Archive for March, 2009

Unlike Candide or The Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not an allegory for academe.  (This is a good thing, since most people would not want to be strung along during hiring or tenure like Jim is in the end of the book.)  Rather, Teresa Magnum at Inside Higher Ed uses an excerpt to convey that, to a candidate, communication is everything.  She has a number of suggestions for search committees that most, if not all, candidates would welcome given the mysterious nature of the market:

First, departments should think carefully about the materials they request in their advertisements. Initial decisions require a letter and a resume. Trees and postage saved. In the early stages of a search, applicants need to know two things. Did materials arrive? What next? A quick e-mail acknowledgment and a timeline surveying the next steps in the search are deeply reassuring. When an ad attracts 400 candidates, notification requires real effort, but so did applying.

All of the candidates with whom I’ve spoken along with those on the wiki sincerely wish departments would let them know when they are no longer being considered. My warmest memory from my own job search is, ironically, a rejection letter. A faculty member from the University of Pennsylvania wrote an unusually compassionate letter, including one sentence that complimented my writing sample with enough detail to suggest she had actually read it. I kept that letter for years and to this day I send out a bless-your-heart whenever it comes to mind. Timely response is all the more important now that those who do get invited for interviews are likely to post that information on one of the wikis. A quick appreciative e-mail to those who didn’t make the first cut ought to be manageable, and if you have the resources to insert even one personal comment, you will have done a very, very good thing. If the next step in your search is a conference interview, you might also help an unsuccessful candidate avoid wasting a fortune on a plane ticket and hotel.

Whether the first personal contact with candidates will be by phone, at a conference, or on campus, the interview will be more productive and less stressful for everyone involved if candidates know what to anticipate and how to prepare. Who will be present and what are their areas of expertise? (Yes, I know that should be on the Web, but it often isn’t.) What cell phone number can the candidate call in case of disaster? What can you tell candidates about the interview? Will any committee member need to arrive late or leave early?

An interview shouldn’t feel like a round of whack-a-mole. What can you tell candidates about the interview in advance? Will it last 30 minutes, 45 minutes? If you want candidates to speak thoughtfully about their ability to meet a specific need in your department, why not ask them to ponder the topic in advance?

It’s well worth a small loss of time to be sure appointments are scheduled at intervals that will neither leave candidates waiting in the hall nor force them to meet face to face. Think about the interview space, too. Try sitting where you plan to place the candidate. A large, deep chair puts a short person at a disadvantage. You simply can’t sit in such a chair wearing certain kinds of skirts. Three committee members once sat facing me with their backs to a bright window. All I could see were silhouettes. To this day, I have no idea who they were.

No one should have to say so, but committee members should introduce themselves and provide water. They should not eat, doze, complain about exhaustion, check e-mail on a Blackberry, or leave a cell phone ringer in action. They should be welcoming even if this is the 15th candidate in two days. Apparently the question — “Why would anyone want to work on this topic?” — is a frequent opening gambit at interviews. Surely rigorous doesn’t have to be rude.

For those who interview at conferences, I can’t resist sharing a pet peeve. What would possess a department to invite all the people they’ve interviewed to the same party? Misery really doesn’t love company (and probably the last thing Misery needs is a free drink). Candidates wryly glad-handing strangers — faculty members? competitors? alumni? — at such parties must assume they’ve been lured to some dreadful version of an academic reality show just before being voted off to oblivion.

Finally, at the end of the interview, offer an updated timeline. Why subject someone to slow torture when you can explain that no decision will be made about the next stage of the search for two weeks or a month? Once you do decide whom to bring to campus, the other candidates would appreciate being told they are no longer being considered so that they can move on to other hopes and dreams.

To this list, I would add that faculty should not make offers that candidates will be reluctant to refuse.  On one of my campus visits I had an hour or so between my meetings and dinner that I was going to spend trying to regain my sense of time and place until the faculty member who was dropping me off at my hotel said that he was going to spend the intervening time getting coffee and asked if I would like to join him.  Because I was in “please everybody” mode, I accepted although I was really looking forward to some time that I didn’t have to spend being “on.”  After I accepted he said that if he were a candidate he would have chosen to spend the time alone!  While I’m sure his intentions were good, I wish he would have recognized this fact beforehand and resisted the invitation.

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Between 2001 and 2007, the ASA reports that the percentage of permanent faculty members has remained fairly stable:

Permanent Sociologists

The price for this relative stability appears to be increased teaching loads:

Course Loads

It is interesting that losses in full-time faculty have been balanced by decreased courseloads at Masters II institutions, while the stability at Masters I institutions comes with a large increase in courseloads.  If the job market was such that the majority of candidates had a choice of schools, I wonder if they would rather work at a school with increasing courseloads or increasing numbers of adjunct faculty.

Via:  Inside Higher Ed

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While anonymous comments on the internet may allow people to reveal the racist, sexist, homophobic versions of themselves that exist in Goffman’s back stage, a recent case of potential police brutality highlights the importance of realizing where the back stage ends.  Namely, it ends when you give up the shelter of anonymity:

Unsurprisingly, Ettienne claims that his comments online were nothing but locker room talk. “You have your Internet persona, and you have what you actually do on the street,” Ettienne told the New York Times. “What you say on the Internet is all bravado talk, like what you say in a locker room. I’m not going to say it was the best of things to do in retrospect.” It most certainly was not, and the jury in the case eventually acquitted the suspect of the possession charge, which Ettienne admits might have been partially his fault.

This is one of the more extreme cases of bad Internet judgment, but it’s certainly not the first. Experts have been warning people for years to curb the crazy, outrageous, and sometimes incriminating things they post online, as it can affect their ability to get (or keep) a job. Certain professions are more sensitive to it than others, too—in addition to police officers, teachers and other public servants are subject to more intense scrutiny than most. Ettienne’s case is just the latest stark reminder that, when in doubt, keep your questionable photos and snarky comments offline.

I would think most people realize that a locker room is a back stage setting while something viewable to the general public is a front stage setting.  On the other hand, the idea that “the Internet is all bravado talk” may explain the rampant racism, sexism, and homophobia.

From Ars Technica.

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I know that in the current economic climate the title of this post seems ludicrous, but I did it.  The two job offers I note in my summary of job market success did not overlap.  I had to turn down the first before I received the second.  Obviously, I would have preferred to have the offers at the same time, but I felt at the time that I made the right decision based on the information I had, and I was happy to accept the second offer that I received.  In order to make the following clearer, it may help to think of the four liberal arts schools where I interviewed in the order I visited them:

  • School 1: Visited in week 1
  • School 2: Visited in week 1 immediately after School 1
  • School 3: Visited in week 3
  • School 4: Visited in week 4

I received a job offer from School 1 on a Tuesday the week after I had completed back-to-back campus visits at Schools 1 and 2 (if you value your emotional stability, I would advise against back-to-back visits).  The visit had gone well, the faculty were friendly, and I thought that I could be happy living in this area and working at School 1.  The problem was School 1’s desired time frame.  They wanted me to respond within a week but I had already scheduled interviews at Schools 3 and 4 and felt that it was unfair to me and those schools to cancel the visits.  School 1 extended the deadline, but only by three days (to the end of week 3).

The new deadline meant that I would have to respond to School 1 on the day I completed my interview at School 3 (clearly before I would hear from them about an offer) and before my interview at School 4.  If School 1 would have been my dream job, these timing issues may not have been a concern.  Unfortunately, while I thought I could be happy there, the teaching load was a little higher than I desired.  After discussing the issue with my advisor, he supported my belief that I should probably turn down School 1’s offer.

For me, the biggest issue was pressure.  I felt like School 1 was putting an extreme amount of pressure on me to decide before I had finished my scheduled visits and I didn’t think that I would be happy with an acceptance in that situation – I figured that accepting an offer is supposed to make you excited, not angry.  My advisor also pointed out that, given the teaching load, it would be hard to publish enough to get a different job in the future if things didn’t go as well as I anticipated.

I waited until the day of the deadline to call School 1 back, figuring that if I had heard by then that School 2 didn’t want me and if the School 3 interview was a disaster, I could still accept the offer.  I didn’t hear from School 2 but the School 3 interview wasn’t a disaster and I still had the School 4 interview coming up, so I told School 1 (from the airport) that I was had to decline their offer because of the timeline they had given me.  At that point, I had no idea if I would receive another offer, but I still felt like I made the right choice since it was my choice and accepting would not have been.

Another factor for me was that before visiting my order of preference was School 2, School 3, School 1, and School 4.  This order was confirmed by my visits, though there were some aspects that made School 3 preferable to School 2.  I received an offer from School 3 on Tuesday of week 4 while on my way to School 4.  They wanted a decision by early the next week.  Thursday morning I called School 2 and was told that they were “pretty unlikely” to offer me the position.  That, coupled with the higher teaching load at School 4, sealed the deal for School 3 and I called them on Monday of week 5 to accept after negotiating via e-mail.

Other than having to turn down an acceptable offer, the strangest thing about this experience was that I felt incredibly pressured by School 1 when they actually gave me more time to decide than School 3.  Because School 3’s visit was near the end of my interviews, however, I felt like I was in a much better place to make a decision.  I’m not sure how I would have responded if the order was reversed, though I might have been more inclined to accept an early offer from School 3 because of the lower teaching load and better resources.  In the end, I guess everything worked out for the best!

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Browsing the backlog of the Chronicle Careers page can be incredibly depressing.  It seems that for each person who has concluded a successful search there are two that are still looking for an elusive tenure track position.  For every Ann Harpold there are two Emily Peters.  Ann gives candidates hope, stating:

In September, I will be starting in a new position at a great little university, located in a small city within driving distance from my family and my husband’s. The position sounds as if it was written for me: It melds my interdisciplinary interests, and allows me to teach highly specialized small seminars. And my new colleagues are friendly, warm, and intellectually engaged.

Emily begins with a warning:

This article is not for the faint of heart. It asks you to endure my recounting of four unsuccessful years spent searching for a tenure-track position in the humanities. For those of you in need of a happy ending, be advised: I don’t get a job in the end. I don’t give reasons for why I’m sure to get a job this year. And I don’t realize that I’m better off outside of the ivory tower.

Thankfully, Emily doesn’t invoke Candide, and her account is among the closest I’ve seen to my own job market approach.

For Emily, the market is chaos and individual candidates cannot be faulted for their failure to receive a job in any given year.  Many who vent on the Sociology Job Market Rumor Mill (Forum for 2009) don’t seem to realize this, feeling entitled to a job because they see “less qualified” others having success.  Personally, I began my job search with the belief that I had no control over the process and I think this helped me maintain my sanity throughout.  As Emily argues:

Just think about the random nature of the academic job market. Can you control the number of jobs that are listed in a given year? The specializations a committee requests? Can you control who retires or switches jobs? Who your competition is? And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you control whether prospective colleagues think you’re funny or enjoy your company? Whether they want to hire a man or a woman? Whether someone at the college you’re applying to attended your alma mater? Whether the department chairman wrecks his car picking you up from the hotel for your campus visit? (Something like this happened to me.) The answer is clearly, No. The world is chaos — and it’s not your fault.

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Female Science Professor recently discussed cheating in her classroom:

This time I decided on the following course of action: I explained to each student why I believed they cheated, asked if they had anything to say to that (neither one did), I let them keep the grades they ‘earned’ (they each got a D- anyway), and I told them that for every other test they must sit in the front row but not next to any other student. They agreed, seemed relieved, and now everyone is happy.

I haven’t had to deal with many cases of cheating (as far as I know, plagiarism has been a bigger problem), but from my understanding the pain they cause professors is inversely proportional to the support professors receive from department chairs and deans.  It will be interesting to see how these situations are handled at my new institution, since that was not one of the questions that I asked during my visit.

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So you’ve gotten a job.  Congratulations!  Celebrate a bit (then stop procrastinating and get back to work on your dissertation).  One thing that those of us lucky enough to receive jobs probably haven’t dealt with yet is what we’re going to do about the courses we’ll be teaching in the fall.

In some ways, this question reflects all of the reasons that we wanted jobs in the first place.  My future department recently contacted me to tell me which courses they would like me to teach in the fall and to ask when I wanted to teach them.  The idea that I had control over my schedule was foreign to me and I didn’t quite know how to handle it.  After regaining my composure, which required looking at the department website to see how others had structured their schedules, I suggested some times that were accepted by the department.  The scheduling process made the fact that I have a job for the fall a lot more real, and reminded me that I need to get back to work on my dissertation.

Thankfully, my fall schedule was free of surprises since I had discussed the courses that I would teach at my interview.  Because I only have one new prep (and this course is at least tangentially related to my interests), I don’t have to worry as much as some others in my position.  So far I’ve checked out the syllabi of others and requested a few desk copies of relevant books, but I’m sure that things will get more hectic (thankfully, I’ve got the power) as the time to order books and finalize my own syllabus approaches.

Rob Weir at Inside Higher Ed has some additional advice for new professors:

  • Relax.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  • Ignorance can be bliss.
  • Say goodbye to grad school.
  • Haul blocks.
  • Black and white goes with everything.
  • Ratchet up, not down.
  • Function follows form.
  • Be clear and fair. (The rest will follow.)

Like me, you may have thought that you went into higher ed so that you don’t have to haul blocks, but Weir explains his advice in more detail in his post.  I’ll keep this advice in mind as fall approaches.

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A new development in the mystery of John Galt.  I’m not him, but Stephen Colbert may be.  From the Colbert Report on March 11:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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While I’ve previously discussed the Kindle 2, I’m going to have to give Book a look!


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I know that the current economic state is difficult for those on the job market, but imagine how hard life is for unemployed investment bankers.  Please donate to the charitable organization below so that they can afford to go Galt.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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