Archive for the ‘academia’ Category
When advising PhD students, I try to dispel a misleading idea – all the “good” jobs go quickly and you are a complete failure if you can’t find employment by the Fall of your final grad skool year. This is simply incorrect. The sociology job market actually has three distinct phases. Once you appreciate this, it will help you out a lot:
- Round 1: The classic arts & sciences positions. In sociology, the research intensive programs usually advertise in summer, accept applications by October, interview in November, and extend offers by December (or earlier). The most competitive liberal arts colleges seem to recruit in round 1.
- Round 2: January-March – teaching intensive, professional schools, and post-docs. Winter break provides a nice cut point; many programs choose to go in the early Winter. In sociology, b-schools and ed schools will often interview in the Winter. A lot of high status, well funded post-docs, such as the recently deceased RWJ program, go at this time.
- Round 3: March-early summer. Pot luck – a diverse group of positions, including short term post-docs, very teaching intensive schools, private sector jobs, government, policy, and jobs at R1s that opened up due to last minute shifts in budgets. Some jobs may still be open if they were *really* slow in processing applications, or they had a long string of interviews that didn’t pan out. I’ve seen people get some very high quality jobs as late as April or May, because candidates 1-4 turned a department down.
I am not saying that there are a lot of jobs. It is still the case that academia is very competitive and some very good people won’t find jobs. What I am saying is that sociologists have a lot of options that are spread across the academic year. Don’t panic if things don’t immediately work out. It is in your interest to keep your eyes open and keep applying.
A guest post by Jerry Davis. He is the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
By this point everyone in the academy is familiar with the arguments of Nicholas Kristof and his many, many critics regarding the value of academics writing for the broader public. This weekend provided a crypto-quasi-experiment that illustrated why aiming to do research that is accessible to the public may not be a great use of our time. It also showed how the “open access” model can create bad incentives for social science to write articles that are the nutritional equivalent of Cheetos.
Balazs Kovacs and Amanda Sharkey have a really nice article in the March issue of ASQ called “The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Affect the Evaluation of Quality.” (You can read it here: http://asq.sagepub.com/content/59/1/1.abstract) The paper starts with the intriguing observation that when books win awards, their sales go up but their evaluations go down on average. One can think of lots of reasons why this should not be true, and several reasons why it should, all implying different mechanisms at work. The authors do an extremely sophisticated and meticulous job of figuring out which mechanism was ultimately responsible. (Matched sample of winning and non-winning books on the short list; difference-in-difference regression; model predicting reviewers’ ratings based on their prior reviews; several smart robustness checks; and transparency about the sample to enhance replicability.) As is traditional at ASQ, the authors faced smart and skeptical reviewers who put them through the wringer, and a harsh and generally negative editor (me). This is a really good paper, and you should read it immediately to find out whodunit.
The paper has gotten a fair bit of press, including write-ups in the New York Times and The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/21/literary-prizes-make-books-less-popular-booker). And what one discovers in the comments section of these write-ups is that (1) there is no reading comprehension test to get on the Internet, and (2) everyone is a methodologist. Wrote one Guardian reader:
The methodology of this research sounds really flawed. Are people who post on Goodreads representative of the general reading public and/or book market? Did they control for other factors when ‘pairing’ books of winners with non-winners? Did they take into account conditioning factors such as cultural bias (UK readers are surely different from US, and so on). How big was their sample? Unless they can answer these questions convincingly, I would say this article is based on fluff.
Actually, answers to some of these questions are in The Guardian’s write-up: the authors had “compared 38,817 reader reviews on GoodReads.com of 32 pairs of books. One book in each pair had won an award, such as the Man Booker prize, or America’s National Book Award. The other had been shortlisted for the same prize in the same year, but had not gone on to win.” And the authors DID answer these questions convincingly, through multiple rounds of rigorous review; that’s why it was published in ASQ. The Guardian included a link to the original study, where the budding methodologist-wannabe could read through tables of difference-in-difference regressions, robustness checks, data appendices, and more. But that would require two clicks of a functioning mouse, and an attention span greater than that of a 12-year-old.
This is a non story based on very iffy research. Like is not compared with like. A positive review in the New York Times is compared with a less complimentary reader review on GoodReads…I’ll wait to fully read the actual research in case it’s been badly reported or incorrectly written up
Evidently this person could not even be troubled to read The Guardian’s brief story, much less the original article, and I’m a bit skeptical that she will “wait to fully read the actual research” (where her detailed knowledge of Heckman selection models might come in handy). After this kind of response, one can understand why academics might prefer to write for colleagues with training and a background in the literature.
Now, on to the “experimental” condition of our crypto-quasi-experiment. The Times reported another study this weekend, this one published in PLoS One (of course), which found that people who walked down a hallway while texting on their phone walked slower, in a more stilted fashion, with shorter steps, and less straight than those who were not texting (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/the-difficult-balancing-act-of-texting-while-walking/). Shockingly, this study did not attract wannabe methodologists, but a flood of comments about how pedestrians who text are stupid and deserve what they get. Evidently the meticulousness of the research shone through the Times write-up.
One lesson from this weekend is that when it comes to research, the public prefers Cheetos to a healthy salad. A simple bite-sized chunk of topical knowledge goes down easy with the general public. (Recent findings that are frequently downloaded on PLoS One: racist white people love guns; time spent on Facebook makes young adults unhappy; personality and sex influence the words people use; and a tiny cabal of banks controls the global economy.)
A second lesson is that there are great potential downsides to the field embracing open access journals like PLoS One, no matter how enthusiastic Fabio is. Students enjoy seeing their professors cited in the news media, and deans like to see happy students and faculty who “translate their research.” This favors the simple over the meticulous, the insta-publication over work that emerges from engagement with skeptical experts in the field (a.k.a. reviewers). It will not be a good thing if the field starts gravitating toward media-friendly Cheeto-style work.
This year, there are many great pre-conferences. In addition to the New Computational Sociology conference on August 15, there is also:
- Digitizing Demography - hosted by Facebook and our guest blogger Michael Corey.
- The Hackathon at UC Berkeley – hosted by Wisconsite Alex Hanna. Get together and code all night long.
- Junior Theory Symposium – hang out with the cool kids!
Please put links to more ASA pre-conferences in the comments.
Because I advocate open access, public access, and other new forms of scholarly publishing, some people think I am against traditional journals. That’s not quite right. I am always against ineffective, or incompetent, journal practices – like dragging papers through 3 or 4 rounds of revision. But my larger point is this: journal pluralism – scholarship comes in many forms and there can be many forms of distributing it.
- Standard model: High rejection rate, often “developmental” – multi-year revisions standard. Criteria are particular and vague.
- Up or out: Sociological Science is a new model. Maybe not quite as selective, but they take papers “as is” or with modest revision. Still, there is a strong editorial influence.
- Agnostic: PLoS One – the main criteria is scientific rigor but completely agnostic with respect to “importance.” The reader decides.
It is not too hard to see the value of each model. The Standard model allows people to engage in a lengthy and complex revision process. It is also good for identifying papers that fit disciplinary norms well. Up or out is well designed for papers that may not fit disciplinary standards, but have an obvious and strong result. Agnostic publishing is exactly that. The journal certifies adherence to scientific standards but shifts decisions about importance to external audiences.
Some people see the new models as illegitimate, but I say the competition is good.
The new open access journal, Sociological Science, is now here. The goal is fast publication and open access. Review is “up or out.” On Monday, they published their first batch of articles. Among them:
- The Structure of Online Activism by Lewis, Gay, and Meierhenrich.
- Time as a Network Good by Young and Lim.
- Political Ideology and Preferences in Online Dating by Anderson et al.
Check it out, use the comments section, and submit your work. Let’s move sociological journals into the present.
Alan Sica sent out the following request to a few ASA listservs. With his permission, I’m reposting it here. As you’ll see below, I think the note raises a number of interesting questions/issues that I’d never before considered.
Historians of sociology, social theorists, and other scholars,
Please take five minutes to read what follows, as it affects our discipline’s future historiography.
Two weeks from now the ruling body of the ASA, the Council, will meet at the Association’s headquarters in Washington, DC and, in addition to other things, will decide the fate of 588 boxes of archived journal-related material: whether to preserve them or destroy them. I am writing to ask that you contact Council members (their email addresses follow this note) with your opinion one way or the other. Obviously, I hope you “vote” to preserve the materials, but if you believe they are not worth preserving, you could register that opinion as well. Read the rest of this entry »
This is a post for people in R1 programs who have dissertation students. I am only writing this after I’ve gone through the job market search with two students. One got a great job – but I had nothing to do with it! It was a good administrative job that fit with the student’s career goals and found without my assistance. The other student has found a very competitive academic position. So, the play book worked. Also, I am only writing this after seeing 10 years of IU job searches, and others, including my own.
Here it goes. Proper PhD advising boils down to three major issues – Patience, Professionalism, and Publication. In detail:
- Patience – the training of PhDs is, literally, a multi-year process. During this time, people switch topics, advisers, jobs, career goals, and a whole lot more. They also grow as people. Given the great change that people experience, you need patience to help people with where they are going. You need patience with half-baked topics. You need patience with mistaken regression models. You need patience, patience, patience.
- Professionalism – Nuts and bolts matter as well. You need to be present (physically and mentally). You need to get the paper work done – letters need to be written and paperwork signed. You need ways student can contact you. You need to calmly explain your standards and then show people how to accomplish them.
- Publication – In most fields, you either need publication for jobs or for promotion. Good advisers can help students develop a strategy for converting research into finished products in a reasonable amount of time. Good advisers will pull no punches. Unless you are an elite student at an elite school, you will need publications for an academic job and your adviser needs to clearly communicate that.
Sure, a few people will finish their PhDs and get jobs with nutty mentors or absent super stars. But most successful PhDs have a decent prof who, in some form, practices the three P’s.
I’m really happy to announce a new post doctoral position here at Northwestern University on social media and activism. If you’re interested, please apply early. The application deadline is March 2nd! Read the rest of this entry »
For the past year I’ve slowly been working my way through Stanley Aronowitz’s Taking it Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals. My slowness in finishing the book isn’t an indicator of how enjoyable or interesting the book really is. This book is fascinating, especially if you’re interested in the intellectual history of sociology. Aronowitz makes the case that Mills’s sociological impact was a direct result of his engagement with the broader intellectual public in an effort to push social change and present ideas that challenged the capitalist status quo. Mills wasn’t a socialist or any of the things typically associated with the Old Left. Rather, Mills was the forerunner of the New Left – a group that believed in the power of ideas to shape equality and freedom in society. He saw himself as a producer of those ideas.
Not long before I began reading this book I had a conversation with a former student at Columbia University when Mills was still a professor there. (Mills died in 1962.) The former student, now an emeritus professor himself, described Mills as a recluse. He had no involvement with the graduate program and showed no interest in training future PhDs. His main involvement with the department was to teach the undergraduate political sociology class. He was rarely, if ever, in his office, and so running into him in the halls was unlikely. At the time of his death, Mills’s impact on the discipline was fairly minimal, largely because he didn’t have an ongoing research agenda that involved PhD training or publishing articles in the top journals (although he had published those types of articles in the past). Merton, Lazarsfeld, and Bell were the stars of the department in the eyes of the students.
But arguably, Mills’s reputation has outlasted those other scholars. Read the rest of this entry »
I strongly believe that graduate education in America is exploitative and structurally flawed. The system requires cheap teaching labor and lab assistants, but provides no incentives for quality training or professorial accountability. But still, that doesn’t mean that students should abrogate responsibility for their careers. Here are some simple (though not easy) things that can help you to make sure you aren’t screwing up:
- Show up. Even if you feel horrible, show up. No matter what. Period. Unless someone died in your family, show up.
- Do your job. Grade the papers. Do the lab work. Unless the work is extreme, take it in stride.
- Be completely realistic about how you will be evaluated from day #1 – acquire a teaching record and a record of publication. Don’t have the fantasy that you will magically get the job of your dreams sans publications. Time spent on other issues is “out of pocket” – do it because you care, not because it will help you.
- Hang out with winners. These people are actually pretty easy to identify – they do well in teaching and publication and they have a track record of placement. Also, ask around to see if people are nice. Where there is smoke, there’s fire.
- Be constructive. It is easy to criticize people, but it really doesn’t accomplish much. Instead, if you actually offer to help and present a solution, then you’ll make a difference and people will appreciate it.
- Say yes (unless it is a crazy person). In other words, join teams and accept projects, and say yes to grad school buddies. Once you get a few projects going, then you can say no.
- No excuses: the only thing that matters is task completion. It may be long or short, but everyday should involve a core task.
- Submit, submit, submit. Got rejected? No problem – just resubmit tomorrow. If you thought the reviewers were right, take a week and then resubmit. The key to success isn’t submission – it’s resubmission.
Some problems in academia are truly hard, but, on the other hand, there are a lot of simple things you can do from day #1 to increase the chance that you get through the program promptly and you get the career outcome that you like.
This coming August 15, Dan McFarland of Stanford University and I will host a conference on the new computational sociology at the Stanford campus. The goal is to bring together social scientists, informatics researchers, and computer scientists who are interested in how modern computation can be brought to bear on issues that are of central importance to sociology and related disciplines. Interested people should go to the following web site for information on registration and presentation topics. I hope to see you there.
Scatter has a great post on why we need to treat the Introduction to Sociology course with great importance by Nathan Palmer:
The 101 class is the public face of our discipline. Every year there are roughly a million students in the United States who take Soc 101, that is, if my publisher friends’ estimates are to be believed. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, 101 will be their only exposure to our discipline. Sure, they might hear about our research findings in the media, but chances are they’ll have no idea that it was a sociologist who produced the research.
…How do the faculty in your department think about 101? Is it something to be avoided like the plague? Is it a hazing ritual that you put newbs through so that senior faculty can get to teach their “real classes” (i.e. their upper division classes within their area of interest)?
Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.
Second, it matters because of Krulak’s law which posits, “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.” Put simply, if the 101 class is the frontline of sociology, then the 101 teacher is the ambassador for us all.
Read the whole thing.
On Wednesday, we discussed the ASA’s opposition to opposition to the Fed’s Open Access policy. What do you think?
Federal grant agencies have asked people who receive grants to make the results of their work “public access.” In other words, if the public pays for it, the public should get to read it. Turns out that the ASA is against this policy. In a letter dated January 9, 2012 (about two years ago), Sally Hillsman, executive officer of the ASA makes a strong argument against public access. Here is the letter and some key clips. Please read the letter yourself (open_access_hillsman):
It remains unclear why the federal government should spend scarce taxpayer dollars appropriated for scientific research to add to existing dissemination avenues. This is what scientific societies such as the ASA and our private sector publishing partners have done for over a century, and continue to do extremely well today. The national and international marketplace demonstrates that non-‐profit and profit-‐making scientific publishers in collaboration with scholarly societies have responded vigorously and competitively to expand access to scientific knowledge as new demands for content and sophisticated communication technologies have emerged. This success suggests that federal science agencies should invest taxpayer dollars in the research itself, especially as federal dollars that support scientific innovation fail to keep up with the pace of research.
There are no empirical studies that I know of which support the notion that free access to the scientific research literature will increase research productivity or economic growth in the United States.
ASA spends nearly $600,000 annually on journal editorial office expenses alone (which does not include administrative costs, printing and mailing expenses, editor honoraria, legal or overhead costs). ASA does not pay peer reviewers, but in return we sacrifice some revenue by a long-‐standing policy of keeping our university library subscription prices low (averaging well under $300 in 2011) in explicit recognition of the contribution university faculty make as peer reviewers, editors, and editorial board members.
Comments: First, it seems that the main issue in Dr. Hillsman’s response is that they are concerned about the income stream. I think this is a legitimate concern. But it should lead to a few sensible questions. For example, in an age of electronic publishing, why does one need $600,000 for a journal office? At the AJS, of which I was an editor, we had (1) a full time manager (call it $50k), (2) some part time staff ($50k), (3) office space (say $5k month – $60k per year) and toss in $50k for postage, computers, etc. That totals about $210k per year. If we give Andy a nice fat bonus for running the joint ($50k), you get up to $260k. I am not sure why we need to wrack up hundreds of thousands more in administrative costs.
But there are deeper questions. What is preventing the ASR from going all electronic and printing paper versions on demand for a few readers? Or going free access, but having advertisements or the “freemium” model? In other words, this argument seems to be a rear guard defense of an older publishing model, not an attempt to creatively think about how the ASR can be read by the widest audience possible.
Second, I don’t think Dr. Hillsman’s letter gets at the main point – the Federal government, sensibly, doesn’t want the results of funded research to be hidden behind pay walls. The pay wall for ASR may not be a barrier to social scientists who have university accounts, but $300 is a barrier for many other readers. But the Federal government’s argument isn’t directed at the ASA. It’s directed at other publishers who charge thousands of dollars for a journal subscription. If you are a lay person, a poor person, or someone from another country, this is a real barrier.
We are now living in an exciting era of journal publishing. We have traditional models, the egalitarian PLoS One model, and the “up or out” Sociological Science model. I say let us experiment, not drift into rent seeking defenses of a 19th century approach to science.
three visiting fellowships on innovation at the Technische Universitat in Berlin – due Feb. 15, 2014
One of our orgtheory readers, Jan-Peter Ferdinand, forwarded a flier about a fellowship opportunity at the Technische Universität in Berlin, Germany. This sounds like a great opportunity for grad students and prospective post-docs who are studying innovation.
Here’s an overview:
The DFG graduate school “Innovation society today” at the Technische Universität Berlin, Germany, is pleased to advertise 3 visiting fellowships. The fellowships are available for a period of three months, either from April to June 2014 or October to December 2014.
The graduate school addresses the following key questions: How is novelty created reflexively; in which areas do we find reflexive innovation; and which actors are involved? Practices, orientations, and processes of innovations are studied in and between various fields, such as (a) science and technology, (b) the industrial and service sectors, (c) arts and culture, and (d) political governance, social planning of urban and regional spaces. More information about the graduate school can be found on our website: http://www.innovation.tu-berlin.de (click on the flag at the top of the page for an English version).
By following an extended notion of innovation, the graduate school strives to develop a sophisticated sociological view on innovation, which is more encompassing than conventional economic perspectives. Our doctoral students are currently undertaking a first series of case studies to promote a deeper and empirically founded understanding of the meaning of innovation in contemporary society and of the social processes it involves.
See this PDF (GW_Ausschreibung-2014) for more info, including deadline (Feb. 15, 2014) and application materials needed.
What do the Cooper Union and the University of California have in common? They both promised no tuition and have abandoned that. This leads to an interesting idea about higher education. My hypothesis is that free tuition is an “unstable equilibrium.” Once you get it going, it can be sustainable, since people exert great pressure to keep it that way. But once you charge tuition, it’s impossible to go back. For the University of California, it was the freedom to charge a “registration fee.” Originally meant to cover bureaucratic costs, it very quickly became de facto tuition. It was even litigated and the courts openly admitted it was de facto tuition but needed. The same for the Cooper Union, which is now just another private school with a hefty tuition, after nearly a century of being tuition free.
In a world where college is a certification for the labor market, and entry is restricted, you invite monopoly pricing by producers. In that world, any excuse you can provide that allows you to start charging tuition is the first step in extracting huge amounts of money from students and parents. And that is very hard to resist.
Michael Corey is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago. This guest post explains his experiences working for Facebook, the world’s leading social networking website (as if you didn’t know that!).
Another Dispatch from Industry
Last summer I moved from Chicago to the bay area to work as a quantitative researcher at Facebook. I’d done six years in the PhD program at Chicago and left with drafts of all my dissertation papers but without a cohesive dissertation to turn in (3 paper dissertations aren’t exactly allowed). Six months at Facebook has been eye opening and weird. Below I’ll try to give readers a feel for what it is like to go from an academic track to an industry job.
The FB Culture:
The culture at Facebook is really fun. I work at the main campus in Menlo Park, where a few thousand people work on the various FB platforms and the associated companies (Parse, Onavo, Instagram, etc). My mother-in-law describes it as an Oxford College designed by Willy Wonka, which is pretty fair. The campus houses everything you need to reduce any external friction that would take you off-campus during the day [http://cnettv.cnet.com/barber-candy-shop-bank-among-deluxe-perks-facebook/9742-1_53-50153870.html]. It is pretty easy to drink the Kool-Aid about how great FB is, and I would imagine that it is hard to work here if you don’t. I wasn’t the biggest FB user when I started here, but having been off the site for a long time I learned to recognize how much I missed by not being on it. For so many of my peers it is the only medium to communicate news, baby pictures, or cat memes to weak ties. Risk taking is encouraged and speed is considered a virtue.
Loyal orgtheorista Monica Prasad sent me the link to a ASA report written by her, David Brunsma, and Ezra Zuckerman. They interviewed 26 of the “best” manuscript reviewers identified by editors at a variety of journals. Common themes from those who write good and fast reviews:
- Reviewing is not a drag. You can learn a lot.
- Immediately focus on “big issues” – major questions, research design, etc.
- Don’t do “death by a thousand cuts.”
- Set out time in the schedule. It’s a normal part of academic life.
You can read the responses from all 26 respondents in the full length report.
Administrative Science Quarterly now has a blog – aptly named The ASQ Blog. The purpose of the blog is a bit different than your typical rambling academic blog. Each post contains an interview with the author(s) of a recent article published in the journal. For example, there are interviews with Chad McPherson and Mike Sauder about their article on drug court deliberations, with Michael Dahl, Cristian Dezső, and David Ross on CEO fatherhood and its effect on employee wages, and András Tilcsik and Chris Marquis about their research on natural disasters and corporate philanthropy. The interviews are informal, try to get at the research and thought process behind the article, and allow reader comments. I think its innovative of the ASQ editorial team to come up with this in an effort to make research more open and to draw more eyes to the cutting edge research at ASQ.
A couple of years ago I served on an ASQ task force (with Marc-David Seidel and Jean Bartunek) to explore different ways that the journal could better use online media to engage readers. At the time, ASQ was way behind the curve. It was difficult to even find a permanent hyperlink to its articles. Since that time ASQ and most journals have greatly improved their online accessibility . The blog is just one example. ASQ’s editor, Jerry Davis, said in a recent email to the editorial board that they recognize that “younger scholars connect with the literature in ways that rarely involve visits to the library or print subscriptions.” To maintain relevance in today’s academic “attention economy” (for lack of a better term), journals have to be active on multiple platforms. ASQ gets it; Sociological Science’s (hyper)active tweeter (@SociologicalSci) gets it too. In the end, everyone hopes the best research will float to the top and get the attention it deserves, but if the best research is hard to find or is being out-hyped by other journals, it may never get noticed.
It made me wonder, how do people most commonly find out about new research? I know that orgtheory readers are not the most representative sample, but this seems to be the crowd that Jerry referred to in his email. So, below is a poll. You can choose up to three different methods for finding research. But please, beyond adding to the poll results, tell us in comments what your strategy is.
Let’s all give a heartfelt thanks to guest blogger Bayliss Camp for his informative round of posts on research beyond the Ivory Tower. Also, thanks to our readers who commented, asked questions, or shared links to Bayliss’s posts via reddit/FB/Twitter.
I invited Bayliss to guest blog because I know that our grad students and readers want to learn more about research careers, but it’s not easy to know how or where to start. Besides talking with colleagues, visiting your university’s career services and perusing its resources (alumni database, library of books, and workshops) should be on your list.
Some grad students have expressed fears that if they utter any hint that they are exploring careers outside the ivory tower, that this will spoil their relationships with their advisors and colleagues. As we see with olderwoman’s and other colleagues’ willingness to acknowledge alternative careers and direct students to resources, not all of us share this worldview. Increasingly, perceptive academics realize that students have a variety of interests and needs (i.e., 2-body constraints), that the contracting number of tenure-track lines cannot absorb the output of Ph.D.s, and that academia and its disciplines would benefit from having its graduates work in many kinds of contexts.
As Bayliss’s post described, colleagues with Ph.D.s work on interesting projects with immediate, real world impact. They run in-house b-schools at high-performing corporations, evaluate possible regulations and safety issues for driverless cars, examine what’s the ideal minimal interval between jets taking off at airports, design optimal ways of removing old mines to create public parkland, and research other fascinating and important issues.
To revisit Bayliss’s posts, please click below:
To me, learning about a scholar’s intellectual trajectory and philosophy is helpful for understanding the impetus for particular schools of thought. One of the pivotal moments for me during my grad school days was hearing Neil Fligstein‘s candid perspective about having to advocate for one’s research question, methods, and claims. In fact, he compared being an academic with being the creature from Alien(s). That’s right, we’re not the flame-toting Lt. Ripley and the heroic but ill-fated Nostromo crew; we’re more like the chest-bursters who have to keep coming back, no matter how many times we get (spoilers ahead! cover your eyes, young’uns) burnt, ejected from the airlock into outer space, frozen, etc.
With that imagery in mind, have a look at Fligstein’s discussion of his most recent works. Fligstein talks in an interview with McGill student Nicole Denier about how he decided upon a PhD in sociology (hint: a foray with social movements), where he sees the field headed, and his agenda for
grand general theory.
ND: …what do you think are the challenges for sociology to overcome in the next few years?
NF: What I have found most frustrating about sociology is that it is so Balkanized. One of the most depressing things about sociology is when I look at the American Sociological Association and see that there are forty-four sections, which could be reduced to about six. It tends to create these Balkanized theory groups (for lack of a better term) that are engaged in a discourse with ten other people. From a graduate student’s point of view, that’s the hardest thing to face in the field—how fragmented it is. The problem is that there just aren’t that many people. There are only about 15,000 sociologists in North America, I think. It was bad when I was a graduate student twenty-five years ago, it’s much worse now. It’s very frustrating for people and it’s hard to overcome. One of the things I like about the construction of something called economic sociology is that for the first time in 30 years there is a synthetic field – not a field which wants to break the field into smaller and smaller parts—but a field that wants to say that politics and law and economic processes and organizations and social movements are all part of the same thing. So to me, this is what this economic sociology thing is all about. It is more synthetic than breaking it into a smaller piece.
ND: Similarly, your field theory has the possibility to span a number of areas. You’re not so optimistic about it overcoming the differences between the institutionalisms in economics, political science, and sociology. But do you think it can bridge the gaps within sociology?
NF: I’m an optimistic person. I hope that it becomes more synthetic. People have moved so far from (I’ll use a dirty word) a general theory of society or a theory of society that it’s not in their vocabulary any more. It was so discredited so long ago that you’re a bad person if you even have that thought. It’s a big taboo in sociology to say that, you know, there really is a general theory of society. Again, you get off stage with people and you talk to them and a lot of people think there is a general theory of society….[snip!!!]…. Sociologists tend toward understanding action in groups, yet we don’t even think about it most of the time. Field theory is about that: how groups of people and groups of groups do these kinds of interactions and watch other people and reference other people and take positions, a very generic level of social process. I figure a lot of people are ready to hear that message in sociology. Hopefully, it will go a little further beyond where it is right now.
Everybody get on the bench. Yes, that includes you, Ramirez. I know you have to use the bathroom, but you can hold it for a little while I talk – ok?
Alright, this is about the comment policy. Ever since we started in 2006, our policy has been to let people say whatever they want. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. I have always felt that intellectual life should be based on evaluating the merits of argument, not the rank of the person. So I always hate it when one guy hogs up the class discussion, or people pull back just because the speaker is a fancy chair at some big university.* That’s why we generally let most comments stand. High school students and full professors all sit at the same table.
But we occasionally edit comments or delete them. Here are the rules. Follow them and no one gets hurt:
- We delete all spam.
- We will ban commenters who obsessively repeat the same points over and over, regardless of context.
- We delete comments that are personal attacks on individuals.
- We delete comments that use profanity or sexually explicit/offesnive material.
- The Sherkat Exemption: Professor Sherkat of Southern Illinois University is exempt from Rule #4.
- Each orgtheory crew member reserves the right to delete comments as they see fit.
It’s not a hard rule, but I’ve also deleted a few comments that were nothing more than grousing. If you hate this blog, go read another one. Write your own. It’s not a required class.
I don’t censor for political opinions, genuine academic disagreements or anything else that is a real engagement with the topics we cover at orgtheory.
Agree? Good. There’s little cups of Gatorade on the table by the Pepsi machine.
* Yes, IU groupies, I’m referring to the Bobo incident.
One of the more interesting questions in evaluation an individual’s academic performance is the “one hit wonder” issue. An academic, like any other producer of ideas, might have a single great achievement and produce little else in their career. And I don’t mean a big hit followed by a more modest stream of works. I mean, a big it in grad school or shortly thereafter, with very little else after that.
Outside of academia, one hit wonders present no problems to people who hand out rewards. Music fans just buy what they like, coaches cut athletes from the roster. In academia, this is trickier. First, it is often hard to tell if someone is a one hit wonder or not. Second, some types of research are just slow. We don’t want to punish a ethnographer, just because their CV doesn’t look like a demographer’s. Third, the tenure committee or dean may run into trouble if they suspect that the person won’t do much in the future. How can you fire the person who wrote a classic?
Promoting, or rewarding, one hit wonders incurs risk because professors do more than research. They teach undergraduates, mentor PhD students, do administrative work, and help out the profession by participating in conferences, peer review, editing journals, and other professional functions. Thus, we want sustained engagement from everyone who achieves a degree of stature, such as a tenured position at a reputable university. Also, a long period of inactivity may, rightly or wrongly, suggest that the person is not managing their talent well, or that the hit was a fluke.
In the end, I go on a case by case basis. If the hit was truly epochal, I’m happy to give them a job for life. A little deadwood is fine if we can get the cure for cancer in exchange. But that’s exceptionally rare. From an institution’s perspective, though, you reward people with an eye for the future. It ain’t like paying the guy who just fixed your clogged sink. You have to live with this person for decades.
True story: In 2012, I reviewed a paper for a journal. I thought it was a good paper. With some modest revision, it could probably be accepted at a top journal. In summer 2013, I was asked to review the revision. At this point, I had learned that the journal had a notorious reputation for sending papers through three or four rounds of review and rejecting them after years of lengthy revisions.
So, I wrote to the managing editor and said that I was a bit worried about the multiple R&R policy. I didn’t want to be part of an extremely long R&R process unless there was a high probability that it would lead to publication. What is the point of me offering guidance when it is all thrown away as the authors try to make a third or fourth round of reviewers happy? It is unfair to everyone.
The managing editor offered a diplomatic answer. In general, they can’t discuss the state of a manuscript that is under review. Aside from that, the manager noted the paper was only on the first round as indicated by the “R1.” Fair enough.
I agree to review the paper because I don’t want the author to be stuck with a completely new reviewer with new demands. So I tell the journal that I will help out. In an attempt to humorously convey my concerns, I wrote back: “Ok, but if we go into triple R&R territory, your bosses will receive aggressive email from me.” The response, in its entirety:
Thank you again for your thoughts concerning this manuscript. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept your offer of review in terms that would constitute prior restraints on the possible outcome of the review process.
Interesting. Expressing disagreement with a policy is viewed as a “constraint.” Go figure. The up side is that I now have more time for reviews at other journals. The down side is that the authors(s) will probably get a new reviewer who is almost certainly slower than me and will definitely ask for a whole new set of revisions. Since I can’t break confidentiality, I can only vaguely express a vaguely directed apology for the problems that the author will now have to deal with. And the possibility of three more R&Rs and a rejection at the end.
This happened in August and I haven’t received any more requests for reviews, when I used to get requests all the time. So if you ever wondered what it would take to get banned from a journal’s reviewer roster, all it takes is some criticism of the editors’ quadruple R&R rejection policy.
Orgtheorist and loyal orgtheory commenter Howard E. Aldrich is featured in a video about his intellectual trajectory and the history of organizational studies. Learn about Howard’s start in urban sociology and organizational studies, why he finds cross-sectional studies “abhorrent,” his years at Cornell where he overlapped with Bill Starbuck, and how he got started publishing in organizational ecology. He also explains how the variation, selection, and retention VSR) approach was a “revelation” for him, and how various institutions (University of Michigan, Stanford, and others) have promoted his intellectual development via contact with various colleagues, collaborators, and graduate students. Towards the end of the interview, Aldrich describes his latest research on the Maker movement, including hacking and the rise of affordable 3-D printing and other hardware and software that may propel technological innovation.*
The videoed interview is courtesy of Victor Nee’s Center for Economy & Society at Cornell University. More videos, including a presentation on his work on entrepreneurship, are viewable here. Also, those looking for an organizational studies text should see his seminal Organizations Evolving with Martin Reuf here.
* The Maker movement has strong affinities with Burning Man. In fact, that’s partly how I started attending Maker Faire – check out my photos of past Maker Faires, which included performance artists from the now-defunct Deitch Art Parade.
One of the most frustrating aspects of social science reviewing is the slow review time. Gabriel Rossman says that we are the problem. Rather than focus on what can be easily fixed or provide up or down decisions, reviewers take too long, offer contradictory recommendations, and encourage bloated papers. If I were to summarize Gabriel’s post, I’d say that:
- Keep your review short. Don’t write that 6 page single space commentary. One page or so probably enough in most cases
- Don’t whine about what the authors should have written about. Evaluate what they actually wrote about.
- Be decisive. Yes or no.
- Don’t ask for endless citations, commentaries, extra analyses, etc.
- All suggestions should be constructive, not busy work.
- Let it go: after a while, it becomes counter productive. If you hate, just say so. If you like it, just say so. No more revisions. It’s done.
I also like Gabriel’s suggestion that reviewers should show some spine. In the summer, I was asked to review a 3rd R&R. My entire response was “Dude, seriously? Three R&R’s? Just accept it.” Result: paper accepted.
The editor of Social Problems, Becky Pettit, recently posted a review of submission practices and trends, with a focus on gender. Comments,* in no particular order:
- 8% accept? Holy canoli! I knew it was competitive, but that’s in the realm of ASR/AJS. ASR accept rate was 6%. AJS accepts 10%.
- Thankfully, SP does a lot of desk rejection.** About 30%.
- Even with desk rejection, it does seem to take a while – a mean time of 135 days. That’s about 4.5 months. So many papers take 5, 6 or 7 months. After dealing with the lightning fast world of biomedical journals, this is snail like.
- Senior profs review less than juniors. Female assistants review the most.
- Men are *way* more likely to appeal. As Phil Cohen notes, it would be good to know if it’s just that women have more accepts or if men just whine more. Ie, we want the appeal/reject ratio.
Bottom line: Social Problems is a de-facto top general journal in soc, it behaves like a typical social science journal in terms of turn around and some other factors, and there is definitely gender inequality in reviewer and author behavior.
* Disclosure: I have a soon to be rejected paper under review at Social Problems.
** Yes, I know – “deflection!”
A lot of sociologists buy into the theory of “sponsored mobility,” which means that elites pick who gets the mobility. So I think there should be a lot of sympathy for recent research showing that mentorship (communicating with more advanced people) does not have an effect on career advancement but sponsors (people who pick you, push you, and get benefit from it) do have an effect. Robin Hanson reviews a book by economist Sylvia Ann Hewett that makes this claim:
In a new book, economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett uses data to show that mentorship, in its classic wise-elder-advises-younger-employee form, doesn’t produce statistically significant career gains. What does however, her research found, is something she has termed “sponsorship”—a type of strategic workplace partnering between those with potential and those with power. … -
And there is an important implication for the study of gender and inequality:
Women are only half as likely as men to have a sponsor—a senior champion at work who will basically take a bet on them, tap them on the shoulder, and really give them a shot at leadership. Women have always had mentors, friendly figures who give lots of advice. They’re great. They’re good for your self-esteem; they’re good for your personal development. But no one’s ever been able to show that they do anything to help you actually move up. …
We find that women in particular often choose the wrong people. … They seek out a senior person they’re very comfortable with. … For a sponsor, you should go after the person with power, because you need someone who has a voice at those decision-making tables. You need to respect that person, you need to believe that person is a fabulous leader and going places, but you don’t need to like them. You don’t need to want to emulate them.
If true, this forces me to modify my views. I have always believed that sponsored mobility is important in academia, but I believe that mentorship matters as well. If Hewett is right, my belief is misplaced. It’s really about sponsored mobility. So, if you care about women or minorities advancing in some career track (like academia), then forget the nice lunches. Administrators should double down on matching people with power players. A bit rude, but it might be one concrete way to chip away at inequality in the leadership of the academy.
Becker and Faulkner’s Thinking Together: An E-mail Exchange and All That Jazz now available in print
Today, I met with first year grad students who wanted to know how sociologists develop research questions and studies while navigating grad school, academia, and other contexts. Although sociologists do give retrospective accounts in their publications and presentations, it’s not easy to fully convey the “back stage” behind the research. Rarely do readers get to see how a study unfolds. Luckily, Howie Becker and Bob Faulkner‘s latest book is now available both as an ebook and print book (update: corrected link), for those of us who like to read old school-style. According to Franck Leibovici,
the paperback version produces a different experience [from the ebook]. for example, it has an index which allows you to visualise how many people, scholars, musicians, anonymous people, have been mobilized to produce this investigation.
For those who like the ebook format, see our earlier post, which includes a summary by Becker himself.
Here’s the official summary of Thinking Together: An E-mail Exchange and All That Jazz:
When Rob Faulkner and Howie Becker, two sociologists who were also experienced professionals in the music business, decided to write something about this other part of their lives, they lived at opposite ends of the North American continent: Faulkner in Massachusetts, Becker in San Francisco. They managed the cooperation writing a book requires through e-mail. Instead of sitting around talking, they wrote e-mails to each other.
And so every step of their thinking, the false steps as well as the ideas that worked, existed in written form. So, when Franck Leibovici asked them to contribute something which showed the “form of life” that supported their work, they (helped along by a timely tip from Dianne Hagaman), they sent him the correspondence.
The result is one of the most complete and revealing records of scientific collaboration ever made public. And one of the most intimate pictures of the creative process in all its details that anyone interested in that topic could ask for. Investigative writing is not only about formulating chains of rational ideas (as the usual format of scientific articles would like us to believe), but also mixes plays on words, stories, and arguments in new arrangements.
this book is a contribution to the art project (forms of life)—an ecology of artistic practices, paris, 2011-2012, by franck leibovici.
curated by grégory castéra and edited by les laboratoires d’aubervilliers and questions théoriques, with the support of fnagp, la maison rouge, le fonds de dotation agnès b. see www.desformesdevie.org.
One of the songs that helped the two authors work on their cases of how musicians build their repertories:
A few weeks ago, we all laughed when MIT was praised for its well known (but nonexistent) sociology department. But a serious question went unasked: why doesn’t MIT have a degree granting sociology unit? At first, you think the answer is obvious. MIT is an engineering and science school. We shouldn’t expect it to offer any sociology aside from a few courses for general education of engineering students.
But hold on! MIT offers lots of non-STEM degrees. For example, it has a highly regarded business school and an architecture school. Ok, you say, maybe it’ll offer nuts and bolts professional programs that are closely allied with STEM fields. Yet, that argument doesn’t hold water. MIT also allows students to major and/or concentrate in music. It’s also got well known PhD programs in humanities fields like philosophy, social sciences like political science and economics, and a sort of catch-all program that combines history, anthropology, and science studies. Heck, you can even get the ultimate fluffy major – creative writing.
It’s even more baffling when you realize that it is amazingly easy to create a BS or PhD degree focusing on the quantitative side of sociology (e.g., applied regression, networks, demography, stochastic process models, soc psych/experimental, survey analysis, simulation/agent based models, rational choice/game theory, etc.)
My hypothesis is that the typical MIT faculty or alumni relies on the reputation of sociology, not what the field is actually about. Like a lot of folks, the field is written off as a hopeless quagmire of post-modernism, even though, ironically, most sociologists are not post-modernists. The reality is that the field is a fairly traditional positivist scholarly area with normal, cumulative research. Even qualitative research is often presented in ways that most normal science types would recognize. It’s really too bad. Sociology could use a healthy dose of ideas from the hard sciences, and MIT could be the place where that could happen.
As you well know, I think the PhD program is a terrible choice for most students. Quite simply, the PhD program is risky (only 50% completion rate), costly (5+ years), and many disciplines have poor job prospects (e.g., most of the humanities, many biological sciences and many social sciences). Furthermore, a lot of students think it is a credential that is needed for non-academic jobs, which is not generally true.
But still, maybe you weren’t phased by the “don’t go to grad school speech.” Maybe you really have a passion for teaching, or interpreting Foucault. Or maybe you simply don’t care about the negatives associated with academic careers. I welcome you to academia. I pity you as well.
So, then, what sort of PhD should you get? Here’s an argument for the sociology Ph.D.:
- Low barrier to entry – you just need a solid academic record, not extended training in math, foreign language, or other rare skills.
- You learn solid research skills like survey design, regression models, and interview technique that have non-academic labor market value.
- You can study a wide range of topics and do so almost immediately. No need to engage in endless post-docs.
- Policy relevance.
- Decent academic job prospects compared to most other fields. The sociology market is tight, but soc PhDs frequently get jobs in lots of other programs like education, business, policy, social work, and occasionally in adjacent areas like American studies, ethnic studies, political science, and anthropology.
- Broadly defined topic – if you have a real passion for a topic that is genuinely social in some way, you can probably find a way to write a dissertation on it.
The one big downside is that sociology programs adhere to the humanities model of long time to PhD. There is no need for this. If you focus on a dissertation topic early on, choose your dissertation chair wisely, and insist on getting published at least once, there is no need for your degree to take longer than 4 or 5 years.
A follow up from Monday’s discussion of productivity: Publishing too much is definitely a first world problem. In fact, it is so remarkably rare that in 10 years as IU faculty member have I seen one job applicant penalized for publishing too much. Normally, people are penalized for (a) not publishing, (b) publishing the “wrong stuff” (edited volumes vs. journal articles) or (c) not publishing in elite journals.
But once in a while, some people do publish too much. Why?
- If you are in an elite program, you *only* get credit for either top general journals or top field journals. So volume distracts you from getting the “right” hit.
- “Scatter”: Some programs want faculty to have a “coherent” publication output.
- Dilution: Some programs want a small number of high impact pieces.
- Credit: Sometimes a large volume requires many co-authors, which makes it look like you didn’t contribute much.
So think about it: How many of you are tenure track in top 5 programs? Or work in fields where you are expected to have one or two big impact pieces? Didn’t think so. In most cases, volume is not an issue, as long as it is peer reviewed and is of overall good quality.
A couple of weeks ago, Brayden commented on an essay by David Courpasson, which lamented the “culture of productivity.” The idea was that we often put too much emphasis on the production of articles, rather than the cultivation of ideas. At one level, I completely agree. The goal is to produce quality ideas. We aren’t paid by the word.
At another level, I am not terribly moved by Professor Courpasson’s essay. The complaint falls under the category of “first world problems.” The main problem, for most graduate students and faculty, isn’t that they are sucked up by an evil “culture of productivity.” The modal problem is that they aren’t producing anything at all. The underproduction of articles is highly correlated with not getting a job and not getting promoted. It is also a problem from a policy perspective. When we invest in students and faculty, we want them to be able to produce competent science, which is usually expressed in occasional publication.
But Professor Courpasson does have some important points that merit a response. One is that publication is adversarial, instead of cooperative. It’s about beating reviewers at some game. Here, I can only agree and add that the adversarial nature of reviews stems from limited resources. If ASQ, for example, will only publish the top 10% of papers, then the reviewers just need some excuse to “knock down” some good papers. If you want the recognition and rewards of the profession, then you need to master the game. Though I have never chosen a research topic to win some “game,” I openly admit that papers are written in sub-optimal (and often lamentable) ways just to avoid what I think are reviewer cheap shots. If Professor Courpasson wishes to avoid this game, I recommend that he closely follow two new(er) journals, PLOS ONE and Sociological Science. The former journal will publish all articles that follow scientific standards. The latter gives a simple “yes/no” decision, so there are no games with endless rounds of reviewers. Both formats reduced the “game” aspect of publishing.
Courpasson also complains about the lack of scholarship on power and related topics. And, I’m like, “DUDE!!! READ MY ARTICLE ABOUT POWER!!!! C’MON, BRO, PUMP UP MY CITES!!!!!” I’d also add that the reason that these topics are in retreat is that it is easy for reviewers to knock them down. For example, there is a very standard format for articles on, say, diffusion of innovation. But there is no standard for articles on power. Thus, it is harder to knock down a paper in the first genre. The “big” ideas that Professor Courpasson likes often generate controversy, and thus makes it really easy for a reviewer to write hand wringing reviews about how there are all these problems with the paper. So little ideas become easy to publish. Big ideas are left for the elder leaders of the profession.
Finally, I’ll address a related issue – over publication and the volume of research. Personally, I don’t think this is a real problem. While there a few great scholars who publish very little (Coase or Hirschman), most successful scholars tend to write a lot. Keith Sawyer’s book on creativity reports, for example, that in studies of novelists, famous authors wrote way more novels than authors from a random sample. Most of these novels weren’t great, but Sawyer makes the sensible observation that maybe you just need a lot of practice to write a great novel. Maybe better writers just make more ideas. Regardless, this suggests that we should be tolerant of volume. I do have sympathy for Professor Courpasson, though, since I’ve worked on journals. Big volume means a lot of work.