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Beginning a Career in Academia: A Guide for Graduate Students of Color
Date Reviewed: September 18, 2016
Touting itself as “the first scholarly volume to exclusively mentor graduate students of color” (x), this collection of essays offers invaluable insights for navigating the academic job market and working as junior faculty.
This volume is divided into three sections. The six chapters comprising the first division, “Practical Advice for Finding Success in the Academic Job Market,” provide concrete examples of how to deal with various aspects of the job application process. For instance, Michelle Camacho outlines steps from submitting a CV to negotiating terms of hire. Her sample messages illustrate proper email etiquette.
The second part of the book, “Identity, Fit, Collegiality, and Secrets for Thriving in the Ivory Tower,” includes four chapters of advice for avoiding career derailments commonly faced by tenure-track faculty of color. Various professors share their experiences of both hardship and success. Nayeli Chavez-Dueñas and Hector Adames challenge the reader, via “ten reflective questions,” to introspect concerning motivations and commitment to a career in academia (124). Furthermore, their tables “Skills Required for Entry-Level Academic Positions and Alternatives to Strengthen Application” and “Seven Psychological Strengths of People of Color” (132-133) can be referenced daily, for goal setting and encouragement. Every academician would be wise to avoid the pitfalls Elwood Watson highlights in his essay “Fifteen Missteps That Can Derail Faculty Early in a Career.”
The final five chapters make up the segment entitled “Work-Life Balance: Strategies for Transitioning From Graduate School to the Classroom.” It addresses decisions that scholars of color should make early in their careers to effect sustainable work-life balance. The articles urge both students and faculty to develop healthful ways of being.
A few additions to the volume would enhance what is already a strong collection of essays. An article on the role of social media in the hiring and tenure process for scholars of color would be a welcome expansion. While Watson warns of the dangers of inappropriate social media posts (113), graduate students are also grappling with how to use social media to enhance career prospects. Similarly, a full chapter on crafting and presenting a conference paper would be an elucidating follow-up to Nadine Finigan-Carr and Natasha Brown’s insightful chapter “Navigating Professional Conferences.” Finally, while Tom Otieno’s essay “Transitioning Strategies from Graduate School to Early Career Faculty” explicates different types of academic institutions (74), an expanded orientation to the field would also be beneficial. This could include more explanation of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s classification system (74) and definitions or etymologies of terms such as “research I universities” (9).
This volume is a great resource for new initiates to the academic job market and workplace, as well as for those who already have some familiarity or experience. The short, engaging essays, which can be read in any order, invite scholars to revisit this guide often for help to land a new job or maintain a healthy work-life balance.
A Toolkit for College Professors
Date Reviewed: September 7, 2016
This book is pitched to college and university faculty at all career stages, and it stands out from other books in this category because of its research-based findings and its thoughtful case studies. The authors based their guidance on a year-long research study of 688 faculty from a wide range of institutions as well as on years of personal professional experience. The book covers the major aspects of an academic career: effective teaching and promoting student success, defining and facilitating collegiality and positive relationships within departments and with administration, conducting research, performing effective service to the institution or guild, and moving through the ranks to tenure and beyond. This book’s strengths include the liberal use of longer case studies and shorter scenarios, each of which works through a series of questions and proposed resolutions (for case studies) and a challenge question and outcome (for scenarios). The initial warm-up questions are often quite broad (for example, “Is there any general advice you think might be helpful to your friend?” ) while later questions tend to be more specific and thoughtful, requiring the reader to consider multiple factors and angles within one scenario. These vignettes were well written and thoughtfully prepared, and on the whole they engage the reader quite effectively. That the scenarios are so clearly taken from actual experience makes them more valuable, especially to newer faculty members who haven’t yet seen it all.
Two chapters of this guide focus specifically on teaching. The first, titled “Teaching Effectively in the Classroom,” strongly promotes active learning over lecturing. The case studies in this section deal with common problems, such as how to respond to poor results in student evaluations and what to do when the entire class fails an exam. This chapter emphasizes the importance of learning how to teach large courses effectively, although the authors do include a section at the end of the chapter on “teachniques” for teaching smaller courses. Many new faculty and older faculty who are retooling will find this chapter a useful primer. The second chapter focuses on “Promoting Student Success and Engagement,” with a focus on developing friendly but not-too-familiar relationships with students. Using research and experience, the authors explain the pivotal importance of faculty in shaping students’ lives and ways of thinking well beyond the classroom.
Taken together, these two chapters address many issues of interest to readers of this journal, and the remainder of the book is equally valuable for those looking for guidance and food for thought. As a guide designed for all faculty, this book necessarily elides issues of race and gender, for instance, that significantly shape faculty experience. That said, the book accomplishes much in a short space, and each chapter of the book is short and well-structured. Above all, this book uses the very techniques it suggests for effective teaching, and new faculty members in particular will find themselves better prepared for everyday faculty life after thinking through these realistic case studies.
Academic Identities in Higher Education: The Changing European Landscape
Date Reviewed: August 30, 2016
Academic identity, like all identity, is fluid. This volume places questions about academic identity in the equally fluid context of “Europe,” which is here defined as at once united and fragmented, particularly after the economic crises of 2008. This volume pulls together thirteen articles in three sections: Frameworks and Perspectives, Academic Trajectories, and Formations and Re-formations. The authors are not sociologists of life course or scholars who study academic identity; they are, more usefully for this volume, speaking from their own contexts and experiences in European higher education from the late twentieth into the early twenty-first centuries.
The editors have done a fine job choosing and grouping these essays, many of which were written by authors in their second or third languages to comply with market demands for English publication. This is one of the many strengths of the book, as it illustrates the kinds of demands that are placed on European academics that are absent in many ways from American contexts. Nevertheless, much is familiar here: academics in neoliberal systems of mass higher education struggle with ever-increasing bureaucracy, top-down management, and the encroachment of academic “professionalism.” Pressure to be represented well in world rankings tends to encourage institutional systems of assessment and auditing of outcomes that shape the academic enterprise as an inward-looking, self-serving part of a labor-driven economy and individual academics as cogs in the machine. As Jon Nixon states in his introduction, treating academic work like labor, as a matter of “pre-specified outcomes and destinations,” produces an unfortunate mismatch: “Academic identity is – to come full circle – a process that is uncertain in direction and indeterminate in outcome” (13). To treat academic work as labor is to misunderstand the potential benefits of outward-looking institutions that value intellectual autonomy and innovation above target-setting and performance measures.
Many of the chapters in this volume could stand alone as case studies; each presents its own particular balance of interrogating biographical, institutional, or broader contextual identities and each brings a coherent and defined voice to the shared project. It is impossible to capture the richness of each of these chapters here, and each somehow manages to consider an individual life within the vast institutional, sociocultural, historical, and political contexts in which that life is lived.
Although there is nothing specific to either religious studies or theology in this volume, there is much here that will resonate with academics who struggle with being pulled away from research and teaching to comply with institutional mandates. This volume should help academics in all disciplines to reflect on the power of context and particularly institutional context to shape lives and careers. Implicit here is a call to embrace the best in higher education despite the “regulations, financial incentives, rewards, quality standards, as well as academic, public, and professional values” (6) that constrain and give shape to our identities. These essays hint that a mix of resilience and subversion might well be the academic’s best allies.
Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The Slow Professor takes its cue from the slow food movement (http://www.slowfoodusa.org). Borrowing the words of Carlo Petrini, author of Slow Food Nation, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber define slowness as “not so much a question of duration as of an ability to distinguish and evaluate, with the propensity to cultivate pleasure, knowledge, and quality” (89-90). Slowness, in their thinking, is less about speed than it is about intentionality. They raise this point in a number of contexts.
On the slim volume’s opening page, Berg and Seeber identify the popular and academic discourses they engage in their exploration of time management and timelessness; pedagogy and pleasure; research and understanding; and collegiality and community. They intersperse expert opinions from a variety of fields, including other research on teaching and learning, to support their stance that slowness is a productive stance for academics.
Each chapter builds a case for slowness that culminates in practical suggestions, many of which seem like the kind of advice a reader with this book in hand may have considered already. I found value, however, in Berg, Seeber, and their chorus of sources confirming my suspicion that in the face of pressure to work constantly, I have a right to health, a life with my family, and enjoyable hobbies (16). Still, their advice tends to focus on what individual readers can do on a daily basis rather than on how institutional change might occur. For example, the first chapter, “Time Management and Timeliness,” ends with elaborations on these recommendations: “We need to get off line;” “We need to do less;” “We need regular sessions of timeless time;” “We need time to do nothing;” and “We need to change the way we talk about time all the time” (29-32). I am all for these, and I wholeheartedly agree that “if you want an event to be joyless, make it mandatory,” a takeaway from the end of “Collegiality and Community” (83). Still, the pressure of knowing that I have five years to publish another book, mere months to submit my next article, or a few weeks to finish a book review (ahem) gives me pause when I weigh walking the dog against writing. Institutional pressures directly affect individuals, but change in an individual’s perspective on time – especially that of a junior or contingent faculty member, for instance – does not lead directly to institutional change.
Berg and Seeber acknowledge that “academic culture celebrates overwork” but, they argue, “it is imperative that we question the value of busyness” (21). Herein lies their contribution: in questioning busyness, they advocate learning from slowness so that the work we do is planned, thoughtful, deliberate, and energizing rather than scattered, scatter-brained, hurried, and draining. The latter leads to diminishing returns hidden behind the familiar, “I’d love to, but I’m busy.” The former can yield Csikszentmihalyian flow in reading, writing, and teaching.
Young Faculty in the Twenty-First Century: International Perspectives
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This is a book about teachers and not about teaching. Furthermore, it is a book about data on mass populations of teachers in higher education from ten different countries ungarnished by local anecdote or illustrative portraits of a faculty person in real working conditions. The reason this book is worth paying attention to in this forum is that it shines a comparative light on the perils and possibilities that face new entrants into the academic field – some of whom will be your colleagues. Or rather, because this book is of more interest as a reference for hiring committees and deans, it tells you of the challenges your candidate has faced to reach your attention in the first place. That is if you are open to exploring how to move from even national inbreeding to internationalization of faculty recruitment.
We find here the results of a ten country participative research program into the realities of career preparation, openings and market transparency, prospects and permanence, of the academic life, individually presented and analyzed and then cumulatively assessed by the editors in the final chapter. The countries are Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Norway, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, and the U.S. There is of course a vast difference in contexts – from massive increase of student demand and a dearth of faculty, to a tedious and precarious shuffle of young faculty into middle age before a realistic prospect of career stability and something coming close to middle class lifestyle. (This latter is an unquestioned normative standard even as it is evident that the status of the academic profession in many societies is falling.)
A number of thematic emphases emerge throughout the chapters, specifically the impact of hiring practices and terms of employment on female faculty, the difficulty of inbreeding and the social burden of academic networking, as well as more common experiences of young faculty such as heavy teaching load and administrative obligations with less time for research. It is agreed that contract and temporary employment with attendant uncertainty is the newest but also most detrimental aspect of current higher education. Some gems, of course, emerge from the textual detail. Male professors can get paid more in India after undergoing a vasectomy, a PhD will get male students out of military service cheaply enough in Russia, females are in the majority of doctoral students in Portugal.
As a foreign born and trained academic teaching abroad, and given the international prospectus of the book, I shall concentrate a few remarks on the international (and not just national) data. Norway is concerned that too much of its government investment in doctoral work funds foreign born scholars, Portugal experiences a brain gain and often requires doctoral students to have international experience, France is relatively closed as a system, whereas South Africa welcomes PhDs from abroad in large number. Interestingly the chapter devoted to the US paid no attention to its cohort of international faculty. Perhaps this is so because international faculty are imagined to be ubiquitous, but alongside collegial anxiety about brain drain from abroad this disregard of the good or otherwise of international recruitment was noteworthy. India and Brazil have fewer foreign imports but radical differences in conditions for young faculty in public (better) or private (worse) sectors. India has a massive teacher shortage whereas the EU experiences long waits for civil servant professors to retire, and in the US there is not even a retirement age.
If teaching religion is to benefit from an international perspective, as I believe it does, it is going to mean pursuing scholars from very different educational settings and looking (for US job searches) beyond easily accessible US-based guild networks. (I leave to others the judgment, case by case, as to whether US-trained international scholars are as international as those trained abroad.) It will mean understanding different pressures faced by potential job candidates from other countries. This book is a great resource for this purpose. Its data may also facilitate the comprehension of institutional pressures that affect the success or otherwise of international scholarly networks and projects as faculty from one country interact with faculty from another. I think of my current project with colleagues from Brazil where the broad data of Elizabeth Balbachevsky\'s chapter contextualizes what I have picked up in conversation.