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time to divorce your adviser?

We recently discussed toxic advisers, who do more to harm than help. Most of the time, it is best to just tough it out. But some times, it becomes really, really toxic. I have one friend, a brilliant man who knew about eight languages, who simply could not deal with the adviser. It got so bad he fired his adviser. Literally, one semester later the dissertation was defended and he soon got his PhD.

I never did figure out why the relationship wasn’t working, or why my friend’s adviser was so toxic. But I did learn a simple lesson – some advisers are preventing students from finishing and you need to get a divorce.

Should you get an adviser divorce? As with any other relationships, it depends on a few factors:

  1. Make sure the relationship is truly toxic. Be tough and take criticism. That is normal. But it is not normal to yell at students, it is not normal to ignore a student for a year or more, it is not normal to refuse to write letters of recommendation, it is not normal to tear down a student so bad that they can’t constructively improve their work.
  2. Make sure that there are enough other non-toxic advisers in your program and that at least one knows about the situation and is willing to take you on. And don’t be shy. Your career and degree are slowly draining away.
  3. Make sure that the potentially new adviser won’t make you redo everything from scratch. Be blunt and ask up front.

It’s a rare thing. Most of the time, switching advisers is more trouble than it is worth. But if you’re like my friend and semester after semester nothing happens when you hand in drafts, it may be worth thinking about.

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 11, 2017 at 12:30 am

how do you know if your adviser sucks?

Getting your PhD can be frustrating for many reasons. One reason is that advisers vary enormously in their quality. Some faculty have a very reliable record of happy students. Others are black holes who chew up students and never graduate them. Older scholars can more easily spot good and bad advisers but it is hard for young people with no experience to accurately assess advisers.

A few tips to help you determine if your adviser sucks:

  • Track record: A bedrock principle of evaluating people is past performance. If you meet a 60 year old professor in a major research program who has only graduated one person in his entire career, it’s probably a bad sign. If a 60 year old professor has a nice steady stream of advisees who seem well adjusted, then that’s probably a good sign.
  • Emotional response: I am a big believer in thinking through your emotions. An adviser is a leader and that means that they help you overcome challenges. Good advisers might occasionally give you tough love, but if you leave every meeting in tears and torn up from anxiety, they’re probably a bad adviser.
  • Absenteeism: This is simple. It doesn’t matter how famous or obscure your professor is. They have to be there and be there frequently. This can vary. Some professors have secretaries who take appointments and schedule you weeks in advance. Others just hang out at the office with the door open. Regardless, it means that they are working with you. In contrast, if your adviser boycotts you for a year and you don’t see him/her, or they never respond to email, then that is bad.
  • Deadwood: You don’t need an adviser who wins big awards every week, but you do need an adviser who is at least moderately active. The problem with deadwood advisers is that they may not give you a proper sense of what sort of scholarship is valued in your profession and how to get a job in the current job climate. They may be nice, but it’s like driving around town with a map from 30 years ago.

Use the comments and tell me about spotting the sucktastic adviser!

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

April 26, 2017 at 12:22 am

when to say yes and no in academia

Last we discussed how to say no. But there remains the question, what should you say no to? It helps to start with a baseline – what should ALL academics do?

  • Say yes to teaching at least one service course a year. Why? Most programs survive on enrollments. Unless you are a star faculty who can opt out, most people will like you if you reliably do some basic teaching.
  • Say yes to serving on one “heavy” committee per year. In most programs, this includes grad admissions, recruitment/evaluation, and the governing committee of your program. In teaching intensive, there are various undergrad affairs that require attention.
  • The tenured should say “yes” to one committee outside your program. For example, for multiple years, I served on our seed grant committee at IU. For two years, I did NSF reviews.

If you say yes to these requests, then you have earned the right to turn down other requests. But these are minimal. Here are the requests that you should say to *occassionally*:

  • Journal/book manuscript reviews. My rule is simple, I say “yes” until I have three in the hopper. Then people have to wait or go elsewhere. By saying yes, you ensure that you are giving back, you help with quality control, and you learn new research.
  • Requests for research collaboration. You only have so many hours a day, but you can say yes to really strong projects or people who have a good track record.
  • Dissertation committees. Most people can handle a few students and to be honest, being a third or fourth reader requires little work.
  • Fancy committees outside the university for non-profits or the profession.

Notice that each of these recommendations isn’t about the activity itself. It’s simply a time budget. In my experience, for example, I simply can’t do a good job reviewing if I have more than one or two papers on my desk. Either I write bad reviews or I slow down a lot. Either way, it doesn’t help anyone.

So what should you avoid in most cases?

  • Remedial work with students. Most colleges have basic support for writing and math. It is your job to teach college level material. Unless your job is in the writing program, it is not your job to teach basic writing, though you can certainly offer your opinions.
  • Personal therapy. This is really tough. But once again, in many cases, you probably aren’t qualified to give advice on issues like drug problems or sexual assault. Be compassionate but get them to the person who is qualified to help.
  • Fluff committees. These are hard to define in the abstract. But there are committees people set up just so they can sound off, not to accomplish anything of substance. In general, the core of the university is teaching, research, and fund raising. If it isn’t one of those, you should be careful.
  • Pre-tenure consulting: Unless they are paying serious cash, you should probably say no. If they pay, make sure the time commitment is limited.
  • Toxic people. Even if the activity has merit, toxic people can make the experience miserable and pull you down. Avoid at all costs.

To summarize: You should always be a good citizen. Beyond that, budget for things that are central for academic work. Beyond that, just say no.

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

 

Written by fabiorojas

January 13, 2016 at 12:01 am

job market tough love from sam perry

Sam Perry is a recent Chicago grad student who is now an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma. On Academia.edu, he has posted his job market advice. All I can say, “yes, that is correct.” Perry’s advice boils down to a few obvious points:

  • Your CV drives your career.
  • Your CV is mainly about your publications.
  • Your competition is not other grad students. It is other people who publish, who may be grad students, post-docs, and professors.
  • Quality trumps quantity.
  • Thus, grad school should be treated like a job where you religiously show up every day and work hard on your publications.
  • Other activities, while commendable, are not the job. It’s ok to do them, as long as they don’t distract from your job.
  • Successful people start early. To go on the market in year X, means submitting papers in year X-2, at least.

I have quibbles here and there. For example, students from elite programs can often get away with some truly weak CVs, but overall this is solid. And of course, it contains the best job advice of all – buy the Grad Skool Rulz!!!!

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

 

Written by fabiorojas

December 17, 2015 at 12:01 am

junior faculty rulz? we got ’em!

I occasionally get asked: what about career advice for junior faculty? Don’t worry – you’re covered! The Grad Skool Rulz already includes all your heart desires. Remember, the subtitle is “Everything you need to know about academia from admissions to tenure.” And that is 100% true. The GSR includes tons of information for tenure track faculty:

Chapter 42: What is Tenure?
Chapter 43: How Does Getting tenure Work?
Chapter 44: What Counts for Tenure? How Much Do I Need?
Chapter 45: Publication Strategy
Chapter 46: Working With Graduate Students
Chapter 47: Keep Everything in a Box
Chapter 48: Service, Time Management, Saying No
Chapter 49: Professional Obligations, Conferences and Referee Requests
Chapter 50: Grants and Fellowships
Chapter 51: Department Conflict
Chapter 52: Be Nice to the Staff
Chapter 53: Midterm Review and Yearly Reviews
Chapter 54: The Tenure Dossier
Chapter 55: The Actual Tenure Review Process
Chapter 56: Early Tenure and Switching Jobs
Chapter 57: Success
Chapter 58: Failure

All for a measly $2. Cheap!!!!

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

Written by fabiorojas

October 22, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

crim/deviance PhD programs?

Question: Someone asked me – good soc PhD programs for crim/deviance? Student is interested not only in elite programs (e.g., as long as Rob Sampson is at Harvard, it will produce good crim students) but also lower ranked programs that have solid placement records in crim/deviance. Please use the comment section.

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 7, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

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