Thursday, April 17, 2008

Publish or perish

Our courses can be roughly divided into two kinds: methods and topics. In methods, you learn how to use a technique (surveys, regression, path analysis); in topics, you learn about a subject matter (access to higher education, politics of education, classical sociological theory). Topics classes in particular tend to require a final research paper as the major part or sole component of the student's grade. In our program, there is a definite push to think of each paper as potentially publishable. (Another school of thought holds that each paper should be written with the dissertation in mind. That doesn't work well in our program, but why is another post altogether.) The benefits of this are straightforward - you build up your CV from the beginning, making you a stronger job candidate. There are also side effects, however, that I'm not entirely sold on.

First, you have less control over the topics of your research. There are plenty of topics that someone earning a PhD ought to have taken a course in, but this covers a much wider territory than your average professor's research agenda. Your conference presentations and publications may suggest a jack of all trades, when you really want search committees to know you're interested in a specific area. Second, this really limits the kinds of research you can do. If you're using "human subjects" (which includes interviewing people) and want to use the results for anything other than class, you have to get it pre-approved by the institutional review board. This is often nearly impossible within the confines of a semester. This mostly leaves quantitative methods, generally using pre-digested data, again because of time constraints. So your CV reflects a certain set of techniques, not necessarily your preferred ones.

I'm thinking about this as I start to cast a critical eye on my CV in preparation for next fall's job market. Conference proposals for a major conference are due in a few weeks for the most important conference in my field. It is held right when applications are starting to flood in to departments. What does my CV say about me?

I think it documents well my interest in the topic fund raising, probably at just the right level. No one is looking for someone exclusively focused on it, the way they might want someone who studies college student issues. It overemphasizes my quantitative bent, as I'm more of a mixed methods type, but I think the nature of my dissertation will clear that up. What my CV fails to do is show my interest in organization theory, because that is not a topic that is emphasized in our department. My work in it has mostly led to class papers that aren't particularly publishable. For example, last semester I wrote a paper for sociology that analyzed the treatment of Max Weber's work in the first 25 years of Administrative Science Quarterly. I can't imagine that any other journal would be interested, and ASQ needs a big anniversary to wax nostalgic.

So it would be helpful to do something in that vein for this conference, but I have nothing in the pipeline to use. I'm co-author on two proposals, both related to fund-raising, and something solo would be nice. Now I think I could submit the paper I'm writing for my access to higher education class, but the topic is not really where I'm trying to position myself. (It is noteworthy that I did manage to find a way to write a paper using organization-level data for a class where individuals are usually the unit of interest.) Another classmate indicated interest in collaborating with me on it, so I may go ahead and use it mostly as it stands for this conference and then work with him to expand it.

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