Author Archive


What It Means to Be Post Academic

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Career Planning

The scariest thing a young faculty member experiences is not, as is conventionally supposed, the “need to produce” and therefore her/his experience is not aided by the “mentorship” of an experienced scholar.  Rather, the young scholar’s fear stems from the fact that no one in the department is talking to each other about scholarship.  Faculty are socializing, going out, schmoozing all the time, and the ideas that supposedly drive the work they do are not being discussed.  The mentor, if assigned, will try to teach the young faculty member how to navigate the minefield of the department, but that is exactly what is alienating. .  The mentor, especially when well-intentioned, may be the model for what is wrong, not an aid in coping.  Indeed, if the mentor is really similar to the young faculty member in terms of ideology or social identity, the mentor may be a model for what the young faculty member does not wish to become.

The one conversation everyone is having incessantly is the one about the micropolitical maneuvers within the department.  This conversation is, of course always done with armor on, with an eye toward alliances and enemies already made, with everyone watching to find out which camp the new faculty member will join.  And while there is a relationship between micropolitics and geopolitics, it is far more tenuous, far more mediated by local institutional conditions, than the new faculty first imagines.

Because no one is talking about substance, only alliances, and because alienation is general, a vacuum exists at the center of institutional power which is not filled by talent or argument, but by those who feel most comfortable or justified taking advantage of it.  For those in power, and for those who hope to attain power, the arrival of a new junior faculty member is to be watched closely for his/her schmoozing choices. As a result, it is not simply the case that junior faculty fear senior faculty, but that the senior faculty fear the junior faculty, walking around wondering whether this new person will contribute to their already hatched plan to take over the curriculum.  The fact that the new person was hired with accomplishments and expectations much higher than so many senior faculty members does not help this form of fear, of course.

While it remains true that the power differential between tenured and untenured faculty makes the ubiquity of fear particularly threatening to the careers of junior faculty members, the longer one stays the more one discovers that one’s unhappiness is simply an example of the larger misery of faculty members.  Senior faculty don’t exactly help or support one another either.  Tenure might lead to a sense of security; it surely does not breed happiness.

The net that academics are ultimately caught in, regardless of the structure or the “progressiveness” of the specific department, is the net of personal power. Within the capitalist professional class, the criteria by which alliances are formed and judgments made is generally limited by an abstract and objective, rather than personal, question:  did you make money for the shareholders?  Even where personality or group dynamics dictates one or another poor relationship, there is some criteria of performance evaluation outside of academia’s twin criteria:  personal alliance and ideology.  In truth, it takes an incredible number of hours to evaluate adequately any individual’s research.  For all but a handful of us, the number of people who have given our work that kind of attention is miniscule.  We are tied to those individuals not the way a consultant is tied to a client’s account books, but the way we are tied to lovers and friends — and ex-lovers and enemies.  Obviously, I am aware that markets create winners and losers, and also, that there is no “free market” unconstructed by the intervention of human psyches.  Yet at least within the bourgeoisie the existence of a monetary reference point provides some resistance to personal power, while the structure of institutionalized intellectual work permits no such outside reference point — not community service, not ethics, not, in light of the inability of humanities scholars to agree about what such a concept might mean, truth.  Academia has neither capitalist forms of abstraction nor socialist forms of solidarity to recommend it.


Academic Leavers

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

First, I’d like to second Recent PhD’s advice that potential academic leavers choose a specific point at which you are going to quit – or at least a point at which you will begin sending out resumes with the understanding that you will leave academia outright as soon as you are offered an outside job – even if it’s the middle of a semester. If you don’t do this, it will be far too easy to just continue postponing the decision over and over again until you’re just lingering in grad school or as an adjunct, afraid to actually cut the cord. And while I don’t think it’s ever too late to leave academia, you certainly don’t want to keep postponing the decision endlessly. So as I’ve hinted at before, I think recent PhD’s advice to sit down and make a decision about a concrete point at which you will officially be done with academia is critical for anyone considering quitting.

This advice works for grad students and full faculty as well as adjuncts, by the way. Come up with your own end point, not the ones academia assigns to us. If you’re utterly miserable and sure you want to do something else, there’s no sense in hanging around until you get tenure or until you finish the dissertation. If you’re leaving, the academic milestones shouldn’t matter for you anymore. Make a plan for leaving based on your own personal goals and preferences, and stick to it.

Recent PhD rightly emphasizes that people transitioning outside of academia need to market themselves as career changers, not as students looking for a first job after graduation. This is tremendously important. I’d like to double down on this point in particular:

“…you spent 10 years as an educator (a teacher, NOT a student – yes, you were in graduate school, but that was a matter of professional development.) … [you are] looking for new ways to use the talents you’ve aquired through your experience in the education industry.”

This is such a critical point, which I think a lot of potential academic leavers (especially those coming straight out of grad school) miss entirely. They think “what kind of job can I possibly get? I’ve been a student for X years. I’ve got no experience and any employer is going to laugh me out of the park for being a ‘student’ for this long.”

Screw that. Even if academia tries at every turn to emphasize how you’re “just” a student? You know better. After you finish coursework, you aren’t a student in any way that a nonacademic person would view it. You are working in education for a salary … even if that salary is just a graduate student stipend or adjunct per-class salary.

Do you feel weird about this? Don’t. It’s only within the system of academia that you’re still considered a “student in training.” To the outside world, designing and teaching a semester-long college course on your own is clearly work experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it with a Ph.D. or a permanent contract or not. You were *working* as a teacher.

Similarly, in what world is that research project you designed and completed independently, won grant funding for, and got published in a professional journal a “school project” … while the same project completed by a faculty member is “work?” Bullcrap. Designing and carrying out a research project to publication is doing *work* in research, regardless of how many letters follow the author’s name.

It doesn’t matter how academia views you – the hierarchies that exist in academia are invisible to most of the outside world. To the outside world, you’ve been working as a college instructor and as a researcher. You’ve been earning a salary (no matter how small) while providing important services to the university and gaining professional development. This is work experience. Don’t bury it under “educational background” on your resume, and don’t hesitate in presenting yourself as a “career changer” in cover letters. That’s what you are.

Don’t get caught up in how academia views you. The outside world will view you differently.


Academic Habit

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

From the Guardian’s piece on Sunday about the outing of Brooke Magnanti, aka Belle du Jour, the PhD who anonymously wrote the Diary of a London Call Girl blog (which was turned into a British TV show):

Among sex workers themselves there was little surprise that a well-educated woman like Magnanti had got into prostitution.  She took the job because she ran out of money as she was finishing her PhD; she is a now a research scientist. Hers was an extraordinary experience of prostitution; she was lucky, because prostitution ordinarily is, simply put, a condition that kills women.

The 34-year-old said she decided to unmask herself because the stress of the deceit was making her paranoid. Interest in her identity increased when her memoirs became a television series. Dr Magnanti, who now lives in Bristol and is a research scientist for The Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health, became a prostitute because she needed a job that left her enough time to complete her studies.

She kept her double life a secret even when she started the blog describing her experiences and the books which followed. Dr Magnanti told the Sunday Times she worked as a prostitute from 2003 to late 2004, and found it “so much more enjoyable” than her shifts in another job as a computer programmer. She told the newspaper “I don’t want this massive secret over me any more,” and that she feared an ex-boyfriend might reveal the true identity of Belle de Jour.

Sunday’s entry on the blog said: “It feels so much better on this side. Not to have to tell lies, hide things from the people I care about. To be able to defend what my experience of sex work is like to all the sceptics and doubters. “Anonymity had a purpose then – it will always have a reason to exist, for writers whose work is too damaging or too controversial to put their names on. “But for me, it became important to acknowledge that aspect of my life and my personality to the world at large. “I am a woman. I lived in London. I was a call girl. “The people, the places, the actions and feelings are as true now as they were then, and I stand behind every word with pride.”

A spokesman for her employer, the University of Bristol, said: “This aspect of Dr Magnanti’s past is not relevant to her current role at the university.” The spokesman added that Dr Magnanti’s revelations would not affect her chances of future employment with the university.




A Toronto Based Meeting

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

Are there any graduate students and/or contract faculty in the Greater Toronto Area who would be interested in meeting up this summer specifically for a workshop on identifying transferable skills and converting an academic CV into a résumé? I’m currently having an email chat with a contract faculty person who’s really interested in working on this in a group context, but there are obviously some professional reasons to not go around trying to recruit colleagues to this kind of thing.


Creative PhD’s and Self Motivation

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

This is from an 2004 New York Times article about Google’s practice of routinely hiring Ph.D.s:

clipped from

Rajeev Motwani, a computer science professor at Stanford, says: “Good Ph.D. students are extreme in their creativity and self-motivation. Master’s students are equally smart but do not have the same drive to create something new.” The master’s takes you where others have been; the doctorate, where no one has gone before.

Until recently, when computer science students completed their long Ph.D. training and stepped into daylight, they were treated warily by industry employers. American business has had to overcome its longtime suspicion of intellect. “Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men,” an article published in the 1920’s in the American magazine, is a typical specimen of an earlier era. In modern times, computer scientists are hired, but a doctorate can still be viewed as the sign of a character defect, its holder best isolated in an aerie.

Xerox famously put together a dream team of computer scientists in the 1970’s, placed it on a hill in Palo Alto, Calif., and received, in short order, the modern easy-to-use personal computer and the laser printer. Unfortunately, neither the researchers nor Xerox corporate had any idea how to bring these creations to market, and the experiment was a business failure.

Steve Jobs avidly hunted and hired Ph.D.’s during his ill-begotten entrepreneurial experiment at NeXT Computer in the late 1980’s, while he was away from Apple. His NeXT computer, what he called a “scholar’s workstation,” was marketed exclusively to students for the low, low introductory price of $6,500. It failed for some inexplicable reason to sweep campuses. He has not been heard since to boast, as he did then, that 70 percent of his manufacturing employees had doctorates. (Admittedly, these were few, as the factory was highly automated.)

In 1991, Microsoft established its separate research organization, following contemporary orthodoxy, and sought Ph.D.’s to conduct research full time. Its mainstream recruiting, however, remains focused on undergraduates and master’s students.

“We’re not heavy into Ph.D. recruiting,” explains Kristen Roby, Microsoft’s director of recruiting at colleges in the United States. “We’re huge believers in hiring potential.”

Google, however, prefers those who have been trained for the maximum time setting on the university’s dial and who have experience in organizing their own research agenda. The company has not released data about its Ph.D’s for two years, but based on its history, the number is probably more than 100.

Instead of sending them to a separate, high-walled compound, the company places them among the rank and file. In the typical Google job listing, which asks for a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in computer science, is a three-word phrase rarely seen elsewhere: “Ph.D. a plus.”

Because Google is in the “quiet period” required after the filing of its public offering plans, the company will not say a word about its Ph.D.’s or anything else. But go to the top-ranked computer science departments, and you’ll feel the irresistible gravitational pull of the Googleplex. At Stanford, for instance, Google’s recruiting of computer science Ph.D.’s has been, in Professor Motwani’s diplomatic phrasing, “more successful than others,” which he attributes to the critical mass of talent the company has assembled.

Ed Lazowska, professor and former chairman of computer science at the University of Washington, says Google’s policy of reserving one day a week to do your own thing is “hugely attractive to potential employees.” Google has about as many Ph.D.’s from his university as Microsoft, but Microsoft is almost 30 times larger.

As the earlier failure of Mr. Jobs’s NeXT Big Thing shows, the prize does not necessarily go to the new kids with the highest density of Ph.D.’s on the map. Google is vulnerable to attack from anyone who devises a better search engine. And Microsoft may add search capabilities to Windows faster than Google can go on the counteroffensive and install its own plumbing in the PC.

WORKING in Google’s favor is its practice of putting new Ph.D.’s to work immediately in the exact areas where they have been trained – in systems, architecture and artificial intelligence. Google, the company, may falter, but Google, the human resources experiment, is unlikely to be the cause.

Microsoft has yet to disavow old templates for hiring. Its chief college recruiter, Ms. Roby, says that among computer science Ph.D.’s, “it’s less likely to find someone with the desire to work on projects that will ship every 24 or 36 months.”

Her intention is to convey the fast pace of product-development cycles at Microsoft. But the notion that software is released at intervals measured in years, burned on a CD-ROM, stamped with a new version number and stuffed in a box, is as relevant to Google’s continuous Web site improvements as a punch card. Nor is the notion that Ph.D.’s are unsuited for the punishing pace of the business workday empirically justified.

When the cone of silence is lifted, ask anyone at Google, starting with the chief executive: Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., computer science.


Women’s Academia

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

The proportion of full-time female faculty members in the U.S. almost doubled from 1984 to 2008 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). Yet, women continue to “leak” from the academic pipeline, especially from the tenure track. Of women faculty nationally, 31% hold non-tenure-track positions, 26% are on the tenure track, and 43% have tenure (AAUP, 2010). Compare this to male faculty: Although a lower percentage of the men start out on the tenure track, a much higher percentage of them, compared to women, hold tenure, and far fewer are on the non-tenure-track.
The question is— where do the women go and why? Understanding how motherhood affects the careers of academic women is one place to look. The childbearing years coincide directly with climbing the tenure ladder, leading women to delay or forgo having children. Only 1/3 of women who start on the tenure track without a child will ever have one (Mason and Goulden, 2004). Faculty women report having fewer children than they desired, or putting off having kids until after gaining tenure. Such findings suggest that the academic career may be a difficult place to combine career and motherhood.
Why might this be the case? Timing. The average age at which women receive the doctorate is 34, the time when college-educated women are beginning families (Marcus, 2007). Add seven (or more) years to tenure and a woman is in her 40‟s.
Yet, there is a paucity of attention paid to academic women as mothers. An example of this inattention comes from a 2005 report from the Provost‟s office at Virginia Tech, that summarized exit surveys of „voluntary departures‟ among tenured and tenure-track faculty. Women averaged 40% of the „voluntary departures‟, mainly pre-tenure, while they were only 20.6% of the tenured and tenure-track faculty. Women were significantly more likely to report feeling intimidated, harassed, or discriminated against in their departments, yet nowhere in the report were work-family issues discussed.
Explanations for why the women leave: Women opt-out, or do they? The notion that professional women freely choose not to work after becoming mothers- has been pushed in the media. The data suggests otherwise, with the majority of educated women with young children in the work force. In 2007, over 70% of women with children worked outside the home (Halpern, 2008). Statistics are similar for highly educated women in their thirties where 2/3 of those with a young child work outside the home (Boushey, 2005).
Another explanation for fewer women on the tenure track is that women choose the softer, less secure, lower paying academic routes, either in anticipation of having children or once they become mothers. Again, the notion of „choice‟ has been questioned and calls for further study.  In light of women‟s increasing presence in the academy, and their higher rates of leaving, work/family issues deserve far greater attention. A 2003 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that having children can have a devastating impact on the careers of academic women but not men (Wilson, 2003).
What is clear is that women in academia face unique challenges, which require further investigation if we are to create an academic environment that is supportive of women as parents, particularly during the early years of career and parenting.
Given the many unknowns about why women leave, our qualitative study was designed to explore academic women‟s experiences combining career and parenthood. We chose mothers of young children because the toddler years are particularly challenging for parents. Broad questions guided the study- What challenges do the women face? What changes occur when they become mothers? How does it feel to meet the demands of being a mother and a faculty member?


Interfolio | Another Online Tool For Academic Leavers

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

I just wanted to make sure that those of you who are on the non-academic and academic job markets know about  Interfolio. Its main strengths seem to play best to those doing a high-level or academic job search, since one of its key functions is managing and shepherding along your letters of reference. If your campus career center doesn’t already do this, the service is a great way to get your letter to the correct destination.

Since 1999, Interfolio has been the best way to collect, manage, and showcase academic and professional credentials for applications to positions in higher education, post-graduate study, and other opportunities.  Interfolio offers individuals one central place to store their most important documents, while also providing the means to distribute these materials to any institution.  Interfolio’s services offer a revolutionary way for people to present and market themselves professionally.

The idea for Interfolio was the result of an award-winning business plan developed by Steve Goldenberg when he was a student at Georgetown University. As a worker in Georgetown’s career center, he saw an opportunity to offer students a better way to promote academic and professional achievements. His business plan for a powerful and easy-to-use online credentials service won the Philip’s Publishing Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship. Steve used feedback from the 1999 Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers (EACE) annual conference to launch the first version of Interfolio later that year.

Now, over 100,000 worldwide access the Interfolio system, including individuals who use it to manage their documents, as well as letter writers who upload letters of recommendation for their students and colleagues. Interfolio continues to use the feedback of advisors, students, letter writers and receiving institutions to develop and evolve the service.


It Turns Out We All Worry About Being Losers

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

I was tumbling down the rabbit hole of a Google search the other day, going from one link to the next, when I landed at Tara Hunt’s HorsePigCowblog. You might be familiar with Tara if you’re at all interested in social media, social marketing, social networks and other related social hoo-ha. Basically, Tara’s great. And she wrote, “If nobody shares they are struggling, nobody will know anybody else is struggling. That results in a bunch of people feeling isolated and scared and like big fat losers.”

So many of us keep our fears and struggles to ourselves believing that revealing them could somehow brand us with loser status and eventually imperil our careers or reputations. Are we being savvy or just creating unnecessary isolation? Are there issues you wish you could share with others?

It is both liberating and energizing to have professional confidants in whom we can share our worries, concerns, and aspirations, but it can be hard to establish these kinds of relationships. One must reveal a fair degree of vulnerability in order to engender trust in another, and that can feel risky. The consequences of failing to open up can be quite high, however.


A Thursday morning link roundup

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

A few interesting articles I’ve found floating around on the interwebs this morning:

  • There’s this piece at Slate about Matthew Crawford, the Ph.D. who became a motorcycle mechanic and wrote a book about it (Shop Class as Soul Craft).
  • In the U.S., the Council of Graduate Schools is initiating a new study of

A Canada Day link roundup

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

It’s Canada Day here north of the 49th parallel. I know that when I was a grad student, every day was a work day, including civic holidays. Now that I’m out of academia, plus self-employed, plus a mom, I carve out very deliberate boundaries with my time (this has sometimes been difficult for people who would rather I conducted business outside of my M-F, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 pm work schedule!).

Because today is a holiday,