What is your paper title?
What is your paper title?
Today I came across Alfreda James‘s wonderful piece at Inside Higher Ed on “self-care essentials for graduate students.” I really enjoyed the piece for two reasons. First, a lot of her piece applies to faculty members as well as graduate students. Second, Alfreda was a classmate of mine in graduate school. She is currently assistant director for graduate students and postdocs at the career center at Stony Brook University.
Here is a taste:
Self-care means recognizing the people around us who impede progress, hoard resources and cause physical and emotional exhaustion. Here are a few characters and characteristics within the graduate student community we need to avoid and/or immunize ourselves against:
The 24-Hour Critic. The 24-hour critic can be either a peer or faculty member who will always find more nuance, more research and more evidence for you as a graduate student to produce. He removes all the oxygen from seminar rooms with multiple questions crossing the time and space continuum. He stifles ideas but later uses the research he dismissed. Protect yourself with early identification of the 24-hour critic’s toxic behavior, and then confer with others on ways to limit impact. If you have a scheduled meeting with him, plan to have an ally interrupt the encounter to pause his flow of words. The 24-hour critic thrives by consuming large amounts of your time.
Read the entire piece here.
Historians: I am teaching graduate historiography in the fall and would love to know: What is something you wish you had learned in the first semester of your history graduate program?
— Andrea L. Turpin (@AndreaLTurpin) July 9, 2019
Twitterstorians responded in a big way. Here are some helpful responses:
That good historians with good intentions and good research can reach different conclusions. And both can be sound.
— James Carter (@jayjamescarter) July 9, 2019
In classes like this I like to talk about HOW to read books when you have more reading to do than time in the day. First few sessions we go around the room and students say what method they used and if they think it helped them understand the book. Demystifies what profs do…
— Rachel Shelden (@rachelshelden) July 10, 2019
My advisor used to add this bit to his seminar syllabus which I found both comical and helpful. pic.twitter.com/hUgnvCLd6N
— Camden Burd (@CamdenBurd) July 9, 2019
How to read a book in one hour. https://t.co/i2wkhSyeEA
— Larry Cebula (@larrycebula) July 10, 2019
how to write a book or other (exhibition, etc.) review that is not formulaic, comprehensive, and boring. learned this late! and am still working on it.
— Nicole Belolan (@nicolebelolan) July 9, 2019
How to give helpful editorial feedback to peers’ drafts of writing
How to build cohort or network in various settings
— Jeff T (@zavoodie) July 10, 2019
Some basics on the “nuts and bolts” of the profession, including how to work with an advisor, find research grants (I didn ‘t know such things existed for grad students!), write a strong letter and vita, how the job marketS (academic and others) work, how to build a career.
— (((Daniel Mandell))) (@D_historyMan) July 10, 2019
How to read a primary text in context. A good end of course project would be to pick a primary text and examine the conditions/context under which it was produced.
— Lilian Calles Barger (@LilianBarger) July 9, 2019
It’s going to sound vague, and I’m not sure how one teaches it, but emotional intelligence and equilibrium — keeping things (scholarly and non-) balanced in your brain. I would have loved to talk honestly about self-doubt, fear, etc.
— Shawn Peters (@shfrpeters) July 10, 2019
How to manage digital and physical notes and source databases. I wish we were taken around to diff profs and had them show us their process for keeping track of their work/information.
— Petticoat Breeches (@slopclothes) July 9, 2019
Yes. In my first semester of grad school a classmate finally asked for the meaning of the word historiography & the prof refused to answer the question. I recall that among my cohort only those who had graduated from Ivy League colleges or elite SLACs had ever heard of the word.
— Catherine M. Burns (@cmburns21) July 9, 2019
The job market in all its horror, how to navigate it, and what you can do with a history degree other than teach history.
— Brendan ‘Dr.’ Payne (@brendanthepayne) July 10, 2019
Basic information about using archives/special collections, making sure the students are comfortable using these resources.
— Food and Archives (@laurakitchings) July 9, 2019
1) a lot of graduate school is performative;
2) asking questions is a strength rather than weakness;
3) we’re all expected to write historiographies but rarely taught how to write them. It would have been great to have that kind of how to early on.
— Steve Arionus (@historianed_) July 9, 2019
When starting your research project, spend the time to find the most recently published/relevant monograph and hang out with its footnotes to come up with a secondary-source reading list. (ie don’t just rely on what pops up first in the library catalog search)
— Carolyn Arena (@CarolynArenaPhD) July 9, 2019
Zotero. Note taking methods. That productive discussion/conversation is also a skill to be developed. That most of us bumble into our projects through luck & an open frame of mind (Skyping in authors is a great way to get at this). And Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream or the like.
— Casey Lurtz (@CaseyLurtz) July 9, 2019
I would have loved more about designing plausible research projects; decoding finding aids; identifying archives; adjusting sources to questions; and distinguishing between project scales: seminar paper, journal article, diss chapter, diss project, etc
— child of the lorde (@dlawhutch) July 9, 2019
close reading is a skill seldom taught, but it is essential.
— Rob Boddice (@virbeatum) July 9, 2019
That books no longer in favour with your teachers may still be worth consulting: each generation of scholars falls out of love with books *they’ve read*; the next generation misses out if it only reads the *reactions* to those books…
— Adam Mosley (@AdamJMosley) July 9, 2019
1) Everyone needs to recruit a diverse mentoring team that extends beyond their committee.
2) What Imposter Syndrome is and how to deal with it.
3) How to create an IDP (individual development plan).
4) No matter how well you know a historical language, it’s not enough.
— J.T. Daniels (@JTDaniels7) July 10, 2019
That just because they are the expert in their field doesn’t mean they get their referencing right… would have saved days in archives trying to track files down which were misquoted, mislabelled or simply missing
— Dr Alexander Clarke (@AC_NavalHistory) July 9, 2019
The role of the historian in public life. Which historians could be construed as activists, people in positions of power, etc. Was there a reason why they chose the role that they did?
— Matthew McCleary (@mdmccleary86) July 9, 2019
About how the term “biased” is near useless. I wish I had learned more about theory and history – and how often historians dont talk about the theory be they engage with because they expect you to know it. (And how that’s gatekeeping)
— Dr Samuel McLean (@Canadian_Errant) July 9, 2019
One thing I learned was how to talk about historiographical ideas without saying “this author says” and then “this author says” and how to best weave it into what your original work is.
— Michelle Renee 🍂 (@MichelleHenault) July 10, 2019
That reading outside your research interests is helpful for thinking about theory and methods. As a US historian, I have learned a lot about my craft and approach from non-US historians.
— Erika Kitzmiller (@erikakitzmiller) July 10, 2019
The difference between writing an article vs a chapter. Generally, how the field writes at various lengths.
— Robert Suits (@Robert_Suits) July 9, 2019
Actually read some old ‘outdated’ and ‘wrong’ books. I had to go and read myself what Frederick Jackson Turner, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Charles Beard, etc said because all I read was what others said about them. Sometimes it was accurate, other times it was unfair caricatures.
— Daniel N. Gullotta (@DanielGullotta) July 10, 2019
Break down of theories/theoretical framework that the author mentions in the introduction (see Ian MacKay “Quest of the Folk” intro). I’d never encountered theoretical framework in history & it was beyond intimidating to deal with
— Sarah Hart (@SarahH014) July 10, 2019
The methodology behind archival research… I feel like you’re left to figure that all out yourself, which could potentially have disastrous results.
— Miles Wilkerson (@mm_wilkerson) July 10, 2019
The politics behind historiographic trends. An example would be looking at Du Bois, Black Reconstruction as an example of black resistance to white dominated historiography. Congrats and Good Luck!
— Bob Williams (@aBobtheBob) July 10, 2019
Douglas Hunter has published a really interesting piece at Slate about the practice, common among graduate students in history, of understanding the argument of a book without really reading it. This process is often described as “gutting.” Hunter explores the implications of this practice. Here is a taste of “Book Breaking and Book Mending“:
I wonder how many books on reading lists are ever read in depth, for pleasure, by people who have to study them. I had several hundred books on my course lists. My dissertation’s bibliography ran to 37 manuscript pages. I can only name a handful of titles that I ever read enjoyably, cover to cover. There was no time to do so, and for seven years, first as a doctoral candidate and then as a postdoctoral fellow, I read almost nothing outside my studies for pleasure. The process very nearly killed my love of reading.
The consequences of academic books being fundamentally written not to be read in full, even by an academic audience, are troubling not only for academia but for society as a whole. Society suffers when the ideas of academics are trapped inside the feedback loop of academia; academia suffers because society considers its output irrelevant. In my own work, I have probed the history of theories on human migration and race. I have shown how archaeology, scientific racism, and American manifest destiny have had a horrendous impact on indigenous people, and how corrosive, racist ideas persist in pseudohistory. I think these are important subjects, and I hope that my academic colleagues pay attention to my work, but I am also persuaded that society would be a better place if more people understood, for example, why pseudohistorical notions that ancient white people colonized America before indigenous people are popular with white supremacists. This is true of other scholars as well; we’ve seen the damage done, for example, when researchers in climate science, women’s history, and African American studies can’t get their findings into the wider world. Many scholars have been trying, in every way possible, but academic books are still striving for general accessibility.
Read the entire piece here.
Will experience, expertise or interest in digital humanities help you land an academic job? In the Fall, my department will be conducting a search for a public historian. While the ability to do digital history will not be one of the major requirements for the position, I think it will certainly make a candidate attractive. (The job ad will be out in a couple of months).
Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jennifer S. Furlong and Julie Miller Vick talk about how graduate students in the humanities might develop some digital skills. Here is a taste of their piece:
Julie: For many scholars in the humanities, one of the most compelling reasons for pursuing DH work is the possibility that they could continue their own line of research. Don’t count on it, though. All three of our experts said it was difficult to find time for their own research in the midst of all the work they do to support other people’s scholarship.”
“Remember that dissertation I mentioned?” Hardy said. “With the exception of a handful of conference presentations, it is pretty much sitting on my desk at home, awaiting my undivided attention. I go through spurts of dedicating 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. to my own writing and research, and then inevitably, a grant deadline looms or a meeting demands preparation, and my twilight hours are given over to more immediate tasks. I should add: I am fortunate enough to work at a place where most of the work I do really excites me as an intellectual.”
For Varner, moving into DH meant that he left behind his work in American studies, but “published quite a bit on changes in libraries and digital humanities. It is worth mentioning that many academic libraries have tenure (or something similar to tenure) for librarians, and publishing is generally part of making those promotions.”
Likewise, Morgan’s work has shifted “more toward questions of process and infrastructure in libraries: how people work with systems, how we build effective systems for people to learn, etc., how we describe what DH/DS librarians do. I’m quite happy about that, because I love those topics.”
Jenny: We always ask our interviewees about future trends in their career path. One emerging trend, according to Varner, is the desire to make DH “less special” and incorporate more of its methods into the humanities curriculum for undergraduates and graduate students. Hardy noted two areas of increasing interest: “The Mellon-funded initiatives for digital platforms for scholarly publication certainly have pushed that toward the forefront of the DH conversation. And perhaps I am revealing my own biases here, but scholars are increasingly recognizing the importance of special collections and archival data.”
In fact, all three experts expressed hope that DH tools would transform how humanities scholars communicate — both among themselves and with the public.
In addition, Morgan is seeing “more interest in platforms like RStudio that can work with enormous datasets. But there actually aren’t countless large humanities datasets out there, so I think that more focus on data curation will be productive.” She also noted that many older digital projects are breaking down as they “age out of the current tech infrastructure” — making sustainability an increasingly important part of the DH conversation.
Read the entire piece here.
I often counsel undergraduates and M.A. students, both my students and others, about applying to Ph.D programs. I talked a bit about what I sometimes say to them in Episode 37 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.
Every now and then an applicant will tell me that they have been rejected by a graduate program in history because their potential adviser does not think they have developed a fully-formed dissertation idea. (Or at least this is what the potential adviser told them).
So I ask our readers: Must an applicant to a Ph.D program have a fully-formed dissertation idea in mind when they apply for admission? I am not referring to a general field of study or even a particular topic within that field of study, I am referring to an actual dissertation topic.
How many of you history Ph.Ds out there actually had a dissertation topic in mind the moment you set foot on the university campus to begin your program?
Today this college sophomore at Calvin College reported that she took a stroll around campus while listening to episode 37 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. The episode is titled “Should You Go To Grad School?”
Now go study for finals!!! 🙂
Here is Mary R.S. Bracy‘s latest post from the Organization of American Historians meeting in Sacramento. Click here for Mary’s previous OAH post: “She Persisted: A New Assistant Professor Tells Her Story.” Enjoy!
As is usually the case when I go to conferences, I have about five million things rattling around in my head at once. Yesterday was a full day. Today I’m headed back home, so I feel like this has just been too quick!
I sat down to write this dispatch last night, but I was simply too tired to type any words on the screen. Our panel started off the day at 8:00 am. I was excited to get going, but was a bit disappointed when we only had three audience members. I guess this is what happens when you’re up against a panel on “Hamilton!” I have participated in a lot of conference panels, but this was one of my favorite. It was first panel I’ve been on where I’m the one with the most experience! I would have never been brave enough as an MA student to even think about presenting a paper at a big conference like the OAH…so I was really happy to see my fellow panelists doing that.
I like to get out of my comfort zone when I go to conferences, so the other panel I attended yesterday was “When All That Is Left Is Words: The Writing Sensibilities of Civil War Soldiers.” Sarah Gardner (Mercer University), Peter Carmichael (Gettysburg College), and Timothy Williams (University of Oregon) each presented papers. I was especially intrigued by Professor Williams’s paper “Prison Pens: The Culture of Writing in Civil War Prisons,” which focused on prisons as intellectual spaces.
I only made it to two panels overall, which is about what I expected. I gave up trying to do everything at conferences a few years ago. If there are papers I really want to see, or colleagues I want to support, I do that, but otherwise I simply try to absorb the intellectual atmosphere. Sometimes this is exhausting; other times it’s completely inspiring.
This time, I’m taking away a deep sense of inspiration from my fellow panelists, who are all young and excited and passionate about what they’re doing. I am in no way old, but I am disillusioned. The academy has hurt people I care about. It hurts to see my friends leave the profession. It’s been frustrating to talk with them as they fill out hundreds of job applications, only to have nothing.
But I’m an optimist at heart, and being on a panel with graduate students fed that optimism. They know that this job market is terrible. But they love the job so much that (at least for right now) the problems seem like a distant future. I tried to offer a dose of reality. I mentioned that the job market is terrible and graduate students need to be thoughtful about the future. But when they started talking excitedly about passing comps, planning dissertations, and writing grants, I just shut up. Because in my disillusioned world, I just needed to listen.
I am thrilled to have Mary R.S. Bracy writing for us this weekend from the floor of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento. Mary is not new to The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Longtime readers will remember that she wrote for us as a graduate student from the 2013 American Historical Association meeting in New Orleans. You can read her posts here. I am also happy to announce that Mary just accepted a position as Assistant Professor of History at Warner University in Lake Wales, Florida. Congrats!!
Here is Mary’s first dispatch:
Greetings from Sacramento!
This is my first trip to the OAH, so I’m very excited to be here. It’s also my first time to present at a major national conference, and my first time to present something about my teaching, rather than my research. Plus, I’m excited about my panel: I’m joining with some colleagues who are public historians, and we’ll be talking about how we foster collaboration in our work. (Shameless plug: 8:00 am Friday, Convention Center Room 305!) Shae Smith Cox, who is ABD at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, put together our panel. Shae is a friend of mine from my days at Oklahoma State, and I’m happy to be working with her yet again.
I spent today traveling (Tampa to Sacramento is a long trip!), getting registered, and wandering around the book exhibit. I found lots of things that I want to buy, but won’t, because I don’t want to lug a super-heavy suitcase back through the airport.
I also spent a lot of time today musing on the nature of academia and academic labor. This isn’t anything new. I’ve been thinking about academic labor and the tragedy of so many talented scholars having to leave the profession ever since my friend Erin Bartram’s brilliant and heartbreaking piece about the grief it causes.
And I think about the nature of academia and academic training every time I work with Shae. Both of us had really, really difficult MA experiences but went on to be successful PhD students. I haven’t kept my experience a secret, but to briefly recap:
A professor once recommended I drop out of graduate school because I did not have the research and writing chops. This professor said I was much better at recommending books to people, so I should be a librarian instead of a historian. (I worked in a bookstore in college, and I have pretty extensive bibliographic recall.) I also struggle with anxiety, and in graduate school tended to have panic attacks at the worst times (like when I cried through my entire MA oral comprehensive exam). Shae (who has given me permission to share this) was told by professors she should “go back to working retail” and was “too dumb to be in graduate school.” And yet we both stuck with it and went on to be pretty successful. Shae has organized conferences and managed museum displays, and is working to complete her dissertation—a study of the material culture and memory of Civil War uniforms.
As for me…I’m feeling pretty good right now, because I just landed my dream job. Starting in the fall, I’ll be a full-time Assistant Professor at a small Christian college. It’s everything I ever wanted out of my career. But imposter syndrome is real, and even with my professional successes, I still see myself sitting in my car, crying because I don’t think this whole “being an academic” thing is worth the stress.
So that’s the emotional space from which I’m coming to this conference. And it’s changing how I act here. I want to be kind in my interactions and my feedback. I want every single graduate student or early-career scholar (or late-career scholar!) who feels like they don’t know what they’re doing, or they don’t belong, to know that it’s perfectly normal to feel that way.
Tomorrow I plan on recapping my own panel and attending one or two others. I’m certainly looking forward to it.
Many of you recall Erin Bartram‘s viral post about her decision to leave academia. We blogged about it here and will be talking to Erin in a forthcoming episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.
Her recent piece in The Chronicle Education offers some advice for professors who advise Ph.D students. Her two main points are:
Read the entire piece here.
I am thankful that I had an excellent dissertation adviser who cared about my work. Katrin Schultheiss, the current chair of the Department of History at George Washington University, did not have the same experience. She described her experience (at Harvard) in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.
Here is a taste:
Back in the late 1980s, I applied for admission to various doctoral programs in history. A couple of months later, I was shocked to receive a phone call from an internationally renowned scholar. He congratulated me on being admitted to his university’s program and invited me to the campus to talk with him in person.
When I arrived at the appointed spot, a young woman introduced herself as one of Professor Famous’s graduate students, apologized on his behalf, and said he could not be there after all but she would be happy to talk with me. Far from being offended that I had been bumped from his schedule, I was flattered that I had made it onto his radar at all.
I ended up matriculating at the university, though I eventually switched to another male adviser (for intellectual reasons and not because Professor Famous tended to schedule advising meetings during walks to his car to feed the meter). My new adviser — I’ll call him Professor Prominent — was well regarded but not a superstar like Professor Famous. Professor Prominent was an excellent teacher and my conversations with him were always pleasant, and sometimes even inspiring.
I accepted as “bad timing” the fact that he had a secretary put a pink “While You Were Out” message in my mailbox informing me that he would be out of town for my comprehensive oral exams. But maybe that was a sign of what was to come. When it came to providing guidance and feedback on my dissertation, I remember clearly the downward slope of his engagement with my work: I received a page of comments on my first chapter, a postcard of comments on the next two, and an efficient “looks good!” on the remaining three.
Read the rest here.
This is a very helpful piece at AHA Today from Christina Copland, a graduate student in history at the University of Southern California. If you are an undergraduate who is considering graduate school I think you will find Copland’s article worth your time.
Here is a taste:
And, I would add, it is much harder to keep the stakes of graduate study in perspective if you don’t (even occasionally) get outside of the bubble of academia. Be it catching up with family members and old friends or a hobby (as someone with few discernable sporting or crafting skills, I use the term hobby very loosely here), make time for an activity entirely unrelated to your scholarly output that will make you happy and keep you in touch with the world outside campus.
Without that foot firmly planted outside of the academy, what are, in reality, fairly low-stakes events can assume titanic importance and meaning. Every harsh bit of criticism on a historiography paper, a meeting with your advisor that doesn’t go entirely smoothly, all of it can start to undermine not only your self-confidence but strip away your ability to enjoy the study of history—the very reason you’re there in the first place.
As you give yourself room to breathe in the present, keep one eye on the future. Connect your career possibilities to the tasks you actually find rewarding in graduate school. I found out pretty early on that I found teaching extremely stressful. This made my decision to forgo the professoriate very, very easy. But it was only through a fairly random opportunity in my fifth year, when I had the chance to contribute to a project on public history with Southern California nonprofit broadcaster KCET, that I realized I loved communicating history to broader audiences. If you’re stuck for ideas as to how you might translate your talents and interests outside the academy, the AHA has a good resource on “Where Historians Work” for the many career options that historians have. (And watch out for an upcoming post on ImaginePhD, a tool designed to help humanities and social sciences PhDs explore careers and plan for the future.)
I can’t help but wonder what other opportunities I missed in the first four years. If these sorts of nontraditional tasks are not built into your program, seize any chance to make them happen yourself. And don’t wait until you’re nearing the end of your degree to start. Equally, it’s worth sooner rather than later to look at the AHA’s “five skills” vital to the successful pursuit of both academic and nonacademic careers.
Read the entire piece here.
Karen Wulf of the Omohundro Institute has a nice post at the Vast Early America blog on “reading” in graduate school. If you are studying for your comps and find yourself awash in a sea of monographs, this piece is very helpful.
I’ve seen graduate students struggle with a heavy reading load, and I’ve seen them use various methods to try and lighten that load. One is to not make it through the reading, which is obviously not ideal. (Understatement.) I’ve also seen some use book reviews as a substitute. Also not ideal, but for reasons I’ll explain below. And I’ve seen students sacrifice a lot to make it through every last page, and sometimes (often?) that trade-off (especially with sleep and general health) wasn’t a wise one.
The reason students do this are many, but among them are a sense of anxiety about their ignorance. I don’t think they believe me when I say that the more you know, the better perspective you’ll have on just how little you know. Plenty of clever people have found ways to phrase that. Earlier this month astrophysicist Adam Frank described for NPR how important ignorance is in a world that seems increasingly casual about expertise and “alternative facts.” It might seem counter-intuitive, he noted, but by exposing the limits of our own and others’ knowledge it clarifies where expertise lies and has been achieved. Get used to being ignorant because it’s not only okay, it’s the natural state when you’re leaning. The helpful bit here for graduate students is the same, I think, as it is for me. It’s not to say that we will never achieve knowledge, even expertise, but that there will always be limits to it if we’re curious about the world. If we think that learning is not only important but exciting and interesting then–yay!–we’re in for a lifetime of acknowledging our (relative) ignorance.
Click here to learn about her “TICCN” strategy.
Jim Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, has a vision. In his recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, he imagines what an orientation for new doctoral students might look like in 2022.
Here is a taste:
As academe moves (slowly but surely) to rethink doctoral training, I’ve been mulling the direction and implications of change.
Today, a new vocabulary has emerged in Ph.D. humanities education. Doctoral degrees are “malleable.” Their recipients are “versatile.” A discourse of “career diversity” will enable new cultures of “connected academics.”
Most graduate students today encounter that wider perspective of doctoral training as they near the finish line, yet they also inhabit an academic culture steeped in traditional norms of success and failure. Even graduate-program directors committed to a broad view of Ph.D. career options might include in their welcome messages the 40-year-old jeremiad about the narrowed academic job market — implying therein a standard of success. In a well-meaning attempt at transparency, they might include a reference to “placement rates” — underscoring the tenure track as the normative pathway even amid the rhetoric of “alternative” careers.
With resources from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation, new projects aimed at changing graduate-school training and culture are emerging — some initiated by scholarly societies like the American Historical Association (the organization I direct) and the Modern Language Association, and others led by humanities centers, graduate deans, and even individual departments.
With these expanded visions gaining traction, I am ready to indulge in fantasy: What might a graduate orientation for entering students in my discipline — history — look like in five years? Let’s pick up where we left off with our hypothetical director of graduate students in 2022 …
Read the entire piece here.
Here is a taste:
Scholarly research has lent credence to anecdotal claims about social media’s growing importance as a networking tool for academics at all stages of their careers. In a 2012 paper that represented one of the first systematic studies of social media’s impact on academia, George Veletsianos, a professor at Royal Roads University in British Columbia, analyzed the usage patterns of academics. He concluded that “the participation observed on Twitter presents opportunities for … scholarly growth and reflection,” though it was still too early to make a definitive statement about what that might entail. (He also noted, rather tellingly, that “online practices may not be valued or understood by peers and academic institutions even though scholars themselves may have found scholarly value in participating in online spaces.”)
Four years later, the researchers Charles Knight and Linda Kaye evaluated the social-media practices of academics at a large university, determining that these academics’ “use of the [Twitter] platform for enhancing reputation is an implied acknowledgement of the importance of research within higher education and the increasingly public engagement agenda.” Professors on the campus they studied were far more likely to use Twitter for this purpose than they were for pedagogical reasons: “Academics want to use Twitter to inform the wider community of their activities rather than engage their students.” Networking, it seems, is one of social media’s principal purposes for those in academia.
“Twitter is great for academic networking, because it can be an awesome way for introverts and people who aren’t already in close proximity with the people they want to talk with to start building genuine relationships,” said Jennifer Polk, a friend and academic and career coach who runs the From PhD to Life website. “Of course, it’s all public [unless you adjust your security settings], so you should be professional—whatever that means in your field. And I recognize that in this context, ‘professional’ is a loaded term.”
Read the rest here.
I think Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites are great resources for networking, sharing ideas, and raising questions. (Perhaps this is simply stating the obvious at this point in my career). Graduate students and young academics should be using them for these purposes.
But I also think graduate students and young academics should always remember that while social media is a very democratic space, academia is not. Academic life, in order to function properly, must have some degree of hierarchy based on expertise and experience. In other words, a young scholar who submits a journal article or book for review will inevitably have a senior scholar evaluate the manuscript and make a decision on it. Senior scholars at colleges universities will often have a lot to say about who gets hired in their departments. In the course of searches for academic appointments and fellowships that have residency requirements, the search committee will often contact outside scholars who might be familiar with the candidate’s work and sense of collegiality. And yes, I have been asked about a job or fellowship candidate’s sense of collegiality based on their social media presence. It has actually happened more than once.
I entertain several of these requests a month. I have even been in a position where a person argued with me on Twitter in a very unprofessional way and then applied for a job in my history department. When I saw the application I went back to review the series of tweets this person had written, but they were deleted. This person did not get the job. There were stronger applicants in the pool that better served the needs of our department. But I would be lying if I said that this Twitter exchange did not influence the way I thought about this person’s application. And I can tell a host of other stories like this from other committees on which I have served.
In the best of all possible worlds, decisions about publishing and teaching jobs should be made entirely on the merits of a candidate’s scholarship or teaching, but we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. Young academics should have this in mind whenever they tweet or post. I am often amazed when I see graduate students picking fights on Twitter or Facebook with senior people who one day might have to make a decision about the course of their future career. Hopefully, for the sake of the candidate, that senior scholar will lay aside their memory of these social media exchanges and judge the candidate on the merits of their work. But to do so requires a superior degree of discipline and professionalism.
The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History has just announced their summer graduate course offerings. These courses can be applied to an M.A. in Humanities (American History concentration) at Adams State University.
America in an Age of World Wars: World War I (Michael Neiberg, Army War College)
Historiography and Historical Methods (Multiple scholars)
Lincoln and Leadership (Michael Burlingame, University of Illinois-Springfield)
State Histories (Richard Loosbrock, Adams State University)
Learn more about these courses here.
I can now say that I am a student of a Bancroft Prize winner!
I am very excited to learn that Nancy Tomes, one of my graduate school mentors and one of my favorite people in the profession, is one of three winners of this prestigious prize in American History.
Here a taste of New York Times reporter Jennifer Schuessler’s article on the winners:
Books on the 1971 Attica prison uprising, the enslavement of Native Americans, and the health care system have won this year’s Bancroft Prize, considered one of the most prestigious honors in the field of American history.
Andrés Reséndez, a professor at the University of California, Davis, won for “The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), which argues that it was mass slavery at the hands of Spanish conquistadors, rather than epidemics, that devastated the Native American population.
Heather Ann Thompson, a professor at the University of Michigan, won for “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy” (Pantheon), which drew on extensive documentation, including some that had never been seen before by scholars, to reconstruct the violent retaking of the prison and its decades-long legal aftermath.
Nancy Tomes, a professor at Stony Brook University, won for “Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients Into Consumers” (University of North Carolina Press), which examined the origins of the notion that patients should “shop” for health care.
I took two research seminars with Nancy while doing my doctoral work at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In the first seminar I wrote a paper that was eventually published as “Wheelock’s World: Letters and the Communication of Revival in Great Awakening New England,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (1999). The second seminar paper I wrote for Nancy resulted in a chapter of my doctoral dissertation on religion in eighteenth-century New Jersey. Later she served as a member of my dissertation committee (which was directed by Ned Landsman). Her support and encouragement of my work was invaluable to me as a graduate student hoping to make it in the history profession.
Congratulations Nancy Tomes!
In the last six months I have had conversations with at least four different professors at four different small Christian colleges in the United States. These professors were all lamenting the fact that the administrations at their colleges had recently made decisions to cut funding for faculty scholarship. One school had severely limited the number of sabbaticals offered each year. Another school had cut internal grant money for faculty working on scholarly projects. Two professors said that administrators told them that their primary job was teaching and if they wanted to do scholarship they were certainly welcome to pursue such a course, but it would need to be done on their own time. According to another professor, an administrator told him/her that faculty scholarship is not a bad thing, but in an “age of prioritization” the funding for such scholarship needed to be cut because, in the long run, it doesn’t put students in the seats.
The emotions of these professors ranged from angry to sad. They all had really interesting research projects, but they did not have the resources or support to pursue them. One professor had to turn down an external grant because the administration could not afford to have him be away from the classroom for an entire academic year.
I am sympathetic to the idea that faculty books and articles do not attract prospective students. (Although I am sure that if a faculty member at a small Christian college won a Pulitzer Prize the PR department and the administration would not hesitate to bring attention to such an achievement!).
I also understand that many small schools need to make serious budget cuts in order to keep the doors open. But to cut funds and opportunities for faculty scholarship at small, largely teaching, institutions is a short-sighted approach that ultimately hurts students.
In the past year or so I have had other kinds of conversations with other colleagues in my field. They have told me stories of students at small colleges who have won entrance to graduate school or landed jobs precisely because faculty at their institutions had published books and articles that gave the school academic and intellectual credibility.
This is especially relevant for small Christian colleges. Since many prestigious graduate programs–especially in the humanities–are overwhelmingly secular in orientation, many of the faculty in these graduate programs tend to be suspect of Christian college graduates. This is unfortunate since many students at Christian colleges are more than capable of doing work at the best graduate schools in the country. But it is also a reality. Let’s face it, an absolutely outstanding student at a small Christian college with high test scores needs to have a great vita and letters of reference if they are going to compete for a spot in a graduate program with an above-average student who went to college at Harvard or Yale.
Having said that, it doesn’t take much to convince faculty at prestigious graduate schools that Christian college alums are legitimate. When graduate committees at these schools are familiar with the scholarly work of faculty at these small Christian colleges it legitimizes the academic quality of such colleges and the students who graduate from them. I can think of many Messiah College history students who were accepted and funded at top schools around the country because someone in the history department at those schools knew about the scholarly work of one our faculty members.
Just this week I was talking to a history professor at a small Christian college who landed one of his students at a high-powered and very competitive graduate program because one of the graduate faculty in that program had read one of his books and cited it in his own scholarly work.
Also this week I met a student who just got accepted to one of the best graduate programs in his field. When I learned about this I approached the student to offer my congratulations. (I should add that I did not write a letter for this student. I have never taught this student. I had no idea he was even applying to this particular program. And to the best of my memory this was the first time I had ever actually spoken more than a few words to him). When we chatted he told me that he was very nervous during his campus interview. He was was worried about how his Messiah College degree would be received at this elite institution. But during the course of the interview the director of the graduate program told him that he was familiar with my work and followed me on Twitter. I have no doubt that this student was accepted to this program on his own merits, but the fact that the director knew the academic reputation of Messiah College certainly helped him. I hope he left the conversation thankful that Messiah supports faculty scholarship. I know I did.
Faculty do scholarly work for a number of reasons. Some feel called to make contributions to knowledge. Others may do it to pursue personal glory or prestige at their institutions or in their disciplines. Still other do it as way of climbing the academic ladder, landing a better job, or securing higher speaking fees. But we rarely frame faculty scholarship in terms of what it might do for our students. When it is framed this way, scholarship becomes less about the career or even professional development of the individual scholar-teacher and more about an act of service to the young men and women we encounter everyday in our classrooms.
So how does a graduate course differ from an undergraduate? To some extent, this is a question of degree (pun intended) or proportion. By the time you are dealing with graduate students, you expect them to have a foundation in understanding how history is written and understood, and also to be able to undertake independent work. The role of the professor should fade to that of a coordinator and organizer, who sets goals and directions, while the students undertake the bulk of the enterprise. The professor identifies the broad scope of the course, and within that describes particular topics and topic areas, suggesting readings and sources. Thereafter, the main responsibility passes to the class…
So much is familiar, but there are a couple of matters that have become massively more significant in graduate teaching in recent years, which again need to be in pretty much every course to some degree. One is that of professionalism, of learning to work within the academic world, and preparing for an academic career (which might take various forms). If a student takes a course on Topic X, they should ideally be laying the foundation to teach within that area if and when they find an academic job, at whatever level. One outcome of the course, then, is that a student should leave it knowing the outline of that field, understanding what it entails, what the main issues and debates are, who the main figures are. It is preparing the way to state accurately and honestly in a job interview that Yes, I am qualified to teach Topic X, and all the better if that topic area is one that is not overrun by other applicants. No, one course in itself does not give that expertise, but it should be the foundation.
The harder jobs are to find, the more essential this component of graduate teaching becomes.
Also, a course in humanities must to some degree teach about writing and publishing, even if there is no simple equation between the volume and quality of publication and the likelihood of finding a tenure track job. So much of the course involves reading and discussing books and articles, but these must never be seen as if they dropped from the skies. At every stage, readers have to ask how and why this particular author got a book or article into print, and why in that particular outlet.
Read the entire post here.