Today is a big milestone day for us: This post is our 500th and it marks the one-year anniversary of Post Academic’s launch. Thanks to all who’ve found their way here, especially the cohort of likeminded bloggers who made us feel as if we weren’t crazy, bitter, and alone. Not to get mushy on you, but it’s really helped knowing the likes of Worst Prof, Eliza Woolf, Adventures in Gradland, Sell Out Your Soul, among others, are doing their thing–it’s helped to give us a sense of purpose above and beyond our own individual concerns and complaints.
When Caroline and I started Post Academic, I was mulling over becoming, well, post academic. It just so happened that Caroline was interested in developing her own blog on job tips and etiquette, at the same time I had started thinking about compiling my futile attempts on the academic job market. My reasons were two-fold: the first was practical–to learn how to blog and the basics of blog maintenance–and the second was more personal–to work through another year of disappointment on the market. At some point, I figured I had to make a decision as to what to do about my so-called academic career: I could always find enough excuses and reasons to hang on and keep trying, to go through the same thing over and over again, year after year. But you know what, I got sick of it, so I wanted to channel my energies elsewhere, which was my contribution to in conceiving of Post Academic.
To be honest with you, I’m not sure I would’ve ever done it–write about being post academic (or at least ambivalent academic), that is–if Caroline hadn’t shot off our first entry on UNLV’s football team and the school’s budget woes. But once Post Academic became real and I realized I needed to keep up my end of the bargain, things took off. Hey, checking site stats beats scanning the Academic Jobs Wiki obsessively any day! Getting back into the habit of writing regularly did wonders for me, and it was just the act of writing and writing (good or bad) that helped me get out of my academia-induced rut, even more than the semi-soul searching of the posts themselves. Maybe it wasn’t all the blog’s doing, but, post-Post Academic, we both started fulfilling jobs that made use of our skills, I got back into freelance music writing, and I’ve been unburdened of the doubt, expectations, and unfulfilled potential of all those years spent on my Ph.D.
Through it all–collaborating on opposite ends of the continent, family life, childcare, a new baby, job interviews, new work schedules, business trips, vacations, holidays, illnesses, whatever else–we posted every single day until pretty much Christmas time. But upon our one-year birthday, we’ve decided that we’re scaling back the schedule for Post Academic, as much because we need a break from the routine as we find ourselves in very different places from where we began, when it comes to the blog’s reason for being. For me, it’s just that I don’t define my identity in relation to being an academic, post- or otherwise, any more. In that respect (and many more), Caroline was a perfect partner-in-crime in this endeavor: She was a role model for me, since she had successfully navigated her way from the college campus to the hamster world long before I ever thought of it, with all the spirit and good energy that anyone who knows her can’t help but be uplifted by.
This isn’t goodbye–we’ll still be around to post, though somewhat irregularly, when we’ve got something to write about and postacademic.org will be around as a resource (if you can call it that) or a time capsule or an out-of-date journal we’ll be cringing about in a few years. And besides, who else is gonna keep up with James Franco’s grad school progress, anyway?
In our last installment of “Sense & Sangria,” I gave advice to a first-year professor who wasn’t happy with his first tenure-track job. One of our commenters had some excellent advice for the professor:
I have been in the same situation for the last 13 years. What finally did the trick for me, I just decided it was a job, not a lifestyle. I go to work, do my job, get a paycheck and go live my life. It has made all the difference.
If you will recall in Post Academic’s past studies of the “no asshole rule,” Bob Sutton advised that victims of workplace assholes should do all they can not to let the abuse or endless slights “touch their souls.” Sutton shares a story about a woman who couldn’t leave her job but found a way to cope via a rather Zen approach:
… detached indifference, simply not giving a damn, might be the best that you can do to survive a workplace that subjects you to relentless humiliation…. Ruth was physically sitting at the table. In her mind, however, she wasn’t attached to her nasty and demeaning colleagues, their opinions didn’t affect her self-worth, their vile expressions and words weren’t touching her soul, and she was in a different and better world.
Your situation might not be as extreme. Your coworkers might be more irritating than vile. But the point is that, in order to keep work from bringing you down, you need to build up other parts of your life to boost your immunity against workplace strife. Family, friends, side projects, fitness, whatever is your thing, build it up and make it strong. Otherwise, work will just gnaw at you and make you miserable.
And if you give more in an effort to keep assholes at bay, it won’t work. You’ll probably still get laid off anyway or get assigned tasks that you hate, so don’t attach too much value to it. Attach value to what’s really important to you instead of impressing a bunch of assholes. Follow our commenter’s advice: Do your job, get your paycheck and live your life. After all, it is your life, not your boss’s life or your dean’s life.
Antique lap desk with hidden compartment. Image by Koppas from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
You didn’t think we’d miss out on the opportunity to live blog — as best we can, at least — about James Franco at the Oscars, or at least anything related to his adventures as a Ph.D. student. Here’s what we’ve caught of the coverage so far…
5:00 PM (west coast time): James Franco does a promo interview in some kind of fake bar setting, talking about his hosting duties. The interviewer asked him what is was like spending the last two weeks prepping for the broadcast, when he quickly corrects that he has only been here for the weekends because of…wait for it…class! So that’s the first mention of grad school, for any of you playing James Franco drinking game. The ha-ha banter continues, with something about taking an Oscars class and acing it, though Franco does flash some self-deprecating humor to the random correspondent about getting a B+.
What are odds that we’ll hear about Yale during the monologue?
5:45 PM: What, no grad school jokes so far? What a let down…
6:45 PM: I’m getting hungry waiting for some grad school jokes. I have to say, though, that Franco is pretty good, much better than the trying-too-hard Anne Hathaway, imho. He’s got that too-cool-for-seminar thing down pat.
6:55 PM: He gave a shout-out to nerds–does that count?
We wanted to follow up on a few of our better trafficked posts from the past week, Caroline’s on the Wisconsin protests and Arnold’s on plagiarism in Top Chef.
Wisconsin Protests: Thanks to all the wonderful comments to our post on the ongoing Wisconsin saga–to cite a cliche, we can disagree without being disagreeable! Lest we get too far into the political principles of the thing (and anyways, you know where we stand), Talking Points Memo passes along an interesting note on who’d be one of the first affected by the Gov. Scott Walker’s threats to start laying off state workers: the school counselor wife of the GOP State Senate Majority Leader, a chief political ally. In fact, all 34 of that particular school district’s teaching staff have been given their preliminary walking papers.
Here’s a YouTube of the protests, which apparently stars a friend of ours –well, at least her hat for an instant or so–who’s a prof in the Wisconsin system…
Chef Law: On a much lighter note, this week’s Top Chef plagiarism controversy has generated a lot of interest, though we’re betting that anything that happens on the show leads to a storm of posts on the foodie blogosphere. Mike Isabella, the cheater, has washed his hands of the whole thing, claiming that it was all editing and that Richard Blais, the cheated-upon, bears no ill will and agrees with him. Uh-huh. One of the more interesting perspectives on this tempest-in-a-teapot comes from Dale Talde, who was chopped (to mix reality-show catchphrases) from the episode.
When asked by TV Guide in a post-show debriefing, he basically pooh-poohed the idea of plagiarism, even as he called out Isabella for bad form: ”You can’t patent food, but you also can’t straight-up tell people that you ripped this dude’s dish off and you won $5,000 and shove it in his face. That sucks.” And like we pointed out in the post, you just can’t give plagiarists an inch, which is something Dale had apparently been advising Richard all along: “He’s been very forthcoming with information….Why are you telling people this? I think he’s learned his lesson now. I’m not stingy, but it’s like: Dude, do your homework; do your homework. You know you’re going on the show, so do your homework.”
So something else that Top Chef’s confirmed for us about plagiarism is a lot about bad form and that it’s never cut-and-dried, never black-and-white. And the best way to not get embroiled in it is to not get into the gray area of helping a little too much.
This question pops up in Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, in which the not-so-lucky protagonist/semi-antihero finds himself stuck in an academic job he hates. Yet he still craves job security, which hinges on a boss who cares more about social interactions than actual scholarly work. Sound familiar?
Lucky Jim may be the ultimate nose-thumbing at academia, but it can also be treated as an instructional manual for those who are stuck in jobs they hate. Lucky Jim is the literary equivalent of the “Eff You” monologue in Half Baked, only all the F-bombs are replaced with full sentences. What follows are some tips from this ur-text of campus fiction:
Go after what you want. No, really. Professor Jim Dixon just loooves Christine, who is the girlfriend of Bertrand, who is–inconveniently enough–the pseudo-painter son of Dixon’s hot mess of a supervisor, Professor Welch. Christine is out of Dixon’s league socially. Even the woman chasing after Dixon says spitefully, “You don’t think she’d have you, do you? A shabby provincial bore like you.” But Dixon doesn’t give up that easily, and when he’s brave enough to go for it, he discovers that Christine is interested in him.
Exhaust appropriate outlets for your work frustration. Whenever Jim’s enemies (overeager students, supervisors, malicious colleagues) approach, he contorts his face into a ridiculous expression. He even has names for each of those expressions. Childish, yes, but it’s better than the alternative presented in the book, which is setting your hostess’s bed on fire with cigarettes.
DVD image from Amazon. Perhaps it is copyrighted, but I’m encouraging you to buy the book or DVD, so hope it helps.
I’ve often said that a big benefit of the Hamster World is the ability to turn to HR when you encounter assholes in the workplace. And I will say this: Some HR reps are sloppy, but most of the people I’ve worked with genuinely want to help. I can think of one person who should probably earn a Lifetime Achievement Award in HR.
If that isn’t the case and you have an issue, what do you do? Well, I hate to say this, but you might need to lawyer up. Very few people are excited about hiring a lawyer. It’s expensive, and they have a bad rap from all those late-night ads that scare people with nightmare scenarios like getting hit by a rampaging Oscar Meyer Wiener Truck or catching salmonella from tainted licorice. Whatever. You name it, and there’s a lawyer who can handle it.
But using the words “I am CC-ing my lawyer” will put the fear of a Higher Power in others. One of my neighbors had a problem because the landlord wouldn’t repair a water leak that destroyed some of his books, and he was lucky enough to have a sister-in-law as a lawyer. He wrote a nastygram to the landlord, mentioned that he had consulted a lawyer, and threw in a CC at the bottom of the nastygram for good measure. Within a day, my neighbor received a visit from some efficient handymen, plus money for his books.
I’m not a lawyer. I know a few lawyers. Lawyers can be scary, but they can also be your best friend if you are serious about stopping a problem. Unlike what you may think from seeing “Judge Judy,” no one wants to be dragged into court, and no one wants to pay a settlement.
Caricature of a lawyer from Vanity Fair, 1873, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
One of the sillier things we’ve done on the blog over the past almost year is the “Top Grad Student” fake virtual reality show series, based on my fave reality show, Top Chef. But who knew that Top Chef could also tell you everything thing you wanted to know about plagiarism, how we react to it, and how people can get away with it? Just like every school has an honor code that students are presumed to abide by, apparently there’s something called “Chef Law” where you aren’t supposed to steal someone else’s culinary ideas.
So to recap what happened on this week’s episode (spoiler alert!): It began with a seemingly innocuous scene where Richard Blais, the mad scientist and (imho) the most creative cheftestant, was showing Mike Isabella, a skeezy operator (again, imho), a Moleskine notebook full of his crazy musings, complete with drawings. So flash forward to the Quickfire challenge, when apparently Mike preps a Fried “Chicken Oyster” in a shell that was originally Blais’ fantastical creation. So throughout the challenge and the judgement, Blais gives Isabella the stink eye, while Isabella avoids his gaze; on the voiceover confessionals, Blais calls Isabella out for plagiarism, as Isabella claims that, though he got the idea from his competitor, others have done it before so it’s not copying. You know how this turns out–Mike beats Richard, and pockets 5K out of it. Richard is bent of shape, and Mike rubs everyone’s face in it by saying he was inspired by Richard.
Cut to post-challenge, when Mike is somehow pissed at Richard for not acting like either a winner or a loser should. Meanwhile, Antonia tells the other contestants what happened, that Mike basically cribbed off Richard (we get a flashback scene here, I think) for the win, to which everyone invokes “Chef Law” and how dastardly Mike is.
Ultimately, Richard bests Mike at the end of the episode, then talks some mild s**t (Blais might be full of himself a bit, but he’s too geeky, nervous, and seemingly well-meaning to be a brash trash-talking type) about keeping his best recipes for himself. So there’s order to the universe in the end, right? Not so fast…
Here are a few lessons we learn about plagiarism and plagiarists from the episode…
1. Keep it to yourself: Whether Richard was willingly showing off his little notebook or Mike is one of those nosy people who’s always in your bizness — in Chinese, his type roughly translates to “butt-following bug” — there’s no reason to let anyone know more than they need to, especially in a competition. I don’t know, I guess I know how Richard feels, since I liked sharing notes and all, but it’s something else to give someone your thesis and outline. Hold on to your best ideas for yourself and resist showing off more than you need to.
More of what we learned about plagiarism from Top Chef, after the jump…
As the debate over the value of college and a-driftin’ students rages, I’m starting to wonder what people go to college for. It used to be as a stepping stone to a better life. It worked for me. I learned a skill and got a job. But it’s not really working for everyone.
Is it the colleges? Is it the students? Or is it … our expectations? There’s a quotation from Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” (shared by Justin Cox at the Huffington Post) in which he and Adam Carolla discuss the value of a college education. And it’s interesting.
“If you’re not going to celebrate the kind of things you ultimately need, you’re going to end up with precisely what you deserve. Mathematically, your kids can’t have it better than you did and so on and so on and so on. It just doesn’t play out at all. So, rather than scratching your head over the algorithm, why not just step back and say, We’re all screwed up as to what better means.”
So, what is “better” to you? Do you want to make more than your parents? Do you want to do less manual labor? Do you want the kind of job where you can guide yourself? Something with more flex time? People seem to want it all, which is fine, but you’re less likely to get it all. You would be better off focusing on one goal. And focusing on an expectation isn’t the same as diminishing your expectations altogether. And focusing on an expectation doesn’t always mean you need to go the traditional college/grad school route.
For me, I want a job that gives me self-respect. Then I want a job that pays decently. Then I want to live in a city. That’s my rank order. Teaching didn’t give me self-respect, so I switched to something else. I also like to eat, so I found a job that helps with that. I also live in a city, although since that’s third on my list, I would be willing to give that up in order to keep the other two. And I didn’t need to get my PhD to meet those expectations.
I have made some compromises. I’d love to have a flex-time job. In an ideal world, I’d rather not be Hamstering away in a cube farm, but I do have self-respect, and I do get a salary that makes me happy. That’s not bad. I can take walks and go out for lunch if I’m tired of hamstering. I am OK with the compromise. If I am no longer OK with it, I’ll make a change.
Image of a glass half full or half empty, depending on how you look at it, from LuciaSofo from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
So this Malcolm Gladwell piece from The New Yorker (subscription req’d) about the U.S. News college rankings has been kinda making the rounds, if mostly because of who’s writing the piece. I should begin by explaining that pretty much know little about Gladwell besides whatever’s floating in the cultural ether, except for his Sideshow Bob-like looks and that his speaking honorarium needs to be subsidized by Goldman Sachs or something (reportedly $80,000), so this post makes no comment or critique on his best-selling zeitgeist-tapping works. But what he has to offer by way of critiquing the U.S. News rankings doesn’t really count as new news, especially to anyone who’s spent a good part of her/his life in academia.
For those of you who can’t get behind The New Yorker paywall, here are the main points:
1. College rankings are no more reliable than car ratings or suicide rate measurements: Or, in other words, there’s no objective measure to why one college is rated higher than another when subjective factors come into play, no matter how authoritative U.S. News tries to make itself appear. Really, did Gladwell need to make his point about the college rankings by using a clever lede about how consumers of automobiles have different priorities in determining which car is for them or mixing in how cultural influences and the problem of intention complicate what’s defined as a suicide, thereby complicating how suicide rates are measured? The basic point is this: U.S. News has a secret algorithmic formula in determining its rankings, but Gladwell wonders who’s to say why the criteria are weighted the way they are. That’s simple enough, isn’t it?
More about how Gladwell is right, but not particularly profound, below the fold…
Now I love me a good rant against a student or two, and College Misery fits the bill. The community is tight over there, so I can see why one of their members turned to the group to ask for career advice.
For starters, I applaud Raul from Russellville for sending his question to College Misery instead of a general-advice columnist. Not to snub Cary Tennis, the go-to advice columnist for grad students, but the people at College Misery … well, they know the misery. But Sense & Sangria can’t resist chiming in.
Here are glimpses of Raul’s problems at a tenure-track job:
1. I struggled in that first semester, but worked hard through it. I was astonished at the students, how exquisitely dumb they were, how fantastically lazy, how creatively they avoided work.
2. It is not just the students. My colleagues are closed off. My attempts to be collegial are often rebuffed or ignored. I haven’t come in expecting to be beloved or anything, but I find that I’m just ignored, left to fend for myself.
At first read, I wonder if maybe it’s not Raul’s career that’s the problem but the job itself. If his students are assholes and his colleagues are borderline assholes, then the best solution is to find another job.
Ah … but there are barely any jobs in academia. It’s not as if he can pack up and move anywhere. For that reason, I say what I often say in Sense & Sangria: There is no shame in quitting. If he’s worried about what family and friends might think, he might be surprised. Some of them might ask him why he didn’t do it sooner.
I noted that many of the commenters on College Misery said that Raul should at least wait his first year because it might get better. Hey, they’re professors, and they know better than me, a mere grad-student turned Hamster. On a financial level, he should definitely tough it out for as long as he can until he can save up an emergency fund. But I don’t think that people should waste time at careers they don’t enjoy, no matter how much time they put into it. Perhaps Raul can last until some of the assholes leave his department, but if he’s really miserable, he shouldn’t stay in a bum job just because he made a time investment decision that didn’t work out.
Image of a trippy sangria from Tamorlan from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.