Month: March 2014

Publishing in Education (or, Non-Sociology) Journals

Q: For sociologist of education, is it wise to publish in education journals?  Do sociology departments value these journals in the same way as they would sociology journals (i.e., for hiring and/or tenure)?

 Author: Chandra Muller, University of Texas Muller

If you think about it, almost every theorist you studied in your classical theory course conducted research on education (Weber, Durkheim, Marx, for instance) because of the centrality of education to sociology. However, sociology departments are typically composed of faculty members who have interests that may or may not be related to education.  This means a sociologist of education must establish the sociological legitimacy of his or her research to get hired and tenured in a sociology department. It is typically easier to do this with work published in sociology journals. Those who review your CV already understand differences in sociological journal quality and their impact. Further, the peer review process is likely to focus the content of your paper to be more sociological, even if it doesn’t start out that way. A criticism I’ve heard from sociology colleagues is that research in education journals may not be “theoretical” enough. Even if it is theoretical, it may be more difficult for your sociology audience to see the theoretical significance of articles in an education journal.

It is probably a bad idea to publish ONLY in education journals if you want to appeal to sociologists, broadly defined. That said, in many departments a mix of education and sociology journals may be acceptable. For the tenure process, it will be important to understand and fulfill your department’s expectations about journals. You must understand the “local culture” of your department, and thus you should ask your department chair (and your Dean) how they view publications in education journals. It may be necessary to “educate” administrators at your college/university about differences in quality among education journals. If you have an EEPA and AERJ on your record, you certainly want to be sure that your chair (and Dean) understand that scholars in your sub-field will see these as important strengths on your publication record.

If you have a mix of publications in sociology and education journals, you’ll want to make sure that the quality of sociology journals is reasonably high, as they may be used to gauge the overall quality of your research record. Ideally, you should try to publish in highly selective education journals as well, because it is easier to make the case that your “non-sociology” publications are high quality. Additionally, if you make theoretical connections between your sociology and education articles (maybe through citations or a research statement) then it may help people to better understand the significance and contributions of your education articles.

Responding to the Review(er)s

Douglas Downey

Q: How do you respond to reviewer comments when re-submitting a revised journal article (particularly if you disagree with a reviewer on something)?

Author: Doug Downey, The Ohio State University

Ten suggestions for handling reviewer comments:

1.  Write an angry, profanity-laced response to the editor about the lousy reviews you’ve just received.  Then tear this up.

2.  Distinguish between good and bad reviewer comments.  They can’t all be good—sometimes they contradict each other. Look to the editor’s letter for clues to help identify “good” reviewer comments that represent the central issue.

3. For reviewer comments that are simply off-base (e.g., they misread something), consider clarifying your text in a way that makes it very difficult for another reader to make the same mistake. Even though the reviewer was wrong, the fact that they misunderstood something is noteworthy.

4. Directly engage “good” reviewer comments.  This is where decent papers become great.  Articulate the issues they raise clearly and address their concerns head on in your manuscript.

5.  However, avoid “over revising.”  Papers need a central idea or selling point.  Make sure yours is clear by maintaining a central narrative.

6.  Appease reviewers by adjusting tone.  If I write that “the Reproductionist position regarding schools and inequality goes unchallenged,” I risk frustrating a reviewer who knows of some work that does challenge it.  I may be able to avoid this problem just by modifying the sentence slightly, “the Reproductionist position regarding schools and inequality goes virtually unchallenged.”   Or, I could consider using “largely” and be even safer.

7. For quantitative manuscripts, reviewers sometimes ask for changes in the models.  We all know that there are lots of decisions to be made when modeling (how to code variables, how to handle missing data, what covariates to include, how to weight the data, what dependent variables to predict, etc.) and that little adjustments here and there sometimes change the results.  Develop manuscripts around results that are robust to these different decisions.  If your argument depends heavily on a minor finding that only reaches statistical significance under a subset of modeling decisions, then you are setting yourself up for a difficult R&R.  And even if the paper does get published its likelihood of replication is low.

8.  If you can’t address a reviewers’ concern because of data limitations then admit it up front and make a case for why your manuscript still has value.

9.  A surprisingly large number of the papers I review have a basic problem—they lack a credible opposing view.  In other words, the research question lacks any controversy.  You can articulate the value of your manuscript most clearly to reviewers by highlighting the groups of scholars who view the issue at hand differently, and how your paper helps adjudicate among them.

10.  Consider contacting the editor for further advice.  Editors are sometimes willing to provide more insight via e-mail or phone conversations.

Q: Could you give any advice about how to write an effective R&R memo to an editor and reviewers? I want to address all the points made by the Editors and the Reviewers, but the memo is getting very long (and it is very time-consuming to write!) — is that a problem? What would you recommend?

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Author: Bill Carbonaro, University of Notre Dame 

Doug does a great job of outlining the main features of an effective “R&R Memo” in his post. At a minimum, an effective memo demonstrates that the author has significantly improved his/her paper in response to the reviewers’ critiques and suggestions. After all — that is a major goal of the peer review process!

The question also specifically focuses on the length of the “R&R Memo,” which Doug did not comment on in his post. There is no “standard” length for an “R&R memo”- much depends on the substance of the reviews.  I have seen some reviews that are less than two single-spaced pages, and others that are nearly 10 single-spaced pages (with tables!). Some “Memos” are too long, and while others are too short. Here are a few guidelines to help keep your memo to “Goldilocks length” (“Just right!”):

  • Economize. It is unnecessary to describe EVERY single change that is made to the manuscript. It is preferable to simply say “I decided to adopt all of the minor changes suggested by Reviewer 2,” rather than describing every minor “bullet point” raised by that reviewer (e.g., “The author should change ‘STATA’ to ‘Stata.’).
  • But, Be Thorough. It is unwise to ignore specific comments and suggestions that reviewers make, particularly major ones. There is no better way to tick off a reviewer than to ignore his/her feedback! Good reviewers devote substantial time and thought to their reviews, and they want know that the author took their suggestions/critiques seriously. So – be sure that each reviewer sees that you have read, considered, and responded to the major points they made in their review of your work.
  • Prioritize.  Most of the text in  your “Memo” should be allocated to two main items: (1) justifications for suggested changes by the reviewers/editor that you decided AGAINST making, and (2) descriptions of supplementary analyses that you ultimately decided against including the paper. These are the make-or-break items that will likely determine whether the reviewers recommend to “reject” or “accept” your paper. So – be sure to devote adequate space to these crucial points in your letter.
  • Avoid redundancy. Always explain HOW and WHY major sections of your paper have changed, but avoid including the same revised sections of the paper in your letter. For example, it is sufficient to say: “As reviewer 1 requested, I incorporated ‘habitus’ into my theoretical framework to better motivate my research questions (see pp.4-5).”  The reviewers will (hopefully!) read both the paper and the letter, so it is unnecessary to make the same argument twice. 

Good luck!

What I Wish I’d Known When I Was in Grad School (Part 2 of 3)

ImageSHAMUS KHAN (Columbia University)

If all the core members of your committee are in the same basic area, you aren’t exposed to how different sociologists will read and interpret your work. And, if all your letters come from one sub-section of the discipline, they may not resonate with a hiring committee where no one works in that area (no matter how “big” your area, this is likely to happen!). The broader your committee, the broader your reach. Finally, when you have to talk about your work with others, you’re used to doing it in ways that can appeal and makes sense to the broadest range of sociologists. 

ImageRACHEL LEVENTHAL-WEINER (Trinity College)

Think about getting organized early on by deciding how you will keep track of notes, research, data, and other scholarly tasks. Having that workflow will help you be efficient in your research and writing. If you balance multiple responsibilities (being a grad student, a teaching/research assistant, or a grad instructor), carve out as much time as you can for your own work and dedicate time to your research. You might not feel like you are dedicating enough time to your work at first, but focused and uninterrupted time is important for advancing your own projects. As you focus on your research, keep in mind that your professional life is happening while you are in graduate school. Take every opportunity you can to get involved with professional life in your department and outside of your department to build your social capital. If and when you decide on the kind of job you’d like to pursue (either within or outside of academe), have an honest conversation with mentors about those aspirations and connect with people who do the work you dream of doing. Recognize that the path to your “dream job” could depart from the path others take. And finally, take care of yourself because you are no good to anyone if you are run-down or depleted. Your physical and mental health are important for being a successful professional.

(Modified from my original essay.)

ImageARGUN SAATCIOGLU (University of Kansas)

I wish I knew when I was a grad student that it is important to pick up skills in writing grant proposals. While it is important to focus on the dissertation and to begin publishing your work, it is also very useful to get experience in developing creative, appealing, and feasible grant proposals. Such skills are as instrumental in advancing one’s career as are publishing and networking. 

Raising the “Spousal Accommodation” Issue

cropped-hidden-curriculum-sm.pngThe “Hidden Curriculum” received the following question, and decided to do some field research. Here is the question, followed by a write-up of how several department chairs (past and present) responded:

Q: How do you deal with the spousal accommodation when on the job interview?

First, our respondents all agreed that “couples” should “go solo” in the application stage. By submitting separate application, couples will maximize their chances of getting as many interviews as possible, which ultimately offers the best chance of joint success.

Most of our respondents expressly indicated that they thought it was inappropriate for a chair or Dean to raise the issue of one’s spouse during the interview.  The focus of the interview should be the quality of the candidate, not any complicating factors in his/her personal situation. So – it sounds like one could avoid addressing the “spousal accommodation” entirely during the interview, in many cases.

There was also a general consensus that requests for a spousal accommodation are best introduced after a job offer has been made, as a condition of hiring. This makes sense for two reasons. First, a spousal accommodation is an important issue that will have direct bearing on whether a candidate will accept a given position.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that this should be part of the negotiation in working out the parameters of a job offer. Second, if discussion of a spousal accommodation occurs during the job interview, chairs are actually put in an awkward position, because they want to avoid any appearance that a spousal situation affected the hiring decision. So – it seems that chairs actually prefer to have this conversation after hiring decision is made.

A few more thoughts to share:

One respondent mentioned that applicants sometimes struggle with this issue because they feel a bit dishonest, holding back important information from a potential employer.  This person emphasized that job candidates should NOT feel any compunction about waiting until after receiving a job offer to raise the issue of a spousal accommodation. These situations are very common in academia, and let’s face it: if a chair or Dean gets upset about this, well, that says something about that department/institution, doesn’t it?!

Another respondent mentioned that these “guidelines” mostly apply to junior level hiring. Senior level hiring is a different enterprise, since academic power-couples are publicly known to potential employers. In those situations, it probably makes sense to talk about spousal hiring during the job interview, since chairs/Dean already know the situation is on the radar.

Finally – one respondent mentioned that even if your spouse is a non-academic, you might want to ask about how the University might support his/her career prospects. As this respondent said, “you’d be surprised what universities can do when they really, really want to hire someone. You’ll never know, unless you ask!” 

Thanks to our anonymous respondents! Feel free to disagree or add your thoughts in the “Comments.”

Dealing with Rejection

At SEA, I had a good discussion with two junior scholars about the following question. We thought this would make a good blog entry.  Also — let us know how you handle this issue by responding to our first “Hidden Curriculum” poll! And — feel free (as always) to leave comments, especially if you disagree.

Q: When your paper is rejected, what do you do with the reviews? Do you revise the paper before sending it our again, and if so, how much revision is necessary?

Author: Bill Carbonaro, University of Notre Dame

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There are two mistakes that authors typically make when their papers are rejected. The first is to ignore the reviews and resubmit the paper to a new journal without revisions. The second is to behave as if the paper received an R&R. Both approaches should be avoided, for different reasons.

Ignoring the reviews – or at least failing to make any revisions to the paper – is a perilous and shortsighted strategy. Authors should ask themselves: are you really so smart, and the reviewers so ignorant that none of their critiques and suggestions are worth addressing?  I appreciate the urgency in getting one’s work published (especially for untenured faculty and graduate students), given how long the review process takes. But, let’s face it: responding to feedback from reviewers usually makes our work better. By ignoring the reviews, authors are missing out on an opportunity to incorporate feedback that should improve one’s chances of getting his/her paper accepted upon submission to a new journal.

Also, it is not uncommon for a resubmitted paper to be sent to the same reviewers that originally evaluated the paper. It seems unlikely that such a reviewer would be generous or forgiving in his/her “re-review” if s/he finds that an author completely ignored his/her thoughtful suggestions in their initial review.  (Yes – I have been this reviewer, on more than one occasion.)

The second mistake — behaving as if the paper received an R&R – is more insidious. The author may have good intentions and genuinely want to improve his/her work. However, the problem with this is approach is that the author is being too deferential to the reviewers’ judgments.  Reviewers’ suggestions are not all equally good, and the author must do some serious sifting to determine which revisions should be incorporated in the paper. (See below.) Another problem with this approach is that it can take a great deal of time to fully respond to all of the reviewers’ comments. This is just wasted time that unnecessarily delays the ultimate publication of the paper.

Here is how I recommend proceeding after having one’s paper rejected:

First, take a deep breath, and read the reviews as soon as you get them.  Don’t delay. It’s disappointing to experience rejection but remember: the reviewers really want to help you make your paper better. Just get on with it!

Next, read the reviews and look for points of consistency and disagreement across them. If all three reviewers point out that the framing of your paper needs improvement, or that your models are mis-specified, then you should definitely address these concerns before resubmitting. Also – contemplate any differences of opinion about your paper. It is not uncommon to get conflicting evaluations and advice from reviewers. When this happens, you might consider getting a peer or your advisor/mentor to help you talk you through the problem. Finally, avoid the temptation to accentuate the positives in the reviews and dismiss the negatives. Remember – your goal is to improve your paper, so take all critiques and suggestions seriously.

After carefully reading the reviews, and giving them some serious thought, it’s time to make some decisions. Take three highlighters and assign a different color to each of three categories of comments: (1) a great idea; I will address it (green), (2) a judgment call; I may address it after some further thought (yellow), and (3) an unhelpful suggestion; I will ignore it (pink/red).

Based on the number of changes in categories one and two, set a firm deadline for resubmitting the paper. Prioritize this process and work fast.  I suggest a deadline of two to four weeks (depending on how much revision needs to be done).

Finally, remember: your goal is NOT to make the paper perfect before resubmitting. It never will be, so – let it go. It simply has to be good enough to get an R&R, and hopefully, your revisions in response to the reviewers’ feedback will help you get above the bar this time. Good luck! 

What I Wish I’d Known When I Was in Grad School (Part 1 of 3)

Continuing on with our Sociology of Education Association conference series: the next three posts report on what attendees and other colleagues around the country wish they had known in grad school. – JLJ

ANDREW PENNER, UC-IRVINE

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I share with all my students Ben Barres’ comment that “I wish that someone had mentioned to me when I was younger that life, even in science, is a popularity contest.” That is, you can do the best study with the best data and the best methods, and if nobody knows about it or understands it, it won’t matter. And for your career, it’s unfortunately probably the case that convincing people you are right is potentially more important than actually being right. The good news is that academics are generally a pretty smart bunch, so that if you are right, they will generally realize this (and most people peddling snake-oil science don’t get far). Another way to say this is that like high school, in the academy if you have certain skills you are pretty likely to be popular–e.g. the star quarterback is probably unlikely to be persona non grata in high school, and likewise in the academy someone who does really innovative and rigorous work is likely to be noticed.

I also tell students that there are two opposite and equally deadly mistakes: thinking a paper is done before it is, and thinking it is not done after it is. Early in grad school people tend to think that the paper is good enough before it is (one of my mentors told me that the difference between a successful and unsuccessful academic is how much time you spend on a paper once you are sick of it). Later in grad school people tend to think that they need to keep working on a paper long after they should be, polishing something where there is little improvement to be made. It is important to find mentors who can help you learn where both of these boundaries are, and to be willing to listen to them about both boundaries. It is also important to realize that this is a learning process that takes time, and I suspect that to some degree we are always learning a bit better where these lines are.

JANICE MCCABE, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE

s200_janice.mccabeIt’s easy to get caught up with classes and other requirements without reflecting on your short-term goals and your long-term goals. Make a semester schedule and a longer-term plan, and revisit it and revise it every semester. Inevitably, you will be faced with decisions where you have to prioritize some activities and interests over others, and being concrete with your goals will help you make these decisions in a way that it consistent with your own personal values (as reflected in your short-term and long-term goals).

Rojas1.  In the short term, academic success affected by status. It helps to publish in high status journals, enroll in a high status graduate program, or have high status advisers who can help you.2.  Graduate school is a training program. Find advisers and colleagues who are very professional in how they treat students. Any potential adviser should have a nice track record of publications with students or job placements. Avoid advisers who have a reputation for being difficult.

3.  Success goes to those who aim high and are good at executing projects.

4.  I wish I had read the Grad Skool Rulz, which is a total bargain at $3.