morris, the scholar denied

I read Aldon Morris’s much-anticipated book, The Scholar Denied, with great interest. I heard Morris talk about the book when he visited UNC last year, and have read and taught some shorter work he’s published from this project. I was not disappointed – it’s a great book, meticulously documented, passionately argued, and sure to correct many important parts of the historical record on the development of American sociology. I learned quite a bit about W. E. B. du Bois’s life and intellectual productivity. Separating the book’s argument into three related claims, I find the first two fully demonstrated. However, I remain unsure of the third, most ambitious, case the book tries to defend.

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cost-cutting in higher ed

In the Washington Post earlier this week, Steve Pearlstein published a piece promoting four things universities should do to cut costs:

  1. Cap administrative costs
  2. Operate year round, five days a week
  3. More teaching, less (mediocre) research
  4. Cheaper, better general education

The next day, Daniel Drezner responded with four things columnists should do before writing about universities.

  1. Define what you mean by “universities.”
  2. Don’t exaggerate the problems that actually exist.
  3. Don’t rely on outdated data.
  4. Be honest that you’re using higher ed reform as an implicit industrial policy.

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lacour and the opportunity costs of intransigent irb reviews

Of all of the issues brought up by the Lacour controversy, we have not devoted enough attention to one in my view. The YaleColumbia* IRB made itself part of this problem.

In his initial comments to Retraction Watch, Lacour’s coauthor and Columbia political science professor Donal Green wrote,

Given that I did not have IRB approval for the study from my home institution, I took care not to analyze any primary data – the datafiles that I analyzed were the same replication datasets that Michael LaCour posted to his website. Looking back, the failure to verify the original Qualtrics data was a serious mistake.

This points to a real cost imposed by intransigent IRBs that become significant hurdles for research to progress. As institutions evaluate their response to this affair, and we reevaluate our own approaches to collaboration, those efforts would not be complete without considering the fact that IRBs hinder good, ethical research.

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prestige trumps quality in faculty hiring? not so fast

This article (Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore. “Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks”) has been making the rounds lately. The article uses a network method to extract prestige rankings from the set of graduate degrees and faculty hires. It shows “that faculty hiring follows a common and steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality.”

Blog posts, tweets, and stories about the article (e.g., this one from the Monkey Cage) have mostly picked up on the idea that the fact that prestigious departments generally hire Ph.D.s from other prestigious departments must mean that “academia is not a meritocracy.” While I would certainly not claim that academia is a meritocracy, I don’t think the Clauset et al. paper demonstrates that.

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asa council decides on gender categories

Remember how the ASA was trying to decide how to expand its gender categories? Since then, the ASA Committee on the Status of LGBT Persons in Sociology has been holding conversations, doing research on how other organizations do it, and thinking through what schema will best capture the sociological categories that are meaningful to people. They came up with the following proposal, which ASA Council voted on and passed at their meeting this week:

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your dissertation is as important as your dog.

I just wrapped up a two week course for graduate students on effective and engaging teaching in the social sciences and humanities. The first day of class, as we talked about issues we’d like to cover over the session, one student asked how to ensure that teaching doesn’t take up all her time so that she can actually finish her dissertation.

I outlined my core belief when it comes to teaching (don’t reinvent the wheel) and a handful of strategies I had discovered worked well for work-life balance in general: have a strict schedule and clearly outlined goals, and be sure to block out time for your non-student self.* I made an off-hand remark about how, in my research on graduate students, I found that students with children were much better at all three of those things than students without, but particularly the last one, because they felt they had a good excuse for “turning off” their grad student role.

The student who originally asked the question piped up, “Oh, I get that. I’m great at calling it a day to go take care of my dog.” I asked her to pretend, for just a moment, that her dissertation was as important as her dog. If she could stop herself from writing too many comments on her students’ papers or tweaking the reading list again or over-preparing for the next day’s lectures because she knew she had to go home to take her dog out, surely she stop herself from doing all those things because she had to take care of her own research.

Bottom line: Setting aside time for your research while you’re teaching isn’t neglecting your students, it’s taking care of you and your career (and ensuring you can still afford dog food when you finish your PhD).

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*It can be tough, because of all the immediate reinforcement that teaching and the classroom provides, but as Jeremy illustrates, anything (including research or ones dissertation) can be turned in to a game that offers similar psychological incentives.


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.