teacher at a private school in New England. It is a prep school with great teaching resources, nice facilities which I am actually entitled to use, small class sizes, sabbatical options, full benefits, retirement plan, over 4 months total of (real) vacation, and a starting salary in the high 50s. I feel a little indiscreet about giving you these specifics, but I think you and your readership would be interested in the concrete details of this particular career path for ex-academics. I really think unhappy grad students and professors who like teaching should think more about high school careers. I can’t speak to the public school system, and I know it can be a world of difference, but the school I will be joining resembles a SLAC in many ways, and there seems to be a lot of genuine learning going on there.

I start the job in the fall, so I obviously can’t say how it will all turn out, but I can thank you now for helping me rid my mind of all the psychological junk that has been clogging it for the past decade. This was the crucial piece that enabled me to say goodbye to one chapter of my life and begin a new one sans PhD/grad student/academic complexes. On a more concrete level, I also used your posts to completely rewrite my cover letter and prepare for my interview. I know your advice helped me in getting the job–my cover letter was generic, wishy-washy, and dripping in emotional ‘teaching is my passion’ speak before I fixed it according to your guidelines.

I am sorry for writing a tome, but you asked today on your Facebook page for readers who got jobs as a result of your blog to email you, so I figured it was finally time to reach out and thank you. I have thought many times in the last months about writing you and telling you all this, but I wanted the email to be perfect and so kept putting it off (ok, that is an academic habit I still have to rid myself of!). So I am not over-analyzing or obsessing over this email; I am just sending it to you with one last THANK YOU for helping me so much.

“Write Like a Motherfucker”

I’ve been post-academic now for just about exactly three years. Three years since I left my tenured position at University of Illinois to move back to Eugene, Oregon with no job and no idea what I’d do next.

This summer I finally started to journey out to places in Eugene where I know I’m likely to run into former UO faculty colleagues, instead of skulking around hoping to avoid them.

So far they seem pretty happy to see me, even when they hear that I’ve officially left the fold and am even, gasp!, running a business. (They remind me why I liked being at the UO in the first place.)

But, notably, there is one thing they keep saying. They keep saying: “Wow, Karen. You look so much….. happier.”

One remarked to my partner Kellee (also formerly of the UO), “It’s been fun getting to know Karen. I never talked to her when she was here before because she seemed so angry.”

I was reminded of this after reading Rebecca Schuman’s latest post, Please Stop Saying “Not Everyone is Suited for Academia”. She relates her experience after leaving academia (in a blaze of gory with the publication of her Slate piece Thesis Hatement) [btw, yes that is a typo but Rebecca tweeted to say she loves it and it’s so apropos to what happened that I decided to leave it in]:

Most days I am happier than I have been in many years about this. My long-term partner…has remarked that since my postdoc ended and I moved back to St. Louis, that I’ve aged in reverse. It’s true—there are some ‘Ohio wrinkles’ I don’t see anymore, accompanied by a life in my eyes and a general dearth of the abject terror that lurked below each day in Columbus, like so many pollution-filled mussels on the bed of the Olentangy River.”

Schuman also talks about the transformation in her writing:

If I was a disciplined and productive academic writer, cranking out journal articles and then finally my monograph—finished and submitted to the press this past May—then now I am a motherfucking locomotive. I have so much to write that I simply can’t get it all down.”

It was just the same for me, after I finally (and this took a year) figured out what it was I needed to say, and created the Professor Is In blog, and started writing. It was like unleashing a torrent. I could not stop.

The funny thing is, I’m not actually angry. Or, not angry the way I used to be. I am, like my former colleagues say, actually pretty happy.

Why was I so miserable back then? Well, aside from the awful marriage, there was the fact that I was 100% in thrall to the academic cult. I was living entirely within a system based without exception on the principle of external validation. You are good only if others in authority authorize that you are good. Your comps, your diss, your job docs, your job talk, your book, your article, your grant proposal, your tenure case…. all live or die based on the judgment and approval of people “above” you. And the properly socialized academic makes that approval the core of their identity.

No wonder the young of the profession are so servile. And so angry.

Schuman’s piece brought to mind a particularly memorable response by one of my favorite writers, Cheryl Strayed, on her Dear Sugar advice column. She was answering a young woman, a frustrated writer, who wrote in asking for help overcoming her depression, her defeatism, her inability to get words on paper. The young woman wasn’t an academic, but most of us can probably identify:

“I want to jump out the window for what I’ve boiled down to is one reason: I can’t write a book. But it’s not that I want to die so much as have an entirely different life. I start to think that I should choose another profession—as Lorrie Moore suggests, “movie star/astronaut, a movie star missionary, a movie star/kindergarten teacher.” I want to throw off everything I’ve accumulated and begin as someone new, someone better.”

Strayed tells her many things, many wise and wonderful things in a long and deep response. But there was one thing that was the wisest of all. In response to the young would-be writer’s lament that “I write like a girl. I write about my lady life experiences, and that usually comes out as unfiltered emotion, unrequited love, and eventual discussion of my vagina as metaphor”, Strayed writes:

Nobody is going to give you permission to write about your vagina, hon. Nobody is going to give you a thing. You have to give it yourself. You have to tell us what you have to say.”

Strayed ends her advice: “So write…Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

Write like a motherfucker. Or, in other words, declare independence from dependence on external validation.

Stay in academia if you want. Or leave it. As you know, I have no axe to grind on that front. But say no to the less-than status, the linking of your identity to others’ judgment, the servile dependence on others’ stamp of approval.

Yes, it’s true, if you stay in academia you need to suffer all those reviews and evaluations to get the diss passed, get the grant, get the job. That’s for your work.

But for your life, in academia or out, remember that your self and your voice and your truth come from within.

I got an email from a reader yesterday that described her journey post-Ph.D. (Ivy League humanities):

I was in a terrible state after the defense and deposit. People often talk about writing a dissertation in terms of birth metaphors–the genesis of an idea, the gestation process, the diss as baby, etc. Well, I truly felt as though I had given birth to a stillborn. I knew that I would never turn the diss into a book because I knew that I had no interest in an academic career, no desire to go on the job market, no interest in moving to a remote location, kissing more professor ass, continuing my serf-like status, etc etc. But knowing this with certainty didn’t help or make me feel good in any way, because a) I didn’t know what I would do instead and b) I felt like a total failure and loser.”

This is what the indoctrination process of the Ph.D. does to us all—it makes every last one of us addicts for external validation, convinced that success on the authorized tenure track trajectory is the sole and only legitimate marker of success, and indeed happiness.

But it’s the opposite. Accepting the rule of external validation and the incredibly rigid markers of academic success makes only for chronic anxiety, insecurity, dependency, and depression.

My reader goes on,

As I moved into the summer and fall of my post-grad school life (unemployed and miserable), I read your blog fervently and felt it was the only form of true advice I had as I tried to figure out what to do next. But it wasn’t the advice on how to secure the TT job or succeed as an academic that I really gravitated to–it was the information on how to de-program myself and recover my own sense of value as a person and professional.”

And she did it. She declared independence, got clear on her goals, and found herself an amazing full-time position teaching outside the academy.

This is what I say: Write not like an academic. Not like a post-academic. Write like a motherfucker. And by write I mean live.


On Not Getting Paid Enough

Regular readers might remember the guest post we had here on the blog from awhile back, called The Real Life of a Tenure Track Faculty Person, which explored the usually unacknowledged financial struggles attendant on having a tenure track job. That is to say, beyond the depredations of a debt-filled Ph.D. program and years of adjuncting at minimum wage levels, there is the real likelihood that even after obtaining the coveted tenure track job, financial struggles continue, and indeed might intensify with the addition of health challenges and other aspects of real life into the mix.

This guest post grew out of a lengthy exchange on the comment stream of an earlier post by me, entitled Should You Go To Graduate School? In that post, I give a list of 11 conditions that I believe should be met by anyone considering graduate school to protect against a fate of poverty and unemployment. Astonishingly, several commenters to that post responded with the view that it is simply an example of first world “entitlement” to expect to earn enough as a Ph.D. student/adjunct/assistant professor to be able to afford the rent of a studio apartment, deal with a health challenge, or support dependents.

The absurdity of this claim needs no elaboration here and I direct everyone to the two respective comment streams to see the spirited reaction to this line of thought. In exasperation, I eventually wrote, “When did middle class become a dirty word? Why are American academics expected to embrace without a murmur the standard of living of other, less wealthy countries? Why is it somehow wrong and ethically tainted to want and expect a modicum of financial security at the end of a decade or so of advanced professional training? Why is the inevitable response to these critiques: find a different job? How have so many intelligent and educated people been so successfully indoctrinated that they’ll accept financial chaos and struggle as the ‘natural’ accompaniment of the academic career? The real financial disequilibrium of the tenure track (partic. in the humanities) is yet another layer of misinformation in the Ph.D. training enterprise, and one that like all the others is defended fiercely (especially in the humanities) so that the cult can remain unchallenged and intact.”

In any case, today I want to direct readers to another recent blog post by Triproftri, Let’s Get Real With Numbers: The Financial Reality of Being a Tenured Professor.

This blog post takes the discussion a step further—to life post-tenure. And to the reality that for many faculty outside the elite institutions, even tenure does not bring relief from the constant financial struggle that is the outcome of the depressed salaries of the humanities and many social sciences, which have lagged far behind the rising cost of living, particularly in expensive cities that are home to so many universities.

When I posted a link to this article on the Facebook page, once again the “entitlement” crowd showed up, telling professors to stop “whining.”

To which one respondent replied, “When did you decide it was OK to live in a society where any job from janitor to professor did not provide the means to meet the most basic human needs of secure dwelling and the capacity to provide for a family? This is a deeply rooted structural problem perpetuated by this cult of ‘personal responsibility’ which denies the existence of society, and dictates that is your own fault if you failed to read the tea leaves properly when first embarking on your career path.”

Indeed, as one regular TPII reader has pointed out, the problem is one of changing goals. What was fun and exciting in your twenties (sharing an apartment with three other people and living on ramen while getting a Ph.D. in continental philosophy for example), slowly becomes untenable over the course of your thirties and forties, as you acquire children, health challenges, aging parents, and the need for more secure living arrangements. But you didn’t (indeed couldn’t) anticipate that in your twenties. Because people can’t; that’s just human nature.  What is wrong here is not the less than completely accurate career planning of individual Ph.D. students but the massive defunding of universities (with special ferocity in the humanities) that has deflated faculty salaries to 1995 levels while the cost of living skyrockets all around. Telling people to stop whining, change jobs, or change careers individualizes what is a structural problem—that the world of the university professor in the humanities and many social sciences has become increasingly financial untenable for those outside the elite institutions.

Writing a Book While Teaching (and teaching, and teaching, and teaching….) (A Guest Post)

[Please note that Dr. Karen is on summer holiday June 15-July 15 and not posting to the blog during that time.  This guest post will be the only post during that time.  See you in July!]

A reader wrote asking for a post on how to write a book while working at a teaching-intensive university.  I put out a request for a guest post on the subject on Facebook, and Mary Flannery responded with this account of writing a book while teaching a heavy schedule. (Her bio is below).  Thank you, Mary, for this inspiring guest post!  For the previous two guest posts on this subject to which Mary refers in this post, please look here and here.


When you’re dealing with a heavy teaching load, publishing a book can seem impossible.  This is especially the case when it’s your first book, the one that is supposed to get you recognition, tenure, or your next job.

My first full-time teaching post came with a 4:3 teaching load (minimum), new teaching formats, and lots of administrative responsibilities.  When I started, I thought that something as substantial as book writing could only happen outside of the school year, when I was able to set aside a large block of days (or weeks) to retreat to the peace and quiet of a library, immerse myself in literature, think deep thoughts, and wait for inspiration to strike.  Only in these idyllic conditions, I thought, could I possibly write The Book.

Five years have passed, and I’m now in a new post with a lighter teaching load.  But by the time I concluded my first four-year post, I managed to publish my first monograph and an edited essay collection.  In addition to discovering some of the excellent strategies outlined by Steven Engler and Katherine Vukadin, I discovered that how productive you are can depend a lot on how you think about research and writing.  While the below rules of thumb will probably seem self-evident to many, they certainly weren’t self-evident to me in the beginning, and I still find them useful now.


1. Don’t only research/write/revise outside of the semester.

Once I began teaching full-time, I couldn’t understand how anybody with a full teaching load could possibly get any writing done in the middle of the semester.  Eventually, I discovered that my most productive colleagues found ways to use whatever scraps of spare time they had to conduct research and writing in small bursts, whether it was between meetings, before or after class, or on the one day of the week when they didn’t teach.  The conditions weren’t ideal, but they made steady progress on their various writing projects.

It’s easy to be a bit precious about research and writing–I know I was.  But after I started to use scraps of time to accomplish small tasks (fetching books from the library, reading an article, drawing up an outline, brainstorming, or asking someone to read what writing I’d done), I found I was chipping away at what had previously seemed a massive and unmanageable project.


2. Be selfish.

By that I mean defend your research time as much as you can.  This can be tough to do as an adjunct, or if you’re working your way towards tenure.  But in many situations, you can negotiate a little, if you time it well and phrase your requests diplomatically.  In this respect, I was very lucky.  Even though I was on a fixed-term teaching contract, my department was relatively humane.  So when, ahead of my final year, I politely pointed out how much I had contributed to the department over my first three years and asked for a slightly adjusted teaching/admin load so that I could finish the books that might get me my next job, my colleagues were receptive.  I managed to reduce my load to 3:2, and did not take on any new courses or administrative roles.

If your situation permits, try a little gentle negotiation: politely recount your contributions to your institution, and then see whether there is any wiggle room.  Depending on your working environment, pointing out that you need to publish–to get tenure, to get the next job, or to help with external research reviews–can work, especially if you emphasize that you are looking for ways to manage your time so that you can contribute to the department in terms of research.  (If you’re planning ahead, you can even offer to take on a little bit extra now if the department would be willing to lighten your load in the future.)


3. Prioritize/be strategic.

Towards the end of my first teaching contract, getting the book done became the only thing that mattered.  I was facing potential unemployment and the likelihood that, without a job and a visa, I would have to leave the country that had been my home for ten years. I knew that the only way I would have a shot at a job would be if I was able to apply with books in hand.

As Steven has pointed out, when the book becomes your top professional priority, it’s important to be strategic about your research.  That may mean sometimes delaying or saying ‘no’ to other research or publishing opportunities.  That’s ok.


It’s also important to teach strategically.  Whenever possible, teach stuff you’ve already taught before.  Teach multiple groups of the same class.  Try not to take on anything totally new.  All of this will help to minimize teaching preparation and adapting while you’re trying to work on the book.


4. Learn to like deadlines.

It’s hard to like deadlines, especially during the teaching year.  But in the same way that using scraps of time can help you inch forward, setting frequent deadlines for yourself–even during term-time–helps you progress in a measurable fashion.  Some deadlines will be set by publishers or colleagues, some you’ll set for yourself, and some will be set by other events in your life (for example, I’ve found that a family holiday can function as a deadline: getting the work done beforehand means that I can actually spend time with my family instead of hiding away with a laptop!).  But whatever form they take, deadlines are useful.  Yes, they may have to move a little bit on occasion, but they’re important for maintaining discipline.  Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it as best you can.


5. Give yourself permission to write badly (at first).

I find this one particularly easy to forget.  No matter how many lectures, essays, or conference papers I write, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the first words I put on the page must be precisely the right words, that the ideas must spring fully formed from my head and flow directly onto the page.

That never happens (at least, not to me).  And when it came to my first book, what was even more disheartening was the fact that I was revising a dissertation that, upon rereading, I absolutely loathed–so much of it struck me as dull, uninspired, and ungainly.  The thought of how much work it would take to turn it into anything resembling a book frequently made me want to abandon the project.  Eventually, only one thing convinced me to plod on: each time I arrived at a raw new section, I would remind myself that this was absolutely as bad as it was going to get.  No matter what I did to it, my revision would be an improvement over what was already there.

As I begin to embark on the task of writing my second monograph, I’m facing a whole new set of challenges.  But by learning to give myself permission to write a rough, sketchy, even incomplete first draft, I’m getting the worst (and hardest) bit out of the way.  After all, it can only get better from here!


Mary C. Flannery is a maître assistante (UK translation: lecturer; US translation: assistant professor) in medieval English literature at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.  She has held posts at Queen Mary, University of London, and at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  For more information, visit her website (www.marycflannery.com) or give her a tweet (@15thcgossipgirl).

Eight Tips on Writing Efficiently while Overloaded with Teaching, Service and Kids (A Guest Post)

A reader wrote asking for a post on how to write a book while working at a teaching-intensive university.  I put out a request for a guest post on the subject on Facebook, and Steve Engler responded with this account of writing a book while teaching a heavy schedule and taking care of three young children at home.  (His bio is below).  Thank you, Steve, for this inspiring guest post!


1. Delimit your teaching.

Marking/grading student work consumes a lot of time.

  • Be harshly realistic when planning courses: avoid the temptation to ask students to write that reading response or blog post every week; maybe four times over the term…? You’ll thank yourself later.
  • Think very clearly about specific pedagogical outcomes. Often these can be met more effectively with less time-consuming assignments.
  • Use coded rubrics as feedback devices. For example, my “paragraph response sheet” (available on my website) has over thirty numbered comments, allowing me to write numbers instead of certain often-repeated formal comments. The handout also helps students draft their work, as it describes my expectations.

Preparing for classes can expand to fill all your available time. The same three points apply: be realistic about your time (allow yourself a measured period for prep, and call it good enough); stick to what supports your outcomes; and use modular elements (e.g., small group tasks that can be fitted flexibly into different contexts).

  1. Merge teaching and research.

This is one that we all know well. If prepping a lecture covers ground we need to cover anyway for an article or chapter, we are further ahead. If we can teach from something we are writing, so much the better. Don’t forget that various journals publish work on teaching and pedagogy in specific disciplines and that an established interest in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) is a valuable asset when applying for positions at teaching schools. Write a brief teaching note on a classroom technique that works for you…

We tend to think about the teaching-research interplay in terms of content. I have discovered the value of focusing on methods. I code interviews for my own research, and I assign my students the task of conducting, transcribing and coding interviews before writing a very brief essay. The methodological work in the classroom helps me keep my own skills quick and sharp. Plus students have a way of teaching us with their occasional brilliant insights.

  1. Make writing personal.

Write for people you know and get to know the people you write for. Networking produces invitations to write. The better you know the person to whom you “owe” a piece, the more motivated you are to get it done, and the less nerve-wracking you find the looming (or passed) deadlines.

Even when responding to a Call for Papers or submitting an unsolicited article, it is good to communicate with the editor(s) – e.g., about formal issues – just to make a connection. This can seem daunting when you are getting started as an academic writer, but optimism is justified: editors are almost always open, approachable, helpful and interested in helping more junior colleagues.

  1. Co-author.

Though often just as labour intensive, co-authoring is especially good for keeping the ideas flowing and, above all, for keeping up your motivation and momentum. (Of course, co-authorship is standard in the natural, medical and some social sciences.) The essential prerequisite for a good co-writing relationship is getting along in more general terms. An excellent way to get an article going is to springboard from that hallway or faculty-centre conversation you had with a colleague in a different area or department and to write a cross-disciplinary piece. Try starting with a joint book review to test the waters.

  1. Assess appointment and tenure criteria.

Our employers and senior colleagues do not necessarily rank types of publication (e.g., monograph vs. article) the same ways we learned at graduate school. Pay close attention to the specific criteria of appointment, tenure and promotion processes. (For adjuncts and those seeking employment, this involves some strategic research into policies at a range of desired or potential schools.) Focus on what counts more. E.g., why write a book when two peer-reviewed articles equal a monograph, as in my Faculty? Assess the value of service work in the same way.

  1. Seek alternative publication venues.

There are many more academic presses than you think, including a growing number of venues for open access (OA) monographs. (For a useful snapshot of academic presses, albeit with some debatable rankings, see this Dutch list <http://is.gd/FYPgbE>.) A growing number of on-line specialty journals are seeking good material. OA journals (like the PLoS journals, SAGE Open and the emerging Open Library of Humanities) have undermined the bottleneck of limited space for peer-reviewed articles. Check out the explosion of very solid and reputable journals, often OA and on-line, in various countries around the world. Many of these accept English-language submissions. Many smaller, especially international, journals accept unsolicited book reviews.

  1. Practice.

Reconsider things you do already as modes of practice: work up graduate essays into articles; when reading a new book, turn your notes into a review; accept invitations to review journal submissions; etc. Editing is an excellent way to develop skills in recognizing the characteristics of good (and bad) writing and in developing a sharp sense of how arguments take shape. Working with students on the process – not just the products – of writing is a great way to hone your own skills.

  1. Manage your environment.

We all have our own quirks and preferences as writers: some write late at night, while others get up early in the morning to be more productive; some brainstorm ideas in a coffee shop or on a treadmill, while others search for inspiration listening to music or taking a long walk. We have all unconsciously found our way to habits and spaces that happen to work for us at different phases of the writing process. A key way to become more efficient in writing is, first, to spend some time reflecting on what works for you (and what doesn’t) and, second, to maximize the conditions that foster productive writing, given your many other constraints…

Steven Engler is Professor of Religious Studies at Mount Royal University, Calgary, an undergraduate teaching institution. He publishes and edits extensively. He wrote his first articles while teaching nine courses per year with no research requirement and – now on a new “teaching-scholarship-service work pattern” – teaches six courses per year. He continues to sit on too many committees. He is married with three children (6 years, 18 months, and 5 months). For more information, see http://stevenengler.ca.

The Price You Will Pay for Work-Life Balance

One of the most common questions I’m asked now, and in the years when I was active as an academic, is how women in academia can manage to combine children and career.  I did it, having two babies as an assistant professor and still getting tenure and moving forward in my career.  But in the end, of course, it was my kids who were the catalyst for my leaving academia, in the sense that the pressures of coping with an awful and frightening custody battle, combined with the distractions of a stint in administration, caused me to cease research and writing, and indeed lose interest in the whole enterprise as a satisfying life goal (this is described in this post, Death of a Soul on Campus)

In my webinar, How To Manage Your Career Once You Have a Job, I begin and end with a single point—work-life balance is possible, but it takes vigilance and absolute commitment, it requires that you defy the expectations of your colleagues in the department and in the field at large, and that you be prepared to suffer a price for it, in terms of speed of promotions, raises, and career advancement.  You *can* have work-life balance, but it will be in resistance to, and defiance of, the norms that govern academic careers, and you will suffer consequences, and you need to be prepared for them.  And consequences that you don’t experience in terms of career advancement you might well see in terms of your physical health and mental well-being.

Now, today, there are two articles out, “Family Friendly Comes at a Price,” from the Chronicle of Higher Education and “The Mom Penalty” from Insider Higher Ed, that both provide evidence of the truth of this claim.  Please read them.

The irony of course, as one of the writers points out, is that only when more people, especially more men, demand adequate maternity/paternity leave, will the penalties and resentments directed at those who take it begin to diminish.

I close with this long quote from “The Mom Penalty.”

‘For women in academe, said Mason, “At every stage, there’s a ‘baby penalty.’ In the earlier stages, graduate students have children and drop out or grad students get turned away from the academic profession, in terms of the [lack of family-friendliness] they see around them.” Concerns about time demands in relation to caretaking, and worries that advisers, future employers and peers would take their work less seriously were all reasons female Ph.D. students, more than male, cited for not having a child or being uncertain about having a child in one survey of graduate students in the University of California system. In another survey of postdoctoral fellows in the system, more than 40 percent of women who had children during their fellowships were considering changing their career plans to those outside academic research, compared to 20 percent of childless women with no plans for children.

‘Young female professors with children leave the profession in greater numbers than their cohorts, too. The retention gap between female professors with children and those without, as well as men with and without children, narrows at mid-career – presumably when children are older and require less care – but women are still underrepresented at the higher rungs of the academic ladder. Tenure-track female professors also are likelier to be unmarried, divorced and childless than their male counterparts (12 years after receiving their Ph.D.s, 44 percent of female tenured faculty were married with children, versus 70 percent of male tenured faculty, according to the National Science Foundation’s landmark Survey of Doctorate Recipients, which has tracked 160,000 Ph.D.s in the sciences, social sciences and humanities since the effort began in the 1970s) – what Mason called a “double equity problem.”’


Writing Your Book While Juggling Teaching and Kids (A Guest Post)

A reader wrote asking for a post on how to write a book while working at a teaching-intensive university.  I put out a request for a guest post on the subject on Facebook, and Katherine Vukadin responded with this account of writing a book while teaching a heavy schedule and taking care of three young children at home.  (Katherine’s bio is below).  Thank you, Katherine, for this inspiring guest post!


A book!  We should write a book.”  My colleague stood at my office doorway, her excitement irresistible.  “A book of legal writing exercises–and answers.”  The idea was a good one.  At a previous law school, I had heard professors bemoan the lack of such a book.  But how would we write it?  We were assistant professors with just one or two years on the tenure track, we taught time-consuming legal writing courses, and we held committee assignments that seemed to expand by the day.  

Home was demanding too.  My kids were four, six, and eight at the time.  My spouse worked long hours.  Write a book?  Surely not.  And yet . . .  the idea was a good one.  Would such a window ever open again?  “Yes!  Yes, I’m in,” I heard myself say.  

We spent the month of May grading papers and reading up on book proposals.  Six months later we had a contract in hand, and fourteen months after that, the completed manuscript to Legal Analysis: 100 Exercises for Mastery.  How did it happen?  The process wasn’t perfect.  The book isn’t perfect.  But it’s done, we love it, and we survived.  Our families are still with us.  Your process may be different from ours; it may be better.  Here, though, are a few thoughts on how we got it done.

Be passionate.  Your book idea must excite you.  It’s the book you looked for, but never found.  It’s the thing you need to say.  You will have to sell this idea, champion this idea, and sacrifice for it too, so make sure you believe in it and love it.  Next, get fired up to write.  For encouragement and non-nonsense tips, try Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeksand Paul J. Silvia’s How to Write a Lot.      

Ask up front for as much time as you can.  Our proposal gave us a year to write; our publisher sagely added a couple of months.  Many times, I was so grateful for this.  If you can get more time up front, ask for it.

Shrink what can be shrunk.  Say “no” as never before.  If asked to join a time-consuming committee, explain that this year, you can’t.  Because you can’t.  Contain your teaching obligations as much as possible.  This is not the year to revamp your lectures.  If your teaching is spread over five days, see if that can be tweaked before the semester begins.  If higher-ups see that a simple schedule change can help you publish more, they may be receptive.  

Schedule your writing time; be realistic.  The most productive writers at my institution and the writers on writing seemed to hit a common theme: squeeze in writing time and don’t wait for the “perfect” time.  This became my mantra too.  I used Wendy Belcher’s scheduling forms http://wendybelcher.com/pages/WorkbookForms.htmand wrote a big picture goal in on a yearly planner.  Each week had its own goal too, either in words (a goal of 2,000 words for a week for example) or in number of exercises.  If life throws you an unexpected event (a sudden two-hour hunt for a lost blankie or an attack of lice that must be addressed NOW), you can make up your work on another day within that week without blowing your goal.  

What about the children?  It’s tricky, of course, to write with small children.  I tried to make the absolute most of the days in December and May when my own classes were out, but the children were still in school.  During that period, I wrote in the mornings and graded at night.  When the kids were home, their down time or play time was my writing time.  I also wrote most days from 8 p.m. until about 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m.  We allow video games on Saturday afternoons, so Saturdays became good writing days; we also started the popular Sunday Movie Outing with Dad.  During the summer, the kids were in day camps about half the time, although camps can be pricey.  When the children were home and bored or bickering with each other, I bribed, wheedled, and begged–let Mommy work for one hour, and then we’ll go to the park, get ice cream, etc.  

At times, I felt guilty.  But the kids still thrived.  And the book had an unexpected positive side-effect.  When my oldest, who had most noticed the writing process, saw the book, he was elated and so proud.  He takes for granted that he can write a book when he wants to—because that’s just what people do.  He’s seen it done.  I had only considered the down side for the kids, but there is a huge up side too.   

Know your limits and circumstances.  We aimed to make just someprogress during the school year.  We did not schedule any writing during the weeks that we conferenced with each one of our students, for example.  But a summer alone may not be enough time to start and finish a large project.  If you squeeze in some work during the year, you’ll be all set when summer hits.
Do something.  If you can’t face the thought of writing on a given day, do some other task for your project.  Read a source once again.  Re-read what you’ve written.  Or force yourself to write just fifty or a hundred words.  Try one method Daniel Pink used in writing his bestseller Drive: sit down and make yourself write five hundred words before you do anything.  And he means anything!

Bring it.  Frustrated with lost time in car pool lines, doctors’ waiting rooms and the like?  Bring along some small part of your project.  Even a rough draft to read or an article to peruse can inspire you and keep you thinking.  This probably won’t be your most focused work.  But again, something is better than nothing and momentum counts.

Accept help.  Help came in various forms.  Friends and family read book sections; colleagues and former colleagues talked to us about writing and contracts; family and fellow moms offered help with school pickups.  We gave our profound thanks, a grateful mention in our acknowledgements, and a rousing party when the book came out.  

Billy Joel said in a recent interview that he loves having written but hates writing.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/magazine/billy-joel-on-not-working-and-not-giving-up-drinking.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0  Writing is so hard, and so solitary, and so time-consuming.  But when you dig deep, and your book comes out, you will love having written.


Katherine T. Vukadin is an Assistant Professor of Law at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.  She was previously an associate at the law firm of Baker Botts L.L.P.  She teaches, researches, and writes in the areas of law school pedagogy, legal writing pedagogy, and health care policy. Professor Vukadin received her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law and her B.A. from the University of Houston.

The Postdoc App: How It’s Different and Why


For the next few months I will be posting the “best of the best” Professor is in blog posts on the job market, for the benefit of all those girding their loins for the 2013-2014 market.  Today’s post was originally published in 2011.



It has come to my attention that many junior people do not have a clear picture in their minds of the requirements of a postdoc application.

Some treat it too much like the job application. And some treat it too differently from the job application. The fact is, it falls somewhere in the middle. It’s quite different from a job application…..and yet many of the same principles apply.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that the postdoc application is requiring a cover letter, a 4 page research proposal, a description of a proposed course, and a brief statement articulating how you will participate in the scholarly community of the campus. While not all postdocs will require this exact set of documents, by discussing these here, we can address the major requirements, expectations, and potential pitfalls of the typical postdoc application effort. I will take them in order.

Cover Letter

This cover letter will be very similar to your job cover letter as explained in this post. It will contain the standard set of paragraphs to start: introduction, dissertation, dissertation import, publications.  In all of this first part, the relevance of your work to the stated mission of the postdoc will be emphasized clearly.  This requires carefully tailoring the cover letter materials. It’s difficult but it must be done.  If your topic is Mexican women immigrant workers, then for a gender postdoc, you will emphasize how the phenomenon reflects changing gender relations at home or abroad; for a globalization postdoc, you will emphasize how the phenomenon reflects changing labor mobility globally; for a Latin American Studies postdoc, you will emphasize how the phenomenon reflects new economic circumstances in Mexico.  This tailoring requires an original recasting or reframing of your work to meet the mission of the postdoc!  Failure to do this reframing means failure to get the postdoc.

After the discussion of research, the postdoc app letter will specifically discuss the plan of work for the postdoc year–ie, month by month, what new research and revisions will be made.

It will then include a very brief discussion of teaching experience (much shorter than for a regular job cover letter), followed by a discussion of the proposed class required by the postdoc, and how the proposed class will also advance the mission of the postdoc.

Lastly, in place of the typical tailoring paragraph, the letter will conclude with a brief paragraph explaining how the research and writing time of the postdoc will be used, how the scholarly community on campus will advance the project, and how the candidate will participate in said scholarly community.  The letter will be no more than 2 pages long.

The principle in operation here—and the one that too many applicants don’t seem to grasp—is that the campus is funding this expensive postdoc not so some random academic can come and sit in an office and write for a year, but rather, to “buy” the energy, contributions, and participation of an additional world-class scholar to their campus community for the period of that year. The postdoc, dear readers, is not meant to serve YOU. Rather, you are meant to serve the postdoc. That means, that in every document, you articulate how you will PARTICIPATE in campus/departmental scholarly life. You do this, however, as in all professional documents, without flattering, pandering, or begging. Rather, you identify faculty on campus with whom you would collaborate, and initiatives and programs on campus that are likely to house interdisciplinary conversations and debates to which your project relates, and you articulate clearly your interest in engaging with them in substantive ways.

4-Page Research Proposal

This research proposal looks very much like a grant application, and Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template will serve you well here, at least for the opening paragraphs. As in all research proposals you will want to open by proving the importance and urgency of your topic. Following the standard Dr. Karen template, you will construct the Proposal As Hero Narrative, with yourself in the role of Hero.

You may follow the Foolproof Grant Template all the way through to the point where it breaks off into things like budget and methodology. In place of those sections, you will focus entirely on timeline. The point of a postdoc research proposal is to, first, articulate an important and significant project, and second, articulate a coherent and feasible plan of work. It is this second element that most applicants fail to grasp.

Remember: the postdoc is not there to serve you, you are there to serve the postdoc. What does that mean? It means that the postdoc wants to see publications result from your time there. The postdoc wants to be mentioned in the acknowledgments of your book. The postdoc wants to be in the line, in the footnote, “this research was supported by generous funding from xxxxx.” The postdoc committee is going to judge the applications based on how likely it is that the applicant is going to efficiently and effectively use the time on campus to complete a specified set of publications. You will impress them when you include a month-by-month timeline/plan of work that shows explicitly what new archival/etc. research you will conduct, and when, what book chapters you will complete, and when, and what journal articles you will finish and submit, and when.

You will conclude this document with a strong and expansive conclusion that clearly shows how the postdoc year will play into your larger scholarly and career trajectory as a world-class scholar. Why? Because the postdoc wants to get part of the fame and glory that attaches to you as you move ahead in the world.

Postdocs are in the business of supporting the next generation of leaders in the scholarly world. To the extent that you represent yourself as a leader, you will do well. To the extent that you represent yourself as a little lost sheep desperately looking for a chance to get out of teaching for a year while you try and figure out what your book is about, you will do poorly. Be aware that the vast majority of postdoc applications are written by the latter.

Proposed Class Description

A point of vast confusion among postdoc applicants seems to be how to pitch the required class. Many applicants do not clearly grasp the difference between the postdoc and an adjunct. As such, the class they propose is one that is adjunct-level. Basically, applicants too often envision a course that is generic and basic. This is a mistake.

Postdocs are very expensive. If a campus wanted a generic and basic course, it would hire a cheap adjunct. There are many available. Instead, however, they are advertising for a postdoc. That means, they want a highly specialized course, that reflects the postdoc’s unique and distinctive scholarly program. The class can’t be absurdly specialized, of course. If the applicant’s specialization is the emerging gay male community in Jakarta, the course cannot be “Emerging Gay Male Communities in Jakarta.” Too narrow. Neither should it be “Introduction to Indonesia,” or “Gender and Sexuality.” Too broad. Rather, it should be pitched somewhere around, “Global Sexualities,” or “Gender and Sexuality in Southeast Asia,” or “Queer Globalizations.” The final choice for how to pitch the course will hinge on the climate of the department and the campus, and the postdoc mission itself—if it’s an Asian area studies postdoc, then you’d prioritize SE Asia, if it’s a gender postdoc, then you’d prioritize Global Sexualities, if it’s a transnational studies postdoc, then you’d prioritize Queer Globalizations. Get it? The tailoring happens here.

Statement of Participation in Campus Community

Here’s what the postdoc committee does not want: someone who arrives, walks into their allotted office, and is never seen again for the rest of the year. Here’s what they do want: someone who arrives and dives into the scholarly work of the department and the campus community. A postdoc is (should be) exempted from all service work on campus. However, the postdoc should make herself visible as an involved and interested departmental member. She should show up for brown bags and talks, symposia and conferences, and coffee and lunch with colleagues. In this statement, you articulate your orientation in that direction. Identify programs and initiatives in the department and on campus, by name, and discuss how you anticipate participating. Mention two or three faculty members by name, and how you look forward to engaging with them.

In all things, however, do NOT fall back into graduate student habits. You are NOT on campus to “learn from” or “study with” the scholars there. Rather, you ARE one of the scholars there. They may well learn from you. The proper stance here is that of a colleague who brings her own dynamic field of expertise to the campus, and who looks forward to energetic and innovative interactions with the colleagues there.

In sum, remember that, no matter how much you need that postdoc to get your book written, the postdoc is not there to serve you. You are there to serve the postdoc, but as a first-rank, world-class scholar and specialist in your field whose work speaks directly—DIRECTLY—to the mission of the postdoc. By virtue of your energy and brilliance, you cause the postdoc committee to pick you, out of all the competitors, to spend the year on their campus, sharing your work, and augmenting their teaching and intellectual profile and advancing their scholarly cause. Remember, make them want you.

The Dutch Academic Job Market for Americans and Other English Speakers (A Guest Post)

One of my blog commenters, Veronica Davidov, who has worked for many years in the Netherlands, remarked that American job seekers would benefit from knowing more about the Dutch job market, which is relatively open to American candidates. I asked her for a guest post, which she has kindly provided.  Thank you, Veronica!


Veronica Davidov is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Leiden University College.  She previously worked as a Lecturer in Globalization and Development at Maastricht University.  She has lived and worked in the Netherlands for almost five years.  You can find out more about her work on her website, veronicadavidov.com

The Dutch academic market is not very well-known in the US (in my experience).  But it should be:  English is the working language of a large part of Dutch academia, and the market is very open to American scholars and researchers in a way that French, German, or Belgian academic markets are not.  I put this post together drawing on email exchanges I have had with friends who have taken up employment in the Netherlands in the last few years, and contacted me prior to accepting their jobs, to make sense of some of the cultural and institutional differences.

Recruitment and employment: all Dutch academic jobs are published on one central websites, www.academictransfer.com.  This includes PhD positions (as those are “employee” rather than “student” positions here), postdocs, and full and part time faculty jobs.  Dutch universities also recruit through jobs.ac.uk and sometimes through CHE job boards, especially for jobs that are in English-language faculties and programs.

The hiring process is somewhere halfway between the American multi-level videogame-like campus visit experience and the UK minimalist one.  It is standard for the whole thing to last several hours.  For the first job I had in the Netherlands, I flew for an interview from the US.  The visit started at 10 am with an hour-long interview with two faculty members of the program into which I would be appointed and the dean of faculty, followed by lunch with the same two faculty members, and then a 30 minute research talk, open to faculty and students.   By 2 pm I was done. The second job I got in a different Dutch university had a campus visit that consisted of a one-hour sample class, one-hour research talk, and one-hour interview with the search committee (including the dean), back-to-back.  

Negotiations are similar to the UK system, or any US state or city system with clear salary scales and a comprehensive union contract.  All Dutch universities have an identical union contract, as they are all in a sense public/government jobs (there are private universities in the Netherlands but they are unlikely to be the ones hiring foreign staff, with the exception of American-based Webster University, which operates a campus in Leiden, and is indeed outside the Dutch system).  The HR calculates which scale and step your experience corresponds to, and there is not much room for negotiation in most cases.  Universities subsidize “kennismigrant” (skilled worker) permits for foreign employees; foreigners are also eligible for something called “the 30% rule” under which 30% of one’s income is untaxed.  This is an incentive from the Dutch government to recruit foreign talent, and (presumably) to offset some of the financial disadvantages one has living in the Netherlands as a foreigner who is ineligible for certain benefits, for example social housing or housing allowance.  The university is also supposed to buy you a bicycle every 3 years (or otherwise subsidize commute costs), although for some reason this rule seems to be erratically followed, depending on the university and the HR office.  

The types of positions (University Docent I, University Docent II, UHD (Associate Professor, Professor) are described in the Collective Labor Agreement, so I will just refer you to that document (http://www.staff.leiden.edu/h-r/cao/cao-and-regulations.html) and instead here spend a bit of time on things that are crucial but less codified.  As is the case everywhere, the Dutch university system is increasingly neoliberalized.  There are more and more fixed-term appointments.  While some are renewable, there are no infinitely renewable situations here—Dutch law stipulates that after three contract renewals one receives a permanent contract, so the universities will let people go before that condition is met if thy are not on the tenure-track.  Tenure process can vary from university to university.  At some universities the process is increasingly similar to the American system, with the tenure process taking 5 years, and the applicant undergoing a review based on their achievements in research, teaching, and service.  At others, there is still the “soft tenure” system, where permanent contracts are awarded after three years as long as the annual performance reports have been satisfactory.  In either case, the important thing about tenure at a Dutch university is that it is decoupled from promotion.  It is possible and common to be tenured as an assistant professor, and stay in that position until retirement, which is mandatory at the age of 65.  At some faculties it is literally impossible to advance to associate or full professorship for reasons of faculty politics and budget constraints.  At most faculties promotion to Associate or Full is contingent not on an ongoing track record of publications but on winning major grants, either from the NWO (the Dutch equivalent of the NSF and the NEH rolled into one), or through the ERC (the European Research Council).  The European Commission administers a grant program called a “Marie Curie Incoming Fellowship” specifically for non-European researchers coming to European universities.  

Winning such a grant can in some cases mean an instant promotion, but the grants are increasingly hard to get and the granting agencies increasingly favor projects with “applied” or “policy relevance” potential.  The grants are especially hard to get if one does not get in “on the ground floor” of the grant system.  The NWO has a series of individual grants for each stage of a research career—the Veni, a grant for 250,000 EUR, that buys one three years of teaching-free research time, is available for early-career researchers, the Vidi for mid-career researchers, and the Vici, the largest one, for established scholars.  While in principle anyone can apply as long as they fit the official criteria, it is common knowledge that it is much easier to get a Vidi if you had a Veni, and it is virtually impossible to have a Vici without having one or two of the “earlier” grants.  So, the system is good for job stability (if you are on the tenure-track), but erratic for advancement, unless you are one of the people who lucked into a succession of grants.  This is not to say that publications don’t matter—they do, they just don’t have the dramatic impact of such mega-grants.  Also, with publications, generally articles are more important than books—even in fields that might be “book fields” in the US.  Many Dutch faculties have a list of journals in which their faculty should be publishing, with a point system assigned to journals in different tiers, and scholarship criteria primarily focus on peer-reviewed journal publications. The symbolic economy of book publishers differs quite a bit from the US as well.  Outside the big names (Harvard, Yale, Stanford), American university presses are not as well-known, and not necessarily as desirable as, for instance, placing a volume with one of the Dutch academic presses (Amsterdam University Press, Brill) or with Routledge, Palgrave, or Praeger.  

There is a strong sense in Dutch academia that it is “Americanizing” in some ways.  Dutch universities are very open to hiring American scholars (especially ones from elite universities), and in the recent years Dutch universities have been increasingly interested in developing spaces for liberal arts education at the undergraduate level, similar to, and sometimes modeled after, the American SLACs.  These institutions are called “university colleges” and at this point many major universities have one (UvA and VU share one, Leiden and Maastricht have one each, and Utrecht University has two—Utrecht University College and The Roosevelt Academy; Erasmus University is set to open its own UC this fall).  While regular Dutch universities have open admissions, and students choose a specific fixed courses of pre-professional study early on, University Colleges have selective admissions and draw students who are interested in a broad liberal arts, interdisciplinary approach to BA-level education.  As with SLACs, appointments at UCs are likely to be teaching-heavy or teaching-only, and classes are likely to be capped at 15 or 20.  

The working culture in the Netherlands is very stereotypically European in that weekends are sacred, and so are vacations (mostly—on occasion there will be Open Days that different faculties plan for student recruitment on Saturdays).   At work there is generally more teamwork than one might be used to at American universities.  Co-teaching classes in one way or another is common; designing a syllabus literally by committee may also be common, depending on the faculty and the department.  There is a lot of service and there are many meetings.  Sometimes I have three meetings in a day for the various service committees I am on.  Such a normatively collaborative atmosphere may be very appealing for some—I have come to appreciate it a lot–and frustrating for others, especially if you are not used to the amount of bureaucratic work you might be expected to do as faculty, or to making sure your syllabus complies with a template not of your choosing.  

A recent rule in Dutch academia is that every faculty member at every university has to achieve a BKO certificate.  BKO stands for Basiskwalificatie onderwijs, in translation—Basic Qualification in Education.  Every university and faculty has its own procedure for how that assessment is made, but in principle everyone must submit a teaching portfolio to a BKO committee, which will assess it on the basis of certain rubrics.  Because this is a mandated requirement, most job ads for academic jobs in the Netherlands today mention the BKO or the willingness to earn one as a prerequisite.  

One last thing to consider that I think is indicative of the cultural differences between the Netherlands and the US—the expectations around what goes into a letter of reference.  If you ask a Dutch colleague to write you a letter, they are likely to write a very balanced assessment of your character, doing a strengths and weaknesses analysis and explaining why you would be effective in a particular position.  The adjectives that make up a “glowing” letter of reference are likely to be absent from such a letter.   The letter is also likely to be much shorter than what American letters look like.  Conversely, although many Dutch academics are familiar with the American style of reference letters, some find the standard heaps of praise excessive and difficult to “use” in terms of figuring out whether the person would be a good colleague.  This is a helpful thing to remember if one considers applying for a job in the Netherlands; it is even more important to remember if one decides to apply for jobs back in the US after working in the lowlands.   Well-meaning Dutch colleagues may end up damning you with faint praise with American search committees not attuned to this particular intercultural difference.  

I want to end with the caveat that although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands for 5 years, at two different universities, and I think I have some insight into how Dutch academia works, the aspects I wrote about are representative in some ways, but of course the Dutch academia is not monolithic, and different universities and departments function in different ways.  So this is not meant to offer definitive generalizations about the Dutch university system, but rather to provide an overview of an academic market that many American job-seekers are not familiar with, and give the readers a sense of the possibilities and limitations in this academic context.