Post Academic

Beware of Campus Visit A/V F-Ups

We had originally planned to write a longer piece about the pitfalls of campus visits, even though we’ve never experienced first-hand the hazing ritual of the next round after convention interviews.  Still, we’ve seen and heard enough of ’em to offer some good second-hand anecdotes for those of you preparing for your upcoming endurance test of meet-and-greets, job talks, teaching demos, and all those meals and down time where you could slip and say something impolitic.  (By the way, we’d love to post some first-hand accounts, so please let us know if you wanna share your experiences here at Post Academic.)

But really, the interpersonal tightrope and the logistical nightmares of any campus visit go with the territory, and it’s not like you can or should change your personality at this point in order to anticipate what might happen that you can’t anticipate anyway.  Sure, we could’ve mentioned the time that grad students in my program made a job candidate hyperventilate by bombarding her/him with snarky theory questions.  Or about when a friend of mine had her teaching demo time cut in half with no warning because a classroom was double booked.  These kinds of things happen, though who knows what *exactly* will happen, so you’ve just got to be ready for a lot of variables.

The one thing,though, that invariably happens with humanities campus visit presentations is that the A/V will not work.  While it’s a plus for you to show off how you can use technology, whether it’s a PowerPoint presentation or something more advanced — hey, everyone wants a digital humanist, even if a lot of folks don’t exactly know what that is, just because you’re tech savvy doesn’t mean that your hosts are, no matter how much they want someone like that.  We at the Post Academic help desk have seen too many job talks that get off to a bad start because the A/V hook-up to a laptop doesn’t work or are derailed in the middle when the sound on the DVD player is jacked up.  Don’t be the one who looks crushed when you need to be at your best, just because your best-laid plans have just fallen through.  So keep in mind the following…

Don’t Believe Your Eyes: You might think the pre-game test of all the equipment means you’re good to go, but we’ve been in too many situations where prep doesn’t mean a thing.  Somehow, the A/V gremlins come out in full force when you least want them to, even if everything checks out or you know what you’re doing or your hosts have the tech guy on call.

More advice on how to manage your A/V presentation, below the jump…


Last-Minute MLA Interview Checklist

Posted in Ask an Academic by Arnold Pan on January 6, 2011
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If you’re getting jittery because your MLA interviews are but hours away and you’re too paralyzed to do anything but read Post Academic for some reason, you might as well take a look and tick off what’s on our handy little checklist below.  For real, nuts-and-bolts advice, check out this great post from On the Fence by our blog friend Eliza Woolf and this piece from Inside Higher Ed by Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) on MLA and AHA convention interviews.  One note of caution about Tenured Radical’s piece: Do prep your dissertation spiel, but be forewarned that it’s not always the ice-breaker question and might appear in a less explicit form, at least for MLA interviews.  Just be flexible and don’t automatically go into rote memorization robot mode right when you step in the room — my first ever interview question was to describe my best undergrad experience, which was not anything anyone prepared me for.

1. Do you know where to go for your interviews and when? Think this one’s obvious?  I had a friend who once missed an interview because she had the wrong time written down.  Also, hotel suites can change, so check in at the job information center and maybe have a contact email/cell number ready.

2. Did you turn off your cellphone? Once you know where you’re going and everything’s set, be sure to turn off your cellphone.  The Search Committee might take calls to, you know, make lunch plans, but you sure as heck shouldn’t.

3. Did you bring a pad of paper and pen? Like we wrote last time, look interested!

4. Did you bring your sample syllabi? And be sure to bring enough for everyone!

5. Do you have your prepped questions for the search committee? Committees usually give you a chance to ask questions.  Use the time wisely to catch your breath and take control of the interview for at least a little bit.  Good questions also show that you’ve done your homework.

6. Did you bring your emergency bottle of water? If you’re a germaphobe like me, bring your own water.  And if you’re not, bring your own water because they might not have any for you.  You can always take a sip and use it as a time-out to collect yourself — just don’t do it *too many* times.

7. Did you pee? If you did bring your own water, don’t drink too much of it!  And be prepared in advance in case you do.

Good luck!

Ask Post Academic!

Posted in Ask an Academic,Housekeeping by Arnold Pan on December 19, 2010
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"Henderson Family Day Arm 2007" by Teo Sze Lee (Creative Commons license)

With all the interest in Caroline’s last post and all the great tips she offers day in, day out, I figured it might not be a bad idea to start up our own Ask Post Academic advice column, provided you have questions and you trust our answers.  Plus, it could be useful to hear what you want us to cover, instead just blogging about what we *think* you want us to cover.  I don’t know if you want to rely on me with life-changing tips or anything big (though I can vouch for Caroline on this front), but we might be able to help you with protocol questions and Miss Manners-type deals for post/marginal/fully committed academics.   And if we can’t quite come up with a good response, we’ll do our best to find someone who can.  Issues that I’ve thought about at this point of the job season dealt with whether it’s a good idea to send a quick email as a “thank you” note after an interview or how to react to inadvertently inappropriate questions from search committees.

If you have a question and want a response, write a comment below or Tweet us or you could post on our Facebook page if you don’t mind non-anonymity.  I guess you could email us too, but we don’t check the Post Academic account all that often.

Recycling books (and posts)

Posted in Ask an Academic,First Person by Arnold Pan on November 16, 2010
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So I spent part of last weekend going through my grad school books again, probably my third go-round trying to cull my library.  Anyhow, I’m kinda shocked that some of the books that are/were still on the shelves made the cut the last time I decided to try and declutter my post academic life.  Part of the deal is inertia — the books aren’t hurting anyone on the shelves.  And  I’ve done a good job of getting rid of really useless books or placing the strays in new homes (thanks, Bruce!), so there’s nothing just lying around wasting space.  But a bigger part of things is mental: Even if I’m more or less post academic for good (for now?), I still think I’ll finally read For Marx some day or need some obscure Jameson collection on hand to cite in the near future.

"Kolkata Book Fair 2010" by Biswarup Ganguly (Creative Commons license)

No matter how many times I go through my library, the process still seems difficult, but at least I’m making headway against the clutter.  Hey, I think it counts as progress that I’ve probably shaved off at least a hundred or more titles since the first time I wrote about my academic hoarding problem, which is below…

Being an academic can turn you into an amateur hoarder before you know it, since you assume everything you have will become useful at some time and in the right situation–neither of which ever comes.  What makes it worse is that you’re also likely to be itinerant as an academic, which means you end up packing a bunch of useless stuff rather than just getting rid of things.  Any academic will build a big library of books, which, in many ways, comes to identify her/him, according to both the kinds of texts s/he owns and how many s/he owns.  Here’s how I would categorize the kinds of books that are hoarded in my collection:

1. Books I think I will use that I never have: I bought tons of critical theory books back in the late 1990s academic publishing boom–think lots of Routledge, Verso, Duke UP–many of which I don’t think I ever ended up reading.  But they look really great on my book shelf and represent the kind of academic I imagined being, at least at one early formative period.  I hung onto most of the books, in part because I thought I would eventually get to them (still haven’t) and in part because I wasn’t sure what else I could do with them (still don’t).

More books below the fold…


Academics Breeding Academics?

I saw a recent tweet by Danah Boyd asking the following question:

Academics seem disproportionately likely to be kids of acad’s, married to acad’s. Same w/ gov, journalism. How does this affect info flow?

I wasn’t just wondering how it affects info flow. How true is it? It’s fairly obvious that plenty of people enter the same careers as their parents as far as politics is concerned.

If it is true, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. Plenty of people enter the same careers as their parents and do a good job. Other people wind up being like George W. Bush. (I couldn’t resist.)

But, before we judge whether or not it’s a bad thing that academics breed academics, I was wondering how many of you, dear readers, are the children of academics. This is just a poll to gauge the landscape. Then the next poll might be if you think it is a pro or a con. Poll after the jump!


A guide to feeding and caring for your Post Academic (with poll!)

Posted in Absurdities,Ask an Academic by Arnold Pan on May 24, 2010
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"Trader Joe's Bag" by Francinegirvan (Creative Commons waiver)

Taking another page from the current issue of The New Yorker, we’re repurposing its “humor”–read: smug, smarter-than-thou–piece titled “Your New College Graduate: A Parents’ Guide” to suit our needs, using their questions and coming up with our own kinda answers.  We won’t take ourselves too seriously, since it’s clear from this week’s cover that The New Yorker doesn’t!

What do I feed my Post Academic?

We told you about the Post/Academic’s love of freeloading before, so that’s one source of sustenance.  Otherwise, you should make sure there’s a Trader Joe’s nearby, because they love cheap brie, knock-offs of gourmet brands, and organic fruit in plastic boxes.

Why is my Post Academic so fussy?

If your B.A. is fussy after finishing college and prickly about being asked about what they’re going to do with their very expensive education and four years of “training”, imagine how your Ph.D. feels after many more years of education and accruing more debt on top of those college loans?  Plus, your Post Academic can’t bask in recent memories of camaraderie and youthful indiscretions, since we’ve pretty much critically unpacked and structurally demystified those “sentiments.”  Besides, staff meeting is probably the last time we’ve mingled with any of our peers–unless Facebook counts.  À la The New Yorker, ask your Post Academic these questions to gauge her/his mood–basically, their college grad questionnaire applies almost just as well to Post Academics!  Just don’t expect a direct “Yes/No” response.

More on taking care of your Post Academic below the fold…


On Improving the Relationship Between Grad Students and Professors

Posted in Ask an Academic,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 19, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension Notorious PhD hosted a forum over at her blog to encourage discussion about the relationship between grad students and professors. She summed up the results of the debate, and much of it involved better communications on the part of professors.

I was glad to see one student laser in on one of Post Academic’s chief causes: Helping grad students with a Post-Grad Plan B. Here’s the quotation:

“There should be a system to help those with PhDs get other relevant non-professorial jobs. It’s hard to leave graduate school (with its low but guaranteed paycheck) for unemployment. Make the transition easier, and the graduate students may actually finish.”

More professors need to get the memo that there are fewer academic jobs, but students can definitely use their knowledge in other ways, provided they are trained for it. The catch is that most professors haven’t been trained to be career advisors. So, does anyone have suggestions for how professors can get more involved in helping students with non-academic careers? Perhaps nurturing relationships with other departments, such as education or computer science?

More after the jump! William Hogarth: A Rake’s Progress, Plate 2: Surrounded By Artists And Professors, public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Challenges for Beginning Scholars: Breaking Into the Fellowship Cycle

Posted in Ask an Academic,Surviving Grad School by doctoreclair on April 13, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

We’re “post academic,” but what about people who are actually academic? Well, Dr. E. Clair is the first poster to share his front-line academic perspective. He also has a sweet tooth, hence the image.

In the July 2008 Harper’s Index, I came across a statistic that stopped me in my tracks:

Ratio in 1980 of the number of NIH grants given scientists under age 30 to the number given over age 70:  17:1

Ratio in 2006:  1:13

Is it possible that senior scientists are so much at the cutting edge of their disciplines that thirteen septuagenarians deserve grant funding for every one in his or her twenties? Thirty years ago, the NIH certainly didn’t think so, when things were at the opposite extreme.

It turns out that these numbers aren’t anomalous, and have been a subject of intense debate in scientific circles in recent years. While in 1980 “researchers between the ages of 31 and 33 received nearly 10% of all grants, by 2006 they accounted for approximately 1%.” And a chart in an article with the provocative title “Are There Too Many PhDs?” would suggest that the age distribution of NIH fellowships has climbed steadily upward over the past thirty years.

These numbers got me to wonder about whether something similar is happening in the humanities, though I haven’t been able to find any studies that would confirm my suspicion. Are senior scholars gobbling up all of the fellowships? It sounds counter-intuitive: American culture is obsessed with youthfulness. Yet an ideal of youthfulness doesn’t necessarily translate into supporting the young, and in a culture where “ageism” is much more likely to be used to describe discrimination against the old than discrimination against the young, a pattern of underfunding academic researchers at the beginning of their careers might easily pass under the radar.

More after the jump! Those older profs are gonna take all the eclairs! Image by Tamorlan, posted to Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Broke-Ass Schools: Justifying Your Existence in Academia

Posted in Ask an Academic,Broke-Ass Schools,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on March 15, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionMore and more broke-ass schools are evaluating their grad programs to determine which ones are worth it, and some programs are getting cut completely. In order for programs to survive, the professors, grad students, and undergrad students must do a better job justifying what they do, especially if there aren’t many majors in the program.

Why should you have to justify yourself to a bunch of MBAs who are only interested in money? It’s not fair. And not all disciplines can be monetized, but, in order for your department to survive, you need to prove that your discipline is generating students who are well-rounded, no matter what their major is.

Harry at Crooked Timber has a lengthy post answering the question “What’s the point of having a Philosophy Department in an American university?” and one of his statements stuck:

I like having students who are thrilled about doing Philosophy, and the handful that I have helped on their way to graduate school have been among the students I have valued teaching most. But so have students who became, or are becoming, social workers, nurses, teachers, and who took one of my classes simply to fulfill a requirement or on a whim or because some counselor strongly suggested it (the most insulting—because the student fancied the counselor who suggested it). When I think about justifying the existence of my department and what we should be doing, it is those students, and the value we can produce for them, that I think of first.

Focus on what your department and your classes bring to the core curriculum. It might sting that you cannot talk about your specific field of study, but narrow fields of study aren’t going to generate the kind of cash that will keep your department alive. Indicate that no matter how obscure your subject might seem to an administrator, it offers students a buffet of options so they can fulfill their core requirement so they can earn a deeper education and become more valuable employees or entrepreneurs.

What’s the point of having a Philosophy Department in an American university? [Crooked Timber]

Image from the German Federal Archive on Wikimedia Commons.