Information for Those Who Work With Dr. Karen

Today’s post is meant to clarify some confusion among some of you who are or are thinking of becoming clients related to the time required to complete the editing process.

I’ve had a few incidents this past month in which clients sent me 15-page sets of 4 different documents for postdoc or fellowship applications,  one week before their final deadlines.

This is not possible. I require 24-48 hours for a response to each edit that arrives in my inbox.  I work on emails in strict order of arrival in my inbox. It takes about 8-10 working days to get through a single document, and remember we work sequentially, one document at a time.

When I give that first edit, it is not a final and definitive edit.  It is the first of up to FOUR edits included in document work.  In draft one we point out everything that you must now do to improve the document, focusing on readings in the book and on the blog so that you have the principles of good writing to take forward into the future.  We read for the weaknesses in your writing and argumentation and organization, and tell you exactly how to correct them. As many of my clients know, we will often contribute new and fresh phrasing ideas where I see opportunities to do so.  But overall, the job of revising and rewriting is yours.

The first edit will deal with large organizational and writing problems and errors.  The second, third, and fourth edit will refine to greater and greater clarity of argumentation and evidence, and felicity of phrasing.

There is no way to rush this process.  It unfolds at exactly the appropriate pacing and timeline, and generally requires all four of the edits to reach completion.

As I said, the minimum amount of time, assuming you rush your edits, will be about 8-10 business days per document. For a longer document, if I take 24 hours for each edit draft, and you then take 48 hours to do your revisions, that is 72 hours per draft.  72 hours x 4 drafts = 288 hours.  288 hours comes to 12 days.

Please recall that I don’t work on weekends.

That means in practice, the minimum amount of time for your lengthy postdoctoral application to be thoroughly edited is 2 ½ weeks.  

If you do not leave at least 2 ½ weeks for the editing work to be done, the edits will not be finished by your deadline.

Please consider yourself forewarned by this explanation, which I will be sending to all new grant, fellowship, and postdoc proposal clients.

Also, to manage the intense demand for my services and large client load, I have several policies that are firm and non-negotiable:  1) I work on one document at a time, sequentially through 4 drafts, to completion before moving to the next document; 2) each draft # (# 1-4) must be marked in the file name of each draft that you return; 3) because I make many small unmarked edits for style and clarity, clients must download and edit from the exact document that I return to them so as to retain all edits moving forward; 4) work on any new document must be pre-arranged on the schedule and cannot be launched into on the fly; 5) clients need to demonstrate what I consider to be a reasonable level of improvement in each draft–I need to see real and consistent effort to understand and execute the editing principles that I recommend; 6) Quick Review clients must submit a document that has been completely overhauled to follow the principles explained in the blog posts, models, or accompanying PDF, and be correctly labeled as QUICK REVIEW in the subject line (as explained in the instructions upon purchase).  If I find that a client consistently ignores my policies, I cancel our work together and refund 50% of paid fees; rush fees are non-refundable.

Now it goes without saying, that if you are working on short things like job letters or teaching statements, or on smaller fellowships that requires only a 2-page proposal, the work will be closer to 8 days.  But for major fellowships such as the SSHRC (I’m looking at YOU, Canadians!), the Princeton Society of Fellows, the Harvard Society of Fellows, and all the various residential and dissertation completion fellowships scattered about the country?  2.5 weeks.

Please remember that Dr. Karen, appearances notwithstanding, does not have magical powers.  The time-space continuum continues to hold sway, and editing continues to be a long, hard, grueling process with no shortcuts.

The Worst Job Letter Ever Written (Not really…)

A few months ago one of my clients, after completing work with me on her job letter, ruefully sent along the original version of the letter that she had been using the previous year.  She wrote,

“I’ve attached a copy of the first job letter I ever sent (to a well-known private research university in the Midwest) during last year’s job cycle.  This letter is beyond bad, and I’m quite embarrassed that I sent it.

“What’s worse is that it was approved by my ‘nice’ advisor and another senior faculty member, also on my committee, who is considered a good writer and editor.  Yes, I received a few minor edits from both of them, so I could at least tell that they had read it, but not enough to make much improvement.  

“This letter was written before I discovered your blog.  I wasn’t officially on the job market last year and only applied for a handful of positions (the letters were better after the discovery of your blog), but this year I’m FT on the market so no room for error.  I’m glad I decided to go with your Quick Job Letter Diagnostic Package.  I feel so much more confident and competitive for this cycle!

“Anyway, I attached that first letter, edited for anonymity with a lot of XXXXX’s, to show how far I’ve come. Job letters have always been the bane of my existence, by far the weakest part of my application package.  The attached letter demonstrates many of the major letter writing mistakes you mention, but I think the most striking one is my severe list addiction. [KK: for more on the national scourge of list addiction read this post: Break the Cycle of List Addiction]

“When I re-read it, I realized that I’m not saying anything despite the wordiness.  Nothing is discussed in any depth; instead everything is told in list after list.  Feel free to share it as an example of what not to do.”

I am overcome with gratitude to this client for being willing to share this document so generously.  One of the hardest things for me to do in my work at TPII is to provide compelling examples of just how wretchedly bad job documents can be (and ususally are in their first draft).  I of course always tell each individual client how bad his or her document is.  I usually say some version of:  “Oh, xxxx, I’m so glad you found me. This letter is a total train wreck.”   But then we quickly banish that draft to the digital dustheap of shame, and it disappears never to return again.

Thanks to this caring and brave client, I now have a train wreck job letter draft that can live on as a model. (BTW, those of you who purchase the Quick Job Letter Diagnostic Package also get, in the included pdf, a set of four terrible first drafts along with their final versions–these are also very helpful.)

I give the letter to you below, with each paragraph annotated for the errors it makes. I  include references to the relevant blog posts addressing the error in more detail in a list below the letter..   The only errors this letter does not make are:  it is a good length and it has proper heading material in terms of date and address at top.

And just a note: I facetiously titled this blog post “The Worst Job Letter Ever Written” but it is far, far from the worst that I have seen.



Associate Professor, XXXXXX
Chair, Search Committee
Department of XXXXXX
Private Research University
XXXXXX Campus Drive
XXXXXX, XX 12345-6789

Dear Dr. XXXXXX:

I am writing to apply for the assistant professor position in XXXXX as advertised on XXXXX. I am excited about the opportunity to apply for a faculty position in the School of XXXXX at [Private Research University] based on its variety of innovative degree programs, interdisciplinary approach to education and research, and supportive environment for students and faculty. I am a doctoral candidate in XXXXX at [Public Research University] and fully expect to fulfill my degree requirements by XXXXX. My
dissertation, which I am completing under the direction of Dr. XXXXX, uses XXXXX method to examine the process of XXXXX among XXXXX population. I believe my teaching experience and interests, combined with my interdisciplinary learning in XXXXX and research background in XXXXX and XXXXX, make me a strong candidate for the position outlined in your notice.

[Candidate flatters and panders to the institution to which she’s applying (B).  “Fully expect” sounds defensive and unsure.  “Completing under the direction of Dr. xxxx” shouts grad student, shows excessive subordination, and is over-humble (A). “I believe” shows insecurity and hyper-emotionalism. A letter is not a screed (H).  “make me a strong candidate…” is a desperate and anxious fit sentence (F).]

My primary theoretical and empirical research goals are directed toward understanding and enhancing XXXXX and XXXXX in XXXXX and XXXXX contexts, including finding ways for XXXXX population to maintain their XXXXX and improve their XXXXX and XXXXX in a variety of settings, and I am well prepared to meet
these goals. My doctoral education and training in XXXXX and prior degree work in XXXXX have enabled me to develop a truly integrative and holistic way of thinking about XXXXX and XXXXX, which is why being part of an interdisciplinary program such as yours, is especially important to me. My research interests span many areas, including XXXXX dimensions of XXXXX and XXXXX, XXXXX and XXXXX factors that affect XXXXX and XXXXX, the process of XXXXX and its outcomes, transnational and comparative perspectives on XXXXX and XXXXX, and XXXXX education. I have advanced training and experience in research design and a number of methods, both qualitative (e.g., XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX) and
quantitative (e.g., XXXXX statistics, XXXXX statistics), though my current work is mostly qualitative. In your school, I am particularly interested in the activities of the Institute on XXXXX as they coincide with my interests in XXXXX, XXXXX, and XXXXX.

[Telling rather than showing (E).  No specifics of the research and no title. Devolves into a dreary and endless list of topics (D). “I am well prepared to meet these goals” is defensive and desperate.  “enabled me to develop a truly integrative and holistic way of thinking about…”  substitutes adjectives for content (E).  “Which is why being part of a department such as yours…” is desperate, begging, pandering, and also overly emotional (A, B).   “My research spans many areas….” spirals into a vortex of list addiction (D).  “In your school…” uses a second person pronoun that is best avoided in job letters (B) and although this is actually valid tailoring, is buried in lists and distracting verbiage.  “I am particularly interested in…. coincide with my interests” is telling not showing; also, nobody cares what you are interested in, they care about evidence of what you did and published and will do and publish next.]

My dissertation provides an examination of the process whereby XXXXX population develops, maintains, and communicates XXXXX, employing XXXXX study design and using XXXXX method. I used XXXXX to explore XXXXX, as a function of XXXXX and XXXXX, in order to develop an understanding and explanation of XXXXX for this particular group. I plan to turn my dissertation into a manuscript after its completion. Additional research experience includes my work as a research affiliate with XXXXX Initiative, a statewide project to access the challenges and opportunities that arise from XXXXX. After analyzing statistical data from the household survey, I wrote the chapters on XXXXX and XXXXX, XXXXX and XXXXX, and XXXXX for the state report. This experience familiarized me with social implications XXXXX has for
XXXXX and XXXXX, and I can therefore bring these issues to the classroom in an informed manner. I am also completing two independent projects, XXXXX and XXXXX. Both manuscripts will also be submitted for peer review to XXXXX and XXXXX, respectively.

[Dissertation arrived at too late, and not titled.  Again relies on a verb list (“develops, maintains and communicates”).   “Develop an understanding and explanation of xxxx for this particular group” is  unimpressive as a research goal; appears derivative and unoriginal (A).  No core argument and intervention of the research articulated.  Plan to turn diss into book mentioned with no substantiating evidence or plan of work.  Detour into other research of unclear relevance confuses the reader, who is further bewildered by a long list (D).  “I can therefore bring these issues to the classroom in an informed manner” is damning self with faint praise, also raising teaching abruptly and inappropriately in the diss paragraph.  “I am completing two independent projects” is bewildering–are these related to the diss project or not?  If not, why doing them?  Mention of specific publication plan with journal title is good–but no clear articulation of a larger and coherent publication trajectory from past to present to future.]

In addition to research, I am committed to pursuing an academic career that values teaching and mentoring. My teaching interests include XXXXX and XXXXX, XXXXX and XXXXX, XXXXX influences on XXXXX, and research design and methods, but I am prepared to teach other XXXXX courses. I believe I am qualified to teach the undergraduate courses XXXXX, XXXXX, and XXXXX and the graduate courses XXXXX and XXXXX in your school. I have several semesters of teaching experience,
ranging from teaching assistant to graduate instructor. Most recently I designed and team taught a new undergraduate course, XXXXX. Feedback from my students identified me as an effective and approachable instructor. I also held a teaching internship with Dr. XXXXX, current president of XXXXX Education Organization. I incorporated a new section on XXXXX, XXXXX, and XXXXX that was well
received by the class and resulted in an engaging discussion with the students. His mentorship, along with the instruction I received from Dr. XXXXX in my teaching practicum, taught me a great deal about instructional pedagogy, course design, and class management. I look forward to a time when teaching and mentoring play a larger role in my academic responsibilities and would be privileged to work with your doctoral students in XXXXX program and undergraduates in XXXXX and XXXXX concentrations.

[Opens by stating the obvious.  Then an excessive list.  “I believe I am qualified….” shows insecurity and damning self with faint praise (H).  “Feedback from my students identified me as an effective and approachable instructor.” is pathetic in how low the bar of faint praise has been set.  “teaching internship with Dr. xxxx” subordinates self, emphasizes grad student identity, and is over-humble. “His mentorship….” is distasteful in its excessive humility and self-abnegation, situates candidate as perennial grad student peon.  “Would be privileged to work with your….”  distasteful degree of over-humble flattering, pandering, and begging (B).]

My commitment to higher education extends to my service activities. I am very active in XXXXX National Organization, currently serving on its XXXXX and XXXXX Committees and as the elected XXXXX Representative for [Public Research University], where it is my job to encourage student involvement in the organization. I also served as the student representative to my department’s XXXXX and XXXXX
Committees and to the College of XXXXX’s XXXXX Committee. My service activities cover commitments as serious as my appointment to XXXXX National Organization’s XXXXX Committee and as fun as organizing and leading the XXXXX activity and hosting XXXXX at last year’s XXXXX Meeting.

[This long para on service is the last nail in the coffin of this candidate’s identity as insecure, overly humble, and excessively eager to serve.  Service does not get anyone a job.  National level service can be given one sentence and no more; campus level service none.  This much on service raises a major red flag that the candidate will be one of those young female hires who can’t say no, expends herself on service, doesn’t get publishing done, and gets turned down at tenure.   “as serious as…. as fun as….” is utterly inappropriate for a job letter, and juvenilizes and genders the candidate as a frivolous female.]

I believe that I would be an asset to your school and would welcome the opportunity to discuss the position and my qualifications with you further. I have enclosed a copy of my curriculum vitae, together with two writing samples, and have arranged for three letters of reference to be sent to you under separate cover. If you require additional information or materials, please contact me by phone (123.456.7890) or email ( I will also be available to meet with anyone from your
school at the XXXXX Meeting in XXXXXX this [month]. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

[“I believe that I would be an asset…” is desperate begging (B).  Meanwhile, there is no substantive tailoring of this letter speaking to the actual initiatives and faculty of the department/campus and how candidate would contribute (C). The repetition of  “would welcome the opportunity….If you require…. please contact me…. I will also be available….” communicates desperation.]


Clueless PhD Candidate




Blog Post Reference List

A.  Why Your Job Cover Letter Sucks

B. How to Tailor  a Job Letter (Without Flattering, Pandering, or Begging)

C.  Tailoring a Job Letter, Beginning and Advanced

D.  Breaking the Cycle of List Addiction

E.  This Christmas, Don’t Be Cheap

F. I’m The Ideal Candidate For Your Position!

G. The Dreaded Teaching Statement: 8 pitfalls

H.  Do. Or Do Not. There Is No Try.


Does the Status of the Press Matter?

Today’s post is in response to a reader who wrote in asking, “does the status of the press matter when seeking to publish your book?”

Sometimes I am surprised by what people ask me, and this is one of those times.

Does anyone not know the answer to this question?

The answer is:  yes, the status of the press matters.  It matters a LOT.  It matters like—choose right and you get a great tenure track job and a career and a retirement plan, choose wrong and you live forever in adjunct hell.

If you are in a book field, you need a book for tenure, certainly, but increasingly you need a book just to get a job at all.  I am not saying that the book has to be OUT to get the first job.  But you need to be well into the process of book publication to get that job. By which I mean, be able to talk knowledgably about the book plan and timeline, perhaps have chatted the book up with an editor at a conference, or been invited to submit a proposal, and beyond that, have a proposal ready to send, or in submission.

Whether or not you’re finished with your dissertation, if you are in a book field, you need to be looking ahead to the book, and thinking about where, when, and how it will be published.

In these circumstances, naturally, you will be excited if you find your work being solicited by an editor at a press.  But if you’ve been invited to submit a proposal by an editor, you must not instantly leap at the invitation!  You must make sure that the press is of a caliber that will advance your career.

Presses that advance your career are major university presses and Routledge and the like.  Presses like Ashgate, Rowman and Littlefield, and Palgrave and so on are an indeterminate rank and will count at some universities and departments more highly than at others. Other presses must be evaluated very, very carefully.  There may be a small and obscure press that is well known and important in your particular niche—and then it is fine to pursue publication with that press.  But in general, small and obscure presses do not advance your career.

Putting a book out with an obscure press is not much different than having no book out at all, in terms of gaining a tenure track job or tenure.  Yes, you’ll have a book between covers that you can put on your shelf and proudly show your friends and family.  But a book that “counts” for the tenure track job market and tenure?  That book needs to be out with one of the major presses of the academic world.

You may observe that some well known and influential senior scholars sometimes publish with presses that are not of the first rank.  Why?  Because they can. Because their reputations are unassailable, and they can afford to pursue publication that is based on prior personal connections, or that is less rigorous in terms of review, with no impact to their standing.

But for anyone seeking to create a scholarly reputation, the importance of the status of the press of the first book cannot be overstated.  Any press that does not have “University” in its name should be approached with great caution.  Inquire closely with advisors you trust whether or not to consider it.

Location, Location…what?

This past week the Chronicle of Higher Education posted a column by Alexandra Lord, titled “Location, Location, Location.”  Lord is the person behind the site on nonacademic careers, Beyond Academe, and she also runs an online Web journal, the Ultimate History Project. She also, apparently, works full time in a nonacademic position as a preservationist.

This article, in a nutshell, involves her regret at taking a tenure track position in a part of the country that she did not like.  She uses her own story to open a wider meditation on how much weight academics in general should give to location in their job searches.  Her advice:  don’t consider taking a job in a place that won’t be congenial to you, for any number of reasons, including the location of your extended family, or your sexual orientation or religion.  She took issue in a mild sort of way with a previous column by David Perlmutter (one of my favorite Chronicle columnists, btw), that was called “Embrace Your Inner North Dakotan.”  In that column Perlmutter told job seekers in essence that they must beware the kind of elitism and disdain with which academics tend to view the non-coastal, non-urban, non-hip parts of the country and be open to the possibility they might be happy in small, rural places.

I liked Perlmutter’s column.  I also like Lord’s column.  As far as I’m concerned, they are both exactly right.

But apparently I am in the minority in believing so.  The comment stream following Lord’s column is filled with a mystifying degree of dismissiveness and even hostility.  Perlmutter himself contributed a weirdly hysterical reaction involving Jews and Muslims.  The issue seemed to revolve around Lord’s own credibility as a person who left academia, and outrage that she would in turn imply that leaving academia was a good choice if academic jobs were not available in good locations.  “How DARE anyone,” comments seem to imply, “put anything before the demands of the scholarly career?!” As the always reliable “graddirector” says:

“It should be noted that no one is forced to go to graduate school.  By doing so, you are already agreeing to enter the world as it exists that honestly is not going to change.  These realities are the same that have been there for over 100 years and come from being highly trained for geographically dispersed opportunities.  This is really no different than the coal miner or auto assembler whose mine or local plant closes.  They have the choice of moving to another part of the country where their skills are in demand but with the cost of leaving their family and friends, or staying in their current community and entering a cycle of poverty. ”

The meta-message is clear:  The true academic is the one who sacrifices.

As Bill Pannapacker remarked on my Facebook page, about the comment stream to the piece:  “Summary of comments: If you want to be an academic, you must accept misery. It’s your duty not to be happy.”

Rarely do we see the cult-like nature of academia revealed so starkly.  The cult demands sacrifice and the cult will have it.  And the cult will punish harshly anyone who questions the value of the sacrifice, and dares to ask, “is it worth it?”

In terms of numbers I think the majority of commenters actually support Lord’s position.  But they seem to be the ones not permanently employed in academia.  The ones who appear to be writing from the position of tenure seem to say: “suck it up.”

I actually believe that people can be happy in a variety of places.  I was a finalist for a position at Stanford, and ended up getting a job in Oregon. I had no desire whatsoever to live in Oregon, and spent a good number of years pining for the Palo Alto that might have been.  And then after a while, I realized I loved Oregon.  Then I, perversely, moved away to take a fancier job in the Midwest.  I could not live there.  I tried with all my might.  But I could not.  It was embarrassing to admit defeat, but eventually, I did and left.  And back in Oregon, I know I’m in the right place.

My own story splits the difference.  My story suggests that a person’s got to be open minded about many unexpected locations to which their job search might take them.  And at the same time, when the chips fall, and the parent takes ill or the partner needs a job or the heart wants what the heart wants…. then you’ve got to listen and make a choice, and that choice may be to leave the location, or, as in my case, to leave the profession in order to leave the location.

I don’t think this is blasphemy!  But I’ve come to understand that to many it is.  Be careful about telling your advisor, and don’t expect them to throw you a going away party.

The Perils of “Nice,” Cont’d: Recommendation Edition

I got to see a letter of rec this week, and was stunned at the way it sabotaged my client, a SUPERB AND TOTALLY HARD-ASS candidate.   It did this apparently from the best of intentions, by burying her achievements in endless verbiage about how “nice” she is, and focusing excessively on the warmth of relationship between the writer and my client, rather than on the client’s actual achievements as a scholar.

If you’re wondering why the client had a copy of her letter of recommendation….well, she’s in the hard sciences, and apparently it isn’t a completely unknown practice over there for recommenders to openly share their letters with the objects of recommendation.

Anyway, when I mentioned it to the client, she was way ahead of me. She directed me to this piece in the Chronicle, “Damning with Praise.”

Bad news, ladies: your recommendation letters could be sinking your faculty job and/or your promotion chances,” the article starts.

According to a new study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Psychology, letters that describe candidates in “communal” or cooperative terms—e.g., “agreeable,” “helpful,” “nurturing,”—are less highly regarded by search committees (hat tip: The Juggle) than are active terms. And, of course, the cooperative terms are most often used to describe female candidates, while active terms—like “confident,” “aggressive,” and “independent”—which are more highly regarded by search committees, are typically reserved for male candidates, the researchers at Rice University and the University of Houston found in their examination of 624 recommendation letters for 194 applicants for eight university faculty jobs.”

She told me that she had shared that piece with the recommender, and was hoping the message would get through. If the letter isn’t rewritten, she’s going to have to jettison the recommender, who unfortunately, is her advisor. The recommender is a woman.

The article goes on to quote Paula Szuchman: “what’s most troubling about these findings ‘isn’t that such cooperative qualities are underappreciated by those doing the hiring (at least in academia),’ but that women are characterized in those gendered terms because they’re female, not because they are ‘actually more kind or sympathetic than the men.’”

This is a real danger, people. Advisors—please beware how you write about women candidates. Do not substitute praise for their pleasant personalities for evidence of their actual substantive scholarly achievements.

The researchers also noted another disturbing trend: “that recommendation-letter writers often describe women in uncertain terms—using phrases such as ‘she might make an excellent leader’ versus what they used for male candidates, ‘he is already an established leader.’”

Candidates—I know that in most fields you don’t get to see the letters that people are writing for you, and this is a perennial source of uncertainty and stress.

But, to the extent that you can, please be alert to ways your letter-writers might be sabotaging you inadvertently, and make sure that all of your recommenders have your cv and all information about your full list of scholarly achievements close at hand as they write the letter. And also, that you continually update them with your most recent achievements moving forward.

You don’t want to be remembered as the “sweet young thing” of your MA program when you’re trying to establish yourself as a hard-core competitive scholar.

(Incidentally, this problem continues to apply all the way through women’s tenure cases. I saw it when I had the chance to review the tenure letters and the departmental reports associated with those cases.)


Tailoring a Job Letter, Beginning and Advanced

An expanded and updated version of this post can now be found in Chapter  23 of my new book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. I am keeping a shortened version here, but for the complete discussion including the template for a job cover letter, please do purchase the book, which compiles all my major job market posts along with 50% entirely new material.

Today I return to the subject of tailoring a job letter. Whenever I find myself making the same corrections again and again across different client documents, I know that I’ve found a pattern (or “pataan”–as they say in Japanese–and “pataan” has more of the judgmental, ‘why do you keep doing the same thing over and over when I’ve clearly told you not to?’ feel to it, so naturally it’s the go-to word around my house).

Anyway, first, the basic and all too common mistake: if you can say it about any school or department or to any school or department, then it is not tailoring.


I am excited to develop my career in research and teaching at your excellent department.”

I would be interested to develop a range of undergraduate and graduate courses in the department.”

Etc., etc., etc.

I am constantly surprised at the difficulty that clients have in coming up with substantive and meaningful ways to describe the actual potential collaborations and involvements and initiatives they might participate in in the departments to which they are applying.

This difficulty really goes to the heart of the matter in the dysfunction that is graduate training in the present time. It is so profoundly myopic, and graduate students are enabled and indeed encouraged by their advisors and committees to be so completely self-absorbed and self-indulgent in their single-minded focus on the minutiae of the dissertation, that the poor students have absolutely no idea what the actual requirements are of the tenure-track position. Those requirements prominently include …



Let The Games Begin!

“I don’t need to see the Hunger Games.  I’m on the tenure track job market.”   (remark on the Professor Is In Facebook page).


Hello readers!  I’m back.   Italy has been visited (and loved) and Oregon’s delightfully temperate summer thoroughly enjoyed, and now it’s time to get back to work for Fall.

I know it’s a tad early for those of you still in denial.  But jobs are posted and blood pressure is rising.  Dr. Karen is at the helm!


One announcement and two changes for the 2013 job season.  First, the announcement.  The waiting list to start work with me extends into the first week of October.  That is still time to make some of the deadlines of the typical fall market…but not a lot of time.  If you’re thinking of working with me, please don’t delay getting in touch.

Second, due to the intensity of the work already underway, I’ll be posting on the blog only once a week for the interim.  I hope to return to twice a week blogging after the Fall rush.  I haven’t quite decided on the posting day yet, but this week, it’s Tuesday!


Third, as promised, I’m inaugurating a regular series of webinars.  As you know we did the first trial webinar back in June, and it was terrific!  People seemed to like it, and it got great feedback.   I like the technology most of all because it allows for real-time interaction with the participants.  I present things, you ask questions, and I answer them.  We can get very specific and targeted, very quickly.

I’m planning to do two webinars a month on different topics, including:

What You Need To Know Now on the Tenure Track Job Market

Surviving Your First Year on the Tenure Track

How to Write a Winning Grant

Making a 5-Year Plan

There will be others, and if you have a special request for a topic, please by all means put it in a comment here on this post.

The first webinar is actually the day after tomorrow (Thursday August 9) so I’m using today’s blog post to announce it, as there is little time to get the word out.   From next week I will begin blogging on my regular job market and life-in-academia topics.  One blog post coming up is on the value of rage.  Another is on how job seekers damn themselves with faint praise.  Stay tuned.


I am putting live links to checkout in this blog post, so you can sign up for the webinars directly from here.  Both webinars that are currently scheduled are $100.

The perennial question is, how different are the webinars from the blog posts?  Are they redundant?  And a related question—if I’ve worked with Dr. Karen on my job materials, is there anything new for me in the webinar?

Answer: I’m committed to making these webinars valuable for anyone, including those who have read my blog posts or worked with me.  I use the time to go into the principles and the subtleties of powerful writing and verbal self-expression that I don’t get into in a short blog post, or in work on a specific job document.  I make a point to share bad examples from actual client work (anonymous of course) so that the pitfalls are clear.  And then I demonstrate how to fix them.  And the Q and A time allows for answers to individual questions and concerns.   Strategy webinars like “Surviving Your First Year on the Tenure Track,” meanwhile, focus intensively on issues of planning and self-protection that are much better suited to a conversation than a written post.  If you have any specific concerns or questions about whether a webinar is suitable for you, please do email me to ask at


Here’s the info:

1)  “What You Need to Know Now About the Tenure Track Job Market”—$100

In this 90-minute webinar I walk you through the conditions of the current American job market, the most common mistakes made by job-seekers, and the ways you can maximize your chances of success while looking for a tenure-track job.

We’ll cover:

*The big-picture conditions of the U.S. tenure track job market
*How to think like a search committee
*The four core qualities of a successful tenure track job candidate
*The Cover Letter: why yours probably sucks, and how to fix it
*The CV and Teaching Statement: common mistakes
*The three keys to academic interviewing

***To make this webinar useful even to those who have worked with me on their job documents, I focus also on the most common intangible pitfalls of the job market that I have identified after a year of working with clients. These include:

*the narcissism trap

*showing, not telling


*the perils of obstinacy

Includes 30 minutes of Q and A with Dr. Karen.

This 90-minute Webinar will be offered at: Thursday August 9 at 4 PM Pacific/7  PM EST/23:00 GMT

Cost:  $100


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2) Surviving Your First Year on the Tenure Track—$100

In this 90-minute webinar I walk you through the biggest challenges of the first year on the tenure track.  Topics we cover include

  • Dealing with new colleagues
  • Handling department politics
  • Finding mentors
  • Establishing a classroom persona
  • Learning to say no to service
  • Establishing a conference schedule
  • Protecting your writing time (and mental health!)


Most importantly, I walk you through the planning that you need to do, from year one, to situate yourself for your eventual tenure case.

This webinar is based on the advising meetings I used to have as Department Head with my first year assistant professors. They all got tenure.  It’s fun, but hard core!

This webinar complements the blog post, Advice For Your First Year on the Tenure Track, but focuses directly on hands-on recommendations for dealing with treacherous departmental politics and laying the groundwork for your tenure case.

Includes abundant time for Q and A with Dr. Karen!

This webinar will be offered Tuesday August 14, at 4 PM Pacific/7 PM EST/23:00 GMT

Cost: $100
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You’re Elite, The Job is Not: How Do You Tell Them You’ll Really Stay?

Today’s post is a Special Request Post for a reader, an ABD from an Ivy League, who wrote to ask, rather plaintively, how she might reassure a search committee for a job at a small, regional, teaching college that she Really Will Stay, if offered the job.

She hastened to add that she knew not to include an unseemly “fit sentence,” or to flatter, pander, or beg.  But what, she asked, should she write instead?

It’s my belief that the best approach to this dilemma is to tell the simple truth.  If you are a Ph.D. from an elite research program, but genuinely and truthfully believe that you will be happy in a non-elite, regional, or teaching-heavy environment, then you should just say so.

I would recommend something like this, at the start of your tailoring paragraph at the end of your letter:

“I am aware that my background, coming from an elite research institution, would suggest that I am focused on a career at R1-type institutions.  However, that is not the case.  I have a strong commitment to the type of teaching that is done at an institution such as Rural College, a commitment that has grown stronger the further that I have moved in my career.  I look forward to the hands-on work with students, and the potential for a balanced work life, that a career in Rural College would offer.  [Optional: In addition, my family resides in the area/my research will thrive in the area/I have a personal connection to the area]. I would not view a position there as a stepping-stone to another job, but as an excellent location in which to grow as a scholar and teacher.”

[10/27/11: Please note that a commenter below, who actually has experience on searches at such a school, suggests that the first and last sentences would seem to “protest too much,” and that the paragraph might better read:

“I have a strong commitment to the type of teaching that is done at an institution such as Rural College, a commitment that has grown stronger the further that I have moved in my career.  I look forward to the hands-on work with students, and the potential for a balanced work life, that a career in Rural College would offer.   In addition, my family resides in the area/my research will thrive in the area/I have a personal connection to the area.”

And another commenter from such a school believes the final sentence in this version is the most important.  I always trust experts who have actually “been there.”]

Note that no frantic claims were made of an “ideal fit,” etc.  Rather, legitimate sentiments were expressed in a calm and factual manner. This is the best you can do to reassure a skittish search committee.  I cannot promise that they will believe you.  But you are certainly entitled to tell them the truth.

Readers, feel free to add your own comments and experiences below!

How-To(sday): The Ten Commandments of Going on the Market as ABD

Dr. Karen is on vacation in Italy July 2012.  During that time she is re-posting older blog posts  her regular Tuesday and Thursday posting days.  She’ll recommence new posting some time in August.


(Tuesday Post Category–Strategizing Your Success in Academia)

Today is the second in our occasional series of “How-To(sday)” posts. This one is in response to a Special Request by Lauren, who wishes to know how to go on the job market while still ABD.

This is a good question. The whole issue of whether or not to go on the job market as ABD is quite fraught, with some advisors taking a strong position against it, and others taking an equally strong position for it. What’s a poor ABD to do?

Let’s see what some experts have to say. (Yes, there are a few experts that The Professor will grudgingly acknowledge have a modicum of wisdom). David Chioni Moore, in an older but still valuable 1999 article in the MLA Publication, Profession, argues that a dry run on the market is a wise choice. He argues that a first, ABD year on the market gives the candidate a chance to gain the knowledge that he or she needs while the stakes are still relatively low, and prepares him or her for success the next year, when the stakes are high.

Gregory Semenza, in his book, Graduate Study for the 21st Century (which I strongly recommend you buy), gives credence to the value of Moore’s viewpoint, but then cautions:

I would advise you against making an early entry on the market unless you are absolutely certain of three things.

  • Can you deal with the emotional fallout and depression of a failed job search?
  • Are you able to say with a straight face that going on the market will not derail your schedule for finishing your dissertation?
  • Are you prepared to turn down a job that falls short of your standards for a “good” job? (Semenza 243)

These are excellent questions. I would urge anyone considering launching into the job market while still ABD to consider them carefully, especially the first. Can you cope with a year of failure? Can you in fact be energized by it (as was my own case)? Not everyone can. So think carefully.

Our final expert, Kathryn Hume, in her spectacular Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt (soon to be reviewed right here by yours truly!), suggests going on the market only after your dissertation is defended.  “You start with a heavy black mark against you if you turn up for a research-oriented job without degree,” she cautions (Hume 3).

However, for the purposes of this post, we are going to assume that you HAVE considered all the excellent reasons not to go on the market as an ABD and have concluded that you will do it anyway.

Actually, I applaud you. My own personal advising philosophy is to urge anyone who asks to go on the market before they actually finish. It is my strong belief that only after large quantities of painfully humiliating failures on the job market will you gain the skills to succeed. This may not be true for others, but it was most definitely true for me. My first year on the market, as an ABD, was a bloodbath. Sometimes I still lie awake at night remembering all the ways I humiliated myself. If I had not had that year while still safely affiliated with (and getting a stipend from) my graduate institution, I would never have learned what I needed to to prevail on the market the following year.

And contrary to popular belief, ABDs do, occasionally, even in this market, get job offers. Especially if they’re in hot fields.

So, with no further ado: here are the ten things you must do to prepare for going on the market while ABD:

  1. You must have your dissertation substantially finished, and have a rigorous writing schedule and a firm defense date. This defense date must be stated clearly in your cover letter, in the first paragraph. You must not deviate from this writing schedule.
  2. You must have at least one publication in a refereed journal. You will not be competitive without this. If you lack this, don’t bother going on the market as an ABD.*
  3. You must have a sexy dissertation topic, however that is defined in your field. It must be sexy enough to seduce the search committee into taking a chance on you, against their better judgment.
  4. You must have a vibrant conference record at the leading national conferences in your field, presenting papers (not, god forbid, posters) on well-regarded panels, on your dissertation topic.
  5. Your ABD year, you must organize a major panel for the leading conference in your field. You must gather leading young scholars (NOT other ABDs and graduate students!) to speak on the panel. You must score a hugely important senior scholar in your field to serve as the discussant. Ideally, you acquire for your panel whatever “special” status your national conference confers, such as “invited status.”
  6. You must have recommenders who are not all from your Ph.D. granting institution. The presence of a third recommender from an elite outside institution proves that you are far beyond the normal run of ABDs and are in fact a dynamic young scholar soon to be launched.
  7. You must be able to see beyond your dissertation to the book/series of articles that it will eventually become, and articulate that publication plan clearly.
  8. You must not make querulous excuses about the state of the dissertation (“I am still working on chapter 4….” “I know I need to add more discussion of race….” “I need to revisit the archive to gather more material for my second case study…”) This is graduate student talk, not job candidate talk.
  9. You must be able to speak about teaching as if you are already a full-fledged faculty member, not a TA. You must have your own original courses developed, as well as ideas for basic intro courses and core seminars in your field.
  10. You must be able to articulate the import of your dissertation in advancing disciplinary boundaries and forging new knowledge and connections in your field(s). Nobody wants to hear about what your dissertation is. They want to hear about what your dissertation does.

It goes without saying that all of the other advice about the job market applies: You must have an impeccable c.v., a flawless cover letter, and a sparkling teaching statement. You must know how to decode a job ad. You must know how to dress and speak in interviews.

The difference, if you’re ABD, is that you must work harder to live up to the cardinal rule of the academic job search:


a) They are hiring a colleague, not a graduate student.

b) Do. Not. Speak. Or. Act. Like. A. Graduate. Student.

*It occurs to me that the field of History seems to discourage ABDs from publishing in refereed journals.  It is conceivable in that case that a refereed journal publication would be viewed as inappropriate or “premature” by search committees. By the same token, it is conceivable that some history advisors are clinging to an outmoded model of graduate training.  I need further education on this point, and would appreciate hearing from historians at all ranks about the best mode of advice for their field.

[8 PM Update:  After considerable Twitter discussion among a range of historians, the consensus seems to be that for History ABDs, publications are officially optional, but unofficially needed for the top jobs.  For second tier jobs, they are likely truly optional, and possibly outweighed by teaching experience.  Upshot: The lack of a refereed publication is not a total deal-breaker for a History ABD on the job market the way it is in some other fields such as English and Anthropology.]

I <3 Self Promotion and So Should You

Dr. Karen is on vacation July 2012.  During that time she is re-posting older blog posts  her regular Tuesday and Thursday posting days.  She’ll recommence new posting some time in August.


I read a Career Advice column in Inside Higher Ed this past month that I loved. It is called “The Value of Self-Promotion,” and it’s written by Rachel Connelly and Kristen Ghodsee. Rachel Connelly is the Bion R. Cram Professor of Economics at Bowdoin College. Kristen Ghodsee is the John S. Osterwies Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin. So these women are no slackers. Clearly they know their way around the academy.

Their column advises junior people (anyone looking for a job or on the tenure track) on how to send off-prints of published articles to well-known and influential senior scholars in their field. Connelly and Ghodsee open with this invigorating line:

One of the biggest myths of academia is that you only have to be smart enough and have good ideas to succeed. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Hear, hear!  They go on.

“For better or worse, the marketization of academia and the persistence of “old boys’ clubs” in universities around the world means that who you know is just as important as what you know.”

Really, I love these guys.

“This is one of lesser-known aspects of the academic world, because so much of your graduate school training will have been about attaining the appropriate knowledge rather than the appropriate contacts. Indeed, some professors will insist that nothing but merit counts, even if they are well aware of realities to the contrary. We believe that it is a cruel disservice to graduate students for advisers not to prepare them for the realities of academia, no matter how much they might wish things were otherwise.”

Did I mention I love these guys?

Especially because their advice is explicitly directed at women.  The column is actually adapted from their new book Professor Mommy: Finding Work-Family Balance in Academia (Rowman and Littlefield).  Because women are the worst (this is me talking, not them) at self-promotion!  Women far too often sit back and wait to be noticed.  They fret endlessly about seeming “arrogant” or “pushy.”   I’m here to tell you that pushy is good.  You have to toot your own horn, and put yourself out there.

Anyway, Connelly and Ghodsee devote the column to describing exactly how you get physical off-prints (NOT pdf files!!) of your published pieces and send them to the most influential people in your field with a brief hand-written note. Something along the lines of, “”I am sending you a copy of my latest article. I found your work really helpful while writing this, and I would appreciate any ideas you might have on how to improve my arguments.”

They also make a point of reminding you that you were also conscious to cite all influential scholars in your specific area of focus in your bibliography.

And then they write, “even if they were tangential to your argument.”

Well, that released the wolves. Sort of. Actually, they didn’t get a lot of comments (and two of them are by me, telling them how great I think they are!). But most of what they did was negative in that particular superior,elitist, judgmental professorial tone that we all know so well.

Here’s a selection:

The advice — writing senior people and possibly lying about how useful you found their work, and referencing their work “even if their work is tangential to your own” for networking purposes — is unprofessional and unethical advice. …These games should be replaced by honest, well done scholarship and true dedication to professionalism — that is what will impress senior people; otherwise the academic profession will continue to slide into a Wall Mart mentality.

…I am disheartened to read two scholars who advocate such anti-academic ploys — referencing work even if it is tangential to your own, just to ‘show what you’ve read, even if it contributes nothing to your argument? referencing senior scholars’ work just to ‘make friends’ with them? Is this a joke? Do you really think that anyone would not see this for that it is – shameless self-promotion without regard to intellectual quality?

What many of these readers are responding to, Rachel and Kristen, is the slight note of insincerity in your article. While the advice is generally useful, following it for no other purpose than professional advancement is going to backfire on the junior scholar. We’re not dummies, after all. If you give more professional advice in future columns, I suggest you justify it by addressing WHY and HOW your advice advances academe as a whole rather than the careers of a select and cynical few who are willing to game the system.


I bolded terms in each comment because to me they perfectly encapsulate the gap between the old, obsolete mind-set, and the new one required under current market conditions.

I want to pause here and say that when I was training my own Ph.D. students, I always advised them to do precisely what the authors are recommending here. (And just fyi, my students are all [with the exception of one who chose a different career path] gainfully employed in academia). I also did this practice myself throughout my career. And I was on the receiving end of such off-prints many times. I found these small academic gifts, with a personal note, a lovely gesture. The senders were in or close to my field, and the kinship with my work was clear. In many cases I would not have found the piece on my own, so having the off-print was helpful.

Why do I believe this practice is effective? First, because of the very reason the authors speak of. Self-promotion is absolutely necessary. Great thoughts will do you little good if nobody knows about them. You cannot afford to sit passively and wait for people to find you.

And posting things on your website is a POOR substitute! Senior scholars do not have time to go hanging about the internet! The website is really a relatively ineffective self-promotion tool for a young scholar seeking a job or tenure, and very time consuming to develop.

No, senior scholars are usually very paper-centric, still. Send them paper and a note. It works.

Second, this is one of the finest methods available for starting to collect your stable of potential tenure letter writers. You cannot have explicitly collaborated with your future letter writers. You can’t have been colleagues or friends. But you want to make sure that you have a collection of 6-10 people who are broadly familiar with your work and impressed enough with you to write the superlatives you need for tenure. Sharing of your work is an excellent method of beginning that process.

Now, to the comments and their obsolete mind-set.

The Professor believes that it is criminal when tenured faculty members admonish junior people and job-seekers against using every means available to promote themselves and their work.

The Professor believes that it is criminal when professors judge and dismiss job seekers’ efforts to strategize a job trajectory in this appalling economy by calling them “games,” “ploys,” and “gaming the system.”

The Professor believes that it is criminal when professors suggest, in this day and age, that a job- or tenure- seeker’s primary task is to “advance academe as a whole” rather than their own careers.

A comment stream is one thing. But the advising that takes place in professors’ offices across the country is another. And far, far too common in those offices is the attitude of the commenters above. In imposing this obsolete and irresponsible world-view, these professors are handicapping their advisees and practically guaranteeing that they finish their Ph.D. without job or career.

At the tail end of my own graduate school days, when I had already received my tenure track job offer at Oregon, but was lamenting that I had just missed a far, far better one at an Ivy League, my most beloved professor, who was actually in English (he was my external committee member), said to me, one day in his office, “God, Karen, don’t be so careerist.”

I was shocked, infuriated, and disappointed. And also confused. Why would I not prefer the highest ranking, highest paid, most prestigious, most generously supported job I could get?  The job with generous built-in leave time?  The job with a mortgage subsidy?  Why would anyone not set out to get that? I was thrilled with the tenure track offer that I had, of course, but why would I not also grieve what might have been?

That exchange stayed with me, and rankles me still. It was in the 1990s, when things were already REALLY bad on the market, although nothing compared to today.

And he was wrong. The commenters I quote above are wrong. It is not gamesmanship or careerism to want and go after the best job you can get.

Promote yourself. And don’t look back.