Archive for Cautious Optimism

Advice for Aspiring Academics (in Inside Higher Ed)

Inside Higher Ed logoAttention, graduate students, adjuncts with tenure-track aspirations, and recent tenure-track hires*!

  • Always be publishing
  • Believe in and doubt merit
  • Do not define success according to academe’s terms

… and 9 other pieces of advice in “Advice for Aspiring Academics,” published in today’s Inside Higher Ed.

Regular readers of this blog may notice that this is the full-length version of a short Twitter essay from April 2014. At that time, I said I’d revise and expand it — well, I finally did!  I should also note that the original series of tweets was itself inspired by a Twitter conversation with Clémentine Beauvais. She’s since left Twitter, but if you’ve an interest in academe or children’s literature, do check out her excellent blogs, available in English and French.

Finally, everyone should peruse Robin Bernstein’s excellent collection of advice for academics.  Lots of wisdom there.

My other Inside Higher Ed essays:


*aka lecturers in the UK and Australian systems.

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Advice for Aspiring Academics: A Twitter Essay

TwitterI have long been wanting to write a general “advice” essay for aspiring academics — recent PhDs, graduate students, anyone pursuing (or considering pursuing) a career in academia. The problem is that my desire to mentor and to encourage always collides with my equally strong desire not to mislead people about how challenging (even bleak) a prospect this is. Somehow, tweeting the advice made it easier to write. Here it is.

For those who prefer to read something that is not a series of Tweets, here it is in a more typical format.

Yes, my advice for aspiring academics…

  1. Publish everything. Also: always be publishing. You should always have something in the pipeline (under consideration, forthcoming, etc.). Once it’s under consideration, you can list it on your CV. (Some list articles in progress on CV, but I only list books in progress. Both approaches are fine.)
  2. Believe in and doubt merit. Believe because it motivates you to produce, inspires you to keep going. But doubt because the vast number of Ph.Ds on the job market means that merit is not enough. Remember also that “merit” is subjective, masks privilege, and should not be trusted.
  3. Seize as many opportunities as you can, but also be selective. Pursue collaboration with others, conferences, placement in essay collections or special issue of journal — but only if these help you achieve larger scholarly and intellectual goals (such as, say, a book).
  4. Like academe itself, this advice is sometimes absurd, paradoxical, impossible. Recognize that.
  5. Take care of yourself. Exercise regularly. Sit with correct posture, etc. Do not sacrifice your health.
  6. Above all, pursue meaningful work. That is the best reason to stick with academe, despite the odds.
  7. Know also that you don’t have to stick with academe. Leaving is not failure. You’re smart and capable. You can do many things.

I will expand this into a proper essay.  But, at present… no time to offer more than this (admittedly flawed, hasty) summary.  There’s more advice on my blog, but, really, you should take a look at Robin Bernstein’s page of Advice for Grad Students and Other Academics. Lots of great resources there.

Update, 19 Aug. 2015: the full, expanded version of this piece appeared in today’s Inside Higher Education.

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Preview: biography of Johnson and Krauss. First sentence & last sentence.

Crockett Johnson, "Fun at the Post Office" (from Ruth Krauss, How to Make an Earthquake)The manuscript is still going to be cut further, but — as it currently stands — here are the first and final sentences of the book.

First sentence (from the Introduction):

When a stranger knocked on Crockett Johnson’s front door one mild Friday in August 1950, he was not expecting was a visit from the FBI.

Final sentence (from the Epilogue):

There, they will find a very special house, where holes are to dig, walls are a canvas, and people are artists, drawing paths that take them anywhere they want to go.

Is that too much of a “tease”?  Yes?  Well, OK,… here’s a tiny bit more.  Each chapter begins with an epigraph from a work by Crockett Johnson or Ruth Krauss.  Here’s the first one (from the Introduction):

            “Few stories are completely perfect,” said the lion.

            “That’s true,” said Ellen, leaving the playroom. “And otherwise it’s a wonderful story. Thank you for telling it to me.”

— Crockett Johnson, The Lion’s Own Story (1963)

So, yes, technically, the first sentence is really “‘Few stories are completely perfect,’ said the lion.”  And, if we’re going to be truly precise, then I expect the last words of the book will probably come from the index.  Since the task of creating the index will not occur until after the book has been typeset, I’m not sure yet what the final entry will be, but my current guess is “Zolotow, Charlotte.”

And now, some actual news about the book:

  • Very grateful to everyone who has suggested alternate titles.  I’ve sent my leading contenders to my editor.  Should other promising suggestions come in, I will of course call his attention to them.  When we decide on the title, I will announce the winner on the blog.  Thanks to everyone who has participated!
  • Things are moving at last.  I submitted the completed manuscript at the end of 2010.  I revised it many times, with each revision turned back by the press as insufficient.  Some issues were stylistic, while others concerned length (I cut 23,000 words).  I submitted the vastly improved final version on June 16, 2011.  As of this past Friday (August 26), I learned that it is now going to the copyeditor, who — in addition to copyediting — will help trim the manuscript further.  Earlier this month, I received an epic Author’s Questionnaire: I turned in all 25 pages of it today.  Also last week, I received (form the press) the sorts of queries that signal a project moving into the next phase.  I’d mislabeled a couple of images; three other images were at scanned at too low a resolution (and so I’m working on getting hi-res ones); there were a few questions about permissions (now resolved); and so on.
  • The above is good news, but it also means that the publication date will not be April 2012 (as I’d initially reported), nor June 2012 (as I’d next reported).  Expect the book no sooner than August or September of 2012.  Thank you for your continued patience!

And thanks to everyone who has helped!  The Acknowledgements lists literally hundreds of people, some of whom are no longer with us.  Thank you to all!

Should you have the stamina, you might wish to peruse the abundance of other posts tagged…

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Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss biography: The Text’s in the Mail

An update.  Shortly after yesterday’s blog post, my editor said I could go ahead and send it all in.  This means either that he (or someone else) will now seek places to cut or that it’s moving ahead to the copy-editing stage.  Either way, it’s off my desk until [unknown date]!

With a mixture of pride and embarrassment, Nine Kinds of Pie commemorates this (possibly) momentous occasion with some amateur photography.

The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss -- DVD featuring manuscript and all images
DVD containing the full manuscript plus all images.
The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss -- a panorama of permissions
A panorama of permissions.
The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss -- now in envelope, ready for mailing, poses for a photograph that it will later regret
Envelope (containing ms., images, &c.) poses for a photograph that it will later regret.


The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss -- manuscript at last evades grinning lunatic
Diving into mailbox, envelope at last evades grinning lunatic. Whew!

One final note: If this is indeed going into copy-editing now, then expect The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss to be published in June 2012.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy previous entries of similarly dubious merit, all concerning the Interminable Editing of The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss:


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