Publishing Research with Non-U.S. Data

Q: As a non-US scholar, it’s often difficult to “sell” your research on countries other than the U.S. to U.S. scholars & journals. What kind of advice would you have in getting non-U.S. research in U.S. journals?

Florencia_torcheFlorencia Torche, New York University

Learning from countries other than the US is essential to broaden our understanding of educational dynamics. While we may all agree with that idea, nevertheless research on other countries may, at first sight, seem arcane to a US reader. It is also true that a large proportion of scholarship published in US journals is about US settings. However, research about other countries has increased its visibility and legitimacy in sociology over the past few years. My sense is that editors, reviewers, and the research community value it and are willing to engage it, under certain conditions. These conditions actually apply to all scholarship, but they are even more relevant when the setting is less familiar.

The first condition is the ability to explain why this study is relevant beyond the specific case being analyzed – to explain, early and forcefully, what general phenomenon your analysis illuminates. So if you write, say, about the determinants of shadow education in Korea (or in the US, for that matter) or the consequences of educational privatization in Chile (or in Cleveland, for that matter) your task as a researcher is to explain what we can learn in general about this phenomenon and its impact on attainment and stratification.

At the same time, your readers will want to know about the specific characteristics of the setting that you are analyzing. This description, I’ve found, is more effective when it first discusses what makes the case generalizable to others, and then describes what makes it unique. You should explain the contextual factors that distinguish your setting from others, and also those that are shared across settings. This second condition again applies to every piece of scholarship, but it is more explicitly relevant when your work examines a context other than the US.

These conditions imply striking a fine balance. You want to offer generalizable hypotheses and implications while retaining –indeed, drawing on— the particularities of the case under analysis in comparative perspective. This is challenging but extremely valuable. How would we be able to understand the relevance of the institutional context for educational outcomes and processes if we restrict our approach to the U.S. or any particular country? As much variation as there is inside this country, examining other countries and educational systems broadens both empirical understanding and theoretical approaches.

One temptation when studying contexts other than the US is to overemphasize the generalizability of your case, and the extent to which it illuminates a wide range of phenomena –all forms of shadow education, all experiences of educational privatization, and so on. Try to resist this temptation. Experts know the particularities of different cases, and will judge your overgeneralization as reflecting a knack for hyperbole (if they are benevolent) or ignorance (if they are not). A strong contribution is one that acknowledges the “limits of generalizability” and uses such limits to discuss sources of variation across contexts.

One question I sometimes get is whether it is convenient to explain “why this research is relevant for the US” when you do research in another country. This strategy is a bit US-centered, of course, and it may force you to engage discussions that are not a direct component of your intellectual agenda. In my view, to the extent that you consider the conditions above –frame your research broadly and engage both particularities and generalizability of your case thoughtfully—there is nothing wrong and there is much to be gained by explicitly offering implications for the US.

Finally, a word on practical matters: If English is not your first language; this does not give you a free pass. Your word choice should be accurate and your grammar should be perfect. You may want to have a native speaker edit your work. If you cite work in some other language, translate the titles so that your readers understand the substantive content. All this takes time and effort, but professionalism requires no less.

In sum, I believe good work about settings other than the US is not only increasingly accepted but increasingly embraced, as long as it makes a strong contribution to understand general class of social and educational phenomena. There is probably more effort involved in this type of work because it is not enough to address a policy or a change that is a “big deal” in the US. But perhaps that is a blessing in disguise, as it will force you to focus on the broader implications of your study, to the benefit of the entire research community.

Being a Good Discussant

The Hidden Curriculum is now well-rested, and ready to resume our normal activities. With ASA almost upon us, we thought it would be good to return with a conference-related post about how to be a good discussant. 

riegle-crumb_cAuthor: Catherine Riegle-Crumb, University of Texas

Q: I was just asked to be a discussant on a paper. What is the best/correct format? How does one critique a senior scholar (as an advanced graduate student)?

Being asked to be a discussant is flattering, and sure, it can be a little intimidating if your status is junior to the presenters on the panel. But the folks organizing the session were surely aware of that and picked you for a reason. Critiquing a senior scholar’s work is really no different than critiquing the work of a peer at a parallel career stage—basically, you want to be collegial and respectful in your delivery, and most importantly, have something constructive and relevant to contribute to the discussion.  That is, after all, your role as a discussant! Below are a few quick suggestions:

#1: Read all the papers in your session –carefully—and not the night before. This is more than a lot of more senior folks who serve as discussants actually do- so, you are already off to a great start!

#2: Your comments should be focused on helping the authors see what they might be missing, not in playing a game of academic “gotcha”. Perhaps the authors are telling a story that is broad in scope but could be more informative by going into more depth (e.g. talking about broad racial/ethnic trends in educational trajectories but not considering how this could vary by gender). Or, their argument could be strengthened by pulling on a body of literature that they have not yet considered. Or, they are making substantive or empirical assumptions that are not (currently at least) adequately supported or explained. In other words, don’t get hung up on details (did they make sure to try at least 3 different ways of imputing missing data?). Reserve your comments to issues that are related to the paper’s overall effectiveness. You can always communicate the “small stuff” to authors after the session is over, either in person, or in an email.

#3: Don’t spend too much time talking about how all of the papers “fit together” or how they are all related to each other. If you find some interesting parallels or contrasts among specific papers, you should of course mention those points in your comments. However, don’t go overboard and spend ten minutes talking about “where the subfield is headed.” Your main priority is to give constructive feedback to the authors – and also make sure that there is time left for questions from the audience!

#4: Remember: being a discussant is really not about you—i.e. don’t spend your time talking about your own research. This happens sometimes with more senior discussants who seem to forget that they are not in fact there to present their own work. Only mention your own research if it is HIGHLY relevant—and then do so VERY briefly.

#5: Finally, try to relax. Sure, there may be a few senior scholars who have forgotten that graduate students can give excellent comments. (You are, after all, being trained to read critically.).  But don’t worry about offending them. The reality is that they will likely be ignoring you anyway. JK! But seriously, most scholars do appreciate a careful reading and a constructive discussion of their work. If you do that, all of the presenters will surely be grateful for your efforts.

When and how should a manuscript be submitted for publication as a book?

amy-binderprofilepicAMY BINDER

(I thank Lisa Nunn for making sure that none of this advice is egregious and for offering a few pearls of wisdom of her own. Lisa is an assistant professor at the University of San Diego, and the author of her first book Defining Student Success: The Role of School and Culture (Rutgers University Press, 2014).

If you are like most people, the first book you write will be based on your dissertation—that theory-centric, heavily citation’d, jargon-laden, possibly passive-voiced behemoth that only your advisors (or mother) could love. The first rule of submitting a book manuscript is not to mistake it for your dissertation manuscript. There is a lot of work required to convert your thesis into a book and if publishers smell a whiff of diss, they will decline your offer to let them publish your masterpiece. Best case scenario, they tell you to go back to the drawing board. You might as well avoid that rejection.

One thing that might be useful for you to do, if you haven’t done so already, is ask an advisor—or perhaps a young scholar who has already gone through the book publishing process—to show you the “before and after” of their own first book experience—that is, what their dissertation looked like and what their eventual book looked like. You will be surprised at how different the two are, and how truly humbling this exercise can be for the author! Where the dissertation’s first chapter goes deep into the weeds of a brilliant conceptual framework, the book has a few pages upfront which succinctly lay out the argument and then are followed by theory, data, and findings interwoven together throughout the chapters. Where the dissertation featured tortured sentences, the book puts such concepts into simpler language.

The idea here is not to dumb down your book; it is to appeal to a wider audience comprised of sociologists beyond your particular subfield as well as to researchers in related fields, the educated public, graduate students and undergrads. Editors want to publish smart books, but they also want to sell books. The more people your book can appeal to, the better chance you have of getting it published. This is not selling out; this is building an audience for your research.

Once you have mentally prepared yourself to “think different” about your book manuscript, you need to do some serious intel about which publisher (or publishers) to pitch your book to. Nothing screams “newbie” more than approaching the wrong press about your project. You should spend some time getting to know the publisher’s sociology and/or education list (or culture or movements or organizations or inequality…), and you should prepare a pitch letter to the editor for why your book works so well with other books on their list.

If there is a special series within a press that you are particularly interested in, prepare an email to the series editor who curates the series. Work your networks. If you think your advisor or a colleague in your department can help—perhaps they have published with that press/series, or they went to grad school with that person—ask if they would be willing to reach out on your behalf. You obviously have to do the hard work, yourself, of writing the prospectus and describing your work in a pitch letter, but these people can vouch for you and help you get your foot in the door.

Next comes writing the book prospectus, and once again it’s a good time to depend on the kindness of experienced others. Senior colleagues, advanced assistant professors, one of your professors of old—ask a few people if they would be willing to share their prospectus with you so that you can see how these documents are structured. A model that I have used looks like the following, coming in at about 20 pages, double-spaced:

  • Overview—about 3 pages
  • Methods and Data—about 1 page
  • Context for the book (a bit of lit review, but all in the service of talking about your project. Plan to start with the sentence along the lines of “This book is about…”)—about 5 pages.
  • Audiences—1 page
  • Market Position/Related Titles—1 page
  • Manuscript Length and Time Table–½ page
  • Tentative chapter outline—10 pages
  • Works Cited—no more than 2 pages

While I and others have successfully deployed this template, you should bear in mind that most presses lay out an explicit format for what they want included in the prospectus. Lisa advises that you follow their guidelines to the letter, which means that, in effect, you end up writing different prospectuses for different presses.

Once you have submitted your prospectus and ancillary materials—usually a couple of chapters—the editor decides whether to send it out for review, and if s/he does, you should expect to see two, maybe three, reviews along with a decision letter from the editor. Be prepared for the reviewers to come back requesting more research: another comparison case; interviews from other sources; inclusion of a group you neglected the first go-around.  As Lisa notes wisely here again, this is not a death sentence. It’s an opportunity to build a stronger book. She cavalierly adds, go collect more data.

The whole process takes a while, and just a note: the production time on a book is far from fast. Give yourself plenty of lead time if you are expecting the book to do some serious work for you—such as including it in your tenure file.

Finally there are lots of odds and ends, caveats and warnings about different points in this process which, if this were not a blog, I would expand upon further. All of the following are worth talking about with trusted advisors. Or shoot me an email if you have questions.

  • Try to get a coffee date with a couple of editors during the annual meetings of the ASA. June and July before the meetings is a good time for your advisor or another colleague to introduce you to editors via email, or for you to introduce yourself. Be sure to practice how you want to talk about your book in an amiable, elevator-pitch way.
  • It is possible or even likely that you will have already published an article or two from the research that is going into the book. In my experience most editors have few qualms about this. But they also do not wish to publish anything again whole-cloth, so it is important to think carefully about what you want to say in your book that is new. Your book may bring together the many pieces of your project, or it may allow you to make a new argument. But in the end, your has to be more than the sum of article parts.
  • One thing that is different about book submission from article submission is that there is no global prohibition against submitting your prospectus to more than one press at a time. Editors may not prefer it, and some may tell you explicitly that you may not do it while they are considering your book. But the rules of the game are not quite so inflexible in book-publishing land as they are in submitting articles, where you may not double-submit. That said, I cannot be adamant enough that you must communicate openly and clearly with whatever editors you are working with. Playing the field may be exciting, but not if it’s going to foreclose an opportunity to publish your book. Be sure to consult an advisor or two on this score.
  • There are lots of facets to the question of which publisher is the right publisher for you: Overall prestige, quality of production, the editor’s reputation for working with young authors, book list, reputation in your area of sociology, helpfulness of reviews, size and capacity of marketing team, pricing, and so on. Talk with a few people about your options.
  • There are rare cases when you will not be asked to write a prospectus—I didn’t for my first book; my manuscript was ready to go and I simply wrote three long, detailed pitch letters to three different editors. But in the vast majority of cases, editors will ask you to write a prospectus.
  • Caveat time: This process can vary! I suspect if you ask a bunch of different book authors, you’ll hear a bunch of different variations on the theme. What you read in this blog should be understood to be fairly standard procedure, but probably reflects no one experience perfectly.
  • There is a different process involved for getting advanced contracts when your research project is but a glimmer in your eye (as opposed to laid out in dissertation form). Perhaps more on that later.
  • When all is said and done, and your book is out, be sure to have it nominated for prizes. Don’t be shy about asking people to do this for you!

I should end by noting one that I have experience with only one kind of publishing—monographs with academic presses. I do not know the in’s and out’s of publishing textbooks or publishing with a trade press. I welcome comments from others who have these other types of publishing experience and, also, any different views from what I have stated above.

More Advice on Grad School: Part 3 of 3!

ImageKATE PHILLIPPO

As a graduate student, I wish I knew that respected scholars go back to the drawing board to learn new things — new methodology, new theory, new content – -throughout their careers. 

I wish I knew what everyone told me I would come to see (but it really took time): that rejection (of manuscripts, book proposals, conference proposals, funding proposals) is a really normal part of the job for everyone from students to heroic senior faculty.  The first rejections I encountered felt like huge setbacks, while now they feel like developmentally appropriate, often very instructive stops along the pathway (I also wish that all reviewers were like the reviewers who give really specific feedback, even if it is hard to take in). Many people who end up in academic positions get there because they had relatively few crushing rejections as doctoral students, and got articles, conference proposals and funding proposals accepted.  Once submission of intellectual work is a central part of one’s job, however, the opportunities for rejection only increase! 

ImageMICHAEL GADDIS

My advice is more like successful strategies for grad students, rather than what I wish I had known: Find great collaborators who have the same project timelines and working styles as you do, and work closely with them throughout your graduate career.

 

More Rapid Fire Q&A

cropped-hidden-curriculum-sm.pngQ: I’m starting a tenure track position at an R1 university in the fall. I’ve been interested in doing this bootcamp [name of organization withheld] for new faculty. Is a program like this is a good investment of time/money for new faculty? I have $10,000 in start-up funds. Should I use some of my start-up money on a program like this? Should I ask my Dean for additional funding to do this? I am a woman of color and I don’t want to start off seeming like I need extra coaching (but I feel like I do!).

First, congratulations on the new position! Best wishes as you move ahead into the next stage of your career.

Regarding your question, the HC does not want to endorse or promote any specific organization. So – we will provide a bit of general advice. Being successful as a professor at an R1 institution requires that you set long-term goals in terms of productivity. However, you must also have a viable short-term strategy for achieving those long-term objectives. “Bootcamps” and “writers’ groups/workshop” can be helpful because they provide a structure that compels you to meet short-term goals that will help you achieve your long-term objectives. They also provide both the accountability and support that comes with group membership.

If you think that membership in such a group would be helpful to you, by all means, go for it! Try it for a year, and if you don’t think it is useful, you can simply opt out. If you can demonstrate (after a few years) that membership in this organization has made you a more productive scholar, then you should ask your Dean to invest in your continued success by providing some additional resources for membership in future years. This approach should allay your concerns about seeming like you need “extra coaching” from day one. Alternatively, you could your ask your Dean to invest in an institutional membership so that other scholars at your institution can enjoy access to the same resources that have helped you be productive!

Q: I’m a grad student in sociology, particularly in economic sociology. I know that publications are valued . . . but how much does it matter? If I have a job market paper (or another paper) that the evaluating department thinks is a great paper, definitely publishable, is it same as having a published paper?  . . . . [A]re all papers, whether published or not, purely judged based on their merit?

It is true that research departments rely heavily upon publications as a screen in hiring. Publications help reduce uncertainty in hiring because past success is typically the best predictor of future success. Some job applicants submit great not-yet-published papers that are overlooked by hiring committees, which may seem unfair. However, it is important to recognize that publication decisions are largely driven by the judgments of reviewers who are specialists within subfields. If you publish an economic sociology paper in AJS, a department can reasonably infer that experts in economic sociology found your paper to be rigorous and important. Those of us who are not economic sociologists (i.e., the majority of faculty on most hiring committees) have a much more difficult time judging the quality of your unpublished work, and that’s why publications are such a useful signal in hiring.

Q: WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HIDDEN CURRICULUM?

In education research, the “hidden curriculum” refers to the implicit lessons about social life that children learn in school. While the “manifest curriculum” focuses on tangible skills and specific academic content (e.g., the 3R’s), the “hidden curriculum” teaches students about society’s norm, roles, and expectations. Bowles and Gintis famously argued that the hidden curriculum of schools corresponds to the capitalist order: children who are destined for work as white collar professionals learn different lessons about social roles and expectations than children who enter the working class.

We chose “The Hidden Curriculum” as the name for our blog because we believe that many of the most important lessons about having a successful academic career are never formally taught in graduate school. Indeed, we think the “hidden curriculum” of academic life is much more opaque than K-12 schooling because there is so much that is invisible to newcomers and outside of their direct experience. Advising and mentoring is incredibly important in socializing and “professionalizing” young scholars, but it is wildly uneven both between and within departments. Our goal is to level the playing field, and ensure that aspiring graduate students and junior faculty who read our blog have equal access to and knowledge of the “unwritten rules” required to be successful. Sadly, some people will fail in this business, but no one should fail because they didn’t master the hidden curriculum.

Preparing for the Non-Academic Job Market: Part I

We have received numerous questions regarding how to prepare for the non-academic job market. In the next few weeks, we will have several posts written by people who have varying levels of experience in this area. The first post is by Megan Shoji, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin who was “on” the non-academic job market this year. Megan will begin working for Mathematica Policy Research after completing her PhD. this spring. 

shoji-megan2 Author: Megan Shoji, University of Wisconsin

Alt-academic jobs are attractive and viable for many PhDs, but as a student, it can be hard to know how to prepare. While there’s no single approach, I offer some general insights from my experience on the market this year.

An important first step is to identify why you’re interested in jobs outside academia, and what kinds of jobs interest you. This shapes both your job search and preparation, so ask yourself as early and regularly as possible, but ideally at least one year before going on the market.

Why do you want to pursue non-academic jobs? People often talk about life circumstances that may restrict success on the academic market (i.e., “I’m not sure I can get a faculty job”). This may be legitimate, for example if you’re limited by geography, but how you view a position can affect your chances of employment. It’s difficult to disguise intrinsic motivation, so if you see working outside academia as a fallback, you may be sunk before you begin — or at minimum you’ll lack the sincere enthusiasm that makes any candidate more attractive. To enhance your odds on the market (and personal fulfillment in your work), it’s important to find genuine reasons why a position you’re pursuing is good for you. Figure out what kind of work you want to do, how you want to do it, for what reasons, and in what kind of environment. In my case, non-academic jobs are ideal for what I want: to conduct research collaboratively, in an interdisciplinary environment, and toward the goal of directly impacting people’s lived experiences. But whether it’s that the job allows you to be in a city you love, to spend more time with your kids, or your partner pursuing his/her dream career, setting yourself up for success outside academia begins with recognizing how alt-academic opportunities are a good fit for you.

What kind of non-academic jobs do you want to pursue? Although people discuss ‘the non-academic market,’ realize that you’re really considering non-academic markets, differentiated by organization/job type and hierarchies. The work, environments, goals, and desired candidate skills can vary widely across markets. To know how to prepare, you must first get a handle on what’s out there and what interests you. Personally, I narrowed my search to research positions at policy analysis companies, state departments of education, and urban public school districts (particularly those committed to enhancing evidence-based decision-making and serving populations of focus in my research). From there, I generated a list of promising organizations to research. To find your interests:

Consult job boards listing non-academic positions, e.g. those run by the American Economic Association, Chronicle of Higher Education (https://chroniclevitae.com/), Policy Innovators in Education (http://pie-network.org/), or USAJobs (https://www.usajobs.gov/). Also conduct targeted searches by city or via organization websites.

Talk with as many people as possible about opportunities outside academia. As a grad student, discussing this with faculty mentors can be uncomfortable, particularly if they’ve made it clear that they prefer/hope/expect you to pursue faculty jobs. However, it’s likely in your best interest to begin this conversation as soon as possible. Many faculty have contacts outside academia are at least familiar with key nationally-renowned organizations. In my experience, while some said they believe academia offers incomparable advantages (or that it was their preferred choice for me), they also made it clear that their ultimate goal is that I find a productive and fulfilling career, and they were supportive and instrumental in my pursuit of alt-academic positions. Do your best to be forthcoming while remaining respectful and thoughtful toward the advice and feedback you receive. Also keep in mind that our hesitancy is sometimes rooted less in rejection from mentors and more in our own internalization of a culture that defines success as getting a faculty job.

Plan ahead and think strategically. Whatever your reasons for pursuing alt-academic jobs, don’t make the mistake of assuming it will be easy to get one, especially the one you really want.[1] Maximizing your chances requires time, actively tailoring your graduate education, and (often) additional training beyond program requirements. Once you know what you’ll pursue, use these guidelines for how to prepare.[2]

Don’t just dabble. Really cultivate skills, knowledge, and experience relevant for your target jobs. If strong quantitative skills are expected, instead of just taking a few extra classes, consider completing a minor, prelim, training program, or master’s degree in statistics. When attending conferences, joining professional associations, applying for awards, publishing, and developing your dissertation, writing samples, and job-talk presentation(s), make your activities relevant to non-academic organizations. Remember that skills that are desired but not required to get academic jobs—like the ability to communicate inter-disciplinarily or with practitioners and policymakers, work collaboratively, or balance multiple projects simultaneously—may be crucial to obtaining employment and succeeding in your ideal non-academic job.

Don’t just have it, show it. A potential employer won’t know you’re a great fit unless your application effectively communicates it. You could develop relevant skills through extensive extra coursework, but will your CV signal this as clearly as a minor or master’s degree would? And remember: while some non-academic organizations may prioritize publishing less than what’s typical in academia, many still rely on writing sample(s) and publication record to assess research skills.

Don’t be shy! Pursue contacts and mentors. Social networks are at least equally as important (maybe even more important) outside academia as within the academy. Networks not only help you access information and job leads but can also serve a vetting function in the hiring process. Make it a priority to set up informational meetings with non-academic organizations. Establish contacts locally, and make the most of research conferences—search programs and contact organizations to ask about popular conferences or whether anyone will be at those you’re attending. Pursue mentorship through summer or longer-term fellowships/internships, regularly offered at various non-academic organizations (and also great for gauging interest in an organization or career path).

 

[1] See point #1 in this guide to non-faculty job searching: http://chronicle.com/article/The-PhDs-Guide-to-a/143715/

[2] Also see: http://theprofessorisin.com/2014/02/26/questioning-your-future-in-academia-do-this-now-jackson-1/