Job Advice/Tenure

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.

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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.

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.”

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 . . .

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.

Publicizing your Research

Q: What are some techniques that you use to publicize your publications both to the scholarly community and to the media?       

Author: Josipa Roksa, University of Virginia

Josipa Roksa

I must confess that the first thing I did after receiving this question is email several successful junior (or recently junior) colleagues and ask for their insights.  This blog entry thus reflects collective wisdom, although I take full responsibility for the framing.

And this is the first and perhaps the most important point: use your networks.  If you are a graduate student, the best thing you can do is get acquainted with other graduate students and junior faculty.  There is a tendency at conferences to wait in line to meet the famous senior scholars.  They are important to know, but it may take a while to get on their radar (and especially to stay on their radar).  Graduate students and junior faculty, however, are much more open to meeting new colleagues.  They may not be famous now, but they may be at some point.  More importantly, they can be immensely helpful in spreading the word, sharing your work, recommending that you serve on panels, and facilitating an invitation to present in their departments or centers.  Since everyone in a network of young scholars can benefit from similar assistance, the norms of reciprocity tend to be strong.

The second point I would like to make in this regard is: be proactive.  Opportunities generally do not come to us; we have to seek them out.  Colleagues have suggested a number of avenues for engagement, including:

  • when the paper is accepted for publication (and do not do it sooner – make sure it is vetted through the peer review process and you are confident in the findings), talk to the journal about producing a press release;
  • work with the PR office at your institution (and be prepared to correct their representation of your work);
  •  get on scholarly organizations’ lists of experts in your subfield – most organizations (including ASA) maintain such lists and journalists actually seem to use them;
  • volunteer to write a piece for the newsletter and/or volunteer to serve on panels.  I know, the last thing you want to do is spend your time in meetings, but the first question during break will be: what are you working on?  This gives you an opportunity to publicize your work and “a legitimate” excuse to send the paper to everyone afterwards;
  • if you work in areas of higher education, make sure to engage with Inside HigherEd and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and if you are in other subfields, try to find specialized venues that would be interested in your work;
  • if you are writing a book, hire a publicist, who is also likely to encourage you to write op-ed pieces, commentaries on professional blogs, and entries for different newsletters.   You can of course go far and wide in this realm (e.g., hiring media consultants who can handle everything from media training to developing a strategy for media engagement), but junior colleagues have noted that at the very least, you need a publicist.  How to find a good publicist: ask scholars in your network.

You may be overwhelmed at this point.  And that is the last point I would like to make:  publicizing one’s work takes a lot of time, energy and effort.  If you talk to anybody who has recently published a book, they will readily tell you that the publicity for the book took an enormous amount of time.  Once the book is in print, we often want to enjoy the moment, but that is when you have to get to work.  And actually, the work begins before that, probably about three months before the release date.  Make sure to have a plan and several different summaries of your work prepared ahead of the release.  There is a relatively short window of time that is particularly conducive to publicizing your work and you need to capitalize on it.  Get ready to spend a lot of time on phone and email, and get ready to make many more requests that you will get positive responses.  We are all used to the latter – that is part of academic life!