Archive for August, 2009

With job market season gearing up we get a fresh set of advice columns, such as this one from the Chronicle of Higher Education about how to get  a job at a liberal arts school.  This advice, while largely similar to what I’ve heard before at various conferences, seems to be aimed at two distinct crowds: those who are just starting to think about future job markets and those who have gotten a job and are in the negotiation stage.  As a grad student I knew early on what type of job I wanted and actively sought information that would be useful in that pursuit (I can’t believe how easy it is to talk about grad school in the past tense), so I suppose that having these distinct types of advice in one column is useful assuming students put it somewhere safe while they do things like getting teaching experience as a graduate student.

While students are doing the things that will make their CVs stand out from the crowd at application time (and possibly considering Jenn Lena’s recent advice on presentation of self), there is something else that I think can help job candidates or, at least, can’t hurt*: choosing a dissertation topic that is interesting to people in general (and, for bonus points, ties into one of these areas).  Obviously, this is something that needs to be done fairly early in one’s preparation for the job market, but I think that having a dissertation topic general enough that you can have a conversation with somebody about it while in line at the grocery store is incredibly helpful.

While I can’t say whether this was a factor in my own hiring, I would imagine that this is especially true at liberal arts schools where there are smaller numbers of faculty members and a greater need for people who can cover a wide range of topics in a way that is interesting to students.  Having an interesting topic has also been helpful as I’ve started to forge my post-grad, pre-tenure identity on campus.  I’ve spoken to a number of people who remember my CV because I’m “the person who studies clothing**.”  Because everybody wears clothing, everybody has something to say about it, giving me a chance to share my dissertation results and start conversations.  This isn’t to say that I think there is anything particularly wrong with studying thread, buttons, or cuff links, which may be fine topics in a large department where there is room for a variety of particular specialties.  When applying to a liberal arts school, however, don’t forget to talk about how the thread, buttons, or cuff links relate to the larger issue.  I would bet that not a lot of people in the grocery store want to hear about thread but most of them are interested in clothing.

*Note that because I’ve never been on a search committee, this advice is based on my own job market experiences combined with my experiences on campus in the short time since starting as an assistant professor.

**Clothing is a pseudonym for what I actually study.  Here’s a hint: I do not study pigeons, though pigeons have proven to be a successful dissertation topic for at least one person.

Read Full Post »

Students descended upon campus today for the first time since I’ve been in residence.  It was strange to see a small, quiet campus transform overnight into a small campus buzzing with activity.  I am really looking forward to getting into the classroom and interacting with these students after eight months of waiting.

Thankfully, none of my classes have what I consider to be too many students.  I was surprised recently to hear somebody complain about having 27 students instead of the expected 22.  I realize that, for a class of that size, five students is a 23% increase, but I cannot yet grasp the idea that 27 students can be too many.  Of course, I’ve been conditioned by teaching years of classes with between 50 and 80 students.  Maybe I need to bookmark this post and read it in a year or two when I find myself acclimated to my new environment and complaining to the registrar about every student over 20.

Read Full Post »

I’ve talked about aspects of the publication gauntlet before, but this account of Rick Trebino’s quest to publish a response to, and correction of, an incorrect publication makes you wonder if anybody would go to these lengths if the paper in question did not falsely invalidate their previous research.  For example:

How to CommentOuch.  Maybe I was being foolish when I assumed that my consideration of jobs pumping septic tanks would correspond with the end of graduate school.

Via: Wicked Anomie

Read Full Post »

Until a few weeks ago I had never had an office of my own.  Sure, I had shared some office space with a number of graduate students ranging from two to twenty, but I never had a desk, computer, or chair dedicated solely to my own use.

It is nice.

At my old university, office space was at a premium, especially for graduate students.  At my undergraduate institution it was even worse, with faculty members in a number of departments sharing office space.  I haven’t actually seen the offices of faculty members in any other departments at my new place of employment, but I’ve been told that ours are among the nicest.  My current office is about 50% larger than that of my undergraduate mentor, who had his own office but no window, and maybe 30% larger than that of my dissertation chair.

One function of having so much space is that what appeared to be a sizable academic book collection last year in my apartment leaves leagues of empty space on my office shelves.  I am hoping that another function of having my own office will be greatly increased productivity.  I have already found myself working in my office during the afternoon and wishing I could take a nap.  At home, I would have.  In my office… so far, so good.

Of course, should I ever feel overwhelmed by the need for a quick nap, I do have a door.  It sure beats this:

Image from Scanners.  The link also includes other iconic office settings.

Read Full Post »

Just about anybody who was on the job market last year, and especially anybody on the job market this year, can tell you that getting an academic job is hard.  If getting one academic job is hard, the prospect of getting two jobs in the same area (referred to as the two-body problem) appears to be exponentially harder.  My purpose is not to downplay the difficulty of finding two jobs in the same area or at the same institution.  Rather, I want to bring attention to the plight of the trailing partner.

Long ago (over a month and a half!) when I discussed the emptiness of a new location, I concluded by noting that this time I did not have to face the emptiness alone.  Enter the trailing partner.  In my case, as in countless others through the history of academia,  the trailing partner is a wife.  Although I tell myself that I would be happy to earn less money or stay at home full time, the fact is that I do not and I do not.  Years ago, I went to graduate school and my girlfriend eventually followed.  Then I got a job and my wife (the same person, despite the change in marital status) followed again.

For her, neither transition was easy.  No matter how hard the transition is for a leading partner, the fact that you are in control of your own future is comforting.  Trailing partners get no such comfort, despite efforts to include them in the decision-making process (my wife had veto power over the locations of the jobs I applied for and visited our current area with me before I accepted).  The fact is that the job market is difficult for everybody right now, making the prospect of leaving a job and a familiar place for the uncertainty of the new especially daunting.  Luckily, my wife was able to find a job more quickly than we anticipated, giving her a reason for being in this strange new place other than the noble but unfulfilling role of supporting my new career.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers regarding how couples can jointly make a decision that is determined by the job prospects of only one.  For now, I am glad that things have worked out as well as they have.  My only advice is that if you find yourself with a partner who is willing to move across the country, leaving everything and everyone he or she knows, so that you can accept an academic position, be grateful.

Read Full Post »

As discussed by Jenn Lena and others, Beloit College has released its “Mindset List*” for the incoming class of 2013, born largely in 1991.   I’m sure that this list is intended to shock the greying professors who can’t imagine a world in which Planet Hollywood didn’t exist, but it does basically nothing for me (maybe it will have some effect in 2028 when Beloit tells me that the entering class of 2032 has never lived in a world in which Michael Jackson was alive).  To me, thinking about the way things have changed for those born in 1991 is best accomplished by thinking about my own 1991 self.  For example, in 1991:

  • Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten were released but I was too busy listening to Vanilla Ice to notice.
  • My family did not have a computer.
  • I knew only one person whose family had a cell phone, but it was called a “car phone” because that’s where it was kept and, once in a great while, used.
  • I spent my free time playing Super Nintendo games that included Sim City, ancestor of The Sims.
  • Summer was equated with freedom, not the chance to catch up on work.

The fact that these experiences seem to have happened so long ago (indeed, nearly 2/3 of my life have passed since then) is more striking to me than most of the junk that Beloit came up with (how many incoming freshmen are really aware that members of Congress cannot give themselves midterm raises, or that they once could?).  Maybe Beloit should just release a statement every year saying “Think about your life in 19XX.  Now turn on a pop radio station, sign in to Facebook, and watch the number one movie in the country, because none of that means anything to your students.”

*Incidentally, the font used for the “Mindset List” heading looks like something I might have thought was cool in 1991.

Read Full Post »

At the recent ASA conference in San Francisco, I was reminded that, as audience members, professors are typically no better, and in some cases much worse, than students.  I am continually amazed during presentations when professors enter late, talk among themselves, and leave early.  I’m also amazed that these professors do not appear to connect their disrespectful behavior to that of their students.

I suspect that they fail to make this connection because they do not believe they are being disrespectful.  Rather, the professors who enter a room late probably believe that they were doing Something Important, those who talk to others during a presentation probably believe that they are discussing Something Important, and those who leave early probably believe that they have Something Important to get to.  At a conference, these Important Things may be discussions of research but they are just as likely to be discussions with the other survivors of one’s graduate program.

In this way, students are not as different as they may seem.  When students enter a class late, talk during class, or leave early they sometimes have what we consider good reasons.  Maybe they were meeting with another professor after class, clarifying something we had discussed, or needed to get to work on time.  In other cases, however, we fail to see the value in student activities.  Students may have been talking to friends in the hallway, discussing plans for the weekend, or trying to get to the cafeteria early.  Like the professors catching up at old times during a session at ASA, though, students consider these to be Important Things.  Thus, the difference between important and inane, networking and nonsense appears to be a Ph.D.

Read Full Post »

The following video is useful for a class discussion about the difference between scientific and non-scientific polls.  99% of you agree that it is also useful for your enjoyment.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Read Full Post »

Based on my publication record I think it is safe to say that nobody who doesn’t already know me would recognize my name from my work.  This has never posed a problem at conferences when people tag check me because, until now, every time I’ve attended an academic conference my nametag has carried the name of a school with a top-25 sociology program.  This year at ASA, however, instead of a nametag that said, “John Smith, Top-25 Program,” I had one that said “John Smith, SLAC You’ve Never Heard Of.”

I don’t mean to diminish the novelty of being affiliated with an institution of higher learning that is going to pay me with actual money.  I am happy to be affiliated with SLAC You’ve Never Heard Of, as the multitudes of people I showed my faculty ID can affirm.  Rather, what this experience made clear to me is that my reputation is now in my own hands.  People will no longer smile approvingly when they see Top-25 Program on my nametag.  If they smile approvingly it is going to be because they know me, they’re drunk, or they’ve read my work and it didn’t suck.  If the pressure of making a name for myself wasn’t enough, I also realized that because they have no prior knowledge, people will likely be judging SLAC You’ve Never Heard Of based on my work.  So much for a taking a break after finishing my dissertation.

Read Full Post »

Every time I go to a conference I experience the academic equivalent of somebody checking me out.  That is, their eyes make contact with mine and then drift down to my nametag, before returning to my face.  I’m sure that this behavior is sometimes indicative of the sort of status game that many ascribe to it.  Most of the time, however, I think that those who have been “tag checked” project their own feelings onto the interaction (similar to my belief about candidates at the employment service).  The thing is, I tag check people all the time and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with a desire for status.  When I am at a conference I’m constantly trying to connect names with faces and remember if the familiar face I see is somebody I’ve met or merely looks like somebody I’ve met.  Given my new institutional affiliation (to which the most common reaction at ASA was, “I’ve never heard of that”), I doubt that anybody will suspect me of playing the status game.  In the future I’ll likely have to remind myself that the fact that somebody is affiliated with a school I’ve heard of does not mean they don’t want to talk to me because I’m from a school that they haven’t heard of.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »