Facing Fear in the New Year

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

My book at the Amazon bookstore in Seattle!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to a steadfast 2016.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


Facing Fear in the New Year — 7 Comments

  1. This post is wonderful. And so very true. Academia runs on fear. And you know what they say: it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you! I look forward to more of your musings on fear and how to reject it.

  2. Yay Harvard! Is this open to public? Thank you for lifetime membership option for Art of. Just had my meltdown today over the hopeless job market…

  3. Well, without reaching the extreme of “Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends”, we can just stick to something milder such as “I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain”.

    I was browsing assistant professor job ads last night and that mantra kinda helped.

  4. My largest fear is of a personal nature, but it’s impacted by my career trajectory. In September I took a job that wasn’t the best for me, but seemed like the right move at the time. My previous job was a much better cultural fit, and it was in a more metropolitan area with more to do.

    My significant other and I were already long distance, but if I’d been able to stay in that area, we both thought we might “merge.” The more I realized I was unhappy in my new role, the more I knew I wouldn’t want that to happen here. Her job was getting better, and I couldn’t ask her to give that up for something about which I wasn’t even passionate.

    Meanwhile, I’m quite sure feeling atrophied is why I was so anxious around her, and rarely laughed, and so we’ve broken up. I would like to rebuild that relationship, but she’s not interested. Now I’m faced with the prospect of being single in a location where I’m culturally a poor fit – people here still tend toward antiquated gender roles and more rural interests – working a job that demotivates me, which is the emotional price of financial independence.

    My fear in one word: stagnation. I’ve got to figure out a way to find something that’s a better fit and move so I can even hope to recreate a life in which I see potential for affirmation, growth, and connection.

  5. I finished my PhD last year and now I’m doing a year-long postdoc. Not even half way at my current place, I am already looking for the next job. I meet many other young researchers and whenever I try to talk about jobs, plans, options there is always this big and scary elephant in the room. Either people quickly change the topic or they start stories how they “were really lucky and got the first job they applied for” or “really wanted to switch their field 2nd time in the last 5 years” or “are really happy teaching and are grateful for this 30% of research time they were given”. And the only thing coming to my mind is “BS”. Why don’t you just tell the truth? You’ve applied for 20 other jobs and this is the one you got, it was at the bottom of your list and you had no other choice. Why is there so much shame there? Everyone I asked got “the first job they applied for”. And I am writing my 10th application. And I am ashamed of it. I am saving every penny, postponing buying a car or a new laptop, because there is a good chance that in half a year I’m going to be unemployed or I will need to move across country and start from scratch. It is so scary. Not only the job market challenges, but also the loneliness we all experience. There is no one to talk to because you are not supposed to talk about it.

    • THANK you, Agnes! It IS bs! Luckily you can easily find many very truthful stories of struggle and fear of the job market all over the internet and the Jobs Wiki and Chronicle Forums. I feel like the tide has turned and there’s a lot less bullshit than there used to be.

      Be sure and check out how I can help with your job apps. We have some less expensive options, like a $50 webinar on cover letter and CV, and things like that.

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