Post Academic


Looking Back on “Lucky Jim”

Photobucket“I’ve just been wondering what led you to take up this racket in the first place.”

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.
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Down With the Academic Martyr: Why a Little Selfishness Might Help You

Posted in Absurdities,Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on January 21, 2011
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PhotobucketWhen I told my family I was taking time off from grad school and looking for a career that didn’t involve teaching, one of my relatives said, “Good.”

“Good?” I asked. “I thought being a teacher is supposed to be noble, or something.”

“Yeah, but it means everyone tries to take advantage of you.”

My loved one had a point. When I thought about my time teaching and what I’ve heard from friends and other professors, I remembered how often I felt pushed. Can you take one more student? Can you give me one more day on the paper? Can’t you give my precious child another chance?

I often caved. I thought, if I didn’t give every last bit, I was letting someone down. I might be blocking a student’s right to knowledge. The one time I did push back, when I joined a picket line for rights I deemed perfectly reasonable, one of the school’s administrators compared the work of a grad student to the work of the kid down the street who mowed his lawn. To him–and many others–strikers were whiners. I held strong, but I felt guiltier than a character in a Philip Roth novel, and when I started teaching, I worked even harder, thinking my labor could erase the perception that I was another whiny slacker.

Sutton Hall interior view of faculty quarters, two women reading, circa 1900. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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So Now Teachers Are Supposed to Be Mental-Health Experts?

PhotobucketI’m not very happy with a recent New York Times article wondering if Pima Community College did enough when handling the apparent mental disorder of former student Jared Loughner, the alleged Arizona shooter. The implication is that if Pima Community College somehow handled Loughner better, these people wouldn’t have died and Representative Gabrielle Giffords wouldn’t be in a hospital with a head wound. Here’s the line that set me off:

After the release of detailed reports the college kept of Mr. Loughner’s bizarre outbursts and violent Internet fantasies, the focus has turned to whether it did all it could to prevent his apparent descent into explosive violence.

“Did all it could?” Is that saying it’s Pima Community College’s fault? So now teachers are expected to be mental-health experts, on top of everything else they do?

Blaming the community college seems awfully easy, but the college told Loughner and his parents–in person–that he couldn’t come back because of his behavior unless he had a doctor’s note. (You could ask whether or not his parents got him that help, but the damage has been done.) It appears that the college was genuinely concerned about the welfare of other students, and they acted on it. This is good, right? Colleges are still working on responses to dangerous students after the nightmare at Virginia Tech, and it seems that Pima CC had a plan in place.

A teacher could have devoted every spare minute to Loughner, and it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest because a teacher is not a psychiatrist, and a psychiatrist is probably the only person who could have helped Loughner become a functioning member of society instead of an alleged mass murderer.

This article is proof that teachers need to make their job duties clear. They are not psychiatrists. They are not psychologists. They are not babysitters. They are in the classroom to share knowledge and provide instruction. Society should be thinking about improving mental-health services and whether or not they should be administered through social services, the health-care system or even schools if appropriate programs are installed. Asking teachers to do more and be more aware isn’t going to do much if the rest of society isn’t also helping to figure out how to handle those who are dangerously mentally ill.

All charges alleged until proven under law. Old Austrian Schilling note with Sigmund Freud. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Postacademic MLA Interview Survival Tips

I’m putting the smartphone series on hold in the interest of those who are participating in the MLA. Although I strongly advise anyone going to the MLA to develop a backup plan and brace for a career change, I know that some of our readers are giving it one last shot. This one’s for you!

Arnold has been weaving horror stories of MLA interviews, so I’ve gathered together a link roundup of our past interview tips and tales for quick reference:

Top Grad Student, Round 4: Convention Interviews With Soul-Sucking Vampires
Inappropriate Academic Interview #1
Transfer Your Skills: Interviews in the Hamster World
Look Like You Want the Job

A caveat: The MLA interview is a completely different animal from the Hamster Interview. As Arnold’s posts have shown, you are more likely to encounter crazy during the MLA, and you can’t reason with crazy.

So, in the face of irrational interviewers, here is the only tip you need: Do not show fear. Keep your face completely still, or at least with a slight smile. Some of these MLA interviewers are sadists who want to tear you apart, and you shouldn’t let them. By not breaking character, you might impress one of the interviewers with your professionalism, or at the very least you’ll fry someone’s circuits.

Remember: There’s nothing wrong with effi-ing with their heads. Why not? They’re eff-ing with yours.

Girls, Get That Glassdoor Account!

Posted in Absurdities,Breaking Academic Stereotypes,The Education Industry,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 22, 2010
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Image Source*Only using “girls” for playful alliteration purposes! I’d recommend much of the advice in this article for guys, too.

With the non-passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, it’s more important than ever for women to know their worth and fight for the same pay as men, one job at a time. Obviously, the people who have been elected to office are more interested in pleasing a base rather than doing what’s right … anyway … let’s look out for ourselves since our legislators won’t do their jobs.

Despite the academy’s claims to be a forward-thinking meritocracy, female academics are suffering from the same pay inequalities as hamsters. Newsweek reported that female academics don’t make as much as male academics (Hat Tip: Worst Professor Ever): “… female faculty members have made no progress at all and have actually regressed. In 1972 women teachers made 83 percent what male faculty members earned; today, they’ve lost a cent for every dollar, earning just 82 percent.” That’s inexcusable–especially since salaries for professors at public schools are so easy to look up.

So, want to get paid as well as your male counterparts? It’s time to make like a negotiator, and it’s easy.

1. If the job is for a public school, look up the pay in a database. Local papers usually have handy salary databases for all public employees. For example, the Contra Costa Times has a salary database for the state of California.
2. If the school is private, go to glassdoor.com. Professor salaries are up there; just look up the name of the school. For even more information, try salary.com. If the information lines up, you should know exactly what you can get.
3. If you are offered the job and salary comes up, have a number in mind. Penelope Trunk advises that you should make the prospective employer give the salary number first. Sometimes, that’s not easy. Whatever your situation, do not short-change yourself. You should be making about the same as what everyone else is making–or more.
4. (the hard part) If you don’t get the salary you want, don’t take the job. Obviously, if you are a poor grad student in dire financial straits, I’m not going to judge you if you do take the job. The only thing is that these universities know bloody well how broke and desperate you are, and you shouldn’t let them take advantage of you. You should push for every penny you can.

As for anyone who is reading this blog who is employed, male or female, do your female colleagues a solid and share your salary on Glassdoor or leave a review of the company. (No, I’m not doing any shilling for them; I’ve just found what’s on there extremely helpful.) Until a Paycheck Fairness Act actually passes (don’t bet on it), then we have to help each other.

The We Can Do It! poster. What else? From Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

First, Plagiarism. Next, Rick Astley?

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on November 6, 2010
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Rickroll (Internet meme): To link to a web video that promises to reveal extraordinary footage, only to connect your user to a video clip of the 1987 music video “Never Gonna Give You Up” by the high-haired, deep-voiced pop singer Rick Astley.

If you are one of the three people on the planet who do not know what “rickrolling” is, imagine that you think you’re going to click on a never-aired Internet video involving Brett Favre’s little Viking, and you get this:

“Rickrolling” is one of the milder ways to punk someone on the Internet. But did you know that some students are punking their profs with text Rickrolls?

A student snuck an acrostic version of several lyrics from “Never Gonna Give You Up” in a paper and is eagerly awaiting the results.

So, professors among you, read the papers all the way through, and be vigilant regarding the Rickroll.

Punishing Everyone to Root Out a Slacker: Never a Good Idea

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on October 15, 2010
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Image SourceOne of the reasons people get so angry at professors is the existence of genuine academic assholes. They do indeed exist, but they are not representative of the profession. I’ve said this before: If you are irritated about a slacker who has been coasting after tenure, you are in for a shock. Slackers exist in other jobs, too.

For some reason, people are considerably harsher toward academic slackers than they are toward hamster slackers. In the Hamster World, if a company is going off the rails, staff turnover is the result. The company still stands, and the masses seem okay with that. No one says, “Let’s shut down the whole company just to get rid of one dirtbag!” No one says, “I think I’ll undermine the whole company just so I can get revenge on this one person who annoys me!” As for the Ivory Tower, it could use some repairs and fresh blood, sure. But more people cry out that they want to cut tenure, cut funding and burn the whole thing down.

Here’s a truth about life that it took me way too long to figure out: There will always be slackers, and there will always be people who let you down, in any workplace. Just don’t slit everyone’s throat and your own while trying to get at a slacker because slackers are wilier and smarter than you. They’ll be the last ones standing after the whole department or even the whole office has been gutted. They are willing to work hard in order to avoid expending effort later on. Accept their imperfections, avoid helping them whenever possible, rely on the people who get the work done, and move on.

Slacking is not a crime. Image of a hammock by Chris McClave from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Where Rage Against the Professor Comes From

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on October 8, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOkay, some misguided and soon-to-be disappointed soul ends up at Post Academic after typing “ass school” in a search engine. We apologize for not delivering what you were looking for, and you can stop reading now.

However, someone else has been landing here for “academics are assholes” as well, and I’d like to clarify that academics are not assholes. This statement seems important in light of the article by Thomas H. Benton/William Pannapacker called “Why Do They Hate Us?,” which I responded to a few days ago, with a tip of the hat to Rodney Dangerfield.

Comments like “academics are assholes” make me wonder why teachers in general get treated like dirt. There are assholes in every workplace, but teachers receive very little respect and very little pay in relation to their training and their workload. I can think of a few reasons why:

The Alcoholic Horndog Professor Stereotype on Film: Start reading here.

The Alcoholic Horndog Professor Stereotype in Fiction: Start reading here. Although the novels are more complex than, say, a Rodney Dangerfield flick, they make universities far more glamorous and dramatical than they actually are.

An Inability to Cope with Bad Grades: Many people cannot cope with getting bad grades. Who can blame them? But some people resent the power that teachers seem to have, all the way into adulthood. What they don’t seem to realize is that it is possible to get jobs without having a perfect GPA. So you got a bad grade? You’ll survive. You’ll probably be able to get a job, too, because GPAs aren’t necessarily a requirement on resumes.

A little amateur psychology after the jump! Caricature of Ward McAllister from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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No Respect! Thomas H. Benton on the Rising Rage Against the Professor

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on October 4, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe title for the latest by Thomas H. Benton/William Pannapacker is a little plaintive: “Why Do They Hate Us?” Of course, “Us” refers to academics.

Although I haven’t been a member of the academic flock for a while, the statements Benton/Pannapacker says he’s heard from non-academics piss me off. Frankly, I think professors and academics should stand up for themselves more often. Only lawyers catch more crap for their jobs, but they don’t put up with it, and they make more money.  Here are some fantasy responses I have to a few of the statements Benton/Pannapacker provides, and you can feel free to swipe them in case you encounter someone who disrespects your work:

“Being a professor is good money for, like, six hours of work per week. What do you do with all that free time?”
It’s not just the classroom time. You try grading the papers of at least 20 or 30 students in a classroom. This gets real customer servicey and would have most hamsters running for the hills. Oh, and you can also try teaching students who are at wildly different ability levels. And then you have to stay on top of your research and write papers so you can get tenure. I’m just getting warmed up. Someone who knows a little more about the profession might say that at least the job isn’t a 9-to-5. That’s true, but as anyone on a flexible schedule knows, that can be a blessing and a curse.

No respect! Image of Rodney Dangerfield at the Shorehaven Beach Club in New York in 1978. By Jim Accordino from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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Somebody at UNM Must Have Watched “Doctor Detroit”

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on September 25, 2010
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A friend let me know of some wild happenings at the University of New Mexico, where a tenured English professor was discovered working for a dominatrix phone-sex hotline … along with her grad students. Here’s the Chronicle of Higher Ed attempting to take an Enquirer-esque turn:

Life has become extremely complex in the University of New Mexico’s English department in the three years since Lisa D. Chávez, a tenured associate professor, was discovered moonlighting as the phone-sex dominatrix “Mistress Jade,” and posing in promotional pictures sexually dominating one of her own graduate students.

Well … when we were thinking of jobs that grad students could take to supplement their income, the word “submissive” did not come to mind. But, if that’s your thing and it’s legal, who are we to judge? It’s a rough economy. But … you might not want to take on one of these gigs if you’re doing it to please or impress your professor. The dominant-submissive thing puts a whole new twist on an imbalance of power in the classroom. But, in the end, it’s up to UNM to sort this one out, if it’s possible given the number of lawsuits that have ensued. Of course, these kinds of lawsuits are to be expected once people start mixing business with pleasure.

If Lisa Chavez wanted to destroy academic stereotypes, she did a hell of a job. Even her phone-sex scripts name-checked her day job and played on the professor persona: “Do you want a biker bitch, an imperious goddess, or a stern teacher ready to punish unruly students?” While Post Academic is more focused on the job landscape, I had to bring this up because I never imagined that a professor would be working for a phone-sex hotline. That sounds like something you’d see in old ’80s comedies like “Doctor Detroit.” I also never imagined that the Chronicle of Higher Ed would be writing about phone sex.

This legal matters swirling around this case are epic–so all charges alleged until proven under law or sorted out by lawyers.

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