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…
Even though MLA ’11 may be history and you’re (hopefully) home from L.A., that doesn’t mean you’re still not thinking about it. No, I’m not talking about all the back-and-forth about digital humanities or the general direness of the hard times in the profession, but, rather, your ongoing, neverending anxieties about your first-round interviews. I know I should say that you should forget about the interviews so that you can get on with the rest of your life, but that’s not gonna happen without more than a little wasted mental energy. So yeah, go ahead and lurk on the Academic Jobs Wiki if that’s what you’ve been doing all along, though there’s little info about campus visits yet. And maybe some not-so-discreet depts will start posting job talks on their calendars soon, but it’s a little early for that considering that some schools aren’t back in session yet. One piece of advice on what not to do while you wait: Don’t second-guess what you did in your interview, since it’s over, no matter how many times and how many different ways you re-run it in your mind. (Unless you want to write up any zany experiences for Post Academic!)
But there are some things you can do to futz with a job search that’s more or less out of your hands until/unless you get to the next round. Be prepared and be productive as you deal with your nerves about what your future might or might not hold for you.
Send out thank you notes ASAP: You’ve probably done this already, especially if you were told at your interview that the search committee is planning a quick turnaround on who to invite to campus. I always prefer to mail a handwritten note whenever possible, but that might not be possible or preferable when time is of the essence. Though it might not be as formal and gracious as snail mail, send a quick email to the search chair — and maybe even the whole committee if you have enough to say something unique to everyone so it doesn’t read like a form letter. It might feel a little tacky and pushy, but emailed thank-you messages are pretty much pro forma as far as I’ve heard. One advantage to email is that you know that your message will get to its intended soon enough, rather than get lost in the mail sorting process. The other, potentially more beneficial aspect of email is that you might get a response back. It might not be exactly what you want and it might lead to more tea-leaf reading, but maybe you will get a little more info to work with.
More productive fussing, below the fold…
Last time, we offered some tips about what to do and (mostly) what to eat near the MLA convention site downtown. Just to follow up, it looks like 9th and Hope is a food truck stop downtown, since the Roaming Hunger map shows a few trucks queued there.
At this point of the conference, you’re probably eager to get out and about a bit, especially since it’s also a Friday night. You might be done with your interviews by tonight, had your fill of going to panels, or just want to get away from networking central to catch your breath. Here are a few tips about what you can do around town, provided you have access to a car or are willing to pay for a cab–don’t know how much it costs to taxi it from downtown to, say, Hollywood, but I wouldn’t suggest paying a fare to go to Santa Monica or the West LA.
Below are a few relatively easy junkets you can do if you have some time to kill. Whether you can walk ’em is pretty subjective, though I pretty much end up driving from one place to the other, this being L.A. and all. Anyway, you won’t be able to get to these places without a car, whether you’ve rented one or are bumming a ride, so you might as well just worry about parking instead of walking. Again, click the links to get specific addresses and info on the locations listed.
Amoeba Records: The Hollywood Amoeba is probably the best record store anywhere, even though I’m partial to the original one in Berkeley. Forget stuffing your luggage with half-priced scores from the book fair, and save space for stacks of CDs, vinyl, and DVDs from Amoeba. If there’s music your looking for and you can’t find it anywhere else, they’ll have it at Amoeba — the used section itself is probably bigger than any other record store.
Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles: Just down Sunset towards the 101 and a short turn down Gower is Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. It is pretty as advertised, fried chicken and waffles, which you can have either sweet (with syrup) or savory (with gravy). The waffles are awesome by themselves, as is the fried chicken, but you just gotta eat ’em together. The menu is stacked with tons of great soul food, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve gotten the same Scoe’s Special every single time. Maybe, though, you should eat first, then shed the calories with record shopping.
Thai Town and Dinner with Thai Elvis: Or if you’re really into one-of-a-kind pop cultural phenomena, you might skip Roscoe’s and go up a big block to Hollywood Blvd and check out Thai Elvis at the Palms Thai. If you go at the right time, Thai Elvis will serenade you with classic sounds while you eat pretty good, affordable Thai food–actually someone I know who’s a foodie says it’s some of the best Thai food he’s had, but he was also sloshed when he told me this. Plus, once you’re on Hollywood Blvd, you might as well take a nice drive past all the touristy sites, like the Capitol Records building and the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood and Highland. You can see the Hollywood sign so that you can check that off your to-do list too.
More mini-trips, after the jump…
In an effort to be helpful without being (too) snarky, we at Post Academic want to offer up a semi-local guide to L.A. for MLA. We’ve been following the #mla11 tweets about folks grabbing food between sessions, and we wanna make sure you’ve got more choices than the monstrosity that L.A. Live apparently is. A couple of caveats: One, I’m pretty much allergic to alcohol so I’m not much help with bars, though I’m guessing most of MLA’ers are subscribing to the tradition of the hotel lobby drink and the cash bar circuit. Two, I’m not super-familiar with Downtown; for more recommendations, check out the LA Weekly restaurant guide. Three, you could just do the typical touristy stuff if you have time–like find your way to the beach, go see Hollywood, Beverly Hills, etc.–and that would be fine too.
But like I said, I think we can come up with some more choices than L.A. Live or room service, even if it means you need to take a cab or bum a ride. We’ll start with downtown now, then cover some sites of interest that’ll definitely require a car tomorrow, once you’re starting to feel a little stir crazy stuck at the convention. For exact locations, click on the links to the sites’ sites.
Stuff within Walking-Shuttle-Short-Taxi Distance
Mexican Food!: There are two Los Angeles institutions within walking distance. If you’re staying at the Bonaventure or up that way, there’s Border Grill’s downtown outpost. Foodies will know that Border Grill is a pioneering gourmet Mexican food. Closer to the convention hub is El Cholo, which specializes in hearty, greasy, yummy Mexican classics. You know, just what you want right before an interview or giving a paper at a session.
Downtown Walking Tour: After eating the heavy Mexican food, you could check out some of the interesting architectural sites downtown, from the Bonaventure (made theoretically famous by Jameson’s Postmodernism) to Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. In particular, walking around/through/inside/on top of Disney Hall is really fun, actually better than taking in a performance, since the seats feel tight and the decor looks 80s. Plus, you can feel like your on the set of some of your favorite L.A. movies, whether it’s L.A. Confidential at City Hall or Blade Runner and Die Hard near the deserted skyscrapers or the random greenspaces of (500) Days of Summer.
Chinatown: You won’t be able to walk there and it can seem quiet after dark, but L.A. Chinatown is a nice combination of kitschy and hip. You can grab on-the-go pastries and Boba tea at various bakeries or take some time and have dim sum. Phoenix Bakery has always looked pretty cool, though I’ve never been there. Late night, there’s a fun live-band karaoke bar called Grand Star Jazz Club. And if you don’t want Asian food, nearby is Philippe’s, The Original, the self-proclaimed home of the French Dip!
Little Tokyo: A little bit closer to convention central, but probably not all that walkable is Little Tokyo. The blocks around Little Tokyo are really walkable and offer up lots of good food choices, like sushi, ramen, and lots of frozen yogurt. There’s also some two great museums worth spending some time at: the Japanese American National Museum and the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. (There’s also the main MOCA across the street from Disney Hall on Grand, but the Geffen Contemporary is more fun, I think.) The Japanese American National Museum includes the must-see internment camp barrack, along with interesting permanent and rotating exhibits. The Geffen Contemporary houses a lot of hip exhibits — in the past, it featured the big Murakami show and Gregor Schneider’s Dead House U R installation. And apparently there has been a big brouhaha about some graffiti art that was commissioned by MOCA, only to be whitewashed.
Food Trucks: What would a trip to L.A. be without sampling its latest, greatest food innovation, the food truck. And as luck would have it, the grandaddy of all food truck, Kogi truck, will be serving pretty close to MLA at 9th and Hope for Friday dinner, 6:30 PM to 8:30. Unfortunately, some of my other favorites — Grilled Cheese Truck and reality show stars Nom Nom Truck — aren’t headed to downtown. But a lot of trucks congregate in the same area, so maybe you’ll find some others near Kogi. Otherwise, check out the Roaming Hunger LA site, which has a real-time map of where the trucks are, provided you’ve been able to figure out the downtown landscape well enough.
Tomorrow, we’ll give you some suggestions for some fun destinations you can head to, if you can spare a few hours away from MLA or if you want to celebrate finishing your interviews.
We’re probably getting to this a little late to be tipping you as to what to bring with you to MLA 11 in LA, since many folks are either here or on your way. But just in case you’re furiously packing and happen to be online at the same time, here are a few essentials you might want to take with you westward — unless you happen to one of the peeps tweeting about going to MLA with only carry-on luggage! (FYI: For the latest helpful, not-so-helpful, and absurd MLA tweets, search #MLA11 when you’re on Twitter.)
BRING your computer: I mentioned a while back that it might not be a bad idea to leave your computer at home and be unencumbered with extra baggage–literally and figuratively–for MLA. OK, I lied: Do bring your computer, because no one is ever 100% prepared before arriving at MLA. In addition to logging onto Post Academic, of course, you can use your laptop to do practical things like looking up people on the search committee, skimming their writing via JSTOR via your school library network, finishing up any docs you need for the interview, and finding where the nearest FedEx Office (aka Kinkos) is so that you don’t hafta pay the ridiculous hotel “business office” printing rates. If nothing else, your computer is a security blanket, so don’t be without it now!
BRING your sample syllabi: Speaking of sample syllabi, always bring ’em to interviews, whether solicited or not. Search committees always get giddy over them and it gives you something concrete to talk about, kinda like a script that lets you control the flow of the discussion at least a little bit. I always do up fake real ones that fit the quarter or semester schedule the school is on, but the best is real real syllabi you’ve taught. Why? You don’t have to make things up, you don’t have to put books on that you actually haven’t read and might be asked about, and you have actual teaching experience to talk about. Sample syllabi are great however you slice it, as long as you don’t out-think yourself and sweat too many of the details.
BRING a pad of paper and pen: Go old-school by bringing a pad and pen, preferably in that portfolio you got from our Xmas gift list. Come prepared by bringing some questions for the search committee which show you’ve done you’re homework. It’s also important to show that you’re interested enough in the minutiae of the job that you’re taking notes, from teaching load to distribution requirements to whatever arcane curricular ephemera that every school is proud of. Have something on paper to follow-up on, which can also help you catch your breath in the middle of an interview. Also, it might help jog your memory when you’re inevitably playing rewind in your mind after the face-to-face.
DON’T BRING books: We talked about this already. Trust me, you won’t have time to glean the plot points of all the book you haven’t read but feel you should’ve. Just avoid talking about them by not putting them in your sample syllabi on in your dissertation spiel. You’ll have plenty of things that you know a lot about to talk about anyway. Plus, save luggage space to bring books home from the MLA book fair, if that floats your boat.
DON’T BRING a heavy jacket: Hey, it’s Los Angeles, not Philly or Chicago. I know, it’s been raining more than ever in So Cal this past month, but it’s really not that cold for most of you from Midwest and East Coast winter climates. It looks like the weekend will be in the 60s, so you definitely don’t need that cold weather coat you brought for all those other MLAs. A nice coat will do or you could even go to your interview in just your suit for a change!
BRING a sense of perspective: Everyone is stressed out and, being language types, we read way too much into everything. You’ll be nervous and paranoid about strangers thinking that they have their own agendas, and maybe even look sideways at your bestest friends–believe me, I’ve been embroiled more friend drama at MLA than anywhere else, between folks feeling slighted by not hanging out and others getting bent out of shape comparing job interviews. Try not to let everything get to you and remember that you’re probably acting just as weird as you think everyone else is!
Happy New Year all! I’ve been meaning to put a little closure on our Interviews You Don’t Want to Have series, but, as with all things academia-oriented, that’s probably never gonna happen. But seeing as MLA is about to kick off — I think folks will be arriving in downtown L.A. for MLA by tomorrow — I guess it’s time to finish up recounting MLA war stories with my best/worst one. The stakes with this one were high, or I at least thought so going into it, since it was for pretty much a dream situation: a tenure-track position that fit my interests to a T at a top, pretty-much-Ivy research institution in my favorite non-California city (hint: it’s not NYC or Boston). So of course, I felt a lot of pressure going into the interview, rather than seeing it as an I’ve-got-nothing-to-lose scenario, since the candidates I’d be up against would be pretty stellar. (More about that later.)
After doing a pretty good job sequestering myself from the temptations of MLA gossip and catching up with old friends, I worked studiously to anticipate possible questions, prepared my sample syllabi, and learned the best walking route to the interviewing hotel in the snow and slush. But unfortunately, I could tell you that all the prep and nervous energy would be for naught right from the first obnoxiously nitpicky question — and the interview only got worse and worse after that. Here’s a recap, after the very brief, obligatorily flattering small talk:
Question 1: “Why do you use the word ‘demographies’ in the title?”
Response: The real, unspoken answer was simply that it sounded good! Still, I was able to gain a little footing talking about race and space, which was the focus of my dissertation. At least I could repurpose my diss spiel here.
Question 2: “If you are writing about demographies, which didn’t you use this other book by Author X instead of the one you did?”
Response: The real answer is that I read the one I worked on and I didn’t read the other one! But I suppose you can’t show any ignorance in this situation, so I stammered out some summary of the chapter in question, which wasn’t so bad because I could recall my specific argument pretty well. Still, no one could suggest that things were going well, when a “friendly” questioner was asking me why I used a specific word and why I didn’t focus on one text instead of another. At this point, I felt like my whole 400-page diss had been discredited — or that maybe my questioner should’ve just written it for me.
I say that this questioner was friendly, because things only got more and more hostile, which you’ll see after the jump…
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.
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…
So I guess my first interview wasn’t really a real interview to begin with: It was a mock interview with my advisor and one of my other diss committee members, along with one person I didn’t know. Normally, I passed on the dept-sanctioned fake interviews, in part because I didn’t really want the powers-that-be in my business–for instance, there’s always one *really* nosy professor who likes to take credit for your interviews/job even when s/he’d totally ignore you otherwise–and in part because I was too cool for school. But my faculty peeps set up their own ad hoc alterna faux interviews for us self-identifying outsiders, so there was no excuse not to do them. Here are what ended up being the pros and cons from the experience…
PRO — Practice makes better: I had never been under the intense scrutiny of a job interview, with the closest thing being the qualifying exam orals. The mock interview at least gave me a chance to give my dissertation spiel, even though I probably ended up giving it less than half the time in my real interviews. But the experience was useful in helping me tweak my answers, mostly through a process of elimination, since I learned more about what I shouldn’t be talking about.
CON — Role playing is only playing: The thing is, though, I didn’t find the role playing plausible. For starters, I’m a bad bluffer, and even more so in front of people who know me. So try as I might, I found it hard to ham up my answers in front of my faculty members, whom I kept worrying had their BS detectors on. I know they weren’t there to check on the progress of my dissertation, but that’s how I felt. I’m just not a good enough actor or an imaginative enough person to pull it off.
More pros and cons of the mock interview and making a mockery of yourself, below the fold…
You know the trainwreck I hinted to last time? I’m gonna get to that for our series finale, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have more to write about. The one I’m describing today was an interview I felt totally ambivalent about, not because the job, the school, and the people there weren’t fine, but because of a confluence of circumstances. To blow the ending in advance — as if you didn’t know already — I didn’t get the job. What’s different, though, was that I basically gave up on it before the interview, which I more or less tried to pull the plug on by asking the search committee to reschedule my MLA tête-à-tête as a videoconference. The crazy thing was they agreed to it, which was very nice of them, although I almost think that I ended up just going through the motions anyway.
Here’s what went into my kamikaze mission decision…
Cost-Benefit Analysis: The main reason I begged off the convention interview was that I didn’t have any others lined up, so I couldn’t justify the $1000+ expense, multiple connecting flights, and days cooped up at a hotel for a single 45-minute meet-up for — let’s be real — a job that I wasn’t super-psyched about . I know, I know, beggars shouldn’t be choosers, but still. So when December 20-ish rolled around, I called an audible and emailed to ask if I could do a phoner instead, because there was really no reason to keep hope alive that a bunch more interviews were going to come through. I guess the moral of the story here is that search committees are more humane and more accommodating than you’d expect, so you might as well tactfully ask for you’d like if you don’t really mind totally blowing it.
More factors below…
I had to get in on what Caroline’s been writing about regarding traveling, so we’ll get back to the “Interviews You Don’t Want to Have” series later. Rest assured, the best — or would that be worst? — is yet to come. But packing is part of what makes the whole MLA experience so nervewracking. Below, I’m getting into the pros and cons and insane thinking that goes into preparing to travel to MLA.
Check-in and Carry on?: It’s never happened to me, but I’m always in fear of losing check-in luggage for the first time, which I always presume would be at the worst time. I think having your suit shipped off somewhere else the one time you need it in any given year would probably qualify as being a worst time. So what about a back-up plan, taking some kind of formal outfit on board with you, just in case? There’s nothing wrong with that, right? Except it’s a pain to lug half of your earthly possessions with you across the country. And now, who knows what luggage you have to pay for and what’s gratis on any particular airline?
In my mind, it’s a coin flip. If you don’t mind carrying more luggage and risk having your junk — literally and figuratively — handled, why not be prepared for the worst case scenario? If you prefer traveling relatively light and don’t sweat the unlikely possibility that everything will go wrong, just check your baggage in. In case something does happen, it’s not like you’re flying into the wilderness, since you can pick up an emergency suit or tie or dress shoes. After all, there’s probably more or less the same Macy’s stuff wherever you go.
What (not) to wear or bring to MLA, below the fold…