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Top Grad Student: It’s a tie!

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on August 20, 2010
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And the winner is….nobody!  There appears to be a deadlock between English and Media Studies that seems impossible to break, even with the extended deadline.  The fair thing would actually be to hire the Media Studies candidate, seeing as s/he had the most combined votes through all 5 Top Grad Student contests.   However, this being academia and all, who says anything is fair about anything?  So here’s the typically academic solution to the problem: Not to hire anyone, no matter how qualified s/he may be and how much the dept might want a new faculty member.  This is how we imagine the finale and the explanation of the decision…

"Historic neckties" from Noveau Larousse Ilustré (public domain)

It was a knock-down, drag-out search committee meeting at the end, with each side making its case for its candidate.  Of course, as time went on, the English folks dug in, and so did the Media Studies contingent.  But instead of thinking what might be best in the bigger picture, the animosity on each side only intensified to the point that hypothetical lead judge Henry Louis Gates wished he was back at the Beer Summit last summer and hypothetical host James Franco started wondering why he ever wanted to pursue a Ph.D.

With neither the English proponents or the Media Studies honks willing to give in, the stalemate ended with no agreement and no candidate hired.  As the process dragged on and on, the English voting bloc started imagining no scenario under which it could stomach the Media Studies candidate, who now seemed insufferable and could never become a good colleague in its collective imagination, and vice versa.  But in order to tie the whole botched search up with a bow, they needed to come down to a bureaucratic solution, which boiled down to some kind of financial excuse and something about needing to hold on to the tenure line and reopening the search next year.  Of course, they dithered about the decision and left our candidates hanging–oh yeah, there was that Sociology contestant too, who almost got the job as a compromise choice.

As for our brave Top Grad Student contestants, they were left not knowing where they stood for too long, because the search committee held onto everyone just in case.  Wouldn’t it be appropriate, considering the conditions of the real academic job market, that we went through this whole virtual process–more than 5 weeks, I think –but no one ended up with the job and the tenure line in limbo?  Thanks to the tied vote, I think the virtual/reality contest actually resulted in the best, most representative ending we could have possibly had.  Can’t you just imagine our contestants getting something like a “Dear Applicant” form email explaining how no one was ultimately hired, while encouraging them to apply again next year?

Thanks for voting and for playing along!

Top Grad Student, Finale–Overtime!

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on August 17, 2010
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Cause we can’t get enough of the virtual/reality show drama that “Top Grad Student” provides, we’re dragging this out a few more days–just what you wanted, right?  That’s because we have a tie right now, between English and Media Studies, with 5 votes a piece.  That does kinda replicate the whole excruciating waiting game of the academic job market, doesn’t it?, with our finalists stuck in limbo just a little longer.

I’m reposting the text of the finale contest below the fold, if you want the context…

(more…)

“Top Grad Student” Finale: Campus Visits

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on August 10, 2010
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This is it: We’ve finally reached the campus visit round, where one of our “Top Grad Student” competitors will receive a tenure-track position, sponsored by the University of Phoenix.  In classic academic bad-form fashion, we didn’t notify our convention interview round loser, the Life Sciences candidate, that s/he’s out of the running, so s/he’ll either be lurking on the academic jobs wiki to find out what happened or learn the bad news when s/he watches this week’s episode of “Top Grad Student.”  But we didn’t want to give the Life Sciences contestant “official” notification, in case our top choices don’t accept the position and we’re forced to go to our fourth choice, right?

"Newport Hill Climb finish line" by Huwmanbeing (Public Domain)

Like “Top Chef,” the campus visit round involves the finalists jetsetting somewhere to a scenic location, getting ready to compete in one last battle-royale round.  While the speed-dating frenzy of the convention interview round required one set of skills, the campus visit require another kind, more focused on depth than breadth.

So here’s the itinerary we have set for the would-be could-be “Top Grad Student”:

1. Arrive after a long flight, only to have a search committee member engage you in mindless, but potentially hazardous small talk, while you’re hungry and don’t really have your wits about you.  Be dropped off fairly late at a generic hotel, where you have find something to eat, iron your clothes for the big day, print up documents you’ve edited (again) at the last minute.  And get some sleep.

2. Wake up (too) early, meet with another search committee member, have more chit-chat, while eating breakfast and making sure not to spill coffee on your only suit.

3. Get ready to meet the search committee, only to have the Dean cut in line to because s/he has something more important to do during your regularly scheduled time.  Then we mix up your schedule, so that you meet folks at different times than you expect.  And then we throw in a “Top Chef” finale-like twist, where you need to do a teaching-prep that you hadn’t planned for, in addition to the research presentation you did.

4. Have more meals with more people that involve more awkward yammering, including a “down-time” coffee break with overzealous grad students who think they should be in the position you’re in.

5. The last step involves dealing with a meddling, autocratic school higher-up.  What I’m envisioning is this experience which apparently someone had when interviewing on campus at Bard College, as described on the academic jobs wiki “Universities to Hate” discussion section–who knows if it’s true or how much of it is, but it would make for great TV wouldn’t?  Actually, it makes for pretty great reading as it is!

OK, so when you vote, consider how well the finalists can navigate these challenges.  Who’s got the best stamina and is least likely to puke at the wrong time?  Who’s the best at providing substantial BS, while being able to adjust what s/he says to different situations and not offend anyone on accident?  Which type is likely to be the most personable and remain so under stress and strain?  Notice we didn’t mention anything about, you know, qualifications, because our expectation is that, in this job market, there are many more overqualified candidates for too few positions.

Thanks for playing along, and may the best grad student win!  We’ll post the results next week…

Vote late, vote often: Polls for “Top Grad Student” Round 4 close tomorrow!

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on August 9, 2010
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Just a plug to vote in our latest “Top Grad Student” virtual/reality show before we post the next and final round tomorrow.  Round 4 imagines our “Top Grad Student” contestants in a fake convention interview setting, scrapping, clawing, and schmoozing their ways to a campus visit.  Right now, our Sociology representative, who has seemed to be one of the better competitors up to now, is neck-and-neck with our Life Sciences contestant, trying to stave off elimination.  Your vote could be the difference!

“Top Grad Student” Round 4, Convention Interviews with Soul-Sucking Vampires

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on August 3, 2010
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Voting really picked up since yesterday, though it’s no surprise, considering all the traffic the WordPress front page sent our way–thank you our blog overlords!  However, even our best ratings ever for a “Top Grad Student” event weren’t enough to save our Math contestant from hearing our dreaded imaginary kiss-off, “You’re application has been…rejected!”  I imagine that the networking challenge left our competitors in a weird state of being buzzed and exhausted as talking too much often can.

However, it makes sense that those with the best people skills to advance to round 4, where we’re really getting to the nitty-gritty: Convention Interviews with Soul-Sucking Vampires–AKA, forgetful chaired profs with grumpy clout and younger faculty trying to their teeth on the fresh meat entering the generic hotel room/arena.  As someone mentioned in the comment thread for yesterday’s post, academia is test of not only mental acumen, but actual physical stamina.  In order to accurately gauge how well our contestants can stand up both to the psychological strain and physical toll of convention interviews, we’re forcing each of them to do 6 interviews spread over 2 two days,which replicates what many of the stronger candidates in lit have, anyway.  The interviews will happen the day after a major holiday, when the “Top Grad Students” will fly into Philadelphia–that’s what it seemed like we did in MLA-fields every other year between Xmas and New Year’s over the past decade.

The convention interview round magnifies all the skills and attributes of our contestants, who will be judged according to a wide range of criteria from the seemingly superficial to the seemingly substantial:

1. Who has the best stamina and can overcome–or at least deal with–fatigue the best, between traveling, eating greasy hotel food, meeting a bunch of random people, sleeping only a little bit, and prepping for interviews?

2. Who can handle the stress best?  Or another way of putting it, who can psych her/himself out the least?

3. Who looks the sharpest and makes the best first impression?  Remember, looking the most fashionable here isn’t the goal, since we’ve all heard the urban legend about how being too trendy has rubbed search committees the wrong way.

4. Who does the best job of saying the fewest dumb things and can recover the best from them–because you know you’re gonna say dumb, impolitic stuff during this endurance test?

5. And, oh yeah, who actually interviews the best, in terms of being prepared , describing research, elaborating on teaching, and thinking on her/his feet when you’re asked a vaguely antagonistic stumper?

In between, we’ll probably throw our contestants some unforeseen obstacles, like when they spring an extra course to make in an hour on the Top Chefs.  In our case, we’ll either get ’em drunk at an awkward dept party the night before a big interview or cram a snoring friend who needs for emergency housing into a hotel double.

So by now, you know what to do: Vote below for who you think should advance to the next round, the campus visit.  The contestant with the fewest votes will be sent to the limbo of constantly refreshing the Academic Jobs Wiki site to learn her/his fate on the job market.

Welcome and vote in “Top Grad Student,” Round 3!

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on August 2, 2010
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Wow!  Thanks to all the new readers checking out Post Academic today.  (And of course, that’s not to say we don’t appreciate our reliable followers the most, because we do!)  If you’re checking out the blog for the first time, please feel free to browse and also vote in Post Academic’s virtual/reality summer programming, “Top Grad Student”!  The comments section of our post today suggests there’s a lot of interest in the way grad students are perceived, so you might also be interested checking out the absurd premise for round 3 of our fake reality show contest here.

Just to explain a little bit here, we’re asking folks to vote in this installment for which hypothetical grad student, based on discipline, would be the best at networking and schmoozing.  So far, the voters have no confidence in Math grad student, and English and Life Sciences aren’t do so hot either.  We’ll tally up the votes to see who moves on, then post the next contest tomorrow: the convention interview round!

“Top Grad Student” Round 3, Extracurricular Activities

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on July 25, 2010
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"Henry Louis Gates, Jr." by Jon Irons (Creative Commons license)

So it looks like our Engineering, History, and Physics contenders for the title of “Top Grad Student” got the dreaded “Your application has been…rejected!” from round 2, which really speeds up our virtual/reality show competition.  That got me thinking about who the hosts and judges for “Top Grad Student” would be.  I’d say that our head judge would have to be Henry Louis Gates, because he’s definitely got crossover appeal with those family tree specials and is on TV all the time as it is.  As for the eye-candy host, let’s mix things up gender-wise and go with our unofficial “Post Academic” mascot, James Franco–you wouldn’t believe how much random traffic we get from searches and links to our post about his grad school decision.  And he went on “General Hospital” after all, so I think he’d do our show.  Of course, these picks are slanted towards the humanities and men, so please give us your much better ideas in the comments section below for hosts, if you’re so inclined.

Now, onto round 3: The latest competition in our virtual/reality contest show involves the personal skills every grad student should possess.  This round would involve two challenges.  The first would have the grad student competitors throw a party–sponsored by Trader Joe’s, of course!–to see how and how well they might socialize among each other and with other peers.  This part of the episode would also be the most entertaining, what with awkward wallflower behavior, the effects of cheap wine and generic foreign cheeses, and inappropriate relations you might not have expected that professional geeks would be capable of.  The luxe “Top Grad Student” glorified dorm complex would probably be trashed and some unlikely pair of students might be found together, making life more uncomfortable for the hyper-driven contestants left.

The second and more important challenge would center around networking.  Anyone who reads our site knows how queasy we get about networking, but would also realize that we realize how important it is both as a skill that can get your foot in the door as well as a powerful tiebreaker that might be what it takes to get you across the finish line.  Our networking contest might be judged according to the following criteria:

1. How well s/he can explain her/his faculty to specialists

2. How well s/he can describe her/his project to people outside of the field

3. What her/his likability factor would be–or, conversely, whether s/he seems like a sleazy schemer

4. How many folks s/he talks to in any reasonably sustained way

5. Striking the right balance between tooting one’s own horn tastefully and being convincingly humble

While it would be easy to presume that a chatty humanities type would have an edge, especially since bullshitting is a skill you’ve gotta possess, keep in mind that being too full of one’s self and rubbing folks the wrong way would be the risk of schmoozing.  Getting carried away with one’s own project and describing the finer points of critical theory could get you into trouble, much more so than a science-type who might be able to explain the stakes and objectives of her/his project.  I think of this in terms of odds–the more stuff you say, the odds are greater that you might eventually say the wrong thing!  Just know that a smooth talker doesn’t necessarily equate with being the best networking in our book.

So who moves onto round 4 and who’s gotta go back to doing job applications the old-fashioned way?  Time to vote below!

Vote late, vote often: “Top Grad Student”, Round 2 polls close tomorrow!

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on July 24, 2010
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For anyone who’s following our “Top Grad Student virtual/reality contest,” be sure to cast your vote for Round 2 before we post Round 3 tomorrow.  Not that you care, but if any folks out there want our fake Engineering, English, History, and/or Physics contestants to advance, you better vote for ’em.  If you want to skip the premise for Round 2, “Curriculum Builder” linked above and just head to the poll, it’s below.

“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!