Tuesday, October 4, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)


Your scholar-blogger links for today

My co-author Henry Farrell has an excellent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the ways in which blogging and scholarship can complement each other. Without saying his name, it is certainly an excellent rejoinder to one Mr. "Ivan Tribble." The key paragraphs:

Many young academics who are thinking about blogging share [Duncan] Black's dilemma. Is it a good idea to blog if you're on the job market or have a nontenured position? Tenured academics who blog face relatively little risk when they express controversial opinions -- they have job protection. It's a different story for academics without tenure who want to blog. They may worry that their colleagues would find their blogs objectionable, damaging their career chances, and either blog under a pseudonym, like Black and the law professor "Juan Non-Volokh," or not blog at all. Younger scholars may also worry that blogging would eat up time that could be devoted to publishing articles or working on a book. Few if any academics would want to describe their blogging as part of their academic publishing record (although they might reasonably count it toward public-service requirements). While blogging has real intellectual payoffs, it is not conventional academic writing and shouldn't be an academic's main focus if he or she wants to get tenure.

But to dismiss blogging as a bad idea altogether is to make an enormous mistake. Academic bloggers differ in their goals. Some are blogging to get personal or professional grievances off their chests or... to pursue nonacademic interests. Others, perhaps the majority, see blogging as an extension of their academic personas. Their blogs allow them not only to express personal views but also to debate ideas, swap views about their disciplines, and connect to a wider public. For these academics, blogging isn't a hobby; it's an integral part of their scholarly identity. They may very well be the wave of the future.

Meanwhile, for those who believe that the academic life is a cushy one, go click over to Dan Nexon's post about the poli sci job market at Duck of Minerva. The highlights:

[O]ver the years I have:

1) Written at least sixteen applications for post-doctoral fellowships, only two of which were successful;

2) Sent something on the order of a hundred job-application packets to institutions of higher learning, out of which I received a handful of interviews and a miniscule number of offers;

3) Gone mostly bald.

What, then, is my advice?

Let's start with the obvious. There will always be people who are smarter, better credentialed, and much more attractive than you are. Many of them will be applying for the same jobs as you. But take heart in two facts about the world. One, almost no one can physically occupy the position of assistant professor at two institutions. Two, life is unfair. Between these two laws of nature, you just might get a job offer... or even many, many job offers.

Now, the bad news....

The academic job "market," in other words, is nothing of the sort. It is penetrated by informal and formal ties of friendship and influence. Short-lists, interviews, and offers are made on the basis of many collective and individual decisions, including search committees, departments, and various high priests of the academy (e.g., deans and provosts). In aggregate, these decisions can take many surprising and unpredictable directions. Bottom line: it is foolhardy to invest your ego in the process.

I'm simultaneously more pessimistic and optimistic than Nexon.

On the pessimistic side, the fact that no single person can occupy all the jobs proffered to them does not mean the market will clear. Among top-tier institutions, it is far more likely that departments will simply adopt a "wait 'til next year" approach than hire their second choice. At which point the process repeats itself -- a lucky few snap up all the job offers, everyone else waits until next year. For aspiring academics that want the really plum jobs, this can be like repeatedly banging your head against a wall in the hopes of obtaining a result different than your head hurting -- a textbook definition of insanity.

On the optimistic side, I don't think old-boy networks warp the hiring process as much as is often posited. This is what I said in "So You Want to Get a Tenure-Track Job..."

This process has two parts; getting an interview, and then getting an offer. No doubt, letters of recommendation and phone lobbying can help to get you an interview; that, however, is as far as this kind of influence can carry someone. At the interview stage, the quality of your work and your presentation determines whether you get the job.

The academic job market, as I've witnessed it, is a globally rational but locally capricious system. Some people will undoubtedly slip through the cracks -- but on the whole, talent is recognized and rewarded.

posted by Dan on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM




Comments:

Nexon's problem might be Harry Potter. Otherwise the academic market does seem capricious.

posted by: Bob on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



There are probably a lot of reasons I didn't get more interviews; indeed, I'm sure they were very good reasons from the perspective of the particular institutions I applied to. I do tend to side with Dan D. here, in that I think you can make a very good case for "global rationality." Of course, I say that having landed quite well, so 'grain of salt' and all that.

In fact, I'm not sure I would agree with Dan's implicit "networks" vs. "rationality" claim. As I'll write about in a follow up post, I think a reliance on recommenders and (even) phone calls is highly rational behavior given the paucity of good information in searches for junior-level positions.

My own thoughts on the Potter issue can be found here.

posted by: Nexon on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



I've often heard it said that the only process more nerve-wracking than interviewing for a job is conducting the interviewer. I myself secured jobs on at least two occasions because I happened along after other applicants had been rejected and the people doing the hiring were desperate to get the process over with.

Knowing little about academic hiring, I just wondered this: is there any benefit to the career of an academic or university official who pulls the trigger on a really good hire? Does a hire that bombs damage the careers of the people who approved it?

posted by: Zathras on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



"The academic job market, as I've witnessed it, is a globally rational but locally capricious system. Some people will undoubtedly slip through the cracks -- but on the whole, talent is recognized and rewarded."

Sorry, but neither DD nor DN has much credibility here. Both talented, well-pedigreed, and sitting in plum jobs. But there are lots of extremely talented people, people who even perform very well, who maybe aren't as well pedigreed or for lots of other reasons underplace. Hell, there's an entire underclass on the exploitation track who are probably neither adequately recognized nor rewarded.

I say this having recently landed a *gasp* dream job after toiling for several years in an underplacement. So it's not borne of bitterness. But I don't think DD or DN have much of a clue about what most job seekers are facing.

posted by: anonymous on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



To follow up on anonymous' post: there's a risk of engaging in the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy vis--vis the "global rationality" claim. In brief, getting a job at a more prestigious institution leads, generally, to better resources which, in turn, leads to more productivity, etc. etc.

posted by: Nexon on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



"The academic job market, as I've witnessed it, is a globally rational but locally capricious system. Some people will undoubtedly slip through the cracks -- but on the whole, talent is recognized and rewarded."

The first half sounds good, but the second half is more doubtful, for the simple reason that the supply of talented people is significantly larger than the number of 'plum' positions. Or perhaps the second part is true for large values of the word 'some'.

posted by: Doug on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



Um, if offers depend on interview performance, but access to interviews is controlled by an old boy network, than access to jobs is controlled by the old boy network. That is simple transitivity and borne out by 20,000 years of human experience. True, a specific individual who gets the interview may do poorly and be rejected. But the next interviewee in line will be selected by the old boy network, not by merit. The "by merit" people are only interviewed to make the statistics that must be turned in to the EEOC office look good.

Cranky

posted by: Cranky Observer on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



I'd have to concur that networking is alive and well. The one interview I scored for an adjunct position after getting my master's (and I applied widely) was with an interviewer whose son had attended the same undergraduate institution I had. I know other equally qualified people who applied for the position, and who wanted it just as much, who were not offered interviews. Surely two things worked in my favor: the interviewer recognized the name of J. Random Small School atop my CV, and he was able to ask his son if he knew anything about me. If it hadn't been for those two factors, I would have received the same "sorry, but" letter my colleagues got instead of the much more personalized rejection that came to me.

posted by: anonymous on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



I'll take your workd for it that the market recognizes and rewards talent with some degree of accuracy, but there's a fundamental irrationality further down the ladder: Universities are creating more Ph.D.s than the market can absorb at the wage rates Ph.D.s are willing to accept. This appears to be less true in physical and life sciences and engineering, where there are many positions outside academia for Ph.D.s, but there are far more humanities and social-science Ph.D.s than can be absorbed into positions where a Ph.D. is a positive benefit.

This probably leads, if the hiring market is globally rational, to an increased quality of research professors over time, but does not help the egos of the bottom 80% of Ph.D.-holders.

posted by: Anthony on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



"Knowing little about academic hiring, I just wondered this: is there any benefit to the career of an academic or university official who pulls the trigger on a really good hire? Does a hire that bombs damage the careers of the people who approved it?"

Yes and yes. We have hired some doozies, and everyone remembers who pulled the trigger on those ones.

"but there are far more humanities and social-science Ph.D.s than can be absorbed into positions where a Ph.D. is a positive benefit."

Not for economics. It is hard to hire for economics - there are not mnay excess bodies around.

posted by: An Economist on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]



"I'll take your workd for it that the market recognizes and rewards talent with some degree of accuracy, but there's a fundamental irrationality further down the ladder: Universities are creating more Ph.D.s than the market can absorb at the wage rates Ph.D.s are willing to accept."

On oversupply of PhD's would imply an oversupply of PhD programs, would it not? A little truth in advertising for PhD programs might be in order? And a little downsizing as well. Arguably a lot of research could be offshored to India or China and done a lot more cheaply.

posted by: Don on 10.04.05 at 03:19 PM [permalink]






Post a Comment:

Name:


Email Address:


URL:




Comments:


Remember your info?