Archive for the ‘academia’ Category
I’m back from ASA and engaging in a little just-in-time production of syllabi. (For anyone who’s wondering, I did take notes on the “future of orgs” panel and will write those up, but want to run them by the presenters before I post them.)
As grad director, I get to run the proseminar for first-year graduate students. Ours is one hour a week, both semesters. In the past, about half of it has been faculty introducing students to their research areas — e.g. urban week, work & orgs week, demography week, etc.
But grad students have expressed dissatisfaction with this format, and I don’t think faculty are overly thrilled with it, either. So I’m trying to mix things up a bit and make it more immediately useful.
One challenge is that while we want students to get the message about the need to publish, etc., in the past they’ve found such messages a bit overwhelming in the first year, when they’re still trying to figure out how to get through Durkheim. So I’ve tried to approach this from the perspective of, “What do you need to know your first year of grad school?”
Here’s what I’m thinking in terms of weekly topics. This is by substantive area, not chronological. Most weeks will involve guest speakers; I’ll lead perhaps 1/3 of them.
- How to get around the university
- Intro to the grad curriculum (DGS)
- Introduction to the department (department chair)
- How to get things done in the department (graduate secretary)
- Guide to library resources (librarian)
- How to get through the first year of grad school
- How to “read” 1000 pages a week (DGS)
- What I wish I knew my first semester (2nd and 3rd year students)
- Mid-semester check-in (open discussion)
- Surviving stats (stats faculty, 2nd-year grad student)
- The “hidden curriculum” (including race, gender, class issues; DGS and possibly grad students)
- Successful TAing (one faculty, one student)
- Making the most of your RA experience (ditto)
- Time management (DGS? Or someone better with time management skills…)
- The personal side of grad school (social life, psychological challenges) (not sure…)
- Thinking about the next year
- What do I do in the summer? (2nd and 3rd year students)
- Reverse CV exercise—find people whose jobs you want—what did they have to do to get there? (DGS)
- Planning years 2, 3 and 4 (DGS)
- Looking back—how’d the first year go? (open discussion)
- Thinking about finances
- Fellowships and grants (DGS)
- Financial aid & personal finance (financial aid office rep, advanced students)
- Learning about the profession
- An overview of the profession (DGS)
- Developing a publishable research project (one student who collaborated with faculty, one who published from MA?)
- Developing mentors (advanced grad students)
Then there are a few topics that seem important, but that are not primarily first-year topics. I may include some of these, but open the meetings up to advanced grad students as well:
- My first article (advanced grad student)
- Publishing in AJS/ASR (faculty)
- Will your dissertation be a book? (book faculty)
- Types of jobs (guest panel—research, teaching, non-academic)
- Presenting at conferences (advanced students)
- Choosing a dissertation topic (advanced student + faculty)
- Finding postdocs (???)
- The transition to becoming faculty (new junior faculty)
What do you think? Additions? Omissions? Things to skip?
ASA Conference Bingo is on a permanent vacation pending its return around 2030 in a nostalgic comeback that warms the hearts of fans old and new. But as several people have asked me about it, here is a collection of the cards from years past. Not available in stores.
Usually when someone starts throwing citation impact data at me, my eyelids get heavy and I want to crawl into a corner for a nap. Like Teppo wrote a couple of years ago, “A focus on impact factors and related metrics can quickly lead to tiresome discussions about which journal is best, is that one better than this, what are the “A” journals, etc. Boring.” I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, I’ve heard a lot about impact factors lately. The general weight of impact factors as a metric for assessing intellectual significance has seemed to skyrocket since the time I began training as a sociologist. Although my school is not one of them, I’ve heard of academic institutions using citation impact as a way to incentivize scholars to publish in certain journals and as a measure to assess quality in hiring and tenure cases. And yet it has never struck me as a very interesting or useful measure of scholarly worth. I can see the case for why it should be. Discussions about scholarly merit are inherently biased by people’s previous experiences, status, in-group solidarity, personal tastes, etc. It would be nice to have an objective indicator of a scholar’s or a journal’s intellectual significance, and impact factors pretend to be that. From a network perspective it makes sense. The more people who cite you, the more important your ideas should be.
My problem with impact factor is that I don’t trust the measure. I’m skeptical for a few reasons: gaming efforts by editors and authors have made them less reliable, lack of face validity, and instability in the measure. Let me touch on the gaming issue first.
A common, and important, critique of journals is that they don’t want to publish null results. So when I saw a new piece in Socio-Economic Review yesterday reporting essentially null findings, I thought it was worth a shout-out. The article, by economist Stefan Thewissen, is titled, “Is It the Income Distribution or Redistribution That Affects Growth?” (paywalled; email me for a copy). Here’s the abstract:
This study addresses the central question in political economy how the objectives of attaining economic growth and restricting income inequality are related. Thus far few studies explicitly distinguish between effects of income inequality as such and effects of redistributing public interventions to equalize incomes on economic growth. In fact, most studies rely on data that do not make this distinction properly and in which top-coding is applied so that enrichment at the top end of the distribution is not adequately captured. This study aims to contribute using a pooled time-series cross-section design covering 29 countries, using OECD, LIS, and World Top Income data. No robust association between inequality and growth or redistribution and growth is found. Yet there are signs for a positive association between top incomes and growth, although the coefficient is small and a causal interpretation does not seem to be warranted.
Okay, so there’s the “signs for a positive association” caveat. But “the coefficient is small and a causal interpretation does not seem to be warranted” seems pretty close to null to me.
In light of the attention this report from S&P has been getting — e.g. from Krugman today (h/t Dan H.) — all solid findings, null and otherwise, on the inequality-growth relationship warrant publication. Hats off to SER for publishing Thewissen’s.
Yesterday afternoon I ended up reading this Vox story about an effort to rank US Universities and Colleges carried out in 1911 by a man named Kendric Charles Babcock. On Twitter, Robert Kelchen remarks that the report was "squashed by Taft" (an unpleasant fate), and he links to the report itself, which is terrific. Babcock divided schools into four Classes, beginning with Class I:
And descending all the way to Class IV:
Babcock’s discussion of his methods is admirably brief (the snippet above hints at the one sampling problem that possibly troubled him), so I recommend you read the report yourself.
University reputations are extremely sticky, the conventional wisdom goes. I was interested to see whether Babcock’s report bore that out. I grabbed the US News and World Report National University Rankings and National Liberal Arts College Rankings and made a quick pass through them, coding their 1911 Babcock Class. The question is whether Mr Babcock, should he return to us from the grave, would be satisfied with how his rankings had held up—more than a century of massive educational expansion and alleged disruption notwithstanding.
It turns out that he would be quite pleased with himself.
A recent Inside Higher Ed article describes the world of academic self-publishing. My own view of the issue:
Fabio Rojas, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, said he’s “still a believer in regular publishing.” (His next book is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.)
“The reason that academia has value is that we’re people who engage in self-criticism,” Rojas said. “We have peer review. It’s not perfect, it doesn’t always work, and a lot of garbage gets published anyway. But that’s why most of the energy in academia may be on traditionally peer-reviewed materials — because that’s what the value added is.”
But self-publishing, the sociologist said, “is now a new tool in the tool box.”
“If I want to get something out there that doesn’t quite fit the mold, then I have this new option,” he said. “What if Mark Zuckerberg had to go to the Myspace people and ask permission to start Facebook? That would be absurd. Same thing with academia: after a certain point you have to say, if this is a truly good idea, you have to take the initiative and get it out there.”
Other scholars, however, aim for a middle ground. They want to avoid the hassles of academic publishing, but they don’t want to abandon the long-cherished forms that scholarship tends to take: the review, the article, the monograph. And they hesitate to publish through Amazon or through similar websites like Smashwords or Lulu, which publish all manuscripts without any screening process.
The online, open-access journal Sociological Science is one example of how scholars have tried to develop alternative publishing models. The journal is peer-reviewed: well-regarded sociologists select which papers to publish. But the journal does not offer editorial suggestions, and it publishes all accepted papers within 30 days of receiving them.
A recent article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives reports a recent attempt to curb grade inflation. High GPA departments at Wellesley College were required to cap high grades. The abstract:
Average grades in colleges and universities have risen markedly since the 1960s. Critics express concern that grade inflation erodes incentives for students to learn; gives students, employers, and graduate schools poor information on absolute and relative abilities; and reflects the quid pro quo of grades for better student evaluations of professors. This paper evaluates an anti-grade-inflation policy that capped most course averages at a B+. The cap was biding for high-grading departments (in the humanities and social sciences) and was not binding for low-grading departments (in economics and sciences), facilitating a difference-in-differences analysis. Professors complied with the policy by reducing compression at the top of the grade distribution. It had little effect on receipt of top honors, but affected receipt of magna cum laude. In departments affected by the cap, the policy expanded racial gaps in grades, reduced enrollments and majors, and lowered student ratings of professors.
My sense is that this shows that grade inflation, whatever its historical origins, acts as a competitive advantage for programs that few other market advantages. If you don’t have a strong external job market or external funding, then you can boost enrollments via grade inflation. It also absolves programs by masking racial under performance. The lesson for academic management is this: If you have inequality in funding, departments will compensate by weak grading. If you have inequality by race, departments will compensate by weak grading. Thus, academic leaders who care about either of these issues should implement policies where departments don’t choose standards and are accountable for results.