how do you take & organize reading notes?

I’d appreciate your dropping comments if you have thoughts, suggestions or links relevant to good strategies for taking and organizing your “literature” notes.  I’m working with my advisees on this, and I have to say that my own procedures have been ad hoc and often unsatisfactory.  I have the index card  files from my notes taken in the 1970s that are useless now.   I (as many) have tended to do ad hoc literature reviews for particular papers, but find that I have failed to keep or organize good notes that I can return to for a subsequent project, so I either rely on the lit review from the past proposal/paper I wrote, or have to start over.  I often will remember something I’ve read but not be able to remember the citation or enough information to find it again.  I have zillions of poorly-organized photocopies made in the 1980s and zillions of poorly-organized PDFs saved since the mid-1990s.  So I thought I’d put this out to the scatterbrains to see if you have good suggestions, ideas.  We’re talking meta-suggestions for how to think about the problem, as well as tools or techniques.  It’s how to get the work done now for this project plus how to be able to access the work again three years or ten years from now.

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tailor your application?

I’m putting this out as a separate question to avoid hijacking the ask a scatterbrain thread about cvs.  I advise students to try to tailor their cover letter and cv to any job they really want, to make it sound like they know something about that specific department, especially if that job is at a non-PhD department, and have said that I think mailing mass-produced materials to dozens of jobs you don’t really want is probably a waste of effort.   But I base this opinion on relatively little data.   So that’s my question, to folks on either side of the hiring process in non-PhD departments.   In hiring, do you attend to whether the materials are tailored to  your department versus being obviously generic?  On the job-getting end, did you tailor your application materials?  Also, on both ends, how often was there a personal connection through the advisor that facilitated the job-getting, rather than the paper application package?

tenure and public sociology

There have been several posts lately about public sociology and the tenure process, including newsocprof and thepublicandtheprivate and, most recently RadioFreeNewport. All are written by young scholars. The general tone of these remarks is either to worry about the impact of public sociology on getting tenure, or to decry older sociologists who tell younger sociologists to focus on getting tenure before getting heavily involved in public sociology. So another view seems helpful. I say this as someone who did not do public sociology until later in my career, well after I had tenure. These younger writers are ignoring the central point that tenure protects you when you do public sociology. Continue reading “tenure and public sociology”

rite of passage

I spent the weekend at my son’s college graduation.  My last child is now more or less launched.  The graduation ceremony was very well done.  The best part: The graduates processed across the campus to the arena in their regalia led by a bagpipe ensemble (about 20 pipers).  The bagpipes were way cool.  The faculty lined up along the parade route, so the graduates were marching past their professors and being greeted and congratulated as they marched.  My son and his girlfriend both said this was the best part of the graduation.  What a wonderful rite!  Graduations at small colleges are much more meaningful affairs.  I have been at Big State University for nearly 30 years and have never once attended an undergraduate graduation, nor even been asked to attend.   Our graduation is a huge impersonal cattle call.  I love rituals and think we ought to all line up and march around the campus once a year in our regalia, but I can’t get anyone to agree with me.

i know they love me but

I have received journal review requests from three different journals within the past 18 hours! In February I turned down four because I had not gotten done the previous four I said yes to before Christmas.  Seems like somebody out there is not doing their share, or I am on everyone’s A list.  Just saying.

advice for new assistant professors

As I’m in an advice-giving mood, I thought I’d post here something I wrote quite a few years ago.  This began as a lunch conversation with a departing grad student (who is now a dean) who asked me if I had any advice for her as she took her first job as an assistant professor.  I wrote it down later and it evolved over a few years.   I’ve gotten feedback from quite a few people that this was helpful, and some of you will doubtless recognize it.

1) Don’t take anything personally, especially not at first. People will probably treat you as insignificant, not because they think ill of you, but because they are socially inept. Most of us are comfortable with the people we already know, and are not good at being friendly to new people. The old timers ought to go out of their way to be friendly and inclusive to someone new (you) but they probably will not, and you should just chalk it up to poor social skills and nothing else.

2) Help integrate yourself. Even if you are normally more productive writing at home, work in the office a lot during the first year. Make a point of loitering in the hall when it is near lunch time, so people will notice you and think of asking you along to lunch. Continue reading “advice for new assistant professors”

tenure letters

It’s that time of year. People are considering job changes and everyone who moves from one tenured job to another needs external letters. In this game, the request for letters comes only after the department has made a hiring decision: the letters are for the an extra-departmental review at the college level. I am being asked for letters on a few weeks notice, just as I had to ask other people for them when I did my bit as chair. I am looking at several requests as I write this. Some of these are from obscure branch campuses I’ve never heard of that are asking for detailed analytic evaluations of the contributions and national influence of the candidates, for God’s sake.  Others are for extremely senior people who hardly need me to buttress their claim to fame. I have three choices: spend significant time working up a good detailed letter being sure to explain why everybody is a star, write a superficial positive letter that is at risk of being coded as reserved (i.e. negative), especially for the non-stars, or decline to write and definitely be coded as negative, again, especially for the non-stars. This is idiocy. It is bad enough that we have to do this for promotion to tenure, but does anybody believe that the external letters provide one iota of information that could not be obtained from reading the cv and the person’s publications? The department wants to know whether the person is a lunatic, but that they find out from gossip or phone calls. I don’t mind altruism and doing things for the collective good and the welfare of other scholars, but I do resent wasting my time for the benefit of bureaucratic nonsense. Not only are they asking me to read their watch for them, they are asking me to write several pages of well-crafted prose about what it says and do it for free.