Heading to market

mike salovesh (T20MXS1@MVS.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Sat, 10 Dec 1994 01:29:00 CST

Dear Susan Sumner:

To start off, I'm biased: I earned the Ph.B., A.B., A.M., and Ph.D.
degrees all at the same university (Chicago). Admittedly, I had the
fortunate extras of a year at Berkeley and a summer term at the
Linguistic Society of America's Linguistic Institute at the U of
Michigan, but essentially I'm a one-university guy.

1. I'm not aware that my uniUniversity degree activities ever had
any negative influence on decisions to hire or not to hire me.

2. I can't remember any case, in thirty years of working in
university departments of anthropology, where an applicant's
having undergraduate and graduate degrees from the same place
counted as a negative factor. Quality of the institution where
the applicant was trained did -- and does -- count. So does the
prestige of the degree-awarding institution, not necessarily the
same thing as its quality. (It has long seemed to me, e.g., that
Harvard's reputation has been lots better than its actual
quality . . . I think Berkeley and Chicago, on the other hand,
earned their very high reputation by equally high quality in the
past. But I'll entertain the hypothesis, at least, that recent
changes at both places may imply that what's actually going on at
either one is not up to their still-high prestige.)

What DOES matter is the quality of your own mentors, and of the work
that you do yourself. Both are a matter of your own choices.

The absolute best advice I can give, thinking ahead to any future
marketplace, is to act on this: The hiring/tenure/promotion process
in U.S. universities today is publication driven. It is not unusual
for brand-new Ph.D.'s to have published dozens of articles and a
book or two. To compete, you have to build your bibliography and
you should start NOW. Giving papers at any and every possible pro-
fessional meeting doesn't hurt, either--IF you follow through and
rework every paper you give into a published article.

There's a hierarchy within publishing, too. Aim for professional
journals IN ANTHROPOLOGY. Make sure that the journals are known to
use a peer review process. Invitations to publish in books will make
you feel good, and you should write for such things from time to time
IF the editors are well-known leaders in your specialty. But article
publication in books edited by others is nowhere near as highly
regarded as publication in peer-reviewed anthropology journals. Plan
your dissertation as a publishable book from day one--and get it into
print as soon as you can.

I'm sorry to have to say that publishing articles in nursing journals
won't help you much in finding jobs as an anthropologist. (What do
those nurses know about fancy anthropology?) Neither will publica-
tions in other fields, or, God forbid!, sources written for ordinary
human beings.

I'm also sorry to say that when it comes to marketplace decisions, it
is extremely unlikely that your judges will actually read what you
write. Pseudo-quantification is the name of the game, and it's very
hard to attach numbers to quality. Most personnel processes are
built precisely on avoiding judgments of quality, which, after all,
are mere opinions. Besides, if we were to base decisions on the
quality of a person's work, we'd not only have to read it, we'd have
to THINK about it. That's hard work. We don't get paid enough to
have to do any really hard work.

This is the best possible advice I can give for the anthro job
market. As it happens, it may very well be the worst possible thing
that has happened to anthropology in the last thirty years. The
crap quotient in our journals is reaching asymptotic. To a large
degree, I think the fact that the job market is increasingly based/
biased on the publication standards I've just implied is the biggest
threat to serious scholarship. When questions of where an article
was published, and what kind of refereeing process it went through,
far outweigh the actual content of the article, we're in just the
kind of BIG trouble exemplified by current journals.

Does anybody remember that Sapir published "Time perspective . . . "
in the Canadian Journal of Mines, Redfield published "The Folk
Society" in a SOCIOLOGY journal, that Radcliffe-Brown published
at least two of his most influential articles in the South African
Journal of Science, that Linton defined "status" and "role" for
all the social sciences in a textbook for freshmen? None of these
great classics would have helped their authors put together a
conclusive tenure case today.

But you have to start building your tenure case NOW, and aim for the
conditions what prevail. Don't worry about how many schools your
degrees or your training come from. Don't worry about advancing
human knowledge, or anthropology, either. Worry about what sells,
and make sure that your record fits that pattern.

And when you can't stand it, read Flannery's "The Golden
Marshalltown" and hope that some oldtimer will recognize that you
have earned its equivalent even while doing what you have to do
in order to survive.

Well, I'm old enough to tell the truth. And old enough to worry
that the real way we do things is ultimately going to be the death
of everything I got into anthropology for.

All right, everybody, FLAME AWAY.

-- mike salovesh <salovesh@niu.edu>