Post Academic

What Top Chef teaches us about plagiarism

Posted in Absurdities,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on February 24, 2011
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One of the sillier things we’ve done on the blog over the past almost year is the “Top Grad Student” fake virtual reality show series, based on my fave reality show, Top Chef.  But who knew that Top Chef could also tell you everything thing you wanted to know about plagiarism, how we react to it, and how people can get away with it?  Just like every school has an honor code that students are presumed to abide by, apparently there’s something called “Chef Law” where you aren’t supposed to steal someone else’s culinary ideas.

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

So to recap what happened on this week’s episode (spoiler alert!): It began with a seemingly innocuous scene where Richard Blais, the mad scientist and (imho) the most creative cheftestant, was showing Mike Isabella, a skeezy operator (again, imho), a Moleskine notebook full of his crazy musings, complete with drawings.  So flash forward to the Quickfire challenge, when apparently Mike preps a Fried “Chicken Oyster” in a shell that was originally Blais’ fantastical creation.  So throughout the challenge and the judgement, Blais gives Isabella the stink eye, while Isabella avoids his gaze; on the voiceover confessionals, Blais calls Isabella out for plagiarism, as Isabella claims that, though he got the idea from his competitor, others have done it before so it’s not copying.  You know how this turns out–Mike beats Richard, and pockets 5K out of it.  Richard is bent of shape, and Mike rubs everyone’s face in it by saying he was inspired by Richard.

Cut to post-challenge, when Mike is somehow pissed at Richard for not acting like either a winner or a loser should.  Meanwhile, Antonia tells the other contestants what happened, that Mike basically cribbed off Richard (we get a flashback scene here, I think) for the win, to which everyone invokes “Chef Law” and how dastardly Mike is.

Ultimately, Richard bests Mike at the end of the episode, then talks some mild s**t (Blais might be full of himself a bit, but he’s too geeky, nervous, and seemingly well-meaning to be a brash trash-talking type) about keeping his best recipes for himself.  So there’s order to the universe in the end, right?  Not so fast…

Here are a few lessons we learn about plagiarism and plagiarists from the episode…

1. Keep it to yourself: Whether Richard was willingly showing off his little notebook or Mike is one of those nosy people who’s always in your bizness — in Chinese, his type roughly translates to “butt-following bug” — there’s no reason to let anyone know more than they need to, especially in a competition.  I don’t know, I guess I know how Richard feels, since I liked sharing notes and all, but it’s something else to give someone your thesis and outline.  Hold on to your best ideas for yourself and resist showing off more than you need to.

More of what we learned about plagiarism from Top Chef, after the jump…


What Is It That You Want, and What Are You Willing to Do to Get It?

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on February 23, 2011
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PhotobucketAs the debate over the value of college and a-driftin’ students rages, I’m starting to wonder what people go to college for. It used to be as a stepping stone to a better life. It worked for me. I learned a skill and got a job. But it’s not really working for everyone.

Is it the colleges? Is it the students? Or is it … our expectations? There’s a quotation from Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” (shared by Justin Cox at the Huffington Post) in which he and Adam Carolla discuss the value of a college education. And it’s interesting.

“If you’re not going to celebrate the kind of things you ultimately need, you’re going to end up with precisely what you deserve. Mathematically, your kids can’t have it better than you did and so on and so on and so on. It just doesn’t play out at all. So, rather than scratching your head over the algorithm, why not just step back and say, We’re all screwed up as to what better means.”

So, what is “better” to you? Do you want to make more than your parents? Do you want to do less manual labor? Do you want the kind of job where you can guide yourself? Something with more flex time? People seem to want it all, which is fine, but you’re less likely to get it all. You would be better off focusing on one goal. And focusing on an expectation isn’t the same as diminishing your expectations altogether. And focusing on an expectation doesn’t always mean you need to go the traditional college/grad school route.

For me, I want a job that gives me self-respect. Then I want a job that pays decently. Then I want to live in a city. That’s my rank order. Teaching didn’t give me self-respect, so I switched to something else. I also like to eat, so I found a job that helps with that. I also live in a city, although since that’s third on my list, I would be willing to give that up in order to keep the other two. And I didn’t need to get my PhD to meet those expectations.

I have made some compromises. I’d love to have a flex-time job. In an ideal world, I’d rather not be Hamstering away in a cube farm, but I do have self-respect, and I do get a salary that makes me happy. That’s not bad. I can take walks and go out for lunch if I’m tired of hamstering. I am OK with the compromise. If I am no longer OK with it, I’ll make a change.

Image of a glass half full or half empty, depending on how you look at it, from LuciaSofo from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

More Good Reasons to Slow Down Your Hamster Wheel

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on February 16, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIt’s about time for getting acceptances to grad programs or phone calls about your new job. So this makes it time for a reminder that you shouldn’t wear your workaholic tendencies as a badge of honor.

For hamsters like me, toiling into the wee hours isn’t worth it because a corporate bigwig might sell your company and toss you out on the street on your butt (Exhibit A: The mySpace layoffs). As for academics (and hamsters, too), you’ll never please everyone, so don’t cause yourself grief trying to be perfect. Why?

Because it makes you look desperate. Here’s an oldie but goodie from Penelope Trunk that I came across via Lifehacker:

If you work the most hours you look the most desperate. You shouldn’t look lazy, but don’t be the hardest worker. After all, why do you need to work so much harder than the next person? Are you not as smart? Not as organized? Not as confident in your ability to navigate a non-work world? In many cases all three are true for those who work the hardest.

Ow. These are not pretty words for overachievers like academics and former academics. Academics are workaholics because academia is a meritocracy, right? And those who work the hardest must get ahead. That’s the law … right?

Alas, it is not. Talk to anyone who’s been going to MLA year after year after year.

Listen, you’re going to have to pull overtime hours on occasion. But don’t make it a habit, unless you are one of the handful of individuals who love their work so much that they can’t let it go.

A hamster and a hamster wheel by Dimitar Popovski. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

“So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities,” the Sequel


Screenshot from "So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities: Nine Years Later"

The feel-bad hit of the academic job application season “So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities” has spawned its own subgenre, including the not-as-funny, not-as-well-received, longer-winded retort “Yes, I Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities” as well as other discipline-specific narratives for poli sci, law school, philosophy, and film.  But best yet is the sequel to the original created by none other than the patron saint of sites like ours, Thomas H. Benton/William Pannapacker.  His version revisits the earnest would-be grad student nine years down the line, scraping by as an adjunct and more than willing to do so.  As he describes his clip, “Our intrepid young English major finally completes her doctoral degree, and is appropriately rewarded.”   The scary thing about the humorous video is that grad students of this generation have already internalized much of what seems so horrific about the job market so that very little of it seems over the top.  We can’t embed XtraNormal videos on WordPress, but go over to the Chronicle Brainstorm page to see “So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities: 9 Years Later” for yourself.

The Academic Interview Waiting Game

"Wooden Hourglass Edit" by S Sepp (Creative Commons license)

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…


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.

The Rejection Resolution: Getting Your Mojo Back After a Rejection

PhotobucketSome people take rejection harder than others. If you’re one of them, remember what Psychology Today said about Tylenol? How about a stiff drink? After one rough Hamster World rejection that involved an inside candidate, I played the iPhone’s iamsamjackson app for a solid hour. And, yes, listening to “That doesn’t suck!” repeatedly actually made me feel better.

But, if you’re not into motivational bon mots from Samuel Jackson, try the following:

Apply for something completely different. Look for jobs or even part-time gigs that you’re qualified for but wouldn’t usually do. You might discover a hidden talent or learn a new skill.

Go after rejections. Kiplinger offers counter-intuitive advice: Pursue rejection. As in, aim to be rejected several times a week. I knew a guy who applied to medical school, and he taped his many rejections to the wall in the hall by his dorm room door, where everyone could see them. At the time, I thought he was a masochist, but he got into an excellent medical school, and he’s a doctor now, so it clearly worked for him.

“Crying Is Okay Here” stencil posted by Miss O’Crazy from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

The Rejection Resolution: Learning From a Rejection

PhotobucketWhen you’ve been rejected, someone has critiqued you and found you lacking. After the initial sting, it’s your turn to get revenge of a sort by critiquing the critique. Some rejections can be useful to you in that they are constructive, and you can make changes that improve your chances of getting a job. To follow through on a resolution to master the art of being rejected, get started …

Ditch all the form rejections. Burn ’em, flush ’em, delete ’em from the inbox. They are worthless to you if they don’t offer feedback.

Speaking of, analyze all feedback closely. Some hiring managers will tell you up front why you didn’t get the job. If they call you to tell you that you weren’t hired, then it’s your right to ask why. At the very least, you can make someone squirm if the reason you didn’t get the job was an inside candidate. (Gotta love those calls …) Someone who rejected you for a legit reason will tell you up front what was wrong, such as you didn’t have enough experience writing code. That’s fair and fixable.

More after the jump! Sheet music cover from 1913 from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Rejection Resolution: How to Cope With Rejection

PhotobucketYou might think I’d be doing a series on New Year’s Resolutions, but really, there’s only one that academics and recovering academics need–to learn how to cope with rejection better. Rejection hurt back in sixth grade. It hurt in college. And it doesn’t get better when you get older, either. Now that it’s the season for rejection for academic positions, I realized that academics might deal with rejection more than any other job category since there are so few journals and so few slots on faculties.

Alas, post academics will be dealing with just as much rejection–if not more. Resumes will go unnoticed, calls won’t be returned and you’ll wonder why you’re even bothering. Rejection doesn’t feel as personal in the Hamster World as it does in academia since the Hamster World is so open, but rejection can linger. This week’s series is all about encouraging you to push ahead so you can establish a proper Post Academic career. First up, how to cope with rejection when it first strikes:

Don’t slow down. Keep sending out those resumes and talking to people in your network. If you slow down, you might get introspective, which might make you depressed and/or desperate. Worst Professor Ever has a terrific post on how persistence trumps positivity, and it can help you get over a rejection-related bout of depression.

More after the jump! Logo for the band Rejected by Nicolas Espinosa from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license

An Academic Turns to an Advice Columnist, AGAIN

PhotobucketCary Tennis is becoming the go-to advice columnist for the grads. As usual, I want to ask the author of the letter, “Where is your advisor and why isn’t this person doing his or her job?” But I digress … it’s to Cary Tennis we must turn.

A week ago, the grad student in question wonders why the life of the mind isn’t thrilling her the way it used to:

I’m at a top-ranked graduate school, and I’ve been purring along, performing my graduate student duties, and feeling really good about myself and what I’m doing. Then my good friend and colleague quit a professorship that had taken over and ruined her life. Post-docs are now telling me that they have no job prospects and that they wish they had known earlier. The whole premise of my efforts has crumbled. I feel like I’ve been duped, but my advisor keeps acting like pursuing his profession is the only way to be happy. The more I think about it, the less and less I want to do this for a living.

…on the inside I feel like I’ve been hollowed out like a pumpkin.

I’ll bring my Sense & Sangria to the table. This letter is fascinating because it seems as if the student was happy in school, and if what he or she says is true, the student has a shot at a job because they’re attending a top-tier program. What brought on that “hollowed-out pumpkin” feeling seems to be … peer pressure, more than anything else. The person mentions the plight of her friends and colleagues first.

Advice after the jump! Advice-themed comic book cover from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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