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?

elysium and the fact/value distinction

I saw the new Matt Damon movie, Elysium, this summer. I loved the prior movie by the same director (Neill Bloemkamp), District 9, which is a dystopian alien-visitation movie wrapped up in an extended allegory for apartheid.  Like District 9Elysium has an explicit political message along with plenty of violence, action, and gore (all of which I confess to liking!).

To me, though, Elysium was disappointing in its political/theoretical content for one of the reasons I am troubled by Phil Gorski’s approach to transcending the fact/value distinction:

Social science is not (entirely) value free or ethically natural. Instead, it is axiologically committed to the realization of human flourishing and freedom. This is not to say that social sciences provide ready answers to policy questions like “is proportional representation better than first past the post?” Those are of a different order. Nor is it to deny that justice must be part of a social ethics, either.

WARNING: the remainder of the post contains a SPOILER, so if you haven’t seen Elysium but plan to you may want to stop reading here.

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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: . 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.

feeling like a fraud? you’re not alone.

There’s nothing quite like having someone else write about my research in a public forum to rouse my generally dormant sense of impostorism. So, why not use that publicity–about fraudulence, no less–to have a discussion about the negative effects of a fear of fraudulence for academics (and the academy).

Continue reading “feeling like a fraud? you’re not alone.”