Friday, November 03, 2006

Publication Progress & SLAC application advice

This week I sent a manuscript off to one of the best journals in my field. I should hear something fairly soon as this journal lets people know right away if their stuff doesn't warrant consideration. We'll see! I found a co-author who revamped sections of the lit review and discussion. I think it's an improvement.

I've got another manuscript I can submit once I tidy it up. My co-author is interested in working on this one too. One of my honors thesis students analzyed some data I had collected but hadn't done anything with yet. She floundered around for an idea of her own before asking me if I had any projects she could work on. Her thesis needs major revamping to be fit for submission. The lit review is way too long and goes off on tangents that aren't immediately relevant. She didn't incorporate any of my previous work so that needs to be brought in. These are both bones of contention that I had with her thesis.

This is the first time that I've had a thesis student base her work on mine. I thought it would be smooth but was actually a major time suck. Every weekly meeting went on for at least an hour; other students took half that time. I found myself giving her the conceptual framework for her thesis, the hypotheses, suggestions for data analysis, and even data interpretation. These are things I expect thesis students, especially honors students, to handle fairly well on their own - with the refinement coming from me. Her oral defense went all right and she managed to eke out passing with honors because I argued her case. I went to bat for this student. If I hadn't, she most certainly would not have received honors. Her thesis is a mess mostly do to clunky writing. The premise is solid though, and the data backs up the theory surprisingly well. Everything but the methods and results sections needs to be scrapped.

I think she deserves to be third author on this paper. She analyzed the data and I will use major portions of her methods and results sections. She also entered all of the data which includes responses from a population that was not analyzed for her thesis. Potentially two papers could come out of that data, which would be very exciting.

This would all be very helpful in my applications for positions at small liberal arts colleges (SLACs). They invariably want you to show that you can involve students in your research program. I have a very good record of this stretching back to grad school. I think I've worked with a dozen students over the years and have had three of them present our research at national conferences. To publish with one before being in a tenure-track position would be quite a coup as that usually doesn't happen until you've been in that position for a while. Then again, people don't usually get to hold positions at stellar SLACs without having a PhD, but I did it twice!

If I could offer advice for anyone wishing to go the SLAC vs Big Research University(BRU) route, I would suggest:

1) have an undergrad degree from a SLAC (it implies you know why they're special and will come in supporting the different nature of SLACs). If you don't have that, you can still get a favorable look from SLACs if you:

2) have experience teaching your own course, preferably courses. You need to have strong student evaluations from these courses as well.

3) show you can involve students in your research by having undergraduates work with you as research assistants, independent study students, etc while you are in graduate school. If you can co-author a paper or conference presentation with them, that is very, very helpful.

These are the three things that I think helped me get the positions I had, but it also seems that at least among the top-tier SLACs now, the direction they're going seems to be in the direction of wanting the BRU research capability at a small college with superb teachers. I don't know how they're going to pull that off -- it is true that research takes time away from teaching and vice versa, but if you want to be competitive for positions at top-tier SLACs, you need to have all of the above plus have a PhD from a big name BRU, a number of publications in reputable journals, and a well-developed program that will produce publishable results with undergraduates as assistants until you earn tenure.

Given that that's the route SLACs are going, #1 is far, far less important than 2 & 3. If you've got #1, you'll probably fit the culture of the place better. I've seen a few colleagues say and do some really inappropriate things to students because they failed to appreciate what is expected of them in a SLAC environment. Never blow off a student you run into outside of 'school hours' by telling him or her that you're "off the clock." If you work at a SLAC, you are never really ever off the clock. Students choose SLACs because they want accessible faculty. They want to own you. So, if you don't mind signing your life away to the demands of 18-22 yr olds, and instead relish being hounded by students when you're not even at 'work' to answer their questions about a lecture you gave, an upcoming test, or some random academic or personal question - by all means, apply!


ScienceWoman said...

Congrats on submitting the manuscript. I hope you get good news back. And thanks for posting about applying to SLACs. I knew about #1 and #2, but there's not much you can do about #1 in retrospect. I hadn't thought too much about emphasizing working with students other than my thesis student-but I've had a number of research asssistants too. If I apply for any more SLAC jobs (or get an interview at one of the ones to which I've applied), I'll try to remember your advice. Finally, I can't imagine bumping into a student and telling them that you were off-the-clock. I might be annoyed, but I'd never be rude. People do that?

Holly said...

Yes, unbelievably, that person was that rude. Some people do not deserve to be teachers. She was, thankfully, in a one year visiting position and only got the job because the college was desperate after the person who was hired for her position reneged on the contract in the summer before the position started.