Post Academic

“Did You Read?”

Posted in Absurdities by postacademic on January 13, 2011
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Caroline posted a link to this clip from “Portlandia”, starring SNL’s Fred Armisen (meh) and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein (YAY!) to our Facebook page last night.  The clip seems to be skewering hipsters and print fetishists, but it could totally apply to grad school during the coursework years once you substitute the periodicals Armisen and Brownstein banter about with, say, theory texts or obscure fiction.  Just set the clip in generic grad student housing and you get an idea what a UCI English and Comp Lit party, circa late 1990s, was like, in case you were ever wondering…

On a related note, Brownstein probably knows a little bit about what she’s mocking here: While there’s scuttlebutt online that Brownstein, who graduated from Evergreen State College with a sociolinguistics degree, attended grad school at Berkeley for six months before dropping out, Brownstein cleared up the matter in an interview with the SF Bay Guardian in 2005 by basically explaining that she realized the she could never be an academic after being around academia: “I’d always thought academia was pulling me in a different direction from the band. I was living in the East Bay, in Berkeley, and it was actually being in that milieu that made me realize I didn’t want it, that it was too esoteric and insular.”  So basically, you could call Brownstein a pre-postacademic!

Recycling books (and posts)

Posted in Ask an Academic,First Person by Arnold Pan on November 16, 2010
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So I spent part of last weekend going through my grad school books again, probably my third go-round trying to cull my library.  Anyhow, I’m kinda shocked that some of the books that are/were still on the shelves made the cut the last time I decided to try and declutter my post academic life.  Part of the deal is inertia — the books aren’t hurting anyone on the shelves.  And  I’ve done a good job of getting rid of really useless books or placing the strays in new homes (thanks, Bruce!), so there’s nothing just lying around wasting space.  But a bigger part of things is mental: Even if I’m more or less post academic for good (for now?), I still think I’ll finally read For Marx some day or need some obscure Jameson collection on hand to cite in the near future.

"Kolkata Book Fair 2010" by Biswarup Ganguly (Creative Commons license)

No matter how many times I go through my library, the process still seems difficult, but at least I’m making headway against the clutter.  Hey, I think it counts as progress that I’ve probably shaved off at least a hundred or more titles since the first time I wrote about my academic hoarding problem, which is below…

Being an academic can turn you into an amateur hoarder before you know it, since you assume everything you have will become useful at some time and in the right situation–neither of which ever comes.  What makes it worse is that you’re also likely to be itinerant as an academic, which means you end up packing a bunch of useless stuff rather than just getting rid of things.  Any academic will build a big library of books, which, in many ways, comes to identify her/him, according to both the kinds of texts s/he owns and how many s/he owns.  Here’s how I would categorize the kinds of books that are hoarded in my collection:

1. Books I think I will use that I never have: I bought tons of critical theory books back in the late 1990s academic publishing boom–think lots of Routledge, Verso, Duke UP–many of which I don’t think I ever ended up reading.  But they look really great on my book shelf and represent the kind of academic I imagined being, at least at one early formative period.  I hung onto most of the books, in part because I thought I would eventually get to them (still haven’t) and in part because I wasn’t sure what else I could do with them (still don’t).

More books below the fold…


Hoaders, Academic Edition: Evernote, How I Love Thee

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 10, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionArnold has been talking about digital clutter, and I am going to make a shameless product plug. I don’t work for Evernote, but they have helped me tame both digital and paper clutter.

This program allows you to enter notes either through your desktop, through a Web interface, or through your phone, and it syncs the content from all sources. You can submit different types of content, including text, photos, and even voice messages recorded on an iPhone. My favorite part is the Web clipper, which allows you to select text on a Web page and send it straight to your Evernote account.

Evernote also lets you add multiple tags to your notes, which makes it easier to find content. You could type up notes from all those copies of Quicksand (hi, Arnold!), put them into different Evernote files, and then tag them “Quicksand.”

The best part of Evernote, bar none, is the ability to sync notes from anywhere. If you have an idea, and you aren’t around a computer, speak it into your phone or type it out, and then it can re-sync with your Evernote account later.

Now I feel like a person in a Ronco ad, but here it comes … but wait, there’s more! Evernote is free. You have to pay based on storage, so if you store a considerable amount of files, you might need to plunk down a little per month. That said, I use it all the time, and I still haven’t paid, although I imagine it is only a matter of time. I’d still set aside a little in my budget for it.

There, end of product endorsement. But, if you are a grad student or an academic swamped by digital files, Evernote is one of the best ways to sort out the mess.

Image of post-it notes by EraserGirl, public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Hoarders, Academic Edition: The Quicksand Conundrum

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 8, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionArnold is drowning in Quicksand, but not the kind of Quicksand you think. He owns way too many copies of Nella Larsen’s book, many of them with notes inside. Most academics are in this situation as they accumulate new editions of the books that are the cornerstones of their work.

One of the reasons Arnold lists for keeping so many editions is the following: “One day, I might need to look at the marginal notes or underlinings, in order for me to reconstruct the (very facile and naive) argument that I came up with at the time.”

The best way to tackle this problem is to compile all the notes into a single edition. To save time re-writing the notes in the margins of a clean copy, download the notes program Evernote, which allows you to use tags and search through notes.

Then re-evaluate those notes. If the arguments were indeed “facile and naïve,” dump ‘em, and type out the notes that have more scholarly value. Record the book and date of the edition, and put the page number where you left the note, along with the quotation you were responding to. This exercise will prove useful as you gather the notes and reflect on how you used the books. Either that, or you’ll wonder what drugs you were taking when you were reading the books in the first place.

Don’t have time to collate your notes? Then just toss the book in the trash or give it away because Powell’s won’t take a marked-up copy, and if you don’t have time to go through the notes now, you won’t have time later.

In the end, you should end up with two books at most—the edition that featured your best notes and a clean edition so you don’t lose your mind the next time you read the book.

Quicksand warning sign at Little Paxton Pits near St Neots, Cambridgeshire, England. Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 24 September 2005. Posted on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

A special kind of hoarded book: The (unused) textbook

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on April 6, 2010
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Writing about book hoarding reminded me of this link from the Washington Post‘s newish “College Inc.” blog (it’s RSS’d in the right column) about textbooks.  Here’s the payoff quote from the short piece, about how in/frequently college students use their very expensive textbooks:

…one-third of students reported using their textbook “a lot,” 28 percent “a good amount,” 25 percent “a little” and 14 percent not at all. (A few said the question wasn’t applicable to their course, presumably for lack of a textbook.)

As a college instructor, I’m actually surprised that *only* 14 percent of textbooks are not used at all and 25 percent just a little.  Heck, I’m an academic, and that’s probably in line with how often I cracked open some of my assigned reading.  The last line from the piece sums up nicely what becomes of textbooks as you load ’em up into one moving box after the next, from one move to the next: “But hey: even a shelf full of unread textbooks can impress.”

Indeed, the textbook really is its own category of hoarded book, at once almost completely useless after the class it was assigned for is over, but also completely useful as a “MacGyvered” object.  Happily, textbooks generally have a lot of resale value and it’s not hard to sell them back to the campus bookstore, so they aren’t so easy to hoard.  But those that you can’t sell back or, for whatever reason, end up collecting dust on your shelves don’t have to completely go to waste.   I’ve found that old, beaten-up Latin textbooks from middle school (yes, I have those) or the Riverside Complete Chaucer can come in handy as heavy-duty door stops or as little stepstools or can be used to flatten out rolled up posters and papers.  Maybe they can even come to symbolize a post-academic life, as repurposed objects that have somehow become useful long after their initial reason-for-being had passed them by.

Hoarders, Academic Edition–Part 1: The Books

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on April 6, 2010
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I was watching “Hoarding: Buried Alive” the other night (Why?  Don’t ask.) and, probably like most viewers, I started to feel smugly superior about having my sh*t together, at least when it comes taking care of the stuff I own.  That is, until I remembered what a mess my home office is, packed to the gills with various stacks of papers (some of which are years old), unalphabetized CDs, uncategorized books, not to mention a crazy amount of cat supplies.  And that’s not to mention all the stuff that has been transferred to the family garage, which includes a lot more books, even more files, and random knick-knacks that I’ve probably packed up with me from college to now.

The thing is, being an academic can turn you into an amateur hoarder before you know it, since you assume everything you have will become useful at some time and in the right situation–neither of which ever comes.  What makes it worse is that you’re also likely to be itinerant as an academic, which means you end up packing a bunch of useless stuff rather than just getting rid of things.

We’ll be covering some of the detritus that academics accrue over the years, which piles up a lot quicker and in greater volume than you would believe.  We’ll also talk about ways of how to de-clutter your hoard, although I’m not sure I’m one to talk!

We’ll start with books, after the jump…