Author Archives: olderwoman

I’m a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. It isn’t hard to figure out my real name if you want to, but I keep it out of this blog because I don’t want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I’d be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn’t either!), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I’ve been involved with.

html-excel bleg

Techo-nerds, can you help? A student of mine downloaded about thousand spreadsheets from a public site using the “Excel file” option that saved themselves as .xls files and will open in Excel but are REALLY HTML files and, as such, cannot be imported or even parsed by Stata. Any ideas for automating the file translation? We estimate that opening each file in Excel and saving it as an Excel file at 30 seconds each will take 35 hours. Hoping for a programming solution.

My university’s class rosters ALSO download with .xls extensions but are really html files. Hmmm.

Edit: I think I can crack this. I’ve learned that I can read each file into Stata as lines of text this way:

import delimited “census_Tract101.xls”, delimiter(“^”) varnames(nonames) clear

from there, I’m pretty sure I can fairly easily extract the information needed with string functions, as all the files have identical formats. This may be more elegantly done in R or a programming langauge, but I think I can do it in Stata faster.

We’ll see. Thanks for the fast responses.

 

 

coauthoring norms 1: assisting and junior authoring

I hope it will not disrupt the statistical discussions launched by Jeremy to launch a new line of discussion. My goal is to improve the culture of publication and coauthoring in my department. Although some of our students do great on this, others languish, and many of our students complain that they do not get enough mentoring about publishing. I have identified as one problem that many faculty consider it “exploitative” to involve students in their research if they are not being paid. Another problem is wide variation in opinions about the level of involvement that merits a coauthorship. What I want to do is to develop a set of normative guidelines for apprentice-like experiences that do not involve payment, as well as guidelines for those that do. I am working up a draft of this and would appreciate comments and reports on good and bad experiences and practices in other programs. So here is my draft. Comments, please. Continue reading

can we get a sociology job application site supported?

We have to do something about the job application issue in sociology. Background:  http://scatter.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/interfolio-letters-and-such/ My department has been encouraging our students to use Interfolio, but I was shocked last fall to discover that the evolving technology of on-line application systems has created chaos, and that some of our students were paying a great deal of extra money to have their reference letters delivered by Interfolio because nearly all applications now are on-line, but in a hodge-podge of different systems. The result is either extra work or expense for everyone involved. Some professions have consolidated their applications. All math applications go through https://www.mathjobs.org/jobs , powered by AcademicJobsOnLine. All economics jobs go through https://econjobmarket.org/ , using a system created by a team of volunteers.  The Modern Language Association works with Interfolio http://www.mla.org/jil_interfolio to provide dossier services and application management services for advertisers, with a maximum fee of $6 for sending a MLA-member dossier to a non-advertising employer.

I’m in touch with the people who run the Economics profession job application site.   https://econjobmarket.org/ This is a one-stop site where people applying for economics jobs can put their dossiers up once, letter writers can upload confidential letters to be included with dossiers, and institutions trying to hire economists can download dossiers. It is backed by all the associations that economists join. I asked them what would be involved in cloning the dossier system for sociology. They said the marginal costs would be low. This is a non-profit group of academics that is willing to work with sociology if there are enough of us to get buy-in. The idea would be to go the direction of economics, math, and other fields that have one standardized on-line portal for applications. What do you think? Is this worth working for? Continue reading

gradebook rant

I use what seems to me to be a very logical grading system. I grade papers on a letter grade scale and then calculate grades as a weighted average of these letter grades. Say there are three papers weighted 25%, 25% and 50% that got BC, B, and A respectively. The grade would be 2.5*.25 + 3*.25 + 4*.5 = 3.375, a grade I would then interpret as a low AB. Clear, logical, fair.But as far as I can tell, the course software cannot handle this kind of grading. It assumes that everything is percentages or points. So I cannot use it as an online gradebook. And I have had over the years a large fraction of TAs who cannot quite understand the logic grading papers with (gasp!) grades. To me this seems only logical. Ultimately we will give letter grades, why not set the standards for the grades and grade that way from the beginning? But, instead, they set up their own 10-point or 100-point schemes for grading papers, and then I have to ask them, well, so how does this translate into grades?

For things like tests or homeworks that are more point-like, I use linear equations to transform the points to the 4-point range and put those into the grade calculations in the same way. This is a little more outre and would not have been possible back in the days of paper gradebooks, but after all, you have to take algebra BEFORE you get to college, and we have had computers with spreadsheet programs readily available on college campuses now since the mid-1980s.

So I ask you, why is my university still assuming that everything will be calculated on a percentage basis and then curved to grades? For that matter, why are most of you just blindly assuming that everything should be done in percentages even though virtually every school in the US reports grades on a 4-point letter grade scale? There are a lot of reasons why the percentage-point system has problematic properties, but even if you have a good reason to like it, is it really that hard to understand why I’d like my system, or understand why I prefer it? Is it really that crazy to expect that to be an option in campus course software?

sociology elevator talk

We met with our board of visitors (generally sociology majors who are now successful business people with a sprinkle of academics) and in talking about developing internships for sociology majors it was said that we need a paragraph blurb for what undergraduate sociology majors bring to a job. Employers tend to think of business or maybe economics and have little idea (unless they were sociology majors themselves) what you learn in sociology. We quickly agreed that a lot of it is what any good liberal arts major would bring. But as we talked more, it got more interesting and insightful about some of the distinctive things people learn in a sociology major, although we are still working on the concise elevator version. Here are some of the points. Continue reading

empirical political sociology

Hi, Scatterplotters. I’ve got an inquiry from a social movements fellow traveler who has been assigned to teach political sociology after a long hiatus. She is dismayed to find that political sociology in sociology seems to have become entirely theoretical. She says: “I have been through most of the texts advertised on Amazon and even looked through many of the syllabi at the ASA Teaching page. I’m really shocked. The texts seem to be primarily about theoretical hair splitting with  more theory, and more theory… Doesn’t anyone look at the political world around us? Scary tho it is. I have been almost tempted to use a Marxist text, but it is so very ideological that I probably can’t bring myself to use it. Please send advice. Above all, the name of a good text.”

So I can’t help with this. Can you? She wants to be able to talk about things like party polarization, welfare policy, voting patterns, public opinion, civic participation, etc. I know sociologists do empirical work on these topics, although a lot of the research is in political science rather than sociology. But pulling an undergrad course together from a review of published literature is pretty daunting? Does anybody know of a course in political sociology with a strong empirical bent that could be used as a starting point? Or a text? Either in sociology or political science? Keep in mind we are talking a course for undergraduates at a non-elite school, not your graduate seminar.

I just started to wonder whether there are enough relevant Contexts articles to be the backbone of a course. I’ll suggest that to her. In the meantime, if you have suggestions, post them here. If you have something you could email me, just drop a comment. I can get your email address off the comment as an administrator even though your email address will not appear in the comment itself.

 

asking for an appointment

One of my pet peeves is an email that says: “Would you be available for an appointment some time?” but does not give information about when that person is available. The answer to such a request is rarely “No.” This is really an opening gambit for and exchange that will involve finding a time to meet. I would prefer if the opening email asking for the appointment also indicates the blocks of time the sender is likely to be available as I feel I’ll end up spending a lot less time on the scheduling exchange if the asker goes first in listing the possible times they are available. I’ve told students this, and they tell me that it seems presumptuous in sending the initial email to presume that you will agree to meet with them and offer times and that is why they start with what seems like the most humble request. (Although most do comply when they figure out that is how I prefer to operate.)

What do the rest of you think? Am I wrong to want people to list their schedules in the first ask? Or are the students right that seeming to presuppose a yes answer may rub people the wrong way? Are there professors who do in fact take offense if a student presupposes that the request for an appointment will lead to a scheduling negotiation?

interfolio, letters and such

I realize this is just another instance of a privileged person not knowing what is going on, but I have just become aware that the price to an applicant of having reference letters sent out via Interfolio is now $6 “per delivery” (which can be one letter or a whole set of letters or a whole application packet), and is the same fee for email as for paper mail (which seems outrageous to me). Some years ago our department started asking our grads to use Interfolio and picked up the initial fee for setting up the service. The reason for the shift is that producing paper letters for students applying to a large number of jobs had become a huge problem for our downsized office staff in our large department. My memory (admittedly very hazy) is that when we discussed this many years ago, the initial fee included a certain number of letters and the incremental price of letters over that initial number seemed fairly low. But maybe even then we were not paying enough attention. In any event, I now know how costly this is for applicants and am motivated to seek alternatives.

I know that the mathematics association has a centralized application portal that is paid for by employers and is free to applicants: https://www.mathjobs.org/jobs . Setting something like this up for sociology would require some initial investment in overhead, although as models for this already exist, one imagines it would not involve reinventing the wheel. This seems like something our ASA dues ought to pay for, and should be attached to the Employment Bulletin (as it is attached to job ads for mathematicians.) Are there other models out there?

And in the mean time, what is the situation in other departments about getting reference letters produced? Do you have your office staff tasked to produce and submit letters via email or paper? Do you expect your faculty to manage the clerical task of generating dozens of letters for each student they are writing for? And in reading them on the other end? As a file evaluator, do you expect to see what appear to be individually-tailored (i.e. mail-merged) letters for every applicant? Do you downgrade applicants whose letters appear to be generic, especially if they do not have your institution in the inside address? Because I know we send out mass-produced letters, I personally do NOT weigh this as a factor, but I want to know what others think.

Opinions, thoughts, experiences appreciated.

Edit: To clarify pricing. A “delivery” is $6, whether by email or paper mail. A “delivery” can be an entire application packet including cover letter, cv, teaching statement, writing sample, and all letters, in which case the $6 for a paper portfolio is pretty reasonable, although a case can be made that the $6 for emailing the packet is overpriced. But if the applicant is only using the system to send reference letters and is sending them individually, an applicant would be spending $18 for three letters or $30 for five letters, which is really way too much.  In addition, the price is $4 per item to send a reference letter to an on-line portal, in which case the price would be $12-$20, depending on the number of letters.  If the receiving institution has an interfolio account and requires interfolio submission, the charge to the applicant is zero.

starting a new job?

This post in the Chronicle has great advice for people starting their first job. It reminded me that it has been five years now since I posted my own advice to new assistant professors, so with your indulgence, I’m linking to it again. I’ve been told often that it is well worth reading if you are a new assistant professor.

how much do you charge?

Here’s an “ask scatterplotters” for mid-career folks. I got an email from a younger colleague that I don’t know the answer to: “I am being asked by a government contractor to provide an estimate of how much I would charge to write a white paper and two fact sheets. Do you have any clue what kind of fee would be reasonable?” Do you? More broadly, I’ve never known how much to ask when I’ve been asked to consult with lawyers or NGOs, or asked how much I charge to speak. I’ve asked back: can you tell me how much other people charge? Can the more experienced scatterplotters among us give some idea of the going rates are for the various types of consulting sociologists might do? In particular, I’d find it helpful to know how the acceptable rates vary by: (1) what exactly you are doing, (2) your level of prior academic or consulting experience, (3) your status in the profession, (4) the nature and resources of the client, (5) region of the country.

If you are able to provide some benchmarks or answers, please specify what type of consulting/work you did, what kind of client it was, your region, and what you charged. If you are using a pseudonym, it would be helpful to provide some kind of status or experience indicator to help us calibrate.

 

liability insurance?

Someone asked me about liability insurance on research. The person is concerned about the risk of being sued for libel for research that makes a company look bad. The research is based entirely on publicly-available materials and truth would be the ultimate defense, but the company has a history of suing activists as a strategy for responding to protests about their actions and a lawsuit can destroy you, even if you ultimately win. A collaborator on the project is a lawyer, which I suppose is partly why the subject came up.

I’d never heard of such a thing. Turns out you can purchase such a liability policy. Educator policies protecting you against the risk of litigation by students and policies for clinical psychologists protecting both their treatment and research show up readily in Internet searches. You can find a few blog posts out there about how to protect yourself against libel suits when you study people or organizations.

So, does anybody else out there know about this? Is this a coming thing? Or is it a scam?

too many reviewers

I freaked out recently when, after reviewing an article, I received a packet of FIVE (5!!!)  reviews on the same article. I chewed out the editors for wasting my time and told them I would never review for their journal again. After an exchange (in which I got a little less testy), I told them I’d post my concerns to scatterplot and open a discussion on the topic. Although five was over the top and freaked me out, it has become pretty common now for me as a reviewer to get a packet with four reviews. No wonder we regular reviewers are feeling under the gun. The old calculation of two or even three reviews per article has gone by the wayside. The pressure for fast turnaround and the high turn-down or non-response rate among potential reviewers has led editors to send out articles to extra reviewers in the hopes of ending up with at least the minimum two or three.

But this is a death spiral. As a frequently-sought reviewer I get at least four requests a month, sometimes as many as eight, and I used to get more before I got so crabby.  When I was young and eager, I was reviewing an article a week [and thus, by the way, having a huge influence on my specialty area], and I know some people who are keeping that pace. But at some point you burn out and say “no more.” I, like all other frequently-sought reviewers I know, turn down outright the requests from journals I don’t know for articles that sound boring, and then save up the other requests and once a month pick which articles I want to review. So the interesting-sounding articles from good journals get too many reviewers, while the boring-sounding articles from no-name journals get none. If journal editors respond to the non-response by reviewers to boring-sounding articles by sending out even more reviewer requests per article, our mailboxes will be flooded even more and the non-response rate and delayed-response rate by reviewers will go up even more. Senior scholars are asked to review six to eight (or more?) articles per month. You have to say no to most of the requests.

And then we have the totally out of hand R&R problem. Continue reading

Words to numbers bleg

Dear Scatterplotters,

I’m cross-posting an inquiry from my advisee and collaborator Alex Hanna regarding text parsing to convert qualitative descriptions of events into numerical estimates.

http://badhessian.org/2013/06/numerical-approximation-words-to-numbers/

I’ve done this myself in the past, but as a human coder using the text descriptions to do qualitative categorization of group size based on my best judgment reading the whole story. FYI the codes I used for Madison protests in the 1990s were: Tiny (1-5), Very Small (6-15), Small (16-30), Modest (31-99), Medium (100-499), Larger (500-1500), Large (2000-10,000), Very Large (10,000  +), and Huge (100,000+) which we then collapsed into Small (1-15), Medium (16-499), and Large (500+).

The problem here is to use automated text parsing of words like “several”, “scores,” “small,” “large,” etc. to categorize protests. I can find substantial literature on the problem of estimating crowd sizes while looking at a crowd and about the diversity of crowd size estimates from different sources (e.g. police and organizers) and about how news reporters decide which sources to use. But I can’t find anything about this problem of trying to get some rough event size estimate from text parsing.  Can anyone point us to a source?

 

domestic violence & employment bleg

I got an email from a former student who is now working in an employment program and asked me about research on the problem that victims of domestic violence sometimes lose their jobs due to victimhood. She’s asking me for relevant research. We know about Matt Desmond’s work on victims of domestic violence getting evicted, but I’m not the right person to know the research on the employment link. So, Scatterplotters, can you help?

session organizer bleg

I’m late doing my ASA session organizing work this year. Ugh. I still the hate the interface. It’s a Saturday, I can’t ask ASA. So questions for experienced Scatterplotters.

(1) Before sending a paper off to another session, I’d like to know whether that session organizer is already done. If they are, there is no way the paper is going to be accepted in that session. But there does not seem to be any way for me to get the list of other session organizers to communicate with them. Is that true?

(2) Apart from the submitter’s 1st and 2nd choices, I notice that when I’m the second choice organizer, down at the bottom  of the screen there seems to be an option for me to transfer the paper to another session. Is that right? Can I do that? Can I do it technically and should I do it? (It seems like that is really a bad idea unless I’ve consulted with the session organizer first to see if they want it. See problem #1.)

(3) Do I really have to choose what roundtable to send a rejected paper to? Does not the submitter get to choose? So far I have not rejected anybody, so I actually have not seen that menu yet.

Notes to all you folks out their anxiously awaiting results of ASA submissions: please remember that this is by no means a simple process of ranking all submitted papers by quality because the ratio of submissions to slots varies a lot across areas and part of forming a session is trying to put related papers together. And another part involves dealing with a klunky and unfriendly interface.

And another reminder to those who have submitted. Because the interface is so klunky and unfriendly, a session organizer may mis-handle your paper in some way through inadvertence. As I’ve mentioned often before, the most common problem is that an organizer, once she has done her work of processing papers and creating sessions, typically does not return to the interface to look for papers later “released” to her session and thus fails to forward them to roundtables. You have to keep your own eye on this ball if you want to make sure you end up somewhere on the program. And try not to curse the organizers too much for the mistakes they make.

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