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In 2020 what are the main issues of a small religious studies grad program? Here are things I thought about while running one. Really only one: given the data, you're doing it against the odds, so every significant decision needs to help set you apart and justify your existence.
This is because in humanities and social sciences the most prestigious programs are typically overwhelmingly more successful than others and tend to hire from each other.
slate.com/human-interest… 1/10
Here are the relevant studies on narrowness of hiring in history, comp sci, and business:
advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1…
And same phenom in political science
gppreview.com/2012/12/03/sup… 1b/10
And the fewer jobs that are out there aren't as good: the AAR public data is a bit out of date but shows faculty positions offered decreased by 8.6% from AY16 to AY17 and an overall increase in postings was mainly from non-faculty positions 2/10
Postings from research institutions at all-time low since AAR began collecting data in 2003.
For faculty positions, the most selected category for the annual course load shifted from 3 or 4 in 2016 to 5 or 6 in 2017 2b/10
For the field I know best, Hebrew Bible, I did an informal survey of some top programs that revealed big disparities between program placement rates, in gender of placement, and in success after 2010 (it got worse). I defined old-school success as TT placement by 5 years. 3/10
Ballpark but confirmed w grads. Since c. 2000:
Program 1: 8/10 80% (5/5 women 3/5 men)
2: 3/4 75% all male
3: 7/11 64%
4: 2/4 (1/1 w, 1/3 m) 50%
5: 40% 2/5 (since 2012)
6: 36% 5/14: (1/6 w 4/8 m)
7: since 2010 20% 1/5, pre 2010 5/11 (3 of 5 at v. conservative places) 45% 3b
Results suggest that how a program is run and how it recruits and supports have a huge impact leading to very large inequality between programs regardless of academic quality (all have excellent faculty): some programs do badly for female grads, some do badly for everyone. 4/10
Given that program choices matter decisively for student success, what can students do? Slate article suggests:
1. Have influential mentor or program in your field
2. Degree laundering—get postdoc from fancy place
3. Do extremely hard work in productivity and self-promotion 5/10
But these cases were rare successes in Slate's article. What we can really affect is choices the program makes. What we tried was to leverage our distinctiveness in 4 ways: ... 6/10
1. Create network for students by connecting them with both best & most prestigious colleagues.
2. Help students themselves build networks with incentives and advising.
3. Build an atmosphere of collaboration and productivity with cross-campus incentives and workshops.
but...7/10
What about money? Difficult to study hard if you're highly precarious and to survive on the job market if you're poor or in major debt.
4. We've tried to use every means possible from fellowship money to faculty research funds but there is a limit #COLA. 7b/10
In recruiting grad students we've tried to see if there is not only an advisor for them but a prestigious, active, and influential person and network that will give them an edge. We remember that our students will be running up against competitors from dominant programs. 8/10
Finally & crucially, grad school should not be a hole you go into to do your work, it should be a vital intellectual experience that fights narrowness and inequality by always actively working to build & share new ideas from people who aren't just the "usual suspects." 9/10
The one thing there isn't a need for is a program that just fills institutional requirements and puts more hapless people out onto the job market. And that's an ongoing project...10/10
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