Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blog CLXVIII (168): Job Hunting Tips: The Application

What "dos" and "don'ts" would you pass on to a new scholar going out on the job market.  That is a question I asked a number of friends and colleagues.  The response was overwhelming.  Dozens and dozens of people replied.  These comments come from scholars working at community colleges (Lorain County Community College), small liberal arts colleges (Concordia University Wisconsin), regional state schools (Humboldt State University and Texas A&M University—Commerce), and research universities both public (Ohio State and North Carolina) and private (Brigham Young and Vanderbilt).  They are mostly historians working in academic departments, but some teach in professional programs (U.S. Naval War College and the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University).  Click here to see Part 1 entitled "Before Hand." Here is part 2 entitled: "The Application":
  • Follow the rules—Jason Parker, Department of History, Texas A&M University
  • Pay attention to application directions. If the committee asks for letters to be submitted electronically by writers, don't collect and send the letters via postal mail. Committees often are restricted by institutional software on what they can and cannot add to an application.—Craig Friend, Department of History, North Carolina State University
  • If you want to stand out or make a positive impression, get the application (all of it) in early; the committee will notice and have a bit more time to look at your letters and resume, before they are flooded with applications in the last two or three days before the deadline.—Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, Department of Strategy and Policy, U.S. Naval War College
  • Limit your cover letter to 1 page. Search committees put a premium on succinctness.—T. Michael Parrish, Department of History, Baylor University
  • Limit your resume to 2 pages. Same reason.—T. Michael Parrish, Department of History, Baylor University
  • Proofread. A cover letter filled with careless errors will not impress a committee.—Stanley J. Adamiak, Department of History and Geography, University of Central Oklahoma
  • Fashion your letter and resume to fit the specific job, but don't distort your strengths and credentials.—T. Michael Parrish, Department of History, Baylor University
  • DO tailor your job letter to the needs of the university. Don’t stress your research to a teaching school, or your teaching to a research school.—Mitch Lerner, Department of History, The Ohio State University
  • DO craft a letter tailored to each position. Although much of your cover letter will be fine for every position, make sure that at least a paragraph explains how well you fit the advertised position/complement other specializations in the department/long to live in that part of the country. Make the committee believe that you actually want that particular job.—Judy Ford, Department of History, Texas A&M University—Commerce
  • DO send sample syllabi in the teaching areas of the specific job, not just syllabi of surveys.—William Ashbaugh, Department of History, State University of New York—Oneonta
  • Check with letter writers a couple weeks before the application deadline to make sure that they wrote and sent letters.—Craig Friend, Department of History, North Carolina State University
  • After submitting your application materials, do follow up with the head of the search committee or HR to make sure that your package is complete.—Hillary Gleason, Laredo Community College
  • DON'T bug the committee about the status of your application. A lot of the schedule is beyond the control of the search committee members—really! If you haven't heard anything after submitting an application, it may be that the institution's HR department issues all the rejection letters, at their own pace, without reference to the wishes of the committee. The committee may not be allowed to inform you that your application was rejected. If you are interviewed by phone or in person and weeks go by without hearing anything, it may mean that there is nothing the committee can say. Maybe another candidate has gotten the offer, and is dragging out negotiations which, if they fall through, means that you will get the offer next. Don't worry about being a second or third choice—if you get an offer chances are that someone on the committee thinks that you were the top candidate. It is not uncommon for committees to like several candidates very much, nearly equally.—Judy Ford, Department of History, Texas A&M University—Commerce

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Blog CLXVII (167): Job Hunting Tips: Before Hand

What "dos" and "don'ts" would you pass on to a new scholar going out on the job market.  That is a question I asked a number of friends and colleagues.  The response was overwhelming.  Dozens and dozens of people replied.  These comments come from scholars working at community colleges (Lorain County Community College), small liberal arts colleges (Concordia University Wisconsin), regional state schools (Humboldt State University and Texas A&M University—Commerce), and research universities both public (Ohio State and North Carolina) and private (Brigham Young and Vanderbilt).  They are mostly historians working in academic departments, but some teach in professional programs (U.S. Naval War College and the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University).  Here is part 1 entitled: "Before Hand":
  • Take the long view—Jason Parker, Department of History, Texas A&M University 
  • Do apply at a wide range of institutions. If you only apply at Harvard you will probably be unemployed.—Hillary Gleason, Laredo Community College 
  • Build your network—Jason Parker, Department of History, Texas A&M University 
  • DON'T apply for jobs for which you don't meet the minimum qualifications. If an ad specifies that the successful candidate must have a major focus on the Mongols and your dissertation is on Communist China, don't apply.—Judy Ford, Department of History, Texas A&M University—Commerce
  • REMEMBER you might get interviews before you finish your dissertation, but a degree in hand makes getting more than one interview much more likely, as one of the first cuts search committees make is PhD in hand versus ABD.—William Ashbaugh, Department of History, State University of New York—Oneonta 
  • Our senior colleague, Jim Olson, once told me, "When we look for a new hire, it really comes down to three questions: Will this candidate attract or repel history students? Will he/she be a productive scholar? And, most important, will this candidate be a good citizen on the floor?" That always seemed a good way to winnow out the first batch of applicants.—Ty Cashion, Department of History, Sam Houston State University

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Blog CLXVI (166): The Historian and Technology

How important is technology in our professional lives? That is one of several questions that my course here at the Naval War College considers, but I have been applying that question from the realm of military and diplomatic history to the contemporary practices of historians. And my answer--not that much.

We essential do the same thing we did a century ago. We collect primary documents, preferably those that were written at the time by the historical actors we are studying, and we put them together in a narrative that becomes a book. The questions we ask about the past these days are the function of social, cultural, political, and intellectual changes in society. Technology has not driven too many of the big systemic changes between 1914 and 2014. To give but one example, African American history is a legitimate issue for investigation these days, whereas few historians of a hundred years ago would have spent much time on this topic. (Case in point, The Journal of Negro History which is now The Journal of African American had not even been founded in 1914).

Don't get me wrong technology has helped and helped in some big ways. Word processing programs make it much easier to write; easier even then would have been the case in the 1970s when scholars would have been using typewriters or hiring people to type their handwritten manuscripts. E-mail has facilitated communication between scholars--think about what it would take to put together a conference panel in the mid-1980s given the communication technologies of the day, and remember long distance phone calls were expensive back then. The photocopier was a huge boon to scholars. Before then research trips required careful note taking and that is a slow process. The photocopier and then later the scanner and digital camera have made it easier for us to copy more information accurately. The internet has helped a lot too. In the 20 years that it has been around (as far as the general public is concerned) a lot of content has been pumped into it. You can now do library catalog searches from the other side of the country and you do not have to methodically go through the card catalog system in the first floor of a library, but can use search terms and find stuff fast. There are now many databases where you can do similar searches and pull up journal articles, or primary sources. I have been using the ProQuest Historical Newspaper Database like crazy for a current project and it has complete runs of newspapers like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times for the World War II years that I am investigating. Many archives are putting electronic scans of important collections on their websites, making it possible to do primary research in your office or home.

As important and useful as those tools are to writing and researching, they are just means to an end. We still communicate via the written word primarily in journal articles and books.  Although the publishing industry is having a difficult time in this economy, it is not going away anytime soon.

All of that might seem fairly straight forward, but last month, Emily Van Buren, a Ph.D. student in history at Northwestern University, posted a blog entry on the Gradhacker blog at Inside Higher Ed with an extremely clear title: "Should You Blog Your Dissertation Research?"  She is apparently considering doing so.

My answer: Hell, no!

There are a lot of reasons for my answer, but to be concise: you do not want to give away your findings and research in a venue that will give you little credit.  Putting all your interesting findings in a blog, will rob the dissertation (and the book that should flow from it later) of its importance and original contribution.  If all findings are available on-line, why should a publisher spend money putting into print?  In addition, the internet is a mighty perishable media format.  I have tried getting copies of articles from various media outlets in which I was mentioned (I still have the exact address) with no luck--they are gone.  Books and dissertations might be old school, but they will endure. 

Then again, I might be wrong--a bit.

The Winter 2013-2014 issue of Columbia Magazine has a cover story on Matthew Connelly, professor of history at Columbia University. Connelly believes that a major new tool awaiting historians in the future lies in using computers to analyze and assess massive numbers of documents. Connelly has put together a team of computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians working on a multimedia research project called the Declassification Engine to tackle the failure of the U.S. government to declassify documents in a timely manner.  To be more specific, this team is using data mining to infer what the government is not declassifying and in the process they are picking up statistical indicators of events and episodes that historians have missed up until now.

In a big way, this use of data mining could change history--but the ultimate product of this effort will probably still be books.  We might be entering a brave new world, but it looks a lot like the last one.  Technology is a means to an end and the objective has not really changed.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blog CLXV (165): The Fall of the Roman Empire

The National Football League just announced that Super Bowl 50 will be Super Bowl 50 and not Super Bowl L.  The league began using Roman numerals to mark their championship game starting with the second one in 1967.  (There was no Super Bowl I; it was the 1966 NFL-AFL Championship Game. At the time there were two professional leagues playing American football and what became the Super Bowl pitted the champs of each league against one another.  The American Football League merged into the NFL in 1970 with the Super Bowl remaining as the championship game of this super-sized league).

It would seem that the NFL has learned the same lesson I learned; it is fun to call things Blog III or Super Bowl VI.  Everyone knows the lower numbers and the Roman numbers add a bit of flash to your undertaking, but when you starting getting into really big numbers like 160 or CLX Roman numbers become a real liability.  I figured I was in for a penny, in for a pound and kept the Roman system, but I put the more familiar Arabic numbers in parenthesis.  It will be interesting to see if the NFL stays with Arabic or goes back to Roman.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Blog CLXIV (164): History in Congress

A few days ago the National Coalition for History, which is a lobbyist organization in Washington, D.C. funded by a number of scholarly organizations, announced that its efforts to create a Congressional History Caucus had finally resulted in the creation of that organization. Two Republicans and two Democrats in the House of Representatives agreed to serve as the leadership of this organization. The purpose of the new caucus is to celebrate the past of the United States and use historical knowledge to make better legislation. The four congressmen state that a passion for history should cross partisan and ideological divides.

Sounds really good, right.?

Yes, of course, it does, but I am not sure it really matters.

A caucus is a group of members in the United States Congress that share common interests of one sort or another. Sometimes they are divided along partisan lines, sometimes they are bipartisan. Some are limited to members of only one branch of the Congress, some include members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Congressional History Caucus is currently limited to members of the House of Representatives. There is talk of creating another one in the Senate.

I do not have a problem with this new caucus. I am just not sure it will matter. There are currently 312 caucuses that members of the House can join. Some of them are serious and powerful. For examples, see the Congressional Black Caucus or the Republican Study Committee. Others make you wonder. These are the likes of Congressional Friends of Scotland Caucus or the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus. Some seem like social organizations. The Congressional Baseball Caucus and the Congressional Boating Caucus come immediately to mind. Oddball organizations are not particularly new. In 1949 House Republicans formed the Chowder and Marching Society, which was part political and part social. The two most famous members were Richard Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. Here is the current list of caucuses in the House.

Now historians have their own caucus. Do not be surprised if it has little direct or indirect impact on your career.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Blog CLXIII (163): Is Blogging Scholarship?

Is blogging scholarship? That was the topic of a session at the recent annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. The session had a number of historians that have gotten involved in blogging activities and who have-and this point is important-established traditional records of scholarship to their name.

My response to this question: Are you serious? No! Not in anyway.

The session was impressive. The chair of the session was Jeffrey Pasley of the University of Missouri who contributed to the team blog The Common Place.  The participants run some of the more important blogs out there like Ann Little of Colorado State and the blog Historiann, John Fea of Messiah College and The Way of Improvement Leads Home, Mike O'Malley of George Mason University who has a blog called The Aporetic, Ben Alpers of the University of Oklahoma who is part of the team that writes for the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, and Kenneth Owen of the University of Illinois at Springfield and writes for The Junto blog. These blogs have large audience-on blog terms-and each is very different from the other.

Little said "no." Her reason: "Blogging is not scholarship because at least in the case of single-authored blogs, it is not peer reviewed." All the others said some version of "yes." They were wrong.

Every point Little made has merit. She noted that a newly-minted Ph.D. needs to worry about getting published in traditional venues and that blogging takes time away from that effort. She is right. Blogging is not peer-reviewed and does not count for tenure or promotion. She is right. Blogging can "advance and promote" scholarship, but it is not scholarship in and of itself. She is right. John Fea admitted that everything she said was correct: "This is the way things are."

I would have made other points. Very few historians blog and there is a reason for that. We have many outlets for getting our views out there: books, journals, anthologies, classrooms, conferences, and journalism as either a source or a guest contributor. There is not a lot of value added in this medium. Blogging is a mighty perishable medium. Traditional research and publications endure for decades. For some fields of scholarship that move slowly-like history-that is an important consideration. (Some historiographies move rapidly others see one major work every two or three decades). Will the article published in a journal be available in a library in 25 years when some grad students who is 5-years old at the moment wants to read and then cite the work. Will that be the case with a blog? No idea, but my guess is not. I want endurance, which is why I try to avoid citing websites. They change often quite frequently and I want people to look at my source material as well as my findings.

Nor are there any quality filters. Peer-review is a gate keeping mechanism to ensure quality. There are other mechanisms in place in different mediums to ensure quality. The professional reputation of journalists, editors, and literary agents keeps them from pushing forward bad ideas. With any blog, anyone with an internet connected can post anything no matter how dubious.

Media formats have changed fairly quickly over the past three or four decades. There is nothing to say that will not happen again in the next decade or two. In fact, the electronic communication media seems to be moving away from blogging. Just type "Is Blogging Dead" into Google and see the results.

The other participants said, there was value in blogging. I would not dispute that, nor did Little. Fea said many colleges are taking a broader view of scholarship, using the ideas of scholarship that Ernest Boyer advocated. I doubt that. More importantly, his position did not rebut Little's argument. O'Malley said scholarly communication is constrained to a few mediums and there are other ways to do this and the blog is one way. Maybe, but only maybe. Alpers and Owen were more enthusiastic, but not convincing. Owen noted he is trying to use his blogging for tenure purposes and that his university is using the Boyer model.

Like Little, I have invested a good deal of time and energy into blogging. I have done so with a realistic understanding of its limits. Some people believe it helps authors connect with other writers and with their audiences. Maybe, but I think that is more the exception rather than the rule. If blogging really works well, it can help build a reputation just like an article in The New Republic, but an article in The Atlantic or The Huffington Post or an op-ed is not scholarship. Bolstering your reputation is never a bad thing.

To see the entire session, go to Youtube. The question and answer session is quite interesting.

You can also read the contributions of each participant:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Blog CLXII (162): Friends Don't Let Friends MOOC

The purpose of this blog is to discuss career management issues in history. It has already discussed the danger that on-line education poses to the new faculty member in Blog CXXXIX (139): On-line Education: More of the Same. Massive On-line Open Courses are another, similar threat, but one that might be fading now.

One of the main reasons Massive On-line Open Courses were popular was that they seemed to offer a way out of the problem of rising college tuition and student loan debt loads. The idea of MOOCs also combined with a traditional American view that technological change is always a good thing.  President Barack Obama stated that MOOCs were the "tide of innovation ...that drives down costs while preserving quality." New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman described MOOCs as a "revolution" and Stanford University President John Hennessy said on-line instruction was a "tsunami coming." Sebastian Thrun, who left Stanford to form Udacity, one of the first companies to implement MOOCs, claimed that in 50 years there would only be 10 universities left on the entire planet.

The hype surrounding MOOCs was not limited to the United States. David Willetts, the British cabinet officer in charge of education said MOOCs would keep Britain's place in the "global race of higher education."

There were some skeptics. Catharine Hill, President of Vassar College, noted: "I don't think we know yet about the quality implications or the cost implication." Karan Khemka of the Parthenon Group noted in the Financial Times, "MOOCs are unlikely to prove a silver bullet for students or universities."

The bloom seems to have come off the MOOC rose. Hennessy recently said MOOCs failed at Stanford on two very important counts: mass and openness. He told the Financial Times that such courses were too large and failed to either engage and motivate the majority of students. "Two words are wrong in MOOC: massive and open," he said. Most people taking online courses at his school were "not ready for the material at the same level" as Stanford students. San Jose State University bailed on the entire concept, noting that MOOCs had a high fail rate.

These problems are not unique to U.S. schools. Edge Hill University England offered a course on Vampires in English literature and of the 1000 students that enrolled, a total of 31 finished. That is a completion rate of 3 percent. And to add insult to injury, none opted to pay so they could receive credit for the course. Not a one.

Reservations about these type of courses is growing. The Babson Survey Research Group has charted the growth of online education over the past decade. In a survey conducted in 2013, asked chief academic officers at 2,831 colleges and universities about online education. The finding: massive open online courses are not sustainable for the schools offering them and "cause confusion about higher-education degrees."

Thrun is admitting defeat. He now works for Google and described Udacity's courses as "a lousy product." Ouch!

The best defense for MOOCs has come from Mike Cassidy, a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News: "And here's the thing: Like any technology-based disrupter, it's not so much that the new idea itself will make the world a better or worse place. It's how the new idea is deployed that makes the difference."

The best I can say in responses is maybe, but only maybe. The tide appears to have turned against MOOCs and if so, that is a good thing. That, though, maybe what I want to see. MOOCs are bad for history, bad for education, and bad for historians. They (and a lot of other on-line courses) are a way for institutions to limit the need for classroom instructors. As this essay comes to an end, I am going to repeat what I said in Blog CXXXIX: if you are every offered this type of employment, walk away.