the soc rumour mill and the jobs wiki

It’s Get A Job time again in sociology, and that is stressful for job applicants, especially those just finishing their Ph.D.s and going out on the market for the first time. For the last few years, the job applicants have banded together on the internet, creating a discussion board, The Rumor Mill, where questions can be aired and various rumours about what jobs are still “really” open and such. This quickly led to the Jobs Wiki, where postings, short lists, and offers are compiled by the masses.

At first, I thought these tools were great ideas. How brilliant of those sociologists to turn the information hierarchy on its head, and let everyone know whatever information is available. I’m all for that. But last year, I began to get the slightest wrinkle in my brow about the whole project. The wiki is what bothered me first.

It’s a great idea if the wisdom of the sociology crowd produces accurate information, but some items looked funny to me. Not having any especial view into the hiring processes of any school other than my own, I began to wonder how accurate it was. I wouldn’t accuse anyone of posting false information there, but shaky info is just as unhelpful. In our own search, where I had (near) perfect information, I saw that the information posted to the wiki wasn’t particularly wrong, but just so delayed that it would be misleading or at least unhelpful. (Should I have posted the good info myself? Perhaps, but I was curious). And I also wonder how many of the applicants access the wiki and how many are totally unaware of it.

The second little worry I had, which is even greater this year than last, is the concern that smalinky shared in his comment. The whole rumour mill/wiki endeavor is likely a geiser of stress, needless worry, and time suck. I imagine that if I were on the market, I would be compulsive about reading and checking for updates. I am fascinated with it even as a bystander. Does the panic of some of the contributors spread to the rest, creating a viral job stress? It’s hard to say, but the tone of the contributors ranges from calm to paranoid, and the flame wars were more than this reader could endure.

Thinking about it this year, just at the beginning of the interminably long job search period, I am torn. I still think that the individual question/answers and pieces of information are very useful, but taken together the whole package may be a jamboree of panic, insecurity, and stress. I wonder whether I should advise my students to steer clear of it when they are on the market. On the other hand, maybe the market is just super stressful, and the rumour mill and wiki are not so much producing the stress as reflecting it.

16 thoughts on “the soc rumour mill and the jobs wiki”

  1. I share your concerns and hopefulness, Tina. I would add one observation: so much advice seems redundant with that in last year’s set. How come this information can’t be additive? Although the potential is there to reverse or soften information asymmetries, it appears that each cohort is on its own (except for inheriting the architecture).

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  2. As someone on the job market this year, I plan on staying FAR away from the wiki and the blog. From how it has been explained to me, the hiring processes in departments are much too varied and often nonsensical (to outsiders) to nail down in a few words in a wiki. And as for the blog, I’m taking my job market advice from my adviser, and other wise mentor-types, and not from random stressed out and potentially jaded people online!

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  3. I’m with watershed above … I’m on the job market and staying far away from the wiki and the blog. It sounded like such a great idea when a friend told me about it last year. But after reading a little bit this year … ugh … won’t be going back there. For starters, completely anonymous comments … bad idea.

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  4. As a job seeker, I find the rumor mill blog to be helpful. I feel like I have an opportunity to get answers to lots of more technical questions — which writing samples to send, what to put in a research statement, etc. There are discussions about these issues on the Chronicle forums of course, but it’s nice to have a place that is discipline specific. I am more ambivalent about the wiki. I actually agree that it is not all that useful, as there were a couple searches that I also had good information about and I knew they were not being updated. In principle, though, I think the wiki is a good idea. As a job seeker, I would actually like to know which schools have invited candidates for job talks, so that I can cross them off my list. Many departments do not post these events on their websites. I think it’s useful for candidates to know that they are no longer under consideration.

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  5. I initially thought the blog/wiki might be useful when I was on the market last year, but it was not. The “geiser of stress” description of the blog is perfect. I don’t think the wiki was especially accurate, either.

    I checked the blog again late in the year out of curiosity, and it had devolved into complaining about international students taking either the jobs or the spots in grad school, I forget which.

    Good luck to those of you on the market this year.

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  6. i’ve been watching the blog and wiki for a couple of years and fortunately have never been sucked into it enough to let it overwhelm me with negativity. there are occasionally (about 2% maybe) fairly useful advice — for example, someone posted their cover letter outline which i thought was quite helpful and what the blog was set up to be.

    i am fortunate to have watched friends on the job market for the last couple of years and share their experience. that, and advice from advisers (including people in the soc blog community who are not “anonymous”) are the best sources of information. on the flip side, i can see how people can get sucked into the blog and wiki for information if they are relatively isolated (not that they all are).

    i don’t think the wiki is helpful not so much because of inaccurate info, but the sense that it offers a false sense of control over something that’s completely out of our control — you send you apps out and wait; it’s not like knowing school A is interviewing people (and it’s not you) will give you an opportunity to better your chance at school B or anything.

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  7. Having done hiring, the one thing I want to reiterate is that lots of departments keep hiring after the first interview, especially for that first early frenzy where top candidates have six or more interviews. What happens is that departments will invite the candidate everyone else is inviting to keep open having a chance at her/him even while they continue like mad to read files and figure out whom else they are interested in. All departments know that their probability of getting that #1 person is well under .5, so they are still seriously considering other people even after issuing that first invitation, and even after making an offer to someone who has other offers. This is why even correct information about interviews can be misleading about the status of a job, especially early in the process.

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  8. I agree with several others that, although the blog seems like a good idea, it can be ugly in practice. Last year, anonymous posters put up misinformation (maybe not purposely) as well as personal insults about some job candidates. I found the nasty, bitter, and personal comments that some people posted toward the end of the season particularly unfortunate and distasteful. I picked up a few helpful tips — like to wear comfortable shoes — but I probably could have gotten this advice from others. In short, I would not recommend the blog to this year’s job seekers.

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  9. “On the other hand, maybe the market is just super stressful, and the rumour mill and wiki are not so much producing the stress as reflecting it.”

    Bingo. The real stress for me was in not knowing where I’d be in a year, or if I’d even get a satisfactory offer. The blog was just a place to go commiserate with others in the same boat. And on a practical note, it was helpful to learn — far in advance of the rejection letters that came months later — that I was likely out of the running at certain schools.

    FWIW, I jump-started the rumor mill blog in fall 2006. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew just one other person on the job market and felt out of the loop. (My advisor went to Michigan and seemed to have so much more info about the market in the year she was interviewing.) That year, the blog functioned as a positive, supportive community, with the only real disagreement being over whether to name people who’d gotten offers (in the end, the consensus was to not post names). I found myself cheering for people I knew only as a screen name, and getting wonderful congrats from those same people when I accepted an offer.

    I checked the blog a couple of times last year out of curiosity, and was surprised at how much more snarkier it seemed.

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  10. “On the other hand, maybe the market is just super stressful”

    You say this as though you’ve only been an outside observer.

    I went through a horrible breakup at exactly the time when I was going on the job market. I’ll never know if it was the job market, the breakup, or likely a combination of the two that made it one of the worst times in my life. In retrospect, it’s probably just as well that they happened concurrently, but that’s not how I was thinking about it at the time.

    This was all pre-wiki. Some info exchange seems helpful, unfortunately, few can do it without getting nasty.

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  11. The blog and wiki system wouldn’t be necessary if the asa put up a ‘standards and practices’ document that required open communication. Communication about searches in progress isn’t hard. It isn’t even expensive. It can be done with standard printed postcards. ‘We have received your application’, ‘We have begun reviewing applications’,’ We have reviewed your file and we are a. inviting you to campus/conference interview, b. no longer considering your application c. awaiting x from you, d. awaiting x from our administration e. other.’, ‘We have hired an applicant’. There is a clear way to fight gossip and that is with open and clear communication of the facts. I’ve seen many departments play games and use subtle forms of subterfuge in order to keep people on the string. For reported violations of standards and practices, you could have the department provide a report of how their practices fit the standard, and then publish it, and if they don’t provide the report, publish that they have not provided it.

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  12. I don’t think the postcard approach would work, but a set of dates would. applications cannot be due before X date (eliminating the departmental race to be first). Notification of on-campus interviews can be no later than Y date. Job offers must be made by Z date and no candidate can be forced to accept or decline until Z + 21 days.

    this would only apply to hiring recent PhDs — teh long drawn out courting of senior faculty has it’s own (ridiculous) timeline.

    By having a disciplinary standard we would also have ammo to go to our deans about speeding up the approval and offer process once the department has made up it’s mind.

    that’s how they do it in law schools. Except without the part about protecting the applicants. EVERYONE could relax — not just the candidates, but also the departments who are racing to be first.

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  13. I agree that the blog & wiki are attempts at compensating for a total lack of “standards and practices.” The law school market may not be ideal — but it is much more transparent, and compact. There is one central place to which you submit one application package, first round interviews are held at a conference around end of October, campus visits happen in November, and offers are being made in December. At this point, for myself, I feel I’ve gleaned the advice I need from the socrumormill… at some point I think you (or at least I) have to say — Ok, I’ve taken in what everyone else thinks, now I need to make my own way through this process and trust I’ll do it right. I think panic and idle speculation don’t help with that.

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  14. It occurred to me after I wrote this post that one resource that I haven’t seen on the rumor mill, but that everyone should know about, is the AAUP Faculty Salary Survey, which is available online at the Chronicle of Higher Education website.

    It has average salaries for almost every institution I’ve wanted to know about, and while of course it would be better to have starting salaries for sociologists singled out, this is important information if, say, you’d only move to X area if you were getting Y salary, you can find out in advance that average salaries for Asst Profs there are Y-$10,000. It’s also very helpful at the negotiation stage, as I mentioned over at NewSocProf.

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  15. I had a student last year who was obsessively checking the wiki while anxiously waiting to hear about her top choice position. She was devastated (and so was I) when she read that they’d already made an offer. A few hours after that they called her with an offer. And I’ve heard about other cases of inaccuracy as well.

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