What is top-tier?

This blog post is a follow up to my previous defense of scholarly writing and a response to something I have been hearing from some colleagues at my institution– that publishing in top-tier journals is “impossible” for most faculty at my university. In this post, I want to first unpack this problematic assumption and then offer my thoughts on getting work published.

A bit of background: I happen to do interdisciplinary work. What I’ll be addressing might not work for all fields. Also, I am writing this while  at a regional teaching-oriented institution that has a 4/4 course load, where some publishing is required. Despite our faculty collective bargaining agreement explicitly stating quality matters more than quantity, many on my campus would argue that our contract does not offer guidance of how to evaluate quality over quantity. The result has been predatory publishing squeaking through the tenure process in the past, and more recently faculty getting denied due to ill-defined notions of quality.

Getting back to the question of publishing in particular venues – I think that the concern of my colleagues needs to be re-framed in the following ways. What constitutes a top-tier journal? Are we just talking about flagship journals of professional organizations? Are we talking about impact factors and other bibliometrics? Quantitatively, top-tier could mean anything within the first two quartiles of ranked journals in a field – which could account for several dozens of journals that are well cited and publish solid work. However, there are also journals in subfields that are also ranked. Web of Science and Google Scholar have categories beyond traditional/major disciplinary areas. Subjectively, it depends on your subfield. Is it a journal that you have cited in your own work? Is it a journal that publishes work you read regularly?

If I had to provide my own definition, I would say it’s simply a journal that publishes work that fellow scholars in the field recognize and respect.  Usually, this means there’s a correlation with citation counts, but it could be that it is affiliated with a professional association or be with an well known/established publisher. So yes, it’s a broad definition. However, you should always keep in mind what does or does not count in your department/institution as well as your field.

The idea that certain types of publication is “impossible” is dangerous. I think my colleagues mean well. We are a teaching oriented institution. However, this assumption discourages junior scholars from attempting to publish in highly ranked journals that can help grow a career. Indeed, one should always keep local tenure/promotion timelines in mind. However, I personally believe that scholars – especially young ones – should always aim for the best journal their work fits in. It increases the visibility of your hard work. Also it is work that is future proof if the journal is ever acquired by another published.

They key here is that the work is a fit for the journal. Prior to submitting your work to a journal, you need to do your homework. Do you cite articles in that journal? Or authors that have published in that journal? Do you engage in the literature that those who have written in that journal work in? Does the journal publish primarily qualitative or quantitative work?

Indeed, it is harder to get published in some journals than others. However, rejection can be valuable. The best advice I ever got in graduate school on publishing is to have a ranked list of where you would like to publish. If you get rejected from your first choice, you move down to the next one until you get an acceptance. As you move down the list, you will likely get feedback that can help you improve your manuscript and have it published in a well regarded venue.

Finally, for some good tips on publishing see Victoria Reyes’ article in InsideHigherEd

 

Reflections on Higher Ed during APAHM

So it is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). Increasingly, APAHM and annual events such as the Lunar New Year provoke odd feelings for me. As an Asian-American living in rural Pennsylvania and working in higher education, it can be awkward at times. In Berks County, where I live, the Asian (one race) population is 1.6%. On my campus less than 1% of students identify as Asian. A few years ago, I was asked at a conference if it was difficult being a faculty of color in rural Pennsylvania. I cannot say it has been horrible, but it is certainly awkward.

Being Asian-American in higher education is complicated. Asians/Asian-Americans are considered “over-represented” in higher education relative to the general population. Even at my institution, 9.1% of faculty are Asian / Pacific Islander, while the Asian population in Pennsylvania is 3.6%. Yet, Asian-Americans are often forgotten as a minority group on and off campus.

Indeed, there is a rationale for the exclusion of Asian-Americans from the category of under-represented minority group(s). In 2015, there were 55,006 doctoral recipients in the United States. About 1/3 of degree recipients are temporary visa holders. Among the top countries origin for visa holders, China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan rank in the top 5 countries. Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents who received doctoral degrees, 8.7% were Asian-American – compared to 5.6% of the U.S. population. Of course, not all recipients of doctoral degrees work in universities. According to TIAA institute’s look at faculty diversity, 6.4% of all faculty are Asian-American and 2.1% of all faculty are immigrants (born and educated abroad). These two groups are also disproportionately at research institutions and not regional teaching-oriented ones such as my own.

However, this – and other – data tends to fuel the “Model Minority” myth and ignore the real experiences that people have. There are significant cultural and economic differences between different groups of Asian-Americans. The category of Asian includes people with heritage from about 4 dozen countries and many different ethnic groups. As such, the generalization of Asian-Americans as a single category is problematic. Moreover, income data that illustrates Asian-American success ignores the fact that Asian-Americans have the highest poverty rate in New York City, and there are high rates of poverty for many Southeast Asian groups. Asian-Americans are also faced with hate crimes and glass ceilings.

Just as the Asian-American category is problematic, Asian-American over-representation in higher education is not straightforward. It also does not mean an absence of racism, xenophobia, micro-aggressions, and various types of discrimination in the workplace. Take for example, in the life sciences 10.8% of recent PhDs are Asian-American versus the 4.3% in humanities fields. The resulting stereotype of Asians in STEM fields has consequences outside of those fields. For instance, there is a case of a political scientist profiled into teaching statistics. There are also concerns regarding the inclusion of Asian-American studies in curricula, and its consequences for tenure. The absence of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment from history lessons is revealing of the way in which Asian-Americans are still under-represented in higher education. At the same time, there is pressure for Asian-American scholars like myself – who do not work on Asia/Asian-Americans – to do so (stay tuned for a blog post on ‘mesearch’).

In conclusion, I cannot say it has been horrible, but it is certainly awkward.

In defense of scholarly writing

In this blog post, I would like to defend scholarly writing as well as the academic peer review process. I say this while also being very critical of the process and its inaccessibility. However, I don’t believe we should disregard its strengths.

There are two major critiques to academic writing and publishing. The first involves is the seemingly absurd process of publishing academic work. Submitting a journal manuscript for publication can mean a multi-month to multi-year commitment. Not only is time involved with revision as well as rejection, there are countless horror stories associated with the peer review process. In some fields, it is particularly bad. Editors face headaches as well.

However, if publishing was like the job market, my CV would likely be blank. The double-blind peer review is one of few places in which scholars from less recognized institutions are not judged based on affiliation and who they know. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, found that single-blind review does have bias toward well-known researchers and institutions. However, they found double-blind review does reduce biased found in the review the process of the journal they examined.

I work at a regional teaching-oriented institution and have a PhD from a middling state institution. I am at a disadvantage not only due to these biases, but I have fewer resources that scholars and doctoral recipients from more well-known schools. Thanks to double blind review in my field, my work has generally received fair evaluations – which includes acceptances and rejections from prestigious journals in my subfield. Certainly, the peer review process can be improved. There are suggestions out there. However, I want to say that the process is not without merits.

The second critique is the inaccessibility of research. On Twitter, I have certainly shared plenty of articles that argue academics need to change the way they communicate their research. This problem is complicated, when academic knowledge is hidden behind expensive paywalls. Many on academic social media have discussed the problem of work that counts (or does not) in promotion and tenure processes and problems with the use of prestige/impact factor. As my colleagues have noted on Twitter, non-academic writing is not valued in tenure and promotion processes. This pushes scholars to put their work in the hands of publishers that are not committed to sharing knowledge.

However, I do not believe it is as simple as saying blogs or other public writing should count. For instance, the American Sociological Association, which I am a part of, released a report called “What Counts? Evaluating Public Communication in Tenure and Promotion.” The report essentially calls for context when evaluating public work (see: discussion in Inside Higher Ed).

For me, this context is engagement with the field. There is value in engaging with your peers, just as there is value in work that is aimed at non-academic audiences.  Academic writing – even at non-research schools – is useful in keeping one’s skills up-to-date. Indeed, it is a highly specialized form of communication. However, that is fundamentally what it means to have a PhD and do academic work.

Working Over The Summer

APSCUF (my faculty union) currently has a blog series that examines what professors do when class is not in session. This is a response to politicians characterizing our workload as being only 17 hours a week. Pennsylvania professors are not alone in sharing their “off contract” and summer activities. Faculty in Connecticut are keeping busy. So important are the summer months to our professional work, faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have written an advice piece for Inside Higher Ed on how to get the most out of the summer (and not burn out). I have my own blog post on summer writing written two years ago. For this post, I’d like to add to the discussion of – not just how much we work as faculty – but how important our so-called “off” time is.

Indeed, for me, as well as my colleagues, there is no “time off.” We work year round, but time for different activities may be allocated differently throughout the year. Summer is when I do much of my course preparation for the next academic year. This means reading new books on the areas I teach, revising syllabi, and updating data in my PowerPoints. This probably is not surprising to those outside of academia.

Summer is absolutely necessary for research and writing, which is not included the politicians’ 17 hour calculation. While we are not paid for the summer (unless we teach), this is when many of us conduct the research that is integral to our jobs as teachers and educators. At teaching oriented institutions, such as the PASSHE system, summer “free time” is even more important for continuing our scholarly growth. During the regular academic year, the time needed to manage four courses per term, grading, student advising, as well as committee and service work makes it extremely difficult to focus on research and writing.

For example, I study cities and globalization. Summer is my chance to travel to the places I study. In the past, I have visited universities in Ethiopia and Turkey. Last summer, I participated in a conference in Italy. While overseas, I am not only interacting with other scholars, but also investigating the processes that shape urban life. The only way this can be done without interfering with my teaching is to do it during the summer. This work is not just “research,” but it helps me in the classroom back in Pennsylvania. By conducting research, I am also preparing for my teaching. In gaining first hand knowledge and other experiences to share with my students, I can be a stronger teacher.

Summer is also the time in which I write up my research. In my field, this means an 8,000 to 10,000 word article that goes through many rounds of revision before submission to a scholarly journal for review by peers and other experts in the field. I believe that my strength as a teacher comes from my ongoing research and writing. Rob Jenkins, who writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, has discussed how writing helps him in the classroom. Personally, I push myself to write for the same reasons we make our students write. It forces me to actively engage the literature and current trends in the field. This requires reading what others of written, thinking about my own research, and figuring out a way to make an effective argument. Furthermore, I submit myself to peer review for the same reasons why peer review is good for student writing as well. It forces me to clarify and effectively communicate ideas – valuable skills in the classroom.

As a sociologist, the American Sociological Association (ASA)’s annual meeting in August typically marks the end of summer. In the past four years, Kutztown has sent six undergraduate students to the ASA Honors program. This puts us in the company of elite research schools and selective liberal arts campuses – campuses that provide greater institutional support for research and professional development. Supporting student research and encouraging students to apply for such programs, requires active engagement in the discipline. My colleagues and I do this, because it is part of our professional identities – which extends beyond our specific university employment. This is tied to our passion for our field, research and desire to share the discipline with our students. In order to do this, we need to keep up with our research and spend our summers preparing for our annual conference.

In conclusion, our “off contract” time is valuable to both our professional identities, as well as our students. We go above and beyond because of we made the decision to devote our lives to the study and teaching of our disciplines. Claims by politicians that we only work 17 hours and have summers off demonstrates both a lack of understanding and respect for our profession.

What I Learned From Video Games

This post is not about video game scholarship. As a pop culture fan and sociologist, it is an area that maybe I will read up on when I have time. This post is about how video games made me a better student and later scholar (#academicgamer).

First, some facts about video games: According to the Entertainment Software Association, 155 million or 59% of Americans play some sort of video game (this includes a wide range of games from Call of Duty to Candy Crush).  In 2015, the average game player was 35 years old. This is up from 31 years old in 2013. The average age of game purchasers is 38. As an older millennial, I am right in this age bracket. I grew up on computer and video games. The original Nintendo and Mario were a major part of my childhood. I also played DOS games on the family’s old XT computer such as Jump (Janitor) Joe. Given the number of hours I have (and continue) to pour into video games, I would like to think that they had a positive impact on my life.

Here are some things I argue that I have gained from playing video games:

  1. Critical Thinking Skills: I certainly believe that video games developed my critical thinking skills. I grew up playing the Sierra On-Line text parser games. This required you to type in simple English what you wanted your character to do, such as “open door.” If the door was locked, you needed to figure out how to get into the building in a different manner. Even in current AAA games, problem solving and puzzles are an important part of gameplay. Last year, I finished Batman: Arkham Knight. An optional ‘quest’ is locating and solving the Riddler’s puzzles across Gotham City. These puzzles require the player to figure out which one of Batman’s weapons is most appropriate for activating a Rube Goldberg-eqsue contraption in order to obtain a trophy.
  2. Knowledge: How many of us played Oregon Trail? Or the great Carmen Sandiego series? In addition to explicitly educational games, other games weave history and literature into their plots the same way historical fiction does. More recently, the Assassin’s Creed series has done an amazing job mixing historical figures and places into their gameplay. Last year, I visited Florence, Italy. I could not help by remember all the times I navigated the main character Ezio up the cathedral and other landmarks.
  3. Inspiration: I’m an urbanist and SimCity undoubtedly shaped my interest in studying cities, as did the Civilization. I remember a graduate class discussion on Malthus and soil quality. I distinctly remember thinking about urban expansion in Civilization that day. One of the things I would like to work on in the future is video game simulations of urban environments.
  4. Entertainment: I think the most important thing I currently get from gaming is a chance to have fun. As a busy teacher, researcher, and new parent, video games a chance to relax and escape into other worlds such as Skyrim, or Thedas.

Here’s my PSN ID and current trophy count

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

$58,500

$44,100

Northeast Region

56,800

40,000

Northwest Region

46,400

36,100

Southeast Region

67,300

49,900

Southwest Region

51,000

41,200

Statewide

59,700

45,300

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.

 

Business

Social Sciences (excluding psychology and social work)

Central Region

$55,900

$49,500

Northeast Region

50,500

42,100

Northwest Region

46,300

42,900

Southeast Region

67,300

60,500

Southwest Region

55,000

47,100

Statewide

58,900

52,800

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.

Millennial Faculty (Yes, they exist)

clockEvery year, the Beloit Mindset List comes out and faculty freak out over it on social media. What bothers me about the reaction is that they forget that it is normal for different generations to experience different things. I am also bothered by some of the reaction that people have to studies regarding the millennials. In the case of higher education, I believe some of my colleagues forget that there are now millennial faculty members (which plays a part in #Ilooklikeaprofessor).

Rob Kelly wrote in 2007, “Millennial Faculty Are Coming. Are You Ready?“ Millennial faculty now exist. We are in our late 20s and mid 30s. From the standpoint of age, this is expected. In many fields, the age of new PhDs and assistant professors sits around 33 [1]. Although the average age of tenure being granted in 39, some “early Millennials” born just after “Generation X” may have already received tenure and those born shortly after will be will be going up soon [2].

In this blog post, I want to talk about what college was like and how it influences our (or at least my) learning, teaching and research.

Higher Ed Goes Digital (late 1990s-2000s)

I hate the term “digital natives” – commonly associated with millennials. However, I think it’s important to talk about growing up with digital knowledge. Perhaps the most important experience that we had in college was having broadband internet access.  Compuserve existed in the 1980s and AOL went online in 1991, but they were typically accessed via dial-up modems. Similarly, there were intranets on university campuses. However, the availability of broadband access to the World Wide Web in college fundamentally connected technology and learning for many of us. More specifically, we had dorm rooms with ready internet access (either wired or later with wifi).

This had a very significant impacts on our lives. The release of Napster in 1999 changed the way we relate to digital content. While, those of us early millennials owned physical media, the MP3 explosion altered our relationship with such physical artifacts. This had implications for knowledge. Books, articles and course readings need not be locked away in a library or within a physical book. In fact, according to Publisher Weekly, in 2011 those born between 1979 and 1989 bought more books than Baby Boomers (with 43% of those expenditures going to digital purchases).

Microsoft Encarta came out in 1993. This and other encyclopedia programs meant large unwieldy formats such as Encyclopedia Britannica (as well as other types of indexes) were simply inefficient ways to look up information. This was followed by Wikipedia going online in 2001. Card catalogs are a distant childhood memory (if at all). As an academic generation, there are those that rarely or never read bound editions of academic journals. Not coincidentally through the 2000s, university libraries began to invest less in study carrel spaces and more in “information commons.” Book acquisitions dropped, as budgets were reassigned for online journal databases.

In addition to digital versions of books, the way we learned was always supplemented by the internet. The Blackboard Learning System debuted in the fall of 1998, and by 2004 the company had thousands of “clients” using it to post syllabi, readings, and offer assignment submission. We used email as well as AIM, ICQ, and Facebook to interact with our TA’s and our classmates. RateMyProfessor went online in 2001 affecting what classes we chose to take.

If our undergraduate experience was about digitally consuming knowledge, graduate school meant producing research digitally. I certainly do not know anyone who used notecards to create bibliographies in graduate school. Most of us have never used a typewriter. Those who conduct historical research can now use digital archives in conjunction with “analog” sources in archives. This meant the “physical” act of research and dissertation writing was fundamentally different. EndNote Plus was released in the 1990s and grew in sophistication and popularity in the 2000s. Similarly reference management software such as RefWorks was released in 2001, and Zotero in 2006. Personally, I cannot imagine not using Zotero for my dissertation, much less having to re-format references for publication without it. For Millennial graduate students and faculty, other things like digital humanities, blogs, conference live tweets, conducting ethnography online, job rumor wikis, etc. increasingly play a role in our academic/professional lives.

Millennial Faculty (2010s)

The preceding paragraphs have largely focused on the cultural and practical differences that millennial faculty experienced. However, I want to also mention that we experienced a very different economic situation. As the PEW Research Center has found, our entire generation faces very different economic and educational challenges than Generation X, the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. We have higher levels of student loan debt. We finished (or are finishing) our doctoral degrees in a world where we had to teach as well as publish much more to even be considered for a job (which might not even be tenure track). Peter Higgs (of Higgs Boson fame) has noted the brutality of today’s publish or perish world.

The narrative I have presented is not a digital versus analog debate. It is not about the virtues of the millennial experience, or that we had(have) it harder. Rather, it is a more serious take than on what the Beloit College Mindset List does every year – only with faculty not students. It’s also a reminder that things change, and it’s normal.

Why I teach

 

Splatter ReadingThis blog post was inspired by a colleague’s suggestion last year that fellow faculty write a short piece for the campus paper on why we teach. I have been thinking about this essay prompt for a while, and I think it is especially fitting to write this now that I have tenure.

The reason why I teach is not that I am a teacher. It is because I am a social scientist. Part of the sciences (natural and social) is the pursuit and sharing of knowledge. This means that I teach, because I love learning. I teach, because I love sharing what I’ve learned. Teaching my research areas forces me to think and re-think ideas and concepts. It also makes me a better writer. When I prepare for a new semester, I update my PowerPoints with new data. This is not just to be a good teacher, but it is also to be on-top of things going on in my field. I teach because it is truly fun and satisfying to me to find new material for my classes. I go into each semester hoping that the new information I’ve found may be interesting and compelling to my students.

At the same time, in the classroom, I am less interested in teaching facts, than sharing knowledge that can help students critically look at the world around us. To me, knowledge is not just a series of facts and data points. Social science is a process; it is active not static. In sociology, a typical introductory lesson includes C. Wright Mills and the “Sociological Imagination.” Mills writing in 1959 notes that there is, “generous comment in all schools of social science about the blindness of empirical data without theory and the emptiness of theory without data. But we do better to examine the practice and its results….” (66). In other words, social science is not just the practice of research or even its findings, but it is a field that is at its best when we ask questions about research. It is my hope that I’ve been able to inspire my students to ask similar questions.

So why do I teach? I teach not because I am a teacher, but because I am a social scientist.

Visualizing the 100 Largest Cities in the U.S. (1840-2010)

In a previous post, I discussed how I like making visualizations for my classes using Google products. It’s a good exercise for me, and hopefully it leads to something useful in fall. My weekend project was this map of the 100 Largest Cities in the U.S. (1840-2010) using Google Charts’ GeoChart. It was largely based on this code. However, I had to make a number of changes to have it do what I wanted it to do. I also had to organize the data in way that was useful. The dots on the map mark cities that are amongst the top 100 urban centers in the United States in a census. The slider is a date filter that allows one to either move decade-by-decade to see the rise of cities in the Sunbelt, or see the persistence of a city in the top 100 depending on how you move the sliders.


The neat thing about the GeoChart API is that it rendered within the browser using SVG. While the GeoChart API will recognize place-names, it loads much faster if you use latitude/longitude coordinates instead of place-names. There are 269 cities in the map above, with data drawn from 18 census years.

This was meant to be a fun weekend project playing with the GeoChart API. I’ll probably play around with this a bit more, so that I can make use it in my urban sociology course in the fall.

My Favorite Class as an Undergraduate

Splatter BackpackI’ve been meaning to post a blog for a while on my favorite courses. As an educator, I regularly reflect on the courses I had as an undergraduate (something I think is important for teachers to do regularly). I also want to specifically thank UC Irvine’s Humanities Core program for my success as a student and scholar. Despite taking the class over a decade ago, Humanities Core always comes up when I think about my undergraduate coursework. So I can easily say the course was effective and impactful. During my new freshman orientation, I was placed in the course, because it fulfilled requirements for humanities majors (history at UCI is in the School of the Humanities) and it satisfied the lower division writing requirement for general education. However, it was much more than something that fulfilled a requirement. I’d say that Humanities Core laid the foundation for my later success as an undergraduate and graduate student, my work as a researcher, and my job as an educator. So in this blog post, I’d share with you all why Humanities Core was the best course I ever took. *** No offense to any of my former teachers and professors reading this blog.

Humanities Core is a year long interdisciplinary course that is taught by a team professors across the humanities (such as art history, history, philosophy, and literature). The year typically revolves around a theme, and I believe that the theme for my year was the “journey.” Although it had a theme, the material was incredibly diverse and varied. That year, I read the work of David Hume, Plato, the Chinese epic Journey into the West, and the work of Freud. I watched Hitchock’s Rebecca, Hiroshima mon amour and the opera Madama Butterfly. I learned about the Aztecs, William Bradford’s religious beliefs, Cabeza de Vaca’s experiences in the New World and was introduced (briefly) to Chicana/o studies. In addition to content, the course had a substantial writing component which meant that the course was worth 8 credits (or two courses) per term. So this was much more than just a year long survey of the humanities, it was a sustained effort in reading, critical thinking and writing in my first year of college.

I believe that the structure of Humanities Core was incredibly in developing my critical thinking skills and writing. It was one of the few courses that truly balanced content and writing instruction. I still remember the lecture given by a philosopher Terence Parsons on ‘a priori’ and ‘a posteriori’ knowledge following a reading of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. The follow up in the writing seminar on argumentation helped turn the lecture material into something that would help my writing. Looking back, I see that the intent of the reading assignments, lecture and writing assignment was to make us think about how we make arguments. When we read historical works like that of William Bradford and Cabeza de Vaca, we were not just learning content. We learned how these historical figures legitimized and justified what they wrote. We also learned that these texts were primary sources to be used in making our writing effective.

The teaching assistants/writing instructors for the course were typically advanced graduate students from throughout the humanities. I don’t remember if it was luck or if I was placed in writing seminars with historians, but I was. In either case, I believe this positively affected my writing as a young social scientist. I owe a great deal of my writing training to Robert Blackman who I had both in Humanities Core (and later as a history instructor). I learned that when you quote or cite texts it is to support your argument and not to use quotes as a crutch. It was about using/analyzing a text (such as the diary of William Bradford) as a means of providing evidence. Essentially, I learned how to find/use evidence to discuss some form of historical, social or cultural phenomena. Oh yea, and I learned how to use the Chicago style of citation not MLA (thankfully!).

I could go on and on about how great of a course it was, but I won’t. While this was ‘Humanities’ Core, I believe that this course laid the foundation for my social science training (I declared sociology as a second major as a junior). In conclusion, when I reflect on my time in Humanities Core, I don’t just remember what I learned. I remember that I love learning. It reminds me of why I went into research and why I enjoy teaching the subjects I care about.

To my fellow educators reading this via social media, what was your favorite class?