November 30, 2005

"Trained for Nothing"

I just finished reading "Trained for Nothing" by Joseph Heathcott, in the Nov/Dec issue of Academe. This is the best article I've read so far on the job crisis in academe, particularly in the humanities. He makes the case that the "guild model" of training graduate students to become future tenured professors is no longer feasible. This is particularly true in the humanities, although the number of tenure lines is drying up in all disciplines.

I despair that articles like this are being written by assistant professors and dissertation coaches, and that nothing substantive is being done at the higher levels of administration. How bad does it have to get?

The Job Interview

This week's newsletter is about the job market, in particular the job interview. Here are some further hints gleaned from various web source.

  • Do your homework on the institution interviewing you! This is mentioned too many times to quote sources, and it's just plain common sense.
  • Here are some good general interviewing hints from the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis (I couldn't resist that name.)
  • Dave Johnson at wrote a column, "Urban Legends of the Job Search," in which he wrote a good summary of the importance of eye contact and possible cultural differences that could sway interviewers.
Eye contact is crucial for interviewers to feel comfortable about you. You are judged by a number of non-verbal elements in an interview, and your ability to communicate with your eyes is one of them. Poor eye contact can result in subconscious decisions about you; the interviewer may decide she can't trust you, or conclude that you are low on energy and enthusiasm. Here's a short digression: Notes or no notes, maintaining eye contact can be difficult for those who were raised in cultures that have different views on eye contact than we do in Western society and especially in the USA. In some Asian or South Asian countries it is actually perceived as rude and inappropriate for an applicant to make eye contact with his or her superior.

  • Dave Jensen has another article called "Interviewing Skills: What Do Do When They Say," which is about the "t.m.a.y." question: "Tell me about yourself." Although in academic circles, the question may be a little less broad, you should certainly be prepared for general questions of this nature. He states:

When an interviewer asks you to tell her a little about yourself, you are being asked to provide a general framework for discussion. You will set the stage for later questions that will address various aspects of your academic and work life. If you plan properly, this will give you the opportunity to steer the critical opening portion of the interview into an area in which you will do well.
How do you plan for this? I am normally not a great supporter of overpreparation for an interviews. In other words, if you've read anything I've written on the subject, you know that there are no recommendations of books packed full of "Snappy Answers to Tough Interview Questions," etc. My belief is that you need to be aware of what happens during interview day, and that means knowing the direction of probable questions. But it is self-knowledge and confidence that you require, not rehearsed and memorized answers to interview questions.
Except in one area--this one.

He then goes on to suggest:

You need to have with you a 2-minute, 5-minute, and 10-minute response to the request "Tell me about yourself." And those versions need to be ingrained into your presentation skills as well as you know your e-mail address.

I will add more to this later. Please add any other interview hints you can think of!

November 27, 2005

The Academy's Dirty Little Secret

The National Research Council is in the process of revamping how they rate graduate programs. I posted the following comment following an article on this topic in Inside Higher Ed:

Great news for current and future graduate students

All graduate students should rejoice that ratings of doctoral programs will consider such data as “how students are treated and how they perform, including attrition rates and the time it takes students to complete their degrees.” As a dissertation coach, I get an earful from clients and from readers of my newsletter about mistreatment and neglect by advisors and committee. Poor advising inevitably results in poorer and slower performance by students. As a tenure coach, I hear plenty of the same stories — I have clients who can’t bear to face publishing their dissertation because it brings back memories of their advisor’s treatment of them. Some of the most hair-raising stories come from graduates of the most well-respected programs.
The only way for this situation to change is for the institutions to feel that there is a price to pay for poorly treated graduate students. They will then make sure that the individual departments provide 1) adequate oversight of the supervisory process and 2) programs to prepare the graduate students to perform optimally as they complete their dissertations, publish and find work.
If the institutions feel the pressure to oversee the departments in this regard, my hope is that professors will be rewarded, in terms of recognition, promotion, and tenure, for excellence in graduate student advising. The new NRC rating system should thus eventually lead to fewer miserable graduate students, and put me out of a job!

What particularly interested me was the following comment by “R.A.S.”:

Academia’s dirty little secret revealed

” .. mistreatment and neglect by advisors and committee.”
Hear, hear!
Students allow themselves to lured into Big Academia to support auditorium-sized classes — then get abused by poorly-planned graduate programs and senior academics avoiding their professional and personal responsibilities.
If the general public every finds out the facts — look out below! Other colleges could only benefit.

R.A.S.’s response got me thinking – it really is a dirty little secret. Way too many students are accepted into graduate students without being clearly told how small a chance they have of getting they’re longed-for jobs in academia. They are frequently left to languish in their programs with poor training for the research they are doing and inadequate advising. Then they are not given help in considering job alternatives.Who is going to do something about this situation? Let’s see if the new rankings will lead to some necessary changes. Otherwise those grad student tuitions will be too appealing to university administrations who only think of the bottom line.

November 22, 2005

A Great Post -- Strategies for Successful Dissertation Completion

Here is an extremely useful post on the Crooked Timber blog by Eszter Hargittai, with helpful additional comments by readers, on Strategies for Successful Dissertation Completion. I added my own comments on how to choose a dissertation advisor.

I would also add a small addendum about the reading and literature review stage of your work -- when you are reading, don't just underline or put stars next to great paragraphs. Take the time to do a little free writing about how the article or book you're reading ties in to your planned work, whether you agree with it or not, what questions it brings up, and any other floating thoughts that come to your mind. You'll be so glad later you did this.

In addition to this, free write every day, even when you're at the beginning of the process. You'll be surprised later how much of what seems like drivel can be useful in jumpstarting the writing of the final product.

November 9, 2005

Dissertation Procrastinators Rejoice!

I've just been rereading Thomas H. Benton's piece in the Chronicle (Oct. 14, 2005) on Productive Procrastination. He makes the point that you can get a lot done on other useful tasks when you're procrastinating. I've been putting this tenet to good use. While preparing for a talk (November 17) to the dissertation group at Brown, I've written articles on other subjects, written my newsletter, visited my son at college, chatted with my daughter who's in graduate school, and picked up autumn leaves.

Benton offers reassuring advice for those who feel excessively guilty about their procrastinating ways:

But fret not. The best advice I ever heard is that life is what we do when we are avoiding something else. There are already too many books chasing too few readers, and, perhaps, the best thing for most us to do is take some time to play with our kids, talk with our students and colleagues, cultivate our gardens, and live well. Inevitably, our best books will be the ones we never finish.

What I've noticed is that the talk that I should have been diligently working on is getting prepared almost on its own. I really have so much to say it's just a matter of getting my priorities straight; thinking about what I most want to emphasize in this short period of time. Somehow everything I've been working on as I procrastinate has seemed incredibly related to this talk. I think that if I had sat down every day and tried to work on it for 8 hours a day I would have gotten less accomplished. And it wouldn't have been as fun!