Tuesday, August 31, 2010

H-net: Problems in job-hunting land?

Has anyone checked out job openings on h-net recently? https://h-net.org/jobs/home.php

I was scanning the tenure-track job openings earlier today, as I do every day of my life, and the administrators seem to have altered the listings format over night. Usually a job seeker can hit "open positions" and see the most recent adds posted over the past week. Now h-net has ALL the open positions grouped together by month of publication, rather than field, and in no particular order.
This is much less user friendly.


Monday, August 30, 2010

So you wan't to write a column?

Have you ever wanted to write an online column for a major publication?

On September 17th I'll be contributing a guest blog post, "How to Land Your Own Online Column," to Susan Johnston's very popular site for current and aspiring freelance writers: The Urban Muse. (http://www.urbanmusewriter.com/) The Urban Muse is an excellent resource for anyone looking to break into the world of freelance writing. Check it out today!

Alternate Careers Part II: Academic Administration

Chessboard by Anna Cervova

Academic administration is one of the more popular alternate and/or side career paths for graduate students and PhD.'s, whether their speciality is in the humanities, social sciences, or a STEM field. Why? For many of us, there are significant advantages to remaining within the tight-knit, quirky, and often infuriating, world of academe post-Ph.D., even if your primary view is at the staff end of things . . . in a cubicle.

I'll list a few of these advantages here:

  • University affiliation and hence library privileges (a major bonus for bibliophiles!!)

  • Hands-on, pragmatic use of your knowledge of higher ed; thus no need to experience the profound culture shock of leaving academe for the world of industry

  • A chance to work with students, faculty, and staff in any number of administrative areas including student affairs; advising; institutional research and development; the business office; the provost's office; graduate studies; study abroad; the careers center; the writing center; the IT center; and so on

  • Pretty good salaries and benefits, although there is certainly a wide margin here  

  • An office environment which is literally in the midst of university life, governed by an academic calendar, frequented by students, faculty, and staff, and concerned with affairs related directly to the world you're familiar with: higher ed

  • Frequent contact with and access to scholars, teachers, young people, and motivated admin types

  • No pressure to publish (could be both a blessing and a curse)

  • (sometimes) A chance to continue teaching a class or two as a lecturer, depending on one's role within the university setting
But there are, of course, some distinct disadvantages to working in academic administration:

  • Being treated like a 2nd class citizen by faculty; you're "just staff" and no longer considered an active teacher-scholar (this can sometimes result in an identity crisis; be prepared)

  • Paper pushing from 9-5, despite an initially attractive, challenging job description

  • No support for research or conferences whatsoever

  • Plus, no rewards for publishing or being a productive scholar; research productivity is something you do/finance on your time, which is now limited by a regular work schedule and limited time off

  • Excluded from faculty events, plans, and special workshops, even if your area of expertise is in a related field (and even if you've published more than some of the faculty members in question)

  • A career plateau once you've reached a certain point, unless you're willing to relocate

  • Constant exposure to the threat of layoffs

  • A potentially low starting salary; again, though, this is context dependent

  • Working alongside young people with B.A.s who are actually more qualified and office savvy than you!
Nonetheless, based on what I've read about careers in academic administration, it would seem that if you really love being part of a higher ed environment, the benefits significantly outweigh the disadvantages. But this is a highly subjective observation.

So, how does one get started? Here are my top 5 tips for Ph.D.'s (or AB.D.'s, etal.) who would like to explore a career transition to academic admin.:

1. Research the areas of the university you're interested in and narrow down your focus. University administration is a HUGE field, with any number of departments related to such things as research, development, student affairs, faculty affairs, communications, governance, etc. Ask yourself what you would prefer doing: Advising undergraduate students about entry requirements or career prospects? Helping struggling undergrads to learn to read/write more effectively? Working solely with angsty grad students looking for work or having personal crises? Helping faculty members develop new courses or improve their teaching skills or secure research grants? Preparing print and online marketing materials for the main communications office? Serving as webmaster for a department? And so on. As you can see, the possibilities are nearly endless.

2. Read widely about academic administration; network with administrators and conduct informational interviews.
Know what you are getting into. Buy or check out library books about how universities function and familiarize yourself with the tasks administrators actually perform on a daily basis. Contact administrators and ask for 15 minutes of their time. Network like crazy. Realize that working as a staff member will place you in a completely separate category than faculty, with different interests, goals, and priorities. This is normal; you're not a traitor. Learn therefore to start thinking more like an administrator rather than a faculty member focused solely on her or his own department, courses/students, niche field, tenure portfolio, and publication record. Broaden your focus to the wider university community. (This can be both rewarding/exciting and a bit scary.)
**These 6 Chronicle of Higher Education articles should prove useful:

"Online Resources for Careers in Academic Administration" http://chronicle.com/article/Online-Resources-for-Career/46353/
"Getting into Administration": http://chronicle.com/article/Getting-Into-Administration/44904/
"A Humanities Ph.D. Finds Her Niche in Administration": http://chronicle.com/article/A-Humanities-PhD-Finds-He/46075/
"Switching sides": http://chronicle.com/article/Switching-Sides/46918/
"The 'other' life on campus, or how to become an academic administrator": http://chronicle.com/article/The-other-life-on-campus/46352/
"When you want to stay on campus (and you don't want to teach)": http://chronicle.com/article/When-You-Want-to-Stay-on-Ca/46318/

3. Assess your personality. Do you have what it takes (essentially a Type A personality) to work in the world of university admin? Can you, moreover, handle assuming an entirely different role on campus? Will you feel bitter in time or enjoy your new, liberating position, free from the stresses of the tenure track? These are not questions to take lightly. *Knowing yourself, and being realistic about your personality and attitude, is the key to a successful transition out of academe. Maybe a few career quizzes, or What Color is Your Parachute? type books will help you sort this out.

4. Revise your application materials. A CV and cover letter designed for tenure-track faculty positions will not fly in the world of academic administration. Tailor your materials to the job in question and ensure that your personal employment narrative, or story of ongoing professional development, indicates that you are not only qualified for the opening in question but a stellar candidate. You want HR and others to believe that this job is merely a natural progression for you, not an unrelated, perhaps whimsical, side track. This will require work on your part! See the following CHE advice pieces for hints:

"CV Doctor Returns - Administrator": http://chronicle.com/article/CV-Doctor-Returns-Adminis/48628/
"Cover letters for administrative jobs": http://chronicle.com/article/Cover-letters-for-administr/46313/

5. Get some experience. Have you ever worked on campus in a non-teaching role? Have you ever worked in an office setting? If not, it's time to get started. Volunteer, temp, or intern if necessary to gain some experience. Learn new programs and familiarize yourself with both Mac and PC platforms; practice typing and filing; join LinkedIn and get networking; read and write articles about academic administration; attend staff events open to the general public; prepare yourself to take, and flourish in, an entry-level position. Remember: it's much easier to get your foot in the door if you've put in the necessary groundwork first.

Good luck!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Alternate Careers Part I: Private/Public School Teaching

Colored Pencils by Petr Kratochvil
So, let's say you're an A.B.D. or newly minted, perhaps even less than fresh, Ph.D. or M.A. thinking about seguing into private or public teaching at the secondary school level. Where do you begin? There are a number of questions you should be asking yourself:
  • For starters, have you ever actually worked with middle or high school students? (Teaching, tutoring, volunteering, substituting, etc.?) If not, what, then, is your underlying motivation? A love of teaching? Need for a job? Cluelessness? Can you persuade yourself and others that you're really serious?
  • Have you thought about how teaching high school sophomores, for example, might differ from teaching college freshmen? What pedagogical strategies do you have up your sleeve for the under-18 subset? Can you begin to answer these questions?
  • Are you ready for long, intense days of teaching and copious amounts of grading during the evenings and on weekends? 
  • Are you willing to supervise an after-school club or coach a sports team? If not, how will you "fit in" and contribute to the school's teaching/admin team? In other words, do you have enough rah-rah team spirit to work in a public or private school environment?
  • Should you go private or public? If you'd prefer working for a public or charter school, are you ready and willing to gain additional teaching credentials? This could take 1-2 years and cost you $$.
  • How should you go about retooling your application materials? What are search committees at high schools/middle schools looking for? [Tip: it isn't research prowess!]
  • Finally, can you say goodbye to research and focus almost exclusively on teaching 24-7, minus summers, without burning out? Can you, the former wanna-be professor, adapt to the professional life of a secondary school teacher?
For those of us without a great deal of experience working in middle or high school classrooms, these are not the easiest questions to answer. Frankly, how will you know if you'd enjoy and excel at private or public school teaching if you have only ever taught in a university setting? Well the answer is: you won't. This is why it is absolutely critical to consider the questions above AND gain some solid secondary level experience before taking the plunge. Schools will be hesitant to hire someone whose commitment appears lukewarm at best.

Most importantly, there is a huge difference between teaching at a public school vs. teaching at an independent school. The vast majority of private schools don't require their teachers to be certified, and elite institutions like having Ph.D.'s as faculty members. (FYI: doctoral and master degrees make for impressive selling points to the parents of potential students.) Accordingly, private school teaching has proven increasingly attractive to Ph.D.'s who like to teach yet are seeking employment outside the ivory tower.

"Secondary-school teaching has long been an obvious alternative for humanities Ph.D.'s and A.B.D.'s who don't land the college teaching jobs they want. But increasingly, people with doctorates are viewing elite private-school teaching as a rewarding career in its own right, rather than a watered-down version of college teaching or an undesirable backup plan," writes Gwendolyn Bradley at the Chronicle of Higher Education. [For the rest of the article, "Careers for Ph.D.'s at Private Schools," click here: http://chronicle.com/article/Careers-for-PhDs-at-Priv/46265/

For more on making the transition to high school teaching, see also " Ask the Administrator: What About Teaching High School?" from Dean Dad at Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions_of_a_community_college_dean/ask_the_administrator_what_about_teaching_high_school

The interview and search process is described here as well: "Back to high school": http://chronicle.com/article/Back-to-High-School/45223/

BUT, before you get too excited, consider this sobering fact: Getting picked up by an elite private school is, unfortunately, no easy task these days, as numerous humanities Ph.D.'s and A.B.D.'s can attest. The market is saturated and we are still in the midst of an economic slowdown, which means fewer openings and more applicants. Check out these NYTimes pieces if you don't believe me, "Teachers Facing Weakest Market in Years": http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/20/nyregion/20teachers.html and "Teaching: No Fall Back Career": http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/teaching-no-fallback-career/

Moreover, many private schools filter their applications through large search firms, like Carney, Sandoe & Associates (www.carneysandoe.com/); and Carney, Sandoe and the like are known to turn down qualified Ph.D.'s for no other reason than lack of classroom experience.

Still interested? Where, then, should you begin? I would advise the following:

1. Network with former or current public/private school teachers and conduct informational interviews

2. Pour over your CV and stock job letter and make sure they are addressing the proper audience

3. Make sure your references know about your search and are willing to talk in depth about your teaching abilities

4. Attempt to gain some solid classroom experience: volunteer; tutor; teach a workshop; substitute teach; register as a contingent faculty member at a private school in your area; observe others at work

5. Search the job listings board at the National Association of Independent Schools: www.nais.org/ to get a sense of what schools are looking for right now. (FYI: The hiring season for 2010-11 is obviously over at this point, but you still have more than enough time to prepare your materials for the 2011-12 season.)

6. Contact Carney, Sandoe & Associates, or a similar firm, and ask for representation, but only after you have completed steps 1-5. Attend a private school job fair/recruitment conference. These are held throughout the year. CS&A hosts their own job fairs, for instance.

"CS&A hosts five conferences in Atlanta, Boston, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. throughout the late winter and early spring of every year. The purpose of these events is to facilitate teaching job interviews between our job-seeking candidates and hiring-school representatives. Candidates and schools are able to interview with each other in a single location efficiently and cost-effectively."

For specific CS&A 2011 conference dates and more info., read the rest of the page here:


See also:
The Education Group: http://www.educationgroup.com/
Search firm for private schools. Free to apply. Also runs job fairs.

Public job fairs, organized by state, are listed here:

*Additionally, here's a first-person Chronicle of Higher Ed piece about a Ph.D. who attended a job fair in 2003:
"Navigating the Alternative Teaching Market," http://chronicle.com/article/Navigating-the-Alternative-/45358/

FINAL NOTE: Anyone else want to offer any additional pointers? I'd love to hear from those who have successfully made the transition. Contact me if you'd like to write a guest blog post or be included in a future "On the Fence" column at Inside Higher Ed.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Top 10 Alternate Careers for Humanities Ph.D.s

Public domain image
I'm often asked by Inside Higher Ed readers what other realistic non-academic employment options are out there for A.B.D.s, newly minted Ph.D.s, and those contingent faculty members who are considering leaving academe for good but have no idea where to begin their search. Changing careers is daunting, particularly for academics.
We're trained to teach and design college-level courses; to do rigorous, independent and sometimes collaborative research; to write constantly and self motivate; to work, more or less, without supervision; to network at conferences and "present" papers to small groups of like-minded individuals; and to read and reference the same books and articles as the other few hundred or so people who are interested in similar topics. We've also spent 6+ years, give or take, earning our highly specialized advanced degrees. Some of us (me!!) have taken out hefty student loans to finance our dream of becoming a professor.

So what, exactly, are we qualified to do if becoming a tenure-track humanities professor is no longer possible? What else is there?

Top 10 Alternate Careers for Humanities Ph.D.s
1. Private and/or secondary school teaching
2. Academic administration
3. Corporate communications
4. Commercial or academic publishing
5. Freelance writing and/or editing
6. Non-profit work (i.e., museums, national parks, niche organizations)
7. Government jobs
8. Archives or libraries
9. Real estate Webmaster [*based on a reader suggestion. Thanks, Caroline at postacademic!]
10. Career counseling or coaching

I'm hoping the above list, arranged in no particular order, will help get the creative juices flowing. In future posts I promise to spend more time delving into the specifics of each possibility.

Speaking of which

Here is a recent NYTimes article, "Social Networking Your Way to a Job" (Aug. 25, 2010), highlighting the benefits, and potential pitfalls, of online social networks to the job-search process:


Curious about the professional possibilities and proper etiquette of LinkedIn? Check out this recent article by Jessica Quillin on Inside Higher Ed:


Public domain image

Friday, August 27, 2010

Social networking is apparently a must

Social networking is really a must in the 21st century. From employment leads and freelance opportunities to meeting new and interesting people, some of whom may even prove indispensable in one's job search, finding employment these days is nearly impossible without an extensive online network to tap into.

Sending out a resume--cold--just doesn't seem to cut it anymore, particularly for writing/editorial and new media jobs. Employers are looking for people who are tech savvy and understand new social and cultural trends. Many job advertisements now specify an intimate knowledge of social networking (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) as part and parcel of the entry-level requirements. So for those of you out there who, like me, have in many respects remained trapped in the 20th century, it is time to graduate to century 21. It's time to get networking . . .

*With this in mind, I've recently conquered my fear of 24-7 online exposure and have (finally) joined Facebook. Want to be my "friend"? You can find me listed under Eliza Woolf.

Wikipedia public image

Spreading the word . . .

Good news! I've found my Inside Higher Ed columns mentioned on several different sites and blogs.

Here are a few examples:

1. The AHA Today blog, May 2010 edition, "Outside of Academia" (i.e. the crème de la crème, at least as for as employed and budding historians are concerned):


2. On Amplify. It's the 6th post on this page, under "A Wonderful Academic Career?"


3. Over at postacademic.org, under "Taking Time Out After Grad School"


It is great to know that other recent Ph.D.s out there, as well as employed historians and even those considering entering Ph.D. programs, are interested in hearing my story. We all have unique stories to share about our experiences in academe and, unfortunately, many of these tales have been less than optimistic as of late. My general sense is that there is a great deal of uncertainty, ambivalence, and fear out there. The more we share our stories and ideas, and pool our resources, the better off we'll be collectively, IMHO.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Bleak Market

Public domain image
I wanted to include a link to my recent Inside Higher Ed article on the depressing state of the academic job market.


This piece generated a number of comments as well as multiple private notes to my Inside Higher Ed email account. There are a lot of job seekers out there who are hurting right now and/or totally ambivalent about their professional future. I count myself among them. The problem is simple: there are just not enough jobs to go around. For many of us, despite an impressive array of qualifications, the buck stops here.

Now what?

I am currently in the process of finding and delivering current information on alternate careers for humanities Ph.D.'s. The recession has, unfortunately, complicated things by making just about every level of employment difficult to find at present. Ph.D. or no Ph.D., it is extremely difficult to secure a full-time, ongoing job at the moment in a field relevant to one's degree, work experience, and professional qualifications. Not to mention the difficulty of finding a position that pays a living wage and provides critical employment benefits, especially health insurance.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer break

Public domain image
I've proven a relatively poor blogger thus far and I am blame the summer. Well, actually, I blame my extensive international travels this summer. It's been a busy few months; I've been constantly on the go while simultaneously waiting for the new 2010-11 academic job season to begin.

 . . . And I'm still waiting.

The problem is that in my obscure historical field there are hardly any tenure-track job openings at present anywhere in the world. I'm pretty flexible and yet my "apply for" file remains shockingly slim. Some of my job-seeking friends believe that things will pick up over the next couple of months, but I have my doubts. Last year there were WAY more relevant job ads at this point in the hiring cycle. My sense is that the pickings will be slim indeed this year.

I've had my Ph.D. now for 2 years and I've heard that the average path to a TT job takes 3-4 years. With the market the way it is now, however, it may be even longer. How long am I really prepared to look for academic work? Conversely, when will I know enough is enough? How committed am I to this so-called career path? Are there other professional paths that would make me happy as well? How can I find out?These are the questions occupying my mind 24-7.

I feel like I'm trapped in an endless labyrinth with no way out. Where is Theseus when you need him?