Book Review: The Professor Is In


If you aren’t already familiar with The Professor Is In, you should be. It’s a fantastically informative and brutally honest faculty job market blog run by Karen Kelsky. But now you can get her job market insights in book form as well.

I got a chance to read Kelsky’s book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning your Ph.D. Into a Job over the past week. After briefly setting the context for why the job market is so very competitive, the rest of the book provides no-nonsense guidance on how to navigate the market more successfully.

Learn What Mistakes to Avoid

First she contrasts the most common mistakes that grad students make in application materials that flag them so obviously as grad students (read: inexperienced and ill-prepared) with the most common characteristics of a competitive candidate.

Identify Your Action Items

Then she proceeds to identify steps you need to take, depending on where you are in your grad school career. (If you are already done with your Ph.D., you may want to skip ahead as Part IV has worthwhile strategies and information applicable to anyone at any stage.)

Downplay – or Overcome – your Weaknesses

In the third section, Kelsky briefly outlines ways you can address gaps and overcome weaknesses in your experience, whether that is in teaching, publishing, getting grants, or your references.

Know What To Expect

Then Part IV is the most helpful and instructive section, as it explains what search committees are looking for and how to appeal to that in your job application materials: your cover letter, CV, teaching statement and so on.

Tenure-Track Guidance

The next 130 pages are relevant only to those very fortunate few who are lucky enough to land an interview and then a subset of those who need help negotiating the offer. Finally, the last sections provide guidance that many scores more will need: tips on how to write a grant application, what you need to know about postdoctoral appointments and how to apply for postdocs,  and finally, a brief overview of some options and guidance should you choose to “leave the cult” of academia behind.

A Note About the Tone

Sometimes when I go to her blog, even though she makes excellent points, I come back thinking that her blog is too “bitter” in tone, and her book keeps to that tone. However, be ye not naive. If you think that the job market is rosier and less bleak than the picture she paints, then you really need to start researching your job market prospects and she makes no bones about why you need every competitive advantage you can get. I get it; it can be disheartening to see just what you’re up against, but to continue to deny the job market realities only makes you less prepared to compete.

My other super minor criticism of the book is that the section on pursuing alt-ac (alternative academic) paths is not as fleshed out as the rest of the book, which focuses on the faculty track. However,  I still think regardless of what path you are choosing her instincts and guidance is sound and it’s useful for applicants to hear how different aspects of the job search – the application materials, your experience, the interviews, the job talks, the CV –  all appear to the selection committee.

The overall theme of the book is worth reminding yourself of, on the daily and that is: “graduate school is not your job; graduate school is a means to the job you want.”

I would argue it’s the means to get a job that will be satisfying for you.

 Because of her work coaching clients through the faculty jobs cycle every year, she writes from an authoritative position of having seen both what works and what doesn’t, and minces no words throughout. This book should be required reading for anyone starting grad school, but is still also useful for anyone wondering how to strengthen their faculty job applications.

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