When faculty members arrive on a new campus, they are often told to keep their heads down and listen more than they speak. In most cases (i.e., when the place you find yourself in is not blatantly offensive), I think that this is good advice, since it makes sense to become familiar with the campus and departmental cultures before saying or doing things that might deviate from the norms of those cultures. Although I may never feel comfortable speaking at a faculty meeting (for those of you at large institutions, this is the monthly meeting of all faculty, along with various administrators, on campus), since I never did at my previous institution, I have found this semester that I am saying more at department meetings and feeling less apprehensive when I do. I don’t think I noticed that I had felt less comfortable last year until I started feeling more comfortable this year.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. I’m also happy to assign some of my departmental tasks to you.

Privileging the loud

Earlier this semester I attended a panel in which three first year students were asked questions about their impressions of the first year reading and speaker series on campus for an audience of faculty and staff, many of whom had planned the series and will be involved in planning next year’s series. The panelists included a white American, a white Western-European, and an Asian. All three students handled themselves well but, in comparison to the American student, the two international students spoke less, and less readily. For example, it was common for the international students to speak only when asked a direct question, while the American often interjected after one of the international students had spoken. I got the sense that this student was raised with the middle/upper-middle class “concerted cultivation” style that Annette Lareau discusses in Unequal Childhoods, leading to comfort in interacting with the adults in the room.

After the panel, a staff member approached the staff member I was seated next to and, noting that a committee they were on needed a new student representative, commented on how well the American student would do in this role. I have no idea whether this student was offered the position, but it struck me that the doors of opportunity were already opening for this brash, white American mere weeks after arriving on campus. It also struck me that if student representatives on various campus committees are chosen for their cultural capital, the voices of first-generation and working-class students are likely not being heard in these spaces. If it had been up to me to choose a student committee member, I would have chosen one of the quieter students whose voices need to be amplified on campus. The voices of privileged white Americans are already heard loud and clear.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links from a privileged white American via your news feed.

The broken review system

A while back, Philip Cohen posted on some of the problems with the peer review system in sociology, sharing the story of a paper that underwent 13 peer reviews over several years in the publication gauntlet. Although the paper’s findings were essentially unchanged by this process, each reviewer apparently thought that the paper could be framed in a different, and better, way. As Cohen says:

Most (or all) of the reviewers were sociologists, and most of what they suggested, complained about, or objected was about the way the paper was “framed,” that is, how we establish the importance of the question and interpret the results. Of course framing is important – it’s why you’re asking your question, and why readers should care (see Mark Granovetter’s note on the rejected version of “the Strength of Weak Ties”). But it takes on elevated importance when we’re scrapping over limited slots in academic journals, so that to get published you have to successfully “frame” your paper as more important than some other poor slob’s.

Cohen also cites problems with the journal system and its speed and arbitrary nature, but I think that the issue of framing is particularly important because journal editors appear to be letting reviewers asking a version of the “why didn’t you write the paper I would have written?” conference question arbitrarily prevent the publication of otherwise-worthy papers. This is particularly problematic for graduate students and those of us who work at teaching-oriented institutions and don’t typically have numerous papers under review at once.

Cohen proposes an alternate peer review system, but barring major changes in the system, I think that editors can take immediate steps to address this issue. When somebody asks the “why didn’t you write the paper I would have written?” question at a conference, everybody else in the audience rolls their eyes and recognizes the problem. Journal editors need to be more forceful about recognizing these problems themselves, providing clearer review guidelines and ensuring that framing is not the single most important factor in their decisions.

Via: Scatterplot

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed and use the comments to complain about their framing.

If I had a time machine

When students ask what they can do to improve their grades at the end of the semester, I often think, “Invent a time machine, go back to the beginning of the semester, and start [coming to class, proofreading your work, studying for exams, etc.].” Now, in my second year of a new job, a year away from pre-tenure review, it feels like this is the semester that I would choose to return to if things do not go the way I want in the tenure process. With a paper under review, several papers I need to lightly revise and send out, and new projects in the early stages, this is a pivotal moment for my success in the coming years, even as the semester quickly melts away and, as usual, I haven’t completed nearly as much on these endeavors as I had hoped.

I have, however, made one change that I hope will pay off in the future. I installed LeechBlock on my web browser to ward off my Major Procrastination Disorder and keep time from getting away from me. In a few years, I’ll let you know how it goes.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed, where you can read them before getting back to work.

Jessica at Scatterplot recently posted some good advice about imaginary “perfect” jobs. She writes:

There’s a tenure-track academic job I hear students talk about – one with work-life balance and a forty-hour work week and at least two weeks (but hopefully an entire summer) of carefree, completely unplugged vacation; one where you have all the autonomy and prestige of a professor, along with job security and a professional level paycheck, but there aren’t external pressures on your time except for those that you select because they’re consistent with your values and life goals…that job – that does not exist. And, even if it did, you would not increase your chances of landing such a job by eschewing the professional advice of faculty or colleagues because they are seen as somehow biased toward a different kind of job, one that just doesn’t fit you or your life goals.

As I said above, I think this is good advice but the “do what senior scholars tell you to do in order to be successful” line of reasoning falls apart when so many senior scholars don’t understand other types of jobs or have outdated ideas of what various types of jobs entail (or even what is required to get jobs like theirs). If you want to work at a SLAC, for example, especially a high-ranking SLAC, publications are essential, so advice that a student will fade to obscurity in one of those jobs is ridiculous. Too many advisors still want to see their students replicate their careers, acting as if other types of careers are beneath them.

One could argue that Eric Grollman’s success in getting an excellent liberal arts job after initially aiming for an R1 is a strong example in favor of the idea that there is only one track, but the pressures that he reports facing from his committee members about even interviewing at liberal arts jobs show that this system still has flaws. I was fortunate not to receive these sorts of messages from my committee members, but a current colleague reports that her dissertation advisor neglected to provide her with any advice on negotiating her job offer from our institution because the advisor hoped that a “real” job offer would come along. That some students know early on what type of job they would like to pursue but still receive these sorts of messages undermines the value of advice in other areas.

In some ways, I could be seen as an example of the type of grad student that Jessica mentions in the comments, where she says, “This is about the students who don’t aspire to a life like the faculty in their grad programs – people who they (erroneously) believe work 80 hours a week all year long and have no life outside of work.” I started grad school around the time that a large number of junior faculty members were hired and watched them go through a grueling tenure process that included the very real threat of being denied tenure unless they could publish in ASR or AJS. I knew that I did not want that kind of experience, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t think I would have to work to get a job or afterward or that I didn’t seek a strong grounding in theory and methods, as I took more than the required number of courses in each.

Just as Jessica provides advice for students, I would like to provide some advice for faculty who deal with graduate students: listen to them. Consider their career goals and give them advice that will maximize the chances that they will realize those goals while necessarily keeping an eye on their general marketability given that few of them will end up at the types of institutions they seek. If you start your mentoring by assuming that they want to emulate your career, though, and criticizing any desire to do otherwise, be aware that you are discrediting any future advice you will give.

Oh, and one more thing: When your graduate students are on the job market, get your damn letters of recommendation done early and often. There is no excuse for mentoring somebody throughout the entire academic process only to hang them out to dry by not fulfilling your duty as an advisor.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive angry rants about what professors should do via your news feed.

Starting over (as an advisor)

In most areas of my transition to a new institution I have been able to draw on my previous experience as a tenure-track faculty member. This has been similar to my mostly-smooth transition from graduate school to life as a tenure-track faculty member. There is one area, though, in which my years as a tenure-track faculty member have not left me feeling any more prepared than I did during my last transition: advising.

Although I’m still part of a sociology department, there are some major differences between my current institution and my former when it comes to advising. The primary difference is that my current department has many fewer majors than my previous department, so while I had 40-60 major advisees at my previous institution, I currently have seven non-major advisees. This is an area in which I have no experience.

Previously, I was challenged with learning the departmental curriculum and the institution’s general education curriculum in order to advise students to complete all of the necessary graduation requirements. Currently, I need to know both of those things as well as enough about each of the other majors on campus to advise students until they officially declare, which must be done by the spring of their sophomore year. Although there is a lot of guidance available in the form of quick-reference sheets, lists of courses to start with, etc., it feels like the risk of screwing up somebody’s academic career by giving bad advice is magnified.

I’m sure that I will eventually get used to this, like I did at my previous institution. Until then, I’m glad that I don’t have many advisees to ruin the futures of!

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive my sage advice via your news feed.

Free TRAILS (finally)

Reading the September “ASA News and Notes” e-mail, I noticed that TRAILS, the ASA’s online database of teaching materials, will finally be free to members, as it always should have been. As stated in the e-mail:

At its meeting in August, ASA Council approved a proposal to make full access to the TRAILS online database of teaching resources a new benefit of ASA membership for 2016. Pending the launch of the 2016 application and renewal system on October 15, paid member subscriptions have been discontinued in advance of the transition to free access. However, any member may sign up now for free access through October 15 using a special promotion code. Active your free subscription today!

This will hopefully encourage faculty members who can’t (or don’t want to) pay extra to access teaching resources when preparing syllabi, assignments, and class exercises. Better late than never!

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about teaching via your news feed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 146 other followers