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the indiana way of graduate education

I am often asked: how does Indiana consistently place people so well? Just to be clear, in terms of elite placement, we do as well as other programs of our rank. Our ranks floats in the 10-15 range, and we can do a good R1 placement every other year. Every few years we place at or near the top. What is amazing is that we consistently place all of our students, not just the “stars.” We place students that routinely get discarded at other programs. How does that happen?

First, it starts with the faculty. In hiring at both the junior and senior levels, we have a preference for people who are committed to graduate education. Also, in terms of culture, our faculty have a very different attitude towards graduate work. We don’t work on the “star system” where a few people get most of the attention. We believe that with the right training, we can help most graduate students start a career in either teaching or research. Finally, in terms of the faculty, we also tend to attract people who are productive and collaborative. Not much dead wood.

Second, we choose graduate students very carefully. Sure, we’ll hand out acceptance letters to a few “stars” of the market every year. That’s because, like most graduate programs, we take GPA and GRE scores very seriously.  But the difference is that Indiana doesn’t mark you down because you didn’t go to the “right” school. We’ve taken people from regional state schools, small liberal arts colleges, lower ranked MA programs, and other places. We read the entire application, not just the name of the BA school or the letter of recommendation. We’ve picked up some fantastic people who’ve gone on to great careers by looking for diamond in the rough.

Third, we have an insane amount of structure. It doesn’t work for everyone, but most people do well in a system that makes you jump through a lot of hoops. Like most soc programs, we have theory and methods in the first year. But we also have a summer research program, required writing workshops, a required minor, a required teaching workshop for TAs, and a bunch of other stuff. Annoying? Yes. But do people have the OLS model hammered into their brains at the end of the sequence? You bet.

Fourth, we have a deep “culture.” Our expectation is that all students should be able to complete the PhD. We also support students on multiple career tracks. We even have a special program for people interested in teaching intensive institutions. And nearly all faculty collaborate and believe in intensive 1 on 1 interaction. More than one visiting scholar has been shocked by this system.

Fifth, we have reasonable expectations and a high level of professionalism. We don’t pretend MA or PhD theses are master pieces. We want them to be good and we want them to be done. We also push people, but we (mostly!) don’t yell at people or treat grad students like children. We tell you what to do and then we try to help you. We’ll get back to you in a few weeks on your dissertation, not a few semesters.

Sixth is funding. While far from perfect, we’ve developed a system where most students can rely on 4-5 years of funding. Then, we have various mechanisms for helping most students. The pay is low, but we don’t play games. You get funding. You will get help. No games.

The issue with many programs is that they drop the ball on one or more of these issues. During my time at Chicago, for example, they had a nearly structureless program and very poor funding. Other programs will chase famous faculty without considering how well they place students. It’s too easy to slide into the star system of graduate training.  Considering all that, it’s a real testament to this department that we can go head to head with programs that have a fancier brand and a much bigger budget.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 18, 2014 at 12:56 am

25 Responses

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  1. but didn’t Eric Grollman say the opposite? Didn’t he complain that he was fearful of going down the teaching track because it was frowned upon? Didn’t Eric Grollman also say that he was asked if graduate school in Indiana beat the activist out of him? I cannot recall everything that he said but it is interesting that the “lived experiences” may not comport to what you just wrote.

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    peter

    June 18, 2014 at 1:39 am

  2. I can’t address some one’s personal experience. With regard to teaching, I point to Indiana’s record. This year alone, we placed someone at Grinnell, someone got a visiting spot at Hamilton, and a third got a tenure track service learning position at British Columbia. We also have a program called Preparing Future Faculty, which provides people with the training for teaching intensive careers. I will also add that our students publish in Teaching Sociology.

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    fabiorojas

    June 18, 2014 at 2:32 am

  3. Were these the only tenure-track placements for IU this year, or were you just mentioning these as examples of teaching schools? (Asking because your post prompted me to some mental comparison of placements from Back In The Day when I was at IU.)

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    jeremy

    June 18, 2014 at 2:53 am

  4. SUNY Albany also does well with placement, although I can’t say our professional development is as well-structured as Indiana’s sounds. Similarly, though, although we only put someone at an R1 every couple of years, students reliably get TT teaching jobs. (To be fair, increasingly after a year or two as a postdoc or VAP.)

    My theory is that schools like Albany, which attract students who want an academic career but who often prefer a teaching-focused position, actually do better with placement than more elite schools with similar department rankings. I feel like I hear more horror stories from programs that aren’t top-tier, but have a heavily R1-focused graduate program. Students aim for an R1, don’t have the record for it, but don’t have a record that appeals to a mixed- or teaching-focused program, either.

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    epopp

    June 18, 2014 at 2:57 am

  5. I am a product of the IU program, and I found the structure worked really well for me, but can understand that it doesn’t work great for everyone. I had a two kids while at IU, and while that was definitely challenging, the structure kept me on track. Having kids meant that I did not benefit from a lot of one on one with faculty, but I was supported and encouraged, which made the difference between me dropping out and finishing. I was impressed by the ongoing effort the department made to promote teaching as a viable track through courses, the Preparing Future Faculty program, fellowships, and co-authored articles on pedagogy. I feel I received incredible training in quantitative methods and theory. What I want to emphasize is that IU works to make space for people who are on different paths, and this can turn out to be a very important thing for graduate training.

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    kerrygreer

    June 18, 2014 at 2:58 am

  6. using the words of Eric Grollman, he calls the training at IU, “gradschool garbage.” His words, not mine.

    http://conditionallyaccepted.com/2013/09/13/gradschool-garbage/

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    peter

    June 18, 2014 at 3:53 am

  7. Jeremy: I only mentioned positions in teaching intensive programs. I didn’t keep track of all job seekers, but I know of these additional placements: Dartmouth/Neukom fellowship, UNC Charlotte + RWJ fellowship, and one administrative appointment at Butler. A few more people were on the market but I don’t know them personally. I am sure Ethan would be happy to fill you in if there are other placments.

    Peter: We are proud of Eric, his teaching, his publications and what we hope will be a fruitful career in the discipline.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 18, 2014 at 4:09 am

  8. Nice post Fabio. I completely agree IU does a good job placing a very high share of students in some sort of job. But, building on Jeremy’s question: Is it really the case that IU soc is placing people at top soc depts these days? It seems it has been a while since they placed anyone in top 10-15 (i.e. equal to IU). Wouldn’t the last couple of top 25 placements be UCI in ~2007, and Maryland in ~2010? I only ask because despite IU’s impressive and enviable record of placing almost all students and emphasizing teacher-training, I wonder sometimes if there is a tradeoff such that IU is not developing students for the top of the market.

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    IU Soc Alum

    June 18, 2014 at 7:35 am

  9. With the possible exception of #3s “insane amount of structure,” many (most?) 25 programs would say that they do the same things that you say makes IU special. Or more, because IU’s funding package isn’t all that generous, comparatively speaking. (Through no fault of its own: I’m sure IU does what it can with its budget.) They’d also claim similar, or better, outcomes.

    I’m increasingly convinced that the biggest predictor of job market success, however that is defined, is the quality/talent/ability of the student as he or she enters the program. That doesn’t mean that program structure, funding, culture, admissions strategies, faculty quality, course offerings, etc have no effect, just that their impact isn’t as great as faculty often like to think. Grad school isn’t all that different from college that way.

    Without random assignment of applicants to programs, we may never know the causal effect of program attributes. Grad school isn’t all that different from college that way, either.

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    krippendorf

    June 18, 2014 at 11:28 am

  10. IU soc alum: When I went on the job market around the turn of the millenium, the only IU alum at a top 15 school was Mike Hout, so it’s not like a recent matter for IU at the top of the market. When I was in grad school, there were Duke (not then a top 15), Maryland, and Toronto placements, and that was as good as it got. The idea has been more that IU has been great in completing for teaching jobs, for which the fact that IU gives students enormous opportunities to teach large classes on their own for years is obviously a big help. At NU, unless the student gets another gig at a nearby schools, the chance for a student to teach a class on their own with ~15 students is scarce.

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    jeremy

    June 18, 2014 at 2:10 pm

  11. From the hiring side at a SLAC, Indiana students on the market really do seem a lot more polished than most.

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    kenkolb

    June 18, 2014 at 2:13 pm

  12. Peter: I just re-read Dr. Grollman’s blog and he did not call IU grad training “garbage”. Your supposed quote isn’t even out of context, it just was not said. The “Garbage” he is talking about is baggage and then the blog goes on to discuss where this baggage came from. What is your deal with Dr. Grollman anyways? It seems you might be jealous of his ability to shrug off the expectations of others and forge his own path. Shouldn’t that be the definition of success?

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    Dayna

    June 18, 2014 at 2:37 pm

  13. Krippendorf: talent, ability, and willingness to work very hard and not give up in the face of obstacles are very, very important. But there are other things that are very important that IU’s structure might help to level out. Some of the most successful graduate students I have known have been those with parents who are faculty members (or at least Ph.D. holders), because these students have access to more of the hidden curriculum we must master for graduate school success. As a scholar of higher education, I began reading the Chronicle very early in graduate school, and I believe that helped me master the hidden curriculum despite being in a low-structure low-advising graduate program. But that does not seem like the best use of time for most graduate students.

    In terms of job placement, there are a variety of things students need to know to be successful–and talent and ability in terms of scholarship and teaching does not necessarily translate into talent and ability on the job market. For instance, do students know how to craft an effective CV and cover letter? Do they know that when applying for teaching jobs they should talk about their teaching more than their research in their cover letters? Do they know that they need to personalize the letters to each institution? Furthermore, do they know how to consider their own accomplishments and what sorts of positions those accomplishments would be a good match for (as epopp says).

    Finally, do faculty know how to write effective letters of recommendation for jobs of all types? I, for instance, strongly suspect that I lost the chance at one on-campus interview specifically because one or two of my letters did not discuss my teaching (or did not discuss it for more than a sentence or two), despite the fact that it was clear to everyone involved that I was only applying to teaching-focused institutions.

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    Mikaila

    June 18, 2014 at 2:43 pm

  14. A few comments:

    @ Jeremy and others: The comments have focused on teaching positions and a single year of placement (2013-14). Since I’ve been tenured (4 years), we’ve done very well in terms of R1 placement: Maryland, MSU, Columbia/Teachers College, Emory, Wyoming and UC Merced. In that same time, some older alumni have done well with jobs at Dartmouth (a different person than listed above), UT Austin, and FSU. In the mid-2000s, we placed at Irvine, Temple, Kentucky, and Boston U. And that’s just counting the R1 schools, not teaching intensive programs. We’ve had 2 RWJ fellows, a California presidential post-doc, and one other high prestige post-doc. In other words, if you insist on top 15 placement, you are missing a whole world of action, even though we can place in the top 15 if the cards are right. Bottom line: Indiana has one of the best placement records in sociology.

    @Krippendorf: I am so shocked that a structuralist like yourself is focusing so heavily on individual ability! I do not deny your main point, but on the margin, structure matters a lot.

    I will use my own life as an example. During my time at Chicago, I applied for a well known post-doc. The application required three letters. One person said they would write the letter. They didn’t. The post-doc program called me. I bugged the person. They said they’d do it. They never did. My application was never considered. Due to a complete lack of professionalism, that person reduced my chance of getting a post-doc from 10% to 0%. Now add that up over 6 years of a graduate career, and you see the cumulative disadvantage.

    Finally, you wrote: “25 programs would say that they do the same things that you say makes IU special.” Sure, they SAY it, but do they actually do it? Honestly, I’d say no. I’ve had direct experience with at least 4 PhD programs (Berkeley math, Michigan, Chicago, IU in sociology) and I’ve seen close friends and family do graduate school. They all talk nice, but few have built a really deep system that ensures across the board training. Some do it well, but some just screw things up. Let’s not be dense about this and pretend that everybody is above average.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 18, 2014 at 3:18 pm

  15. Fabio – I agree that all of the things you point out contribute to an effective grad school program, but couldn’t your labeling of Indiana as “special” be the result of anchoring on your crappy UofChicago experience? Your description of Indiana sounds a lot like the program I experienced at Arizona.

    Like

    brayden king

    June 18, 2014 at 3:47 pm

  16. Fabio makes a good point that top 15 was arbitrary, but the point was to identify placements at a comparable level to IU. Or, at whatever rank, to identify placements in the most competitive departments. I think we can agree there is a difference between say top 25 and schools ranked 50-75 even if both are R1s.

    Jeremy is probably right that there weren’t a lot of IU grads in top 15 research departments prior to ~2000. But Texas, Duke, Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State, NYU were likely top 25, and I think Duke was on the edge of top 15 back in 2000 as well. There were IU grads at all those places. Plus, IU itself had 1-2 faculty with IU PhDs.

    For the record, this comes from a place of great respect and admiration for IU. The question is whether a comprehensive “place everybody” program can also generate faculty for the most competitive departments. I’m not sure the answer, but it seems there could be tradeoffs. The emphasis on teacher training, and the heavy reliance on teaching for funding probably cut into some people’s productivity and ambition. Also, perhaps Chicago could rebut Fabio by saying “sure IU places everybody, but we produce the truly influential and path-breaking sociologists.”

    Like

    IU Soc Alum

    June 18, 2014 at 3:56 pm

  17. @Brayden, I never said “unique.” But IU is really way, way above the mean. Did you know it is the only *Department* to ever win the ASA graduate mentorship award? Did you know that IU has produced two ASA dissertation awards? Seriously, man. If that ain’t special, then we ain’t reading the same dictionary.

    And yes, I am actively trying to undo some bad experiences. So sue me!

    @IU Alum: “sure IU places everybody, but we produce the truly influential and path-breaking sociologists.” Um… like first person to get tenure at Harvard sociology in like 30 years? But, whatever.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm

  18. Fabs – I’ll send my lawyers over tomorrow.

    I get it though. There is a certain style of graduate school training that does very little apprenticing and instead just thrives on variance with the hope that a few of the very smart people they’ve recruited will turn out okay. And yes, this is a terrible way to help grad students get jobs. One of the positive consequences of the horrible job markets in recent years is that it seems like more top soc programs are trying to put more structure in their graduate training in order to reduce the number of failing grad students.

    Like

    brayden king

    June 18, 2014 at 4:57 pm

  19. “One of the positive consequences of the horrible job markets in recent years is that it seems like more top soc programs are trying to put more structure in their graduate training in order to reduce the number of failing grad students.”

    Amen!

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 18, 2014 at 4:57 pm

  20. I think it sounds like a very good program, but honestly, you could have changed a few details, and have been writing about UIC. Except we fund everyone in good standing for 5 years. We are very careful not to make students feel as if the R1 placement is necessarily better then the one they want. We place students at R1’s all the time, every few years at a UNC or Ohio State, and are also proud of the students who choose to stay in the Chicago city community colleges in tenure track jobs. Since I’ve been here (2006), every student who wants a tenure track job has received one within a year (or two at most) of graduation. We do not contribute to the pool of Ph.D. gypsy adjuncts. If we did, i’d think it would be time to stop creating so many new Ph.Ds.. .but so far, we train well, in research and teaching, and our students are doing well in this market…..

    Like

    Barbara Risman

    June 18, 2014 at 5:07 pm

  21. So if everyone thinks their program is doing somewhere between pretty well and awesome, yet there is a job market crisis, what is missing here? Are faculty (myself included) deluding themselves, forgetting the people who don’t get jobs because they disappear from sight? Is this just selection bias (who wants to post that their program is doing a lousy job)? I know many people who have struggled mightily on the job market, mostly from elite schools.

    I think there are plausibly two things going on here: faculty view their placement results in a rosier light than grad students would, and the middle and upper-middle tiers have less trouble placing most of their students than elite programs (and possibly than low-ranked PhD programs, though I don’t really know).

    Like

    epopp

    June 18, 2014 at 5:34 pm

  22. Also, as usual, we all would have been better off with crim degrees: http://chronicle.com/article/Believe-It-or-Not-in-Some/147207/.

    Like

    epopp

    June 18, 2014 at 5:36 pm

  23. “Um… like first person to get tenure at Harvard sociology in like 30 years? But, whatever.”

    Um … I suspect the other school who was trying to recruit said person could take about as much credit for this as IU. :) That, and a fortuitously timed and exogenous shift in the Harvard admin’s publicly stated goals about tenuring from within. I’m not saying the person in question didn’t deserve tenure, just that there were many, many factors other than, or at least in addition to, grad training some 5-7 years earlier. Causality, she is complex.

    It’s very consistent with the school effects literature to say that school effects are dwarfed by background effects. This isn’t saying that schools and teachers don’t matter, just that other stuff matters more. Not sure why sociologists have such a hard time believing this might apply to their beloved grad training programs, too.

    Like

    krippendorf

    June 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm

  24. Krippendorf: That was posted in response to the person who hypothetically asked if IU could produce leaders. Answer: yes.

    On a deeper point, you misread my earlier comments. I did not claim program effects are larger than talent or attitude. I claimed that they are big on the margin. That is, if a student is marginal (in the economic sense) when it comes to publishing, the IU system will help that student in a big way and the old Chicago way of “figure it out yourself” will not help.

    Finally, note the original post starts with two big points about selection effects for faculty and students. Good systems are only built from good people.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 18, 2014 at 6:29 pm

  25. IU Soc Alum/Fabio: Yeah, I didn’t mean what I was saying to be critical of IU. I love IU and it feels crazy that I haven’t been back there in over a decade (hint). I just read the earlier comment as suggesting that IU’s not having people placed in Top 15 dept was a recent development, so I just chimed in to say that, if anything, the historical anomaly was the flurry of ~4 placements at that level in relatively short span. I do think the placements in the decade since that period have been stronger than the decade since then than they were in the decade before that.

    (Regarding specifics of what the situation was 15 years ago, it was right between when Wallace left and Jackson arrived, so I don’t think there were any IU alums on the faculty. If there was a Texas person, I wasn’t aware of it; Hayward is an IU alum, but he was at Penn State back then.)

    Like

    jeremy

    June 18, 2014 at 10:52 pm


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