so, you wanna be fabio’s student?

In this post, I want to discuss my style as a dissertation advisor. This is mainly for potential students, but I also want to start a thread on how to best advise doctoral students in sociology and related areas.

1. Statue of Liberty: With a few exceptions, I will accept any student who needs a dissertation advisor. This is a personal decision on my part. In my career, I’ve been in institutions where students couldn’t find advisers. It’s a problem when faculty get too picky about who they take on and a few advisers get saddles with most of the load. I will not contribute to the problem. The exceptions to the Statue of Liberty policy are where (a) the student is really having academic problems; I’ve never been able to help these students as much as I have tried and (b) you happen to be in a specialty where having an non-specialist advisor will really create problems for you.

2. Even though I accept the masses, I have a few general areas where I am most helpful: orgs/economic sociology; political sociology; education/higher education; sociology of knowlegde and science; formal methods/computational sociology. Specifically: institutional theory, networks, movements, social media, rational choice, higher education/disciplines, computational sociology. I am also developing my knowledge of health.

3. General approach I: I think it is important to tailor the CV to the student. If you want an R1 job, I will encourage publication. If you want liberal arts, we will work on your teaching CV. For policy jobs, speedy completion and showing research in a policy related area.

4. General approach II: I focus on nuts and bolts “American social science.” In other words, I like clearly stated problems, high quality data and a focus on description or inference. I don’t care if you are qualitative or quantitative. Just make it good.

5. General approach III: In general, I don’t tell people what their dissertation will be about. I do try to tell them if it is a good or bad. In other words, I don’t say “this will never work.” Instead, I’ll tell you about what’s been done, what sounds good, what might get them a job and so forth. But making a decision is what the process is about. If you want to do it, convince me!

6. General approach IV: Hands on. I believe in solving problems now rather than later. Some of my students come by all the time, others once or twice a semester. In general, I believe in constant interaction so we move students forward. For this reason, I think an open doors policy is good.

7. Philosophy of the dissertation: First, my default for most sociology students is “three chapters.” Why? The dissertation is a pedagogical exercise meant to show that the student can do research. It is not a masterpiece. Also, most students will start with articles so this is good. I note that this is a default – not a rule. If a student really needs a book format dissertation, that’s ok.

8. Dissertation quality: It is important that students be judged according to their career goals. All students must submit a good dissertation but how good can vary. The research oriented PhD student should be held to a higher standard than the student who will find non-academic work.

9. Graduation: For students oriented toward academia, article = graduation. For other students, we can start the graduation process as soon as I have two or three complete empirical chapters.

Use the comment to disucss how you approach PhD training.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

December 30, 2014 at 12:01 am

2 Responses

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  1. Expectations, style and communication approach is something all PhD supervisors should make explicit upfront. This comes With discussing student’s ambitions, as it is pointed out. Preparing the NeXT academic generations is a major task/duty that is too often overlooked: academics, as well as students have responsibilities and should be made accountable all along the process. There are however some uncertainties that have to be handled flexibly. 1) some students do not know what they really want to become (academic/policy..), they learn it towards the end of their doctorate 2) what to do when a student is underperforming? there might be many reasons for this, it can be only temporary, what should a supervisor do? advise on alternative paths (including dropping out)? 3) Beyond carrying out the best possible Research Project, should a supervisor actively support (all) his/her students in the NeXT steps of career? Finally it sometimes depends on Your institution how you can develop a relationship With Your students and organize their PhD (graduate School, co-supervisions, stays abroad, Reporting on output, politics). My point is that PhDs should be made as efficient as possible without wasting time, resources and persons, Enhanced individual responsibility (both supervisor and student’s) is part of the solution, for instance in assuring equality of treatment. At the same time uncertainty is unavoidable and must be handled carefully.



    January 2, 2015 at 6:22 am

  2. Thanks, Tatiana, for these comments. One issue I have not resolved to my satisfaction is underperformance. I would love to see what others might say.



    January 2, 2015 at 6:51 am

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