If you are a graduate student and you want to get a job in academia, then you need The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. into a Job. Also, if you’re a graduate student like me, and you might be interested in academia but you really have no idea what kind of a job you’re heading towards, then this is still a really useful book.
The author, Karen Kelsky, Ph.D, is a former tenured professor who left academia and founded The Professor Is In, a website and counseling service aimed at helping Ph.D. students land jobs. Her book is a no-nonsense approach to navigating grad school and the job market. Published in 2015, the book is still relevant and full of useful tips and advice on how students can help themselves. (It has helped other GradHackers as well.)
She knows the job market is tough. She knows that advisors don’t always help, or may not even know how to help. What do you do in such tough circumstances? Her answer is simple: "Have your own back. Protect yourself" (28). And this is Kelsky’s aim and purpose: to teach us graduate students how to advocate for ourselves.
To achieve this, she is blunt and matter-of-fact in her advice, and she does not coddle the reader. For example, on the subject of Ph.D students who didn’t publish because their advisors never told them to:
Nobody told you to publish? Really? You really never once grasped after eight years in a graduate program, reading hundreds of refereed journal articles a year, that publishing a refereed journal article on the subject of your dissertation might be a thing you'd need to do? (43)
In this excerpt, Kelsky points out what students are doing wrong, but she doesn’t dwell on this criticism. She understands that graduate students are struggling with the insecurities of being in an uncertain position where their professional needs and concerns are often downplayed, ignored or worse, and she genuinely wants to help.
She points out what students are doing wrong, but most importantly, she then gives explicit instructions for how students can address these weaknesses and work their way to success:
You are the expert. You are in command. Perhaps you haven’t taught the intro course before—that matters not. You prepare, so that you can speak about how you will. When speaking of your research, reject the temptation to harp on what you ‘still need to address.’ Focus exclusively on what it does achieve. Embrace the positive. (43)
The Professor is In covers everything from teaching, writing grants, and attending conferences, to tailoring cover letters, interviewing for jobs, and negotiating an offer. She even includes sections on spousal hires, how to maintain an online presence, and what women should do if they are pregnant while on the job market.
I recently interviewed for a position at a university, and I can honestly say that I would have performed very poorly in my interview if I had not read the chapters on how to answer interview questions and what questions the interviewee should ask. For example, I was prepared to ask great questions, questions that made me stand out, ones better than “What are the benefits?”
Though the book’s subtitle, "Turning your Ph.D. into a Job," appears broad at first, the book is actually focused on one specific type of job: a tenure track position. I was surprised at this, especially after reading part one, which is titled “Dark Times in the Academy.’ Part of the reason I picked up this book was because I thought it would help me explore jobs outside of academia, but that is not really its scope. Given that the author starts her book with facts and figures showing the decline of the academic job market and discusses her own decision to leave academia, I did not expect her to spend the next 300+ pages discussing how to get a job in the very same field she left.
Despite this mild critique, The Professor is In is full of valuable advice for any graduate student, regardless of what their ultimate career plans are. Though the author is from an anthropology background and writes more for humanities Ph.D. students, I still found several sections useful as a STEM student, particularly the section on how to write an effective dissertation abstract. Even if you just skim the book or only read the chapters that interest you, you’re still bound to learn a lot and be tempted to read more.
Not only do I recommend this book, but I also suggest checking it out sooner rather than later. Your professional development is worth the effort.
What books have helped you in graduate school? What would you recommend to your younger self? Tell us about it in the comments!