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katerina ballerina, covered by eunah cho

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A very slow, mellow approach to one my all time favorite jazz tunes. Sometimes slow cooking is the best cooking.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 12, 2019 at 12:37 am

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three easy and low cost ways to improve academia

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When people talk reform, they often talk about really big changes. Here, I’ll offer three simple policies that are low cost and easy to implement and would make academic life way, way easier:

  1. Do not require letters of recommendation for job applicants unless they are a finalist. Reason? First, as I noted before, research shows that letters do not predict future performance. They have low value, so ditch ’em. If you must use them, then only for people who have made the cut. Second, letters are not crucial for most applicants. Most of the action comes from PhD program prestige, publications/working papers, teaching portfolio, and awards. Third, lots of faculty fail to write them anyway. Fourth, letters encourage us to look at your friends, not your work.
  2. Limit the number of articles in your tenure or promotion file to five articles or one book plus three. Reason? Most tenure cases revolve around your best work, not your 12th best work. Also, if one really believes that academic CV’s are bloated, then this is a simple way to reduce the incentive for over production. Finally, it provides a relief for tenure committee members. A committee can genuinely read all five papers, but if you have 20 articles, it can be hard. Why five? Most people only have a few ideas to begin with. It is also enough space for a few big hits or a series of articles that lead to a big point.
  3. Multiple submission for articles. I have made this argument in the past many times. Books can be submitted to multiple presses, which usually prevents “hostage taking” that you find in journals, where an editor can hold a paper for years. It’s low cost in that it involves no new technology. If you are worried about reviewers doing too much work (e.g., reviewing a paper for journal A and B), the solution is easy – editors should just read papers, decide which ones should be “sped up” and let papers with slower reviews go to other journals. Thus, an editor can tell a reviewer “don’t bother writing the review, the paper went to another journal.”

Do you have a low cost and easy academic reform? Use the comments!

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Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
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
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Written by fabiorojas

May 10, 2019 at 12:31 am

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book spotlight: learning to be latino by daisy reyes

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Reyes_Book

Learning to be Latino: How Colleges Shape Identity Politics by Daisy Reyes is a really interesting and much needed book on the experience of Latino/a/x people in higher education. Ethnographic in approach, Reyes details the different ways that Latinx people do student group politics at three campuses, a liberal arts school, a research university, and a regional campus.

To summarize, Reyes argues that the liberal arts school encourages a communal approach to ethnic identity, the research school promotes competition among Latinx groups, and the regional campus has more disconnected students. This makes a lot of sense to me, as these campuses have different arrays of social and financial resources that will make it easier or harder to pursue different types of student organizing.

One lingering question I had was about self-selection. Let’s take liberal arts colleges. Are student groups more communally oriented because they draw students who enjoy discussion and small group interaction? Or is there a treatment effect where the liberal arts college teaches people to interact in this way? Reyes does not have the data to settle this issue, but a future researchers could track high school students into college and look at their action in school.

I think this is a great book for scholars interested in higher education, Latinx education, and student affairs. For the organizational studies crowd, it is a good way to think about how mobilization within organizations may, or may not depend, on the resources of the group. Recommended!

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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Written by fabiorojas

May 8, 2019 at 12:12 am

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junior faculty jam session #3 – be a kind and decent colleague

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Junior faculty jam session #1, #2.

When people give out advice to junior faculty, it often focuses on academic strategy, work-family balance issues, and figuring out what the tenure process is all about. In this installment of junior faculty jam session, I want to focus on something that often gets sidelined – how to be a decent human being.

Academia is full of regular, normal human beings. We bring all our assets and our faults to the job. That is why academia has its fair share of divas, curmudgeons, hot-heads, harassers, sadists, and egotists. I don’t think that’s different than any other line of work. However, academia has two features that magnify our human faults. First, tenure and low job mobility. If you’re a jerk, you’ll torture your colleagues for years, possibly decades. Second, we’re talkers and writers. So if we feel slighted, you’ll hear about it – a lot.

My advice then is simply this: be a solution, don’t be the type of academic who is difficult at work. Because, honestly, getting published and doing well by your students is hard enough. We don’t need our workplace colleagues to make things worse.

I am not suggesting that you should be a cheery, saccharine person, even though that would be preferable than some of the angry people I’ve met in academic life. Rather, this is about civility. Here are my suggestions about being a decent person at work.

  1. Be nice to people, but you can be rough on ideas: Academia can be hyper critical. We need that attitude to judge what is good and bad. But we make a mistake when we treat people badly. So you can say, “look, I don’t buy this argument.” But you shouldn’t then think, or say, that the person is a moron. Similarly, you should be mellow toward students.
  2. Be responsive:  Academia is a team effort. You need to work with your TA to get papers graded. Maybe your run a lab, which employs many people. Even if you don’t manage people yourself, almost every academic receives requests like letters of recommendation, peer reviews, and so forth. Even if you can’t do them, simply write back with a short – “thanks, but I am busy.” If you are the type of fuzzy headed academic who forgets things, like I do, spend time about once or twice a month going through email to make sure you caught it all. Also, practice triage – it’s ok to respond to some things fast but wait a week or so to get to other emails.
  3. Have reasonable expectations for students and colleagues: If you are on the tenure track, it’s probably because you did well in school for many years and then did well in the research game. People like that can be very fussy. But I think it is important to lower your standards a bit. Not everyone can win big grants and publish epic papers. Your typical sophomore is probably barely keeping up with the readings. Same with graduate students – not all will become research intensive faculty. Come up with standards that an *average* student may have. The same applies to your colleagues. Not all will be super star academics. Many are thrilled to have tenure and the move into teaching intensive phases of their career. That is very valuable and we should treat them well.
  4. Treat everyone as a neighbor: Every person in your department is a human being who merits basic civility at work. So not only should you be kind to your faculty colleagues, but also be mellow toward the office staff, undergrad and graduate students, college administration, and the physical staff.
  5. The world is not a battle: It is easy to see the world as a place of battle where you, the person with the Truth, is right and other people should be fought and vanquished. That’s usually not the case. So learn to see most people as just regular people with regular problems.
  6. Let it go: Nine times out of ten, it is better to just let things go. There are very few times in your career where “standing your ground” will make the world a better place.

When I speak about civility and being a good human being, sometimes people will ask if I am just glossing over real problems. What if someone is really toxic? Or there are serious racial issues or issues around sexual harassment in the department? I think the response is straight forward – being decent and civil is a default, not an iron clad rule. I can imagine *some* situations where being combative and difficult is a smart thing, but that’s probably not the average situation. Typically, many problems disappear and being mellow and responsive will help resolve many more. If nothing else, you can save your energy for truly big problems.

So that it my advice to your: Be excellent to each other!

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Written by fabiorojas

May 6, 2019 at 4:01 pm

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a new super cool way to teach intro to sociology – trust me, people, this is good

A few years ago, Shamus Khan appeared at my doorstep on a dark and stormy night. Shocked, I mumbled, “Lord Khan, what do I owe this honor? I didn’t know you ever left Manhattan.”

“Ser Rojas, I travel to your Midwestern hovel with grave urgency. I think I may have solved a problem that has plagued sociologists for generations!”

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Written by fabiorojas

May 1, 2019 at 5:25 pm

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netflix and resource based value theory

One of the enduring ideas of management theory is resource based value theory: firms are valuable because they have a quasi-monopoly on some resource that gives them sustained advantage. Netflix is a great place to think about this.

My theory of Netflix is that it is not a “resource based” firm, but rather a firm that has exploited being a first mover in three related areas: DVD rental, streaming, and content development. Netflix did not invent any of these fields. Rather, they exploited loop hole and the inertia of other firms. For example, they didn’t invent DVD rental by mail, but they perfected an area many thought was dead. Same with streaming. They didn’t invent it, but other firms were slow to develop very good streaming. And clearly, Netflix did not invent or perfect content creation, though they are clearly really good at it.

And this is why Netflix is in a big hole. Why? The rest of the industry has caught up. DVD rentals are still good, but they aren’t enough to sustain the company. And now many, many competitors have good streaming and great content.

The result is that Netflix is deeply bleeding money. Yahoo reports that they’ve issued $12bn in bonds. Yahoo also reports massive cash burn and many “off the balance sheet” debts. The question for Netflix is whether they will innovate a genuine resource they can exploit or somehow stay ahead of the competition, just enough to avoid debt disaster.

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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Written by fabiorojas

April 26, 2019 at 4:20 am

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more reasons to be skeptical of peer review

Nature’s science news website covered a study showing how peer reviewers are mysteriously way more friendly when they have a personal tie to the authors of a grant. From the article:

Peer reviewers are four times more likely to give a grant application an “excellent” or “outstanding” score rather than a “poor” or “good” one when they are chosen by the grant’s applicants, an analysis of Swiss funding applications has found.

The study, at the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), was completed in 2016, and the SNSF acted quickly on its findings by banning grant applicants from being able to recommend referees.

The authors, who are affiliated with the SNSF, posted their results online at PeerJ Preprints1 on 19 March, and in their paper call on other funders to reconsider their funding processes.

“I think this practice should be abolished altogether,” says study co-author Anna Severin, a sociologist who studies peer review at the University of Bern. Other experts are also wary of the problems that author-picked peer reviewers might cause, but some question whether banning them altogether is the right step.

Though not an indictment of peer review per se, it does cast more shadow on the practice. Why? Many fields are defined by dense networks and people who can embed themselves in networks can generate advantage. If you can identify potential reviewers and ingratiate yourself, you can do well.

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BUY THESE BOOKS!!
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
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Written by fabiorojas

April 24, 2019 at 12:43 am

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