Archive for January, 2012

The other day I posted my ten favorite posts from the past three years. One thing I’ve been interested in during this time is how people end up here. The ten most-viewed posts from the past three years give some interesting insight into how that happens. There is also relatively little overlap with my ten favorite posts, reinforcing the idea that people will do what they want with what you’ve created. While I would like people to come here because they want to read “Inequality as a room on fire,” then, they’re more likely to come here looking for demeaning pictures of women. The ten most-viewed posts for the past three years were:

1. Sexism sells

This is the most-viewed post by quite a large margin due largely to the search terms that end up leading people to it. “Matchbox” is the number two overall search term and “big women,” “women and cars,” and “small women” are also in the top ten. I think it is safe to say that most people who arrive here after searching for one of those terms leave disappointed.

2. I don’t date sociology majors

This post’s popularity is a combination of the number one search term (“I don’t date sociology majors”) and a link from the political science job rumor forum.

3. PowerPoint, podcasts, and ending the illusion of student reading

This is one of two posts that appears on my list of favorites. I tried to make an important point here so I’m glad that it has been read quite a few times.

4. Turning down a tenure track job

I sometimes wonder if I would have made the same decision if I had known how bad the job market really was in 2008-09. With the benefit of hindsight, I definitely made the right choice.

5. Ten years of Office Space

“Office Space” and “Office Space Poster” are also in the top ten search terms.

6. Floundering on fellowship

Another one of my personal favorites. I’m still suffering from Major Procrastination Disorder.

7. STFU, Students!

These sentiments must still be true since they keep showing up in my dreams.

8. Bad reviews

There’s nothing like a mention on Scatterplot to make you realize how few readers you normally have.

9. The world’s most offensive Christmas song

I have to admit that I may have propped this one up by linking to it again a year later, but it needed to be said. Plan for it to become a Christmas tradition.

10. A compilation of job market resources and advice

I hope that some of these links still work, since “Sociology job market” is the third most popular search term!

One More Thing: The other SLACs

If you type “SLAC” into your browser’s address bar and hit “enter” with the intention of arriving at this site, you may end up at one of these other SLACs instead:



Read Full Post »

A lot has changed since my first post three years ago. Parts of the transition from ABD with a job offer to third-year assistant professor at a small liberal arts college have gone the way I expected while others have not. I’ve decided to celebrate the past three years with an early-career retrospective of my ten favorite posts from this time period. When selecting them I was happy to see that they were distributed fairly evenly so that I didn’t end up with a Pearl Jam Twenty situation in which most of the attention is focused on the first 25% of the overall time period. The fact that it was hard to narrow the selection down to ten posts probably speaks more to my self importance than the quality of my posts, but without that self importance I probably would have never started a blog!

My ten favorite posts, in chronological order:

Read Full Post »

I’ve mentioned before that I was able to become involved in local government last summer. After being part of a local government subcommittee for the past six months, including biweekly meetings, I have a number of thoughts on the experience so far. In addition to my initial surprise at how quickly local government can move (especially compared to the glacial pace I am used to for on-campus projects), I’ve also been surprised by how useless I am during meetings. Most of the other subcommittee members are stakeholders in various organizations that are working together on the project, making the suggestions I might have based on research less useful than those of people who have been dealing with these issues in the community for years.

Ironically, my uselessness is at its worst when the committee tries to involve me in the conversation. Because I represent a local college and my college has expressed interest in helping with the task in some form, members of my committee rightfully see me as a representative who should know what sorts of involvement the college has been discussing. Unfortunately, I don’t. The discussions about my college’s involvement have taken place between administrators and the person who sent the initial invitation to work on the committee. This person is not on my subcommittee and rarely communicates with me about the campus-level discussion, which causes me (and likely the other committee members) some frustration. The duplication of discussions from one meeting to the next is also a source of frustration, since our meetings have the potential to be half as long but equally productive.

Having persevered through six months of frustration, I have hopes that these patterns will change now that we are moving from the “planning” and phase of our project to the “starting work” phase. As a part of this transition there may be more room for academic research to support the experiences of the other committee members. I should also note that a colleague who has worked on a number of local government projects reports that my experiences on this committee have been abnormal. She reported that her previous experiences typically consisted of three or four people working on a much smaller project, compared to the fifteen people on my particular subcommittee. She’s also done some consulting for which she actually got paid, so I imagine that her opinions were valued a bit more highly in those circumstances. I wouldn’t turn down payment, but I would settle for feeling a bit more valuable.

Read Full Post »

Two and a half years ago I faced an adjustment from teaching one or two courses per semester as a graduate student to teaching three courses per semester as a new assistant professor. My first semester taught me that I didn’t like preparing for MWF classes and that I didn’t have any time for research. In my second year I started my advising and service duties, adding additional off-campus involvement this year. In that time period I still haven’t had any time for research. Through the first two and a half years there has also been another factor contributing to my lack of research productivity: the fact that I have had at least one new course to prepare each semester.

After teaching seven different courses in the past two and a half years, this semester I’ve finally arrived at a point where none of my courses are new. Although one of my courses will require some changes from the last time I taught it, I will not need to spend my out-of-class time two days a week preparing for it. Hypothetically, this means that I will have some time for the numerous papers that I would like to finish up and send out for review. In order to use it productively, however, the increased time that I will have will likely need to be accompanied by a different approach to time management. In the past, I’ve set aside time for class prep and tried to squeeze in research whenever I could (typically when I was facing some sort of deadline). The problem with this approach was that when I wasn’t facing a deadline I often felt like I was “done” with my work when my class prep, meetings, and committee work were complete. This semester I plan to be much more deliberate about scheduling research time. Hopefully I will be able to make the most of the sorts of schedules my tenured colleagues have been enjoying for the past two and a  half years.

Read Full Post »

A few years ago when a larger, textbook-sized version of the Kindle was released I called it “the beginning of the end for textbooks.” While the Kindle DX still exists, it is not currently advertised as a part of the “Kindle Family” on the Amazon homepage. Bigger, it seems, is not necessarily more popular. Two years ago, Apple unveiled the iPad, which also had potential for supplanting textbooks through its color screen and Apple’s media connections. Last week, Apple took its biggest step yet in that direction, revealing an updated version of its iBooks software (conveniently named “iBooks 2”) that is designed to make it easier to create textbook content for iPads. This extends beyond large companies to individuals who want to format course materials by embedding things like media and PDFs.

Given complaints about the (ever-increasing) costs of textbooks, the idea that digitized textbooks could be cheaper for students is promising. Of course, digitized textbooks give publishers more control over their product by reducing or eliminating students’ ability to resell their books at the end of the semester. Digitized textbooks, whether through an iPad, a Kindle, or a Nook, also increase the up-front costs for students to varying degrees. This may not be an issue for college students, who spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks in a given semester, but cost is a serious barrier to the adoption of digitized textbooks at the K-12 levels (and is even more problematic when damage and replacement costs are considered). I’m also in agreement with Kieran at Crooked Timber that we likely do not need videos and other crap clogging up our educational materials (as in Al Gore’s iPad “book”).

Two years after its announcement, I still don’t have an iPad. I’m actually much more interested in the ability to read and annotate PDF versions of journal articles than I am in the ability to create media-rich readings for my students. Nevertheless, I still think that my prediction from the iPad’s reveal could come true. At the time, I wrote, “In 2015 I’ll probably look back at this post from my own iPad while my students complete the course readings and take class notes on their own iPads and laugh at how foolish I was.” If prices can come down and devices like these can achieve ubiquity among students, last week’s Apple announcement may become the middle of the end for traditional textbooks.

Read Full Post »

Although I’ve been teaching college students for years they’ve only recently started appearing in my dreams. First, there was the pre-ASA dream in which students were talking amongst themselves on the first day of class instead of listening attentively to the details of my exciting syllabus. Then, over winter break, I had two more dreams about frustrating students.

The first was similar to my dream this summer. In the dream it was the first day of the semester and I was going over the syllabus when I realized that I hadn’t prepared the course web page. I was angry with myself for forgetting to prepare for class (I ended up showing them the web page from the previous time I taught the course) but this anger quickly shifted to my students, who were talking to each other from opposite sides of the classroom despite my efforts to discuss the syllabus. Upon waking I realized that both the classroom and the students were unfamiliar to me but the lack of authenticity hadn’t stopped me from being angry.

The second dream is less clear. I remember teaching a class in the computer lab near my office and that there were one or two students that I knew in the class. The only other thing I remember is that I woke up shortly after 4 am and I was extremely angry about whatever had happened in the dream. The hours of sleep before I got up for the day seem to have erased the source of this anger.

These dreams make me wonder if I am witnessing the slow decline of my sanity due to inattentive students. Since I had one dream before the fall semester and two dreams before the spring semester maybe I’ll have three dreams before next fall and four before next spring. Or maybe the dreams are increasing exponentially, so two will be followed by four, which will be followed by eight. This could continue until all of my dreams are about frustrating students and I completely forget that I actually enjoy teaching. The funny thing is that, unlike my dreams, my frustration in recent semesters has been centered on students who do not talk in class rather than on students who do but shouldn’t.

Read Full Post »

I recently purchased copies of Fabio’s Grad Skool Rulz for myself and some students who are planning to go to grad school next year (and yes, I paid for the “copies” that I gave to students). The question I always have about packaged collections of things that originated on the internet is whether it is worthwhile to purchase something that is essentially available for free. In this case, I think that the ability to send the entire package as a PDF that a student can save somewhere is probably a better way of delivering information than saying “there’s a series of blog posts about grad school – look them up!” Since none of the undergrads that I know regularly read sites like Scatterplot, OrgTheory, or Crooked Timber, this is also a way to introduce them to the world of academic blogging that they will surely become familiar with when they are procrastinating during grad school.

Overall, I think that Fabio does a nice job of discussing things that grad students should know. I went to grad school in a supportive environment where these issues could be openly discussed with advisors, but not everybody is so lucky. For prospective students, this makes choosing a graduate program incredibly important. For those who are already enrolled, the Rulz should help navigate potentially uncertain waters.

Read Full Post »

In my two and a half years of teaching at a liberal arts school, I’ve talked to a number of students who were switching to a major in the sociology department. There are a few reasons for this, including the fact that a lot of students change majors after they actually experience college classes and the fact that sociology is naturally superior to every other major. My favorite reason, however, is when a student is changing majors because the original major was too hard. Since our department includes criminology, we end up with a number of students who started with a combination of courses that would lead to careers as crime scene investigators (including criminology, psychology, and , most importantly, chemistry) and end with the intention of entering a police academy after finding that the chemistry requirement was too difficult for them.

Recently, a student who wanted to change majors took this to a new extreme. The student is a senior who has been unable to pass the required methods course in another social science department after two attempts with different professors. Following the second failure, the student’s advisor recommended a switch to sociology where, apparently, the methods courses are much easier. The funny thing about this is that sociology is not particularly easy and our methods and theory courses are at least as difficult as those in the other social sciences (though I suppose students may have an advantage in our courses because sociology is more interesting than the other social sciences). As a result, our department ends up being the final stop for some students who have failed their way from major to major. Maybe someday students will realize that sociology is hard and we’ll be the aspirational major they start with before failing and transitioning to a subject they perceive to be easier, like chemistry!

Read Full Post »

A recent trip to to an R1 for a college basketball game brought back a feeling I didn’t know I missed – the feeling of being in a college town. It turns out that there is a huge difference between a “college town” and a “town with a college.” I suppose that I would classify a college town as one in which a college or university is the largest employer, causing most of the people in the town to interact with students or academic employees on a regular basis. Using this definition, the location of my undergraduate institution qualified for most of my time there and the location of my graduate program definitely qualified.

After 11 years in college towns, the transition to a town with a college can be jarring. The character of social life is much different, especially in terms of the age of bar patrons, but there are a number of other differences. Over break, a colleague mentioned getting coffee but noted that doing so was impossible because the coffee shop in the student union closes at 10 am during breaks. In a college town there would be numerous coffee shops within walking distance of campus. In my town there are none. The realization that I could not get coffee on a January afternoon made me think about all of the time I spent as an undergraduate in off-campus coffee shops.

The things within walking distance of my campus consist of a bank, two grocery stores, two pizza places, a Chinese restaurant, a post office, a drugstore, a post office, and a bar. Each of these locations has college student patrons but none of them are aimed particularly at college students. The difference is also felt by those who have no affiliation with the school. Each time we visit a large campus in a college town my wife notes that she wishes my career aspirations had been different so that she could experience the kind of environment she grew accustomed to while I was in grad school. Maybe if there were huge liberal arts colleges (HLACs) we could have the best of both worlds.

Read Full Post »

When starting out as a teacher I was often told that a syllabus is a sort of contract. (This doesn’t make a syllabus sound very exciting, but we can’t all be David Foster Wallace.) As I’ve prepared for classes over the years I’ve always kept this in mind. Although my syllabus notes that the class schedule is tentative, it also notes that exam dates will not change. In line with this I’ve also never added, removed, or changed the deadline for assignments once a class has started. After an advisee’s recent experience, I’ve learned that not all faculty members follow this approach.

The student in question was in a course where the professor first pushed back and then cancelled a paper, with the cancellation occurring after the original deadline. For many students, this was not be a problem since they had not started the paper yet anyway. For students with busier schedules (and/or students who like to get things done ahead of time), however, this cancellation meant that the work they had put into the paper up to that point was wasted. The cancellation also had ramifications for students’ grades. Those who were doing well in the course may not have minded, but others who were struggling may have seen the cancelled paper as a chance to improve their grade. Instead, the relative value of their previous work was increased.

In my experience, some students are very vocal about their desire that course requirements be delayed or cancelled altogether, but this situation highlights the often unforeseen and unintended consequences of doing something that seems, on the surface, like it will merely reduce the workload for all involved.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »