Post Academic


Not Getting the Job: Do You Hold a Funeral or a Wake?

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on January 24, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWe at Post Academic are specialists in rejection. I’ve had plenty of cubicle doors slammed in my face out there in the hamster world, but it doesn’t sting quite as much as academic rejection since the stakes are higher.

So I can appreciate Christine Kelly’s Inside Higher Ed article called “After the Failed Interview.” She reminds her readers that recovery after an academic job rejection is a little different from recovery after a Hamster World rejection:

Step one is to acknowledge and work through your emotions. Your support network will tell you “things will be all right” and “this means something better is out there for you” because they want you to feel better quickly. But you have to give yourself time to grieve. That time may be relatively short if you weren’t strongly committed to the position, or it may be longer if it was your dream job. You may need some time to wallow in your disappointment. Ask your support network to let you vent without judging and without trying to make you feel better.

At first, I thought Kelly’s grief metaphor was a bit much. My inner knee-jerk response was, “Dude, settle down. It’s not like you just met the Crypt-Keeper.” Then I realized that I am one of those well-intentioned but pain-in-the-ass people in an academic’s support network who don’t know (or remember) that most jobs come around only once a year, and there aren’t many at that. It’s not like you can keep submitting your resume unless you want to–here’s that death thing again–end that chapter of your life and start a new career.

That thing, whatever it is, is playing a song for the job-that-wasn’t. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Postacademic Giggles With Al Jackson

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on January 22, 2011
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If you’ve ever been a teacher, sometimes the only thing you can do in a bad classroom situation is laugh. And if you’ve never laughed at one of your students … well … you’re probably lying. Al Jackson went into the teaching meat grinder came out a comedian.

Hey, most of my students were excellent, but I remember the goofy ones the most. In one of my composition classes, a student argued against organ donation with the following wise words: “Dead people will miss their organs when they’re gone.”

Yeah, sometimes students can be a pain in the ass at the time, but they might be great comedy material someday.

Down With the Academic Martyr: Why a Little Selfishness Might Help You

Posted in Absurdities,Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on January 21, 2011
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PhotobucketWhen I told my family I was taking time off from grad school and looking for a career that didn’t involve teaching, one of my relatives said, “Good.”

“Good?” I asked. “I thought being a teacher is supposed to be noble, or something.”

“Yeah, but it means everyone tries to take advantage of you.”

My loved one had a point. When I thought about my time teaching and what I’ve heard from friends and other professors, I remembered how often I felt pushed. Can you take one more student? Can you give me one more day on the paper? Can’t you give my precious child another chance?

I often caved. I thought, if I didn’t give every last bit, I was letting someone down. I might be blocking a student’s right to knowledge. The one time I did push back, when I joined a picket line for rights I deemed perfectly reasonable, one of the school’s administrators compared the work of a grad student to the work of the kid down the street who mowed his lawn. To him–and many others–strikers were whiners. I held strong, but I felt guiltier than a character in a Philip Roth novel, and when I started teaching, I worked even harder, thinking my labor could erase the perception that I was another whiny slacker.

Sutton Hall interior view of faculty quarters, two women reading, circa 1900. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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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…

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What Grad Students and Aspiring Professors Can Learn from the mySpace Layoffs

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on January 19, 2011
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mySpace, that homely social network site that was so popular years ago until it got flooded with bad emo bands, reality stars and garden-variety perverts, is in a full-on death spiral. The company has laid off workers, and some affected workers regret giving up so many hours to keep mySpace alive:

[The CEO of mySpace] and his executive team had just somehow driven hundreds of people to work hard for months, giving 20 hour days, even 48 hour sleepless stints… motivating the team with statements like “do you believe in this company or not?”, “either you’re in or not”, and “look at what we can do when we do it together”….

After the dust settles, the people who were in charge and responsible for the continued failure will still be in charge, with new titles and raises, clearly intent on taking as much personal value as they can from the company before it dies completely at their hands. And the hard working, loyal employees that worked their butts off, took time away from their families to *actually* try to turn the company around by building and launching the new Myspace, will be looking for jobs.

Sound familiar? You lose sleep and ignore your family because you believe in something so, so much. You haul ass only to discover that your efforts are making someone else rich. This lesson should apply to anyone in grad school or on the verge of being postacademic.

I don’t have a problem with busting my butt and pulling long hours when necessary. That said, before I do it, I better be getting something for myself in return, such as a sample for my portfolio or a raise. Going above and beyond the call of duty for any job is ridiculous unless you know you are being altruistic or you know you are getting something out of it. Every second you spend at your job should be furthering your career, not the CEO’s. If that isn’t the case, then you should start sending out your resume and let the CEO/administrator/department chair take advantage of someone else.

Post Academic’s Inner “Chinese Mother”

Posted in Absurdities,First Person by Arnold Pan on January 18, 2011
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"Amy Chua (author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) at the 2007 Texas Book Festival" by Larry D. Moore (Creative Commons license)

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…

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So Now Teachers Are Supposed to Be Mental-Health Experts?

PhotobucketI’m not very happy with a recent New York Times article wondering if Pima Community College did enough when handling the apparent mental disorder of former student Jared Loughner, the alleged Arizona shooter. The implication is that if Pima Community College somehow handled Loughner better, these people wouldn’t have died and Representative Gabrielle Giffords wouldn’t be in a hospital with a head wound. Here’s the line that set me off:

After the release of detailed reports the college kept of Mr. Loughner’s bizarre outbursts and violent Internet fantasies, the focus has turned to whether it did all it could to prevent his apparent descent into explosive violence.

“Did all it could?” Is that saying it’s Pima Community College’s fault? So now teachers are expected to be mental-health experts, on top of everything else they do?

Blaming the community college seems awfully easy, but the college told Loughner and his parents–in person–that he couldn’t come back because of his behavior unless he had a doctor’s note. (You could ask whether or not his parents got him that help, but the damage has been done.) It appears that the college was genuinely concerned about the welfare of other students, and they acted on it. This is good, right? Colleges are still working on responses to dangerous students after the nightmare at Virginia Tech, and it seems that Pima CC had a plan in place.

A teacher could have devoted every spare minute to Loughner, and it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest because a teacher is not a psychiatrist, and a psychiatrist is probably the only person who could have helped Loughner become a functioning member of society instead of an alleged mass murderer.

This article is proof that teachers need to make their job duties clear. They are not psychiatrists. They are not psychologists. They are not babysitters. They are in the classroom to share knowledge and provide instruction. Society should be thinking about improving mental-health services and whether or not they should be administered through social services, the health-care system or even schools if appropriate programs are installed. Asking teachers to do more and be more aware isn’t going to do much if the rest of society isn’t also helping to figure out how to handle those who are dangerously mentally ill.

All charges alleged until proven under law. Old Austrian Schilling note with Sigmund Freud. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Footnote: Alt-rock gets academic

Caroline passed along this tidbit that Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman David Lowery will be teaching a music business course at the University of Georgia this spring.  There doesn’t seem to be any info on Wikipedia or anywhere else about if/where Lowery went to school — unless you count graduating with honors from founding class of the University of College Rock — so he’s basically the opposite of a postacademic.  If you didn’t know any better, you might ask what Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker ever did to make Lowery an expert about the music biz, though it looks like Cracker’s Kerosene Hat album went Platinum!  But seriously, I’m betting that you learn a lot about the industry after 25 years of navigating all its BS and trying to make ends meet as an act that’s just big enough to keep on going and going.  And Cracker’s “Low” was pretty ubiquitous for a while, so Lowery probably still makes some residuals if it’s picked up for commercials or as random clip music.  Here’s a press release from Lowery and UGA.

Want a Law School Degree? Hold Up There, Buddy

Posted in Law School Versus Grad School by Caroline Roberts on January 15, 2011
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What grad student hasn’t considered a law school degree? I can think of several former peers who have shifted from PhD to JD. Lawyers had a good run for a while there, hopping on the fast track to decent jobs that helped them pay off student loans.

But something went wrong, something similar to what happened to grad schools. While grad schools gloss over the numbers of PhDs who get jobs, some law schools lie outright. One professor from Indiana University tells the NYT in an expose: ““Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm…. Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.”

A lawyer who feels dirty for reasons other than being associated with ambulance-chasers and embarrassing ads on late-night TV? That’s something. At least this professor admits there’s a problem. The author of the NYT article, David Segal, goes all the way there and calls law school a shell game: “Or perhaps this is more like a game of three-card monte, with law schools flipping the aces and a long line of eager players, most wagering borrowed cash, in a contest that few of them can win.”

The one thing law school has that grad school doesn’t is that there is still a chance of winning the game. Go to a good school, and you might get that high-paying job with a big firm. The situation isn’t so bad that it all boils down to blind luck and nepotism. But it’s still a shell game, and scarier than the one offered by grad school.

Why? Loans from law school are, to paraphrase the Wu-Tang Clan, “nothing to f&ck with.” It’s more expensive than grad school because you don’t receive TA-ships, and fellowships are rare. On a financial level, you might be smarter taking paralegal training. You won’t get the prestige, but you also won’t get the debt.

TAPPED sums it up nicely: “The bottom line — which also applies, with some differences, to grad school — is that if you can get into and have a chance of good grades at a top-tier law school, a law degree may be a sensible investment.”

If you are ever urinated upon, call this guy. Video from YouTube, originally spotted on Consumerist.

Smartphone Survival Etiquette: Don’t Let the Smartphone Dumb You Down

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on January 14, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn theory, a smartphone should turbo-charge your noggin. With a few fingertaps, you can access entire libraries of data. Yet you’re running a risk of relying too much on your phone. Since you can’t be on the phone at all times (see entry 1 and entry 2 of Post Academic’s Smartphone Survival Series), your brain needs to stay strong. Here’s how:

Unplug occasionally. You’ll strengthen your brain cells if you put your phone out of reach. Smartphones are so easy to use that this might seem bonkers. After all, they cut down on what you carry, and they reduce paper bulk. But you still want your brain to work independently of your gadget. Speaking of …

Image of an iPhone and an iPhone 3G by Dan Taylor from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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