The Professor Is In: A Graduable Book Review


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I have been a reader of Karen Kelsky’s professional academic advice blog, The Professor Is In, for at least 4 years now. I’ve always enjoyed her posts and her guest posts but, above all, I’ve appreciated the no bullshit attitude to academia that is sorely lacking in other spheres. Because I have found the blog so useful in my own academic endeavours, I naturally said yes when offered a review copy of Kelsky’s new book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. This is where the puffpiece ends and my steely-eyed review begins.

Clocking in at 420 pages covering a whopping 60 chapters TPII, at first glance, might seem like an unnecessarily protracted tome. ‘There can’t possibly be this much ink to spill over applying to academic jobs,’ you might say. That is where you would be wrong. The book’s ten parts cover everything from the myths of academia that somehow persist in 2015 (i.e. that the tweed and cognac life of the mind-type jobs still exist–they don’t)* to navigating every aspect of searching for and applying to academic jobs and postdocs and ending with leaving academia behind like an abusive partner and striking out into other non-academic fields or forging ahead for yourself. Comprehensive? Check.

What struck me most about the book is just how well Kelsky articulates the ignorance of many established academics and universities to the struggles of the newly-minted PhDs, adjuncts, and grad students whose labour they exploit with little quid pro quo. She has a lot to say about advisors and the following passage is one that I feel many of my fellow grad students can relate to:

“Some advisors understand their advising responsibilities to end with the writing and defense of the dissertation manuscript. Other advisors who obtained their degrees and jobs in a far different era are devastatingly ignorant of the conditions of the new university hiring economy” (17)

I have many grad student friends who have advisor horror stories, but this advice isn’t really about horrible advisors; it’s really about how advisors do their jobs or, rather, how they don’t. And I think this is the main reason that paid services such as the one Kelsky offers have been successful, namely, students seldom receive the full support or advice they require to think ahead to after the dissertation. The takeaway from my reading TPII is that, yes, advisors and administrators at universities could be doing a better job. Yes, many seem willfully ignorant of the state of academic careers for emerging scholars. And, yes, even great advisors falter because they themselves often aren’t receiving the full support they require, but: grad students and new PhDs should not fall victim to the myopia of the ivory tower. For better or worse (it’s worse, definitely worse) grad students are in charge of every aspect of their academic careers and they sorely need a community of supporters and trusted mentors from both inside and outside their departments to give themselves the best shot at whatever comes after grad school.

Aside from the nuts-and-bolts advice given throughout the book (The Foolproof Grant Template, budgeting advice, how to dress for interviews, etc) the theme that Kelsky returns to over and over is that there are so many variables that are out of the applicant’s control in the world of academic hiring, we have to focus on those things that we can assert some control over when applying for jobs. Namely, the applications themselves should be as above reproach as humanly possible. This is where TPII comes in really handy. As I read through the book, I couldn’t help but feel more confident about my own abilities in applying for academic jobs. I am still somewhat on the fence about whether I want to enter the academic job market at all, but being reminded that I have at least some control over the process was refreshing to hear. Too much academic advice is polemic: ‘you’re never going to get a job’ (diffident negativity) or ‘of course you’ll get a job, you’re smart!’ (ignorant toxic positivity).

As thorough and encouraging as TPII is, Kelsky never shies away from telling the brutal truth about the current climate of academia. At times, the book’s ‘do this, don’t do that, this is wrong’ tone can feel overwhelming. This is why I would suggest reading it at intervals not longer than an hour or so at a time if you think that kind of thing would bother you. This is the part of the review where I tell you stuff about the book I disagreed with.

“If you’ve never cried before, during, or after a meeting with your advisor, something is amiss” (366)

This prescription really struck me as a bit off. Have I cried during this PhD? Sure. Was it because of something my advisor said or did? No. This is only my experience and I know many others have definitely had a good old cry because of something their advisor had (not) said or done. Maybe I’m the exception to this rule. I’m hoping not. I don’t think Kelsky is wrong to say this, though I take issue with the word ‘cry.’ It’s just not inclusive of the range of emotional expression. I think it would have been better if the sentence were worded differently. Maybe “if your advisor has never pissed you off/upset you/said something that made you emotional–in whatever form that takes–something is amiss.” It’s a little thing but it irked me a bit.

If you run into someone you just did a hotel room interview with, you don’t have to act like you are employed by an escort service and pretend you have never met them” (127, original emphases)

This soundbite is taken from the chapter on interviewing at conferences/in hotel rooms. Interviews which, from what I’ve heard, can be a truly awful experience. There were a few moments in the book that, like this one, were trying too hard to shock the reader. This was one of them. It didn’t happen enough times to make much of a difference in terms of the overall quality of the advice. I think it is perhaps symptomatic of keeping the straight shooter persona that shock moments like this appear. I don’t think the book needs trigger warnings or anything like that. In fact, if you’re looking to get into academia, TPPI should act as a general trigger warning that the modern higher education system doesn’t value you as much as it should (or even pretend to?) and if that sort of thing isn’t your bag, maybe try something else. TPPI even has a whole section on leaving the academy.

For me, as a grad student who can see at least some light at the end of the tunnel (I’m talking about a guy looking at his phone near the end of the tunnel kind of light), the thing that was most important for me was the reminder that the dissertation is just a stepping stone. It seems to me that the dissertation can rule and ruin many a grad student’s chances if they get too mired up in its perceived importance. That’s why it was nice to read:

“Nobody wants to hear about what your dissertation is. They want to hear about what your dissertation does” (80)

But the most salient advice Kelsky offers is one tiny imperative that says everything.

“Don’t accept advice at face value” (84)

So I guess this is the part of the review where I tell you whether to read the book or not? I would say yes, read the book. The setup is such that it can easily be used as a reference work. A lot, but not all, of the info in the book can be found on Kelsky’s website as well if you don’t have sixteen Canadian dollars. Oh, that’s the last thing I should tell you. Most of the advice is tailored to the American experience but much of it translates to Canada as well. We don’t have the same institutional hierarchy here (much as our ‘Canadian ivies’ would like us to believe) but we do have our R1s and whatnot so nothing is going to be foreign to the Canadian reader here.


*full disclosure: I wrote that sentence while smoking a pipe and sipping a fine pumpkin-flavoured whiskey.


Back to School, in the Flesh



Dearest Patient and Kind Graduable Readers,

It is once again autumn (or close enough) in the Northern Hemisphere, a time when Herschel backpacks overflow, ugly-as-sin Toms are slipped on eager feet, and some new internet slang will pervade campuses and perplex absent-minded academics who have ‘better things’ to do. Yes, it is time to get back to school. Today is the first day of classes at UBC and I expect all of these things and more to be happening. This academic year marks the first in two years that I will be on campus more than I’m not. I am excited to be back into the academic fold of campus life after a hiatus in the Great White North (it’s really the Mediocre White North, but that’s a story for another time).

Speaking of hiatuses, the Graduable has been on one since the spring but no more! As the scent of pencil shavings fills the air and bad campus food is shoveled out of barrels and charged at a premium, I will be blogging the whole time. So, grab your bae and YOLO on fleek. School’s back in.

Love Always,


Nat King Cole and Your Dissertation


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Nat King Cole is rooting for you.

As I was writing a conference proposal to music today, one Nat King Cole was summoned to my iTunes shuffle. The song was “The Very Thought of You” (lyrics by Ray Noble) and as Cole’s earnest soothing voice sang the words that were presumably meant for a love interest, it became clear to me that they could easily be applied to the dissertation and the unflinching hold it takes on the dissertator.

There’s plenty of talk about people doing PhDs because they ‘love’ the subject. This is not, however, the whole story. Just because you love the subject isn’t really enough to cut it. You’ve gotta have the chops to rigorously research your subject, defend it against sometimes hostile audiences, and add something new to the scholarly conversation. If what you wanted was Sea Monkeys, you’re out of luck–you’ve got yourself an exotic aquarium. And I hope you’re okay with being in a non-reciprocal relationship for a long while. Your dissertation becomes your constant companion, your bête noire. I have found that you just kind of have to let it assume control over certain parts of your brain and thinking processes. I’ve been unable to turn off my critical reading responses at will for quite some time and writing a dissertation only exacerbates this.

Let’s have a look at the lyrics for “The Very Thought of You” and see how they apply to the all-encompassing hold of the dissertation over its creator. Feel free to play the song while you read through the lyric breakdown.

The very thought of you and I forget to do
The little ordinary things that everyone ought to do
I have forgotten to do many of the ordinary things everyone ought to do when thinking and working on my dissertation: eat, be a good person. You know how it is.

I’m living in a kind of daydream
Or waking nightmare. Whatever suits you.

I’m happy as a king
When I am able to organize my thoughts and put them coherently into the document.

And foolish though it may seem
To me that’s everything
Yes, that’s what it’s really all about. On the rare occasions between bouts of intense research and hours of brainstorming and unproductive writing/procrastination sessions, there’s no better feeling than hitting ‘Send’ on a completed piece of writing. We don’t think about the feedback when we are doing this. It would harsh our mellow.

The mere idea of you, the longing here for you
You’ll never know how slow the moments go till I’m near to you
Well, we’re always near to one another. Time actually speeds up the closer a deadline is. Is that part of Einstein’s general relativity?

I see your face in every flower
Or at least in every TV show or movie I watch that flashes “YOU SHOULD BE WRITING” at me. Nobody else I’m watching with seems to be able to see these messages. I think I might have that thing the kid from The Sixth Sense had.

Your eyes in stars above
Panopticon. ‘Nough said.

It’s just the thought of you
The very thought of you, my love
Yes, it’s just the thought of you that will haunt me until I have finished and, even then, I expect to sustain long-lasting effects, though a job in my field is likely not one of them.

On Packing My Library


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My Personal Library (may not be exactly as shown)

I’m in the process of moving or, more precisely, preparing to move. With that comes boxing up one’s life into two- and four-cubic foot cardboard boxes. This is my first move in a long while where all of my possessions are in one place and I am packing each one myself. By far the most common objects I have packed over the last three days have been my many shelves of books. I don’t have any particular way of organizing my bookshelves excepting my Penguin, Oxford, and Broadview editions, which make a handsome display when placed together. Other than that, my bookshelves are fairly organized chaos with plenty of shelves double parked for want of space.

My book collection–or, rather, personal library–spans almost the entirety of my life. I don’t have many of the books I read from before my late teens (these would, admittedly, not require a great deal of shelf real estate even if I did) so my library, and hence one of the most revealing stories of my life, begins sometime around the age of twenty until thirty four. In that time there have been significant life events (births, deaths, marriages, post-secondary degrees, jobs, various moves and travel, etc) and those are reflected to an extent in the books that I have chosen to keep on my shelves. As with anyone who has any kind of degree in English, there is a complete Norton Anthology of English Literature, displayed like a battle wound next to a smattering of authors from spanning Chaucer to Atwood. Curiously, I have significantly more Faulkner than I ever remember reading. I think I may buy Faulkner books and anthologies in my sleep at flea markets, since I don’t remember buying or being gifted ratty copies of anything by him. The only Faulkner I can account for is Go Down, Moses which I read for an American Lit class in the mid-naughties.

As I packed my library I wondered about some of the books that I had acquired over the years. Many on the shelf were purchased for some course or another at university. I smiled as I packed the textbook entitled Life in the Universe, which was also the name of the course it was for. That one was definitely an elective that I suspect is more popular today with the advent of shows like Ancient Aliens and the proliferation of conspiracy theorists. As I took it through distance education, I suspect that my movements are being tracked to this day. And who was the mysterious ‘professor’ who graded my assignments, anyway?

There were a number of other, much less interesting, textbooks that I barely gave much notice to. I was much more interested in the person who used to buy those cheapo Shakespeare or Wilde compendiums? You know the ones, they look like fancy leather-bound editions de luxe with gold lettering on the spine. The only difference is the covering is actually recycled from a 1975 Chevy station wagon and the paper that is roughly the thickness of the Higgs boson* contains, of course, the works as advertised on the spine and title page except it is in no discernible order. These tomes are almost completely useless as reading copies and, I believe, are meant to stand out on the shelf to guests who will compliment you on your taste in books. So, yeah, I have a couple of those that are moving with me.

It’s remarkable how drastic the shift is from undergraduate to graduate school books. The titles of the fiction become more obscure (to my mind, at least) and then there’s theory, theory, and more theory. Theory books kind of serve the same purpose as the Shakespeare or Wilde compendiums in that when people in the know see Foucault, Butler, and Derrida peeking out from your shelves they give you a different kind of complimentary acknowledgement. It’s just as empty as the aforementioned compliment, but this time it’s esoteric so it feels more real.

I don’t think people should be impressed by the titles in one’s personal library. Apart from the fact that what books you have or haven’t read is your filthy little secret, the books themselves actually prove nothing other than the fact that you bought them and have decided to keep them. For me, the books I have chosen to keep might remind me of a moment or a person. Maybe even a particularly engaging class or place. I definitely remember reading H.P. Lovecraft on a cold rainy night in the middle of the Tasmanian winter on a bunkbed. I mean, how the hell could I have forgotten that? But more than that, the books in my library show me what changes have taken place over the years: changes in my brain, situation, tastes, what have you. I’ll probably never go back to the being the guy who buys the Penguin Great Ideas edition of Why I Am So Wise (or the guy who reads Nietzsche for ‘fun’ for that matter) or who will ever again read Richard Dawkins.

These things are all okay. When packing my library I remembered just how important it is to disavow any past incarnations of yourself. This was reified to me when I dove into a box of papers I had written as an undergraduate. I’ll make a list of some of the titles for you all some day to show you just what I mean about the importance of disavowing former selves.

I’ll probably do another post once I’m settling into my new place. I think I’ll call it ‘Unpacking My Library.’ There’s probably nothing else of note with that title already.

*If any physics person wants to let me know if that joke works at all or simply falls flat, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Those Were the Days: How Things Change from Undergrad to Doctorate


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Remember when you were an undergrad (or maybe you are an undergrad right now) and you were taking classes from all sorts of fascinating disciplines? On any given day during my undergrad I could have Philosophy, German, History, English, Sociology, or whatever and it was truly a delightful thing. I would show up and these smart people would teach me things–usually–and my only job was to absorb those things and apply them when it came time for the exam and/or term paper. University really is a great system in that way; its structure is very straightforward.

The career of an undergraduate really is a fantastic mixture of socialization and book learnin’. In the interests of full disclosure, I freely admit that I had outgrown most of the socialization we usually associate with university by the time I started at age 22. I began my bachelor’s degree as many of my friends who had gone to university straight out of high school were finishing. This was a strange feeling and it was also my first real taste of imposter syndrome. In many ways I did not have what we might think of as a traditional undergraduate experience. There was very little fanfare, let alone whipped cream, during my first semester. We all went to university in an 80s comedy, right?

Getting back to the topic at hand, what really prompted me to think back to my undergrad days was a colleague who was lamenting the pressure put on PhD students to be ‘competitive’ for the job market. That many-headed beast who is never satisfied with your accomplishments and always hungry for more. More publications. More scholarships. More networking. It’s all a real mindfuck if you sit down and give it any serious thought. As we all know, academic hiring is not a meritocracy and luck plays as much a role as any of your sweet publications (although the latter cannot possibly hurt). It’s when I began to think, as I often do, about this whole world I’ve willfully chosen to be a part of that I was reminded of a former version of myself who loved every minute of the university experience.

This is not to say, however, that I don’t love what I’m doing. I don’t think you can do academia very successfully if you don’t have at least a bit of love for your work. I guess the stage I’m at right now might be what I’d call ‘old love.’ I love my work the way grandparents might love each other: they’re not giddy about it and rolling around in the back of a Studebaker anymore, but they really can’t imagine a life without one another. Back when I was an undergrad I was like that old photo of your grandfather with the Bogart hairdo and smart jacket. My classes were your grandmother with ruby red lips and risqué form-fitting dress and, boy howdy, were we mad for each other. It continued on apace for the entirety of my four year degree and, by the end, it was still quite something but perhaps with the luxury of a little maturity and experience.

Studying as an undergrad meant that you would never leave campus without knowing much more than you did when you arrived that day. Study, attend lecture, study some more, have class discussion, exam, term paper equaled one learned young man. After undergrad I did a teaching degree, but we’ll kindly avoid that subject. My education degree, if we’re sticking with the grandparent metaphor here, is the period they don’t like to discuss but nobody really knows why.

The master’s degree was very much a study, attend lecture, class discussion type of affair except that this time the stakes were much higher in terms of what was expected to come out of our mouths and brains. This is not even to mention how much more specialized the subject matter was. Master’s coursework allowed me to fill in the gaps of my broad knowledge in English. Still discovering things and reading widely and voraciously, at breakneck pace. This is when your grandparents first had your mum or dad and every day was a struggle, financially and emotionally, but they wouldn’t have traded it for the world. In a lot of ways, these were the best days of your grandparents’ lives and they learned a lot about who they were.

Finally, we get to the PhD. This is the point when your grandparents have begun establishing themselves. Maybe your grandpa smokes a pipe now. There is a comfort level and a feeling like everything will probably be okay. There’s a clear path to success, you just have to be sure to make something out of what you’re doing. At many points during the process it is frustrating, the kids are misbehaving, and your relationship seems strained. Expectations become more nebulous as you fall into a routine that is not actually a routine and you sometimes wish you could just get back into that Studebaker and let nature take its course. That was a lot of fun, but you realize that you can’t really ever go back and that’s okay, except when it’s not.

As the doctorate presses on, it is a given that you love your thesis topic but maybe you don’t buy it flowers much anymore and wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do was show up? Sometimes, when I think about what it was like to be an undergrad student, attending lectures and being let into the seemingly secret worlds of the disciplines I studied I can’t help but play this in my head:

The Gay Past and the Intellectual Historian


by Emily Rutherford

In the papers this week was the news (slow, it seems, to come to the mainstream media’s attention) that, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, University of British Columbia graduate student Justin O’Hearn helped to fund the UBC library’s purchase at auction of two rare 1890s homoerotic novels, Teleny and Des Grieux. Teleny, a story of a love affair between two men which includes explicit sex, has been reprinted in modern editions and is fairly widely available to researchers, but Des Grieux, a sequel (the title refers to Teleny‘s protagonist) hasn’t and isn’t. O’Hearn’s campaign was spurred by his intention to edit a critical edition of the text and to incorporate it into his dissertation.

Unless specific circumstances caused anglophone sexually explicit/pornographic novels of historical importance to be reprinted in twentieth-century (often badly-made, pirated) editions, they tend to languish, sometimes only in…

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Teleny and Des Grieux Media Roundup


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Des Grieux Exhibition Poster
 As you may well know, last November I saw an extraordinarily rare book that had been hidden away for over 100 years being auctioned off at Christie’s and decided I needed to try and buy it. So, I began a Kickstarter to help that effort and, long story short, that book and its companion now have a new home at UBC Rare Books & Special Collections. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here are some things to bring you up to speed.
Now, if you’ve read this far, chances are you are up to speed on this story. This is the place I’ve decided to round up all the media attention this acquisition garnered. I’ll be penning a much longer blog post very soon about the whole process, but this will serve as a placeholder until that happens. Oh, I also made a Storify story. I like to think of Storifies as a quilt made from a bunch of tweets. You probably didn’t need to know that.
Also, if you’re in the Vancouver area you can actually see these books and many other stupendous examples of decadent publishing at UBC Rare Books & Special Collections. Until January 31.
The Guardian [January 19]
UBC Press Release [January 12]
CBC Online [January 13]
Global BC TV [January 14]
Georgia Straight [January 14]
Daily Xtra [January 20]

Kickstarter Update: That’s It, Folks!


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So, in case you haven’t heard already…WE WON! Not only did we win Des Grieux but we also won one of only five first editions of Teleny. The supporters of the Kickstarter campaign (each and every one my personal hero, listed below), everyone who shared the project on social media, and my home institution, UBC, made this a reality. With UBC’s backing we were able to make sure that two extremely rare works are preserved and available to researchers and anyone with an interest.

The bidding was intense and I don’t know if my 33-years-young heart could take the suspense again (what am I saying? I’d do it all again tomorrow). Stay tuned for another post that’ll have all the gritty details. The highs, the lows, the auctioneer who was clearly amused at some of the auction items!

For now, I just want to say thanks again. As you scroll through the names of this project’s backers, please keep them in mind as you celebrate Thanksgiving, even if you’re not in a country with Thanksgiving next week (see: every country but one). Also, if you ever meet any of these people, you should buy them an ice cream. I’m hoping to buy a lot of ice creams. Spoiler alert: my next Kickstarter will be to raise money to buy ice creams for Kickstarter supporters.

Thank you!


  • Lucia Lorenzi
  • Natasha Chang
  • Brycen Janzen
  • Stewart
  • Lauren Perchuk
  • Steve Hahn
  • Nico Dicecco
  • Will Matheson
  • Xantasm
  • Daniel Helbert
  • Liz Turner
  • Michelle O’Brien
  • Marco Galvani
  • Charles Knight
  • Megan Brett
  • Alex Griffin
  • Tim Cassedy
  • Ted Whittall
  • Betany Koepke
  • Judith Scholes
  • Sandra Arnett
  • Serina Patterson
  • Aron Horvath
  • Amol Verma
  • Christopher Scott
  • Mark Klassen
  • Sarah Taylor-Harman
  • Noelle Phillips
  • JB
  • Gillian Kirby
  • Angela Caperton
  • Iago Faustus
  • Graeme Rigg
  • Alison Hurlburt
  • Les Vogel
  • Mark
  • Sebastian Melmoth
  • Rebecca Dowson
  • Kristen Stubbs
  • Glenn Willen
  • Jennifer Ferguson
  • Megan Rector
  • Alison Traweek
  • Kyle Carpenter
  • Lawrence Reeve
  • Meghan O’Neil
  • Mary Corbett
  • Ian Pettit
  • Heath Wood
  • Jack
  • Faye Wang
  • Ann Gagne
  • Katie
  • TR
  • Keith Preble
  • Adrian M.
  • John Williams

Kickstarter Update, Day 8: That Time We Won the Auction

With the help of all the supporters of the Kickstarter campaign and UBC Rare Books, we were able to obtain not only Des Grieux but also the first edition of Teleny in the Christie’s auction. I can’t even tell you how excited I am right now. Excited and grateful. Thank you to everyone who supported, backed, and shared this project. None of this would have happened without you all.