ask a scatterbrain: managing workflow.

As I have admitted before, I am a terrible electronic file-keeper. If I was to count up the minutes I have wasted in the last 15 years searching for files that should have been easy to find or typing and retyping Stata code that would have (and should have) been a simple do-file or doing web searches for things that I read that I thought I wanted to include in lectures or powerpoints or articles but couldn’t place, I fear I would discover many months of my life wasted as a result of my organizational ineptitude.

For a long while, these bad habits only affected me (and the occasional collaborator). It was my wasted time and effort. Now, though, expectations are changing and this type of disorganization can make or break a career. I think about my dissertation data and related files, strewn about floppy disks and disparate folders, and I feel both shame and fear. Continue reading “ask a scatterbrain: managing workflow.”

you could be the new theory newsletter editor


The Theory Section is looking for a new editor or editorial team for its newsletter, Perspectives. We are now soliciting self-nominations from faculty members or students currently enrolled in a sociology PhD program. Teams of 2 or 3 people are very welcome to apply.

Previous issues of Perspectives can be viewed at, but prospective editors are free to innovate in terms of content and form. Tenure is for a 3-year term.

Please submit a CV and a 2-page letter of interest (including a short description of how you envision the newsletter) to the members of the Advisory Board:

We look forward to hearing from you!

ask a scatterbrain: writing goals

A colleague of mine has set up a writing accountability group for the summer. They’ll check in once a week to see how the past week went and to map out the coming week. The group is not explicitly about reading one another’s work, but about ensuring that such work is accomplished. I thought some of her questions and concerns would be a worthwhile discussion to have with a wider audience and something that others who might plan such groups could benefit from.

  • Should these groups be about encouragement, measuring progress, evaluating goal achievement, all of the above, or something else?
  • If the group is about encouragement, how can one balance encouragement with enabling? What happens if someone always has an excuse for why they’re not writing? Should they continue to be part of the group?
  • If the group is about progress, what are some of the ways that we can measure progress on intellectual work when it’s not always clear-cut (e.g., an argument is developing, even if I haven’t written the introduction, the paper might not be getting longer, but it’s getting more polished) ?
  • If the group is about setting and evaluating goals, what type of goals are most effective? Is it better to say, “I’ll finish the data and methods section of Paper A this week,” or to say, “I will actively work on Paper A five days this week,” or something in-between?
  • Are there ways for fellow group members to motivate progress and goal achievement? Gold stars worked in grade school, but what works in grad school or on the tenure-track?
  • If someone is working on a number of projects, should they work on each of these a little each week, or focus on them one at a time? Is it possible for people to move projects forward in tandem, in ways that are mutually beneficial, or does multitasking come with too much of a cost?

Finally, are there other things that readers would suggest about such groups? Do you have good success stories, things to be wary of? Any feedback is welcome.

(grad)student-faculty interaction

Notre Dame loves to make videos. They are currently working on a series about graduate students’ experiences on campus and I had a meeting with the production company today to discuss one of the videos, a segment focused on (grad)student-faculty interaction. As great as the meeting was, I left feeling incredibly discouraged about the state of (grad)student-faculty interaction and wondering what, if anything, can be done to change it.

Continue reading “(grad)student-faculty interaction”

socialization syllabus.

I’m constructing the syllabus for a new upper-level sociology class next semester, “Socialization and the Life Course.” As far as I can tell, there are two ways that I can structure it.

The first is by institutions – the role of the family, schools, religion, media, work and occupations, etc. – in the “nurture” side of our development through the life course. The other, which sounds really cool to me if I can figure out how to make it happen, would explore socialization from (before) birth to death. The latter is more appealing for a number of reasons, including its ability to highlight sociology’s unique approach to socialization as something that occurs throughout the life course and that this framework might allow for more attention to the interplay of biological and social influences at various points in our lives.

Now that I’ve laid out what I want from the course, here’s what I’m looking for from you… readings (books or articles) or topics that you’d include in a similar class.  In thinking about the course I’ve realized that the relevant readings that I’ve used in other classes are predominantly 1) about gender (e.g. Martin, Thorne, Messner, and Kane) and 2) about childhood (e.g. those previously listed, plus Lareau, Van Ausdale & Feagin, and Adler & Adler).  I’d like a little variety.

Does anyone have ideas about “pre-natal socialization” (for lack of a better term), perhaps about particular parents’ proclivities to read to their child in utero or to play them Bach before they’re born, or the influence of widespread sonograms on parents’ construction of children’s worlds before they’re even born. What about the influence of names? Or perhaps someone has tips for moving beyond gender (and race and class, although I can use more in both those areas) to other roles or groups that we’re socialized into and stages beyond childhood and young-adulthood. Maybe Shamus has ideas for class beyond Lareau or Tina for how people learn to understand their own and others’ sexuality? What can other scatterbrains add about political socialization or trust or the role of neighborhoods? I’d also love insight on some readings that address the link between nature and nurture in ways that are accessible to undergrads. And, finally, what about the end of life. What are some good readings on retirement, old age, and death and dying with a socialization bent?

Alternatively, of course, you could just put your favorite socialization or life course reading in the comments.


name that foucault

There’s a concept central to Foucault’s work that has so entered the common theoretical discourse that I’m having trouble locating an original source for it. The concept is that institutions, practices, discourses produce subjects that “fit” them. People have called this a precursor to current “performativity” theories. Julia Paley documents a similar phenomenon with respect to polling and the “choice-making citizen” in Chile; I made a kind of similar argument with respect to elections in southern Africa; I’m sure there are lots of other examples. The concept is Durkheimian in a sense too (the collectivity produces the character of its individuals), but what I’m looking for right now is the Foucault version. Any leads? Thanks.

a “relatively good” job market? really?

Opened my email this morning to find this new (and in my opinion, horribly argued) report from the American Sociological Association, about the sociology job market. (EDIT – OLD REPORT).

Spoiler – their conclusion:  “These findings suggest a relatively good market for new sociology PhDs.”

Their justification for this statement?  There were more assistant professor jobs posted in the ASA JobBank in 2006 than there were people who received PhDs that year.

The authors (Jerry Jacobs and Roberta Spalter-Roth) do attempt to qualify this “finding” with a breakdown of substantive areas – open jobs, criminology jobs, theory jobs, etc.  and … come to the same conclusion.  They do not note that there are a glut of people who are looking for culture jobs, social movement jobs, and education jobs, or that most “open” jobs actually have a good idea of who they’re looking for (usually NOT culture or social movements or education).

My response: what drivel.   I realize that ASA wants to put a shiny coating on what is happening in the academic job market world – that scatterplot discussed ad nauseum in the fall – but this “report” is ridiculous.

UPDATED:  I read my email this morning without coffee first. The report above is from early 2008, before the economy tanked.  They’re updating the results, available at this year’s ASA meeting:  Here is the link to the preliminary findings for the New Jobs Survey:

Much more (appropriately) bleak. I still think the 2006 “conclusion” is ridiculous for job markets 2006-2008, however.

lost love.

Years ago I read an article (or at least I think that I did) on research showing that individuals who had applied for acceptance at Harvard and Yale, but were denied admission and later earned their degrees from state schools, ended up making more than those who were accepted and actually graduated from those Ivy League schools. The researchers chalked it up to the ambitiousness of those who apply but are not accepted.

Of course it’s only now, years later, that I’m pining over this lost love and longing to find it in print. If only it was as easy to locate as the scuzzy ex-boyfriend on facebook.

Is there any chance that someone here is familiar with this work, or knows where I could find it. I’m thinking I first heard about it in 2003.

the end of the semester crutch.

It might not explain Jeremy’s recent behavior, as he’s still slugging through spring quarter, but I’m sure a lot of us are suffering from end-of-the-semester burnout. You know, when you need something mindless to keep you going. Omar’s on the other side of the wall, cleaning his office. I wrote my syllabi for the fall and started filling in next year’s planner (yes, I still use an old-fashioned one, and yes, it’s the same kind I used as a student). I’m about to finish up my students’ final exam. Because I’m not ready to tackle office cleaning, it’s time to add other mindless tasks to my “cognitively easy” list because I just can’t handle anything “not-so cognitively easy” this week. What are some of your end of the semester crutches, those mindless things that keep you moving?


Spring is here and I am back, albeit with a desk full of things to do other than blog.

[an aside – I love spring. I don’t know if we haven’t really had spring the other places I’ve lived (the Pacific Northwest, the South, and the desert) or if it’s just that spring is even more thrilling after a long, hard, Midwestern winter, but I’ve really come to enjoy spring and I can’t believe the energy that it provides (or the fever to do anything other than work-work, I mean I’d even rather do housework right now!).]

To ensure that blogging doesn’t stand in the way of all the work that I could be doing, the following attempts to combine the two: I’d love your very best advice for preparing (and delivering) academic presentations. Such presentations, on original research projects, are the culmination of my graduate research methods course, and I would love some pointers to share with my students on how to formulate 15 minute presentations on their work (that they’ll hopefully use as presentations at future conferences). It seems to be the one place that I find the book, The Craft of Research, lacking.