Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Hiring in the academy

Leopold Stotch has some thoughts on meritocracy in academe. At my end of the food chain, my perception is that I’ve more often lost out on positions because search committees (or deans), for whatever reason, want people from “name schools.” The only time I’ve heard gender or race discussed on the job trail is in reference to other positions that I didn’t apply for. However, I have had my graduate program insulted to my face through backhanded compliments of my other achievements in interviews (“well, normally, we wouldn’t hire someone from Mississippi, but since you have that ICPSR thing…”).

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Death and the Blogmistress

As a partially-interested observer (and occasional commenter, both anonymous and named), I have to say the life-cycle of the American and Comparative Jobs blog has been of moderate interest; in the job season, it was a source of moderately helpful information, but the summer months have devolved into a rather nasty spree of backbiting and rather un-PC grievance-airing, leading the anonymous blogmistress to resort to comment moderation. We shall see if this is, as one commenter speculates, the “death” of the blog, or merely a speed bump. My sense is the latter, as the need for information (and strategic departmental leaks) will ultimately outweigh the loss of immediacy.

At the very least, now that I know (through a combination of the blog and disciplinary scuttlebutt) that one of the jobs I applied for last year had an invisible “white males need not apply” sign attached to it, I won’t be making the mistake of applying for any position ever advertised by that college again.

In terms of wider disciplinary conversations in the blogosphere, I think the truth of the matter is that there are some serious grievances about the discipline among political scientists that simply will not be aired in non-anonymous public fora. That inevitably means there is going to be some nastiness, as those with private agendas use anonymity to attack others. I am unsure what the proper balance is, but I do know that the same themes raised at the American/Comparative jobs blog are the subject of whispers in the hallways of conferences and other gatherings.

The bottom line, I think is that if we are going to have more “openness” and “reform” in political science, we are going to need some brutal honesty about issues beyond methodological pluralism in the APSR—things like overproduction of PhDs, hiring practices (including the fundamentally broken hiring process), the dominance of doctoral-granting departments on the boards of the APSA, journals, and regional associations, differing standards for what is considered “quality” scholarship among subfields, and more. And I think that brutal honesty is going to need people who are willing to speak up about these issues non-anonymously without the protection (not from outside interference as originally intended, but from our own colleagues) of tenure. Personally, I don’t see that happening any time soon, but I would love to see someone prove me wrong.

Monday, 30 October 2006

Leave it to the economists to design an efficient job market

If there is a recurring fall “theme” here at Signifying Nothing, it’s my belief that the political science job market is fundamentally broken; the only candidates who are well-served by the market appear to be the 3–4 “star” ABDs every year and established scholars (the latter of whom don’t actually participate in the same job market), and the only employers who are well-served are those who ultimately get their pick of the litter from those categories. For everyone else, there’s the obscenely stupid APSA meat market that (except for the earliest-deadline institutions) really doesn’t work except as an impetus for a run on the hotel bar by candidates and search committee members alike.

Unlike political scientists, the economists have actually thought about these problems, and continue to refine their processes. A case in point: Stephen Karlson reports on the new ‘signaling’ mechanism that allows candidates to credibly indicate up to two positions that they are particularly interested in, getting around the problems of both private (every application including the boilerplate “I really want to teach at [Institution mail-merge name here]”) and public signals (the candidate declaring on his/her website what job he/she really wants, which probably doesn’t help the candidate with other job applications)* in cover letters and recommendations. Greg Mankiw and the AEA website explain the details.

Obviously getting political scientists to adopt a similar process would be like herding cats—but there is a strong case to be made that the lower-tier R1s and other schools would be best served by banding together and either getting the APSA to sponsor an AEA-like hiring event, or organizing their own event, in the November-January time frame where more serious interviews could take place than at the APSA meat market and departments would have a clearer idea of their needs and realistic prospects for attracting the top candidates.

Even absent a hiring conference, though, APSA could provide a similar credible signaling system for candidates in eJobs—if it were so inclined. Doing so, while a baby step towards a more useful market, would probably at least help a few candidates get on the shortlists they want to be on as opposed to the ones that departments think the candidates want to be on.

* As for me, I’ve made no real secret of my preferences, but if an R1 wants to pay my salary for a few years on the tenure track while I try to find a good liberal arts college that will take me I’m certainly not going to complain.

Monday, 14 January 2008

ABDs and VAPs of the world, unite!

Michael Bower has an op-ed at Inside Higher Ed about the role of disciplinary associations in the job-search process that’s worth posting to one’s office door, even though it’s about history rather than political science. Make the appropriate substitutions in the quote below and it applies equally, if not more so, to our discipline:

As a national organization and the most powerful entity in the historical job market, the AHA has done surprisingly little to help the newest members of their profession. On the whole, historians pride themselves on their concern for social justice. In 2005, for example, the Organization of American Historians uprooted its annual conference and moved it to another city in a show of solidarity with hotel workers. When it comes to the plight of the discipline’s own working class, the unemployed job seeker, this compassion and concern is absent. In its place is an annual report from the AHA talking about how good it is for some. For others, there isn’t much the AHA can do. I find this lack of action, especially when compared to what is normally shown for the less fortunate, disheartening.

While the AHA can do nothing to overcome the dearth of tenure-track positions (which is a reality that deans, trustees, and legislators control), the association has a great deal of control over two things: job market statistics and the interview process. These areas, which some might say are of secondary concern, have made the job search a very inhospitable place. For one, the association could conduct a statistically sound study of the job market based on an actual survey of departments and job seekers. Drawing attention to the total number of jobs and the number of Ph.D.’s produced in the past year overlooks the fact that visiting faculty and independent scholars are also on the market. A more thorough census would provide better information to AHA members and possibly even a snapshot of many other employment concerns, including how the positions stack up in terms of pay, tenure-track status, and other key factors.

More importantly, the organization could do a number of things to reform the poorly designed hiring process that leaves applicants floating in a limbo of uncertainty throughout much of November and December [for political science, since we don’t even have a real hiring event: add September, October, January, February, March, April, and May – ed]. The lack of communication between search committees and job seekers is so common that it is now taken for granted along with death and taxes. Job applicants no longer expect any professional courtesy. While this results in a good bit of anxiety for anyone on the market, it can also lead to undue financial hardships that could easily be avoided. As a former editor of the H-Grad listserv and one currently searching for a tenure-track position, I can safely say that these concerns are pressing on the mind of most applicants.

The recommendations:

1. Take a more accurate census of the job-seeking population annually.

2. Make the Job Register service a privilege that has to be earned. The AHA has a good deal of influence on the job market but has yet to utilize it in any significant way. Since most tenure-track positions are advertised in the AHA Perspectives and interviews are conducted at the AHA annual meeting, the AHA should mandate certain conditions that must be met before interviewing and advertising space is sold. If those conditions are not met, the AHA should deny departments the right to use their facilities and their ad space, thus adding substantial cost to the interviewing institutions. ...

3. Require that search committees inform applicants of their interview status via e-mail 30 days before the annual meeting. [This would require a real hiring event in political science to be effective in the first place. – ed]

4. Establish a general listserv for search committees and job seekers. Search committees are notorious for their lack of communications. Job seekers have pooled their resources into a number of academic career wikis, but these can be misused and are dependent on the truthfulness of the poster. The AHA can alleviate this uncertainty by creating a listserv and mandating that those who use the Job Register would agree to notify the AHA by e-mail at important phases of the job search process. Which steps those are would be open for negotiation, but everyone, committees and candidates alike, would know what those benchmarks are ahead of time. The AHA, and this is the critical step, would aggregate these notifications and send them out via a daily listserv to all job applicants who choose to subscribe. Under this system, for example, all who applied for the position in Pre-Modern China at Boise Valley State could know that the search committee has made AHA invitations, has made invitations for on-campus interviews, or that Dr. Damon Berryhill had accepted the position. Job applicants, who usually have no idea how the searches are progressing, would be more informed when fielding other offers and would no longer need to contact each institution directly for updates. Participation would also be in the hiring institution’s best interests, as it would reduce the need to communicate one on one with job candidates (a very time consuming task for search committee members) but still create a much more open system of communication for job seekers.

Saturday, 27 September 2008


A commenter at InsideHigherEd suggests a new system for ranking colleges:

One index of quality might be a compilation where college professors send their own children to college. These parents know what goes on inside a campus that affects students.

College instructors are the last people who would rely on U.S. News for information in where to send their own children. The high prestige universities are great places to get a graduate degree, but professors often see that the best undergraduate education lies elsewhere.

Of course, professors also know that at least in academic hiring (probably to a greater extent than most areas, except medicine and law), institutional prestige is a major factor in the decisionmaking process, so they may emphasize prestige more than is warranted. But the general principle is sound: be wary of an institution that a professor wouldn’t send their own kids to.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Your day-before-conference APSA links

A brief “I have three classes to teach today” roundup:

I have nothing in particular to add, except to say that most of my conference activities will be off-the-radar in one way or another. But any readers of more-than-passing acquaintance who are interested in coming to a Friday evening “recession-beating reception” may contact me via email for an invite, with the caveat that it’s a BYOB event.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Pedigree bias in academe

Tyler Cowen considers the question of ‘pedigree bias’ in economics and other fields; while he follows up with an article that suggests pedigree bias may not be as pronounced as he initially suspected, nonetheless there is a clear relationship. I would imagine the relationship found in the Klein article would be even stronger if it measured initial hiring decisions, though.

My thoughts on such matter, at least as they pertain to political science, have been blogged previously and repeatedly, so I won’t belabor those points here.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Once more into the cesspool

P.J. O’Rourke once said that giving money and power to politicians was akin to “giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” But that pales in comparison to the effects of giving an anonymous forum to mentally-teenaged political science graduate students and their hangers-on.

There was a point a few years ago—perhaps even a few months ago—when I believed having a job rumors forum was a necessary corrective to the fundamentally broken hiring process in our discipline. I firmly believe that if we are going to share a discipline of a few thousand people, and if we’re going to work with these people for decades in the future as peers, we ought to treat those starting out on the tenure track with the basic standards of decency we would expect from our own colleagues—and that requires honest, up-front information about the job market and search process as it happens, rather than a few summary statistics a year or two down the road from the hiring season. It is a principle I tried to uphold when we successfully searched for a colleague last year—and given that I still have a job, it was a pretty costless one. Although not one that many of my fellow political scientists have decided to follow, alas.

But whatever the hell is going on over at the rumor site has very little to do with fostering collegiality and openness today. Instead, the site seems to have been captured by an element of jealous, petty individuals who resent the success—or, seemingly more often, revel in the apparent lack thereof—of a small number of graduate students from leading political science programs. Perhaps these students are, to borrow a phrase from a former American president, major-league assholes. Maybe they pick on little kids at playgrounds. I suspect not, but I really don’t know these people (with the exception of Facebook inexplicably offering some of them as suggested friends to me on a regular basis—even though I’ve never met them); it’s rather beside the point regardless.

I freely concede that I am a minnow. I am a threat to no one in the discipline. I get interviews when there’s 13 applicants for a job, not 130. I don’t neatly fit any of the little boxes that define political science as a discipline either—being an “applied methodologist” who studies political behavior seems about as popular as being an H1N1 carrier. On paper, my position is probably just one or two steps above a community college job in the political science hierarchy; in practice, some days it feels like one (albeit without the fun paintball fights). I aspire to jobs that many of these snot-nosed brats wouldn’t even deign to apply for. So maybe I just don’t get why some graduate student’s success at an Ivy would be so personally threatening to anyone else.

I don’t know what the solution is here. Required registration drove down traffic, but it also drove up the level of discourse substantially. Perhaps the only solution is an economic recovery that lessens the perception of the market as being a totally zero-sum game. All I’m certain of is that a website like PSJR as currently constituted that makes me feel the need to shower after every visit isn’t one that’s doing our discipline—or anyone else, for that matter—any good.