Month: February 2014

What I Wish I’d Known Then . . . (Junior Faculty Edition)

“The Hidden Curriculum” was on the road last week, in Asilomar, attending the annual conference of the Sociology of Education Association (SEA). We thought this would be a great opportunity to  pose a question to some top scholars who were attending the conference, and share their responses on the blog.

Q: What is the one thing that you know now, that you wish you knew as a junior faculty person?

Elizabeth Stearns

Elizabeth Stearns, University of North Carolina-Charlotte: I wish I knew that professional networking at conferences is at least as important as giving a polished presentation of your work. [BTW- Elizabeth is a very good presenter, so she has clearly done well in investing in that skill set!]  Also – always present in comfortable shoes.

Sean KellySean Kelly, University of Pittsburgh: I would say that I didn’t recognize how valuable a good post-doc opportunity can be. It seems like it’s a real advantage to work with top-notch scholars who have different strengths and network ties than your adviser. Over the years, it seems that people who take the post-doc route have done very well in their careers.

Adam Gamoran, President, W.T. Grant Foundation: The importance of replication.  In particular, I wish I had guided my students to replicate existing studies with new data for their master’s theses.  A good thesis might take a well known study, replicate the findings by applying the identical model to new data, and then re-run the models to see whether newer methods or additional data would change the results.  Important and likely publishable.

Catherine Riegle-Crumb

Catherine Riegle-Crumb, University of Texas (and SEA President): Ask a lot of questions to the faculty in your department, and ask the same question to different people. Just because you may have one official (or even official) mentor that you go to the most, do not rely on that person as the sole source of information about issues related to promotion, department politics, etc. Be the person to take the initiative in inviting more senior faculty to lunch or coffee to get their input. Don’t wait for them to ask.

Eric GrodskyEric Grodsky, University of Wisconsin: Don’t invest in the department until they invest in you. It’s easy to enter a department and throw yourself into your new position, and do everything that you can for the department. But, a department also has to show their commitment to your early success. You shouldn’t think your first job is going to be your last.

Tom DiPrete, Columbia University: Have a plan for getting tenure. Also, as a graduate student, diversify your professional network, so that when you are a junior faculty person, you have a group of successful senior scholars who are willing and eager to mentor you. You will need their help to be successful early in your career, so make sure that you have people other than your adviser to support you. [At another point in the conference, Tom commented during a session that “Networks determine everything.” So – you should probably work hard to remember this one!]

Bill Carbonaro, University of Notre Dame: There is a law of diminishing returns to the time you spend on teaching. It takes a great deal of time to plan and prepare a good course for your students. But, you can spend endless amounts of time trying to perfect a course that is already very good. Students often don’t notice or appreciate the many little ‘improvements’ that you make to your courses. If it ain’t broke . . .

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Looking Good “On the Market”

Q: What makes a job candidate out of graduate school look desirable besides publications?

Author: Rory McVeigh, University of Notre Damemcveigh_rory_small

Without question, the most important thing beyond the publication record is your teaching record—and that is true for research I universities as well as for liberal arts colleges.  Quality teaching is valued for its own sake at many research universities.  But even in universities where teaching is not valued as highly, a solid teaching record can still make you more attractive as a candidate.  The reason is that those who might hire you want you don’t want you to show up and spend the first couple of years of your appointment trying to learn how to teach.  The effort spent figuring out how to teach can really put the brakes on your research agenda.  If you are shooting for a Research 1 university it is possible to have “too much” teaching on your record.  First of all, teaching a whole bunch of classes in graduate school does cut back quite a bit on the time that you need to develop the research record that will make you attractive at an R1 university.  But it may also signal that you are so focused on teaching that you would not prioritize research.  Yet if you have taught a couple of times in graduate school and you have some good course evaluations to show for it, it can make your application more attractive to R1 universities than would be the case if you had no teaching experience or bad course evaluations.  If you are shooting for a top liberal arts college, you will need a strong teaching record or you won’t even be given serious consideration.  But you will also need a record that suggests that you can teach often and teach effectively while still finding ways to free up enough time to publish some good research.

Beyond publications and teaching, I think hiring committees are looking for signs that the candidate will be actively involved in the intellectual life of the department.  All else constant, it is better to hire someone who from the beginning is active and highly visible in the department.  I am not talking here about getting bogged down in departmental service (we try to protect assistant professors from that).  Instead, I am thinking in terms of someone whose presence is felt in the department from day 1—rather than someone who hides in her/his office or works from home and only shows up on campus when teaching a class.  One of the great benefits of hiring assistant professors is that they can bring new energy into the department through participation in department colloquia, participation in workshops, engagement with graduate students’ and undergraduate students’ development, etc.  When preparing for an interview, therefore, it would be useful to spend some time learning about what is already going on in the department on a regular basis and how you might contribute to it.  But you might also consider what might be missing in a department and consider whether you might be able to help provide it.

Competing for Grants: Weighing Risks and Rewards

Q: How important is it to get grants as a graduate student or un-tenured faculty member? 

Author: Chandra Muller, University of TexasChandra L. Muller

Grants are beneficial because they provide money to travel, reduce your teaching load, hire research assistants, and so on. Some departments, typically those with a research center, value grants in the hiring and tenure process. It is very important to remember that grants do not substitute for publications. Publications are essential because they are the vehicle for sharing research and ensuring that the findings have an enduring impact.  A grant might facilitate the research but it does not have enduring impact without the research products (aka publications).

When a student or junior faculty member solicits my advice regarding whether to pursue a funding opportunity, I encourage them to ask themselves three important questions:

  1.  Will the grant help you to accomplish your research goals and agenda? It is important for a scholar to develop an intellectual identity by pursuing a set of focused and core research questions.  Will the grant keep you on track to accomplish this by contributing to that focus, or will it derail you by taking you on a tangent? It is not a good idea to have funding sources dictate your research agenda/identity because your agenda won’t look like you. Rather, your research agenda should determine whether and when you pursue a particular grant.
  2. Can you afford it? Think of the published articles on your CV as your money in the bank and your time as your resource to get more money in the bank. Set goals for what your CV should look like in 6 months, a year, two years and figure out a schedule for getting it there. Think of writing a grant proposal as going to Las Vegas to gamble: you could strike it big (and get funding to get more time) or you could lose everything. Only gamble what you can afford to lose. You cannot typically turn a grant proposal into an article or book unless it’s funded. Most people who get grants have more unfunded grant proposals sitting in files than they have funded grants. This is less true about articles, which usually get published if you keep working on them and if the ideas and data are reasonable. All things considered, the odds are against the success of your grant proposal (especially in the current funding climate). In other words, the time that you spend writing the grant proposal can easily be lost, and the less experienced you are, the more likely that you will lose. So – consider the opportunity costs.
  3. Is now a good time in the development of your project to write a successful proposal? Beyond the fit with your agenda and whether you can afford it, timing is an important. A strong proposal will have a well-developed idea, with a good framework and strong methods sections. If the project uses secondary quantitative data, it may benefit from preliminary or exploratory analysis. If the project qualitative, it may benefit from advance or pilot work. I have heard it said that a project has to be at least one-fourth complete to write a successful grant proposal. In other words, the point in a project when you will be able to write the strongest proposal is (1) when you already know a certain amount about the topic, (2) you have established expertise and have a developed framework (maybe even by publishing on the topic), and (3) you are able to show that funding the project is a reasonable safe bet and will substantially broaden impact.