Post Academic

Live Blogging (kinda) James Franco at the Oscars

Posted in Absurdities by postacademic on February 27, 2011
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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?

What Top Chef teaches us about plagiarism

Posted in Absurdities,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on February 24, 2011
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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.

Richard Blais (aka the plagiarized) by Godofbiscuits (Creative Commons license)

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…


Law and Order, Campus Division

Posted in Absurdities by postacademic on February 20, 2011
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"Famous Crimes" by Chordboard (Public Domain)

Here’s another idea to float for Worst Professor Ever’s TV treatment: What about Law and Order, Campus Division?  Check out this Huffington Post slideshow about campus crimes and transgressions, which would probably generate the requisite material to get you through enough episodes as a mid-season replacement–and that’s not even including the Georgetown meth lab and the Columbia incest deal, which didn’t make it on the list, or a “ripped-from-the-headlines” storyline you could embellish from the Wisconsin protests.  We’ve covered at least two items on the HuffPo blotter, U New Mexico phone-sex dominatrix and the CSUN pee-er.  (Speaking of CSUN, what’s going on there, especially with the econ prof’s Thai sex-tourism site?)  What’s interesting is that the HuffPo readers picked a plagiarism case as their top choice, over the more salacious options.

Hot for Robot Teacher?

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on February 14, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOn Valentine’s Day, what could be better than a story about an unusual love … for online teaching? Randall Strauss of the NYT launched an article with a rather provocative comment: “When colleges and universities finally decide to make full use of the Internet, most professors will lose their jobs.”

Strauss goes on to list all the online course options that people can access, such as Academic Earth. Such online course offerings are amazing, and they can work well for those who are extraordinarily tech-savvy and self-motivated. Who can resist learning on a flexible schedule in which we are all taught by R2D2? Dude, break out the ring because someone is proposing to Robot Teacher!

But this romance is going to be rockier than it looks, and Strauss admits as much later in the article. I don’t think robots will take over for professors anytime soon, and not for the reasons you might think. Many anti-robot instructors argue for the importance of human connection when teaching. I’m not entirely convinced of that because I often had my biggest “ah-ha!” moments when reading books in my spare time.

So, what’s the one thing keeping robots from taking professorial jobs? Well … have you seen how most people interact with technology? Think about it. All I need to do is say one word: “Blackboard.” And pop on over to College Misery sometime. Many of their posts involve mishaps that unfold when students attempt to engage with technology.

Image of a 2-XL electronic robot toy by the Mego Corporation by PantheraLeo from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

So Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities, the Next Generation

So William Pannapacker/Thomas H. Benton has created another Xtranormal video describing the tragicomedy that is the Ph.D. process in the humanities, this time capturing the awkward interactions between grad chair and prospective grad student.  In our latest episode, Pannapacker’s grad chair authority figure is back, but, as apropos of academia, our heroine from the original vid has long been chewed up and spit out by the system, replaced by new blood/fresh meat in the form of an incoming grad student.  And it’s good timing for the new YouTube, too, considering how grad school admissions decisions are around the corner.  I know it’s just because the computerized characters are necessarily glitchy, but the virtual cartoon people really capture the eerie nervousness and anxiety of mentor-student relationships, which is only accentuated by the spacey neo-muzak in the background.  Enjoy!

Business Dinners Gone Awry

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on February 7, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOkay, Bardiac posted on a candidate dinner that involved diaper talk a while ago, but since I’ve been through some Hamster-world business dinners lately, and I felt the need to respond now. When I read the tale, the Hamster inside me spun furiously on its tiny wheel.

The profs, with the exception of Bardiac, who must have impeccable manners, spent all their time talking about their kids. I started imagining what the poor candidate was thinking:

Kids. Kids. Okay. I can swing this topic. What do I tell them about my kid situation? Should I tell them about my kid situation? My advisor never warned me about this. Are they trying to get me to reveal my kid status? Can this be used against me in a court of law?

Wait. This is diaper stuff. And nanny stuff. Nannies? These people can afford nannies? And they advertised that starting salary? I want to go on strike, and I don’t even have the job yet.

Oh, dear. This is intimate stuff. They aren’t making eye contact. Do they even want me to talk? Are they comparing Pampers to Huggies? Do they know I’m here? Have they already decided on a candidate? PANIC! No, no, don’t panic. Am I just a free meal to these people? Are they rubbing it in by talking about their kids’ poop habits?

Ahhh … the polite one just asked me about pedagogy. But … diapers! Poop! Exclusion!

I wonder if I should order another drink.

Okay, maybe the candidate wasn’t thinking all that, but those dining with the candidate should try empathy sometime.

I’m not an academic, so I’ve never been a part of a candidate dinner, but my loved ones have gone through the ritual. I am not the type to turn down a free meal, but I already don’t like the concept because it automatically blurs the line between personal and professional way too early in the game. Shouldn’t coworkers dine together after someone’s been hired, not before? It’s not as if professors are being hired to sell something to bigwigs and their table manners need to be vetted.

More after the jump! Image of Bakersfield Restaurant by Renjishino from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.


Footnotes, with Our Standard Stuff

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on February 1, 2011
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Your latest Footnotes covers the stuff we usually blurb about, like indie rock and, of course, James Franco.  And, oh yeah, vindictive peeing-in-public profs…

Marking Your Math Dept Territory: Apparently, the way you settle a mathlete geek off is by peeing in front of your nemesis’s office door.  Last December, Cal State Northridge math prof Tihomir Petrov was caught in the act by a camera set up after “puddles” of urine were found in the hall.  According the CSUN Math Dept website, Petrov is an Asst Prof, so here’s hoping for he’s not pissing his career away!

Iron and Wine, Post Academic: So who knew that Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam was a kind of a postacademic?  (Not me, at least, though I’m not a huge fan or anything.)  That’s right, the indie troubadour actually taught film and cinematography at the University of Miami and Miami International University of Art and Design. I guess that adds some backstory that helps Beam stand out from all the bearded neo-folkies in the indie-verse — you know who you are — these days.  Check out his top ten films list from a guest post he did for the Criterion Collection, which is definitely chin-strokingly auteurish enough.

Last but not Least…Your Latest James Franco Update: So you’ve probably been seeing Ph.D. poster child James Franco a lot recently, what with all the awards shows and Sundance going on.  And you’ll be seeing even more of him once the Oscars come around, since he’s not only nominated for Best Actor, but he’s also hosting the thing.  Still, he doesn’t seem to be sweating it too much, since he told the AP (check out the vid on Yahoo!) that he wasn’t going to miss class at Yale in order to do PR for his likely Oscar nom.  But just as you start thinking Franco was earnest and not getting a big head, the latest, most-up-to-datest news search on Google unearths that he’ll be teaching a course about…himself!  That’s right, “Master Class: Editing James Franco…With James Franco” will be offered at something called Columbia College Hollywood, not connected to either Columbias in NYC or Chicago.  We knew Franco wanted to teach, but this seems like he’s just trying too hard!

Why Do So Many People Assume They Can Write?

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on January 29, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhen people start questioning funding for higher education, they often take dead aim at the humanities, assuming that the humanities aren’t as useful as, say, marketing. What makes the humanities such an easy target?

I think much of it stems from arrogance, in that so many people think they can write. Stringing words together seems easy, and companies don’t always invest in skilled writers because they think they can do the writing themselves.

That’s not always the case. How many times have you seen a company brochure that goes on and on without any awareness of who the audience is? Or blatant grammatical errors? Or misapplied sales-speak? Or blatant logical fallacies? (Campaign brochures whose arguments rest on the slippery slope fallacy, I am talking to you!)

I’m not a master writer, but writing calls for a base level of competence, one that goes beyond the ability to spell words correctly. A writer needs to know spelling, grammar, history, logic and even psychology. Companies wouldn’t dare attempt to tackle computer programming themselves, but they’ll change the words of a writer with the utmost confidence that “anyone can do it.” The words of a writer aren’t sacred–far from it–but writers do not pull stuff out of their butt. In order to write well, a person must also be able to read critically to find evidence and assemble an argument. Writing may not be as difficult as being a doctor or a physicist, but it isn’t a place where you can cut corners or offer low wages.

Image of typing in water from 1926, Bundesarchiv from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

How to (Not) Get Published #1: It’s Funny Because It’s Kinda True the Prez no less! (Photo courtesy of the Official White House Photostream, Public Domain)

While scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a link to the “Journal of Universal Rejection”, which is funny because it’s kinda true.  (h/t Sam.)  No, I promise I’m not this brutal as an editor…really, I’m not!  But you can actually find some kernels of practical usefulness from might seem depressingly absurd.  Below is a description of the “Journal”, along with this editor’s annotations:

About the Journal

The founding principle of the Journal of Universal Rejection (JofUR) is rejection. Universal rejection. That is to say, all submissions, regardless of quality, will be rejected. Despite that apparent drawback, here are a number of reasons you may choose to submit to the JofUR:

•You can send your manuscript here without suffering waves of anxiety regarding the eventual fate of your submission. You know with 100% certainty that it will not be accepted for publication.

Post Academic sez: Lots of academics, especially ones at the early stages of their careers, can relate to this nauseous feeling.  You spent a lot of time polishing and obsessing about a piece, only to have the nagging thought that the product of your blood, sweat, and tears will languish in a stack of papers, real or virtual.  I don’t know if it makes you feel any better, but at least your misery has lots and lots of good company.  But practically speaking, just be sure your submission has multiple use.  Maybe it can be your job talk if you’ve advanced that far in a search, or perhaps you can carve a few lesson plans and a conference paper out of it.  Just don’t sit on your hands waiting on it, because 1. you don’t know when you’ll find out what happens to it and 2. there’s a chance that the news won’t be good anyway.

More helpful tips from ego-crushing guidelines below the fold…


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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