Thursday, June 21, 2012

Teaching Anthropology with SciFi/Fantasy: Book Suggestions

I received a lot of book suggestions from my post on teaching anthropology with SciFi and Fantasy novels. Some of these were in the comments, but others were on Facebook or through e-mail, so I thought I'd share them here. Any comments on these, or other suggestions for my summer reading?

Saladin Ahmed - Throne of the Crescent Moon

Eleanor Arnason - Ring of Swords and A Woman of the Iron People

Iain M. Banks - The Algebraist

Elizabeth Bear - Dust

Orson Scott Card - Speaker for the Dead

Suzy McKee Charnas - The Slave and the Free

Ted Chiang - Stories of Your Life and others

Samuel Delany - Dhalgren (and other books)

Nalo Hopkinson - Brown Girl in the Ring and Skin Folk

Ursula K. LeGuin - Left Hand of Darkness

Laurie Marks - Elemental Logics series (multiple recommendations)

Elizabeth Moon - Remnant Population

Km Stanley Robinson - Mars Trilogy

Dan Simmons - Illuim and Olympos

Neal Stephenson - The Diamond Age

George R. Stewart - Earth Abides

Charles Stross - Saturn's Children

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What do we owe the "inside candidate"?

I was an "inside candidate"* for my current position (though it by no means guaranteed me the job), and it looks  like I'll be serving on a search committee for a tenure-track position to replace what is, currently, a position held by a temporary faculty member. So I've been thinking about what a search committee owes to a colleague serving in a temporary position in their program who has applied for a tenure-track opening. 

I, personally, had a good experience as the "inside candidate". My colleagues were very professional, respectful, and upfront about the hiring process. But, I've heard a number of horror stories from friends. This is an awkward situation, under the best of circumstances.

First, let me say what the search committee does not owe the inside candidate. They don't owe them the job. This means that at any point along the process, the inside candidate may find that they are not in an advantageous position. This may have nothing to do with the relative merits of the inside candidate herself.  The committee may decide, when they meet to write the job advertisement, that the program has a gaping hole in the field of Purple Gerbils, but the temporary person currently teaching in the program specializes in Orange Lettuce. Or, if the committee does decide to hire in Orange Lettuce, they may find that the applicant pool for a tenure-track job is much stronger than it was for a temporary job, and therefore there are people with much more impressive CVs than that of the "inside candidate". (OK, so it's hard not to take that last situation personally, but the committee needs to make the best decision for the long-term needs of the program, to the best of their ability. This isn't a reflection on the candidate's worth as a person or researcher, merely a reflection of what the committee believes is the best fit under current circumstances.)

Similarly, the search committee does not owe their temporary colleague an interview, not even a "practice interview". There's nothing more heartbreaking than a hopeful candidate giving the interview their all, only to find later that they never had a chance at the job.

What does the search committee owe the inside candidate (especially if you aren't going to hire the person)?:

1. Courage. Most horror stories I've heard are the result of search committee members who were too cowardly to look a candidate in the eyes and tell them they hadn't gotten the job. Don't let the candidate hear they haven't been granted an interview by "accidentally" cc-ing them on the e-mail announcing the three finalists. Don't let them discover their interview was unsuccessful by announcing the final hire for the first time at a campus-wide faculty meeting. If you can't face the candidate in person (and, honestly, it might be better not to), then send them a personal e-mail or call them. 

2. Honesty. Tell the candidate exactly where they stand in the search. Don't lead them on, and don't offer them sops (like a "courtesy interview") just because you're too afraid to tell them you don't want to hire them (see #1). Yes, I know there are privacy concerns about discussing a search committee's work, but an inside candidate already has a lot more information than other candidates, just by virtue of being in the department, seeing the posters for the job talks, etc. Be rational and reasonable in what you can tell them. For example, there's no reason not to fess up if a long-list has been made and everyone who is on it has been informed. 

3. Respect. This should go without saying, but it's particularly important not to mock, denigrate, gossip about, or undermine an inside candidate with their colleagues or students. If you have a critique of their job talk that you wouldn't feel comfortable saying to their face, don't say it to a colleague, unless it's a substantive point that should be discussed during a confidential search committee meeting, and nowhere else.

4. An understanding of the job market. The job market sucks. There are far more qualified candidates than there are jobs, so getting a job is a crap shoot. Don't treat an adjunct faculty member as a second-class citizen who is unworthy of a tenure-track job, just because they took an adjunct position. These days, most of us end up with an adjunct position at least once in our careers. Recognize, too, that applying for jobs takes a lot of time and emotional energy. Don't eat that time and energy by leading the candidate to believe they have a shot at the job when they don't, let them focus their efforts on jobs for which they might be a better fit.

So what does the inside candidate owe to the search committee? Professionalism. The horror stories I've heard about inside candidates haven't just come from temporary faculty, they've also come from search committees and tenured faculty members who saw unsuccessful "inside candidates" behave in a completely inappropriate manner. Don't take advantage of your position on campus to demand special treatment or to aggressively lobby for your hire. Don't make everyone feel awkward and uncomfortable by coming to the other candidate's job talks and heckling them. Don't organize student protests if you are not offered the job. Don't try to sabotage the career of the person who was chosen in your place. You're more likely to sabotage your own. 

*To clarify, by "inside candidate", I mean someone who currently holds a temporary job, but is qualified for a newly opened tenure-track job in the same department. This post doesn't apply to situations where the search committee is clearly targeting a particular individual.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Scientific Outreach at Liberal Arts Institutions

I enjoyed these posts by Kate Clancy and Scicurious about scientific outreach. At most universities, as they point out, outreach isn't valued and isn't what we're paid to do, so any outreach is done on our own time and can actually be detrimental to our careers.

Their perspective on outreach is colored by the expectations of major research universities. Small liberal arts colleges, and particularly my small liberal arts college, provide a very different context for scientific outreach. U of MN Morris not only has a culture that encourages outreach (we have a science blogging celebrity on the faculty), we actually have an Office of Community Engagement with staff to support outreach in many forms, from service learning to student volunteerism. This is one of many reasons I love my job here!

My own experience with outreach (other than this blog, which won't count unless/until I gain an audience!) suggests that liberal arts professors, at least, can integrate outreach into their research and teaching in ways that benefit all. The higher value placed on teaching, student engagement, and pedagogical innovation makes this much easier at a liberal arts institution than at an R1.

For example, last semester I taught North American Archaeology. Outreach was part of the class. Rather than write a term paper, my students posted annotated bibliographies on the class blog. The hope is that these posts will be a resource for other students and researchers in the field. OK, so the blog posts are of varying quality, like any set of student assignments, but the potential is there, and this is a form of outreach that can be included in a class without adding any more work than would be required by regular papers.

In the same class, the students created lesson plans on archaeology and Native American culture for preschool and early elementary school children. These lesson plans are posted on the class blog for teachers to use (our Office of Community Engagement is publicizing this resource to teachers throughout the state), and my students also implemented these lesson plans in classrooms here in Morris (with the supplies all paid for by, yes, the Office of Community Engagement). Sure, implementing the lesson plans took some time out of my schedule (at the very end of the semester, when I was 8.75 months pregnant!), but creating the lesson plans was an academic exercise for my students, and, again, didn't take any more time out of my schedule than grading any other paper.

The quality of my teaching will be a huge part (about half) of my tenure decision next year. Innovative approaches, student and community engagement, and outreach count as "pluses" in my portfolio. No, a class blog won't make up for abysmal student evaluations or a total lack of publications, but outreach is valued and can help create a strong tenure package at institutions where teaching and engagement are encouraged.

So, while I agree with the points Katy Clancy and Scicurious made on their blogs, I just want to point out that many (most?) PhDs don't work in R1 institutions. For those of us at liberal arts colleges, outreach can be an asset.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Teaching Anthropology through Science Fiction and Fantasy

Book orders for the Fall were due today, and I turned in my strangest list ever: nine science fiction and fantasy novels. I'm teaching a new class that introduces students to anthropology through speculative fiction, my first foray into teaching with literature. 

The class covers four major topics: 1) gender roles, sexuality, and family structure; 2) social organization and governance; 3) race, ethnicity, and culture contact; and 4) religion, ritual, and belief. For each topic, we'll read theoretical articles and ethnographic examples of documented cultural variation (past and present), as well as two novels. The students will analyze the novels for the unspoken assumptions by the authors (for example, based on the plot and characters, did the author believe certain gender roles or racial classification systems to be inherent to human societies?), and compare those assumptions to the ethnographic and archaeological literature. In the process, the students will have to consider their own assumptions about what traits make us human.

The class project is a world-building exercise. Students will create their own speculative human societies, with specific focus on our four major topics. They will have to justify the choices they make through reference to the anthropological literature, so they aren't given unlimited license for creativity. Students must engage big questions, like "are there inherent social differences between males and females?" or "what rules, if any, govern and limit human behavior and social organizations?". Our focus on speculative fictions means that students can think about how technology, or alternative rules of physics, or magical powers could change these limits and rules (what happens to gender roles if men are biologically capable of bearing children? what happens to racial classification systems if people are capable of changing their physical appearance and/or their very genes at will?) This class project is similar to the world simulation approach to Intro to Cultural Anthropology described by Mike at Savage Minds, but without the simulation, just the world-building. 

Picking the novels was hard. I wanted both science fiction and fantasy novels, both classic and new books, and a diversity of authors (to the extent that's possible). I limited my choices to books about human societies, so as not to confuse our discussions with the addition of aliens. The final reading list is a mixed bag of books I love, books I like, and books I don't care for much, but which I chose because they will generate discussion. 

Here's the list. I'd love suggestions for future editions of this class!

Gender roles, sexuality, and family structure:
Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my all-time favorite authors)
Glory Season by David Brin (not my favorite book, but good for opening discussions about family structure)

Social organization and governance:
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (just read my first Banks novel. How could I have missed this?!)
The Earthsea Cycle  (first two books), by Ursula K. Le Guin (Le Guin's not my favorite author, but I had to include her. You do know the K stands for Kroeber, right? As in the daughter of Alfred?)

Race, ethnicity, and culture contact:
Who Fears Death? by Nnedi Okorafor (Okorafor needs to write more adult fiction)
Beguilement (The Sharing Knife Book 1) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Bujold again!)

Religion, ritual, and belief:
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller (An oldie but goodie. Actually, finding appropriate books about religion was hard. Either the books had an ax to grind - think Philip Pullman - or were proselytizing - think C.S. Lewis - or, in the case of many fantasy books, the existence of supernatural forces was eminently provable, in the form of gods walking the earth or legitimate prophecies. I think the nature and function of religion would be quite different in a society where people frequently sit down to tea with their god, so I avoided those books.)
Dune by Frank Herbert (another classic)

So what gems of literature did I miss?