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Archive for the ‘Sociology Job Market’ Category

As a graduate student approaching the job market I heard a few stories about people who initially got jobs at less than ideal institutions and then published their way into better opportunities.  When I was on the job market this was even one of the reasons that I was advised to turn down a job with a 4-4 teaching load.  The implication is that candidates who receive jobs that they like only have to publish enough to satisfy the tenure expectations of their institutions while those who receive jobs that they don’t like need to publish more in order to make themselves attractive to potential future employers.

Given the current uncertainty in higher education (which you can read about here and hear about on your nightly news when state budgets are proposed) I think that the first of those statements is wrong.  Rather than being able to lower their publication standards to match the expectations of their institution, I think that faculty members at all institutions are facing a situation in which a strong publication record is a life vest.  While you may hope that you never have to use it, this life vest will be crucial if you should find yourself needing to abandon ship in these uncharted academic waters.  As those who are on the job market know, there aren’t enough life boats for everybody so your publication record may mean the difference between academic life and death.

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Until recently, I hadn’t returned to the location of my grad school years since finishing my dissertation and starting my job.  Because I still have some good friends in the program, the trip was part reunion and part nostalgia.  As friends graduate and faculty retire, I’m sure that this feeling won’t be present in many future trips, but I was surprised to see that almost nothing on campus had changed.  I was most surprised, though, by the differences in my interactions with faculty.  I am not sure if the difference was due to my own increased self-confidence upon returning after a year and a half as a successful faculty member, a greater recognition that I was an equal on the part of faculty, or some combination of the two (perhaps it was just the fact that the last time I was there I was just coming out of the foggy dissertation netherworld…).

The most bizarre of these encounters involved a faculty member that I have had some differences with in the distant past.  In one day on campus I am fairly certain that I talked to her more than I had in the final four years of my graduate career.  This is the same faculty member that had wondered what was wrong with me in my first year.  It is possible that she may look at my job at an unknown school and think that I could have done better if I had only listened to her advice.  My hope, however, is that she looks at the fact that I have the type of success that I wanted and considers that she may have been wrong.  Regardless, interactions such as these reminded me that I have come a long way since the beginning of my graduate career.

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I’ve talked about my own phone interview experiences in the past.  I preferred one-on-one interviews to group interviews in general and preferred group interviews where interviewers were in their own offices (so that they couldn’t share nonverbal cues with each other).  While this article at Inside Higher Ed argues that Skype interviews are preferable to conference interviews in some cases, and despite the admitted problems with phone interviews, I am fairly certain that I would prefer them to Skype interviews, which seem to be increasingly common.

While I should probably admit that I’ve never participated in a Skype interview, it seems that they promise all of the awkwardness of a phone interview with a visual aid and the potential for technical difficulties.  Does being able to see somebody’s head and shoulders give you a better idea of that person’s ability as a teacher or researcher?  I would be interested in hearing about actual (as opposed to speculative) experiences with Skype interviews.

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Reading job market forums it is clear that one of the most frustrating aspects of the job market is the waiting.  Even successful candidates must submit applications and then wait, receive requests for more materials and then wait, participate in telephone interviews and then wait, participate in campus interviews and then wait.  In the early stages of the job market I found that being a forgetful applicant worked for me, by which I mean that I paid no attention to the status of a school on the Wiki after I had applied.  In the later stages, after phone interviews and especially after campus interviews, this approach is much more difficult.  The waiting, and the reasons for the waiting, are part of the mystery of the job market.  A recent article at The Chronicle gives some insight into the other side of the waiting game and indicates that candidates often are not the only ones who feel like they are blowing in the wind waiting for answers.

As the author states:

It is difficult for folks who are external to the inner workings of searches to understand just how complicated things are in the final stages of a search. Let’s say a committee has decided to invite two candidates to campus and the position is greenlighted for both interviews. The calendaring person must then poll to see when everyone in the department will be in town and match those dates with the dates when the candidates are also available.

Throw out days that just don’t work for anyone (large events or even local festivals that make logistics more difficult), and everyone is essentially fighting over the 24 to 28 days that are reasonably available. Now, heaven forbid that the latest Snowzilla storm or wave of the Porcupine Flu strikes and forces rearrangements of dates. Or that Candidate 1 for the position receives an offer elsewhere and pulls out of the search, requiring the committee to drop to Candidate 3, who must now visit campus two or three weeks after the other candidate, whose visit was already scheduled and who must then wait for the conclusion of the department’s deliberations.

A commenter shares the frustration from the department’s standpoint:

More maddening for me, as one who has chaired several searches, is the “after the interview” wait. We on the committee have done the hard work above of finding the times, making travel arrangements, booking the times with the dean’s and provost’s office, sending out announcements, on and on. . .only to find the paperwork stuck on someone’s office, most frequently the office of Social Equity, who needs to approve the search was compliant with appropriate rules. Once it clears, then the offer can be made (which can only come from the provost, who is not in the same hurry that you are on the committee). Then a negotiation begins with the candidate, which can take weeks (as ours just did the last month or so). All this goes on without the search committee in the loop, so we are also twisting in the wind. (We know that the other candidates out there are frustrated but we cannot communicate with them, since the search is not officially closed.)

I think that all of these factors lead to the sorts of fuzzy dates that frustrate candidates.  When a committee says they will be deciding which candidates to invite to campus “soon,” that could be a day or it could be a week (or more).  The challenges that departments and administrators face also lead to false hope or dejection via wiki updates.  I wrote off a school that I had been particularly interested in after seeing that they had scheduled phone interviews on the wiki.  A few weeks later I received a call for a phone interview at the same school and was invited for a campus visit within hours of the phone interview.

Although I haven’t yet been on the other side of the hiring process, I suspect that another factor in these vague dates is that departments want candidates to think that they are the first choice even if they are not.  When I interviewed for my current job I was told that bureaucratic holdups may delay the job offer such that it could take place in a few days or a few weeks.  After being hired I learned that this statement was made so that if the job was offered to somebody else and that person declined, it could be offered to me and I would be none the wiser about the previous offer.  Thankfully, I received the job offer within a few days.  While I negotiated my contract, however, the other finalists (and even the department, since I negotiated with the provost) were likely left blowing in the wind.

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The other day I noted that my own scholarly aspirations are not necessarily in line with those of my colleagues.  This echoes a post from last year about missing the scholarly community that a large sociology department provides.  Fortunately, I have been able to fill the gap a bit with one of last year’s ASA successes.  Specifically, a friend introduced me to the leader of a reading group he is in who invited me to join.  This group’s monthly meetings have served to keep me active in reading about the research of others while giving me an opportunity to interact with productive scholars who encourage my own work.

When I was on the job market, I tried to prepare myself for the likelihood of ending up at a liberal arts school in the middle of nowhere.  Thankfully, I actually ended up at a school that is near a large number of other schools, making participation in things like this reading group possible.  While the proximity of other schools may not factor into most people’s job market decisions, it is something to consider if you want the opportunity to talk to scholars who do work in the same area as you while working at a liberal arts institution.

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In my recent (highly scientific) look at ASA submission types, I noted that some of the ASA submissions are papers with promise that could be revised for future submission to a journal.  In that post I stated, “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.'”  This statement, in the second half of my second year, is similar to a concern I raised nearly two years ago when discussing the publication gauntlet:

I wonder how my choice of institution will affect my desire to run the publication gauntlet.  Coming from a “publish or perish” department, I have a strong desire to get my work published in order to contribute to the body of sociological knowledge.  I also want to publish in well-regarded journals in order to increase the chance that others will actually be aware of my contributions.  At the liberal arts school where I will be employed, however, expectations for publication are much lower than for junior faculty in my current program and the fact that a paper went through peer review is more important than the name on the front of the journal.

In addition to lower expectations, I noted, is the fact that liberal arts professors have less time for research and fewer collaborators (especially important is the absence of graduate student collaborators who can do the bulk of the data analysis).  This means that there are fewer concurrent projects.  I suspected at the time that fewer concurrent projects decreased the likelihood of submitting publications to highly regarded journals because the need for peer-reviewed publications would outweigh the need for a high-status placement.  It appears that, at least regarding my own institution, I overestimated the importance of even low-ranking peer-reviewed publications.

As I noted above, scholarly activity is measured a number of ways at my non-elite private school.  Obviously, peer-reviewed publications count, but conference presentations also count, as does working on projects with students.  The balance between these forms of research means that working with a lot of students, leading to poster presentations at regional conferences, can almost entirely make up for a relative lack of peer-reviewed publications.  Certainly, higher-ranking liberal arts schools have higher standards but other forms of scholarly activity count there as well.  In contrast, a research collaboration at an R1 institution is likely to be viewed as a failure (or not viewed at all) by a tenure committee if it does not result in a publication.

A story from a colleague illustrates this difference.  When I mentioned revising a paper based on reviewers’ comments one day, she noted that she once received an R&R at the same journal but never got around to the actual process of revising and resubmitting.  Keep in mind that she was a tenure-track assistant professor when she made this decision.  She has since been awarded tenure.  It is hard for me to imagine a situation in which a tenure-track assistant professor at an R1 would casually ignore an R&R in this way.  Surely, not all R&Rs result in eventual publications, but to not even try struck me as ridiculous.

Given the reality of my situation, the path to tenure  seems relatively clear and there are likely countless others who would take my position in an instant.  There are drawbacks, however.  Among them is the fact that while my colleagues are engaged in scholarly activity, they are not used to submitting papers to highly-regarded journals and, thus, can offer little help in this process.  Research is also not a typical hallway conversation given the primacy of teaching in our lives.  When coming out of graduate school I had a strong desire to do important research but I wondered if the desire for high-profile publications would fade.  What I’ve found is that the desire hasn’t faded but the expectations of my institution create a situation in which I appear to be swimming against the current, wondering how long I can last before I am swept downstream.

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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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Even though I have been off the job market for quite a while, I still visit the US News rankings from time to time to look up information about various schools, such as enrollment or location.  During a recent visit I put in the name of my own school and was surprised to find that it now has an actual numeric ranking rather than being placed in the alphabetical “Tier 3” category.  The reason for the change was not, it turns out, that my school has gotten remarkably better since my arrival.  Instead, US News has decided that they have enough information about liberal arts schools to rank those that are in the top 75% instead of the top 50% as they have done in the past.

In the past, the top 50% made up Tier 1, the next 25% made up Tier 3, and the final 25% made up Tier 4.  In addition to numbering more schools, the bottom 25% is now designated with the more respectable “Tier 2” moniker.  For schools like mine, the symbolic meaning of this change seems quite large.  Students and job applicants who check these rankings when considering schools may be more likely apply to a school that is ranked between 100 and 200 than they would have been to apply to one in Tier 3, even though nothing about the school has changed.  Additionally, this revised ranking may be more impressive to those who have never heard of my school.

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For a number (how large a number I can’t say, but I am positive that this is true for some number) of job market candidates, writing a statement of teaching philosophy is a daunting task.  First of all, candidates have to decide whether or not they have any teaching philosophy at all.  Then they need to either explain that philosophy or make one up.  Unfortunately, search committees these days are unlikely to accept a candidate who says, “I’m a good teacher.  Trust me on this.”

Personally, I didn’t realize that I had a teaching philosophy until I actually sat down to think about the classes I had taught.  While I had the benefit of having taught a lot of different classes, anybody who has taught should be able to think about why they arranged their class(es) the way they did and anybody who has not taught should be able to think about the qualities of their best classes as students and how they can replicate those qualities in their own courses.  This is only the beginning of the actual writing process, but it obviously helps if you know where you’re headed before you leave the station.

A recent post by James Lang over at Inside Higher Ed details four steps to creating a memorable teaching philosophy.  Some of his advice echoes my own experiences, but while my focus was largely on writing something about my teaching, Lang places his emphasis on writing a statement that will not bore search (or tenure) committees to tears.  He concludes:

If you follow my advice, you’re probably still going to end up with a teaching statement that looks pretty similar to the rest of them in some ways. Every fingerprint has swirly lines, and every teaching philosophy will very likely include whatever buzzwords and catchphrases are making the rounds in academe.

The best you can hope for is that, if you take the time to craft a good one, the same principle that applies to fingerprints will apply to teaching philosophies: They may all look the same to the untrained eye, but the experts can tell them apart.

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If you have been fortunate enough to find a job in the past academic year, you may be facing the prospect of a summer without pay.  Unfortunately, this summer may include things like moving expenses and attending the ASA conference (though you may have been able to negotiate for the costs of one or both of those) but eventually you will be paid and life will resume as normal.  When it does, what are you going to do with your money?  Personally, I went straight from grad student poverty to saving for a house, and from there to buying a house, and from there to a million little unforeseen expenses.  Tenured Radical has been doing this a lot longer than me, though, and she has some good advice for people who are finding themselves with a real income for the first time in their lives.  A brief highlight:

Credit cards are like crack. They sing us siren songs, and we love what they say because we can cure so much unhappiness today and pay for it tomorrow (and the next day, and the next day, and the next day….) Credit cards are like affairs: we tell ourselves and our friends there is nothing wrong with them, and yet we feel compelled to lie about them too.

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