jlm gems

Pleasant timesink yesterday reading though these various pieces of advice by John Levi Martin.  Given that they were all directed toward graduate students, maybe I should be embarrassed by how useful I found them in thinking about myself and my own projects. For that matter, while he meant to be talking to students with this bit of advice, I think it’s also sage from the perspective of the advisor:

Some advisors may want this or that, a  literature review, whatever, and if you have to throw that in there to pacify them, so be it. Personally, when I have a student who is ready to start a dissertation, I say just write your name on a clean piece of paper and I’ll accept that. I don’t care about the rest. But that’s not in your interest.

Remember, folks who let you do nothing are letting you be an easy workload for them at the expense of your future. That’s often fine with us. Why would you want it, though?

can we get a sociology job application site supported?

We have to do something about the job application issue in sociology. Background:  https://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 “can we get a sociology job application site supported?”

the stigma of the spousal hire

As a grad student, I never gave a moment of thought to being a spousal hire. Like so many grad students in top 20 departments, especially pre-recession, I thought that I had somehow earned a tenure-track position somewhere with a 2-2 because I had been a good student, graduate assistant, and department citizen. I had done everything that I was told to, checking off just about every box on a grad student’s to do list: collaborate with faculty – check, teach – check, present in an ASA session – check, publish a sole-authored, peer-reviewed piece – check, win a teaching and/or paper award – check and check, forge network connections – check. I realized at the time that I wasn’t going to be a superstar but, whether it stemmed from naivete or optimism, I was certain that I would get a job – and a good one – on my own merit.

Sure enough, I got a job – and a good one – but I’ll never know if it was on my own merit and I’m not sure it really matters. Regardless of how things really went down, I am still married to one of those superstars and, as long as we are in the same department, there are people who perceive me as a spousal hire, including me.

Continue reading “the stigma of the spousal hire”

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?

talk may be cheap, but meaning is pricey

For those who haven’t yet seen it, there’s a very interesting article by Colin Jerolmack and our own Shamus Khan, along with critiques and rejoinder. The article, “Talk is Cheap,” examines the fact that what people say is not the same as what they do (the problem of “Attitude-Behavior Consistency,” or ABC). They argue that ethnography is therefore the better way to ascertain behavior because ethnographers actually observe behavior itself instead of actors’ often-inaccurate accounts of behavior.  And since sociologists are held to be concerned primarily with social action — an assumption I’ll address below — ethnography (along with, by the way, audit studies such as Quillian and Pager’s) is the better approach.

Continue reading “talk may be cheap, but meaning is pricey”

the unc athletics scandal in context

[I apologize in advance to regular Scatterplot readers and authors, as this post, like my last one, has an awful lot of “inside baseball.” I plan to return to writing on matters of academia and social science soon.]

A few years ago I was part of a group of UNC faculty who began meeting in the aftermath of the revelations about fake classes. Horrified at the misconduct perpetrated by a colleague and upset about the apparent disregard for academic quality that disproportionately helped student-athletes stay eligible to play, our group—which eventually became the Athletics Reform Group (ARG)—met and discussed how to voice our disapproval and advocate for educational opportunities and academic integrity with respect to athletes. I was proud to be one of the signatories of a statement we released at the first game of UNC’s new football coach, Larry Fedora, and of a set of principles we put out later. We had many discussions about the problems of college athletics and the compromises that are required. These included experts in the field of college sports as well as many of us who are simply concerned, informed faculty. We met with outside figures like Taylor Branch and Joe Nocera as well as current and former Carolina athletes. The group included many faculty leaders at Carolina, many of whom have ended up on different sides of the debates that have followed since.

Continue reading “the unc athletics scandal in context”