Archive for the ‘academia’ Category

navigating the academic pipeline: swim forth or swim out?

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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.

Written by katherinechen

September 17, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Posted in academia, books

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asr reviewer guidelines: comparative-historical edition

[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.

Written by epopp

September 8, 2015 at 5:51 pm

asr review guidelines

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.

Jenn Lena posted links on Twitter to guidelines for the first two, and the comparative-historical section is forming a committee to provide input on the last one.

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.

Your reactions?

Written by epopp

September 3, 2015 at 8:09 am

how to win a nobel prize

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.

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 20, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in academia, fabio

the new civic mission in higher education

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

appreciative (asset-focused)


























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!

Written by carolinewlee

August 18, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Posted in academia, activism

grad director report, year 1

It is the month of August, when a sociologist’s thoughts turn to ASA and to the rapidly approaching semester. And in my case, to the (successful?) conclusion of my first year of grad-directoring.

I got great suggestions last summer on the blog, when I asked for advice about what a DGS should do, and useful feedback on reorganizing the proseminar. More recently, Jessica (DGS at Notre Dame) started a discussion at Scatterplot on how to support grad student students on the job market.

Now that I’m an old hand, I know which requirements you can get an exception for and which ones you can’t; the difference between the five kinds of independent studies and how many of each you can do; and how to get around the New York State ban on buying food for grad students. (Unfortunately, it involves my wallet.) I still can’t figure out how grad student folders are filed, though. Anyway, it seems like a good time to reflect on what went well, what didn’t (at least the bloggable parts), and what I’d like to accomplish in the year ahead.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by epopp

August 14, 2015 at 8:30 am

Posted in academia, sociology

thinking of applying to a SLAC? start here

As the job market begins in earnest, I thought I would post a few things to consider for those seeking a tenure-track job at a small liberal arts college, somewhat mythic places that can seem like romantic idylls or claustrophobic hellholes depending on the novel or film.

First, for newer readers of orgtheory, the comments on this post from 2012 are a fantastic guideline for framing your application in terms of the balance between teaching and research:

how to get those sweet liberal arts jobs

Second, for those not so sure about whether or not to apply, here are some pros (and associated/implied cons) based on my own personal experience of a decade or so:

PRO 1: We’re hiring and investing in faculty. My own institution is advertising for t-t social science jobs in IA, Anthro, Econ, and American politics this year. I count about 15 t-t liberal arts positions advertised on the ASA job board as of early August, many with teaching loads of 2-2 or 3-2 (sometimes 2-2 in the first year). Endowments of private liberal arts colleges have rebounded since 2008. Teaching loads may vary quite a bit, but leave policies, internal research grants, funding for undergrad research assistants, and externally-funded course development initiatives can be generous as well. Grant for integrating choreography into your classroom, anyone? Do your homework on the health of a school’s endowment, its teaching load and leave policies, and its relationships with foundations like Mellon, Teagle, etc. While the research support does not approach an R1 and the grants office may be small, that also means it is not burdened with a lot of red tape. For this reason, my two collaborators at R1s and I ran our joint ASA-NSF grant through my SLAC’s grants office (thanks Nancy!). I can apply for internal funding for small research expenses quickly; this works a lot better for my not-very-expensive research program than spending oodles of time applying for external grants I may or may not get.

PRO 2: If you like teaching, have a short attention span and eclectic interests, you will have lots of opportunities to indulge your curiosity about millennials’ interests in commune birthing practices, ecotourism, etc. I’ve received course development grants for a sociology of biography course, one on environmental utopias, and one on “Democracy 2.0”, and taken students ziplining, to plays, to museums, Occupy Wall Street, etc. You will most certainly end up attending lectures and dinners on topics way afield of your specialty. Seriously consider if that is something that sounds appealing or burdensome to you. But if you want to collaborate or co-teach with an engineering professor or a GIS expert? Live abroad with students in London or Costa Rica for a semester? Have at it. I took this to the limit by living in a faculty apartment in a “scholars’ house” on campus for 3 years (free room and board and bat abatement!)– but you don’t have to take it that far to enjoy the occasional dinner with a playwright. The flipside of this is, of course, service demands way beyond your department before tenure– on anything from the campus master plan to student conduct.

PRO 3: Small college towns in out of the way places can have great quality of life. As in, two-minute walk to the office. Every day is bring your dog to work day. Cheap rent because you aren’t competing with grad students for housing. Affordable home prices and child care. Free, plentiful faculty parking. For those considering rural or suburban liberal arts colleges but thinking, “I’ll live in Nearest City!”, I strongly urge you to consider living close to campus, at least for the first year or two. For a lot of reasons, this is often impossible, but if that’s the case, you will want to consider carefully before applying whether your home/personal/family life will be sustainable or tolerable with a long commute and commitments on campus at night or on weekends– see PRO 2. Get advice from people who have made it work if this is what you are planning.

Finally, in terms of updating the 2012 advice above, candidates interviewing at SLACs this season should prepare to ask/talk about hot topics like: residential life and how much faculty are expected to participate (this is increasing at a lot of places), assessment practices and attendant demands on faculty (social science fac in particular), interdisciplinarity and any advising or teaching expectations for other programs, and community engagement (ditto on social science faculty demands). Most importantly, don’t assume what the students are like based on school reputation. Beyond the outstanding departmental groupies you will be invited to meet, ask as many faculty as you can what the range of students at a particular school are REALLY like in terms of privilege, politics, partying, writing ability, interests, etc. For all their similar marketing, many liberal arts colleges have very distinctive cultures– and a community of 2000 students may be deeply influenced in great ways by small groups of D1 athletes, nontraditional students, or theater buffs. If you are running out of questions or need to catch your breath, ask a senior faculty member how the student body has changed over time.

There’s plenty more I could say here but I’d love to get comments from other faculty on the liberal arts job market and the lived experience of liberal arts jobs, which perhaps more than others, require a love of the absurd ritual, or at least a healthy sense of humor about collegiate pretensions. So commenters, what did I get wrong or right? Best or worst novels or films about the liberal arts experience? Fire away!

Written by carolinewlee

August 9, 2015 at 6:10 pm

Posted in academia


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