Post Academic


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.

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The Decline of Film Criticism: A Glimpse of the Future for Academia?

Posted in Housekeeping,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on June 14, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionFilm critics have been laid off in droves as newspapers change their structure. Understandably, the critics who have been laid off aren’t happy about it, and the debate regarding the role of the film critic sounds similar to the debate regarding the role of the academic, especially in the humanities.

In the latest Vanity Fair, James Wolcott describes the responses of critics scorned, and one in particular surprised me. On a panel, Richard Schickel from Time magazine said, “I don’t honestly know the function of reviewing anything.”

I don’t know Mr. Schickel’s work. He may be a brilliant writer, but those who want to keep their jobs ought to be able to justify what they do. If he can’t think of a function for reviewing anything, then why is he a reviewer?

Perhaps if film critics could better justify what they do, more of them would still have work. I can think of many ways film critics do the public a service. For starters, they save us money by telling us if a movie is worth watching or worth renting. They are also cultural historians. Pauline Kael’s “For Keeps” is, in my opinion, a work of history as much as a work of film criticism. Why didn’t Schickel try to make a better worded, more sophisticated version of this argument?

Wolcott hat-tips Roger Ebert because he was able to adapt, and now he has created a niche for Twitter film criticism. It’s proof that you can’t make your job last solely by complaining and navel-gazing. You must be able to justify what you do and be willing to adapt. After all, Ebert hasn’t changed what he’s done for a living. He certainly hasn’t sold out. He’s just finding new ways to reach new audiences.

A manual film projector with a mini-film and box. Photo by Mattia Luigi Nappi from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

How Does Getting Laid Off Really Feel?

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on May 28, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA confession: I’ve always wondered why academics and future academics panic about job security since no other profession except maybe medicine has job security. A layoff is a worst-case scenario, but if you know what to expect, you’ll be less afraid of it if it happens to you in the Hamster World. Here are some tips:

Don’t assume you are a loser. Most people are laid off through no fault of their own. I’ve been laid off, and the decisions happened from way up the corporate food chain. Since the economy is so bad, hardly any hiring managers will assume you’re a failure because of a layoff. They’ll simply assume the company you were working for had a cash-flow hiccup.

Keep your resume up to date. Whenever you’ve had a big accomplishment at work, add it to the resume. You don’t want to forget it when you are out hunting for a job again. Once I found out I was laid off, I changed the end date of my job from “present” to “1/2010.” Since I didn’t have to write a resume from scratch, I was able to send resumes immediately.

Live within your means when times are good. Yeah, yeah, easier said than done, but especially true after the latest economic bust. But unemployment takes a while to kick in,* it doesn’t last long, and it makes up only a percentage of your past income, depending on the state where you live. Saving up for an emergency fund can give you some wiggle room, and living on a budget means you won’t have much of a culture shock if you need to stretch an unemployment check.

Don’t take any old job, unless you really need the cash. If at all possible, try to find a job that suits your skill set or teaches you something new. Otherwise, you might be stuck working for crazies who are taking advantage of desperate job-seekers, or you’ll look like a job-hopper if you move to something new too quickly. With an emergency fund, you can be choosier. Without one, you might need to get anything you can.

It is not the end of the world. When an academic doesn’t get tenure, it is assumed to be the end of the world because the academic thinks he or she doesn’t have any other marketable job skills. (That’s not true, by the way.) When we Hamster Worlders get laid off, we just keep chugging until we get a new job.

*Unless you’re an adjunct, which means you don’t get unemployment if you’re not renewed, which is flat-out ridiculous.

A Young Student at His Desk: Melancholy (1630-1633) by Pieter Codde Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

Treating Teachers Well, Part 2: The Slacker Professor Straw Man Problem

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo why aren’t teachers treated well? The ghosts of the Slacker Professor and the Slacker Teacher have a little something to do with it. These straw men have been used as an excuse to make cuts in public education and slice and dice good teachers for far too long. Even if charter schools succeed and education (higher ed or otherwise) is privatized, the employees are still going to be there, and they still deserve to be treated well. Yet it seems that teachers are treated like crap and excessively punished for the few slackers in their ranks.

As I’ve written about before, treating teachers badly, slashing their budgets, and busting their unions is a continuation of the weird impulse to destroy a whole system to root out a few slackers. So you don’t like the fact that there’s a bad teacher who has been relegated to the “rubber room” and is still getting paid. C’mon. Haven’t you worked with someone who did a bad job but who was relegated to the hamster-world equivalent of a “rubber room” because the company was afraid of getting sued?

The simple fact of the matter is that, once you hire someone, whether you are union or not, it is difficult to fire them, and you better have a bloody good reason to fire them. It’s the law, and unions won’t make that go away. Yet politicians and parents seem to lash out at teachers when they don’t realize the exact same thing is happening in their own workplaces.

More after the jump! Image from the Bundesarchiv on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license. (more…)

Treating Teachers Well, Part 1: Why You Should Respect Teachers

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA recent post by Teresa Ghilarducci over at Brainstorm deserves your attention because it shows how teachers are treated differently from other employees:

Let’s say you’re advising a business with varying quality and you want to improve performance. Would you ridicule the workers publicly; cut their pay and benefits; say they are the sole cause of the problem, and that you want brighter younger replacements who will work overtime and weekends? No new CEO would adopt this as a strategy for success. Attacking your workforce is not an effective way to improve quality, produce a better product, and attract top talent — a bright young replacement would notice the disrespect.

So why do people think attacking teachers is a route to education reform?

Ghilarducci goes into discussing charter schools and unions, but I’ll chime in with my own Hamster World view. Whether employees are unionized or not, you still have to treat them with respect. Busting the union does not let you off the hook.

In the Hamster World, I’ve been treated rather well. I’ve been thanked when I did a good job. In some cases, I even received a bonus, or at least some nice free meals. Nothing fancy, nothing Goldman Sachs worthy, but something that made clear I was appreciated as an employee and my work contributed to the company’s success.

Most employees just want a little respect on top of their paycheck. Most teachers do not get respect, or even decent, regular performance evaluations that let them know they’re doing a good job. Ghilarducci makes it clear–if you don’t treat employees well and fairly, they will leave.
More after the jump! Image of a teacher at work from 1917, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.
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Establishing an Emergency Fund for Grad School or Changing Careers

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on May 10, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionDeveloping a back-up plan has been a recurring theme on Post Academic. Thanks to the shrinking job market, both grad students and even full-fledged professors must continue to build new skills over time. That way, “post academics” can make a graceful transition into a new profession.

Part of making that graceful transition, however, is having enough money during that scary “in-between jobs” phase. An emergency savings fund can help you breathe easy and make the right job decisions. A career change is scary enough without worrying about how you’re going to put food on the table. But how do you build an emergency fund when you are an underfunded academic?

Figure out how long your emergency fund should cover. Financial experts can’t seem to agree on how many months of unemployment you should cover. Some say three, some say six. In this economy, set a base goal of three, especially if you are on grad student wages, but try to aim for six before you either graduate or leave your program.

Determine how much you spend a month. Tracking spending and budgeting can be overwhelming, especially if you read the tips on decluttering and unhoarding. Yet knowing your monthly needs is also empowering because, if you don’t get that postdoc, you can look at your bank account and know exactly how long your money is going to last. Then multiply how much you spend a month by the number of months your emergency fund should cover, and you have your target amount.

More after the jump! Image by ADwarf, public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

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Broke Ass Schools: New York State of Mind

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by Caroline Roberts on April 9, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIf you thought the grad school humanities job market was bad, the entire academic job market just got bleaker. The State of New York has shut down an entire campus, Stony Brook Southampton.

The Stony Brook Southampton page has a few notes in tiny print: “Admissions events cancelled” and “Residential program and new undergraduate admissions at Stony Brook Southampton will be suspended.”

According to the NYT, the cuts will save $6 million dollars. Later in the article, however, the author points out that Stony Brook as a whole faces a staggering “$34 million budget gap in the coming year.”

How did this happen? Think Magazine noted that, “President Stanley alone makes $650,000 a year, and the combined salaries of those on stage totaled over $1.4 million based on 2008 figures.” High salaries alone didn’t cause this problem, but it makes you wonder if the administrators have been working hard enough to prevent this situation. They sure didn’t work hard enough to keep students informed, as many of those quoted in the Think Magazine article argued that they were blindsided by the announcement.

Maybe our commenter who said academia was most like “Battlestar Galactica” was right. In the “Battlestar Galactica” view of academia, “there’s never enough of anything,” and now there’s a whole lot less.

Stony Brook Southampton site
Facing Cuts, Stony Brook Will Close Programs [New York Times]
Administration Announces Decision to Close Most of SB Southampton [Think Magazine]

Broke-Ass Schools: The University of Maine

Lest you think this site is California-centric, never fear. The Broke-Ass School virus has spread to the East Coast, specifically to the University of Maine. A working group has recommended eliminating 16 majors, including public administration, theater, foreign languages, women’s studies and music.

The cut to foreign languages is drastic: “… the memo recommended the elimination of the majors offered by the MLC [Modern Languages and Classics] department, including German, French, Latin and Spanish.”

Not to focus on one scholarly area in particular, but what is with the urge to cut foreign languages? If the argument is that the foreign languages cannot be “monetized,” that’s ridiculous. Any business major with a lick of sense should at least minor in a foreign language to help open up potential markets abroad. This working group is showing a little pity by suggesting that the university should continue to offer a minor.

The real wake-up call that should apply to Post Academic readers is that the proposed plan will “eliminate 80 faculty positions across the five colleges by 2014.” As if humanities grad students didn’t have enough to worry about.

Plan would eliminate 16 majors, 80 faculty [The Maine Campus via HuffPo]

Languages students react to proposed cuts in majors [The Maine Campus]

Broke-Ass Schools Round-Up: Minnesota, UC Davis, Alabama in General

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by postacademic on March 17, 2010
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Today brought a flood of nasty financial news for schools. Here’s a quick look at who’s in trouble now:

–The University of Minnesota is setting a round of pay cuts for everyone. Yes, everyone, even the higher-ups: “Top administrators, who would have had to take six furlough days, would now receive a 2.3 percent pay decrease.” Although that isn’t much of a decrease when you think about it, at least some of the cuts are coming from the top, and you don’t hear about administrators taking on cuts every day. [Minnesota Daily via HuffPo]

–UC Davis is working to eliminate employee “redundancy” by decentralizing jobs so that one staff member services multiple departments. And here’s the twist: the school’s financial aid office has been cut by 17 percent. [Inside Higher Ed]

–Perhaps the ugliest of all: More parents are encouraged to start investing in prepaid tuition plans or 529 plans. Now some of these parents might get burned. Thanks to the stock market’s tanking, Alabama’s fund is down 45 percent … meaning that when parents who have paid into the fund and followed the rules are ready to send their kids to college, Alabama might not be able to cover it. [Birmingham News via Inside Higher Ed]

As always, although this information seems isolated to undergrads, this affects the overall funding prospects for grad students and the future job prospects of academics.

Non-Protesters Getting Involved in Day of Action

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on March 4, 2010
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One reason I often hear for protests being ignored is that they usually involve the usual suspects: hippie longhairs, Socialist marching bands, and naked people. However, the Day of Action (Day of Action organization info from Arnold, below) appears to be drawing interest because so many people have been affected by the UC budget cuts. The NYT profiles two guys who fall out of the protest demographic:

Both are members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and say they are usually uninterested in protests. But with friends having trouble getting into classes they need to graduate, the budget cuts are something worth fighting, they said.

This week, in one of Mr. Johnston’s classes, an African-American studies professor told students he could not pass out the usual handouts because he had run out of money for photocopies [emphasis mine]. Instead, students printed out the readings themselves.

Not able to graduate because the class you need got canceled? Can’t get an appointment with an advisor to avoid that kind of situation because there aren’t enough advisors to go around? Profs/TAs/adjuncts don’t have enough money for the copy machine? (Somebody’s got the secret code for the copy machine–share it!) Something’s clearly busted. Remind me why the administrators for these schools are so well paid again?

Arnold will be at the protests today, and we’ll be adding notes as we go.

Getting Ready to March Over Education Cuts – Bay Area Blog NYTimes.com

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