Posts Tagged ‘Inside Higher Ed’

After accepting positions at teaching-intensive universities, many are stunned by the direction their careers take and how academic roles are shaped by the institutions. Working for an Ivy League institution or a big state research university would also shape careers and lives, but new faculty members don’t anticipate the consequences of working for the “lower-tier,” “open-admissions” universities and colleges that pick them up fresh out of graduate school.  (Inside Higher Ed)

Cautionary tales such as this highlight the importance of finding an institution that matches your professional goals.  Unfortunately, the current state of the job market means that those who apply broadly and are lucky enough to receive job offers may not find a perfect match on their first attempt (this may also mean that advisers who push candidates to apply broadly are doing them a disservice).

So far, the job I received at a SLAC as the result of a more specific approach has met my expectations.  Despite this, there are aspects of my grad school days that I miss (beyond having large numbers of fellow students who are eager to grab a drink on a warm spring evening).  One thing that I recently realized that I miss are the various colloquia.  Although my coworkers are all involved in research of one sort or another, the members of a small department cannot be active enough in this area to support frequent discussions of original work.  In the R1 department where I attended grad school, on the other hand, there were several weekly colloquia on various topics in addition to occasional invited speakers.  At the school level there are still numerous outside speakers and events that I have attended as often as possible, but these occasions merely remind me of the days when it was all sociology, all the time.

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Interview season is quickly approaching for the five schools that are hiring sociologists this year.  If you are fortunate enough to land one of these interviews, you don’t want to blow your opportunity by doing something stupid while eating a meal.  I always thought this was the kind of thing that graduate programs told their students, but given that others I know had vastly different graduate school experiences, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to pass this sort of information along.  With this in mind, a recent Inside Higher Ed post has some helpful advice about what to do (and not to do) while eating with potential colleagues.  Some highlights:

Choose an item priced in the middle range of the menu offerings. You need not order the least expensive, but do not order the most expensive item. Accept menu items “as is.” Refrain from asking for substitutions or asking that ingredients be excluded.

If you choose to drink any kind of alcohol, be sure to drink slowly — and be mindful of your drinking. Have a glass of water along with your beer, wine, or mixed drink. Given the circumstances of interviewing, remember that you may be tired, possibly hungry, and perhaps nervous — all factors that have implications for consuming alcohol.

To this I would add not to eat anything complicated (crab legs) or likely to fling sauce on your interview attire (spaghetti).  In the case of alcohol, the advice I’ve received is to let others order first and follow their lead.  You do not want to be the only person at the table ordering alcohol, but if somebody orders a bottle of wine for the table there is some social pressure to join in.  At one of my interviews last year there was about a glass worth of wine left over at the end of the meal and I was encouraged to take it with me to my hotel to unwind before the next day’s interviewing.  I did.

Even more important than what you eat and drink is this piece of advice:

As a job candidate, you will be focused on wanting to make a good impression and getting the offer. However, remember that you too are conducting an interview. Sharing a meal with prospective colleagues offers an opportunity for you to consider if you want to work with them. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is their rapport?
  • Are they respectful of each other?
  • Do they seem to get along well?
  • Are they collegial?
  • These are people you might be working with closely for many years. They need not become your close friends, but you do want to have a sense of working successfully with them as colleagues.


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    Like a lot of things, my knowledge of graduate student experiences in sociology programs is limited.  Talking to a few of my new colleagues the other day, I was surprised to hear one of them state that he figured graduate school was hell for everybody.  I didn’t think much of it until I came across this post on Inside Higher Ed about when to quit academia.  Obviously, people leave academia for all kinds of reasons, but according to the author, a lot of people leave because they do not want to put up with “years of the grueling dissertation-writing process (which can be totaled up in dollars, tears, therapists’ bills, damaged relationships, etc.).”  These concerns are reiterated when she discusses those who have completed their Ph.D.s, stating that the costs of doing so are “Severely compromised mental health, a significant debt, relationships that needed some nurturing after long periods of neglect.”

    Personally, I enjoyed graduate school and could have stayed indefinitely if it weren’t for the low pay.  Nevertheless, I did not go into debt as a graduate student, my mental health has not suffered, I have never seen a therapist, and graduate school did not negatively impact my relationships.  Granted, there is likely to be a benefit to attending a school closer to the top of the rankings than the bottom, but I hope that the norm is closer to my experience than that of my colleague.

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    Although I’ve noted that my perspectives on graduate student pay have changed a bit since I received the promise of an actual salary, I hope that I never get to the point where I think that an administrative assistant should do whatever I ask without question.  From the “Career Advice” section of Inside Higher Ed:

    Dear Survival Guide

    My secretary is not being helpful. She refuses to do the simple tasks I assign her and complains to my superior that I am bullying her both by asking her to do these things and by the way I ask her. I am a hard-working, mid-level administrator in an important department and I am in delicate health; that means that I need a little extra help. So, on occasion, I’ve asked her to carry and reach things for me, to shelve books, to pick up a sandwich at a local store, or to wait in a parking spot close to the building, so that I can park close to my office. I’m often on assignments out of the office, and prefer working at home anyway, so I ask her to unlock my office door and turn the lights on in the morning (and lock it and turn off the lights in the evening), so that people won’t question whether I am working. But she challenges everything I ask her and says that it’s inappropriate to ask her to do these things. Last week she refused outright, in front of the rest of the staff, to follow my direction that she rearrange the staff workroom to make room for my bicycle on the days I bike to work, citing some memo she’d seen about bicycles in buildings. This is ridiculous, as it’s too expensive to leave outside on a college campus. She’s clearly uncooperative and beyond. I am a very busy person. I want to be her friend and have a good working relationship but she must do her job. How can I make her understand what her duties are?

    –Frustrated at BigStateU

    I agree that somebody should be frustrated in this situation, but it isn’t the letter writer!

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    A recent Inside Higher Ed post gives some helpful advice for those who are planning to go on the job market this year, whether for the first time, yet again, or looking for a new job.  Some good advice for first-timers:

    Practice not going around telling people that you won’t go just anywhere for a job. It causes them to believe that you are a snob, or that you have your head up your butt about the state of the market, or that you don’t really care about getting a job. Or all of the above. So practice not saying it: it is really immature, and it causes people — especially those who are in charge of recommending you — to think poorly of you. If you really want a job, and you want a shot at this career, you may need to go to someplace that seems like anywhere to you, but is actually somewhere to the nice people who already work there. If your attitude gets back to someone on a hiring committee (because as Walt said, it’s a small world after all), you might as well have not applied.

    You also need to be honest with yourself about why you think this, because you may need to start planning an alternative career now rather than waiting for the perfect job in the Bay Area that 500 other people are not applying for. If you can’t go anywhere because your partner won’t allow it, be clear with yourself that you are risking putting the career you have trained for on the shelf because the relationship you want to be in, and the person who says s/he loves you, requires it. If you won’t go anywhere because you refuse to live outside a major city, or a particular major city where you have made your home, be clear that you may be sacrificing years of graduate study because of your own limitations about what constitutes an acceptable life and/or job. “I don’t want to” or “I am afraid to” is not the same as “I can’t.” Be clear about the difference, and the consequences.

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    As Shamus on Scatterplot posted earlier in the month, Washington State University has decided to eliminate its rural sociology program and, with it, the jobs of eight faculty members.  Today, Inside Higher Ed posted a report on the topic:

    That a land grant university would simply abolish the discipline — and in particular a rare freestanding program that is well respected nationally — stunned rural sociologists. Many have come to expect that sociology departments (general ones) will be more occupied with issues of criminology and sexuality and suburban youth than with aging populations in rural towns or the new immigration that is changing those communities.

    And they say they have seen agriculture colleges focus more of their research on genomics and biotechnology and less on family farms. So Washington State’s decision has come to be seen as mattering nationally — and is galvanizing scholars who have no particular ties to the university and whose frustration extends beyond that one institution.

    An interesting aspect of the report is the idea that rural sociology is a candidate for the chopping block because rural life itself seems less important to some than it has in the past:

    And thus the reaction to Washington State relates very much to concerns about land grants generally. “There aren’t very many rural sociology programs around. There’s a general perception that rural doesn’t matter anymore. Whenever financial problems arise and administrators get a little touchy about how they are going to manage budgets, this is the sort of thing that happens,” said Kenneth Pigg, a rural sociologist at the University of Missouri at Columbia, one institution that still has a freestanding program.

    Pigg said that social sciences were once viewed as central to the land grant mission — that departments of rural sociology (or agriculture economics) were applying research to help rural communities. “Now, with the emphasis on life sciences generally, you don’t see that at a lot of universities,” he said. Pigg’s work currently focuses on the impact of technological change in rural areas. While many have said that the Internet is “a savior” for rural life, Pigg said that there’s not nearly enough attention paid to the impact it has and the lack of real access to technology of many people outside of urban areas.

    I think that closures such as these point to the increasing importance of public sociology.  While we need to do work that is relevant to public concerns, sociologists also need to have a larger role in informing the public about why our findings matter and which concerns are socially important.  If our discipline is to survive the public needs to know the benefits of taking a sociological view in addition to a biological or psychological view on human behavior.

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    It is comforting to know that while Cecilia and I may have no idea how to write a dissertation, there are always others who believe they have the answers we seek.  From Inside Higher Ed:

    Large projects, such as an M.A. thesis, dissertation, book or just a long paper, can be daunting. For some of us, myself included, project management can be a challenge for any article written from scratch. This memo can help you break down your writing project into smaller, less intimidating parts. I will focus on the writing of a thesis or dissertation, but the same basic logic applies to even smaller writing tasks.

    Unfortunately, like Lao-Tze, Gastil doesn’t say which keystroke to start with.

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    A recent Inside Higher Ed post summarizes research by Susan K. Gardner, an assistant professor of higher ed at the University of Maine, on graduate student attrition.  Gardner interviewed students and professors in six departments and found that the faculty members largely blamed attrition on the students.

    The top reasons faculty members cited were that students were lacking (53 percent), the student shouldn’t have enrolled in the first place (21 percent) or the student had personal problems (15 percent). …  “Not everybody who starts their Ph.D. is going to finish it and some are just not up to the job,” said one.  Several talked about students who lack enough drive.  “Some of them are not willing to work hard enough. …  I think it’s a lack of focus,” said one.

    Reading this section of the summary, I recalled all of the times that professors in my program have noted that grad school is a marathon, not a sprint.  This platitude, however, appears to come with a few caveats, such as NIMC (not in my course) and NWYFCFMG (not when your funding comes from my grant) – as you may have noticed, some caveats are catchier than others.  For these professors, graduate school is a marathon when you are working on things for others and a sprint when you are working on things for them.

    In my first year I was called into the office of a faculty member who closed the door and proceeded to ask what was wrong with me.  Apparently, halfway through my second semester the professor could already tell that I was deficient.  From my perspective, I was enormously successful.  I had made it through the first semester while completing my work and maintaining a healthy social life that allowed me to protect my sanity and prevented me from being overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done.  My only explanation is that this professor noticed I had slipped comfortably into my marathon pace, sprinting only when I fell behind due to procrastination, and wanted me to specialize in sprinting.  Another first year student was an excellent sprinter and left, completely burned out, after our second year.

    Six years later I’m still here, alternately sprinting to finish dissertation drafts and then slowing to recover.  I was the first student in my cohort to find a job and one of two who will be graduating this year.  I think my professor meant to give me a pep talk that would cause me to pick up the pace, but looking at the rest of the pack I saw no reason to do so.  The funny thing is that if I had taken this advice I probably would have produced a better paper in the class but I’m not sure I would be here today.

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    Between 2001 and 2007, the ASA reports that the percentage of permanent faculty members has remained fairly stable:

    Permanent Sociologists

    The price for this relative stability appears to be increased teaching loads:

    Course Loads

    It is interesting that losses in full-time faculty have been balanced by decreased courseloads at Masters II institutions, while the stability at Masters I institutions comes with a large increase in courseloads.  If the job market was such that the majority of candidates had a choice of schools, I wonder if they would rather work at a school with increasing courseloads or increasing numbers of adjunct faculty.

    Via:  Inside Higher Ed

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    So you’ve gotten a job.  Congratulations!  Celebrate a bit (then stop procrastinating and get back to work on your dissertation).  One thing that those of us lucky enough to receive jobs probably haven’t dealt with yet is what we’re going to do about the courses we’ll be teaching in the fall.

    In some ways, this question reflects all of the reasons that we wanted jobs in the first place.  My future department recently contacted me to tell me which courses they would like me to teach in the fall and to ask when I wanted to teach them.  The idea that I had control over my schedule was foreign to me and I didn’t quite know how to handle it.  After regaining my composure, which required looking at the department website to see how others had structured their schedules, I suggested some times that were accepted by the department.  The scheduling process made the fact that I have a job for the fall a lot more real, and reminded me that I need to get back to work on my dissertation.

    Thankfully, my fall schedule was free of surprises since I had discussed the courses that I would teach at my interview.  Because I only have one new prep (and this course is at least tangentially related to my interests), I don’t have to worry as much as some others in my position.  So far I’ve checked out the syllabi of others and requested a few desk copies of relevant books, but I’m sure that things will get more hectic (thankfully, I’ve got the power) as the time to order books and finalize my own syllabus approaches.

    Rob Weir at Inside Higher Ed has some additional advice for new professors:

    • Relax.
    • Don’t reinvent the wheel.
    • Ignorance can be bliss.
    • Say goodbye to grad school.
    • Haul blocks.
    • Black and white goes with everything.
    • Ratchet up, not down.
    • Function follows form.
    • Be clear and fair. (The rest will follow.)

    Like me, you may have thought that you went into higher ed so that you don’t have to haul blocks, but Weir explains his advice in more detail in his post.  I’ll keep this advice in mind as fall approaches.

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