Sociology of Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility

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IPM Dialogue


Please submit your answers and advice related to this topic to:  We will include answers from members in the next newsletter.

Please submit new questions to: The form is entirely anonymous unless you choose to fill in your name. For each column, 3 to 4 people will respond, offering their unique perspective in a “room for debate” type format. Please participate and help us continue this productive dialogue!

March 2016 Question: How important is it to attend conferences? Besides presenting your work, what are the benefits of going?” I’d like to go to more, but they’re just so expensive.

January 2016 Question

Question: How should young graduate students build and develop their interests, take intellectual risks, explore new substantive areas and methods, amidst the relentless push to professionalize (‘publish or perish’)?

Cliff Brown:

Although young graduate students face many pressures, exploration and risk-taking are essential for cultivating a sense of mastery and a professional identity. An obvious way to start is by exploring the literature and deciding what excites you. What is happening that is innovative and cutting edge? How are new methods, theories, or data sources shaping the field? Might breakthroughs in other areas of scholarship or teaching be relevant to your work? To learn more, make connections with faculty and peers who share your interests. Attend department colloquia and job talks or consider organizing a department seminar or brown bag series for sharing work in progress. If you have an assistantship, how might a TA or RA experience with a particular mentor afford opportunities for growth? Consider taking (or serving as TA for) a class that is outside your area or comfort zone. Inspiration and collaborative opportunities can arise from within your own department, but colleagues in other disciplines or on other campuses may push you to think about sociology in new ways. Attending conferences and ASA section memberships offer excellent opportunities for professional networking. Seek feedback on your work from those with expertise in your areas of interest and reciprocate as appropriate. These and other strategies will increase your sense of ownership and professional momentum and will help to build your presence as a teacher and scholar.

Cliff Brown is an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. His research focuses on social stratification, race and ethnic relations, comparative historical sociology, the environment and social change, and the U.S. labor movement.

November 2015 Question

Question: I’m on the job market now, but I’m finding it very difficult to make any progress on my dissertation, much less publishing my work. Is it unreasonable for me to even try? And if not, what strategies can I use to make headway?

Victor Chen: You generally shouldn’t bother trying to make progress on your dissertation while you’re on the job market. It’s a full-time-plus job to be on the market. You’re better off using the time at your disposal—i.e., the time that isn’t devoted to food intake, basic hygiene, and occasional sleep—to refine your application materials and then refine your job talk and possible Q&A responses. (Pro tip: merge your hygiene and job-market time by practicing your job talk while you’re in the shower.) When you land a job, you’ll have time to go full steam ahead on your dissertation. And it crystallizes the mind wonderfully to know that you must finish the dissertation by a certain date or lose any hope of gainful employment.

The exception to this rule I’ve just made up is when you are on the cusp of publication. If you can get an R&R or book contract or additional publication, that will spice up your CV considerably. If you can conceivably get this before a potential employer reads your materials or invites you for a campus visit, then I’d go for it. (In that case, I’d recommend setting aside one day a week when you just focus on your writing and do nothing job market-related.) Otherwise, you could probably use more sleep.

Victor Chen is an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy (University of California Press), 2015. About the book and recent op-eds and interviews:

David Pedulla: The job market is both time-consuming and emotionally draining. It is definitely tempting to focus all of one’s attention on applications and, hopefully, campus visits, putting research and publishing to the side. However, it is important that your research does not stall out entirely during the job market season.

When the job market comes to a close, you want to make sure that you have not lost all momentum with your dissertation. And, once you start your new job, you’ll want to ensure that your research is moving forward and that you are getting articles out the door and, ideally, accepted for publication. So, as much as possible – while being realistic about the time and emotional constraints of the job market – try to make headway with your research and publications as you’re on the market.

Some strategies to consider for keeping your research and dissertation moving forward might include: 1) Breaking down the research process into smaller, more manageable pieces. Rather than trying to get an entire chapter of your dissertation written, a more reasonable goal might be to write for 30 to 45 minutes per day. Soon enough, the bulk of that chapter will be done; 2) Creating an accountability group with other folks on the job market. Together, you can create realistic goals and timelines for your work and hold yourselves accountable for making progress on your dissertations and research agendas; and, 3) Using the job market as a way to improve your dissertation and broader research agenda. As you write your application materials and go on campus visits, your committee and scholars at other universities will be engaging with and critiquing your work. Take their feedback seriously and keep track of it as you go. Try to use these comments and critiques as a way to improve your thinking and writing while you’re on the job market.

David Pedulla is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and a Faculty Research Associate of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include race and gender stratification, labor markets, economic and organizational sociology, and experimental methods. More information is available on his website.

Corey Abramson: Being on the academic job market is stressful and emotionally taxing. Applications, talk preparations, and fly-outs take a toll on productivity even under the best circumstances. Factor in general exhaustion, trying to finish a dissertation and getting a nasty cold on a flight (something I  apparently  excel at), and the idea of calling the job-market-cycle a loss for your research agenda seems appealing. Professionally however, this is a bad move. If you land your dream job, you’ll still have to finish the dissertation and turn over publications to get tenure. If you don’t land the job (or get a temporary position), that lost production can hurt your chances next time around. It is important to be realistic, however. Some scholarly activities— e.g. spending dozens of hours a week doing sustained ethnographic fieldwork— may not be feasible. It is very challenging to get research done during a talk and day of interviews. However, committing to analyzing data and writing most other days can be an option. Breaking up activities into shorter periods— e.g. even 15 or 30 minutes at a time— can allow you to make steady progress.  My advice would be to commit to doing this every possible chance (even if it is a bit of revising on a plane), with one caveat: It is important to periodically schedule days off to recover and preserve your sanity.

Corey M. Abramson is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona. Abramson’s research uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to explain how social inequality is reproduced over time. The End Game: How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years, his book on this topic, was recently published by Harvard University Press. You can read more about Abramson’s current research and publications on this site.



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