Getting Hired with a “Useless” PhD

This post is a followup to a previous one in which I talked about the skills people with “useless” PhDs have in work outside the academy. But how do you get a job outside the academy? That is trickier. There is no secret formula. Mostly a lot of persistence and luck. Still, there are some things academics can do to make themselves more attractive to a potential employer.

Write a Resume

Academics have things called a curriculum vitae. The vitae is sometimes described as a resume for academics, which is sort of like saying that the Easter bunny is like Santa for the crucifixion. It maybe makes sense if you think about it sideways for a bit.

The fact is that a resume and a vitae serve two completely different functions. They are two different genres. One is slam poetry. The other is supernatural romance. The audiences for each tend to have rather different expectations.

  • Vitae: A comprehensive list of all intellectual accomplishments.
  • Resume: A selective list of skills and experiences.

Think of a resume as a selected bibliography of the elevator pitch of your life. So to know how to organize it, you need to start with your story.

Tell Your Story

“Tell me about yourself” is going to be one of the first questions you are asked at interview, and it is one you must anticipate in your resume and cover letter if you even want to get there. Your story should have three parts.

  1. Where are you from? Keep it simple. Identify two or three dominoes that knocked you into the present moment.
  2. Where are you now? Keep the focus on your skills and personality. This is a story about you, not your research.
  3. Where are you going? End your story in the future. In 5-10 years, why will “future you” be happy they had this job?

Be careful not to belabor the last point. Employers want to know there is something at stake for you beyond the paycheck, but you don’t want to come across as too self-interested.

Be Relatable

Nobody is hiring your brain. They are hiring you. Academics, especially junior ones, spend a lot of time trying to prove to others (and themselves) that they really are pretty smart. Avoid that. Your employer knows you are smart. If anything, you need to overcome the stereotype of an aloof intellectual. Be yourself (use words like “aloof” if they are part of your vocabulary), but resist the urge to posture. And avoid the temptation to geek out once conversation turns to your research, which it will.


At interview, you will be asked about your research, either what it is or why you got into it. Again, do not geek out. I mean, you can geek out a little bit. Passion can be compelling. But keep the focus on you and your skills. For example, I study religion, which means I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to understand one of the predominate forces that shape human behavior. (See what I did there?)

You can also talk about the skills your research gave you. If your current job is “grad student,” then you read several hundred pages of difficult text a week, write and present at conferences, teach and mentor new students, and work across departments to bring your dissertation to committee.

Watch Your Face

This is just an observation that may turn out to be rather controversial, but I have found that academics tend to have more transparent faces than others. They spend a lot of time looking away as they think, furrowing their brows, or demonstrating obvious incredulity at the asinine observation of a peer.

Either way, though, be mindful of what your face and body may be communicating. That is just good advice in general. All I am saying is that, if you are an academic, you may need to be especially mindful of that. The academy is a place of often friendly combativeness, but that culture does not translate well to other contexts.

Be Persistent

The trick to getting an interview is like the trick to publishing: overwhelming volume! Apply everywhere for as much as you can get. Employers (not unlike Reviewer 2), are sometimes fickle and distracted. Apply again. And again. And again.

Getting a job is as much about timing and luck as it is skills and qualifications. For my current job, I happened to be the right individual at the right time for a position that was very high need. Yes, I was qualified. But I was also lucky. Employment is half-serendipity.

When it comes to job sites, I have found personal success with ZipRecruiter. Your main goal is not to get the job. It is to get to interview. So any site with screener questions is going to work in your favor, especially if you are a half-decent writer.

Settle, But Don’t Settle

You may need to take a “gig” that is short-term and pays less than you are worth. You should definitely negotiate for the highest wage you can get, and you must be willing to walk away from bad deals. On the other hand, know that an employer is taking a risk when hiring you. There are people above me looking at how much I am paying the people below me. I prefer to hire for potential and train for competence. Most employers are going to be conservative if they have any reservations about you, but a reasonably competent boss is always looking for people to mentor into leadership roles they know they will eventually need to fill.

If you decide to take a job for less money than you would like, be upfront about that. It will not hurt your chances. If you want to move into leadership, be upfront about that too. Small opportunities can lead to bigger opportunities. You may have to start from the bottom, but the more work you do the more possibilities you create for yourself to gain meaningful, long-term employment outside the world of academe.

Five Reasons Why Mike Pence is the Author of the NYT Letter

A number of individuals have speculated that Mike Pence authored the anonymous New York Times letter about a dysfunctional White House and president because of the use of the word “lodestar,” a favorite of the VP’s. But I thought it might be Pence before that was ever pointed out to me.

Reason One: The letter is gutless, and so is Mike Pence. He has shown himself more than willing to back away from his own deep moral convictions in the face of public pressure. Mike Pence is a coward. Anonymous whistle blowers are not cowards by default because they incur risk to themselves and their family’s livelihood, but in this case we are dealing with a rich and powerful person who worries about becoming less rich and powerful. That is cowardice.

Reason Two: The letter depicts a cabal of the righteous, which is basically how Pence’s Christian Dominionist political philosophy operates. (If you are not familiar with this philosophy, it is basically the backstory to the Handmaid’s Tale.) The author of this letter says he wanted to avoid a Constitutional crisis, but are clearly already in one. Stealing things from the President’s desk is not how democracy works.

Reason Three: The letter is written by an ambitious machiavellian, and that is more or less how those who have worked with Pence describe him. Pence’s political career was over before Trump plucked him out of the Hoosier state to make his campaign more palatable to the Evangelicals. And Pence has been fine whoring out those bona fides to launch into power a man he, in all likelihood, knows is unfit to lead. Why? Because it gets Pence closer to power too.

Reason Four: The letter is written by someone who is morally compromised, and Mike Pence is morally compromised. Again, the fact that he has to defend a scoundrel, and indeed not only defend but sell him to the American people is proof enough of this fact. The letter reads in part like an individual trying to convince himself that he really is doing the right thing, which of course means the author knows he really isn’t. We do not have to convince ourselves of what we already know ourselves to be doing.

Reason Five: This letter is self-righteous, and so is Mike Pence. The anonymous author depicts himself as a quiet hero for the American people. “Don’t worry, America. Trump is a morally bankrupt person. But there are moral people working behind the scenes. Moral people like me, Mike Pence.” #PresidentPence2020.


Enough with the “Guns Are Like Cars” Analogy! You’re Embarrassing Yourself!

If you want proof that opponents of gun control live in an ideological bubble, take a look at Exhibit A:

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 5.39.23 AM.png

Only people who limit their conversations to like-minded people would think this meme is clever, because it only takes a half-second of critical thought to trace the logic of this argument. If guns are like cars, then here’s what that would mean:

  • People could only use guns if (1) they were of a certain age, (2) passed a written exam to get a gun-learners permit, (3) spent several hundred hours on the range with a licensed gun owner, (4) and had to pass another written exam and (5) a gun-use demonstration with an official county representative before being granted a gun license.
  • Gun licenses would need to be renewed every few years.
  • The state would set limits on firing rates and police would hide at gun ranges and fine those who fired too quickly or who used their gun carelessly.
  • Judges would be able to revoke the gun licenses of those deemed unfit to use them.
  • Guns would be subject to federal safety regulations.
  • Guns would be subject to annual county excise taxes to cover the cost of licensing them.
  • Gun owners would be required to pay insurance on their weapons in the unlikely event of property damage, injury, or even death because of a firearm.
  • Guns could not be fired without being unlocked by their owners.


Dang! Not even the #marchforourlives folks are calling for such strict regulations. I applaud the US Concealed Carry Association for taking such a firm stance on common sense gun control legislation. If only every gun ownership group were as progressive!

Arm the Teachers! Are You F*@king Kidding Me!

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 4.56.26 PMTake a look at this cartoon! We are pretty much the only country in the world seriously talking about turning educators into a freak’n swat team. What the hell, America? What. The. Hell?

Check out the steely-eyed gaze of the teacher, presumably staring down the assailant just off frame. That is utter bullshit. It says a lot about the ignorance (or malevolence) of the cartoonist. At least the person posting this acknowledges that it is not enough to arm teachers. They must be trained. But in order for that training to be effective, they would need to train the way military and police do. It is not enough to spend a few hours at the range. When the bullets start firing, the reptilian brain takes over. One becomes all fear and adrenaline. Police and soldiers drill the same procedures over and over again because they know that that is what is essential to survive in a crisis situation. During a firefight, when life and death are on the line, pulling the trigger needs to become a reflex. You need to bypass the brain altogether. A lot of people seem to have bypassed the brain permanently.

Let me just remind everyone again of how ridiculous this is.

I am not sure what can be done about it, though. I wish I knew. After Sandy Hook, I thought we had a chance to pass the kinds of gun laws that work in every other country. I thought maybe the gruesome mental images of children bleeding out, calling for their mommies, would galvanize some people into changing their minds.


If anything, conservatives just got more radicalized. At a state, local, and national level, laws have been passed that make it easier for people to purchase and carry weapons. The reasoning is that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. When is that going to start working, exactly?

Right now I am just angry. Cynical and angry. This is not a good place to be long term. But it is where I am right now. How do you have a discussion with someone who values their ideology over evidence? I don’t know. I wish I knew the words to say, but at the moment, all I can do is scream.


There’s No Sex in Your Violence

The pleasure that satisfies lust, qua lust, is not the enjoyment, physical or otherwise, of the awesome beauty of another person as the creation of God, because lust is based on pride, and pleasure in someone else’s being as God’s gift to them is rather pleasure in humility.

I have been thinking a great deal about Augustine’s theology of sex in light of all the various scandals involving powerful men and their abuse and intimidation of women. I worry that we may be focusing on all the bad apples to the neglect of the bigger problem of how we think about human sexuality as a society.

Augustine basically said that sex is sinful. Actually, it is more complicated and nuanced than that (check it). The problem, he said, is not sex itself but the way sexual pleasure “activates” pride. The Augustine scholar John Cavadini put it well when he wrote:

To fault Augustine in this context for not realizing that “sexual pleasure” can enrich a couple’s relationship, or to assess Augustine’s views against our own more “positive” view, may be, with all due respect, to beg the question. For Augustine, the question would not be whether sexual pleasure can enrich a couple’s relationship, but whether there is any sexual pleasure possible without a taint of violence or complacency (“self-pleasing”) in it. The question would be, what are we taking pleasure from? Pleasure, as Augustine is at pains to point out, is an affair of the soul, not the body. The pleasure that satisfies lust, qua lust, is not the enjoyment, physical or otherwise, of the awesome beauty of another person as the creation of God, because lust is based on pride, and pleasure in someone else’s being as God’s gift to them is rather pleasure in humility. For example, can we say that any act of sexual delight is completely free from smugness, from self-admiration, from the slightest hint of “self-pleasing” in the mastery of the “skill sets” of popular magazines, in the thought that one is an accomplished, or at least halfway decent, lover? Violence includes the admiration of power or ability as power or ability. [Emphasis mine.]

Continue reading “There’s No Sex in Your Violence”

Liberals Should Stop Mocking Martyrdom

Far be it from me not to point out when “my people” do or say something stupid or evil. But just as irritating are liberals who would rather make fun of conservative Christians than try to understand them. 

In the wake of the Texas mass shooting, RawStory posted an article with the subtle, and not-at-all mocking title, “Conservative writer: God was ‘answering prayers’ of Texas victims by letting them get shot.” Yes, “Step right up folks! And witness another ridiculous Christian saying something ridiculous!”

Of course, the original column was pretty ridiculous. It was naive and insensitive. Far be it from me not to point out when “my people” do or say something stupid or evil. But just as irritating are liberals who would rather make fun of conservative Christians than try to understand them.  Continue reading “Liberals Should Stop Mocking Martyrdom”