Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School Through Tenure


Is a career as a professor the right choice for you? If you are a graduate student, how can you clear the hurdles successfully and position yourself for academic employment? What's the best way to prepare for a job interview, and how can you maximize your chances of landing a job that suits you? What happens if you don't receive an offer? How does the tenure process work, and how do faculty members cope with the multiple and conflicting day-to-day demands?

With a perpetually ...

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Is a career as a professor the right choice for you? If you are a graduate student, how can you clear the hurdles successfully and position yourself for academic employment? What's the best way to prepare for a job interview, and how can you maximize your chances of landing a job that suits you? What happens if you don't receive an offer? How does the tenure process work, and how do faculty members cope with the multiple and conflicting day-to-day demands?

With a perpetually tight job market in the traditional academic fields, the road to an academic career for many aspiring scholars will often be a rocky and frustrating one. Where can they turn for good, frank answers to their questions? Here, three distinguished scholars—with more than 75 years of combined experience—talk openly about what's good and what's not so good about academia, as a place to work and a way of life.

Written as an informal conversation among colleagues, the book is packed with inside information—about finding a mentor, avoiding pitfalls when writing a dissertation, negotiating the job listings, and much more. The three authors' distinctive opinions and strategies offer the reader multiple perspectives on typical problems. With rare candor and insight, they talk about such tough issues as departmental politics, dual-career marriages, and sexual harassment. Rounding out the discussion are short essays that offer the "inside track" on financing graduate education, publishing the first book, and leaving academia for the corporate world.

This helpful guide is for anyone who has ever wondered what the fascinating and challenging world of academia might hold in store.

Part I - Becoming a Scholar
* Deciding on an Academic Career
* Entering Graduate School
* The Mentor
* Writing a Dissertation
* Landing an Academic Job
Part II - The Academic Profession
* The Life of the Assistant Professor
* Teaching and Research
* Tenure
* Competition in the University System and Outside Offers
* The Personal Side of Academic Life

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226301518
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 840,125
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

John A. Goldsmith is the Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor in, and former chair of, the Department of Linguistics at the University of Chicago.

John Komlos is a professor of economics, chair of the Institute of Economic History, and a former chair of the economics department at the University of Munich.

Penny Schine Gold is a professor of history at Knox college and past chair of the Women's Studies Program.

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Read an Excerpt

The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career

A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School through Tenure

By John A. Goldsmith, John Komlos, and Penny Schine Gold

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003

University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-30151-6

Chapter One

Entering Graduate School

What is graduate school really all about?

John Goldsmith: I would say that the most important fact to bear in mind
is that, in general, the purposes of graduate school and of undergraduate
studies could hardly be more different. A college education-in the United
States, at least-is aimed at providing a general education, a liberal
education, even if the choice of a major subject does allow some degree of
specialization. In contrast, graduate education is aimed at creating a
professional. When I use the term "professional," of course, I am not
using it in the most familiar way. The term is generally used in relation
to disciplines such as law, medicine, and business. The schools in these
disciplines provide specific training along what are generally well
established lines, bringing the student to the point where she may, in
most of the cases, pass a standardized examination, such as the bar exam
or the medical boards. The professional schools do not requirestudents to
write a dissertation or engage in individual research efforts-those
hallmarks of graduate education in a research university.

Yet it is still true that graduate education is aimed at forming a
particular type of professional: a professional researcher. There are some
important things to say about this. The most significant of all is that
this kind of intellectual formation has relatively little to do with
passing on specific information. Oh, it is true that all educators make
similar claims: they are not teaching specific things, but rather how to
learn; still, this is nowhere as clear as in graduate school. Alas, the
graduate research environment is not structured so as to be the training
ground for the most extraordinary minds either. There are too few of them
to justify (or help shape, for that matter) the enormous institutions that
we are talking about. No, graduate education is about training graduate
students to become researchers (and to some extent, teachers) in a
research environment, within a specific intellectual tradition.
Psychologists create new psychologists; linguists create new linguists;
musicologists create new musicologists.

Penny Gold: Let me give an example of what we mean by "professional
training." In my very first term of graduate school, I registered for a
course called "Medieval Biography." I was happily anticipating learning
about a variety of medieval people, their lives, and their thoughts.
Instead, each student picked one medieval author and then tracked all
existing manuscripts and published editions of this person's work. I chose
Einhard, the ninth-century biographer of Charlemagne, and spent hours and
hours in the stacks of the Stanford and Berkeley libraries, pulling down
very dusty volumes that catalogued manuscript collections across Europe
and using various bibliographical tools to find all existing editions.
(Some of this would be easier now because of computers.) I found this
enormously tedious and complained throughout the term. I wanted to be
learning about Einhard and Charlemagne, not about his manuscripts! By the
time I began my dissertation research a couple of years later, I finally
appreciated the research skills I had developed in this course. Another
example was a graduate colloquium in "Renaissance and Reformation
History," in which the entire reading list was recent scholarship, with
not one primary source text from the period itself.

This relates to the issue of what is being taught in graduate school. It
is certainly true that the foundation of graduate training is training in
a method of analysis, whether that be historical, linguistic, economic, or
some other method. Yet there is also a great deal of specific information
that must be learned, as one is expected to very rapidly become
knowledgeable about "what is being done in the field"-hence, the focus on
reading the scholarship of others in many graduate school courses. It is
also such stuff (masses of it) that one is tested on in the oral or
qualifying examinations that are the gateway to beginning on one's own
doctoral research. In fact, one of the challenges of life after graduate
school is to keep on top of the ever-changing scholarship in one's field
when one doesn't have the concentrated time to do this that one does in
graduate school.

John Komlos: While undergraduate education concentrates, in the main, on
learning a body of knowledge in a wide range of fields, graduate school is
essentially about exploring the frontiers of knowledge in a particular
field. Hence, the latter is an extension of the former, but differs from
it greatly. Being on the frontiers of scholarship (like its geographic
counterpart in early American history) is not always a comfortable
experience. There are no guideposts to tell you which path to take.

Can you offer any advice for the person who is seriously thinking about
entering graduate school?

John Komlos: Yes, indeed. A very good rule is that you should be excited
about the field you choose. This is most important! Do you really want to
find out how the economy or society works? Are you curious about Stone Age
cultures? Are you really deeply interested in the questions economists or
sociologists or anthropologists are asking and the answers they are
supplying? If not, you should seriously question whether these are the
right career paths for you. By the time you contemplate entering graduate
school, you should have your goals well sorted out. The American
undergraduate education allows, even encourages, a great deal of searching
by trial and error. Flexibility is its strength, but at the same time, it
places an immense amount of responsibility on the individual student to
build a program that makes sense in terms of her intellectual development.
By the end of your undergraduate education, you should have a good idea of
what you want out of life. Is academia attractive to you? If you are still
unsure, you must talk to people whom you respect and whose judgment you
trust as much as, or more than, your own.

Bear in mind also that genuine introspection helps a great deal. However,
as long as you feel uncertain, you should delay making a commitment.
Premature decisions often mean excessive risk taking, and the chances are
high that you will not be making optimal use of your time or talents. The
point is that graduate school is much too challenging an experience for
you to go through if your interest in the subject is merely peripheral.
Halfhearted commitments won't work out very well. You have to find the
field of your choice stimulating in order to come out of the process
unscathed. Otherwise, the chances are good that you will be frustrated and

If you have not done well academically, it would be foolhardy to think
seriously about continuing in graduate school. If you are making plans to
enter a graduate program, you should prepare yourself well in advance in
the basic prerequisites of the specialization you have chosen. If you want
to be an economist, for example, make sure that you have the needed
mathematical background. Obviously, the sooner you decide, the sooner you
can start working on the subjects that will be important to you in
graduate school. It would be very helpful if you spent some time working
for a professor in the field you are considering. As an undergraduate
research assistant, you can begin to learn what the field looks like from

John Goldsmith: I'd like to second that. Oddly enough, students who are
considering entering an academic profession often have little idea of what
they're getting into. In most cases, they are coming straight out of
college, where they were able to take college-level courses in some areas
and do some additional reading in other areas. They as likely as not had
no real contact with faculty researchers and as likely as not did not
attend a university with any significant number of researchers. In a few
cases, they may even choose a graduate specialization entirely on the
basis of reading, never having taken a single course in that area. This is
true, for example, in my area, linguistics, where students often come from
language or psychology backgrounds.

And yet, as John said, a most important precondition for a graduate
education to work out well is that the student must love the discipline.
How do you know if this describes you? Utterly reliable criteria are hard
to establish, but I'd look for a deep and enduring interest in and
fascination for the subject, the profession, and its literature. It is
surprising how often this condition is not met! Students may (so to speak)
wander into graduate school in a specific discipline, take a year or two
of courses (or more), and not be at all sure of the correctness of their
choice. Still, inertia, the time and money invested, and the fear of
losing face all push the students on, often propelling them to the point
of writing a dissertation, or even beyond.

Yet as the student moves further along in the education process, she will
find that there is less and less personal support and that the hurdles
rise higher and higher, with longer periods between moments of reward and
relaxation. (This trend continues, of course, when the student moves into
faculty status.) Without a strong emotional attachment to the field-simply
feeling fascinated by what one is doing-this difficult task becomes no
more than a long-term commitment to masochism. Loving the field means that
the hard work is its own reward.

John Komlos: Moreover, I would suggest that the student seek advice, again
and again.

Penny Gold: I'd like to interject here some advice about advice-who and
what to ask:

To professors who know your work well: Do you think graduate school, in
this particular field, would be a good choice, given my level and kinds
of talents? Do you think I would have a contribution to make?

To professors in your field who have completed graduate school within
the last five years or so: What are the current issues in the field?
Where do you see the field going? What is graduate school like these

To these and any other professors whom you admire or whom you might
aspire to be like: Are you glad you became a professor? What are the
best things about life in academia? What are the most difficult or
troubling things?

To graduates of your own college or university who are now in graduate
school in a field close to yours or who have recently obtained jobs
(your undergraduate teachers, the Career/Placement Center, and/or the
alumni office should be able to give you names and addresses): How have
you found the graduate school experience? Did you find that you were
well prepared for the program you entered? Is there any advice you wish
you'd had before entering graduate school?

John Komlos: As with any other important decision, you should continually
question and rethink this one as well. After all, it will have an enormous
(and generally irreversible) impact on the rest of your life. By making
this choice, you have in many respects chosen a lifestyle. If you're
entering graduate school, you are about to invest several years of intense
effort, often resulting in a considerable financial burden. So it behooves
you to take the decision very, very seriously. New information may become
available that might be put into the decision-making equation. Did you
make the right choice after all? Are you as prepared for graduate school
as you had thought you were? Do you still find the field as exciting as
before? Do you actually have the skills, intuition, and talent you thought
you had? If you can identify some marked deficiencies, how long would it
take to overcome them? For example, how long will it take you to learn
another language? Do you write well? Depending on the rigors of your
education so far, you may still not have perfected the art of written
communication, even in your native language. You can teach yourself, of
course, but it is best done before you enter graduate school. Obviously,
the sooner you sort out these issues the better.

You might also consider if your motivations are sound. What are the
rewards in the field you are considering? What is the ratio of pecuniary
to nonpecuniary rewards you can expect? Is that mix about right for you?
Try to avoid establishing potentially conflicting goals, such as rising to
the upper end of the academic salary range while teaching in the
humanities. Original research requires much self-reliance, perseverance,
and intelligence as well as creativity. You also need self-discipline to
complete the monotonous tasks that inevitably accompany even the most
exciting research project. Do you have enough of these qualities to

Self-questioning is, of course, an important quality to nurture in
yourself, but it certainly requires practice to be effective. One cannot
develop such critical skills overnight. Do you know yourself well enough?
Are you practicing self-deception without even knowing it? Are you able to
judge yourself without making excuses? Do you rationalize your mistakes,
so you cannot learn from them? You can improve your forecasts about
yourself by consciously updating your information set periodically. How
have you erred in the past, and what can you learn from these errors about
your true abilities and about your expectations? Are the goals you are
about to set for yourself reasonable in light of your past performance?
Are you getting closer to formulating a reasonable strategy for solving

If, for example, you have a tendency to start projects without finishing
them, it is much better to acknowledge this attribute than to make excuses
about why this is the case and externalizing blame. Disregarding that
trait in yourself is a big mistake, one that may cost you dearly later.
How can you use that information to predict your ability to succeed in a
Ph.D. program? First, take that information into account, and then work on
improving your predictive ability by searching for answers as to why your
actions fall into a particular pattern and just how these mistakes are
changeable. Just what is it that makes it so difficult for you to complete
a project? Once you are able to finish some tasks ahead of schedule, you
can be more certain that, with some probability, you can actually complete
a particular goal you set for yourself in the allotted time. In other
words, you should not be making systematic errors about your abilities or
about your performance. If your mistakes are systematic, the chances are
you are disregarding some significant information available to you.

I'll make this point yet another way because I think it is crucial for
success. I believe that mistakes are OK, in general.


Excerpted from The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career
by John A. Goldsmith, John Komlos, and Penny Schine Gold
Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Part One: Becoming a Scholar
1. Deciding on an Academic Career
-The advantages and disadvantages of academic life
-Academic salaries
-Academic freedom
-The personality traits of successful graduate students

2. Entering Graduate School
-Differences between undergraduate and graduate training
-Preconditions for a graduate education
-Questions to ask yourself
-Financial considerations
-Picking the right school
-Knowing whether you've made the right career choice
-The Inside Track: Financing Graduate Education
Thomas Thuerer

3. The Mentor
-The role of the mentor
-Finding a mentor
-The mentoring commitment

4. Writing a Dissertation
-The dissertation requirement
-Choosing a topic
-How long it takes to write a thesis
-Becoming discouraged and persevering

5. Landing an Academic Job
-Preparing to enter the academic job market
-Presenting a paper at a conference
-The job search
-How to read job advertisements
-Assembling the dossier
-Application letters
-Letters of reference
-The c.v.
-Interviews at national meetings
-What should be avoided
-Applying as a couple
-The short list
-The campus visit
-The job talk
-How long to keep trying
-Receiving and evaluating offers
-Negotiating the terms of the appointment
-The "two-body" problem
-Multiple offers
-The Inside Track: Leaving Academia for the Corporate World
Ami Kronfeld

Part Two: The Academic Profession

6. The Life of the Assistant Professor
-Beginning the first job
-Juggling responsibilities
-Sorting out priorities
-Committees and commitments
-Keeping tenure in view
-Getting along with colleagues
-The institutional bureaucracy
-Departmental politics-BGetting involved in institutional change
-Long-term goals
-Family considerations
-Job satisfaction

7. Teaching and Research
-What teaching is all about
-Expectations at research universities
-Expectations at teaching institutions
-Preparing a syllabus
-Learning how to teach
-Exams and writing assignments
-The first day of class
-Evaluating students' work
-Evaluating your own teaching
-Teaching at the graduate level
-Plagiarism and other ethical issues
-Making life easier on yourself
-"Publish or perish"
-Beginning to publish
-Finding the right journal
-Submitting the article
-The editor's decision
-Referee reports
-Publishing a book
-Getting grants
-Surviving writer's block
The Inside Track: Publishing the First Book
Colin Day

8. Tenure
-Why tenure exists
-The tenure-review process
-Evaluation criteria
-Attacks on tenure
-Being denied tenure
-Opportunities outside academia

9. Competition in the University System and Outside Offers
-The forces of competition
-Mobility and loyalty
-Junior and senior hires
-Outside offers as a way to move up
The Inside Track: Consulting and Intellectual Property
Pierre Laszlo

10. Family, Gender, and the Personal Side of Academic Life
-Effects on family
-Shared appointments
-Discrimination in academia
-Sexual harassment and consensual relationships

11. Conclusion

Appendix 1 The Administrative Structure of a University
Appendix 2 Policies on Parental Leave and Shared Positions
Appendix 3 Tables


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