November 08, 2003

Help me design my next poll

My recent "Are You (or Have You Ever Been) an Academic" poll indicates that 66.5% of the readers of this weblog are currently academics, 22.5% are former academics, 6.3% have never been academics, and 4.7% agree with the statement "I am not and never will be an academic."* Meanwhile, my controversially titled "Gender Poll" suggests that almost two-thirds of the readers are male, while just over a third are female (4 readers, or 1.7% of respondents, selected neither "male" nor "female" but "other;" I believe at least 2 of the 4 were protest votes).

I've also learned that when it comes to shampoo, many readers of this weblog just buy what's on sale; and, more broadly, that a surprising number of readers are, if not eager then at least willing to talk about personal grooming products.

Next up: I'd like to run a poll on deodorant preferences academic position. Something along the lines of, If you are currently an academic, what is your rank/title/position?

But how to design the poll? Though I don't aspire to anything that might be described as "scientific" and I wouldn't pretend to have a research design or methodology (see below*), I would need to come up with a manageable number of possible responses. Now, if I wanted to keep things simple, I could have five options: graduate student; adjunct; tenure-track professor; tenured professor; and other.

Problem is, there are an awful lot of potential categories that might fall under the heading "Other." Postdocs, for example. And visiting assistant professor, which designation seems to have at least two different meanings. Then, too, "adjunct" can refer to several different types of position: though many think of it as temporary and part-time, there's that permatemp phenomenon to consider, and of course many adjuncts work the equivalent (or more) of a full-time teaching load. And come to think of it, maybe "adjunct" is not the best term: perhaps I should say "contingent" or even "transient"? And in terms of the tenurable, is it worth getting into the distinctions between assistant, associate and full professor? Should there be a special category for department chairs?

It gets complicated. So maybe I should just list the four most popular brands of deodorant, with a fifth option for "other brand"?

I could hire an expert, of course, but let's get serious: I'm not quite that serious. Still, I would like to get at least a general sense of where/how in the academy my academic readers are situated.

So I'm soliciting the advice of my readers, academic, nonacademic, expert, and nonexpert alike: please help me design this poll. How many categories, and what should they be? A couple of things to keep in mind. First, I'm particularly interested in the nontenurable versus tenurable distinction. Second, the absolute limit is 20 possible responses (that's all blogpoll can handle), and I suspect anything over 10 might prove unmanageable.

*Though I'm no social scientist, I do realize that the poll doesn't really indicate what I've said it does. If I wanted to be more accurate I would have to say, 'Of those readers who were willing to respond to the poll'...And then, of course, it would be useful to know just what percentage of readers did indeed respond. But just play along, okay?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at November 8, 2003 01:11 PM

Ok, since no one is jumping in here:

grad student, postdoc, non tt instructor, tt instructor, tenured.

You could have done a poll to see what kind of poll to do. And I'm looking forward to a "how many people do you think will respond to this poll" poll.

Posted by: ogged at November 8, 2003 03:12 PM

"You could have done a poll to see what kind of poll to do."

Hey, I considered it. It would have given me the chance to ask about soap (bar or liquid? anti-bacterial or botanical?)

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 8, 2003 03:17 PM

My suggestion: six categories:
1. Persons Without Doctorates (grad students, MAs on contingent appointments, etc.)
2. PhDs on Part-Time Contingent Appointments (mostly called adjuncts)
3. PhDs on Full-Time Contingent Appointments, Not Indefinitely Renewable (Visiting Asst. Profs, sabbatical fill-ins, post-docs, etc.)
4. PhDs on Full-Time Contingent Appointments, Indefinitely Renewable ("full-time adjuncts", contract faculty, etc.)
5. Tenure Track (Asst. Profs)
6. Tenured (Assoc. & Full Profs)

There's a lot of variability of terminology.

You can change Doctorate to Terminal Degree if you want to pick up MFAs.

Ivory. Because it floats.

Posted by: jam at November 8, 2003 03:43 PM

If you want accurate responses from "international" academics, you will need to stay away from using the various "Professor" titles to distinguish the tenured and untenured, because in Australia at least you need to be fairly high up the tenured food chain to use any of them. I'm not quite sure what the post-tenure promotion ladder is, but it's something like: Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader (sometimes), Associate Professor, Professor.

Of course, that begs the question of IA's international readership. Most of the active posters do seem to be in North America.

Posted by: Mary at November 8, 2003 04:58 PM

and if you go with jam's categories, where does a tenured assistant professor who is ABD fit in? in my system, promotion to assistant always comes before tenure.

or do community college profs not count?

Posted by: cindy at November 8, 2003 05:20 PM

How about high school teachers?

Posted by: Jojo at November 8, 2003 05:52 PM


Titles were meant to be illustrative. Tenured is tenured. Tenure track is tenure track.

But, of course, your suspicion is correct. I wasn't thinking of community colleges.

Posted by: jam at November 8, 2003 06:07 PM

As these comments make clear, there is no way I can design a poll that would cover everyone (20 responses is the utmost limit). I think I will ask the reader to select the response that comes closest to his or her particular situation.

Cindy, community college professors do count. But I have asked for advice on the assumption that any reader who is kind enough to respond will make suggestions based on his or her own perspective. I don't think it's fair to hold any reader responsible for covering all possible categories.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 8, 2003 07:43 PM

It isn't entirely common, but the hole in Jam's categorization is that I don't have a PhD but I am tenure-track. I showed up to a tenurable job and said "Guess what, I don't have it yet", and have been there for nearly 3 years now, making tenure-track pay, with tenure-track responsibilities, and with the contractual stipulation that if I do finish I immediately convert over to the title of Assistant Professor. Of course, if I don't finish in another six months, it's "So long!", but still, reading this blog makes me very glad I kept the humanities a hobby.

Posted by: ABD Instructor at November 8, 2003 07:49 PM

I think that you should have about 4-5 categories with a comments box. You can report any commonalities you find in the comments (e.g. "adult education on death row", "helping a 'Nelson Rockefeller' with his art-history research", etc.).

Posted by: zizka at November 8, 2003 09:24 PM

Actually both ABD Instructor's example and Cindy's can be made to fit. Tenure track and tenured, respectively.

Clay Shirky wrote a nice piece a couple of days ago against the so-called semantic web. He made a useful point: to propose a categorization is to assert a view of the world: "The designers of the Soviet library's cataloging system were making an assertion about the world when they made the first category of books 'Works of the classical authors of Marxism-Leninism.' Charles Dewey was making an assertion about the world when he lumped all books about non-Christian religions into a single category, listed last among books about religion." And I am making an assertion about contemporary academia when three of six categories are various plights of people who, although they've been awarded a PhD, have failed to attain a tenure track position.

Naturally, people in the reverse position don't fit well.

Posted by: jam at November 8, 2003 09:47 PM

Well. Um. And then there's me.

I'm a graduate student, but in a pre-professional school, fully intending to stop *stop* STOP* with the MA. In IA's last poll, I called myself an ex-academic, because that is very definitely how I think of myself vis-a-vis academia (and, in all likelihood, how academia thinks of me when it bothers to at all).


Posted by: Dorothea Salo at November 9, 2003 12:01 AM

jam and IA,

I guess I sounded a little defensive there. It wasn't meant to be an attack on jam. Maybe I'm hypersensitve to my ABD, community college status even though it is what I chose. We spend a lot of time fighting the stereotype that we are just glorified highschools or vocational schools.

Posted by: cindy at November 9, 2003 12:13 AM

Dear IA,

I like jam's 6 categories, but with a qualification: FT temporary positions (like the Visiting Asst. Prof) are importantly different from full time adjunct positions in terms of salary, benefits, office space, and access to travel or other expense budgets. For me at least, the distinction is huge. I taught 3 courses one year as an adjunct, then the following year got a FT temporary job teaching 4 courses for the year. I was paid about $5500 for the first year, with no benefits and an office I shared with about 15 other people, and about $38,000 for the second, with full benefits and a travel budget. Maybe my experience is extreme, but usually FT positions come with benefits and something approaching a regular salary, where the adjunct positions have neither.
Another problem with jam's categories is that it is often not clear whether a temporary position is renewable. ABD instructor's/Cindy's point can fit in as you suggested. How about:

1. Persons without doctorate/terminal degree in temporary or adjunct teaching positions
2. Persons with doctorate/teminal degree teaching as adjuncts
3. Persons with doctorate/terminal degree teaching in FT temporary positions
4. Persons in a tenure track position
5. Persons w/ tenure

Here, the distinction between adjunct and FT temporary is that adjuncts are hired by the course, and FT temporary are hired full time for at least a semester.

Posted by: Cara at November 9, 2003 01:45 PM

I use Ivory soap, but as little as possible. I agree in principle with William Blake, who used none at all, but I am more cowardly than he. Without the soap, probably I would have been a great poet, alas.

Posted by: zizka at November 9, 2003 02:57 PM

It might be helpful to distinguish between the various classifications of grad students, as well. For instance, I'm ABD in American lit (hope to finish next year), but after finishing my course work, I gave up my slave wages as a graduate teaching assistant to take a full-time IT position at the university.

Posted by: Darren at November 10, 2003 02:55 PM