Posts Tagged ‘Mid-Major’

It is likely that you have read about the job candidate in philosophy whose offer was withdrawn by Nazareth College. The candidate was reportedly told that his or her requests “… indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered.” Beyond finding the college’s response inexcusable, this statement stood out to me because it sets up “research” and “teaching” institutions as a dichotomy, which I have heard a number of times when talking to those from small liberal arts colleges about things like teaching loads. This dichotomy is demonstrably false not only because it ignores a lot of schools but also because the situations in which it is used reveal as many differences as similarities.

I have heard variations of the statement, “We’re not an R1, so…” to justify teaching loads ranging from 4-4 to 3-2. I imagine that a difference of three courses per year is significant, but it is not the only significant difference. Although I teach three courses per semester, I regularly teach more students per semester than friends who teach four. Despite this, my school does not have the resources of those in the top 100 national liberal arts schools (whether sorted by US News ranking or endowment). There are also large differences between teaching at a school with no religious affiliation, one with a nominal affiliation, and one with a tight coupling between faith and academics.

Talking about SLACs vs. R1s makes for an easy shorthand, and I have certainly discussed the common qualities that many SLACs share. Statements that start with “We’re not an R1, so…”, however, suggest a sort of inferiority complex that might be brought on by working at a school that nobody has ever heard of but that could also be linked to the perceived status of teaching vs. research in academia. After all, I have never heard somebody who works at a research university respond to a question about teaching load by saying “We’re not a SLAC, so…”.

I know that those involved in the job market from both sides are doing their best to make a good impression, but I think that making a good impression can be bolstered by having a bit of self respect. If somebody asks you about the teaching load at your institution, tell them. Then tell them about your class sizes, your students, and what kind of research you’re working on. If that person is a job candidate, giving them a realistic picture of life at your institution can be done without denigrating it. It is okay to reflect the complexities of life in the ivory tower.

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In Monday’s post I highlighted a few of my thoughts on the ASA’s employment service.  The short version is that I think it is worthwhile and that, like the job market in general, a sort of confident detachment is extremely helpful.  Other people’s opinions can be found within last year’s Scatterplot discussion of the topic and New Soc Prof’s post from last summer (see point 5).

Perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the experience is courtesy of Pitse1eh’s “ASA Speed Dating” post.  To this list I would add that you should sign up for the employment service as soon as possible and begin requesting meetings with the schools that interest you most.  I ended up with fewer meetings than I intended last year because I waited until just before ASA to start scheduling them and, by that time, many school’s schedules were full.  I assume the situation will be similar this year with candidates hoping to get ahead in a tough market.  Also, once you have scheduled a meeting, you can see who the interviewers are scheduled to be and jot down a few notes about the school, department, and faculty that will be useful during the interview.  As an aside, you should be aware that until ASA ends there are two lists of job postings that are updated independently – one for the job bank and one for the employment service.  Schools that list their postings on one will not necessarily list them on the other, so you should watch both lists for postings and deadlines.

My final (for now) thoughts on the employment service are related to preparation.  As I said in Monday’s post, you need to be prepared to answer questions about your teaching and research in short, coherent statements, making this a good time to start practicing responses to these frequently asked questions.  Along these lines it may also be worthwhile to spend 20 or 30 minutes sitting in the employment service staging area covertly listening to the questions that are asked at the nearby tables.  I ended up having a free block of time between two other meetings last year during which I overheard a school ask a candidate which five classes she would most like to teach and which book had most influenced her sociological thinking.  Because of this, I wasn’t surprised by these questions when I met with that school.  Also regarding questions, New Soc Prof points out in her post that you will be doing a lot more of the asking than you might expect.  This is in line with my own experience and my view of the employment service as a fact-finding mission.  For these purposes, these questions to ask might come in handy.  I imagine that bombing an employment service interview doesn’t have the same emotional impact as bombing a phone or campus interview, but you will still probably want to avoid responding to a question like, “What can we tell you about our school?” with “Blllluuuuuuuuhhhh…”

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As of today, there is one month remaining to preregister for the San Francisco ASA conference.  If you’re planning to go on the job market this year, you also have a month to register for the ASA’s employment service.  There is a perennial debate about whether the employment service is worthwhile, which has already started over at the new job market forum (I’ve shared some of my feelings on the job market blog/forum before), and there are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether or not to participate.

First, high-ranking R1s almost never participate in the employment service.  If you want to meet with people from these schools it is probably best to have an advisor arrange an informal meeting for you (though I suppose you could also scrutinize everybody’s ASA nametag looking for big names and high-ranking institutions and then strike up an awkward conversation in the hallway of the Hilton).  Even if you have your sights set on this type of job, there are plenty of reasons to participate in the employment service.  One is the ability to get some practice answering questions and talking about your teaching and research in short, coherent statements.  Another is the fact that many people who want jobs at high-ranking R1s interview and accept jobs elsewhere, so this is an opportunity to find out more about the types of schools where you haven’t spent the past 5-10 years.

Second, some people argue that you cannot get a job at the employment service but you can lose one, so it isn’t worth the risk.  Their argument rests on the belief that the entire department is not represented by those interviewing at the employment service, so if somebody at the employment service doesn’t like your personality or your condescending attitude and you officially apply for this job later, the few people who met you at the employment service will speak up and prevent you from being invited for a campus interview.  If you hadn’t gone to the employment service, however, they argue that your impeccable record would have spoken for itself and the school would have interviewed you, giving the full department a chance to decide for themselves about your personality and attitude.

These people are overlooking two things: 1) No matter how many publications you have, you will not get invited to interviews by a vast majority of the schools to which you apply, so it is nearly impossible to isolate the effect of an employment service interview among the noise that is job market and 2) if your personality or condescending attitude is so abrasive that you cannot spend 20 minutes with people without effectively taking yourself out of the running for a position at their school, you have bigger job market problems than deciding whether or not to participate in the employment service.  For what it’s worth, there is at least a small possibility that a candidate can make a favorable impression on a school during the employment service meeting.  I was told at one of my interviews last fall that I had been called for a phone interview because I had seemed genuinely excited about their program at the employment service.

Another important thing to remember about the employment service is that it is bizarre.  Yes, there is a waiting area near the front where you will likely sit with other candidates.  Yes, there is a bell that rings to warn you when your time with a particular school is nearly up and again when it is up.  Yes, it takes place in a large room with numbered tables.  Yes, you will likely pass candidates interested in the same schools as you on your way to and from these tables.  The employment service is an experience unlike any you have likely had or will have again, assuming you get a job this year.  It isn’t going to do you any good to complain or fret about these things.  The employment service is the same for everybody and you are a sociologist, so sit back and enjoy the interesting social interactions that occur when nobody has a proper social script.

Next up is the employment service’s reputation as a “meat market.”  From my experience with the employment service last year, I think that others tend to project their own feelings onto the other employment service candidates.  You may hear others talk about how nervous the participants were, how they wouldn’t look each other in the eye or talk to each other because they were all competitors, and how socially awkward everybody appeared (see the first comment here).  Maybe I just didn’t spend enough time in the employment service area, but I didn’t see anybody who resembled these stereotypes.  Personally, I was slightly nervous about meeting strangers but I was also confident in my record and recognized that the likelihood of being invited for a campus interview at the same school as any of the other candidates I saw was extremely small.  If anything, the fact that we were all sharing the same bizarre experience gave us a sort of camaraderie.

This brings me to what is perhaps the most important aspect of the employment service: your approach.  I think that you will have a much better view of the experience overall if you treat it like a fact-finding mission.  This is also true for phone and campus interviews, but at the employment service you have more power than at any other stage in the process because you have the power to apply or not apply based on your impressions of the department and your potential colleagues.  This is your chance to ask about the teaching load, the publication expectations, and the local farmer’s markets.  Take detailed notes during your meetings and sprinkle details of your conversations into the cover letters of the schools to which you decide to apply.  Viewing the process as a fact-finding mission, the only way you can lose is if you refuse to participate.

Update: See the follow-up to this post here.

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Nearly everybody with a Ph.D. in sociology earned that degree at a Research 1 institution (RU/H and RU/VH just don’t have the same ring to them).  As a result, nearly all of the faculty members we interact with in our graduate programs can tell us about publication expectations at an R1, hiring practices at an R1, tenure and promotion at an R1, teaching at an R1, etc., but most of them don’t have much experience with other types of schools.  Thankfully, many faculty members have recognized that different types of institutions reward different types of letters and applications.  Unfortunately, this recognition is often viewed as a dichotomy – do you want a research job (at an R1) or a teaching job (at a liberal arts school)?

Between these extremes lies another type of school:  the masters-granting institution.  In athletics, many of these schools fall into the “mid-major” category.  In academics, large numbers of professors work happily at these schools and large numbers of students earn degrees and go on to successful careers.  Some go on to earn Ph.D.s at R1s and then get jobs at liberal arts schools in order to cover as many types of institutions as possible.

Perhaps their location in the middle of the academic continuum is the reason that these schools do not receive the attention that seems to be warranted by the numbers of faculty they employ.  Because they fall in the middle, faculty need to be better at balancing research and teaching, as demands for both can be high relative to schools with a narrower focus.  In general, it seems that teaching loads are higher at mid-majors than at R1s and class sizes are larger than at liberal arts schools.  While there are sometimes graduate programs, faculty members are less likely to have graduate assistants to help with grading.  Fewer graduate students also means that faculty have fewer chances to coauthor with others who can do a large share of the work, despite having higher publication expectations than their peers at liberal arts schools.

I have often thought of a career at a mid-major as the worst of both worlds.  Higher expectations for publishing coupled with higher teaching loads and higher class sizes seem less than ideal.  It is possible that my attitudes toward life at a mid-major would be different if I had had the opportunity to learn more about working at one during conference panels and did not have to rely on my observations as an undergraduate.  Hopefully those who accept positions at these schools are able to find out enough about them while visiting campuses for interviews to make informed choices about job offers.  For those in graduate school, however, it would be nice if there were more opportunities to learn about the full range of academic jobs.

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