Friday, March 3, 2006

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Academic flotsam and jetsam

The following items of interest will only be of interest to academics and academic wanna-bes:

A) Hey, grad students -- go check out Mary McKinney's excellent essay "Academic AWOL" for Inside Higher Ed. It's about how professors and graduate students fall into the black hole of procrastination, and the ways to get out. It's nothing revolutionary, but it might help some to know they're not the only ones suffering from missed deadlines.

McKinney's first three bits of advice are particularly trenchant:

1. Realize that your absence weighs heavier on your mind than the other personís. Advisors are not losing sleep over late dissertation proposals and journal editors arenít agonizing over missing manuscripts. The project is more important to you than anyone else.

2. Remember, when you do get in touch, the person is unlikely to be angry and punitive. We tend to be much harsher about our own tardiness than we are about other peopleís delays. Advisors know it is difficult to write dissertation drafts. Journal editors are accustomed to academics who take a long time to turn around R&R manuscripts.

3. Lower rather than raise your standards when youíre running late. Donít try to make your work more polished to make up for taking so long. Just try to get something sent out for feedback. End the cycle by chanting to yourself ďA done dissertation is a good dissertationĒ or ďA published paper is the only paper that counts.Ē

Read well, grad students, or you will learn very quickly the power of Newton's First Law of Graduation.

B) Frau Doktor Professor Eszter Hargittai has a post up on the oddity of being addressed as "Mrs. Hargittai" in correspondence and at conferences:

On occasion, I get emails in which people address me as Mrs. Hargittai. Iím not suggesting that people need know my personal history or preferences. However, if you are going to contact someone in a professional context and they have a Ph.D. and they teach at a university (both of which are very clear on their homepage where you probably got their email address in the first place), wouldnít you opt for Dr. or Professor?
For the record, as the son of an M.D., I can't stand using "Dr." "Professor" can also sound odd when first addressing a colleague. If I need a gender-specific honorific, however, I use "Ms."

C) Henry Farrell and David Bernstein have posts about whether Universities and academic departments can use the lessons of "Moneyball" as a means of moving up the academic ranks. Within the social sciences, there are certainly examples of this. Rochester's political science department catapaulted into the top ten because there was a time when they were the only ones willing to hire rational choice scholars, for example.

Henry thinks a Moneyball philosophy could move hiring markets away from "winner-take-all" outcomes where two or three people soak up all the extant offers, but doesn't think it will work because academia doesn't have the same quantitative measures as sabremetricians do to measure quantity and quality of output. I think Henry's right on the second point, but for the wrong reason. The problem is not measuring academic productivity. It's that unlike in baseball, academic contracts come in only one of two forms -- six year contracts with an option for a lifetime extension, or just a lifetime contract. Not even Billy Beane would be all that risk-loving in a world where very few professors can be cut, and no professors can be traded.

D) Social scientists should have a field day picking apart the holes in William Stuntz's essay at TNR Online about how the fall of Larry Summers presages the fall of American universities in the global education marketplace. In the essay, what does Stuntz erroneously assume?

1) His experience at Harvard can be generalized to the rest of academia;

2) All academic departments function like the humanities;

3) "Those who go through the motions" in terms of teaching will, for some reason be "more likely to attend the meetings and write the memos and vote on the motions of no confidence?" In my experience, those two facts tend to be negatively rather than positively correlated.

4) Market competition won't work within the United States, but mysteriously, will fuction at the global level -- because other countries have much less government intrusion into the education marketl;

5) All of the above?

Have some fun and dig up some other fallacies of your own!!

E) International Studies Perspectives is like most other academic IR journals, with one quirky exception. On their back cover they publish "PIeces on Our Craft," a humor essay on the absurdities of academia. The targets might be obvious -- a jargon-filled poli sci interpretation of Green Eggs and Ham, for example -- but they're still funny.

If you're at a university, click over to James H. Lebovic's "The Academic Conference: An Irreverent Glossary of Terms." Here's Lebovic's definition of "chair":

The chair is the ringmaster for the festivities. The chair's job is to mispronounce the names of the panelists, keep time, and struggle to stay awake. There are no apparent qualifications for the position of chair, other than owning a watch. Chairs enjoy all the prerogatives of the discussant, and more: chairs can comment on the papers without the pretense of having read them. Still, chairs must justify their existence by warning panelists that time has expired using notes of increasing urgency, knowing that it would be easier to stop a speeding train.
F) If you're at the U of C, pick up the Winter 2006 issue of 1000 Typewriters, published by the Society for Undergraduate Poetry. There's a very amusing poem by one Tobie Harris called "The Economist's Lorax." Here's a snippet from the poem:
Now chopping one tree at a time was too slow
So I quickly invented my Super-Ax Hacker
Which whacked off four Truffula trees at a smacker.
We were making Thneeds four times as fast as before.
And the Lorax?... Pretty soon he was back at my door.
"You fool!" he berated. "Can't you just understand?
Your supply is too high, it exceeds your demand.
It makes no fiscal sense to deforest this land!
My boy, what you need is a good fiscal plan.
If the market you glut, then you lower your price.
Four times as fast may sound awfully nice,
But you'd do a lot better if you heeded some facts,
And started using your brain, instead of an ax.
You've got a monopoly, making these Thneeds.
A larger supply is the last thing you'll need.
You don't need more Thneeds, they're fine as they are
What you need, my boy, is some brand new PR!
UPDATE: Thanks to the commenter who ppinted out that Ms. Harris has posted the entirety of the poem on her blog.

G) Finally, hearty online congratulations to my soon-to-be-former colleague, Jacob Levy (sniff!), for accepting a tenured, endowed chair at McGill University.

That is all.

posted by Dan on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM




Comments:

Regarding Item B - I am assuming, Prof. Drezner, that you "always use 'Ms.'" when refering to others. Unless there is something else you want to tell us...

Anyway, thanks for your encouragement.

posted by: Michael Carroll on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



The Green Eggs and Ham parody is excellent, and had me in stiches. Thanks for posting it.

posted by: SDP on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



Tobie, a first year college student at UofC, has the full version at her blog http://tobiesrandomrants.blogspot.com/2005/06/lorax-parody.html">here

posted by: Shmuli on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



As for the M.D. vs. PhD doctor thing... In the middle ages physicians (as they were known) were doing things with leeches and humors--to very little and often detrimental effect. Accordingly their low prestige led them to appropriate "doctor" from the comparatively higher status scholars (doctor means teacher in Latin). Now the status is reversed. If doctor necessarily means medical, then why is the "M" needed before the "D" in M.D.?

posted by: WJB on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



"Now the status is reversed."

Huh? Perhaps in the way that in many circles the status of rock stars is higher than that of CEOs.

posted by: KJ on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



A very nicely done belittlement of the Stunz essay, Daniel. Lumping it in with an economist's version of Jabberwocky. I really enjoyed the takedown with which you introduced the article as well.

Needless to say with that leadin there won't be a serious debate - here at least. Elsewhere I hope - but I don't really care. Like Stunz notes, by the time this comes to pass we'll all be dead.....

posted by: Don Stadler on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



3) "Those who go through the motions" in terms of teaching will, for some reason be "more likely to attend the meetings and write the memos and vote on the motions of no confidence?" In my experience, those two facts tend to be negatively rather than positively correlated.

Is this really so? I mean, I'm quite young, and not an academic besides, so I've no experience on which to generalise, but in the Harriet Miers affair, people were saying that her lists of bar committee and firm governance honours were indicators that she wasn't a top-flight lawyer, since top-flight lawyers don't have time or patience for that kind of tedious, bureaucratic stuff. The analogy in the academic context would seem to be these faculty and committee meetings. Is it different in academia?

posted by: Taeyoung on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



Deadwood is as deadwood does. Or, in this case, does not. Does not do research. Does not keep course content up to date. Does not participate in shared governance.

Criticize the substance of some Harvard faculty voting no confidence in Larry Summers, but understand that those people voted with what they understood the good of the university, and of their work, to require.

posted by: Stephen Karlson on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



Re Part C: There are only two types of contract if you're limiting your consideration to tenure-track faculty. Let's not forget all those adjuncts, who work under the equivalent of a minor-league contract, or, if you prefer the NBA (though I'm guessing you don't), a 10-day contract. Maybe the growing reliance on non-tenure-track faculty is where we should be looking for Moneyball tendencies in academic hiring.

posted by: Jeremy B. on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



I don't know, Jeremy. Daniel has apparently never worked under a 10-day contract as all those academic peons do. With tenure approaching this fall the peons may become even less visible from the heights.....

posted by: Don Stadler on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



All those non-tenure track faculty work under 10-day contracts? Cite, please?

posted by: Mark on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



Well, technically, there's a fourth type of contract: the term-limited full-time contract with no prospect of tenure (most common in the one-year and two-year varieties).

That said, "academic superstars" are only competing for the first two types of contract; the Susan Hydes of the world aren't too worried about finding a visting gig or becoming freeway flyers, but then again there's maybe a half-dozen new superstars a year in the whole discipline of political science.

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



Tell Jacob congrats and good show from me.

posted by: Laura on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



Frau Doktor Professor Eszter Hargittai asks: "if you are going to contact someone in a professional context and they have a Ph.D. and they teach at a university (both of which are very clear on their homepage where you probably got their email address in the first place), wouldnít you opt for Dr. or Professor?"

The answer depends on whether you are a peer, or a student who may feel the need to polish the ego of a hyper-sensitive academic. If that latter, I would certainly opt for Dr. or Professor.

In have found, in academia and otherwise, that those who are confident in their abilities are least likely to feel the need to hide behind titles.

posted by: Dr. Me on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



A bit of hyperbole, dear Mark. The circumstances can be pretty dicy with some contracts. I remember meeting one of those adjuct teachers at a youth hostel in Rhode Island. Presumably because he couldn't make the cost of a hotel at the stipend offered.

posted by: Don Stadler on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]



A bit of hyperbole, dear Mark. The circumstances can be pretty dicy with some contracts. I remember meeting one of those adjuct teachers at a youth hostel in Rhode Island. Presumably because he couldn't make the cost of a hotel at the stipend offered.

posted by: Don Stadler on 03.03.06 at 12:18 PM [permalink]






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