Tag: academic job market (page 1 of 2)

Explaining the Academic Job Market To Friends and Family

This topic came up on twitter–how do we get our friends and relatives to understand the academic job market?  My first take: don’t bother.  It can get really confusing really fast.  I consider my family well-educated, yet deep into my career, my mother thought that my appearances on TV and radio would help me get another job.  Nope. Given that job market season is approaching (sorry!),* here’s my listicle of things you have to explain:

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Unsolicited Job Talk Advice

Seems to be the time of year when folks post their advice for aspiring professors on how to succestressed-ducked at the job talk.   While there are other parts of the process–being interviewed one on one by various members of the department or getting grilled by a committee (something that happens far more in Canada than in the US), the most important (and probably not deservedly so)* part of the “fly-out” is giving a talk based on one’s research and responding in the Q&A.

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One Size Fits Few

With all of the recent essays on the Duck this summer about the job market, citation indexes, and lack of confidence, there seems to be a brewing undercurrent about the anxiety of another academic year. Some of us maybe facing down a PhD defense and the job market for the first time, some of us compiling our pre-tenure review files, and some of us just generally feeling uneasy about a new area of research or a class we’ve never taught. Some maybe anxious about a new job they’ve recently arrived at. I can feel the collective tension reading through the posts and their comments.

I’d like to add one more perspective to the discussion in a hope to ease this tension. Much of what has been said before is from well within the “traditional” view of academia; a view where one has a tenure-track job or where one is attempting to get a tenure-track job. The reality is that getting or keeping these jobs is very difficult, and I cannot rehearse the myriad of factors that go into each. However, what I do think is important to note is that in these previous discussions there is a working assumption that once one is offered or has a tenure-track job, one will do anything to take or keep it. The Holy Grail must be achieved at all costs.

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Surfing the Cesspool: Political Science Rumors and the LaCour Scandal

This is a guest post submitted by Chris Barker, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Southwestern College

For the past three weeks, “Political Science Rumors” (PSR) has been on fire over a falsified data scandal involving Michael LaCour’s research showing that the presence of a gay canvasser changes how respondents report feeling about gays. The scandal has achieved national prominence, with stories running in the New York Mag, NPR, the Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times, and Buzzfeed. UCLA graduate student David Broockman (posting as “Reannon”) first broke the story on the PSR board in mid-December 2014, according to Jesse Singal. The moderator who runs PSR pulled the original Broockman post for undisclosed reasons; it has since been reposted to PSR. Through their initial reaction to the story, and through their continuing efforts to reconstruct what happened, PSR and its posters have become part of this story.

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Why I Participate At Political Science Rumors

The first rule of the internet is not to read the comments for any op-ed one posts.  Why?  Because the cover of anonymity allows people to say awful stuff.  Of course, Twitter amply demonstrates that people will say awful things on the internet even when one can be clearly identified.  Anyhow, over the past several years, a series of websites have been gathering spots for both aspiring and experienced political scientists to exchange in rumors and opinions about the profession (to be clear, anyone can post so it might be economist students seeking to troll or other folks entirely).  Given yesterday’s post about PSR, I thought I would explain my presence there.

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The (American) Job Market and Interpretive Methods in Political Science

M. David Forrest, a soon-to-be-assistant-professor of American politics, forwarded the following letter to the “interpretation and methods” listserv. He agreed to let me post it at the Duck. Given the methodological heterogeneity of our readership, I thought it would be of interest. It reads: Continue reading

Paying for Advice? Just Say No

How do we know the job market is broken for academics?  Because people are willing to spend money hiring advisers.  Really.  This article documents the costs of being on the market these days.  To be clear, this piece is deceptive and unrepresentative.  But as a result, it is representative.  Huh?  How does that make any sense?

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More on Job Talks

My “Death to Job Talks!” provocation has produced some longer-form responses at other Political Science blogs. Jeremy Wallace defends the institution. Tom Pepinsky goes further and argues that “there is no alternative to the academic job talk.” Nate Jensen gets to the heat of the matter by asking if the “academic hiring process [is] broken.”

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Death to Job Talks!

well-prepared-before-presentation

I was part of a short conversation last night about the standard job-search process in political science. For those of you who aren’t political scientists, but nonetheless feel compelled to read this, the process for junior candidates looks something like this:

  • Starting in the late summer, political-science departments post position announcements with the American Political Science Association. Most job hunters read those announcements on e-jobs and decide whether or not to apply.
  • Prospective hires send in materials to institutions. These typically include: (1) at least one writing sample — sometimes a published article, sometimes an article-in-process, and sometimes dissertation or book materials; (2) three letters of recommendation; (3) an application letter detailing why the committee should hire you; (4) a curriculum vitate [CV]; and sometimes (5) a graduate transcript. Some institutions will also ask for an undergraduate transcript, and some will only ask for contacts should they seek letters of recommendation.
  • Committees, often composed of 3-5 faculty members, read [the meaning of “read” may vary] those applications and winnow the field down. They may produce a “long short list” of, typically, 6-10 candidates who they are interested in. They may jump directly to the “short list” of, in general, 3-5 candidates who they want to bring in for interviews. Some kind of oversight may or may not follow. Prospective Interviewees are contacted and asked to visit campus.
  • The campus visit takes place over 1-2 days. The candidate meets with various faculty, administrators, and graduate students. Meals, including a dinner, take place. Candidate gives ~45 minute job talk with a question-and-answer period.

At liberal arts colleges, of course, (1) the meeting with graduate students is replaced by (often multiple) meetings with undergraduates and (2) the research presentation is either supplemented or substituted with a teaching presentation to undergraduates. Telecommunications interviews may occur at any stage of the winnowing process. Some schools also conduct interviews at APSA. I don’t know much about the two-year college process. Otherwise, YMMV.

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Standard Stories for Hiring Decisions in Political Science

Update: so the very first commentator revealed how much this was the product of a bad cold. Indeed, I’ve completely misnamed the post. It shouldn’t be “standard stories” but “contextual assumptions.” The most important rhetorical commonplace, in my experience, is exactly what the commentator said: “quality” of research and presentation. What I’m interested in is the broader issue of how we know what quality is and why we care about it–what are the appeals that adjudicate those issues?  

Why do political science departments in research universities make offers to particular candidates? I don’t have a good answer for that, but I think listing common justifications is a good place to start thinking about the question. So here are some standard arguments, distilled down to their essence, for hiring decisions:

  • Signaling that we are a high-quality department;
  • Improving our rankings in either the short- or long-term;
  • Resolving gaps in our course offerings;
  • Resolving gaps in our methodological toolkit;
  • Reinforcing strength in a niche specialty;
  • Improving diversity in the immutable characteristics of our faculty; and
  • Giving some subset of scholars in the Department additional people to talk to.

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Status, Cliques, and the Political-Science Job Market

There are many things I find unsurprising about Robert Orisko’s claims in the Georgetown Public Policy Review about hiring patterns in academic political science. Among those are the disparate reactions produced by its summary in Inside Higher Education.

In brief, Orisko argues that academic political-science hiring displays dynamics more associated with status-conserving cliques than an efficient market. This tracks with (more sophisticated) comparative studies of hiring patterns which suggest variation across different disciplines. As Kieran Healy discussed of the earlier study back in 2003, “placement is deeply embedded in systems of departmental status that bear little resemblance to a properly functioning market.”

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The Academic Job Market and The Draft

No, not conscription (see what I did there), but sports drafts where teams take turns picking the next generation of superstars/busts.

I am inspired to think about this as October is when anxiety of academic job aspirants begins to spiral.  The thread du jour is whether the job market is “fair.”  As some get heaps of love and attention, others do not, leading them to ponder their fate.  But if we think about the job market as a draft* (despite the fact that there really is no set order of who goes first), then some stuff makes sense:

* Am focusing on NFL and NBA as they are better known (well, Canadians obsess about the NHL but who else, am I right?)

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Winecoff vs. Nexon Cage Match!

Kindred Winecoff has a pretty sweet rebuttal to my ill-tempered rant of late March. A lot of it makes sense, and I appreciate reading graduate student’s perspective on things.

Some of his post amounts to a reiteration of my points: (over)professionalization is a rational response to market pressure, learning advanced methods that use lots of mathematical symbols is a good thing, and so forth.

On the one hand, I hope that one day Kindred will sit on a hiring committee (because I’d like to see him land a job). On the other hand, I’m a bit saddened by the prospect because his view of the academic job market is just so, well, earnest.  I hate to think what he’ll make of it when he sees how the sausage actually gets made.

I do have one quibble:

While different journals (naturally) tend to publish different types of work, it’s not clear whether that is because authors are submitting strategically, editors are dedicated to advancing their preferred research paradigms, both, or neither. There are so many journals that any discussion of them as doing any one thing — or privileging any one type of work — seems like painting with much too wide a brush.

Well, sure. I’m not critical enough to publish in Alternatives, Krinded’s not likely to storm the gates of International Political Sociology, and I doubt you’ll see me in the Journal of Conflict Resolution in the near future. But while some of my comments are applicable to all journals, regardless of orientation, others are pretty clearly geared toward the “prestige” journals that occupy a central place in academic certification in the United States.

But mostly, this kind of breaks my heart:

I’ve taken more methods classes in my graduate education than substantive classes. I don’t regret that. I’ve come to believe that the majority of coursework in a graduate education in most disciplines should be learning methods of inquiry. Theory-development should be a smaller percentage of classes and (most importantly) come from time spent working with your advisor and dissertation committee. While there are strategic reasons for this — signaling to hiring committees, etc. — there are also good practical reasons for it. The time I spent on my first few substantive classes was little more than wasted; I had no way to evaluate the quality of the work. I had no ability to question whether the theoretical and empirical assumptions the authors were making were valid. I did not even have the ability to locate what assumptions were being made, and why it was important to know what those are.

Of course, most of what we do in graduate school should be about learning methods of inquiry, albeit understood in the broadest terms. The idea that one does this only in designated methods classes, though, is a major part of the problem that I’ve complained about. As is the apparent bifurcation of “substantive” and “methods of inquiry.”And if you didn’t get anything useful out of your “substantive” classes because you hadn’t yet had your coursework in stochastic modeling… well, something just isn’t right there. I won’t tackle what Kindred means by “theory-development,” as I’m not sure we’re talking about precisely the same thing, but I will note that getting a better grasp of theory and theorization is not the same thing as “theory-development.”

Anyway, I’ll spot a TKO to Kindred on most of the issues.

Professionalization and the Poverty of IR Theory

[I wrote the bulk of this post very late at night while suffering a bout of insomnia. In the end, I ran out of energy and called it quits. Thus, I’ve edited the post for the purpose of clarity and style. Major content updates are in blue text (bad idea, now abandoned].

[2nd Update: I called this post the poverty of IR Theory not the poverty of IR. There’s a difference.]

PM’s post on getting into political-science PhD programs continues to provoke spirited debate. Of particular note is reaction to his claims (echoing Dan Drezner) about the importance of mathematical and statistical skills. As “Evanr” writes:

It sounds like you think these people emerge ‘ex nihilo’ as scholars at the top of the field. At one point and time they were ‘new graduate’ students too, and were very much made the way they are by virtue of their training. I don’t think Wendt would have produced the scholarship he did without the non-mathematical influence of Raymond Duvall [nb: Bud started out his career doing statistical work; Alex was also trained by David Sylvan, whose work extend to agent-based modeling]. Is it not worthwhile to look at the training of top scholars to see how we should shape current students? 

There may be a vast consensus – I’m not sure if there is – that specific forms of training are indispensable to graduate students, but this consensus may be wrong. It sounds like your recommendations are more about reproducing the orthodoxies of the field to make oneself a marketable candidate than they are to intended to produce thoughtful, innovative scholarship. In the short term this may give you an edge in entering the field, but it may also make for lackluster career advancement. With the exception of certain ‘citation cartels’, thinking like everyone else is not a great way to get published.

Having spent far too many years on my Department’s admissions committee–which I currently chair–I have to agree with part of PM’s response: it is simply now a fact of life that prior mathematical and statistical trainings improves one’s chances of getting into most of the first- and second-tier IR programs in the United States. But that, as PM also notes, begs the “should it be this way?” question.

My sense is that over-professionalization of graduate students is an enormous threat to the vibrancy and innovativeness of International Relations (IR). I am far from alone in this assessment. But I think the structural pressures for over-professionalization are awfully powerful; in conjunction with the triumph of behavioralism (or what PTJ reconstructs as neo-positivism), this means that “theory testing” via large-n regression analysis will only grow in dominance over time. I’d also caution some of my smug European and Canadian friends that the writing is on the wall for them as well… albeit currently in very small print.

I should be very clear about the argument I develop below. I am not claiming that neopositivist work is “bad” or making substantive claims about the merits of statistical work. I do believe that general-linear-reality (GLR) approaches — both qualitative and quantitative — are overused at the expense of non-GLR frameworks–again, both qualitative and quantitative. I am also concerned with the general devaluation of singular-causal analysis.

Indeed, one of my “problems” in IR is that I am probably too catholic for my own good, and thus don’t have a home in any particular camp. My views are heavily inflected by my time with high-school and college debate, which led me to a quasi-perspectivist view of theoretical explanation: different kinds of work involve different wagers about what “counts” as instruments, knowledge, and results. Different kinds of work can and should be engaged in a debate about how these wagers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also evaluate work on its own terms. Thus, I get excited about a wide — probably too wide — variety of scholarship.*

What I am claiming is this: that the conjunction of over-professionalization, GLR-style statistical work, and environmental factors is diminishing the overall quality of theorization, circumscribing the audience for good theoretical work, and otherwise working in the direction of impoverishing IR theory. As is typical of me, I advance this claim in a way designed to be provocative.

1. Darwinian Pressure

We currently produce more PhDs than there are available jobs in IR. We produce far more PhDs than exist slots at the better-paying, research-oriented, well-located universities and liberal arts colleges in the United States. Given this fact of life, consider the following two strategies:

  1. Challenge your professors; adopt non-standard research designs; generally make trouble. 
  2. Focus on finding out the template for getting the best job; affirm your professors; adopt safe research designs.

The first strategy can work out; it sometimes works quite well. But it more often fails spectacularly. Given some of the trends in the field (reinforced themselves by over-professionalization — we face a series of feedback loops here), the first strategy is much riskier than it was fifteen years ago. PhD students may be a variety of dysfunctional things, but stupid generally isn’t one of them. It isn’t much of a surprise, then, that an ever-growing number of them choose the second pathway.

2. Large-N Behavioralism Triumphant

Consider, for a moment, the number of critical, post-structuralist, feminist, or even mainstream-constructivist scholars who hold tenure at A-list and near A-list IR programs in the United States. How many of these programs have more than one tenured professor doing these kinds of work? Still thinking, I bet.

How many of them have multiple tenure-track professors working in this idiom? I can think of a few, including Cornell, George Washington, Ohio State, and Minnesota. But that’s not a lot.

How many have multiple tenure-track professors doing quantitative work, particularly in open-economy IPE (PDF) and JCR-style international security? There’s no point in enumerating them, as virtually every program fits this description.

How many exclusively qualitative scholars–critical, neopositive, or whatever–have gotten jobs at A-list and near A-list schools in the last five years? Not many.

Now recall my stipulation that most PhD students in IR aren’t stupid; most figure out pretty quickly that failure to develop strong quant-fu immediately (1) precludes one from getting a significant number of jobs but (2) closes the door on very few job opportunities. After all, very few members of search committees will say “well, that applicant’s dissertation involves a multivariate regression, I think multivariate regressions aren’t proper social science, so I’m going to block him.” But, I’m sad to say, many members of search committees will refuse to seriously entertain hiring someone who doesn’t use lots of numbers–unless some sort of logroll is underway.

Now add the fact of exponentially increasing computing power. Combine that with (1) nifty statistics packages that do a lot of the work for you; (2) data sets that, although often junk, are widely accepted as “what everyone uses”; and (3) the “free pass” we too often give to using inappropriate-but-currently-sexy statistical techniques. What we’ve got is a recipe for monoculture and for the wrong kind of innovation in statistical methods, i.e., innovation driven by latest-greatest fever rather than thinking through how particular approaches might either shed new, and important, light on old problems or open up new problem areas.

That’s not to say that you can’t “pick wrong” on the quantification front. Some people think statistical inference via sampling techniques is worthless and that only experiments tell us anything interesting. Others think experiments never say anything worthwhile about ongoing political processes. And game-theorists, who do use math, just aren’t getting the kind of traction that proponents of the approach thought they would in the 1990s.

I’m not going to bash large-N or other quantitative studies. Like many Ducks, I don’t find the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research particularly helpful. But I will claim that the triumph of general linear reality (GLR) models in the form of multivariate regression has reinforced small-c conservative tendencies within the field in a variety of ways.

Many quantitative GLR acolytes are convinced — or, at least, publicly express conviction — that they are on the correct side of the demarcation problem, i.e., that. they. are. doing, S-c-i-e-n-c-e. Normal science. Not that stupid “paradigms” wars that wasted our time in the 1980s and 1990s, and certainly not journalism, political theory, non-falsifiable parable telling, or any of that other stuff that is most. definitely. not. Science. And is therefore not simply a waste of our time, but also a shot fired directly at the heart of progress. As in: trying-to-drag-us-back-to-the-dark-ages evil.

My rhetoric may be over the top, but I am not joking. Many perfectly nice, very interesting, extremely smart, and otherwise generous people really do believe that, in blocking the advancement of “alternative” approaches, they are fighting the good fight.** In this paradigm, innovation takes the form of technical improvements; competent work on topics that some percentage of peer reviewers believe to be interesting should be published; and, to be frank, a certain scholasticism winds up prevailing.

Would this be different if another “movement” currently enjoyed an advantage? Probably not. But I do think there’s something — as PTJ has written about — at work among those self-consciously committed to “Science” (and before this was about quantitative methods is was about quasi-statistical qualitative, which should put to rest the notion that we’re talking about numbers) that makes monoculture more likely. I’d feel less worried about this if I saw more persuasive evidence of cumulative-knowledge building in the field — rather than “truths” that are established and upheld exclusively by sociological processes — and if scholars doing even non-standard GLR work had an easier time of it.

3. The De-intellectualization of Graduate School

So what happens when students who enter graduate school:

  • With most of the methods training they will need;
  • Have strong incentives to adopt the “template” strategy for getting a job;
  • Confront a publishing and hiring environment in which methodological deviance is a liability;
  • Receive instruction from at least some instructors who are convinced that there’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do social science; and
  • Train in Departments under intense pressure from Graduate School administrators to reduce the time-to-completion of the PhD? 

Answer: an increasing risk of getting an IR degree as a time of intellectual closure; a perfectly rational aversion to debates that require questioning basic assumptions. In short, a recipe for impoverished theorization.

4. Damnit, Don’t We Know Better?

The good news — as many angry graduate students who post on Political Science Job Rumors fail to understand – is that-most of the “better jobs” escape scholars who, no matter how many publications they have, aren’t producing solid middle-range theory. If your work consists of minor tweaks to existing democratic-peace models or throwing variables into a blender and reporting results, then, well, don’t assume that there’s some sort of conspiracy at work when an apparently under-published ABD gets the position that you think you deserve.*** The bad news is that you are increasingly more likely to get hired at a significant subset of institutions than creative scholars who don’t deploy multivariate regression… even if doing so would have been wildly inappropriate given available data and/or the nature of their puzzle.

A number of dynamics work here, but the most distressing involves key dimensions of organized hypocrisy in the field. In particular:

  • We all know that peer reviewing is stochastic–governed by, for example, a surfeit of mediocre reviewers, their transient mental states (‘may your reviewers never read your manuscript right before lunch’), and overwhelmed editors. But we still treat the successful navigation of the slings and arrows of a few prestigious journals as the leading indicator of scholarly quality. Because, after all, why use your own brain when you can farm out your judgment to two or three anonymous reviewers?
  • We all know that quality is not the same as quantity, yet we still wind up counting the number of journals articles as an indicator of past and future scholarly merit.
  • We all know that it is nearly impossible to make an innovative argument and provide empirical support for it, yet we continuously shrink the length of journal articles, demand that the latter accompany the former, and discount “pure theory” articles — thus making it even more difficult to publish innovative arguments. 
  • We all know that the peer-review process is already biased against controversial claims, yet more and more journals default to single-reviewer veto–a decision that makes it even harder to publish innovative work, let alone innovative theory.

These dynamics do, of course, sometimes let innovative arguments through. But it too often distorts them into conformist shadows of their former selves. Note again that these tendency reinforce orthodoxy — whatever that orthodoxy is at the moment.

    5. Conclusion

    I’ve completely lost track of where I began, what the point was, and where I intended to go. But this is a blog, and I have tenure, so I can yell at the kids to get off my lawn… and otherwise rant the rant of the aging curmudgeon. And, just in case you aren’t clear about this: I am overstating the case in order to push discussion along. Get that?

    And, if you didn’t get the moral of this story: I question the judgment of anyone who gets a PhD without developing statistical skills and being able to provide some evidence to committees that he or she has those skills. It. Just. Isn’t. Worth. It.

    Does that make me part of the problem? Maybe. But I think one can hardly look at my record and come to that conclusion.

    Manual trackbacks: James Joyner, Steve Saideman, Erik Voeten.

    ———
    *I do have a pet peeve, however: scholarship that combines multivariate regression with selections from a small menu of soft-rationalist mechanisms… when we are expected to accept the mechanism(s) simply because of widespread invocation in the field. See the overuse of audience-cost mechanisms in settings where the heroic assumptions required for them are simply not credible (get it?).
    **The amount of emotional energy invested on all sides of these disputes is, to be frank, absolutely shocking and appalling.
    ***But, let’s face it, you are correct. Clique dynamics matter a great deal in getting a first job; and given the massively uneven distribution of resources among US colleges and universities, that first job may very well have long-term downstream effects. Of course, we tend to confuse a field in which scholars are frequently born on second base and then advanced to third by a walk with “strict meritocracy,” but that’s another matter. That being said, almost no one actually cares about your “proof” that we’ve gotten the coefficient on the interaction term between trade and democracy slightly off — even if it did land in a “top” journal because, well, see my point number four.

    Should I get a Ph.D.?

    Matt Groening’s Life in Hell comic strip is required
    by federal law to be posted in all grad student
    lounges. There’s a reason for that.

    By now, acceptance and rejection letters (or emails) have begun to filter back to graduate school applicants.

    I want to offer some advice for people who want to be graduate students. I begin by making it clear: I’m loving graduate school; it’s been on balance the best time of my life; and nevertheless there have been times when (to quote a colleague) I’ve wished I’d taken the blue pill and kept my job. (Most of those times were during coursework.)

    Erik Voeten at The Monkey Cage has a useful post for students who have been accepted and are weighing competing offers. I agree with almost all of his points, and all of the major ones. You absolutely should choose a program, not a professor. You shouldn’t focus on irrelevancies during the search process. If the graduate students at admitted students’ weekend are miserable but the food is nice, then you shouldn’t go there. Similarly, if everybody at Prestig University is deeply into political economy and you’re big into critical theory, it’s a waste of your time and theirs to enroll there. And you should absolutely examine the methods training that a school offers. The more methods training, the better. And that means methods in a wider variety of subjects than you knew existed, unless you were an undergrad at one of the handful of universities that actually teach research skills to undergrads.

    On the other hand, I disagree with Erik on his last point: “Think carefully about where you want to live. This is six years of your life!” I don’t think that most students should consider “where you want to live” as an important variable. The calculus is simple: Grad school is professional training; better training means you have a better chance of getting a job; and getting a job will contribute to your quality of life for decades. So go to Gloomy University instead of Sunshine U if Gloomy is higher ranked. (True, if you’re a superstar and you get to choose among top-ranked programs, then you can let this back in, but otherwise your decision rule should be easy: go to the best program for you that gave you funding.)


    The other point is that Erik is right that grad school will probably take six years. This matters a lot if your program only offers five-year funding commitments (as mine does). So, plan accordingly. You should also realize that this means that at least one Major Life Event–marriage, childbirth, death of a close family member–will take place during this period, which is a sobering realization.

    But let me offer a few additional pieces of advice. First, if you’re still thinking about accepting any grad school offers at all–or you’re thinking about applying next year–you should read Tim Burke’s Should I Go To Graduate School? and More on Going to Graduate School.

    Second, you should think really hard about money. I’m going to repeat something that Tim wrote: “With rare exceptions, no Ph.D. program that is primarily or exclusively aimed at an academic career is worth pursuing if the applicant is not given a tuition waver upon admission.” Taking out loans for a Ph.D. program is a dicey proposition. Those loans are nondischargeable in bankruptcy, which means that although the federal government would have helped you make your debts disappear if you’d spent $100k buying clothes on your MasterCard, they will never release you from your obligations to pay back the $5,000 in tuition for that extra seminar on The Politics of Exotic Birds, even if you’re adjuncting for the rest of your life. (A corollary to “think hard about money” is “think hard about what the job market for academics is like.”)

    This is more important than you think now. If you’re 23 or 24, then the notion of “home equity” or “retirement savings” are pretty distant from what you’re doing. But when you arrive at 29 or 30 and all you have to show for years of effort are a few lines on a CV while all of your friends who got jobs (you know, maybe the ones whose homework you used to do, or the ones who learned keg stands while you learned econometrics) are living in really nice places in really fun cities and unselfconsciously talking about their vacations in countries that you only know from datasets … well, all I can say is that, you’ll notice then. After a point, genteel poverty is still poverty.

    Third, you should think really hard about what makes you happy. Do you only want to be a professor if you can be a hip prof in New York or the Bay Area? Then don’t go to graduate school. You are statistically almost certain not to get that job. So unless you’ve come to the conclusion that you’d be just as satisfied working for years to take what your mentors will refer to as a “Good Job” in a state that voted for Santorum instead of getting the Best Job in the discipline, then you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure.

    Fourth, if you’ve been admitted, you almost certainly have the raw talent necessary to play the game. You’re likely to be deeply depressed at some point in your first semester, though, because it will seem as if everyone in your program knows more about everything than you did. That’s extremely unlikely to be true, but it will nevertheless feel that way. So make friends quickly. The best advice I ever got about grad school was on the first day, when a senior Ph.D. student informed our entering cohort that nobody can write a dissertation on their own. So be friendly, be nice, be charitable, and be generous. The dividends are well worth it.

    We Now “Know”: Diary of a Search Committee Member


    I have been sitting on the search committee for a couple of positions in my department, the School of International Relations at USC, and I thought I would share some observations that come from that vantage point. Anyone who happens to have been an applicant should not take this an indicating anything about their own individual case. Rather these are general trends I am noticing. I don’t know if they surprise anyone, but I will offer them nonetheless.

    I haven’t done this at the junior level for quite a while, and what was obvious is that epistemology now largely dominates ontology. Granted this was a methods search but I still think it resonate with a broader trend out there. What I mean by that is scholars do face something of a tradeoff between saying something really interesting and knowing with less certainty that they are right and saying something really uninteresting and knowing with more certainty that they are right. The younger generation of scholars leans more towards the latter than the older generation does. If we can’t establish causality with some degree of certainty then is it really worth talking about? This frustrates the older generation. It is not universally true of course. And it varies also by place of Ph.D., training, etc. I think it explains though the current fascination with natural experiments among other things, since to be able to randomly assign groups is so useful for eliminating confounding variables.

    When we were deciding on our postdoc last year, we found a really creative person with a great record and very unconventional research agenda, and the only knock on him came from someone more towards the epistemology side — I don’t know if he can show he is right, went the critique. Having spent hours sifting through dozens of dissertations on selectorates, I screamed — “Who gives a shit? At least I care if he is or isn’t!” I probably reacted far too forcefully to what was a very benignly stated criticism, but that was because of my frustration.

    We could blame the methodological fetishists out there, but that would absolve us from responsibility. We, by which I really mean people older than me, spent 10 years engaging the relative gains debate without once ever performing any kind of systematic test. We just made enormous assertions that THE WORLD IS MOSTLY CONFLICTUAL! NO, IT ISN’T. IT IS MOSTLY COOPERATIVE. No wonder the younger generation just gave up. It was all so pointless.

    But something has definitely been lost. The relative gains debate, although vapid, was enormously important THEORETICALLY. Grieco’s article exposed a potentially huge logical flaw in Keohane’s argument. It was the first academic exchange that stimulated me. It probably got me into the business, as Grieco was an undergraduate mentor. Is it empirically true? Well, we didn’t bother figuring that one out because we didn’t have proper research design and, well really, never bothered doing any real research. I wish the pendulum would have swung a little less violently because now having original data and a good research design are the the things that get you the best jobs. The absolute gold standard is to figure out a way to measure what we previously have not been able to measure. These are important contributions but will it make you the next Robert Keohane? Or Alex Wendt? Will we be talking about you in 20 years? I doubt it. The pendulum will swing back.

    Now, I am done. You kids get off my lawn!

    “We should not see moving out of academia as a failure”

    Via Drew Conway, a great quote this morning from Stephen Curry, a professor at Imperial College London:

    Students should think more broadly about what a PhD could prepare them for. We should start selling a PhD as higher level education but not one that necessarily points you down a tunnel…We should not see moving out of academia as a failure. We need to see it as a stepping stone, a way of moving forward to something else.

    Curry was commenting here on changing the mindset of the students, but I would argue in many disciplines the problem isn’t the students, but the professors.  There are still large groups of people in academia that not only disagree with this sentiment, but actively work to undermine students who choose to take their education and apply it outside of academia.  My experience has been in the realm of political science, but certainly know others that have had similar experiences in other disciplines.

    The skills one learns in graduate school are absolutely applicable outside of academia.  In many cases, students may be better positioned to apply what they’ve learned and have a more fulfilling career in either government or business.  Not everyone is cut out for this type of career, but then again not everyone is cut out for a life in academia either.  In many cases, it takes a different set of talents to thrive in either environment.  And when we take into account the utter dysfunction of the academic labor market, I don’t think pressuring students to seek a career in that market is the most responsible thing to do.

    Bottom line: the focus should be on the students and what will be the best move for them, not what professors think is the ‘proper’ career for those pursuing and holding a Ph.D.

    [Cross-posted at Signal/Noise]

    Your life’s work

    To respond to Patrick (and then I promise this will be the last I’ll say on this until late August…), I largely agree with important parts of what he says, but as a friend pointed out to me, to be able to occupy the position required to realize such a vocation requires a certain degree of luck and privilege. Moreover, I think it is perhaps time to apply some of Patrick’s own ontological commitments to the notion of a vocation itself.

    As Patrick points out, the idea of a vocation, a calling, is explicitly religious. But our understanding (and his) of that concept is filtered through Christianity, and perhaps here is where some distance from that religion is helpful. In the classic sense, the vocation was a calling to serve one’s religion, and in the Medieval context, the only institutional form for such service was the Church. And to this day, it largely remains so—the vocational calling to religion in the Christian context has one institutional outlet, the Church (of whatever denomination), which sets the terms of service, traditionally through the clergy (to which Patrick compares scholars, the high-priests of knowledge).

    Things are different today—this is not the world our students enter. Perhaps lets us think of a vocation not as an essential way of being, but as a set of practices that orient one’s life. Thus, the calling is not to embody a certain essence or acquire certain qualities, but rather to engage in certain practices, certain ways of life. The vocation is not to be a university professor, but rather to engage in the practice of teaching, mentoring, researching, or mastering a certain domain of knowledge. As a friend and colleague said to me yesterday—if I had realized that my vocation was teaching, I would have scrapped IR for a much more lucrative profession and taught technology or something.

    The vocation to which Patrick aspires exists only in limited institutional forms—the small subset of top 100 (maybe 200 if we are generous) universities in the US (I’ll exclude the rest of the world for now as most of my students aren’t oriented in that direction, and understandings of scholarship and teaching differ enough in other cultural settings to matter for the purposes of this meta-discussion). To get a job in this realm, you usually need to have a Ph.D. from a top 20 school. You must do as Patrick did, not as he does now—a Ph.D. from our institution doesn’t position you all that well to get the type of job that allows one to realize the vocation Patrick describes. Most academic jobs are like that friend of mine just landed—-its tenure track at a small, second tier state school in the middle of nowhere. He’ll be teaching a 4-4 load of large classes to mostly mediocre students not all that interested in Political Science. His department is small, he’ll be one of 2 jack of all trade IR / comparative guys also required to teach a service section of US government every other semester. His research requirements are to stay active in the profession—an article here, a conference paper there, but not the degree of engagement in the profession that Patrick celebrates. Indeed, such engagement in the profession is difficult from such a position given the teaching load and paucity of resources available—resources one requires to attend conferences, conduct research, subscribe to journals and buy books to keep up with the latest research.

    What worries me most about Patrick’s discussion is the idea that the University is the only institutional form in which his vocation can be realized. Rather, I think one must understand what vocation actually calls them, and then explore the ways of life in which that vocation can be realized. As I was recently telling a student currently at a crossroads in her life, trying to decide upon graduate school or some other path, realize that you can engage in these ways of life in any number of institutional and professional forms.

    If the calling is to teach, one can teach many places. While the classroom is the traditional place for such exploration, there are many classrooms, and many more teachable moments. Professors teach. But so can high school teachers, coaches, nurses, movie producers, artists, parents, baseball analysts, and many others. If the calling is to mentor, one can mentor in the university, but also in the community center, as a youth group leader, or even in the professional workplace. If the call is to research or to produce knowledge, again, the academy has no monopoly on that.

    Why must the production of knowledge and research only rest in the academy? I’m reading (slowly—as newborns don’t allow much free reading time) Peter Singer’s Wired for War, and the introduction to the book lays out his biography, his calling to research war. He has all the requisite “scholarly” training (Harvard Ph.D. no less), but he is able to research war from a think tank, and his work has significant impact on how many (including many in the policy relevant community) are thinking about war. Some tenure committee would probably reject the book as not at a university press and not methodologically sophisticated enough, but that’s not the point, and clearly he didn’t write the book for them. He wrote the book because he couldn’t imagine himself writing about anything else. Luckily for him, it also pays well.

    So, the question is, what exactly is it that you couldn’t not do? What practice must you engage in, what way of life must you lead? These days, I would submit, there are many, many opportunities and institutional forms to realize that vocation, most of which are outside the academy. One can have a love of numbers, charts, research, and public policy, and start a blog about it and turn that into a job. One can love to teach, and find teachable moments in nearly any setting. One can mentor a Big Brother, a co-worker. Why couldn’t Patrick realize his calling working for Baseball Prospectus? They research rigorously, challenge conventional methodological orthodoxy, use innovative technology to teach those lessons to wide ranges of regular and fantasy baseball enthusiasts, and the results of these endeavors have fundamentally changed how many of us understand and pursue the passion that is baseball.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the children of academics do quite well in this profession. They want to enter it, they know what it is, and they know what it is they like about it. They understand the “game” and have an intuitive sense of how to play, having grown up steeped in the family business. I grew up steeped in welding equipment and industrial gasses (the Howard family business once upon a time—can you imagine me selling gas?). For quite a while, that led me to a math, science, and chemistry focus, though eventually my love of politics and fascination with the international let me to a shift away from a math-science track to a poli sci / IR track sometime in college.

    To be able to realize the life of the academic in today’s institutional form requires a significant degree of luck and a significant degree of privilege in addition to a significant degree of skill. Being smart is no longer enough—indeed it was never enough—you must also know the right people, have the right pedigree, and be in the right place at the right time. One must get the right guidance as an undergraduate in order to know which graduate programs to apply to and how to get in—its not something you can do on your own. One must get into the right grad programs with the right advisers to be competitive for a job (and grants and publications and all those other things that help get a job). And, one must have the right topic (and theory and methods) that are ‘hot’ or ‘in vogue’ to impress hiring committees. Privilege can provide a lot of this—access to the right undergraduate situation, ability to engage in the practices that impress admissions and later hiring committees, and most importantly, time to contemplate. Luck also plays a role, as some are simply fortunate to find themselves in the right time. A very bright friend from high school went to Ohio University (not known as a gateway to anything, really) but happened to get along with his history professor quite well and have a strong appreciation of the subject. His history professor was lured away to Yale and brought my friend with him as his graduate student. Indeed, the luck of age is a significant part of this. Patrick and I have discussed where our top students should apply for graduate school to do what we do, to take the next step in realizing the vocation. It’s a tough conversation, as departments have changed and there aren’t a lot of top graduate programs that can train students in our line of inquiry—Patrick’s experience at Columbia is sadly no longer possible, as the particular configuration of faculty, environment, and students have moved on and Columbia is now a different place.

    What’s missing here is of course the merit part. We like to think of the academy as merit based and merit driven, and on occasion it is. Brilliant people can in fact succeed by being brilliant. But, more and more, merit is merely a necessary but not sufficient condition for success in this field. There will always be room at the top for the best of the best, but none of us are that person (well maybe one of us is—but its not me). There will always be the exceptional student slightly more driven than the rest, able to overcome lack of privilege to succeed –Patrick and I have had such students, and I’m proud of one in particular to say she’s doing quite well as a young scholar and she’s going to make it in this field all on her own.

    But, the contemporary reality is the institutional forms in which one can realize Patrick’s vocation are disappearing. If you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, then yes, this profession is for you. Expect significant suffering along the way. Be prepared to accept conditions you otherwise would find untenable to realize your dream. Realize that other portions of your life will suffer to fulfill this one deeply felt need.

    But for the rest of us, take the time to reflect on the calling you hear toward a vocation. Consider—what is it, exactly, that provides the satisfaction, that fulfills the desire, that provides a way to organize your life. This is in fact more difficult than it seems, and requires some serious personal reflection. It is not a choice to be made lightly. With that in mind, then set yourself free to realize that calling in all the novel and exciting ways that the 21st century provides.

    Post script— the answer to the obvious is: Yes. But more on that later. I’ll endeavor to return to substantive postings on the actual IR stuff we all enjoy.

    No (tt) Job for You

    As if there wasn’t enough depressing evidence about the poor state of the academy, Inside Higher Ed covers a new report documenting the disappearance of tenure track jobs. (H/T to Craig)

    Take home point: Only 27% of all higher education faculty jobs are tenure or tenure-tracked positions.

    The overall number of faculty and instructor slots grew from 1997 to 2007, but nearly two-thirds of that growth was in “contingent” positions — meaning those off of the tenure track. Over all, those jobs increased from two-thirds to nearly three-quarters of instructional positions.

    The growth in these jobs — and the decline in tenure-track positions — was found in all sectors of higher education, but was most apparent at community colleges. However, one of the most notable shifts was at public four-year colleges and universities, where over the period studied, tenured and tenure-track faculty members went from being a slight majority to less than 40 percent of faculty members. At the end point of the AFT study, tenured and tenure-track faculty members do not make a majority of faculties in any sector.

    “What was shocking to me, even though I think about this all the time, was that the percentage of tenure and tenure-track faculty has shrunk to almost a quarter,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the AFT chapter at the City University of New York. “The deterioration of staffing has reached a crisis point when only a quarter are tenured or tenure-track.”

    Not to continue my embittered rants, but the jobs you may have been promised going into grad school simply may not exist by the time you finish. Moreover, we as a profession need to reconsider how we treat the vast majority of practicing professionals not in the cushy TT jobs, and appreciate more ‘non-traditional’ career paths. To marginalize someone because they spend time slumming with the rest of the non-tenure track crowd does a disservice to your future student will will end up there through no fault of their own.

    Perpetual Hiring Difficulties II: Academageddon

    To continue a thread I started some weeks ago: If you’re thinking about getting a Ph.D., think again. Its a dysfunctional industry. From today’s NY Times op-ed pages, Mark Taylor writes:

    GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

    The Academy is not a healthy industry. Higher Education is doing well, as an increasing number of people are going to college and seeking graduate degrees. Despite this fact, the Academy itself is in trouble. Applied research is doing well, professional schools are doing well, but the Academy as we like to idealize as our home is rapidly going the way of the newspaper.

    Future PhD students, do appreciate how you will be used and abused by this system:

    The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

    In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

    When Taylor has to pick a field to throw under the bus to demonstrate the poor state of scholarship, he of course turns to Political Science and IR.

    Just a few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of political scientists who had gathered to discuss why international relations theory had never considered the role of religion in society. Given the state of the world today, this is a significant oversight. There can be no adequate understanding of the most important issues we face when disciplines are cloistered from one another and operate on their own premises.

    Its our field that is again singled out as particularly useless. Now, granted, this isn’t all IR scholars, I’m sure that there are many out there doing interesting and valuable work on religion and politics, but the point is these people were marginalized by the field (considered not important enough) such that they weren’t invited to the meeting that Taylor attended.

    One of Taylor’s suggestions I find particularly interesting:

    Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce “theses” in alternative formats.

    This echos, in part, some of Charli’s and my comments on the growth of digital media, Web 2.0 and the benefits of it as a potential outlet for knowledge beyond the traditional journal.

    Can you see the day when a blog replaces a journal, or a digital video replaces a university press book? The Duck of Minerva as a ticket to tenure…. The utter absurdity of that statement is perhaps part of the problem.

    Again, this isn’t to say that no one should get a Ph.D. However, it should serve as a wake-up call both to students and academics. Students: Know what you are getting into and go in with your eyes wide open. Academics: Don’t let the academy become the next Detroit Free Press–a dying industry covering a dying industry.

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