how to peer review for grad students

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Recently, I have seen a number of senior scholars asking for advice on Twitter about how best to give a constructive peer review to a graduate student whose work they find fundamentally flawed. It’s a good question and a particularly important one. (And, as a graduate student, one I feel particularly qualified to answer.) For many graduate students, peer review is the way we get our first exposure to the discipline beyond our own departments. Our experiences with peer review shape the way we see our broader field and our willingness to pursue careers within it.

Those first (and often, repeated) rejections also take a big toll on graduate students’ mental health. I have yet to meet a graduate student who didn’t ask themselves if they belonged in academia after receiving that first rejection letter. No matter how much academics try to normalize rejection as part of the process, graduate students’ impostor syndrome flares up and it can become really difficult to sit down and start writing again. If you’ve never had validation that your work is good, it can be hard to believe that you can produce something great.

It’s easy to recognize that senior scholars sending out long, tough reviews want to improve the scholarship before them, but you can’t improve the scholarship if you scare the scholar out of pursuing the project they submitted for your review—or out of academia altogether.

Facing my own particularly harsh rejection this week, I spent some time thinking about the reviews I have found the most helpful at this stage in my career—and those that were such a gut punch that I disregarded them altogether. I came up with a list of recommendations for reviewing articles you imagine have a graduate student as an author.

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no more accommodations: how operation varsity blue changed my approach to in-class exams

There are so many horrifying pieces to the recent college admissions scandal. Dozens of celebrity and CEO parents have been indicted for lying and cheating to get their kids into “top” colleges. Some created fake athlete profiles and paid off coaches to get their kids in. Others paid for fake test scores. And still others had their children fake learning disabilities to get extra time on the SATs.

That last part. The fake disabilities part. That’s the part I can’t let go. And that’s how I found myself digging through the details of the affidavit, looking for an explanation.

There are so many horrifying pieces to the recent college admissions scandal. Dozens of celebrity and CEO parents have been indicted for lying and cheating to get their kids into “top” colleges. Some created fake athlete profiles and paid off coaches to get their kids in. Others paid for fake test scores. And still others had their children fake learning disabilities to get extra time on the SATs.

That last part. The fake disabilities part. That’s the part I can’t let go. And that’s how I found myself digging through the details of the affidavit, looking for an explanation.

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flexible coding for field notes

As I tell my grad students, almost no one does “pure” grounded theory. It’s technically impossible (we can’t forget everything we’ve read before going into the field). And, as Nicole Deterding and Mary Waters explain in their recent Sociological Research & Methods article, it’s a poor fit for twenty-first century qualitative research (often large-scale projects with fixed protocols, as required by IRBs and grant funding agencies).

Given the limitations of grounded theory, Deterding and Waters offer a different approach, which they call “flexible coding.” I won’t go through their method in detail, but the basic approach has a couple of steps:

  1. Organization
  2. Indexing
  3. Memoing
  4. Data Reduction

The whole point of this approach is to allow for a more systematic analysis of qualitative data. And Deterding and Waters lay out what these three steps can look like with semi-structured interview data. It’s a terrific, hands-on guide to qualitative methods. But it left me wondering – what does flexible coding look like with ethnographic data, instead?

Reflecting on that question, I realized that I actually did a version of “flexible coding” with my research for Negotiating Opportunities. So I thought I’d share here in case it’s useful for other students and scholars embarking on ethnographic projects (or trying to climb their way up the mountain of ethnographic data they’ve already produced).

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remembering devah pager: the mark of a mentor

Last November, sociologist Devah Pager passed away. At the Eastern Sociological Society meetings this past weekend, a group of her former students, colleagues, and mentors came together to celebrate her life and her work. These comments, by Michelle Phelps, were delivered as part of the event, which was organized by Jessica Simes, and also featured Robert Hauser and Bruce Western as speakers and Monica Bell as moderator.

We encourage you to contribute your own reflections in the comments.

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“it’s not fair”

“It’s not fair.”

If you spend time with kids, you probably hear those words a lot. And for adults, it’s easy to respond with “Life isn’t fair.” But if your kid is growing up with privilege, that response is problematic.

It’s problematic because when a privileged kid says “it’s not fair,” what they almost always mean is “I’m not getting what I want.” So if an adult responds with “life’s not fair,” what the kid hears is “You’re not getting what you want, and that’s not fair.”

That response teaches privileged kids to see fairness only through their own eyes. To ignore the real injustices that exist in the world, or, maybe worse, to see their own inconveniences as equally “unfair.”

So if your privileged kid says “it’s not fair,” acknowledge what they’re feeling, but challenge their meaning of “fair.”

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towards an economic sociology of race

Economic sociology and the sociology of race have very little contact. In a new working paper, Laura Garbes and I document this pattern, and then offer suggestions for how economic sociology could incorporate insights from the sociology of race:

Towards an Economic Sociology of Race

Race is central to economic life, but race is not central to economic sociology. We argue that economic sociologists should not treat race as a feature of (some) individuals, but rather treat racism as a constitutive, structuring force, analytically co-equal with capitalism, patriarchy, and nationalism. We document how canonical and award-winning works of economic sociology do not discuss race and racism, and do not engage with the contemporary sociology of race. We introduce six key insights from the sociology of race and suggest how they could influence economic sociology: the emergence of race out of racism, an understanding of racism as structural, the role of whiteness, the intersections between racism and other systems of oppression, the ideology of colorblind racism, and the fundamental connections between racism and capitalism. These insights point to the potential for developing a “racialized economies” and “racialized markets” approach that unites insights from both subfields.

This paper was inspired in part by a line of similar papers examining how other subfields, like social movements, political sociology, and organizations, could benefit from engaging deeply with race and racism (as discussed in a post here). We think economic sociology is ripe for the same treatment. This is the first public draft of the paper and we’d very much appreciate your comments!