Post Academic

Reading Gunn’s Golden Rules So You Don’t Have To: Why Tim Gunn and Bob Sutton Should Hang Out

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on December 11, 2010
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Like Bob Sutton, Tim Gunn is waging a verbal battle against assholes in the workplace. It would appear that, after stints in the fashion world and academia, Gunn has encountered more than his fair share of assholes. (You can go ahead and giggle at that joke, but it’s not like that. In fact, Gunn claims he’s celibate!)

After spending so much time with Betty Backstabbers and Debbie Downers, Gunn knows how to cope, and his advice is similar to that of Bob Sutton and David Yamada: Minimize all interaction with assholes, and get out as soon as you can. He writes,

The abuser could be your boss, and in a case like that you just need to try to keep your integrity, even as you’re being mistreated, and try to get out of the situation as soon as you possibly can.

In fact, Gunn applies the policy to his personal life as best he can, cutting out jerks whenever possible. In a story about a producer who treated Gunn and others like dirt on a TV set:

We got through it somehow. But I thought: I am never working for this man again. And I never have. One day my wonderful assistant told me, “I have your old boss on the line. He’s at Ralph Lauren and wants to buy you a suit?”

“Hang up on him,” I said.

Although Gunn often advises people to (and this will seem familiar) “take the high road,” this story shows that there are limits. The key to dealing with an asshole is to make sure they don’t break you. You can protect yourself in many ways, but it’s all up to you to improve your academic (or hamster!) workplace situation.

Reading Gunn’s Golden Rules So You Don’t Have To: The Snowflake Antidote

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on December 10, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionTim Gunn is best known for his mentoring skills in the Project Runway workroom. He has helped designers do their best work without doing all their work for them. He offers guidance, but success is in the hands of the designer. It seems that he cultivated a similar hands-off attitude at Parsons because some of his students suffered from other authority figures being too hands-on:

In my later years of teaching, I started to see a disturbing trend: students who couldn’t function without their parents’ help. They were so overpraised and overprotected that they were incapable of handling any problem, whether it was dealing with a teacher they didn’t like, sharing space with a roommate, or struggling with a class for which they didn’t have an affinity.

Gunn offers advice for teachers coping with snowflake students who can’t manage themselves: flunk ’em. His logic is that if they’re not trying, they obviously want to quit. So, do them a favor:

[On a fellow teacher who felt guilty about flunking a talented student who stopped showing up to class] As I expected, we never heard from the student. Ever. So the F stood. And we all learned something: the teacher wanted the student to succeed more than the student did.

People send each other messages all the time through their behavior, and the message here was, Fail me. I don’t want to be in school anymore. Instead of admitting that she wanted to get out of fashion, she forced the faculty to make her decision for her. From a faculty member’s point of view, I have this refrain: Why should I want you to succeed more than you do?

When I don’t believe that “kids these days” are all lazy, entitled snowflakes out to torture their TAs, I think that students and college teachers can benefit from Gunn’s advice: Take a step back, and let the student choose if she wants to succeed or fail.

And, in the final installment of the Tim Gunn philosophy, why you should listen to him–because he and Bob Sutton have the same basic message.

Image of Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum by Michael Williams from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Reading Gunn’s Golden Rules So You Don’t Have To: Academics, Tim’s Watching You!

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on December 8, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionGunn’s Golden Rules gained notoriety because Gunn dared to call out some of the biggest names in the fashion world. Yet he didn’t chide Anna Winotour, Andre Leon Talley or Isaac Mizrahi for a lack of talent. He chided them for reprehensible diva behavior. For example, Winotour had bodyguards carry her down multiple flights of stairs because she didn’t want to ride in an elevator with proles.

One fact was missed in the press avalanche: Tim Gunn called a few academics divas, too. He encountered one poorly behaved individual at Parsons who had a toddler’s sensitivity when it came to cuisine:

In academia, too, you see this kind of outrageous behavior. I knew a dean who had soup delivered to his office. I once saw him bring a spoonful up to his mouth, scream, “This soup isn’t hot enough!” and hurl the container across his office onto a wall, which I noticed already had stains on it.

Gunn also dings his fellow academics for a flaw that he couldn’t possibly apply to the relatively cutting-edge Winotour, Talley and Mizrahi–an aversion to change.

Image of Tim Gunn showing that nice academics can finish first at the 81st academy awards by Chrisa Hickey from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Reading Gunn’s Golden Rules So You Don’t Have To: On Why You Should Listen to Tim Gunn

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on December 6, 2010
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PhotobucketProject Runway mentor Tim Gunn is one of the few people on reality television who has some brains to back up the bluster. The man is clearly a fashion expert, but did you know that his wisdom extends to post academics?

Before becoming a reality-show mentor, Gunn was a chair at Parsons The New School for Design, so he knows plenty about moving from academia to another gig. While he isn’t a hamster proper, his new book, Gunn’s Golden Rules, could also be called Advisor-in-a-Box. Like many advisors, he’s rambling, and not everyone is into the fashion thing, but he has many brilliant career tips and even advice for current academics.

The tips will be spread out over the next few days, kind of like a reality-tv season, but the core of his advice is the same as what’s on the show: “Make it work!”

That seems kind of cheesy, especially if you are faced with something as difficult as changing careers or figuring out how to get a tenure-track position in a bad job market. But the mantra to “make it work” is all about working with constraints and obstacles. In fact, what Tim Gunn says is similar to what I’ve advocated in the post “The Benefits of Boundaries.”

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.

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.

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.

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.