Learning the Lingo, Part 2

July 03, 2003

Last year we wrote a column on the jargon of the academic job market. We defined words and phrases that are so commonly used in academe that newcomers may hesitate to ask what they actually mean. Here, we bring you the sequel, based on questions we have received from readers over the past year.

AAAS: So many associations exist in higher education that it's hard to keep track of what they all do and which ones you need to know about. It doesn't help that everyone refers to these organizations by their acronyms. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in 1848, is the "world's largest general scientific society," representing all scientific disciplines. It publishes Science, and is a major source of research on scientific disciplines and public advocacy for them. It offers a number of fellowships and awards. Of particular interest are the fellowships offered under its Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program, which give scientists and engineers a chance to become involved in policy work.

AAU: An invitation-only group, the Association of American Universities represents 60 of the top research universities in the United States and two in Canada. It's an elite crowd: In the past decade only five institutions have joined the association. It represents their interests on the national policy front and offers a forum for them to discuss a wide range of issues common to research universities. Membership in the AAU is sometimes a criterion for membership in other administrative staff groups.

Badgers, Wildcats, and other life-forms: Many institutions refer to all of their athletic teams by a single name, which is frequently used more broadly for the institution. For example, at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where "the Badgers" play a variety of sports, depending on the season, the name of the chemistry department's newsletter is the Badger Chemist. If you are interviewing at an institution, it's helpful to know how it refers to its teams, whether or not you have any interest in sports. Before an on-site interview, it's also helpful to get yourself up to speed on the record of the relevant sports teams and their counterparts at your own institution, as sports talk may be used as an icebreaker, especially at large state institutions.

Blog: This phrase is the most recent addition to our vocabulary list and derives from "Web log." Blogs have become a popular forum for scholarly discussion, and academics who write them often invite comment. A recent article in The Chronicle reported that some academics use their blogs to talk about their research, to polish their writing for nonacademic audiences, and to just plain vent.

Carnegie classification: Sometimes you'll hear an institution described as a "Research I" university or another described as a "comprehensive" college, but what those terms mean isn't always clear. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching devised a classification system to describe the different kinds of institutions in the United States.

In fact, Carnegie has changed its lingo over the years, so that a university that used to be called a "Research I" -- that is, a major research institution that offers doctorates -- now falls in the category of "doctoral/research universities-extensive." And a comprehensive institution -- one that is "committed to graduate education through the master's degree" -- now fits under the category of "master's colleges and universities." For whatever reason, many people continue to use the old terminology, rather than the new.

In presenting its rankings, U.S. News & World Report uses the same classification system but collapses Carnegie's eight categories into four with simplified wording: national universities-doctoral, universities-master's, liberal-arts colleges, and comprehensive colleges-bachelor's. Click here for a list of frequently asked questions about the classification system.

Clinical faculty members: Generally speaking, these are faculty members in medicine, nursing, dental medicine, veterinary medicine, and other such fields who teach on a part-time basis and whose primary employment is in their private practices outside the academy. Their academic employment is renewed by contract and they do not enjoy the benefits of tenure. A system of academic ranks also governs the clinical faculty: clinical professor, clinical associate professor, and clinical assistant professor. The term "practice professor" refers to a similar kind of position that exists in some schools of law, architecture, business, and other fields in which professional practioners teach a course or two. These positions are also not on the tenure track.

Content management system (CMS): A content management system is the software used to provide the electronic resources necessary to teach a class, whether via "distance learning," (see below) or in a classroom. Blackboard and WebCT are major vendors of this type of software. Being familiar with at least one of these systems is helpful when interviewing for positions that stress teaching.

Distance learning: Distance learning refers to online courses that are delivered off-site from the institution that offers them. The phrase covers courses at all levels of traditional education, as well as corporate-training opportunities. A growing phenomenon, it can be associated with traditional nonprofit colleges and universities or with for-profit institutions that only offer distance learning. You'll also hear about "E-learning" and "distance education." Search the Web for any of these phrases to learn more than you ever wanted to know.

Dossier: Less commonly used than it used to be, this word frequently perplexes job applicants when they see an ad that asks them to send in their "dossier." And it should confuse them because it doesn't have a precise meaning. Sometimes it simply means the applicants should send in their cover letter, CV, and other typical application materials. At other times it's used by employers who also want to receive copies of a candidate's letters of recommendation. When an ad asks only that you submit a "dossier," the best thing to do is contact the hiring department to find out exactly what it wants.

Forthcoming, under submission, and in preparation: Manuscripts go through several stages of preparation for publication, so there are different phrases that you should use to describe these stages on your CV. "Forthcoming" indicates an article has been completed and accepted for publication. "Under submission" -- or "under review" -- is used when a manuscript has been completed and submitted, but not accepted. "In preparation" shows that although your article has been neither completed nor accepted, it is in progress.

Herding cats: You'll hear academics use this phrase again and again as a metaphor for academic administration -- specifically, the job of supervising the faculty. In trying to ascertain who said it first, we came up short and would love to hear from any reader who knows how it came into academic parlance.

NCAA: According to its Web site, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is a voluntary association of about 1,200 colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and sports organizations devoted to the sound administration of intercollegiate athletics. Before you go to a job interview, make sure you find out which division of the NCAA the institution is in. Athletes at Division I colleges may have full scholarships and very heavy practice and competition schedules.

Nontraditional students: The traditional college-age student is an 18-year-old who just graduated from high school. Students coming to college now who are older than that are called nontraditional students. In fact, nontraditional is becoming the norm, as 47 percent of college students are now over the age of 25, according to the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education. Its Web site has a good set of links to data about higher education.

Proprietary institutions and private institutions: Proprietary institutions are organized on a for-profit basis. While some may deserve the derogatory epithet of "diploma mill," most offer serious programs and operate under certain standards. They are an increasing presence in higher education, as they often offer students more flexibility than traditional colleges and universities. Although you might think that "private institution" is a synonym for a for-profit institution, it is not; in academe, a private institution refers to a nonprofit college or university that is independent of state control.

Training grants: We found the best definition of this on the AAU's Web site, so we'll repeat it here: "These awards are block grants made to departments or to interdisciplinary groups for supporting graduate students they select. Along with support for the individual students, the grants also help support the graduate education program. Such grants enable academic departments and programs to target particular types of students -- such as women and underrepresented minorities -- or to build programs in new or emerging fields of study. Training grants are found primarily in the natural sciences and engineering."

Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick are the authors of The Academic Job Search Handbook (University of Pennsylvania Press). They have provided career services for thousands of graduate and professional students since 1985. Ms. Heiberger is associate director and Ms. Vick is graduate career counselor at the Career Services office of the University of Pennsylvania.

You can order their book directly from the University of Pennsylvania Press or from either of the on-line booksellers below.  Barnes & Noble