Post Academic

The Post Academic Road Warrior Guide: Packing

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 29, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionI just returned from a series of work-related road trips, and it occurred to me that post academics might need advice on how to deal if their hamster bosses send them out for a job.

Business trips can’t be that different from conferences, right? Well, they’re better in that you don’t have to foot the bill for the flight and hotel. You will probably score free meals, too. But, yes, business trips are similar to conferences in that you have to sit in lots of meetings with strangers, and you have obscenely long days. The following trips will help you be ready for anything–because anything can happen:

Travel light. If you can avoid checking a bag, do it. Since you have less to lug around, you reduce the chances of missing a flight connection. Also, the less you pack means the less you have to leave behind in a hotel or restaurant while on the trip.

Be aware that the GPS that the rental car company gives you is useless. Either print out directions before you go, or ask a travel companion with a smartphone to navigate. The GPS is programmed with fail.

More ways to brace yourself for a business road trip after the jump! Image of a plastic suitcase by William Wessen, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Networking Within the Office

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 27, 2010
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PhotobucketIf you are a supervisor or in a more powerful position, one of the best ways to fight bullying and assholism is to get more people involved in group activities. No, I don’t mean those cringe-inducing corporate retreats in which people engage in exercises that just make everyone look awkward. But you can work hard to make sure people feel like they have a say in how an office or a department is run.

When people feel left out, problems result. They may be as minor as gossip or bickering or as major as people refusing to do their jobs. The truth is that people need to keep networking within the workplace so they can build teams. Knowing that some people in your office have your back can come in handy. I’m pretty sure it can also protect against departmental strife. Many workplace conflicts arise not because people disagree over a project but because they disagree over personalities. The only way to keep personality conflicts from hampering your job is to make the effort to get to know and understand each other. Here’s how:

Hold meetings. Yeah, yeah. I don’t like meetings, either. But meetings also bring the team together so people can be reminded of each other’s existence. It’s a whole lot harder to ignore someone’s existence if you have to look them in the eye once a week during a status meeting. Of course, that means one of you needs to figure out how to hold an effective meeting, and that’s another story altogether …

More after the jump! Playful image of a social network by Koreshky from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

A Hamster Thanksgiving

Posted in Housekeeping,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 26, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionHappy Thanksgiving! In this special Post Academic holiday episode, I wanted to count my blessings regarding my job choices. No one’s job is ever completely bad unless you’re working for an asshole–and if that’s the case, try reading Bob Sutton. You’ll be glad you did!

Since I am a grad-student-turned-hamster, I have days when I wish I were still an academic. But I am truly thankful to be a hamster, for many reasons:

Clear goals. The best part of being in the Hamster world is that I don’t feel like I’m flailing. I am assigned tasks, and I finish them. Some of the tasks require long days and boring meetings, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something on a regular basis. I help build what you see on the web, and I’m not working on one big project whose finish line is years away.

More after the jump! Image of a heritage turkey by stu_spivack from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Taking Charge of Your Work Reputation

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 24, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionI’m always skeptical of the “self-branding” concept. It sounds like you’re taking a hot iron to your rump. And people are neither consistent or perfect, so branding is impossible. That said, you need to think about how you want to be seen in the workplace. Your workplace reputation will impact how you are treated and the types of projects you get.

Although you may think you build your work reputation over time, you really build it in a single week. People will put you in a box, and there’s no room for a do-over. You have to survey the turf with lightning speed and then decide who you want to be.

So, you need to go in knowing exactly who you want to be on the job. The Devil’s Advocate? The Loyal Assistant? The Organizer? The One Who’s Great on Deadline? (In case you haven’t guessed, I’m the Organizer.) You might have a day, tops, to survey the workplace and figure out where you fit. It’s not high school–you have control over the situation, but you have to move fast.

Whatever you do, don’t let them peg you as the gossip, the crier or the hot mess. Be on your best behavior that first week. If anything goes wrong or if you mess up, don’t let your reaction show. Think about the image you want to project, and keep projecting it. Once your colleagues get the message, you can relax a bit.

Image of a cattle branding iron by Andreas Praefcke from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Girls, Get That Glassdoor Account!

Posted in Absurdities,Breaking Academic Stereotypes,The Education Industry,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 22, 2010

Image Source*Only using “girls” for playful alliteration purposes! I’d recommend much of the advice in this article for guys, too.

With the non-passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, it’s more important than ever for women to know their worth and fight for the same pay as men, one job at a time. Obviously, the people who have been elected to office are more interested in pleasing a base rather than doing what’s right … anyway … let’s look out for ourselves since our legislators won’t do their jobs.

Despite the academy’s claims to be a forward-thinking meritocracy, female academics are suffering from the same pay inequalities as hamsters. Newsweek reported that female academics don’t make as much as male academics (Hat Tip: Worst Professor Ever): “… female faculty members have made no progress at all and have actually regressed. In 1972 women teachers made 83 percent what male faculty members earned; today, they’ve lost a cent for every dollar, earning just 82 percent.” That’s inexcusable–especially since salaries for professors at public schools are so easy to look up.

So, want to get paid as well as your male counterparts? It’s time to make like a negotiator, and it’s easy.

1. If the job is for a public school, look up the pay in a database. Local papers usually have handy salary databases for all public employees. For example, the Contra Costa Times has a salary database for the state of California.
2. If the school is private, go to Professor salaries are up there; just look up the name of the school. For even more information, try If the information lines up, you should know exactly what you can get.
3. If you are offered the job and salary comes up, have a number in mind. Penelope Trunk advises that you should make the prospective employer give the salary number first. Sometimes, that’s not easy. Whatever your situation, do not short-change yourself. You should be making about the same as what everyone else is making–or more.
4. (the hard part) If you don’t get the salary you want, don’t take the job. Obviously, if you are a poor grad student in dire financial straits, I’m not going to judge you if you do take the job. The only thing is that these universities know bloody well how broke and desperate you are, and you shouldn’t let them take advantage of you. You should push for every penny you can.

As for anyone who is reading this blog who is employed, male or female, do your female colleagues a solid and share your salary on Glassdoor or leave a review of the company. (No, I’m not doing any shilling for them; I’ve just found what’s on there extremely helpful.) Until a Paycheck Fairness Act actually passes (don’t bet on it), then we have to help each other.

The We Can Do It! poster. What else? From Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Stifling Workplace Drama: After the Drama

PhotobucketIn the final installment of stopping workplace theatrics, I’ll cover the post-drama debriefing. Drama will always break out in the office, no matter how well everyone seems to get along. What counts is how you handle the situation and indicate how drama will be handled in the future.

Root out the true source of the drama. Sometimes, the two people shouting at each other or flaming each other through emails aren’t the most dramatical ones in your office. Imagine some creepy high school kid who lets two girls fight over him. One of your coworkers might have triggered a brawl and is letting it unfold so he can cut through and get what he wants. It’s a slick move because the shouting gets all the attention. You need to take a step back and figure out where the noise is coming from.

Do not get involved. Refer to the “don’t pile on” moment from the “During the Drama” post. If a colleague asks you why everyone started shouting all of a sudden and you must recount the incident, try not to add judgment. Likewise, you can listen to others recount the incident, but just smile and nod. It is always in your best interest to let drama dissipate, and then you can think rationally about the problem.

Caricature of Lionel Brough as Bottom in 1905 Vanity Fair. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Stifling Workplace Drama: During the Drama

PhotobucketThis week, I’m covering how to put a stop to workplace theatrics. It’s okay to be dramatical on reality television, but it is never okay in the workplace because it hampers everyone else’s ability to get things done.

Do not get emotional. Post Academic has addressed this before in sections on why you shouldn’t cry and why you shouldn’t get angry if something goes wrong at the office. Emotional reactions are perceived as a sign of weakness. Whatever your dispute is, chances are that an outside force will be called in to mediate, and the outside force will probably rely on reason to make a decision since he or she hasn’t been marinating in a brew of tears and rage. (I can personally vouch that the few times I’ve gotten emotional in the workplace, I paid for it and lost the battle. Do not do this.)

Handle personal insults outside the meeting. If someone insults you or goes too far during a meeting, do not engage. Change the subject if you have to. After the meeting, talk to the individual privately. Usually, when someone hurls an insult during a meeting, he or she wants to display power. Reacting to such a move confirms their power. You don’t have to sit back and take it, but you need to retaliate elsewhere to make clear that such behavior won’t work.

Image of French actor Benoît-Constant Coquelin from 1898 Vanity Fair. From Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Importance of Stifling Workplace Drama

PhotobucketWorkplace drama seems inescapable. Hamsters suffer from it, as people get frustrated with each other after spending too much time together. Academics suffer from it, as people spend too much time apart and forget how to look at situations from another point of view. Either way, drama is the one thing that will destroy your work life and unravel all your projects. Why is drama so dangerous?

Drama is contagious. Once someone starts in with the drama, it will spread. If a person is allowed to be dramatical, then others who have kept their inner drama queens quiet might let them loose.

Drama obscures the purpose of the original meeting or project. A dramatical person will make the meeting all about his or her personality. They may suggest that if a project is carried out in a certain way, they will never recover. That may or may not be true. You won’t be able to tell with all the theatrics in the room.

Caricature of Sarah Bernhardt from 1879 Vanity Fair. From Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Reality Show Quotations to Ban from the Workplace

Can you imagine a similar clip show of student excuses? Oh, delight!

For the weekend, I’m ending this little reality-show jaunt with some reality show bon mots that your students or less clever colleagues might try to utter in an attempt to get out of a jam or a social faux pas:

“I’m not here to make friends.” You better make some friends, snowflake, because you’re gonna need references when you send off your next resume.

“You threw me under the bus!” This isn’t an episode of “Top Chef,” and you’re not going under any actual wheels.

“Next time, I promise I’ll give 110%.” Oh, dear. If you try that, you’re going to spill bodily fluids or strain a muscle. I’ll settle for a passing grade.

And one line that you should never say in an attempt to relate to your students:

“Step up your game.” This usually comes from a clueless host who has not actually participated in the work in which the competitors are engaged. “Step up your game” is a puffy phrase designed to mask an actual critique … but if you said it to a slacker student, maybe he or she would get what you are talking about.

Work Lessons From Reality TV: Handling Criticism

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 11, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionReality television critiques are unnecessarily brutal because many of the judges stake their reputations and make their money off being assholes. But, sometimes, the judges and mentors help contestants see their work clearly. These critiques act as an anti-snowflake tonic and remind contestants that the show isn’t about them or their personalities–it’s about what they can deliver.

Donna Flagg at Psychology Today writes, “By telling someone that he or she is doing something that is not working, you offer a truth and clarity that can help both sides further their understanding, do something about it and move on.”

Don’t gnaw on the past. Reality television proves that a person can take a risk and fail. Even if a person lands on the bottom in one challenge, he or she can go on to with the whole show. A critique is not the end of the world–it might be the beginning of a new idea that is even better than the last one.

Accept that life isn’t fair. Oh, this is so hard, especially for aspiring academics who start out believing grad school is a meritocracy who later discover that pure dumb luck is a big factor in getting a job. As for reality shows, some undeserving people stay on shows for longer than they should because they deliver the kind of drama that keeps audiences tuning in. But reality tv also makes clear that a failure in one challenge is not the end as long as a person is willing to sift through feedback and distinguish what is useful and what isn’t.

Detemination is learning how to handle an insult from Gordon Ramsay. Image of the reality tv chef by Dave Pullig from Wikimedia Commons under a GNU Free Documentation license.

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