Archive for the ‘grad school rulz’ Category
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.
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.
As the author of an advice manual for graduate students, people ask me about strategies for students in low ranked doctoral programs. Specifically, how does one start an academic career in a department that doesn’t have a track record of placement? Here is what I advise:
- First, accept what you cannot change. Sadly, there is a lot of evidence that there is a halo effect in academia. For example, there is a well known experiment where some psychologists resubmitted published papers to journals and randomly changed the names of authors to see if status mattered. Answer: yes. There is little one can do about this, so don’t waste precious energy worrying about it.
- Second, learn about overcompensation and counter-signalling. In other words, people don’t expect much from individuals in low status positions. Actively show that they are wrong. For example, if you work in an area that is low status, actively try to get published in a high status journal. My own example: much of my work has focused on ethnic studies and its history. That is really low status – trust me, I wrote a book on it! What I did was worked extra hard on getting it into mainstream social science journals (see the next step).
- Third, persistence. Often, the only difference between moderately successful and really successful people is persistence. You don’t know how many times I have wondered, “Why on earth didn’t that person resubmit that great paper?” If you take the reviewers’ advice seriously, you will improve and place well. When I ask people with unusual research, “how on earth did that get published?” The answer usually involves submitting it a million times.
- Fourth, choose your allies carefully. If you are in a high ranked program, the damage suffered from a bad dissertation adviser can be mitigated. Even an incompetent Princeton adviser can place the occasional student. A bad adviser at Yahoo State can doom your career before you get started. Be completely cold blooded and unemotional in how you choose faculty. Choose advisers who publish and place students.
- Fifth, show mainstream competence. Often, low ranked programs are the home of heterodox scholars. That is not intrinsically bad, but often that becomes an excuse for rejecting the mainstream or not seriously engaging with it. It also means that the faculty may not have the best connections. So if you do unusual work, do it in a way that shows a real understanding of the mainstream and shows multiple marks of excellence. That Ivy League grad can get away with doing a post-modern rational choice auto-ethnography of snowball fights, but you won’t. Show that you “get it.”
The next two apply to all students, but even more so to students in low status positions:
- Apply widely. My experience is that a typical grad student in an elite program might need only 15-20 applications for a single fly-out during “good year” – which, by the way, is still a 95% rejection rate! In contrast, students at places of more modest reputation might need conduct a multi-year search and increase the number of applications. So, large N – that’s your strategy.
- Move sideways. Academia is a very rigid system and people will be quick to peg you into a slot. One way to avoid that is to apply for quality positions outside your area. It is often the case that your virtues will be appreciated by someone outside your group. If you have an arts and sciences PhD, you can often do much better in a professional school or an interdisciplinary area than within the older arts and science departments. Look at growth areas instead of older areas that are stable and crowded.
To sum up: accept what you can’t change; strive for signals of quality; avoid deadwood; apply widely; and consider career building lateral moves. Please use the comments to post your own advice.
I am taking a blogcation for about two weeks. But before I do, I’ll make one small announcement. The sales of Grad Skool Rulz are doing well and I think it’s time for an update. New cover, new content. I’ll work on it this coming semester, once some other projects are done. So if there is something you want in the new edition, put it in the comments. Also, once the new edition is released, the first 100 copies will be free.
PS. Don’t forget – if you have an idea for a guest post, feel free to send it in.
Last week, I wrote about the strengths and weaknesses of the Indiana style of graduate training. In summary, Indiana succeeds by creating a very structured type of graduate education where we hammer people into the mainstream. Formally, we have a zillion requirements and informally, we do lots of 1-1 work with students. I also discussed the limits of the system. Specifically, I wrote about “Foucault kids,” graduate students who are aiming for unconventional careers. In the comments, someone asked for clarification. Why exactly would the Indiana model not work for these students?
First, let’s start with a discussion of the Foucault kids. In the way that I used it, I roughly mean ambitious graduate students who are doing work that crosses or combines various areas of study. Foucault, of course, was a Foucault kid. His training was in philosophy, but worked with George Canguilhem, who did work on the philosophy of science. In his career, Foucault did this mutant form of work that combined philosophy, history of ideas, and other stuff. Similarly, the Foucault kid is the young scholar who sees himself as some awesome sui generis scholar that breaks boundaries.
Who is a Foucault kid? Not you, probably. In fact, during my graduate career in Chicago, I only met two genuine Foucault kids, this guy (who combined anthropology, ethnography, and hermenuetics) and, I think, one of his students. Later, I’ve seen them here and there, mainly at other elite programs in sociology. You also see them in idiosyncratic programs, like the Committee on Social Thought. But still, overall, they’re rare. I’ve met lots of brilliant people, but they exist mainly within the confines of sociology or some other discipline.
So, what sort of training does such a person need? It is unclear to me since we have little data. Many Foucault kids end up flailing, they can’t complete their dissertations, and you never hear from them. The license to “be great” is often interpreted as a demand for perfectionism, or endless procrastination, or being so weird that no one will take them seriously.
I can offer two hypotheses about what might work for a Foucault kid: (a) no training, just let them wander and demand a dissertation at the end, or (b) demand high quality training but allow weird or unusual combinations of fields. The Indiana model doesn’t do either (a) or (b) well. In fact, our model is the opposite where we require people to be strongly grounded in a disciplinary mainstream. I don’t think it would hurt a Foucault kid, but it would probably frustrate them and probably waste their time. In the end, I think it mainly comes to having just a few faculty members who can tolerate the weirdness of the Foucault kid and teach them the academic survival skills so that they won’t become the legendary 12th year grad student whose dissertation went uncomplete and unread.
I was recently asked about co-authoring. How does a graduate student co-author? Is it good to do so? What are the rules?
1. In general, co-authoring is a good thing. You’ll see that most successful graduate students publish with faculty or student co-authors. Brian Uzzi’s work shows that co-authorship (vs. solo authorship) is correlated with citations and impact. There are exceptions. For example, many hiring and promotion committees will want to see at least one article sole authored. Of course, much qualitative work is also single authored.
2. How to find co-authors: Usually, people in most fields are used to co-authoring. You can ask faculty for help, they might approach you, or you can recruit buddies. In general, c0-authoring is serious business. Research is time intensive and it can shape your career. So choose partners who are (a) reliable and (b) bring something to the table. With respect to (b), the co-author can have a technical skill, area of knowledge, or simple be a good “sounding” board that writes/co-writes the article.
3. How to do it: This varies a great deal. I’ve done the full range. In some cases, you write most of it and co-authors do a little extra work. Other cases, the work is equally divided. In yet other cases, you do a modest amount. But it really helps to lay it out early. For example, in my work with Michael Heaney, we always jointly work out the argument and data analysis, but the actual writing shifts back and forth.
4. Author order: Every discipline has different rules. These include alphabetical, by seniority, the biomedical model (lead author firsts, senior person last, and fighting for middle sports) and “higher is better” (i.e., the more work you do, the more toward the top you get). In sociology, we do “higher is better” unless it’s clear that it’s alphabetical. So it is important to not get buried as author #6. Though, in some cases, there is such a premium on top journals that even author #6 on an ASR or AJS article will get a huge career pay off.