Archive for the ‘academia’ Category
Academia is a career that expects you to give up most (or all) choice about where you’ll live. It is also a career in which it is considered perfectly normal for spouses to live in different states, and sometimes on different continents. Every grad student sort of knows this by the end of their first year, although it may take much longer — hello, job market — to fully internalize.
This has the potential to create relationship problems regardless of your gender or sexual orientation. But societal norms mean that women partnered with men are particularly likely to confront gender expectations when planning academic careers. Will a potential partner be able and willing to follow you where the job is? Or will you find yourself forced to choose between pursuing your career and living in the same city as your spouse?
There have been some new articles about the relative scarcity of Black, Latino, and Native American faculty. Phil Cohen notes that the news exaggerates the results, but the basic trend is still there. The growth in minority faculty is mainly in Asian American numbers and the gap increases as one goes up the ranks (i.e., the gap is largest among full professors). Cohen notes that when you look at the data, you see a poor pipeline – few Black undergrads at leading universities. I have also noted on this blog, that the pipeline is very leaky at many points for under represented groups.
There’s a lot of hand wringing on this issue, but precious little action. At the undergraduate levels, much of the problem is in poor high school preparation, steering people to competitive schools, and not letting people fall through the cracks during the undergraduate degree. At the graduate level, the problem, in my view (see this comment), is that the faculty at the PhD programs simply don’t co-author/collaborate with many students of color and so they either have poor CVs, or they have little connection to the profession.
For example, look at recent issues of leading journals, how many have co-authors from under represented groups? Answer: the last two AJS issues (July and September 2015), I think, have one African American faculty author and zero African American student co-authors out of 16; the previous two ASR (Aug and Oct 2015) issues have 35 authors and I could not identify any African-American authors. Please correct me. I emphasize that this is not an accusation of overt racism. I personally know editors at both journals. They are good people. What I am suggesting is that the pipeline is broken. The very best scholars in sociology appear in these journal issues (e.g., SEE NOTE) and they are not matching with the fullest spectrum of students available. This is not an editorial problem, this is a graduate school problem.
There are many parties that could step up to address the situation. Those in teaching intensive institutions can be on the look out for for talented folks and see if grad school is right for them. Those who work in graduate programs have a much harder task. They need to actively ask themselves: Am I working with all students in our program? Why not? We should look at the CVs of professors in leading programs and ask: who are the co-authors? The oldest among us should also ask how we can mentor younger colleagues, so they can attain a position of leadership. Only when this happens, will you see racial gaps in the professoriate decrease.
Note: Originally, I had listed some senior scholars by name if they appeared in the journal issues I discussed. Over email, a colleague suggested that I was casting these scholars in a way that suggests ill intent or downplayed their work co-authored with people from under represented groups. In fact, the opposite is true. These people were highlighted in the post because they are decent folk and highly regarded scholars, which magnifies the blog post’s original point. If you look at the gate keeper journals, you see a co-author imbalance even among people who are on the right side of things. That suggests to me that the problem is structural and that graduate programs are set up in ways that discourage matching of minority grad students with the faculty who can best promote their careers. So I stand by my original point (and data), but I do recognize that my argument can be read opposite to my intent. Thus, the names have been removed and I apologize to readers who may have thought I was disparaging these scholars.
As the yearly season for academic hiring opens, and as students consider applying to graduate program, now is the time to reflect on one’s place and prospects in the academic pipeline. Written by two economists who also are parents, Professor Mommy: Finding Work-Family Balance in Academia raises important issues germane to those who are entering, navigating, or exiting the academic pipeline. While the book is aimed at academic women, a general audience would benefit from tenure-track tips. (Examples: the authors suggest working on and submitting grant proposals so that senior colleagues who serve on grant panels can become acquainted with junior colleagues’ work. The authors also recommend against co-authoring with colleagues who might be able to write tenure review letters, as co-authorship will preclude letter-writing.)
Like Fabio in his Grad Skool Rulz book, the co-authors Rachel Connelly and Kristen Ghodsee have a brutal and blunt chapter (“Know Thyself, part 1”) urging those unsure about academia to understand the limits of the academic job market, such as being expected to move where the jobs are and facing continual rejection. They warn that applicants should expect to spend between 3 to 5 years on the job market and that any job prospect might become THE job.
One especially illuminating section addresses how some job applicants may take positions at particular kinds of institutions, assuming that these allow for a work-family balance, without understanding that other institutions may have the resources better suited to support working parents. Although the authors don’t go into this in great detail, some employers are prepared to dole out substantial resources to faculty – funds that can cover all of conference travel expenses, a book allowance, a guaranteed spot in a desired school for a child, subsidized housing in a good school district, college tuition payments for children, etc. – that other employers cannot.
The book excels in revealing strategies used by academic parents to manage the limitless demands of academia and parenting. The one quibble that I have concerns a section where the authors offer a composite case of a “good student” who embarks upon an academic career as a default. The hypothetical academic struggles with the everyday challenges of academia and parenting; she eventually resigns from her tenure-track position to stay at home to raise children, supported by a husband who agrees to be the bread-winner for the family. Using this case, the authors invite readers to assess whether they truly enjoy “the life of the mind,” which include self-managing an academic career where deadlines can be postponed up until a point. The authors urge readers not to opt out of the pipeline in the way that the composite case’s academic does. They want readers to examine their “motivation” for considering an academic career.
While the authors’ advice adopts a realist perspective, as we know from Herbert Simon’s work on decision-making, people often don’t know what their preferences are (or fully understand the consequences associated with certain choices), until they try them. My added suggestion is that students and tenure-track faculty try cultivating certain habits – namely, formulating research questions, writing regularly, and meeting publication deadlines – as early as possible.* If these don’t jibe, move onto other career paths.
* As an analogy, read Dan Chambliss’s “The
Mandanity Mundanity of Excellence” article about swimmers.
[The following is an invited guest post by Damon Mayrl, Assistant Professor of Comparative Sociology at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, and Nick Wilson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University.]
Last week, the editors of the American Sociological Review invited members of the Comparative-Historical Sociology Section to help develop a new set of review and evaluation guidelines. The ASR editors — including orgtheory’s own Omar Lizardo — hope that developing such guidelines will improve historical sociology’s presence in the journal. We applaud ASR’s efforts on this count, along with their general openness to different evaluative review standards. At the same time, though, we think caution is warranted when considering a single standard of evidence for evaluating historical sociology. Briefly stated, our worry is that a single evidentiary standard might obscure the variety of great work being done in the field, and could end up excluding important theoretical and empirical advances of interest to the wider ASR audience.
These concerns derive from our ongoing research on the actual practice of historical sociology. This research was motivated by surprise. As graduate students, we thumbed eagerly through the “methodological” literature in historical sociology, only to find — with notable exceptions, of course — that much of this literature consists of debates about the relationship between theory and evidence, or conceptual interventions (for instance, on the importance of temporality in historical research). What was missing, it seemed, were concrete discussions of how to actually gather, evaluate, and deploy primary and secondary evidence over the course of a research project. This lacuna seemed all the more surprising because other methods in sociology — like ethnography or interviewing — had such guides.
With this motivation, we set out to ask just what kinds of evidence the best historical sociology uses, and how the craft is practiced today. So far, we have learned that historical sociology resembles a microcosm of sociology as a whole, characterized by a mosaic of different methods and standards deployed to ask questions of a wide variety of substantive interests and cases.
One source for this view is a working paper in which we examine citation patterns in 32 books and articles that won awards from the ASA Comparative-Historical Sociology section. We find that, even among these award-winning works of historical sociology, at least four distinct models of historical sociology, each engaging data and theory in particular ways, have been recognized by the discipline as outstanding. Importantly, the sources they use and their modes of engaging with existing theory vary dramatically. Some works use existing secondary histories as theoretical building blocks, engaging in an explicit critical dialogue with existing theories; others undertake deep excavations of archival and other primary sources to nail down an empirically rich and theoretically revealing case study; and still others synthesize mostly secondary sources to provide new insights into old theoretical problems. Each of these strategies allows historical sociologists to answer sociologically important questions, but each also implies a different standard of judgment. By extension, ASR’s guidelines will need to be supple enough to capture this variety.
One key aspect of these standards concerns sources, which for historical sociologists can be either primary (produced contemporaneously with the events under study) or secondary (later works of scholarship about the events studied). Although classic works of comparative-historical sociology drew almost exclusively from secondary sources, younger historical sociologists increasingly prize primary sources. In interviews with historical sociologists, we have noted stark divisions and sometimes strongly-held opinions as to whether primary sources are essential for “good” historical sociology. Should ASR take a side in this debate, or remain open to both kinds of research?
Practically speaking, neither primary nor secondary sources are self-evidently “best.” Secondary sources are interpretive digests of primary sources by scholars; accordingly, they contain their own narratives, accounts, and intellectual agendas, which can sometimes strongly shape the very nature of events presented. Since the quality of historical sociologists’ employment of secondary works can be difficult for non-specialists to judge, this has often led to skepticism of secondary sources and a more favorable stance toward primary evidence. But primary sources face their own challenges. Far from being systematic troves of “data” readily capable of being processed by scholars, for instance, archives are often incomplete records of events collected by directly “interested” actors (often states) whose documents themselves remain interpretive slices of history, rather than objective records. Since the use of primary evidence more closely resembles mainstream sociological data collection, we would not be surprised if a single standard for historical sociology explicitly or implicitly favored primary sources while relatively devaluing secondary syntheses. We view this to be a particular danger, considering the important insights that have emerged from secondary syntheses. Instead, we hope that standards of transparency, for both types of sources, will be at the core of the new ASR guidelines.
Another set of concerns relates to the intersection of historical research and the review process itself. For instance, our analysis of award-winners suggests that, despite the overall increased interest in original primary research among section members, primary source usage has actually declined in award-winning articles (as opposed to books) over time, perhaps in response to the format constraints of journal articles. If the new guidelines heavily favor original primary work without providing leeway in format constraints (for instance, through longer word counts), this could be doubly problematic for historical sociological work attempting to appear in the pages of ASR. Beyond the constraints of word-limits, moreover, as historical sociology has extended its substantive reach through its third-wave “global turn,” the cases historical sociologists use to construct a theoretical dialogue with one another can sometimes rely on radically different and particularly unfamiliar sources. This complicates attempts to judge and review works of historical sociology, since the reviewer may find their knowledge of the case — and especially of relevant archives — strained to its limit.
In sum, we welcome efforts by ASR to provide review guidelines for historical sociology. At the same time, we encourage plurality—guidelines, rather than a guideline; standards rather than a standard. After all, we know that standards tend to homogenize and that guidelines can be treated more rigidly than originally intended. In our view, this is a matter of striking an appropriate balance. Pushing too far towards a single standard risks flattening the diversity of inquiry and distorting ongoing attempts among historical sociologists to sort through what the new methodological and substantive diversity of the “third wave” of historical sociology means for the field, while pushing too far towards describing diversity might in turn yield a confusing sense for reviewers that “anything goes.” The nature of that balance, however, remains to be seen.
In a totally commendable attempt to broaden the range of methods represented in ASR, the new editorial team is working to develop guidelines for reviewers of papers using ethnographic and interview methods, theory papers, and comparative-historical papers. The idea is that if reviewers, especially those who don’t write such papers themselves, are given a more explicit sense of what a “good” article in one of these areas looks like, they will be less likely to dismiss them on grounds borrowed inappropriately from another type of research.
Personally, I think this is a great idea. I don’t know if it will work, and I might have some quibbles around the margins (I think really great work can come from ethnographic sites basically chosen for the sake of convenience, and that systematicity of method in choosing who to talk to isn’t as important as working to check and cross-check emerging findings), but by and large, it’s an admirable effort. I particularly liked the openness to the descriptive contribution of ethnography. Causality is terrific, but not everything has to be causal.
The tough thing, I think, is that we all think of ASR as a certain kind of journal, and review submissions to it accordingly. I know I’ve probably reviewed pieces negatively for ASR that I would really have liked for another journal, just because they didn’t seem like ASR pieces. Moving the needle is hard when even people who should be friendly to a certain type of work see it as just “not fitting.” (Much like other kinds of social processes?) But it’s worth trying, and this seems like a useful step.
PLoS One has a fun article, with good advice like:
5. Work in the Laboratory of a Previous Nobel Prize Winner
Many Prize recipients have benefitted greatly from the inspiration that this approach can bring. Sometimes just working at an institution with a previous Prize winner can be helpful. One prime example is the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory in Cambridge, United Kingdom, where no less than nine staff members have won Nobel Prizes in either Chemistry or Physiology and Medicine, including my own personal hero Fred Sanger, who won the Chemistry Prize twice (1958, 1980), once for inventing protein sequencing and once for pioneering DNA sequencing. In between, he also invented RNA sequencing, but perhaps three Prizes was more than the Nobel Committee could stomach.
6. Even Better Than Rule 5, Try to Work in the Laboratory of a Future Nobel Prize WinnerThis can be very beneficial, especially if you can be a part of the Prize-winning discovery. That has proven to be a very good strategy, but it is not always easy to spot the right mentor, one who will bring you that sort of success and then share the glory with you. The corollary of this strategy is not to work in the laboratory of someone who has already won but whom you think will win again with you on the ticket. This has yet to prove successful based on the previous double recipients named in Rule 5! It is much better to make sure that any big discoveries come from you after you leave the lab and are out on your own.
Check it out.
Wrapping up my guest blogging stint, I thought I’d take a look forward at my new project on deep democracy initiatives in higher education. I didn’t touch on the important role of higher education in the public engagement industry much in DIY Democracy—in part because it felt like a whole other topic, but largely because leaders in deliberation and democracy centers, initiatives, and networks in the academy (including Martin Carcasson, John Gastil, Peter Levine, Nancy Thomas, and Tim Shaffer) are doing so much great research on their own efforts. Since there’s already an Initiative for the Study of Higher Education and Public Life, the lesser-studied elements of the public engagement industry seemed worth exploring first.
But eventually I became convinced that there was an interesting organizational story to tell about these democracy initiatives and the contexts of their emergence. On the one hand, the landscape appears to be populated by lots of local, small, diverse organizational projects—Centers for Civic Life, Public Life, Civic Engagement, Democratic Engagement, etc. at colleges and universities of all sizes and types. But at the same time, deep democracy initiatives are promoted at the national level by higher ed associations, foundations, and the federal government. Here, for example, is video from the White House’s January 2012 “For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission” Forum.
The discourses of center mission statements and national democracy initiatives regarding what higher ed civic engagement should look like are remarkably similar, recognizable from Nina Eliasoph’s “empowerment projects” and the deliberative democracy initiatives in my own book. For example, see Imagining America’s Undergrad Civic Professionalism Project. By invoking democracy and engagement, these projects seek to produce civic action that is:
accountable to all stakeholders
This demanding list obviously reflects a sensitivity to critiques of the shallow, paternalistic, short-term community service projects of the past—and even to critiques of “service learning” as superficial or inadequately integrated with the curriculum and the community. Civic engagement in this conceptualization goes beyond service to include various kinds of student leadership, activism, democratic participation and social entrepreneurship. In addition, assessment is central to today’s civic engagement in higher education—and even this assessment must be conducted democratically and with community input. Needless to say, accomplishing all of this is a tall order for directors of civic engagement centers.
What is your sense of the organizational interests and anxieties motivating this 21st-century version of civic engagement for millennials and their professors? How do these differ from prior popular missions in the American academy? How similar are these values to those in initiatives for civic engagement in higher ed in other countries? Drawing on Eliasoph’s work on the ways empowerment projects’ values may clash, where do you see room for potential conflict or difficulties in achieving all of these ideals at the same time? For those early risers who can’t get enough of this topic, come to the Political Discourse panel at 8:30AM this Saturday at ASA!