Post Academic


Unsuck That!

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on September 1, 2010
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As education becomes more business-ified, the chances that you will encounter business-speak have increased. You may even receive unwelcome Hamster Advice in the workplace. Luckily, the Internets make it easy to translate Hamster-Speak.

The website Unsuck It helps you translate exactly what a top-level Hamster is saying to you. (The low-level Hamsters are usually out back either a) working or b) taking a baseball bat to the printer or c) stealing beer and taking a ride down the emergency chute, and yes there is truth in “Office Space” and the adventures of Steven Slater.)

For example, type in the phrase “monetize,” which is a biz biggie, and you’ll get “Turn into money or make profitable.” (As in: “How can we ‘monetize’ the humanities?”) Go for “deliverable,” and you’ll get “Piece of a project.” As a Hamster Bonus Translation, I find a “deliverable” to be the part of a project for which you or your team are directly responsible.

But the best feature of Unsuck It, by far, is the “I’m Feeling Douchey” button, which will reveal other pearls of wisdom from the Hamster World. My personal favorite is the term “content creation,” which really means “writing.”

Hat Tip: Lifehacker

Cover Letter Do’s

PhotobucketA few days ago, Gawker offered a potent example of what not to do in your cover letter. Now for a little constructive advice–how to tackle your cover letter. The key rule is to keep it short, so I’ll jump right in:

Match your skills to the job. If your skills and background don’t match the job, don’t send the letter unless you are confident that your skills are in the ballpark and you have a friend at the company.

Don’t get cute. A cover letter structure is basic. Let the reader know what position you want, where you saw the position and what you have to offer. Your life story and your passion are unnecessary. HR is not interested in your life story. In fact, HR is probably inserting your cover letter into scanner software that hunts for specific keywords that match the job description. Return to the importance of reading the job description above.

Suppress your emotions. Save dazzling them with your personality for the interview. Sob stories or rage about how you were laid off will not faze HR. They are looking for skills only, and in this economy everyone has been burned.

More after the jump! Photograph of a stentor (announcer) transmitting a program at the Budapest Telefon Hirmondó, which appeared in the “The Telephone Newspaper” by Thomas S. Denison, in the April, 1901 World’s Work magazine.” Image public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
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Cover Letter Don’ts Courtesy of Gawker

PhotobucketUsually, Gawker’s salty snark is applied to celebrities and politicians, but this week it has been applied to garden-variety Hamsters who don’t know how to write a cover letter. An unfortunate Hamster looking for a job sent a cover letter to a company … which was promptly forwarded to Gawker.

Here’s an example:
DO: Explain that you’re a dedicated worker.
DON’T: “I don’t just think outside the box, I stand on top of it. I aim to appease my employer. If he/she isn’t satisfied with my work, I will sweat blood and tears until I get them the result that they are enamored with. If my employer wants me to be knowledgeable of a certain person, place or thing; I will research that particular subject until I know everything that Google, Lycos, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and Encyclopedia Britannica has to say about them/it.”

This person is probably already embarrassed enough, so we’ll just glean a few lessons from this incident. First, keep your cover letters short so you can avoid embarrassing yourself. Second, hyperbole is a no-no, especially if you claim you can do the impossible, such as literally sweating blood and tears. If you can actually do that, HR will deem you a health hazard, and you won’t get the job.

More after the jump! These serious-looking individuals are reading a cover letter, and they might be on the verge of laughter if you don’t watch it. Engraving public domain, Wikimedia Commons.
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A Middle Ground Between Tenured Faculty and Adjuncts?

The New York Times set up a debate called “Rethinking College Tenure.” You’ve probably already read it, and it’s the usual Tenure Debate stuff, in which various types who should know something about the subject make their points, some dude whines that conservatives are oppressed and someone gently hints that tenured professors are lazy, oblivious or both. (Read Arnold’s in-flight adventure to figure out how to respond to that myth.)

If you read through the NYT articles again, you’ll notice a thread in which tenured faculty members are pitted against adjuncts, or a “more flexible” job model. If adjuncts are treated fairly and receive the pay and benefits they deserve, where does that put tenured professors? What’s the real difference between the two? Should there be a difference?

Or, are debates like these a manifestation of a divide-and-conquer strategy, a setup for a Tenure Vs. Adjunct Showdown? One of the writers, Mark C. Taylor, attempts to offer a “middle ground”:

It is a mistake to pose this question in all-or-nothing terms – either you have permanent tenured faculty or itinerant adjuncts. A middle ground will address most of the problems. After a trial period of three to five years, faculty members who merit promotion should be given seven-year renewable contracts. For this system to work effectively, these reviews must be rigorous and responsible.

Since I’m not an academic, a guaranteed job for three to five years followed by seven year periods sounds nice, especially since I’ve been through layoffs. But the Hamster World is a different matter since it is more subject to market forces, and Taylor’s solution doesn’t address how to protect academic freedom so that the market isn’t determining the curriculum. How does Taylor’s idea sound to you? If it sounds like BS, is a middle ground possible?

Where Are the Career Counselors?

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on July 9, 2010
Tags: , , , ,

The New York Times profiled yet another college graduate who has learned the hard way that higher education is not a guarantee of a job. Only the story of 24-year-old Scott Nicholson, formerly of Colgate University, has a surprising twist:

After several interviews, the Hanover Insurance Group in nearby Worcester offered to hire him as an associate claims adjuster, at $40,000 a year. But even before the formal offer, Mr. Nicholson had decided not to take the job.

Rather than waste early years in dead-end work, he reasoned, he would hold out for a corporate position that would draw on his college training and put him, as he sees it, on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.

Articles like these make me start yelling at my computer. Shout #1 is “There’s no such thing as a dead-end job! It’s only a dead-end job if you make it a dead end job!”

Shout #2 takes a little of the blame off Nicholson: “Where were your advisors? And your career center?” (more…)

The Pros of Word-of-Mouth

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on July 7, 2010
Tags: , , , , , ,

PhotobucketUsually, word-of-mouth refers to rumors and gossip. At best, it seems more suitable for a viral video than it is for academic work. Yet word-of-mouth is one of those intangibles that might get you a job, either in or out of the academy.

Freelance writers in particular rely on word-of-mouth to build up a client base. Writer Dachary Carey,* who covers a range of topics on the life of a freelancer, writes:

First and foremost: treat every job like a big job. Don’t put small jobs off because they’re ‘small’ and they won’t pay you much; treat your small clients with the same respect and responsiveness that you provide your ‘big’ clients. You never know when a small client can refer a big client, or even when a small client expands the scope of his business or marketing efforts and needs more from you.

The mantra “treat every job like a big job” is worth keeping in mind as you make any career transition. When moving from academia to the Hamster World, you will need to take on “small jobs” that may be small in quantity of work, pay or prestige. You have to prove yourself first, and then the work will follow.

For that reason, you need to minimize any trash talk or negative feelings regarding small jobs. You may feel tempted to brush off a small client, but no one ever, ever likes to be “looked down” upon. It can be exhausting to treat all jobs like they are important, but the key to avoid burnout is to employ smart time management skills … a subject that will appear later.

*I worked with Dachary for two years, and I’ll use her word-of-mouth tips and recommend her work. Even if you don’t need a freelance writer, her blog can help you with tips on self-employment.

Image of “The Conversation” by Danielle Scott, on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Networking Done Right

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on July 5, 2010
Tags: , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe following post was inspired by Post Academic reader SH, who suggested a post about “networking without feeling inauthentic and disingenuous.” Thanks for the idea, SH, and all readers are welcome to propose future topics!

Although they have been known to make love connections, academics and grad students are not social creatures. One of the big reasons any person fears entering the Hamster World is the prospect of networking. Networking has a slimy rep, and we’ve even listed the “Networking Name Dropper” as an annoying graduate-school personality.

But networking doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some common arguments against networking, followed by a sound debunking of the argument:

“I don’t like to think of people as connections.”
Networking implies that you are using people to get ahead, but you don’t have to “use” anyone to network. The only time you “use” anyone is if you accept a favor and don’t give–or at least attempt to give–anything back. If you are polite, if you treat people well, and if you pay it forward, then you’re already a good networker, and you don’t need to scheme to get ahead.

“Networking sounds like making friends at work, but I like to keep my professional life and my friend life separate.”
You’re reading this because you’re in grad school or academia. Your professional life and your friend life have merged into one already. If you want a sharper line between home and work, then you have even more reason to network so you can get into the Hamster World. The private and public can get mixed up there, but it’s a whole lot easier to sort them out when you can leave the office at the end of the day.
Retro telephone image public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
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Has the Starving Artist Just Died?

The idea of artists getting involved in business has become a theme as of late. The New York Times just did a story on artists who are taking classes on how to profit from their work. In a recent Rolling Stone, David Byrne–the gold-standard example of a well-fed artist who has not compromised his vision–said:

The romantic notion that musicians can’t deal with the business aspect of things, or can’t be interested in anything outside their music–that has disappeared, thank God. When I was starting out, you were supposed to be stupid! Young musicians that I’ve worked with–St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors, the National–they are throwing away that whole lackadaisical attitude. … These musicians are more engaged in the world around them, and they are going to survive.

Artists are often admonished within their communities to avoid selling out, at all costs (pardon the pun). So are academics in the humanities, who get by on grad stipends and low-paid adjunct gigs until they reach the holy grail of tenure. But starving isn’t glamorous for very long, unless you have a trust fund. The only way to share your ideas with the masses is to keep yourself fed, which is why you need to keep an eye on your money.

If artists are taking business classes and David Byrne is praising the new generation for rocking a balance sheet, then isn’t it time for academics to get more serious about being paid properly? Forming unions and organizing is only the first step. Anyone going into academia must make sure they can survive on what they are paid, and they must fight hard for the jobs they still have. It could be said that older generations didn’t fight hard enough to justify what they do and hire when they had the money, but that time might be over.

Resources: EditTeach.org

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Arnold Pan on June 20, 2010
Tags: , ,

This isn’t really a recap of the past week’s pieces on editing tests, but, since Caroline has been all over the topic, I thought I’d give a brief shout out to the wonderful, comprehensive website EditTeach.org, which is very helpful in a self-explanatory way.  It’s pretty much a one-stop resource for anyone who wants to find out what goes into being an editor, whether you’ve edited before but need to brush up on skills that have gone rusty or if you’re a complete novice looking for some of the tricks of the trade.  The site is chock full of useful links to what you’ll need to at least think about if you wanna be an editor, including some primers for various formatting styles, from AP to Chicago to MLA.  EditTeach.org also covers important professional issues such as diversity in the workplace, First Amendment protections, and journalistic ethics.  Of particular interest to post academics who might be interested in changing professions are some lists of average salaries for copyeditors, graphic artists, and photographers.

But for my money–though EditTeach.org is free!–the editing and basic current events tests are the best, most entertaining aspects of the site.  There’s a test of the 100 most common usage errors, deciphering, you know, the correct occasion to use there/their/they’re and that sort of thing.  There are some other tests, like ones for proper AP style and various sorts of subject tests.  It’s geeky fun, and you can tell yourself that you’re helping yourself professionally by doing them!  Which you actually might be.

How to Handle an Editorial Test, Part 2: During the Test

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on June 18, 2010
Tags: , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionTwo days ago, Post Academic gave tips for anyone who faces an editorial test, which is usually the first step to applying for a job as an editor, copy editor, or proofreader. Now here are tips to help you make it through the test while the clock is ticking:

Pace yourself. Speaking of, editorial tests are usually timed. Not only will you be graded on how many errors you catch, but you will also be graded on how quickly you can edit. Successful editors can strike a balance between the two. It’s fine if you can produce perfect copy, but not if you take all day to do it. Publishers have deadlines to meet.

Read the instructions for the test.
Any employer wants to know if you can follow directions. I cannot tell you how many people shot themselves in the proverbial foot by not paying attention.

Go over the document multiple times.
Truth is, you will not catch every error in a single pass, unless you are the best editor in the world. Read through the document once to catch the big, glaring errors. Then read through it for more subtle errors.

More after the jump! Caricature of James Burnett, Lord Monboddo from Kay’s Portraits, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

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