Post Academic


Academic Stereotype Fun With Urban Dictionary

I usually wind up visiting Urban Dictionary when I hear a term I don’t understand on VH1, and the definition is usually much worse than I thought. The site also provides sassy definitions for ordinary terms, and the definitions for “professor” offer abundant proof that the academy desperately needs to work on its PR campaign. The second most popular definition on the site is the following:

A person who is an expert at his or her field of study.
Professors do not have a degree in education or teaching.
Matter of fact, I don’t know why the silly bastards are allowed to teach without a degree in education.

Want to know why Professors suck at grading? Because they were never taught how to grade…They were not taught how to teach.

If you don’t like that, you don’t want to see what the visitors to Urban Dictionary have to say about “grad students.” Many of the other definitions were along the same lines, although I was partial to “Someone who talks in someone else’s sleep,” which admits that some students will fall asleep in class even if the teacher does cartwheels and sets off fireworks.

We’ve all had lousy professors and lecturers, but the disrespect handed to teachers and grad students is on a par with the attitude toward lawyers. And at least lawyers make enough money to soothe the sting. I wish they had a comments section so I could add, “They work hard, you know. In fact, I worked so much as a grad student that I found the Hamster World to be a more relaxing alternative.”

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Can Being a Lowly Grad Student Kill You?

Posted in Surviving Grad School by postacademic on August 2, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOr at least make you sick? I probably reference the fact that grad school made me puke too much. But it did. I never went to the doctor (or the ER, for that matter) more in my life. At the time, I thought it was all my fault, or at least the fault of dubious sushi.

Then again, maybe the fact I was a grad student was to blame. Jonah Lehrer, author of the terrific Proust Was a Neuroscientist, has an article on the devastating effects of stress in this month’s Wired. We all know stress can lead to heart meltdowns and the like, but Lehrer discusses the research of Michael Marmot, who studied the impact of stress on workers within the British civil service:

After tracking thousands of civil servants for decades, Marmot was able to demonstrate that between the ages of 40 and 64, workers at the bottom of the hierarchy had a mortality rate four times higher than that of people at the top. Even after accounting for genetic risks and behaviors like smoking and binge drinking, civil servants at the bottom of the pecking order still had nearly double the mortality rate of those at the top.

… In fact, we’re so sensitive to the effects of status that getting promoted from the lowest level in the British civil service reduced the probability of heart disease by up to 13 percentage points. Climbing the social ladder makes us live longer.

Even if you have good work conditions (which was a factor in the study), what really hurts is the lack of power. And who has less power than a graduate student?

More after the jump! Plate II from Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. From Chapter VII: LOW SPIRITS, ANXIETY, GRIEF, DEJECTION, DESPAIR. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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A Middle Ground Between Tenured Faculty and Adjuncts?

The New York Times set up a debate called “Rethinking College Tenure.” You’ve probably already read it, and it’s the usual Tenure Debate stuff, in which various types who should know something about the subject make their points, some dude whines that conservatives are oppressed and someone gently hints that tenured professors are lazy, oblivious or both. (Read Arnold’s in-flight adventure to figure out how to respond to that myth.)

If you read through the NYT articles again, you’ll notice a thread in which tenured faculty members are pitted against adjuncts, or a “more flexible” job model. If adjuncts are treated fairly and receive the pay and benefits they deserve, where does that put tenured professors? What’s the real difference between the two? Should there be a difference?

Or, are debates like these a manifestation of a divide-and-conquer strategy, a setup for a Tenure Vs. Adjunct Showdown? One of the writers, Mark C. Taylor, attempts to offer a “middle ground”:

It is a mistake to pose this question in all-or-nothing terms – either you have permanent tenured faculty or itinerant adjuncts. A middle ground will address most of the problems. After a trial period of three to five years, faculty members who merit promotion should be given seven-year renewable contracts. For this system to work effectively, these reviews must be rigorous and responsible.

Since I’m not an academic, a guaranteed job for three to five years followed by seven year periods sounds nice, especially since I’ve been through layoffs. But the Hamster World is a different matter since it is more subject to market forces, and Taylor’s solution doesn’t address how to protect academic freedom so that the market isn’t determining the curriculum. How does Taylor’s idea sound to you? If it sounds like BS, is a middle ground possible?

Where Are the Career Counselors?

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on July 9, 2010
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The New York Times profiled yet another college graduate who has learned the hard way that higher education is not a guarantee of a job. Only the story of 24-year-old Scott Nicholson, formerly of Colgate University, has a surprising twist:

After several interviews, the Hanover Insurance Group in nearby Worcester offered to hire him as an associate claims adjuster, at $40,000 a year. But even before the formal offer, Mr. Nicholson had decided not to take the job.

Rather than waste early years in dead-end work, he reasoned, he would hold out for a corporate position that would draw on his college training and put him, as he sees it, on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.

Articles like these make me start yelling at my computer. Shout #1 is “There’s no such thing as a dead-end job! It’s only a dead-end job if you make it a dead end job!”

Shout #2 takes a little of the blame off Nicholson: “Where were your advisors? And your career center?” (more…)

Information Hoarding Is As Bad As Stuff Hoarding

Dean Dad over at Inside Higher Ed offered up a provocative title: “Making Yourself Dispensable.” At first, I thought it would be a guide on what not to do to get tenure. Instead, he offered a compelling argument against keeping information to yourself in order to boost your security in the workplace:

“I’ve seen administrators try to make themselves indispensable by hoarding information or by constructing elaborate networks of side deals in which they fancy themselves key nodes. It never ends well.”

When it comes to your publications, it’s one thing to take center stage and carve your own niche, but Dean Dad is right about the day-to-day workings of a department or any other workplace. Acting like a cast member of Survivor will only get you voted off the island.
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Has the Starving Artist Just Died?

The idea of artists getting involved in business has become a theme as of late. The New York Times just did a story on artists who are taking classes on how to profit from their work. In a recent Rolling Stone, David Byrne–the gold-standard example of a well-fed artist who has not compromised his vision–said:

The romantic notion that musicians can’t deal with the business aspect of things, or can’t be interested in anything outside their music–that has disappeared, thank God. When I was starting out, you were supposed to be stupid! Young musicians that I’ve worked with–St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors, the National–they are throwing away that whole lackadaisical attitude. … These musicians are more engaged in the world around them, and they are going to survive.

Artists are often admonished within their communities to avoid selling out, at all costs (pardon the pun). So are academics in the humanities, who get by on grad stipends and low-paid adjunct gigs until they reach the holy grail of tenure. But starving isn’t glamorous for very long, unless you have a trust fund. The only way to share your ideas with the masses is to keep yourself fed, which is why you need to keep an eye on your money.

If artists are taking business classes and David Byrne is praising the new generation for rocking a balance sheet, then isn’t it time for academics to get more serious about being paid properly? Forming unions and organizing is only the first step. Anyone going into academia must make sure they can survive on what they are paid, and they must fight hard for the jobs they still have. It could be said that older generations didn’t fight hard enough to justify what they do and hire when they had the money, but that time might be over.

Academics Breeding *WITH* Academics, Part 1 (with poll)

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on June 10, 2010
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"The Breeders in Dayton, Ohio" by Chrisglass (Creative Commons license)

Riffing on Caroline’s post yesterday asking whether or not academia is a closed gene pool and info loop, I was thinking about what might be the reasons for that.  I can’t tell you whether my own progeny will become an academic–provided that such a thing as academia still exists 20 years from now when she graduates from college–and the results from our poll so far suggest that the premise might be faulty anyway.  There are structural reasons why the idea seems to at least make sense, because it takes a certain cultural capital and class status (though not in all cases) to want to go into a profession where the odds are awful and the pay off not so lucrative.

Now to go off on an even more provocative tangent, I can say with at least empirical certainty that academics do breed with academics, whether or not that leads to breeding a next generation of academics.  Maybe it’s just the particular, peculiar situation of the particular, peculiar institution I attended, but I can safely calculate that a majority of my friends with partners of a committed sort met each other in grad school, without going into any creepily personal details–especially since a good number of those good folks are part of our readership!

So why should anyone wonder why grad school types meet their partners there any more than the conventional narratives of high school sweethearts or *those* people who paired up for the long run during orientation week of freshman year?  It’s probably because we’d rather not see ourselves that way and overthink these things a bit.

More overthinking about academics breeding with academics, below the fold…

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Academics Breeding Academics?

I saw a recent tweet by Danah Boyd asking the following question:

Academics seem disproportionately likely to be kids of acad’s, married to acad’s. Same w/ gov, journalism. How does this affect info flow?

I wasn’t just wondering how it affects info flow. How true is it? It’s fairly obvious that plenty of people enter the same careers as their parents as far as politics is concerned.

If it is true, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. Plenty of people enter the same careers as their parents and do a good job. Other people wind up being like George W. Bush. (I couldn’t resist.)

But, before we judge whether or not it’s a bad thing that academics breed academics, I was wondering how many of you, dear readers, are the children of academics. This is just a poll to gauge the landscape. Then the next poll might be if you think it is a pro or a con. Poll after the jump!

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Breaking Professor Stereotypes: Homi Bhabha. Seriously.

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on May 14, 2010
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Trust me on this one. Okay, Arnold and I will be the first to tell you that Bhabha is damn near incomprehensible. Yet he breaks professor stereotypes in one spectacular way—he has serious fashion skills.

Don’t believe me? Even if you haven’t seen him in person, Bhabha is regularly recognized in the Boston Globe for his style. He was even listed as one of the Most Stylish Bostonians in 2007, along with Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics. Bhabha gets this sort of attention for good reason. He’s like the Tim Gunn of critical theory.

In an interview with the Globe, he describes his style as a reflection of his own “eclectic, hybrid cultural provinces.” (Nice to see he adjusted his prose for the masses.) He also mentions that his go-to fashion piece is his “black and white Indian silk dressing gown.”

I desperately want to link to one of the Globe’s photos, but you will have to see it for yourself. The Harvard Crimson also has a photo of Bhabha in a man-scarf. If you took a photo of Bhabha working it, let us know, and we’ll add it to the site.

“Howling Mad” Murdock Was Totally a Liberal Arts Grad Student

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo McSweeney’s has had a field day with liberal arts majors lately, and a recent satire re-imagines the stock “Team Assembly” scene so popular in action flicks. Usually, action-movie “Team Assembly” involves gathering individuals with special skills that are deployed at just the right time. Blame the “Seven Samurai” for this plot.

Every action-movie team has the brains, the muscle, the sex magnet, the leader … and of course the Batsh*t Insane one. For you pop-culture buffs, that’s “Howling Mad” Murdock from the “A Team.”

Well, who better to be the crazy person on a team than a liberal arts major? Who else is more nuts than that? The “team leader” in Michael Lacher’s satire says,

Your midterm paper on the semiotics of Band of Outsiders turned a lot of heads at mission control. Your performance in Biology For Non-Science Majors was impressive, matched only by your mastery of second-year Portuguese. And a lot of the research we do here couldn’t have happened without your groundbreaking work on suburban malaise and its representation and repression in John Hughes’ films.

Yup. That’s a sign of a nutty mo-fo who has just the right spirit to lead a team into workplace battle. Remember that, hiring managers. Don’t dismiss the resume of a liberal arts major. You might just need a crazy visionary on your team some day.

The Only Thing That Can Stop This Asteroid Is Your Liberal Arts Degree [McSweeney’s]

Image of A Team van graffiti by Hannu from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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