Archive for the ‘grad school rulz’ Category

fabio’s bill of grad student rights

Last week, I wrote about my practice of asking stiff questions in job talk Q&A’s. Apparently, my questions are responsible for all manner of ill, from gender inequality in academia to something about Bourdieu and social power. To make it up to y’all, I’ll focus on the positive – what I think all graduate school advisers have an obligation to do.

A little background: I spent the early years of my academic career in departments that were very toxic. Lawsuits. Disappearing funding. Masses of junior faculty fleeing. Bad job market placements. Then, I moved to a graduate program that, while not quite as prestigious, was doing just fine. I clearly saw the difference. People often say that they support grad students, but many don’t. Here’s my summary of what effective advisers should be like.

  1. The right of response: All advisers will promptly respond to emails, dissertation drafts, and other materials. Letters and recommendations will be processed promptly. In academic terms, prompt means a few days, or a week, at most.
  2. The right of the reminder: All advisers will be open to gentle reminders if they violate #1.
  3. The right of socialization: All advisers will tell graduate students about the rules and standards of their discipline and relevant sub-fields.
  4. The right of prompt evaluation: All advisers will write letters of recommendation without complaint and in a prompt fashion, so long as the student gives them sufficient time. In academic terms, sufficient time means about 2-3 weeks.
  5. The right of civility: All advisers will treat graduate as colleagues in training. There will be no screaming, no belittling behavior, and, of course, advisers will respect the personal space of their students.
  6. The right of constructive criticism: All advisers retain the right to criticize the academic and professional work of their students. But advisers will deliver all criticism in a calm and professional manner.
  7. The right of fair warning: If advisers believe that there is a serious issue concerning a student, they shall communicate it early and in a professional manner.
  8. The right of no land mines: If advisers believe that can’t support the student in their doctoral process or job search, they should express their reservations and recuse themselves.
  9.  The right of the supportive letter of recommendation: Advisers shall write constructive letters that reflect the student’s accomplishments and future trajectory. If the adviser can’t do that, they are bound to issue a “fair warning.” (see Right #7)
  10. The right of career respect: Advisers will understand that graduate students pursue many different jobs after graduation. The adviser will not belittle students who do not pursue research intensive academic jobs. All students will receive training and support needed to complete their degree in a timely and constructive fashion.


Your adviser


50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!


Written by fabiorojas

May 15, 2018 at 4:01 am

why i am annoying at job talks

At my dept, I am the guy who asks the tough questions at the end of the job talks. This strikes people as aggressive or obnoxious and they are right. But I think there is good reason to be extra tough for a job talk.

  1. Teaching: Can you think on your feet? Most of the time, your students will be asleep. But once in a while, they wake up and they can ask tough questions. You have to be ready for it.
  2. Actual Contribution: Honestly, PhD program prestige and CVs drive most hiring. Thus, if your adviser makes you author #5 on an AJS or ASR article, you have a massive job market advantage. In that case, I have to see if you actually know what you are talking about, or if you got credit for doing the footnotes.
  3. Cultishness and Rigor: I want to see if you “drank the kool-aid” or if you really have given serious thought to what you are doing. For example, I love asking qualitative researchers about causal inference. Do they really believe that ethnography is a magic land where inference doesn’t matter? Or have they really thought about what can and can’t be done within a given methodological framework?
  4. Broad mindedness: Does the person only care about the writings of the two or three most famous people in their sub-area? Or have they thought deeply about what the sub area has accomplished overall? Similarly, are they going off what was the most recent top journal article? Or do they read widely and know they history of their area?
  5. Disciplinary Parochialism: Does the person only care about what sociologists have written about their topic? Or do they understand the value that other academics might bring to a topic? For example, I routinely ask people doing work/occupations and economic sociology about relevant research in economics.

Of course, no Q&A session can dig into all of these issues. But one or two well placed questions can tell me quite a bit.


50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

May 8, 2018 at 4:01 am

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, 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

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

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

advice for students in low ranked doctoral programs

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.

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

Written by fabiorojas

December 3, 2014 at 12:13 am

blogcation/grad skool rulz 2.0

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.

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

Written by fabiorojas

July 11, 2014 at 12:02 am

“foucault kids”

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.

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

Written by fabiorojas

June 24, 2014 at 12:04 am

grad skool rulz #35: co-authoring

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.

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

Written by fabiorojas

March 25, 2014 at 12:34 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

what i will be sure to tell my grad students when i find that perfect fitting academic job

This guest post is written by Nicolette Manglos-Weber. She is a research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame. Her work has appeared in Social Forces, Sociological Perspectives, and Sociology of Religion.

In many of the discussions I hear and read about preparing grad students for the brutal academic job market in sociology, one key point often gets missed or ignored: it’s a very different thing to be prepared in a specialty area with dozens of jobs being advertised each cycle (i.e. criminology, medical/health) than it is to be prepared when the advertisements in your area come in a trickle (i.e. religion, culture). Perhaps it seems so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, but it’s incredibly important, and something I think more grad students should know about much, much earlier in their programs when they are choosing their thesis topics (or, even better, when they are applying to grad school in the first place).

As was typical, at least in my cohort, I chose my topic purely on the basis of what I found most fascinating and who among the faculty I seemed to be simpatico with. I was certainly informed that focusing on religion in sub-Saharan Africa might make it more difficult to publish, but then in my third year I published my M.A. thesis in a good specialty journal, landed a publication in a top ASA journal as first author, and had an R&R as sole author at a solid mid-tier generalist journal. At the time, I thought to myself, “Phew. So that’s taken care of!” I was doing what I was told to do, getting better and better at it each day, and enjoying myself. I had high hopes of avoiding the post-doc market completely and landing a TT job on my first year out, mainly because as an unpartnered young person I didn’t want to bounce around the country alone for several years.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 11, 2014 at 12:01 am

the 3 P’s of grad skool advising

This is a post for people in R1 programs who have dissertation students. I am only writing this after I’ve gone through the job market search with two students. One got a great job – but I had nothing to do with it! It was a good administrative job that fit with the student’s career goals and found without my assistance. The other student has found a very competitive academic position. So, the play book worked. Also, I am only writing this after seeing 10 years of IU job searches, and others, including my own.

Here it goes. Proper PhD advising boils down to three major issues – Patience, Professionalism, and Publication. In detail:

  1. Patience – the training of PhDs is, literally, a multi-year process. During this time, people switch topics, advisers, jobs, career goals, and a whole lot more. They also grow as people. Given the great change that people experience, you need patience to help people with where they are going. You need patience with half-baked topics. You need patience with mistaken regression models. You need patience, patience, patience.
  2. Professionalism – Nuts and bolts matter as well. You need to be present (physically and mentally). You need to get the paper work done – letters need to be written and paperwork signed. You need ways student can contact you. You need to calmly explain your standards and then show people how to accomplish them.
  3. Publication – In most fields, you either need publication for jobs or for promotion. Good advisers can help students develop a strategy for converting research into finished products in a reasonable amount of time. Good advisers will pull no punches. Unless you are an elite student at an elite school, you will need publications for an academic job and your adviser  needs to clearly communicate that.

Sure, a few people will finish their PhDs and get jobs with nutty mentors or absent super stars. But most successful PhDs have a decent prof who, in some form, practices the three P’s.

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

Written by fabiorojas

February 5, 2014 at 12:01 am

grad skool rulz #32: don’t screw up graduate skool

I strongly believe that graduate education in America is exploitative and structurally flawed. The system requires cheap teaching labor and lab assistants, but provides no incentives for quality training or professorial accountability. But still, that doesn’t mean that students should abrogate responsibility for their careers. Here are some simple (though not easy) things that can help you to make sure you aren’t screwing up:

  1. Show up. Even if you feel horrible, show up. No matter what. Period. Unless someone died in your family, show up.
  2. Do your job. Grade the papers. Do the lab work. Unless the work is extreme, take it in stride.
  3. Be completely realistic about how you will be evaluated from day #1 – acquire a teaching record and a record of publication. Don’t have the fantasy that you will magically get the job of your dreams sans publications. Time spent on other issues is “out of pocket” – do it because you care, not because it will help you.
  4. Hang out with winners. These people are actually pretty easy to identify – they do well in teaching and publication and they have a track record of placement. Also, ask around to see if people are nice. Where there is smoke, there’s fire.
  5. Be constructive. It is easy to criticize people, but it really doesn’t accomplish much. Instead, if you actually offer to help and present a solution, then you’ll make a difference and people will appreciate it.
  6. Say yes (unless it is a crazy person). In other words, join teams and accept projects, and say yes to grad school buddies. Once you get a few projects going, then you can say no.
  7. No excuses: the only thing that matters is task completion. It may be long or short, but everyday should involve a core task.
  8. Submit, submit, submit. Got rejected? No problem – just resubmit tomorrow. If you thought the reviewers were right, take a week and then resubmit. The key to success isn’t submission – it’s resubmission.

Some problems in academia are truly hard, but, on the other hand, there are a lot of simple things you can do from day #1 to increase the chance that you get through the program promptly and you get the career outcome that you like.

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

Written by fabiorojas

February 3, 2014 at 12:01 am

why get a sociology phd?

As you well know, I think the PhD program is a terrible choice for most students. Quite simply, the PhD program is risky (only 50% completion rate), costly (5+ years), and many disciplines have poor job prospects (e.g., most of the humanities, many biological sciences and many social sciences). Furthermore, a lot of students think it is a credential that is needed for non-academic jobs, which is not generally true.

But still, maybe you weren’t phased by the “don’t go to grad school speech.” Maybe you really have a passion for teaching, or interpreting Foucault. Or maybe you simply don’t care about the negatives associated with academic careers. I welcome you to academia. I pity you as well.

So, then, what sort of PhD should you get? Here’s an argument for the sociology Ph.D.:

  • Low barrier to entry – you just need a solid academic record, not extended training in math, foreign language, or other rare skills.
  • You learn solid research skills like survey design, regression models, and interview technique that have non-academic labor market value.
  • You can study a wide range of topics and do so almost immediately. No need to engage in endless post-docs.
  • Policy relevance.
  • Decent academic job prospects compared to most other fields. The sociology market is tight, but soc PhDs frequently get jobs in lots of other programs like education, business, policy, social work, and occasionally in adjacent areas like American studies, ethnic studies, political science, and anthropology.
  • Broadly defined topic – if you have a real passion for a topic that is genuinely social in some way, you can probably find a way to write a dissertation on it.

The one big downside is that sociology programs adhere to the humanities model of long time to PhD. There is no need for this. If you focus on a dissertation topic early on, choose your dissertation chair wisely, and insist on getting published at least once, there is no need for your degree to take longer than 4 or 5 years.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 4, 2013 at 12:01 am

dude, seriously, publish

One of the most important things you can teach a graduate student is how to publish. While students can teach themselves the material, or learn through osmosis, most people need concrete instruction on the professional side of academia. And they need to publish early and (in many cases) often.

And it matters – a lot. A new article published in BioScience looks at the careers of academics and it shows that early publishers do the best later in the career. The article is called “Predicting Publication Success for Biologists,” and it is authored by William F Laurance, Diane Carolina Useche, Susan Gai Laurance and  Corey J. A. Bradshaw.

Summarizing their work in the website “The Conversation“:

We attempted to predict the publishing winners and losers, focusing on biologists and environmental scientists on four continents, using five easily measured variables. Our findings seem surprisingly unequivocal but are already provoking strong reactions of agreement and disdain.

Here’s what we concluded.

It doesn’t matter whether you got your PhD at glittering Harvard University or a humble regional institution like the University of Ballarat. The supposed prestige of the academic institution has almost no bearing on your long-term success, once other key variables are accounted for.

Secondly, if you’re a woman, or if English isn’t your first language, you’re going to face some minor disadvantages in publishing. The differences are not huge, on average, and there’s enormous variability among different individuals, but men who are native English speakers do tend to have half a leg up in the publishing game.

Finally, by far the best predictor of long-term publication success is your early publication record – in other words, the number of papers you’ve published by the time you receive your PhD. It really is first in, best dressed: those students who start publishing sooner usually have more papers by the time they finish their PhD than do those who start publishing later.

The take-home message: publish early, publish often.

This reinforces what we already know. In sociology, the lesson holds as well, but qualitative people need worry less about volume.

The implication for graduate training is obvious. If you aren’t actively cultivating scholars who are trying to publish, you’re screwing over your PhD students.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 2, 2013 at 12:01 am

career strategy: committees and the “value added” approach

Once you get a faculty job, you are confronted with many requests to be on committees. These requests should be handled very carefully. Turn too many down, and the work of the university will be left undone. And you’ll miss out on the nuts and bolts of academic policy. Accept too many, and you can wreck your productivity and possibly undermine your career.

So how do you deal with these requests? A lot of it depends on your career stage:

  • Doctoral students: You should only do a single, important committee. For example, some departments allow students to sit on job search committees. At Chicago, I worked for the AJS and that was my contribution to department governance. It’s perfectly acceptable to completely avoid administrative work during this phase of your career.
  • Junior faculty: You should avoid most committees, except those tied to your department. Then, if your chair gives you a choice, select, or ask, for the easiest committees possible, like the library committee. “Heavy” committees, such as admissions or job searches, should be left until you are well on your way to promotion.
  • Senior faculty: Depends on what you want out of life. If you see yourself moving into administration, you’ll probably want to dabble in planning committees, tenure and promotions, and other high impact committees. If you see yourself focusing on teaching and research, you’ll probably want to limit yourself to committees that have an immediate impact, such as tenure and promotions.

A problem with many faculty is that they can’t say no, or they are too scared to say no. You have to shake this attitude for the following reasons. First, unless you are a complete shirker, no one will care if you turn down the occasional invitation. Second, your quality of life will be severely impacted by too many committees. Your schedule should only look like “committee Swiss cheese” if you are paid for the inconvenience (e.g., you are a chair of some sort).  Third, is this what really drew you to academia? Seriously?

When judging committee invitations, I usually employ the following criteria:

  1. It is really important. For example, tenure and promotions is a core function. Study abroad committee probably not so important.
  2. I have a compelling personal interest. For example, I have a strong belief that more women and under-represented minorities need better support in the academic career. Thus, I will serve on committees that address this issue. Building committee? Important, but I’ll let someone with more expertise take that one.
  3. The committee is not bull—-. Honestly, a lot of committees exist to make people look good, or to do the hard work that should be done by administrators. Avoid these committees. For example, when it comes to women and under-represented minority issues, I will only do it if the committee actually has some power to do good, or punish evildoers. So, if we are handing out financial support, I help out. If you want another hand-wringing report, I’ll pass.
  4. Somebody will owe you a big time favor. ’nuff said here. Sometimes we do bull—- just to buddy up to others. That’s life in an organization.
  5. I’m paid/part of the job. Right now, I am director of undergrad studies, so I say “yes” to all undergrad issues committees. It’s my task, even though it makes me nauseous. And yes, curricular reform committee induces illness in me.

To sum up this post, you should only do committees if there is “value added.” Do it if it matters and realize that a lot of committees don’t matter. Don’t just say yes to everything. That’s crazy.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 30, 2013 at 12:09 am

career strategy: if you can’t go forward, move sideways

In giving advice to graduate students and untenured faculty, I start with the obvious. Show your work to people, get feedback, and submit to well respected journals in your field. Often, this is enough. Through peer review, we often (though not always) get feedback on what is good about our work. We improve and eventually, stuff gets published. But sometimes you learn something else. There is something about your work that just makes people uncomfortable. And it’s fundamental to your work. No amount of revising will change that.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 6, 2013 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

parents and academia

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza, at the blog, Get a Life, Ph.D., has a good post about parents and academia. Be nice to them! A few clips:

  • Tip #1: Introduce them to other parents
  • Tip #2: Keep their schedules in mind when planning events or meetings
  • Tip #3: Never Insinuate That Being a Parent Makes Professors Less Valuable or Productive

Good stuff. HT: Karen Nakamura.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 29, 2013 at 12:08 am

why buy the grad skool rulz?

Occasionally, people ask why they should pay for a book that already exists as a series of free blog posts. My response:

  • The Grad Skool Rulz is an amazing bargain. $3 is a pittance for extensive, blunt, and detailed advice based on 20 years working in the academy.
  • It is readable on just about any device – tablets, smart phones, nooks, etc.
  • Table of contents hyper-linked – easy to find stuff.
  • Snazzy & controversial color cover, specially commissioned.
  • Last section on getting tenure.

If $3 is still beyond your budget, please email me.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 30, 2013 at 12:31 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

how fabio mentors graduate students

I am now at the age where I actually have PhD students working with me. In other words, I need to apply the grad skool rulz to my own life. In the spirit of discussion, I outline my philosophy as a teacher of PhD students:

  1. Be firm but nice. No need to make people cry.
  2. My discipline has norms and standards for research that can be taught. I will teach this “normal science” to my students.
  3. I will be flexible. Though most students have to master the “meat and potatoes” of research, some can work on more idiosyncratic projects.
  4. I will be in my office a lot. Students can drop in or make appointments for the short term.
  5. I will provide concrete directions when possible.
  6. I will provide specific detailed advice on professional issues, like article writing, the job market, and teaching.
  7. I am hands on – I want people to contact me a lot.
  8. I will help students develop projects they can complete in a timely fashion. No need to produce that 100 page dissertation proposal, a shorter one will do.
  9. I will not tell you what to research, but I will give you lots of advice on how to execute it.
  10. I will give you ample opportunities to co-author.
  11. I will get paperwork done on time.
  12. I will accept any student, unless they have shown gross academic incompetence or they are working on a topic that I simply can’t help you with.

Consider this an open thread on graduate student mentoring.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 18, 2013 at 12:57 am

standardized dissertations, part deux

I boil down a few arguments, my own and from the last round of comments, in favor of three essays as the default for academia:

1. In all sciences, most professional fields, and most social sciences, articles are standard. There are even humanities areas, like philosophy, where articles are standard. Even for book writers, articles are important. Most book writers do an article or two before jumping to the book.

2. The purpose of the dissertation is to show the ability to conduct research. Creativity is great – and should be rewarded with a degree – but the standard is normal science and competence.

3. The purpose of the graduate program is professional training – not an extended multi-year post-doc.

4. Standards actually protect students. It is too easy for faculty to hold students to unattainable standards, and drag them out for years. Moving goal posts is a real problem in graduate education. I’ve seen it happen too often. If there is a concrete standard, both students and faculty will know when “enough is enough.” There is a basis for appeal if professors are being unreasonable.

5. Three essays is a default, not a requirement. But still, in sociology, for example, the overwhelming majority should probably start with that unless they do ethnography. In other words, try a few articles. If your ideas *really* require more space, ok. But try the basics first.

Bottom line: Doctoral programs are about professional training and most academic professions focus on articles. That doesn’t mean that we should not allow more ambitious dissertations, but that should be reserved for a small minority of cases.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 31, 2013 at 12:01 am

we need standardized dissertations

One of the problems of graduate education in many fields is that the requirements for the dissertation are vague. Another issue is that the dissertation is a book length treatment, even in fields where articles are standard. This leads students spend years writing overly long documents that have little value. For that reason, I encourage all my students to use the “three essays” format as the default. It’s simple, it works, and they’ll get done. If they have a good reason for deviating, then we can talk about it. But most folks should really stick to “three essays.”

There is now more systematic research showing that this advice is correct. A recent AER paper authored by Wendy Stock and John Siegfried shows that economists who use the “three essays” format do better in terms of academic job placement and subsequent publication. The abstract says it all:

Dissertations in economics have changed dramatically over the past forty years, from primarily treatise-length books to sets of essays on related topics. We document trends in essay-style dissertations across several metrics, using data on dissertation format, PhD program characteristics, demographics, job market outcomes, and early career research productivity for two large samples of US PhDs graduating in 1996-1997 or 2001-2002. Students at higher ranked PhD programs, citizens outside the United States, and microeconomics students have been at the forefront of this trend. Economics PhD graduates who take jobs as academics are more likely to have written essay-style dissertations, while those who take government jobs are more likely to have written a treatise. Finally, most of the evidence suggests that essay-style dissertations enhance economists’ early career research productivity.

My take home message? We should drop the pretense of the sprawling dissertation. All departments should require or strongly encourage the three essay format as the default. If the student wants something else, they need to make the argument.

Hat tip to our evil twin, Organizations and Markets.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 29, 2013 at 3:35 am

how do graduate students actually choose their advisers?

In a past installment of grad skool rulz, I offered advice for choosing a dissertation adviser. The idea is simple. Nobody is perfect, but you want someone who has at least a few good traits and no horrible traits. As I was thinking about this post, I wondered – how do graduate students actually choose their advisers? Do people actually methodically try to find a match or do they just “fall” into it? Why do people get stuck with horrible (or good) advisers?

In my own case, I just fell into it and it worked out. I worked with to faculty based on similar research interests (education) and style (both normal science types). But what about people who choose poorly? Part of the issue is that there simply isn’t enough information. Unless you are in a large program, most faculty won’t have more than one or two students in their career. In other cases, students don’t have much choice. For example, if you want to study sociology of science at Indiana, there’s really only one choice. Yet, I still see some students choose advisers who have well developed reputations for being difficult, or advisers who have really slim track records in placing students.  My guess is that students believe that they’ll be the exception to the rule.

Consider this post an open thread on how to effectively find an adviser in graduate school. What are you considering as you choose an adviser?

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Written by fabiorojas

May 23, 2013 at 12:01 am

academia and inequality

I am one of those people who thinks that we should not encourage people to enter the academic profession unless they are extremely committed to scholarship and they show exceptional promise. This advice often triggers a reaction that is summarized as: “You are evil! You want to exclude poor people/minorities/women/others from academia!”

My response: encouraging an expansion of graduate education does not address most aspects of inequality and might make it worse in many cases. For example, there is a large scale gap between whites and blacks in terms of education, income, and wealth. Sending people to graduate school will not address this gap. There are many reasons: lots of people don’t finish the degree; huge opportunity costs; low paid adjunct work after graduation; accumulation of burdensome of debt; and the tenure track pays modestly compared to other professionals with similar qualifications. These trends suppress mobility.

In contrast, there lots of other professions that are much more likely to lead to good income and mobility. If we want to genuinely shrink the income gap between people of color and whites, for example, we are much wiser to encourage engineering and health science careers. You’ll get the degree in a few years and almost immediately jump higher in the income distribution. Way, way, way easier than going for that anthropology  PhD and hoping for a tenure track job 12 years later.

If we want to address inequality within academia (ie., increasing representation on the faculty), we should reserve our efforts for getting people through the PhD pipeline and into jobs. We shouldn’t cram more graduate students into the pipeline. We should actually ask the logical question: What can we do to ensure that students acquire the right skills in academia? How can we make sure that they develop the right networks, that lead to publication in the “right” journals, and thus lead to the “right” jobs?

Sadly, very little effort goes into this side of things. It’s easier to count minorities and women and yell, “not fair! we need more!” It’s much harder to confront tenured faculty (like myself), and say: “Why haven’t you co-authored with women (or minorities) so that they may have a shot at a good tenure track job?” Let’s put the brakes on enrolling more students into doctoral programs and take up the less glamorous, but more important task, of making sure that the ones in the system will actually have the best careers possible.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 2, 2013 at 12:02 am

seriously, don’t go to graduate school

Recently, sociologist Tressie McMillam Cottom wrote a column titled: “Does Blanket ‘Don’t Go to Graduate School!’ Advice Ignore Race and Reality?” It’s a nice article and worth reading. She makes the case that it is a mistake to tell people “Don’t Go to Graduate School” as a one-size-fits-all piece of advice. It’s the advice contained in chapter 1 of the Grad Skool Rulz ($3 –  cheap!!). Specifically, she argues that graduate school represents an important avenue of mobility, especially for people of color who face disadvantages in the labor market.

A few responses from someone who advises a lot of students, in person and through my writings. Firsts, I don’t believe in advice that fits everyone. In the introduction of the book, I write: “I trust that you will be resourceful enough to adjust the advice for your own situation.” Human action is defined by circumstance, which is always variable and complex.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t offer advice aimed at typical students making typical choices. When it comes to graduate education, “don’t go to graduate school” is a sound starting point for discussion because graduate school is a bad choice for most people who have recently completed their B.A. Why?

  • First, most students think the Ph.D. is needed for getting good jobs. Yes, there are some jobs that require a Ph.D. But most jobs do not require a Ph.D. degree, aside from university teaching or scientific research in the physical sciences or engineering.
  • Second, most students do not understand that doctoral education is built around producing scholars. When people say, “I want to get a Ph.D.” I answer: “Do you want to be a college teacher?” The answer is usually no.
  • Third, graduate education entails more risk than almost any other kind of professional education. As I’ve written before, the average Ph.D. doesn’t get the degree,while most students in other professional programs get the degree.
  • Fourth, job prospects are very, very limited in many academic disciplines. Sociology’s market isn’t that bad, but it’s horrible in the humanities and the sciences where there is no external market.
  • Fifth, academia entails great costs, even if you get the degree. You have limited geographical mobility. Partners may leave you. You make less money than other professionals with similar training.

In other words, academia is a neat place to work, but it is a very risky career and many people simply aren’t suited for it.

Cottom justifiably raises the issue of job market signalling. Perhaps the advice I just gave applies less to students of color because they’ve been stigmatized. They need to overcompensate through educational credentials in order to experience mobility.

Two responses: First, doctoral training is only one option. If one wants to signal intelligence on the labor market through credentials, you would probably be better served by other forms of education than the typical PhD program. For example, most engineering programs have master’s level work that leads to jobs. Other professions, such as teaching and business, also have short post-graduate courses of study that more directly lead to well compensated career tracks.

Second, there are serious opportunity costs. If one wants a job outside academia, it might better to work in a non-academic job to build experience. You earn a normal salary and get to know your field. While you spend 8 years on that Ph.D., you lose a lot of money and experience.

Let me conclude with an attempt to clarify my point. I am not trying to drive away people who are genuinely interested in the academic career. What I am doing is trying to sort between people who want to be scholars and those who seek training or credentials for employment outside higher education. The Ph.D. program is a very inefficient and risky way to pursue these goals.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 18, 2013 at 12:40 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

how to pick a grad skool

How should you pick a graduate school? Well, start by purchasing my book – The Grad Skool Rulz, the best grad school advice book you can get. But if $3 is too much, or you’re just lazy, here’s the way you pick graduate school. If you want a decent academic career, follow these steps in order:

  1. Rank – Don’t fuss over minor differences (#6 vs. #12), but a lot of your early academic career depends on your PhD institution. There are roughly 2.5 zones: the top five (“elite”); the top twenty; and some discipline give credit for the top 4o or so. If you don’t want an academic career, skip this step. In most private industry, PhD program rank doesn’t matter much.
  2. Toxicity – A lot of PhD programs burn out students. This is extremely important to know. I have successfully recruited to Indiana from higher ranked schools with a speech that starts: “What good is a Chicago PhD if you never get it?”*
  3. Intellectual fit – If you get into a decent ranked school and students actually graduate with decent jobs, then you can ask about fit.
  4. Financial support – You aren’t in this business to make money, but be sure you will leave without debt.

Remember, follow these in order!

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* I pick on Chicago because it is my beloved alma mater. I love you guys, but you are known as the “PhD graveyard” in some parts – and for good reason!

Written by fabiorojas

March 15, 2013 at 12:16 am

thank you john padgett and woody powell

I’d like to take a moment to thnk our February guest bloggers – Woody Powell and John Padgett. They wrote about their new book The Emergence and Organization and Markets. You can their blog posts here.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 9, 2013 at 12:37 am

grad skool rulz #26: what should I do during the grad school visit?

On June 3, 2011, I said that I was ending the grad skool rulz. Totally wrong. People keep asking me about things I hadn’t thought of before, so I kept on writing! This week’s question: What should I get from the campus visit after I have been accepted to a PhD program?

Usually, the campus visit is a brief one or two day trip where you show up to campus and with current graduate students and faculty. The visits vary a great deal in quality. For example, when I visited Chicago, I had to pay my own way and it was very hard to make appointments to meet people. During one appointment, I asked about graduation rates and this senior professor simply said that such statistics weren’t important. Now you understand the genesis of the Rulz. In contrast, Indiana has one of the most highly organized graduate programs around. Students who visit meet with professors, grad students, and they go to seminars. And of course, we have a great record of placement and publication with students that we freely talk about.

So what should you expect or demand from your visit?

  • Ask for money. A lot of graduate programs will provide funds for air fare and the like.
  • Accommodations – Don’t pay for hotels, most programs will have a current student host you.
  •  It is normal for faculty to meet with potential students. If no one is around to meet you, it is a bad sign.
  • Meet with the graduate chair. At the very least, you can get some information on the mechanics of the program. Also, ask for placement and graduation rates.
  • Meet with current graduate students. Often there is  a lunch attended only by students. The idea is that students can candidly talk about their experiences.
  • Attend a class or seminar.
  • Meet with senior faculty, the folks who mentor most graduate students. Ask them about current research and current students.

Now, how should you evaluate your visit? A few rules of thumb:

  • You can safely ignore about 90% of what people say. The faculty all say that their program is the best, even if students fail to get jobs. It’s rare that graduate students openly admit how much they hate life and how their friends in older cohorts are being weeded out and failing to get jobs.
  • You should closely pay attention to what people actually do. Did the faculty take the time to meet with graduate students, many of whom will not matriculate? If so, it shows commitment. Can your graduate student host point to a master’s paper or dissertation chapter that was promptly read? Or a paper that the faculty helped him/her publish?
  • Pay very close attention to the total number of people that the program places in an average year. My rule of thumb is that a program is effective if # of tenure track jobs = 50% of incoming cohort size. The reason is that 50% of people won’t graduate for a variety of reasons. The issue is what happens to the 50% who manage to finish.
  • It is a bad sign if the faculty will only talk about the one guy who made it to an Ivy league position. It is a good sign if they can point to multiple students who made it to R1’s, Liberal arts, and good regional universities. Don’t look at a biased sample.

Consider this an open thread on grad school visits. And of course – buy the GRAD SKOOL RULZ!!!

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Written by fabiorojas

February 25, 2013 at 3:50 am

give me $3 and i’ll get you your phd

Ok, that’s a bald faced lie. Unless you’re my dissertation student, I can’t give you your PhD. Even then, you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way – do some research. But you know what you can get for $3 that will get you your PhD? The Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know About Academia from Admissions to Tenure. And the title is no joke. In 59 short chapters, I cover everything from “Should I go to graduate school?” to assembling your tenure dossier.

Why did I write this book? I think graduate education is a mess. People expect you to just learn through osmosis. Imagine if we ran medical schools the same way. Meh! So I wrote this book to help people know how the system works. For real – from a dude who succeeded (and failed, at time) in graduate school and the tenure track.

The reviews:

  • A well explained and written overview of academia that is helpful for anyone in or considering a profession in academia. A great sociological analysis of the process. Well worth one’s time. (JL Howell).
  • This book is an excellent representation of the mainstream in professional sociology. It’s especially valuable for my advisees, as our department is a historically critical/activist one. I wish I’d had it when I was in graduate school. (JL Shiao).

Check it out.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 19, 2013 at 12:33 am