Posts Tagged ‘Grad School’

Since Voltaire clearly wrote Candide as an allegory for the academic job market, I thought that it would be fitting to share a few more of his insights into academia:

On leaving graduate school for a tenure-track job:

“We are going to another world,” said Candide; “it is there, without doubt, that every thing is for the best.  For it must be confessed that one has reason to be a little uneasy at what passes in this world, with respect to both physics and morals.”  (pg. 30)

On modern life:

I find that all goes contrary with us, that no one knows what is his rank, or what is his employment, or what he does, or what he ought to do; and except entertainments which are very gay, and over which their appears to be considerable union, all the rest of the time passes in impertinent quarrels, Jansenists against Molinists, members of parliament against dignitaries of the church, men of letters against men of letters, courtesans against courtesans, financiers against the people, wives against husbands, relations against relations; it is a continual warfare.  (pg. 68)

On graduate training:

“Some fools admire everything in an author of reputation; for my part, I read only for myself; I approve nothing but what suits my own taste.”  Candide, having been taught to judge of nothing for himself, was very much surprised at what he heard…”  (pg. 79)

On academic pride:

“Well, my dear Pangloss,” said Candide, “when you were hanged, dissected, severely beaten, and tugging at the oar in the galley, did you always think that things in this world were all for the best?” “I am still as I always have been, of my first opinion,” answered Pangloss; “for as I am a philosopher, it would be inconsistent with my character to contradict myself.”  (pg. 89)

Pangloss confessed, that he had always suffered dreadfully; but having once maintained that all things went wonderfully well, he still kept firm to his hypothesis, though it was quite opposed to his real feelings.  (pg. 91)

From:  Voltaire.  1966.  Candide and Zadig.  New York: Airmont.

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Phone Interview

Phone Interview

Another mystery of the job market is the phone interview.  While some large schools forgo phone interviews, small and medium-sized schools often use them to help determine which candidates from the short list will be invited for on-campus interviews.  The mysterious part is that, like your application, you cannot know exactly what interviewers are looking for.  What you can do, however, is prepare yourself by practicing responses to commonly asked questions and researching the school and department.  You can also spread your notes about the school and department, job market materials, questions to ask, and even prepared answers around you, as the picture above demonstrates.

I had four phone interviews in my time on the market and each was of a slightly different type, which I discuss below.  From most preferred to least preferred, they were:

The one-on-one interview

While I assume that this type of interview ranges from formal to informal, my experience was at the informal end of the spectrum.  The chair of the search committee engaged me in a wide-ranging conversation about my interests, the school, and his own experiences.  There was no time limit and I was free to ask questions.  I was also fortunate that my interviewer was forthcoming about the perceived positives and negatives of the school.  Our conversation lasted over an hour and I left the conversation with a much better impression of the school than I started it.  I was later invited for a campus interview.

The one-on-group interview (group members in their individual offices)

My third phone interview experience was of this type, which may appear similar to the type below.  While I might have preferred this type because the interviewers were friendlier or more talkative, I believe that there are advantages to having phone interviewers in separate rooms.  For starters, there is increased comfort as a candidate because you know that interviewers cannot see each other’s reactions to your answers.  This means that if one interviewer is rolling her eyes at the fact that your interests exactly match the job ad, others will not be influenced by her reaction.  Another benefit is that this type effectively levels the playing field in terms of nonverbal feedback.  While group phone interviews are always difficult because you cannot be sure if somebody is done speaking or merely pausing, isolating interviewers in their own offices means that everybody shares this problem with you.  I was later invited for a campus interview.

The one-on-group interview (group members on speakerphone around a single table)

As I noted above, group phone interviews are always difficult, but in my experience the presence of interviewers around the same speakerphone compounded the difficulties.  While I’m not sure how the interviewers reacted to my statements, the knowledge that they could see each other but I could not see them added to an already stressful situation.  I also felt that I was at a disadvantage because I was the only person who couldn’t rely on nonverbal cues to tell when somebody was done speaking.  I don’t know that these factors affected my performance, but they definitely reduced my confidence.  I was later invited for a campus interview.

The one-on-one non-interview

One school requested a “phone conversation about your application” before narrowing their list further.  Not knowing what they wanted to discuss, I called the school from the airport on the way to another interview.  Because of this, I did not have the opportunity to fully prepare by researching the school and department and I was not ready to answer questions about whether I had relevant experience in a particular subfield.  I stumbled through a few statements before realizing that I did, in fact, have relevant experience in that subfield.  By that point, the damage was probably done.  If this discussion had been presented as an interview rather than a conversation, I would have approached it differently.  If this contact had come at another time and not on a day that I was preparing to leave for an interview I also think that I would have handled it better.  I was not invited for a campus interview.*

In the end, the interview type is only one variable in your phone interview experience.  Time limits can change the tone of a conversation dramatically by reducing your ability to ask questions and prohibiting more casual discussions.  Another important point is that you should be sure to ask about the commitee’s timeline.  The time between my phone interviews and invitations for a campus visit ranged from hours to two and a half weeks, while a friend was recently invited for a campus interview a month and a half after a phone interview.  A month and a half is a long time in nearly any circumstance, but it can seem like forever on the job market.

*I was invited for one campus interview without a phone interview, resulting in four phone interviews and four campus interviews.

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There are lots of people in the US who are happy to point to efforts to increase diversity and claim that they are “reverse discrimination.” In academia, this has ramifications for a number of areas, including admissions and hiring. Maybe because the job market sucks, we try to find justifications for our success (or lack thereof). Those who fail sometimes turn to scapegoats such as reverse discrimination. As the process wore on, these scapegoats popped up on the Sociology Job Market Rumor Mill, as evident in posts like this:

The bottom line is that we were lied to and sold a bill of goods about the viability of an academic job in sociology. Clearly, many of us come from top departments, have numerous solo authored publications in good journals, teaching experience, etc., yet nothing. I don’t think it’s just a bad job market this year — the funding for this year’s jobs was largely in place before the economic crisis. Next year, we’ll really see the effect. So, we were lied to. I seriously and honestly wish I had gone to law school or B-school — where being a white male might actually do me some good instead of ruin any chance I have at getting a job. So much for fighting the good fight. Fuck ’em all — time to use my gender and race for my benefit for once, time to get paid.  December 3, 2008 6:36 PM

My favorite part is the statement that it is “time to use my gender and race for my benefit for once,” as if being a white male has been resting below the surface of his life for years with no effect on his experiences, and only now rears its head to crush his opportunities on the academic market.

Strangely, I was able to find a job as a white male. Maybe this is because the institution that hired me is private and thus less affected by the rash of reverse discrimination that has affected public institutions like the University of Michigan Law School, but I doubt it. Maybe my superior c.v., personality, interviewing skills, and intellect overpowered the fact that I am a white male, but I doubt that, too. In fact, looking back at my life I cannot identify any situation in which my background as a white, middle-class male hindered my ability to progress through life in terms of education or employment.  It may be surprising, but I think that the fact that I shared the same cultural references and experiences as my teachers, professors, and employers helped me in ways that I will never fully know. Maybe I’m the exception, but thanks to my sociological training, I doubt it.

*Bonus: this post has a soundtrack.

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There is an interesting article on Inside Higher Ed about the desire of graduate students to find employment at “family friendly” institutions, which they typically define to exclude research universities.  The article itself summarizes the findings of a report available on Academe.  “Family friendly” institutions are said to offer a better work-life balance, though Tina at scatterplot has an insightful post about why balance is probably the wrong metaphor in the face of ever-increasing obligations on both fronts.

The ability to have more time for family was one of many factors that led me to seek employment at a liberal arts school.  I have also watched a number of junior faculty members go through the tenure process in my graduate program and have had enough experience with the publication process to know that I do not want my future to rest solely on how many journal articles I can publish in the next six years.

While the Acadme authors take an extreme position by stating that “If this sentiment is broadly shared among current and future student cohorts, the future life-blood of academia may be at stake, as promising young scholars seek alternative career paths with better work-life balance,” anybody who has recently been on the sociology job market knows that this is not the case.  Despite the ASA’s recent conclusion that the job market is good, the current state of the market (i.e., it sucks) is such that candidates are told to apply for all types of jobs and encouraged to take whatever they can get.  While some candidates will have multiple offers, many will not, ensuring that “the future life-blood of academia” will be squeezed from those working long hours under the regime of publish or perish.

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I have been on fellowship for the ’08-9 academic year.  Aside from various revisions and completing other projects, I have two major tasks during this time: getting a job and finishing my dissertation.

The completion of task number one leaves me with a single major task for the current semester.  Unfortunately, I have been clinically diagnosed as a procrastinator per the DSM-IV* definition of the term under the “Work Disorders” heading:

Major Procrastination Disorder

The problem, my doctor tells me, is that I don’t have enough work to do.  While this seems counter-intuitive, I have found that my most productive periods have been when I am extremely busy with other things.  I need to become a structured procrastinator, which is defined as “shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact.”  An illustration may be helpful:

The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Thus, while some may see starting a blog in the midst of dissertation writing to be counterproductive, I am actually trying to use my wasted time more wisely.  And if the blog becomes a chore, I may find myself working on my dissertation to avoid it!

*For those who cannot find this disorder in the DSM-IV, you probably checked the book when you should have checked your gut.

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Biscotti recently commented that she feels senioritis creeping in as she nears her fourth year of graduate school.  For me, that familiar feeling returned when I had signed the contract for my first academic job.

Graduate school is about a lot of things, and one of them is surely pleasing others.  On the job market, you hope that your efforts in this area pay off in the form of good letters of recommendation (yet another mystery of the market).  Apparently, my efforts in previous years warranted letters good enough to get me a job.  With that job comes the realization that the length of time it takes me to proofread a paper, run an analysis, or revise a draft for a professor will not affect my future placement.

There are a lot of things that I have to do before next fall, and the completion of my dissertation certainly looms large.  I have a feeling, though, that taking a week to proofread a paper, run an analysis, or revise a draft for a professor will not prevent my successful completion.  To some, these increasing turnaround times might look like senioritis.  To me, they feel like freedom.

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