Week in Review

Welcome to this week’s Week in Review! If you have your own link or suggestion, please add it to the comments, or email it to Tom or Mike.

From Tom

Historic Bible pages put online (BBC News, July 6, 2009):  Check out “virtual re-unification” about 800 pages of the 1,600-year-old Codex Sinaiticus manuscript, i.e., the earliest surviving Christian Bible, at www.codexsinaiticus.org. Is it a The rival to the Bible (BBC News, Roger Bolton, October 6, 2008)?

Is Having More Than 2 Children an Unspoken Taboo? (Robin Wilson, Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/10/2009):   The article begins

By academic standards, Rebecca R. Richards-Kortum has it made. She is a full professor of bioengineering at Rice University, runs a thriving cancer-research laboratory, and is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

But with four children at home, she sometimes feels like an academic outcast. In fact, Ms. Richards-Kortum says she is most comfortable in her dual roles as professor and mother during the research trips she takes several times a year to southern Africa.

“Here I’m this weird, freaky person because I have four kids,” she says in Houston. “There I can establish rapport and credibility with people because big families are much more common. It’s the only time I feel like it’s a real professional advantage.”

Ms. Richards-Kortum is one of a very small number of academic women with three, four, or more children. In academe, where having even one child can slow down success, trying to manage multiple kids can be a career-stopper.

The article ends with a number of tips on how to manage a big family and a big career. I asked a friend who has four kids and recently served as an adjunct professor at a major university for her thoughts on the topic.  Her comment, “Um, yes.  I don’t personally know anyone in academia with more than two children.”  How about you?  Do you know exceptions and if so, how do they navigate all the pressures and responsibilities of their position?

The Faculty of the Future:  Leaner, Meaner, More Innovative, Less Secure (Forum, Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/10/2009): demands more attention. I asked a business professor to comment on the Forum, below’s a glimpse.  Any first reactions?  More from my friend next week.

I have to agree with the third author (ANTHONY T. GRAFTON), unless there is a significant change in how knowledge is valued and expertise is assessed, the humanities are screwed.  However, it is possible that a collapsed job market will dissuade universities for focusing on “career value” (i.e. incremental salary increase in your next job) as their basis for why people should come to college.  If the focus moves back to education for the sake of being a better person, participant to society, better able to adapt to changes (i.e. long term) then there might be an increase recognition of the value of the humanities [but I wouldn’t but your food money on this shift happening quickly].

PETER N. STEARNS says exactly what you would expect someone who has been a Full time Dean/Provost/Department Head for 20+ years to say.  (He was at CMU as Dean of H&SS in the mid-1990s).  The primary issue with his comments is the internal contradiction between saying that academic careers will be more home/family friendly and that there will be less facilities support for faculty (i.e. anyone who has tried to do writing or meetings from home know that this it is very difficult when there are children in the house), greater teaching loads at non-standard times (i.e. working two nights a week teaching an evening class – not so great for  family life), and a significantly greater emphasis on “productivity” (i.e. measurement of outcomes that an individual has only minimal control over – and hence a significant increase in uncertainty and stress – again, not so good for supporting family oriented folks).
Other than this he’s probably right…. :-)

From Mike

So You Want My Job: College Professor – The Art of Manliness continues of a series about (supposedly) dream jobs with an interview of Hunter Baker, Director of Strategic Planning, Assistant Provost, and Adjunct Faculty member at Houston Baptist University. If you are already a faculty member, I don’t think Hunter shares anything you don’t already know, but undergraduates or mid-career professionals who think that academia might be a good career choice might get some useful insight. Hunter has some practical advice about finding a job:

The job prospects differ tremendously based on your field. I think those who get their doctorates in professional fields like business or public administration will typically have a very good opportunity. I also believe the scientific and technical fields have good outlooks. My area, which is in the social sciences or the humanities depending on how you see it, is very competitive. People who study things like political science or history do it because they love it. The one thing that protects you in the job market is that there are lots of people who get as far as the ABD (all but dissertation), but far less who actually grab the brass ring.

If you do it, get your degree from an established institution. I would not recommend getting an online Ph.D. and then trying to find work. That is going to be an uphill battle. The situation may change, but right now it is the reality.

Fast Tracking a PhD – Can you finish a PhD in 3 years? Judy Beth Morris did, with some very careful planning, lots of motivation, and some luck. She admits that it’s not possible in all disciplines, but she shares some good advice about dissertation strategy:

It’s essential to zero in on a dissertation topic as soon in the process as you can. I figured out pretty quickly what I wanted to do with my dissertation; I had the first chapter by the end of my first semester. The professor of the film history class I took that first semester assured me that it was a worthwhile dissertation topic: the “extended adolescence” of Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy films and how and why the films resonated with Depression-era audiences. I knew that I would have fun researching this topic, so getting it done was not going to be a problem. Thus, the “dissertation topic” piece fell into place for me.

Another crucial piece of the puzzle involves working on the dissertation as part of your coursework. I was able finish the bulk of the work while I was taking classes because I chose my classes with the end project in mind: my goal was to use class papers as eventual chapters in the dissertation. This worked much better than I could have hoped; I seemed to choose just the right seminar classes with research paper assignments that would allow me to cover the different facets of my topic.

Take a look at the article, and let us know what you think. How realistic is it to finish a PhD in 3 years?

Charity in Truth – Pope Benedict XVI has released a new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, “Charity in Truth,” which offers a Christian perspective on economics and society. Here’s the NY Times’ article about it. I have not read the 144-page document, but I expect that there will many connections that one can make between Christians’ role in society and Christians’ role on campus, particularly in seeking the good of the campus and our local community. One passage jumped out as I skimmed the beginning:

To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of “all of us”, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society. It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it. To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the pólis, or “city”. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them.

Are there implications for our common life on campus?

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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7 Comments

  • patricia.r.taylor@gmail.com'
    PRT commented on July 10, 2009 Reply

    whew, finish in three years? There are a few things that seem unusual about Morris’ program: finish coursework in one year, while teaching? That implies not very much coursework, or a very, very light teaching load, or both. Exams in one summer? The reading list must not be like the one that my department had until a few years ago: 3 lists/exams, 100 books per list; most grad students took 18 months just to deal with exams. We’ve recently moved to a much more reasonable exam system of 2 lists of 80 books, but exams still take an average of nine months of reading.

    But my department has always encouraged grad students to use coursework to figure out a dissertation topic and start drafting chapters. I’m heading into year three, and I have starts to three chapters (and at least one likely publication from my coursework that isn’t related to my diss). So, it is completely reasonable to finish in four full years, or in the fall of the fifth so that the dissertation is defended before the MLA meat market.

    But our funding doesn’t run out until year six.

  • patricia.r.taylor@gmail.com'
    PRT commented on July 10, 2009 Reply

    Gah, apparently I didn’t read the article carefully enough. Most of what I said about her program doesn’t apply… but no one from my program has ever managed to finish in three years.

  • andunning@gmail.com'
    Andrew commented on July 11, 2009 Reply

    Interesting, that, about children in academia. In my experience, the expectation of society in general is to only have two children. I had an English professor a couple of years ago who has no fewer than seven children; I have no idea how he does it, but he was very good.

    • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
      Micheal Hickerson commented on July 14, 2009 Reply

      I think that’s true about the expectations of American society in general, though it varies by region, religion, etc. I wonder about perception, though. How many large families are needed in a community for that option to feel “normal”? I don’t know how a family with 7 kids does it, either (my wife and I have 3 of our own), but my mom had 8 siblings, about half a dozen of my peers at church have 5 kids, and I was good friends in high school with a girl who was the oldest of 10. To me, 7 kids doesn’t seem all that unreasonable, even though most of the families I know still only have 1 or 2 children. Would that still be the case if I had very little personal experience with larger families? I’m not sure.

  • hunterbaker@gmail.com'
    Hunter Baker commented on July 14, 2009 Reply

    One correction: I’m not adjunct faculty. I’m a full member of the department.

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on July 15, 2009 Reply

    It is not possible to get a Ph.D. in physics in three years at any major research university in the US. I would say it is certainly possible in 5 years (I have known several who did that) and within reason to do in 4 years, especially in theory.

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