Post Academic

Top Grad Student, Finale–Overtime!

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on August 17, 2010

Cause we can’t get enough of the virtual/reality show drama that “Top Grad Student” provides, we’re dragging this out a few more days–just what you wanted, right?  That’s because we have a tie right now, between English and Media Studies, with 5 votes a piece.  That does kinda replicate the whole excruciating waiting game of the academic job market, doesn’t it?, with our finalists stuck in limbo just a little longer.

I’m reposting the text of the finale contest below the fold, if you want the context…

This is it: We’ve finally reached the campus visit round, where one of our “Top Grad Student” competitors will receive a tenure-track position, sponsored by the University of Phoenix.  In classic academic bad-form fashion, we didn’t notify our convention interview round loser, the Life Sciences candidate, that s/he’s out of the running, so s/he’ll either be lurking on the academic jobs wiki to find out what happened or learn the bad news when s/he watches this week’s episode of “Top Grad Student.”  But we didn’t want to give the Life Sciences contestant “official” notification, in case our top choices don’t accept the position and we’re forced to go to our fourth choice, right?

Like “Top Chef,” the campus visit round involves the finalists jetsetting somewhere to a scenic location, getting ready to compete in one last battle-royale round.  While the speed-dating frenzy of the convention interview round required one set of skills, the campus visit require another kind, more focused on depth than breadth.

So here’s the itinerary we have set for the would-be could-be “Top Grad Student”:

1. Arrive after a long flight, only to have a search committee member engage you in mindless, but potentially hazardous small talk, while you’re hungry and don’t really have your wits about you.  Be dropped off fairly late at a generic hotel, where you have find something to eat, iron your clothes for the big day, print up documents you’ve edited (again) at the last minute.  And get some sleep.

2. Wake up (too) early, meet with another search committee member, have more chit-chat, while eating breakfast and making sure not to spill coffee on your only suit.

3. Get ready to meet the search committee, only to have the Dean cut in line to because s/he has something more important to do during your regularly scheduled time.  Then we mix up your schedule, so that you meet folks at different times than you expect.  And then we throw in a “Top Chef” finale-like twist, where you need to do a teaching-prep that you hadn’t planned for, in addition to the research presentation you did.

4. Have more meals with more people that involve more awkward yammering, including a “down-time” coffee break with overzealous grad students who think they should be in the position you’re in.

5. The last step involves dealing with a meddling, autocratic school higher-up.  What I’m envisioning is this experience which apparently someone had when interviewing on campus at Bard College, as described on the academic jobs wiki “Universities to Hate” discussion section–who knows if it’s true or how much of it is, but it would make for great TV wouldn’t?  Actually, it makes for pretty great reading as it is!

OK, so when you vote, consider how well the finalists can navigate these challenges.  Who’s got the best stamina and is least likely to puke at the wrong time?  Who’s the best at providing substantial BS, while being able to adjust what s/he says to different situations and not offend anyone on accident?  Which type is likely to be the most personable and remain so under stress and strain?  Notice we didn’t mention anything about, you know, qualifications, because our expectation is that, in this job market, there are many more overqualified candidates for too few positions.

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