Friday, August 31, 2007

The blurring divide

"Ph.D. in History" has a very well-written (and empirically supported) post on how the divide between "research" and "teaching" jobs has blurred. Read it here. While I don't have the kind of data he does (because, you know, he's a historian, so he wants data; I just want to read meaning into isolated examples), I strongly agree with the drift of the post. Especially this:
If you are one of those history PhD students who dreams of landing a "research job" at a "research institution," and of having to spend very little of your time on teaching, it is time to stop dreaming. If you are one of those history PhD students who has started burning out on research and hopes to land a "teaching job" at a "teaching institution," you need to realize that you will find very few non-doctoral institutions that will grant you tenure without publishing several articles and only a small proportion of master's or baccalaureate institutions that will grant you tenure without publishing a book.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Timothy Burke on anger at academe

Between the relentlessly upbeat, deeply enthusiastic first-year students and the Yankees' sweep of the Sox, there's been a lot to smile about in the DGS office. So, let's balance that out by remembering that there are a lot of people angry at the academy. The ever-thoughtful Timothy Burke has produced this post on the subject. What I like about it is that he has tried to understand this anger (an anger he does not share) without dismissing it or becoming defensive. I'm pretty sure that he doesn't say everything there is to be said on the topic, but if you think it's important to consider the relationship of the academy to the rest-of-the-world, then it is worth reading.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Placement vs. reputation

It took me a couple days to see this article about a study of job placement in top political science programs. Although the study seems a little problematic (because it emphasizes placement at research universities), what's important is that it finds that the reputation of a program as measured in national rankings does not correlate precisely to its success in job placement. The article is here. I have not had a chance to read the original paper, but it's here. Of course, it would be terrific if someone conducted a similar kind of study in English. You might note that Emory's pol. sci. department was one that came off looking well in the study.

I'll also point out that I came across the article thanks to Richard Vedder's blog. Vedder is an economist who has a "Center for College Affordability and Productivity." While I certainly don't agree with everything Vedder says, I think he's worth reading because he so scrupulously consistent in the way he calls attention to the finances of higher education.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Two rumors that I have mentioned to a few people. Both matters should be more clear in the coming weeks:

* The Graduate School is currently considering new guidelines for funding conference travel, research travel, and the like. I have seen only a draft of these, and do not know if the procedures will be put into place during this year. The draft that I saw would make available to graduate students the same amount of funding that they have received in the past, and the procedures would not be very different from what we have done in the department. However, there would be a cap on the number of conferences for which a student would be funded over the course of his or her career. (That number still seems to be up for debate.) If these go into effect for this year, then I imagine that you will be hearing more about this sometime in December. However, I don't think it's anything to worry about.

* The department will probably be searching in this coming year for someone to oversee the first-year writing courses. When the ad goes to MLA Job List, I'll post it here. This is the only new search that the department will initiate this year. However, the department will be continuing the search for the Longstreet Chair (in African American literature) initiated last year.

Speaking of the Longstreet chair, one thing that you will notice is that when Longstreet candidates come to campus they will not be publicly identified (on fliers or Google calendar notices) as such. This is a courtesy that I have seen almost always extended to candidates in senior searches. The idea is that a person who already has a position will not want his or her home institution to find out that he or she is a candidate for another job -- at least not until he or she has it. Of course, rumors fly regardless....

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Baptists, Witches, and Southern Spaces

Whether or not you had a chance to attend Craig Womack's "Baptists and Witches" talk here last December, you should take a look at the web publication of the talk in Southern Spaces, the web journal that Allen Tullos of the ILA edits. The article is here, and the main journal page is here.

The web version includes the video of the talk, broken up into segments. However, it also includes a map, illustrations from an old journal article about the place in question, the text of the original short story about which he was speaking, and links to other resources. Apparently, Womack has shot some video at the location of the church, and that's going to be added later as well. This kind of multimedia web publication isn't quite bleeding edge any more (my rule of thumb is that if I know about it, it's way past bleeding, cutting, and maybe even dull edge), but it's a nice example of its possibilities. And if you saw the talk in Kemp Malone, it's striking to see how much content and context can be added via this kind of publication.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

The future of archives

Matthew Kirschenbaum (whose new book sounds pretty interesting) has an excellent article in the Chronicle Review about what the digital composition of texts will means to literary studies in the future. One important point that Krischenbaum makes is that literary scholars need to understand the issues of digital preservation in order to play a role in the creation of archives.

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A lot of paper....

For reasons that are a little unclear to me, my brother decided to send me this picture of his tenure package today. I am not just posting it here out of familial pride (though there's a little of that) but because it's instructive to look at the top binder: his teaching portfolio.

I think that probably everyone who comes up for tenure just about everywhere now submits a teaching portfolio. Maybe I am wrong about that, but I certainly haven't heard of a place that doesn't require one. My sense is that these portfolios quickly became a standard in the second half of the 1990s. When I arrived at Emory in 1998, someone here had just received tenure, and her teaching portfolio was remarked upon as extraordinary. Now, the ones I've seen lately all look a lot like hers. That spring, I took a faculty workshop on assembling a teaching portfolio. The person who conducted it believed that assembling teaching portfolios made college faculty better teachers. I'll leave that for others to judge.

So, what are the gems of wisdom to be gleaned from all of this? I can think of at least three:

One, save copies of all your teaching materials so that you can throw them in a binder someday. ("Size circumscribes," writes Emily Dickinson, but there's no way she could get tenure now; no publications.)

Two, professional standards are not immutable. Maybe I am wrong, but it's hard for me to believe that research scientists at Research I universities were submitting teaching portfolios like this a dozen years ago. (However, when standards change, they usually "creep" upwards; so now we present teaching portfolios and just as much research as a dozen years ago. But that doesn't mean that tenure standards couldn't change in other ways.) Of course, this means that when you come up for tenure, you will likely be judged by at least some others who did not meet the same standards that they will expect from you.

Three, you should never send your brother any picture that you do not mind seeing posted on the Internet.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Decatur Book Festival

Like most of you, I have been living in denial of the fact that it's, well, August, and the new semester is starting soon. As a result, I've been pretending that Labor Day Weekend is months and months away.

All of this is to say that I had not paid much attention to the schedule for Decatur Book Festival, and just looked at it. If you are planning to be in town over Labor Day, there's a lot to put on the calendar, including our own Natasha Tretheway, and the sometimes brilliant, always unpredictable Sherman Alexie. Charles Frazier -- of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons -- is delivering the keynote, but what is more interesting to me is that he's being joined by Myrtle Driver Johnson, who translated the latter novel (about Cherokee removal) into the Cherokee language.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

New reports

The MLA released two reports on Friday. The first is "The Report on the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2005"; available here. The second is related to a study for placement outcomes in the modern languages (including English) conducted in 2003-2004; available here.

I have read these only very quickly. Here are a couple of things I take away from them. First, the median time-to-degree for an English Ph.D. in 2005 was 9.7 years, but that includes time that students spent in master's programs. That's probably a good way to measure time-to-degree, but it makes it hard for me to come up with a comparable figure to measure our own program. Our own median time-to-degree is much closer to 6 years -- or at least it was in 2005 -- but we do not figure in prior master's study undertaken by students.

The other comment that I want to make is that while I am glad that the MLA keeps placement statistics, they never tell as much of the story as I want to know. Of the PhD's who received their degrees during the period of the survey, about 50% had tenure track jobs at the time they received the degree. But another 20% had full-time, non-tenure track teaching; another 5% had part-time teaching; another 5% didn't specify their teaching type; and another 5% had post-docs. That second group adds up to 40% of the pool, and the real question is how many of them end up in tenure-track jobs, and how long does that take? What percentage of them finally get frustrated enough that they have to leave the hunt for the tenure track? I really don't know.

This illustrates, by the way, some of the difficulty of keeping accurate placement statistics. At Emory, in any given year, we have some graduates going straight into jobs, some who do VAPs, some who do Brittains, some cobbling together something else while taking another shot at the market, some who have already moved away from academia but are still finishing the degree; some who have already taken administrative jobs. What you really want to measure is this: What percentage of those who looked for tenure track jobs for three years (and conducted wide searches) were able to find one? But there are lots of borderline cases (people who do limited searches, or who give up after a year because of another opportunity), and it gets hard to keep track of people who move onto fellowships and teaching at other institutions.