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Advice on faculty job application letters

by Eszter Hargittai on July 2, 2024

I’m hosting a couple of professionalization discussions for our PhD candidates and postdocs this summer, informal conversations to help them navigate the crazy academic job market. A few weeks ago we discussed job talks as the department had just had a bunch of candidates visit (very different schedule here in Europe than the US) and we’ve had quite a few such talks over the past few years. Debriefing seemed like a good idea. After that conversation, people requested that we have a session specifically about job application letters so that’s coming up next. I’m writing now to seek your input on what works and what doesn’t. I can imagine that some of this is field-dependent, but I also suspect many aspects are generalizable.

My experiences with reading letters are a bit ridiculous in terms of volume at this point. I’ve been at the University of Zurich for eight years and have served on as many search committees. These have mostly concerned my own department (communication and media research), but a couple of times it was a search in political science and now one in sociology. It is standard to have people from other departments (and even other universities) on search committees here, very different from US practice (in my experience). I had also served on several search committees while at Northwestern and have served as an external member on some committees elsewhere in Europe so you can do the math on how many letters I’ve read over the years.

One of my biggest pieces of advice is for candidates to show rather than tell committee members about their accomplishments. I always cringe when I read things like “I am a leading researcher in the area of” (especially since most of these positions are for junior scholars, but I don’t like to see this even from a senior scholar). Rather than stating that “I’m a very accomplished scholar,” applicants should list their tangible accomplishments such as “I have published in x, I have won award y, I currently hold competitive fellowship z.”

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Book launch! Connected in Isolation

by Eszter Hargittai on November 8, 2022

A while back I posted that I was writing a book about Covid. Today is its official launch date!

I’m super excited about and proud of this work, because I don’t believe we’ll ever be able to capture people’s experiences during a global pandemic the way collecting data about it at the height of initial lockdowns allowed us (my research team) to do. Below the fold I explain what the book covers. In short, it has material of interest to those curious about misinformation, social media, and digital inequality.

Also, how awesome is this cover?! I can’t take credit for it, but am super grateful to its designer Ori Kometani for capturing the experiences of the time so well.

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Russia’s wretched war on Ukraine has been going on for two months now. How have you helped out Ukraine/Ukrainians? While nothing seems enough, there are many ways to pitch in. If you’re in Europe, there are likely refugees in your town. They need help with housing, furnishing their homes, appliances, countless things that make up a household. They may need language help. They may need assistance navigating the system. If your universities are accepting Ukrainian students, they probably need guidance to understand your institutions. If you’re more removed and such in-person help is unrealistic, cash donations are welcomed by many charities.

Inspire others by sharing how you are helping out. If you haven’t yet, do it now. And if you send me your postal address (, I’ll put this postcard, which I created (professionally printed) in the mail for you with my thanks.

For Peace in Ukraine postcard

Art for Ukraine

by Eszter Hargittai on March 23, 2022

I’ve donated some of my art to a fundraiser to benefit various charities supporting Ukrainians. I’m inviting you to participate. If my art doesn’t speak to you – I get it, it’s a very particular style – then I hope you’ll consider bidding on other works representing diverse media from oil to watercolor to mixed media in numerous styles depicting varied topics. Sunflowers are popular, but there is lots of other content to choose from. Don’t think of this as frivolously (is there such a thing?;-) buying art, think of it as making a donation while getting a piece of art in return.

Auction items

The auction is hosted by the great art site Daily Paintworks. They are letting artists list their pieces for free and are not taking any commissions. Once you pay for your piece, the artist donates to the charity they designated and ships you your piece. (I will send proof of donation to Médecins Sans Frontières.)

More auction items

Ukrainians need our help, both those still in Ukraine as well as the millions of refugees (over 3.5 million in less than a month!) who’ve left everything behind. There are countless ways to lend support and if this approach doesn’t inspire you, I hope you are helping in other ways. For those living in Europe, chances are refugees are already in your town. You can donate housing, food, furniture, kitchen appliances, your time, money, the list is endless. Those of you elsewhere can probably help best through donations. Whatever it is, please do assist and encourage others to do the same. Thank you.

Note that when I post this on CT, the second set of images will only have 17 hours left of the auction so by the time you read this, they may be gone. (I’m thrilled to see that they’ve all been bid on already so I won’t be relisting them.) There is lots of other art to choose from so please check out all the work. Or if you are an artist yourself, consider donating your own art.

Nobel Prize or not

by Eszter Hargittai on January 31, 2022

Today is the last day to submit nominations for the 2022 Nobel Prizes. My father, an expert on the Prize, wrote some reflections on some prizes not received last year.. and more generally about the politics of the Prize and also how smaller countries (Hungary in this case) can think about supporting their scientists. This piece was only published in Hungarian at first, but I thought a broader audience would benefit from it so below is the translation.

From the Hungarian literary weekly, Élet és Irodalom (Life and Literature),
Volume 66, Issue No 4 in 2022, January 28

by István Hargittai

2021 was a special year. Two Hungarians did not receive (deserved) Nobel Prizes. The only other year like this was 1994, when two Hungarians did receive (deserved) Nobel Prizes, George Olah, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and John Harsányi, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. The two non-winners in 2021, Katalin Karikó and Zoltán Hajós, are two different cases both with valuable lessons.

Throughout my six decades as a researcher, and even since the age of 11, I have been interested in the nature of scientific discovery, which has led me to follow the work of Nobel laureates and scientists of the caliber of Nobel laureates. There was a ten-year period in my life when I recorded conversations with such scientists, which, together with my wife and our son, were published in six hefty volumes by a prestigious London publisher. These interviews went far beyond my own field, chemistry, and the conversations meant a second college education for me. For twenty-five years I have been invited annually to be a nominator for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I wrote a successful book on the Nobel Prize. I am saying all this to increase the reader’s confidence in what follows.

Many people were expecting Katalin Karikó to win the Nobel Prize for her achievements in the development of the vaccine against the COVID-19. As the date for the announcement of the Nobel Prizes approached in early October 2021, the various prize-giving bodies were practically in a race to honor her. For any prize, it enhances its prestige if its awardee later becomes a Nobel laureate, while awarding the same prize after the Nobel Prize is no longer so elegant. When it turned out that Karikó was not among the 2021 Nobel laureates, there was great disappointment. There were important reasons though why she was not awarded the Nobel Prize in 2021, and there is every reason to expect that she will receive it in 2022, or very soon after, in the category of physiology or medicine (medicice, in short) or of chemistry.

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Getting to know cities through science

by Eszter Hargittai on December 9, 2021

Covid times don’t allow for a lot of travel, but that doesn’t have to stand in the way of dreaming about and planning travel. My parents have written four books that put an interesting twist on getting to know a city: through its landmarks related to science. Their first in the series was Budapest Scientific, fitting since that is where they have lived for much of their lives and where they are both members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Next came New York Scientific then Science in Moscow, and finally Science in London. Each is filled with many hundreds of photographs to illustrate how the various places commemorate important scientific achievements and researchers through statues, memorial plaques, and other ways of remembering. Some are well-known sculptures, others will be new even to locals. They make great gifts in case anyone happens to be looking for ideas. :-)

It seems like we should have a Meta thread…

by Eszter Hargittai on October 30, 2021

.. or bad idea? I do want to point to this excellent piece by Ethan Zuckerman called “Hey, Facebook, I Made a Metaverse 27 Years Ago, It was terrible then, and it’s terrible now.” Read it for the great history, snark, and writing. In addition to being important and thoughtful commentary on Facebook’s Meta (yeah, yeah, I know), it’s also a fun trip down virtual life memory lane for those of you old enough (I suspect most of you) and geeky enough (presumably some of you) to have been there along the way.

Social media repertoires

by Eszter Hargittai on October 29, 2021

I’d like to blog more about my research, but not sure yet how to go about it (e.g., whether to write more about research already completed or about projects currently in the works or both.. feel free to voice your preference). Today, I’m posting a link to a paper that was just published (and is available open access so no paywall to battle): Birds of a Feather Flock Together Online: Digital Inequality in Social Media Repertoires, which I wrote with my friend Ágnes Horvát.

There is some work (not a ton, but a growing literature) on who adopts various social media platforms (e.g., are men vs women more likely to be on Facebook or on Pinterest, are more highly educated people more likely to be on Twitter or on Reddit), but as far as we can tell, no one has looked at the user base of pairs of such services. (I am always very cautious to claim that we are the first to do something as it’s nearly impossible to have a sense of all work out there, but we could not find anything related. Do let me know if we missed something.)

Why should anyone care who adopts a social network site (SNS) and what’s the point of knowing how user bases overlap across such sites? There are several reasons for the former and then by extension, the latter. I started doing such analyses back in the age of MySpace and Facebook finding socioeconomic differences in who adopted which platform even among a group of college students. More recent work (mine and others’) has continued to show differences in SNS adoption by various sociodemographic factors. This matters at the most basic level, because (a) whose voices are heard on these platforms matters to what content millions of people see and share and engage with; and (b) many studies use specific platforms as their sampling frame and so if a specific platform’s users are non-representative of the population (in most cases that is indeed the case) and the research questions pertain to the whole population (or all Internet users at minimum, which is again often the case) then the data will be biased from the get-go.

By knowing which platforms have similar users, when wanting to diversify samples, researchers can focus on including data from SNSs with lower overlaps in their user base without having to sample from too many of them. Also, for campaigns – these could be health-related, political, commercial – that want to reach diverse constituents, it is again helpful to know which sites have similar users versus reach different groups of people. Our paper shows (with graphs that I am hoping are helpful to interpreting the results) how SNS pairs differ by gender, age, education, and Internet skills.


by Eszter Hargittai on May 27, 2021

I’m rather unlikely to post about sports, but you have to watch this. I’m not even a baseball fan, which I feel a bit sacrilegious saying as I sit just a few miles from Wrigley Field, but unless you know absolutely nothing about baseball, you should watch this.

Another Covid book, this one about the digital context

by Eszter Hargittai on January 22, 2021

I’m joining John in going all in on Covid research. In the Fall, I signed a contract with The MIT Press for a book about the digital aspects of the pandemic’s early weeks. Scoping is tricky with an ongoing event not just in terms of topical focus, but also time span. I imagine we’ll be trying to make sense of what happened and how people experienced the events with what long-term implications for quite some time. I’m taking on the digital aspects of the first month or so. I’m basing the book on survey data I collected in April and May in the US, and in April in Switzerland and Italy.

It’s a digital inequality story whereby people in more privileged positions were able to pivot to online resources better, which may not be shocking, but worth exploring in detail given the extreme reliance on virtual communication in these times and many assumptions that such resources are readily available to all. There are also interesting nuances. Not all groups that one may expect to experience the circumstances negatively necessarily did so. For example, people with disabilities were more active on social media discussing the pandemic than those without disabilities. Whether this was a good thing or not is, of course, another question, one I plan to dig into through looking at knowledge about the pandemic and also people’s feelings of social connectedness. (This being a cross-sectional study, however, will limit my ability to comment on changes concerning survey participants’ specific circumstances.)

After explaining why a focus on the digital is relevant and giving some general social context as well as digital context of people’s situations, chapters focus on communicating during lockdown, how people used social media to connect about the pandemic in particular, what information sources people used for pandemic content and how this related to their knowledge about the virus, and who was able to pivot to working from home and what types of online learning people engaged in during this time. The book is about adults only so I will not be addressing things like how children’s homeschooling worked out.

This may be putting the cart before the horse, but I’m not sure how to think about the title. I’ve been playing with different ideas and would appreciate input. I started with Digital Survival: Who Thrives in Unsettled Times, but some reviewers of the proposal thought “digital survival” was too extreme. I’m not ready to abandon it as I do think digital connectivity has been very important and survival is not always used as a life-death distinction, but perhaps in this context it doesn’t work. What do you think? Or should I just go with Digital Inequality directly? I’m concerned that’s a bit jargony. (The book will be an academic trade publication.) Regarding the second half of the title, another approach is to foreground Covid instead of referring to unsettled times, but the idea is that the lessons learned would apply to other situations as well (e.g. political upheavals, natural disasters) so I don’t want it to sound narrower than necessary. I welcome your thoughts on this.

Positive note #10: book reading (non-fiction edition)

by Eszter Hargittai on January 1, 2021

I’m going to end this little series of positive notes I started ten days ago with sharing several excellent nonfiction books I read in 2020. Last year, my goal was to read 52 books. A year ago I had set as my goal for 2020 60 books, not because I knew we’d all be experiencing a lockdown, but because I was supposed to be on sabbatical in the fall and figured I’d be able to make more time for it. (I was indeed on sabbatical this past fall, but I did not “go” on sabbatical in that I just stayed in Zurich rather than my original plan of spending it at my alma mater Smith College in a special visiting position. Fortunately, we were able to reschedule that for fall ’23.) It turns out, during lockdown March-May I didn’t read any books at all. I can’t explain it, but it’s not how I coped. Fortunately, during the rest of the year I caught up. I already posted separately my resulting fiction recommendations, now for the rest.

I started 2020 with a tough, but very important and well-written book: Know My Name by Chanel Miller. This is the story of the woman who had been sexually assaulted by Brock Turner on Stanford’s campus. She goes through so much of what happened in the aftermath including lots of discussion of the crazy legal system that lets people like Turner move on with their lives while the lives they assault are forever changed. I believe this should be required reading on university campuses. It would be very hard for 18-year-olds to process (it’s hard to process at any age), but valuable.


While we are on the topic of sexual assault, [click to continue…]

End-of-year positives: fiction

by Eszter Hargittai on December 31, 2020

I decided to dedicate two separate posts to books, this one is for fiction. I usually don’t read much fiction so last year I wouldn’t have had enough to write about for such a post (and what I did read I didn’t like so wouldn’t have wanted to write about it). I still don’t have that much, the hope is that you’ll add your own. Like last year, this is not about books that were published in 2020, I am just sharing what I read in 2020 and recommend.

My big reading innovation this year, by the way, was listening to audiobooks. It helped me read more since I can still follow along comfortably at 1.5x speed, often even 1.75x or 2x speed, which is definitely faster than I read. Importantly, it lets me multitask so I can make progress on a book while cooking or working on a jigsaw puzzle (one of my pandemic sanity preoccupations although some of you may recall that this wasn’t a pandemic novelty for me).

This book is definitely not new, it’s even been made into a movie already (I haven’t seen it), but I only came across it this year: Still Alice by Lisa Genova (2007). It’s a tough topic, early onset Alzheimer’s in an academic. It’s beautifully written and the best fictional depiction of academia I have seen (but again, to be fair, I don’t see that much fiction). It did make me rather paranoid, but following up on the book I also read about things one can do to help delay onset (FWIW, solving crossword puzzles is not one of them).

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Positive note #8: it’s recipe exchange time!

by Eszter Hargittai on December 30, 2020

Is there anyone who hasn’t spent more time in the kitchen this year than usual? Perhaps healthcare workers. I don’t eat bread so I skipped all the sourdough discussions, but I did end up trying all sorts of new recipes. I’ll just share one savory and one sweet, and am otherwise hoping folks will contribute their own favorites.

A Late Show with Stephen Colbert was my go-to daily entertainment watching the previous night’s episode around lunch time. I was so impressed by how he and his team pivoted to the lockdown. In one episode, he cooked a dish based on shallots with Alison Roman that sounded very intriguing since I like shallots, but few recipes ever call for more than a bit of it (or I don’t tend to know them, please educate me). I made the dish the next day and have made it a bunch of times since, it’s excellent. I substituted sardines for the anchovies, because I already had those at home and since it worked well for me, I’ve stuck with that variation.

For sweets, I tried a sweet potato casserole for the first time this Thanksgiving and was so impressed that I’ve made it twice since (and will definitely be making it again). It seems to be presented as a side dish, but in my book it’s definitely a dessert. I do recommend two modifications to that recipe though that I picked up on from reading the comments on the site: (1) half the white sugar (1/4 instead of 1/2 cup); (2) double the topping except for the butter. Commenters noted that it was too sweet otherwise and they were right. I forgot these modifications the last time I made it and it was indeed too sweet. It’s a straight-forward recipe and doesn’t even really require a food processor (I haven’t used one for it). Try it out!

Your turn, please share your finds (or oldies, but goodies if you prefer).

Positive note #7: tech tools

by Eszter Hargittai on December 29, 2020

It’s time to share your most helpful tech finds for the year, this time more on the software than the hardware side. My big find was a task management tool that is the mother of all task management tools. It’s called Amazing Marvin and amazing is indeed the word I use when I describe it to friends and colleagues. If there is one downside, it’s that its versatility makes it a bit hard to navigate at first, but the investment is worth it.

Let me take a step back and explain the problem I was trying to solve when I searched for a tool back in the Spring. The search was not necessarily prompted by the pandemic, but launching into a huge data-collection project a week into lockdowns certainly gave a nudge. I had never had a good system for keeping track of tasks, ranging from very specific small to-do items to components of large multi-year projects. I had tried several programs over the years, but none had met my needs, whatever those might have been. (Sometimes you don’t realize what works well until you try to get a program to do what you need and then it hits you that that missing feature is a must-have.) I was using a mix of approaches from putting some things on my Google Calendar to keeping emails unread until I had tended to them, etc. It was a sad patchwork of solutions that, frankly, left me wondering how I wasn’t dropping balls left and right.

Enter Amazing Marvin. [click to continue…]

Hobbies that have brought you joy

by Eszter Hargittai on December 28, 2020

(Are there hobbies that don’t bring joy?)

In this sixth installment of end-of-2020 positive notes, let’s talk about hobbies that have helped us get through this crazy year. I started the following a bit before the pandemic, but it proved to be the perfect distraction (except for those beginning months of global postal confusion).

A little less than a year ago, I signed up for two postcard exchange Web sites: Postcrossing and Postcard United. “Exchange” is not entirely the right word for it since you are sending postcards to people different from the ones sending you postcards so it’s exchange in a global sense, but not concerning the specific items. (In reality, on occasion such an exchange does happen, but it’s rare.) You might think the model wouldn’t work. After all, there is no direct incentive to sending out something nice since the person you are sending to is not the one sending you a card. Do people put any care into sending thoughtful cards then given that there is no obvious incentive to doing so? It turns out many do. On the user profile, it’s possible to signal what is of interest and many of the cards I’ve received (over 200 at this point) have addressed my stated likes such as cards (and stamps!) of turtles and modern and/or local art. Similarly, I try my best to send something the person has requested and have amassed quite a postcard collection to assist me in this.

With all the distancing that 2020 has involved, it’s been genuinely lovely to connect with people from across the globe. There are a great number of participants in East Asia, I’ve sent numerous cards to and received many cards from China, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. The hobby seems to be very big in Germany and Russia as well. Some of this is just a numbers game (countries with large populations), but it doesn’t seem to be entirely about that. Of course, the activity comes with its set of costs not least of which is the postage and so this will pose constraints on who can participate. There are accounts in places like Germany with more than 10,000 cards sent and received, in such instances we’re talking some major financial investment in the hobby. Not that many other hobbies don’t come with costs, but I do find that interesting.

The sites put limits on how many cards you can have traveling at any one time, which can be a bit frustrating if you’re ready to jump in full speed, but is also realistic from the site’s perspective to establish that a new member is serious and will continue sending out cards. This is why one would end up joining more than one site, by the way, that way you can have more cards traveling at the same time (and thus also be receiving more).

Through this hobby, I’ve learned some interesting tidbits about philately around the globe. I was not aware, for example, of so-called maxicards (examples here through an image search). These are special issue stamps with corresponding cards with the stamp on the front side of the matching postcard. They tend to look wonderful and I’ve enjoyed getting a few from various corners of the globe. (If you have one to spare, I’m interested! As far as I can tell, neither the US nor Switzerland issues them these days so I haven’t been able to buy them for trade. Please correct me if I am wrong.)

From social media I gather that lots of people picked up bread baking as a hobby this year. I skipped that as I don’t eat bread. Has anyone started new hobbies this year that have worked out well? (I realize some of the previous posts have covered some related topics and I will have a post dedicated specifically to book reading as well as art making, but feel free to post about those types of hobbies here as well.)