Public service announcement: ask for mentoring assistance. Don’t pay for advice.

Friends, beware of former academics peddling CV, job application, and career advice if what you’re looking for is a career in academia. They charge you money to do what your peers and colleagues are happy to do for free. I’m not going to name any names or provide any links–you know who I’m talking about.

I don’t get their business model.  Maybe it’s unfair of me, but I always wonder about the value of advice from people who have left academia.  If they’re so savvy, why did they leave?  The people who know what’s going on in academic hiring are the people working in academia now. Because most of us believe we have an obligation to help our colleagues succeed too, we’re happy to help out. Trust us, not the people who are likely to have been trained outside of your discipline who will charge you for advice or editing that may work against your interests.

I know whereof I write here.  I’ve never paid for advice, but I’ve had friends who have thrown good money away to be told by someone outside their field to write their CVs and job application letters to conform to another discipline’s standards.  No one I have met who has worked with one of these freelance academic advisers speaks highly of the advice they’ve paid for.  It always seems aimed at someone else, or it’s so generic as to be worthless.

I’ve been the recipient of loads of free advice throughout my career–some of it great, some of it less worthwhile, but as most of us find out, when you talk to a number of people and get a bunch of different viewpoints, you find the advice you need that will work for you and your style and your goals.  And because I’ve had such great senior and peer mentors, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.

If any of you grad students or early career scholars would like to see blog posts here on a topic we haven’t covered, let me know.  If you search the blog archives, you will probably find a lot of older blog posts (going back to 2008) that might address your questions, but if you have any questions, send ’em on in either here in the comments, or via email.

45 thoughts on “Public service announcement: ask for mentoring assistance. Don’t pay for advice.

    • I think it feeds on the anxiety & flopsweat of the masses of Ph.D.s, of which we have an infinitely renewable supply (both the flopsweat and the Ph.D.s) I think it also looks easier to hire a job-whisperer, whereas making contacts and developing professional networks takes time. And the for-profit advisers feed the notion that “I alone have the secret magic answers for you.” As if, in the face of a jobs crisis now 45+ years old, there’s a magic key to unlocking that perfect job for each of us.

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      • I have similar doubts about the “let us teach you how to leave academia” coaches, too. I worked with one back in the day when I left (2005ish) with mixed results. I still feel kinda traumatized by some of the (relatively standard) “one true way” advice on that front. I do NOT want to be giving people advice on how to make that transition.

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      • No, exactly: each of us can only speak from our personal and observed experience. There is no one RIGHT WAY to do something. Something else the for-profits won’t tell you is that those who succeed have the benefit of a heck of a lot of luck, because that would make you think (correctly) that there probably isn’t a magical one true secret for academic success.

        (Actually, some of the free advice you get may not let you in on that truth. There are some out there who believe the job market is a perfect system for finding and promoting THE BEST, rather than a highly imperfect and idiosyncratic sorting that tends to reproduce privilege.)

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    • Gabriel – I think they’re great. I hired one (first time!) for my newest book, and I was working with a prestigious uni press that even has their own in-house copy-editors – at the suggestion of the press! I think freelance editors can be really worthwhile so long as they know your field and its conventions.

      Freelancers offer some valuable services – I don’t mean this post to be a slam on self-employed people. It’s the drive-by career advice from people outside our fields that I’m skeptical about. As most of us probably already know or learn quickly, academic hiring traditions tend to be quite tribal and specific.

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      • Yes, I would second this. I didn’t hire an editor for book #1 but very well might for book #2. To me there is an enormous distinction between those folks and the career advice types who encourage panic. And that makes me more inclined to give them my money!

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  1. I was one of those who used Said Consultant Who Shall Remain Nameless, mainly because I’d been stuck in a lectureship for three years and felt like I’d been beating my head against a wall. The year I hired Said Consultant Who Shall Remain Nameless I’d had six initial interviews for TT positions and all six had fallen through.

    But I’m not actually sure how much the paid advice helped compared to the free advice I got from senior colleagues and peers. I actually think the best advice I got was someone who did what HR tells you never, ever, ever to do lest an unsuccessful candidate lawyer up, namely a member of the search committee gave me advice on where my job talk had gone wrong. I didn’t get that job, but the very next job talk I had landed me the job.

    In the end, I think that what helped me was not that I was Doing It Wrong earlier, but rather, that I’d had the problem of having finished grad school in 2009.

    But of course, SCWSRN feeds on the anxieties of folks who don’t feel like they’ve gotten good advice from their mentors. There are still folks at R1 schools who don’t necessarily have the skills necessary to help someone prepare for the twenty-first century job market because they did their doctoral work in the closing days of the age when getting a job was a matter of your adviser’s friend across the country phoning your adviser and saying that there was a position too fill and did he (and it was almost always a he) have anyone. But those who came of age After the Fall are still folks who landed a job at an R1, and so they’re necessarily an exception to the rule.

    I still have unpleasant memories of what amounted to spinning my wheels in a lectureship and wanting the feeling that something, anything might give me that “magic bullet.”

    As a result, these days I usually tell my students not to go to a PhD program unless they’re independently wealthy, have a professional spouse and a marriage that they’re confident will survive, or are simply happy spending six to eight years of their lives getting a PhD and then not finding an academic job at the end.

    Okay, I’m just sort of rambling now, but this is an issue that’s still sort of personal to me.

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Andrew! I have friends who have done this, and who think that SCWSRN’s advice was objectively worse. That is, ze suggested all kinds of edits to CVs and job letters that had to be undone again after the better FREE advice from people in the know came to the rescue.

      I’m really glad you found your place in your profession, and yes, I’m sure that your big “mistake” was graduating in 2009. And I’m glad to see you’re interested in paying it forward by participating in this conversation.

      I think it’s the exploitation of fearful people that chaps my butt the most, but the advisers who aren’t serving their students well are also to blame, for sure. (That said, if you don’t like the advice you’re getting, keep asking. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get different advice–sometimes, it’s best to buckle down and take advice we don’t want in the service of a larger goal.)

      For people seeking tenure-track faculty employment, realize that you may get a dream job, a dream relationship, and a dream location, but the best most of us manage to get is 2 out of 3. You will have to sacrifice something you value. I see more & more job seekers refusing apply for jobs in places they deem undesirable, but I think that’s a huge mistake if you really want to maximize your chances at a job. (And a lot of people move on to a better job after 2-6 years, so why not you, too?)

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      • The funny thing about the notion of the ideal position is that most of us–yes, this is a generalization and therefore false–coming out of grad school assume the ideal position is at an R1 or a tony SLAC. I turned out to actually really enjoy both regional southern state schools I actually ended up teaching at, though. The history majors are often particularly motivated, passionate, and thoughtful, and in my current position, there’s a strong sense of collegiality and community among faculty. Yes, there are challenges that you don’t have in an R1, but on the whole, I think that one thing that it’d be useful to show grad students that even if you’re not at University of X or X State University, you can still have a great time.

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      • Totally agree on 2/3, but I don’t think moving on from the “starter job” is nearly as common as it once was. There are so few jobs period, at least in some fields, and even fewer that offer either better working conditions or a better location. I’ve watched many, very accomplished colleagues try to move for years on end, applying widely and losing out to cheaper new PhDs over and over, until the tenure clock ran out and the supply of new jobs at the asssociate level disappeared entirely. Blooming where you’re planted or finding another career seems like the more realistic choice for many people.

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    • I’ve read some columns on SCWSRN’s site (and, at least judging from my limited recent experience with the job market — which at this point mostly consists of reading materials and hearing job talks from candidates at my own institution — have felt that there are definitely discipline-specific nuances which are being missed), but that’s about it.

      I do, however, understand the hunger, and the perceived need, for outside advice. My own primary advisor (20+ years ago) fit exactly the profile Andrew describes, and many of the other faculty in my department were survivors of the Ph.D. glut of the 70s (and onward), who tended to take the attitude that if taking any position and writing their way out of it worked for them, it would work for us, too. Oh, and because the program was extra-short, we were also getting advice to just finish, and all would be well; no need to publish while we were grad students. All the while there were a suspicious number of recent (and not-so-recent) Ph.D.s still hanging around the department, picking up what work they could. While there were plenty of reasons it took me as long to finish my degree as it did, dealing with the cognitive dissonance was definitely part of the burden. There really are bad (or at least distracted, out of touch, and/or in denial) advisors out there.

      However, I think the moral of that story is that it would have been helpful for me to cultivate mentoring relationships outside my department (and preferably at different kinds of schools), rather than that I needed a paid outside consultant.

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      • I’m always astonished to hear about faculty who worked any time since 1970 who believe that the jobs crisis is for other students to worry about–not theirs! So, so stupid.

        I don’t think we serve our students well when we forget what it was like to live with uncertainty about the future, in addition to immediate concerns about paying our bills. I think it’s good that I lived in a series of crappy apartments, lived without a car mostly, and had towels stolen out of the dryers of public laundromats. It helps me imagine my students’ realities now.

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  2. Can I just say, Amen?!?! Seriously.

    Most academics have opinions/advice about every.thing. re academia. A few scholars are clueless and/or offering dated advice but that’s why everyone should ask around (about completing the dissertation, your job letter, AHA interviews, campus visits, offers, (un)official t&p factors, book contracts) and go with the general consensus. I guess my issues is less with the costly gurus than with the people who seem to be looking for an expensive magical fix all the while ignoring the free, practical advice they actually DO receive from their faculty, senior faculty, and peers.

    *wall slides*

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    • Thanks so much for your comment! I’m glad you feel you’ve been well served by the free advice. And I think you’re right: sometimes we don’t like advice because taking it is difficult, or a lot more work, or both. As I said above, I see & hear of a lot of people who won’t apply for jobs in whole regions of the U.S. because they perceive them as undesirable, and I think it’s a major mistake to decline any job you haven’t yet been offered. . .but then, I am an Old, so what kind of relevant advice can I offer?

      Seeing the initial reaction to this post on Twitter today makes me feel like I should have written this post 3-4 years ago, when I first became aware of the for-profit freelance advising trend. I’m sorry to hear that many of you are poorly served by your own advisers or faculty at your own institutions–but here’s what I LOVE about academia. You can get senior scholars in your field to talk to you –it’s super-easy! Just know who you’re talking to (read their books/articles, learn a little about their careers) and ask for help. Don’t do this over email–do it at a conference, preferably at the drinks reception. You may be able to ask another friend for an introduction. It’s easy, and fun! And people are for the most part very helpful.

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      • This is great advice. I heard something similar when I was in my first year out of grad school — when you publish something, print it out, write a note to the scholar(s) whose work has most inspired you thanking them and seeing if your conference schedules align, and pop it in the mail. But even if you haven’t published, yes, senior scholars are generally nice, normal people happy to chat!

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      • mkelly–I have done that! (Only once, I think.) My more typical M.O. was to email people to thank them for a book they wrote or for a recent article. That became the basis for real friendships and mentoring relationships.

        Point is: don’t wait for senior scholars to recognize your brilliance; let them know you’re out there and that you value their good opinion of you.

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  3. I think this is sound advice for those staying within academia. But, as someone who left academia, I did hire a job coach to help me re-write my resume for the private sector. I found it to be absolutely worthwhile.

    At the time I was consumed by feelings of failure, convinced that I had no relevant experience or marketable skills. She helped me go through my experience, figure out what skills I had and what I enjoyed doing, and start to discard some of the more toxic assumptions of academic life.

    I think the key is personal advice from someone who knows the local market you’re looking for work in. I didn’t have a university affiliation at that point, so I called the careers office of my local university and asked for a referral to someone in private practice.

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    • Agree, and I’m really glad you found the help you needed. I know a lot of successful people with Ph.D.s who are brainwashed/buy into the failure narrative if they can’t find an academic job they’ll take. (And they are sometimes very poor at assessing the skills they have.)

      I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say this again, but having a Ph.D. is a remarkable form of cultural capital. But as you say, people who produce Ph.D.s are sometimes the poorest people to articulate its value outside the academy.

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  4. I think this is pretty unfair (though I share the reservations about advice developed for one discipline being imported to another—classic example is that the most prominent of these advisors insists that job talks never start with anecdotes and didn’t budge when a historian chimed in to say this was standard and expected practice for historians).

    I think it’s unfair for a number of reasons: first, the most prominent of these advisors has actually stated why they left—a combination of a hostile family/legal situation and poor fit at a particular institution. Second, given the volume of clients said advisor has, I think they do in fact have a very good sense of overall hiring trends, far better than any of my department colleagues or indeed any of my graduate advisors.

    Now I’ve used their services, and I’ve paid. I wasn’t wildly impressed, and while I experienced slightly better results after, I suspect that was a function of key additions to the cv as much as any minor tweaks in documents. I wouldn’t recommend the paid services to anyone, but I also don’t regret having paid. And here’s why:

    I was desperate. I was not getting good mentoring (and anybody who remembers my blogging from those years will remember the general drift). I was floundering on the market, and I needed to know that I’d done everything I could within the constraints of the dire situation I was in. Yes, it’s easy to say that people should reach out but when students are in a situation in which people in power are making things up about them to try to kick them out (or other gross breaches of mentoring practice), they’re often not in the mental space to trust senior scholars. Many are made to feel guilty and/or worthless for asking questions about how things work. So to pay for advice that isn’t going to come with potentially calamitous effects like bad recommendations or being told you aren’t worthy of grad school: that becomes important.

    You write, Because most of us believe we have an obligation to help our colleagues succeed too, we’re happy to help out.. I know this to be true of you, but I don’t think it’s true of most people. So while I share your concern about the business model, the lecture really should be to the many (and they are legion) advisors whose mentoring is so woeful as to produce enough demand for these services.

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    • thefrogprincess – it’s always good to hear from you! You, like Andrew above (if I recall correctly) were one of the people who graduated in ’08-’09 and faced a real challenge to remain in academia.

      I think you make a strong case for paid advice in that the seeker has a little more control. When people are really beaten down or backed into a corner, as you say, it’s difficult to ask for help or a hand up. So I understand your point about the value of getting advice far afield.

      I would still encourage grad students (IOW, poor and unemployed) to find free advice. It doesn’t have to be from your adviser or from faculty mentors at your institution–in fact, the further from your degree you are, it’s actually better to have mentors outside your grad institution to show that you’re successful at making connections and that your subfield sees you as a legitimate member of their club.

      (Also: don’t just ask faculty, even if you want an academic job. Talk to journal and book editors – they know stuff and will usually let you know straight up if they’re interested in publishing your work, and if not why not. Talk to the research directors at museums and archives–they’re really good at connecting people who are working on affiliated topics at their institutions.)

      But for folks who find themselves so boxed in, I think you make a good case for the value of paying for advice. Thanks for commenting!

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      • I actually graduated in 2011 but was on the market in 2010 when things were looking really dire. So that was certainly part of the panic, the sense that there were few jobs etc. (FWIW, in my field, the numbers haven’t really ticked upward.)

        If I were advising grad students, like you, I wouldn’t suggest that they pay, especially since SCWSRN has a lot of advice up on their website freely available as well as in print. Moreover, SCWSRN’s business has now expanded so much that they have a stable of people reading job docs, few of whom had the success in the field as the founder. I certainly can’t recommend people shell out what little money they have to work with a proxy. (I also am ethically squeamish about the rates, but that’s another issue.)

        But what’s always struck me as the major takeaway is that the size of SCWSRN’s business is truly a damning indictment of how little people feel they’re getting from their advisors/departmental mentors. For example, I never felt as though my advisor would read more than one draft of one job document a year (not even one draft of all job documents), even though that may be what it takes.

        (On another note, I’ll email you a link to the stuff for faculty success, just so you have a sense of what NewTTFaculty was referring to.)

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  5. Thank you for this post and the subsequent conversation. What are your thoughts about costly programs aimed at supporting faculty success, specifically geared towards junior faculty?

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    • I used one of these for a year, and I loved it. But I was at an institution without formal mentoring and was going through a rough time. I didn’t pay for the deluxe service, with a dedicated coach and such — just the entry-level “here is how to balance your many commitments” program. What I liked about it was the explicit focus on academic productivity AND personal life (eg how to not work on weekends). But while I was happy with the service, the creator of the business has put a lot of her advice out there for free (which I admire and which made me feel good about contributing to her business). Short answer: I wouldn’t say it was necessary, but it definitely helped me through a tough year and gave me some great strategies that have served me well. Like Historiann notes, I probably could have gotten similar advice if if just polled a large enough sample of academics.

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    • I have never heard of these programs. I’d listen to Mkelly. I also think checking in with faculty mentors at your particular institution is the right thing to do. If they say they care about teaching, *work on teaching*. If they say your teaching is good but you need to step up your research profile, *do it.* And don’t just take one person’s advice–be sure to talk to a lot of colleagues to hear what their best advice for you is. Another good source of advice can come from peers in other departments–they sometimes have information & ideas your colleagues in your discipline don’t have.

      Maybe get into a yoga class a few times a week, mostly because it will make you feel good and strong and offers the opportunity to meditate if you want to. I like yoga because for one hour I don’t have to make any decisons – I just follow directions, and I find that very relaxing! (And yoga is good for men as well as women.)

      I have to say that I’m just amazed that this is even an entrepreneurial opportunity. It’s pretty embarrassing, and I don’t even have Ph.D. students of my own! (Just M.A. students, most of whom are in Public History.)

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  6. I think there is an assumption here that if you are using a consultant, you are not seeking out help from colleagues– these are not mutually exclusive. I had an extremely hands on advisor, pretty generous department, and still sought out help from a consultant.

    I did my written materials with feedback from friends and advisor. For the fall cycle, I spent one day going hard on the letter. Unsurprisingly, the letters that were easiest to write got me two interviews. The first one didn’t go so well– it being my very first, after all, but also because it was clear that I was not a great fit. For the second one however– a total dream job– I went all in with preparations because I didn’t want to leave it to chance. I talked to my very busy, wonderful advisor a bunch but ultimately concluded I wanted some outside assistance.. As the s*** was hitting the fan in my department and I had four unique teaching preps, I did not have time to search for people willing to mock interview me when I felt I needed it just a week before my interview. Maybe I could’ve gotten this from our career center– which seems, like most campus services, oriented toward undergrads– but I was on a short timeline and I paid a consultant to do so. This far and away was the best hour I spent on my search. I have an anxiety disorder and have done cognitive behavior therapy– my mock interview reminded me of it in that it gave me some tools I didn’t have for a stressful situation. It helped me to package my experience in an effective way. I got a campus interview.

    For the campus interview, my department– still in crisis– rallied for a mock interview. My advisor and I spent a month exchanging drafts of the job talk every couple days. Friends were reading it too. When I went to my visit, I found everything I had worked on with the consultant came up in some way, and I felt really prepared for every question. I ultimately got the job.

    Did I get the job because of the consultant? Of course not. I used every single social resource I had– I haven’t even mentioned the daily texts and calls and coffee dates from friends and family that kept me going. I spent years building a CV and my scholarship and the consultant helped me highlight what I had done in a useful way. Because I was well prepared, I could focus on connecting with people. I don’t see it as profiteering. The consultant was one voice among many in a stressful situation. I am glad I can pass on what that person taught me. I felt that way even when I thought I didn’t get the job– yet another time in the process when I leaned on the massive resources of my village.

    There are lots of ways of amassing social capital– a consultant is one, and though it is certainly not the only one, I can definitely see why people with a less involved network might rely on consultants for a broader range of job market supports. I think this is particularly true for folks who aren’t coming out of Ivy League programs and have to fight harder to sell their training to search committees. Personally, I wanted to have no regrets about my performance during the process given that my ability to do my work and pay my bills, especially my student loans, was on the line.

    Nobody questioned the haircuts I got before my interview– but to put it in perspective, the cost of the hour I spent with that consultant was equal to two haircuts.

    As people capable of teaching college, I think we are capable of making decisions about what we need and figuring out where to get it. History teaches us that we can still be powerful when we are vulnerable. Support from a consultant and your community are not mutually exclusive.

    FWIW, I also retained a consultant for the negotiation process. I got three times as much in added pay and benefits as I would’ve had I relied on any of the guidance from my department.

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  7. I used a consultant and might still turn to her again, but it was for some very specific coaching in aspects of my professional life. I received not only one-on-one guidance in phone calls and emails, but some worksheets and other resources that really helped me to figure out where I needed to reorganize and refocus. Until I had that guidance, I was spinning my wheels unproductively too much of the time. Now I’ve learned ways to better integrate my teaching and research, and also how to step away from “I should always be the best teacher EVER” mentality that sucked all of my energy.

    I agree that there are a lot of us out here who are willing (and hopefully able) to help out early career individuals. It’s sometimes very hard to connect with people who have the skills, the perspective and the time. Maybe this is something I could use to restart my blog (sadly moribund because I really don’t have any focus for it at the present).

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    • That’s interesting – I had no idea about this world of paid consultants that academics use! (More of the “I can do it myself/never show weakness” mentality? But I’m glad to hear that those of you who used them found them helpful.

      Running a blog takes a lot of time. Sometimes I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to manage it. But blogs almost seem like “long-form journalism” now. I recently had lunch with a grad student who told me that reading blogs was too much trouble–but podcasts were the way to go. That kind of surprised me–most of my blog posts are in the 700-800 words, like something on the op-ed of your newspaper, whereas podcasts are usually 20-60 minutes. But maybe the key feature is that you can do something else while you listen to a podcast–dishes, work out, do laundry, etc., whereas you need to focus and read a blog post.

      Kind of sad, though, if even academics can’t spare 4-5 minutes MAX to look at a blog post! But I am finding that Twitter is killing my attention span, too.

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  8. A year or so ago, I was at a conference where career issues/jobs came up, and I said (mostly to the grad students) “You know, we all pretend we know what’s happening in the job market/higher ed in general, but I don’t think any of us really do. And if you’re advisors say they do, they are kidding you.” I had graduate students embrace me, because they have this sense of change happening that no one has a grip on. And from what they told me, faculty — at least at some of the elite and private R1s — seem oddly in denial about the changes in the world of higher ed. So I think one of the attractions of paid consultants is that they give you a sense of being in on what’s happening now, even if they really are not.

    I have used a paid editor for my last two books, and it’s really helped with the structure and the argument. . . but my editor, in addition to being an old friend, is one of the smartest scholars I know.

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    • “What’s going on” is that students/junior scholars continue to face a steep buyers’ market! And no one has the magic formula for everyone in every case, but it’s in the interests of the paid consultants to suggest they do.

      I continue to be amazed by the grad students who don’t realize what the odds are, year after year, and by their claims that their faculty advisers have never discussed it with them. (I believe the students, but it’s not like it’s a secret!) The job market has been pathetic for 45+ years. People on blogs have been writing about this since the early 2000s. Professional organizations like the AHA, the MLA, etc. have been writing about this since at least the 1980s–those of you who have been around longer, feel free to correct me if it goes back even further.

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  9. Skepticism of academic consultants giving one-size-fits-all advice seems very warranted. I can see the appeal to people who either aren’t getting the right hands-on help from their advisors/mentors, or may be more comfortable working with a “neutral” third party. But what bothers me the most based on reading the marketing materials and online resources offered by SCWSNBM et al is what seems to me a highly contradictory “professionalization” discourse: the game is random and/or rigged, and I will show you the magic rules that will allow you to win the game. It seems to encourage a combination of cynicism and faith in the rules that can be toxic to mental health. Steep in that discourse too long and you risk coming out feeling simultaneously that academia is a worthless enterprise in which one can never succeed, that there is only one way to make it in the academy, and that if you just check all the right boxes you will succeed.

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    • THIS: “a highly contradictory “professionalization” discourse: the game is random and/or rigged, and I will show you the magic rules that will allow you to win the game.” Exactly! As they say on Twitter: SMDH.

      And we all know people whose CVs are slim who manage to get TT jobs, and we all know people who are remarkable scholars who couldn’t afford to keep wailing away at the academic job market and found something else (more remunerative!) to do with their lives and educations.

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  10. I don’t know…I have had terrible advice from my advisors (in the form of “yeah, this looks fine”), and some okay advice from peers, but that’s basically the blind leading the blinder. I’ve also been in mentorship programs where the mentors more or less didn’t have time to mentor. So I’ve paid people to help me edit. I see the problematic parts, and I don’t buy all of what’s been said to me, but honestly, I think the advice has been solid and worth the money. Many of my informal mentors in the academy were on the market in much easier times and/or got appointments without going through much of a review process, and I don’t fully trust their advice.

    As to whether someone who leaves an institution is fit to provide advice about it–I don’t really see why not. My own PhD advisor never once was on the market (he’s had three positions in his career)–he was always recruited. Is he a good person to provide advice? Yes and no–he serves on committees, though I think he has no sense of the experience from a seeker’s perspective. I’m under the impression that the folks selling their experience have been on both ends, theoretically making them better-positioned to give advice than my own advisor.

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  11. I’m also curious about the gender breakdown of who seeks paid help. My sense from my department is that my male colleagues feel much more comfortable asking for more and more help from faculty, and are more likely to be given help. When I was told that I’d like help on a letter I got some general points of advice, but when my male colleague wanted help on a letter, his was line-edited. Because I’m more self-sufficient, apparently. Other female colleagues have complained about similar situations, but I don’t know if that translates into seeking paid help.

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    • That’s an interesting and disturbing observation, Sarah. I don’t know, but it certainly seems like the discourse these paid consultants are embedded in (as Ellie suggested above, “the game is random and/or rigged, and I will show you the magic rules that will allow you to win the game”) might appeal to students and junior scholars who feel more marginal than central in their professions–i.e. nonwhite folk, women in most fields, etc. The notion that faculty line-edit men’s letters while passing lightly over women’s is consistent with worldwide biases that show that both men and women invest more resources in boys/men than in girls/women, be it food, education, mentoring, etc.

      If you thought you were well-served by paid freelance editing and advising, good for you. I’m sure it works for some. I just don’t think we should be telling students/junior faculty that this is something they necessarily have to spend money on. Faculty advisers and informal mentors in the professions need to step up.

      BTW, I disagree with your characterization of peer mentors as “the blind leading the blind.” As you suggest in your other comment, faculty advice can also be of marginal value, whereas I have found that peer networks are critical sources of information and new ideas. How did I learn how to organize and write a CV? From a fellow grad student who was 2 years ahead of me. How did I learn how to approach a first-round job interview? From a fellow grad student, who set up mock interviews and coerced the faculty to join us.

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      • That’s true about peers; I should have thought that through more.

        I wish our faculty had a bit more training in helping us on the job market. Having seen how searches actually went in our department, versus what we were being told…it was two different worlds.

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  12. Without commenting on Karen Kelsky as a consultant, due to my deep ignorance on that point, I write to say I borrowed her “The Professor is In” from my branch of the public library–can’t get lower-impact than that–and found it informative and enlightened.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’ve seen said “advisor” dispense some really bad advice. Just sayin’. I’ve spent a lot of time (very happily) dispensing much better advice over email (and occasionally in person) to younger scholars. And, you know, people are all over social media and there are online writing groups, etc. Really, I just don’t get it either.

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  14. The pay-for-advice model really made me uncomfortable when I was on the job market. It honestly felt a little bit like exploitation of an incredibly vulnerable population (primarily PhD candidates, post docs, adjuncts, and lecturers who are likely making >30,000). I tried to search *the* website for information, but noticed that in 2014/5 many of the posts were taken down and put into the book which I ultimately ended up buying and then sharing with a colleague. The book itself seems like it would’ve been a good thing to assign to an incoming first-year PhD student and again a student on the job market (as it walks you through every step of the grad school process), but it cannot substitute for real-life, personalized advice. So while it might provide a nice template, I found myself relying on the (excellent) advice of my advisor and colleagues more than the book. With that said, though, many do not have that personalized advice. There are definitely not enough advisors that feel it is their duty to provide advice and assistance in navigating grant-writing or the job market. Personally, I had an amazing advisor and an excellent network of other professors who assisted me, but I watched other colleagues get ignored or brushed off. For them, these paid services really were a life-line. Perhaps there needs to be a change not only with the ability to access information but also with a general idea that it is, in fact, part of our duty to assist each other in the various stages of this process from grad school to job market to tenure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think most scholars have always thought that mentoring and networking are parts of their jobs–but clearly, for-profit advisors have found a niche for themselves. I’m still wondering who these grad advisors are who don’t mentor their students! I believe they exist–but I wonder why anyone wants to work with them if they’re so poor and unreliable when it comes to facilitating their students’ careers.

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      • Obviously I won’t name anyone, but some of the most well-known scholars in my former department were terrible with advising! In fact, there was one in particular who would insist that students go to anyone else but them for advice on anything except dissertation writing. It was shocking. For that person it seemed that they overextended themselves in both their own scholarly commitments, teaching, and in the amount of advisees they had. Another advisor whose student ultimately used for-pay services really had earnest intentions to help just simply felt like they “didn’t know how to navigate this process anymore” since it had drastically changed since their last student and when they were doing it. That to me also highlights the intensely complex nature of some grant writing or job market. This PSA is desperately needed for both grad students but also advisors to remind them that it’s important to stay abreast of what’s happening.

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  15. Pingback: More from the mailbag: how can I write a good letter of recommendation? | Historiann

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