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how to write a book 1: the mindset

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.

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

Written by fabiorojas

July 2, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in academia, books, fabio

grad skool rulz #40: the quality/quantity trade off in publishing

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.

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

Written by fabiorojas

June 23, 2015 at 12:01 am

book spotlight: remaking college: the changing ecology of higher education, edited by kirst and stevens

Recent orgtheory posts excepted, we pay way too much attention to a tiny handful of higher education institutions in the U.S. (Not to mention too much attention to the U.S. relative to the rest of the world.)

Academic chatter often assumes research universities are the prototypical higher ed organization, even though only 23% of students are enrolled in such universities (RU/VH or RU/H). By comparison, more than a third are enrolled in community colleges, and nearly 10% in for-profit institutions.

At the level of public attention, focus gets even narrower. A New York Times search gets 310 hits for “community college,” versus nearly 13,000 for “Harvard.” Recently historian David Perry surveyed two months of NYT op-eds containing the word “professor” and found

zero by community college or lower-status teaching school profs, zero by branch campus public profs, and a handful by top liberal arts schools (Smith, Dickinson) or lower-tier R1 publics (Colorado State, South Carolina).

And of course nothing gets our collective hearts aflutter like a good old fashioned spat over whether the Ivy League is an awful, awful place.

So kudos to Michael Kirst and Mitchell Stevens for noticing that the world of higher ed is bigger than that. Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education, published a couple of months ago by Stanford UP, focuses on the institutions that are underappreciated by the media and scholars: comprehensive colleges, community colleges, for-profit colleges. By bringing together a diverse group of academics — several of whom take an explicitly organizational approach — to focus on broad-access institutions, they have done the field a real service.

The essays cover a range of ground and approaches. Several, including an orienting one by W. Richard Scott, conceptualize higher ed as an ecology or field. I’ll just highlight a couple I particularly enjoyed here.

In “The Classification of Organizational Forms: Theory and Application to the Field of Higher Education,” Martin Ruef and Manish Nag use topic models based on IPEDS data to generate new sets of categories for U.S. postsecondary institutions. From mission statements, for example, they infer not only two distinct clusters of liberal arts schools and two of community colleges, but several additional types of institutions — globally-oriented colleges, Christian colleges, medical tech schools, student-oriented universities — that might otherwise go unnoticed. Like other good work that identifies patterns from texts, it prompts a rethinking of cultural identity beyond assumed categories.

Regina Deil-Amen makes a significant contribution just by hammering home how atypical the “typical” college student really is. Nearly three-quarters of first-year undergraduates are enrolled in community colleges or for-profit institutions. 53% are not enrolled full-time. Only 13% live on campus. 13 percent! Her quotes of interviews with lower-income and Latino students, who are dealing with family stresses and financial struggles, are telling:

My family has a lot of financial problems, so that’s another stress that I’m constantly dealing with. I have to call them like, ‘Mom, are you gonna be able to pay rent this month?’…I’ve actually used some of my loans to help them pay their rent this year. (p. 146)

These firsthand accounts reinforce how inaccurate the picture of a dependent 18-year-old striking out on her own for the first time actually is.

I also enjoyed Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s reflection on measuring college performance, where they emphasize that they

have vehemently argued against the desirability of an externally imposed accountability schema. We are deeply skeptical of increased centralized regulation of this character—fearing that the unintended consequences would far outweigh any benefits—and have instead called for institutions themselves to assume enhance responsibility for monitoring and improving student outcomes. (p. 170)

I’m not sure they know how to measure college quality either, but it’s a thoughtful piece.

Higher ed really is a diverse organizational ecology, and it’s going to take a lot of work to map out the whole landscape. But I’m very glad that people like Kirst and Stevens are moving us in that direction.

Written by epopp

June 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

amalgamating parental and work responsibilities in the workplace: one recommended reading

While at a conference in California during grad school, a fellow attendee had to run back to her hotel room at mid-day. To me, she explained that she had to pump breastmilk for her baby, who was back at home in the Midwest with the other parent. This was one of my first encounters with breastfeeding workers, one that “normalized” the amalgamation of parental and work responsibilities. Given pediatricians’ recommendations of breastfeeding until babies reach at least 6 months or preferably 1 year old, if possible, and parents’ return to work after a 3-month-long leave (or earlier), employers and employees are likely to confront the practicalities of pumping – how to pump, when to pump, where to pump, and how to store the milk.

Now, some conference sites and workplaces have designated lactation rooms so that parents don’t have to search for a private place to pump. In NY state, this room cannot be a restroom.

Despite changes to legislation and workplace policies, some workers still face daily challenges when pumping. As recounted in a freshly minted Culture and Organization publication by Prof. Noortje van Amsterdam at Utrecht School of Governance, the Netherlands, finding a place to pump and storing the milk was fraught with anxieties (i.e., “have I produced enough?”, “will the students notice if I have changed my shirt?”) and shame, as well as awkward exchanges with gatekeepers to offices and the canteen fridge.

After hitting the 6 month milestone, van Amsterdam ended pumping. To her surprise, one of the building workers, in charge of the canteen fridge, tells her that he misses their previous interactions over the milk storage. Such an exchange evidences how what might feel difficult or awkward to one party becomes part of a welcomed routine for another party.

One morning, I run into Ben in the hallway. “You’ve stopped expressing, haven’t
you?” he asks.
“Yes. I’m all done,” I reply.
“I do miss you, you know”
And in spite of everything that happened, this makes me feel a little better.

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Written by katherinechen

June 11, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Posted in academia, culture

teaching, tenure, and academic freedom

As events continue to unfold in Wisconsin, defenses of tenure are popping up in various places. For the most part, these are focused on how weakening tenure would 1) limit academic freedom, 2) drive faculty to other universities, and 3) subject them to political reprisals.

These are all true. One only has to think about climate research, or UNC’s Poverty Center, to realize that the threat to academic freedom is very real.

What is less clear is why the public should care. Sure, some will. But lots of people believe climate science is corrupt, and that centers like UNC’s are inappropriately political. Any good defense of the public university—of tenure within it or support for it more generally—has to appeal to a broad swath of people.

I suggested the other day that the business community cares about science, and that that is one potential source of support for higher ed, at least, if not necessarily for tenure. But what the average American cares about most with regard to universities is not science, but teaching.

And here…crickets.

Clay Shirky argued at Crooked Timber that in fact professors don’t do very much teaching, and when the public learns this they will revolt. I think he sees the world too much through the lens of NYU, and that if you look at the higher ed field as a whole, there is lots of teaching going on, including by tenure-track faculty.

But where he is right is that what most people outside higher ed care about is not research, but teaching. Fortunately, there are strong arguments to be made that link tenure and teaching quality. For example, Mikaila pointed out in the comments that

performance funding initiatives which emphasize on-time graduation rates would tend to encourage a decrease in academic rigor so that students make adequate academic progress and do not fail or withdraw from courses–something we could easily achieve by giving our students open-book fill-in-the-blank tests with As for all. It is tenure which protects us from such a demand and thus tenure that gives us the best chance of ensuring that students have the opportunity to receive a high-quality, rigorous education that challenges them and helps them learn and develop the skills which will benefit them economically, socially, culturally, and personally for the rest of their lives.

These are the kinds of arguments that are likely to have traction. Not that tenure is good for professors, or things like academic freedom that a minority of people care about. But tenure is good for students.

The flip side of that is that we can’t profess that tenure helps students and then denigrate or simply neglect teaching. Nor can we go along with “I won’t grade you too hard as long as you don’t demand too much.” Nor is this position compatible with allowing the system to continue to survive on contingent labor.

I’m still working out what the ethical thing to do is as someone who is (as we all are, in one way or another) caught up in this system. One thing I’m pretty sure about, though: appealing to faculty self-interest is not a winning strategy for gaining public support.

Written by epopp

June 11, 2015 at 8:15 am

conference policy recommendations

Jeff’s post about the ASA meetings reminded me of a Conference Advice thing I wrote ages ago on my own blog. I dusted it off, and even though you shouldn’t be taking advice from me here it is below the fold, for what it’s worth.

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Written by Kieran

June 5, 2015 at 2:29 am

Posted in academia, conferences

don’t look dumb: on the anxiety of asa meetings – a guest post by jeff guhin

Jeff Guhin is a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Virginia and earned his Ph.D. in sociology at Yale University. This post is a reflection on being an early career scholar at the ASA meetings.

Much like death, a meeting at ASA is generally short and anxiety-provoking for all parties involved. Think of the weird status distinctions of all of those friends-of-your-advisor meetings for the job market: sitting on a sofa in one of the halls, people watching so as to avoid too much eye contact. Passers-by wonder to whom that famous sociologist is talking (you! she’s talking to you!). Acquaintances of the high status individual feel permitted to interrupt. Your friends walk on past but ask about it later. All of these anxieties mask a much larger one: you’re a product at a market, and you damn well better not look dumb. If ASA is really about exchanging ideas and only secondarily about displaying cattle, then ASA isn’t working. It’s very hard to develop an idea if your primary goal in any conversation is not looking like an idiot.

To our discipline’s credit, the discomfort of those meetings is rarely the fault of the senior scholars themselves. The overwhelming majority of professors I’ve met at ASA have been extremely supportive and encouraging. I was shocked by how many made time to chat for a while in the halls. I recognize that I’m white, male, and straight, and also that I went to a top 20 program, and while believe these scholars would have been as kind to people in different contexts, I obviously can’t say for sure.

The majority of the people I met weren’t very famous sociologists anyways: they were the majority of the people I read, folks who write good articles about stuff I study too. These are folks who might or might not work in elite programs but who produce excellent work and come to ASA to talk about it, in their panels, sure, but also with junior scholars like me who want to get better at what we do.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 5, 2015 at 12:01 am

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