Assignment 1 Due: Write a job-finding strategy drawing on Silver and Shulman chapters as well as web resources
Silver, I., & ASA Teaching Resources Center. (2008). Academic street smarts : informal professionalization of graduate students. [Washington D.C.]: American Sociological Association.
For the non-academic sociologist, it is somewhat difficult to write a job-finding strategy with the majority of citations coming from Silver and Shulman’s “Academic Street Smarts” because the book was written, as its title indicates, for academics. Nonetheless, some of the Street Smart tips can crossover because the book was written for sociologists, which constitutes half the makeup of the non-academic sociologist’s identity. This essay will draw from Street Smarts as well as web resources to outline a job-finding strategy for the non-academic doctoral sociology student.
Networks (brief literature review)
As any good sociology student knows, networks are an essential construct of society. Lindenberg et al. identify social systems as including the individual actor in a particular kind of social position in that social system. “A social relationship is any direct or indirect linkage between incumbents of different social positions that involves mutual, but not necessarily symmetric, orientations of a positive, neutral, or negative affectual character and/or may involve the exchange of goods, services, commands, or information (see Homans 1950; Parsons 1951; Blau 1964; Marsden & Laumann 1977; Heinz & Laumann 1982; Knoke and Laumann 1983). The unit of structural analysis is, then, the specific relationship obtaining between any pair of actors, as defined earlier. The absence of the specified relationship between a pair is as theoretically important as its presence (cf Lorrain & White 1971; White, Boorman, & Breiger 1976).” (Lindenberg et al., 1986) This description of social systems is appropriately applicable to the situation of a doctoral sociology student.
The doctoral student is a social climber and generally an imitator. The first way a grad student might seek to gain acceptance to his new social system would be to collaborate with a faculty member on some research. Silver and Shulman believe that “on of the most helpful acts a faculty member can do is to share a past successful application so that a student can model their own work to a proven modus operandi” (Silver & Shulman, pg. 13, 2008). The grad student needs to be aware, however, that the helpful element of this faculty’s disclosure is the modus operandi and not the subject matter of the research. Many times, students fall into the trap of choosing research topics based on how symmetrically they align with the adviser’s. The student needs to be particularly aware of what is beneficial in this case.
Homans offers more thought on the idea of the “social climber.” (Using his work, I will insert “student” specifically in place of “person” to fit the subject matter of this essay.) “The more a student’s activities and sentiments resemble those of others, the more likely it is that interaction between him and these others will increase. The process as usual works both ways. Whatever may be the explanation of this relationship – and it may not be necessary to assume a general tendency to imitate – the relationship exists.” (Homans, 1992) This could not be more appropriate a description of the student/faculty scenario. “The social climber knows all about [the relationship] and, consciously or unconsciously, uses it for all it is worth. He wishes intimate and frequent interaction with members of a certain social class. When he has that, he will by definition be a member himself.” (Homans, 1992) The important distinction to make from this is the difference between defining one’s research interests versus defining one’s self as a member of academia. As Silver and Shulman point out, it is virtuous for the grad student to be uncertain of his interests, so long as he is entrepreneurial in working to eventually define those interests (Silver & Shulman, 2008). First, the grad student needs to define his identity within the social system of academia.
Accumulating Power (social exchange theory)
Once the system of a social network has formed, the student performing as an individual within academia, more intimate relationships begin to develop. Silver and Shulman describe how apparently known the reputations of professors are (pg 37) and that there are “stars” within sociology departments. However, this should not intimidate the student. Peter Blau, considered one of the “stars” of sociology, discusses social attraction and reciprocal benefit in “Exchange and Power in Social Life” (Calhoun, 2007). Blau’s work, (I will insert “student” specifically in place of “person” and replace other general pronouns to fit the subject matter of this essay) abridged and reconstructed: “A grad student is attracted to a faculty member if he expects associating with the faculty member to be in some way rewarding to himself… A student who is attracted to a faculty member is interested in proving himself attractive to that faculty member, for his ability to associate with the faculty member and reap the benefits expected from the association is contingent on the faculty finding him an attractive associate and thus wanting to interact with him.” (Calhoun, 2007) This type of social exchange can also occur between the grad student and his peers.
However, the situation of the grad student and his peers is slightly different, as Blau points out. “There are fundamental differences between the dynamics of power in a collective situation and the power of one individual over another.” (Calhoun, pg. 101) For the student, Blau would say that his weakness as isolated subordinate limits the significance of his approval or disapproval of the superior faculty adviser. The strength, then, propagates out of the collective. “Collective approval of power legitimates that power.” (Calhoun, pg. 101) Additionally, “formalized procedures are instituted that make the organization independent of any individual member and permit it to persist beyond the life span or period of tenure of its members.” (Calhoun, pg. 103) The importance of Blau’s theory to the grad student is two-fold.
First, there is a mutual dependence underlying the social structure of the student/adviser relationship. “People depend on one another for much of what they value and need in social life, and they provide these benefits to each other through the process of social exchange.” (Molm, 1997) During a discourse in a graduate seminar at Michigan State University in 2010, students discussed the social fact that professors’ reputations are built on the products of their students which may cause the professor to be quite stingy when offering students a recommendation. In that manner, a sports team coach is often judged by the output of his players. Perhaps an even more appropriate analogy is the “coaching tree” which is the cumulative product of assistant coaches, who built their resume under one head coach, and then proceed to accumulate success after leaving the tutelage of the “mentor” coach adviser. As ESPN’s Dana O’Neil points out, “coaching trees stretch back across the generations, with Henry Iba and Jud Heathcote, guys who haven’t prowled the sidelines in decades, still impacting this season’s top 25 (Bill Self is an Iba disciple by way of Eddie Sutton; Tom Izzo a direct descendant of Heathcote).” (O’Neil, 2010) In other words, to put this phrase in terms of academia, the students whom advisers vouch for will determine that professor’s legacy. In the case of NCAA basketball coaches, fans hardly recall Heathcote’s win/loss record percentage but the fans do place a high level of prestige upon Jud seeing how Tom Izzo was his understudy. It continues; Izzo has developed his own coaching tree legacy. Had Heathcote chosen another less impressive assistant many years ago, his legacy would not be as praised as it is today.
Second, there is a mutual dependence underlying the social structure of the student/peer relationship. “Not only does mutual dependence bring people together, however; it also provides the structural basis of power: one actor’s dependence is the source of another’s power. To the extent that dependence is mutual, actors in social relations have power over each other. And, to the extent that their dependencies are unequal, their relation will also be unequal, in terms of the benefits that each contributes and receives. More powerful, less dependent actors will enjoy greater benefits at lower cost.” (Molm, 1997) The most relevant portion of that statement is the final comment.
When a student is highly dependent on the institution, the faculty, or his fellow peers, the student will reap much lower benefits at a much higher cost. This is the most crucial decision the student must make and is a difficult decision because the quantitative benefit is not as apparent to the student. Restated, the student will achieve higher benefits without being dependent on the institution, faculty, or his fellow peers. This means that the student must not rely on receiving what might be reciprocal benefits between himself and the institution during the initial stages of decision. It is the reliance that is the trap. Accepting the benefits of institution, peers, and faculty will help the grad student during his time at school and beyond. However, reliance on a dissolving relationship will prove detrimental.
Building a Solid Foundation (method)
The most important aspects of preparing for the next step in the process derive from awareness. Silver and Shulman recommend not going into a situation blind and not “leaping before you look.” (Silver & Shulman) Their optimism shines through in comments indicating anger and frustration will not launch the grad student any further and will become self-defeating if the student takes rejections to heart. (pg. 20) It is to the student’s greatest benefit to be aware of opportunities and himself.
Here is an outline of important awareness steps to take to promote success in a graduate school program. Notice that these steps are not necessarily chronological nor are they quite specific. An all encompassing perspective open to change and adaptability is the most profitable route through academia.
- Understand why other students are in graduate school. Most of them will be taking the same track of courses and writing similar articles, derived from predetermined topics. Each will follow the same path of those that came before them and those who will come after. Consider whether or not it is more advantageous to follow the standard route or to forge a new and unique way to success.
- Know your own strengths. If you are better at qualitative methods, such as ethnography, do not pretend to be an expert at statistics. This should also influence the classes you take. You may want to enroll in a course in advanced statistics to acquire new knowledge but you should not register for a class that is over your head. That is only setting yourself up for failure.
- Remember your long term goals. You did not apply to grad school just to accomplish the successful passage of a single semester. Although it is necessary to conquer small academic battles, keep your eyes on the ultimate prize: a rewarding long term career in your chosen realm.
- Discover new possible options for a career track. This will grow out of your overall general objectives. If you are a social person, look at ways that will bring you in contact with more people. That may include teaching, public speaking, think tank collaboration, consulting, or even management.
- Define your ideal future and include possible acceptable alternatives. This will help you make decisions at certain points in your career. If you envision these decisions prior to their occurrences, you will be prepared to make the right choice once it presents itself.
My Ideal Future (practicum)
If the theories described above are practical, then I should be able to plan for my future now and refer back to the plan at a later date to analyze the effectiveness of the process and ideas. I will use the 5 point outline above to describe how I envision my future.
- Most of the students at Michigan State University’s doctoral sociology program are traditional students. Many of them have a strong sociological background. I, on the other hand, do not.
- My strength is that I am different than the typical student. I am seeking to teach at a community college, a university extension e.g. U of M Flint or CMU Flint, and prefer teaching undergrads. This is different from the majority of my peers.
- My long term goal is to be a successful educator. It is not to publish. If these to things align, so be it. If they do not, I will remember that I came to grad school to become educated and subsequently educate others.
- I have really been focusing on new media. I put all of my completed assignments online for others to view. I’m trying to make myself marketable in the future as opposed to what was marketable in 1950 or 1980. New opportunities to connect with peers and students through blogging, for example, are what I am preparing myself for. Also, the diversity of holding multiple professions at once. In other words, running a blog and teaching undergrads and operating a non-profit simultaneously.
- In the future, I hope to be teaching students using whatever venue is appropriate. That could be writing books, blogging, lecturing over skype, or performing a traditional classroom seminar.
It would be my preference if my future holds all of the aforementioned opportunities. I need to ensure that I am diverse and capable of performing well at each.