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Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Makes a Good Fellowship Program?

I co-direct the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, which has an academic fellowship program for those who want to pursue academic careers at the intersection of law and health policy, bioethics, and biotechnology. We've had a pretty good run, placing two fellows at Harvard, and one each at Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell, BU, Illinois, and Arizona.  I've also observed the Climenko fellow program at Harvard at fairly close range, and other fellowship programs elsewhere a little more distantly as I see students, mentees, or friends take them to go on the market.  And I was a fellow myself.

I think there are an interesting set of questions relating to in what ways the increased prominence of fellowships is a good thing (including what effect they have on how many years of practice the average prof has before starting, the way in which taking 2 years at a very reduced pay may mean these are only open to candidates with certain kinds of income or family obligations, etc), but for this post I want to instead focus on the question: what makes a fellowship program successful? Another way of putting the question that may be particularly relevant at this time of year for those on the fellowship market, what should they be looking for?

Here are some thoughts I have on the matter (no doubt with biases shaped by my own experience and now running a fellowship) in no particular order, but I would definitely love to get others in on the conversation....

1. Quarterbacks: Good fellowship programs take people who will have strong recommenders on the faculty and at least one "quarterback" for every fellow. The "quarterback" (a term I've heard others use), is someone who not only passively recommends a candidate but pushes for them hard, advises them on the market, prods their other recommenders, etc.

Fellowships that are subject-matter specific have an advantage in that those selecting fellows are also the presumptive recommenders and quarterbacks, such that there is a strong amount of buy-in. General fellowships like Climenko work hard to try and do this pairing after a fellow arrives -- I know they assign each Climenko a set of three faculty readers -- but in some programs there may be a gap between those doing the hiring and those who have the subject matter expertise in terms of what they think of a fellow's project. Thus, fellows (once extended an offer) should probe who on the faculty will be assigned to them, whether that person has consented to this arrangement, is an active mentors, and knows their work. They should also think about subject matter and methodological fit.

2. Time. In my opinion, any fellowship offering less than 2 full years of support will make it hard for a fellow to successfully be ready for the market. Fellowships like mine with no required teaching have their benefits -- more time to write -- and their drawbacks -- no teaching evaluations of you when you go on the market, but fellows should get a real sense just how onerous the teaching is. 

Relatedly, I think the more teaching you can do in your own field, the better. You get lots of writing ideas and sophistication from teaching an area. Moreover, if you get an academic job you will be able to have the time you invested here not go to waste.

3. Moot job talk, Moot interview, Other feedback opportunities.

All the fellowships at Harvard Law guarantee those who want them a moot job talk before the faculty, a set of moot interviews, and lots of other feedback opportunities. These are hugely helpful. This is particularly true of the moot job talks which are "public" among the fellows and faculty such that first year fellows can watch the second year fellows on the market do these moot job talks and get a sense of what works and doesn't at the writing stage. These workshops also improve acculturation into talking like a law prof, with all the familiar workshop tropes most of us are now familiar with.

More generally, I think the more structured the fellowship program (outline your first paper by this date to present to your mentors, first full draft here, etc) the better in that it prevents candidates from imploding towards the end or being crushed by perfectionist tendencies.

4. General Institutional Buy-In: This is hard to see from the outside (though I think the Bigelow program, for example, has a good history in this regard). How seriously does the law school take the program? Are the fellows underpaid labor, or are they full members of the intellectual community? These can be subtle things like are fellows allowed to ask questions at workshops or is the norm that they sit quietly? Are they given access to students as RAs as the regular faculty are? Are fellows invited to talks by visiting guests and other social activities where the faculty congregate?

5. Considering Their Own: On this and other blogs there has been significant discussion of the various policies in this regard. But, all things being equal, it is much better to be in a fellowship that might lead to a job at that institution. I know that Harvard, Columbia, and Chicago have all hired their own fellows more than once, but there may be other schools with good track records in this regard too that I don't know about. It is perfectly appropriate for someone with a fellowship offer to ask about the institution's rule in this regard when evaluating that offer.

Posted by Glenn Cohen on November 27, 2011 at 11:01 PM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, Teaching Law | Permalink


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IGC, I am taking the red line to campus next week as it happens, & will look you up. KS, thank you for the glowing reco of the Temple program. It sounds incredibly well-designed.

Posted by: sugar huddle | Dec 1, 2011 10:19:02 AM

Great post. I am going to echo everything you said and add a bit by plugging Temple's Teaching Fellowship Program, which I credit with changing my life by situating me to get my dream job. Temple did everything that you mentioned for us except consider us--which was alright because we were notified of this upfront. We received LLMs in Legal Education while serving as members of the faculty, teaching Legal Research and Writing, and "collaborating" in doctrinal classes of our choosing. Here's why this was great:
1. Teaching Legal Research and Writing was an incredible experience. We were given formal training and guidance each step of the way and functioned as full-on members of the (excellent) program. Moreover, I came into doctrinal teaching with real experience on the front lines with first year law students who needed to have the basics of practice, research, interpretation, analysis, etc. explained to them. It made me a much better doctrinal teacher.
2. We functioned as faculty members, (the students were even told to call us "Professor"), and the faculty went out of its way to make us feel integrated into the school and the community. I was provided with the chance to have everything from my publications to my FAR form reviewed by seasoned experts. I was able to attend faculty meetings, hear speakers, and have my own job talk mooted. I attended student events as a faculty member, hired (with a research budget from the school) and learned to work with research assistants, and attended faculty social and professional gatherings. We were not left to languish in a secluded hallway, and many of the people who stepped up to mentor and include us were junior faculty members who were busy maintaining their own standings and went way above and beyond to give us their time and energy. I even participated in the process of interviewing fellows for the program, giving me some rich insights into the hiring process. The experience was invaluable and could not, in my opinion, have been gained through any simulation or discussion with others.
3. The substantive collaborations that we did in doctrinal classes were truly unique. I approached a different professor each semester, as I was instructed (even working with two one semester), and I was never turned away. Each professor with whom I collaborated allowed me to teach a portion of his/or her class, met with me regularly to discuss pedagogy and classroom management, and help with exam drafting and course planning. I also got to observe all of the classes and discuss them with the professors. Because of these experiences with very different, but equally masterful teachers, I really discovered and further forged my own identity as a teacher. I developed insights and instincts that I don't think I could have in any other manner. For example, when I started my tenure-track job, I was one of the first members of the junior faculty to ban laptops. I had seen and experienced enough to know that it was the right move for me and that the benefits would outweigh the liabilities for all involved in the classes that I planned to teach.
4. Finally, Temple put its money where its mouth was by allowing us each to teach the doctrinal class of our choice in our final semester of the program. By that point, I knew many of the students from having taught LRW and from my collaboration classes, and I felt more than ready to rise to the occasion.

I believe that any school that is going to have a fellowship program should have the resources and commitment to the endeavor that Temple has, and I will always feel indebted to that program and the people who made it so valuable.

Posted by: Kerri Stone | Nov 29, 2011 9:18:01 AM

sugar huddle -- what a nice thing to say. Can I pay you to comment on all my blogging stints? ;) Some of my friends joke I should start calling myself iGlenn. I am a firm believe that a stranger is just a friend you have not met, so please feel free to drop me a line if you are ever in Cambridge...

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Nov 28, 2011 10:13:26 PM

I. Glenn Cohen, you're kind of awesome, and your name always makes me think of an Isaac Asimov book. Can I buy you a cup of coffee if I'm in Cambridge or are you opposed to making friends on the internet (stranger danger and all that)?

Posted by: sugar huddle | Nov 28, 2011 7:56:36 PM

anon 11:27 -- I wasn't meaning to scold you...one of the reasons why I do these posts is because much of this might not be self-evident to fellowship applicants and I hope for you it works out on the market.
I know for the Harvard fellowships, and I understand from past Bigelows the Chicago fellowship too this amount of mentoring is the norm. Every year I sit through a large number of practice interviews, and in my fellowship Ben Roin and I (and usually Einer Elhauge) read every fellowship job market paper, often several times, and we also try to get other HLS faculty to do so. Perhaps others can chime in about the norms in their programs or in other schools.
As the competition for fellows increases, I am hoping some "best practices" of this kind emerge.

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Nov 28, 2011 5:28:07 PM

Is this level of mentoring really the norm? Especially the practice interview, faculty reading your papers, etc.?

It is definitely too late for me. You're right, I should have done more due diligence, but I was coming from another country and was a bit naive about the US job market and what the norm for a fellowship program was. Plus the program that I am in has evolved over time, such that a look at earlier fellow alumni wouldn't have given me a complete picture. Several of them did place at decent schools.

Posted by: anon 11:27 | Nov 28, 2011 5:16:26 PM

Thanks for all the comments so far. I definitely would invite others to chime in, but here are my thoughts:
Anon-11:27-I am sorry this may be too late for you, but after being offered a fellowship one should ask them for a complete list of all fellows in the past and where they have gone, including identifying people who did not end up with successful jobs, and in such cases what was done (were people offered another year, etc). The proof is to some extent in the pudding. I'd also encourage you to "CV stalk" all prior fellows to see what they've done since, and if possible use your social network to chat with someone who has held the fellowship who can be candid.
Anon-10:47- teaching is nice, and may be of particular interest to some schools, but my view is the other stuff is key. As in the tenure process, truly excellent teachers get a slight bump up, bad ones a bump down, but few schools will treat it as dispositive. Schools also know that LRW is not well loved by the students, so even a very good teacher is likely to get penalized a bit in evals.
Pippi- A one year fellowship or VAP even if it starts in June or July, basically requires you to be "market ready" by October of that same year. That is precious little time to get ready, and I think much of the value added of the fellowship in early mentoring/acculturation will be too late to make a difference. That said, for a candidate who is already well-published and has a very good draft of their job market paper already ready, it may be possible to pull off...but for such candidates the fellowship/VAP itself is of somewhat lesser value IMHO.

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Nov 28, 2011 2:17:38 PM

Thanks for the helpful post. The "time" question is most relevant when working Biglaw hours and lacking the time to research and write a stellar jobtalk. Have some people found a one-year VAP or fellowship to be enough if they leave their other job the preceding summer, buying several months to devote to the jobtalk paper, or is a two-year program really the only way to do it right?

Posted by: pippi | Nov 28, 2011 12:55:49 PM

I sure wish I knew which fellowship anon 11:27 is talking about! Most of the fellowship programs advertise inclusion in the academic community, so how does one know which schools actually do that?

Posted by: anon | Nov 28, 2011 12:24:36 PM

As someone who is currently in a terrible fellowship program that has done absolutely nothing to situate me for the market (i.e. underpaid labor, no inclusion in the academic community), I think that the quarterback point is the single most valuable thing that you can do for a fellow. Especially important, I think, is for the faculty member who is assigned for the fellow to take initiative and say "what schools do you want me to call?", or something to that effect. As a fellow it is hard to ask faculty members, whose time is at a premium, to undertake things on your behalf. I did get to moot my job talk in front of 3 faculty members (only one of whom read my paper), and I think a practice job talk is pretty normal at most schools. However, a practice interview would have been very, very helpful, and I think is less common.

Posted by: anon | Nov 28, 2011 11:27:19 AM

As someone on the fellowship market now, I'm confused about whether it will be seen as an "asset" when on the tenure-track market to have taught Legal Research & Writing. Does a hiring committee really look at teaching evaluations from Legal Writing classes? Or is the benefit of LRW fellowships like at Harvard, Chicago and NYU more about the other stuff, i.e., the writing, mentorship, and quarterbacking.

Posted by: anon | Nov 28, 2011 10:47:16 AM

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