working on grad skool rulz 2.0

Next summer, I will revise the best PhD advice book you can get: Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure. One topic that will be revised is the section on liberal arts colleges. I’ll probably add something more on grants for faculty.

But I am still puzzled about one topic – advice for European academics. Consistently, I’ve been told that the Rulz aren’t very relevant to European academia. So I asked for advice. I got some good feedback on the differences between the US and Europe, but the comments didn’t provide  concrete strategies of the type that make up the Rulz. If you are a successful European academic, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Awesome ebooks: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz  

Written by fabiorojas

October 27, 2012 at 12:16 am

6 Responses

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  1. I think that it’s difficult to speak of European academia. There are huge differences between the countries and for funding many scholars still heavily rely on their national science foundations, rather than on the European Science Foundation. The traditions of these science foundations in terms of their funding schemes and selection rules have either been very stable or they have changed in an idiosyncratic fashion.

    To give you an example, in The Netherlands (I got my PhD there in 2012), PhD candidates are technically not students; they are employees of the university. This changes the rules of the game for PhD candidates because they’re financially better off than many US PhD students and their status as an employee makes the experience very different (I am a primary source because I am a PhD student in the US now).

    There are many other differences between Grad School Rules in the US and EU countries and the (partial) adoption of US Grad School Rules by some EU universities complicates things even further.



    October 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm

  2. I don’t know anything about European academia (A4 paper?), but I have a suggestion for the next edition: What about this idea some applicants have that they should do a lot of networking before admissions — arranging campus visits, sending email to all the faculty, etc. Under what conditions, if any, is a pre-admissions ground-softening campaign a good idea? As a grad director I mostly don’t like this, since it asks me to spend a lot of time on students who have not yet been vetted by our admissions process — which is the process we have in place to decide if we want to spend time on students. If your next edition would lead to a reduction in this process, I’ll buy another copy!


    Philip N. Cohen

    October 27, 2012 at 2:28 pm

  3. Forget about Europe. It’s not a country with one academic logic; it’s a continent. There are lots of different academic cultures and trajectories in different nations. And a pretty good rule of thumb overall: if you don’t know anything, you shouldn’t be giving advice.


    Shamus Khan

    October 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm

  4. Agree with Shamus: Forget about Europe. You don’t work there, so why would people believe in the advice given in the book about European academia. You may want to have a targeted audience. I’ve recommended this book to all my close friends/students who want to enter academia. The information provided in this book should get you another promotion. Much more important than all the junk that we are producing today.



    October 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

  5. Overall you’re right. This book is mainly about American academia. However, it doesn’t seem too much to ask For one brief section On the topic of European academia.



    October 28, 2012 at 3:43 pm

  6. Fabio, here’s some info. on the UK (mainly social sciences) that might be of use. As background, I am a Professor (i.e. full-professor) at Cardiff University School of Social Sciences (a big, 160 Staff, multidisciplinary School). In terms of credibility, I got my chair about nine years after I finished my PhD: I think I have a good handle on what it takes to succeed in UK academia.

    a) Ph.D. choices: The UK system is less formally hierarchical than the US. There are various self selecting groups of HEIs (The ‘Russell group’, the ‘1994 group’, ‘million plus’) which I won’t bore you with, but it does mean that there are not the same obvious limits to mobility (between where you do your PhD and where you get a job) that there are in the US. For example, I’ve been on recruiting panels, and at no point (I don’t think) have we ever said ‘We can’t consider that person because of where they did their PhD’.
    This means the main issue about where you do your PhD is around money. If you are bright and rich, then you can probably self fund your PhD in most places (i.e. the hurdles for getting accepted to study will be low). Everyone else needs funding. Very little of this comes from universities themselves (I am mainly talking about social science/humanities here. Physical sciences may fund PhD through lab slush funds). The main source is the ESRC (Economic and Social research Council) which has recently moved to funding PhD through a system of Doctoral Training Centres (multi institutional [normally] bodies which organise training and distribute funding). This means if the university you want to go to isn’t affiliated with a DTC, then you won’t get ESRC funding.
    PhD’s funded via the ESRC last 4 years (the first year is a research methods course) with an extra year to write up. If you over shoot then your department runs the risk of going on a funding ‘blacklist’. Therefore UK PhDs tend to be much shorter than in the US.

    b) Publication: Every 7 or 8 years in the UK there is an assessment of the quality of research going on in academia. This process, now called the Research Evaluation Framework (or REF) takes 4 ‘outputs’ (e.g. articles of chapters in edited collections) and puts them before a peer review panel. Each item is graded on a scale (from 1* to 4*). The overall score for each department/university is then used to distribute money. However bananas/statist/control-freaky this process sounds to US ears (and when I have discussed this with US colleagues, they look at me like I’m mad) this MATTERS. The REF shapes how departments recruit new teaching staff. The key question we ask ourselves is ‘is this person REFable’ – i.e. are they producing enough, and is it of good enough quality?
    The lessons about the REF for PhD students who want to work in the UK system are these:
    – Publish while doing your PhD
    – Don’t worry about getting a monograph out of your thesis. At most it will count for two items, i.e. equivalent to two articles.
    – Don’t worry about chapters in edited collections. While REF panels read everything, on average, peer reviewed journal articles count for more than chapters.
    – Focus on articles in good, high quality journals – these can be sub-disciplinary specific if you like, but general sociology journals are worth getting.

    Obviously this focus on publishing has strong echoes of the previous gradskool rulz, but the focus on specific kinds of outputs is specific to the UK. There really is a drift away from monographs, and it is perfectly possible get chairs in well-considered sociology departments without having published a book.

    Hope this helps. I can fill in the (massive gaping) details if you want. Lots of other differences of course but these are the main ones off the top of my head.



    Adam Hedgecoe

    October 29, 2012 at 11:25 am

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