Post Academic

Adjuncting and High School Teaching: Adventures in Post-Gradland

Adventures in Gradland (a great blog, FYI) is doing a series on based on a roundtable talk on Post Academic careers. The first article in the series is on what life is like as an adjunct, while the second is on high school teaching. Many PhDs in the Humanities work as adjuncts to fill in the gaps as they try to get a tenure-track job, while there are also those who work as much as full-time tenured brethren as “freeway flyers”–just without the benefits and perks. While it is often said that grad students are treated like cheap labor, this post suggests that adjuncts may be treated worse.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but the post’s bottom line stuck with me:

… don’t adjunct while you’re ABD unless you’re able to teach only one or two courses related to your dissertation, don’t adjunct for more than a year or two unless you want to be labeled a “generalist,” find out what course credits you need to teach high school so that you have a back-up plan, and get familiar with new technologies and online learning. And urge the MLA and the AAUP to start fighting for the rights of adjuncts.

One woman in the audience who had worked as an adjunct for several years made an impassioned plea–don’t adjunct, period. You’ll be exploited, you’ll ruin your chances of a secure academic career, and you’ll contribute to an exploitative system.

You may need to adjunct at some point because that’s what you’re qualified to do, but don’t overdo it. The cycle of exploitation is dangerous. You’ll expend so much energy on teaching that you won’t have the time to train for other careers if that’s where you suspect you’re headed in the long run. At the very least, you should be figuring out how to teach high school. High schoolers aren’t that scary, and the benefits are way better than what you would get as an adjunct.

Speaking of which, Arnold picks up the coverage of what the Gradland blog has to say about high school teaching below the fold…


What Disco and Academia Have in Common

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe article “A Letter From a Graduate Student in the Humanities” over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed provoked a comment frenzy. The article, by Katharine Polak, rightly calls for academics to stop panicking and start thinking of solutions to the glut of PhDs and humanities adjuncts.*

Some of the comments stirred the pot, but one commenter offered a simple suggestion that might help academics shift gears:

The secret? Always be on the lookout for work, always say yes — to any work for which you are arguably qualified. Don’t hold back for that good fit job, or that academically rewarding job. Hustle. If you are not smug, do not have a sense of entitlement to a tenure track job, if you are willing, available, and present, you will likely work.

I don’t agree that all academics who are out of work harbor a “sense of entitlement” and are turning down jobs because they’re not tenure-track. Entitlement really doesn’t matter when the economy is in the toilet. However, the commenter’s advice to “always say yes” and “hustle” is completely on target.

In a tough situation, the survivors are always the ones who are willing to “do the hustle,” so to speak. Having an open mind, learning new skills, and taking on jobs outside academia could open up some wonderful career opportunities. Administrators and tenured faculty could also learn from this advice and think of new ways to market the humanities in an era of budget cuts.

*Though there’s nothing this Post Academic enjoys more than the occasional freak-out over a broke-ass school.

A Letter From a Graduate Student in the Humanities [Chronicle of Higher Ed]

Potential Post-Academic Professions: Realtor?

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on March 30, 2010
Tags: , , ,

The site Grad Hacker has launched a helpful series interviewing people who chose not to go into academia after getting a PhD. The first article in the series interviews Marilyn Garcia, who received a PhD in Economics but decided to go into real estate. Part of why she shifted careers is the “continual, 24 hours a day guilt” that goes with being an untenured professor. She says,

Setting a specific goal is great but you have no idea how long, really, it’s going to take to achieve that goal. So you work for three hours and you’re not there, and then what do you do? You work for three hours after you’ve been in class all day, and you’ve got the faculty meetings, and had office hours, and driven back and forth.

The office world may seem like a daily grind, but, based on her statements, academia is really the hamster wheel. I’m speaking for myself only, but office life tends to provide clear deadlines. It’s true that I’ve worked 14- or 15-hour days, but those times were relatively short (the length of a football season, actually), and I had a specific goal to achieve. If I didn’t achieve that goal, I could go somewhere else and find new goals.

Take a gander at this Grad Hacker article. It offers much more for anyone dissatisfied with the academic life, especially if you have a hobby that you might be able to turn into a living.

What Do You Do With a PhD? [Grad Hacker]

The psychological baggage of your CV

I wanted to follow up Caroline’s really helpful how-to’s on converting a CV into a resume by focusing on my own real-time experiences of doing just that, particularly some of the more intangible aspects of the process.  What makes turning a CV into a resume all the more difficult is the psychological baggage that goes along with it, since it can symbolize something you wish it didn’t–that you might be becoming a post-academic.  It’s not so much figuring out a new set of conventions that’s the tough part, but the self-scrutiny and rose-colored reminiscences that can really paralyze you.  Writing a resume feels like a surrendering the past to the future, when paring 5 pages down to 1 page feels like you’ve just ended up with a blank page.

Here are some of the mixed feelings I’ve dealt with in writing a resume and what I’m telling myself I need to do to thoughtfully and seriously prepare for a transition.

1. Get(ting) over it: Does shearing off all the details of your CV feel like your academic achievements don’t matter?  What exactly happened to the last 5 to 7 (to 10) years of your life?  Do your faculty recommendations even matter any more?  Going through your CV to decide what to keep (a little bit) and what to ditch (almost everything) is a daunting task, because it requires a retrospective introspection that isn’t easy, especially when you’re forced to do it.

In the post-academic’s touchstone, “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”, by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius, there’s a chapter on resumes that’s aptly titled “This Might Hurt a Bit,” which offers great how-to advice on shaping a resume out of CV.  But more important than the nuts-and-bolts of the process (though the list of resume verbs on to use on 110-11 is pretty great), Basalla and Debelius get you into the right mindset with some tough love.  According to them, the editing process involves some cuts that’ll sting.  But, for your own sake, leave off the following (109-10):

See the list and more after the jump…


Tame the Teaching Workload First

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhen pondering an escape from the ivory tower, you probably think about becoming a lecturer or a classroom teacher. This reaction is natural since teaching is a valuable, concrete skill. You might even be able to make good part-time money at it if you get a job teaching the SAT or the LSAT.

But don’t make the leap just yet, especially if you want to leave academia because you had trouble managing your classroom time. Kerry Ann Rockquemore describes the impact of the “Teaching Trap” over at, and it’s clear that teaching is one of the classic tasks that expands to fill the time available.

If you thought teaching took up too much time when you were in academia, a change of scenery won’t help you. Whether you’re teaching the SAT at Kaplan or teaching a class at a public high school, teaching will continue to take up all of your time unless you improve your time management skills. Visit my tips on how to tame your paperwork, and try these four tips, all after the jump:

Resources: WRK4US listserv

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Arnold Pan on March 15, 2010
Tags: , ,

Many of you who’ve clicked your way here are probably familiar with the WRK4US listserv maintained by Paula Foster Chambers and hosted by Duke U.  But if you’re not and you’re interested in making a transition outside of academia or just even thinking about it, it’s definitely worth signing up for and checking out.  Billing itself as “the premier email discussion list on nonacademic careers for people with graduate degrees in Humanities, Education and Social science disciplines,” WRK4US functions as something of a clearinghouse for job announcements, an advice column on the nuts-and-bolts of applying for jobs, and a support group for academics who want to–or hafta–look into a new line of work.

Registration is required to join the listserv and the discussions that occur therein are confidential and closed to its members.  Since you need to log into the Duke Mailing List Manager to access the archives, the email interface is not exactly the most efficient way to make use of all the resources available at WRK4US.  But the listserv format does have a distinct advantage of creating a open forum for those participating in the discussion and for producing a close-knit camaraderie with people you might not otherwise have any contact with, across disciplines and across the country.  It’s easy to start up threads, whether it’s about the post/academic experience or practical, focused questions about applying for jobs.

To join, go to the WRK4US page at the Duke Mailing List Manager site below and follow the directions to become a new user.  After signing up, the archive info for WRK4US will appear in the left-hand column below your log-in, which you can browse in addition to the emails you will receive covering the current topics of discussion.

WRK4US Home Page and Archives, at the Duke Mailing List Manager site (registration req’d)

How to: Get started freelance writing

You might notice in my “About” bio that I describe myself as a “once and future freelance writer.”  I don’t want to call it a comeback right now, especially since I haven’t had anything published yet and I’m still putting the finishing touches on my first assigned assignment.  It figures that the profession I’m best equipped to cross over to — freelancing and journalism — might be less lucrative and more imperiled than academia (if that’s possible), but I enjoy writing in general and I can do so without so many other responsibilities I had as a scholar/teacher.  And, actually, many, many more people have read my music reviews than anything I wrote as an academic, since I wrote a few hundred pieces even when freelancing as a second job during school.  Pretty much all the places I wrote for went out of business (which, along with my qualifying exams, was the reason I stopped freelancing), but there are still some reviews I wrote floating out there — which you can Google, provided you promise not to look at my Rate My Professors rating from Loyola Marymount that is, for some reason, the top link when you search my name.

Caroline may actually be better qualified to advise here, since she has a lot of experience as a writer and editor on a number of websites.  And I’ll be happy to provide more info on the nuts-and-bolts of freelancing from pitch to story later, whether or not this second act goes anywhere.  But in trying to resuscitate my career as a music writer, I noticed that some of the basic aspects of getting started in freelancing are the same, even as the media for this kind of publishing has switched over from print to electronic.  Things are definitely faster paced, which might mean more opportunities for writers, presuming you’re willing to put up with the following:

1. Put the “free” in “freelancing”: You read Caroline’s previous post about the crappy, low or non-paying first post-academia job, right?   Well, you have to approach freelancing that way, except it’s not crappy if you like writing and that it may never become well-paying.  To get started in freelancing, be ready, willing, and able to work for free, because few people will turn down unpaid labor (though some still will), especially if you are (over)qualified and require little babysitting.  My best freelance jobs — the ones for which I did the most interesting work and which opened up my best opportunities — started out as unpaid.  Once I got my foot in the door, I was able gain the trust of my editors and pick up more responsibility.  And even the gruntwork could be fun, if you’re interested in the field you’re in: As an intern for an alternative weekly during my college summer breaks, for instance, one of my primary tasks was transcribing interviews for the music editor, which turned out to be anything but tedious, since I learned a lot about music, how to interview people, and how to translate what the heck Bjork was saying.

2. Be creative: That internship I was referring to above?  I made that opportunity for myself by blind-mailing the editor, who I have to give credit to for taking me seriously.  I’m not great with taking the initiative, but all it takes is one person to pay attention and give you a chance.  The result was that I became the first music intern for the paper, which started out with a lot of not-so-bad office work and led to a lot of independence.  I also learned a lot about what it takes to be an editor and how newspapers, particularly weeklies, work: think ad revenue, before you think about content.

3. Follow the rules: In my experience, the best way to get noticed is not to stand out by being a low-maintenance, highly productive writer.  That means do things the way your editors want you to do them.  Learn the publication’s style sheet and try to format things correctly right from the start — kinda like Caroline’s advice to “RTFM.”  Write the pieces no one else wants to, even letting your editor pick your first assignments for you, to prove you can get stuff done.  And, most importantly, make your deadlines, which means not trying to do more than you are capable of doing.  The less hassle you are for your editor, the more s/he will be able to rely on you and give you more responsibilities.

4. Take things personally: Like any job, networking is really important.  While you do have to figure out where and how to start, the relationships you make can help you expand your opportunities, even if it can take some time.  All of my better paying jobs came from a few editors that I built great relationships with, who kept trying to give me work as they moved from one position to the next.

5. But don’t take things personally: Rejection — or rather, being ignored — is part of the game, something any post/academic can already relate to.  Almost all of the time, it’s not personal, just either that you’re lost in the paperwork/inbox or, at worst, they’re careless.  And there’s a lot of turnover with editors, so you might go to the end of line with each change, especially if editors already have other freelancers to whom they are loyal.  Be persistent.

6. Try it: Because so few freelancers can do it full-time as a freelancer and because there are so few staff writers, freelancing is very amenable to something you can try with very little investment.  Freelancing is usually a second job, so it’s something you might like to pick up while you’re in grad school or working in another profession.  For me, freelancing helped me earn pretty much all my frivolous spending money during college and grad school, with the added perk of getting promo CDs (sometimes early!) that I would’ve bought anyway.  Just go into freelancing with some perspective and feeling like you have nothing to lose.

Now back to writing that music review…