Archive for April, 2009

Continuing on the presidential theme, below is what will probably be the most discussed aspect of last night’s press conference.  It is interesting (and refreshing) to watch the president thinking things through.

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Life inside the White House isn’t all fun and games.

Obama Meeting

But some of it is.

Obama Football

More photos available on the Official White House Photostream.

Via:  Daring Fireball

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Nearly everybody with a Ph.D. in sociology earned that degree at a Research 1 institution (RU/H and RU/VH just don’t have the same ring to them).  As a result, nearly all of the faculty members we interact with in our graduate programs can tell us about publication expectations at an R1, hiring practices at an R1, tenure and promotion at an R1, teaching at an R1, etc., but most of them don’t have much experience with other types of schools.  Thankfully, many faculty members have recognized that different types of institutions reward different types of letters and applications.  Unfortunately, this recognition is often viewed as a dichotomy – do you want a research job (at an R1) or a teaching job (at a liberal arts school)?

Between these extremes lies another type of school:  the masters-granting institution.  In athletics, many of these schools fall into the “mid-major” category.  In academics, large numbers of professors work happily at these schools and large numbers of students earn degrees and go on to successful careers.  Some go on to earn Ph.D.s at R1s and then get jobs at liberal arts schools in order to cover as many types of institutions as possible.

Perhaps their location in the middle of the academic continuum is the reason that these schools do not receive the attention that seems to be warranted by the numbers of faculty they employ.  Because they fall in the middle, faculty need to be better at balancing research and teaching, as demands for both can be high relative to schools with a narrower focus.  In general, it seems that teaching loads are higher at mid-majors than at R1s and class sizes are larger than at liberal arts schools.  While there are sometimes graduate programs, faculty members are less likely to have graduate assistants to help with grading.  Fewer graduate students also means that faculty have fewer chances to coauthor with others who can do a large share of the work, despite having higher publication expectations than their peers at liberal arts schools.

I have often thought of a career at a mid-major as the worst of both worlds.  Higher expectations for publishing coupled with higher teaching loads and higher class sizes seem less than ideal.  It is possible that my attitudes toward life at a mid-major would be different if I had had the opportunity to learn more about working at one during conference panels and did not have to rely on my observations as an undergraduate.  Hopefully those who accept positions at these schools are able to find out enough about them while visiting campuses for interviews to make informed choices about job offers.  For those in graduate school, however, it would be nice if there were more opportunities to learn about the full range of academic jobs.

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(I’m not sure what the average lifespan of a Beatles song on YouTube is, but enjoy this post’s soundtrack while it lasts.)

In “Getting Better” by the Beatles the most comforting aspect may be that “it can’t get no worse.”  Unfortunately, this is not the case for the sociology job market.  The April issue of Footnotes highlights what anybody who knows someone on the job market this year can tell you: the job market sucks.  Beyond the problems associated with the ASA’s previous assessment of the job market (for example, it looked at raw numbers without considering the preferred institutional type and geographic location of candidates), the new report finds that the number of posted jobs has declined in each of the two years since 2006, stating “there was a 36-percent decline in listings between 2006 and 2007, and another 17-percent decline between 2007 and 2008.”  Overall, there was a 39.3% decline in listings for assistant professor positions between 2006 and 2008.  The complete comparison is below:

The Footnotes article notes that these numbers do not take the number of canceled jobs into account, so it is likely that the complete story is even bleaker.  Comparing the job market wikis from 2007 and 2008 there were over twice as many cancellations reported in 2008 (39 vs. 17 in 2007).  While the wikis are far from perfect, they do provide a rough estimate of what the ASA is likely to find when it surveys sociology departments about canceled searches.

At this point, lots of people have likely accepted that they are not going to have a job for the fall of 2009, so the question quickly becomes how the 2009 job market will shape up.  Spending freezes have been reported at schools across the country, which suggests that the number of jobs posted this fall will be even lower.  A slightly positive side effect may be that schools will wait until they know a position has funding before posting, so the numbers of cancellations may be down, saving some of the time and money that candidates put into cancelled positions last year.  When it can’t get no worse, it will get better.  Unfortunately, it can still get worse.

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If Maureen Dowd had waited a while longer she wouldn’t have had to ask the creators of Twitter to justify themselves.  The cartoon below is justification enough.

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It is comforting to know that while Cecilia and I may have no idea how to write a dissertation, there are always others who believe they have the answers we seek.  From Inside Higher Ed:

Large projects, such as an M.A. thesis, dissertation, book or just a long paper, can be daunting. For some of us, myself included, project management can be a challenge for any article written from scratch. This memo can help you break down your writing project into smaller, less intimidating parts. I will focus on the writing of a thesis or dissertation, but the same basic logic applies to even smaller writing tasks.

Unfortunately, like Lao-Tze, Gastil doesn’t say which keystroke to start with.

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I would guess that every graduate student knows at least one professor who is socially awkward.  In sociology, socially awkward professors must also deal with the irony of a life spent studying human behavior and social interaction.  While I have long been aware of the potential for awkwardness, I have considered myself fairly competent in social interactions relative to other graduate students.

Until I started writing my dissertation.

These days, social interactions with professors and other graduate students are rare.  When they occur, I find myself struggling to form complete, grammatically correct sentences.  In the event that I am able to speak a coherent sentence, it is typically unrelated to the sentence that follows.  The recognition of my increasing awkwardness does little to ease the transition.  I can see the return of Phaedrus but I am helpless to stop it.

To be fair to my dissertation, I have neither been on fellowship nor attempted to write a dissertation until this year.  Thus, the possibility remains that my decreasing social skills are the result of the decreased social contact that spending eight hours a day alone in a room allows.  On the other hand, during my failed interactions I have sometimes found myself thinking coherently about my dissertation.

In four months I will be done with my dissertation and will once again have daily interactions with students and colleagues.  With luck, this will reverse the onset of social awkwardness.  Considering the lack of social skills exhibited by some sociology professors, however, I have to wonder whether the process is truly reversible.  Perhaps they too once considered themselves fairly competent in social interactions relative to other graduate students.

Until they started writing their dissertations.

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On Tuesday Maureen Dowd published one of the worst interviews I’ve ever seen, in that she conducted an in-person interview with the creators of Twitter that read like a poorly-conducted e-mail interview (where all of the questions are predetermined and there is no possibility for follow-up).  Her position is evident in her column when she writes before the interview, “I sat down with Biz Stone, 35, and Evan Williams, 37, and asked them to justify themselves.”  Apparently, all of the people using Twitter are not justification enough.  Thankfully, Stone and Williams gave hilarious answers to Dowd’s stupid questions.  A sample:

ME: I heard about a woman who tweeted her father’s funeral. Whatever happened to private pain?

EVAN: I have private pain every day.

ME: If you were out with a girl and she started twittering about it in the middle, would that be a deal-breaker or a turn-on?

BIZ (dryly): In the middle of what?

ME: Do you ever think “I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?”

BIZ: If I said I was eating a hamburger, Evan would be surprised because I’m a vegan.

ME: Was there anything in your childhood that led you to want to destroy civilization as we know it?

BIZ: You mean enhance civilization, make it even better?

ME: What’s your favorite book?

BIZ: I loved Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid.

ME: But you’ve helped destroy mystery.

BIZ: When you put more information out there, sometimes you can just put a little bit of it out, which just makes the mystery even broader.

ME: Have you thought about using even fewer than 140 characters?

BIZ: I’ve seen people twitter in haiku only. Twit-u. James Buck, the student who was thrown into an Egyptian prison, just wrote “Arrested.”

ME: I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is there anything you can say to change my mind?

BIZ: Well, when you do find yourself in that position, you’re gonna want Twitter. You might want to type out the message “Help.”

Via: Daring Fireball

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A recent Inside Higher Ed post summarizes research by Susan K. Gardner, an assistant professor of higher ed at the University of Maine, on graduate student attrition.  Gardner interviewed students and professors in six departments and found that the faculty members largely blamed attrition on the students.

The top reasons faculty members cited were that students were lacking (53 percent), the student shouldn’t have enrolled in the first place (21 percent) or the student had personal problems (15 percent). …  “Not everybody who starts their Ph.D. is going to finish it and some are just not up to the job,” said one.  Several talked about students who lack enough drive.  “Some of them are not willing to work hard enough. …  I think it’s a lack of focus,” said one.

Reading this section of the summary, I recalled all of the times that professors in my program have noted that grad school is a marathon, not a sprint.  This platitude, however, appears to come with a few caveats, such as NIMC (not in my course) and NWYFCFMG (not when your funding comes from my grant) – as you may have noticed, some caveats are catchier than others.  For these professors, graduate school is a marathon when you are working on things for others and a sprint when you are working on things for them.

In my first year I was called into the office of a faculty member who closed the door and proceeded to ask what was wrong with me.  Apparently, halfway through my second semester the professor could already tell that I was deficient.  From my perspective, I was enormously successful.  I had made it through the first semester while completing my work and maintaining a healthy social life that allowed me to protect my sanity and prevented me from being overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done.  My only explanation is that this professor noticed I had slipped comfortably into my marathon pace, sprinting only when I fell behind due to procrastination, and wanted me to specialize in sprinting.  Another first year student was an excellent sprinter and left, completely burned out, after our second year.

Six years later I’m still here, alternately sprinting to finish dissertation drafts and then slowing to recover.  I was the first student in my cohort to find a job and one of two who will be graduating this year.  I think my professor meant to give me a pep talk that would cause me to pick up the pace, but looking at the rest of the pack I saw no reason to do so.  The funny thing is that if I had taken this advice I probably would have produced a better paper in the class but I’m not sure I would be here today.

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Worlds are colliding!

One of the featured items in Sunday’s “Today on MSN” section of the MSN web site was a link to interviews and performances with Ani DiFranco, linked below.  Worlds are colliding!

Interview, parts one, two, and three.

Songs: Present Infant, 32 Flavors, and Red Letter Year.

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