Post Academic


“Top Grad Student”, our imaginary virtual reality show

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on July 10, 2010
Tags: ,

"Tom Colicchio at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival" by David Shankbone (Creative Commons license)

We usually use the weekends to scratch our pop culture itch, what with Caroline’s great Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Prof Stereotype film series and our Footnotes odds’n’ends that have featured the likes of Lady Gaga and James Franco.  We also mused way back when about what TV show resembles grad school the most, which is kind of the inspiration for today’s ridiculous post re-imagining grad school as a grueling series of reality show contests à la “Top Chef”–heck, if artists can get their own show (“Work of Art”), you best believe academics should!  Although it looks like our original poll had “Mad Men” winning as the best extended metaphor for academia, which means you better read the post about not antagonizing the admin and staff because the Joan Holloway of your dept might make or break your professional life.

Off the top of my head, let’s imagine we have Ph.D.-candidate contestants from various disciplines who compete for, say, a tenure-track position or equivalent at the University of Phoenix, which would totally be our sponsor.  We could have great settings for the show, like a seminar room and a bucolic campus.  Then, maybe all the contestants could be forced to live in university subsidized housing together, which could possibly lead to another reality show spin-off, like a nerdy “Bachelor/ette” or something–wait, didn’t they already have that show already (“Beauty and the Geek”)?  In any case, is this format so different from the stages between the convention interview, with about 12 or so candidates (at least in MLA fields), being whittled down to a handful of campus visits, before a chosen one is selected?  Our daydreamed TV show would be more entertaining and, who knows, maybe it would only capture the absurdities of a real-life job search, documentary film-like.

Maybe it’s because it’s too early in the morning while I’m writing this, but I’m a little punchy: Why don’t we do this thing online and call it a virtual fan-fiction reality show or something?  We’ll put a poll at the bottom of this post, and you can vote for whom you imagine would win any given contest.  And we’ll periodically return to this thing if folks actually vote.

Anyway, our first competition should be a get-to-know-you sort of thing, so let’s start with a feat-of-strength about writing a CV.  Who do you think would win this round, based on style, formatting, the number of accomplishments, length, reasonable embellishment?  The hypothetical student with the most votes gets immunity next round, while the contestant with the fewest votes is voted out!  And use the message board if you feel like justifying your vote–you can be your very own “Judges Table”!

And if there are any show developers lurking here, you know where to reach us!

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3 Responses to '“Top Grad Student”, our imaginary virtual reality show'

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  1. Mackie Blanton said,

    I really intended to say nothing about this “contest” and just vote. But seeing the results so far, I must say that the contest is rigged to yield a not-so-true-to-reality result. No university is going to choose “the best CV” across disciplines. If a Liberal Arts CV “wins” this “contest,” it will be because Liberal Arts types (of which I am one) are your primary visitors to this web site. So prejudice ensues. I stepped outside of my prejudice to vote for the Engineering candidate, because Engineering is the one discipline that gets its students into professional shape from the Freshman year on. And these students, as undergraduates, learn to design a Resumé (not a CV) in their Technical Writing courses, while the Liberal Arts students contimue pirouetting in his/her letter of introduction.

    And you guys already know all of this. So I suspect that the parameters of your “contest” are designed to bring out disciplinary prejudices more than truth.

  2. Arnold Pan said,

    Thanks, Mackie! You probably put a lot more thought into the poll and the concept for this contest than I did! But I guess it does require those voting in the poll to at least momentarily decide whether to tout her/his own field or step outside of one’s own area of expertise. It would be interesting to consider what’s of value in different fields. (By the way, I didn’t vote for English myself!)

    On the one hand, you’re definitely right about how hard facts and achievements would favor engineering and science types; I know someone who has 1000 publications listed, though, of course, many, if not all, are team written. On the other, maybe other lines on the CV might take precedence in different fields. For instance, all humanities types I know have lots of detail on teaching in their CVs. Plus, my friends and colleagues all know how to tailor CVs for different kinds of CVs, highlighting teaching or research when necessary.

    So for our contest, maybe it might be a matter of who could do the best job for the task set before our competitors. Maybe quick-thinking English types who can adapt their communication skills on the fly would stand a chance–assuming we believe English types can adapt and are quick thinking!


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