The 7 Best Tips from ‘The Professor is in’ (Book review)

We have read and loved Karen Kelsky’s The Professor Is In (NY 2015), so this is the start of a series of book review blog posts. The book is so rich in information and important takeaways that we had to start somewhere, yet already know for sure that this will not remain the only post about it.

 

The Top 7 Takeaways

So, quickly and painlessly (as we would say in German), these are our top 7 takeaways which we have already tried to implement and we feel they’re already making our applications better.

  1. Add one (quality) line to your CV per month. On how not all lines are worth the same, check this related post on whether “just focus on your PhD” is valid advice. As per Karen Kelsky, you should already start doing this from around when you begin the Master’s degree and basically never stop. If you do this, you’re likely to have quite a competitive CV for any job you’ll ever apply for. It also ensures that you do some strategic career planning when you have to look at your CV every month and decide on what quality things to add in advance. Of course, not every month can be super high quality, but make sure to not only collect the low-hanging fruit.
  2. Have a ‘publication arc’ between your first and second project. The second project is either a much broader version of the PhD topic (if you wish to continue with it) or another topic entirely. For example in Classics, Ancient History or Archaeology, it is customary to do one Roman and one Greek project. But it really depends on your field and what you want. However what you really should avoid is sticking with your same old thesis topic. Because:
  3. Nobody wants to hear about your thesis (anymore). This is your entry ticket to academia (no more, no less). Hiring committees really don’t care about what you did as a student. They want to hear about your exciting new projects you have as a colleague, which should more or less form a logical continuation with your studies before but still be hot and (clearly) new. By clearly, I mean that it should be obvious to anyone it’s a new topic. A new micro-aspect of your old topic doesn’t count. They want to see you’re well-rounded and master more than just your one old thing. Nobody wants to hire a one-hit-wonder.
  4. You’re not your advisor’s student anymore. You’re (becoming) a colleague. Don’t behave like a student. Don’t become a young version of your advisor either because your advisor already exists and is more established than you. They don’t need a second version of your advisor. Be your own hero with your own mission and act as such. And yes, you will speak on the same panel as your academic heroes and no, it’s not “such an honour” – because you deserve to be there thanks to the skill and competence you have acquired.
  5. Have an up-to-date CV ready at all times. This includes an optimized PhD thesis abstract, an abstract for a future project (at least have a topic, a possible title and a base of secondary literature references prepared to be able to quickly write something up in case a spontaneous job offer catches you by surprise) as well as a teaching statement (detailed info on how to write them is in the book). In case you plan on applying for teaching positions, also make sure that you have syllabi for at least one bachelor/undergrad and one master/graduate level class ready, best for a generic introductory topic likely interesting for your field in the Bachelor level and something a bit more generalized but close to your thesis as a research seminar for the Master level. This includes an outline of what you’ll do, one innovative teaching method, info on the exams and a few central items of secondary literature. Have these materials ready as “raw materials” you can use to quickly sculpt a great application from them. They still need tailoring – see next point.
  6. Always make sure to tailor your CV and application to the job you’re applying for. Make sure you know everything about it, the requirements, the institution and your possible future colleagues. Nobody likes an “I submitted this same thing for 30 jobs” application. Don’t waste people’s (and your own) time! I personally have witnessed one young, not so established and possibly at first not ‘obvious’ match for a (prof) job get it because the person had really been about the only one who had actually understood and implemented the requirements (you had to include a concrete Habilitation project proposal and hardly anybody did). Their application could have been invisible amongst more senior colleagues but it ended up standing out because it was well tailored.
  7. “Show, don’t tell”. In the non-tabular parts of your application, such as a cover letter or teaching statement, don’t waste words explaining redundant information from the tabular CV or information-free platitudes. This means don’t say you’re a great teacher (duh?), rather show what innovative methods you used for which you got good evaluations. For example, my thing is teaching with cheat sheets. These narrative parts are the place where you can let people get to know you better. This is also valid for interviews, of course. It’s always better to show. But of course, coming up with these stories to show rather than telling takes some up-front effort. It’s too late to come up with them during an interview and they’re not always easy to come up with. Consult colleagues, ask your grandma, etc. Outsiders might see this more clearly than you do yourself. Be able to explain convincingly to your grandma why you are so great for the job (i.e. the explanation needs to work for people without detailed knowledge of your micro sub-field as well).

 

That’s it for today. You’ll likely hear much more about The Prof is in in the future. (Also read her blog.)

Best,

S


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