Book Review: The Professor Is In – The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into A Job

The Professor Is In Book Cover

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The essential guide to turning your Ph.D. into a job!

When I was offered the chance to review a book with that subtitle, just weeks before I was to receive my Ph.D., I jumped at the chance. Dr. Karen Kelsky wrote this book after spending time in academia as a tenured professor and then department head, later leaving academia to start a writing and consulting business focused on helping newly-minted Ph.D.’s with the academic job search. She’s been blogging at The Professor Is In since 2010. The blog inspired the book, and about half of the content is available on the blog. I’ll link to relevant posts from this review.

For me, reading this book was like peeking through a window into an unknown world—the quest for a job as a tenure-track faculty member. I am not the target demographic for this book. While yes, I recently completed my Ph.D., I have no more than fleeting aspirations to join the academy full-time. Once in a while it sounds like a cool idea, but I know that shared governance, tenure expectations, and a stuffy office in a basement somewhere on campus are not really what I seek. I’m more apt to develop my personal research agenda on the nights and weekends while holding down full-time employment. Basically, I’m flirting with academia. But dang, do I have a new appreciation for those of you that pursue this career path. Dr. Kelsky paints a pretty bleak picture of today’s tenure-track job market. This makes her a polarizing figure. While reading this book I mentioned it to some faculty friends of mine, and responses ranged from, “OMG I love her!” to, “Gosh, it’s so interesting that she makes a living steering people into the occupation she hated enough to abandon.”

While some of the writing in this book may be a bitter pill to swallow, I’m guessing it’s much closer to the truth than a fantasy (or horror story). The first passage to really draw me in is a good example of the tone of the book.

“They [graduate students] rest all their hopes in the completed dissertation as a magical talisman of scholarly success, unaware that it is scarcely more than a union card—the bare minimum proof of eligibility to apply for the rapidly disappearing jobs that allow for continued scholarly work.”

Ouch. I’m glad I spent five years birthing my 200-page baby we call my dissertation.

High Points

The doomsday tone didn’t make me give up, however. Although it took quite some time to get through the 400+ page handbook for academic employability, I found quite a few tidbits and resources that are helpful for any doctoral student or Ph.D.-credentialed professional, particularly those that work in administrative roles in higher education. I know a lot of my readers fall into that category, so here are a few things I marked with sticky notes to pass on to you.

  • An example 5-year plan to research and write the dissertation while simultaneously presenting and publishing
  • How to develop a professional “campaign platform”
  • How to continually build an impressive CV
  • Rules of the academic CV (a very long bulleted list)
  • How to write a dissertation abstract
  • Prepping for conference interviews (while geared towards faculty, they could apply to other professions that utilize conference interviews)
  • Negotiating salary (including a sample email)
  • Grant proposal template
  • List of 100+ skills that transfer outside of academic life at the university
  • 5 differences between the academic and entrepreneurial mindset (p. 414)
    1. Academics move slow; entrepreneurs move fast.
    2. Academics study problems; entrepreneurs solve problems.
    3. Academics function in constraint; entrepreneurs create possibility.
    4. Academics focus on patterns; entrepreneurs focus on exceptions.
    5. Academics loathe promotion; entrepreneurs live to sell

Low Point

Ignoring the general tone of despair (which I honestly could ignore and would take head-on as a challenge if I was about to embark on this journey), the biggest disappointment of this book for me is the lack of attention paid to finding non-academic employment post-Ph.D. Just 35 of 420 pages are dedicated to this topic. If the job market is as dismal as Dr. Kelsky portrays it, many readers will need to pay close attention to that section.

Who Should Read The Professor Is In

I would recommend this book for any Ph.D. student that is still completing their coursework and wants to develop a research agenda—whether that includes a tenure-track search of not. I read the book just as I was defending my dissertation, and the biggest thing it did was reinforce the notion that I would not be a competitive candidate for a tenure-track job. It also, however, inspired me to sit down and outline three articles I could produce from my dissertation (I just need to write them!). The Professor Is In would also be a good read for people considering pursuing a Ph.D.

I must warn you, this book is a beast. It’s over 400 pages of solid text. However, it can be read in bits and pieces depending on what chapters interest you. I managed to read them all, but it took me quite some time.

What Do You Think?

If you’ve read this book, what are your thoughts? Have you found any of Dr. Kelsky’s blog posts helpful? Does this surface additional questions related to pursuing a Ph.D.? That’s what the comments are for—have at it.

I was provided a free copy of this book in September 2015 in exchange for a review. Five months later … here it is!

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