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Archive for June, 2009

As an elementary and high school student I developed a bad habit of waiting until the last minute to complete assignments.  At various times I considered starting earlier, but I decided against the extra effort since I was able to get As and A-minuses when starting things at the last minute.  In college I had to work harder to maintain good grades but I still left paper writing until the last minute, typically making an outline two days before a deadline and writing the paper the evening before the deadline, priding myself on the fact that I never had to stay up all night working.

These tactics worked.  My high school and undergraduate GPAs were the same and I got into grad school, where I ran into problems.  As you probably know, writing a course paper in graduate school takes a lot more work than writing a five-page undergraduate paper.  Obviously, I couldn’t start the day before a deadline, but despite my good intentions to start working on papers early in the semester, I ended up waiting until a few weeks remained.  A few times I even stayed up all night.

Then came the dissertation, which was obviously unlike anything I’d previously written.  After setting deadlines for each chapter with my advisor, I found myself using my grad school paper-writing tactics with each one.  This time, I missed a few deadlines.  Thankfully, my advisor understood how to motivate me and the chapters eventually got done, then revised, and then submitted to my committee members.  When I originally set the “complete draft” deadline I was sure that I would be able to meet it.  In retrospect, however, the fact that I met this deadline without substantially changing my poor writing habits is surprising.  Until now, my ability to do “okay” writing in a short period of time has been both a blessing and a curse.  As I’ve gotten older, though, the “blessing” aspect has been largely supplanted by the “curse” aspect.  Sine I’ll soon be working toward tenure it seems that a change in work habits may be in order.

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It seems that Wicked Anomie, like me, is constantly coming across resources that would be good for use as class examples, supplemental readings, etc.  Unlike me, she decided to come up with a scheme for keeping track of these things.  As discussed here, she decided to use the tagging function of Google Reader to track blog posts.  She has also shared her tags, so you can see the examples she has come across in her feeds.

This will either inspire me to track things in a more formal way than my current “bookmark and/or save as PDF” method or cause me to hope that she teaches the same classes as I do so that I can rely on whatever examples she comes across.

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Across the country, prospective job candidates are beginning to put vague ideas into Microsoft Word that will be shaped into cover letter templates, teaching statements, writing samples, and research statements over the next few months.  Since January I have written a lot about the sociology job market and my experiences with it, but I think that a general compilation of things I’ve come across in the past year or so will be helpful to those who are gearing up for an intense autumn.

As a sociologist, you may want to start with the ASA’s job market resources, although they cost  money, so you may be better served by reading blogs and going to the various “how to get a job” sessions in San Fransisco.

Beyond this, I think that it is helpful to read about the experiences of others who have gone on the market.  By seeing both the good and the bad, you’ll have a better sense of what you’re getting yourself into.  For this, the Chronicle of Higher Education is a good resource.

For general job market advice, Wicked Anomie has a great post and some good things are available from the Sociologists for Women in Society (there is also some good information in the advice column section of their site).  Finally, the Tomorrow’s Professor newsletter has a number of job-related posts.

After you’ve hardened yourself in preparation for the road ahead with general information, you can consider your first opportunity to interact with potential employers at the ASA employment service.  As noted before, this has been discussed at Scatterplot and on this blog.

Before applying for jobs, you will likely want to check out the rankings, keeping in mind that rankings aren’t everything.  The US News grad school rankings are here and general undergrad rankings are here.

Beyond the rankings, a sense of whether a school is likely to pay enough for you to live on Long Island or in Claremont, CA is obviously important.  You can search the AAUP’s faculty salary survey here.

Once you have applied, you will hopefully be invited to interviews where these tips from Wicked Anomie and these reflections from Pitse1eh will come in handy.  You can also prepare answers to frequently asked questions and be prepared to ask some questions yourself.

If you can stomach it, there is also the job market message board, which replaces the job market blog for 09-10.

I think that the most important thing to remember about the job market is that it is a long, difficult time during which most things are out of your control.  Once you’ve mailed an application, you have done all that you can, so make sure that your applications are as good as they can be and try not to think about them once they are out of your hands.  With luck, by this time next year you’ll be writing a blog giving people advice about the job market.

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Given all of the attention that former princess of Genovia received for her role in Rachel Getting Married, I figured that I should check it out.  While Obama’s election does not mean that we live in a post-racial society, the characters in Rachel Getting Married apparently do.  In a movie with characters from as many racial and ethnic backgrounds as the casting director could find, there is no racial tension or even a mention of race.  As Mixed Race America notes:

According to the DVD extras (on the “making of” segment) as well as this LA Times article featuring Jenny Lumet (daughter of white-Jewish director Sidney Lumet and maternal grand-daughter of Lena Horne), the polyglot of races, ethnicities, and cultures was no coincidence–the director/producer/writer wanted to show life as they knew it–which included having friends and family who were diverse in terms of race, sexuality, age, and a host of other factors. Of course, as my friend “B” pointed out, as much as both Lumet and one of the producers claimed that their friends were this “diverse”–the truth is, most Americans probably wouldn’t boast a wedding party that was quite as diverse as the one featured in this film (which included an inexplicable “Indian” theme for the wedding, Brazilian carnival dancers, Eastern European stringed instruments, and a host of very artistic/arty folks just strumming and humming and singing and jamming their way through the film).

Indeed, the setting for this movie is so post-racial that it is a distraction from the plot, which did not need to be weighed down by the movie’s imagery.  In addition to the post-racial aspect, the happy couple’s rehearsal dinner consists of their friends and family standing on a stage and making speeches, singing songs, playing various musical instruments, and reading poetry.  Perhaps what bothered me the most was that there was no character willing to stand up and shout “we can’t just take the aspects that we like from every group of people on Earth and appropriate them for this wedding without giving something back!”

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After appearing on conservative blogs and the Colbert Report, she shows up in a high school commencement address:

Via what is the what

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When entering graduate school a lot of students probably dream of working at high-ranking R1s or liberal arts schools.  I’ve already discussed the overlooked middle option, but I think it is also important to consider careers at community colleges.  While community college life is not for everybody (neither is R1 life!), I taught a few classes as an adjunct at a small commuter college in a department with only one tenure-track sociologist and found it to be a rewarding experience.  It was helpful to teach sociology to a group of students who had seen some of the negative effects of social structures firsthand.  I also liked the mix of ages and backgrounds, which provided a lot of interesting anecdotes when I asked students to illustrate class concepts.

Although this has been debated recently, another potential benefit of working at a community college is that you don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to do so.  If teaching is what you love and want to do, you may be able to start your career much sooner than those who earn a Ph.D.  While I only have a few experiences with schools such as these, another recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education gives an interesting look at life at a community college, and the useful life experiences the author gained in lieu of a Ph.D.:

My job: Carry a 5/5/4 teaching load with three preps, sometimes four. Be ready to get three different courses into shape on four days’ notice. Be ready to teach composition, Homer, research skills, Mark Twain, a little public speaking, Dante, computer skills, T.S. Eliot, grammar, Hemingway, critical reading, Voltaire, business writing, Emily Dickinson, basic prosody, Flannery O’Connor, basic literary analysis, and whatever else needs teaching, off the top of my head if necessary (and yes, I’ve taught all of those in one academic year). Advise 50 students, 48 of whom are the first in their families to set foot on a college campus, 35 of whom are the first to finish high school. Serve on committees. Tutor students. Do whatever community-relations work the boss needs me to do. Endure enough professional-development activities to keep my superiors happy. Take care of all my own typing and most of my copying. Help students deal with the bureaucracy and our baffling computer systems.

Sometimes I counsel students in nonacademic matters. Sometimes I just listen to them. Some say things like “I’m just a dumb redneck” and “I know I’m too stupid to do this.” They apologize for asking for help. The mothers — and half of my students are mothers — never tire of talking about kids and their problems. Sometimes I wonder how the hell a 20-year-old single woman who has a baby and cancer manages to get out of bed in the morning, much less come to class. I’ve held babies so that students could rummage in diaper bags to find the essays they wanted me to critique.

Since our maintenance department might lose a race with a tranquilized slug, I also fix things. Thanks to me, the door of the faculty men’s room closes. I made the campus-safety department a better tool for opening vehicle doors when students lock their keys in their cars. When the wheels of our housekeeper’s cart begin to squeal so loudly that I can hear them over the Led Zeppelin playing in my office, I oil the bearings to get her through another few months. I fixed the office labelmaker. When the paper cutter stopped cutting, I brought the blade home and sharpened it with my Dremel tool.

I’ve changed flat tires for students, jump-started their cars, cleaned and tightened battery terminals, diagnosed c-v joint problems, spliced broken wires, and added most of the important fluids to their vehicles. Some students have no one — or at least no one competent — to help them with such things. So besides teaching them the right punctuation to use with conjunctive adverbs, I also teach them that Toyotas and Hondas don’t take the same power-steering fluid and that GM and Chrysler products need different kinds of transmission fluid.

Welcome to community-college teaching.

Incidentally, the Chronicle has an entire series of articles on “The Two-Year Track,” and candidates interested in applying for these sorts of jobs might also want to check out this advice for interviewing at a community college.

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In addition to being flexible, another lesson I have learned from an anti-mentor (people who have mentoring styles that cause you to vow never to mentor students in that way) is that students’ time is valuable.  As such, they deserve a professor’s full attention during meetings.  Professors should not check e-mail or answer the phone during meetings.  Finally, if a student wants to arrange a meeting, professors should do so rather than telling the student to “stop by during office hours” when there is likely to be a line of students waiting for a meeting because they were told the same thing.

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In seven years as a graduate student I’ve had a lot of time to think about what makes somebody a good mentor.  I’ve even served on committees for the purpose of awarding good mentoring.  Since I started teaching, I’ve also had a few opportunities to serve as a mentor myself, both to my own students and to incoming graduate students in my program.  I consider myself lucky to have had excellent mentors throughout my academic career, which I hope will continue when I begin as an assistant professor in the fall.  These excellent mentors have instilled in me beliefs about what mentors should do.  For example, whenever a professor and a student (graduate or undergraduate) are meeting for food or (non-alcoholic) drink, the professor should pay.  Unfortunately, my graduate student salary has prevented me from acting on this belief with my current mentees, but I plan to start doing so as soon as I get my first real check.

Even more than my mentors, however, I have developed beliefs about what mentors should do based on my anti-mentors.  Female Science Professor has discussed anti-mentors in the past, but my conception of the term is different.  While she describes anti-mentors as “people who actively try to discourage you, but not out of kindness or wisdom,” I think of them as people who have mentoring styles that cause you to vow never to mentor students in that way.  I’ve mentioned a particular experience with an anti-mentor before.  At times over the years, I’ve watched his interactions with his students and felt glad that this early experience led me to avoid him.  While his mentoring style is very hands-on, I prefer somebody who can provide advice when I ask for it along with gentle nudges to keep me on track.

In this way my dissertation advisor is a perfect match.  When I met with her on the day that an early draft of a dissertation chapter was due but had not completed the draft, she didn’t reprimand me.  We talked about a few other things and then I left, promising to send her the draft soon.  I left her office feeling like I had let her down, despite the fact that she didn’t seem let down at all.  Without saying a word, she motivated me more than a stern lecture from the professor above.

Comparing my mentor and anti-mentor, I am struck by the fact that the most important aspect of mentoring appears to be flexibility.  The anti-mentor is the type of person that you describe to incoming graduate students as “a great mentor… for those who prefer his mentoring style” while my dissertation advisor can be described as “a great mentor.”  While she uses a hands-off style with me, meeting as needed, there are other students with whom she meets every week to provide hands-on feedback and support.  Students need different forms of mentoring and, especially in a small department, professors need to work to provide what they need.  Of course, without the anti-mentor I may not have realized this.  I suppose that stern lecture did me some good after all.

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After reading the recent Female Science Professor (FSP) post “Why & Me,” which summarizes FSP’s transition from “I blog because I am angry” to “I keep blogging because it is fun,” I decided to read some of the posts that started it all.  While browsing I came across a post focused broadly on looking for academic jobs when you already have one.  In FSP’s case, the goal was to solve the “two body problem,” but she also mentions using outside offers to increase one’s salary and prestige.  It was her final point, and the article and research it linked to, however, that caught my attention:

I have been very lucky that all the places I have been academically employed have been ‘good enough’ to lead to other opportunities. There was a recent study about whether there really are dead end academic jobs (Roach Motel Colleges, Slate.com, http://www.slate.com/id/2142489/), and, if you accept the parameters of the study, I guess there are. I think it’s quite possible to be happy at a Roach Motel College, though. My husband and I disagree about this (perhaps more on that later).

The Slate article that she refers to summarizes research by an economist (Oyer 2006) examines the careers of graduate students with similar records who got “better” or “worse” jobs (in terms of rankings) because they went on the job market in particularly good (when a lot of high-ranking schools were hiring) and bad (when not many high-ranking schools were hiring) years.  Slate summarizes the research like so:

[F]ive years into their respective careers, members of the boom cohorts are more likely to hold good jobs at Top 50 institutions than similar candidates entering the job market in bust years. In general, about a quarter of elite Ph.D.s end up at first-tier institutions. Starting one’s career in a boom year raises the probability of ending up at a Top 50 department by between 40 and 60 percent.

Boom-year graduates don’t end up in better jobs arbitrarily. Along the way they publish more articles that are more influential. Despite their elite credentials when hired, more than a third of the econ Ph.D.s in Oyer’s study had not published anything 10 years after graduation. The other two-thirds had published an average of 6.2 articles. Starting at a Top 50 institution raised that total by roughly a factor of two.

What about the effect on publication in the best-regarded journals—the only way to earn real street cred in the field? Most economists never crack these outlets in their entire careers. But an initial job in a Top 50 institution has an enormous impact, raising the probability of publishing in one of the top five journals by a whopping 50 percent. So, quality of the first job really matters.

The idea that those at higher-ranking institutions that have higher publication expectations publish more shouldn’t be surprising to any sociologist who is familiar with Lieberman’s (1956) work on role theory, which found that the attitudes of factory workers were tied to their positions, such that those who became foremen had higher opinions of management and those who became union representatives had higher opinions of the union.  In fact, I’ve thought about this in relation to my own career.  Slate’s summary, however, ignores the idea that working at a higher-ranking institution with higher publication expectations may not be “better” for everybody (an idea that I have been attempting to make clear to those entering the academic job market).  Instead, Slate seems to take a Good Will Hunting approach to maximizing your potential:

The idea that Will needs to take advantage of his chance at a “better” life is interesting because Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, argues that he is perfectly happy working at a community college while his college roommate is a high-profile mathematician at MIT.  I suppose that the takeaway point from all of this is that if you really want a high-prestige job, go on the market in the best year possible in order to maximize your ability to attain one, because without the corresponding pressures to publish you are unlikely to achieve the high profile in the academic world that you desire.  Of course, there are examples of those who have “published their way out of” low-ranking jobs, but these individuals appear to be rare.  If you end up at a lower-ranking institution you might find that you are much less likely to attain this prestige, but you might also realize that you never really needed it.

References:

Lieberman, Seymour.  1956.  “The Effects of Changes in Roles on the Attitudes of Role Occupants.”  Human Relations 9:385-402.

Oyer, Paul.  2006.  “Initial Labor Market Conditions and Long-Term Outcomes for Economists.”  Journal of Economic Perspectives 20:143-160.

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If nothing else, the process of writing a dissertation has given me a new appreciation for those who write books.  Although I don’t have the production of journal articles down to a science, I’ve gotten pretty good at writing coherent papers between five and 20 pages in length.  My dissertation has been like writing six of those papers and hoping that they magically coalesce into something cohesive in the end.

While I can’t be sure without writing a book for comparison, I think that the biggest reason for my frustration has been that going on the job market ABD prevented me from completing my analysis before I began writing.  Instead, I did some analyses and wrote a chapter based on them, then did some more analyses and wrote a chapter based on them, etc.  As a result, when I started writing a chapter I had no idea how it fit into the larger whole other than the fact that it came from the same dataset as my other chapters eventually would.  Working in this way, it was impossible to create a simple outline of my entire dissertation, much less something like this.

Despite the cohesion problem, my dissertation is nearly complete and my advisor recently told me that neither of us would be embarrased by the finished product.  I’ve always been an advocate for the idea that as long as you have a job lined up, a good dissertation is a done dissertation, so this reassurance (back-handed compliment?) was all I needed to hear.  Thankfully, I have not gotten to the point of being sick of my data, as publications based on my dissertation will likely require substantial revisions.  At least I won’t have to worry about whether or not they fit into any sort of larger work!

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