Post Academic


The Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Professor Stereotype: Animal House

Two weeks ago, Post Academic launched the series “The Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Professor Stereotype,” which reviews movies that have helped contribute to the bad reputation of professors. Each movie is analyzed in terms of Hot Pepper Rating, Fashion Sense, Likeliness of Having an Undergrad Piece on the Side, Boozing and Drugging Quotient, Financial Fakery, Teaching Talent (or Lack Thereof), and Quotations. Then the stereotypes are debunked, lest you mistake your professor for an Alcoholic Horndog. And now … an assessment of Donald Sutherland as Professor Jennings in “Animal House.”

Meet the Professor: Donald Sutherland, Professor Jennings, English

Hot Pepper Rating: Low. Donald Sutherland is actually a good-looking guy, but he plays the role with such skeeviness that he eliminates his natural appeal.

Fashion Sense: Low. He’s rocking the professor-as-beatnik look.

Likeliness of Having an Undergrad Piece on the Side: High. He stole Boone’s girlfriend! He might try to steal yours!

Boozing and Drugging Quotient: High. Literally, as in he’s a stoner.

Mental Condition: See above.

Financial Fakery: Low. This may be the most authentic element of the movie. His clothes are worn, and he appears to enjoy couch-surfing.

Teaching Talent: Low. No one was supposed to learn anything, especially Milton, at Faber College.

Quotations: “Don’t write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He’s a little bit long-winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible…. But that doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I’m waiting for reports from some of you… Listen, I’m not joking. This is my job!”

Conclusion: If I were to blame anyone for the stereotype of the Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Professor, I would blame Donald Sutherland and the writers of “Animal House.” This movie is a comedy classic for a million and one reasons, but it did professors no favors.

The Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Professor Stereotype: Back to School

Welcome to the new series that looks back on the origins of the professor stereotype. Professors aren’t really incompetent alcoholic horndogs or snotty creeps, but professors come in handy if a screenplay needs an alcoholic horndog or a snotty creep. Post Academic will be highlighting a few movies and debunking their professor stereotypes. We’re starting with one of the classics in professorial film … the Rodney Dangerfield vehicle “Back to School,” which features not one, not two, but three professor stereotypes, which will be analyzed in terms of Hot Pepper Rating, Fashion Sense, Likeliness of Having an Undergrad Piece on the Side, Boozing and Drugging Quotient, Financial Fakery, Teaching Talent (or Lack Thereof), and Quotations. Let us know of any professorial movies we should cover!

Meet the Professors: 1. Sam Kinison, Professor Turgeson, History
2. Sally Kellerman, Professor Turner, English
3. Paxton Whitehead, Professor Barbay, Economics

Hot Pepper Rating: Low for Kinison, high for Kellerman.

Fashion Sense: Kinison and Kellerman look about right, especially Kinison’s atrocious haircut. Barbay wears a bowtie and a tweed cap.

Likeliness of Having an Undergrad Piece on the Side: High, at least for Kellerman. Frankly, it would have been more accurate if Kellerman’s character went for the guy who played Rodney Dangerfield’s son.

Mental Condition: Kinison’s character is a Vietnam Vet with a racist streak who likes to scream at his students. Whoever wrote this movie must have had the world’s worst History 101 course.

Boozing and Drugging Quotient: Barbay hates fun. Kellerman looks like a lover of a nice Chardonnay. The meds that Kinison’s character would require are not recreational.

Financial Fakery: Barbay’s character a vintage car. Most professors I’ve seen drive deathtraps. Then again, Barbay’s character teaches economics.

Teaching Talent: Teaching skill is not evident, but the professors appear in the classroom on a regular basis, which is more than can be said for other movies that feature professors.

Quotations: Rodney Dangerfield’s character on dating teachers: “I think I’m attracted to teachers. Yeah, I took out an English teacher. That didn’t work out at all. I sent her a love letter… She corrected it!”

Conclusion: This movie takes advantage of multiple professor stereotypes, especially regarding Kinison, who seems more interested in pushing his personal issues on his students than on teaching. At the very least it features a female college professor as a sexual predator rather than a male one, even if the object of her lust is Rodney Dangerfield.

Interview With Adam Ruben, Author of Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School: Part 2

Yesterday, PhD, comedian, and recovering grad student Adam Ruben, author of “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School,” answered our questions about how grad students can stay sane in their programs. Today’s questions focus on what happens after the program, specifically on how Ruben got his book published and on why he decided not to become a professor after earning his degree.

1. Your bio says how popular your stand-up comedy classes were at Johns Hopkins. Did your advisors or your grad school peers ever catch your show? What did they think? Was anyone offended, and how did you get around it?

Some of my grad school friends did attend the final show for the stand-up comedy class I taught, but that show mostly consisted of performances from the students in the class, not me. For other on-campus shows that peers and advisors might see (though I don’t think my advisor ever saw a show), I made sure that the things I made fun of were more universal and didn’t pick on anyone in particular. For example, I talked about the difference between conceptions of science when you’re in grade school (You get to make a volcano out of baking soda and vinegar!) and in grad school (You move small amounts of liquid from one place to another) and why such a large percentage of the students’ lab reports included the sentence “Overall, this lab was a success” even though they didn’t understand anything in the lab. Actually, I’ve never really offended anyone with stand-up, though I did get a few angry letters when I edited the grad student newspaper and introduced columns like “Undergrads Say the Darndest Things.” Some people didn’t like that.

2. Obviously, you have made the move from academia to the working world. We were wondering a) how did you launch your stand-up career and b) how did you land a book contract?

I began doing stand-up in college, and I started performing in the real world when I started grad school. A couple of comedy clubs in Baltimore had open mic nights, and I’d perform there when I could–and I’d meet other comedians, and some of them told me about other clubs, and things kind of grew from there.

As for the book contract, I was writing some freelance pieces for National Lampoon, and one day they contacted all of their writers to see if any of them would be interested in submitting book proposals. I came up with the idea for this book, and I wrote up the proposal, and they promptly rejected it, since grad students weren’t exactly National Lampoon’s demographic. So since I had the proposal anyway, I started sending it to literary agents. The most common response I got was, “I love it! I don’t want it!” Apparently it’s not a good idea to try selling a book to people who are notoriously cash-strapped. But a couple were interested, and I signed with Laurie Abkemeier at Defiore & Co., and she sent the proposal around to publishers. The process began again, and I received lots of very polite rejections, all claiming that impoverished grad students won’t buy books. Broadway Books turned out to be interested, though, which was great news.

More after the jump! Image of Adam Ruben courtesy of Broadway Books/Crown Publishing. (more…)

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.
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On Improving the Relationship Between Grad Students and Professors

Posted in Ask an Academic,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 19, 2010
Tags: , , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension Notorious PhD hosted a forum over at her blog to encourage discussion about the relationship between grad students and professors. She summed up the results of the debate, and much of it involved better communications on the part of professors.

I was glad to see one student laser in on one of Post Academic’s chief causes: Helping grad students with a Post-Grad Plan B. Here’s the quotation:

“There should be a system to help those with PhDs get other relevant non-professorial jobs. It’s hard to leave graduate school (with its low but guaranteed paycheck) for unemployment. Make the transition easier, and the graduate students may actually finish.”

More professors need to get the memo that there are fewer academic jobs, but students can definitely use their knowledge in other ways, provided they are trained for it. The catch is that most professors haven’t been trained to be career advisors. So, does anyone have suggestions for how professors can get more involved in helping students with non-academic careers? Perhaps nurturing relationships with other departments, such as education or computer science?

More after the jump! William Hogarth: A Rake’s Progress, Plate 2: Surrounded By Artists And Professors, public domain, Wikimedia Commons.
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