Post Academic


Here come the lame responses too…

Last time, I wrote about how you need to be prepared for any kind of crazy response for materials that may come your way after your initial application.  So it seems like it would be a good time to give you a head’s up that you’ll likely be getting some lame responses to your oh-so-conscientious effort to send in a strong job application.  We’re strolling down memory lane for some of our greatest hits from earlier posts before you probably knew we existed, along with a few new entries to this hall of shame.   Some of these are garden-variety, out-of-anyone’s-control deals, but some of the others are in such dubious taste that you wonder what people are (not) thinking.

Sorry, but the search was cancelled after you invested time and money in applying: Back in the Dust Bowl markets of 2008 + 2009 — which must seem like ancient history to a fresh-faced batch of first-time applicants — it was a fairly common occurrence to find an email message noting a cancelled search or log on to the job wiki to get the bad news before you personally received it.  But there’s still a few of these that might pop up, like what happened to this Af Am lit search at well-heeled Wesleyan.  Courtesy of the Academic Jobs Wiki:

Note 9/13: Received email that search has been postponed.

Subfield/description: The African-American Studies Program and the English Department at Wesleyan University seek a specialist in African-American literature and culture for a tenure-track appointment at the assistant professor level….Expertise in one or more of the following areas is particularly welcome: diasporic and transnational studies, cultural theory, performance studies, gender and sexuality.”

Deadline: Completed applications received electronically by November 1, 2010, will receive full consideration.

Hey, at least they seemed to notify potential candidates fairly early in the game, even if it’s a bummer that a prime job got cancelled.  What’s worse is actually putting in the time, effort, and sometimes money to send in an application, only to have the rug pulled from under you via a terse but apologetic email.  What’s even worser is the situation I’ve heard of but haven’t experienced first-hand of a search that dropped after the interview stage, which calls for even more psychic and material investments from all parties.

Have you heard of BCC?: More than a few years ago, at the advent of the digital job correspondence era, I received either a mass acknowledgement or rejection email — with all the hundreds of applicants’ names and emails present in the “to” field of the message!  It must have been a rejection e-letter, not because that seems more dramatic, but because I remember not feeling so bad about being rejected because of all the good company I had, which included friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and some people whose pubs I had read.  And come to think of it, I recall it being a job at…Wesleyan?  If this jogs anyone’s memory back to, what, 2006, please comment below!

Even lamer examples from the Post Academic archive below…

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Oddsmaking on the Nobel Prize in Literature?

On a Sunday morning in October, you’d think any talk about betting action would be on pro football, wouldn’t you?  But as the title of this post explains, it seems like you can pretty much put a wager on anything these days.  We know, we know, Mario Vargas Llosa already won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, but what we’re talking about is that all the hoopla leading up to the actual announcement of the award was about the odds set by Ladbrokes on who would win.

"Mario Vargas Llosa, Miami Book Fair International 1985" by MDCarchives (Creative Commons license)

Just check out this report on NPR.org from earlier in the week tipping UC Irvine’s very own Ngugi wa Thiong’o as a contender, topping the oddsmakers’ list at one point or another at 3-to-1.  In fact, I only found out about this new frontier in betting after I heard word that Ngugi was on the shortlist as a leading contender for the prestigious prize, which, in retrospect, may just have been white noise whipped up by…gamblers?  I don’t know Ngugi pretty much at all, though I was one of, like, five people at a grad student meet-and-greet when he was applying for the position he took. But I was pretty psyched about the possibility that a guy I see unassumingly shopping at the campus Albertson’s could be a Nobel winner, even if Ngugi has already accomplished much more impressive feats than that.

But I digress: By the time I logged onto the Ladbroke’s site the night before the announcement, the pecking order had shifted, with Cormac McCarthy with the best odds and Haruki Murakami also leapfrogging Ngugi at the last minute.  Vargas Llosa, to Ladbrokes’ credit, was always on the list, but a little further down.  Unfortunately, the Ladbrokes site doesn’t cache what the odds ended up at — when you click on the Google link to “nobel prize literature ladbrokes”, it goes to Scandinavian weather wagers.  Seriously.

Thinking more about this, just who exactly would bet on the Nobel Prize lit award and who would put so much money behind, say, Cormac McCarthy that it would change the odds so much?  I was originally thinking nerds,  but how many academic types have money to throw away on a bet?  And not many lit specialists — or actually any — have read all the authors you could put money on.  Heck, some of the more recent winners are even unknown to English-centric readers.  So I’m thinking that only eccentric readers of means, nationalists who would like to see their country’s culture get worldwide props, and the most degenerate bettors who will place a wager on anything (like Swedish snowfall odds) are the best, um, bets here?

Sorry we got on Nobel betting too late for you to get in on the action.  I was gonna say you could bet on the Man Booker Prize, but apparently Ladbrokes has suspended betting on it because a flood of money behind Tom McCarthy’s C seemed a little sketchy.

No One Describes Grad Student Life More Accurately Than The Onion

Posted in Absurdities,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on October 9, 2010
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I recently came across this delightful tidbit from “The Onion.” As usual, the satire captures the truth better than any straightforward report:

A routine toothbrushing turned into a profound exercise in nightmarish, existential horror Monday, when poverty-stricken Columbia University graduate student Marc Edelstein, 24, came across “the most gigantic cockroach this side of Gregor Samsa” in the bathroom of his one-room, walk-up efficiency.

Another quotation describes the grad-school condition in general:

“Every day, I can’t believe I am living in that apartment. The humiliations society forces me to undergo, just to get my stupid Ph.D, defy all rational, intellectual thought.

What’s the worst you had to go through to achieve your graduate degree? Please share in the comments. I left before I could look the cockroach in the eye, so to speak, but I remember several long nights of part-time catering. When the tips for slinging mashed potatoes and BBQ sauce paid better than my job as a TA, I really started wondering if the universe wasn’t playing a joke on me.

Real-life academic examples of CV fudging

Posted in Absurdities,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on October 5, 2010
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So writing that Christine O’Donnell post the other day made me think about some examples of CV fudging and credentials padding I’ve seen over the years.  We’ve actually written quite a lot about CVs and resumes, and we’d like to think it was practical, helpful, only semi-bitter advice we were giving here and here and here.

"Variety of fudge at a shop" by benjgibbs (Creative Commons license)

But today we’re going to totally snark out and focus on some of our pet peeves with what people try to do with their CVs.  Alright, I’m not above admitting that I’ve partaken in a little CV fact stretching myself, although it was done in all sincerity and with the best intentions that what I was embellishing was going to really, really come to fruition — like most everyone else!  Really, I’m not impugning anyone here, because the CV arms race, like everything pertaining to the academic job search, can really get out of hand, forcing first-few-time jobseekers to put undue pressure on themselves to come up with unreasonable expectations of what they need on a vita, especially when it comes to publications.

Here are a few cases of CV padding that walk a fine line, even though they can seem totally legit once you find a way to justify them.  And if you can get it past a search committee’s BS sensor, more power to you!

Ph.D. expected: There are probably degrees of fudging here, from absolute fantasy to fairly possible possibility, depending a lot on when you dip your toe in the shark-infested job market.  I should know, because this applied to me in the 2 years I applied for jobs before finishing my degree.  The first time was a just a shot in the dark, the idea being that I would actually complete my diss when I claimed I would if I got a job — hey, it worked for some of my friends, so why not give it a try?  No matter that the “finished” product would be crappy, and I had no idea how strongly my committee would vouch that I could do it in their recs.

Later, though, I really could’ve gotten everything done under the flexible degree expected deadline, which made me more antsy to land a t/t position, because I started worrying that a finished diss was diss whose expiration date was coming closer and closer.  Now with a 3+ year old Ph.D., I wish I could reverse date fudge and somehow make my degree look newer and fresher!

More fudging pet peeves below the fold…

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Christine O’Donnell and fudging your resume

Since we were on the topic of politics this week, have you heard about the resume padding scandal involving GOP Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who seems to represent her whole own kind of crazy?  Talking Points Memo has been all over what it’s calling “LinkedIn Gate”, which involves O’Donnell fudging the education line of her resume.  The main issue in question is a line on her resume that she earned a “Certificate in Post Modernism in the New Millennium” at the University of Oxford, which sounds a little sketchy to begin with.  Anyway, O’Donnell’s campaign came up with some kind of lame conspiracy explanation that someone put up a fake LinkedIn account to discredit her, but HuffPo checked with ZoomInfo about identical education info posted there and found out that the bio was verified by O’Donnell.

"Mmmm fudge!" by Brampton cyclist (Creative Commons license)

This opened up a bigger can of worms for O’Donnell, especially when TPM went digging and asked the “Claremont Institute”, also listed on her resume, about her application to see if it included the Oxford certificate.  In turn, TPM learned that the her participation in a one-week program at the “Claremont Institute” was embellished, which, one presumes, includes the vague idea that the conservative think-tank would be connected to the Claremont Colleges, which it isn’t. Now we go further down the rabbit hole of O’Donnell’s imaginary education, since, per Politico, she hadn’t actually received her undergrad diploma from Farleigh Dickinson until this September, even though she has been calling herself a graduate of the school.  Apparently, she had an elective to finish up and owed the school $4000 in tuition — fudging the degree is one thing, but owing tuition money can’t bode well for her Tea Party bona fides, if there is such a thing, can it?

Going back to what started this whole thing off, the Oxford certificate, the line stretches the meaning of “at Oxford” to its extremes, since she earned a certificate from a three-week program called the “Phoenix Institute” that seems to rent space from Oxford and isn’t officially affiliated with Oxford.  O’Donnell’s “Oxford” “tutor”, currently an Oxford Ph.D. candidate and prof somewhere in Nicaragua, apparently raves about her, describing her as “intelligent, engaged, dynamic, good with questions and interested in ideas” and his course as stacking up to “any graduate school at any university.”  All this brings to my mind those “Oxford Round Table” solicitations I’ve received in my inbox before, which set off warning bells by asking for an exorbitant fee before you read the fine print that it’s not connected to Oxford.  Have you gotten those?  It’s kinda like the elitist Ph.D. version of the Phoenix Institute for more advanced scholars to, it seems, buy an Oxford conference paper to put on your CV at a cost of a few thousand bucks.  If I’m right or wrong about this and someone has attended, please comment below.  I just know that if my invite to something at Oxford involves a company in Kentucky, I’m questioning if it’s legit.

All this begs the question of just why is Oxford letting it’s name be used for all these dubious enterprises, especially when you’d think that Oxford would be protecting its brand and/or too snobby to let just anyone co-opt it, right?  And anyone who’s following the O’Donnell saga has to be wondering when she would’ve had the time to get all these “degrees”, since it seems like she spent much of the late 1990s on Bill Maher’s “Politcally Incorrect” and “MTV News”.

Your latest James Franco update

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on September 26, 2010
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By now, you probably know that James Franco has started his Ph.D. program at Yale,  but that’s not all: Did you know that he’s apparently also taking classes at the Rhode Island School of Design?  Haters who’ve gone through some grad school might be inclined to be a bit skeptical about how serious our favorite celeb grad student is about getting his Ph.D. at a really top-flight program if he’s dabbling in another program of study.  Art + Auction’s “In the Air” blog is a bit dubious about Franco’s plans, thinking that “this is physically impossible (the schools are in different states)”; even if CT and RI are small states, that’s still 100 miles each way.  (Wait, maybe he’s learning to fly too — see photo below — to cut down on the commute time.)  That’s not to mention, you know, the actual coursework, though maybe he’s just auditing at RISD or something.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a grad student..."James Franco Blue Angels", courtesy of the US Navy (Public Domain)

Still, despite its naysaying, In the Air does point out that Franco might just be taking his interest in art seriously, pointing out that he has been involved with some heavy hitters in the art world recently.  In particular, it notes that current LA MOCA Director and noted gallerist Jeffrey Deitch is on record telling the LA Times that, “I wish Andy were here to meet James Franco. Andy would have been so enthusiastic” — Andy being Andy Warhol.  And in a review of an installation art piece by Franco, the New York Times notes that Franco has had a life-long passion for the visual arts, even though it is less sanguine about his prospects as an artist, giving his exhibit a meh at best for its gratuitous violence and sex.  These lines pretty much sum up Roberta Smith’s mixed review:

Some people would probably feel better to read that Mr. Franco’s Clocktower effort can be dismissed as bad beyond redemption, an outsider’s naïve dalliance in things he doesn’t really understand. I initially inclined toward that conclusion, although in the end it turned out to be more interesting and complicated than that.

Despite the second sentence, you just get the sense that Smith really wants to be “some people” hating on Franco’s art, don’t you?

But I digress, because the big news for those of us interested in Franco’s foray into grad school is the big news making the rounds of the gossip columns is that Franco has admitted to earning a “D” in, get this, acting, while earning his master’s at NYU.  As he tells Showbiz 411:

“I did the work, I did well in everything else,” he said. “But the acting teacher probably felt uncomfortable with a working well known actor in his class. It was not the norm.” Also, as Franco pointed out, he missed a lot of classes because he was shooting “127 Hours.”

Excuses, excuses — though he might have a point, because a grad school “D” sounds like a pretty vindictive grade.  But is this what he’s gonna pull come December when his first round of papers are due and he needs to take incompletes to finish a film or something?   It’s time for Franco to buckle down on that Walt Whitman class he’s apparently taking, which, he tells Showbiz 411, has a “massive amount of reading.”  It must be this one taught by Michael Warner, so Franco better make sure not make the chair who accepted him into the Ph.D. program look bad.  In any case, his advisor at Yale might want to sit the school’s prized first-year student down and get him focused, provided s/he can figure out where Franco is, between New Haven, Providence, NYC, and Hollywood.

The MLA JIL Cottage Industry

Posted in Absurdities,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on September 23, 2010
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I promise that this is the last post you’ll see from me about the MLA Job Information List — at least until I actually log on to it, either through buying my own affiliate account or poaching off the UCI English dept whenever it decides to renew its account.  But you’d be surprised by all the stuff you can find online typing in “MLA JIL” or “JIL MLA” or “ADE JIL” (which includes one of our very own posts near the top of the Google search list).  So here’s what I found searching for the JIL and trying to backdoor it and not being able to do so.

"Cottage Industry!" by Colin Smith (Creative Commons license)

The mlaconvention Twitter account: This is where all the action is if you want to find out all the JIL news, even if you’re not actually able to get on it.  We’ve linked to and been linked by the MLA’s Exec Director Rosemary Feal’s Twitter before responding to a call about reforming the dissertation, but who knew she would give a play-by-play on the status of the JIL while hosting and responding to comments by MLA members?  If you dig a little into the older Tweets, you’ll notice that the JIL had a very shaky and frustrating launch.  We’ve dogged the MLA quite a bit on this blog, but you can’t beat their customer service when the Exec Director responds to pretty much anyone who Tweets @ ’em.

MLA JIL LOLCAT: And to keep the restless natives entertained while they’re in the virtual line trying to get onto the JIL on the geeks’ equivalent to day-after-Thanksgiving shopping, the MLA has created its own gallery of…LOLCATs: “This #MLALOLCat is for all you patient #mlajoblist users!http://cheezburger.com/View/3977057024“.  You gotta give the MLA credit for trying to amuse the unamused masses, though isn’t “I Can Has Cheezburger?” so 2008 — which is also around the time the job market plunged and we probably needed the humor the most.

The Academic Job Wiki’s Una74: One of the best things about the Academic Job Wiki was the virtual community aspect of it, where people shared job info, advice, and a feeling of doom.  Those of you who are on the wiki might have noticed that many of the early listings have been put up by a user named Una74, who describes her/himself as a “Professional Lurker, Part-time Administrator of Academic Jobs Wiki.”  On the one hand, you wanna thank Una74 for the thankless job of posting all the job listings as they come up, especially when you, ahem, don’t have access to the JIL.  On the other, you wanna ask who made Una74 the boss of the Job Wiki–I mean, could we have applied for this position and can Una74 put it on a CV?  Considering that the Wiki has always been a communal effort, we’ll see if the presence of Una74 as a shadowy majordomo will change the dynamic of how folks contribute when we really, really need to find out about interviews, campus visits, gossip, and job offers.  (Seriously, I’ve been thinking about that!)  I imagine probably not, if some of the frustrated jobseeker posts already up on the Wiki are any indication: As one Wiki commenter noted, once the JIL technical problems were resolved, “yeah, now all we gotta deal with is how sh*tty the list is so far. at least in my field”.

Chronicle MLA JIL sites: I didn’t want to link this Chronicle message board, since we’re going head-to-head with it to see who’s higher on the “MLA JIL” Google search, but to heck with it.  All these message boards and Wikis do serve the function of being online support groups for those who need the support, even if you’re just lurking.  The we’re-all-in-the-same-boat gallows humor does help, like the shared experience of not being able to explain how the profession works to people outside it, as in this case:

A couple of years ago I was visiting my mother and told her there were only X number of jobs out there in French and she didn’t believe me. I popped open the laptop and went through the MLA JIL with her.  When she saw how many Francophone jobs there were she said, “Well, you must be wrong about what ‘Francophone’ means.”

Right mom. I was totally mistaken and am indeed a Francophone specialist without my knowing it. Thanks.

There’s also a breakout message board about “Predictions for 2010-2011 job season”, which is good vicarious viewing for those without proper JIL access.  While the numbers seem *relatively* encouraging — how could they not be after the worst market ever? — the comments are still caustic: When someone queried what the growth fields might be, the two sad-but-true replies were “adjunct studies” and “administration”.  Just because it’s depressingly true doesn’t mean it isn’t still kinda funny…

Not exactly an endorsement: Collegeinpjs.com

Posted in Absurdities by postacademic on September 11, 2010
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How many of you were nerding out on Labor Day and caught the “Star Wars” marathon on Spike?  (Or maybe it was the “White Collar” late-night fest on USA sometime that weekend?)  We’re asking because it’s likely you might have caught the ad for “collegeinpjs.com,” a kind of bait-and-switch commercial trick for something called “Education Connection,” which is some kind of service that connects users to online and real colleges–maybe “collegeinpjs.edu” is coming next?  We’re not linking to it–see the title of the post–but we thought it was kinda hilarious.  And anyway, you can find all you need to know by doing a Google search for “collegeinpjs.com,” which yields such chestnuts as a WikiAnswers entry on “Who is the girl in the Collegeinpjs.com commercial?” and Facebook group for “collegeinpjs.com Girl.”

The best discussion of “collegeinpjs.com” was on a Yahoo!Answers deal, which probably started with a planted thread asking if anyone had tried it, which garnered the response: “All I can say about that is, put on some clothes and go to a real college.”  What I have to say about this is that the fine folks at Education Connection and the Yahoo! answerer must never have been to UC Irvine, because you don’t have to “attend” an online class to go to school in your PJs.  Seriously, pajamas might as well be the school uniform for finals week at UCI.

Hmm…maybe it’s time to buy the “phdinpjs.com” and the “postacademicinpjs.com” domain names.  Now those are visions you definitely don’t want to get stuck in your head.

Your Recs Dream Team

Posted in Absurdities,First Person by Arnold Pan on September 9, 2010
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So it’s not quite like LeBron’s “The Decision”, but I finally wussed out and played it safe by setting up an Interfolio account for my moldy academic letters of rec.  Hey, maybe my decision was a little LeBron-like in the end, since I decided to take the easy route–holding onto the dossier would be like playing with Wade and Bosh in Miami–instead of sucking it up and doing the harder thing–letting academia go, in my case, staying in Cleveland for King James.  I hemmed and hawed a bit about it on the blog here, but I decided to take my talents, er, recs, to Interfolio, mostly for sentimental reasons because I have an irreplaceable rec from my advisor that I’m not ready to send to the digital dustbin of history just quite yet.

"Beijing Olympics Men's Semifinal Basketball USA huddle" by Richard Giles (Creative Commons license)

To stretch the LeBron analogy a lot further, I started imagining how creating a (non-existent, in my case) dossier might be like putting together the perfect “starting five” on the court.  My latest daydreamy musings on letters of rec is all about composing your very own dossier dream team.  Here’s how you might think about filling out your references roster.

1. The Team Leader, Your Advisor: Nope, we’re not necessarily talking about your LeBron megastar here, but your D-Wade, who’s the inspirational force and guiding light of your job application team.  Your advisor knows you the best and will direct you–and maybe the other recommenders–to the best gameplan.  That means playing the game the right way, which, in this case, might include showing you the ropes, reading between the lines of the job ads, and networking with colleagues.  But it’s the intangibles that make for a great advisor and team captain, like giving you a pep talk when you’re about to throw in the towel, while kicking you in the pants and pushing you when you get too caught up in things and take your eyes off the prize.

See who else rounds out the roster, below the fold…

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Top Grad Student: It’s a tie!

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on August 20, 2010
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And the winner is….nobody!  There appears to be a deadlock between English and Media Studies that seems impossible to break, even with the extended deadline.  The fair thing would actually be to hire the Media Studies candidate, seeing as s/he had the most combined votes through all 5 Top Grad Student contests.   However, this being academia and all, who says anything is fair about anything?  So here’s the typically academic solution to the problem: Not to hire anyone, no matter how qualified s/he may be and how much the dept might want a new faculty member.  This is how we imagine the finale and the explanation of the decision…

"Historic neckties" from Noveau Larousse Ilustré (public domain)

It was a knock-down, drag-out search committee meeting at the end, with each side making its case for its candidate.  Of course, as time went on, the English folks dug in, and so did the Media Studies contingent.  But instead of thinking what might be best in the bigger picture, the animosity on each side only intensified to the point that hypothetical lead judge Henry Louis Gates wished he was back at the Beer Summit last summer and hypothetical host James Franco started wondering why he ever wanted to pursue a Ph.D.

With neither the English proponents or the Media Studies honks willing to give in, the stalemate ended with no agreement and no candidate hired.  As the process dragged on and on, the English voting bloc started imagining no scenario under which it could stomach the Media Studies candidate, who now seemed insufferable and could never become a good colleague in its collective imagination, and vice versa.  But in order to tie the whole botched search up with a bow, they needed to come down to a bureaucratic solution, which boiled down to some kind of financial excuse and something about needing to hold on to the tenure line and reopening the search next year.  Of course, they dithered about the decision and left our candidates hanging–oh yeah, there was that Sociology contestant too, who almost got the job as a compromise choice.

As for our brave Top Grad Student contestants, they were left not knowing where they stood for too long, because the search committee held onto everyone just in case.  Wouldn’t it be appropriate, considering the conditions of the real academic job market, that we went through this whole virtual process–more than 5 weeks, I think –but no one ended up with the job and the tenure line in limbo?  Thanks to the tied vote, I think the virtual/reality contest actually resulted in the best, most representative ending we could have possibly had.  Can’t you just imagine our contestants getting something like a “Dear Applicant” form email explaining how no one was ultimately hired, while encouraging them to apply again next year?

Thanks for voting and for playing along!

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