Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blog XIII (13): Marriage and Grad School

Careers of any type affect family life. If having a family of your own with kids is something you plan on doing, you should understand how being a scholar will affect those plans and how those plans will affect your academic career. The family versus career issue is normally perceived as a matter affecting females, but that is not the case. This matter is one that both men and women must consider, but in different ways.

For females, there is an inverse relationship to fertility and levels of education. Since women biologically have a limited window, the longer they put off having children the fewer they will have. Going to graduate school is a process that will most likely end only in your late twenties or early thirties. That leaves a small window of roughly ten years for having children. On the other hand, becoming a mother before finishing graduate school extends the amount of time the student will be a scholar and—statistically speaking—reduces the likelihood they will finish.

Family versus career is an issue for men as well. While males can have children at anytime during their adult life, you need to consider the corresponding need to find a mate of the appropriate age. Although it is socially acceptable for males to date females that are significantly younger than them, the actually doing of it is a little more difficult. Money, power, and fame always help in this area, but historians are not exactly rock stars or professional athletes.

Implicit in the previous paragraphs is the contention that having children and graduate school are mutually exclusive. Such is not the case. There are studies that suggest that it is easier to get tenure if you are single and without children. To some degree those findings make sense. When you have no other demands on your time, it is easier to invest your waking hours in your career. What those studies do not answer to my knowledge is the cause and effect relationship. Are you investing all that time in your career because you have no life or is the lack of social options the reason you are devoting all your time to your career. There is another factor to consider. There are many studies that show that married men tend to do better in the work place that unmarried men. There has been a good deal of debate on the cause and effect relationship with this phenomenon. Does success attract women who see those men that are best able to provide for them? Or does marriage allow for a division of labor, allowing the husband to focus more on work activity and maximize his career/earning potential while the wife takes care of paying bills, getting the car into the shop, buying groceries, and performing the other tasks that the household requires. From what I saw in graduate school, I am more inclined to believe it is the latter. Responsibility increases these trends. A grad student who is also a parent/spouse often has more of an incentive to focus and finish their studies in a quick and timely fashion than their single peers.

By far the biggest marriage issue involving grad school, though, is one that develops immediately after graduate school ends: the phenomenon of the two Ph.D. couple and the issue of spousal hires. Having a significant other in the same profession does have certain advantages: they understand the demands of your career, and can offer expert advice and assistance. The two Ph.D. couple, however, also involves a number of problems. The biggest issues are the demands of twin careers. Where will you work and live? These questions will not be much of a problem if you both have jobs at the same institution or, at least, in the same city. If you work at UCLA and your significant other is at USC, everything is fine—unless one or both of you are huge football fans, and even then that is a bone of contention only one day a year. The thing is that a two Ph.D. couple is far more likely to find that one person has a job offer from Northern Illinois University while the other gets a job offer from the University of South Florida. What do you do then?

A frequent answer is that the couple will commute. This decision is an expensive one, though. There is the obvious cost of traveling between Florida and Illinois, but a couple is also going to have two homes and at least one extra automobile. If children are involved, that means one spouse is going to have to do a lot of the parenting on their own. Finally, there is the question of how much time you are going to get to share with the other individual.

The academic world has basically failed in this area unlike many other professions. Many colleges and universities do have spousal hire programs. There are, however, a lot of limits to these efforts. First, only major research universities can afford to initiate such programs. Generally speaking, here is how they work: a department will decide to hire an individual and then will ask another to hire the job candidate’s significant other. The department that is doing the asking usually picks up most of the salary of that second person. Many departments can and rightly ask if the job candidate is worth the cost of two salaries. Might one of the other people interviewed for the position be a more cost effective selection. Another factor, given the decentralized nature of university governance, the other department might not want to hire the spouse. Why? Well, the spouse might be a weak candidate, specialize on a topic in which the department already has a specialist, or teaches a topic in which it does not want to offer classes.

If both spouses are in the same discipline that creates real problems for both couple and department. It will be easier to hire the spouse, but personal issues can be brought into the work place. The couple might become a power bloc in departmental voting, and both spouses might need a little time away from the other instead of having to both work and live together. Then, there is always the problem of what happens if the couple breaks up. That will create all sorts of difficulties for them and their colleagues.

A common solution is that one person becomes the principle breadwinner, while the other works on a part time basis as an adjunct. If having a family is more important to someone than a career, this is a good solution. It also allows that individual to have both a career and a family. This solution allows the part-timer to use the professional skills, education, and training they received in grad school. Adjunct work can often bring in significant “extra” income for a household, and issues like health insurance and other benefits might not be as important if the primary bread winner’s job provides for coverage of family members. With time, it will probably be possible to offer upper division or even graduate level courses, escaping the constant tough work of teaching introductory courses to freshmen. In most cases, the part-timer will have access to the university’s library, an e-mail account at the school, departmental stationary/mail services, and a work station/office of their own. These type of support services are exceptionally important and often add up to significant dollars if you had to pay for them on your own. The downside to this approach is that will always occupy something of a second tier status in the department and university. Few part-timers get funding from their home institutions for travel to a conference or research, and that can have all sorts of negative long-term ramifications.

Blog XII (12): Sex in Grad School

Now, that I have your attention, here is something to consider. Going to graduate school raises many, many issues about your social life. The most important thing to you might be having a career, and that is fine; having a family might be the most important thing, and that is good too; or you might want something in between, and that will work as well. I cannot give you any definitive advice on these matters. It all involves how you want to live your life and only you can make that decision, but going to grad school will affect your social life and your social life will affect your graduate school and professional careers. I will say this, though, having a social life in grad school is a good thing, but it will be more difficult to have than when you were an undergraduate.

The most common issue that comes up when people discuss social life ramifications is dating. The scenario that everyone thinks about is dating between teachers and students. The stereotype is of older male professors dating younger, female students. There are reasons for this stereotype. It is socially acceptable for men to date younger women than it is for women to date younger men, and there are far more male professors out there than female ones. Regardless of the image that comes to mind, this type of situation is unacceptable under any conditions be you the student, the teacher, your gender, or sexual orientation. As long as there is an imbalance in the power relationship, as long as one person has some degree of control over another person’s education and/or career, a romance is not only unwise, it involves some degree of coercion. If not to the people involved, then to others who can complain that they never got the same opportunities as the junior partner in the romantic relationship. Now, once the instructor no longer has any control over the student, anything is possible and no one else’s business. Professors or teaching assistants dating a student is unacceptable; a former student…well what is the big deal?

Another common source of possible romantic candidates are other grad students. This alternative makes a lot of sense. Other grad students are sharing the same experiences as you and graduate school is a small community, which means you will already know these people and have shared interests and friends. On the other hand, what if one of you is a significantly stronger and better student—a real issue if both of you are in the same discipline (history) rather than if you are into different ones (history and chemistry).

Dating other grad students can and often does lead to marriage. That development is a good thing, but there are some ways that your career can affect your marriage and vice-versa. Those issues, though, are the subject of next week’s blog.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blog XI (11): Get a Life

This entry represents something of a shift in the focus of the blog. Previous essays have focused on the early stages of the graduate school experience, now the blog is focusing more on surviving and thriving.

How do you survive grad school? Well, the simplest piece of advice I can give is don’t let it dominate your waking hours. In short, get a life.

Going to graduate school in history is far more time consuming than most people outside of the profession imagine. It is, after all, the beginning of your professional career and you paying your dues as an apprentice. If graduate school ends up dominating your life beyond all else, you are going to put yourself in an terribly stressful situation, which can and often does lead people to burn out or suffer some sort of emotional trauma. Basically, being a workaholic is bad.

There are two ways to avoid burnout. The first one is to have a life away from the department and library. This focus can take many forms: you are on a college campus—join a couple of student groups that have little to do with history, be it the campus ski club or student government. Other options include joining a church, exercising regularly, or doing volunteer work with local civic organizations. In short, have some type of social life and a set of friends away from the history department.

The other thing to do is to try and develop some type of office culture in your department. Know how in television and the movies people that work together often go out and get drinks after work? Well, those are television programs about lawyers, not historians. There is not much office culture among academics. Some departments have weekly shindigs, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. Try to make your department the exception. Graduate students that have a sense of community are far more likely to finish a program than those that do not. This situation can take many forms. When I was in grad school at the University of Kentucky both the faculty and senior grad students believed they had a certain responsibility to foster a good climate in the department. The result were department-wide (faculty, staff, grad students) picnics at the beginning and end of the year. These were in the backyards of people (faculty and staff) that had homes big enough. The senior grad students also hosted parties at there houses. These were basically grad student affairs, but I do remember faculty showing up for a few minutes at these functions. The department also had weekly softball games between faculty/grad student teams and these were the type of functions that people brought their family too as well. I know other departments get together on a regular basis at the end of every week for drinks. At the University of Southern Mississippi, it was basically a faculty only function. On the other hand, while I was visiting College Station, Texas, I visited a weekly drink fest in which the Texas A&M history department faculty were at one end of the bar and the grad students were at the other. At USC, a few grad students on occasion would get together for coffee after class and on special occasions (like the end of the semester) faculty would take us out for dinner and/or drinks. Every department I have ever been in has always had some type of Christmas party.

This type of departmental socializing often does not take place. Many people see their fellow grad students as rivals for departmental funding, or look down on other fields and want as little to do with them as possible. This attitude is common, and while there is some truth to other students being funding rivals, the assessment of faculty is going to be far more significant in shaping these decisions. More importantly, this attitude is counterproductive. Your grad school friends are going to be important professional assets in the years to come, not rivals. Faculty need to maintain some distance from their students, so do not expect to be going to bars with them. Your relationship with them is a professional one, but there is nothing to prohibit faculty and grad students from socializing under the right conditions. If this is not the type of department that you belong to, remember my first point and have a some type of life away from the department.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blog X (10): Getting a Japanese Ph.D.

The tenth entry in this blog is the last that explores the option of doing some or all of your post-graduate education in a foreign country. Robert D. Eldridge, an associate professor of international public policy at Osaka University, discusses his experiences being both a student and professor in Japan. The Director, U.S.-Japan Alliance Affairs Division, Center for International Security Studies and Policy, Eldridge writes in both English and Japanese. His first book was published in English as The Origins of the Bilateral Okinawa Problem: Okinawa in Postwar U.S.-Japan relations, 1945-1952 (2001) and in Japanese as Okinawa Mondai no kigen: Sengo Nichi-Bei Kankei ni Okeru Okinawa 1945-1952 (2003). The Japanese-language version of his first book, won the 15th Asia-Pacific Award, sponsored by the Asia Research Institute of the Mainichi Shimbun. His second book is available in Japanese as Amami Henkan to Nichibei Kankei (2003) and in English as The Return of the Amami Islands: The Reversion Movement and U.S.-Japan Relations (2004). In 2008, he published a book in Japanese Iōjima to Ogasawara o Meguru Nichibei Kankei (2008) and edited another one in English Japanese Public Opinion and the War on Terrorism (2008). Here is his guest blog:

If you asked me 20 years ago when I was finishing college if I thought I would be teaching and writing about Japanese political and diplomatic history, and U.S.-Japan relations, I probably would have called you baka, or “crazy” in Japanese, if I even knew the word then. Similarly, although I had always loved “history,” I don’t think I ever considered in my younger days that I would have made a career out of history.

I cringe with embarrassment as I write this, but as someone with an A-Type personality, I like to plan. No, I mean I really like to plan—everything. Yet, as this essay will show, my life and career turned out to be as unplanned as heavenly possible. What I discovered—in part when writing this essay—is that while it may be important to have a strategy, it is probably more important to make the right choices along the way. I can say with confidence that I am happy with the choices I have made, and thus I think they have been the right choices.

This essay explores the above twin and interrelated journeys to pursuing a successful career in history which happens to be in Japan in the hope that it may be reference for others. Specifically, I will talk about the challenges of studying and entering graduate school in Japan.

I have always been interested in history, and while attending Lynchburg College in Virginia, had been fortunate enough in my freshman year to have a freshman advisor who happened to belong to the History Department as well as to do a work-study there to help pay for tuition. I was also lucky when the new chair of the department, who happened to be a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, and doubled as the head of the newly created International Relations major, became my advisor. He broadened my interest in history to include “international history” and international affairs. I ended up doing my graduation honors paper on the evolution of common security and foreign policies within the European Community.

Toward the end of a studying abroad semester in Paris in my junior year in the spring and summer of 1989 (a great time to be in Europe), I realized that if I wanted to be relevant in the State Department, which I planned to join, I would need another area of expertise or experience outside of “just” Europe. I decided to go to Japan for one year upon graduation, on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. After that, I would return to the U.S., take the foreign service exam, and hopefully become a diplomat.

Well, one year on the JET Program became two years, and almost three (I turned down a request to extend for a third year). Instead of continuing on the JET program, I decided to study the language full time thinking I would be an even better asset to the State Department if I mastered Japanese on my own and brought that skill with me.

After 15 months of intensive study, and passing the highest level of the proficiency exam in December 1993, I was faced with another serious choice. Should I enter an MBA program I had been accepted into in the United States for the 1994 academic year, and using my precious and new found Japanese fluency, proceed to get disgustingly rich in the business world, or try to get into a Japanese graduate school to study what I loved: history, international relations, and politics? To make a short story even shorter, I chose the latter course.

I was blessed to have found Dr. Iokibe Makoto, Japan’s leading diplomatic historian and a specialist on U.S.-Japan relations, who was willing to take me under his wing for the master’s program at the Graduate School of Law at Kobe University beginning in April 1994. Less than a year later, we all experienced the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and lost 39 members of our school, including two close classmates. The survivors in our group rallied and we helped each other graduate. We all entered the doctorate program together too.

I initially had not planned to go on for my Ph.D. I felt I was more policy-oriented, and frankly disdained ivory-tower academics. But my own professor was not like that--he had one foot in policy and the other in research/teaching—and I saw that a healthy balance did exist. (Today, Dr. Iokibe serves as President of the National Defense Academy of Japan.) Eventually, I earned my doctorate (in Political Science, with a specialty in Japanese Political and Diplomatic History) in the spring of 1999 (one week before my daughter was born), and after a couple of outstanding post-doctoral fellowships, joined the faculty of Osaka University in the summer of 2001 as a tenured associate professor.

For personal and professional reasons, I chose to physically stay in Osaka (Western Japan) rather than being lured to the higher-paced Tokyo area. I still go to Tokyo a few times a month for research, meetings, and other activities, and to Okinawa for the same reasons, but living in between these two places allows me to keep a certain level of balance and objectivity.

Currently, I am faced with a new choice—whether to return to the United States or not. After almost twenty years here, I am ready to head back, but my connection with Japan will not end, I am sure. My wife of almost 15 years laughs when I talk about the different plans I am making and strategies I have, because she knows the difficulty of seeing too far ahead. I agree—it is more important to make the right choices than to have a strategy that might not be applicable to the situation at hand. Yet the planner inside of me likes to at least keep jotting down a few ideas anyway. Good luck on your plans—or choices—in the future.

Below are some suggestions and information about graduate study in Japan. While the reputations of the schools vary, much of your education will depend on your academic advisor and your relationship with him/her. Know what you want to study, and whom you wish to study with.

The quality of the libraries at each school vary, and inter-library loans are not free. Because of this, some students visit other schools to use their libraries. In a compact area like Tokyo, this may be fine, but in other parts of Japan, I would not recommend this approach. Moreover, schools in the Tokyo area are able to benefit from being in the country’s capital with its various conferences and lectures. In short, to get the most out of your time and money in Japan, schools in the Tokyo area might be better.

Requirements for graduate schools vary, but in most cases you will be required to physically sit for an entrance examination. As such, while very inconvenient, you will either have to already be in Japan, or plan to visit Japan around the time of the entrance exam.

Exams are usually held in the early fall (September), and again in the late Winter (February-March), for entrance in April (the beginning of the academic year in Japan). While several schools offer September/October admission for the doctoral program (in addition to April admission), few do so for the master’s program (i.e., the master’s program tends to begin in April). Each school’s entrance exam system is different, so you should check the details of the school you wish to study at on your own. Currently, I do not know of any schools here that use the GRE, but that does not mean that in the future they won’t. In any case, make sure you are aware of what the school you are interested in requires.

Japanese universities’ websites tend to be undeveloped or underdeveloped in general, and this is especially true for their English-language websites. More often than not, forms are not downloadable and applications can not be submitted electronically. You may have to do things by snail mail, so leave enough time for this type of correspondence.

Some schools require competency in Japanese, while others do not. The exam that is the standard test to ascertain competency is the Japanese Language Proficiency Text, sponsored by the Japan Foundation. Level 1, the most difficult, or Level 2, are the benchmarks. In my own case, Level 1 was necessary to enter Kobe University’s program.

At Osaka University’s School of International Public Policy, we do not require Japanese language proficiency but nevertheless hope the applicants have it or become proficient during their studies. If you wish to get the most out of your studies, and especially if you are intending to study and conduct research about Japanese history, politics, and foreign policy, then the greater your ability to read Japanese, the greater your understanding of the subject matter will be. I love doing research in Japanese and know with confidence I am adding value to the field due to my unique capabilities and insights acquired.

A final note on the costs of higher education in Japan. The graduate schools tend to be relatively cheap compared to schools in the U.S. Tuition per semester is about 3000 dollars, with a one-time entrance fee about the same amount. There are some private scholarships available, but most international students study in Japan on a Japanese Ministry of Education and Science scholarship, which they apply for from their home countries. In addition to a tuition waiver, the scholarship provides travel money to and from Japan and a monthly stipend of about 1700 dollars per month. Information on these scholarships can be found on the Japanese Embassy’s website, in Washington, D.C., or at the websites for one of the Japanese consulate around the U.S. You will need approximately 9-18 months preparation time with these scholarships due to the complexities and timing of the application process. As an international student, you will be allowed to work part-time (up to about 28 hours per week). As a self-financed student, I found it necessary to work part-time, while balancing study and other activities. If you can come on a government scholarship, I would highly recommend it, so that you can better concentrate on your studies, but it is not impossible to do it on your own like I did.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Blog IX: Getting a British Ph.D.

The ninth entry in this blog is another guest contributor. James P. Levy, an assistant professor at Hofstra University, offers up another view on going to graduate school in the United Kingdom. Before going to graduate school in Europe, he earned his BA from Hofstra and then earned his MA from The New School in New York, New York. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wales Swansea. He is the author of two books: The Royal Navy's Home Fleet in World War II (2004) and Appeasement and Rearmament: Britain, 1936-1939 (2006). Here is his guest blog:

Let me start with the Historian’s best friend—the caveat. What follows is largely anecdotal. It is my hope that it will help any person considering a jaunt to the UK for graduate study in history. The moral, before the story, is to be patient and persistent, and you’ll have the time of your life.

Strangely enough, I had no intention of getting my Ph.D. in the UK. It came about via a letter sent with little expectation that an answer would follow. But I got lucky. The letter was sent to Paul Kennedy at Yale, a man whose book, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, was an inspiration to me. I had an idea for a dissertation, an operational history of the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, for none existed and I wanted to read such a book. It seemed only natural to me that Kennedy would know what to do with my idea. So I took a shot in the dark.

Ten days later, a very fancy envelope arrived from Yale. In it, Professor Kennedy gave me some great advice: sounds like a good idea, he said, and I know a man, Michael Simpson, at the University of Wales Swansea, who’s doing interesting work on the RN in WWII; write him, and tell him I thought he’d be perfect for such a dissertation. So I wrote Michael, who said he’d be in the States, and we could meet for lunch to talk about it all. The next year, I was in Swansea busily writing under Michael’s exceptionally able direction.

What can one glean from this story? Well, before we get to the nuts and bolts of how I turned an idea into a career, you should consider the following: how much do you really want to get a Ph.D.? Britain is a quite different and frustrating place for most Americans, so don’t go on a lark. Also, have you got an idea, or are you truly taking a stab in the dark? Changing continents in hope of inspiration is a dubious undertaking unless you’re independently wealthy. But if you’ve got an idea, and if Britain appeals to you, you may be on the right track. Most importantly, you must read books and articles by those you are considering studying under.

Notice that I have not mentioned picking a university. That is because graduate school is primarily about relationships, not institutions. This is largely true in the US, and absolutely true in the UK. You’ve got to find someone whose work intrigues you and whom you feel has a lot to teach you. You’ve also got to understand that in the UK an advanced degree is mostly an exercise in research and writing, with often few course requirements. They assume you studied the basics as an undergrad and are ready to hit the primary and secondary literature in your field with little reference to materials outside your specialty. This can be a problem if you decide to move back to the US and get a job here, so be aware of that possible handicap. The exception, for no good reason other than prestige, are degrees from Oxford or Cambridge—they have tremendous snob appeal here but their grad students don’t have any much more broadly-based training than at Leeds or London. Also, watch out for the D.Phil., which is a common “doctoral” level degree but one inferior to the Ph.D. that normally involves a shorter dissertation.

Practically speaking, understand that most British universities are accredited by the US loan system and that you can get educational loans, even from Sallie Mae, to pay for your degree over in the UK. The process can be frustrating, but one can secure loans. Also, remember that Britain is a highly bureaucratic society, but if you make the right friends many doors will open for you and much red tape cut. You have to be patient, treat everyone with courtesy and respect, and don’t try to rush the locals. You’ve got to walk the line between polite, which they like, and obsequious or overly friendly and familiar, which Britons normally don’t. You have to know that everything takes too much time, involves standing in lines, and can appear opaque at first. Don’t be fooled by the propaganda. Britain is absolutely a foreign country. If you can remember that this is not your country, but the people there are usually willing to forgive you for not being British and give you a fair shake, you should do nicely.