Tag Archives: research

Relying on contingent labor affects research, too

Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. This is perhaps the most important refrain of the adjunct activism movement, and the one that is most likely to lead to change. If the primary goal of colleges and universities is to educate students, then the ways that labor conditions affect student outcomes should be of central importance.

In addition to teaching, another major facet of universities is affected by the increasing reliance on contingent labor: Research. In the humanities, the impact of precarity on research hinges mainly on the absence of time and support for research and writing, but in the sciences the impact on research is more direct. While most contingent positions on the humanities are teaching-focused, postdocs in the sciences are generally research-driven. Much like adjunct lecturer appointments in the humanities, short-term postdoctoral positions are on the rise in the sciences, and the effects on research output are becoming more and more visible.

As Brenda Iasevoli reports in NPREd, the increasing reliance on postdocs for lab research—and the decreasing support that those postdocs receive—is directly affecting the quality of research. In the article, Gary McDowell (who holds a PhD in biology) notes that there are a rising number of article retractions, a shift he attributes to researchers altering data in the face of the increasing pressure of the academic job market. The UK bioethics report he uses to support his claim also suggests that senior scientists may not have enough time to devote to training junior researchers in best practices. (Echoing this claim, a recent joint report from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine argues both for better pay and stronger mentorship of postdocs, according to this Boston Globe article.) If both research integrity and teaching outcomes are being compromised by poor labor conditions, then everyone with any stake in higher education should be working to solve the problem.

There is some movement on that front. National Adjunct Walkout Day marked an important moment in the effort to raise awareness about faculty labor conditions. One thing that makes activism around contingent labor issues so difficult is that there are so many valences of contingency, some of which are more problematic than others. A postdoc can be a career turning point—my 18-month stint at SCI and the Scholars’ Lab was transformative. But the experience wasn’t positive by accident; it required careful structuring, mentorship, and opportunities for me to have ownership of certain projects. All of that takes time and energy on the part of staff and faculty. Similarly, well-structured graduate teaching positions are invaluable opportunities to learn effective pedagogical approaches *before* deciding whether one wants to seek a faculty career. There are elements of short-term, contractual positions that are essential opportunities for growth. The problem (well, one problem) is that these good examples are becoming eclipsed by exploitative short-term or part-time positions, and are sometimes lumped in with them in unhelpful ways.

It’s not easy to untangle these threads. CUNY has reduced the teaching load of most doctoral students to one course per semester, which is wonderful. But CUNY also relies heavily on adjuncts who earn an average of $3,275 (as reported by CUNY Adjunct Project based on data from Professional Staff Congress, the union for CUNY faculty and staff). I don’t know what the numbers look like for postdocs and grant-funded researchers, but I hope to learn more as part of our research efforts at the Futures Initiative. For advocacy efforts to be most effective, we need to have a much better understanding of the full picture of contingent labor across academic structures to that we can target our efforts toward the most problematic elements while strengthening the positions that provide genuine professional development. Both teaching and research stand to benefit from the effort.

Now available: Report and data from SCI’s survey on career prep and graduate education

[Cross-posted at the Scholars’ Lab website]

I am delighted to announce the release of a report, executive summary, data, and slides from the Scholarly Communication Institute’s recent study investigating perceptions of career preparation provided by humanities graduate programs. The study focused on people with advanced degrees in the humanities who have pursued alternative academic careers. Everything is CC-BY, so please read, remix, and share. I’d especially welcome additional analysis on the datasets.

All of the materials are openly accessible through the University of Virginia’s institutional repository:

(Note that the files available for download are listed in the top left-hand corner of each Libra listing.)

Having worked on this for over a year, I’m more convinced than ever about the importance of incorporating public engagement and collaboration into humanities doctoral education—not only to help equip emerging scholars for a variety of career outcomes, but also to maintain a healthy, vibrant, and rigorous field. It has been fascinating to connect with scholars working in such a diverse range of stimulating careers, and to see some of the patterns in their experiences.

Many, many thanks to everyone who has contributed time and energy to this project—from completing the survey, to reading (or listening to) the preliminary reports, to providing feedback and critique.

Humanities Unbound: Careers & Scholarship Beyond the Tenure Track

[Cross-posted at the Scholars’ Lab site.]

I’ve had the privilege of talking about graduate education reform and career preparation for humanities scholars at several universities this spring, including Stanford, NYU, and the University of Delaware. I’ve adapted the following from those presentations. The full dataset from the study that I discuss will be available later this summer, along with a more formal report. A PDF of this post is available here.

Already familiar with the background of this project? Jump straight to the survey results.

HumanitiesUnbound_APR13.001 Image source

Graduate students in the humanities thinking about their future careers face a fundamental incongruity: though humanities scholars thrive in a wide range of positions, many graduate programs operate as though every PhD student will become a tenured professor. While the disconnect between the number of tenure-track jobs available and the single-minded focus with which graduate programs prepare students for that specific career is not at all new, the problem is becoming ever more urgent due to the increasing casualization of academic labor, as well as the high levels of debt that many students bear once they complete their degrees.

Continue Reading Humanities Unbound: Careers & Scholarship Beyond the Tenure Track

Works in progress: Survey results, Praxis Network

[Cross-posted at the Scholars’ Lab blog]

This spring marks a new phase for my work with SCI. Data collection for the survey on career paths is complete, and analysis is underway, meaning that the next step will be much more focused on sharing outcomes. In some ways, this is a less comfortable step in the process for me (nerves! public speaking!), but also an exciting and satisfying one.

I’m honored to be giving several invited talks over the next few months:

All talks are open to the public, so please come if you’re in the area! I’d love to see friendly faces, and I’m very much hoping for dynamic discussion at each event.
Continue Reading Works in progress: Survey results, Praxis Network

Rebooting Graduate Training: An MLA Roundtable

Cross-posted on the Scholars’ Lab blog.

I gave the following talk at the 2013 MLA Convention in Boston as part of an excellent roundtable organized by Paul Fyfe, who has also collected a number of resources in a Zotero library. The wide-ranging presentations sparked many thoughtful questions that I hope will lead to continued discussion about the ways that graduate training could be modified for the good of students, the discipline, and the public. Some of the slides are taken from my earlier presentation on SCI’s survey on career paths for humanities PhDs (a full report of which will be available later this year).

Rebooting Grad Ed_COPY.001

Continue Reading Rebooting Graduate Training: An MLA Roundtable

Now at ProfHacker: “Turning Up the Volume on Graduate Education Reform”

The last couple of weeks have seen a great deal of news and conversation about graduate education reform. I have a lot to say about it (unsurprisingly!); you can find my take on it over at ProfHacker. The piece includes some discussion of SCI’s latest work, the Praxis Program, and the budding Praxis Network, so I hope you’ll take a look!

I’m also happy to note that I’ll be talking more about all of this at the upcoming MLA Convention in Boston—if you’re interested the topic, consider attending this roundtable on Rebooting Graduate Training. There will be ample time for discussion at the session, so come ready with questions and ideas.

Outside the Pipeline: From Anecdote to Data

I gave the following presentation at SCI’s recent meeting on rethinking graduate education. It was the first time I’ve publicly discussed results from the study on career preparation in humanities graduate programs that I’ve mentioned previously in this space. I was honored to discuss the topic with our extremely knowledgeable group of participants, and the thoughtful questions and comments that the talk generated will inform my thinking as I work toward a more formal report and analysis. I would welcome additional comments and questions.

A PDF of the presentation is also available, and has been cross-posted to SCI’s website and the Scholars’ Lab site.

Continue Reading Outside the Pipeline: From Anecdote to Data

MLA Convention conundrum

This year’s MLA Convention program is up, and I’m already excited about connecting with people and hearing about their latest work. I’m also feeling a little uneasy about my own presentation, though. Or rather, I wish I could belatedly add a second presentation that is rooted in my current work at SCI.

Proposals for MLA presentations are due early in the year; I submitted mine mid-March, and I think most deadlines fell around the same time. It’s an entirely reasonable time frame given the size and complexity of the convention, but it also means there’s a significant lag between submission and presentation. At that time, I was still at Sloan, though I knew (unofficially) that I’d be starting at SCI soon after. I knew that my work this year would have me digging deeply into the landscape of alternative academic careers, but I didn’t know enough of the specifics it would entail to write a proposal on it, and the study that has been my primary focus didn’t exist yet. So, because I knew I wanted to go to the MLA (and because I wanted to give myself some research and writing homework), I proposed a paper that was grounded in my academic background — one I had been wanting to write, and that I’ll be happy to present and get some feedback on.

Continue Reading MLA Convention conundrum

Data visualizations: Learning d3.js

[Cross-posted at scholarslab.org]

The SCI study on humanities graduate programs and career preparation is humming along, and while survey responses come in, I’ve been working on determining how best to translate the data into meaningful graphics. After a lot of experimenting, I think the winner is d3.js. Short for for Data-Driven Documents, D3 is Michael Bostock’s creation; a quick glance at his gallery shows the kinds of beautiful and complex visualizations it’s capable of. It’s a low-level tool, though, which means that learning to use it even in a rudimentary way has already involved picking up some html, css, and javascript along the way. It’s a lot to chew on, but I think I’m starting to turn a corner as a blurry whirl of concepts, terms, and commands are slowly resolving themselves into some clarity.

While I don’t have anything that cool that to show yet, I’m excited that I do have a little something. Here’s the fruit of everything I’ve learned so far:

Continue Reading Data visualizations: Learning d3.js

Announcing a new SCI study on alternative academic career paths

[cross-posted at scholarslab.org]

I’m pleased to announce that the Scholarly Communication Institute is conducting a study on career preparation in humanities graduate programs. As part of this study, we have launched two confidential surveys: the first is for people on alternative academic career paths (that is, people with graduate training in the humanities and allied fields working beyond the professoriate); the second survey is for their employers.  The surveys will be open until October 1, 2012.

Humanities scholars come from a wide array of backgrounds and embark on a variety of careers in areas like libraries, museums, archives, higher education and humanities administration, publishing, research and technology, and more. SCI anticipates that data collected during the study will contribute to a deeper understanding of the diversity of career paths we pursue after our graduate studies, while also highlighting opportunities to better prepare students for a range of careers beyond the tenure track.

The surveys complement the public database that we recently created as a way to clarify the breadth of the field, and to foster community among a diverse group. If your work represents the diversity of the broad #alt-ac community, it’s not too late to tell us about yourself!

The surveys and directory are being administered as part of the Scholarly Communication Institute’s current phase of work — which includes a close concentration on graduate education reform (largely in the North American context) and the preparation of future knowledge workers, educators, and cultural heritage and scholarly communications professionals.

The survey results will help us to make curriculum recommendations so that graduate programs may better serve future students, and anonymized or summarized data will be made available at #alt-academy at a later date. Please contact me if you’d like to know more.