how most of us live; ask a scatterbrain

Here is a suggestion that emerged from olderwoman about our ask a scatterbrain series. This emerged as some had expressed that the series was anxiety producing. Ane one of the causes of this was that the advice often seemed to come from folks at the “top 20” – where few sociologists actually are (and few want to be!). So, our question of the week:

What can folks from the small liberal arts colleges and the state schools that are not “top 20″ departments (or not PhD programs) tell me about how things work in their departments and how I might go about being prepared to get such a job and succeed in such a job? Or another useful thread might be to encourage folks to post topics and themes that arise from the experiences in non-PhD programs.

19 thoughts on “how most of us live; ask a scatterbrain”

  1. From watching how things worked for fellow graduate students at Arizona, my number one suggestion would be to get experience teaching statistics (with theory and methods also bonuses, but not to the same degree).


  2. I have a few thoughts on liberal arts colleges. One is that I have found that teaching experience is important, and that being a TA or being competent to teach in an area by taking a comp exam, etc., is not sufficient to convince folks in those institutions that you can teach. If you are shooting for that market, I recommend taking on summer teaching or an adjunct gig at another school.

    This is obviously going to be a big time and energy suck away from your dissertating and publishing duties, so I would recommend that you not waffle between whether you want a liberal arts or a research job. Of course, you will also need to finish and publish even if you focus on your teaching, but you can do this in a more balanced way if you decide early on that a liberal arts job is for you.


  3. I got my master’s at a liberal arts college. There were 8 of us in our cohort, 6 of whom went on to graduate (M.A. terminal), and I alone applied to PhD programs.

    Both years I was at the liberal arts school, we hired new faculty. The grad students were a part of that process. It’s different than my PhD school, which is more research-intensive.

    A grad student’s impression of how things work: it seems like as a liberal arts sociologist, you will be expected to be in your office; at research universities, much time is spent elsewhere doing research. This doesn’t work in liberal arts, since you need to be available to students. However, our chair also went around once or twice a year and asked each professor what research they were doing and whether they were publishing (he expected one pub per year). You do that in your spare time, when students aren’t lined up outside your office. And they usually are. I don’t see a lot of undergrads wandering around the halls where I’m at now.

    To get hired at a liberal arts college: our department focused on a combination of teaching and research. You had to have at least one publication under your belt, and at least one in the pipeline. Then, you had to have experience teaching at least two classes. By yourself. A teaching award helps. Good teaching evaluations, at the least. And a teaching portfolio.


  4. I have no personal experience that would allow me to speak to this question – but I do have some second-hand experience of friends who have applied for liberal arts/teaching college type jobs. The biggest thing that I noticed was in their prep was the job talk – usually for them it was either a mock class (mock meaning they were not the regular instructor) or a combination of a research job talk and a mock class. Of course, this all comes after getting offers (which is the part that I did not see), but the “job talk” for which you should prepare and practice is obviously very different depending on the format.


  5. I have taught at three undergraduate liberal arts schools. With some variation among these three, I can say that teaching and collegiality are the most important things we look for in a hire. Yes, research potential is important, but the kind of scholarship we expect is relatively less competitive and visible than what we were all trained for as grad students; we want to see some sort of scholarly/professional activity, but that is usually defined relatively broadly.

    When you are in a department of 3, 4, or 5 faculty, it is important that we all like each other, that we all do our part in terms of leadership and service, and that the students respond well to us. We can’t afford to have our students avoid taking classes with one of us, for whatever reason, because it increases the burden on the rest of the department.

    The entire culture of liberal arts universities differ in so many ways from research universities. When on the market, you should be aware of these differences. Don’t come to campus asking the kinds of questions your advisers tell you to ask (e.g. how to buy out of teaching) — we are not interested in someone whose top priority is getting out of one’s teaching responsibilities. And as other commenters have noted, you must have teaching experience and excellent teaching evaluations. Being a TA or teaching one or two courses is not enough. You must have demonstrated excellence as an undergraduate instructor.

    I love being at a liberal arts university — I feel supported in both my teaching AND my scholarship. Its true that most of my writing gets done over summers and semester breaks. But I am totally satisfied with that. I have opportunity for internal funding, undergraduate RA’s, etc. But I won’t be publishing in ASR anytime soon. You just have to be okay with that. Many liberal arts universities are big in the teacher-scholar ideal. If this ideal appeals to you, a liberal arts university might be right for you.


  6. I was once on a panel on “the job market” which included a mix of folks at different kind of places. I am at a research intensive university. When I listened to my co-panelists, I realized that I knew nothing about how to get a job at liberal arts college. The advice offered above by tcprof resonates with what the panelists who were at liberal arts colleges offered. And it also suggest that students seek advice broadly if they wish to be at a university/college that is different from where their faculty advisor work. We may not be the best mentors!


  7. I would like to teach at a great liberal arts school. Soon I will get my Ph.D. from a great R1 school. I have TA experience at R1 school and adjunct experience teaching two courses at a nearby school. I have a few co-authored publications in specialty journals. Next year I could accept a postdoc, which would give me resources to improve my publishing record or a visiting assistant professor position, which could improve my teaching credentials. It is obvious which path to take for a position at a research school. Which path would you recommend to get a job at a selective liberal arts school?


  8. My concern about this thread so far is that it is focusing on the small liberal arts colleges (SLAC) where the student is the customer and teaching is central, and nobody is mentioning the large number of public schools that are not R1s. My first job was at a public university, a commuter campus. Largish class sizes, a non-elite student body, heavy teaching load + research expectations, although anything peer reviewed “counted.” This was a long time ago, and it was a dysfunctional department, so I’m not generalizing. But our teaching wasn’t all that hot, or at least nobody cared whether it was. There was a research push among the younger faculty, which led to people being really tough with job candidates, trying to “probe their weaknesses.” We did have job candidates literally tell us they were interested in us because they did not want to work too hard. (This did not lead to them getting a job.) Getting a job there at that time seemed to require being good enough to stand out but not so good that people did not believe you were serious, and fitting the job description really well. Negotiating the land mines in a divided department mattered, too. The department got a lot better after I left, btw, and despite all the problems, I learned a lot being there, it is where I really grew up professionally. So I don’t want to be too negative. But I do want to say that there are a lot of schools that are neither R1 research universities nor SLACs. Maybe our readership is just not too narrow to represent this group?


  9. OW: Yes, that is something that is striking me here. Actually, based on this and a few other clues, I have this sneaking suspicion that socio-elites are disproportionately represented in the socio-blogosphere. I wonder if there is some kind of systematic thing going on here or if this is a clique thing, and there is a-whole-nother batch of socio-bloggers (and frequent commenters) out there somewhere.


  10. kristina b: that, or we scatterplot folks could have alienated folks. a lot of our conversations are “insider” and in answering questions the assumptions are often that you want to be at a top 20, that getting and ASR is what we’re all aiming at, etc. so they could be out there, but just not listening (reading) us anymore! not sure why i’m cynical tonight, but i am…


  11. Regarding SLACs, it seems like a tough market. Because they hire so rarely (so few faculty and ones that are likely less mobile than the ones at R1s with lower levels of turnover) there are not that many openings. So if you are *really* set on that type of a job, definitely talk to people about it. And make sure your advisors make it clear in their letters to those places that you *really* want that kind of a job. (By the way, SLACs also compete for top research types of folks, they just often aren’t successful in recruiting them so it’s hard to see from the final outcome who got offers in the first place.)

    Regarding non-R1 big Us, I suspect that research still matters quite a bit (as it does at SLACs as well), but there is (1) tons more teaching than at R1s; (2) much fewer resources than at R1s so in some ways it is probably much harder to keep up with research. This would suggest to me that people simply do not have time to read blogs.

    With all of the resources available to me at my R1 school ever since I started this job combined with a relatively low teaching load, I am not surprised that I would get more research done than peers at R2 schools. Over time, this gap would only get wider.


  12. Re: non-R1s. Or, maybe it’s much harder to talk about these schools because they are so much less clear in their expectations. Clearly, the same old advice about better publications and more publications applies, but it is often unclear how many publications, or what kind, is good enough. Like OW’s case, the expectations for new hires is often not the same as the publishing expectations for those who are already there, so it’s really hard to give advice.

    And re: the socio-blogosphere being elite. My suspicion is that this argument is very much like the question, common a few years ago, “why are there so few women bloggers?” In fact, there are lots and lots of sociologists blogging from all sorts of places. A lack of awareness does not mean they are not out there, or of course, in here.


  13. re: OW: I should edit my last comment. I did not get my master’s from a small liberal arts college; it was a midsized public university with a heavy liberal arts emphasis. The sociology department has 9 professors and a very small masters program. So my “advice” is coming from that perspective.

    Also, my PhD will come from an R1, but not a top 10 in Sociology (though I think we’re in the top 50, if that makes a difference).

    It would be interesting to map out the sociology bloggers we do know about and see how things like status play into it. The internet is supposed to be the great equalizer, but I think there’s enough studies out now that we know this isn’t true.


  14. I think there’s another layer of complexity that might need to be uncovered here in regards to the mentorship aspect in deciding to work at an institution that values teaching (or hey, some of us have that “decision” made for us as well). Not only are those who want to work at Liberal Arts colleges sometimes getting bad advice from their good advisers at their good programs, but getting good advice is hard because, in my experience, a lot of teachers in grad school have to work in hiding. I remember mentioning in passing to an adviser that my ideal job would be at a liberal arts school, but that I’d be really happy to work at a state school or community college as well. Needless to say, the look shot back at me made it clear I had committed a serious faux pas. I was too green to realize it at the time, but what I was essentially saying was “thanks for all the fellowships and support and money, but I don’t really have any intentions of doing anything in my career that will benefit this department in the long term.” I learned pretty quickly to keep my teaching aspirations to myself.


  15. Neither R1 nor SLAC. I’m at a Division III state school whose administration wants it to be UMichigan (or come within one point of beating Duke). The administration wants us to hire people who will bring it glory in the form of prestigious publications and money in the form of grants.

    The department, OTOH, wants people who can connect with our students so that we keep the majors we have and bring in more new majors. Yes, we want people who are smart and who do interesting research, but we also look at those teaching evaluations.

    It can make for tension when tenure time rolls around (5 years), but so far we have not lost anyone who we wanted to keep.


  16. I teach at a State school with technically a 4/4 load but everyone except lecturers get one course release per semester for research (so in reality a 3/3 load). We offer 30+ B.A. degrees and a couple of M.A. degrees and no doctoral programs. I’ve served on several hiring committees. Nearly 100% of our full time tenure track faculty have terminal degrees.

    Research is important – a publication or two is nice but a completed dissertation with publishing potential will often do. Research can be quantified more easily than teaching or service so it tends to be the graduate version of methods & statistics – the flunk out course or reason for not getting tenure.

    If you get an interview, have a great lecture ready. All candidates, at our campus, are expected to give a public lecture over their speciality – often some slice of the dissertation. Keep it simple. Most attending this lecture will not know your area in depth and you will have one-on-one time for those that do later. The public lecture needs to be practiced and polished much like you might give to a student audience – in fact, there might be students in the audience.

    I’ve seen these lectures make and break candidates. Years ago I saw on of our sociology candidates go from last to first choice when he gave a great lecture and the other candidates were unprepared. Last year there was a candidate (not in sociology) who was the committee’s favorite on paper. Unfortunately for him his presentation was boring, confusing, and his PowerPoint unreadable (grey lettering on a black watermark). After the presentation they could not get him off campus fast enough.

    If hired, pay attention to your research – see above – you need to publish something but not necessarily what an A-1 school expects. Go to conferences and do papers. Maybe even seek out a colleague for some joint work.

    On teaching, keep the students happy (Read Generation X Goes to College) but be challenging. You don’t need rumors that you are easy. Attend teaching seminars – while some might be waste they count as “points” toward tenure in your teaching category. Try to incorporate something new from a teaching seminar and document it in your annual report.

    While on the topic of measuring teaching, keep these things in mind. And like Santa, keep a list.
    1. All teaching conferences you have attended and how you might have used that information in your classes.
    2. Students in your classes that presented their papers at conferences or published them in student journals.
    3. Work with a student organization.
    4. Publish something on teaching – depending on the nature of the publication, you might get to count this twice in both teaching and research.
    5. Finally, don’t sleep with them!

    When it comes time to writing up annual reports and your tenure dossier, remember Goffman. Reread Presentation of Self. Don’t be a braggart and claim to be God’s gift to teaching but come off as student centered and working hard at getting better.

    More advice on tenure: Don’t let “Service” get in the way of publishing. And try to stay out of political fights – as they say, “Keep your friend close and your enemies closer.”


  17. Wait – I’m getting the impression that not all job interviews involve having to give a job talk in which you present your research. Is this not the case? Or is it just structured differently in different schools? At both schools I’ve been at, the candidates’ job talks were very important. At least, it seemed like they were. I wasn’t in the room where the decisions were made, but a lot of the talk outside that room centered on the person’s job talk and whether they pulled it off.


  18. I’ve seen several different sorts of talks at job interviews:

    -straight-up job talk on your research
    -job talk plus teach a class
    -teach a class plus an informal presentation of your research around a roundtable
    -present your research to undergrads (or mix of faculty & students)
    -just teach a class, no research


  19. I’ve seen several different sorts of talks at job interviews:

    -straight-up job talk on your research
    -job talk plus teach a class
    -teach a class plus an informal presentation of your research around a roundtable
    -present your research to undergrads (or mix of faculty & students)
    -just teach a class, no research,

    – deny an undergrad an extension on a paper.
    – attend a committee meeting.
    – try to find a piece of paper in a messy office.
    – avoid attending a committee meeting.
    – fix a paper jam in the photocopier.
    – successfully fill out reimbursement form FA9302X-C Rev 2.
    – get inappropriately drunk at a conference.


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