Featured post

Beyond the Professoriate, 5/7/16

Freelancing and Entrepreneurship

Beyond the Professoriate, 5/7/16

***

To answer those of you who mentioned in the survey that you wanted to know whether there’s life outside academia, here’s my answer: yes. Resoundingly, confidently: yes. A very good life, in fact.

I left academia in 2014 after 15 years teaching literature and first-year writing. I had a lot to say about adjuncting and why I left. I knew I’d never go back to academia, so I wanted to speak for myself and the other adjuncts who couldn’t be as blunt or critical. I’d been an adjunct too long to ever be anything but an adjunct, and I was done with the dead-endedness and false hope. For anyone still in academia and searching for full-time jobs, be careful about adjuncting or stringing together post-docs or visiting positions: often, the longer you do these, the less hireable you are for full-time positions. Academia typically doesn’t reward experience for those in precarious positions. Don’t expect it to reward all those years you’ve taught or publications you’ve done. 

Professionally and personally, it’s been a productive two years for me. The biggest change I’ve seen since switching careers is that I’m rewarded for my growing experience as a freelance editor and consultant—both financially (in terms of what I can charge my clients) and professionally (in terms of the respect and appreciation I get from them). Some other refreshing changes I’ve experienced in the private sector are:

  • Attitudes toward collaboration;
  • More room to negotiate pay and other working conditions;
  • A healthier attitude toward self-care and taking breaks;
  • Shorter (much shorter) résumés and cover letters;
  • Less emphasis on academic credentials or where one went to school;
  • Much less siloing into specific disciplines;
  • More emphasis on clear, direct, and purposeful writing.

I draw on my skills as a researcher, writer, and teacher all the time—sometimes in unexpected ways. My teaching experience has helped me on some developmental editing projects for graduate students: we worked through several versions of a thesis or article. I’ve also been chosen to edit some business, religious history, and government documents specifically because I was an educated non-specialist, and the clients wanted an objective look at the writing. If, like I did when I left, you’re trying to establish yourself as a freelance editor, remember that “editing” entails different kinds of work (not just correcting grammar) and that your current academic interests might influence but won’t necessarily determine your worth as a freelancer.

I’ll talk about three main areas that will help you get started (or learn more about) freelancing as an alt-ac or post-ac: transitioning, connecting, and working.

Transitioning

  • Before searching and applying for jobs, self-reflect on your skills as a researcher and teacher. If, like me, you’ve taught a lot of writing in your courses, then you have experience reading, commenting on, and developing others’ work—sometimes hundreds or thousands of pages of it. The specific research you’ve done shows more generally that you can plan, study, synthesize, and present different kinds of information to an informed audience. Your teaching in your discipline shows that you can communicate information to a “fresh” or uninformed audience. The trick is to distill what you can do and transfer from your academic training into a new profession.  
  • Find clear and concrete language to articulate these skills—that is, don’t write or speak like an academic in your cover letters and interviews. Hiring managers and others will likely find it offputting, to say the least. Defy the stereotype of the stuffy, awkward, and self-important academic; don’t reinforce it.  
  • Expect to draw on different aspects of your teaching and research experience. You might never write or talk about the specific thing you’ve written articles and papers on, but you’ll definitely use those researching, writing, revising, and presentation skills.
  • Have a positive career change story, as Jennifer Polk, Chris Humphrey, and others have said. In an interview, you’ll be asked in some way why you’re leaving an academic career. Your answer should be honest but constructive. I was asked this a few times, and I kept things positive: I told the interviewers that I’d always been a strong editor, and I wanted to use my skills in a field with more career potential than academia was offering me. I then pivoted to the transferable skills I’d gained as a professor and researcher. Try to keep this part concise and direct, and then pivot back to the job you’re being interviewed for.
  • There are times and places—such as Twitter or private conversations—for the more real, no-holds-barred version of why you’re leaving academia. This can be very fulfilling and cathartic, as many of us can attest.
  • Don’t worry about the haters or others still in academia. If they don’t respect or support your career decisions, they’re not worth your professional time. Some—especially those who haven’t had been on the job hunt for many years—might not be able to wrap their heads around you leaving what, to them, is a “calling.” A mentor who shuts you out because you’ve left the profession is no mentor you need in your life. To speak bluntly, this is their problem, not yours. They’ll come around or they won’t, and some might always be a little awkward around you. Always do what works best for you.

Connecting

  • If you’re on Twitter, use it regularly. If you’re not, get on Twitter follow folks like Jennifer, Maren, and my fellow panelists and me, and begin expanding your digital identity. When you’re there, learn to both listen and self-promote. Follow useful hashtags (#WithAPhD, #Postac, #Freelancing, #FreelanceLife), and don’t be afraid to share your story or availability as a freelancer. I’ve gotten a few jobs and many connections from Twitter.
  • While you’re tweeting, learn from people like us, as well as others you meet in person or online. Typically, the post-ac and alt-ac communities are very open and engaging. Want to know something? Ask.
  • Use your network to find freelance gigs or other kinds of employment. The more that people know what you’re doing, the more likely you are to get gigs through word-of-mouth. You can be as public or as private as you’re comfortable being, but let people know about your new career path. I regularly tell clients to email colleagues, professors, mentors, and peers in their field to update them on a potential career change: some might be willing to help or steer you some business to begin boosting your résumé. I’ve gotten several editing jobs this way, simply because my academic colleagues needed manuscripts or articles edited.
  • Talk to people in the industries you’re eyeing for jobs. Whenever possible, get some informational interviews with friends or their colleagues to learn about the field. Ask your circle if they know anyone and could set up something. Informational interviews can be very useful to (1) teach you some things about the industry and (2) give an experienced professional the chance to speak frankly to you about your strengths and weaknesses in breaking in.
    • I had an informational interview with a long-time acquisitions editor at a scholarly press. He spoke bluntly about the current state of academic publishing, the ins and outs of the job, and how I might succeed and struggle as an editor. He said things he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) say in a formal interview, which was helpful for both of us.
  • Get several sets of eyes on your résumé or cover letter, preferably from at least one person with hiring experience. Use your network. Remember, also, that non-academic cover letters are typically short and direct: you’ll talk more fully about your experience, qualifications, and other things in an interview. This will be refreshing, too: résumés are not exhaustive lists of publications and teaching like CVs are.
  • You don’t necessarily have to sever all academic ties if you go post-ac. Although I’m now only involved in academic publishing as an editor, some alt- and post-acs continue to research and present as independent scholars. Be aware, though, that time spent doing unpaid scholarly research and writing might be time not spent making connections or money as a freelancer. With very few exceptions, I won’t writing anything for publication unless I’m paid for the work. Your time has value; budget it accordingly.

Working

  • Remember that you don’t have to wait until you’re either hired full time or finally leave academia to start freelancing. Start ASAP. If a non-academic career seems both increasingly likely and increasingly desirable, make some transitions now. Instead of working on another article or book review that you hope will make you more marketable for a professorship, spend the time boosting your freelancing credentials, or even taking on a handful of small projects to get you started.
    • Remember, though, to be patient and understand that your career change might need some baby steps before you’re full time. Every individual freelancing project you do now becomes another line of experience on your résumé.
  • Be careful about overdoing the freelance gigs, especially lower-paying ones. Think of this as the equivalent of stringing together several contingent teaching positions: lots of work for little pay. Don’t undervalue yourself, and don’t be afraid to renegotiate—or even turn down—a low-paying gig.
  • Regarding salary negotiation: academia has trained us to just accept the pay we’re offered for a course or whatever; you don’t always have to do that outside academia. It’s a fine art, though, so talk to people who’ve done it successfully. Your time and experience are valuable.
  • If you’ll be freelancing, make sure you have policies, and get your clients to accept them before you do any work. The high points your policies should cover are:
    • how much and when you’ll be paid (try to get a portion up front);
    • the turnaround time you’ll need to finish a project;
    • the client’s responsibilities for getting you materials on time—as well as any late or rush charges if they don’t;
    • the quality of work you require to write, edit, or proofread (that is, clients must send you clean work that’s ready for you—not a messy or incomplete version);
    • the number of versions or drafts you’ll look at before charging more money;
    • this one’s important: exactly what work your fee covers (so you can avoid clients adding tasks piecemeal—and expecting the extra work to be free).
  • Don’t be afraid to tell clients that that you won’t start or continue the work until they meet your standards. Before I start a project, I email the clients with the project scope so (1) they can see and acknowledge it and (2) it’s in writing in case there’s confusion about something down the road.
  • Figure out how you work best, and budget your projects accordingly. Having a lot of different projects at once might seem like a fine or lucrative idea, but you might not be able to do your best work if you’re spread too thinly.
  • Ask your current clients to act as references. Always offer new (or potential) clients the chance to talk with recent ones, so they can see how qualified and efficient you are. Referrals are big for freelancers, especially in the early stages.

***

Remember: there’s a good life waiting for you outside academia.

Someone else asked in the survey about how to extinguish the inner struggle or disappointment of not becoming a professor. To this, I’d tell you to look at what’s still happening to higher ed in America and Canada: increasing adjunctification, assaults on tenure and academic freedom, neoliberal and corporate “rebranding” <shudder> of education, increasing austerity measures, legislative interference, and corruption. If your only academic future is adjuncting or a series of post-docs or VAPs in a broken system, you’re doing yourself a favor by leaving.

As a freelancer, entrepreneur, or something else in a non-academic setting, you’ll be in a field with more growth potential, emotional healthiness, and room for negotiation. You’ll also be rewarded for your experience, which will be a refreshing change in the new life you’ll certainly have outside academia.

 

Featured post

Cotton Anniversary 

It’s not the shiniest or sexiest anniversary—I’ll have to wait a few decades for that—but mid-May marks two years since the end of my career as a professor. The best & most memorable part was something a student said as I collected final assignments for my Gatsby writing course:

Well have, like, a nice life, I guess.

I laughed when she said it, and I laugh when I remember it. I probably always will. Good one, Jordan.

Here’s some of the nice life I’ve been having since submitting my final final grades in May 2014:

Freelance copy editing or proofreading fiction & nonfiction manuscripts, articles, Master’s theses, dissertations, proposals, résumés, et al. (Need me to edit something of yours? Let’s talk.);

Being rewarded for my experience—and paid accordingly (still a novel concept for someone who spent 15 years in academia);

Consulting and writing for alt- and post-acs for The Professor Is In (Need that me? Let’s talk.);

Supporting adjuncts via PrecariCorps, which I co-founded with Bri Bolin & Kat Jacobsen. We do what we can (based on donations) to support adjuncts needing money for professional or personal expenses;

Encouraging every new PhD & grad student I meet to explore career options beyond academia;  

Sharing whatever knowledge and experience I can to help others change careers like I did;

Running guest posts here (Want to do one? Let’s talk.);

Joining folks like Nyasha Junior and Rae Marie in preaching the importance of self-care in academia;

Reading…for pleasure (it’s fun);

Trying to find a home for this screenplay adaptation of Melville I wrote;

Being invited to give a keynote on a subject I wrote the book on—literally.

One more Big Life Change has happened since I last graded something: I became a parent. Among other things, it’s meant:

being a work-at-home dad to an 8-month-old boy who keeps me moving 9-10 hours a day; 

learning how to edit and write things (such as this blog post) in short bursts…sometimes with an active baby on my lap;

bragging about my son whenever, wherever, and to whomever I can.

***

With apologies for any humblebragging, here’s what I haven’t been doing in the past 2 years:

Hitting reset every academic year on the same dead-end contingent position;

Seeing my PhD grow more “stale” & “past due” <eyeroll> as I reach another anniversary of my defense (8/1/05);

Feeling an odd satisfaction in writing “was a professor” on a few academic writing projects still in production; 

Hearing well-meaning but somewhat out-of-touch colleagues telling me to “just hang in there,” “keep trying for more jobs,” or “apply for the tenure-track lines we expect to be offering soon” (this doesn’t help); 

Being not-so-subtly badge-checked at conferences;

Seeing those teaching positions vacated by Baby Boomer retirements filled by more & more adjuncts;

Wondering why I was a good enough professor to be perpetually renewed for a one-year gig…without being the right “fit” for a full-time position; 

Being a road scholar and trying to survive on an adjunct’s, er, salary <eyeroll>;

Wondering why I kept tormenting myself with false hope & blind optimism that a given year would be The Year.

There’s a lot more (of course) that I haven’t been doing, but I’ll leave that for my tweeting and occasional Storify-worthy rants.

As for what’s next….I don’t know. I’m taking things as they come.

As a parent, I’ll keep learning to roll with it as my son grows up. As a freelancer, I’ll keep copy editing or proofreading whatever my clients need done. As an activist, I’ll be hoping PrecariCorps can get steady donations to help all adjuncts who contact us. And, as a post-ac, I’ll keep watching the calendar for when my anniversary of leaving academia is something more memorable or scintillating than cotton.

Unless I want to start marketing t-shirts for post-acs. That might make my new life even nicer.

lousy-tshirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured post

Dear Unions Representing Adjuncts (Guest Post)

Here’s a short but important note from fellow activist Lee Kottner. She has some thoughts about unions, professional organizations, and other groups with conferences or meetings that are prohibitively expensive for adjuncts and other NTT faculty to attend. When I was an adjunct, I spent thousands of never-to-be-reimbursed dollars to attend professional meetings for research sharing, networking, and other things that I hoped would get me on to the tenure track.

Yes, unions have helped many adjuncts with collective bargaining, job security, and representation for wrongful termination…but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold them accountable when their events contradict adjuncts’ financial realities.


 

Dear Unions Representing Adjuncts:

If you want us to participate as equals with you, you’ve gotta be more attuned to the financial realities we live with.

Here’s what I mean: I’ve been designated by our Local’s VP (a great guy, very attuned to the problems of adjunctification) to go in his stead to the joint NEA/AFT conference in Orlando this March. Frankly, I’m thrilled. I managed to scrape together the cash to go to the Detroit national AFT meeting a couple of years ago (a process that involved cashing in all my spare change for traveling money), but my financial situation has changed significantly since then. My credit cards are maxed out and I’m behind on the payments, so all I’ve got left is my debit card. Unless we make some reality-based changes in local financial policy in the next couple of months, I’m going to lose this opportunity–which might be kind of awkward since I’m running for VP of the new national Contingent Faculty Caucus.

You see, while the national AFT is happy to bill my local for my registration fees, the conference hotel (not unreasonably) wants a credit card to hold my room. But with just a debit card, they reserve the right to tie up the cost of the room for the entire four days of the conference from the moment I make my reservation until up to thirty days after I check out. That’s a problem in a couple of ways. First of all, I’m still waiting for my first paychecks of the semester and I still have rent coming up. Secondly, I cannot afford to have $600-$800 of my own cash flow tied up from now until mid April. Not only that, but I’m also expected to pay the costs of traveling there as well.

That $100 ticket on Amtrak might be doable, but it’s a 20-hour trip. Flying is probably out of the question.

Our union local has no provisions for funding adjunct participation in the executive processes of our national union, because it was originally formed in the days when adjuncts were just that: part-time teachers from the world of commerce who weren’t fully invested faculty members. There was no need for that kind of funding structure because the majority of its members made a comfortable living and could afford to wait for reimbursement.

Times have changed.

Frankly, even new tenure-track faculty, already loaded down with debt, are too cash-strapped to participate in pay-as-you-play academic events like luncheons and on-campus conferences. It’s even more unrealistic to expect adjuncts making $24-32K/year to be able to fork over in advance for national conference expenses, just as it’s unrealistic of the MLA and other professional organizations to expect adjuncts and graduate students to be able to afford conference expenses for interviews. Get. With. The. Program.

Reimbursement does not work for us. We have no money. If you want us to come, we need funding. Up front. Since you don’t fund us up front, it seems clear you don’t value our presence or input in your comfortable, vacuum-sealed world of tenured privilege.

So if solidarity and equality really matter to you as a union, put your money where your mouth is.

No Love,

Lee Kottner, Adjunct Professor
New Jersey City University
AFT Local 1839 Recording Secretary

Featured post

Freelance Academics (Walking Away from the Con)

Today’s guest post is brought to you by two great tweeters and fellow freelancers, Elizabeth Keenan & Katie Rose Guest PryalKatie & Elizabeth are also running this piece on their own blogs, too, so pay them a visit if—or, ahem, when—you reread and share this fine conversation. They originally did this in June, but for a few reasons we’re finally running it now.

Katie first blogged about the “freelance academic” identity in the spring, and it’s even more relevant now as the post-ac and alt-ac ranks are increasing:

I’ve dumped my online academic identity and claimed one as a freelancer—even while very much maintaining a contingent post at a university. And, on the blog, I’ve stepped outside of the boundaries of acceptable academic discourse to engage in what one of my doctoral advisors called “fist-waving.” (He wasn’t using that phrase as a compliment.) In short, I’m creating distance.

Happy reading. Please, if the spirit moves you, share the heck out of this piece.

freelance


 

Freelance Academics (Walking Away from the Con)

Elizabeth Keenan & Katie Rose Guest Pryal

December 2014

Elizabeth and Katie both left teaching positions after the Spring 2014 semester. Katie has taken unpaid leave for a year. Elizabeth began working in real estate in September, while still maintaining her freelance editing business. When Joe first asked us to write this column, we were still teaching as contingent faculty—now, we are post-academics. Thus, we are both to a degree in transition, and our discussion will reflect some of this fluidity.

On Choosing a Topic

KP: Let’s write about leaving academia and trying to rebuild our lives. We could also write about using social media to help us do this rebuilding, via networking, writing, etc., if you think that could work too, since that’s how we met in the first place.

EK: Sounds good.

On Abandoning Academia

EK: I was going to abandon academia in the spring of 2013, more than a full year ago, while I was adjuncting at Fordham and Columbia. I had heard that all of the jobs I’d applied for that cycle had moved on without me—even the ones where I’d made it to the long-short list. And so I wrote a series of thank-you-for-all-your-help-but-I’m-leaving emails to my advisor and other mentors and senior faculty who’ve been helpful to me.

Then, literally two days later, I got a request for a two-day, on-campus interview at an R1 in my dream location. (My husband can transfer his job to only one city other than New York, and this was it.) On the one hand, I felt a little flutter in my heart that maybe, just maybe, the universe was finally throwing me a lifeline. On the other, I knew that I was the sixth of six candidates, brought in after a pause in the search, and that either the job was going to me or to no one.

Once I got to the interview, it was clear that my dream was never going to happen, and that the search would fail. But it was a real heartbreak to be so close to the thing I wanted and realize not only that I’d never get it, but also that jumping into a department that viewed itself as constantly in crisis wasn’t something a sane person should want. At that point, I knew I couldn’t go through another job cycle with likely the same close-but-no-cigar results.

But I didn’t leave. Another challenge complicated my extrication from adjuncting: fertility issues. My husband and I were about to do a round of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) last summer, and the doctors told us we had very good chances of having a baby. Since we believed them, and most of my friends had success with IVF on the first try, I thought I’d adjunct in the fall and then take the spring off to have a baby. Then I could look for a job outside academia at some later date. The first IVF didn’t work, but we were told our chances were still very good if we tried again. So, instead of searching for a non-academic, 9-to-5 job when I knew I’d face tons of early-morning doctor visits, I decided to stay in my adjunct position for another year.

This decision, though practical, led to a lot of frustration. I was no longer treating adjunct position as a step toward a tenure-track job. Instead, I saw adjunct work for exactly what it was: a radically underpaid dead-end job. And then I read a conversation about uppity adjuncts between two tenured folks on Twitter that set me off. So, I started blogging with “How Not to Be a Tenured Ally,” followed by “How to Be a Tenured Ally.” Suddenly, after these two posts, people were coming to my blog and contacting me over Twitter. Blogging (and tweeting, since I’m pretty much on Twitter all the freakin’ time) helped me recognize not just that I wanted to leave my terrible adjuncting job, but that I was really done with the pursuit of the ever-elusive tenure-track job and the “academic” mindset.

So, for me, leaving academia (especially adjuncting, which is a trap no matter how you look at it), wasn’t the result of one crisis, but the culmination of a bunch of them. On your blog, you mention that it took a crisis to make you finally leave. Without getting into that crisis per se, what made you know that this was the time to leave?

KP: My most recent blog post prior to our initially writing this piece, “What Does It Mean To Be a Freelance Academic?” takes on my identity-shift from someone who was very much immersed in the identity of an academic. In retrospect, my exit began long before I requested my year’s leave of absence back in May, and I should make clear, I’m still planning to return to my contingent academic job.

But I am not planning to return to my identity as an academic. I will no longer be looking at academia as professional fulfillment (even though it has been my career for eleven years). I will no longer be viewing academia as a career. Instead, and this sounds kind of funny when I write it down, the university is merely one of my many freelance clients.

Here is the chain of events that led me to request a year of unpaid leave, and then to take on a new identity as a freelance academic: On the day I was promoted to “associate”—in quotation marks, because in my department, writing faculty cannot be on the tenure track—two other events took place. My sister gave birth to her third child and Nelson Mandela died. I received the call that the vote went my way, and then I went to the bathroom of the coffee shop where I’d been working and bawled. Like, I completely lost control.

When I say that my promotion is meaningless, here’s what I’m referring to: I do not get any presumptive increase in pay. In fact, I do not expect any increase in pay. I do not get more freedom in my teaching—I will continue to teach the same course every semester, year in and year out. Absolutely no benefits accrue to this promotion except one: a contract term that is two years longer than my previous contract term. In a world in which adjuncts are fighting for any sort of job predictability at all, a long-term contract is nothing to sniff at. I know. I’ve been year-to-year.

But birth, death, and the changing the world made my meaningless promotion seem especially meaningless that day. What on Earth have I been working one-hundred-hour weeks for? I asked myself. THIS?

I got my act together, went back to teach this past spring semester, hoped my working conditions would be better, and realized, due to a variety of events that occurred during the spring semester, that my working conditions were never going to be better. I asked the dean—in a fashion that could not be misunderstood—whether I could make a move to the tenure-track. He said, in similar fashion, “No.” That’s when I realized that I’d been working 100-hour-weeks because I’d been hoping that they would let me in the tenure club.

I came home and tried to explain to my husband what I was feeling at work—the snub at the coffeemaker, the “Who are you again?” at the copier. He nodded sagely (he does that) and said, “Well, they’re not letting you be what you know you can be.” And that’s when I realized the most important thing that I wrote about in that Freelance Academic post: when you’re contingent faculty, the university is basically saying that it wants the small bits of you that will do the exhausting, draining, underpaid work while remaining at the fringes of academia. And for so long, I pushed myself so hard to try to break in, to show I was good enough to be let in from the fringes.

But here’s the con, the legerdemain, the grift, the whatever you want to call it. And you yourself know this as well as anyone, Elizabeth: it isn’t a matter of being good enough. They truly just don’t want us in the club—whether their thought process is conscious or not. They’re scared and self-conscious, and exclusivity is all they have. They have to believe in their “process” because without their process, their myth of merit, they have nothing.

As soon as I saw the academic house of cards for what it was, I wanted no part of it. It was easy to walk away from the con. It’s not easy to walk away from teaching and from students, though. I love teaching. I love students. Indeed, this love, the “calling” of teaching, has enabled the conning of adjuncts for years, as Rebecca Schuman has pointed out.

freelance hats

On Social Media and Rebuilding

EK: Adjunct/Post-Ac/Alt-Ac Twitter, more than blogging, made a huge difference in how I started to see my role as an adjunct. I started blogging about adjuncting during Campus Equity Week, which was fortuitous and partially planned. I’ve been on Twitter since 2008, but my followers were a mix of music scholars and people from geek culture acquired whenever my Twitter-famous spouse mentioned me. Discovering Adjunct Twitter was a huge part in how I could start reframing myself. How did you get looped into the contingent/post-ac blogosphere and Twitter? Have you found it helpful in rebuilding your identity?

KP: I never used Twitter at all until I left Facebook nearly one year ago (fed up with their ridiculous privacy rules—oh, and I’ve since returned, but purely for “professional” reasons ROFL). I figured Twitter had to be better, since it only had one simple setting: public. I never realized how dang useful it would be. Once I figured out how to coordinate my blog, Twitter, colleagues, and conferences, it seemed like a whole new world opened up. Adjunct Twitter—I’ve actually never used that term before, but yes—has been very helpful. I’ve needed help negotiating my precarious status in the university, figuring out an identity separate from academia, and networking a professional existence outside the ivory tower. All these challenges would have been much harder without my Adjunct Twitter network.

On Networking as Post/Freelance-Acs

KP: As I’ve shifted my identity from full-time contingent professor to Freelance Academic, I’ve gotten really brazen about networking. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how generous the Adjunct and Post-Ac Twitter communities are. I’ve emailed or messaged folks and asked for referrals or advice about writing for publications; everyone has always not only agreed but also done so whole-heartedly. I’m happy to do the same for others, I just don’t have as much pull in powerful places as others do. Maybe some day.

I do think that academia trains us to not ask for things, to be meek and wait our turns. Or to accept as our due when the spotlight only shines on a special chosen few. We don’t question the spotlight, or the structures in place that create the “chosen few” in the first place. Part of the academic con is the belief in the pure meritocracy. What a load of crap. Outside academia, good hustle is rewarded, which comes as a relief to me. I’m a hard worker (sound familiar, Elizabeth?) and I want to be paid for that work. One way to work hard is to network hard: to reach out to people, with kindness, and ask for their help.

And to always remember to repay the favor.

EK: I’m terrible at networking, in the sense that I am never sure what the boundaries are. Years in academia have led me to expect that everyone is as prickly as a tenured Ivy League professor, but, really, most people aren’t. (I’m not sure if the bias toward white men is still there—or if, in some cases, gender bias is working in my favor in the new careers I’ve been investigating.) The more I reach out to people, the more I see that the extreme kowtowing of academe is a little unusual in most places—sure, people expect (and deserve) respect, but most people are more willing to give up their time more often than I think they will.

In a lot of ways, I should be used to reaching out to people—my dissertation involved extensive fieldwork, and I’ve been a freelancer who regularly checks in with clients—but there’s something different (and scarier) when it’s about a whole, new field. It’s not just about introducing yourself to someone new, but about learning about a new industry while simultaneously pitching yourself as a potentially viable job candidate for some future position. It’s a delicate task made all the more difficult by pre-existing stereotypes of academics (we’re stodgy; we won’t take direction; we don’t pay attention to deadlines; we’re already making a lot of money), as well as real, structural issues within the larger economy.

On Shedding the “Academic” Title, but not the Identity of the Scholar

EK: So, one of the things that really struck me as we were writing this is that we’re both leaving academia in slightly different ways. For me, it’s leaving a job that I find exploitative, while giving up on the dream of a tenure-track job. But I don’t see myself shedding the “scholar” identity any time soon. I’ve got more articles in the pipeline now than at any time in my career, and I still enjoy thinking and writing about music and feminism in a scholarly way. The biggest question for me is: How do I continue to be a scholar without being an academic? Is it even possible to dream of being a public intellectual in this climate? I don’t know, Katie. How are you reframing that scholarly part of yourself as you move forward?

KP: Right now, I have one article that I am finishing up, and two conferences on the horizon. I would imagine that I would stay involved in my scholarly communities (I’m interdisciplinary), but I won’t be immersed. The hustling I will do is for me, not for professional recognition in those fields. I think that’s the main difference between hoping for success in academia and working as a freelance academic: I’ve changed the metric of success. Is my family clothed, fed, housed, happy, safe? Do I have time for them? Am I doing satisfying work to me? Well, then, that’s far more than most people get, and I feel lucky.

 

Featured post

Changes

A former academic and current freelancer who edits, proofreads, consults, and advocates. A quiet retirement in Sussex with my bees this is not.

I’m using this site as a clearing-house for my past, present, and future work, as well as a portal to others’ work. Like me, the site will keep getting better with age.

1382181_10102388107295684_705940195_n

Featured Image -- 302

Killing the Hungry Ghosts

Cultural Capital Doesn't Pay the Rent

In honor of the ghosts circling around us this time of the year and it being Campus Equity Week, albeit low key as we ramp up for 2017, Bri Bolin writes a post-ack column about her movement through adjuncting and the wisdom she has from organizing inside and out of unions. She’s a brave woman in her outspokenness and in sharing her important story early on in mainstream media. Check out the links in her bio below after you read this her great contribution to our growing collection on this site.

Bri Bolin is a co-founder of PrecariCorps, a 501(c)(3) offering much-needed financial, emotional, and professional support to adjunct faculty. She worked as an adjunct for 11 years, organized for the last five, and earned her post-ac credentials in May 2016. She will receive her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology in May 2018. You can read more about her journey…

View original post 989 more words

A Sort of Homecoming, Part II 

Part II
Last week, I shared some thoughts and memories about conference life before I made the trip.

It was…fine. I saw some old friends I didn’t expect to see, and it felt a bit like a vacation. (First time away from my son in 13 months….) No one made any critical or tone-deaf comments about me missing academia or being ready to go back to adjuncting, and I saw only kindness, no cruelty. A retired professor whom I like and respect tremendously said I seem a lot more happy, confident, and loose since he last saw me. I agreed: I’m all those things, plus more optimistic and fulfilled about my current career.

I used to get back from a scholarly conference in a flurry of excitement about new ideas, plans for collaborating with new colleagues, notes and papers filled with good things, and hopes to catch up on teaching or writing work…along with some concern about the debt I’d accrued as an unfunded adjunct. The pay-to-play system became unsustainable for me.

This time, things were different. I enjoyed being an observer–outlier among established and hopeful academics. There was no pressure to sit through panels so Professor Big Deal would see me, hear my compelling question, and remember me when I applied for a job. I didn’t have to fake being busy or otherwise occupied to miss an undesirable panel. I had fun and felt relaxed the whole time. On the middle day, I relaxed, had lunch with a Twitter friend, and went to a comic book store before attending an art show the conference had organized.

The interactive portion of my talk went well. I essentially did the Q&A portion in the middle, but I reversed the flow: I Q’d and they A’d. I asked them to share what’s next in researching and teaching Faulkner and Hemingway, as well as what their professional experiences have been in teaching writers whose reputations very much proceed them. (Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.)  To those who had read my book I asked what they felt was left out, underanalyzed, or questionable. “I can take it,” I assured them, “Say whatever you want.”

Younger and older scholars enjoyed the interactive interlude, and 10-11 people shared their ideas for new research and teaching approaches. Afterwards, a new assistant professor thanked me for doing it because “People don’t always ask what us younger scholars are doing.” There was a nice mix of older and younger scholars, MA students, undergraduates, and the general public there. About 120 people total…and hopefully some good book sales afterwards.

On the last day of the conference, I arranged an open discussion with graduate students, adjuncts, and anyone else interested in talking about academic and alt-/post-ac careers. Six people showed up: 2 older adjuncts, 3 graduate students, and 1 undergraduate who was thinking about whether to pursue a PhD in English. I directed them to this piece I wrote May for the Beyond the Professoriate conference Jennifer Polk and Maren Wood created. It was a good, eye-opening conversation. One of the graduate students didn’t know if she had the energy or desire to go for a PhD after finishing her MA; she was grateful I helped validate her feeling that she didn’t have to keep going and force it. We discussed academia, adjuncting, different career options, social media, networking, and which kinds of academics to ignore and which to heed when seeking career advice. I tried to give them the kinds of frank, open advice I never got when I was a graduate student and fresh adjunct. Part of my post-ac role is helping younger scholars and adjuncts avoid the traps I fell into: e.g., hanging on to the hope that a department will promote you, adding labor to gain experience and favors to boost your CV, or taking job advice from someone who hasn’t been on the market in 10+ years. I’d love to see more academic conferences devote time and resources to sessions on professional development, networking, and career options. Who’s willing to make this happen—regularly and meaningfully? Scholars in various fields have to take initiative to educate and support each other at such professional meetings.

It was a great experience to visit academia for a few days but have a definite exit time. I have no idea when I’ll go to another scholarly conference. Maybe never. I’ve been invited to others, but there’s been no professional reason (or funding) for me to go. Some former colleagues have meant well when inviting me to attend or participate in a conference, but “It’d be nice to see you” isn’t enough of a reason to travel across the country, spend money needlessly, and disrupt our childcare routine. Some academics—particularly those who’ve had FT jobs for over a decade—might never understand my decision to leave academia permanently. The most awkward response I got to my career change was from the Dean who attended my talk. “Hmmm, interesting…” was all he could say.

Hmmm, interesting indeed.

A Sort of Homecoming, Part I

Part I

Later this week, I’ll be attending an academic conference for the first time in 2+ years. Since then, I’ve left academia for a career as a freelance editor and post-ac consultant. I’ll be giving the keynote at a conference at Southeast Missouri State University on a subject I wrote the book on—literally. Last year, a friend from Faulkner studies messaged me to say one of his colleagues had eyed me to give the keynote at a Faulkner–Hemingway conference. After verifying that the organizer didn’t care that I’m no longer an academic, I agreed. I had nothing to lose and—for once—full funding to make the trip. It sounded like a good way to network. It also sounded like a nice change of pace.

In the past, conferences meant financial and professional anxiety. How could I afford to go with little (or no) funding? Would this talk/roundtable/panel/whatever help me break out of the adjunct ranks? How would it look on my CV? Would I get one of those rambling “questions” during the Q & A? Would I make some strong connections and network my way to a full-time professorship? How much debt was worth it for this?

Now, though, things have changed. Because I’m a stay-at-home dad, my biggest concern for the conference was how we’d handle childcare. (It’s handled. Thanks, mom & dad.) I’m looking forward to the conference as a chance to share what I know and meet potential editing clients. Always Be Connecting, after all.

I’m also expecting to—big gasp—have fun. I enjoyed writing the keynote because there’s no pressure or worry about offending someone who might be on a hiring committee some day, or whose work I didn’t mention <eyeroll>. I enjoyed showing off what I know about the writers, as well as not having the pressure to give one of those State Of The Field talks. It’s not my job anymore to (try to) take a field in new directions. 

I based the talk on one I gave in 2012, but I added an interactive section in the middle asking the audience to share what’s next in the field. I’m also asking the audience about their teaching, researching, and larger professional experiences with Faulkner and Hemingway. We’ve all experienced those long-winded, self-indulgent keynotes, and I wasn’t about to subject my audience to 45 minutes of something they can read in my book. I know it can be hard for academics—especially younger ones—to jump into a discussion and admit their struggles, concerns, or lack of knowledge. I’m curious to see how this goes…and whether the audience will jump in as eagerly as I want them to.

Like all conference-going academics, I’ve seen my fair share of kindness and cruelty when scholars get together. At my second conference (July 1999) a senior scholar bought me a glass of wine and genuinely asked about my research. A few years later, another senior scholar in the same subfield about threw a hissy fit when a graduate student didn’t reference his book in an MLA talk. His comment during the Q & A was awkward, cruel, and forgettable. I’ll never forget either instance. Nor will I forget all the rambling, pay-attention-to-me “questions” from many other scholars.

I’m eager to see what happens when I go. I won’t quite be the fox in the henhouse, but I’ll definitely be the outlier among established, emerging, and hopeful academics. If anything, I’m an independent scholar, and those aren’t always welcomed as eagerly at conferences as affiliated or pedigreed ones. Selfishly, I want some new editing clients. Ethically, I’ll do whatever I can to show graduate students and adjuncts that there are other career options besides academia.

Time will tell. Next stop, Cape Girardeau, Missouri. 

An Open Letter to Chancellor Brogan

APSCUF-WCU

Two weeks ago today, APSCUF President Ken Mash announced publicly that without a contract settlement, our union will go on strike October 19. During the press conference, President Mash made the point that among other misrepresentations going from the Chancellor’s Office to students and the press was a claim that we had rejected negotiating dates.

I wasn’t happy about the distortion and dashed off a letter to the Chancellor, to which I never received a response–not even the canned form letter other people received for writing their own letters to him. So I thought I’d post it here, to see if maybe that encourages some consideration his part. Feel free to share around if you like it, and to ignore it if you don’t.

Chancellor Brogan:

I write as a West Chester faculty member and, as you’d find out soon enough if you care, a member of APSCUF’s Mobilization Committee…

View original post 347 more words

Friendly reminder: Adjunct faculty are always members of the bargaining unit, and often full members of the union

Timely higher ed piece.

APSCUF-WCU

In the wake of Monday’s announcement that the membership overwhelmingly voted in favor of strike authorization, which is precisely what we needed to do in order to signal PASSHE that our patience is pretty well taxed, this seems like a good time to follow that good news up with a nudge that I REALLY wish we didn’t have to keep doing.

While our CBA is one of the two best (if not the best) in the country in terms of its provisions for adjunct/non-tenure-track faculty, the general membership (by which I mean US, the rank and file) is lagging behind in terms of coming to grips with the fact that our adjunct faculty are just as much a part of the bargaining unit, and thus the union, as any tenured/tenure-track (T/TT) faculty member is.

Two things are prompting me to say this:

  1. During our Strike Authorization voting last week, I…

View original post 228 more words

My (Unsolicited) Thoughts on the Writing Task Force

Polstergeist

headbang

This summer, the university where I teach has seen fit to form a Task Force (caps both necessary and utterly not) on the teaching of writing.  Some professors “up the chain” in other departments feel dissatisfied with the quality of writing they get from students who have completed at least one semester of the required first-year writing courses.  I couldn’t agree more with their dissatisfaction, yet I couldn’t agree less with their methods of trying to remedy it.  The way this has come to pass feels more like shit rolling downhill than any authentic attempt at improvement, an Internal Affairs inquiry when what we need is actual professional collaboration.

The formation of the Task Force represents how much the university cares about writing across the curriculum and in all fields, ostensibly.  So let’s take a look at the evidence of that care and reflection, shall we?

The university cares so…

View original post 450 more words