Thursday, October 19, 2006

somebody asked me the other day if having tenure was overrated

Meanwhile, I received the following update from a JFW reader who is a graduate student on the assistant professor market this year:
In other news, I'm up to 77 applications now!  No interviews
or official short-lists yet, but I am able to announce that the winner
of the 2006 [surname deleted] Rejection Award goes to none other
than...[schoolname deleted] University! Congratulations, [schoolname deleted],
for being the first school to send me a rejection letter (and over email,
no less). You join a long list of previous winners that include some
very attractive high school students, as well as several major credit
card companies! Runner-up awards soon to follow, including the
ever-prestigious "We're rejecting you before even sending you the
affirmative action form" Award. Stay tuned!...
So, anyway, the answer is no, having tenure is not overrated. Regardless of whatever ways having tenure does not mean having a guaranteed job for life, it still means having a job for now. Those who are sending out dozens of applications, crafting job talks, and laying awake at night wondering if you are going to end up working the buffet at Sizzler instead of a faculty job, you have my sympathies. I do not at all envy your situation, although perhaps your youth.

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about assistant professor compared to being a grad student? Does it get any better or only worse?

-wisconsinite anonymous

jeremy said...

My last year of graduate school was the unhappiest year of my entire life. Other than that, I had a better time as a graduate student than as an assistant professor. I also had a very fortunate experience with the job market, which isn't to say I wasn't an anxious wreck during much of it.

Anonymous said...

It's arguably 'worse' as an assistant professor becuase you're teaching more, doing committee work, and have the tenure clock ticking -- if you're fortunate (?) enough to have a tenure-stream job. Things seem busy in grad school, but you'll look back on it fondly as a period of great stretches of unstructured time. Of course, you make more $ as a faculty member and have a position in society with higher prestige, for what that's worth.

Anonymous said...

YOUTH?? What youth? :) Many of us are not in THAT category, especially WI grads ... if you get out of THIS place with your "youth" you're extremely lucky whereby "lucky" I mean ... well, nevermind, don't get me started, it's already been a long day.
Sorry I must be, anonymously yours ...

Ang said...

Eh. None of it's digging ditches.

Anonymous said...

I was told by a full prof that applying to 60+ jobs was something that you do "if you're going about the job market in a stupid way." Do you think Prof said that because it's generally the case, or because Prof is the kind of person who just sat back while schools begged to be graced with her presence?

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, tenure is not overrated. I just received tenure and promotion at the beginning of this semester. So the experience is very fresh in my mind. Although the professorial responsibilities (teaching, research, service) continue more-or-less unchanged, you are able to carry them out without having the feeling that a sword is hanging over your head.

The statement that someone who has applied for 60 jobs is going about the job market in the wrong way is one of those typically smug and self-aggrandizing comments by someone who probably paid very few dues along the way to their first job. The reality is that in many social science fields (as well as in the humanities and natural sciences) there are 100+ applicants with Ph.D. in hand. I know people who did all the right things (one example - person with Berkeley undergrad. degree, Harvard Ph.D., Yale post-doc.) who it took eight years after Ph.D. to get Asst. Prof. job (at Emory - so this person landed, finally, in a good spot). And I know other people with Ph.D.s from Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley who applied to many jobs and never landed a tenure-track position. These are people with Fulbrights (as well as other prestigious fellowships and grants), lots of publications, fieldwork, and teaching experience. Many of them have academic records that are superior to those of tenure-track asst. profs. in their fields at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In the good old days, people were often promoted to full professor on the basis of accomplishments that might not get you short-listed for an entry-level position these days.

I guess it makes people feel good about themselves to act as if people who struggle to get an academic job deserve their fate. It would be more honest, however, if they acknowledged their extraordinarily good fortune (and/or structural advantages of some kind) in getting a good job without having to go through the years of applying for jobs.

As for youth ... it was fun while it lasted. But I'm happier now (in my 40s) than I was in my 20s. I had a great time in graduate school (in Manhattan and the SF Bay area). But I wouldn't trade that existence for the one I now, at long last, enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of job market: how long does it usually take since you send out the job app until you get called for an interview?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:17, as a soc grad student at Wisconsin, I totally believe that you have a lot of talented and brilliant friends that aren't working at Wisconsin right now. This past year, many of the grad students have been scratching our heads at the crap job candidates UW has been offering jobs. This doesn't apply to everyone they've hired, of course. It's just that it seems soooo arbitrary as to whom everyone wants to hire from year to year. It seems like the main strategy for hiring at a lot of schools (Wisconsin included) is getting "who's hot right now" rather than actually considering whether they do quality work or not. Then if your department is "lucky" enough to snag one of these people, the grad students are left with the distinct feeling that they'd never be "hot" enough to be hired in their own darn department.

Anonymous said...

"...as a soc grad student at Wisconsin....the grad students are left with the distinct feeling that they'd never be "hot" enough to be hired in their own darn department."

The number of slots at the top of the pyramid is smaller than the number of slots at the bottom because...umm...it is a pyramid. So, yes, by definition, the vast majority of the students at the #1 ranked department could never be hired at the #1 ranked department. This should, though, be a comforting thought, and not be read as snarky.

Lars said...

most of us know the minimum about the academic labor market, as in, we know that most people will have to "move down" just by numbers alone.

The question is to what extent the labor market is structured on top of the difference between positions available and positions desired. And we've studied this, right? Didn't Val Burris write an ASR article about this a few years back?

But, the question of anon 9.34, I think, is beyond this, to ask, is there a structure to the market that isn't just supply vs. demand and isn't some departments circulating its own graduates, but that there are, in any given year, say, 10 applicants that everyone wants, that get most of the interviews, etc.? And that this dynamic is different from simply folks moving between Chicago and Berkeley, Madison and Ann Arbor?

That seems to be true, based on conversations with people, plus our own experience. If you look, the same people seem to appear at the same places during the interview season. What we would want to know is if this is for real, rather than appearing to be true.

A couple weeks back, there was a story in the Chronicle about academic rumor mills. I thought, while possibly devastating to some individuals, the market as a whole would look a lot less opaque if such a thing existed.

If we grad stoodents (or anyone else) wanted to get a handle on this, how would we do it? I'm not sure, but it seems like we could if we wanted to...

jeremy said...

Anon 9:34am: I was going to delete your comment, but then I thought it stood as exemplary of a certain kind of reasoning that one sees among some graduate students at Wisconsin. Let me state categorically that you are completely, utterly, profoundly, and absolutely clueless as to how junior hiring is done at Wisconsin if you think that Wisconsin does not attend carefully/obsessively to quality in making their judgments on the junior market. I have not agreed with every judgment, but an assessment of "quality" has dominated every one. In my experience, Wisconsin sociology pays very little attention to assessments made by other departments (as in who they decide to interview and make offers to)--indeed, I personally believe it pays less attention to these than it would under an optimal decision-making perspective.

Note also that most Wisconsin faculty do not consider a job talk to be nearly the incisive oracle to "quality" that many graduate students do.

Lars said...

Prof. Freese-

Certainly, you are busy, which means you might not have time for this, but: why would we grad students have this impression? 1. I am not sure it is just a Wisc. student phenomenon. If we are all wrong, which I am open to, then what is going on? We're all smart, so how do we miss the boat on this one? This isn't your responsibility to fix, but it seems like departments in general are failing to communicate something. Well, failing if we assume that grad students should know what goes on in hiring.

jeremy said...

Lars: I'm not sure what it is you are asking me to explain. Is it why academic departments that perceive themselves as competing at the "top of the market" (as in, they approach the market like they can plausibly hire whoever they want) usually converge on a relatively small number of candidates, who usually come from a relatively small number of institutions? If so, is it really that mysterious that this outcome can result from a process other than some weird variant of labeling theory where somehow a candidate is identified as a "hot prospect" and that information dominates everyone else's judgments?

jeremy said...

Lars: Also, as a friendly aside, I dislike being called "Professor Freese" or variants thereof.

Lars said...

My apologies.

So, grad studnts in gneral are very nervous about thir job prospects, and rightly so. So, we do everythign we can to get information about how this business works. So get good information, but some get lousy information. And those with lousy information still want something. So, we look for anything that looks credible, or maybe even incredibe.

So, all we get to see when job candidates come in is the job talk and maybe a met and greet. At best, their work looks interesting, but not much better than what we are doing, my guess is because it is not that much better than what we ar doing. Or maybe it is, but we don't know why.

So, like your anonomous commenter, w think, "dood, the faculty is so way arbitrary and just want America Next Top Sociologist" altho' what that is, looks like a popularity contest, not a quality contest.

So, if that is not correct, which you say it isn't and I beleive it isn't, what is going on? We know a few things, like having a ASR pub is good. Having your advisor think you are a jerk is bad.

Sure, maybe labeling theory accounts for the hot prospect phenomenon. Maybe it really is just that simple. But, my guess is that no one ever just says that and so, we're left looking for something else.

I am also guessing that your confused anon. is a youger student. By the time you get to be a 6th year, who wants academics to be pure and ideal, hat departments are looking for the best intellectual, teaching needs, funding, etc. etc. be damned. We want to feel like that mistake we made in our third year won't haunt us. By the time you get to your 6th year, I'm prtty sure you got a rasonable idea as to what our career will look like (which means, I don't an explanation, but othrs might).

So, what do I want you to explain? Perhaps nothing. I guess I'm saying that we get warped ideas as to the job market and what our departments do for a reason. You don't have to fix anything, but dpartments might want to consider explaining to studnts hat it is they are considring that we don't see in hiring.

How ought we ignoramuses (ignorami?) refer to you if Prof. Freese dosn't work?

jeremy said...

Lars: I'll try to respond to your comment later (today is, in fact, quite busy) but as for the form of address thing, I prefer symmetry among adults, so I'd prefer to be called Jeremy unless you want to be addressed as something other than Lars.

Lars said...

Lars is better than a lot of things I've been called.

It seems as if some of the letters on this machine are broken.

Anonymous said...

As a fairly recent Ph.D. who has just transitioned to Asst. Prof. I can appreciate why students don't get the same impression of candidates that faculty do. First of all, you don't get the same amount and types of information to evaluate. Secondly, grad students don't typically know how to evaluate "potential for success" the same way that faculty do (or claim they can do) because they are too close to the position of being a candidate. As grad students we all hope/think that we have potential for success and it's hard to evaluate that objectively.

(Admittedly, I'm not completely convinced that you can guage this "potential" accurately, but there does seem to be a qualitative difference in how grad students vs. faculty measure success.)

Anonymous said...

This discussion highlights the usefulness of grad students serving on faculty search/recruitment committees to learn the process from the department's perspective. I'm not sure how many departments allow this, but seeing the process more or less from the inside tends to change one's perspective on how it works.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming in late to the party. But Jeremy, please let your reader know that its pretty early to fret about "no interviews or official short-lists yet."

I'm on a hiring committee this year at a mid-tier regional university. We have a modest size applicant pool for a position that closed 4 days ago. The search committee just had its original meeting and we expect to complete our short-list process in the next two weeks.

One of the things that I didn't realize when I was on the market is that these things take a lot of time. In many institutions, the search committee is balancing these tasks along with teaching, advising, and writing.

It's in a department's best interest to identify short-lists quickly and invite people to campus. Last year we lost two promising candidates to other offers that came in before we could get them to campus. But the logistical reality constrains the ideal.

-corey

Anonymous said...

While I'm sure WI and other programs (top or not) do try to carefully assess quality, etc., and may do this in ways different from how grad students perceive quality, there still isn't a perfect meritocracy. Worthy people don't get jobs, and many who do turn out to be nothing all that special (and of course worthy people do get jobs). Part of this may be the "next big thing" phenomenon, part may be how quality is measured, part may be the impossibility of accurately measuring quality at so early of a stage, and so on. And often it looks very mysterious and arbitrary to anyone not on the hiring committee.

And, I hope the person who wrote that email (in the original post)can keep his/her sense of humor. It's a brutal process.

jeremy said...

My claim is not about the accuracy of any individual or collective assessment of "quality", but that there is much reflection about quality, rather than people being in the throes of some sense in the sociological air of a person being a "hot prospect." The idea that the top of the academic job market is "soooo arbitrary" is in general ludicrous. Above that, it's just empirically false that Wisconsin sociology makes much use of signals of the assessments of other departments in making its own decisions about who to bring in or who to hire. One way that it is demonstrably false is that Wisconsin sociology has interviewed and made offers to more than one junior candidate in the time that I've been there who received no other interviews from anything close to comparable-quality institutions.

jeremy said...

What I mean against the idea that it is sooo arbitrary is that if you locked me in a room with files and asked me to go through the applications and name who were going to be the top 10 people on the sociology market in terms of interviews, and compared it to the actual 10 people by some measure, I am confident that the worst I would do is be right about 5, and I'd probably be right about 6 or 7 or maybe 8. This is not to claim it's a meritocracy and that the way the market works is correct in some abstract moral sense, but the top of the market is quite predictable. It's the middle of the market that I have no handle on, especially because it is so segmented and thus dependent on the structure of applicants and jobs within each segment.

Anonymous said...

Huh, that's interesting. I was going to say that the top seems less predictable. Or maybe not less predictable, but predictable in ways I don't understand.

It seems that some of the "objective" criteria used (e.g., publications, graduate institutions) might be more important in the middle, because those schools have more to "prove" than the top departments. I've certainly seen interviewees and hires at top departments without some of the trappings that we're told we need to be successful (I'm saying nothing here about their quality). What criteria top departments are looking for, I don't know, other than some abstract "quality," but they have the status to be flexible and open if they choose.

But I really have no idea.

I didn't think the original anonymous you objected to was as obnoxious as you did (though kind of mean to the UW candidates and hires mentioned) -- but I interpreted it as more a sense of frustration about the extent to which *feels* arbitrary to outsiders (and candidates), and the extent to which it's treated as a meritocracy (though I'm not saying you're saying it is)-- both things many of the commenters have already commented on.
-andrea (and anon. 2:45)

Anonymous said...

(Sorry if this is a repost; I fear blogger ate the first version.)

In a recent search in my department, the grad students were invited to participate by, among other things, assessing the job candidates in a "town hall" forum. The criteria the grad students -- at least those who spoke up -- emphasized in that town hall incuded the usual: whether the candidate was articulate (presumably indicating teaching potential), whether he or she "seemed smart," whether the work was interesting, whether the candidate was a good fit for the department, whether the candidate could fill gaps in the curriculum, whether the candidate had a good publication record, and whether or not the candidate seemed nervous.

With the exception of the last criterion, all these are reasonable. The faculty, however, was struck by the virtual absence of any discussion among the graduate students of what would seem to be the two most important criteria: whether the candidate's models were plausible, and whether his or her conclusions actually followed from the research. You'd be surprised at how many candidates -- even those with good publication records -- fail on these two criteria.

jeremy said...

Anon 5:15: Hmm. The grad students in your department seemed to understand that the task was to hire a person, whereas the faculty you refer to seem to believe the task was hiring a paper or a talk. Not that the substance of the talk is unimportant, but it's important for what it suggests about the candidate, not as an end in itself.

Anonymous said...

Having been on junior search twice in the last 3 years, I would like to agree with Jeremy. It is mostly obvious who the top candidates are going to be --they have papers in ASR/AJS , they come from top departments and they have strong letters from folks people know. This does not mean they ARE the best folks out there, but these are the signals that departments can easily read and seem to endorse. Having previously been at WI, I can also attest to the fact that the faculty there are exceedingly diligent about reading candidate's files.

When I was in grad school at Stanford, students often expressed the feeling that a previous poster describes -- the candidates the department brought in seemed to be less talented that our grad students. Why did folks feel that way? I am not sure, but I do think it is important to keep in mind that it is often just as hard to present your work well as it is to do good work in the first place. This is why I have been opposed to making too much of a job talk, but there is much disagreement on this point. I am also quite certain that if the candidate you think weaker than your fellow grad students were in your own grad program, you would probably be quite positive about him/her.

One thing that we did one year when I was at Wisconsin (in FemSem) was to organize a panel on the job market made up of new hires and current PhD students on the market. I think folks found it helpful. Similar panels should also probably be run for new assistant profs since the tenure process is probably even less well understood than the job market process.

Shelley

Ang said...

That panel, by the way, was really helpful and fabulous. There was a mixture of people with varied job/life goals and experiences, so a lot of different aspects of the job search were well represented. (Thanks Shelley!)

I've got a while to worry about it (Like, why don't I finish my diss first), but the relative transparency of the tenure process is a mystery to me. Obviously it differs in different institutions. What I'm wondering is how explicit the requirements/suggestions/policies/whatever are.

Anonymous said...

I think we should organize a blog for sociology job market Q&A, where grad students could ask questions and faculty could give comments, and vice versa (faculty doing the recruiting or on placement committees might be interested in how grad students understand the job market these days)
Would anyone volunteer to set something like this up? Being a remote grad student, I can't benefit much from talks in the department, so the internet makes a huge difference for me.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that the people brought in can't do sociology at a top institution. It's just that I know there are people out there who are better quality, maybe don't have that ASR/AJS publication, and we never get to see them because of that fact. And because we are a top department, we have the privelege of getting the pick of the "hot" group. Am I just bitter about the importance placed on publications in the hiring process? Maybe. And perhaps in light of that fact, academia won't be the career path I choose...and I wouldn't be the only one.

Also, I might be naive about the hiring process (probably not as naive as you think), but I have had enough interactions with faculty to give me the sense that there is some merit to my arbitrary-ness feeling. I won't go into any more detail on that. Also, I'm sorry I seem mean to some of the candidates/hires, but I can't reveal who I think this doesn't apply to without revealing who I think it does apply to.
-Anonymous who made Jeremy's head explode

Michael said...

One place you might use to post information is the recently-launched wiki for sociology students, run by the ASA Student Forum. It's in the early stages, so it could benefit from people contributing useful information about, eg, searching for jobs, like on the Getting A Job page (which I just created).

Anonymous said...

"Anon 5:15: Hmm. The grad students in your department seemed to understand that the task was to hire a person, whereas the faculty you refer to seem to believe the task was hiring a paper or a talk."

Guess I needed one more sentence in my comment: The faculty were using the quality of the dissertation research (i.e., whether or not the models are right or wrong) as a predictor of whether or not someone is going to produce high-quality sociological research in the future, even if he or she didn't have an ASR/AJS article in the bag as a grad student. I'd say this is "hiring a person" more than the grad students, who were more likely to be pursuaded by a highly polished job talk, even if it was on fundamentally flawed research.

Anonymous said...

Following up on Anon 8:30, this is absolutely the central point. Graduate students do not understand why faculty hire the people they do because they generally do not have access to the full dossiers. Graduate students are more likely to judge based only on what they see: verbal acuity in a job talk, general demeanor, and a casual judgment of quality of scholarship. Faculty are more likely to make full comparisons across all dimensions.

Faculty are also heavily influenced by publication records. But, we have to be, as that is what tenure is based upon. We also have almost no concern about teaching ability, as that is not what tenure is based upon. Faculty are more likely to favor candidates who can publish but who are likely to take a decade or more to figure out how to lead an effective graduate seminar.

Wisconsin has the benefit of being able to hire many people, and thus fractious department politics do not play as large of a role at Wisconsin. Small departments, in contrast, do not hire every year and rarely hire more than one Asst. Prof. per year. As a result, the person hired is often a political compromise. I don't believe that anyone can honestly argue that such dynamics are fair to the full pool of candidates.

Finally, all departments are unfair at some level. I have been involved in enough job searches to conclude that three important dynamics work that faculty do not want to admit to. First, minority candidates are given a huge advantage, both at the short-list stage and at the hiring stage. Second, net of race, male candidates are judged more favorably than female candidates, especially by those who are over the age of 50. Third, candidates not from top 15 departments are deemed less worthy of consideration, net of all else.

There are clear explanations for all three. Faculty are simply afraid to criticize the scholarship of minority candidates who are weak scholars. Second, there is an implicit and largely unconscious downgrading of the scholarship of women. Third, faculty time is constrained. We have a devil a time giving a careful read to the applications even from the top 15 departments, and thus we barely bother to look at anything other than the CVs of those from lower down the rankings.

Even though these inequities exist, I feel confident that most of those from top departments like Wisconsin who do not get decent jobs simply do not deserve them. If you have been sitting in one of the best departments in the world for 7 or 8 years, and you haven't managed to put together a CV that can get you a job at a decent research university, then you are better off looking for an alternative career. Failing to get a job is better than barely getting a job and then getting tossed aside by a department 3 or 5 or 7 years later as tenure evaluation approaches.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little surprised by the last anon commenter -- to acknowledge that inequities exist (and I agreed with his/her points here) and then conclude that it all works out as it should.

Another factor that isn't considered there is what someone is doing for those 7 or 8 years. Like those who have adequate financial support (often from family, spouses, etc. -- in addition to grants and fellowships as they often aren't enough to live on, especially in urban areas) versus those who have to work a lot while they're in grad school.

And some types of research lend themselves more easily to publication-as-you-go, like secondary data analysis, working on a larger project, etc. This doesn't always equal publicatins going to the best researchers or those most ultimately capable of publishing.

I wouldn't argue that all candidates, or even all candidates from top departments "deserve" or would excel in top jobs. But I also wouldn't argue that it all evens out in the end.

Anonymous said...

"Even though these inequities exist, I feel confident that most of those from top departments like Wisconsin who do not get decent jobs simply do not deserve them..."

I guess that makes sense, if you believe that a virtual load of people don't "deserve" decent jobs. As a commenter noted upthread, the sheer number of graduates from Wisconsin will mean that not everyone can get a great job. By the numbers, it just can't happen.

jeremy said...

Anon 7:42pm: You are probably someone I know and am fond of, although I have no idea who. While I have my own, lengthy opinions about suboptimalities in market processes at Wisconsin and elsewhere, I am not going to go into them here. Those suboptimalities do not imply that the market is arbitrary--at least in the sense I understand the term--or that Wisconsin makes heavy use of positive signals from other departments' searches, which is what you originally claimed.

Anon 8:30pm: OK. We're on the same page. Sorry if I was snippy.

Anonymous said...

I guess I should have elaborated a bit. And perhaps my usage of "deserve" was both indelicate and incorrect. For that I apologize.

However, my position on the primary issues are that:

The politics of small departments balance out across all jobs, at least for Wisconsin grads who represent a healthy spectrum of all types of candidates. Most importantly, the unfair advantage of being a Wisconsin PhD more than compensates for the unfair disadvantages that some Wisconsin graduates may have by virtue of being a non-minority or a non-male. And, if you are engaging in work that takes longer to publish, recruitment committees know how to adjust for that. In fact, every year at least some top departments hire candidates with virtually no published papers, only first rate working papers (my department included).

Finally, if you have expereienced hardship that prevented you from producing while in graduate school, you are very unlikely to overcome that hardship to suddenly produce a lot when you also have to teach four classes a year, do your own departmental service, and so on. Of course, a thin job dossier does not always signal a lack of potential. But it does almost certainly signal that the candidate does not have a solid enough foundation to have a successful research career.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:22 wrote: "Am I just bitter about the importance placed on publications in the hiring process? Maybe. And perhaps in light of that fact, academia won't be the career path I choose..."

Just out of curiosity, (a) what did you expect when you entered grad school?, and (b) on what would you rather hiring was based?

Anonymous said...

I was on the job market last year and plan to not do it again for a long, long time (if ever).

My advisor's advice was to limit my applications the first year and send more out the second (if the limited approach didn't work). Her reasoning behind it was that if a ton of schools saw my CV that first year but didn't hire me, unless my CV looked a ton better that second year, I'd look even worse to them. I ended up sending out a little over 30 apps that first year - half to liberal arts schools and half to research universities. The second year I'm sure I would have sent out well over that.

I whole-heartedly believe that there's this gossip-driven, "let's bring them in too to find out what all the fuss is about," phenomenon. I watched it happen last year with a handful of sociologists, one of whom I'm very close to. I thought that they were all deserving of the fuss in one way or another - perhaps not of all the interviews and all the fuss, but there were reasons they were the market stars for the year. The thing that always irked me about this phenomenon was that my own department (which was not Wisconsin) insisted on bringing one of those individuals in every year and inevitably making them the first offer and then we waited around for them to reject us while the other, perfectly suitable, visitors ranked lower got tired of waiting and took other jobs.

Anonymous said...

clearly, the top 10-15 departments are strongly networked, and letters of recommendation from faculty at said departments weigh heavily in decisions regarding who gets interviewed at those depts. that's part of the process that's not visible to graduate students.

Anonymous said...

Uh, believe me, it's visible to us. There was a recent flap at my institution over advisors writing two letters - one glowing for second-tier schools, one mediocre for top-tier, unbeknownst to the advisee. We're aware of it.

Perhaps what some grad students are voicing as "arbitrariness" is the common feeling that you see some grad school colleagues attain a great deal of success. And maybe some of their work is great. But maybe some of them are huge putzes. Maybe some of them you know, for a fact, are huge dipshits. And it's ridiculously naive to think that any system's a pure meritocracy, but maybe you think that academia, what with all it's smart people, should have at least a hair less of the bullshit factor than, say, Hollywood. But no. So maybe that's the feeling some are having. It's a guess.

jeremy said...

Anon 1:09am: I don't really get the "flap." Is the offense that the advisor wasn't willing to express a strong recommendation to all departments to which the student applied, or that the advisor was not frank with the student about this?

The rest of your comment is the general kind of resentment that it's hard not to generally dismiss. The sense from many of the comments is that hiring committees are supposed to be able to look into your file and, on the basis of material nobody's really been able to articulate, see that you (or the friend you feel has been passed over, or whatever) would be an especially great hire AND be able to justify that to an entire committee and department. Regardless, I suspect Hollywood is considerably more meritocratic than you are giving it credit for.

Anonymous said...

That the advisor wasn't upfront about it.

Anonymous said...

there's a section in the review below on how academic depts make hires. interesting piece.

http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/articles/061023crbo_books

Anonymous said...

As a relatively recent UW alum with a tenure track job, I'd like to chime in, even if late.

(1) Hiring committees are looking to see if you can do the job; doing the job is getting tenure; getting tenure is publishing despite teaching and committee work. Being successful in publishing doesn't just (or even) mean being a genius. My department expects (minimally) 2 good publications a year for tenure. So, yes, committees look for publications - both quantity and quality.

(2) If someone goes on the market "early," then, yes, their file is less reflective of their potential and so there's (likely) a latent variable (unrecognized genius) problem then. But with time, that is less true. At some point there should be "observables" in your file.

(3) UW dilligently & thoroughly reviews candidate files. I learned a lot about the market process by serving on their hiring committee as a graduate student - I strongly recommend it.

(4) UW could do more to prepare students for the job market. Other schools offer more structured ways for students to learn about publishing and the market.

(5) If anything, UW grads have an unfair advantage because of its enormous social network and historical ranking. Students from schools know this better and frequently try to compensate for their school's lower reputation by publishing a lot and early. That then helps them on the job market.

(6) Besides the pyramid problem, there's a supply & demand problem for current graduate students. There's more applicants today than in the past and you are "competing" with post-docs for the same jobs.

(7) Hang in there - the job market is one of the roughest experiences on people's psyche. But the more you know about the process and even about particular departments & what they're looking for, the better. Like the GI Jo quote, "Knowing's half the battle." (But the other half can still totally suck).

Anonymous said...

>The rest of your comment is the general kind of resentment that it's hard not to generally dismiss.

I don't know. I guess maybe, but it's perfectly possible to understand the system, even see the necessity of some of the problems with it, and still resent that it's like that and resent some of the decisions that are made. As many people have commented, it's brutal. It's hard to come out unscathed, even if you have a great TT job at the end. Do I really expect someone to miraculously see my brilliance? Well, no, not really. But can I still wish that were possible? Sure.

Anonymous said...

"6) Besides the pyramid problem, there's a supply & demand problem for current graduate students. There's more applicants today than in the past and you are "competing" with post-docs for the same jobs."

I don't want to turn this into the soc job market freeiki, but this strikes me as wrong on its face. The job market in sociology is excellent relative to that in most other social sciences and humanities and excellent relative to the recent past...like the late 1980s.

As the commentator on the "pyramid" of prestige argued, the odds of getting a job at a top department have always been bad. By definition, they will never be anything other than bad. However, outside of the rarified confines inhabited by our hero, there appear to be literally hundreds of jobs this year – literally like > 200 – and it has been like this for at least the last five years. How you get them is not mysterious. Any decent graduate program will lay it out for you on the first day of orientation. I am on the other side of the market already, so it is easy for me to talk, but the sooner you decide what sort of job is acceptable and soberly assess your odds of your landing such a job, the happier you will be.

Anonymous said...

There's a self-destructive crowd dynamic to fretting over the job market. I advise everybody to stay clear of it. I actually enjoyed being on the market (not too long ago). Most of my buddies did, too. Not that we would admit to it at the time. Instead we acted somber and composed out of fear of further upsetting our fretting peers. Except, it turns out, hardly anybody was as stressed out as we thought they were. The whole thing reminded me of our first days of grad school, when it was compulsory to spread the news of how little we had studied for the GREs (yeah, right). Same thing, really. You are not supposed to admit that you enjoy being on the market, even though there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the experience - meeting lots of people, being given the light of day by senior colleagues for the first time, discussing your research with outsiders, touting your own achievements all day etc. Consider that being on the market may have its upsides.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that the jobs the top departments are training their students for are not the ones those 200+ schools are advertising, particularly in qualitative fields.

Anonymous said...

Ain't that the truth.

Anonymous said...

These last two comments are completely uninformed. The vast majority of positions that are (a) not in the top 20 (b) regularly advertised are in lesser research universities (usually lower down the hierarchy in the UC system or the SUNY system, etc.). For these jobs, publication remain essential for tenure, though the standards of quality and quantity are lower. Moreover, the distribution across the quantitative and qualitative divide is basically the same.

Graudate students who issue these comments tend to fantasize that Swarthmore, William, Reed, and Oberlin are going to be searching the year they go on the market. They rarely do, in part because they are small and in part becuase they do not have the turnover in their junior ranks that research universities do.

Anonymous said...

This is why I hate academics. You could cut the smugness with a knife.

dorotha said...

i'm glad i suck so much that i don't need to pay attention to these comments.

Gwen said...

I am glad that I have lowered my expectations and just want a nice little decent teaching job (which I already have) but in a slightly nicer place (like where I could get Indian food without a 6-hour round-trip drive).

I never aspired to a top-tier job; it just seemed totally outside of anything that would be relevant to me. I did end up applying for one top job, because my advisor and other faculty encouraged me to, and I got an interview. From what I understand, due to comments from people on the hiring committee that I saw at a conference later, internal politics took over and they cancelled the search and hired no one.

I'm not particularly happy with the specific location I'm in right now, but as for the job itself, it's great. I think sometimes we UW grads think certain jobs are beneath us if they aren't at a top-25 school. But it's kind of nice to have a job where you are really, truly valued, where your students want to take every class you offer, and where you have no concerns about getting tenure. If I could change the location of my job, I'd stay forever.

I'm probably a bad person to say anything, though, because I have never been very ambitious, so I didn't feel the pain of getting rejected from top schools since I never applied.