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!

The Post Academic Survival Guide to Grad School: Your summer SAT prep and study center job

Since Caroline has been covering been covering the topic of part-time work the last few days and also because you probably can’t freeload your way through summer, it’s probably timely to discuss SAT and other tutoring jobs that might be available for the taking.  Mind you, Caroline and I were lucky when we did our summer part-time study center gigs, because there are tons of opportunities for this sort of thing in Southern California, partly due to Asian ethnic communities that have transplanted the study center ethos from their home countries here.  (If you think Kaplan and Princeton Review are anti-intellectual factories, they ain’t got nothing on the study centers in Taiwan, where your college future hinges on a single standardized test!)

Here are some tips about finding study center work and how to make the most of it (i.e., how to cut corners so that you’ll be able to use the summer to study for your qualifying exams or work on your dissertation).

1. How to find a job: Word of mouth usually works well in these cases, so ask your friends (as Caroline has suggested) and check your department listservs for summer job possibilities.  Also, look for study centers that aren’t just the big chains you’ve heard of, although indie operations might be harder to find in non-urban areas.  This where getting your M.A. or Ph.D. makes you an appealing candidate, since it’s more than likely you’re at a good or the only research institution in your area.  Study centers like to boast that they have teachers from Ivy-like schools, top-notch public universities, or colleges their students would like to attend, because they assume you can magically make that happen for them too.  Also, don’t think that positions are limited to SAT or achievement tests or AP classes: some “learning centers” offer courses all the way down to middle-school standardized tests, which I tended to choose because I didn’t need the stress of making sure high-schoolers got the SAT score they wanted.

2. What to expect: Academic purity trolls need not apply here, since this is a crass money-making enterprise mostly for the study centers and for you too.  Whatever class you take, be forewarned that, in almost all cases, you are just a glorified test-cramming baby sitter, especially if you are actually teaching young kids who are really going to the equivalent of day care.  But sometimes, it’s not so bad–like your college students, you’ll find some kids who are really smart, motivated, and that you’re happy to invest your time/energy in.  And because it’s hard to care that much about a summer job, the smart alecks are a lot funnier at this stage than they will be a few years later messing up the dynamic of your comp section.

As for pay, I got $20-$25/hr for my starting rate, though it goes up the longer you teach and also with the level of class you’re assigned.  The hard-core SAT classes for the tip-top students will offer a higher rate.  I’ve heard private tutors in big metropolitan areas can get up to triple-digits an hour and some folks who basically work full-time can get paid more than a TA salary, but that might more of a commitment than most grad students are looking for.

More after the jump… (more…)

How to Make the Most of Working Part-Time in Grad School

Image SourceIf you’re planning on going to grad school, unless you’ve been blessed with some incredible funding, you should plan on taking a part-time job. In most cases, having a part-time job is pure goodness: You avoid going into debt, and you’re building up extra skills in case you have trouble getting an academic job. We gave you some tips on good part-time job options, but what happens once you get the job? As long as you follow these three tips, you can get the most out of your side gig:

Ask people in your program what they’re doing first. You’ll save time and get a crash course in networking if you use your fellow grad students as a resource. They’ll know who is hiring and might be able to refer you.

Choose a job that complements your grad school work, if possible. It all depends on what you’re studying, but the ideal job suits your current skills while letting you build new ones. For example, teaching an SAT course can help new teachers polish their classroom skills. Or, building Web sites on the side can help you prepare interactive classroom materials.

Avoid taking on too many hours. If your boss likes you so much that she offers you more hours, you are already doing something right. But don’t immediately say yes. Check your budget first because you want to avoid debt, but you also don’t want to cut into the time you need to finish your graduate degree on time. Your degree should always come first.

Image from the German Federal Archive under a Creative Commons License, Wikimedia Commons.

Part-Time Job Ideas for Grad Students

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionHaving a part-time job as a grad student can help you in several ways. First, you make a little side cash so you don’t have to live off Ramen noodles. Second, you can learn skills outside of academia that you can apply later on. Here are a few ideas that I’ve actually done:

1. Catering
Pros: Fairly easy work if you don’t mind heavy lifting, and the hours are flexible. Good tips most of the time. Leftovers.
Cons: The occasional bad tipper. Drunk guys patting your butt. Smelling like BBQ for weeks after an assignment.

2. Teaching SAT/PSAT/Etc.
Pros: Good pay. Low amount of prep since the teaching is cut-and-dried.
Cons: Not much room for creativity. Overambitious students whose mantra is “Harvard or Die!”

3. Freelance Editing and Copywriting
Pros: Many people automatically think your grammar is awesome if you tell them you grade papers. You gain experience with client management.
Cons: Some of your buyers are deadbeats. (To handle these people, visit our article “Kneecapping 101.”)

4. Programming and Computer Repair
Pros: Once you know how to fix someone’s computer problem (hint: it usually involves a reboot), you can charge more than you would for editing. Departments will want to hire you because you can fix their busted home page.
Cons: Not all clients understand the amount of work required. You might not have time to keep up with the latest technology.

5. Donating Plasma
Pros: Minimal effort required. The Red Cross will let you watch movies while you do it.
Cons: You don’t learn any new skills. Feeling like a desperate undergrad who needs beer money.

Any other ideas you’d like to contribute?

Image of woman in Esso office in Baton Rouge in 1950 public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Interview With Adam Ruben, Author of Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School: Part 1

Adam Ruben earned a PhD in molecular biology from Johns Hopkins University while enjoying a side career as a stand-up comic. The outcome of his career is not just his dissertation, but also the book “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School.” Adam took the time to answer our many questions. Read on for advice on the proper care and feeding of advisors, including how to handle professors when they are in a party mood:

1. You mention the dysfunctional relationship between advisor and grad student, especially when it is time to get dissertation approval. What is your advice on interacting with advisors or dealing with a bad advisor?

Some advisors will keep you from graduating because they relish the cheap labor, but for others, you’re simply not as high on their priority list as you think you are. Remember that advisors have a lot to worry about in addition to your potential dissertation approval, so the best thing you can do is to keep turning in work. It’s hard to argue with results when they’re written up and proactively dropped on your advisor’s desk.

2. Along those lines, when you’re looking for an advisor or trying to get a reference, how do you successfully suck up to a professor while retaining your dignity?

Remember that you cannot bribe your advisor, because your advisor is rich, and you’re poor. That crisp five-dollar bill doesn’t mean as much to your advisor as you think it will.

In general, sucking up to anyone means feigning awe at their very specific interests. With professors, you have the advantage of knowing exactly what those interests are. (“What a coincidence! I love the lymphatic system of the Florida Salt Marsh Vole, too!”)

“Retaining your dignity” implies that you began with dignity.

More after the jump! And don’t forget part 2 tomorrow, in which we discover what a nice comedian is doing in a place like grad school. Image of Ruben’s book cover courtesy of Broadway Books/Crown Publishing.

Collected wisdom: 12 ways to save the lives of grad students (with poll)

"Wisdom Emblem" by George Wither (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Recently, much digital ink has been spilled over the fate of the university and, particularly, the humanities.  Connected to those larger structural concerns are the fates of graduate students, be they recent Ph.D.s or soon-to-be Ph.D.s or prospective students, during a time when budgets are bad, morale is low, and job prospects are even worse.  After all the posts we’ve devoted to these topics here, I thought it would be good to offer a list of things that have been floated to help grad students.  What follows is a summary of the accumulated wisdom gathered from a number of sources (OK, they’re all from columns from the Chronicle of Higher Ed) we’ve been following that put some concrete–if not easily achievable–suggestions on the table for universities, grad programs, faculty, and students alike.

William Pannapacker, aka Thomas H Benton, aka the advice columnist at the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

1. Don’t go to grad school in the first place!

“It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource. For universities, the impact of graduate programs on the lives of those students is an acceptable externality, like dumping toxins into a river. If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault. It will make you feel ashamed, and you will probably just disappear, convinced it’s right rather than that the game was rigged from the beginning.” (from “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go”, 1/30/2009)

2. If you do go, know that grad school is a trap that’s based on a lie of the love for learning

“Graduate school in the humanities is a trap. It is designed that way. It is structurally based on limiting the options of students and socializing them into believing that it is shameful to abandon “the life of the mind.” That’s why most graduate programs resist reducing the numbers of admitted students or providing them with skills and networks that could enable them to do anything but join the ever-growing ranks of impoverished, demoralized, and damaged graduate students and adjuncts for whom most of academe denies any responsibility.” (from “The Big Lie of the ‘Life of the Mind'”, 2/8/2010)

3. If you’re still thinking about going, get all the info you can about admissions, student aid, teaching, time to degree, attrition, job placement (from “Making a Reasonable Choice”, April 18, 2010)

More wisdom, after the jump…


The New York Times feels y/our pain

On Sunday, The New York Times published a piece titled “The Long-Haul Degree” which basically addressed the structural problems with the humanities that we know so well and that have been discussed ad infinitum by professional publications like the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed, along with ad hoc operations like our blog.  While there’s really no new news in the Times write-up, it is kind of a big deal that such issues are being examined in a mainstream publication.  The article revolves around one data point that is shocking enough to career academics, not to mention the uninitiated who might be reading the piece: normative time for a Ph.D. in the humanities is 9.3 years.

If you want to cut to the chase and skim the data, check out the “multimedia” pop-up graphic linked on the left-side of the page:

* Over 1/3 of Ph.D.s in the humanities from 2008 have “No definite part- or full-time employment,” along with about another 10% with “Employment outside of academia”

* Normative time: 9.3 years in the humanities

* Median age of Ph.D.: 35 years old

* Average loan debt: $23, 315

The exegesis of the NYTimes article after the jump…


Grad Student Stereotypes and How They Affect Fair Pay

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionGrad students at the University of Chicago are trying to organize because they are making wages under the poverty line and are not making as much as their peers in similar positions.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Teachers have unions, so why not grad students?

Oh, the backlash that met this idea was gnarly, and it was in the article itself. Deputy Provost Cathy Cohen said of the low wages, “We’re talking about students who will soon no longer be in this situation. We should be very careful with the imagery we’re using …. That’s not to say that they are not technically making wages below the poverty line, but just to say that a lot of people would jump for the opportunities they have.”

True, people who are smart enough to make it through grad school are smart enough and likely have the social support and networks to find another job. They do not have it as bad as those who have been in poverty all their lives.

But what does she mean by “students who will soon no longer be in this situation?” Has she seen the academic job market? Many of these students are going to be in this situation for a long time. And she can’t deny that the University of Chicago is benefiting from cheap grad-student labor.

The underlying assumption here is relates to the assumptions about professors and grad student “coffee jockeys”—that they are whiners who feel entitled, and it seems as if the provost is capitalizing on that.

More after the jump! First prize of the “Deutsche Barista Chanpionship 2009.” Image by Augenohrenmund, from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.


News maybe you can use: Student loan reform

Posted in Surviving Grad School,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on March 30, 2010
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Caroline’s post yesterday about student loans was a particularly timely one, in light of today’s ceremonial signing of student loan reform into law by the Prez at Northern Virginia Community College.  Largely overshadowed by the monumental health care reform bill/law that it is attached to, student loan reform is one of the those things pretty much everyone agrees with.  Even more obscured is how the new law, which, as the AP explains it, “strips banks of their role as middlemen in federal student loans and puts the government in charge,” might impact graduate students, since the focus, rightfully enough, will be on how to get students into undergraduate programs and community colleges.  Searching briefly online, I found one impact that the law will have on graduate student loans, via tax credits.  Per the Washington Post: “In addition to increasing Pell grants, the administration has expanded tax credits for higher education, and is increasing funding for programs to help colleges retain and graduate students.”

If anyone knows how and when student loan reform will affect graduate students, please feel free to drop us a line or post a message in the comments section.  Thanks!

The sad, impending demise of my .edu account

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on March 30, 2010
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Earlier this month, I received a message that my email account “is set to expire” on April 1.  Practically speaking, it’s no big deal, since I switched my primary account to a different account a few years ago in anticipation of just this event.  And actually, I should’ve been cut off much sooner, even with the postgraduation grace period, but lecturing the past few years at UCI gave the .edu account a lifeline.

Symbolically, it probably means something more–I wouldn’t be shocked if I received a few more rejection letters as my April Fools surprise!  I’ve had some sort of .edu account for almost my whole virtual life (I used telnet for who knows how long!), and this particular one would be getting ready to go to high school soon.  But having the .edu address is something of a badge of honor for the academic lifer, since it represents a sense of belonging you can’t get with a .com or a .org.

A sampling what I’ll be missing out on starting Thursday is below the jump…


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