Category Archives: Study in the USA

Hashtag unites adjuncts and tenure-line professors over work-life balance and other issues

Grad students should think like entrepreneurs about their careers (essay)

Facing radically unstable futures, graduate students are an especially vulnerable population within the neoliberal academy. A diminished tenure-track job market is one reason that graduate students should think and behave more like entrepreneurs and less like apprentices.

In many corners of academe, this shift is already in effect. More and more Ph.D. students are finding ways to carve out varied and rewarding career paths for themselves. “Redefining the Humanist Entrepreneur,” a “Connected Academics [1]” panel at this year’s Modern Language Association convention, featured an eclectic group of Ph.D.s who’ve gone on to fascinating careers.

For example, Bradford Taylor [2] discussed his experience founding a wine shop [3] and noted that he’s found ways to put his doctoral research (which focuses on aesthetics and food from Hume to Adorno) into practice. He does this through a newsletter as well as in the day-to-day rhythms of the shop. Taylor’s career path is but one example of just how far we’ve come from the days of academic departments “placing” students.

While some MLA attendees may have shuddered to see yet another term from the business world on the convention’s program, I think “entrepreneur” is a useful way for graduate students to think about themselves. For one thing, they already have a lot of qualities that we associate with entrepreneurs. Richard Cherwitz, a professor in the rhetoric department at the University of Texas at Austin, describes intellectual entrepreneurs as those who “take risks and seize opportunities, discover and create knowledge, innovate, collaborate, and solve problems in any number of social realms.”

Graduate students need to apply to their career preparation the same entrepreneurial spirit they apply to their academic research. By thinking more like an entrepreneur (or a professional, CEO or revolutionary) and less like an apprentice, graduate students can better prepare themselves for a range of fulfilling and meaningful careers. Here are some steps you can take to do that:

Begin by evaluating your relationship with your graduate adviser. One of the most radical shifts in graduate education needs to take place at the level of the mentor-mentee relationship. Graduate students are still, by and large, treated like apprentices, working with advisers supposedly able to usher them into prescribed, defined careers. As the tenure-track job market dissolves, such a model becomes increasingly untenable. You should break free of the apprentice mind-set by moving past the outmoded single-adviser model.

Even if you have the best of advisers, she can’t help as much when it comes to alt-ac or compatible careers. And chances are she can’t place you in an academic career. Try as they might, graduate mentors can’t get up to speed quickly enough to train you for careers other than the ones for which they themselves were trained.

For the most part, graduate students have to find -- or create -- careers for themselves. Now that the majority of graduate students are headed for jobs that are nothing like those held by their adviser, it’s clear that even the most well-intentioned individual can’t give you the variety of career advice you’ll need. So you need to run your career search with the help of multiple advisers -- an informal board of directors, if you will.

Make sure such a board has a strong contingent from beyond your academic institution. Seek out career-service counselors, administrators, career coaches, corporate types and graduates who’ve gone on to alt-ac jobs. Do your best to develop multiple mentors for yourself, and keep in touch with them as best you can.

If you’re a graduate adviser, you must learn to cede authority to a plurality of advisers. Better yet, learn how to advise and mentor as a part of a team that includes members from various corners of the university, as well as those from beyond it.

Reject any discourse that figures your career using static metaphors. When trying to picture your career, you should see the Northern Lights -- not placement in a track. It’s not all or nothing. It’s not academe or bust. The idea of careers inside, outside or even beyond higher education may not make sense when you’re in the middle of your career.

At the “Connected Academics” panel at the MLA, Eric Wertheimer, associate vice provost of graduate education and professor of English at Arizona State University, noted that universities of the future will not police their boundaries “quite as piously as we do now.” So even if you do decide on a career beyond academe, don’t burn any bridges, and don’t assume your graduate training has no bearing on the work you’ll do beyond the professoriate [4].

Be aware of career choices made by osmosis. If you only hang with one group, you’re likely to absorb the norms of that group. So do a quick diagnosis: Whom do you associate with on a regular basis? Are they a diverse bunch with varying career goals? Do you pick the brains of those farther down the career track? Are you making assumptions about the kinds of careers you would enjoy? Have you done a self-assessment like the Clifton StrengthsFinder?

Learn to engage with people outside your field and the university setting. Compared with any other degree-holding group, Ph.D.s have the lowest rates of unemployment. But they also make up such a small percentage of the workforce that employers -- with exceptions that include scientific industries and consulting agencies -- may never encounter a Ph.D. as a prospective hire. If you are going to strike out in new directions, you’ll need to get used to interacting with people who may never have thought of hiring or collaborating with a Ph.D.

You can begin to familiarize yourself with organizations and people with whom you might like to work by regularly setting up informational interviews [5]. Depending on your schedule, you might aim for one a month. As you establish contacts outside of academe, reach out and make small “touches” with potential partners/employers throughout your time in graduate school.

Don’t only shift your attitude -- act like an entrepreneur. Allow for more career possibilities by adjusting your habits, expanding your networks and diversifying what you make.

Look up key characteristics of an entrepreneur and then cultivate a checklist of ideas that make sense for you and your discipline. Have a big-picture list, with long-term goals like:

  • Get comfortable with pitching ideas, especially outside of academe.
  • Imagine and implement a crowdsourced project.
  • Get paid to write and think in public.
  • Cultivate a donor for a project you care about.
  • Actively seek out leadership opportunities.

Once you have these larger goals down on paper, you can then look into acquiring or honing the skills that will allow you to accomplish them. Map out a schedule of activities to do each week, each month, each year. Little steps can set you up for a variety of careers after (and perhaps during) graduate school.

Adding any activities to the already overloaded schedules of graduate students may seem cruel. But you needn’t do it all at once. And though it seems counterintuitive, when you spend a little time away from the specialized training that you’re getting in your grad program, you just might help yourself stand out in the tenure-track job market. One thing is for sure: the confidence you get by succeeding in multiple arenas outside higher education will help you fend off the deepest insecurities brought on by impostor syndrome and give you a sense of the many possibilities beyond academe.

Author Bio:

James M. Van Wyck is a senior teaching fellow in the honors program at Fordham University, Lincoln Center. He is also the inaugural GSAS senior higher education administration fellow at Fordham University, Rose Hill. He is a Ph.D. student writing a dissertation on 19th-century evangelical fiction.

Blogs, Essays or Both?

March 24, 2015

Asking students to blog for an audience of their classmates instead of writing an essay for a professor can bring out different qualities in their writing, according to a study published in next month’s volume of Teaching Sociology. But don’t expect instructors to do away with essays just yet.

“One general conclusion one can draw from these findings is that journals and blogs each have their own strengths in terms of their ability to engage students in deep reflection,” author Drew Foster writes. “Specifically, students appear to be overall more likely to take greater intellectual risks in blogs, which they know will be read and commented upon by their peers. Conversely, journals -- the more private option -- compel students to be vulnerable and take morepersonal risks in their reflection.”

Journaling has long been a common course requirement in the humanities, especially in courses heavy on reading assignments. Requiring students to reflect on assigned texts -- either for the students’ own benefit or to ensure that they actually did their homework -- gives instructors another method of helping students retain the knowledge.

Blogging is a “natural extension of class journals in the digital age,” Foster, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, writes. He launched the study after getting a chance to teach the university’s Introduction to Sociology course during a summer session. Unlike previous sections, he experimented with assigning blogging, not private journaling, and came away impressed by the quality of the student writing.

“Maybe students are writing more high-quality stuff when they’re writing in this kind of open format and they know their peers are going to be reading their stuff?” Foster said in an interview.

The fall 2013 and winter 2014 sections of the course both included a reflection assignment worth 10 percent of the final grade. But while students in the fall section wrote nine journal entries viewable only to teaching assistants, those in the winter section wrote six blog posts and commented at least nine times on other students’ posts.

Apart from the reflection assignment medium, the two large lecture courses, which both enrolled 225 mostly first- and second-year students, were “nearly identical.” Students in each section were split into 9 discussion groups of 25 students each, and students could only view the blog posts of fellow group members.

Tasked with sifting through 1,049 journal entries and 1,021 blog posts, Foster and three undergraduate research assistants tracked eight “traits” of reflective writing, many of them developed from a 2004 report written by the American Sociological Association’s task force on the undergraduate major.

Specifically, the researchers looked for students to compare two or more readings, explain a personally held misconception, take a position on an issue, form a personal theory, link readings to a personal experience, discuss their own class, gender or race, or reference an outside source. Foster also counted the instances where students made three or more grammatical errors, hypothesizing that bloggers -- whose entries could be seen by other students -- would be more careful not to make subject-verb agreement mistakes, switch tenses or write run-on sentences, among other errors. The study confirmed Foster’s hypothesis -- journal entries were 3 percent more likely to contain three or more mistakes -- as well as his suspicion that students required to blog would want to “show off to their friends.”

The results from journal and blog entries diverged on five of the eight traits, not including the one about grammatical mistakes. Students posting on blogs were more likely to take a stand on an issue or come up with a personal theory than those writing in journals, but less likely to admit to a personal misconception, connect a reading to a personal experience or compare two or more readings.

In other words, some journal entries trended toward the “particularly private and intimate,” while blogging “potentially opens the author up to attack and critique.” Meanwhile, the “specter of peer readership” causes bloggers to be more aware of grammatical and mechanical rules, Foster writes.

To Foster’s surprise, however, blogging did not cause more students to reference outside sources, even though copying and pasting a hyperlink is less complicated than penning a manual citation. Students in both sections were about equally as likely to bring up their own class, gender or race in their entries.

Those findings could extend beyond introductory courses, said Foster. He suggested future studies could, for example, look at whether students in large online courses are less comfortable with making the kinds of personal risks that they would in a class where they know their peers.

The findings likely also mean that instructors won’t rush to replace essays with blogs, but that they should consider tailoring assignments to produce the kind of writing they are looking for.

“Where I thought that either traditional essays or blogs were going to get objectively better writing out of students, in actuality, it turns out it’s about these types of risks,” Foster said. “Institutions should be cognizant of the format that students are writing in and try to link up the kind of risks they want students to be taking in their writing.”

Reaching students in a snap

Abi Mandelbaum
06 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

Colleges and universities across the country are increasingly turning to the popular social media platform Snapchat to attract and engage students. Recently, Snapchat – a photo and video social media platform – surpassed Instagram and Tumblr as the fastest growing social media app for smartphones, with an estimated 200 million Snapchat users, the vast majority of whom are aged 25 or younger, and with 77% of US college students reportedly using Snapchat on a daily basis.

Does this mean that colleges and universities should consider using Snapchat as part of their communication and marketing efforts? Some already do.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that US colleges and universities are using Snapchat to interact with three primary audiences: current students; prospective student-athletes; and prospective students. Of these three groups, it appears the majority of universities use Snapchat to interact and connect with current students.

Tyler Thomas, a social media specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or UNL, said his school uses Snapchat to promote campus events, world events, contests, giveaways and to build one-on-one relationships.

“We have seen great growth in our Snapchat community and expect that Snapchat will become more of a priority in the months ahead,” he said.

Thomas said Snapchat was an effective tool because it allowed for quick bursts of content that could be shared in a number of ways, including drawings, graphics and videos.

The University of Houston has also adopted Snapchat, although like UNL, Houston’s primary audience is current students. Jessica Brand, the university’s social media manager, said Houston adopted the app because its user-base was in line with the school’s key demographics.

“We continued to read articles about the growing popularity of the app, and eventually decided we should have a presence there as the university continues to find new ways to engage with our audience,” she said.

High school students

Brand said Houston did not exclusively use Snapchat to reach prospective students, but that did not mean high school students were not benefiting from the university’s efforts.

“We have not done direct recruiting via Snapchat, but we do tend to share first-hand footage of campus events, which gives prospective students a taste of what it might look like to be here, to be a student, and to be involved,” she said.

Kyle Bruce, assistant director of communication for Eastern Washington University Athletics, said his school decided to use Snapchat after it analysed data on their other social media platforms and realised they were lacking in awareness.

“We decided the best thing for our brand was to create a Snapchat account that would cater specifically to student promotions and awareness around athletic events,” he said.

In addition to drumming up awareness for events, he said the app was growing among athletic programmes: “Snapchat is becoming more and more of a recruiting tool in athletics – different sport programmes are using it to communicate with prospective student-athletes,” Bruce said.

“Our account isn’t geared to this primarily, but we showcase what the game day atmosphere is like, which may help attract prospective student-athletes and students in general.”


A few universities are already actively using Snapchat to reach prospective students. Among these are Tennessee Wesleyan College and the University of Michigan. Tennessee was an early adopter of Snapchat and among the school’s first acts was to create a scavenger hunt for prospective students attending an orientation day in which the school showed its followers images of its mascot.

At the time, the school told USA Today it used the app because it connected with students in a way that was different from other communication mediums.

“Snapchat is immediate, personal and reaches the student where you can find them most: on their phone,” said Brittany Shope, the school’s web coordinator, who has since left the college. “To reach out via a smartphone application like Snapchat as opposed to students’ e-mails makes the student feel like the college has taken extra steps to get in touch with them.”

Bridgett Raper, director of marketing and communications at Tennessee Wesleyan College, said her school’s Snapchat campaign was short-lived, but that they were planning to investigate potential opportunities.

Michigan launched its Snapchat in February last year as a result of both campus research and professional statistical analysis. Nikki Sunstrum, director of social media, said the university found that 77% of its core student population was using the app regularly, and that about 70% were interested in engaging with known brands in the environment.

She said the bulk of activity on Snapchat was to engage current students, but that occasionally it triggers inquiries from prospective students.

Sunstrum said that this year the university planned to collaborate with entities across its campus, including promotion and storytelling for individual schools and organisations and event coverage.

Codes of conduct

Given Snapchat’s increased prominence in the social media landscape, colleges and universities have a unique opportunity to reach and engage current and prospective students.

But there are dangers to consider when evaluating the platform, such as the potential that students will interact with the account in ways that are inappropriate or go against universities’ codes of conduct.

A recent USA Today article covers this threat in detail, noting that Snapchat had its own community guidelines and frequently shuts down contact based on violations of its standards.

However, with proper measures in place, the opportunity may prove to be a fruitful step forward for colleges seeking to be more connected to current and future student bodies – and it might disappear in a “snap” if they don’t act soon.

Abi Mandelbaum is co-founder and chief executive officer of YouVisit, a technology company that develops virtual tours and virtual reality content for a variety of industries, including education, hospitality, real estate, travel and leisure and many others.

University World News

Still at a Disadvantage

By Jake New, March 6

Throwing another wrench into the belief that higher education is the great equalizer, a new paper suggests that African-American graduates from elite institutions do only as well in getting jobs as white candidates from less-selective institutions.

The study, published in the journal Social Forces, shows that while a degree from an elite university improves all applicants’ chances at finding a well-paid job, the ease with which those jobs are obtained is not equal for black and white students even when they both graduate from an institution such as Harvard University. A white candidate with a degree from a highly selective university, the paper suggests, receives an employer response for every six résumés he or she submits. A black candidate receives a response for every eight.

White candidates with degrees from less-selective universities can expect to get a response every 9 résumés, while equally qualified black candidates need to submit 15.

“Most people would expect that if you could overcome social disadvantages and make it to Harvard against all odds, you’d be pretty set no matter what, but this experiment finds that there are still gaps,” said S. Michael Gaddis, the author of the paper and the Robert Wood Foundation Scholar in Health Policy at the University of Michigan. “Once you get out, you still have to deal with other human beings who have preconceived notions and misguided stereotypes about why you were able to go to this college.”

The paper is based on the results of an experiment Gaddis conducted in which he created more than 1,000 fake job applicants and applied to jobs online. The fictional candidates graduated from either highly selective institutions (Harvard University, Stanford University and Duke University) or less selective state universities (the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of California at Riverside and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). They all had similarly high grade point averages.

Gaddis gave the candidates names that were likely to signal to potential employers what their races were -- black male applicants were named Jalen, Lamar and DaQuan; black female applicants were named Nia, Ebony and Shanice; white male applicants were named Caleb, Charlie and Ronny; and white female applicants were named Aubrey, Erica and Lesly.

White job applicants with a degree from an elite university had the highest response rate at 18 percent. Black candidates with a degree from an elite university had a response rate of 13 percent, with white candidates holding a degree from a less-selective university following closely at nearly 12 percent. Black applicants with a degree from a less-selective institution had a response rate of less than 7 percent.

Black graduates at elite colleges not only had a response rate similar to that of white graduates from less-selective institutions, but the employers who responded to black applicants were often offering jobs with less prestige and with salaries that trailed those of white candidates by an average of $3,000. “Education apparently has its limits, because even a Harvard degree cannot make DaQuan as enticing as Charlie to employers,” Gaddis wrote.

While the experiment could not measure the odds of applicants landing a job after getting an initial response, Gaddis said, gaps this large at just the first step of the process demonstrate that “a bachelor's degree, even one from an elite institution, cannot fully counteract the importance of race in the labor market.” How welcoming a company is to diverse applicants once they meet and interview them means little if they can’t even get in the front door.

“It’s quite possible that these differences are not suggesting that employers are going about trying not to hire black applicants, but there is something going on this lower level,” Gaddis said. “I hope that maybe this research will make people stop and think about what processes we are using when hiring.”