Archive for February, 2009

Anomie has posted some links to resources with advice for academic job interviews.  Included in her post is a link to another list of questions to ask.  I would add two caveats to this list:

  1. Know your audience.  A number of the questions are geared toward research universities, so you should obviously refrain from asking about graduate courses if there are none.
  2. Be sure you aren’t asking questions should be obvious to anybody who has looked at the department web site or read the job ad.  At some schools the teaching load can be a mystery, while others state it in their posting.  As I’ve said before, ask questions that show you know these obvious things instead (I see you have a 4-4 teaching load.  Does that affect the publication expectations?)

Read Full Post »

In determining somebody’s intentions, context is important.  Rupert Murdoch belatedly recognizes this on behalf of the New York Post:

As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you – without a doubt – that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.

Read Full Post »

A nice video examining the credit crisis: The Crisis of Credit. See also Frontline: Inside the Meltdown.

Both go a long way toward demystifying a complicated problem (which is not helping the fact that the job market sucks).

Read Full Post »

Last week Shamus posted the above NY Post cartoon on scatterplot, which the editor of the Post claimed “is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy” but I argued was “a clear parody of two unrelated things, which we tie together with racial subtext.”  This has been discussed everywhere, but for another sociological take you can check out the racism review.  The same day, Penny Arcade posted the following comic:

The above comic is referring to the depiction of African villagers in the upcoming Resident Evil 5 video game, which is also discussed here.  Connecting these topics is the notion that one’s interpretation of each is affected by the history of racism in the United States and, likely, one’s racial experience.  It seems that a broader portrayal of African Americans in the popular culture would be a good way to begin weakening these associations.

Read Full Post »

A recent post on Crooked Timber examines school improvement and the achievement gap.  While the post includes a number of good points, I have to disagree with the following statement:

For a lot of schools this is very likely indeed right now, because the economic crisis will result in more kids being more disadvantaged, and more at (sic) who are quite disadvantaged becoming very disadvantaged. Make sure that you and your staff understand something about the limits of the effects of schooling on achievement, even as you try to improve those effects.

The author seems to argue that if a middle class family falls into poverty, the children of that family will stop reaping the rewards of their parents’ education.  While social class has an effect on student achievement, that affect is likely mediated by cultural factors such as education and parental class background.  Despite changing economic conditions these cultural factors are likely to remain stable for a particular student.  On the other hand, achievement likely will be affected for those at the very bottom for whom the change is more likely to be from being able to afford meals to not being able to afford meals.

Read Full Post »


Just like the job market, work sucks.  Celebrate both of these facts by watching Office Space today on the tenth anniversary of its release.  Afterward, check out Mike Judge’s cinematic follow-up Idiocracy, which has a brilliant concept but is lacking in its execution.

Read Full Post »

Since Voltaire clearly wrote Candide as an allegory for the academic job market, I thought that it would be fitting to share a few more of his insights into academia:

On leaving graduate school for a tenure-track job:

“We are going to another world,” said Candide; “it is there, without doubt, that every thing is for the best.  For it must be confessed that one has reason to be a little uneasy at what passes in this world, with respect to both physics and morals.”  (pg. 30)

On modern life:

I find that all goes contrary with us, that no one knows what is his rank, or what is his employment, or what he does, or what he ought to do; and except entertainments which are very gay, and over which their appears to be considerable union, all the rest of the time passes in impertinent quarrels, Jansenists against Molinists, members of parliament against dignitaries of the church, men of letters against men of letters, courtesans against courtesans, financiers against the people, wives against husbands, relations against relations; it is a continual warfare.  (pg. 68)

On graduate training:

“Some fools admire everything in an author of reputation; for my part, I read only for myself; I approve nothing but what suits my own taste.”  Candide, having been taught to judge of nothing for himself, was very much surprised at what he heard…”  (pg. 79)

On academic pride:

“Well, my dear Pangloss,” said Candide, “when you were hanged, dissected, severely beaten, and tugging at the oar in the galley, did you always think that things in this world were all for the best?” “I am still as I always have been, of my first opinion,” answered Pangloss; “for as I am a philosopher, it would be inconsistent with my character to contradict myself.”  (pg. 89)

Pangloss confessed, that he had always suffered dreadfully; but having once maintained that all things went wonderfully well, he still kept firm to his hypothesis, though it was quite opposed to his real feelings.  (pg. 91)

From:  Voltaire.  1966.  Candide and Zadig.  New York: Airmont.

Read Full Post »

Having prepared answers to frequently asked questions on the job market can make the interview process a lot smoother, but I think that it is also important to prepare good questions to ask.  I first realized this a few years ago when I heard that faculty members laughed when a fellow graduate student asked what their students were like during a phone interview.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this question.  The problem arises when it is asked so often that it becomes hackneyed.  The solution is to ask questions related to this theme that show you have thought about the meaning behind it.  For example, ask how many of the students have jobs, what type of placement (academic and non-academic) they typically receive after graduation, and whether the school’s selectivity affects typical grade distributions.  The answers to each of these questions will help you form an image of what their students are like.

You can also ask questions that show you have done your research.  Rather than asking how many majors they have, when this information is available on the department web site, note that you know how many majors they have and ask if this number has changed over the past five years.  For schools with a religious affiliation, you can ask how that affiliation is reflected in classroom interactions.

Obviously, I have not cornered the market on good questions, but here are some suggestions for engaging faculty and administrators in conversation (also available as in PDF format).

Questions to Ask


Other than graduate school, what types of jobs have some of your students recently received after graduation?

How many of your students have jobs?

What are typical class sizes at each level?

What kinds of faculty development opportunities are there?  Travel?  Computers?

How does advising work?  Does each faculty member advise a certain number of students?

What is the process for deciding the topics and professors for the special topics classes?

What are the tenure expectations for new faculty?  Have those expectations changed since you went through the tenure process?

What is the human subjects process like here?

What is your typical grade distribution/how does your school’s selectivity affect grade distributions?

What is the relationship between the community and the school like?

What do you like most about working here?

What is the anticipated timeline going forward?


What are your tenure expectations for new faculty?

How is the sociology department thought of within the school?

Where do you see the school going in the next 5-10 years?

What is your vision for the college/sociology department?

What would you like to see in terms of teaching, service, and research from a junior faculty member going up for tenure?

How is faculty assessment handled?

What is the school’s financial status?  How is the school responding to the recent economic downturn?

What support exists for faculty research?

Read Full Post »

Being on the job market this year, I was frequently reminded of Candide by Voltaire.  This occurred whenever friends, family members, or my advisor told me that everything would work out for the best.  My advisor repeated this mantra after I ended up with a job at my second choice of the schools that had interviewed me, arguing that the region of school #2 would be a better fit for me than that of school #1.  A writer in the Chronicle’s “Landing Your First Job” section shares this view, stating:

I’m amazed and relieved and convinced, now more than ever before, that things usually happen for a reason, or at the very least, things eventually work out for the best.

While this statement may seem natural for somebody who has just received her first tenure-track job, the author had been on the market for six years before having success.  Surely, she would have found a job sooner than that if things had truly worked out for the best.  Personally, six years on the job market sounds a lot more like “Mad World” than “Shiny Happy People.” Could it be that we as candidates are so beaten down by the job market that when and if we finally accept a tenure-track job offer we are compelled to feel that it is “for the best,” regardless of our experiences on the market?

If this is the case, Candide is a particularly fitting allegory for the job market experience.  Written in response to the philosophical optimism of Pope (whatever is, is right) and Leibnitz (God is good so he created the best of all possible worlds), Candide represents the candidate who is forced out of the comfortable confines of graduate school and onto the job market (Ch. 1 – How Candide was brought up in a fine castle, and how he was expelled from thence).  The philosopher Pangloss represents the candidate’s dissertation advisor, who is denied tenure and is forced to enter the market shortly after Candide.

Each new adventure in the book can be seen as a job interview.  Most of these go painfully wrong and, thus, end in rejection.  Throughout these adventures, Candide attempts to maintain that everything that happens is for the best.  Eventually, he is offered his dream job, which he turns down because it is not near his fiancee (Ch. 17 – The arrival of Candide and his men at the country of Eldorado).  After a great deal of suffering on the market, Candide and Pangloss finally accept tenure-track jobs at a low-ranking institution, causing a friend to ask:

I want to know which is the worst; to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, to run the gauntlet among the Bulgarians, to be whipped and hanged, to be dissected, to row in the galleys; in a word, to have suffered all the miseries we have undergone, or to stay here, without doing anything? (pg. 91)

After a visit with the dean (represented by a Turk), who tells him that success and happiness depend on getting work done (no doubt referring to tenure expectations) Candide accepts his position and turns his attention toward receiving tenure.  The end finds Pangloss arguing that if he hadn’t spent six painful years on the job market he wouldn’t be where he is today, to which Candide replies “That’s very well said, and may all be true, but let’s [get back to work on that conference submission].”

Read Full Post »

Race in games

Darion White on the portrayal of African American video game characters:

Black characters in video games aren’t difficult to find, but rare is the well-rounded and positive black protagonist. Black characters in games habitually range from stereotypical to non-existent. In contrast, black gamers consume a great deal of the medium and are a vastly growing and contributing demographic in the community. Why not create and implement characters that are actually relatable or who boast innovative societal behaviors?

Additional views on race in video games can be found here and, of course, here.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »