Has The Professor Is In by Karen Kelsky been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.
Has it always been a goal to become a university professor? You might already know that finding a stable position at a reputable university is becoming more and more difficult. Every year, more and more graduates are competing for one of the few available positions in their field. However, with a few tips and reminders, you can significantly increase your likelihood of success.
This book summary shows how a potential candidate must demonstrate that they are not only willing to perform and publish their research, but that they’re also socially adept and understand how to collaborate with their colleagues.
With this summary, you’ll be shown:
- what’s not right on your CV
- why your academic identity is important
- why you shouldn’t use elaborate vocabulary in a job interview
The Professor Is In Key Idea #1: Part One
An academic career is often highly rewarding. However, choosing to study at a prestigious university is also extremely expensive. This often means that a life in academia is a life in debt.
With financial pressure from less public funding, American universities are forced to increase their tuition rates. Because of this, more students find themselves in deeper debt come graduation.
It’s not just at private colleges; public universities are also raising their tuition. From 2008 to 2014, tuition at public colleges increased by 27 percent, which averaged out to an overall increase of $1800. In some states like Arizona and California, tuition rates saw a 70 percent spike!
Because of this, student debt rates also went up drastically. In 2012, a new college grad had almost $30,000 in debt – a 25% increase since 2008. Two years later, in 2014, the average graduate’s debt was $57,600.
How did this happen so rapidly? Essentially, the state is spending less money on higher education. From just 2008-20913, higher education spending went down 28 percent.
On top of this, universities have also focused more on hiring administrative roles, such as deans and provosts, over hiring more teachers. According to the Department of Education, from 2001 to 2011, administrators hired by colleges and universities was 50 percent more than the number of teachers hired during those ten years.
Sadly, teaching then gets pawned off on adjuncts, who can make as little as $1800 per class and work under poor conditions – such as a lack of office space or an overloaded class.
By 2013, only 25 percent of faculty were on a tenure track. This is a huge problem for students graduating with heavy debt and looking for a high-paying, secure job in their academic field.
This also creates an uphill battle when it comes to trying to find a permanent job. And sadly, most graduates aren’t even aware of the struggle that’s too come. In the next section, we’ll show you just how ill-prepared graduates are for the job search.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #2: Part two
Landing a job in academia is no easy task, and some eager applicants will naively start sending out applications, unaware of the obstacles before them. This is very true for graduate students, who sometimes have an unrealistic idea of the academic job market.
Usually, graduates tend to think three things: 1) a well-known advisor will guarantee them a good job, 2) a passion for the field is enough to set you apart, and 3) good ideas can replace a good CV.
What they essentially overlook is their competition: there are hundreds of applicants who think along similar lines. For example, in the English department, one single job opening attracts upwards of 1,000 applicants.
Another problem is that these graduate advisors often don’t prepare their students for this dog-eat-dog job marketplace. Sometimes advisors are simply too kind and don’t warn their students that it can be brutal out there. They may mislead them and talk about having a high placement rate for graduates, but all this does is result in students failing to prepare sufficiently.
Students also sometimes ignore the importance of being published in peer-reviewed journals or networking at major conferences.
Even if graduates do understand the brutality of the job market, they will sometimes do things that cause more harm than good. For example, they may play down their ambitions, saying that they would even prefer to teach at a small college. This sort of approach doesn’t increase their chances of getting a job; if anything, it increases the likelihood that they won’t move beyond an adjunct professor position.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #3: Part three
Observing and learning from mistakes that other’s make can really improve your chance of success on the job market. This is especially helpful when looking for a job in academia. When job searching, most graduate students can accidentally sabotage themselves in three ways.
First, they might talk too much about their dissertation in job interviews. Actually, interviewers care more about what a candidate can bring to their university, such as funding and research, rather than what they’ve already accomplished.
A second pitfall is waiting for permission to complete something rather than taking initiative themselves. For example, some grads may wait until an advisor tells them to publish or submit to conferences rather than taking the chance themselves.
Third, graduate students make the mistake of acting like students in interviews, instead of thinking of themselves as an equal to their interviewer. The panelists aren’t looking for another student; they want a colleague.
Instead of falling into these traps, instead clarify your academic identity by answering three questions:
First, what is your specialized area of focus within your field? Clarify this as best you can.
Next, what are your research goals? This can be the journals you want to publish in or your upcoming projects.
And third, what are your pedagogical commitments? Meaning, what do you want your students to get from your classes? What do you want them to learn or becoming enlightened to after your class?
By being able to clarify your academic identity, you’ll have the right mindset while going into your job search. However, along with mindset, the right sort of documents is also needed. In the next section, we’ll cover how you should look on paper.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #4: Part four
We all know how important a well-crafted CV is when applying for a job. One thing that often doesn’t get as much attention is the cover letter. To write a cover letter that will put you at the head of the pack, there are four structuring rules to follow:
First, include a letterhead from your current academic institution. This small step can immediately give your cover letter a more professional look.
Next, the letter should be 1-2 pages in a 11- or 12-point Times New Roman or Garamond type. Keep margins around an inch in width.
Third, only spend about a paragraph talking about your dissertation. Hiring committees are less interested in hearing about it than you are describing it!
Finally, mention a new research project, if you have one, that is linked to the dissertation you’re working on. This shows interest in continuing to improve and expand your work.
In addition to these simple structuring steps, you should write in more fact-based language and avoid any emotional driven words. It’s better to show
your passion with facts and actions than to simply say how passionate you are about your field. Include a description of courses you’ve taught, or your favorite teaching methods and their results, to demonstrate this instead.
After structure, focus on tailoring your letter to the specific job opening. Read the job posting carefully to show you understand how you fit this role. Also research the department you’ll be joining to identify your future colleagues and mention how you might collaborate with them.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #5: Part five
With a focused, professional cover letter, you need a high-quality CV to match. Quality is of course the most important factor, but quantity matters too. Think of having something from each month that you’ve done that is worthy of mentioning on your CV. It can be a conference you attended, a lecture you gave, or a grant you won.
You should also organize your CV to highlight the important points. Pitching your book proposal is more impressive than writing a book review for someone else. Teaching your own class looks better than being a teaching assistant for someone else’s.
Your CV should also show off your involvement with having your work peer reviewed. The principle of peer review means that anything you’ve done that’s been reviewed by academic peers is more important than anything you’ve done voluntarily. Getting published in a peer-reviewed journal is more valuable than teaching a class, as reaching is a voluntary act. Peer review, however, shows your intellect and contributions to your field from a more objective standpoint. Likewise, choosing to talk at your own campus is less valuable than being invited as a lecturer at another campus.
When you construct your CV, two sections should take precedence:
The first is your education, which should always be the first section of your CV. Pay attention to the proper abbreviations, such as using PhD over Doctor of Philosophy.
The second important is involvement in your field with conferences and papers. Here, mention any conferences where you organized a panel, presented a paper, or were part of a discussion panel.
Having a strong CV with a professional cover letter is the best place to start with your job search. The other document you’ll need to master is the teaching
But you should also master the art of the teaching statement, which we’ll look at next.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #6: Part six
If you have a true passion for working in academia, then you’re also very likely passionate about teaching. Which is great – but you need to be able to communicate this in the right way on your teaching statement. There are three principles to follow for your teaching statement:
First, it should be about a page, and everything on it should be supported by what your cover letter and CV says.
Next, avoid emotive language or language that downplays your achievements. Too often applicants mention how “honored” they are to be teaching – which is a fine sentiment, but the phrase doesn’t demonstrate your competence.
Finally, don’t just rewrite your teaching experience right from your CV. Be brief and use demonstrative examples instead of listing facts.
In addition to these guidelines, think about including these elements in your statement:
Start by addressing your throughs on the purpose behind a university education. Consider the “philosophy” behind it, the value of teaching and how it prepares students to deal with specific real-world scenarios.
Then, show off how you can achieve this philosophy you have of teaching with specific teaching strategies, supported by how effective these strategies have been for you with clear, concrete evidence from your classroom (like course evaluations).
The final element in your closing paragraph. Your conclusion needs to be strong and demonstrate how your teaching impacts students.
If you also need to put together a teaching portfolio, don’t overdo it. Just show the committee how you intend to put a class together and compare it to the university’s current syllabi to see how it falls in line. Remember that your course needs to meet the department’s needs. Resist simply sending out the same portfolio to every university on your list without tailoring it to the specific job posting.
Now with all the documents in hand, how can you make sure you nail the interview? We address that in the next part.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #7: Part Seven
If you’ve landed the interview, congrats – but you need to consider a few things before you go in.
First, consider your research. When presenting what you’ve done, focus on what’s the most relevant. Aim to tailor it as much as you can to the advertised position. For example, if you’re interviewing to be a professor in nineteenth-century British literature, don’t go off about your interests in the development of postcolonial film. Focus on what you’ve done in that field and what that will bring to the position.
If you are presenting, start with a strong opening statement that starts with the purpose of your work and a basic outline of your main points. After presenting on research, you’ll likely face questions from three different categories:
The first will be on your dissertation. Be sure to mention how your research on your dissertation differs from others in the field and how it adds to the field as well.
At some point, the interviewer might try to question some of your theories or ideas. If you struggle to find an answer, reframe the question. For example, if an interviewer is asking about certain gaps in your research, acknowledge those gaps and say that you decided to focus on different aspects that you found more important.
The interviews might also ask about your long- and short-term publishing goals. You might have to field questions about a book proposal or plans to publish soon, if you haven’t already. Be ready to talk about this, as well as your research plans for the next five years and your goals to see that work published.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #8: Part Eight
Some graduates might feel their work can be done best outside of academia. If your skill set is more business or industry focused, you should know how to translate those academic skills into the corporate world.
It’s true that non-academic employers aren’t as impressed by all of your academic achievements. So, it’s important to know how to translate your skills if you want to stay open to a more conventional job market. For example, your political science degree on its own might not catch any attention, but companies will want to know how well you can research, write, and think critically.
Think of the following three categories to align your university skills with the business world:
category: data analysis, public speaking, and so on.
category: your area of expertise, considering how it can fit into the position you’re applying for. For example, if you studied gender issues, you can talk about your cultural knowledge of societal gender roles. This is often a part of an HR hiring strategy and can be used to your advantage.
category: all of the things you’ve accomplished, such as organizing conferences, publishing papers, or running a lab.
Remember too that your skill sets can expand beyond your PhD work alone. You can weave in prior work experience, internships, or volunteer activities that might round out your skills.
Finally, you should understand deeply what motivates you and how that motivation has driven your career. For help defining your motivation, think about the issues that anger you. Anger is a powerful motivator and thinking about what you wish you could change often shows what your underlying motivations are.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #9: Part Nine
The common saying is that it’s not what
you know, but who
you know. This tends to be true if you want to translate your skills to a job outside of academia.
If you’re thinking about stepping into the business world, who you know is crucial. Not only can this person mentor and guide you, but they might even help you land the job.
Many academics are successful finding a job outside of a university setting. They understand what you’re going through, and usually are generous and even provide you with reference information or job leads. Try connecting through networking events, LinkedIn or Facebook groups, and keep all of your online information up to date.
You might also be able to stand out on the job market by improving on your skill set. Perhaps volunteering can give you some more well-rounded skills your CV is lacking. It’s harsh, but sometimes experience must be gained by working for free. An unpaid internship is often a foot in the door in the non-academic world.
You may also want to consider additional training or classes to improve certain skills that you’d like to stand out. Research local workshops or online developmental classes that can give you an edge.
Even with all of this, still keep in mind that there are prejudices in the business world, and you’ll need to be able to handle them effectively. Any employer might stereotype you or make assumptions about you based on what they read on paper. Show them in person how you break the mold and are different from and systemic bias they might have.
Additionally, make sure to keep the academic lingo contained with employers. Avoid any fancy language on your cover letter and in your interview to seem more approachable and easier to hold a conversation with.
Considering these aspects of the non-academic world can prepare you for any opportunity you might want to go after if you decide to transition outside of academia.
The Professor Is In Key Idea #10: In Review
The takeaway from this book:
The academic job market can be brutally competitive. To succeed, you need to be prepared. Your documents need to be flawless, and your interviews excellent. Still, if you decide not to pursue an academic position, there are many options still. You can still translate your academic skills to the business world and find success.
Actionable advice: Select the right academic advisor to prepare you for the job market
When it comes to your advisor relationship, think about if they are sugar coating anything or being too nice. They might be hiding some of the harshness of the job field ahead. Additionally, an overly critical advisor might negatively affect your motivation. Find someone who is neither unrealistically positive nor unpleasantly cynical. Your future self will surely thank you!
Suggested further reading: How to Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster
How to Read Literature Like a Professor
(2003) is a user-friendly and engrossing introduction to literary analysis. Using examples from both classic and contemporary literature, this book can provide the tools a reader needs to find deep meanings while reading literature.