The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. (2015). Karen Kelsky. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 448 pp.
Review by: E. Zach Morales, Ph.D., Academic Advisor, Center for Latino/a Studies, Wayne State University
During my time in graduate school, I studied alongside doctoral students who were committed to building careers outside academia, such as museum curators, clergy, supreme court clerks, or office directors in the federal government—in addition to those pursuing tenure-track faculty positions. Thus, from the title, I initially believed the book The Professor Is In was a guide for students interested in career opportunities outside academia with a doctoral degree. While the book briefly discusses this topic, it instead focuses on the best practices of acquiring a tenure-track faculty position in the humanities/social sciences. The author Karen Kelsky, Ph.D., is a former tenured professor and department head who left academia and founded “The Professor Is In,” a blog and consulting business that prepares graduate students for the professoriate. Her insightful articles are featured on The Chronicle of Higher Education website (chronicle.com), and the book offers more in-depth details than the blog.
Kelsky begins by describing a retirement party for a senior faculty member. During toasts and speeches about the faculty member’s past academic achievements, Kelsky turns her attention to the hopeful graduate students in attendance who look forward to the day they reach the same status. “Nobody will tell them that they are wrong,” Kelsky bemoans (p. 3). AAUP reports that 70 percent of all teaching positions are contingent. With state budgets for higher education decreasing and tuition prices increasing, few tenure-track positions are available in comparison to the number of adjunct instructors and doctoral students in the humanities/social sciences. In response, Kelsky’s book presents proven pathways to attain one of these coveted tenure-track positions.
The book is thoughtfully organized into 10 parts with a total of 63 chapters. Each part describes the best practices of building a competitive record, networking, interviewing, and negotiating job offers. In turn, each chapter offers about 4-7 pages of practical advice on a specific topic. The book also provides resources including grant templates, academic plans, samples of successful job applications, and insight into the hiring process. For example, in “Job Documents that Work,” Kelsky reveals an insight on hiring committees: “They want not a peon but a peer. A collegial, pleasant, and courteous peer, to be sure…” (p. 39). Therefore, she advises that students need to navigate the delicate balance between sounding invested and sounding desperate, focusing on their achievements rather than emotions.
Kelsky’s recommendations align well with NACADA’s core value of empowerment and integrity. For example, she dedicates several chapters to how to find, and how to be, a good faculty advisor. To students, she urges, “You need to surround yourself with those who, from a place of care, push you far outside your own complacent comfort zone” (p. 366). To advisors, Kelsky promotes telling the truth in this high-stakes career: “You empower your students when you tell them the truth. Even when the truth is hard and disappointing [sic]” (p. 368). Her advice supports NACADA’s core competency of relational advising, where advisors create rapport and foster student decision-making and goal setting. This empowers graduate students to assess their own candidacy for the job market.
For students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the humanities/social sciences, this book is an in-depth manual on how to acquire a tenure-track position. While many of the strategies may not be applicable to other fields, Kelsky’s blunt honesty is sure to appeal across disciplinary boundaries.
Background Facts on Contingent Faculty Positions | AAUP. (n.d.). Retrieved January 14, 2019, from https://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts
Kelsky, K. (2015). The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.