actually, you should concentrate on your research

Before the holiday, we discussed Sam Perry’s job market advice, which is that grad students should really buckle down on research. A number of commenters thought that Perry’s advice was misleading. Sure, if you want a job in a doctoral program, focus on research in graduate school. But, the critique goes, there are many jobs that are not in research intensive programs, so you don’t have to focus on research in grad school.

After giving this a bit of thought, I still side with Sam Perry. The argument has two parts. First, list the typical outcomes for graduate students and you will see that for many, focusing on research is the obvious thing to do:

  • Doctoral/MA program employment: obvious.
  • Administrative position in higher ed: They don’t care about your research post-PhD. They mostly want to know that you have finished your degree (e.g., your dissertation).
  • Policy/private sector: They don’t care about teaching, just that you finish the degree (i.e., get your research done).
  • Competitive liberal arts school: They tend to hire from elite schools, so you need to get into elite schools, which look for research potential in applicants. They also want PhD holders and publications for tenure. That suggests to me that a heckuva lot of effort should be put into research. Don’t believe me? Check out the CVs of the sociology faculty at Swarthmore,  Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Bates, Amherst, or other well known liberal arts school.

So, in these cases, research is either integral to the job or how you are selected for the job (i.e., getting your PhD and moving on to administration).

The second part of the argument: the major category of work that we have not discussed are jobs in less selective teaching intensive schools. Here, the advice is that one is best served by having a portfolio with a good mixture of teaching and research. Why? If you look at the CVs, that is what you see (pick a few random schools – like IU Northwest or Knox College). You see that those with tenure are those who have good teaching records in addition to *some* publication.

To summarize, if you look at typical jobs for academics post-PhD:

  • research is the job (doctoral programs, policy shops)
  • research screens applicants (higher ed admin, teaching intensive schools, some policy/private sector)
  • research is part of the package (most teaching intensive schools).

Final thoughts: (a) research is scarce compared to teaching; (b) having research on the CV broadens the jobs you can consider; (c) “research” means different things – it can range from “get your dissertation done” to “respectable peer reviewed journal” to “flagship journal hit;” and (d) if you are shooting for teaching intensive jobs, it is not too hard to acquire teaching experience of varying types to create a complete application.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 


Written by fabiorojas

December 28, 2015 at 12:01 am

3 Responses

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  1. […] people on the job market should also be aware of a few things. Fabio does a good job of attending to many of these in agreement with Sam Perry, but I want to go beyond those […]


  2. Fabio,
    As one of the commenters who was doing some pushback on the last blog post, I may sound like a broken record, but I need to clarify my position.
    My point wasn’t that people shouldn’t focus on publications, especially if we broaden the advice enough to include things like the dissertation itself. If anything, that advice is established enough to be common sense. I just took a look at the “on the market” page of 10 different departments of different rankings (from the top to one ranked in the 60s) and I couldn’t find a single student on the market without at least one publication.
    My point, and my issue with Perry’s advice, was with the “at the expense of all else” part (an “all else that included teaching anything other than a couple of core classes, service, volunteering, etc.). Let me emulate your post and do it by position type:
    – R1/R2/Elite LAC: yes, publish at the expense of all else (though Sherkat’s linked post at the bottom is important).
    – Administrative position: yes, finish your dissertation. But also do the types of service that are important for administration. I.e., have done, either voluntarily or paid as part of an assistantship package, things like assessment, reaccreditation, student affairs, etc which are where most sociologists are hired. I.e., more than just publications.
    – Policy/private sector: yes, finish your dissertation. But here things are going to depend on the particular area of industry one wants to go into. A friend who is now a higher up in an INGO always advises students who want to go the nonprofit route to get involved as early as possible, either as an intern or as a volunteer, with the organizations they are interested in, to both establish the required networks and get the necessary experience.
    – Non-elite teaching institutions: yes, we want publications. But the person with a broad teaching experience (not only in terms of topics, but of student background) and some publication record will beat the super productive person every time.

    So the point was never that students shouldn’t focus on research, especially if we define it broadly enough to include dissertation (and honestly, if there is anyone out there who wants to focus on anything other than dissertation at least, they should reconsider why they are getting a PhD). But that outside of R1/R2/SLACs, most positions are looking for something on top of research. Those things may be easier to obtain (i.e., you can improve your teaching experience in one semester, but a publication takes longer than that), but they still require some planning. If the advice was just focus on research (including dissertation), then sure. But Perry’s article actively discouraged students from doing any sort of service, volunteering, teaching more than the minimum required, etc. And R1/R2/SLACs are a very small part of jobs available to sociology PhDs.

    Does this mean that graduate students should try to do everything? No. But it means that they should try to have a realistic assessment of what they want their careers to look like down the road, and start preparing for it accordingly early. Because for the vast majority of positions available to sociologists, they will be evaluated on something on top of research. Now, those things may be easier to get than a peer reviewed publication, but they still require some planning and some careful consideration early on.

    Perhaps I am being too nitpicky here (since I am not arguing against focusing on research, just against doing it at the expense of all else for most students), but my experience as both a (relatively) recent graduate and as a search committee member at my teaching institution is that the “publish at the expense of all else” is the near default among graduate students. My experience has been that it is far more common to encounter a student who simply can’t understand how their distinguished publication record wasn’t good enough for [lowly teaching institution] than a student without publications trying to land a job at Berkeley.



    December 28, 2015 at 5:18 pm

  3. If one seeks to apply across the gamut of positions discussed in this and the prior threads, do not use a single CV (and for heaven’s sake, not a form cover letter) if you follow dlp’s strategy. I have been on search committees in R!/R2/SLAC institutions for 37 years. In none of those committees was any credit given for administrative or committee work (especially voluntary). Any CV these committees saw that identified significant effort that was not directed toward completing the PhD (research) degree was downgraded. If one spent significant time during a research degree doing something else, they would likely do the same when they were on the Department payroll. And one need not train for committee and administrative tasks. Lots of misanthropes and high functioning sociopaths are capable of paying these transactions costs while we get on with the real work of creating and disseminating knowledge.

    One thing I have observed is that there is a diminishing marginal return to the teaching experience, even for teaching-intensive institutions. A better form of professional development is, well, professional development. A formal training program for advanced graduate students and new faculty offered at the college or campus level trumps two additional semesters of teaching .

    I guess I salute Fabio’s post above, unless you have your heart set on a career in the DMV or in an NGO. Policy positions want experts (read: research credential), at least in Washington, DC.



    December 28, 2015 at 6:36 pm

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