Friday, October 20, 2006

consider the source

So, as noted in my comments, there is now a Wiki available for different issues on sociology graduate students. I think this is a great idea generally, and hope it succeeds.

And yet: while I freely admit that I have not read the specific information cited regarding Getting A Job (and don't plan to), I'm leery of the idea in principle of using the Wiki format to get information on how the job market "really works." My usual first piece of advice for people who are trying to get information about the job market, either in the abstract or about their own candidacy specifically, is that they should get advice from multiple people and do some weighted triangulation based on the combination of (1) the seeming soundness of the reasoning provided for the advice and the (2) extent to which the person providing the advice seems like they would actually be in a position to know.* This is because opinions about the job market vary considerably even among people one would think would be veridical sources of knowledge. So, I think any time somebody makes an assertion about the job market, one should consider the source. The Wiki format is much better suited to topics in which there is more consensus and so anonymized discussions make more sense.

So, I guess, it's fine if one reads a Wiki about getting a job, but I wouldn't take it too seriously, just like I would talk to a number of different people, and not view any one person's views as the end-all.

I do think there could be more done to circulate good information about what the broad range of departmental employers are looking for to students on the market. What I especially mean by good information is information from the people in the best positions to know: those who have served repeatedly on personnel committees at schools that are not in the top 20 or so graduate programs.

As a non sequitur, I hereby declare myself to be officially tired of hearing about the weird meme that has been circulating at least among Wisconsin students the past couple years that female candidates should not wear black on job interviews or else negative judgments will be made about their character (or whatever). I have no idea where this originated, or about how mutated its re-statements are from whatever its origin is/was. I want to state for the online record that my personal opinion is that this advice is silly and that, while candidates should dress professionally, obsessing about the color of one's outfits is not a good use of cognitive energy. As ever, my views are open to revision in the face of actual good reasons, should these materialize. But the job market is neurosis-inducing enough without stirring in implausible microagitating hearsay noise.

* Note that I expressed some stridency of opinion in the last post, but this was mostly about how job searches at Wisconsin work--about which I am much more confident I know what I'm talking about.


Michael said...

1) Pseudonymized, I suppose, since you can't edit it without creating a valid login.

2) I think the purpose of the wiki format in general (rather than Wikipedia in particular) is to collect many different sources together in one place to accomplish the kind of triangulation you suggest. Wikipedia is more about providing a single authoritative answer, whether through expert contribution or some sort of collective Hayekian emergent wisdom. But not all wikis are Wikipedia. This sociology student wiki is designed to collect varying and even contradictory information in one place. The point is to share information and experiences, not to decide on the authoritative way to, eg, get a job. Put another way, my hope is that it will contribute to a conversation (or to triangulation) in exactly the way you describe. Which is why we're encouraging broad participation.

Anonymous said...

A thought about assessing reasons for things that happen in academia, like hiring: It sometimes seems that people in academia are not very good at assessing their experiences at a given level (job market, pre-tenure, whatever) until after they've moved on to the next level. By which time they either a) realize that they were fortunate to get through the process without knowing how it actually worked, or b) are deeply grateful for the advice from more advanced academics that guided them along. But if you don't make it to the next level, the reasons for that are rarely clear, and those who can provide those answers have little to no stake in providing them.

jeremy said...

Michael: Sounds like a healthy perspective, if it develops that way. In any case, I'm glad for the existence of the Wiki in general and hope it provides a good repository for people.

Anon: I agree.

Lars said...


I'm impressed that you took the time to respond to all of this hullabaloo, when you could give all of us the big middle finger as it were. (Yes, yes, I know its not the Midwestern way, but I'm pretty sure I saw a few fingers in Chicago). Anyway, thanks for trying to set all of us right.

What's with the black suit thing? I've never ever heard that. Down south, we kinda like our job candidates to have, say, clothes.

A+ said...

I've tried to naysay the "don't wear black or stacked shoes or palazzo pants or pinstripes or be too pretty or be not pretty" stuff on the grounds that 1) other things mean so much more than fahion, and 2) even just in terms of fashion, who cares if your heels are thick or thin. My thinking was, it's not reasonable to think that with zero publications, the reason why you didn't get that plum job was because you wore a funky necklace. So, for what it's worth, I've tried.

But I will say this. Every single time I've said it, every single time, there has been a literal chorus of faculty saying that I'm being foolish, that it matters much more than I think it does, and that wearing black can make a woman seem cold, blah blah. These are professors. Assistants, associates, full.

Jeremy, you may be thinking to yourself, "well, then these people are delusional." That may be so, but what am I supposed to think? I'm a grad student; so much of academia seems illogical, otherworldly, and yes, arbitrary. If you ask me, I have a hunch that a decent number of successful faculty are successful in spite of themselves, not because of it.

Anonymous said...

if wearing a certain outfit you enjoy keeps you out of a dept, you don't want to be in that dept.

jeremy said...

A+: Whoever you are, yours is one of my favorite comments in the history of my blog. Point taken.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't figure out how the wiki works. It seems like there's no discussion, no place to post questions, just a place to write/modify text. Am I missing something?

As Jeremy pointed out, it seems more useful to have something that looks more like a discussion, since people have different job market experiences

Anonymous said...

Anon: The wiki is not only a discussion board, but it can accommodate discussion. If you have information or experience to relate, then you can write it directly into a topic page. For questions about a topic, there is a discussion tab at the top for every page, which takes you to a page where you can post questions or suggestions about that topic. Don't worry too much about format, since others will likely come along and fix/change the formatting if it's unclear. That's what collective editing contributes to the process.

Gwen said...

Wow, when I went on the job market, I was told by a faculty member, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to get a plain, boring, BLACK suit that in no way stood out. This was supposedly to overcome my youthfulness by showing that I was a no-nonsense, mature type of person who wasn't out worrying about frivolous things like fashion.

I was also told not to wear heels. I originally thought this was b/c women would somehow be judged for wearing them, but was later told that actually it's just b/c you have to go on those long campus tours and don't want to be in uncomfortable shoes, especially if the campus has lots of hills. I wonder if some of these myths get started b/c someone gives a piece of advice, and the logic for that advice is lost and so the candidate must infer what the reasoning is and comes up with something much more sinister than the actual fact.

I bought a boring black suit. I've worn it exactly 3 times, all to job interviews. I cannot see that it, in itself, has either hurt or helped me. I also have no use for it outside of the job interview experience, but that's b/c I have no use for suits.

People should spend more time giving advice on things like what to do if, in the middle of an interview, it becomes clear you've stepped into the middle of a nasty departmental fight over the future the department and what type of person they need, and that pleasing one side means automatically alienating the other.

Gwen said...

Oh, I was given the advice that I should not drink at the post-interview dinner, due to the possibility of forgetting that I was still being informally interviewed and judged and becoming too comfortable for my own good.

I think that is sound advice.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I was told to order a drink and then just barely sip at it, as this would both indicate my ability to interact more casually and keep me from getting too casual.

On one interview, I was taken to a brewery for dinner and, following the must-have-some-but-not-much mandate, ordered a half-pint. Following my order, one of the people who had taken me to dinner (that is, one of the folks who was informally interviewing me at the moment) actually said something like "well done. just enough to be social with us, but not enough to make you careless." I was kind of shocked to be interpreted right there on the spot (insta-ethnography?), but also appreciated his acknowledgement of the performative aspect of the interview dinner ritual.

All that said, I agree that we tend to spend too much time talking about the finer points of interviews, while the larger challenges (how to respond to obvious department politics? how to interact with the department's resident nutcase? what to do when someone is hyper-agressive during the Q&A following your talk? or, my favorite, what to do when you arrive for a 3 day interview only to realize that the university just has given the line for which you were being considered to another department, in which you could never be hired? etc.) go under-discussed.

Constance said...

The source of the original rumor is I.

I was told at a job market meeting for grad students at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, not to wear all black because it was "depressing." One faculty member told me this, the other two faculty members present nodded enthusiastically in agreement.

Later I was told by a different faculty member that if I wore black I should show a little bit of leg or some cleavage (but not both).

So there you go.

Anonymous said...

All black is depressing? That's rich. You know what I find depressing? The fact that faculty's collective fashion sense is just slightly better than their collective interpersonal skills, yet they're giving grad students fashion advice - now with the added bonus of being highly offensive as well!