Post Academic

Post Academic’s Inner “Chinese Mother”

Posted in Absurdities,First Person by Arnold Pan on January 18, 2011
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"Amy Chua (author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) at the 2007 Texas Book Festival" by Larry D. Moore (Creative Commons license)

By now, many of you are probably aware of the tempest in a teapot online over Yale Law Prof Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal as the provocatively titled opinion-y piece, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”.  To give you a basic rundown, Chua basically compares what she calls “Chinese parenting” and “Western parenting” models, basically describing how the former gets results from filial authoritarianism and coming down on the latter as wussy and passive aggressive.  Really, it’s nothing groundbreaking and pretty stereotypical, though I guess it seems pretty scandalous and bombastic considering the headline.  Most more objective readers want to believe Chua is being satirical, since some of the stuff is so pretty over-the-top and written in a cheeky enough way that you could take it like that — see the list of what Chua’s children were supposedly not allowed to do at the beginning.  But seeing Chua explain on TV and reading her clarification in the WSJ that the memoir is not a how-to guide and how her parenting changed over time, I’m not so sure how much satire is involved.  I’m just guessing Chua and her savvy marketing crew have figured out the best way to play the PR game, by making a splash with a bold, crass statement, then toning it down once people are starting to pay attention.

I’ll probably have more to say about this from an academic angle from my day job blog, which suggests that even if Chua might just be having fun with stereotypes, she has only led to perpetuating them as a result of the responses to her piece, which have more or less called “Chinese Mothers” and children as unassimilated and perpetual aliens.  Here at Post Academic, though, I’m gonna have some fun with Chua’s piece and imagine how my inner “Chinese Mother” has shaped this Chinese American’s educational experience.  Mind you, I have to begin with a disclaimer that my actual real-life Chinese immigrant mother is not very much at all like Chua’s caricature-ish “Chinese Mother”, though who really would admit they had one if they did.  But really it’s true in my case, and I actually haven’t encountered any Chinese parents from the many I know that are so aggro and high-strung about academic achievement as Chua’s Tiger Mother “Chinese Mother.”

In my case, I kinda internalized some of the aspects of the “Chinese Mother” that Chua describes, though even a geeky high-school me wasn’t so socially sheltered as Chua’s kids.  Here’s what my inner “Tiger Mother” might think about my academic career.

Getting into college: My inner “Chinese Mother” pushed me to get straight A’s, finishing as Salutatorian to an even more driven Asian immigrant kid.  I don’t know if this is a triumphant achievement or a dubious one, but I could will myself to A’s in things I didn’t understand, which, shockingly for an Asian, were math and science.  Like Chua writes, “rote repetition is underrated in America.”  The “Tiger Mother” in me was proud to be voted “Hardest Worker” by my high school class!

However, I don’t think Harvard appreciated my internalized “Chinese Mother”, because I got waitlisted in part because I fit a certain stereotype of the good model minority with strong grades with no intangible qualities (yes, I somehow found this out second-hand later), never mind that classmates with worse grades and no more extracurriculars were accepted.  But after going into a major self-esteem crisis as Tiger-influenced types would, I earned vindication by getting into Stanford, though it probably had as much to do with face time with the admissions director as it did with my dossier.  Still, chalk one up for the inner “Chinese Mother”!

More about my academic career from my internal “Chinese Mother”, below the fold…


Footnote: Alt-rock gets academic

Caroline passed along this tidbit that Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman David Lowery will be teaching a music business course at the University of Georgia this spring.  There doesn’t seem to be any info on Wikipedia or anywhere else about if/where Lowery went to school — unless you count graduating with honors from founding class of the University of College Rock — so he’s basically the opposite of a postacademic.  If you didn’t know any better, you might ask what Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker ever did to make Lowery an expert about the music biz, though it looks like Cracker’s Kerosene Hat album went Platinum!  But seriously, I’m betting that you learn a lot about the industry after 25 years of navigating all its BS and trying to make ends meet as an act that’s just big enough to keep on going and going.  And Cracker’s “Low” was pretty ubiquitous for a while, so Lowery probably still makes some residuals if it’s picked up for commercials or as random clip music.  Here’s a press release from Lowery and UGA.

“Did You Read?”

Posted in Absurdities by postacademic on January 13, 2011
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Caroline posted a link to this clip from “Portlandia”, starring SNL’s Fred Armisen (meh) and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein (YAY!) to our Facebook page last night.  The clip seems to be skewering hipsters and print fetishists, but it could totally apply to grad school during the coursework years once you substitute the periodicals Armisen and Brownstein banter about with, say, theory texts or obscure fiction.  Just set the clip in generic grad student housing and you get an idea what a UCI English and Comp Lit party, circa late 1990s, was like, in case you were ever wondering…

On a related note, Brownstein probably knows a little bit about what she’s mocking here: While there’s scuttlebutt online that Brownstein, who graduated from Evergreen State College with a sociolinguistics degree, attended grad school at Berkeley for six months before dropping out, Brownstein cleared up the matter in an interview with the SF Bay Guardian in 2005 by basically explaining that she realized the she could never be an academic after being around academia: “I’d always thought academia was pulling me in a different direction from the band. I was living in the East Bay, in Berkeley, and it was actually being in that milieu that made me realize I didn’t want it, that it was too esoteric and insular.”  So basically, you could call Brownstein a pre-postacademic!

Another MLA Online Roundup

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on January 10, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionI would have made this a Twitter roundup, but the #mla11 feed is admirably polite and professional, aside from concerns about cliquishness among a certain group. To which I say, this is a convention, not high school, so make your own group if you don’t like the dominant group. It can be done. It’s a large convention, not a cafeteria. Watch “Police Academy” or “Stripes” or any other inspiring misfit comedy, take some notes and call me in the morning.

Anyway, on to the roundup:

1. I haven’t seen much about individual interviews, but I feel comfortable saying that the award for Worst MLA Interview 2011 has already been won. Here’s a sliver from College Misery about an awkward meeting with an inside candidate … right in the middle of the interview:

“Oh, Glen is also a candidate for the job. But since he knows more about the position than the rest of us, we asked him to come along so that all the candidates would benefit from his knowledge.”

“And he left the room…” I started.

“Oh, yes,” the chair said. “It would be poor form for him to sit in for the interview.”

Poor form, indeed. I’d like to propose an MLA rule: If you have an inside candidate you like so much that you have him sit in on all the interviews, then at least save the other interviewees some trouble and use Skype. I’d also love to know how the candidate made it through that hot mess without going all Hulk on the committee.

2. Speaking of the Hulk, what would an MLA online roundup be without a comment from the MLA’s biggest star:


May Adjunct Hulk get an even better job from the MLA … and not necessarily in academia. Adjunct Hulk has some serious comedy-writing chops!

Cover of Smart Set Magazine, September 1911. 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.

Test Responses That Will Drive You to Drink

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on January 1, 2011

My parents are pro-Post-Academic living, and they often send me reminders of why I left the profession. (My dad taught high school and quit, too, so I guess it runs in the family. To his credit, Dad was cool and never said, “I told you so.”) An email chain is going around with some hilarious test responses that are so painful it makes me wonder if these students aren’t secret geniuses … or if these test responses were done by comedy writers. Anyway, a few goodies from my dad that might tempt you to have a little more New Year’s bubbly:





A Post Academic Present to You: A Classic Instructional Video on Teaching

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on December 25, 2010
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I happen to love the old educational videos that have surfaced on the Web, and this one on classroom discipline was amusing. Even though it is old and stodgy (those puffy hairdos!), it’s fun to see how pedagogy was distributed. Here goes:

Seems like the old “it’s the teacher’s fault” attitude has been around for a while. So, is it true that a “friendly attitude with a sprinkling of humor” goes a long way in the classroom, or is this yet another hip-teacher fantasy that’s doomed to leave real-life instructors disappointed?

How to Deal with Being Home for the Holidays

Posted in Absurdities,First Person by Arnold Pan on December 23, 2010
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If you’re an academic, being on winter break is, obviously, better than not taking a vacation, but it can obviously be a stressful time, especially when you’re prepping all-or-nothing job interviews coming up right after.  Okay, all the travel, shopping, and small talk can take their toll on non-geeks, but academics can have an even harder time navigating the holiday season, especially gatherings with family who don’t understand how academia works and think you’re *still* in school.

"The Christmas Party" (attributed to Robert David Wilkie) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Public Domain)

Here are a few things about what to expect and–if not exactly what to do–how not to get embroiled in uncomfortable and annoying situations with your family.  The best thing to do would just be to simply avoid talking to or seeing anyone, but that might be overcompensation and it might get you in such a misanthropic mood that you might not recover in time for MLA, which was definitely my experience in the past.  Those of you who are more savvy and socially clueful than I am (pretty much almost all of you, I’m betting) probably won’t have any problem turning on the charm and sidestepping awkward conversations, but forewarned is forearmed…

Face to Face: The prickliest situation is when you have some alone time with more immediate family members and they don’t understand why you still don’t have a job or are living in who knows where or whatever idiosyncrasies of academic life that those who haven’t lived it don’t get.  The thing is, they actually do care and are worried for you and don’t understand why academia isn’t a meritocracy, when their kid/sibling/whatever has been a good student and a fair person since who knows when.  But even when you’re well-meaning and they’re well-meaning, wires can get crossed and everyone gets more bummed out by the whole thing.  I can’t say I ever learned how to thread the needle, but try and have one good talk with whoever cares and just get all the explanations and miscommunications over with — to the extent that you can.  Even if no one is fully satisfied with the conversation, at least you can say you tried.  And failing that, just let us do the work for you: Have your loved ones read about how being a grad student can make you sick or your prospects on the Worst. Job Market. Ever or any of our stats-y posts, so that you don’t have to explain it all!  (Then again, if they really do care, maybe they shouldn’t know about how dire things can be for you…)

More family dynamics, below the fold…


Feel Good Grad Student Story of the Year

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on December 21, 2010
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"Ilya Bryzgalov" (The guy Tom Fenton, grad student, replaced) by Bridget Samuels (Creative Commons license)

Yeah, even we try and get into the holiday spirit here at Post Academic: I came across a story about how Tom Fenton, a grad student in sports business and volunteer hockey coach at Manhattanville College, ended up playing a game as a backup goalie for the Phoenix Coyotes, at Madison Square Garden, no less.  Fenton was a junior hockey player in his native Canada, then was a goalie at American International College — where my dad used to teach math, actually.

So apparently what happened was that the Coyotes’ starting goalie had the flu, but they couldn’t call up a player from the minors (or whatever they call it in hockey) in time for the game.  Enter Fenton, who was basically in the right place at the right time: A Coyotes scout, a coach of a friend, was frantically looking for an emergency goalie to fill out the lineup, and got hooked up with Fenton, who was in the area.  Fenton fit the bill, since they couldn’t use another pro player or a college goalie who would lose his eligibility.  After receiving call after call while getting a haircut — see, he listened to Eliza’s advice to let unknown calls go to voice mail — Fenton returned the message to find out that the first time he would be playing competitive hockey since he graduated college in 2009 would be in the NHL at MSG.

But get this, the NHL might be the only organization cheaper than a state university: Under some rule, Fenton wasn’t allowed to be paid and his very short stint was only considered an amateur tryout.  Anyway, he didn’t into the game, so it was probably a moot point.  Here’s hoping, though, that he at least got a lot of souvenirs, beyond the experience and some nice write-ups.

As for a Post Academic equivalent, getting a call to play in the NHL out of the blue would be quite the same as getting a tenure-track position at an elite school, even if you’re in the same league as the best of the best for one night.  I don’t know, maybe it would be like guest lecturing at your dream school for a day or something — which you probably wouldn’t get paid for, either.  Another, better way to think about Fenton’s story, especially during this time of year for MLA’ers, would be to never give up on getting the call you’ve been hoping for.  Or, rather, maybe your cell will finally ring precisely when you’ve stopped waiting for it and aren’t expecting it to any more.

The Post Academic Holiday Gift Guide

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on December 14, 2010
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I started to do some holiday shopping over the weekend, only to realize that I have no idea what to get people I’m supposed to get gifts for (except my daughter, who wants everything that’s on an ad on Nick) and that I actually really don’t want anything myself.  It’s not that I’m against conspicuous consumption or anything, it’s just that there’s so much stuff on display that nothing stands out or seems that appealing.  Me, I think I’m gonna go to Amoeba and trade in a bunch of old records, then take what I get back to treat myself to CDs and DVDs.

This got me thinking about what I might want — besides a tenure-track job in a place I want to live — if I was going to MLA and was spending all my holiday time and mental energy thinking about interviews.  So we’re throwing together a little Post Academic holiday wish list, whether you’re the interviewee who doesn’t know what you want or you have a prickly, finicky academic to shop for…

"Chicago Santa Claus 1902" by Chicago Daily News (Public Domain)

Portfolio: I’m of a mind that less is more when it comes to interviewing.  So why carry a big bookbag full of stuff to your MLA interview and risk something falling out of your bag that may or may not embarrass you?  Really, all you need is to bring a pad of paper, a pen, and maybe sample syllabi — oh, that’s another blog topic for another day — which fit nicely into a portfolio.  It’s more streamlined and you look neat carrying a presentable one with your fancy clothes.  The thing is, a nice AND affordable one is actually a lot harder to find than you’d think; the ones at frou-frou stationary stores can get pricey and cheapy plastic ones are more befitting an undergrad.  I got a pretty good leather-looking Swiss Army one at Office Depot for around $30 — then I lost it at MLA, though it was at least after my interviews.  Can’t seem to find it online, but something like this would do the trick…

More stuff to ask Santa for, after the jump…


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