Posts Tagged ‘R1’

It is likely that you have read about the job candidate in philosophy whose offer was withdrawn by Nazareth College.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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A recent trip to to an R1 for a college basketball game brought back a feeling I didn’t know I missed – the feeling of being in a college town. It turns out that there is a huge difference between a “college town” and a “town with a college.” I suppose that I would classify a college town as one in which a college or university is the largest employer, causing most of the people in the town to interact with students or academic employees on a regular basis. Using this definition, the location of my undergraduate institution qualified for most of my time there and the location of my graduate program definitely qualified.

After 11 years in college towns, the transition to a town with a college can be jarring. The character of social life is much different, especially in terms of the age of bar patrons, but there are a number of other differences. Over break, a colleague mentioned getting coffee but noted that doing so was impossible because the coffee shop in the student union closes at 10 am during breaks. In a college town there would be numerous coffee shops within walking distance of campus. In my town there are none. The realization that I could not get coffee on a January afternoon made me think about all of the time I spent as an undergraduate in off-campus coffee shops.

The things within walking distance of my campus consist of a bank, two grocery stores, two pizza places, a Chinese restaurant, a post office, a drugstore, a post office, and a bar. Each of these locations has college student patrons but none of them are aimed particularly at college students. The difference is also felt by those who have no affiliation with the school. Each time we visit a large campus in a college town my wife notes that she wishes my career aspirations had been different so that she could experience the kind of environment she grew accustomed to while I was in grad school. Maybe if there were huge liberal arts colleges (HLACs) we could have the best of both worlds.

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Near the beginning of the semester I read an article at The Chronicle of Higher Education that my recent experience semi-annual experience of surviving advising brought to mind.  The gist of the article is that some graduate advisors do such a terrible job that their advisees pay for advising from others.  As a faculty member with over 40 undergraduate advisees, I would argue that many of the same lessons apply.  The relevant passages state:

Your responsibility to your advisees extends to telling the whole truth about the academic enterprise at this time. Tenure-track lines have been evaporating for years. Aiming for a tenure-track job is, for most students, unrealistic. For those students who wish to try, the effort requires years of methodical training and calculation of career chances, from the point of arrival in the graduate program through the dissertation defense and beyond. Your job is to look up from your students’ dissertations, and assist them in mastering those skills and calculations.

How? By teaching your Ph.D.’s how to write a CV; to cultivate prominent scholarly supporters; to pursue grant money with a single-minded purpose; to apply for national awards; to publish, publish more, publish higher, write a stellar application letter, and do the elevator talk.

And when, even after doing all of the above, the tenure-track job doesn’t materialize, as it often will not, instead of averting your eyes in shame from their so-called “failures,” you step up, professors, and work with your Ph.D.’s to transfer their skills into some sector of the economy that is not contracting as badly as your own.

While it is true that there are some bad advisors at my institution, and I’m glad that I don’t have to advise students writing master’s theses or dissertations, it seems that if I served my advisees as poorly as some professors serve their graduate students I would be out of a job.  For example, the person that I replaced was reportedly a bad advisor, but that person that I replaced was replaced after failing to get tenure.  I’m not sure if any research exists on this, but it would be interesting to see if the general orientation toward students and teaching at a SLAC also leads to better advising than the orientation toward publications and grants at larger institutions.

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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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A while ago I “wrote” to a journal editor who had spurned a paper that I wrote and, despite the fact that the paper was later published and received some media attention, the publication process was painful.  Even before first R&R, the paper was rejected at multiple venues.  While the final product was arguably a better paper, I wouldn’t have minded an acceptance at a much earlier stage.

Publication, it turns out, is not always so painful.  Over the summer I submitted a paper for review and there were several notable differences from my earlier experience.  First, I received the editor’s decision within a month.  The dear journal editor in my previously mentioned situation, by comparison, took three months to inform me that he was rejecting my revised and resubmitted paper without review.  The largest difference, however, was in the outcome.  Based on the quick turnaround, I was apprehensive about opening the e-mail and pleasantly surprised to see that the paper had received a conditional acceptance, the holy grail of review outcomes.

If publication was always this painless I may have been content at an R1 institution.  They have small class sizes and value teaching, right?

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I’ve been tracking the transition to life as an assistant professor since last fall, so it is always interesting to see how others are dealing with their own transitions.  Along these lines, pitse1eh’s recent post provides a nice perspective on the transition from a research-focused grad student to a teaching-focused professor (especially since I was never a research-focused grad student).  The whole post is recommended reading, but at the very least you should heed the message that I have reiterated in a number of my job-market posts:

Lesson Learned: Issues about what type of job do you want (R1, teaching college, etc.) is a fundamental concern that needs to be addressed as soon as possible in your grad school career.

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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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A recent post about names and titles over at Scatterplot got me thinking about the conventions that professors (and grad students, instructors, etc.) use when sending e-mails to students.  It seems that the “professor e-mail” topic is rather barren when compared to the multitude of posts, e-mails, and conversations I have had regarding student e-mails and their ridiculousness/lack of professionalism.  As I noted in my comment at Scatterplot:

When teaching classes as a graduate student in a large department at a large university I told my students to call me whatever they were comfortable with but signed e-mails with my first name, which led to a number of them to call me by my first name. I saw this as a way to make things feel a bit closer on a large campus. Besides, I didn’t want to reinforce the idea that I wasn’t a “real” professor.

Now that I am a real (well, assistant) professor at a small liberal arts school I do less to encourage students to use my first name and most of them call me “Dr.” or “Professor.” Since the campus is smaller and I am much more likely to see students outside of class I don’t mind reminding them that there is some social distance between us.

My movement away from encouraging first-name usage has caused some problems for my e-mail routine.  Now, in addition to trying to find a proper closing (Peace?  Best wishes?  Sincerely?  Yours until the end of time?) I also need to find a different way to sign my name.  So far I have been hesitant to sign “Dr. Smith” or “Professor Smith,” maybe because they seem too new to have stuck yet.  My current unsatisfactory practice has been to let my e-mail signature, which includes my full name and contact information, stand in as a closing and signature, but this leaves my e-mails feeling unfinished

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When entering graduate school a lot of students probably dream of working at high-ranking R1s or liberal arts schools.  I’ve already discussed the overlooked middle option, but I think it is also important to consider careers at community colleges.  While community college life is not for everybody (neither is R1 life!), I taught a few classes as an adjunct at a small commuter college in a department with only one tenure-track sociologist and found it to be a rewarding experience.  It was helpful to teach sociology to a group of students who had seen some of the negative effects of social structures firsthand.  I also liked the mix of ages and backgrounds, which provided a lot of interesting anecdotes when I asked students to illustrate class concepts.

Although this has been debated recently, another potential benefit of working at a community college is that you don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to do so.  If teaching is what you love and want to do, you may be able to start your career much sooner than those who earn a Ph.D.  While I only have a few experiences with schools such as these, another recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education gives an interesting look at life at a community college, and the useful life experiences the author gained in lieu of a Ph.D.:

My job: Carry a 5/5/4 teaching load with three preps, sometimes four. Be ready to get three different courses into shape on four days’ notice. Be ready to teach composition, Homer, research skills, Mark Twain, a little public speaking, Dante, computer skills, T.S. Eliot, grammar, Hemingway, critical reading, Voltaire, business writing, Emily Dickinson, basic prosody, Flannery O’Connor, basic literary analysis, and whatever else needs teaching, off the top of my head if necessary (and yes, I’ve taught all of those in one academic year). Advise 50 students, 48 of whom are the first in their families to set foot on a college campus, 35 of whom are the first to finish high school. Serve on committees. Tutor students. Do whatever community-relations work the boss needs me to do. Endure enough professional-development activities to keep my superiors happy. Take care of all my own typing and most of my copying. Help students deal with the bureaucracy and our baffling computer systems.

Sometimes I counsel students in nonacademic matters. Sometimes I just listen to them. Some say things like “I’m just a dumb redneck” and “I know I’m too stupid to do this.” They apologize for asking for help. The mothers — and half of my students are mothers — never tire of talking about kids and their problems. Sometimes I wonder how the hell a 20-year-old single woman who has a baby and cancer manages to get out of bed in the morning, much less come to class. I’ve held babies so that students could rummage in diaper bags to find the essays they wanted me to critique.

Since our maintenance department might lose a race with a tranquilized slug, I also fix things. Thanks to me, the door of the faculty men’s room closes. I made the campus-safety department a better tool for opening vehicle doors when students lock their keys in their cars. When the wheels of our housekeeper’s cart begin to squeal so loudly that I can hear them over the Led Zeppelin playing in my office, I oil the bearings to get her through another few months. I fixed the office labelmaker. When the paper cutter stopped cutting, I brought the blade home and sharpened it with my Dremel tool.

I’ve changed flat tires for students, jump-started their cars, cleaned and tightened battery terminals, diagnosed c-v joint problems, spliced broken wires, and added most of the important fluids to their vehicles. Some students have no one — or at least no one competent — to help them with such things. So besides teaching them the right punctuation to use with conjunctive adverbs, I also teach them that Toyotas and Hondas don’t take the same power-steering fluid and that GM and Chrysler products need different kinds of transmission fluid.

Welcome to community-college teaching.

Incidentally, the Chronicle has an entire series of articles on “The Two-Year Track,” and candidates interested in applying for these sorts of jobs might also want to check out this advice for interviewing at a community college.

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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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