Telling the Truth

elderly poorToday I am thinking about the tens of thousands of adjunct faculty across the nation who are working MORE than full time hours for poverty wages, and no benefits. This issue was sadly brought to national attention after the death of an 83-year old adjunct who was destitute: Margaret Mary Vojtko. Her plight re-energized a national discussion around the continuing practice of hiring more and more part-time faculty to teach at  universities. In some places, the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty is 3:7, meaning that there are primarily part-timers teaching the bulk of the students.

In a previous blog titled Too Many Jobs, I wrote about the insane year I had when I was teaching full-time (off the tenure track, and on a contractual basis) and working several part-time adjunct jobs. It was exhausting, but I at least had health benefits from the FT-job, even if it didn’t pay enough to keep my head above water. I have a cellular memory of that exhaustion, and by cellular memory, I mean that I remember how my body felt as I drug myself from one job to the next.

I turned 50 this year, and thankfully don’t work for poverty pay any more. While I still enjoy the occasional adjunct position, I know that I do not HAVE to burn the candle at both ends, and if it gets to be too much, I can say “no thanks” the next time I am offered a position and not risk going hungry or having my lights shut off.

This is NOT the case for a number of my colleagues of similar “vintage” who also have high loads of student loan debt, and whose primary job is often something like working retail for just above minimum wage so they can get SOME health benefits; or others who are just piecing together a string of adjunct jobs and hoping/praying they won’t need health care services.

Margaret Mary Vojtko wasn’t 50 as she struggled to piece together her life. In her 80’s, she lived in abject poverty, as described in the original Op-Ed piece that took her story viral.

She could no longer keep her electricity on in her home, which became  uninhabitable during the winter. She therefore took to working at an Eat’n Park  at night and then trying to catch some sleep during the day at her office at  Duquesne [University].” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For those of you unfamiliar with Eat-n Park – it’s a local diner. At 83, this woman was working as a waitress on the midnight shift, so she could sleep in her office (and be warm) during the day.

For me, this story is maddening, sad and yet validating on many levels. I left FT academia for several reasons, one of the main ones being the poor pay – before my story became another statistic in this sad drama. I’m grateful that I had options, and while I often miss my students and the relationship we shared in the teaching/learning/coaching process, I know that I am worth more than that kind of life.

There are several keys to solving this issue and some reside around the policies and practices at the colleges and universities. I’ll leave that to the numerous forum posts out there that are still lighting up around this topic. What I will address, however; is the practice of speaking the truth. This is in no way my original theme, as evidenced by the plethora of articles on the oversupply of academics in a shrinking market. Margaret Mary’s plight is (unfortunately) not unique. Although her advanced age and her unseemly death – collapsing in the lawn in front of her dilapidated home – make her story most compelling, the fact is that many people are entering college programs (and borrowing tons of money) just to find that they are doomed to a life of poverty to pursue that dream. In other words, for different reasons (I don’t think that Margaret Mary was a victim of student loan debt), many students are pursuing a dream that they are willing to finance at a very steep cost and steering themselves to a Margaret Mary-like tragic life.

Telling the Truth

In my next book in the Finding Your Way series, I address the disconnect between high school students’ college dreams and the realities that most of them will inevitably will face. We need to begin telling the truth about college: how much it costs, the real jobs that will be waiting and the hard work that it will take once you get there (in most cases).

I have witnessed the high school valedictorian from Small Rural High School struggling to pass Freshman Chemistry and ends up being coached by the average B/C-student from the large and academically-rigorous suburban high school. It seems that we get caught up in where we are in our own high school space and never stop to consider the larger world.

I’ll illustrate the great need for speaking the truth to students in high school using an example I have seen over and over: Junior or Senior high school girls swooning about becoming an Obstetrician because they “like to hold babies“.

Instead of encouraging this, we need to engage them in a dialogue that goes beyond “liking babies” to make sure that they understand:

  1. there’s a lot of chemistry and advanced biology between now and delivering newborn babies
  2. there’s at least 8 years of college – probably more – before anyone is going to hold babies as an obstetrician and more importantly,
  3. Obstetricians don’t do much “baby holding” and maybe (just maybe!) the career path should be Early Childhood Education and working in a day care if “holding babies” is the primary career motivator

A recent NY Times article (“Losing is Good for You“) highlights a lesson that can (and should) be applied as we mentor high school students toward college. The extrapolation of this concept is that just as we have done a disservice to our kids by pronouncing “everyone a winner!”, not everyone is cut out for medical school, engineering school, business school or law school (law school is a whole other issue), and that it’s not only OK to think about more mundane professional goals, aligning your true abilities and interests with an achievable plan is MUCH more life-affirming that cheerleading a doomed dream because it’s easier to clap and say “how wonderful!” than it is to say, “you might want to think about that a different way, and here’s why…”

Of course there are those who will chastise this approach for being too negative. I’m a BIG fan of finding what you love to do and making that your career, as I have outlined in my first eBook, Finding Your Way: uncover your path to a better job. BUT…you have to be smart about your choices.

Love health care and holding babies? Check out the tuition at your local community college for nursing school or some other health care profession where you can hold babies without major student loan debt

Love teaching & medieval history? Perhaps a reasonably-priced bachelor’s degree (that you can begin at your local community college) leading to a full-time job in a museum or work for a non-profit that supports education initiatives.

There are changes that need to be made at the top of these institutions (colleges, universities, government, student loan agencies) but we have the ability to make our dreams work for us, and not against us and frankly – no one else is going to do it for us. As long as people are willing to teach for no benefits and $1,500 – $3,000 a class, universities will continue to hire them. Be your own advocate; figure out what you love to do, and make a path toward that goal that does not include tens of thousands of dollars of debt or a life of indentured servitude and poverty.

For more information on the plight of adjunct faculty and the people working hard to raise their standard of living and change the system, consider checking out the work being done over at ‘Junct Rebellion (blog) or emerging from another group, the New Faculty Majority.

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Final days of the 99-cent discount on Finding Your Way!SW Page mini

How to redeem the 99-cent eBook coupon:
•Go to:
•Click ‘Add to Cart’
•At the checkout, enter this COUPON code: QA67B
•The regular price of $2.99 will be discounted to $0.99 and you can download it to the device of your choice!

Coupon good through October 1st

– – – – – – –

* * * this coupon has expired, but if you email me at and tell me how you were referred to this blog, you can get another code for the 99-cent purchase.

Resume Rebuttal

dog-walker2I get to look at a lot of resumes over the course of a week in my job. It’s always interesting, sometimes entertaining and occasionally noteworthy; but not for the grand skill and expertise of the person submitting the resume. Usually these instances are noteworthy for the grand scale of some faux pas.

A few weeks ago I had a flurry of resumes submitted in response to an ad I had placed for Veterinary Receptionists*. The ad specifically stated that I was only looking for people who were  “…currently working as a Veterinary Receptionist”. I received the usual assortment of WalMart , McDonald’s, Home Depot and other employees who must be desperate for something different, or at least it seems so from the rate at which I see applications from these folks, applying for jobs where there is no obvious “fit” in skills, experience or education. I also got a number of “close, but no cigar” candidates. It is not unusual for me to end up with a ratio of 1 good fit potential candidate for every 20 resumes submitted.  It’s exhausting but also extremely interesting.

One person, who received my “rejection reply” (which thanks people for submitting  but tells them that I am looking for more specific experience – I parrot the exact ad  here – and then wishes them well in their continued search), took it upon himself to email me after receiving the rejection auto-note.

I have been working for several wealthy families as a dog walker and certified dog groomer as well as having multiple clients for whom I groom show cats. All of these animals show up in Veterinary Offices, every day in case you didn’t know that. I also have people who can vouch for my experience as a groomer, dog walker and cat show judge – and I have a master’s degree in hair ball identification (with a certificate in forensic hair ball examination), so I have no idea why I would not be considered a viable candidate for this position, but thank you for your time.”

Other than  changing the specific job duties (in the ad and his reply), this is pretty much word for word.

I really (REALLY!) wanted to reply with something like this:

Dear King of the Hairballs,

Thank you for your note. I’m sorry that your master’s degree in hair ball identification did not include more attention to critical reading skills, for if it had – you may have noticed that in my ad I specifically noted that I am ONLY seeking people who are currently working as a Veterinary Receptionist.

Given your obvious hot-head and poor judgment on how to respond to a resume rejection, in combination with your poor reading-for-content skills, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I wouldn’t hire you to walk my neighbor’s dog!

Lastly, I had forwarded your resume to a colleague who *IS* looking for a dog walker, but now that I see what a jerk you are, I’ve called to let her know to put your resume in File 13.”

Very truly yours,

The hiring managerCatGrooming

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Of course, I didn’t say any such thing, but I did point out – politely – that I was looking for the vet receptionist, as the ad stated, and that while his skills were indeed impressive, they were not skills I was in need of at this time.

R.T.F.Q. people. It was important on those college quizzes but it’s even MORE important in real life!

This whole episode is heartening on a couple levels, though. Without even trying, not even 10 days from the launch of my eBook, Finding Your Way, I am gathering NEW content for the 2nd edition, which at this rate may be out in Summer 2014!

Secondly, there’s obviously no shortage of people who need common sense resume, interviewing and communication skills which should mean a never-ending supply of readers.

I’ll try to remember this when I get the next retort from a disgruntled dog-walker!


*the job title, and other job references have been altered to protect someone, . . .probably me!

Wait, what!? No externship – NOW what?

A handful of years ago when the title ‘Professor’ was loosely attached to my name, I had many opportunities to chat with prospective students on their college program selection and career options. Today I’ll share with you the experience of one particular young woman, whose name I can’t recall, so I’ll call her ‘Ellen’.

‘Ellen’ came to my office in the university ‘tower’ where my office was located to discuss graduate school. She had recently graduated from another large, public university in a general health sciences degree program. The tuition alone at her school had been close to $60,000 for her degree, and given the fact that its location was about as remote a “East Taboo“, we’ll assume she also had housing and food costs of around $10,000 a year, as well as fees and books.  Depending on how much assistance she received from the school, her parents and other sources, I can safely estimate that she has student loans (she acknowledged needing a better job to pay them) in the ball park of $50,000 if not more and that’s if she only spent 4 years there (we know that a lot of students today are taking 5 – 6 years to complete that BA/BS degree).

Ellen loved the health care field but like so many high school graduates had dreams of entering medical school that ended badly in Organic Chemistry. Her alternative was to complete a general health sciences degree. She was still interested in health care, but not interested in nursing at the time and the school advisors probably coached her that the health sciences degree would provide her easy entry into another graduate health care program or even medical school if she decided to attempt that again. The truth, however was that at graduation with her baccalaureate degree, she is qualified to work as a Patient Care Technician, which is the 21st century name for a Nurse’s Aide/Nursing Assistant.

Nursing Assistants (Aides) and Patient Care Technicians today earn a median annual salary of around $29,000 (< $14/hour) and just starting out (new to the field) can expect pay closer to $24,000 – $26,000 a year. While this is a better position from the pay perspective than that of the recently-highlighted fast-food workforce, who make closer to minimum wage, I suspect that most fast-food workers don’t carry significant student loan debt.

At $29,000 a year, Ellen is paying for housing, utilities, food, transportation and the other expenses of living that we all know too well. In addition, Ellen is paying approximately $530/month (at 5% interest) on her $50,000 of student loan debt.

If Ellen has a most frugal control of her financial life, she may be looking at a monthly income/expense record that looks something like this:

Ellen's Budget

When Ellen came to talk with me, she expressed hope that a Master’s Degree would help her move into a Nursing Management position. Although when she first entered college, nursing was not a choice she wanted to make, since she was doing a lot of nursing-like work, she felt she was ready to move into a management position – she had “a bachelor’s degree” after all and most of the nurses she worked under only had a 2-year degree.

The sad answer for Ellen is that most Nursing Management positions want graduate-prepared nurses. There is no shortage of nurses (RN) with years of experience who are ready for something different. Ellen had little chance of becoming a Nurse Manager without going BACK to school for her RN, which would mean taking on more debt, and probably working less than full time while in school.

I offered Ellen the option of coming into our graduate program, which was health care-related, but not patient-care focused, and told her (truthfully) that there were jobs available. I also cautioned her that she would be borrowing another $40,000 and while she would come out on the other end of it with a Master’s Degree, and her pay could reasonably be somewhat higher, it would not double as her student loan debt certainly would – and – she would be entering a totally new field (Health IT), so it would take her some time to build up the ability to make significant money; significant enough to lessen the pain of her student loans.

I did also suggest to her that a 2-year RN program at her local community college would add some, but not a lot, additional debt and that she had probably already satisfied most of the pre-requisites. Within 2 years she could be out in the workforce doing nursing work that COULD lead her into an eventual nursing management position. Though my department chair would have fired me on the spot for talking her out of coming into our graduate program, I couldn’t justify pressuring her into borrowing all that additional money…

Ellen thanked me for the honest information and I never heard from her again. I hope she has figured out her path to a better job and reasonable salary. I wonder though, if Ellen had been given more useful information BEFORE she went to college and borrowed that $50,000+ or at least while she was IN college, could she have made better choices about the career path, or degree program?

I don’t want to disparage general Health Sciences degree programs because for many students, they are the PERFECT preparatory program for that master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Pharmacy, Nutrition & Dietetics or other health care profession, but; do we give incoming students enough of the hard facts about what happens if they a) don’t want to go to graduate school, b) can’t afford to go to graduate school, c) change their mind before graduate school?

Ellen’s work in patient care could have been identified early as something she liked and translated into a better college choice (with much less student loan debt) if she had only taken the time to “Find Her Way” before signing that promissory note.  If you have a friend like Ellen, the best 99-cents they could spend in their final year at school might be here:

Finding Your Way: uncover your path to a better job (( and relevant to the blog today,…BEFORE you take on a lot of student loan debt! ))

•Go to:
•Click ‘Add to Cart’
•At the checkout, enter this COUPON code: QA67B
•The regular price of $2.99 will be discounted to $0.99 and you can download it to the device of your choice!

* * * this coupon has expired, but if you email me at and tell me how you were referred to this blog, you can get another code for the 99-cent purchase.

– – – – – – –

Here’s another book you might want to check out: Success After College 2013

College Seniors: make that externship count!

I hear a lot of feedback from new college graduates, often expressing chagrin around the letdown they feel once they settle into that shiny new job. The more jaundiced view might be that they  weren’t ready to grow up; to cast off behaviors such as coming to class in pajamas and sweats with uncombed hair, or staying out 4 nights a week ’til the  sun comes up. While there may be some temporary wistfulness for these activities, I think that most regret I hear can be classified as a disappointment in the “fit” between the actual jobs they have entered and their expectations.

In one of my (many) jobs, I described the mismatched job feeling using a clothing analogy. On the outside, this job looked great in title, money and opportunity. Each day that I went in to work, however; I felt like I was a square peg trying to maneuver myself into a much smaller round hole.

Have you ever been shopping and found a dress or shirt that looked so great on the rack, or on the display table that you simply had to have it? The sales person escorts you to the dressing room and you try it on. Something is not quite right, but you brush it off to being in a hurry, or the lights in the dressing room, or the screaming child in the department, and once you return it to the hangar or display table, you gaze on it with the same wanton desire – you really want it and you’re not leaving the store empty-handed!

You make your purchase and go home.

The first opportunity you have to wear your new duds comes along and you happily don the apparel, but something isn’t right. You’re not sure, maybe it’s the overfilled basket of laundry in the background of the mirror – maybe it’s the fact that it’s Monday. That perfect dress just doesn’t feel right… but it’s late and it’s Monday so off to work you go.

One of your girlfriends comments on it, “that’s a great dress!”

“Thanks,” you say. “I picked it up this weekend.”

You get a few more compliments on it, but you feel like you’re wearing a shapeless burlap sack. What happened to the gorgeous dress you spied in the store only 2 days ago? It must be your mood. You’ll wear it again in a few weeks and it’ll all be good.

Several weeks go by and you again come to that dress in your closet. You look at it and while it still looks great on that hanger, you’re now a bit uncertain about what it will do to your mood. Then you remember seeing it in the store and you just KNOW it’s perfect. After all – everyone is wearing this new style, and these colors are on all the fashion magazines.

“Snap out of it,” you tell yourself as you’re slipping it on and running out the door to work.

It fits, in the technical sense but as it hangs on your body, it feels foreign and out of place. Your girlfriends tell you that you’re nutty – it looks FABULOUS, but you know that it feels wrong and you wish you had worn just about anything else.

Now you’re in a meeting and as you look around the table at the way others are dressed, you begin to feel as though you borrowed someone else’s clothes. You suddenly want to have an episode that requires you to return home so you can change; a headache, severe gastric distress, the neighbor called and police are removing boxes from my home – ANYTHING to get out of these clothes and into something that doesn’t make me want to hide behind curtains, or grab a large oversized sweater and cover it up.

Usually, this is followed by sticking this dress or outfit in the back of the closet and leaving it there for longer than it deserves. Sometimes we will continue wearing it and again experiencing those uncomfortable days. We periodically consider donating it to Goodwill or some other charity but it still looks so AWESOME on that hanger (and is fairly new) that we’re not sure we’re ready to give it away. Back in the closet it goes, and we may take it out and put it back several times, until we get to the point where we allow ourselves to acknowledge that we made a mistake when we bought it.  There were clear signs that day it wasn’t a good fit for us, but we ignored them.

For guys, the drama may not be as intense, but I’ve watched my son ignore perfectly good shoes that fit him, and looked good – because he just didn’t like them: “I don’t know, Mom – I just don’t like them!”

He’s had similar issues with dress slacks and shorts.

So, what’s all this have to do with senior year in college and an externship (or internship)?

Intern / externships are sneak-peeks at potential job positions that you may enter upon graduation. Employers like these – especially in the health care and technical professions – because they can get a good look at the new crop of graduates that is much more useful than just a resume and an interview. I tell students these are “multi-week job interviews”, and that they should act accordingly. They are ALSO multi-week opportunities for you, the soon-to-be-new-graduate, to make sure you are being honest with yourself about the kind of job you want, and why.

Like the analogy of the great-looking dress that never felt right when it was worn, jobs can fool us if we let them, and they’re harder to get rid of than a bad dress choice or shoes that make you feel that you inadvertently grabbed your roommate Bozo’s shoes that day.

Collecting data about the job, its tasks and the environment in which you are working is so critical to making the right choice when job offers come along. It’s EASY to be lured by salary, job title or the perks of a job, but is the work in alignment with what you want out of life? Is that employer a cultural “fit” for you? Is the lifestyle that the job will require something that you not only can live with, but will enjoy? These are important questions that you need to ask yourself, and answer honestly.

If you’re not sure how important it is, reach out to some recent graduates and find out who’s happy and who is not. Of those who are NOT happy, did they take their current job expecting not to be happy? Unless they’re in a profession where the jobs are slim, they probably were not expecting to rival Archie Bunker in job satisfaction only a couple years into their new career.

From now through October 1st, for 99-cents* (less than a crumpled dollar you can find in the laundry or the 4 quarters I’m sure you can scavenge out of the bottom of your backpack) you can get my new eBook that outlines a simple process to help you evaluate your intern/externship for its “fit” with what you want from a job, a career and your life. Wouldn’t it be great to come out of your intern/externship and know very clearly what you want, and sometimes more importantly – what you do NOT want in your new career?

As an added bonus, qualified college seniors (who will graduate before June 2014) with a valid college email address can get 1 professional review of their resume (with recommendations for improving it) for FREE with the purchase of the eBook (free resume evaluation offer good through December 31, 2013).

It’s the best 99-cents you’ll spend in your college career and you can use it (the process outlined in the eBook) for years to follow, which is more than you can say for some of those required pre-requisite courses for which you paid a lot more than $1 !!

WAIT!   “What if I don’t have an externship in my program of study?”

For college seniors NOT anticipating a final work experience, clinical rotation or intern/externship, you can still benefit from the process outlined, especially if you are presently working a part time or full time job – EVEN if it is totally unrelated to the career you are hoping to gain upon graduation. How? The process looks at what you like and dislike and helps you organize these categorizations in a way that you can then use to intelligently choose your job and/or career after graduation. Same offers apply (resume review and 99-cent download)

Questions or comments: email me at

Now,.. stop procrastinating and get to work on that research paper!

SW Pic

How to redeem the 99-cent eBook coupon:

  • Go to:
  • Click ‘Add to Cart’
  • At the checkout, enter this COUPON code: QA67B
  • The regular price of $2.99 will be discounted to $0.99 and you can download it to the device of your choice!


* * * this coupon has expired, but if you email me at and tell me how you were referred to this blog, you can get another code for the 99-cent purchase.