Some data on promotion at my university

In this blog post, I would like to provide some data for my colleagues on promotion at our university. I have heard many different comments in regards to research and publications. However, there appears to be very little data, or evidence beyond anecdotes describing what’s going on systematically. So, I’ve sat down and put this estimate together. The following chart of search “results” for publications was created using our Daily Brief newsletter announcements, and doing searches on Google Scholar.

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Criticizing Return-on-Investment Approach to Degrees in PA

A version of this post appears in the APSCUF-KU May 2016 Newsletter.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s System of Higher Education (PASSHE) issued a press release on a report entitled Degrees of Value. This report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce will become part of the State System’s “Program Alignment Toolkit.” Looking at undergraduate degrees and income, the report essentially takes a return-on-investment (ROI) approach to college degrees. In PASSHE’s press release, it noted that: “While college-educated employees in any field tend to earn more than those with only a high school education, the college majors that lead to the highest earnings are in STEM, health and business. For example, a major in architecture and engineering, the highest-paying area of STEM, led to average earnings of $82,500 in Pennsylvania.”

The ROI approach to undergraduate programs is highly problematic and often criticized. Not only are there problems with its logic, it is typically used as an attack on the arts and humanities. APSCUF, the union representing faculty in the PASSHE system, has issued its statement on the report. However, I would like to offer my thoughts on the report. I do not find the results of the report particularly surprising. What is disconcerting is that the document lacks nuance even when using a ROI rationale and the report’s own data.

Take for example the state average for students who majored in the humanities and liberal arts. Median earnings for a humanities and liberal arts major between the ages of 12-64 is $45,300 statewide. However, a humanities and liberal arts major in the Southeast region of the state makes $49,900, which is more than a biology and life science major living in the Northwest region of the state ($46,400) and pretty close to a biology major in the Southwest region ($51,000).


Biology & Life Science Humanities & Liberal Arts
Central Region



Northeast Region



Northwest Region



Southeast Region



Southwest Region






Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 14, pages 23-24

The Degrees of Value report only briefly discusses geographic differences. However, it only does so within majors. This is because using income as a benchmark is complicated by significant regional differences in jobs, cost of living, and economic resources. Yet, the report’s focus is solely on income.

PASSHE’s acceptance of the report reinforces faculty fears of a vocational-drive by campus administrators and state leaders. Yet, the data within the report does not support a vocational-drive based on ROI. Students majoring in the social sciences make more than those in fields such as agriculture and natural resources, education, law & public policy, journalism, industrial arts, and social work.

Major Median earnings by undergraduate major group ages 21-64
Social Sciences $52,800
Agriculture & natural resources 50,800
Education 47,800
Law & public policy 46,700
Communications & journalism 43,400
Industrial arts, consumer services & recreation 42,100
Psychology & social work 42,100
Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 12, page 20

In addition to the report’s focus on STEM-H, business majors are a focus. Yet, social science majors in the Southeast Region do better than many business majors across the state.



Social Sciences (excluding psychology and social work)

Central Region



Northeast Region



Northwest Region



Southeast Region



Southwest Region






Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 14, pages 23-24

It is also important to note that nationally, the gap between humanities & social science, and professional & pre-professional fields closes significantly over the course of a worker’s career.

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, AAUP.

In conclusion, the equating of undergraduate degree with income is simplistic. It ignores economic geography, labor market dimensions, as well less quantifiable benefits such as career satisfaction, community service, and job security.

They are not the same: MLA versus APA (or ASA)

Splatter Checksheet

checksheetIn my last post, I talked a bit about social science writing. Although I am trained as a sociologist, my work is interdisciplinary. My work draws on art history, cultural studies, geography, history, and media studies. As such, I often have to adjust my writing and reference style for different journals. In some cases, I’ve actually chosen not to submit my work to journals because it would require a massive revision of my work to change it from a social science style (APA, ASA, etc.) to MLA. This is one of the reasons why I cringe when someone says that all citation styles are the same. I think this is because most faculty simply refer to students to style guides that show the differences between MLA, APA and Chicago, but do not explain why the styles are different.

In this post, I want to highlight the key differences between MLA and social science references and try to explain why they’re different. First, of all I don’t want get into the difference between nomothetic social sciences and idiographic humanities. I’m more interested in the actual technical difference of citation and the function they serve. My goal is to use examples to show readers that there’s a reason the styles are different.

I’ve chosen an article from PMLA, the Modern Language Association’s flagship journal. Also, I’ve chosen American Sociological Review (ASR) an American Sociological Association (ASA) journal (because I’m a sociologist). Both touch upon similar topics: prisons, incarceration and its consequences. However, the goals are different. In PMLA, Robert Waxler is telling a story about his program Changing Lives through Literature. In this piece, he discusses his experiences with teaching literature to criminal offenders, and discusses Nathaniel Hawthorne’s description of prisons. In ASR, Matthew Desmond and Nichol Valdez are discussing the rise of third-party policing in poor neighborhoods using empirical evidence.

MLA is a style that is very closely associated with the type of textual analysis found in the humanities. The way one references text in that style, is very much tied to the practices and goals of the fields that use it.  Waxler writes in the 2nd paragraph of his article:

Nathaniel Hawthorne had another idea. He offers three terms – community, cemetery, and prison: “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earlier practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison” (47). We cannot escape the cemetery anymore than we can escape necessity, as Hawthorne well knew. It marks the boundary for us, the radical limitation, the body without voice or movement, the corpse. The prison reminds us of a difference, the possibility of return to the community, to the voice and movement of lives restored-the call to freedom, to possibility.

Here it’s very clear that Waxler is writing about Hawthorne. Moreover, his use of Hawthorne is to help him define Waxler’s own understanding of mortal, physical and social boundaries. When he references William Wordsworth in the following paragraph, it’s very clear that he is now talking about Wordsworth. In addition to naming names, it’s also far less common in work that uses MLA to pack in references. References such as: (Ayling, Grabosky, and Shearing 2009; Braithwaite 2000) found in Desmond and Valdez’s article are not commonly used in this type of writing.

Here is the introductory paragraph from an article by Matthew Desmond and Nichol Valdez:

The United States has witnessed a prison boom of colossal proportions, fueled in large part by intensive policing of inner-city neighborhoods (Western 2006). At the same time cities were hiring more police officers and states were building more prisons, another far-reaching development was unfolding within the field of criminal justice. Across the Anglophone world, crime control was becoming decentralized and diffused throughout the social space. The police began convincing and coercing community actors (landlords, business owners) to assume some responsibility for correcting misconduct. Identified by a number of designations—here, we use the term third-party policing—this approach constituted “a new crime control establishment” (Garland 2001:17). “The most significant development in the crime control field,” according to Garland (2001:170), “[is the development of] a third ‘governmental’ sector . . . poised between the state and civil society, connecting the criminal justice agencies with the activities of citizens, communities and corporations . . . [and extending] the field of ‘formal’ crime control and its potential for organized action.”

While both articles define the concepts they will be using via quotes and references, the style and function of the references are different. In the sociology journal, Western’s name and publication year is the reference.  Typically, in the text of an MLA paper, Bruce Western would already be referenced to show who came up with the idea. This means the reference in MLA is telling the reader where it came from. In ASR, the reference quickly tells us who and when the idea of the prison boom came from. The where, or the textual is absent unless one chooses to look it up. Even then, the writing suggests that we are not particularly interested in Bruce Western either. Rather, the goal is to quickly give attribution to Western’s research on the prison boom to set up factual information before moving on to David Garland’s discussion of control to explain third-party policing. In short, the references obviously provide the reader with different information. This means readers from different backgrounds expect different information.

I want to go a bit further and illustrate how different the first sentence would be if re-written as MLA.

According to David Western in “Punishment and Inequality in America,” the United States has witnessed a prison boom of colossal proportions, fueled in large part by intensive policing of inner-city neighborhoods.

This MLA version makes the prison boom as an offshoot of David Western’s work. However, what is Western’s work? Is it opinion or is research? Even if one where change the sentence to “According to research conducted by criminologist David Western…,” it still implies a degree of subjectivity because it emphasizes the author. Sometimes this is useful, but in many cases it is not. In the social and natural sciences, the reference and writing style emphasizes the research behind the statement (or at least that it is credible and reliable). On some level, it does not matter who came up with the idea, because another researcher should be able to replicate the result.

This barely scratches the surface of the differences between two very excellent pieces of writing. However, I hope this begins a discussion of why styles are different. Or at least move away from statements like “MLA and APA are pretty much the same thing.”

Before I conclude, I want to mention another thing. If Waxler had been a sociologist, his article could be considered unethical. Prisoners are classified as vulnerable subjects. The inclusion of quotes from those he worked with for in a publication without informed consent and human subject approval could mean trouble for him. There is no discussion of this in the paper at all, whereas in a social science article there would be a mention of this. This means that the process and final result of writing for the humanities and social sciences are as different as their reference styles.

Disciplinary Writing

I’m writing this as a rebuttal to my colleague Amanda’s blog post about writing. I fully understand the intent of her piece and appreciate the message she is trying to send to young writers. However, the idea that students should write from their soul troubles me greatly as a social science professor. The danger of telling young writers to come up with their own voice, is that they often interpret it as opinion or personal reflection in their papers. This is perhaps the greatest source of annoyance for social science faculty (and likely for those in the natural sciences as well). As someone who grades nearly 100 sociology papers a term, I am increasingly bothered by my students’ inability to write social science papers. They resort to MLA, because that’s how they’ve been taught for years. They extensively use metaphors and similes, because that’s how they learned to “show, not tell.” There are a number seniors who tell me that they’ve never written a research paper until they reached my class. Basically, my sociology colleagues and I need to (re)train our students in social science writing.

This does not just affect undergraduate students. Because high school writing and college composition is so heavily dominated by English departments, even graduate students often struggle to adapt to the norms and conventions of non-humanities fields. While Amanda is encouraging students to break the rules, I am arguing the opposite. Students need to learn the “rules” if they want to be taken seriously as social scientists. Duke University, for instance, has a guide to discipline-specific writing guide. Other discipline-specific writing resources can be found at the bottom of this post. I would argue that discipline-specific writing needs to be better integrated into K-12 and college curricula.

In most cases, writing is not simply about the author expressing their creativity. It is also about the audience. It is about communicating your ideas effectively to that audience. Different audiences expect different things. This is because different types of writing serve different purposes. The goal of creative writing is different than social science research writing. There are also different kinds of social science writing. Are you generating theory? Or reporting findings? Or is it a review of the literature? This all requires fundamentally different rhetorical strategies, and discipline (or even sub-discipline) specific writing. The strategy of “show, not tell,” is accomplished very differently in different fields. In order to effectively communicate ideas, the author must (reasonably) conform to the norms of the discipline.

Amanda emphasizes two things in her blog: voice and style.

I believe that ALL authors need to have a voice. However, different types of writing require different voices and styles. For example, ethnographers walk a tightrope where they need to ensure their voice does not overly impose their own subjectivity onto their “subjects” while still making their own argument. In some (not all) experimental and quantitative work, the author is often “reporting” results. It’s a matter-of-fact style in which procedure and results are front and center, not necessarily the author’s voice. Typically, the method chosen reflects the different goals and interests of the researcher, and in turn shape the writing. In fact, I would argue that voice, structure and style is very much tied to research method. The type of writing associated with different research methods has largely evolved out of the rhetorical needs of researchers to effectively make arguments, legitimize their work, establish credibility and make reliable claims. To deviate from convention is not just a risk, but poor social science writing. In some cases, it might even be considered unethical.

In conclusion, I want to offer different advice. It is actually a bit of advice that’s cobbled together from several professors I had in graduate school: Study the “type” of work published where you want to publish. Study the style and language of what you enjoy reading. In other words, learn to write like the authors you read. This does not mean give up on creativity. It means using successful examples of writing as a model for your own success.

Discipline Specific Writing Resources: