Thanks for your questions, everyone! I wish I had time to answer more, but I'm in the thick of the Fall job market high season and tenure track cover letters and CVs are beckoning! This has been wonderful! I've really enjoyed your questions, and I hope you found my answers helpful. Be sure and follow me on Facebook and Twitter and keep reading the blog and of course, my new book.

Wishing you the best of luck in your academic pursuits and job search.


My short bio: Karen Kelsky is the Founder of The Professor Is In -- a blog and business dedicated to helping Ph.D.s master the academic and post-academic job markets -- and a regular columnist at the Chronicle of Higher Education. A former R1 tenured cultural anthropologist and department head, Dr. Kelsky explains the unspoken rules of the academic job search and supports clients in their job search both in and outside the academy. Her book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job, is available from Random House (Three Rivers Press).

Ask me about the tenure track job search, job apps, interviewing, negotiating, PhD debt (1 in 5 owe over $100K), the corporatized university, adjuncting, leaving the academy; also ask about my new book The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD Into a Job (Three Rivers Press 2015) and how to work with an agent and write a trade book (if you're curious).

I'll start responding to questions at 1 PM EST.

My Proof:

Comments: 93 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

silly_walks_13 karma

Dr. Kelsky,

You have been an outspoken critic of higher education, particularly when it comes to the various ways colleges and universities exploit the precarity and insecurity of graduate students and adjuncts who are seeking stable, permanent positions.

In order to secure those positions, you advise them that their best and most successful strategy is to "play the game" as it were -- write, dress, speak, and behave according to a set of professional standards that are, by your own definition, sexist, racist, classist, etc.

So here's my question: How do you reconcile your professional advice (to more or less conform to expectations) with your advocacy (to speak up and change the system)? These beliefs need not be in opposition, but they often are. So, for example, we all know that we should dress for the job we want and not the job we have, but as the recent #Ilooklikeaprofessor hashtag suggests, some professors understand the idiosyncrasies of their attire to be a part of their personal identities. Another example might be academic civility on social media -- UIUC's treatment of Salita seems to indicate that it's a bad strategy for even the tenured to be outspoken on social media, and yet many academics feel a sense of solidarity and advocacy when they take to twitter to show their support of various causes (including yourself).

A more "Kantian" way to put the point would be to ask you what the world would look like if you universalized your professional axioms -- if graduate students, adjuncts, and pre-teunred faculty behaved according to your professional advice, what kind of professional world do you think we would have?

KarenKelsky12 karma

This is a great question, thanks. This was kind of the gist of Sarah Kendzior's piece, The Paradoxical Success of The Professor Is In, in Chronicle Vitae two weeks ago, and I have a response to that piece on Vitae either today or tomorrow, so do check that out.

I actually believe in a kind of strategic code-switching. the intervention I most want to make is not to stop everyone from doing/being what they believe in, but to help them understand that what they believe in will not/does not translate into the job search the way they fondly and usually delusionally believe. So i have a line in the book that says, "be conscious of the degree to which you link your identity and your scholarly profile. The choice is completely personal, but should always be intentional... While some jobs will welcome, even invite such embodied interventions in the epistemological and methodological practices of the field, more jobs remain 'generalist' and will be wary of candidates who appear 'polemical' or as it's commonly and evasively phrased, 'too narrow.' SCs are happiest when they can acquire a 'diversity' candidate who does not in any way disrupt established disciplinary systems of knowledge and practice." Do I write this because I applaud it? Of course not (I think that's pretty clear from my overall views and voice expressed over the past 4 years of blogging). I write this so that people can go in to this thing completely clear-eyed about what the challenges really are, and conscious of just how far they are willing to go to achieve a goal. And then, most folks that I work with generally take the view that the job search itself is a process of dealing with gatekeepers, but once inside the gate, disruption is quite possible (I have some good friends doing this as we speak).

But then AGAIN (on the third hand!) many of those disruptors run the risk of getting turned down for tenure. I see the imposition of repressive expectations on gendered and racialized bodies MUCH more rigidly imposed at tenure than at hiring.

So... know the risks. Do nothing out of misplaced idealism. Make the choices you must. But make them based on knowledge not delusion or wishful thinking.

Here's the link to the book:

snailstudier7 karma

Hi Karen! As an aspiring female academic, I find myself oscillating between "too mousy and insecure" or "too confident." No matter how well I think I'm doing, it seems I over correct and wind up going to an extreme. (Or at least that's what my trusted advisors tell me, in private and without making a spectacle or example of me.) How do you find a balance? Is this something that women are more prone to struggle with? It seems the males around me don't seem to have such an issue.

KarenKelsky10 karma

I'd be VERY suspicious of advice that you're too confident. WTH? What even is that? Read this thing by Mindy Kaling that someone put on my FB recently (yes it's in Glamour, what can I say? it's good, and I love her):

I think you should keep doing what you're doing to be confident and things will work out. You may be the victim of gendered over-policing...

Lastly, I'll say this, at the risk of seeming to shill my services: if you want a neutral third party review of your modes of self-pres in interviews, which will be utterly frank, you can do an Interview Intervention with TPII. Email me at [email protected] for info on that.

Jurgioslakiv6 karma

Dr. Kelsky, thanks for doing an AMA!

My question relates to getting a teaching job. I'm currently still a grad student in philosophy, working on my dissertation. I don't have many publications, and the ones that I have aren't high level serious publications. I have, however, been teaching for 4 years already, both at a rich private college and a poor community college. I have taught 6 different courses at this point, and have designed and received funding for an original course offering. I also serve on a committee at the community college that's a part of the Center for Teaching and Learning that's aimed at promoting interdisciplinarity in the college.

My question is about job prospects at a teaching college, likely a SLAC. I feel like I've demonstrated my ability to be a good teacher (I also get good student reviews), but my publication history is mediocre at best. I can likely pull together an article publication that should be half decent before I'm done with my degree, but my focus always has been and always will be on teaching. How strong do my publications need to be to get a teaching job?

Thanks for doing the AMA!

KarenKelsky7 karma

For most SLACs at this point, you do need a couple of publications to show that you maintain a scholarly profile that informs your teaching. So you really do need to get something out, and they should be peer-rev journal articles, not things like confrence proceedings, chapters, and the like. With your teaching record I do think you will be competitive, as long as you get a couple of pubs out, and then, as long as you explain your record well.

I'm going to come right out and say it: Philosophy Ph.D.s tend to write really bad applications! I think you guys have such an other-worldly orientation that you aren't always great at distinguishing what is fascinating to you personally, vs. what actionable evidence a search comm really needs to make a decision. So be sure and put a lot of effort into making effective job docs as well as building your record.

Jurgioslakiv2 karma

Thanks for the response. When it comes time to enter the job market I plan on throwing some money at you to help me get prepared, so hopefully everyone else being bad at writing job apps ends up playing in my favor.

KarenKelsky2 karma

although to be perfectly fair, if everybody is 'bad' then nobody is 'bad'; what is 'bad' after all? But still, I do work with a lot of philosophers and like to think i make a difference.

JHunter2126 karma

Hi Karen--

Thanks for doing this. I'm on the market and am in a relationship with a woman who's finishing her bachelor's degree. She wants to go on to graduate school.

I know spousal hires are common, but I'm wondering if I could ask, during my TT job negotiation process, for her to be guaranteed a spot in my hiring school's graduate program (in a different department than mine)? This seems much less onerous to the university than a spousal hire, but I've never heard of it being done. Curious to hear your thoughts.

KarenKelsky6 karma

This is done! You can ask. I can't promise all schools will agree, but it is a negotiating point that can sometimes work.

gilles_trilleuze4 karma

Cool! I read your blog a ton! My CV, letters of interest, etc skills have dramatically increased based on your writing and suggestions.

Here are my questions.

What are your opinions on the experimental sort of schools and programs happening in the areas of philosophy and media studies. I'm thinking of the European Graduate School and the New Centre for Research and Practice. Are they interesting experiments for higher education or just distractions?


Are there any strategies for turning an adjunct position into a full time position? I've been adjuncting for a bit at a rather small liberal arts institution and there is a possible opening in the future for a TT position. I'll apply (obviously), but how can I get faculty and admins to see me as more than just that guy who adjuncts?

KarenKelsky1 karma

I'm really glad to hear that!

are you based in the US and hope to have a tenure track job in the States? If so, avoid any European program. No matter the content of the program, you end up with a degree that is not legible in the states, and you miss out on core training essential for the US tt job market, most particularly TEACHING and also the push to go to national (US) conferences, present, network, etc.

KarenKelsky7 karma

Your second question: please do check out Chapter 40 of my book, called "Fear of the Inside Candidate"; it's about the mistakes that adjuncts often make with regards to tt positions that open in their departments. The trick is to remembr that you should NEVER assume that your selfless efforts, dedication, and sacrifice on behalf of the dept will yield a TT job. Instead, you'll do best if you retain distance and boundaries with the job, and show that you are actually an important, successful scholar with things going on. Then apply without making much reference to your time in the dept/relations in the dept (ie, don't think you can lean on those) and instead apply on the strength of your independent record as a scholar.

paczkitten1 karma

When you say "any European program," is this true for top tier programs? Oxbridge, LSE, UCL, etc? Either way, if that's where you choose to go, how do you make the most of that type of experience so that you'll continue to be competitive down the line?

KarenKelsky1 karma

Even the Oxbridges are not great, because the British system is basically, bring you in and abandon you for five years, and then test you at the end. You get no teaching, no mentoring, no professionalization, no support for conferences, and you lose out on 5 years of stateside connections, cultural knowledge, and networking. You'll need to counteract all of that with great effort.

historianofchemistry4 karma

Hi Karen, I worked with you last year on job docs and scored three campus visits. In meeting with the deans and provosts in these visits, I was told that the position would be a diversity hire. As an African-American woman, I was delighted only to see the jobs go to white males from Ivies. So, does pedigree trump hiring goals? Even in institutions where the majority of students are minorities (i.e. historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions)?

KarenKelsky5 karma

WHA? That SUCKS. I mean, how tacky to a) tell you that, and then b) not even do it. I'm really sorry to hear about this.

I'll answer honestly: right now schools of all ranks can score Ivy Ph.D.s and they are getting greedy. They can brag about the Harvard Phds on their faculty to donors... I am v. cynical, and I believe that fuels hiring at this point. That does not mean that there are no diversity commitments in hiring--there are some. still. But when schools are under immediate financial threat (as most are right now), the need for cheap and immediate "capital" is hard to resist.

But don't give up. Your success in getting to that point bodes well. if I might make so bold, I'd suggest (as I suggest to everyone who has a job market outcome like yours) that you might want to practice interviewing; email me to learn more about that at [email protected], if you are interested.

Kohlhaas4 karma

Hi Karen,

What do you see as the future of labor in higher ed 30 years from now?

KarenKelsky8 karma

Oh geez... I really do believe tenure is on its last legs. But students will still go to college and need to be taught. I expect that multi-year contracts with benefits will likely become more common, with a highly micro-managed culture of quantitative productivity/accountability. I'm thinking about my next book, and I'm thinking about how Ph.D.s are really like the spotted owl... our habitat has been destroyed, and the places to do scholarly work--really high level scholarly work free of interference -- will return to the purview of a few ivy leagues (if there). That's what I think. Sorry to be depressing.

KarenKelsky4 karma

oh, and then online teaching... and all-online-degrees. Those are going to be very difficult to prevent overtaking the brick and mortar campus experience, given costs.

celloandbow4 karma

Dr. Kelsky,

Have you ever heard of someone leaving academia for industry/altac and then returning to the tenure track? What would it take to make the transition back?

KarenKelsky6 karma

I have, but it's rare, and it may depend on your field. Some fields like Engineering, Architecture and so on have a very porous membrane btween ac and industry. Others do not. The key is that you keep up your academic productivity while in alt-ac, so that your CV is competitive when you come back. Industry exp. doesn't usually translate all that well into an academic job search, outside of fields like i mention above (and even there, you usually need to show that you've kept a foot in ac publishing, for ex).

wnwdns4 karma

A question about networking at conferences. Any tips on sticking out in people's minds better? After having your elevator pitch down to the requisite 2-3 minutes how do you draw someone's attention? I mean in the past even when the pitch seems good most people only seem to give attention out of politeness rather than genuine interest.

KarenKelsky5 karma

That would suggest to me that your pitch itself is boring! I can't say in detail without seeing it written out, but I've edited enough diss descriptions (shall we say, about 4000??!) that I know all too painfully how boring most of them are when they start out, even when they are technically accurate about substance. It isn't just the topic; it's how you PITCH the topic to make it compelling in the immed. moment, for the specific person to whom you're talking. It's PR!

o-money20003 karma

This is a general grad school question—there’s been lots of debate recently about the value vs. cost of grad school. How should I determine if a secondary degree will be valuable to me?

KarenKelsky6 karma

Thanks for asking. I'm always glad when people ask instead of just assumin that grad school is a good choice. It's a very risky choice at this point in time. I generally advise caution about applying to phd programs. The decision to go to graduate school can have lasting effects on your financial situation, your personal situation, and your general well-being.

At the bare minimum, make sure you are fully funded, and that the so-called ‘full funding package’ is actually adequate for your real-life living expenses in the location of the program. Again, please visit the Ph.D. Debt Survey page on my website, and read the stories. Most of those folks had "full funding" and still ended up with crushing debt. Go only to a high ranking program that has a well-established job placement rate (and investigate that before committing), and take on absolutely no debt to do the entire program start to finish. If all those are possible and you are under 40, then it's not a bad choice. Especially if the degree has immediate applicabiity outside of the academy; ie, you can get a non-ac job at the end (because university jobs are an endangered species). Please read posts on my blog, Should You Go To Graduate School, and Don’t Go To Graduate School (An Inadvertent Guest Post). While there, firmly strategize for the job market from your first year, by reading my column, Graduate School Is a Means to a Job, and doing what it says. And then I have to say (and i don't intend to use this AMA just to plug my book!) please do read the first part and the last part of my book, The Professor is In: Your Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job, which lays out recent stats on the academy---IT'S NOT PRETTY.

KarenKelsky3 karma

This has been wonderful! Thank you to everyone who participated. I've really enjoyed your questions, and I hope you found my answers helpful. Be sure and follow me on Facebook and Twitter and keep reading the blog

Wishing you the best of luck in your academic pursuits and job search.


battleship_potemkin3 karma

Hi Karen, thanks for stopping by and lending your expertise. My question relates to the spousal/partner hire.

I'm a Ph.D. candidate at a top US university, in history. The department is, I think, generally considered one of the best in the country and for my field is probably the best. I have two journal publications (one in the top journal in the field) and a book chapter, plus reviews, etc. All of that is to say that I don't think I'm being hubristic when I look at the job market with trepidation, but not terror.

My partner is at a similarly strong university and (I think, but then I'm biased) also a very competitive candidate. Our research interests overlap, but they're not identical. She is also one year behind me in terms of expected graduation.

Do you have any advice for someone in this type of situation about how to negotiate a spousal/partner hire? Is this something doable at the first job, or should I/we be prepared to go back on the market when we're both (hopefully) Assistant Professors at different schools to try to land two jobs in one place? Is there anything we can do, other than generally work to be as competitive as possible, to make this more likely? Any advice would be much appreciated, thanks!

KarenKelsky4 karma

First, I want to make sure you know that I've written at least two columns about the spousal hire on my Chronicle Vitae column, and possibly three (I can't quite remember, but I know the last one was just last week!! check it out!) And then I have a chapter (49) in the book ( devoted to this question and negotiating in general. Yes, it's certainly a possibiity for someone seeking a first job, if you score an offer at a major R1. History is not a great field, however, being on the hum/soc sci side of things. Sciences have deeper pockets and the best likelihood is when Hire #1 is in the sciences and Trailing Spouse (!) is in the economical humanities... Anyway you're not wrong to hold out hope, but yes, it is difficult and for most folks, you do end up taking different jobs, or having one person struggle as an adjunct or temp hire, and then needing to go back out on the market for leverage to extract the spousal (which is actually the scenario that last week's column was about).

fox_fox183 karma

Hi Karen,

  1. Does an article in second-round review at a respected peer-reviewed journal make you more competitive at the job market, at least more than no publication to put on the CV? I submitted last October in order to have a publication out for this coming job cycle, but alas, the first round took 5 months and the second round is taking almost 4 months now. I am starting to worry that the editor won't get back to me in time for me to put "forthcoming" on my CV.

  2. Does winning the best student paper prize (such as Bestor, Roseberry, Condon) make your CV more competitive for pos-doc or TT job, or does it make you look like a - well, grad student? Some publish winning manuscripts on their journals but others don't. So I'm wondering if this type of prize enhances your competitiveness in itself.

Thank you.

KarenKelsky5 karma

  1. Yes absolutely! That should be on the CV, and mentioned in your cover letter.

  2. this is such a great question! i like that you're thinking strategically. it's great to put these honors on the CV and in the letter while you're ABD, and a new Ph.D., say until about 3 years out or so... after that they do start to tether you awfully closely to an outdated grad studetn identity.

postdocThrowAwa2 karma

Thanks for having such a useful blog! Here is my question:

I am a postdoc in the two-body problem, and we have decided to go where my spouse's job takes us. (S)he has offers at great places in Denver, the Bay Area, and Boston, and we are trying to decide between them mainly based on my prospects.

Is it even plausible for me to find an TT job if we "land" in one of these places? When deciding between locations, is it more plausible to end up at a less-top-tier institution that may have fewer openings in my field, or will a big center that is prestigious have more positions and thus provide better odds? I have seen this coming for sometime and have built a very strong CV (many first author pubs, some in C/N/S journals).

Or should I accept fate that academics is impossible when geographically constrained, and choose location based on better industry positions? From internship experience, I know I will probably be bored-to-tears in industry, but see the advantages of a 9-to-5 and a big paycheck. But I love teaching and cutting edge research, and have worked my whole life to get a job doing those things, so clearly my strong preference is academia. I am willing to take any TT position (SLAC or research), but will not consider adjuncts (rather do industry at that point).

tl;dr: Assuming my CV is as strong as can be expected, can you give me a reality check on my odds in academics if constrained to a major metropolitan? If choosing a metro to be constrained to, are your odds better in a location with a big prestigious center in your field, or one with many smaller less prestigious universities?

KarenKelsky3 karma

Wait, wait... why is your spouse not negotiating a spousal hire for you? Or is she not an academic?

KarenKelsky4 karma

I'll assume she's not an academic: you can do it! I have clients who have pulled it off, an actually found tt positions within the city of residence. yes, you've gotta have an epic CV, do major networking, do everything i recommend re competitive record and effective job docs. And then, go to the city that has the most total number of different colleges/unis. So, Denver would be less good than Boston, inmy opinion.

Lizzymaree2 karma

Hi Karen,

Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise with us.

I have a question about conference interviews. In particular, I'm wondering what the appropriate clothing for a woman is for conference interviews. I'm an anthropologist, so I'm thinking of the AAAs. I'm somewhat limited in clothing options because I have quarter-sleeve tattoos, so I must wear sleeves to my elbows. I feel like a suit is too stuffy, but other options for women tend to reveal too much upper-body skin.

What would you suggest?


KarenKelsky6 karma

First off, it might surprise you to hear this, but I don't nec. think you should assume that you must cover tattoos.

But in any case the AAA is in Nov/Dec, so long sleeves are appropriate and standard anyway. I have tons of advice about this on the blog and my book (Chapter 46 is called What Not to Wear) so I won't repeat it all here. But I want to draw your attention to a bunch of photos I put up on The Prof Is In FB at the time of last year's AAA showing attendees in really great outfits (I got their permission of course). What I saw was generally a dress with a jacket or cardigan, a scarf, and tights and boots.

fox_fox182 karma

Hi Karen,

When a job post says "the geographical area is open," but the department already has a faculty member who specializes in the exact same country where you conducted your fieldwork, then how true is the line in the job ad, that it is "open"? My sense is that the already low chance of getting that job becomes even slimmer if your geographical area overlaps with the existing faculty's. My discipline is anthro, FYI.

Thank you.

KarenKelsky4 karma

You have little chance, although it hinges on your area... "Open" would not mean that they'd consider a second Japan anthrop, for ex. No anthro dept has more than one (most have none). But Oceania? Or Africa? or Latin America? possibly...

RegionalPublic2 karma

How do we slow down and end the overproduction of Ph.D.s?

KarenKelsky4 karma

Shut down 75% of all grad programs! But before that, tell your best undergrads DON'T GO! DON'T DO IT! SAVE YOURSELF!

brak602 karma

It is possible that I may be pushed into administration soon at the department head level (for a variety of reasons that are too detailed to go into here). I'm still a young faculty member, but for me, that is the essence of turning my Ph.D. (which, alongside teaching, is a labor of love) into a job. Do you have any advice on how negotiating an administrative contract different from negotiating a teaching faculty contract? Thank you.

KarenKelsky4 karma

Yes i do! there are a lot of considerations. Make sure you get a salary bump, an admin stipend, teaching relief, promise of future leave later inc. a sabbatical schedule, a special research account that will fund RAs and so on to support your productivity, and things of that nature.

wnwdns2 karma

I am PhD finishing up my diss this year. I want to go on the job market but am concerned about my competitiveness (no external grants but internal ones, low-ranked uni/low-ranked program, limited publications). My question is how to know if I just don't have what it takes to make it? In the sense that on the one hand I recognize my own lack of competitiveness in the job market but also I feel like my writing isn't strong enough, my ideas/project are not exciting enough and maybe I am not good enough at being productive to change my lack of publications. If the job market is so bad should I consider alt-ac because I don't think I have what it takes to make it--get hired or get tenure?

KarenKelsky4 karma

No, no no.... this sounds like classic Imposter Syndrome! I do not believe you! This is what academia does to people---it saps your will and destroys your confidence! I mean, sure, some records are stronger than others and a low-ranked program, no external grants, etc. are issues to consider. But you can correct a lot of this! You can get a national grant! You can get out some high-ranked publications! You can work with a writing coach to help you write (this is not my business but I know some I can recommend). Of course no one can guarantee that you will get a job, but what I hear here is pre-emptive self-sabotage, and don't give in to that! You deserve better, and you can take charge of many aspects of your record.

kanyeDP2 karma

Hi Karen! Do you think that working in alt-ac positions (e.g., assessment, research/teaching centers, etc.) rather than adjuncting while on the T-T job market is ever a good idea in terms of how it may influence your T-T candidacy? On the one hand, the full-time alt-ac track undoubtedly provides better benefits and pay than adjuncting, could broaden one's skill set in the event that the T-T path doesn't work out, and may be genuinely enjoyable to many. At the same time, might there be the risk of departments viewing you as an "other" for being associated with a university in an administrative capacity, thus damaging their perception of you? Thanks!

KarenKelsky2 karma

I actually directly address this very question in the book, in chapter 10, When to Go on the Market and How Long to Try. You can do alt-ac work, but you MUST keep up an academic productivity record re publications, grants, teaching (if possible).

Calamintha2 karma

Hi Dr. Kelsky. I gained lots of teaching experience in grad school moonlighting at a for profit college. I thought this experience would benefit me as I apply for TT positions at SLACs, but I am beginning to suspect it is having the opposite effect. What are your thoughts?

KarenKelsky5 karma

Ooh, ouch. For profits are anathema in legit academia! While yes having some teaching exp is better than none at all, having it in for-profits is not great. You def. want to move asap to the world of accredited colleges and universities.

Calamintha1 karma

Thanks. I have adjunct experience at a legit uni also. Is there a way to spin the for-profit experience, or should I minimize/erase all mention of it?

KarenKelsky3 karma

I wouldn't erase it. All experience is valuable. Just spin it carefully.

faust6272 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. I've recently graduated, only have a few minor publications, and there's not enough time for me to get more published before fall applications are due. Which would look better to a job search committee: having a book prospectus based on my dissertation under review at a big name publisher or having a few articles under review at top journals in my field?

aukake1 karma

I have the same question. Karen, what do you think?

KarenKelsky3 karma

Having a few articles under review. Articles always precede the book, and books take a long time. They need more immed. evidence that you're productive and in a solid res. trajectory. Ideally you'd have like 2 articles (maybe 3 but that's a lot) and a book prospectus on your record.

faust6272 karma

Something not covered in your awesome blog: As a grad student I taught six courses as a solo instructor and have around 24 pages of student evaluations which include comments from students (all pretty good).

When an application calls for evidence of teaching excellence, should I send all 24 pages and my one page teaching statement or is that too much? If I include sample syllabi, my teaching portfolio could easily be more than 30 pages all together. Would it be better to select a few of the best evaluations and include a graph or some other visual representation of scores from my other evaluations?

KarenKelsky3 karma

Don't send it all! please read Chapter 26 in my book, "Evidence of Teaching Effectiveness"

faust6271 karma

Thanks, I just bought the book and will check it out!

KarenKelsky1 karma

thank you!

ladyphoenix222 karma

I have been growing frustrated with my program so far. It doesn't seem to be a good fit (classes, faculty research interests, town I don't love,etc.) and it has been difficult for me to move forward or find mentoring; I seem to be a little bit stuck and discouraged. I'm about to begin my third year with no publications and a handful of presentations; I'm becoming worried about marketability.

What are conditions under which doctoral students should consider quitting? Is it wise to quit without a plan B?

KarenKelsky3 karma

This is a very personal decision and it's hard to generalize, but I'd consider the following as good reasons:

you have an abusive advisor and no support from the dept your field is in the tank and you aren't willing to live in dire career uncertainty for the next decade. you have non-academic skills and experience that still interest and excite you you aren't willing to become a slave to academic productivity; you are bored by your topic you fundamentally, in your heart and soul, dislike what you're doing and the whole "feel" of academia.

I'm a pretty prudent sort of person and believe strongly in planning (ie, i didn't leave my tenured pos. untilmy partner had a job with benefits that could support our family), but what i do know is, nobody should continue doing somthing that their heart is not in. It's ok to take chances, take risks, and believe in other possibilities.

One last point, if you're just like one year away from actually finishing your phd, I'd prob. counsel sticking it out and finishing, just to have that sense of completion and the credential. So, my advice does hinge on where you are in the program (sorry my first answer didn't see your complete question, just the last part: if you're three years in and feeling this way, it's a good time to quit.

ladedalade1 karma

As background: My program is new and interdisciplinary. I know that you advise against such a program but that horse has left the barn. And not that they had it when I came in but they are starting to build up an impressive placement record with 7 of 9 graduates degree-relevantly employed, 3 as TT, and another 2 postdocs moving from here to TT positions. So the gamble seems to have been worth it - we are paid actual living wages and have very nice travel funding to help get this new program off the ground so get to go to multiple conferences a year. Our faculty even hosted the national conference to get our program out there and visible.

My cohort mate got an interview for a TT at an R1 last year as an ABD. He was the last choice and they ultimately had a failed search thinking he needs a few more years of seasoning. One concern raised was that as someone with an interdisciplinary degree he wasn't "Hiring Discipline X" enough. How can us interdisciplinary folks market ourselves for more traditional departments? My biased opinion is that our department is very visible and has established enough of a track record in just a few years that the newness of it shouldn't be too much of a hinderance. But do you think the newness and interdisciplinarity could be interacting negatively?

KarenKelsky2 karma

sounds like you're in pretty good shape. please read my column in Chronicle Vitae called "The Curse of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D." it explains the challenges and how to overcome them. Upshot: publish and conference in the 1-2 fields (no more) that you expect to be most compe3titive in. You must build a disciplinarily legible record.

DrM_141 karma

Dr. Kelsky,

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. I am an avid fan of your blog and I am almost done with your book, which is just great.

My question is what can a candidate do to overcome the concerns of hiring committees over whether a candidate will stay in a position once they are hired in that position? I am from a large city in the Northeast, and I received two on campus interviews from small, teaching-centered public institutions in the Midwest and West. Both jobs went to candidates who were from the areas where the schools were located--they received their PhDs from a university in the area and/or adjuncted at a school in the region. One of the committee members for the west coast job even expressed to me that the other members of the committee were wary of hiring someone from the Northeast since the last person they hired from the area returned after a few years, forcing them to do another search. As a response, I tried to convey my interest in relocating form the Northeast, as the job and area were both desirable, and that my family and I want to leave the Northeast for a more inexpensive area (which is very true), but apparently this was not a sufficient answer.

Beyond expressing knowledge of and enthusiasm for the college/university and the community where it is located (which I did throughout the interviews), is there anything more one can do to overcome these issues? While there certainly might have been other reasons why I did not get the jobs, I returned from campus from both times feeling that this was an issue--in my opinion, and in the opinion of others on the committees, my job talks and teaching talks went well. Thank you for your time.

KarenKelsky4 karma

This is a good question, and I wonder if you'd mind letting me use it for a Chronicle Vitae column? It's actually something I've thought about for years, and worth a longer response than i can give here.

Short answer: you're not imaginging things. Jobs OFTEN tend to go to people perceived as more or less local. I noticed it with a Ph.D. from U Hawai'i, which made me "local" for precisely no jobs at all (outside of neighbor islands... not exactly a growth spot). I monitored the job market, and saw one west coast job after another go to Ph.D.s from.... the west coast. It was infuriating.

There isn't much you can do except to really think about tailoring your letters and interviews to speak specifically to the department, the institution and the region. Be very specific. Talk about why you want to be THERE, not in vague and impersonal generalities like you indicate (I want a cheaper locale? how uninspiring is that?!) but in specifics that make them feel known, understood, appreciated, and loved. That doesn't mean flattery btw. It means making concrete connections between what they do/who they are, and what you do/who you are.

DrM_141 karma

Dr. Kelsky,

Thank you for your reply and advice. You may absolutely use it for a Chronicle Vitae column. I look forward to reading it.

KarenKelsky1 karma


perthaust1 karma

Dr. Kelsky,

There's a not-so-popular question I'd like to ask you: What are the 5 pieces of advice you'd give an international grad student going for a PhD at an American university (year #2 coming up soon)? Or maybe you could elaborate this topic in one of your future blogs. Thank you.

KarenKelsky4 karma

1) examine the placement rate of your dept and your advisor and protect yourself if it turns out it's very bad 2) plan to publish ref. journal articles while still in grad school 3) go to every job talk in your dept, and get yourself onto a search committee so you can see the US ac. job search from the inside 4) give talks at major conferences and comport yourself like a professional, not a deferential peon/grad student (esp challenging for international phds) 5) do everything i say in my book about prepping for the ac job market.

shannonsurfs1 karma

Hi, Dr. Kelsky,

I tried one round of applications for a tenure track position last year, but I did not have any luck (I had not officially finished or gotten my papers out and I have to stay in a certain geographic area.) Due to my geographic constraints, I know it is unlikely that I will find an academic job. So, my plan is to work outside of academia and hope I can make the transition at some point if something opens up in my area. Is there anything that I can do, career wise (at a job outside of academia), that will help my prospects to make the transition back to academia down the road? Thanks!

KarenKelsky4 karma

Well hang on. You've only tried for one year, as ABD and without pubs. It's too soon to say definitively that you will never get a TT job! The key is that you msut have 1) a competitive record, and 2) effective job app materials. Re 1: you can read my column in the Chronicle, Graduate School Is a Means to a Job, or the whole Part III of my book, which explain what a competitive job applicant needs to have on their record. And then you need to make sure your job app docs and interviewing are showcasing your strengths without any extraneous and self-indulgent narcissism, obsequiousness, grandiosity, and so on. That is actually the major thrust of the Prof Is In blog, so feel free to read widely there about details of your cover letter, CV, Teaching Statement, and Research Statement.

Basically, I'm saying, don't give up onn the tt job too soon, because once you leave to go post-ac, it's pretty hard to get back in...

[deleted]1 karma


KarenKelsky1 karma

I need more info/context to be able to answer this!

ladedalade1 karma

Thanks for doing this! I've had some health challenges during grad school that have really cut my productivity down. I'm in social science with an emphasis on science. I have one paper out (open access), another under review (decently high impact factor if it goes through). But I've finished year 4 and haven't finished my candidacy papers let alone proposed my dissertation (with the topic still up in the air). With a combination of diet and medication I'm feeling way more capable of making progress than I have in a long time though definitely not perfectly healthy still. Being capable again brings with it caring again and being stressed out about how far I still have to go to get this degree. I'm not wed to academia though I'd like to take a stab at it, I've sipped the basic science non-commercialized knowledge for the sake of knowledge kool-aid. But I know that there are post-ac jobs out there I'd be doing cool work. I'd be open to a post-doc but I'm really tired of being part of transient communities and would way prefer to be able to put down roots near my family or at least where other people are putting down roots.

I guess the question is: how to recover from low productivity that was beyond your control? I'm going to take at least 6 years in an ideally 5 year program. Is a long time to degree a red flag for hiring committees? Would potentially taking longer than even the 6 years but having better publications/research record be beneficial? What is your view on that trade off?

KarenKelsky4 karma

I'm sorry to hear of your struggles; they make an already hard process that much more challenging.

Let me announce here: time to degree matters virtually not at all in the tt job search. nobody attends to that. they want to know your year of PhD. and that's it.

So don't worry about that. And yes it's fine to take more time to get out pubs and grants.

All I'd say is this: you said you drank the kool-aid, and that's fine. If you can SAY you drank the Kool-aid, then you didn't really completely ingest the Kool-aid. So I have faith you'll be ok. But with your health challenges, think carefully--do you want the stress of the academic career? That career is NOT known as being balanced or healthy. It's a world of workaholics, and its' only getting worse in this era of corporatized surveillance and productivity rubrics (and with less funding/support all around). So please check your inner compass---is it healthful for you to pursue this? does it give you meaning and energy? if so, do it. if not, get out now.

lilymoffitt1 karma

Hello Dr. Karen, thank you for this. I'm doing a PhD in Japanese art history here at the US with a Fulbright grant. Because of this, I will be forced to leave the US for two years once I finish the PhD before I can apply for jobs here. Do you have any advice as to what's the best strategy in my case? Or any advice regarding the European market? Thank you again, have a lovely day and congrats on your book!

KarenKelsky3 karma

Remember you can apply ABD. You can delay defending/submitting your finished diss to drag out the process and give you time to go on the US market while you're stgill in the US. Even after you go to Japan, you're quite eligible to apply for US jobs. It would be good if you keep a foot in US academia by attending US national confs once a year, if you can afford that. And publish in major US journals. Don't switch over to publishing in Japanese or in regional journals.

kenn9871 karma

Hi Karen, Thanks a lot for doing this AMA, I have been a long time reader of your blog and continue to read it even though I have been out of academia for 2 years, although I still hold on to some pipe dream of returning. My story is this: I did an MA, and I did it at an institute that wasn't part of any particular faculty at the university, it was kind of its own entity. It was a somewhat prestigious program, however, only accepting 12 students per year, and is well respected amongst a certain school of political theorists/scientists.

Well, as you can imagine, it was the kind of interdisciplinary program that put a lot of stock into their students being able to design their education, thesis etc. I chose a supervisor that I had previous experience with but as time went on she became harder and hard to get appointments with. That said, we would meet at least once a month.

The other part of the story is that I wasn't the most disciplined student, I probably spent more time at the pub than I should have. Yet, I managed to consistently get by by virtue of - not to be a braggart here - always pursuing bold ideas, engaging enthusiastically with dense theory and finding interesting angles to take on it, and interesting ways to apply it to real world examples. I always got better grades in seminars than most of my cohort and received a lot of encouragement from professors I dealt with during the course of completing my MA.

However, I fell like the supervisor just basically let me do whatever I wanted, and would always sign off on it, either trusting that I knew what I was doing or not caring enough to correct the path I was on. When I finished writing my thesis I realized I had basically written a free-wheeling, rambling excursion through a bunch of post-structuralist theory and new geography/spatial analyst stuff in the school of David Harvey and similar thinkers. While this had been a lot of fun for me it didn't really make for an impressive thesis, in my opinion. I feel like I came out the end of the experience being totally unprepared to move on to a PhD and lacking a competitive application package.

So I balked at applying to PhD programs, especially because the area I wanted to pursue - philosophy, essentially, political theory and urban studies more precisely - was exactly the kind of chin-scratching, sitting-around-thinking-big-thoughts-all-day kind of academia that is definitely on its way out as a valued part of The University.

So I'm 28 now and still have this deep-down desire to somehow resurrect my academic career and pursue a useless PhD just for the fun of it - I loved my time doing my MA. Is it reckless to say screw it and spend 4/5 years of your life and perhaps your sanity pursuing a PhD that you know will be useless when you are finished? And what can us philosophy/theory/ just-like-to-sit-around-and-think-big-thoughts-all-day types do outside of academia to find the same kind of satisfaction that we get from scholarly work?

KarenKelsky2 karma

You know that I don't say, "just don't do it" (although i guess I do say that in another response above... but that's to undergrads as a category, you're a diff category than that). I'd say what I said to the first questioner today (I'll paste that response): I generally advise caution about applying to phd programs. The decision to go to graduate school can have lasting effects on your financial situation, your personal situation, and your general well-being.

At the bare minimum, make sure you are fully funded, and that the so-called ‘full funding package’ is actually adequate for your real-life living expenses in the location of the program. Again, please visit the Ph.D. Debt Survey page on my website, and read the stories. Most of those folks had "full funding" and still ended up with crushing debt. Go only to a high ranking program that has a well-established job placement rate (and investigate that before committing), and take on absolutely no debt to do the entire program start to finish. If all those are possible and you are under 40, then it's not a bad choice. Especially if the degree has immediate applicabiity outside of the academy; ie, you can get a non-ac job at the end (because university jobs are an endangered species). Please read posts on my blog, Should You Go To Graduate School, and Don’t Go To Graduate School (An Inadvertent Guest Post). While there, firmly strategize for the job market from your first year, by reading my column, Graduate School Is a Means to a Job, and doing what it says. And then I have to say (and i don't intend to use this AMA just to plug my book!) please do read the first part and the last part of my book, The Professor is In: Your Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job, which lays out recent stats on the academy---IT'S NOT PRETTY.

Upshot: if you can do it without total financial annihilation (and that includes a projection of ten years from now--how old will you be? how many depends do you have/will you have? do you have work options that are outside academia) then consider it.