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.
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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.”
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Art and Commerce: What’s the Problem With “Work of Art”?

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on July 17, 2010
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Obviously, we here at Post Academic are really into reality shows. I just watched a few episodes of the Bravo TV show “Work of Art,” in which aspiring artists who work in different media compete a la “Top Chef” and “Project Runway.” Apparently, people who are supposed to know something about art hate it.

Laurie Fendrich over at the Chronicle writes:

The show promulgates a massive deception that out-deceives all other reality programs: If we were to have a real reality show about artists, one that showed how artists really make art, it would bore the tears out of the audience. Artists are frequently quiet or dull sorts, and much of their art-making consists of sitting around, thinking, looking and puttering around in incomprehensible ways. No hissy fits, no artificial deadlines, and no visiting Euro-suaves like Simon de Pury, the auction-house exec, to give pats on the back and ask helpful questions.

And how is that different from a show like “Top Chef” or “Project Runway”? Cooking isn’t that fun to watch in and of itself, and I’m sure that clothing design involves plenty of “sitting around, thinking, looking and puttering around in incomprehensible ways.”

Okay, there are hissy fits on the show, and that’s a reality-show convention, but the benefit of “Work of Art” is that it emphasizes that art involves real work and skill. The contestants regularly throw verbal spears at each other about technique, and it is fun to watch how pieces come together in a single episode. The people who just slap something together and can’t explain it tend to be the ones who get the boot.

More after the jump!

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“Top Grad Student” moves on: Round 2, Curriculum Builder

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on July 15, 2010
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Don’t know if you have the same feeling (probably not!), but watching “Top Chef “ last night got me itching to keep our summer virtual reality programming going.  To give y’all a brief update, English got the most votes (3) in Round 1, to no one’s surprise–not necessarily because lit-types are the best, but because they’re definitely our demographic here.  But there’s no immunity for the win, since it’s not like these grad students have tenure yet!  Surprisingly, History just squeaked through to the next round, getting the very last vote to be saved from the chopping block.

All this means that our Poli Sci contestant, for whatever reason, is the only one with zero supporters and has been voted off the island, to mix our reality show metaphors.  We really need to come up with a great elimination line like all the best reality shows have, which shouldn’t be too hard because getting bad news is such a part of the profession.  Post your suggestions in the comments section below!  How about this for now: “Poli Sci…[pause of dramatic tension]…your application has been…REJECTED!”

"Padma Lakshmi" by Arthur (Creative Commons license)

We’re gonna try to put a little more forethought into our absurd imaginary contest for Round 2, thanks to Mackie’s comment regarding Round 1.  I don’t know if we have a real goal or bias in eliciting responses and rounding up votes, though it might be interesting to find out what people think about different academic fields in a very limited way.  To get some semi-constructive info, we’ll set up some better, clearer parameters for each contest.

So Round 2 is going to be a team contest which I’m calling the “Curriculum Builder,” where we get our contestants from all the disciplines to work together to create a curriculum for some hypothetical freshmen.  Feel free to add your own mental picture of our contestants in some non-descript 1970s lecture hall as a bunch of frosh file in, with tense music in the background as our Padma-like host announces what our contestants have to do this time around.  The goal of the challenge is to test how well our contestants can construct a relevant intro- level course and how well folks from different fields can work together to achieve this goal.

Here are some guidelines for what you might keep in mind when you’re at your virtual “Judges Table.”  Criteria to think about would not only include classroom performance, but also intangible factors about co-existing in the academic workplace:

1. How much emphasis is put on teaching in any given discipline, particularly at a lower-division level?

2. Who could come up with an engaging, informative lesson plan at a moment’s notice?  Consider how well people from different fields can think on their feet, which is definitely part of the “Top Chef” experience!

3. Which contestant would work best with others?  You can think about who might be a good leader or administrator-type in putting together our imaginary curriculum.  On the flip side, you might also think about whether or not certain fields create greater numbers of prima donnas or contestants who might go into a shell and not play nicely with their colleagues.

OK, vote away!

“Top Grad Student”, our imaginary virtual reality show

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on July 10, 2010
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"Tom Colicchio at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival" by David Shankbone (Creative Commons license)

We usually use the weekends to scratch our pop culture itch, what with Caroline’s great Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Prof Stereotype film series and our Footnotes odds’n’ends that have featured the likes of Lady Gaga and James Franco.  We also mused way back when about what TV show resembles grad school the most, which is kind of the inspiration for today’s ridiculous post re-imagining grad school as a grueling series of reality show contests à la “Top Chef”–heck, if artists can get their own show (“Work of Art”), you best believe academics should!  Although it looks like our original poll had “Mad Men” winning as the best extended metaphor for academia, which means you better read the post about not antagonizing the admin and staff because the Joan Holloway of your dept might make or break your professional life.

Off the top of my head, let’s imagine we have Ph.D.-candidate contestants from various disciplines who compete for, say, a tenure-track position or equivalent at the University of Phoenix, which would totally be our sponsor.  We could have great settings for the show, like a seminar room and a bucolic campus.  Then, maybe all the contestants could be forced to live in university subsidized housing together, which could possibly lead to another reality show spin-off, like a nerdy “Bachelor/ette” or something–wait, didn’t they already have that show already (“Beauty and the Geek”)?  In any case, is this format so different from the stages between the convention interview, with about 12 or so candidates (at least in MLA fields), being whittled down to a handful of campus visits, before a chosen one is selected?  Our daydreamed TV show would be more entertaining and, who knows, maybe it would only capture the absurdities of a real-life job search, documentary film-like.

Maybe it’s because it’s too early in the morning while I’m writing this, but I’m a little punchy: Why don’t we do this thing online and call it a virtual fan-fiction reality show or something?  We’ll put a poll at the bottom of this post, and you can vote for whom you imagine would win any given contest.  And we’ll periodically return to this thing if folks actually vote.

Anyway, our first competition should be a get-to-know-you sort of thing, so let’s start with a feat-of-strength about writing a CV.  Who do you think would win this round, based on style, formatting, the number of accomplishments, length, reasonable embellishment?  The hypothetical student with the most votes gets immunity next round, while the contestant with the fewest votes is voted out!  And use the message board if you feel like justifying your vote–you can be your very own “Judges Table”!

And if there are any show developers lurking here, you know where to reach us!