Archive for the ‘academia’ Category
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.
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:
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!
[Edited to add: Since posting this, lists of various sorts have come in from Indiana, Notre Dame, Michigan, Stanford, UIC, and Chicago…thanks to all who have sent them, and more are welcome!]
I need to update the core reading list for our comprehensive exam in organizations. In my department, the nature of these lists vary from field to field. Some subfields provide a well-defined reading list, some are pretty student-driven, and some (including orgs) have a core list which students supplement with additional readings in their areas of interest.
Only a few sociology departments (Arizona, Maryland, Toronto) post standard lists for qualifying exam areas. A few more post past exam questions (Wisconsin), sometimes with a few reading lists (Texas). And not all these places offer organizations comps, of course. I am not finding any equivalent lists from business schools. Organizations syllabi are, of course, easier to find, but aren’t quite the same.
If you’ve given or taken a comprehensive exam in organizations in the last five years (or a closely related area, like “work and organizations”), I’d love to see a copy of the reading list to help update ours. I will keep these private, but if I receive several, can post some summary information here on what sorts of material people are including. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments on what should be included or excluded or general reading list advice are also welcome below.
Plummeting grant funding rates are back in the news, this time in the U.K., where success rates in the Economic and Social Research Council—a rough equivalent to NSF’s SBE division—have dropped to 13%. In sociology, it’s even lower—only 8% of applications were funded in 2014-15.
I’ve written before about the waste of resources associated with low funding rates. But this latest round prompted me to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Disclaimer: these numbers are total guesses based on my experience in the U.S. system. I think they are pretty conservative. But I would love to see more formal estimates.
The book publication process is very different than journal publishing. The journal process is fairly impersonal and bureaucratic. Yes, once in a while, an editor will help out his buddies, but journals receive hundreds of submissions and they have to be processed. Most are judged impersonally (though with the editors’ tastes). In contrast, book publication is a very soft, often personal process. Some book publication histories resemble the journal process. You send it in, the editor sends it out for review, and then the reviews determine if it gets published. In other cases, editors will suggest that someone write a book and then work personally with the author to guide it through the process.
Let’s start with nuts and bolts and then move to some Q&A:
- The author either starts with a proposal, a sample chapter, or the whole thing. They contact an editor who then decides to review.
- Editors come in a few flavors. There are “acquisition” editors whose job it is to sort submissions. The “list” editors are in charge of certain types of books. E.g., the health editor managers health books. There are also more senior editors who have a leadership role.
- Once something is submitted, you fill out a survey. Who are you? What is the book about? Who will buy it?
- Then, the book is sent to 1-3 peer reviewers. It is usually single blind. Reviewers see the authors, but not the other way. Usually, they are peers. Sometimes, non-academics or professors on the publisher’s board. Reviews range from “good job, move along” to very detailed responses.
- The proposal, the manuscript, the survey, and the reviews are then taken to the board for academic presses and to more senior editors for private presses. The whole package is evaluated. Sometimes you get a reject. Sometimes you get an “advance contract” (see below). Sometimes you get an “interesting, try again” – an “R&R.”
- If all you submitted is a proposal and sample chapter, “thumbs up” means you have permission to submit the entire packaged when ready. You can ask for the “advance contract.” If you submitted the whole thing, “thumbs up” means you get a publication contract – the final step before the book is “in the system” and moving toward publication. You might be done with it, or you need to do some revisions.
- Next week, I will talk about the nitty gritty of making the physical/ebook.
- Q: Should I submit a proposal or whole book? A: My opinion is that you should try to submit the entire book, unless you are pressed for time. The reason is that it is much easier to judge the quality of the book once you can see all the parts. Less micro-managing by reviewers. Also, it signals to an editor that you have your act together.
- Q: What is an “advance contract?” A: It is a contract with the press that says that they will consider the book for review upon completion. It is not a promise to publish. Some people find this useful because it shows hiring and promotion committees that the project is real. So yes, it is good, but it is a very modest step. That is why a lot of people won’t get hired just on the advance contract. There needs to be a “real” publication contract.
- Q: Can I submit to more than one press at a time? A: Yes. The norm seems to be that you can submit to a few at a time and of similar prestige. Too many submits, and it looks weird. If you get an offer from a low tier press, the high tier may not take it seriously.
- Q: How do I identify a good press and the editor? A: First, look at your bookshelf. Cambridge published a lot in protest movements, so movement scholars should try that first. Second, think about impact. Will the press help you reach the right audience. To learn about editors, use your networks and talk to them at professional meetings. Email sometimes works, but I have found it to be highly variable.
Next week: more on publication and writing it up.
Today and tomorrow, I will discuss book writing. Today’s post will be about the basic mindset behind book writing. Most academics are trained to write articles. In some fields, an article might be a few pages long, or a few dozen pages. Books are longer and more ambitious in scope. Their length and sustained argument is a challenge and many academic are not able to complete such a book due to training or temperament.
So here, I want to outline some key differences and help you get in the mindset about writing a book:
- Books are not about narrow nitty gritty arguments. They are sustained arguments in a (mostly) verbal format. You should only write a book when each part of your argument involves a journal article length explanation. Otherwise, think about cutting down to journal size.
- Books are good for very verbal areas (historical work); arguments that collect a lot of different data and thus can’t fit in a 35 page paper; and big ideas that might reach a broad public.
- Books often have wider audiences, even technical books. A well written book can be discussed in academic journals, learned journals (e.g., Foreign Affairs), and mass media (e.g., the NY Times). Even a technical book might reach out, in that other specialists will want to consult “the book” on a topic that goes into gory detail. So when you write a book, be prepared to explain what bigger audience you might be shooting for.
- Books need to justify their existence. It costs about $20k for a single print book. These costs will only be recouped if you sell about 1,000 copies at $20 a pop. Only offer an idea that will (a) be bought by libraries and (b) have some justification to a larger public or cross-disciplinary academic audience.
- Bill Germano’s book writing guide gets it right – you only have 20 pages to really justify the book. If an editor doesn’t get it after about 10 minutes, it won’t get published.
Tomorrow, the book publication process.
Students, and early career faculty, often ask about whether they should “go big” or fill up the cv with “smaller” publications. Here is my view: start by asking about the type of program you want to be in and your career stage. Then, apply the following rules:
- High status programs prefer “big hits.” In some programs, AJS/ASR is a prerequisite for promotion and is the most common cv item for ABDs who get assistant prof jobs. If you are at such a program, or aiming for one, this is your first strategy.
- Most other programs will be happy with a healthy number of publications in more modest journals. In fact, one can have an outstanding career in mid or low ranked MA/PhD programs with lots of “small” hits and they will almost certainly help with tenure at teaching intensive institutions.
- If you want to move up (though not laterally), a big hit is often required. Otherwise, people will think you are only capable of small hits.
- The tenure worthy package at most decent PhD programs is one or two “big” ones and other non-embarrassing publications. For other places, about 4-5 “small ones” will often suffice if well written.
- Time: If you don’t have big hits, and tenure/job market is coming up, sometimes filling it up with small hits might work.
- People in unorthodox fields can sometimes get away with specialty hits in “cool journals.” Thus, if you are in one of these fields, you might want to move along the quantity/quality curve.
- Book writers: If your field is mainly books (historical or ethnography), you can get away with a book that counts as multiple big hits. Articles, if well written, may not need to be in top journals.
Bottom line: Big hits will always help. But unless you are at an elite program, there are many plan B’s that work well.