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Archive for the ‘Job Market’ Category

Jessica at Scatterplot recently posted some good advice about imaginary “perfect” jobs. She writes:

There’s a tenure-track academic job I hear students talk about – one with work-life balance and a forty-hour work week and at least two weeks (but hopefully an entire summer) of carefree, completely unplugged vacation; one where you have all the autonomy and prestige of a professor, along with job security and a professional level paycheck, but there aren’t external pressures on your time except for those that you select because they’re consistent with your values and life goals…that job – that does not exist. And, even if it did, you would not increase your chances of landing such a job by eschewing the professional advice of faculty or colleagues because they are seen as somehow biased toward a different kind of job, one that just doesn’t fit you or your life goals.

As I said above, I think this is good advice but the “do what senior scholars tell you to do in order to be successful” line of reasoning falls apart when so many senior scholars don’t understand other types of jobs or have outdated ideas of what various types of jobs entail (or even what is required to get jobs like theirs). If you want to work at a SLAC, for example, especially a high-ranking SLAC, publications are essential, so advice that a student will fade to obscurity in one of those jobs is ridiculous. Too many advisors still want to see their students replicate their careers, acting as if other types of careers are beneath them.

One could argue that Eric Grollman’s success in getting an excellent liberal arts job after initially aiming for an R1 is a strong example in favor of the idea that there is only one track, but the pressures that he reports facing from his committee members about even interviewing at liberal arts jobs show that this system still has flaws. I was fortunate not to receive these sorts of messages from my committee members, but a current colleague reports that her dissertation advisor neglected to provide her with any advice on negotiating her job offer from our institution because the advisor hoped that a “real” job offer would come along. That some students know early on what type of job they would like to pursue but still receive these sorts of messages undermines the value of advice in other areas.

In some ways, I could be seen as an example of the type of grad student that Jessica mentions in the comments, where she says, “This is about the students who don’t aspire to a life like the faculty in their grad programs – people who they (erroneously) believe work 80 hours a week all year long and have no life outside of work.” I started grad school around the time that a large number of junior faculty members were hired and watched them go through a grueling tenure process that included the very real threat of being denied tenure unless they could publish in ASR or AJS. I knew that I did not want that kind of experience, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t think I would have to work to get a job or afterward or that I didn’t seek a strong grounding in theory and methods, as I took more than the required number of courses in each.

Just as Jessica provides advice for students, I would like to provide some advice for faculty who deal with graduate students: listen to them. Consider their career goals and give them advice that will maximize the chances that they will realize those goals while necessarily keeping an eye on their general marketability given that few of them will end up at the types of institutions they seek. If you start your mentoring by assuming that they want to emulate your career, though, and criticizing any desire to do otherwise, be aware that you are discrediting any future advice you will give.

Oh, and one more thing: When your graduate students are on the job market, get your damn letters of recommendation done early and often. There is no excuse for mentoring somebody throughout the entire academic process only to hang them out to dry by not fulfilling your duty as an advisor.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive angry rants about what professors should do via your news feed.

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Are you sick of people trying to pay you for your work? Are you tired of increasingly long lists of job requirements? Will you do anything to avoid the word “adjunct” from appearing on your CV? Then you should consider applying for the position of “Volunteer Professor” at Southern Virginia University!

Tempted but not yet convinced? Wait, there’s more!

“In exchange for their service, the university provides volunteers with complimentary apartment-style housing and five meals a week.” That’s nearly one meal per day!

“In addition, volunteers are welcome to participate in the full life of the university attending concerts, recitals, plays, athletic competitions, and student life events. They are also welcome to use the library and recreational facilities.” These generous benefits will help keep their bodies and minds in shape in the absence of health insurance!

“On weekends volunteers enjoy visiting historic sites in and around Virginia, including Monticello and Civil War sites, Williamsburg and Washington, DC.” (Assuming that they spend their evenings begging for money to pay for these excursions!)

“At least once a month volunteers gather for a Family Home Evening or pot-luck dinner.” (Applicants should be advised that fruit obtained from the dining hall during their five weekly meals does not constitute a suitable pot-luck contribution – please see the above note about begging.)

“Inquiries and applications may be mailed to Provost Madison Sowell, 1 University Hill Drive, Southern Virginia University, Buena Vista, VA 24416, or sent by email attachment to madison.sowell@svu.edu. Preference is given to those who can volunteer for at least two semesters and whose specialty coincides with one of the teaching areas listed above.”

Many will enter, few will win, though by entering some will have already lost.

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To the faculty of Sweet Briar College, behold the four-page list of job requirements for a full-time Assistant Professor of History at Lansing Community College. (Don’t worry, it isn’t just the humanities – the requirements for their other positions contain most of the same ridiculous language.) If you don’t have time to open the linked PDF document, check out the required Professional Qualities and Abilities from page four:

  • Serves as a role model of good written and oral communication skills and good time management skills.
  • Possesses a positive attitude; able to see good in self and others.
  • Shows flexibility including the acceptance of and willingness to change; sees change as an opportunity for growth.
  • Seeks improvement over time by taking risks and trying new things.
  • Knows and acknowledges personal limits.
  • Displays self-discipline and a strong work ethic.
  • Accepts responsibility for professional and personal growth.
  • Demonstrates commitment to be a productive and supportive member of the college community.
  • Successfully organizes, executes and follows up on projects; sets specific objectives and measures to achieve results.
  • Accepts criticism gracefully and uses it as an opportunity for growth.
  • Handles conflict effectively.
  • Inspires others; sets an example of professionalism both within the college and the community.
  • Leads and/or follows as circumstances require.

These are real requirements for a real job, not something made up by The Onion. I think that my favorite is the last one. Combined with the other requirements, they are essentially saying, “we want the perfect faculty member, who knows what to do in all situations and, in the event that we decide that they are not doing the right things, knows that they were wrong and quickly starts doing what we say to do instead.”

While some of these are just ridiculous, I’m more concerned by the fact that institutions feel the need to spell these things out in a job ad rather than communicating them through mentoring, at orientation, etc. Attending commencement, for example, is probably expected at many institutions, but it seems that LCC expects a situation to arise where a faculty member says “Oh, I didn’t attend commencement because it wasn’t in my job requirements,” so they put it in the job requirements. College students typically complain about faculty treating them like high schoolers. Nothing good can come of treating the faculty that way.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. Posts like this, of course, may not be what the faculty of Sweet Briar College have in mind.

 

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The history of the sociology job market contains some interesting peculiarities. For example, George Herbert Mead received an M.A. in philosophy from Harvard and then went to Germany to work on his Ph.D. Before his dissertation was completed, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Michigan where he taught philosophy and psychology before later following John Dewey to the University of Chicago. He never completed his Ph.D. (Imagine the field day that a certain job site would have with his hiring today!) It was, I suppose, a different time. (A certain job site does have a field day with discussions of full professors whom it is argued couldn’t get a tenure-track position in today’s market with their current records.) The cases of Howie Becker and Erving Goffman show that not all of the big names in sociology had such an easy time on the job market while reinforcing how different things were back then.

At ASA in San Francisco this year, Howie Becker was the discussant on one of the “Young Ethnographer” panels (the one without Alice Goffman). About the papers, he said something along the lines of “How am I supposed to talk about such different papers at the same time” and then moved on to a discussion of his belief that the best ethnographic work (he actually stated that he prefers the term “field work”) is typically conducted by young people in graduate school who have the benefit of time.* Early in his career, he and his fellow University of Chicago graduate Erving Goffman (if this had been the session with Alice Goffman he could have brought things full-circle…) were unable to find work. So they conducted research.

According to Wikipedia (which has incorrect information about Mead’s education and, thus, may or may not be a reliable source of information on the biographies of sociologists), after completing his Ph.D. Becker conducted research at the Institute for Juvenile Research, in a postdoc at the University of Illinois, and as a research associate at Stanford before starting as a faculty member at Northwestern. Although things might not have seemed too dire because he received his Ph.D. when he was only 23, it was over ten years before Becker started what today would probably be considered his official career. Goffman, meanwhile, worked as a research associate at the University of Chicago and then for the National Institute for Mental Health before beginning as a faculty member at Berkeley.

Becker’s point in discussing the job market woes that he and Goffman experienced at ASA this year was that they both relished the opportunity to focus on research during those years, even as their friends took pity on them. My point in discussing them is to highlight the evolution of job market pathways in the intervening years. While a candidate today might be able to get a postdoc, the increasing reliance on adjunct labor means that the prospects for somebody without a tenure-track job who wants to stay in academia are much more likely to include cobbling together a poverty-level salary from various adjunct positions than earning a comfortable living conducting research. The outcomes of these pathways are also clear, since adjunct teaching leaves little time for building a publication record that will result in an eventual tenure-track job.

Despite what might have been perceived by their friends as early-career stumbles, Becker and Goffman went on to have illustrious careers in sociology and made large contributions to the discipline. How many similar contributions does the current opportunity structure within academia deprive us of?

*Later in his career, he claimed that he found time for field work by being a bad departmental citizen. It is best that we don’t mention the advice that he solicited on this topic from a few esteemed audience members.

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I have finally arrived at the end of a long year. Between my regular obligations, going on the job market again, and class cancellations, I feel like I have been behind since August. Now, though, exams have been graded, grades have been posted, and responses to students accusing me of single-handedly preventing them from graduating have been sent. Finally, I can relax look for housing, start thinking about moving, and try to get some research done.

Is it fall yet?

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Although I’ve highlighted posts before that focus on the other side of the job market – that of the search committee – I’ve still never been on one myself. I’m sure that the excitement about seeing the other side of the process quickly wanes when sorting through hundreds of applications, but I still look forward to the day I get to unravel a bit of the mystery. In the meantime, here are two posts from Dr. Mellivora at Tenure She Wrote:

The first deals with writing the job ad, sorting through applications, and conducting phone interviews. As a new member of a STEM department of six at a public institution, her experiences are likely similar to those of many at liberal arts institutions.

The second post deals with campus interviews and the selection process and concludes with some general advice. Most interesting in this part is the revelation that in her department, faculty and the chair can recommend different candidates for hire and, in her case, she was not the choice of the department as a whole.

Hopefully I will be part of many search committees before I decide to do something like going on the market again. I wonder, though, if those who have seen the other side of the process feel better or worse about their chances as candidates after seeing how the sausage is made.

Facebook, blah, blah, blah.

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The first time I was on the job market, Colin Jerolmack was also on the job market. Of course, I didn’t actually know his name. I only knew him as “the pigeon guy” and that there was a highly-sought-after job candidate who studied pigeons. It seemed to work out pretty well for him. A quirky research topic is not necessarily job market gold, however, as Todd Platts recently discussed at Inside Higher Ed.

Platts studies zombies, and while the job market is obviously a mystery, there are some important distinctions between Jerolmack and Platts. First, of course, is the fact that Jerolmack worked with Mitch Duneier as a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center while Platts graduated from the University of Missouri. Beyond a famous advisor, though, Jerolmack also effectively framed his research within the broader sociological context. For example, part of the description of his book, The Global Pigeon, states, “By exploring what he calls “the social experience of animals,” Jerolmack shows how our interactions with pigeons offer surprising insights into city life, community, culture, and politics.” Rather than using our fascination with zombies to illuminate some aspect of everyday social life, Platts appears to use sociology to illuminate zombies. Finally, the types of institutions that Platt has targeted in his job searches are less likely to have room for esoteric research topics.

None of this is to say that Platt isn’t worthy of a job, or even that there are problems with his job market materials. It does suggest that there are differences in professional socialization at different types of sociology graduate programs and that finding an advisor who will encourage you to follow your dreams without helping you situate those dreams within mainstream sociology might not be the best approach to finding a job in a tough market. The ability to balance freedom with professional socialization is important to consider whether choosing between graduate programs or choosing whether to go to graduate school at all.

Yes, Memoirs of a SLACer is still on Facebook.

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