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Archive for the ‘Sociology Job Market’ Category

Five years after going on the market as an ABD graduate student, I went on the job market again this year. Although I had applied for a different job before, this year I decided to conduct a full search (some of the reasons for this will be detailed in future posts). This included another stop at the ASA’s meet market, countless applications, phone interviews, Skype interviews, and campus visits. Here are some things I noticed this time around:

The market moves more slowly now. Although there are still schools that post positions over the summer, this is not as common as it was when I was on the market the first time. Going by my records of jobs I applied for, here are the numbers posted in each month for 2008 followed by 2013 in parentheses: May – 4 (0); June – 10 (2); July – 14 (10); August – 4 (5); September – 1 (4); October – 4 (12). My sense is that many schools, especially those with less money, are waiting for the final word from administrators before posting their jobs, which wasn’t the case in 2008. Of course, I don’t know how many of the jobs I applied for in 2008 went unfilled because of the economy.

Almost everything is electronic. Most of my job market materials in 2008 were sent by mail. This time, I sent four applications by mail. The rest were submitted either via e-mail or online application forms. Rejections (when sent) are also handled by e-mail. In 2008 it seemed that I was constantly receiving envelopes from various schools containing letters telling me that they had hired somebody else. This year I think I received one. In fact, I became so accustomed to receiving e-mail rejections that I was sometimes surprised to find that an e-mail from a school was actually requesting more materials or a phone/Skype interview.

The market is still a mystery. Once again, there were several ads that seemed to match my qualifications very well that I never heard from, while there were also some that seemed to barely match where I had phone interviews and even campus interviews. The school where I accepted a job is more highly ranked (for whatever that’s worth) than the school where I currently work and I applied to a large number of schools between these two positions, many of which had no interest in my application (though one school did tell me that I had made their long list in my rejection e-mail).

Going on the market while working at a full-time job is difficult. In 2008, I was on fellowship while I looked for a job. In 2013 I was teaching three courses in addition to writing, advising students, and fulfilling my service obligations. People often say that being on the market is like a full-time job, and stacking that on top of an actual full-time job is incredibly difficult. It seemed like I was constantly writing cover letters, compiling evidence of teaching effectiveness, and even just keeping track of the positions to which I needed to apply after my paid work had ended for the day. I still feel behind.

In the end, it was a grueling experience but I am hopeful that it will pay off. I am excited about my future students, colleagues, and institution. Now there’s just the small matter of surviving the rest of the semester.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. And let me know if this is as annoying as Fabio’s constant Grad Skool Rulz reminders!

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Rachel at Rogue Cheerios, like others before her, responds with a qualified “no.” She also asks some important questions that prospective graduate students should answer and argues that soul searching should occur before grad school, not during or after it. In my experience it is easy to let academia supersede our other interests and much harder to try to figure out if there is a place in our lives for academia alongside our other goals.

For the last 12 years I have lived in places because they housed the academic institutions that would have me, but this is not the way that life has to be. In fact, I recently congratulated one graduate school colleague for deciding to live in a particular geographic area (job market be damned!) and another for quitting a tenure-track job in order to be nearer to those he cared about. These are hard choices and there is no wrong time to make them, but knowing that you are not, in fact, willing to move across the country once for graduate school and again for a job that may or may not materialize is a good way to determine that grad school may not be for you.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed.

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When Candide was on the job market, he held that everything would work out for the best. Atlas Odenshoot (I guess that the Chronicle has run out of normal-sounding pseudonyms) contends that the job market is more like The Hunger Games, where “the odds are never in your favor.” Odinshoot also shares some interesting insights about the fact that your advisor has been there before, the importance (or lack thereof) of appearance, rule changes, and competing with friends, concluding:

Of course, the academic job market is not exactly like the Hunger Games. If you lose in the games, at least it’s over quickly. The job market, on the other hand, stretches on for months, perhaps years. So when you write that email to your adviser to say you want to go on the market, it might be better just to raise your hand and shout, “I volunteer as tribute!” Better yet, just run off in the woods with Gale.

I guess that would be the equivalent of leaving academia. Compared to some adjunct positions, being with Gale might not be bad. I guess it depends on whether you prefer to be a movie boyfriend or a movie girlfriend.

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When discussing issues related to funding, one of my school’s president’s favorite sayings is that we are “not for profit, but we’re not for loss.” I recently saw this phrase in a book somewhere, so I imagine that my school’s president is not alone in his affinity for this statement that is intended to justify whatever he is arguing for at the time (such as outsourcing various things, expanding degree programs for non-traditional students, and bringing in huge freshmen classes).  I am relatively certain that he makes these decisions based on what he believes is in the best financial interest of the school. When chasing money, though, one must be careful not to forget the mission, as a recent failed experiment in online courses at San Jose State University demonstrates.

Will Oremus at Slate reports that more than half of the students enrolled in SJSU’s first batch of five online courses through Udacity failed their final exams. Tenured Radical has a good take on this, writing:

I am not against online learning, and I am persuaded that under the right conditions it can be effective. It is, however, becoming ever clearer that corporate methods for extracting profit from education are exploitative and ineffective for students.  I don’t think any of these providers are honest about the down side of not having a real, live teacher — not to mention the absence of classmates who might help you learn.

Furthermore, what course open to thousands of random people could really teach all of them well? Part of what actual schools (where students are taught in non-profit numbers) can provide is some sense of what might be expected from a course. At my last job, it was reasonable to expect that students would devote themselves full-time to school, and when they didn’t that was a choice. At my first job, and my present job, it is reasonable to assume that students are pressured by work and family. That means, depending on which group I am teaching, I assemble different courses, different ways of using class time and pacing the semester, different ways of paying attention to my students, and different ways of choosing course materials. One is not easier than the other; they are different. Increasingly, I teach students differently within the same class.

David Silbey at Edge of the American West notes that “Not finishing or failing the course is – from a monetary standpoint – a feature, not a bug. Students who fail to finish or finish but fail have to pay again for the same (or an equivalent course). Profit!”

Both points underscore the importance of focusing on a school’s mission. What does the mission statement actually say about educating students. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that students are actively engaged in a course? This is something that I have struggled with over the years; as I implement requirements that students dislike but that force them to engage with a course or give very detailed writing assignments because many students cannot handle the lack of structure in more open-ended assignments it is inevitable that some students will complain I am treating them like “high schoolers” or that they should be able to skip class if they want to.

As Tenured Radical notes, being there in person I can adjust things, sometimes even for students in the same course. If I were responsible for thousands of students through an online course, though, not only would these sorts of adjustments be very difficult to manage, but requiring students to complete discussion questions or take quizzes about the reading themselves would be nearly impossible.

SJSU’s mission statement declares that its goal is “To enrich the lives of its students, to transmit knowledge to its students along with the necessary skills for applying it in the service of our society, and to expand the base of knowledge through research and scholarship.”  This, like most mission statements, seems fairly vague. If, as a job candidate, you are able to meet with a school’s president, I think that an important question to ask is how the president personally views the school’s mission statement and works to fulfill it. Is he or she focused on keeping the school afloat financially or on enriching the lives of students? The answer will likely tell you much more about the school’s direction than the mission statement itself.

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When most people think of working as an adjunct instructor, they probably picture teaching a semester-long course for a few thousand dollars with none of the benefits enjoyed by tenure-track professors (you know, things like health insurance, job security, and office space). It turns out, though, that there is a better way. It involves rising through the ranks of the military (the business world would probably work, too), losing your job, and being hired to teach a course for $150,000 per year. You might think that this sounds impossible, but it isn’t. General David Patraeus has done it, so it must be an option that the rest of us have been overlooking. As reported by J.K. Trotter at Gawker:

In April, CUNY announced that Petraeus would do a stint as a visiting professor of public policy at the school’s Macaulay Honors College, leading a seminar on “developments that could position the United States…to lead the world out of the current global economic slowdown.” According to documents Gawker obtained from CUNY via a Freedom of Information Law request, the fallen war architect will net a whopping $200,000 a year for the course, which will total about three hours of work, aided by a group of graduate students to take care of “course research, administration, and grading.” (He will also throw in two lectures.)

This is a lot of money to spend on one person (CUNY could have hired a number of assistant professors or an army of adjuncts with that much money). Corey Robin discusses this, and the fact that the reported salary was downgraded (now it is only $150,000 – good thing he also has a job at USC!) after Gawker posted the story, at Crooked Timber:

I have no idea if Lalor is right about whether tax-payers are footing the bill for this celebrity hire or not. But let’s assume CUNY is securing private funds for it. Isn’t that in itself a terrible waste of resources? Private donations don’t just roll in; university fundraisers work and cultivate donors to make specific donations for earmarked funds. The notion that even one paid member of the university staff is working right now to secure private money to pay for this hire is itself a scandal.

It’s also indicative of a larger problem: CUNY is being run (into the ground) by a group of men and women with no sense of how to educate students, how to build (and pay) a first-class teaching staff, and how to manage a great public institution.

It is unfortunate that this story perpetuates that myth that teaching a three-credit-hour course only amounts to three hours per week of work, but it is hard to know how much work Patraeus will actually have to do given his graduate assistants. The fact that Patraeus was hired by CUNY at all also perpetuates the myth that anybody can teach regardless of training. On the other hand, it would be interesting to observe whether Patraeus’s students are better-behaved than typical college students and, if not, how he responds to them arriving late, falling asleep, and texting. Are push ups part of the CUNY curriculum?

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As we approach August and the unofficial beginning to the ’12-’13 job market at ASA, the pressure is already starting to show at the Sociology Job Market Forum, where those who are new to the market and those who have been through everything before combine to see who can worry the most. There is a lot of useful information on the forum, but it can also be a haven for showboating (“I have five single-authored papers in ASR and twenty other papers in lesser journals, do you think I will get a job?”), frustration (“I have five single-authored papers in ASR and twenty other papers in lesser journals and I didn’t get a job”), and things that make me wonder if some people slept through every sociology class they’ve ever taken (“I have five single-authored papers in ASR and twenty other papers in lesser journals but I didn’t get a job because I’m a white male.”). I think that the most dangerous aspect, though, is the potential for nitpicking every part of the process (“I prefer 12-point Times New Roman but my advisor said that he won’t even read applications that are in anything but 12.75-point Helvetica.” “What color should I wear to an interview to maximize the potential that it is similar to the favorite colors of my interviewers?”).

Beyond what I’ve written on the subject in the past (and ignoring the fact that since my department can’t even get approved to hire somebody, I really have no idea what I’m talking about), there are two major pieces of advice that I gave to a friend who is new to the job market this year: 1) try not to worry about things that you can’t control, and 2) once you apply for a job, try to forget that you sent the application! The worst part of the job market seems to be the uncertainty, so the less you can dwell on it (and the tiny details that are outside of your control), the better!

Good luck to all of you!

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Although I said after I received a job that I never wanted to go on the job market again, I applied for one job in the years since beginning in my current position. The job was at a higher-ranked and better-funded school near my current institution. Since the job was in my teaching area but not my research area, I assumed that I would not have much of a chance (the fact that I didn’t get an interview suggests I was correct) but it was the type of job that I would have regretted not applying for. Despite my lack of success, applying for another job actually helped me put my current position in perspective.

The first thing that I noticed was related to my confidence level. As an ABD graduate student on the job market, each job application had raised insecurities about whether my interests aligned with the school’s desires, whether my teaching was good enough, whether I had published enough, and whether liberal arts schools would take my application seriously since I hadn’t attended one myself. As an early-career assistant professor there were still insecurities about some of those things but they were greatly reduced by the fact that I already had a good job. If I hadn’t published enough for the school I was applying to, for example, it didn’t matter because I already had a good job. I could also talk in my application about the job that I currently held and the fact that I had been successfully teaching at a liberal arts school since finishing my Ph.D. Rather than groveling for a position, I felt like a peer exploring my options.

In addition to feeling like a peer, the application process also forced me to consider what I want out of an ideal job and how close to that I can get at my current institution. For example, if more time for research is a reason I would consider changing jobs, how can I find more time for research in my current schedule? There are also aspects of my current institution, such as travel funding and opportunities for research with students, that compare favorably to other schools. In the end, although I’m happy at my current institution, keeping an eye on job openings is a good way to consider what my work life could, and should, be like.

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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:

 

 

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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:

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This spring I gave a presentation at a conference in which I aimed to help graduate students determine if life at a liberal arts institution is something that they should consider pursuing.  In a lot of ways, the talk encapsulated my experiences through two years as a faculty member, touching on many of the themes I have highlighted here but in a (perhaps) more coherent way.  The majority of the talk is below:

I’m John Smith and I work at a private liberal arts school with about 2000 students.  Right now, you’re thinking, “I saw the name of your school in the program and I’ve never heard of it,” which brings me to my first point: a liberal arts school is not the place to go if you want or need status.  Even top-ranked liberal arts schools do not have the status of top-ranked research schools – Picture telling your grandfather that you got a job at Williams College (Williamstown, MA), the top-ranked liberal arts school by US News vs. telling him that you got a job at Harvard, the top-ranked research school.  I’m guessing that most people would get a much bigger reaction from their friends and family if they got a job at Harvard than at Williams.

So, if liberal arts schools aren’t for people who want status, who are they for?

Teaching

The primary answer to this question is: people who really enjoy teaching and want to be good at it.

At a liberal arts school you will be working closely with students both in and out of the classroom, so it is important to mention that not all private schools have the same type of students.  While some have nothing but privileged students, my school has a diverse student body from a wide variety of backgrounds and with a wide variety of abilities.  During class discussions I am typically glad for this diversity, even if I wish that the ability levels of the bottom students were a bit higher when I’m grading papers and exams.

Still, the student body overall is similar to what you might experience as a graduate student teaching at a large state school.  This means that there are some weak students but there are also some excellent students, with most students somewhere in between.  At more selective schools there are probably more excellent students but less demographic diversity.

At my school I have a 3-3 teaching load, which means that I teach three classes per semester.  In general, my classes range from 25-35 students but this is partly because I am in a popular department.  Faculty in some departments have fewer and faculty in other departments have more.  I also advise 45 students, which differs a lot from department to department as well.

The range of students at a liberal arts school is important when thinking about your plans for research (or scholarship, as it is often called at liberal arts institutions).

Research

People who want to work at a liberal arts school should not need an army of graduate students to be productive researchers (or to do their grading) and should enjoy the challenge of doing research with undergraduates, which often involves a lot of teaching about the research process.

It is also important to recognize that research can take a number of forms, even at highly ranked schools.  This may include things like conference presentations in addition to peer-reviewed publications as demonstrations of the “continued scholarly activity” that is necessary for tenure in addition to service and good teaching.

Given a higher teaching load than most R1 faculty and the fact that you will be grading exams, papers, and quizzes yourself, the reality is that you will not have as much time to spend on research as those at other types of schools.  This typically leads to fewer concurrent projects and fewer publications.

While there are general differences in research productivity, there can also be differences between departments on the same campus.  In my department, for example, everybody has a research agenda but research is rarely the main topic of conversation because it is not what people spend the majority of their time on during the semester.  In another department, however, the faculty publish much more frequently.  I’m not sure if this is a result of the types of graduate programs that the faculty in each department came from or the stages they’re at in their academic careers, but there is a definite difference and it can be difficult to go against the norms of your department.  For example, others in your department may not have much experience applying for grants or publishing in major journals, which can make it difficult if you want to do these things.  This is also something to consider if you are being hired into a department in which the standards have changed since the current faculty members have been granted tenure.

Obviously, I could work into the night and complete more research during the semester but the rewards for doing so are relatively small.  In the summer and over breaks when I focus mostly on research, however, small amounts of money are available if I am working on my own and larger amounts are available if I am collaborating with a student.  So research is definitely valued and supported but it is not my primary responsibility.

Nearby Peers

Continuing on the topic of research, something that I never heard anybody mention about liberal arts schools when I was in graduate school, and one thing that I found myself missing in my first year as a faculty member, was the community of those with similar interests that arose through departmental colloquia.

Because you will almost certainly be the only person with your specialization in your department, if you end up having a choice between jobs (however unlikely that may be in the current job market) you may want to consider the proximity of other schools that would allow you to form reading or writing groups.  There are a large number of schools in my area and I was able to join a reading group consisting of faculty from a wide range of research and liberal arts schools.  This helps me keep up with current research and it also gives me a connection to people who are more active in research than the other members of my department and can give me advice in those areas.

Campus Involvement

Beyond these teaching and research concerns, people who want to work at liberal arts schools should have a willingness, if not a desire, to be deeply involved in the workings of their institution and interact regularly with administrators and faculty in other departments.

To give you some perspective, the entire faculty of my graduate institution has met twice in the past 25 years.  At my current institution, there are monthly meetings of all faculty, and this is where major decisions about the curriculum are made.

Work-Life Balance

The final group of people who should consider working at liberal arts schools are those who are searching for the mythical work-life balance.  As I’ve said, during the semester you will be busy with teaching and over breaks you will likely be busy with research, but the ability to focus on these things at different times, and the corresponding emphasis placed on each when making tenure decisions, allows you to work without spending every waking hour worrying about whether you will be able to publish enough to get tenure.

Despite wishing for a higher level of scholarly engagement in my own department, I have never regretted my decision to work at a liberal arts school and, just as some likely have a hard time imagining why somebody would want to teach three courses per semester, I have a hard time imagining why somebody would want to work somewhere that gave journal editors and reviewers so much control over their futures.

How Can You Get Here?

Now that you have a better sense of whether you want to work at a liberal arts school, you are probably wondering what you can do to end up at a place like this.

The first thing you can do is go to a liberal arts school as an undergrad.  Because of the differences between liberal arts schools and the research schools where people get their Ph.D., schools see the fact that somebody attended a liberal arts school as a sign that they understand what is involved in this type of job.

With that said, I didn’t go to a liberal arts school and I still work at one, so there are some things you can do if you missed your opportunity to go to one of these schools yourself:

These include spending time working to become a good teacher.  This means assigning papers, essay exams, and involving students in class discussions.  Obviously, this takes more time and effort than lecturing from a textbook and giving multiple choice exams, but if you think of a class of 60 students as similar to teaching three classes of 20, you can get a sense of what a full teaching load at a liberal arts school is like.

Another thing you can do is teach classes that are likely to be in demand – schools are always looking for people who can teach classes like statistics, research methods, and social theory, so the ability to successfully teach one of those classes in graduate school gives you a valuable skill on the job market.  The fact that I had taught both statistics and research methods, for example, was a factor in each of the interviews I had.

Conclusion

In the end, the type of institution you want to work at comes down to what you want your daily experience to be like.

If you are interested in teaching, interacting with students and colleagues, and collaborating on research with students without intense pressure to publish, you should consider applying at liberal arts schools.

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