Post Academic

Down With the Academic Martyr: Why a Little Selfishness Might Help You

Posted in Absurdities,Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on January 21, 2011
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PhotobucketWhen I told my family I was taking time off from grad school and looking for a career that didn’t involve teaching, one of my relatives said, “Good.”

“Good?” I asked. “I thought being a teacher is supposed to be noble, or something.”

“Yeah, but it means everyone tries to take advantage of you.”

My loved one had a point. When I thought about my time teaching and what I’ve heard from friends and other professors, I remembered how often I felt pushed. Can you take one more student? Can you give me one more day on the paper? Can’t you give my precious child another chance?

I often caved. I thought, if I didn’t give every last bit, I was letting someone down. I might be blocking a student’s right to knowledge. The one time I did push back, when I joined a picket line for rights I deemed perfectly reasonable, one of the school’s administrators compared the work of a grad student to the work of the kid down the street who mowed his lawn. To him–and many others–strikers were whiners. I held strong, but I felt guiltier than a character in a Philip Roth novel, and when I started teaching, I worked even harder, thinking my labor could erase the perception that I was another whiny slacker.

Sutton Hall interior view of faculty quarters, two women reading, circa 1900. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Mencia Effect: Or, Proof That People Still Take Plagiarism Seriously

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on November 20, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhile on my recent marathon road trip (Post Academic Business Travel Guide coming soon …), I saw a poster advertising an upcoming show by comedian Carlos Mencia. The first two questions that popped into my head were “What happened to his TV show?” and “Didn’t he get caught stealing jokes?”

If he didn’t get caught, he’s been accused of it. The top Google Instant search terms for “Carlos Mencia” are “Carlos Mencia steals” and “Carlos Mencia steals jokes.” This guy has enemies.

L’Affaire Mencia is important to academics and post academics because, on top of all their other duties, professors must be diligent about catching lazy students … and even then the schools don’t have the teachers’ backs. In the latest depressing plagiarism-related episode, about 600 students at the University of Central Florida got caught cheating on a test in a business class.

Whether you can catch students in the act or not, it is worth noting that these student cheaters will become hamster-world cheaters. Enter Carlos Mencia. Mencia allegedly stole jokes from several comedians–including the Cos!
More after the jump! Comedian Carlos Mencia performs during the Tour for the Troops concert at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, December 1st, 2009. Photo by Sara Csurilla, U.S. Air Force. Image from Wikimedia Commons, federal image, public domain.

Teach: Tony Danza: “I’m always afraid they’re gonna unmask me.”

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on October 6, 2010
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PhotobucketTeach: Tony Danza” follows the actor, whom we all know and love from “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” as he teaches an English class at a Philadelphia public school. This could have been a goofy reality show series, like “Tommy Lee Goes to College,” but the first episode shows just how hard it is to be a teacher. Danza enters the school full of hope, and by the end of the first episode, he looks exhausted. For those of you who constantly hear how easy teachers and professors have it, you should recommend this show to your critics.

The show is far from perfect. It’s over-edited, and there are too many framing scenes in which Danza and the teachers spell out their motives in an obvious fashion. Some of the kids look like they’re already auditioning for the next reality show. But the show does reveal how uncomfortable it can be to stand in front of the classroom. It’s hard to convey information and keep people interested at the same time, and being an actor helps only so much.

Being an actor actually isn’t Danza’s main problem in the classroom. He makes several classic mistakes that first-time teachers–both high school and college–make. For example:

Never act as if you want to be liked. The moment Danza walks into school for his first day, I felt uncomfortable because he so clearly wants approval from his supervisors and his students. This might be because he still has an actor’s need to please people, but teaching isn’t about pleasing people.

More after the jump! Image of Tony Danza at the Indianapolis 500 parade by Matt B. from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Don’t let being an adjunct make you mad (Part 3 of a series)

"Lol cat angry" by Cro0016 (Creative Commons license)

So I promised I would end this series on what makes me mad about teaching by being more constructive and stepping outside the solipsistic navel gazing of my own experiences.  That’s why I’m going into what makes me mad about being an Adjunct or Lecturer or Contingent Faculty or cheap labor or whatever they call it where you are.  I should say in advance that I’m not an adjunct agitator myself or a future freeway flyer, though I’ve gained more and more respect for those folks over the years–and it’s not just because I’ve stepped into their shoes just a little bit.  It takes a lot to stick with being an adjunct, considering how you have to persevere in underpaid jobs with pretty much no chance for a promotion and deal with the uncertainties of having classes assigned to you or cancelled at a moment’s notice.  For a better sense of adjunct-oriented issues on a national scale, check out the New Faculty Majority website or read the piece Caroline has been linking on the matter, “Confessions of a Tenured Professor”.

I should begin by saying that the way I handled being mad about adjuncting is that I stopped being one.  I am grateful that I got a chance to teach classes that were related to my research and that I found out a lot more about how I feel about teaching in general, but I couldn’t deal with a lot of the slights and anxieties full-time contingent faculty put up with much more admirably than I ever could.  And I was definitely luckier than most, in that I had mentors, friends, and staff who looked out for me and offered me opportunities to help me hang on from one academic job cycle to the next when I couldn’t or refused see the writing on the wall.

Still, the precarious day-to-day condition and the perpetual mindtrip of being a Lecturer couldn’t help but make me mad, which I explain below the fold…


Don’t let teaching mess with your head (Part 2 of a series)

"Barrio Juroca en Reus, Tarragona, España/Spain" by Estruch (Public Domain)

Yesterday, I covered some of the things that make me mad when I’m teaching, mostly how classroom interactions with students can make me go Hulk.  Today, I discuss how a few bad classes–with a few bad apples–can really bring you down and make you feel awful about humanity, particularly yourself!  It really is a vicious circle: You take a poorly executed lesson plan home with you, let it stew, then those bad vibes and that cloud over your head go back with you to the classroom, and so on and so on…Somehow, you’ve just got to break the cycle and take a deep breath.

Here’s some more stuff that I get worked up about teaching…

I’m angry when I feel like a grumpy old man: Do you ever chalk things up to “generational difference” as a defense mechanism to explain away you might not be doing a particularly great job of teaching?  Or get in the mode of saying, “When I was in college, [fill in the blank]”, after teaching a class that you stayed up late to prepare, only to notice your students web surfing even more than normal?  Or how the thought that, “These kids have no respect!”, go through your mind in the middle of executing your lesson plan, only to have the whole class go off the rails because you get too fixated on that students texting right in front of you, as if it didn’t matter whether you saw it or not?  If you have, like me, take a step back, a deep breath, and tell yourself that you don’t need to let what’s left of your own youth go to waste becoming a grumpy old man before your time.

Continued, below the fold…


Don’t let ’em see you mad in the classroom (Part 1 of a series)

"Berlin Wall Hulk" by Gorgalore (Creative Commons license)

To follow up on what Caroline wrote last week about how there’s no crying in the classroom, I’m writing about a different kind of not-so-constructive display of emotion that gets stirred up in me when I’m teaching: anger.  Caroline has already picked up on what is the root cause of why I’m teaching-while-angry, and that’s the lack of respect I feel I get as a teacher.  Whether it’s feeling underappreciated as a peon adjunct and TA by admin or it’s more sociological, as the study that women and young faculty get more guff from students (geez, that’s a shocker!) suggests, there are moments where I can feel my inner Hulk about to burst through.

As an adjunct and grad student teacher without a whole lot of job security and a minority (which can come into play, too) who looks young, I definitely have some anger issues over a the sense I get that I lack authority in the classroom.  Really, all these circumstances build on one another: The teachers most at-risk–grad student instructors, adjuncts, untenured faculty–often lack age, experience, and rank, so they also appear the easiest to pick on.  And it is probably harder on women and minorities who might also appear young to project a sense of authority, just as it is for part-time teachers, just starting out in the profession and/or clinging on to it, with little institutional backing.  And don’t tell me that students can’t smell blood in the water when a teacher is uncertain about her/his standing in the classroom, even if they don’t understand the finer points of academic rank.  So how do I overcompensate for being young looking and an adjunct–I get mad!

OK, it’s time to talk my inner Hulk down a bit before I type this whole post out in BOLD CAPS, so read a more even-keeled assessment of what makes me mad about teaching below the fold…


There’s No Crying in the Classroom

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension… or in the office, for that matter.

A recent study by the University of Redlands showed that students tend to pick on young, untenured women. Unfortunately, this problem also happens in the workplace, and until society learns how to put bullies in check, this will keep happening. At some point in your life, especially if you are female, someone will feel the urge to talk shit and see if they can walk all over you. Here’s how you put a stop to it:

Do not cry. No matter what. You don’t want anyone thinking you’re emotional. Then no one will take you seriously. Also, a true bully wants to know just how far she can push you until you break.

If it gets worse in the classroom, tell the student to leave. Students aren’t forced to go to college. Someone who obviously can’t handle being in the classroom shouldn’t be there, and you can tell them to get out or drop the class. Also schedule a meeting with your teaching supervisor in case the student is such a bully that they try to whine about it to your bosses.

If it gets worse in the office, you leave the room. Take a time out. That’s what the bathroom is for. Also, I’ve worked in two offices that have “Quiet Rooms,” which have also been dubbed “Crying Rooms.” Take advantage of them. You’ll either realize that the incident wasn’t worth crying over, or you’ll come up with a new plan to conquer your bully or at least find a new job.

It’s a, uh, crying shame that women still get picked on and that showing emotion is a sign of weakness, but the simple truth is that you can gain the upper hand by reining in your feelings. How have you handled situations with workplace or classroom bullying? What advice would you have?

Image of Berlin-Niederschönhausen from Deutsche Fotothek by Abraham Pisarek, on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School: Video 2

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 21, 2010
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Post Academic’s interview with Adam Ruben, PhD, comedian, and author of “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School” will start tomorrow, April 22. Yesterday we shared a video about how to deal with certain types of advisors, but we saved the best for last: Dealing with undergrads.

Most undergrads are decent sorts, but there’s always one, uh, let’s just say “memorable” undergrad in every class. Feel free to share memories of those unusual undergrads such as the ones who appear below:

Tame the Teaching Workload First

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhen pondering an escape from the ivory tower, you probably think about becoming a lecturer or a classroom teacher. This reaction is natural since teaching is a valuable, concrete skill. You might even be able to make good part-time money at it if you get a job teaching the SAT or the LSAT.

But don’t make the leap just yet, especially if you want to leave academia because you had trouble managing your classroom time. Kerry Ann Rockquemore describes the impact of the “Teaching Trap” over at, and it’s clear that teaching is one of the classic tasks that expands to fill the time available.

If you thought teaching took up too much time when you were in academia, a change of scenery won’t help you. Whether you’re teaching the SAT at Kaplan or teaching a class at a public high school, teaching will continue to take up all of your time unless you improve your time management skills. Visit my tips on how to tame your paperwork, and try these four tips, all after the jump:

As seen in The New York Times: Rate My Professors

Posted in Absurdities,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on March 17, 2010
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Last weekend, The New York Times Magazine ran a humorous piece on Rate My Professors that probably would’ve been more timely in, like, 2002 or earlier, coming to the conclusion that the dishy site represents an alternate reality.  Writes Virginia Heffernan, “like many online experiments, Rate My Professors has turned out to be a companion to nothing. It is its own world.”  Yet at the same time the article (rightly) suggests that no students should determine anything important according to RMP, it acknowledges that the site does hold sway over the decisions students make on what classes to take and what to avoid.  In effect, the NYT figures the best way to treat RMP is to read it like fan fiction, as Heffernan suggests: “I know only the figures they cut on Rate My Professors, where they might as well be characters in novels.”

While the Times‘ piece is annoying in that it publicizes Rate My Professors at all and makes it sound kinda fun to boot, it probably conveys the same disdainful, above-it-all attitude towards RMP that most of us would–especially if we have no chili peppers.  And certainly, it’s easy to try and poke holes into the methodology of RMP’s madness: one important point that The Paper of Record doesn’t mention is that RMP encourages extremes, since who would really want to comment unless you had an axe to grind or the hots for teacher?  There are definitely some attempts at objectivity at RMP, but I’m doubting most busy college kids are logging on to give lukewarm fair-to-good assessments.  RMP basically gives the megaphone to the students who need it the least, the good know-it-alls and the bad know-it-alls who already have your attention as a teacher anyway.

So we all may think that the best approach to RMP is not to take it too seriously, but, then again, academics aren’t always ones to laugh at themselves without reservations.  And even if we like to brush off RMP in some of the same ways the NYT piece does, it probably doesn’t only represent some kind of virtual reality, but does have some impact on the way we teach and the way students approach learning, at a personal level and in the larger scheme of things.  As the Times aptly points out, it nurtures “the ‘attitude of calm-consumer expertise’ in contemporary students, who regularly rate everything from purchases to people” in both students and faculty.  (Maybe even worse than RMP is that universities are rated on Yelp, like Pinkberry or something!)   And now that schools (or at least UC Irvine) are switching to official class evals that conducted online, the RMP culture of complaint and hotness is being replicated to some degree in evaluations that could have a real impact on faculty and their careers.  That’s not to say I’m an education purist and I’m not against the idea of students being consumers and acting on it, since college is likely any student’s biggest expense.  But the issue should be whether they are good consumers who want to find out if their prof or TA shows up on time and is professional or bad consumers who want to rationalize their bad grades/inattention and try to Toyota recall as many others as they can along the way.

Still, even if we were to wish that Rate My Professors could really be banished to “its own world,” as the NYT deems it to be, it probably has a much greater influence than any of us old-school types would want to admit.  How do you take Rate My Professors, with a grain of salt or just a little too personally?  Has it changed the way your students think about you, you think about your students, and the way you teach, as you scan the lecture hall for students who gave you the stunned “blue face” ratings?  Or is it really just a newfangled way of expressing age-old sentiments we might’ve had when we were in the same position that our students are now?

The Medium: The Prof Stuff [NY Times Magazine, 3/14/2010]

Top Professors Lists [Rate My Professors] — Yes, I am linking this, in spite of my better judgment…