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gilbertrollins

Difficulty of First Year Courses

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So taking into account that there are disciplinary differences (as already pointed out by others), I found that the work load was definitely more than UG but not unmanageable. Thought the OP might find this useful since sociology and anthropology share a lot of similar theory/philosophy from the 19th/early 20th centuries... In Europe cultural anthro and sociology are often the same dept. or considered the same discipline. 

 

I averaged about 1000 pages a week of reading for three courses, all of which were theory heavy. The readings were denser, and much longer. Whole books were assigned that were a couple of hundred pages a piece so sometimes digestion was a bit rough. 

 

We were expected to present and lead discussions and to really get involved in class and in our own work. This wasn't hard for me since I'm not shy but it was tough for those who were. 

 

It pays to get a head start on the theory, if you haven't got a strong background it in already: Durkheim, Giddens, Bourdieu, Foucault, Saussure (and the others mentioned already). 

 

There was a good deal more writing involved, not only in terms of the final papers but also on a week-to-week basis. Reaction papers were common. 

 

You will most likely have your MA comps include core theory and your PhD quals be more focused on your research. You'll have core classes - a proseminar of some kind, methods of another and a theory course. All of them are essentially theory courses but with slightly different focal issues. And yes, probably a compulsory advanced stats too. 

 

If you plan on being able to party once a week, even on Fridays only or whatever, then it might be a bit tough. I found that my weekdays and weekends blurred, and EVERY day was spent, at least in some portion, reading and note taking. And that was the case for everyone in my cohort and in the past 2 years' cohorts. We worked socializing into the coffee shop scene; come read together and have chats in between chapters. 

 

The overwhelming part was the Imposter Syndrome and the worry about being "good enough", about meeting the faculty's expectations, about finding a place - academically and socially - to fit in. Everyone in my cohort came from a different academic and social background so it's also a matter of expressing yourself so you aren't misunderstood in class discussions, or using jargon that is regional or culturally specific (maybe not so much an issue in your field, but certainly in mine). I got into a top tier school and the pressure is intense, not from the faculty directly, but from ourselves - amongst the cohort and within ourselves as ambitious students. Not one of us escaped Imposter Syndrome and there moments of frustrated tears. THAT was what made the workload difficult, more so than the actual workload itself. 

 

And note, I thought that I would and could be strong enough not to succumb to feeling inadequate (I was a 4.0 UG nearly all the way through, did a double major in history and anth which have high reading loads in UG, had a strong academic CV etc), but it still hit me. I'm not trying to scare you, rather I'm just trying to let you know that there is an emotional, affective component to this. Just be prepared for it and you'll pull through ok :)

Edited by HeadCold

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"and lets say you missed something completely basic in linear regression that wasn't covered in the econ department..  and showed up at another campus for a job talk and everyone was like "omg, so and so doesn't know OLS regression""

 

That's impossible.  Econometrics courses proceed at the same level of mathematical rigor and generality as graduate statistics courses in the stats department.  There are issues specific to sociology, like regressing survey data, multi-level modeling, and no doubt several estimation corrections in sociology that have been developed by sociometric theorists that I will need to understand, that I would need to and want to learn independently.  Understanding statistics in a  comprehensive manner -- that is understanding the theory behind it rather than just how to read ANOVAs coming out of Stata -- is precisely how one prepares to learn and apply statistical techniques in new ways, which is necessary for novel research.

 

" Departments generally prefer that student take classes in the department unless it's something that the department doesn't offer and is something that would enhance a students sociological work."

 

I explained earlier that I was to get a better foundation in statistical theory than an applied course will offer, precisely because I want to measure data for which there are few standard methods yet developed -- i.e. content and corpus analysis, and network analysis.  Those are sociological all the way down.  I have no interest in "doing economics from the sociology department."  

 

It would be helpful if someone could link to a syllabus or two from graduate sociometrics courses.  

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In regards to above quote, it was meant as an extreme example -- but just to emphasize the principle behind the rationale.  Again though, its different for every school and program - and the school requirements (ie, some departments won't credit your work outside the department).  It sounds like something you want to check on during your visits.

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I'm just going to have to get smart on what the measurement issues are in the nascent empirical fields I'm looking to break into, compare those with syllabi from the different courses, and discuss all of that with the department, yeah.

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Oh.  Yeah I'm getting the impression the sequence is structured really differently than in economics.  Your job in economics is to make it through first year courses (micro, macro, metrics, and more general math for economists) and pass comps.  If you don't pass - you either stay without funding and pass, or you leave.  Then you take field courses second year, and have to pass comps for those.  Then they give you the MA.  Then you start working with an adviser.  

 

Sounds like in soc you start from day one working really independently, and forming your project.  I like that a lot.

 

Yup. My first semester has been "easy" in that, by now in our academic careers, nobody is really shocked by "reading" (read: skimming) two or three books a week and taking periodic take-home exams. It's "easy" in that most everyone gets an A because the professors really don't care about a normal distribution of grades or any of that crap, because proving you can do original work is all the matters. It's easy in that the intro stats class attempted to move at a speed that was comfortable for students who had no interest in quantitative methods (which had the positive effect of making them more interested in quant methods). 

 

So it was easy in these respects; I certainly did not go blind. However, it was difficult in that, on the first day of my stats class, we were asked to brainstorm a final project that would be an original piece of statistical analysis, hypothetically publishable. It's difficult in the respect that we're encouraged to start doing original work from day one, and I've spent my winter break in the office trying to do just that. So, as with most things, it's as challenging as you make it. The hard part is not the amount of reading or the math, it's having something interesting to say, first in discussion and workshops every day and ultimately in article manuscripts. 

 

That all being said, programs vary. Some have more involved methods sequences than others. Others have a bigger emphasis on publishing early and often.  Most of the challenge is in participating in a non-stop intellectual community. Keeping up with the Jones's, so to speak.

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I agree with most all of the advice that has been offered by current grad students. The one thing I would add is something that may be specific to my program (T10, public university). I was surprised by the sheer range in courseload taken on by my cohort. More than a few people only took one (real) class! Most took 2, some took 3, but none took 4. Granted, our university has different credit requirements based on whether you're a TA/RA/or have outside funding. Many who took a low courseload were busy with their employment obligation (being a first-time TA, etc). But, in general, I'm shocked at how few classes graduate students take here. There are a significant number of students with full outside funding who only take 2 classes a semester. 

 

As someone who worked my way through undergrad (to the tune of 15-25 hrs per week), I don't really understand why our program doesn't put more emphasis on balancing employment with a full-time courseload. 

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As someone who worked my way through undergrad (to the tune of 15-25 hrs per week), I don't really understand why our program doesn't put more emphasis on balancing employment with a full-time courseload. 

Ah, you see you're not supposed to be balancing employment with a full-time courseload.  You're supposed to be limiting the time you spend on your students, taking what you can out of your courses, and writing, writing, writing.  That's what you're supposed to be balancing in there.  The biggest shot professor in my department told me, "I tell all my undergraduates to read more, and all my graduate students to write more." Fairly solid advice.  Also, I've been repeatedly told by professors to minimize the time I spend on my TAing responsibilities.  They're "not important".  The same biggest shot professor told me she was nominating me for a graduate student teaching award and then was like, "Not that if you win, it will help you get a job, of course, but you know it would be a nice gold star."

 

Here, most people take 3-4 courses for two years, than 1-2 for another year or two.  One of my colleagues definitely took six.  It depends on the adviser, one of my friends' advisers was like "Should take fewer classes, finish as quickly as possible [one particular requirement we have in our program] so you can concentrate on your real work."

 

Courses are most useful if 1) to learn methodologies/skills 2) to develop a relationship with a professor 3) to provide a space to write a paper (ideally writing one really good paper for two classes, or continuing work on a paper you wrote last semester).  They can be occasionally used to 4) learn the literature or background, but only if it's a tremendous professor (so it's really #2 all over again).  Also I guess to fulfill a requirement, but most departments only have very basic requirements.  An illustrative story: I told my adviser I wanted to take this class in her other department (she has a joint appointment) and she just looks at me and goes, "Why would you want to take that class? There's nothing you'd learn from her that you couldn't learn out of a book".  My favorite academic slam of the year, but also shows what you're expected to get out of classes.

 

That's incredible.  One course?  What are a normal TA's responsibilities outside grading papers?

I'm a third year taking one course.  That's pretty typical of my program (though we're required to take at least three classes through the end of our second year, but these can be "independent studies").

 

Often they have to lead discussion/recitation sections once a week.  At many state schools, TA's straight up teach.  They do everything for the class: design the syllabus, teach all the classes, grade the students.  It's heavy.  I don't know how it works in most sociology programs (I'm at a private university) but an ex who went to Iowa's MFA program was teaching a class her first year.  Ditto a friend at CUNY.  Teaching and designing a whole class obviously takes much more time than grading midterms and finals.  I don't know exactly how it is at a Top Ten public university in the first five years, but I do know that the reason most public schools have longer times to degrees than most private schools (even schools of similar caliber, compare, say, Berkeley to Princeton) is because after year 5 or so people in the public school tend to be teaching a lot (if they aren't RAing on a grant or something).

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