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the professor’s omerta

Last week, we got into a discussion about advising relationships that don’t work. In the comments, Ashley Duester posted the following:

I have encountered a sort of code of silence and protectionism among professors in which they routinely engage what I can only refer to as “pledges of loyalty” to the college of professors to which they belong. That is, they defer to the advisor in question and refuse to offer advice or feedback on any written work or on the professor’s actions, which then makes it virtually impossible to find any honest advice about how to proceed. So I’m left with the question of “where to go?”

This is part of a larger code of silence among professors. The”loyalty” thing is part of what I like to call “the professor’s omerta.” I think there are good and bad reasons for this. Let’s go through them.

Good reasons: First, if you chose Professor X as your adviser, it is probably because they are an expert in your topic. For example, here at IU, I am not going to know more than Brian Powell about family or more about mental health than Bernice Pescosolido. So I would be super hesitant to take a student from them. Also, if you are professor X’s student, there is a good chance that they have invested a lot of time, money and effort. And you may not get the pay off if they move to another adviser.

Bad reasons: Professors are in a long term tit-for-tat repeated game. Tenure means that we will have to deal with each other for a long time. So we try not to piss each other off … well, at least the wise among us. So that bleeds into advising. I will freely admit that I would feel awkward if one of my PhD students bailed for another adviser. I hope that I am big enough to get over it, but many people wouldn’t. They’d hold a grudge and make their colleagues lives miserable. That is why it is hard to get professors to “defend” students or otherwise intervene on behalf of students.

What is your view on PhD advising? Use the comments!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street   

Written by fabiorojas

May 25, 2017 at 12:27 am

that gender studies hoax is dumb, but look at this business model

Today’s five-minute-hate is on gender studies, or people who dump on gender studies, depending on your POV. The short version for those of you not paying attention: A philosopher and a math PhD decided gender studies is dumb and ideological. They wrote up a jargon- and buzzword-filled article titled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construction” and paid to get it published in a peer-reviewed journal no one’s ever heard of. Ha ha ha! Take that, gender studies!

This is a stupid prank that has already been taken down in about five different places. I’m not going to bother with that.

But in looking at the original journal, I noticed this crazy business model they have. The journal, Cogent Social Sciences, is an open-access outlet published by Cogent OA. It charges $1350 to publish an article, unless you don’t have $1350, in which case they’ll take some unspecified minimum.

Okay, so far it sounds like every other scammy “peer-reviewed” open access journal. But wait. Cogent OA, it turns out, is owned by Taylor & Francis, one of the largest academic publishers. Taylor & Francis owns Routledge, for instance, and publishes Economy and SocietyEnvironmental Sociology, and Justice Quarterly, to pick a few I’ve heard of.

Cogent OA has a FAQ that conveniently asks, “What is the relationship between Cogent OA and Taylor & Francis?” Here’s the answer (bold is mine):

Cogent OA is part of the Taylor & Francis Group, benefitting from the resources and experiences of a major publisher, but operates independently from the Taylor & Francis and Routledge imprints.

Taylor & Francis and Routledge publish a number of fully open access journals, under the Taylor & Francis Open and Routledge Open imprints. Cogent OA publishes the Cogent Series of multidisciplinary, digital open access journals.

Together, we also provide authors with the option of transferring any sound manuscript to a journal in the Cogent Series if it is unsuitable for the original Taylor & Francis/Routledge journals, providing benefits to authors, reviewers, editors and readers.

So get this: If your article gets rejected from one of our regular journals, we’ll automatically forward it to one of our crappy interdisciplinary pay-to-play journals, where we’ll gladly take your (or your funder’s or institution’s) money to publish it after a cursory “peer review”. That is a new one to me.

There’s a hoax going on here all right. But I don’t think it’s gender studies that’s being fooled.

Written by epopp

May 20, 2017 at 4:16 pm

student protest photos at maryland-college park

Last week, I was visiting the University of Marlyand to meet with the current Contexts editors, Syed Ali and Phillip Cohen, and my editorial partner, Rashawn Ray. While I was taking a stroll with Syed, I saw a student protest. Over the weekend, a noose was found at a fraternity house and it triggered a backlash. I took these photos of the students who were arguing with administrators.  The photo series begins with me being across the street, then moving into the crowd, then the administrator and the administration’s photographer and a final shot of the students.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 19, 2017 at 3:22 am

grad students can join the asa theory section for free!!!

From the home office in Toronto, Daniel Silver sends me the following announcement:

ASA Theory Section Offering Free Student Memberships

The ASA Theory Section is looking to reach out to graduate students who may have theoretical interests but have not joined the section.  To this end, we have secured a number of graduate student memberships, which we can offer to any graduate student who is currently a member of ASA but not Theory.  The section is large, vibrant, and open to any and all forms of sociological theory.

Graduate students who are interested – or faculty who know graduate students that might be interested – can contact Dan Silver, at dsilver@utsc.utoronto.ca.  Act fast while supplies last!

This is an amazing offer. Dan told me that when grad students sign up, they get a free AGIL key chain, their choice of three intersecting social identities, a framed picture of Ann Swidler and a free pass to “Ritual Chains,” the Theory Section’s secret “after hours” dance party.*

And you know what? I’m feeling generous today. I will give a free copy of Theory for the Working Sociologist to the first three grad students who email Dan and take up this offer. Just send proof that you signed up and your snail mail address.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

* Ok, none of that is true but the book give away is 100% the truth.

Written by fabiorojas

May 17, 2017 at 12:01 am

the ironic cowardice of hypatia’s editorial board

A few decades ago, the scholarly and scientific study of gender was considered taboo. But, starting in the 1970s, various movements popped up in academia to change the situation. In philosophy, one outcome of this movement was the journal Hypatia, which was established in the mid-1980s to provide a place for academic philosophers to discuss philosophical issues arising from feminist perspectives.

As many of you know, Hypatia is currently enmeshed in a controversy. Rebecca Tuvel, of Rhodes College, published an article asking if the arguments made in favor of transgenderism could be applied to race. This argument may be right, or it may wrong. In any case, it is certainly a valid philosophical question. If you read through the article, it appears to be a rather conventional article.

But a lot of people didn’t see it that way.  Not surprisingly, there was an online petition asking that the paper be retracted. And of course, a lot of people noted that the complaints often bore little relation to the article. The surprising part was the response of some editorial board members. They actually apologized to the online mob! From Hypatia’s Facebook site:

We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists, and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused.

Spineless.  What harms? Read through it to see the slings and arrows of outrageous scholarship that Professor Tuvel threw upon her colleagues: “…descriptions of trans lives that perpetuate harmful assumptions and (not coincidentally) ignore important scholarship by trans philosophers” and “the use of methodologies which take up important social and political phenomena in dehistoricized and decontextualized ways.” In a journal that values free speech, the response would be a simple, “thank you for the feedback, please submit all replies and rebuttals to our managing editor.”

Here’s the ironic part. Hypatia of Alexandria was a prominent mathematician and philosopher of late antiquity who was killed  during a wave of political unrest by a lynch mob led by a religious zealot. Her death was horrible:

A mob of Christians gathered, led by a reader (i.e., a minor cleric) named Peter, whom Scholasticus calls a fanatic. They kidnapped Hypatia on her way home and took her to the “Church called Caesareum. They then completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles.” Socrates Scholasticus was interpreted as saying that, while she was still alive, Hypatia’s flesh was torn off ὀστράκοις, which literally means “with or by oyster shells, potsherds or roof tiles.”

Well, I’ll give the editors of Hypatia this much credit. They may lack in courage, but they compensate with truth in advertising.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

May 5, 2017 at 12:03 am

college campus outrage as fundraising tactic

It might be a controversial campus speaker, or an affirmative action BBQ. You see a lot stunts by conservative campus groups these days. Amy Binder has an interesting take in the Washington Post. These controversial tactics are stunts paid for by outsiders to stir controversy so that their cause gets attention and donations:

YAF (Young Americans for Freedom) fuels a provocative style for what one of our interviewees called “Average Joe” college students. Enticed by slogans depicting faculty as “tree-hugging, gun-taking, wealth-hating, and leftist-loving,” students are taught in “boot camps” to fight “persecution” on campus with an “activist mentality,” confronting their liberal peers and professors head-to-head with “aggressive” tactics. Students take up the combative charge by staging showy events like “Affirmative Action Bake Sales” and “Catch an Illegal Alien Day.” This provocative style of right-wing activism is designed to poke fun at liberals, get them angry, protest their events and, when chaos ensues, attract media attention.

Another organization we studied, the Leadership Institute, had $21 million in assets in 2014 and spent nearly $15 million that year supporting conservative students online, on campus, and in their training facilities in Arlington, Va. The organization has trained tens of thousands of college students over the past four decades to enter politics and use advanced technology to get the conservative message out. One former Leadership Institute employee is James O’Keefe, the videographer who produced heavily edited undercover audio and video recordings with workers at ACORN, NPR and Planned Parenthood, all of which went viral years ago on Breitbart.com. While at the Leadership Institute, O’Keefe traveled to campuses to consult with students on starting clubs and conservative newspapers.

To sum it up, every time the campus left goes on a rant, these groups get paid. While students have the privilege of bringing who they want to campus, and others have an obligation to behave in civil ways, we don’t have to support them. Given that the purpose is not to engage in good faith debate, but to provoke and antagonize, the most effective tactic is silence.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

May 3, 2017 at 12:21 am

writing away professional narcissism

Writing is a continual learning process, where the possibilities for improving one’s communication skills are endless.  However, in the academy, deteriorating writing is one likely outcome, especially if one absorbs the norms of academic writing.

Recently, as part of a professional development workshop, I came across Steven Pinker‘s critique of academic writing norms, titled “Why Academic Writing Stinks and How to Fix It.”  In it, Pinker slays one standby of how researchers justify the importance of their work (i.e., citing scholars’ increasing attention to a particular topic).  He attributes this gambit to “professional narcissism” and advocates assuming that readers already are interested in the topic:

Academics live in two universes: the world of the thing they study (the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, the development of language in children, the Taiping Rebellion in China) and the world of their profession (getting articles published, going to conferences, keeping up with the trends and gossip). Most of a researcher’s waking hours are spent in the second world, and it’s easy for him to confuse the two. The result is the typical opening of an academic paper:
In recent years, an increasing number of psychologists and linguists have turned
their attention to the problem of child language acquisition. In this article, recent research on this process will be reviewed.

No offense, but few people are interested in how professors spend their time. Classic style ignores the hired help and looks directly at what they are being paid to study:
All children acquire the ability to speak a language without explicit lessons. How do they accomplish this feat?

Of course, sometimes the topic of conversation really is the activity of researchers, such as an overview intended to introduce graduate students or other insiders to the scholarly literature. But researchers are apt to lose sight of whom they are writing for, and narcissistically describe the obsessions of their federation rather than what the audience wants to know.

Download the full PDF of Pinker’s essay and other colleagues’ recommendations for improving writing here at the CHE.

 

Written by katherinechen

April 28, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Posted in academia

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