Post Academic

The Sloppy Seconds Job Posting, Hamster World Version

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 13, 2010
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PhotobucketRecently, Arnold described one of his experiences with a job posting that kept popping up again, year after year, never to be filled. After explaining his history interviewing for the job, he writes, “I’m passing on this position [this year], because I actually don’t believe in getting a second bite at what’s essentially the same apple.”

For those of you who want to make the leap from the Academic World to the Hamster World, you’ll soon discover that “sloppy seconds” job postings exist out there, too. One of our commenters wisely noted that repeated job postings are not necessarily the sign of a bad department, and that’s a good point to make regarding the academic world. As for the Hamster World, there’s a much greater chance that a repeated job posting is a red flag. Here’s why:

They’re not paying enough. Even with the bad economy, the job situation isn’t quite as dire as it is for academics, and most Hamsters won’t take a significant pay cut unless they need the money right away. If you don’t know what you’re worth, join Glassdoor, where you can look at salaries for your position at other companies in your area. Yes, I sound like an ad for Glassdoor, but the information that it provides helps keep you from–pardon me–getting screwed.

They’re dramatical. If they didn’t find what they were looking for the first time around, particularly in a bad job market when some really talented people are applying for work, something’s up. Either someone on the hiring team is fussy or there are obvious signs that it’s a bad place to work, no matter what the pay is.

They have high turnover. Some companies are better at hiding their problems during the interview process, or a person really really needs cash. So the person takes the job and discovers that the drama and the bullying isn’t worth it. The second the economy gets better or improves, that person will bail.

Of course, every situation is different. A person might take a job and then their spouse gets transferred to a new city. High turnover for a single position might not mean a workplace is a snake pit. So if a job keeps on coming up, you’ll need to ask around your network or even ask tough questions in the interview to get the full story.

Image of leftover pizza by Rick Audet from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Dealing With a “Flexible” Job

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by postacademic on August 6, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo you accepted a flexible job–Hamster, Academic or Other–and you’re turning into a contortionist? Unless you have an escape hatch, these tips can help you create a more reasonable work-life balance:

Start automating tasks. Evaluate the grunt-work that you have to do. I had one job in which I had to pull crazy hours to meet work goals. I did this for a while, and then I lost my damn mind, and I realized that the workload wasn’t going to let up. So I bought a book from Lifehacker, and I figured out a way to automate cut-and-paste tasks using macros, and I started turning to spreadsheets to keep a tally of what I accomplished. A little Spreadsheet Fu made my job somewhat easier.

Do not answer e-mails immediately. If you are offline, then be offline, and stay offline. Turn off the Crackberry at night. If it can wait until the morning, let it wait. Some things are going to be urgent and will require your attention, so prioritize and answer e-mails only for major events or deadlines.

More tips for surviving a flexible job below. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Why You Should Treat “Flexibility” on the Job With Skepticism

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionDuring the third season of “Mad Men,” Don Draper takes repeated middle-of-the-night calls from Conrad Hilton, owner of the hotel chain and a VIP. Anyone tethered to a Crackberry should groan upon seeing it. Even the powerful Don Draper can be caught in the trap of “flex time.”

“Job flexibility” or “flex time” has grown increasingly popular as a benefit, and it’s one of the reasons people flock to academia. In many cases, flexibility is a good thing, especially if you have children or need to see a doctor regularly. That way, you can make up your work hours at night or on the weekend, and you and your boss will still be happy.

Lately, however, I’ve seen “flexibility” be abused or misinterpreted to mean “available at all hours of the day or night.” In academia, the overhyped flexibility will have you bending over backwards. Students e-mail at weird hours, you do your work at night because of marathon meetings during the day or coffee breaks that turn into grading sessions. But hey–it’s all worth it because you’re not doing the 9-to-5, right?

More after the jump! Image of contortionist from 1880, Wikimedia Commons, public domain. (more…)

Lawyers Gone Wild … Or At Least Post Academic

Posted in Law School Versus Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on July 28, 2010
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PhotobucketAnother burst of “Advanced Degrees Are for Suckers” articles has hit the Internet. The Wall Street Journal profiled various law school grads who are un- or underemployed, and Gawker rebroadcast the story with a beyond-depressing image of a guy hanging himself.

Suicide snark and scary job shrinkage aside, the WSJ article had some optimism. The lawyers are starting to go Post Academic:

Bar associations say more lawyers are asking for tips on ways to apply their skills in other fields.

When the New York State Bar Association originally created the Committee on Lawyers in Transition, it was meant to help attorneys re-join the profession after an absence. But when the economy declined in 2008, the committee changed its focus to help attorneys who were laid off and exploring other industries.

A law degree is well known for being flexible, and is it really a sign of failure that lawyers are taking their skills elsewhere? Even the guy in the WSJ article who is a comedian is using his legal abilities. After all, a keen understanding of slander must help anyone in charge of writing punchlines.

More after the jump! Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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?

The Journalism vs. PhD Showdown: One, Both or Neither?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn a relatively recent post, Michael Bérubé answered a letter from an individual thinking of leaving journalism for a PhD program. This individual is wisely evaluating the potential risk and how grad school might affect his life later on. Now that print journalism isn’t a stable career path, what’s a person who wants to work with words to do?

Bérubé writes,

If you were to start a PhD program in 2011-12, you’d be looking at another four-five years of study, followed by … well, maybe followed by a better market in the years 2015-17, but maybe followed by a bleak market in 2015-17 made bleaker by all the people who didn’t get decent jobs from 2011-15. You don’t want to be adjuncting when you’re 35, this I know. And I don’t see how it’s possible to raise a family on adjunct wages (though many people manage to do it nonetheless).

Okay, so maybe journalism is a better career choice than the academy after all. The odds are slightly better, even with the massive layoffs.

I thought about linking to the article and saying it was cool, but then I tried to think of an answer myself. Must the answer involve an either-or: journalism or the academy?

More after the jump! Image of Pound Choice, Omagh, by Kenneth Allen. On Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

I actually found my career through a series of lucky breaks and a fondness for computers. Now I am a content writer. Once I stopped thinking of literature and writing as a paper-only enterprise, my opportunities increased. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tough (thank you, layoffs!), but there are many ways to apply writing talent that don’t involve journalism or the academy.

There’s also advertising and marketing, which doesn’t come up often enough as a legitimate career option. People view the field with skepticism, and for good reason, as it has a rep for pushing cigarettes on kids and pelting teens with sexualized and violent images. (Farting ponies during Super Bowl ads don’t help, either.)

As with anything else, good guys exist in advertising and marketing. The burden is on you to find them or to find a niche in the field that you are comfortable with. For example, I specialize in writing for the Web, not for print. Other people I know applied their teaching skills by becoming corporate trainers showing people how to use software. Still more become technical writers.

You don’t have to go into computers. There are surprising opportunities out there that allow you to work with words without a) starving to death or b) feeling like a sellout. I won’t lie: You have to dig deep to find them. Sometimes people will tell you that you are crazy for not taking a certain path. But, if you are already accustomed to the hard work of journalism or academic research, you can break into a new career.

Taking Teaching Seriously by … Actually Training Teachers

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on July 14, 2010
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PhotobucketConsider this a response to a response: Tenured Radical wrote about the New York Times’ article on how fewer students are getting into Teach for America. Tenured Radical asks why people think Teach for America is so great in the first place:

I dislike TFA because I am a teacher, and I am quite clear that you don’t learn to teach in five weeks, much less teach students who have a range of social, economic and developmental problems; who are often hungry, in pain, angry or frightened; and who come in unruly waves of 40-50 every 45 minutes.

Whether you like TFA or not (I am undecided, for the record), Tenured Radical’s point that five weeks isn’t enough time to train a teacher is crystal clear. It isn’t.

Like most TA’s, I got thrown into the deep end of the teaching pool with my first comp assignment. I was trained in terms of teaching and composition theory, but I had no clue how to handle day-to-day tasks or how to deal with problem students. I pulled a whole lot out of thin air. Of course, I also got the vibe that teaching was a temporary thing for me, to avoid as much as possible, so why do I need to train for it?

Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Where Are the Career Counselors?

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