Pearls of Wisdom–The Blog

~~ You tell the truth, you tell it well. In the crowded and fetid swamp that is the job market, that is oxygen.” – a reader

The_Professor_Is_In.inddLove the blog? Now get it in handy book form!

Buy it at all these places!

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It also makes a great gift for all those struggling grad students in your life!

For bulk orders for use in classes, seminars, and workshops, please call Crown Publishing  (Random House) Customer Service at 1-800-733-3000.

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MORE ABOUT THE BOOK

The definitive career guide for grad students, adjuncts, post-docs and anyone else eager to get tenure or turn their Ph.D.  into their ideal job.

Karen Kelsky has made it her mission to help readers join the select few who get the most out of their Ph.D. As a former tenured professor and department head who oversaw numerous academic job searches, she knows from experience exactly what gets an academic applicant a job. And as the creator of the popular and widely respected advice site The Professor is In, she has helped countless Ph.D.’s turn themselves into stronger applicants and land their dream careers.

Now, for the first time ever, Karen has poured all her best advice into a single handy guide that addresses the most important issues facing any Ph.D., including:

-When, where, and what to publish
-Writing a foolproof grant application
-Cultivating references and crafting the perfect CV
-Acing the job talk and campus interview
-Avoiding the adjunct trap
-Making the leap to nonacademic work, when the time is right

The Professor Is In addresses all of these issues, and many more.

If you would like your academic career to begin in delusion and end in disillusionment, then by all means, ignore Karen Kelsky. If, however, you want unvarnished straight talk about the academic job market—and how to navigate it—then heed her, and heed her now.” —Rebecca Schuman, education columnist for Slate.

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ABOUT THE BLOG

I post once a week, usually on Friday, on topics related to the academic job market, academic life and politics, general professionalization skills related to writing, publishing, conferencing, networking, and scholarly comportment, and the tenure process.

I also put up posts on the Post-Ac/Non-Ac job search by my Panel of Post-Ac Experts, on Monday or Tuesday.

Let me know if there’s a topic you want to see me post on!  I am always happy to put Special Requests into the queue. Comment here, or email me at: gettenure@gmail.com.

You can  always get to a particular Category by clicking it in the Categories column to the right.———>

Please note that as of January 2013  the rate of comments to this blog has exceeded my ability to respond individually to each one. I’m sorry that not all comments will get a personal response by Dr. Karen.  If you have a really pressing question, do consider getting in touch to get on my calendar to work together.  I strive to make services affordable to all.

Here’s a short glossary to help you follow the discussions in the blog:

  • TT– tenure track
  • VAP–visiting assistant professor (position)
  • ABD–all but dissertation (status)
  • SLAC–small liberal arts college
  • R1–top ranked research-intensive institution with Ph.D.-granting departments, such as University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, etc.
  • R2–research institution with primarily MA-granting departments

Our #MeTooPhD Moment

Today is Friday, when I post academic advice blog posts.  This week, I would certainly expect to post about the anonymous Sexual Harassment in the Academy Crowdsource Survey which in the space of exactly one week has garnered 1378 entries, and counting.*  That is 197 per day since it went live.  THIRTEEN more were added just in the time I have been writing this post.

If you wish to contribute your own completely anonymous account, please do so through this submission form, which will automatically enter your text into the spreadsheet.

I created the Survey, and the #MeTooPhD hashtag on Twitter, to provide a place for women to share their stories without fear of censorship or judgment, to know they are not alone, and to find strength in numbers and a foundation from which to recover and perhaps take action. There are many awful outcomes of sexual harassment in the academy, but perhaps the worst is that women are forced out of the academy entirely because of it, depriving the world of their talent, their gifts, their insights. And in truth, is this not ultimately the agenda of all sexual harassment in all fields?

The Survey has had quite an impact. I was interviewed for the CBC As It Happens radio show (which also aired on NPR), and have talked to reporters from Buzzfeed, Marie Claire, and Toronto Metro and fielded many other inquiries.

I can’t bring myself to write in detail about the contents of this Survey right now, however, because I find it completely overwhelming.  I can only read it in short bursts, because the things the brave contributors describe make me feel ill.  And not only the survey–my email inbox is filled with almost 100 emails from women naming their rapists and harassers, as well as the university administrators who protected them. They don’t send these names, and I don’t receive them, because we want to go public. They send them because they just want to tell someone.  They just want someone to know.  I am honored to be trusted with these names.

The stories are distressing to read, but they are not personally triggering to me.  I was not sexually harassed during my years in the academy. My male professors and colleagues treated me reasonably well, and when they didn’t, it was more in the realm of general shittiness than anything that could be listed in this survey.

I want to make that clear, because there are a couple of entries on the spreadsheet that try to make the point that “truly accurate representation” would include mention of women not being harassed, of women being treated with respect, in the academy. I can barely find words to express my rejection of this view.

Nobody gets a cookie for refraining from harassing women.

The fact that I personally didn’t experience a personal case of sexual harassment does not mean that such harassment was not rampant in my surroundings, and that it did not fundamentally shape the conditions under which I and all other women pursued our academic careers.

What the survey shows is that sexual predation is utterly pervasive in academic settings, and colors virtually everything we do.  As I said to reporter Colleen Flaherty, when she asked me for my thoughts on the Survey for her (excellent) piece covering it (thank you, Colleen) in Inside Higher Ed:

“I created the survey to give victims a place to share their stories, to know they are not alone and to realize the systemic, institutional, and patterned nature of sexual abuse in the academy. This is not meant to be a scientific survey; my goal is to provide a public space for the truth of sexual predation to be shared to help lessen the shame that victims feel in a context of secrecy, intimidation and silence, and also to remove plausible deniability by institutions. You cannot solve a problem if you can’t see it. This survey aims to make the problem visible to all.

What we see from the survey stories are three themes: first the pervasiveness and severity of the abuse — extending to rape, intimidation, and terrifying levels of stalking over months and years; second, the systematic protection of abusers over victims, and the sheer force of patriarchal solidarity in keeping powerful men insulated from consequences, and thus able to continue harassing tens or hundreds of victims over decades (and as bell hooks says: patriarchy has no gender, meaning, powerful women often support abusive patriarchal academic structures that victimize junior women); and third, the devastating consequences for academic women, leading to the loss of their contributions to the world of scholarship. Countless women on the survey describe being hounded out of the Ph.D. entirely, being forced to change projects or advisors or institutions, resulting in disrupted work and loss of funding and continuity, being forced to conduct their work under conditions of terror and siege — some even describe having to hide in closets and empty rooms to avoid their harasser, or having to move their residence repeatedly, or avoid certain conferences or meetings. How can best work be done under such circumstances??? The result is an incalculable loss of women’s contribution to scholarly life. When people bemoan the loss of the contribution of Famous Man X, they are ignoring the loss of contribution of the 5 or 25 or 50 or more women he harassed out of the field entirely.

I hope that this survey makes for a powerful #MeTooPhD moment in the academy which will disrupt its entrenched systems of sexual abuse once and for all. I hope it makes men feel uncomfortable, and makes them closely examine their own behavior and that of their male colleagues, and ask: how have I participated in or enabled similar stories to those I am reading here? The goal is not for women to try and stop being harassed. It’s for men to stop being sexual predators.”

I can do no better than to end this post with the piece Dirty Old Men on the Faculty by Sheila McMillen in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week (bolding added).  McMillen had a long career and has things to say. Her words burn.

Let me provide a little history.

In December 1973, when I was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Esquire magazine published an article by R.V. (Verlin) Cassill, a professor at Brown University, called “Up the Down Coed,” subtitled “Notes on the Eternal Problem of Fornication With Students.” It begins with a student — “the girl,” as he calls her — coming to his office and asking his help on interpreting the Rilke poems he has assigned. He reads aloud the line giving her difficulty: “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?”

He dismisses her trembling earnestness, her clothes: “dungarees with a patched jacket — a costume I find boring and pretentious,” and assures the reader that the meeting “can not lead to something the reader might find … reprehensible.” He goes on to lament his aging and the end of “the golden era of faculty-student copulation on our campuses,” and adds jocular reminiscences of his escapades with coeds when he was younger. In his view, they were the instigators: “Many girls matriculate knowing that if the professorial lamp is properly rubbed, the phallic genie will pop out.”

Though not well known now, Cassill was at the time a respected writer and teacher. The author of 24 novels, he was a founder of the Associated Writing Programs and, before his time at Brown University, a faculty member at the Writers Workshop of the University of Iowa. Shortly after the Esquire piece was published, The Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, ran a story with the headline “Verlin Cassill: Another D.H. Lawrence or Just a Dirty Old Man?” Cassill’s article was outrageous even for its day, and I suspect he intended it to be so — he said in a sarcastic reply that the piece had been written “out of laughter and tenderness” and that he “sneered deliberately.” He certainly ended his Esquire essay on a note of droll waggery, referring back to the Rilke quote: “Who — if she and I cried out in unison — gladly — would hear us among the angelic orders? (A professorial joke. Heh, heh).

I could see the intended humor of the Esquire article, but as a “girl” myself, I also felt like the butt of the joke. When I visited professors during office hours with questions, did they see me giving “wide-eyed … signals of consent,” as a “sly little wonder” eager for their sexual attention? Did they see my eyes as “little jeweled orifices, quivering vortices down which the noblest intentions might plunge and be lost”? I had one more semester until graduation; cautioned, I don’t think I went to any more faculty-student conferences.

Beyond the Daily Herald article and a letter or two, there weren’t any repercussions for Cassill, who continued to teach at Brown until his retirement, as an emeritus professor, in 1983.

That was such a long time ago, you might think.

In 1993, by which time I was teaching in the English department at the University of Virginia, Harper’s magazine published the transcript of a forum titled “New Rules About Sex on Campus.” An editor at Harper’s, Jack Hitt, led the discussion with four faculty members: John Boswell, a professor of history at Yale University; Joan Blythe, an associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky; William Kerrigan, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; and Leon Botstein, president of Bard College. The topic under consideration: Should campuses institute prohibitions against romantic entanglements between professors and students?

All four academics opposed a ban. The reasons for Kerrigan’s opposition were astonishing. He said that he often dealt with “a kind of student … working through something that only a professor could help her with. I’m talking about a female student who, for one reason or another has unnaturally prolonged her virginity.” He made it clear that he had been willing to be that helpful professor: “There have been times when this virginity has been presented to me as something that I … can handle.”

Could there be a creepier perversion of noblesse oblige?

To Botstein’s credit, he said. “Let me say this: I think sexual relations trigger a set of ethical obligations,” to which both Blythe and Kerrigan responded: “Ethical obligations?” As if the idea were absurd.

At a subsequent meeting at the University of Massachusetts, the Faculty Senate disavowed Kerrigan’s comments without censuring him. No one at Kentucky seemed bothered by Blythe’s comment.

That was such a long time ago, you might think.

Nearly a quarter-century later, I’m retired. I hope that those in the academic world who are tempted to make the kind of comments Cassill and Kerrigan found acceptable would think twice in this era of social media, when an intemperate remark can bring out the online pitchforks.

But the recent accusations of sexual harassment against faculty members at Berklee College of Music and the University of California at Berkeley, at the University of Virginia, Columbia University, and Dartmouth College, suggest that while faculty members may now be more circumspect about what they say, they remain less so about what they do.

Unfortunately, none of this happened a long time ago.

While faculty members may now be more circumspect about what they say, they remain less so about what they do.

I’ve often wondered if there are more sexual predators in academia than in other environments. Where else is there an unending procession — renewed annually — of enticingly attractive young men and women, often unsure of themselves and eager to be in your good graces? It’s a setup rife with possibilities for manipulation, if one is so inclined. Rather like “shooting fish in a barrel,” as Cassill said, and all too easy.

Some argue that what professors say to students in and out of classrooms is an issue of free speech — oh, campuses are full of sensitive snowflakes who can’t take a joke or compliment. But, according to a study forthcoming in the Utah Law Review, the majority of harassment charges that the researchers investigated included not only verbal abuse but also unwelcome physical contact. That’s when harassment crosses the line to assault.

I’d like to think we’ve finally reached a tipping point in awareness, that the surge in accusations of harassment signals that the attitudes and behavior that Cassill and Kerrigan endorsed will now get the condemnation they deserve. But it’s not enough that predators realize they need to watch their words. They also need to consider their deeds — or be hit with more than a slap on the wrist. I certainly hope that’s what the future holds. I’d hate to think students must wait another 45 years to see real change.

 

For now, this is what I can write.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the women who have contributed to the survey.

*Please note that the number of lines in the spreadsheet does not equal the number of substantive entries. The content is entered through a form, and if someone starts the form but doesn’t submit it, that leads to a blank line in the spreadsheet. Thus there are more lines than there are entries. I have access to an accurate running tally of actual substantive entries, and that is the figure that I cite here and in other writing and interviews.

#MakeupMonday: Introducing Sailor-J, the Beauty Blogger You Need When Ur Exposing Sexual Harassment in the Academy

This week I launched the Sexual Harassment in the Academy Crowdsource Survey and 600+ entries into it, I am just a little…ummm…

SHALL WE SAY…

PISSED OFF?

AND IN NO MOOD TO WRITE A MAKEUP MONDAY POST.

CURRENT MOOD, AS REPRESENTED IN LAST NIGHT’S TEXTS:

Professor Friend: I hate people
Did I ever tell you that my boyfriend told me that he found out a few years ago that female students in his department keep a list of “safe” male professors?

Not a list of unsafe or predatory ones — but a list of “safe” ones

Like unsafe is the default

KK: Wow that is terrible

Professor Friend: I know right??
Somehow it was more upsetting than if he had said it was a list of “bad” faculty tho that still would have been upsetting
I asked him if it was a list of profs who didn’t harass women and he said not only that but also profs who wouldn’t as he put it “act bro-ey” and make women uncomfortable in any way.

And that is really the default isn’t it.

KK: Yes
Dicks.
Bag o dicks
Box o dicks

Professor Friend: Yes
Bowl of dicks

KK: Bucket o dicks

Professor Friend: Bidet of dicks

KK: Basket o dicks

Professor Friend: You beat me! I was going to say basket!!!!

KK: 

Professor Friend:  Bundle of dicks
What’s a term of venery for dicks?

KK: That I don’t know

Professor Friend: A meta-dick? Since toxic masculinity is fractal?

KK: Ur-dick

Professor Friend: Yes!
One dick to rule them all, one dick to bind them

KK:  Hahahahahaha!!!!
Ask not what your dick can do for you but what you can do for your dick.
Give me dick or give me death!

Professor Friend:  Hahahahaha
Because I could not stop for dick it kindly stopped for me

KK:  Hahaha!!!!

Professor Friend: Dance like no one is watching, love like it’s never going to hurt and work towards your PhD like academia isn’t a giant shitbowl of dicks

KK: 
I wonder if I should put this on the blog. The whole thread.

Professor Friend: I don’t know! It’s kind of cathartic — but will it detract from the gravitas?

KK:  After this fucking survey do I care?

And so for Makeup Monday I leave you in the hands of Sailor J, the beauty blogger we all need today.

 

As she informs us, “Since it’s simply for the dick, we have to do it.”

 

 

 

And remember: “So long as you look like a newborn baby, men are willing to mate with you.”

(Find more Sailor J here: Twitter: @_xjjsmithx_ Insta: xx_jjsmith_xx )

 

 

A Crowdsourced Survey of Sexual Harassment in the Academy

Sexual harassment is rampant in the academy as it is in every other industry.  The entrenched hierarchies of the academic world, the small size of most scholarly fields, the male dominance of virtually every field other than women’s studies, the culture of collegiality (read, evasiveness and pretense) that predominates, and junior scholars’ desperate dependency on good references for career advancement, make for conditions in which sexual abuse (and indeed abuse of all kinds) can flourish with impunity.

This piece by K.A. Amienne, Abusers and Enablers in the Academy, lays out the dynamic of enabling that prevails:

My department chair had all the security that race, class, gender, and tenure at a top-10 university can bestow. And still he was too afraid to do his job properly. I was a woman, a student, crushed under debt, without institutional support, and minus parents or any other safety net back in the working-class world from which I’d come. How was I supposed to confront this professor on my own when people who could have — and should have — would not?

So I did what a lot of women do. After earning my Ph.D., I walked away from a life in which I’d invested time, money, and work. I spent the next several years blaming myself, replaying the scenes, repeating the words of those in power. I had mixed feelings of relief and resentment as I met others who told different versions of “Yes, everyone knows he’s like this.”

Because it is so difficult for many victims in the academy to speak out about cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, I have decided to create an anonymous, opensourced survey, similar to the one I created years back on Ph.D. debt (see the Ph.D. Debt Survey here).  My hope is that this survey will allow victims to find a safe way to anonymously report their experience of sexual harassment. My goal is for the academy as a whole to begin to grasp the true scope and scale of this problem in academic settings.  I hope it provides aggregate information in the form of personal stories of abuse and its career outcomes for victims (which, as a cultural anthropologist I consider the most potent form of data), paving the way for more frank conversations and more effective interventions.

Women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual harassment, and until this issue is addressed head on, women will continue to be hounded out of academia, as they are from every other career from comedy to politics. I hope that gathering stories will allow women in particular to know they are not alone, and create conditions for women to thrive in their chosen careers.

The Survey Form is below.  Your answers will automatically be entered (totally anonymously, with no way to track your identity) into a linked spreadsheet, which you may view by clicking through to it.  Please feel free to share this with your networks.

Click here for the SEXUAL HARASSMENT SURVEY SUBMISSION FORM

Here is the spreadsheet of responses, where you can follow each individual entry through all of its elements: SPREADSHEET.

It is brutal but urgent reading.  Thank you to all who have participated.

#MakeupMonday: Travel Tactics

Welcome to Makeup Monday, my weekly series on makeup; academic and postacademic job market and productivity posts will continue on Tuesday and Friday as usual.

Here is my weekly reminder:  I will not engage with makeup-shaming here or on any Facebook or Twitter comment threads. I support your right to not wear makeup, and anyone who dislikes makeup, disapproves of makeup, or wants to argue that no academic woman should be judged on the basis of makeup (which nobody is claiming anyway), I suggest you come back for my other posts on other topics.

For previous posts, see the following:

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As soon as I hammered out all of the makeup solutions I’ve described in previous weeks, I quickly realized that I was going to have to next figure out how to take them on the road. Because I travel–a lot.  At least one trip a month and usually more.  I’m either traveling nationally or internationally to give talks and workshops on the academic career, or I’m visiting my kids away at school, or other family and friends.  And of course travel is a core part of your academic lifestyle, as well, what with conferences, and research, and living (usually) far from family and friends…  so, today I talk about how I manage taking my makeup on the road!

The two things I have found I cannot live without are a good, segmented makeup bag, and a lighted travel mirror.  I’ve tried to do without both of these things, and I’m never happy.  The fact is, I wear a lot of different products, and I don’t want to do without them while in transit. So I need a bag big enough to both store and organize them.  And because my 50+ year old eyes are just terrible, I cannot even begin to imagine applying makeup without a serious 10x magnifying (and lighted) mirror.

Both of these items took a lot of trial and error to get right, but here’s what i use.  This bag pictured below (versions of which you can easily find basically anywhere), and this mirror, which I found on the AS SEEN ON TV SHELF AT RITEAID for $18!!! ——->>>

I tried the little 10x magnified suction mirrors that you can find at the drugstore, but the problem is that the suction cups never work, eventually fall out and get lost, and you’re stuck holding the mirror with one hand while trying to put on your makeup with the other, which does not work!  Or even if you CAN use the suction cup to get it to stick to the mirror, so many hotels have the mirror like 3 feet back from where you are standing that it helps Not At All.  So in the end, I knew I needed a lightweight standing mirror, with high magnification, and reliable light for dark hotel rooms, and this one fits the bill and even has some little holders built in to keep your sponges and things in the event you’re staying put for a few days. I admit, I was skeptical. But — so far, it really works!

Now in terms of the bag, I keep it half-prepacked with items that I always need: an extra makeup remover stick, tweezers, primer, concealer, silicone and regular makeup sponges, some face/eye masks and teeth whitening strips, good longwear lipstick (I pack my leftover lipsense samples) and above all: foundation.  The reason foundation is so important in this plan is:  my beloved Becca foundation is liquid, and if I’m to travel with it, I have to put it in my TSA bag!  But I don’t want to do that because it takes too much of that precious space! And also, even when I made a tiny travel-sized Becca jar to carry with me, it just didn’t work with my sponges: the makeup would end up everywhere except the sponge.  It was frustrating!

Eventually, as with so many things makeup, my daughter came through with the solution:  stick foundation.  And that, friends, is now what I rely on for travel.

I experimented with all that I could find, and came up with two that stand out:  Tarte Clay Stick, and Clinique Chubby In the Nude.  The Tarte is a slightly heavier coverage although not as heavy as many stick foundations, and has that characteristic Tarte clay-ey, matte texture.

But the Clinique is light as a feather.  And the Clinique in Normous Neutral is one of the most exceptional color-matches for my skin I’ve ever achieved with a foundation of any kind, so that’s the one I now rely on.  It’s so great that actually bit by bit it’s starting to edge out Becca even at home….  you can’t beat a stick for ease of application! No Muss No Fuss! It’s SO EASY!  At Miyako’s urging, I’m actually about to give in and try Clinique Chubby Stick Cheek Colour Balm, just to keep going with the ease of this whole stick thing….

So my bag is pre-packed with my foundation, and then before the trip I just throw in my eye makeup, brushes, highlighter and blush.  The only reason that the bag is not TOTALLY pre-packed with eye makeup, brushes, highlighter and blush is just the expense of keeping duplicates of all of it.  But someday that may indeed be the case.

I am actually currently exploring some travel sized eyeshadow and brush options to replace my Tartelette, and my huge brush collection, which are both really kind of overkill for travel.  Here’s what I’m looking at: Viseart Theory Palette in Chroma (left), and Smashbox Photo Matte Eyes Travel Palette (right) – as you can see I am into the taupe/stone shades!

For brushes I just ordered EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo Set because you get four different brushes in a compact travel-sized set, all for $6.99! I’ll let you know how they work out.

The other travel shortcut I keep around is actually a second entirely pre-packed bag for truly unplanned, super-short, last minute trips, when I don’t want to have to fuss around with digging out all my “real” makeup and carefully organizing and packing it.  I just keep bits and pieces of my old makeup in there–the good stuff that I don’t use anymore but can’t quite bring myself to throw out (the Tarte Clay Stick is in there!) – and when Kellee and I decide to make an impromptu overnight trip to Portland, or when I went on a fun yoga retreat with friends, or when my son had an unexpected medical situation away at school that I had to rush to at the last minute, I can just grab it and throw it in the bag and be off in minutes.  I use an old Glossier bag for this purpose!

Because I am OBSESSED with my multi-step skin care (mostly from Sabbatical Beauty!), I of course also keep an entirely pre-packed toiletries bag filled with my face wash, serums, moisturizers, and hair products ready to go at all times!

That will be the subject for another post!

But before I go I will say that for both makeup and toiletries, excellent high-quality travel containers are absolutely essential.  And these are very, very hard to find.  In the US, it’s easy to find shitty ones. It’s incredibly difficult to find good ones.  Lucky for me, I’m a Japan specialist, and therefore I have a lifetime collection of the unparalleled travel containers that are made only in that country. Lucky for YOU, those items can now be found in the U.S. in Muji Stores and available online as well!  They come in every size and shape, and you will never, I repeat NEVER, find travel containers equal to these, for any price.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Profs and Pints: My Post-Ac Business In Academic Pub Talks – Guest Post

By Peter Schmidt

Peter’s Bio:  In addition to being the CEO of Profs and Pints, Peter Schmidt is a freelance writer and consultant and is working part-time as a Senior Fellow for the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. He was a Senior Writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, where he worked for 21 years. Before that he covered school desegregation, bilingual education, and urban schools for Education Week. He is the author of Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action (Palgrave Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press), and his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and USA Today. He lives in Washington DC.

Find Profs and Pints on the Web

Find Profs and Pints on Facebook

Email Peter at:  profsandpints@hotmail.com

[KK:  Peter reached out to tell me about his new initiative, and I invited him to share his story here. If you’re an academic – especially adjunct or NTT instructor – in the DC area, talk to Peter about doing a talk!]

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I’ve seen my share of economic decline and disruption. In my first job as a Detroit Free Press paper boy I routinely brought my neighbors news of the closing of automobile factories and the layoffs of their workers. After graduating from college in 1986, I struggled to find a reporting job at one of Michigan’s cash-strapped newspapers and had to scrape by on a poverty-level income as a freelancer for the Ann Arbor News. If my father had not lost our family’s appliance store to NAFTA, recession, and competition from big appliance-store chains, Walmart or Amazon almost certainly would have done it in. In seeking a career of print journalism just as the digital age dawned, I unknowingly enlisted in a fleet bound for a storm.

Despite all of this, it nevertheless came as a shock when I was summoned into a Chronicle of Higher Education office in late August and told I’d be jettisoned as part of their latest round of layoffs. In my 21 years there I had worked tirelessly, covering beats dealing with college access, academic labor, academic freedom, and education research. I had always assumed that my work ethic, expertise, and commitment to the place would give me job security. Not so.

Now here I am, a 53-year-old treading water and looking for another ship—or at least something to keep me afloat. I’m doomed if I become paralyzed by fear or self-pity. I’m having to think fast. Based on my reporting for the Chronicle, I’m well aware know that many of this blog’s readers are in the water with me, barely keeping their own heads above water in trying to earn a living off academe’s tenure track.

I also know how expensive it would be to go back to school. I’d burn through most of my savings, only to step back out into a labor market in which I’d encounter even more age discrimination than I face now. It had  pained me, as an education reporter, to see how rising tuitions have rendered college unaffordable for many, while driving others to study not what truly interests them but what will qualify them for the sort of job that will pay off their student loans. I don’t want to live out the rest of my working life as a cog in some soulless corporate machine.

Such thoughts weighed heavily on me on a day when suddenly-former Chronicle coworkers had summoned me to a pub for a happy-hour sendoff. I asked myself if I would be able to draw on my experience to devise some new way to make a living. I was already encountering career-transition advice that made me cringe, such as suggestions that employers are impressed by statements like “I saved my company X million dollars by shipping Y number of jobs overseas.” I wondered if I could find an occupation that actually would put me out in front of economic trends and yet would not demand that I embrace the economic disruption that I had watched cause so much misery and send the media racing toward the bottom.

I recalled thoughts about higher education that I’d had as a Chronicle reporter but set aside as impossible to entertain seriously while working there: What if we could circumvent much of the cost of higher education by bypassing bloated college administrations and bringing people who love to learn into direct contact with instructors who love teaching? How eager would such instructors be to reach the general public? If I could revive an ancient Greek education model, and essentially sell tickets to hear Socrates, would I draw large enough crowds to make it worth everyone’s time?

I arrived early for my rendezvous at Washington’s Bier Baron Tavern, a pub known mainly for its expansive beer menu and weekend burlesque shows. I caught the attention of one of its managers and boiled my musings about a new education model into a business pitch, telling him I just might have come up with a way to make money by educating the public and fielding college instructors needed work. . His eyes lit up as he told me I just might have the answer to a problem his bar shares with most others, slow weeknights. Profs and Pints was born.

I have been working frantically since then turn Profs and Pints into a viable business with the slogan “No tuition or tests. Just lectures you’ll love.” I’ve built a Web site, learned the ropes of social-media marketing, and already staged six talks, including two by college instructors off the tenure track. All of my instructors I have put on stage have demonstrated a wonderful ability to engage the public and left their audiences pledging to come back to future Profs and Pints events. My line-up has included experts on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, gardening, the Trump administration, and the use of social-media for political shenanigans.

My initial contracts with instructors guarantee them 70 percent of the revenue from $10 tickets. The events room where they speak holds more than 160. Friends have said I’m being too generous, but I want to reward presenters for taking a chance on me, and to offer them incentives to work to draw a crowd. My intent is to alleviate—not exploit—college instructors’ financial woes. I’m confident that I’ll reap dividends, financial as well as karmic, from having a reputation for treating people fairly. The trick will be striking the right balance between offering potential presenters enough to have them knocking on my door and still earning the revenue necessary to have this business thrive and spread to other venues and cities.

I’ve found faculty members at local colleges incredibly supportive. Of the more than 20 I’ve approached, only two have rebuffed me as not offering them enough pay. (Others had short-term conflicts but urged me to get back to them later.)  I’ve encountered a few bumps—my audience sizes have fluctuated wildly as I have struggled to find the right formula for drawing crowds and come up against forces beyond my control, like nasty fall weather. But I have reason to hope this thing will take off. Other venues have approached me. Journalists have begun to report on my efforts. My company’s Meetup social-networking page enlisted more than 100 members in its first day.

My biggest challenge has been reaching the population my business most seeks to help, adjuncts who don’t have a clear network or much of a presence on college Web sites.  So, if you live in the Washington DC area, or come here to visit, please seek out a Profs and Pints event and have a beer with me. And if you’d like to present–please message me here or DM me at the links above! I’m hoping the room will be so full that it will be clear that I’ve sparked a new cultural trend. If so, you can join me in saying cheers to that.

#Makeup Monday: Big News on the Lipcolor Front!

Welcome to Makeup Monday, my weekly series on makeup; academic and postacademic job market and productivity posts will continue on Tuesday and Friday as usual.

Here is my weekly reminder:  I will not engage with makeup-shaming here or on any Facebook or Twitter comment threads. I support your right to not wear makeup, and anyone who dislikes makeup, disapproves of makeup, or wants to argue that no academic woman should be judged on the basis of makeup (which nobody is claiming anyway), I suggest you come back for my other posts on other topics.

For previous posts, see the following:

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You guyuz, this weekend, I was strolling through Target looking for the full size of a really great Acure exfoliating face scrub that I found there once in travel size and now use constantly.  This is it.  It is so great that it has now replaced the Philip Thomas Roth FirmX Peeling Gel that I have been using for the past couple of years.  It works BETTER and costs about 1/4 as much. I love that!

Anyway, I didn’t find the full size at my Target (but I will be ordering it, and will be looking into other Acure products as they seem to be really beloved by thousands of people out there on the Internet!) but what I DID find as I was strolling the aisles was…  Cover Girl Outlast All-Day Lipcolor.

Now, you know that I stated firmly at the beginning of this series that I don’t do drugstore makeup.  And that’s true.  But… when I saw the Outlast, I was suddenly reminded that when I did the research for my recent post about long-wear lipcolor, one Buzzfeed reviewer testing various brands ranked this CoverGirl product her favorite (although the rest hated it, and preferred Revlon ColorStay Ultimate Suede, which now of course I will try, also because for years I almost exclusively wore the ColorStay line.)

At the time I thought, “no way can a $7 drugstore lipcolor actually compete with all these other brands.”  But there I was, in Target, looking at it, and it was $7, and I remembered that I’m now writing off all makeup purchases on my taxes because I’m NOW A BEAUTY BLOGGER, so I thought, what the heck, and I bought it and tried it.

And, wow.  This stuff works!  Here I am wearing the Natural Blush shade after my mega- mega-sweaty dance class!  It stayed on just about as well as both Beauty Bakerie and Lipsense, my previously mentioned favorites.

I remember the Buzzfeed testers had issues with its smell, but I – who am certainly one of the most smell-reactive humans on the planet – had no issue with that at all.

Like Lipsense it does include a gloss to wear over and reapply throughout the day for durability.  The gloss is NOT very glossy, just a light sheen, so it doesn’t go too far off the matte look that I prefer.  And the color has the heft of real lipcolor; it’s not a stain. I have worn the Natural Blush non-stop since I bought it, and will definitely be trying some more shades because for $7, why not.

The other cool thing about this product is that it features a skin-tone-matched series of bright “Custom” reds!  I haven’t tried those yet, as red isn’t really my thing (I’m definitely a mauve and rose kind of gal) but I’ll try one and report back!

So readers, I’m interrupting my planned schedule of Makeup Monday posts (today I was planning to talk travel options!) to tell you: if you’re still looking for long-wear lipcolor and the options I mentioned earlier are out of your budget (or even if they aren’t), go ahead and try the CoverGirl.   Let me know how it turns out for you!

 

Your Academic Cover Letter: Don’t Fall into the Cliché Trap About Teaching!

By TPII editor extraordinaire, Verena Hutter

~This is a continuation of our 2017 series on the Academic Cover Letter. Verena is walking us through the paragraphs of the cover letter.  Scroll back through the blog over the past 10 weeks or so for the preceding paragraphs: self-intro, current research, contribution, publications, and next project)~

Most clients find the teaching para and the teaching statement the hardest to write. This is mostly because they have been taught to talk and write about their research at nauseam, but not about their teaching. While many grad programs have caught on to this, and focus on training their graduate students better, teaching often is still treated as an afterthought. Moreover, we live in a culture that does not value teaching, and hides it in saccharine statements (and you all know what TPII thinks about that).

These days, most clients actively avoid the overly emotional teaching paras and statements, and they do try to follow the model of Show, don’t Tell. Yay!  That being said, they often fall into the cliché trap. Especially, but not exclusively, in the humanities and in the social sciences, clichés are as common as dirt (couldn’t resist here).

Clichés express a “popular and common thought or idea that has lost its originality and impact by long overuse” (thank you dictionary.com), which explains why they are so popular- chances are that we do share notions and ideas about teaching, that most of us who like teaching carry a certain percentage of Dead Poets’ Society Mr. Keating inside us. And that is fine! Especially in this shit shellacked era of stupid, we need good teachers.

Still, don’t retort to clichés, please.

Here are the clichés that pop up again and again in teaching paras:

  1. Methodological buzzwords: Socratic method, communicative approach, flipped classroom, skill-based pedagogy, active learning models, student-centered approach, Freirean/Diltheyan/famouspersonean Pedagogy, the list goes on. These approaches are all fine and good, but they won’t tell us much about YOUR teaching. In fact, if you’re telling us that you’re implementing so and so’s pedagogy, it comes across as if you didn’t think for yourself (something none of these pedagogic leaders would approve of). Instead, tell us what you want students to take away from your classes, and follow up with a concrete, specific example.
  2. Adjectives that are fine once, but don’t overuse them: critical, hands-on, real-world (that phrase needs to die anyway). Look at the following: “In my teaching, I stress critical thinking. In my course xxx, students first watch film yyy, to then critically analyze power relationships between the protagonists. In their final essays, I ask students to compare film yyy critically to a film of their choice. Students’ thoughtful interpretations then were read aloud in class and their classmates respectfully critiqued them.”  See the issue?  “critical” is there four times.  If everything is critical, nothing is.
  3. “My teaching, like my research…”- “My dedication to xxx also inspires my teaching”- Oy veh. Those are TPII sentences! They are true, but overused. You’ve probably read them in the sample docs! Unfortunately, at this point, please don’t use them any longer, they’ve become cliché as well.
  4. Hollow statements about your teaching: “My courses are entertaining and quickly paced, with enough time spent on each topic for all students to understand the material, but not so much to bore them”. – “I challenge students, without overwhelming them”- “I grade fairly and without bias”.   Why are these bad?  Because:  THIS KIND OF THING IS THE BARE MINIMUM AND IT IS EXPECTED OF YOU.   Instead, we need to know: What do you actually do in class? Remember, the SC hasn’t seen you teach, so you need to give us examples of what you do, not take us to common lowest denominator town.

This is a short list of the most common clichés. Avoid them like the plague.

Makeup Monday: More on Lipsticks and Introducing Shae

Alert followers of Makeup Monday will note that I missed last week’s post. Sorry about that!  I ended up making a sudden unplanned trip to visit my 16 year old son at his school in Colorado to help him recover from an adverse reaction to a medication. The situation remains unresolved so today’s post will be brief…

Welcome to Makeup Monday, my weekly series on makeup; academic and postacademic job market and productivity posts will continue on Tuesday and Friday as usual.

Here is my weekly reminder:  I will not engage with makeup-shaming here or on any Facebook or Twitter comment threads. I support your right to not wear makeup, and anyone who dislikes makeup, disapproves of makeup, or wants to argue that no academic woman should be judged on the basis of makeup (which nobody is claiming anyway), I suggest you come back for my other posts on other topics.

For previous posts, see the following:

~~~~~~

The very first post in this series was about Long-Wear Lipcolor. In that post I shared my efforts to find truly long-wear lipcolor–ie not the usual, “stay on for one hour and call that long-wear” thing.  I tried a lot of the popular matte long-wear options like Tarteist and Stila All-Day, and they were all beautiful, and they do last a couple hours, but absolutely nowhere near the “all day” wear that they claim. I even tried the $36 Yves St. Laurent Tatouage Couture Matte Lip Stain, which is supposed to be ALL THAT, and….   No. Just No.  It comes off with the first meal, and the “stain”-y effect has no heft or shape to it.  It’s just this sad, thin, half-transparent color. I am mystified by the effusive reviews.

Anyway, in the end, as I mentioned in the earlier post, I found two products:  Beauty Bakerie’s Lip Whip, which has tremendous staying power and a wonderful heavy matte effect.  Watch the video below to see just how long-wear this stuff really is!  At the same time, these heavy matte liquid lipcolors are challenging to apply, so watch this video with some good advice about how to do it.

And then there is Lipsense, which really does live up to the hype.  That stuff just does not come off – I mean, even for up to 24 hours – as long as you put on the three coats, and cover with one of the patented glosses (which include matte, pearl, glossy, etc.). Lipsense is only sold by distributors, so here is a link to a good one on Ebay I’ve ordered from.  HOWEVER, commenters on this blog have noted that the company appears to support the Trump administration, and that’s certainly a major consideration in this political moment. We need to both look gorgeous AND support #Resistance!

So if you want to get a long-wear lipcolor and at the same time support a small, indie, vegan and cruelty-free company that is the post-ac passion project of a queer Feminist Studies Ph.D., then go immediately and get yourself Endurance Matte Cream Lipstick made by Shae Face and Body, founded by Shae Miller, Ph.D.

Here is what Shae has to say about her company:

I have a PhD in Sociology with an emphasis in Feminist studies, so research is kinda my thing. So is teaching, which is part of how I came to make my own face and body products.

Teaching college courses about gender and health meant discussing dangerous ingredients in many beauty products and the psychologically damaging ways that these products are often marketed. This prompted me to think about what was in my own cosmetics and led me to think about what a body positive beauty brand would look like.

I was inspired to research alternatives and began formulating my own products– first eyeliner, then mascara, then matte cream lipstick (fierce was the debut color). And while it took a LOT of attempts (and the feedback of many dedicated and supportive friends) I had stumbled onto something I really loved doing.

And others loved what I was making, too, so I started to share my creations and take requests for new products.

Which brings us, more or less, to today…the culmination of a dream to create a brand that celebrates femininity, masculinity, and everything in between.

Shae kindly sent me her lipcolor to try, in Harold and Mauve, and Bowie, and Bowie has become an item I carry in purse at all times!  Here’s me (below) in a no-makeup-except-for-Shae-Endurance-Matte-Cream-Lipstick-selfie. Endurance lasts for about 4 hours on me, with an absolutely gorgeous color and the nice thick matte heft that I love.

I am always thrilled when academics turn their passions into a fulfilling business. I’m particularly excited about Shae, because she’s a queer femme (like me) who uses makeup to express herself in all of her complexity.  Here’s what she has to say.

As a queer, feminine person whose gender is fluid I was also concerned with how to counter social beliefs that femininity is weak, artificial, or validated only when attached to certain bodies and identities.

Body positivity, self-expression, and self-care are at the heart of everything I do at Shae Face & Body.

My products are not intended to “fix” your “flaws”… Instead they are about providing you with resources for indulging in self-care, and for expressing your fabulousness in ways that celebrate you for who you are.

I love makeup and skincare, and I want to make them fun, affirming, and available to everyone. This means that you are a part of my process, and that I have you in mind each time I formulate a new creation.

Here’s Shae in one of her blog posts about the fluid nature of gender presentation. Be sure and order from Shae Face and Body, and tell her Karen sent you!

Effective Slides for Your Job Talk and Beyond: 9 Myths To Stop Believing – Guest Post

By Echo Rivera, PhD

Independent Research and Evaluation Consultant

Owner, Creative Research Communications, LLC

Hi! I’m Dr. Echo Rivera. My passion is helping researchers, academics, scientists, and evaluators become effective visual communicators. I love to teach people how to create astronomically awesome slide presentations for lectures, conferences, and workshops. Check out one of my free resources, available on my website, to help you get started. I also love to draw comics and want to see more comics used in research and teaching.

 

Website: echorivera.com; Twitter: @echoechoR

[Karen:  I encountered the original version of this post originally published on Echo’s blog. I loved it and invited her to reprise it in shorter form here, for all of you planning your job talks.  STUDY #7 IN PARTICULAR!  TAKE IT TO HEART!]

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Everyone hates boring presentations, but they’re everywhere. How can something so hated be so widespread?

The answer? Bad advice.

Here are 9 myths stopping you from creating effective presentations.

  1.  # Slides = X Amount of Time

This myth will. Not. DIE. It goes a little something like this:

“This presentation doesn’t need to be long. Can you create 10 slides?”

Take the 10-20-30 rule, which recommends 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation. I forgot what the 30 is but that’s not important.

We must disassociate time from the number of slides in your presentations. Pretend the correlation is r = .0002, p = .800 (Rivera, 2017, personal communication with myself). Otherwise, you get tunnel vision and cram your slides with text just so you can stick to an arbitrary rule.

If you did 10 slides in 20 minutes. That’s TWO WHOLE MINUTES per slide (at best)! In audience years, that’s forever. Even 1 minute per slide can be too long.

From now on, don’t worry about the number of slides. Instead, try to have only 1-3 points per slide. Yes, this applies when you have a complex topic, as you should be breaking it up into multiple slides to walk your audience through it.

I get why people believe this. Most people cram 50+ words on a slide, blabber forever, then repeat that for 20 slides. Telling people to limit their slides feels like low-hanging fruit. But the number of slides is not the root of the problem.

  1. It’s the audience’s responsibility to pay attention and learn

Some believe the responsibility of learning rests entirely on the audience. But effective presenters believe it’s the presenter’s responsibility to do everything they can to make learning engaging and memorable.

Is it your fault if a student zones out? Not necessarily. People are distracted, it’s hard to hold their attention. But chances are, there are strategies you could use to make your presentation worth paying attention to (e.g., storyboarding, visuals).

  1. Visuals are just a bonus

If you want your audience to pay attention, understand, remember, and use the information you share, then use visuals. Period. No excuses. Fin.

By visuals, I don’t just mean stock photos. Visuals also include: drawings, screenshots, icons, your own photos, and videos.

  1. “I have lots of data” is a legit excuse for bad design

Whenever I tweet about how you should limit the text on your slide, there’s always someone who says, “Yeah I mostly agree, except when I have to show a lot of data.”

That is not an acceptable reason to make ineffective slides. You do not have to show all your data at once. You should be walking people through your data in pieces and in a way that tells a story.

  1. “But I need to post my slides online” is a legit reason for using too much text

A lot of people also say, “Yeah I mostly agree, but what about slides that need to go online?”

There is a long answer for this one, but the short answer is: Online materials are consumed in a different format than live presentations. That means the material should be different (i.e., customized).

  1. Good dataviz is enough

Dataviz is hot right now, as it should be. But here’s the thing: good presentation design involves more than dataviz.

Good presentation design means:

  • Good content (storyboarding)
  • Good information design (contrast, fonts, colors, alignment)
  • Effective visuals (placement, size, orientation)
  • Data visualization

Presentations aren’t “good” or “bad” based on one slide or a couple of slides. Presentations are a package deal.

Dataviz is one of the last steps in a design package. If you don’t have a good story or your slides are walls of text, then your dataviz won’t have an impact.

  1. Your audience cares about you (or the facts) more than the story

Think about how we start our presentations. A huge mistake I’ve made in the past, and see almost every other presenter make, is that we save the good stuff for the middle (e.g., results) without giving the audience a reason to pay attention all the way through.

The kiss of death? Starting a presentation by talking about yourself.

Unless you’re a celebrity in your field, your name is not the most important thing to people. It’s better to assume that no one cares who you are. Get into the mindset that you need to convince your audience they should listen to you. Assume they have a problem and they want you to solve it. Your background won’t solve their problem. Start your presentations by reassuring them you’re going to solve their problem–even if it’s just a knowledge gap.

  1. It’s okay to take “baby steps” … for years

OK look. I believe that change is incremental. If your slides have 130+ words on them and contain no visuals, it’d be hard to make slides with 3 words and all visuals. But, the only time I’ve heard “cut me some slack, I’m taking baby steps” is when people are using it as an excuse to maintain their outdated practice.

It’s like watching someone sloooowly remove a big band-aid off their arm.

If you’re telling yourself that you’re just making change in “baby steps,” then challenge yourself to take bigger steps. You don’t need 30 years to start making stellar slides.

  1. I don’t need training on how to create effective presentations

Did you receive training on how to be an effective communicator? Probably not, because of the myth that effective communication can be “picked up” over time.

Were you able to pick up statistics just by watching other people do them? Nope. There are graduate degrees in communication, yet many of us assume we can learn the same strategies on our own.

Creating effective presentations requires training. To get started, check out my FREE email course, Countdown to Stellar Slides.

 

 

 

The UK Job Market, Part III: “I Beg Your Pardon, But May I Have This Job?” (The Winning Cover Letter)

By Alice Kelly, Ph.D.

Alice Kelly is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She completed her PhD in English at Cambridge in 2014, with a year as a Fox Fellow at Yale, and before that she studied at Sussex, Reed College (Portland, Oregon), and Oxford. She has taught English and History in the US and the UK. Having applied for academic jobs on both sides of the pond, she understands the challenges and opportunities of being on the transatlantic academic job market. Alongside her academic research on twentieth century literature and culture, she advocates healthy writing practices. At Oxford she founded the TORCH Academic Writing Group, which she has written about in Times Higher Education.

www.dralicekelly.com  @DrAliceKelly

KK:  This is Part III of Alice’s 4-Part series on the UK job application process, which I requested after meeting Alice at Oxford and hearing her take on the job market there.

Her first post in the series – the big picture

Her second post in the series – the REF

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So you’ve decided to apply for a job in the UK – great work! Now comes the part where you sit down and draft the cover letter.

The cover letter is, by and large, the most important document in your dossier. (On that note, do not use the word “dossier” in the UK – no one will know what you are talking about). If a separate research statement is required, you may be able to shorten and simplify your cover letter a bit, but it is still the most important document in pulling together the different strands of your application and more broadly, your academic profile and identity. This is the place where you will summarise what your scholarship and publications have focused on to date, your current and future research, your teaching experience, your academic administrative experience, and sometimes your experience of public engagement, i.e. communicating your research to the general public. The key thing to remember is that the cover letter is where the focus is on the benefits and contribution you can make to them [esteemed university seeking an applicant], rather than what interests you about working there.

Next, let’s play word swap. If you have used any of the following words, delete them immediately and insert my version instead:

US  v. UK translation:

Dissertation

UK: We use “thesis” and “dissertation” in the UK to refer to doctoral dissertations, so don’t assume that someone is talking about a Masters degree if they refer to their thesis

 

Advisor/Advisory Committee

UK: Supervisor/Supervisors

 

Professor

UK: Only to be used by academics holding Professorships or named Chairs. Everyone else is “Dr.”

 

Semester

UK:  Term (apart from a handful of universities, including Bath, Leeds and St Andrews, which operate on a semester system)

 

Class

UK:  Course

 

Grading

UK:  Marking

 

Freshmen, Sophomores, etc

UK:  First-years, Second-years, etc.

It’s not going to tank your application to use any of the American words, but some translation demonstrates a familiarity with the UK academic scene, and your reader isn’t going to stumble over an out-of-context word. Check the spelling in your letter with either a British spellcheck or a British person too.

Other words/terms to deliberately use in the Cover Letter (with some knowledge of what they mean – see my second blog): “public engagement”, “outward-facing” (about yourself as an academic), “interdisciplinary” (as long as your research actually has genuinely interdisciplinary elements)

Other words/phrases to deliberately avoid (much like the US): “passion”, “groundbreaking”, “pathbreaking”, “outstanding”, “shed new light on”, “At your institution I am interested in.”

A word on length: Although there is a strict limit in the US on length (2 pages max. for any self-respecting applicant), in the UK a 2.5 page letter is acceptable, as long as you are not rambling and every sentence in your cover letter is necessary and useful. If you can use letterhead, do so. If you can’t, it is not the end of the world.

Now we’ve sorted out language and length, let’s think about structure. Like most other types of academic writing, a cover letter has a formula – and you can therefore write your letter in a paint-by-numbers type of way. Below I’ve provided a paragraph-by-paragraph guide of what needs to go into the cover letter. Some of this is the same as the American cover letter, but some is different.

As for the US cover letter (see The Professor Is In, Ch. 22), the letter should begin with the date (left justified), then a line break, then the postal address of the recipient, then a line break, then “Dear Professor [X] and Members of the Committee.”

PARAGRAPH 1: This should begin “I am writing to apply for the position of [X] ” or some such similar statement. Then state as concisely as possible who you are, what stage you are, your PhD dissertation/research expertise, and what makes you a particularly good candidate for this job (this might be your extensive research experience in the area advertised, the match of your research with their departmental interests/theme that year, your years of experience teaching in a similar institution, etc.). For example,

“I would bring to [insert name of institution] my high impact research trajectory focusing on [X], my proven track record of communicating my research to academic and more popular audiences, and my wide experience of teaching in a number of universities. My research specialisms, alongside my public engagement and organization skills [or whatever the application names as key skills], would allow me to make a valuable contribution to [X].”

In the opening sentence, you’ve established that you’re a REF-able candidate with an interest in public engagement and demonstrable teaching experience, as well as hopefully being an organized colleague.

PARAGRAPH 2: The second paragraph details your research expertise in depth, e.g. gives a detailed summary of your dissertation and book project, including intended publication date and what stage you are at with the manuscript. Remember that some UK positions are a means to improve a university’s REF submission, so high-quality research that you will actually publish before 2020 will be looked on favorably. The most important thing I have learned is that the second and third paragraphs shouldn’t just state what you research, but what your research project does in terms of contributing to the discipline, and the nature of your wider scholarly project. This paragraph should therefore include:

  • The scope of your research (topic, timeframe, research materials used – people sometimes forget the obvious bits)
  • What your dissertation/book project argues
  • How it develops/reassesses/interrupts/perceives the end of your academic field as you know it
  • When you plan to submit the dissertation, or the book manuscript to a publisher (and in which case, do you already have a contract)

PARAGRAPH 3: If you are at the stage of thinking about your second project, discuss it here – including in as brief terms as possible the answers to all the bullet points in paragraph 2 (scope, etc). If not, use this paragraph to give a summary of your publications to date (your “outputs” in REF terms), and discuss what you’re working on alongside your dissertation/monograph, and any other exciting scholarly ventures you’re currently involved in. What is key to, and different about, your scholarly profile? For example, beyond my monograph I’m interested in public scholarship, so my third paragraph begins: “My expertise in First World War culture is demonstrated through my recent publications and podcasts for both scholarly and public audiences, which restore neglected and previously unknown First World War documents and demonstrate my ability to build research impact outside the academy.” Give some examples and then bring the paragraph back to how your research profile can be of benefit to their university/department.

PARAGRAPH 4: This is a summary of your teaching, highlighting the experience most relevant to the position you’re applying to. Give as much detail as possible. The key here is to be specific – what courses did you teach, where, when and to how many students, and in what teaching mode (lectures, seminars, tutorials, etc). How will your particular teaching experience and expertise be useful to their department?

There is usually no separate teaching philosophy document required in the UK – and frankly, trying to include an American style teaching philosophy would get your letter binned (sorry, put in the trash). Karen has already taught us to get rid of the weepy teaching statement, and in the UK I’m sorry to say that any teaching statement is considered pretty weepy (stiff upper lip and all that). You can communicate your “passion”, if you must, for teaching through specific examples of exercises that worked really well with students in this paragraph. You may be asked about these examples in an interview, so don’t make them up.

PARAGRAPH 5: In this paragraph you show that you have actually read the application and done some homework on the department. How would you teach the classes they ask you to teach in the application, and if appropriate, what else could you offer at their institution? This should be specific with course titles and one or two sentence outlines of courses. Finish the paragraph with any ideas you have for collaboration with other department members, which of their research strands your work would complement and develop, etc. Find this out via some serious reading of their department website.

PARAGRAPH 6: The final paragraph is usually where you demonstrate your relevant teaching administration, organizational and pastoral experience, but it can also be where you show that you fulfill their ‘desirable’ criteria (you should have already show your competency in their ‘essential criteria’ by this point in this letter). This might include conferences or seminar series you have organized, participation in academic steering committees, any interesting projects you have spearheaded or overseen – and most importantly, how you would use this experience in your new position at [X].

Complete the letter with a dignified and concise sign-off:

“I would be happy to expand on any of the above in interview. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

[Signature – electronic is okay]

[Typed Name and Current Position]”

Don’t tell them to expect letters from your esteemed referees, or ask them to call you if they require any further information. They won’t.

In terms of order, received wisdom says that you should reorder your cover letter according to which type of job you are applying for, i.e. for a teaching job, you should reorder your letter to put your teaching paragraphs above your research paragraphs. The jury is out for me on this one. Given the REF and the pressure to publish in the UK, even teaching-heavy jobs will require you to maintain a serious research profile. You can reorder your paragraphs if you like, or you can foreground your research to demonstrate your authority as a scholar before you move onto teaching. I think either will work, as long as you make it clear in the opening paragraph that you know what type of job this is and prioritise your relevant skills accordingly in your summary sentence at the end of that paragraph.

To Do: Draft your cover letter according to instructions above and send to a friend who knows their stuff. Then edit and redraft and edit and redraft until it is a winning cover letter.

Until next time, when I will discuss interviews and campus visits.