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Posts Tagged ‘R1’

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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Last week I noted that there is more to a potential job than the school’s rank, even though nobody in my family has heard of the school where I will start work in the fall.  My experiences as a graduate student (and observer of junior faculty) in a highly-ranked department led me to seek a different type of career.  To many (especially my family members), it is probably hard to believe that I would prefer the job that I received to one at a prestigious institution such as Columbia, but I am constantly reminded of this fact when reading things like this (the original post has since been taken down):

The back story here is that I applied for a small grant from Columbia and they replied saying, “A serious research proposal should go beyond your impressions of and personal history with one institution. If it does not, it will remain at the level of anecdotal, single-case evidence, and will count as autobiography rather than systematic research.” Translation: ethnography isn’t real research. To their credit, my senior colleagues rallied around me, agrily responding that the rejection was ridiculous. They wrote a letter on my behalf, asked me to send a chapter from my book in contract, and leave it be. The response just came back from the VP’s office. It was worse than ever. This time, not some under-VP, but the VP himself responded,

“At this moment, the submitted material is highly readable, but the FDC [faculty development committee] believes that it does not sufficiently display an exercise of the research abilities we expect in a major research university. It will be work that displays such abilities that will also be important in meeting the standard for tenure.”

While I have considered the difficulty of publishing and its effects on tenure, I hadn’t considered that being awarded tenure at a “prestigious” institution would be related to the type of work one does, in addition to the quality.  I want no part of this world.

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There is an interesting post on Inside Higher Ed about Michèle Lamont’s How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, which examines peer review panels.  As a graduate student, I’ve been curious about peer review processes in general, as I’ve experienced successes and failures in peer-reviewed publications and grant competitions.

I suspect that little will change in regard to these processes in my future life as a junior faculty member, but 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.

Higher expectations for research often come with fewer teaching obligations and graduate student collaborators, allowing faculty to maintain multiple projects and submit a lot of papers for review.  At most liberal arts schools, teaching loads are higher and there are no graduate students with whom to collaborate, which I expect results in fewer concurrent projects and fewer submissions for review.  As a student I have watched papers go through numerous review cycles at multiple journals before receiving an R&R or conditional acceptance.  In one case, this process took years.  A large part of the reason for this was that the authors submitted their paper first to a top generalist journal, then to highly-ranked specialty journal, then to another specialty journal, before being accepted at yet another specialty journal that, while still good, does not have as much cachet as the earlier destinations.

Although I want to publish in highly-ranked journals, I am unlikely to have years to devote to the publication of a single paper as a junior faculty member at a liberal arts school.  In time, I wonder if this desire will fade in favor of running a more forgiving gauntlet that is equally supported by my tenure review committee while fewer outside of my institution are aware of my contributions to sociological knowledge.

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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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