Archive for the ‘academia’ Category
The Chronicle reports on a new ranking of “Faculty Media Impact” conducted by the Center for a Public Anthropology. The ranking “seeks to quantify how often professors engage with the public through the news media” and was done by trawling Google News to see which faculty were mentioned in the media most often. The numbers were averaged and “and then ranked relative to the federal funds their programs had received” to get the rankings. As you can see from the screenshot above, the ranking found that the top unit at MIT was the Sociology Department. This is fantastic news in terms of impact, because MIT doesn’t actually have a Sociology Department. While we’ve known for a while that quantitative rankings can have interesting reactive effects on the entities they rank, we are clearly in new territory here.
Of course, there are many excellent and high-profile sociologists working at MIT in various units, from the Economic Sociology group at Sloan to sociologists of technology and law housed elsewhere in the university. So you can see how this might have happened. We might draw a small but significant lesson about what’s involved in cleaning, coding, and aggregating data. But I see no reason to stop there. The clear implication, it seems to me, is that this might well become the purest case of the reactivity of rankings yet observed. If MIT’s Sociology Department has the highest public profile of any unit within the university, then it stands to reason that it must exist. While it may seem locally less tangible than the departments of Brain & Congitive Sciences, Economics, and Anthropology on the actual campus, this is obviously some sort of temporary anomaly given that it comfortably outranks these units in a widely-used report on the public impact of academic departments. The only conclusion, then, is that the Sociology Department does in fact exist and the MIT administration needs to backfill any apparent ontic absence immediately and bring conditions in the merely physically present university into line with the platonic and universal realm of being that numbers and rankings capture. I look forward to giving a talk at MIT’s Sociology Department at the first opportunity.
Disclaimer: I’ve been a long time advocate for journals like PLoS One and I have an article that’s working its way through that journal, which I will shamelessly self-promote at a later time.
Last week, John Bohannon announced a hoax. He intentionally wrote an obviously flawed article on cancer research and submitted it to a bunch of open access journals. About two thirds of the journals accepted the paper. I’m glad these folks exposed such chicanery. Once you’ve been in academia for a few years, you quickly learn that there’s a lot of publishers who have no scruples. The sting even caught journals managed by “legitimate” vendors such as Elsevier. Bring the sunlight.
Interestingly, one of the journals that did not fall for the hoax was the much maligned PLOS ONE (e.g., Andrew Gelman recently called it a “crap journal“). From Bohannon’s article:
The rejections tell a story of their own. Some open-access journals that have been criticized for poor quality control provided the most rigorous peer review of all. For example, the flagship journal of the Public Library of Science, PLOS ONE, was the only journal that called attention to the paper’s potential ethical problems, such as its lack of documentation about the treatment of animals used to generate cells for the experiment. The journal meticulously checked with the fictional authors that this and other prerequisites of a proper scientific study were met before sending it out for review. PLOS ONE rejected the paper 2 weeks later on the basis of its scientific quality.
Good for them. This speaks well of the PLOS ONE model. Normally, journals employ two criteria – technical competence (“is this study correctly carried out?”) and impact (“how important do we think this study is?”). PLoS sticks with the first criteria while rejecting the second. It’s an experiment that asks: “What happens when a journal publishes technically correct articles, but lets the scientific community – not the editors – decide what is important?”
Now we have part of the answer. A forum that drops editorial taste can still retain scientific integrity. By meticulously sticking to scientific procedure, bad science is likely to be weeded. And you’d be surprised how much gets weeded. Even though PLOS ONE is not competitive in any normal sense of the word, it still rejects over 30% of all submissions. In other words, almost one in three articles does not meet even the most basic standards of scientific competence.
Well managed open access journals like PLOS ONE will never replace traditional journals because we really do want juries to pick out winners. But having a platform where scientists can “let the people decide” is a good thing.
Last week, we had a fruitful discussion of graduate school and publishing. I think we all agreed that most graduate students should learn how to publish quickly. But we also raised some red flags. For example, we shouldn’t encourage people to publish “bad” articles. Others thought that we shouldn’t publish “too much.”
So let’s begin with a consensus: yes, if you are a graduate student, you should definitely learn the publishing process. No let’s move on to lower consensus issues. First, what counts as “bad” research? A few definitions:
- Research that is fraudulent.
- Research that is in a technical sense correct, but misleading.
- Research that is sloppy or poorly written.
- Research that is made in good faith, but in error.
- Research that is chopped up into lots of small chunks, in terms of article length/word or page counts.
- Research that makes extremely small or incremental arguments.
- Research that is in the “wrong” journal – low prestige, niche, online, or in a lower status discipline.
Now, when is it bad to publish work in any of these categories? There is overwhelming consensus that #1 is bad and should never be tolerated. In fact, academia has such a strong norm on #1 that fraudulent articles are almost always retracted and people might lose their job. I think we’d agree that #2 is also bad, though there is disagreement about what should be done with misleading articles, as we found out when discussing He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-in-Texas.
Once we get past fraudulent and misleading research, it’s very unclear that any of the remaining categories can be claimed to be uniformly bad. For example, garbage can paper (March, Cohen, and Olson 1972) was successfully shown to be a very sloppy work (see the Bendor, Moe, & Schott 2000 APSR article). No way around it. But, as olderwoman points out, powerful ideas are often presented in sloppy packages.
Then we get to #4: good faith papers with mistakes. In some cases, #4 is obviously bad. We find out that the answer is different when we correct our code – retraction. But in other cases, it’s ok. For example, among mathematicians, incorrect proofs are sometimes left in the record. The overall idea remains promising, but maybe some future scholar can read the mistake and fix it.
#5, #6 and #7 are clearly not universal. If you look around academia, you see that some fields hate, hate, hate small articles (history) while other fields exist primarily in tiny, tiny articles spread out in big and small journals. Even with one field, like sociology, you see huge variance. Demographers routinely “chop and spread it,” while ethnographers save it all for one big AJS/ASR article.
I’ll finish with how I think about my own publication strategy. My first allegiance is to knowledge. So I have never suppressed any article that I thought had a specific contribution to make, big or small. Also, in my own experience, I have benefited greatly from articles published in some obscure places. “Small” doesn’t mean dumb or useless. Just small – which might be very important to someone out there (including me).
What I have ended up with is a sort of triage: articles that are “big” in some sense are channeled to major journals, while “small” contributions are sent to niche journals. That results in a output stream where the modal is “small” but the stream is punctuated by a few “bigs.” Finally, one thing that I don’t do is rewrite the same article over and over. I make no claim that this is optimal, only that this is what you get if you believe that “small” contributions and niche journals have a place in the academic world.
One of the most important things you can teach a graduate student is how to publish. While students can teach themselves the material, or learn through osmosis, most people need concrete instruction on the professional side of academia. And they need to publish early and (in many cases) often.
And it matters – a lot. A new article published in BioScience looks at the careers of academics and it shows that early publishers do the best later in the career. The article is called “Predicting Publication Success for Biologists,” and it is authored by William F Laurance, Diane Carolina Useche, Susan Gai Laurance and Corey J. A. Bradshaw.
Summarizing their work in the website “The Conversation“:
We attempted to predict the publishing winners and losers, focusing on biologists and environmental scientists on four continents, using five easily measured variables. Our findings seem surprisingly unequivocal but are already provoking strong reactions of agreement and disdain.
Here’s what we concluded.
It doesn’t matter whether you got your PhD at glittering Harvard University or a humble regional institution like the University of Ballarat. The supposed prestige of the academic institution has almost no bearing on your long-term success, once other key variables are accounted for.
Secondly, if you’re a woman, or if English isn’t your first language, you’re going to face some minor disadvantages in publishing. The differences are not huge, on average, and there’s enormous variability among different individuals, but men who are native English speakers do tend to have half a leg up in the publishing game.
Finally, by far the best predictor of long-term publication success is your early publication record – in other words, the number of papers you’ve published by the time you receive your PhD. It really is first in, best dressed: those students who start publishing sooner usually have more papers by the time they finish their PhD than do those who start publishing later.
The take-home message: publish early, publish often.
This reinforces what we already know. In sociology, the lesson holds as well, but qualitative people need worry less about volume.
The implication for graduate training is obvious. If you aren’t actively cultivating scholars who are trying to publish, you’re screwing over your PhD students.
Once you get a faculty job, you are confronted with many requests to be on committees. These requests should be handled very carefully. Turn too many down, and the work of the university will be left undone. And you’ll miss out on the nuts and bolts of academic policy. Accept too many, and you can wreck your productivity and possibly undermine your career.
So how do you deal with these requests? A lot of it depends on your career stage:
- Doctoral students: You should only do a single, important committee. For example, some departments allow students to sit on job search committees. At Chicago, I worked for the AJS and that was my contribution to department governance. It’s perfectly acceptable to completely avoid administrative work during this phase of your career.
- Junior faculty: You should avoid most committees, except those tied to your department. Then, if your chair gives you a choice, select, or ask, for the easiest committees possible, like the library committee. “Heavy” committees, such as admissions or job searches, should be left until you are well on your way to promotion.
- Senior faculty: Depends on what you want out of life. If you see yourself moving into administration, you’ll probably want to dabble in planning committees, tenure and promotions, and other high impact committees. If you see yourself focusing on teaching and research, you’ll probably want to limit yourself to committees that have an immediate impact, such as tenure and promotions.
A problem with many faculty is that they can’t say no, or they are too scared to say no. You have to shake this attitude for the following reasons. First, unless you are a complete shirker, no one will care if you turn down the occasional invitation. Second, your quality of life will be severely impacted by too many committees. Your schedule should only look like “committee Swiss cheese” if you are paid for the inconvenience (e.g., you are a chair of some sort). Third, is this what really drew you to academia? Seriously?
When judging committee invitations, I usually employ the following criteria:
- It is really important. For example, tenure and promotions is a core function. Study abroad committee probably not so important.
- I have a compelling personal interest. For example, I have a strong belief that more women and under-represented minorities need better support in the academic career. Thus, I will serve on committees that address this issue. Building committee? Important, but I’ll let someone with more expertise take that one.
- The committee is not bull—-. Honestly, a lot of committees exist to make people look good, or to do the hard work that should be done by administrators. Avoid these committees. For example, when it comes to women and under-represented minority issues, I will only do it if the committee actually has some power to do good, or punish evildoers. So, if we are handing out financial support, I help out. If you want another hand-wringing report, I’ll pass.
- Somebody will owe you a big time favor. ’nuff said here. Sometimes we do bull—- just to buddy up to others. That’s life in an organization.
- I’m paid/part of the job. Right now, I am director of undergrad studies, so I say “yes” to all undergrad issues committees. It’s my task, even though it makes me nauseous. And yes, curricular reform committee induces illness in me.
To sum up this post, you should only do committees if there is “value added.” Do it if it matters and realize that a lot of committees don’t matter. Don’t just say yes to everything. That’s crazy.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article on how sociologist Dean Savage and colleagues have kept track of what happens to those who graduate with a PhD in sociology from the Graduate Center. Here’s how that database kicked off:
During a particularly tough academic job market in the early 1990s, Dean B. Savage started the work of tracking down every student who had earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the Graduate Center to find out where they went on to work. With the help of graduate students, he has created an ever-growing database of 471 people that dates back to graduates from 1971.
The data, which Mr. Savage updates periodically, provide a snapshot of where former students are employed and what positions they hold. They also provide a window into other placement-related trends, such as how far outside New York City people were willing to cast their nets while job hunting, how often Ph.D.’s opted to pursue nonacademic jobs, and how long it took for sociology students to earn Ph.D.’s.
The database shows that about 50% among those who earned PhDs between 1980-1984 and could be located were employed in academic and nonacademic positions:
The data he has collected document the bleak reality that many people already know about the academic market: A full-time job as a professor isn’t a given for those who want one. In fact, since 1980, fewer than half of the sociology graduates hold full-time tenured or tenure-track jobs. But the data, which were most recently updated last year, also reveal some good news: The program’s record of placing students in full-time jobs inside and outside academe has shown improvement over the years.
Just over half of the 59 graduates who earned Ph.D.’s between 1980 and 1984, for example, were full-time professors or in full-time administrative, research, or nonacademic positions when Mr. Savage last tracked them down (11 of those were retired). Two held part-time academic positions, four were independent scholars or self-employed, and 21 couldn’t be located.
As for more recent graduates, their employment percentage is slightly lower, reflecting the economic downturn and changes in university hiring practices:
The placement rate for graduates between 2010 and 2012 dipped to 53 percent.
Interestingly, graduates don’t stray far from the Big Apple tree, suggesting that the two-body issue or other constraints and preferences limit job-seekers’ options to a particular geographic area:
According to Mr. Savage’s data, nearly 60 percent of all students who graduated between 1971 and 2012 work or live in New York State. They’re diehard fans of the Big Apple who often have family ties there, so they skip doing a national job search.
Check out the article for more comments and snippets, including commentary by the current graduate director John Torpey and graduates.
David Courpasson is finishing his term as the editor of Organization Studies, the official publication of the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS). As a parting gift, he wrote an essay about what he feels is right and wrong (okay, mostly wrong) about the current state of organizational scholarship. The essay is provocative and a bit pessimistic, although not unfairly so. One of the major problems plaguing our field, Courpasson believes, is the development of a culture of productivity in social science, which seems to have most severely infected organizational and management research. In this culture of productivity, scholarship is not evaluated based on relevance or the quality of ideas but rather on the sheer volume of research that a scholar can produce. Professors are compelled to write lots of journal articles, and they push them out quickly in order to boost the length, but not necessarily the quality, of their CVs. Although he doesn’t mention it, this culture of productivity seems to have numerous institutional sources, including the practice of many departments that determine merit raises and tenure cases by “number counting” (i.e., deciding that someone deserves tenure based on the number of “A journal publications” the person has produced).
The consequences of this culture of productivity is to increase the sheer volume of publications but at the sacrifice of social relevance. The culture also has negative effects on the review and editing processes. Reviewers are worn out, editors are overwhelmed with new submissions, and there are simply too many journal articles to read and process. Here is an excerpt from Courpasson’s article:
[O]ur current system of scientific manufacturing creates more papers to review, with less committed and less timely reviewers, with a lower density of challenging ideas, as well as of ideas that are less significant for ‘the world’; in other words, for other worlds than the closest colleagues and networks. The culture of ideas is therefore vanishing: due to publishing pressures, people feel more and more pushed to submit any paper because rejection is not necessarily harmful: a new dynamic is created where work is routinely submitted anyway, sometimes in a real hurry (that is to say, even when clearly unfinished, including incomplete lists of references or variety of colours in the text), overburdening journals and editors. Here individual arbitrations surely play a role: authors’ visibility can indeed be maximized by small improvements enabled by journals’ insightful reviews; at the same time, thanks to this principle of productivity, potential papers to submit by a single author are multiplied, often in a logic of replication and repetition that also leads to ‘deviant’ behaviours such as self-plagiarism. But that adds some items in a resume and that is important because items are counted. Again, this is a counterproductive game: because volume does not always match quality and innovation, editors are more and more inclined to focus on flaws to purposively (although not willingly) narrow down the number of papers under review and obviously, in this ‘negativist’ cycle, innovative papers can be sacrificed by the necessity of correlating the ‘quality’ of a journal and a high (desk) rejection rate.
The new journal, Sociological Science, is now up and running. The goal:
- Open access: Accepted works are freely available, and authors retain copyright
- Timely: Sociological Science will make editorial decisions within 30 days; accepted works appear online immediately upon receipt of final version
- Evaluative, not developmental: Rather than focus on identifying potential areas for improvement in a submission, editors focus on judging whether the submission as written makes a rigorous and thoughtful contribution to sociological knowledge
- Concise: Sociological Science encourages a high ratio of novel ideas and insights to written words
- A community: The journal’s online presence is intended as a forum for commentary and debate aimed at advancing sociological knowledge and bringing into the open conversations that usually occur behind the scenes between authors and reviewers
I congratulate them for doing this. This takes some courage to do. We need many different types of journals. And, sadly, we are lacking high impact journals that focus on shorter empirical work that is refereed in a timely fashion.
Good luck – and I look forward to being rejected by you!
Inside Higher Education ran an article on new numbers released by the Council of Graduate Schools. The big news? Humanities enrollments are up 7%. Scott Jaschik asked me about this and, frankly, I was puzzled. I was quoted in the article as saying it is puzzling because it is open knowledge that humanities PhD’s are very risky.
A few possibilities:
- Skepticism: This is statistical noise, or an artifact of how the Council computed this number.
- Shrinking opportunities for educated low productivity workers: In the old economy, there were lots of options for people with humanities degrees. In the new economy, the college premium disproportionately goes to people in finance, economics, or STEM fields.
- Debt avoidance: Stay in school forever and hope that inflation eats away at the debt you acquired.
- Cultural change: Maybe people just value scholarly careers more than they did before and are more accepting of risk. In an era where Wall Street and the law have taken big hits in the eyes of the public, maybe more people are turning to the academy.
For now, I’d wait one or two more years to rule out #1. Then, the list reflects my beliefs, which changes in the labor market first and cultural change last.
As some of our readers may know, the American Sociological Association (ASA) assigns section presentation slots for the annual meeting based on section membership numbers. As a result, sections may scramble at the year’s end to recruit section members to meet these targeted numbers. In short, more members = more presentation slots.
ASA section Organizations, Occupations, and Work (OOW) is looking for more members to round out 2013′s roster. Here’s the call:
“Dear OOW Members,
We are just 10 members short of 1000! If we can reach that threshold before September 30, we will be given an additional session at the 2014 ASA meetings. Please forward this to colleagues and friends who may be interested in OOW.
To add a section membership, just go to https://www.e-noah.net/asa/default.asp. Section membership is $12 ($10 for low income) for regular ASA members.
Please also note–free grad student memberships available: OOW members have generously donated funds to cover approximately 45 graduate student memberships.* Please note: OOW is offering to cover the grad student OOW membership fee for students who are current members of ASA and NOT current members of OOW. (This offer is not for the next year’s membership, only the remainder of 2013.)….Please pass this offer on to your friends who may be interested in OOW topics but are not members! Those students may sign up here and then we will pass that on to ASA to activate your OOW membership for 2013.
Thanks and regards,
* Along with other colleagues at the OOW meeting at ASA, I was one of the OOWers who stuffed a crumpled bill into a paper bag to help sponsor a grad student OOW membership. So, get on it, folks! :)
Jessica Collett, scatterista and social psychologist supreme, has a thoughtful post summarizing her recent research on “impostor syndrome” among academics. If you aren’t familiar with the idea, it means that people feel like they are fakes and subsequently curtail their ambitions or work. From her post at Scatterplot:
At this year’s ASA meetings in NYC, Jade Avelis and I presented research on the effect of impostorism (also known as the impostor syndrome or feelings of fraudulence) on academic career ambitions. We were specifically interested in impostorism as a potential causes of “downshifting”* (entering graduate school programs aspiring to a tenure track position at a research institution and changing during the course of study to a non-tenure track position or one with an emphasis on teaching), a trend almost twice as common among women as it is among men.
In the literature to date, researchers attribute higher rates of downshifting among women to their increased concerns about family friendliness compared to men. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative days from PhD students at a private, research institution in the Midwest, Jade and I test both this common explanation and an impostorism account. As reported today in Science Careers, over at the website for Science, we found trends consistent with previous research. Women were more likely to suffer from impostorism, more concerned about family friendliness, and more likely to downshift during graduate school than men were. However, we also found that women’s increased concerns about family friendliness did not explain their increased likelihood to downshift. Impostorism, on the other hand, played a significant role.
This is crucial research for anyone interested in gender disparities in the academy. Jessica has a concrete suggestion at the end – that imposterism might be combated by changing the atmosphere within PhD programs. Knowing that other people have anxiety is a nice way to help people overcome it. Fabio’s suggestion: RCT where some programs implement an anti-imposterism program for 1st years, then we follow up every few years to see if it made a difference.
There’s a recent study by researchers at Northwestern showing that part time instructors do better than tenured full timers. A few clips from an Inside Higher Ed piece addressing the issue:
A major new study has found that new students at Northwestern University learn more when their instructors are adjuncts than when they are tenure-track professors.
The study — released this morning by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here) — found that the gains are greatest for the students with the weakest academic preparation. And the study found that the gains extended across a wide range of disciplines. The authors of the study suggest that by looking at measures of student learning, and not just course or program completion, their work may provide a significant advance in understanding the impact of non-tenure-track instructors.
In the past couple of weeks, two journalists who I enjoy reading wrote controversial diatribes about the travesties of contemporary higher education. Both Matt Taibbi and Thomas Frank, each in their own brilliantly polemical ways, compared higher education to the housing bubble that led to our last serious financial crisis. Both writers attacked the integrity and ethics of the administrators of the current regime of academia. Both bashed a system that would allow students to acquire more debt than they could possibly pay given the job prospects for which their education prepares them. These are real nuggets that academics ought to consider seriously. Ignore, if it offends you, the abrasive rhetoric, but at the heart of both of their arguments is a logic that ought to resonate with our sociological sensibilities.
Here is Taibbi:
[T]he underlying cause of all that later-life distress and heartache – the reason they carry such crushing, life-alteringly huge college debt – is that our university-tuition system really is exploitative and unfair, designed primarily to benefit two major actors.
First in line are the colleges and universities, and the contractors who build their extravagant athletic complexes, hotel-like dormitories and God knows what other campus embellishments. For these little regional economic empires, the federal student-loan system is essentially a massive and ongoing government subsidy, once funded mostly by emotionally vulnerable parents, but now increasingly paid for in the form of federally backed loans to a political constituency – low- and middle-income students – that has virtually no lobby in Washington.
Next up is the government itself. While it’s not commonly discussed on the Hill, the government actually stands to make an enormous profit on the president’s new federal student-loan system, an estimated $184 billion over 10 years, a boondoggle paid for by hyperinflated tuition costs and fueled by a government-sponsored predatory-lending program that makes even the most ruthless private credit-card company seem like a “Save the Panda” charity.
Not long ago, spring made hearts lighthearted and young, with the prospect of a summer spent on research, reading, and righting/writing.
Tanya Maria Golash-Boza, at the blog, Get a Life, Ph.D., has a good post about parents and academia. Be nice to them! A few clips:
- Tip #1: Introduce them to other parents
- Tip #2: Keep their schedules in mind when planning events or meetings
- Tip #3: Never Insinuate That Being a Parent Makes Professors Less Valuable or Productive
Good stuff. HT: Karen Nakamura.
lifting the crimson curtain: Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education
As a grad student, I always found crossing the bridge over the Charles River from Harvard University to the Harvard Business School (HBS) to be a bit like approaching Emerald (or more appropriately, Crimson) City. On the Allston side, the buildings seemed shinier (or, as shiny as New England vernacular architecture allows), and the grounds were undergoing constant replantings, thanks to a well-heeled donor. In addition, HBS has loomed large as an institution central to the dissemination of organizational theory and management practices, including Elton Mayo’s human relations.
HBS has certain peculiarities about teaching and learning, like the use of case studies which follow formulaic structures as the basis for directed class discussion.* Moreover, instructors follow a strict grading break-down: mandatory “III”s assigned to the lowest-performing students of classes – a source of concern, as students with too many IIIs must justify their performance before a board and possibly go on leave.** To help instructors with grading, hired scribes document student discussion comments.***
Such conditions raise questions about the links, as well as disconnects, between classroom and managerial leadership, so I was delighted to see a new ethnography about business school teaching at the UChicago Press book display at ASAs.
With his latest book, Michel Anteby lifts the crimson curtain from HBS with his new book Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education (University of Chicago Press, 2013).
Here’s the official blurb:
“Corporate accountability is never far from the front page, and as one of the world’s most elite business schools, Harvard Business School trains many of the future leaders of Fortune 500 companies. But how does HBS formally and informally ensure faculty and students embrace proper business standards? Relying on his first-hand experience as a Harvard Business School faculty member, Michel Anteby takes readers inside HBS in order to draw vivid parallels between the socialization of faculty and of students.
In an era when many organizations are focused on principles of responsibility, Harvard Business School has long tried to promote better business standards. Anteby’s rich account reveals the surprising role of silence and ambiguity in HBS’s process of codifying morals and business values. As Anteby describes, at HBS specifics are often left unspoken; for example, teaching notes given to faculty provide much guidance on how to teach but are largely silent on what to teach. Manufacturing Morals demonstrates how faculty and students are exposed to a system that operates on open-ended directives that require significant decision-making on the part of those involved, with little overt guidance from the hierarchy. Anteby suggests that this model-which tolerates moral complexity-is perhaps one of the few that can adapt and endure over time.”
Check it out! And while you’re at it, have a look at Anteby’s previous book, Moral Gray Zones (2008, Princeton University Press).
One of my beliefs, born out by research like Arum and Roska’s, is that people don’t learn or retain much from college. There are many reasons why, but one is that colleges don’t believe in “overlearning,” which means that you study a topic so much that it becomes automatic.
Consider the typical college class. They meet two or three times a week. Students either skip the readings, skim them, or quickly forget them. Unless it’s part of the grade, students are often absent from class. The exams typically cover the material, but then you move on to new stuff. Many students are allowed to move on with marginal grades. The opposite of “overlearning.” Colleges offer “barelylearning.”
If colleges were serious about learning, the entire system of lectures and semesters would be dumped. Occasional passive lectures and marginal grades would be abolished. Instead, we’d probably have very short “modules” where students did nothing but math, or writing, all day, every day for a few weeks or a months. Complete immersion so people could get completely absorbed into the subject and learn it so it becomes second hand. It’s the way that learning is done in institutions where mastery matters, like medical schools (e.g., rotations) or the military (e.g., the system of “special schools” – immersion).
A few weeks ago, I expressed dismay at the multiple R&R, multi-year revision process that now takes place at our flagship journal. I picked on them in particular, but it’s really a demand for all journals (inc. AJS, SF, SP) in general to stabilize the review process and adopt some concrete rules. You should only R&R if you think there’s a reasonable chance of success. You really shouldn’t assign new reviewers in most cases. And, please, cut the multi-R&Rs unless it is a de-facto admission that a manuscript will almost certainly be published. This is the norm in economics – many R&R’s, but the R&R means that the paper will be published.
So my question is this: is there any sign at all this was taken seriously? I recently was asked to review at ASR and I expressed my concerns. I got a polite email back, but little indication otherwise. I agreed to review the paper (1st R&R and I was an original reviewer) but warned that I will not participate in 2nd or 3rd R&Rs.
I spent relatively little time at ASA, so I don’t know what people thought about this issue, or if our editors are thinking about getting control over the process. Your thoughts? What is the buzz on the street?
Writing is like raising children.* You spend endless time on it, cultivating and fussing over the details.
Sometimes writing is a joy, and you can’t believe you have the privilege of doing this for a living. In this state, you can repeat tasks like rewriting sections over and over, all because you believe in it and think you have something to share with the world. At this point, writing feels a lot like this:
When a deadline hits and/or you feel you’re done enough work to share with others, you may feel a bit anxious about releasing the kids into the wild, but you reassure yourself that they can hold up on their own. But, at some point, submitted manuscripts return home like boomer-rang adult children with several “needs more work” recommendations safety-pinned to their shirts.
In some cases, you bite your lip, as you supported or even encouraged this child’s majoring in pomo-such-and-such studies. However, sometimes agents of the cruel world (i.e., reviewers and editors) disagree about whether it needs another one of these and what can be done to improve chances for independent living. You are grateful for the feedback, but it’s not always clear how you can implement changes, especially when recommendations conflict. In the meantime, the child is lying aimlessly on your couch with earbuds in, leaving dirty dishes and empty candy wrappers everywhere, and muttering monosyllabic responses to your increasingly alarmed inquiries about future steps towards independence.
During these times, the rewriting process feels more like this:
More comparisons after the jump…
Want to see Big Data in action? More Tweets/More Votes will be presented on Monday, 8:30 am in the session on voting and elections.
Also, if anyone wants to chat, I can do Monday breakfast, 10:30 – 1pm-ish. I will also attend the book release party for guest blogger emeritus Hilary Levy Friedman on Monday. Her book, Playing to Win, will soon be released by the University of California Press. Email me if you want to meet up.
Recently on Facebook, a friend commented they had received more opportunities in the last few weeks than in the last few years of a distinguished, but rocky, career. I was reminded that the same had happened to me. For the first 5 years after grad school, I ate alone at ASA most of the time. Emails would go unanswered. Dont’ pity me. It wasn’t *that* bad. A few buddies would invite me for talks.
Then, sometime around 2008 it changed overnight. People just started contacting me for various reasons. Some were blog readers, others were in my specialty. Others contacted me for teaching, professional, or publishing purposes. I call it the academic phase transition.
My guess is that this occurs in most professions. Just by getting older and managing to get a few things done, you become visible. And, though its predictable in some sense, we experience it as discontinuous effect on our self-image.
Dirk vom Lehn is a lecturer in the Department of Management at King’s College London. His research focuses on ethnomethodology in organizational settings. He asked if I could post this response to Christakis’ NY Times article on the need to update the social sciences.
Stagnating the Social Sciences? A response to Nicholas Christakis?
In his recent piece “Let’s Shake Up the Social Sciences” published in the New York Times on July 19th, Nicholas Christakis calls for interdisciplinary research that creatively links the social sciences to other disciplines, in particular the natural sciences. I very much welcome his efforts to open a debate about the future of the social sciences. All too often scientists create separate enclaves of knowledge that, if joint up with others, could lead to important new academic, technological and political developments. There however are a few problems with Christakis’ argument. I wish to briefly address three of these problems here:
I am surprised Christakis puts forward the argument that “the social sciences have stagnated” over the past years. He gives no empirical evidence for such a stagnation of the social scientific disciplines and I wonder what the basis for this argument is. If he was to attend the Annual Conference of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in New York in August he will see how sociology has changed over the past few decades, and he will be able to identify specific areas where sociologists have impacted developments in policy, technology, medicine, the sciences, the arts and elsewhere.
His argument ignores also the long-standing cooperation between social scientists, technology developers, computer scientists, medics and health services providers, policy makers, etc. etc. etc. For example, for several decades social scientists, computer scientists and engineers have collaborated at research labs of PARCs, Microsoft and elsewhere, jointly working to develop new products and services.
Loyal reader and Fabsterista asked me to post this job announcement:
The Department of Sociology at UC San Diego (http://sociology.ucsd.edu/) is committed to academic excellence and diversity within the faculty, staff, and student body. The department invites applications for the newly endowed Daniel Yankelovich Chair in Social Thought beginning July 1, 2014. The substantive areas of the chair-holder’s research are open. However, the holder of the Yankelovich chair should be a senior scholar whose research and teaching clearly demonstrate the ability to transcend the boundaries of their discipline in understanding important issues and problems; to place their research and thinking in the larger context of society; and to communicate cogently and clearly, with a view to exercising influence in both the academy and the world beyond the academy. Interested individuals are asked to submit a CV and samples of their written work. We also ask for separate statements concerning the candidate’s research agenda and their contributions, or potential for contributions, to diversity. All application materials should be submitted electronically via UCSD’s Academic Personnel On-Line RECRUIT (https://apol-recruit.ucsd.edu/). Please select the following job title: SOCIOLOGY Yankelovich Chair (10-XXX) JPF00XXX.
The review of applications will begin Friday, November 1, 2013 and will continue until the position is filled. Salary commensurate with qualifications and based on UC pay scale.
Check it out.
Update: Olderwoman reminds me that she did not single out the ASR in her original post. I have revised this post to reflect that. Regardless, we agree that journal norms are broken, especially at our beloved flagship journal.
This morning, I read olderwoman’s blog post about problems with journals that request too many revisions, or that invite revisions too easily (“inflated R&Rs”). This issue has arisen with respect to the American Sociological Review, the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association. The ASR has been giving R&R’s to many submitted articles, much more than average, and they are soliciting many reviews per article. It has also been sending articles through multiple rounds of revisions, leading to articles being held at the journal for years. Since they seem to accept to same number of articles per year (about 40), that implies that the multiple rounds of revision do not lead to publication for many authors. Here is my response to that post:
I am asking the American Sociological Review to curtail this practice. In writing this, I have no personal stake in this matter. I do not have any papers under review, nor has the ASR accepted my previous submissions. I only write as a member of the profession, senior faculty at a top 20 program, a former managing editor of an ASA journal (Sociological Methodology), former associate editor of the American Journal of Sociology, occasional board member for various journals, author, and reviewer.
The inflated R&R policy is damaging sociology in a few ways. First, by continually R&R’ing papers that have little chance of publication, the ASR is “trapping” papers that may be perfectly suitable for specialty journals or other outlets. Thus, inflated R&Rs keep good research out of the public eye for years. You are suppressing science.
Second, inflated R&Rs damage the reputation of the ASR itself. The goal of a flagship journal is to be very picky. When people hear that a paper has been invited for revision, they believe that the editors think that the paper is of great merit and wide relevance. Inflated R&Rs undermine that perception.
Third, you are damaging people’s careers. By trapping papers, you preventing papers from being resubmitted to other journals that can help their careers. Also, R&R invitations are often seen as signs of intellectual progress, especially for doctoral students and junior faculty. By lumping together strong and weak papers, you are debasing the “currency” of the R&R. When people see “R&R at American Sociological Review,” they no longer know what to think and that pollutes the junior level job market.
Fourth, you are wasting precious time. Reviewers are usually full time faculty who teach, mentor graduate and undergraduate students, do administrative work, conduct research, and have full family lives. Thus, when you ask for a fourth reviewer, or a invite a paper for a third round of R&R, you are taking up many, many scarce resources.
If a typical professor earns $50/hour, and it takes about 3 hours to read and write comments, then three rounds of R&R with four reviewers each, creates a cost of $50 * 3 * 4 *3 = $1800 for each paper . By doing that for hundreds of papers, you’ve burned up almost a half-million dollars in faculty time. I did not to mention the ill feeling generated when reviewers see yet another request for a review.
So, please, implement policies then ensure an efficient, reliable, and highly selective e review process. It’s the right thing to do.
In the movie The Holy Grail, one of the most insightful scenes is when Sir Lancelot charges a castle to save a maiden in distress. What makes it funny is that he charges across this open field for a few minutes and he is completely ignored by the guards. When he finally reaches the castle door, the guards act totally surprised. But of course, they should have seen it coming.
Sociology is having that moment right now. Right now, the territory of the social sciences is under pressure to expand and reshape itself. And we’ve seen this coming for a while. The forces are many. Increasing knowledge of gene-behavior links. The appearance of “Big Data,” which we’ve argued about on this blog. The demand for experiments from the policy world.
There are a few responses. We can simply ignore these trends and continue as usual. That’s what Nicholas Christakis was arguing against in his column. Or, we can uncritically accept them, a position which has some advocates. The response I’d prefer to see is a more thorough engagement, an integration of these issues into the core social sciences. Otherwise, we’ll become the discipline of 20th century theory and methods, not the place that comprehensively looks at social life.
Neil Gross cements his position as the leading sociologist of American intellectuals with his new book Why are Professors Liberal and Why do Conservatives Care?* This book collects into one text a series of arguments about the American professoriate that Gross and his collaborators have presented in a series of articles. Essentially, Gross argues that American academia, on the average, is liberal because of self-selection on the part of conservatives. The specific issue is that academia, for a number of historically specific reasons, has acquired an aura of extreme liberalism. Thus, conservative students say “Why bother? Academia is for liberals. What’s the point?”
What is impressive about Gross and his confederates is that they test all kinds of alternative hypotheses. For example, one might think that academic skills explain conservatives lower enrollments in PhD programs. But it doesn’t. Differences in values don’t explain much either. In other words, Gross et al systematically test all kinds of hypotheses and show that they are simply not true or that they only explain a small proportion of the differences between conservatives and others.
Eventually, using historical evidence and interview data, Gross makes a good case for self-selection. Sociology is a good example. In principle, there’s lots of places for non-liberal sociologists. For example, one could work on non-ideological aspects of sociology, like research methods. Or, as many conservatives have done, they could work in areas of interest like family sociology, where in some cases (like studies of negative divorce effects on kids), they could work on topics that are consistent with their ideology. But if you sit down and ask a typical conservative undergrad why they didn’t take many soc courses, they’ll tell you an image of evil ultra-liberals who are bent on political correctness.
Now, where I would criticize this book is the study of conservatives. For example, Gross argues that there isn’t much evidence of bias against conservatives. He uses the example of a study he conducted with Jeremy Fresse and Ethan Fosse where they contacted graduate directors with email from fake students. Some emails mentioned working for a GOP candidate, some a Democrat, and other none at all. Gross et al find no differences in how graduate directors responded.
First, there’s the issue, which Gross acknowledges, that graduate directors probably write a lot of boiler plate emails. But there’s a deeper criticism – why didn’t Gross interview people at risk for discrimination from liberal colleagues? For example, why not interview liberal (Keynesian) and conservative economists (monetarists or Austrians)? Or, why not interview Rawlsian philosophers (liberals) and compare their careers with Nozickians (libertarians) or Burkeans (conservatives)? Or, even better, why not collect materials from people who submitted books or articles on conservative topics but were rejected?
I think that Gross is right – anti-conservative bias is not nearly as bad as people think, if it exists at all – but the treatment of conservatives is not nearly as nuanced as the treatment of liberals. This probably speaks to the development of the project, which started with analyzing massive data (like the GSS) that trues to tease out conservative/liberal differences. Developing a theory or map of conservative intellectuals probably came late in the game.
Regardless, this book is massive progress on a central issue in the study of American intellectuals and the academy. This will be required reading for anyone interested in this topic.
* And I’m not saying that because he said nice things about me in the book. But he did. Oh yeah, and I’m not just saying it because he edited another cool forthcoming book about academia with a chapter by moi. But he did. Ok, maybe he buttered up a little. But just a little!
Two online discussions motivate this post. First, there is the discussion of women in academia, prompted by a Slate article that reports a baby penalty for female scholars. Second, there was a recent twitter discussion about some sociologists who are leaving academia to work for Silicon Valley.
The underlying issue is that academic careers are poorly structured. They essentially require that people take low pay and job insecurity for at least ten years – assuming that you don’t do the post-doc route, that the PhD is only 5 years and you get voted for tenure at the beginning of year 6. In other words, academia requires that individuals shoulder a great deal of risk compared to other professionals. This is obviously hard for women. It is also a bad deal for people who can work in exciting fields outside of academia, such as people with strong programming skills.
The result is that academia is suffering a brain drain. We are losing all kinds of people – women, people with good technical skills, and so forth. Collectively, people just shrug their shoulders and do nothing. And it makes sense – we don’t get rewarded for improving the discipline. We only get rewarded for publication.
But, still, there are some concrete steps that we can do. For example, to help retain women, we should actively make it easier to have children and raise them earlier in the life course. Parental leave is good, but also we should pull back on service work for pre-tenure faculty. For programmers, we should think about structuring PhD programs in ways that don’t sprawl into decade long endeavors and this astronomically increase the opportunity cost of academia.
I am now at the age where I actually have PhD students working with me. In other words, I need to apply the grad skool rulz to my own life. In the spirit of discussion, I outline my philosophy as a teacher of PhD students:
- Be firm but nice. No need to make people cry.
- My discipline has norms and standards for research that can be taught. I will teach this “normal science” to my students.
- I will be flexible. Though most students have to master the “meat and potatoes” of research, some can work on more idiosyncratic projects.
- I will be in my office a lot. Students can drop in or make appointments for the short term.
- I will provide concrete directions when possible.
- I will provide specific detailed advice on professional issues, like article writing, the job market, and teaching.
- I am hands on – I want people to contact me a lot.
- I will help students develop projects they can complete in a timely fashion. No need to produce that 100 page dissertation proposal, a shorter one will do.
- I will not tell you what to research, but I will give you lots of advice on how to execute it.
- I will give you ample opportunities to co-author.
- I will get paperwork done on time.
- I will accept any student, unless they have shown gross academic incompetence or they are working on a topic that I simply can’t help you with.
Consider this an open thread on graduate student mentoring.
I boil down a few arguments, my own and from the last round of comments, in favor of three essays as the default for academia:
1. In all sciences, most professional fields, and most social sciences, articles are standard. There are even humanities areas, like philosophy, where articles are standard. Even for book writers, articles are important. Most book writers do an article or two before jumping to the book.
2. The purpose of the dissertation is to show the ability to conduct research. Creativity is great – and should be rewarded with a degree – but the standard is normal science and competence.
3. The purpose of the graduate program is professional training – not an extended multi-year post-doc.
4. Standards actually protect students. It is too easy for faculty to hold students to unattainable standards, and drag them out for years. Moving goal posts is a real problem in graduate education. I’ve seen it happen too often. If there is a concrete standard, both students and faculty will know when “enough is enough.” There is a basis for appeal if professors are being unreasonable.
5. Three essays is a default, not a requirement. But still, in sociology, for example, the overwhelming majority should probably start with that unless they do ethnography. In other words, try a few articles. If your ideas *really* require more space, ok. But try the basics first.
Bottom line: Doctoral programs are about professional training and most academic professions focus on articles. That doesn’t mean that we should not allow more ambitious dissertations, but that should be reserved for a small minority of cases.
One of the problems of graduate education in many fields is that the requirements for the dissertation are vague. Another issue is that the dissertation is a book length treatment, even in fields where articles are standard. This leads students spend years writing overly long documents that have little value. For that reason, I encourage all my students to use the “three essays” format as the default. It’s simple, it works, and they’ll get done. If they have a good reason for deviating, then we can talk about it. But most folks should really stick to “three essays.”
There is now more systematic research showing that this advice is correct. A recent AER paper authored by Wendy Stock and John Siegfried shows that economists who use the “three essays” format do better in terms of academic job placement and subsequent publication. The abstract says it all:
Dissertations in economics have changed dramatically over the past forty years, from primarily treatise-length books to sets of essays on related topics. We document trends in essay-style dissertations across several metrics, using data on dissertation format, PhD program characteristics, demographics, job market outcomes, and early career research productivity for two large samples of US PhDs graduating in 1996-1997 or 2001-2002. Students at higher ranked PhD programs, citizens outside the United States, and microeconomics students have been at the forefront of this trend. Economics PhD graduates who take jobs as academics are more likely to have written essay-style dissertations, while those who take government jobs are more likely to have written a treatise. Finally, most of the evidence suggests that essay-style dissertations enhance economists’ early career research productivity.
My take home message? We should drop the pretense of the sprawling dissertation. All departments should require or strongly encourage the three essay format as the default. If the student wants something else, they need to make the argument.
Hat tip to our evil twin, Organizations and Markets.
It has been a while since I have posted on orgtheory.net and sadly I am jumping back into the fray to announce the death of one of the great men of organizational sociology. Michel Crozier died last night in Paris. He was 91.
I moved to Paris two years ago to join the research center that Crozier founded, the centre de sociolology des organisations. The CSO is associated with the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). Crozier also taught at Sciences Po for many years.
Crozier’s intellectual journey began, as mine did, with a study of the United States labor movement. But it was his 1964 book, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon, that established him as a major voice in our field. That book challenged (or maybe it is better to say, evolved) the Weberian view of bureaucracy. Before him, organizational theory focused largely on what we could see in an organizational chart. What went on behind that chart — the interpersonal relationships in which were embedded multiple, often contradictory systems of power — was seen as a distraction or, worse, something to be suppressed. Along with his contemporary, Alvin Gouldner, Michel Crozier brought these kinds of relationships into the light. This led Crozier to conclude that organizations limited actors as much as they enabled them; that organizations were not simply solutions to problems, they were problems to be solved too. Myriad schools of thought within our field have followed from this.
Moreover, as I have come to understand, the distinction that many of us Americans hold on to between “objective” social science and the messier “real” world of administrative control (and reform) holds much less sway here in France. Crozier was not “just” an academic. He was a critic and a crusader for changes in French society and beyond. It was from this side of his work that his student and collaborator, Erhard Freidberg, set the intellectual tone for Sciences Po’s Master of Public Affairs, of which I am now the Director. So I owe him not only an intellectual debt of gratitude, but an organizational one as well.
Bon voyage Monsieur Crozier. Reposez en paix.