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building computational sociology: from the academic side

Before the holiday, we asked – what should computational sociologists know? In this post, I’ll discuss what sociology programs can do:

  • Hire computational sociologists. Except for one or two cases, computational sociologists have had a very tough time finding jobs in soc programs, especially the PhD programs. That has to change, or else this will be quickly absorbed by CS/informatics. We should have an army of junior level computational faculty but instead the center of gravity is around senior faculty.
  • Offer courses: This is a bit easier to do, but sociology lags behind. Every single sociology program at a serious research university, especially those with enginerring programs should offer undergrad and grad courses.
  • Certificates and minors: Aside from paperwork, this is easy. Hand out credentials for a bundle of soc and CS courses.
  • Hang out: I have learned so much from hanging out with the CS people. It’s amazing.
  • Industry: This deserves its own post, but we need to develop a model for interacting with industry. Right now, sociology’s model is: ignore it if we can, lose good people to industry, and repeat. I’ll offer my own ideas next week about how sociology can fruitfully interact with the for profit sector.

Add your own ideas in the comments.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($1!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

January 2, 2015 at 5:27 am

grad skool rulz on sale – $1 cheap!!!

To celebrate 2015, Grad Skool Rulz is on sale for $1 till the end of Jan 2015.

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

Written by fabiorojas

January 1, 2015 at 5:52 am

so, you wanna be fabio’s student?

In this post, I want to discuss my style as a dissertation advisor. This is mainly for potential students, but I also want to start a thread on how to best advise doctoral students in sociology and related areas.

1. Statue of Liberty: With a few exceptions, I will accept any student who needs a dissertation advisor. This is a personal decision on my part. In my career, I’ve been in institutions where students couldn’t find advisers. It’s a problem when faculty get too picky about who they take on and a few advisers get saddles with most of the load. I will not contribute to the problem. The exceptions to the Statue of Liberty policy are where (a) the student is really having academic problems; I’ve never been able to help these students as much as I have tried and (b) you happen to be in a specialty where having an non-specialist advisor will really create problems for you.

2. Even though I accept the masses, I have a few general areas where I am most helpful: orgs/economic sociology; political sociology; education/higher education; sociology of knowlegde and science; formal methods/computational sociology. Specifically: institutional theory, networks, movements, social media, rational choice, higher education/disciplines, computational sociology. I am also developing my knowledge of health.

3. General approach I: I think it is important to tailor the CV to the student. If you want an R1 job, I will encourage publication. If you want liberal arts, we will work on your teaching CV. For policy jobs, speedy completion and showing research in a policy related area.

4. General approach II: I focus on nuts and bolts “American social science.” In other words, I like clearly stated problems, high quality data and a focus on description or inference. I don’t care if you are qualitative or quantitative. Just make it good.

5. General approach III: In general, I don’t tell people what their dissertation will be about. I do try to tell them if it is a good or bad. In other words, I don’t say “this will never work.” Instead, I’ll tell you about what’s been done, what sounds good, what might get them a job and so forth. But making a decision is what the process is about. If you want to do it, convince me!

6. General approach IV: Hands on. I believe in solving problems now rather than later. Some of my students come by all the time, others once or twice a semester. In general, I believe in constant interaction so we move students forward. For this reason, I think an open doors policy is good.

7. Philosophy of the dissertation: First, my default for most sociology students is “three chapters.” Why? The dissertation is a pedagogical exercise meant to show that the student can do research. It is not a masterpiece. Also, most students will start with articles so this is good. I note that this is a default – not a rule. If a student really needs a book format dissertation, that’s ok.

8. Dissertation quality: It is important that students be judged according to their career goals. All students must submit a good dissertation but how good can vary. The research oriented PhD student should be held to a higher standard than the student who will find non-academic work.

9. Graduation: For students oriented toward academia, article = graduation. For other students, we can start the graduation process as soon as I have two or three complete empirical chapters.

Use the comment to disucss how you approach PhD training.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

December 30, 2014 at 12:01 am

what programming tools should computational sociologists know?

Right now, very few sociology programs teach what you need to know to participate in the current revolution that is data science. In many cases, people self-educate. They pick up some R in a stats class, then Python and so forth. But let’s be systematic about this. If you were designing a curriculum for a graduate or upper division computational sociology core, what would it look like?

Let’s get the discussion rolling and we’ll pick up after Christmas. Until then, happy holidays.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

December 23, 2014 at 12:23 am

Posted in academia, fabio, sociology

my ref prediction

I’m kind of obsessed with the REF, considering that it has zero direct impact on my life. It’s sort of like watching a train wreck in progress, and every time there’s big REF news I thank my lucky stars I’m in the U.S. and not the U.K.

For those who might not have been paying attention, the REF is the Research Excellence Framework, Britain’s homegrown academic homage to governmentality. Apologies in advance for any incorrect details here; to an outsider, the system’s a bit complex.

Every six years or so, U.K. universities have to submit samples of faculty members’ work – four “research outputs” per person – to a panel of disciplinary experts for evaluation. The panel ranks the outputs from 4* (world leading) to 1* (nationally recognized), although work can also be given no stars. Universities submit the work of most, but not all, of their faculty members; not being submitted to the REF is not, shall we say, a good sign for your career. “Impact” and “environment,” as well as research outputs, are also evaluated at the department level. Oh, and there’s £2 billion of research funding riding on the thing.

The whole system is arcane, and every academic I’ve talked to seems to hate it. Of course, it’s not meant to make academics happy, but to “provide…accountability for public investment in research and produce…evidence of the benefits of this investment.” Well, I don’t know that it’s doing that, but it’s certainly changing the culture of academia. I’d actually be very interested to hear a solid defense of the REF from someone who’s sympathetic to universities, so if you have one, by all means share.

Anyway, 2014 REF results were announced on Friday, to the usual hoopla. (If you’re curious but haven’t been following this, here are the results by field, including Sociology and Business and Management Studies; here are a few pieces of commentary.)

In its current form, outputs are “reviewed” by a panel of scholars in one’s discipline. This was strongly fought for by academics on the grounds that only expert review could be a legitimate way to evaluate research. This peer review, however, has become something of a farce, as panelists are expected to “review” massive quantities of research. (I can’t now find the figure, but I think it’s on the order of 1000 articles per person.)

At the same time, the peer-review element of the process (along with the complex case-study measurement of “impact”) has helped to create an increasingly elaborate, expensive, and energy-consuming infrastructure within universities around the management of the REF process. For example, universities conduct their own large-scale internal review of outputs to try to guess how REF panels will assess them, and to determine which faculty will be included in the REF submission.

All this has led to a renewed conversation about using metrics to distribute the money instead. The LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog has been particularly articulate on this front. The general argument is, “Sure, metrics aren’t great, but neither is the current system, and metrics are a lot simpler and cheaper.”

If I had to place money on it, I would bet that this metrics approach, despite all its limitations, will actually win out in the not-too-distant future. Which is awful, but no more awful than the current version of the REF. Of course metrics can be valuable tools. But as folks who know a thing or two about metrics have pointed out, they’re useful for “facilitating deliberation,” not “substitut[ing] for judgment.” It seems unlikely that any conceivable version of the REF would use metrics as anything other than a substitute for judgment.

In the U.S., this kind of extreme disciplining of the research process does not appear to be just around the corner, although Australia has partially copied the British model. But it is worth paying attention to nonetheless. The current British system took nearly thirty years to evolve into its present shape. One is reminded of the old story about the frog placed in the pot of cool water who, not noticing until too late that it was heating up, inadvertently found himself boiled.

 

Written by epopp

December 22, 2014 at 4:07 pm

shimer college and the puzzle of declining liberal arts colleges

The Guardian recently ran an article about Shimer College, a tiny great books college in Chicago, Illinois. Originally, the authors wanted to know why it had been ranked so low by the Department of Education. The answer is that there is a fair amount of non-completion, people leave with debt, and they don’t get great jobs. Why? Shimer College takes all kinds of students and makes them go through this unique curriculum of great books for four years. It sounds like a wonderful institution, but not one that produces the “right numbers.” It’s also a college that is very close to closing due to extremely low enrollments.

When I finished reading the article, I realized that Shimer College represented a puzzle. Normally, in a large market, like higher education, we see an explosion of organizational forms catering to different market segments. And to some extent, that’s exactly what happened in higher ed. We have research schools, tribal colleges, cosmetology schools, and an army of biblical colleges. But the liberal arts sector keeps shrinking and shrinking. Is it really all that hard to find 200 people in a nation of 300 million that wants the free wheeling inquiry of Shimer College?

Here’s my solution to the issue. Start with the observation that there’s a negative association between price and risk tolerance. When college is cheap, people will try out all kinds of college experiences. As it becomes more expensive and tied to the labor market, there is a huge pressure for conformity. You get diversity when there is a strong social identity supporting an institution (e.g., ethnicity or religion) or when students simply can’t be shoe horned into existing structures (e.g., cosmetology students don’t need football stadiums). Thus, liberal arts schools exist only for a market segment that (a) needs the four year credential, (b) really, really doesn’t want the standard package offered by the big universities, and (c) has the cash to pay for such a specialized service. You also have some liberal arts schools that are bankrolled by others (e.g., Deep Springs or Berea). You probably get down to a few thousand students per year at most and there is stiff competition for their money. And as prices keep going up, the market gets smaller.

So yes, there are probably tons of students who would love the liberal arts education, but not many who would pay the full sticker price. I hope that people can create a model where you bring people back to this type of education at a more reasonable price.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

 

Written by fabiorojas

December 15, 2014 at 3:15 am

teaching schools and how to get jobs in them: a comment from mikalia arthur

Mikalia Arthur is a long time reader of this blog, professor of sociology at Rhode Island College, and author of a book on social movements and higher education. I thought her comment on teaching colleges and what they want in job candidates was important enough that it deserves it’s own post.

I would point out that “teaching-focused institution” is too broad of a category to be able to say something sensible about. There are really four different categories (or maybe more, but I think 4 ideal types gives us the most parsimonious classification system) of teaching-focused institutions, and the way to approach each differs.

1) Selective Liberal Arts Colleges, and less-selective private liberal arts colleges or public honors colleges who wish they were/are trying to become SLACs: Here, you MUST come from a top program, or at least from a very prestigious university even if the soc program is maybe a little less fantastic. You must have top publications, though books tend to count a little better. You must have teaching experience. In particular, it is extremely helpful to have been an undergraduate at a SLAC. The right candidate might be able to get away with not meeting all of these requirements, especially if the institution has an esoteric need. At these jobs, faculty do a lot of teaching, advising, and service, but have phenomenal research resources (sabbaticals, funding, undergrad RAs, etc.)

2) Research institutions in name only: This is where I would put the CUNYs and many similar public institutions, as well as some privates which are in the midst of playing the status game. These are institutions which typically offer a significant number of graduate programs at the MA level and at least some at the Ph.D./professional level, though any given department may not have a graduate program. Faculty here have significant teaching loads, but can buy them out with grants; are expected to publish in quantity (quantity is often the key metric); and have low levels of research support though they do have graduate students and often good grants offices. These positions are the ones Colin was discussing. As a job candidate, someone told me not to work at a CUNY pre-tenure because of how intense the demands are. Hiring requirement may include teaching experience, but pubs and grants will be more important, and you need to be able to signal that you will achieve quantity in your pubs.

3) Truly teaching-focused institutions: This category would include community colleges and other low-prestige teaching institutions with very high teaching loads and low research requirements (note that I do not say no research requirements–one or two peer-reviewed pubs and some conference presentations may still be required, but it is unlikely to matter what the prestige of the pubs is and pedagogical pubs are highly valued). These institutions value teaching experience (at institutions with student bodies similar to their own) well above research experience and tend to be fine with low-prestige Ph.D. programs.

4) Comprehensive colleges: This is my type of institution. Teaching, advising, and service are far more important than research, and strictly speaking, official research requirements are fairly low. We hire people with strong teaching backgrounds in a variety of courses who have worked with non-elite students, but we expect them to be able to demonstrate an active research agenda, and promotion (which is somewhat decoupled from tenure at my institution) is not likely without ongoing research productivity. Prestige of publications, or of graduate degree institution, is not a central qualification, though I can’t say we ignore it entirely. People with great research but little teaching experience do occasionally get hired, but will find the transition miserable and will often voluntarily or involuntarily leave.

So, I think the advice in the OP is very helpful, but I would emphasize that if you want a job at category 3 or 4 institutions, you need teaching experience, preferably at a less-selective institution, preferably to include some online or hybrid courses, preferably to include some smaller courses, and preferably to include a variety of course titles. Research topics do not matter as much, especially if you can claim to teach the stuff we need (in sociology, you should be able to teach criminology and probably research methods, but your research need not have anything to do with criminology). It helps if you have an ongoing research agenda that you will be able to continue at the new institution without much in the way of research support, and if you have at least one or two peer-reviewed pubs out already. And if helps if you actually like teaching. If you want a job at a category 2 institution, teach a couple of courses, but focus on your research and follow all the advice in this post. And if you want a job at a category 1 institution, and you won’t have the right names on your CV, you need to readjust your plans.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

December 5, 2014 at 12:08 am

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