Applying to doctoral programs

37 years ago, I was writing applications for history doctoral programs. I was a senior in college, had one of my professors give me the “tenured jobs in history are shrinking, regardless of what others are saying” talk (he was right), and had no clue what doctoral admissions committees look for. I applied to a dozen programs, was admitted to a few, and given a promise of full support at one, at the University of Pennsylvania. And that’s where I attended. I vaguely remember that the departments generally had different essay questions — I think Yale’s program asked applicants to write about a history book that inspired us, and why, and I chose Peter Laslett’s The World We Have Lost, which was published in 1965 and probably not anything like what they were looking for in prospective students.

If you’re applying to doctoral programs, don’t do what I did. I don’t mean, don’t apply to doctoral programs; that’s a more complicated discussion. Read the relevant portions of Jessica Calarco’s The Field Guide to Graduate School and Tressie Mcmillan Cottom’s blog entry on the topic for more complete and thoughtful comments. What I mean is, don’t apply as if it’s the 1980s with no solid information widely available about doctoral programs and what admissions committees often look for (I wrote some thoughts on this in March 2015).1

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  1. Some of the context from March 2015 is no longer true eight years later. []

Barbara J. Shircliffe, 1968-2023

Over the summer my friend, fellow historian of education, and former colleague Barbara Shircliffe died while biking in Asheville, North Carolina. I last saw Barbara at the 2019 conference of the History of Education Society, where she was presenting with Deanna Michael and a graduate student. We met while moving into our offices as new assistant professors at the University of South Florida in August 1996, fellow historians of education.1 I was one of dozens of colleagues who benefited from her support in so many ways, from being a friendly ear to a shrewd and quiet observer of human quirks, especially at a public university. I was overjoyed when she met her husband Clint Perigard, and they lived a few miles from us, reliable neighbors and friends. My first semester as a department chair, my wife and Barbara were hospitalized at the same time, my wife from pneumonia and Barbara after she was hit by a van while cycling. For a few days I shuttled in the afternoons between my office, my wife’s hospital bed, and Barbara’s ICU unit, and was grateful when both of them were released.

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  1. Christine Ogren was also part of our cohort, and is now at the University of Iowa. []

Finding external reviewers in the wild (for promotion and tenure)

In April, I wrote about finding peer reviewers in a journal context. This blog post is about a task that seems similar but isn’t: finding external reviewers of scholarship for promotion and tenure purposes. In most American colleges and universities with any research expectations for tenure, part of the process includes asking tenured faculty to write an external review letter assessing the scholarship of the candidate for promotion and/or tenure. Ideally, letter-writers are scholars who can provide an independent judgment (i.e., with no conflicts of interest), and who have both sufficient expertise in the field and understanding of tenure expectations in the U.S. to be able to explain their assessment for review committees and administrators at the candidate’s college or university.

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Attacking trans people and criminalizing teachers

In education, Ron DeSantis and Chris Rufo are the boys who cry woke, the politician and polemicist currently getting the most public attention for hyping the 2020s version of the culture wars.1 Adam Laats is among the many historians who have provided important historical perspective in Made by History (Washington Post) and Slate, among other places. I’m a little less sanguine than Laats that this current culture war wildfire will burn itself out, and even if it does, it is currently harming individual children and chilling the professional judgment of educators — which is one of its primary goals. The cruelty and intimidation are the point.

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  1. Jamelle Bouie coined this great phrase last month, in connection with political posturing around the Silicon Valley Bank failure. []

Finding peer reviewers (for journal submissions)

For the past year, I’ve been an associate editor for two journals, and for one of them, the run of manuscripts has been about 50% greater than one of the co-editors said was likely. So I’ve had to up my game in terms of the main job of associate editors for both journals, organizing the peer review process once a manuscript has been approved by the editorial leadership for peer review (i.e., not a so-called desk rejection, on first read). This blog entry describes my individual process of finding peer reviewers, in an era where the first impression of many journal editors is that manuscript submissions have increased at the same time as review invitations have been declined, especially for so-called ad hoc reviewers, outside the editorial board of a journal.

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