Post Academic

Follow-Ups: Wisconsin Protests and “Chef Law”

Posted in Housekeeping by postacademic on February 27, 2011
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We wanted to follow up on a few of our better trafficked posts from the past week, Caroline’s on the Wisconsin protests and Arnold’s on plagiarism in Top Chef.

Wisconsin Protests: Thanks to all the wonderful comments to our post on the ongoing Wisconsin saga–to cite a cliche, we can disagree without being disagreeable!  Lest we get too far into the political principles of the thing (and anyways, you know where we stand), Talking Points Memo passes along an interesting note on who’d be one of the first affected by the Gov. Scott Walker’s threats to start laying off state workers: the school counselor wife of the GOP State Senate Majority Leader, a chief political ally.  In fact, all 34 of that particular school district’s teaching staff have been given their preliminary walking papers.

Here’s a YouTube of the protests, which apparently stars a friend of ours –well, at least her hat for an instant or so–who’s a prof in the Wisconsin system…

Chef Law: On a much lighter note, this week’s Top Chef plagiarism controversy has generated a lot of interest, though we’re betting that anything that happens on the show leads to a storm of posts on the foodie blogosphere.  Mike Isabella, the cheater, has washed his hands of the whole thing, claiming that it was all editing and that Richard Blais, the cheated-upon, bears no ill will and agrees with him.  Uh-huh.  One of the more interesting perspectives on this tempest-in-a-teapot comes from Dale Talde, who was chopped (to mix reality-show catchphrases) from the episode.

When asked by TV Guide in a post-show debriefing, he basically pooh-poohed the idea of plagiarism, even as he called out Isabella for bad form:  “You can’t patent food, but you also can’t straight-up tell people that you ripped this dude’s dish off and you won $5,000 and shove it in his face. That sucks.”  And like we pointed out in the post, you just can’t give plagiarists an inch, which is something Dale had apparently been advising Richard all along: “He’s been very forthcoming with information….Why are you telling people this? I think he’s learned his lesson now. I’m not stingy, but it’s like: Dude, do your homework; do your homework. You know you’re going on the show, so do your homework.”

So something else that Top Chef’s confirmed for us about plagiarism is a lot about bad form and  that it’s never cut-and-dried, never black-and-white.  And the best way to not get embroiled in it is to not get into the gray area of helping a little too much.

What Top Chef teaches us about plagiarism

Posted in Absurdities,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on February 24, 2011
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One of the sillier things we’ve done on the blog over the past almost year is the “Top Grad Student” fake virtual reality show series, based on my fave reality show, Top Chef.  But who knew that Top Chef could also tell you everything thing you wanted to know about plagiarism, how we react to it, and how people can get away with it?  Just like every school has an honor code that students are presumed to abide by, apparently there’s something called “Chef Law” where you aren’t supposed to steal someone else’s culinary ideas.

Richard Blais (aka the plagiarized) by Godofbiscuits (Creative Commons license)

So to recap what happened on this week’s episode (spoiler alert!): It began with a seemingly innocuous scene where Richard Blais, the mad scientist and (imho) the most creative cheftestant, was showing Mike Isabella, a skeezy operator (again, imho), a Moleskine notebook full of his crazy musings, complete with drawings.  So flash forward to the Quickfire challenge, when apparently Mike preps a Fried “Chicken Oyster” in a shell that was originally Blais’ fantastical creation.  So throughout the challenge and the judgement, Blais gives Isabella the stink eye, while Isabella avoids his gaze; on the voiceover confessionals, Blais calls Isabella out for plagiarism, as Isabella claims that, though he got the idea from his competitor, others have done it before so it’s not copying.  You know how this turns out–Mike beats Richard, and pockets 5K out of it.  Richard is bent of shape, and Mike rubs everyone’s face in it by saying he was inspired by Richard.

Cut to post-challenge, when Mike is somehow pissed at Richard for not acting like either a winner or a loser should.  Meanwhile, Antonia tells the other contestants what happened, that Mike basically cribbed off Richard (we get a flashback scene here, I think) for the win, to which everyone invokes “Chef Law” and how dastardly Mike is.

Ultimately, Richard bests Mike at the end of the episode, then talks some mild s**t (Blais might be full of himself a bit, but he’s too geeky, nervous, and seemingly well-meaning to be a brash trash-talking type) about keeping his best recipes for himself.  So there’s order to the universe in the end, right?  Not so fast…

Here are a few lessons we learn about plagiarism and plagiarists from the episode…

1. Keep it to yourself: Whether Richard was willingly showing off his little notebook or Mike is one of those nosy people who’s always in your bizness — in Chinese, his type roughly translates to “butt-following bug” — there’s no reason to let anyone know more than they need to, especially in a competition.  I don’t know, I guess I know how Richard feels, since I liked sharing notes and all, but it’s something else to give someone your thesis and outline.  Hold on to your best ideas for yourself and resist showing off more than you need to.

More of what we learned about plagiarism from Top Chef, after the jump…


Work Lessons From Reality TV: Taking Criticism

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOn “Project Runway,” when Tim Gunn walks in the room with that dreaded velvet bag, the contestants know there’s a twist that will make their task even more difficult. However, the show wouldn’t be the show without the threat of the velvet bag, and the contestants won’t succeed unless they can prove they can change to fit the environment.

If you aren’t willing to learn anything new, you are not going to succeed in work, period. If you aren’t willing to adapt to changes in culture and technology, the rest of the world will evolve past you. Here’s some reality-show tips on how to stay flexible without compromising your integrity:

Try seeing your work through the eyes of another person. One designer, Mondo, felt that the skills of another designer, Michael C., were lacking and made that clear from the start. Then Mondo saw how Michael worked and got the memo that some people just have different methods. Eventually, Mondo admitted he was being a dick and apologized. Another contestant, Ivy, did no such thing and hovered over her partner, Michael D., as he tried to do everything exactly as she would. However, if she’d given him a bit more space, he might have been able to reproduce her look.

When life gives you a twist, make soup. The craziest change-up I’ve seen on any reality show was on an earlier season of “Top Chef.” During a quickfire, the chefs were working diligently on a main course. Then Padma Lakshmi waltzed into the kitchen in her glazed-stoner manner and informed the contestants that they had to turn a main course into a soup. I was baffled. It was the one time I watched “Top Chef” and wondered how the contestants were going to pull that one off. And some of them actually did. The ability to shift perspectives is an incredible skill. I don’t think I have it yet … it seems to be a gift, and I’d love to hear from others how they’ve developed that talent.

Image of a “Project Runway” dress by Uli Herzner taken by Eric Skiff. From Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Academia as TV, redux (with poll)

Yesterday, one of our bestest blog compatriots Worst Professor Ever put out a call to post/academics to pool our collective grad school/ faculty experiences, along with whatever’s left of our creative energies after our spirit-sucking time in academia, and put together a “FX-style-show about professors.”  So please heed Worst Prof’s “Prof Pitch ’10”:

So c’mon, throw your hat in the ring. We need names, plotlines, dialogue, whatever — and a name for our show, especially, since I’ll be the first to admit Professors On the Edge sucks pretty hard — too soap-y, not scary enough.

Well, this reminded me that we tried to find the best TV analogy for academia a while back, though our goal wasn’t to come up with a treatment or a pitch, but more just an excuse to write about TV.  So here’s our first contribution — hopefully of many to come — to Worst Prof’s worthwhile and ingenious project.

"1950's television" by Zaphod (Creative Commons license)


Below are some picks we offered as to what might make for the most compelling dramatic, comedic, or reality TV reinterpretation of academia.  We left off one obvious choice: Seinfeld, seeing as it’s a show about nothing.

1. Top Chef: Take a bunch of talented, competitive grad students, some of whom are total a-holes–but only one will win the title of “top geek.”  Put them through a series of challenges, from “Quickfire” abstract submissions to “Elimination Challenges” that involve convention interviews and teaching demos, and bring on celebrity academics as the judges.  And only one person ends up with a tenure-track position, though I’ll take the 1-in-20 odds over the 200+ applicant pool of any actual job search in a heartbeat.  Bonus points for making these folks live together in the same house.  Of course, we actually turned this idea into our Post Academic “original” virtual reality series, “Top Grad Student”!

More academia-TV analogies below the fold…


“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!