Post Academic


Work Lessons From Reality TV: Taking Criticism

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOn “Project Runway,” when Tim Gunn walks in the room with that dreaded velvet bag, the contestants know there’s a twist that will make their task even more difficult. However, the show wouldn’t be the show without the threat of the velvet bag, and the contestants won’t succeed unless they can prove they can change to fit the environment.

If you aren’t willing to learn anything new, you are not going to succeed in work, period. If you aren’t willing to adapt to changes in culture and technology, the rest of the world will evolve past you. Here’s some reality-show tips on how to stay flexible without compromising your integrity:

Try seeing your work through the eyes of another person. One designer, Mondo, felt that the skills of another designer, Michael C., were lacking and made that clear from the start. Then Mondo saw how Michael worked and got the memo that some people just have different methods. Eventually, Mondo admitted he was being a dick and apologized. Another contestant, Ivy, did no such thing and hovered over her partner, Michael D., as he tried to do everything exactly as she would. However, if she’d given him a bit more space, he might have been able to reproduce her look.

When life gives you a twist, make soup. The craziest change-up I’ve seen on any reality show was on an earlier season of “Top Chef.” During a quickfire, the chefs were working diligently on a main course. Then Padma Lakshmi waltzed into the kitchen in her glazed-stoner manner and informed the contestants that they had to turn a main course into a soup. I was baffled. It was the one time I watched “Top Chef” and wondered how the contestants were going to pull that one off. And some of them actually did. The ability to shift perspectives is an incredible skill. I don’t think I have it yet … it seems to be a gift, and I’d love to hear from others how they’ve developed that talent.

Image of a “Project Runway” dress by Uli Herzner taken by Eric Skiff. From Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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Work Lessons From Reality TV: Teamwork

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionReality television gets a bad rap since it encourages and rewards vicious, lewd and unsanitary behavior. (Flavor of Love, Season Two, Episode One will never be topped in this department). But reality TV might be useful in terms of modeling good behavior, too, especially regarding teamwork, determination and adaptability.

Regarding teamwork, the first response to a team assignment is a collective groan, whether it is on TV or in the classroom. Most people see teamwork as torture because they have to compromise their vision or put up with bossy britches on one hand or slackers on the other.

There’s no question that it’s easier to work separately than on a team–but that’s not how it works in the Hamster World. That’s not even how it works in academia. Although people like to believe their solo scholarly work will get them jobs, their references and recommendations also play a role, and you have to act as a team player in order to get those.

So, here are some tips for working as a team courtesy of reality televison:

Air out all group ideas first. This is the hardest part of a team exercise because the dominant players will get called out for being pushy. The good leaders in the group will try to make others feel like they are heard. In the recent “Project Runway” collection challenge, the “leather & lace” team, a team made up of the show’s underdogs, aired out ideas. They had some awkward moments, but after some haggling, they came to an agreement.

Image of Jeff Probst at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards by Greg Hernandez. From Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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A Post Academic’s Guide to the Office: Mingling, With or Without Liquor

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 4, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe “Post Academic’s Guide to the Office” series covers the secret rules of the Hamster World that no one ever told you. Most of these rules involve non-work activities, such as romance and food. The last installment covers the trickiest area of office etiquette–boozing.

Boozing in academia is normal, especially since the students are always around to party. Grad students often throw parties for each other, and the same is true for professors. The booze rules for Hamsters, however, are different, and shows like “Mad Men” might lead you to assume that office hamsters must drink to get through the day. A few tips as you wonder whether or not it’s okay to tipple:

Some companies have strict no-liquor policies … That may be related to how the boss feels about liquor. Do not assume that it is okay to have liquor at your office parties or drink on the company dime.

… while others don’t mind if you drink on the job. The three-martini lunch really does exist in a few places, but there’s a catch: You have to be able to work afterwards. No wetting yourself a la Freddy Rumsen. They really expect you to deliver, and being able to play “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” on your fly does not count. I’ve always felt that the three-martini lunch is an endurance test. In some cases, it might be fine if it’s Friday and you have a beer when you go out for lunch, but eat food with it so you’re still functional.

More after the jump! Image of a Long Island Iced Tea by rootology from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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A Post Academic’s Guide to the Office: The Kitchen

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 2, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn the last entry for “A Post Academic’s Guide to the Office,” I discussed what happens when you get too close to your coworkers. Today, I’ll tackle one of the easiest ways to alienate your peers–poor kitchen habits. Nothing pisses people off faster than messing with their food. In grad school, you were probably at home, and you made your own lunch. In the Hamster World, you’ll be sharing kitchen space, and these battles are territorial and dangerous.

Don’t eat anyone else’s lunch, ever. You’re working late at night. You’re starving and a pizza will take forever. Trust me: Be patient and order the pizza. Sure, you can sneak some salad dressing. You might even be able to sneak some mustard or cream cheese, but beware of bags that appear to contain a full meal. You’ll be sorry because the bag has probably been in the fridge since prehistoric times.

Put your name on your food. Writing your name on your food with a sticky note or a magic marker is a deterrent. It suggests that you’ll be watching if anyone dares think of eating your leftovers.

Don’t throw anyone else’s food out. Even if you know that tub of mac-and-cheese has been in the fridge for a month, don’t toss it. You will be surprised by what people are willing to eat. I’ve worked in dot-coms, and it never ceases to amaze. Some people do not believe in expiration dates. Either that, or they have stomach linings made of Kevlar.

More Hamster World kitchen tips after the jump! Restaurant, Mandeville, Louisiana. Old refrigerator. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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A Post Academic’s Guide to the Office: Romance

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 1, 2010
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post academicThis week I’ll be providing tips to post academics who may be navigating a Hamster office for the first time. Some rituals will be new to you, and they haven’t been covered in Hamster books, nor are they as droll as the issues that arise on “The Office.”

We’ll start with a frequent Hamster World issue: the office romance. Arnold has noted before that academics tend to breed with academics. I met my own spouse while in grad school at UCI. Pairing up is seen as normal, or at least inevitable. Even a few professors start fishing in the grad student dating pool, though some are more successful than others.

If you are moving from academia to the Hamster World, you will soon discover that the Hamster Workplace is not–I repeat, not–a good place to find a date, no matter what TV shows tell you. Why?

People become less attractive when you spend 8 hours a day with them. The dude who eats the stinky lunch every day of the week? The woman who is always shrieking about her computer problems yet who refuses to learn Ctrl-Alt-Delete? The guy who keeps mooching all your office supplies? The woman who left a diaphragm in the wastebasket of the ladies’ bathroom? (true story) No thank you! Romance requires a little distance. If you work a Hamster gig with someone, you’ll feel like you’ve been married for 50 years, even if you’ve only worked together for a week.

More reasons to be careful with love in the workplace after the jump! Comic book cover image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: Suppressing the Inner Asshole

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 30, 2010
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Image Source,Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIf you are an academic or a high-level hamster, you’re probably smart and talented. Yet the smart and talented can also be infected with the asshole virus. The rule of thumb is that talent is not an excuse for assholery. Receiving a bunch of awards doesn’t mean you don’t have to act like a normal human being. Alas, Bob Sutton warns, ” Beware that giving people–even seemingly nice and sensitive people–even a little power can turn them into big jerks.” Yes, you could be an asshole, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you know how to conduct yourself.

Don’t get personal. Ever. Focus on arguing about ideas. Work is about completing a task in a successful fashion, not about winning or losing. If you screw up or drop the ball because you want to show up someone else or make a point, chances are good you’ll both lose your jobs or your funding. Was winning an argument or proving a point worth it?

Watch how you treat those with less power than you. Sutton says that a person’s true colors shine when they interact with those who are lower on the totem pole: “… the difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.” It might seem easy to yell at an intern or a grad student because you think you are teaching them a lesson, but what you’re really teaching them is that you’re an asshole.

More after the jump! Screengrab from the movie “Viva Zapata!” Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: Asshole Hiring and Firing

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 29, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe best way to stop assholes in the workplace is to avoid bringing them on board in the first place. Alas, assholes are often successful precisely because they are assholes, and others might think their bad attitudes are an asset. It can be tempting to hire an asshole if she has an eye-catching resume. But is it worth it if you run the risk that everyone in your office will bail or reduce their efforts? How do you keep assholes out?

Get involved with hiring. If someone is an asshole in the interview or has an asshole reputation, that person will be an asshole in your workplace. Don’t hire that person, no matter how prestigious. As Sutton writes, ” … negative interactions had a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions–so nasty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts.” Even if it means extra work for you to be involved with hiring, the results will be worth it.

Assholes breed assholes. Once you hire an asshole, other people in your workplace will act like assholes at worst or slackers at best to protect themselves. The asshole will also try to hire people who are similar to him- or herself. They know their behavior is wrong, so having more assholes in the workplace is insurance. Keep them off hiring committees. Sutton describes this situation in memorable fashion: “Assholes tend to stick together, and once stuck are not easily separated.”

More after the jump! Caricature of Boss Tweed by Thomas Nast from the 1870s. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: Evading the Asshole

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 27, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo you’re stuck with an asshole in the workplace. The best advice for dealing with a workplace asshole is to quit and work elsewhere. For advice on that, check out Post Academic’s tips for getting another job while you’re working for an asshole. If you really are stuck, Bob Sutton’s “The No Asshole Rule” has superb advice for coping:

Stay emotionally detached. Yeah, like that’s easy when someone is calling you names and humiliating you in front of others. However, setting up a wall between your job and your personality is a crucial skill. That way, when you go home, you’re still you, and the asshole can’t take that. Also, by staying detached, you’re less likely to give the asshole the reaction that she wants, which means she is more likely to leave you alone.

Stop working so hard. Do the base amount that you have to do, but don’t go the extra mile until the asshole shows you some respect. Sutton writes, “When your job feels like a prolonged personal insult, focus on just going through the motions, on caring as little as possible about the jerks around you, and think about something more pleasant as often as you can–just get through each day until something changes at your job or something better comes along.”

More after the jump! Caricature of Boss Croker by John S. Pughe from Puck, 1901. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: “Petty But Relentless Nastiness” — The Academia Angle

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 25, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionBob Sutton’s “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” is perhaps the best workplace survival guide one can have. It could be reprinted repackaged as “The Worst-Case Survival Guide for the Office” and sold at Urban Outfitters. Everyone could use this book, grad students and academics in particular.

In fact, Sutton leads with a two stories about his own experience academia, one good and one bad. First, the good: “Our small department was a remarkably supportive and collegial place to work, especially compared to the petty but relentless nastiness that pervades much of academic life.” Yet his tale doesn’t follow the usual path of a department hiring a star who also happens to be a raging asshole. No. Instead, the department rejects the star in favor of someone who is a decent person. That is heroic.

And then Sutton continues with the bad story. He describes the time he won a best-teacher award. The students applauded him, and enter the asshole, who declares, “Well, Bob, now that you have satisfied the babies here on campus, perhaps you can settle down and do some real work.”

What an asshole. So, why is it that academia has such a reputation for being rife with assholes?

More after the jump! Image by foundphotoslj from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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An Academic Turns to an Advice Columnist, Redux

Image SourceMy mom, a Post Academic supporter, sent me a news clipping in which another forlorn PhD turned to an advice columnist. A prospective PhD asks Harriette Cole of the syndicated Sense & Sensitivity: “The work is too overwhelming for me…. I feel burned out…. Do you think I should continue pursuing my degree or take a break and smell the flowers?”

After suggesting “self-care” a la Cary Tennis, she concludes, “… hopefully [the economy] will have leveled out by the time you have finished your degree. With the advanced degree, you will be able to re-enter the job market from a position of strength…. But don’t lose sight of your dream now. You can do it!”

It’s okay, Harriette. Sense & Sangria will take it from here. You’re not expected to know the oddities of the academic job market. Here’s my tips for these advice-seekers:

There’s something to this “self-care” business. Yeah, yeah, when Harriette tells you to get a massage and meditate, it sounds cheesy, but you need to take a break. Make it a year-long break if you have to, lest you wind up like furze-cutting Clym Yeobright. Teachers as a whole are expected to martyr themselves, and that’s a trap, usually designed to squeeze as much work out of a teacher as possible without the proper payment.

More after the jump! Image of Ann Landers in 1983 by Alan Light from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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