Archive for January, 2011

Other than my occasional doubts about whether I would be better off in grad school or working as a mail carrier (for the record, I never considered working at McDonald’s), a lack of self-confidence has never been among my problems.  Maybe this is why I have a particularly hard time dealing with excellent students that have no belief in their abilities whatsoever.  One particular student recently earned the highest grade in one of my toughest courses but argued that she “didn’t know enough” to serve as a tutor for the course.  Another student, who is my advisee, recently approached me to discuss dropping a course because it required the use of some research methods that he had not yet learned.  Although I (knowing that he is an excellent student) advised him against this decision and the professor told him that he should have no problem with the course, he decided to drop it.  Rather than an isolated case, this student runs from anything that goes even a bit beyond his comfort level.  Barring a “Biggest Loser” style emotional breakdown in which he reveals that his parents have never believed in him, I have no idea at this early stage of my advising career how to demonstrate to a student with a 3.8 GPA that he just might be intelligent.

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First up, this blog (via Daring Fireball) that plays on Elaine’s complaint that cartoons in the New Yorker aren’t funny by replacing the original captions with literal versions that are actually humorous.  For example:

That doorknob is fucking huge.

Next we have a YouTube trailer for a tale of power and betrayal:

I think I would actually watch that, though it probably doesn’t have the nudity of Rochelle, Rochelle or the explosions of Chunnel.

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A recent article at Inside Higher Ed attributes the continual attainment of Ph.D.s despite the lack of jobs as the result of search for “smugness,” stating in part:

Take two reasonably intelligent 25-year-olds, both with undergraduate degrees. One, Aphron, goes the way of Mammon, getting a job and spending the next decade as a salaryman — first at a low level, but by year 10 well-advanced in the hierarchy, doing pretty well. The other seeks a Ph.D. — call him Metis — and spends eight years lurking outside his dissertation director’s office followed by two years actually writing. The Economist would tell you that the Aphron is in materially better shape.

But what about spiritually? Ego-wise? Qua a fully-formed human being? There’s where the Metis, Ph.D., holds all the cards. Aphron spent 10 years getting and spending so as to fill the hole in his center. A decade out of school he careens from one excellent meal to the next, from one satisfying Caribbean vacation to another, from a well-heated home in January to a well-cooled one in July, no closer to fulfillment than when he started. Metis, however, has done something less than 1 percent of Americans have done — climbed the mountain of the academy and planted his flag. In conversations with Aphron he can parry chatter about the trouble with tax shelters with something high-minded about myxobacteria or heteroglossia or dark matter. Dark matter!

This reminds me of one of the skits on Kanye West’s The College Dropout:

My question is, can we also extend this explanation to the adjunctification of higher education?  Could it be that those without Ph.D.s, including the general public as well as our elected officials, argue for cutting education budgets as payback for our smugness?

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While I typically follow the job market vicariously through friends who are experiencing it, once in a while I get pulled back into the Rumor Mill again.  One person posted a link to a recent Chronicle article about “Why your last hire was a freakin’ disaster” that looks at the job market from the perspective of outcomes.  Berlinerblau (is that a real name?) even indulges in my recent pastime of making up numbers to state that: “For every 10 hires, I would estimate, 2.2 are ultimately “keepers”; three are “indiscretions”; as regards the other 4.5, well, the less said the better. (As for the remaining three-tenths, they failed to apprise you of their actual visa status and never made it back to the States).”

I’m not sure if those on the job market will, as the original poster states, find it comforting that the practices of search committees are so random or if they will simply use this as another data point to conclude that they were, in fact, better than the candidate who eventually got the job (though in some cases, they were clearly not).

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Due to the move to Las Vegas, I wasn’t initially sure if I wanted to submit something for this year’s ASA conference.  In the end, the promise of not having to leave Caesar’s Palace and the opportunity to play blackjack with some “famous” sociologist won me over.  (Well, that and the fact that my wife has never been to Vegas and wanted to go.)  Given this decision, I was faced with the reality that I needed something to submit.  The fact that the ASA requires a complete draft nearly seven months before the conference takes place has always been annoying.  Further, the number of sessions I’ve attended that were absolutely painful to sit through suggests that this practice does not, in fact, improve the quality of the end result.  I don’t know why they require a full paper (better quality? fewer no-shows and cancellations? because they hate us?) but I suspect that it may have a negative effect on paper quality, if the cobbled-together paper that I submitted this morning is any indication.  To the best of my guessing ability, these are the four types of submissions that ASA receives:

  • Cobbled-together crap (25%) – These papers are submitted by grad students interested in padding their C.V.s and people like me who’s conference funding depends on the presentation of a paper.  Hopefully, most of these papers end up at roundtables.  Chance of future publication: 0%
  • Flawed papers (50%) – These are papers that, for a variety of reasons, are not suitable for peer-reviewed publication.  This includes, but is not limited to, exploratory papers with small samples, papers that make no contribution to the literature, and papers with undergraduate students.  Chance of future publication: 1%
  • Completed research papers (5%) – These papers were completed during the fall semester by people who can afford to wait a few weeks before submitting them to peer-reviewed journals.  This submission likely takes place the day after the ASA deadline.  In rare cases, these papers appear in print before ASA.  Chance of future publication: 80%
  • Papers with promise (20%) – These are papers that could be revised for submission to a journal in the future.  Of these, about half will likely never be submitted because they were written by people, like me, for whom conference presentations count as “scholarly activity.”  Others will be submitted within a year after the ASA conference at which they were originally presented by those at more research-intensive schools whose teaching loads allow them to spend actual time on research.  Finally, a few of these papers will spend time on every burner and eventually make it to publicationChance of future publication: 30%

Combined, these completely made up numbers suggest that about 10.5% of ASA submissions in a given year will eventually be published in a peer reviewed journal.  Given the crap I’ve seen (and submitted) to ASA, that sounds about right.

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As announced yesterday, this year’s ASA will be held in Las Vegas.  August in Las Vegas.  According to Weather.com, the average August temperature in Las Vegas is 102.  Granted, having everything under the Caesar’s Palace roof will make it easier to avoid the heat, but I don’t typically enjoy the experience of walking outside into what feels like a blast furnace.  Incidentally, the only time I’ve been to Vegas was also in the summer.  If you’ve never been to Vegas and are unsure of whether or not you want to deal with the heat, I have one piece of advice: ignore anybody that tells you that “it’s a dry heat.”  You know what other heat is dry?  Your oven.  Would you claim that it isn’t hot?  Of course not.  102 degrees is hot, period.

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When I see researchers use the terms “pilot study” in the titles of published works I have the same reaction as I do when I see websites with the “beta” label.  The aim of both seems to be to deflect criticism.  For example: “of course my sample size was small, it is a pilot study” is the academic equivalent of “I’m sorry that your files were deleted, the website is still in beta.”  To academics, I say that it does not matter if you intend to do more extensive work in the future.  If you’re publishing it, it is just a study.  To webmasters, I say that if you are allowing everybody in the world to use your website it isn’t in beta, it is just your website.

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