Jump to content

How to measure a Professor's standing/respect in field?


Recommended Posts

So, I stole this heading from a similar thread in the Engineering Forum because I didn't see one in History and I'm intrigued to hear your thoughts on this. Is the sheer amount of publications the indicator? I can't really afford to fly to all the prospective schools I'm considering, so it will be hard to ask the informal, probing questions of current grads in those departments.

 

How can you tell?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just like I suggested in the other thread, ask your advisors and current graduate students in your department, if there is a graduate program. Talk to graduate students of your potential advisors and ask all the tough questions. Skype/phone is better than email. Graduate students are normally very forthcoming, if you ask very direct questions. They may not say anything negative, but look out for lack of positive opinions about a person. Publications and grants tell you something about a person's success in their research, but not about what kind of advisor they are. Talk to them about that and also to their students.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I guess that's my question. The reason that I'm dissatisfied with fuzzylogician's answer is that I'm not about to email a prof and ask "are you respected in your field? Can you email me a list of every grad student you've worked with so I can question them? etc."

Beyond looking at some of their publications, seeing what level of professorship they have, and general googling, I'm not sure how to tell.

 

One of the profs in my department happened to know the professor I applied to work with, but that still doesn't say too much about degrees of respect/clout/pull in the field.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I guess that's my question. The reason that I'm dissatisfied with fuzzylogician's answer is that I'm not about to email a prof and ask "are you respected in your field? Can you email me a list of every grad student you've worked with so I can question them? etc."

 

That would indeed be a bad way to go about getting your question answered. But you can certainly contact this potential advisor and ask him/her to put in you touch with some of his/her current advisees. Once you have those contacts, email them with questions and maybe ask to talk to these students on skype. A professor is likelier to give you names of happy students rather than disgruntled students, so part of your job when talking to these students will be to ask who this professor's past students were, if anyone has quit or changed advisors recently in the department and with this particular advisor, and how the student thinks the general student body feels about the program - are people generally progressing on time, are many students dropping out or leaving with a MA, are many people changing advisors (and can you do that? -- you could ask this as a positive question because it's good to know anyway). Many of these are informational and you could ask in an email. Then you also want to ask about the professor's advising style (possibly better done on the phone but also possible in an email), how many current/past students they take a year, when reecnt alums are now, how often they meet with the professor. Also possibly interesting: what they have taught recently, do they co-teach, do they co-author papers or have joint projects and with whom. Do the students know if the professor is invited to give many talks, go often to conferences, where/when they are publishing currently. You can learn a lot from just asking objective information questions.

Link to post
Share on other sites

One way you can go about doing this is if a professor says that he or she cannot take on students, ask for recommendations.  A senior scholar has a long view of the field and can identify who are the rising stars and such.  

 

As for "rising star"... it's quite difficult to tell other than finding out how much the person is in demand for talks and will the first book was received through strong reviews and book awards.

 

More important, really, is to find someone who can really teach and has a decent rep in the field.  You want a teacher, not someone who is solely a researcher/scholar.  Otherwise, you just aren't going to learn much of anything from your own adviser (and s/he will have failed to do his/her job).

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a problem I've been working on since the medieval field is sort of between waves right now, with the Greats all retiring and it not being entirely clear who the new lights are. 

 

I've noticed a couple general things:

1) Institution: well respected institutions with strong departments tend to attract well-respected names, or vice versa.

2) Writing: number of publications is great, but I judge whether I want to take a course with someone based on how clear their professional writing is.

3) Respect != good training: particularly at top institutions, professors can be very friendly and helpful, but they can also be out of the country half the year because they're so well respected, which is of no use to you.

4) Institution (redux): Originating institution or doktorvater do not make someone well respected, only tolerated.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I know some people advised against this on these boards, but I have contacted grad students and asked their opinions about their advisor. This was the advise of my current advisor. Some students haven't written me back, but most of them are more than willing to share their opinions, which have been extremely helpful. In fact, I am not applying to one school based on their feedback. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with the others that "well respected in the field" and "good at advising" are two different things, probably BOTH of which, together, make up A Good Adviser. For the latter, you pretty much have to ask current grads (or if you are close to a new prof who is a former advisee!). I am certainly *always* thrilled to talk about how awesome my adviser and not-quite-co-adviser are. :D

 

For the former, you could look at things like: book awards, how often their books get cited, whether they get mentioned in historiography articles, whether their articles are field-shaping in any way, how your current profs react when you suggest you might be working with Doctor Who next year. Are they fellows of prestigious organizations or have they held leadership positions in them.

 

Some department-subfield combos are name-brand enough that everyone they hire is already well respected, but that might be a little hard to figure out until you're somewhere and you get to watch job searches happen.

 

This is a problem I've been working on since the medieval field is sort of between waves right now, with the Greats all retiring and it not being entirely clear who the new lights are.

 

It is a weird, weird time for us.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you also need to understand that some of this is personality that you wouldn't be able to figure out until you work with someone.  I have one adviser rather than another because the second one intimidates me to inaction despite that not being his/her intension. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I always appreciate New England Nat's forthrightness and insights. Very good point. When I decided early last fall my number one POI and institution, I flew out and had a sit down with him. I wasn't about to get married to someone I had only corresponded with or spoken with on the phone. Now I will be working with him in the fall and have complete confidence that we can work together well and that is based primarily on the now two meetings I have had with him in person. I know not everyone can manage to arrange this, and its not as if I only applied to that one school, but it was critical for me (and maybe for him too, as I was one of only two fully funded this year.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Wha? #confused

Sorry, your screen name includes the name Dave. I know your first name because we've PM'd so I was having some fun playing with the gendered issues surrounding "marriage" to ones adviser.

It's Friday. Forgive me. I've written about 4,500 words in the last 36 hours and I need to "let my hair down."

Edited by Wicked_Problem
Link to post
Share on other sites

Unfortunately, yes, personalities matter.  You just don't know until you actually start working with the person.  That's why it's important to have at least one or two other faculty member who can step in when things go really, really, really, really wrong between you and your (chosen) adviser.  

 

This is very tough for small fields because that adviser is often your only one in the department whom you can turn to for nearly everything (more than you think).  I recently told a prospective when s/he asked about the chances of my adviser leaving, "If she leaves, I expect her to take me along with her.  I say this because there is NOBODY else in my department who is my subfield."  She reasoned that there are other respectable professors whom she could turn to if that happens and chose to accept the offer.

 

That written, I can recommend "small field" people to be in touch with POIs who they're interested in to get a quick sense of their personality and style during the application process.  So, try not to simply focus on how shiny their bios are to help you determine whether or not you should apply there.  Even if the page seems lackluster, just drop an e-mail and see what happens.  Some profs just don't care to brag.  My adviser doesn't and I have to advocate on her behalf of her fabulousness.

 

PhD training is difficult enough as it is that you do ideally want to have a good adviser and connections with stars within your department and outside of it within and outside of your university.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

I've wondered a lot about this myself.  I am not an undergrad anymore and am disconnected from the field almost totally, since I have a full-time job.  Honestly, I've been so overwhelmed with trying to find the "right" advisor that it's pretty much boggled my mind.  I don't even know what the good programs in my field are, much less the great professors!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...

By my reading, the OP asked how does one figure out a historian's standing in her/his field and that question has become morphed with "how does one figure out how good of an advisor an academic will be?"

 

A potential way to answer both questions is to look at the acknowledgements in recent important works in one's area of specialization. How often and ernestly do historians thank Professor Z for her help? Did Professor Z provide additional materials and guidance above and beyond what other scholars did in the preparation of the work at hand? In her own works, does Professor Z thank many of her colleagues by name or does she tend to go it alone? If Professor Z has given and received many thanks there's a good change that she's the real deal-- a historian who wants to advance the field and is willing to teach/mentor even as she herself learns.

 

A second way to address both questions is to zero in on how Professor Z interacts with rival scholars and/or historical methods/interpretations she finds controversial, if not outright distasteful. Sure, it can be fun to see the fireworks as big dogs go after each other, but do you really want to work with a POI who is going to hold you to a certain level of intellectual, methodological, and political rigidity? (If you end up in a seminar taught by a "new" social historian, ask her about Eugene Genovese's rift with Herb Gutman.) Or do you want a POI who is going to say essentially, I don't agree with you, here's why but aside from that here are ways to make your work better...

 

IRT asking Professor Z's graduate students, I suggest caution and a fifty pound bag of salt if one decides to to this route. IME, relationships between graduate students and their professors can be very complicated and fluid due to the rhythms of the professor-student relationship. (Peter Lowenberg's Decoding the Past has a couple of essays that that may be profitable if one can find a copy.) Moreover, different graduate students may have different kinds of relationships with their professors than others. This differences can range from assessments of academic potential, to interpersonal chemistry, to intellectual styles. Student A could have a very different view of Professor Z than Student B. And those views can flip and switch very quickly. How can you, an applicant who doesn't know anything about what's going on behind the curtain figure out which version of Professor Z is the one you're going to get?

Link to post
Share on other sites

By my reading, the OP asked how does one figure out a historian's standing in her/his field and that question has become morphed with "how does one figure out how good of an advisor an academic will be?"

 

A potential way to answer both questions is to look at the acknowledgements in recent important works in one's area of specialization. How often and ernestly do historians thank Professor Z for her help? Did Professor Z provide additional materials and guidance above and beyond what other scholars did in the preparation of the work at hand? In her own works, does Professor Z thank many of her colleagues by name or does she tend to go it alone? If Professor Z has given and received many thanks there's a good change that she's the real deal-- a historian who wants to advance the field and is willing to teach/mentor even as she herself learns.

 

A second way to address both questions is to zero in on how Professor Z interacts with rival scholars and/or historical methods/interpretations she finds controversial, if not outright distasteful. Sure, it can be fun to see the fireworks as big dogs go after each other, but do you really want to work with a POI who is going to hold you to a certain level of intellectual, methodological, and political rigidity? (If you end up in a seminar taught by a "new" social historian, ask her about Eugene Genovese's rift with Herb Gutman.) Or do you want a POI who is going to say essentially, I don't agree with you, here's why but aside from that here are ways to make your work better...

 

IRT asking Professor Z's graduate students, I suggest caution and a fifty pound bag of salt if one decides to to this route. IME, relationships between graduate students and their professors can be very complicated and fluid due to the rhythms of the professor-student relationship. (Peter Lowenberg's Decoding the Past has a couple of essays that that may be profitable if one can find a copy.) Moreover, different graduate students may have different kinds of relationships with their professors than others. This differences can range from assessments of academic potential, to interpersonal chemistry, to intellectual styles. Student A could have a very different view of Professor Z than Student B. And those views can flip and switch very quickly. How can you, an applicant who doesn't know anything about what's going on behind the curtain figure out which version of Professor Z is the one you're going to get?

 

Precisely.  I told an incoming student of my adviser that if she talks to the three of us (her advisees) about our adviser, she'll get three different versions.  My advice to this person was, "Just go in for yourself."

 

I agree with Sigaba, reading the acknowledgments is probably the best way to go.  You'll learn more about the person's network.  It was one of the big reasons why I chose my current adviser- I want(ed) to interact with all these scholars who provided help and guidance.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.