I apologize for the lack of posting. I’m in finals/phd hell at the minute and feel like I have zero creativity right now.
So instead of writing blog posts, I am wasting time googling “I hate phd”. And from my blog stats page, it looks like I’m in good company.
In the meantime, dear readers, check this out:
Open Letter to Amy Pistone, Ph.D. Student in Classical Studies at the University of Michigan: The Articles Will Stop When The Exploitation Stops
[updated 4. May 2013 6:00 pm. Edited for length and excessive vitriol.]
First of all, I am very sorry if the following missive hurts your feelings. Your ad hominem attack under the official and ordained masthead of the University of Michigan certainly hurt mine, and that was not at all fun, so I know how it feels. That said—girl, you…
So as I wade through a mountain of shitty papers and make notes for my own shitty paper, I’ve also been trying to sew a few panels into my post ac golden parachute. I feel pretty disorganized, like I’m half assing 87 things at once and not really doing anything well. But even sewing a few stitches a day makes me feel better, like I’m making progress towards the kind of job or career I want.
My business has a name. And a website. And I have business cards. So I’m practically Gordon Gekko already, or at least the Kardashian husband with the slicked back hair who seems to be cut from the same cloth. And as I know from hours misspent watching old movies and reality television, the next step towards business success involves networking.
I don’t particularly like that word because it feels slimy. Like you’re out to grab each person passing by with a suctioney tentacle, flip em upside down, and shake them until their 1980s rolodex falls out of their big-shouldered business suit. (why are all my visions of non academic life drawn from Wall Street, Baby Boom, Working Girl era hollywood?)
I was never good at academic networking either. I always felt too nervous to approach a group of people, and I certainly did NOT want to find myself trapped between a plate of wilting sandwiches and some asshole who just gave an emperor has no clothes talk, of which I understood nothing.
So networking was never my strong point, but I figured that business people couldn’t be as bad as those who worship at the font of Foucault. I was right, which is a relief, but my first foray into the business world was kinda surreal anyways.
I went to a local ‘networking’ thing for entrepreneurs, which happened to be at an all you can eat Chinese buffet. Now I am a lover of won tons, but this struck me as a weird venue. And sure enough, there was something supa David Lynch-ey about the proceedings. Everyone took turns giving an ‘elevator pitch’ about their business, and who they were hoping to connect with. The types of people there generally fell into three categories (which occasionally overlapped):
The Multi-Tasker- these people had 2-3 businesses that they were promoting. None of them seemed connected or complimentary, like the person who had a machine repair business, a SEO company, and a day job as a taxi driver. Why would someone choose a SEO expert who also has to drive people around all day and fix machines to make rent?
The do as I say, not as I do people- this category included 3 obese ‘health and wellness’ type life coaches. I’m sorry, but this is insane. If I’m going to pay you $200 million rupees an hr or whatever to make me the picture of health, you should look like you woke up at 5am to do yoga on a beach. I would also not hire a voice and diction coach who spoke like James Gandolfini. The category also included people who wanted to tell you all about wealth management, yet here they were sitting in a shitty all you can eat buffet with entrepreneurs from the land of misfit toys. there was no wealth in that room, my own bank account included. This made me doubt their business acumen- they couldn’t possibly have that much wealth to manage if 1. they decide to trawl for it here, and 2. think it’s a good use of their time.
Captive Audience Lovers- these people barely mentioned their businesses and then spent 3 times the allotted speaking slot to tell everyone about their health issues. These people prevented me from taking full advantage of the all you can eat buffet.
and, most relevant to me, the Inarticulate- I’d say about 70 percent of the people there were unable to tell the assembled audience what exactly the fuck they do. Like the person selling the health shakes: “It’s really good, there’s this stuff in it that makes it really healthy, its organic….I forget what it’s called but if you google it, you should find it.” This made me feel a bit sad for humanity, but I figured, these people will probably need help with writing content, no?
Maybe I’m being harsh with my own mental assessment of what happened, but I can’t help it. The whole thing was sad and desperate and most of the people seemed like they had no idea what they were doing, or that they were projecting this confusion to the world. I do think it was the particular group I chose to network with though. I will certainly look for a more ‘professional’ gathering next time.
I did connect with a few of these people over email in the days after, but since I’m new to this world, I can’t tell if these are legit requests for business or creepy coded invites to meet up in a starbucks bathroom for some afternoon delight. A few of the emails stuck me as a bit ‘off’ and I’m not sure how to proceed.
The whole experience did leave me with a newfound sense of gratitude towards academia. I thought I was doing pretty fucking badly with my life choices, and while there are more efficient, less expensive ways to learn these lessons, academia has served me well in a number of ways. I can think critically. I can express myself through words and speech, even if I feel uncomfortable doing it. I can research and analyze the shit out of stuff. The thing is that when you are trapped on the 56th floor of the ivory tower, you believe that everyone can do these things too.
This is not the reality though. And this realization makes me a bit more confident that my ‘skills’ are marketable and that one day people will pay me for them.
Sorry for the radio silence, earthlings.
Things have been crazy at casa di university of lies lately. I still suffer from an all too common strain of thesis blues, phd neglect, and ennui. Symptoms include: apathy; unhealthy rage; desire to consume nothing but pizza and saccharine sick cups of builder’s tea; and netflixia.
So I let my side job take over my life. Because even a teeny micropeen of a paycheck is better than focusing on the other thing, which just costs me shit like money, sanity, and precious life units daily.
(also: don’t google micropeen.)
As the semester approaches its final death rattle, my classes are thinning out at an alarming rate. My bigger class, which started with 40 students, usually has around 18 seat warmers now. I don’t know if I should really care about this or not. There’s not even really a proper ‘selfish’ perspective here.. because this new low low number probably doesn’t mean less papers for me to grade. It means more random ‘did we do anything important today’ emails and students finding me in the hallway, feeding me a sob story about how their car broke down/they were abducted by aliens and can I please just wait in my office for another hour while they go to the computer lab and whip up something fresh for me to read?
But the show must go on and it does. As I’ve said before, alien abductees aside, I really like the majority of my students as people. They are funny and quite nice when you engage them on some other topic besides the one I’m supposed to teach. But I can’t help but get frustrated at their lack of work ethic when it comes to things that are hard or don’t interest them. I want to bash my head against the wall when they go on about their impending stardom, or ask them if they have a backup plan in case Simon or Xtina hit the ‘X’ (or don’t hit it. however those shows work).
(Though, according to the recent comments on that slate article about how the phd ruined some other persons life, this is probably a manifestation of the self-hate i feel, since apparently becoming a professor at a decent school with job security is just as ridiculous a career goal as wanting to be lady gaga.)
But the bright star in the firmament is that I have one student who gets it. This student is pretty affable, will say hi to me on campus etc. And while ze rarely hands in any work, ze always shows up to class and has an interesting contribution to make to the discussion. Which is often a discussion I am having with myself, or one other person. I don’t know why the hell ze bothers coming to class and paying attention when the hopes of someone passing the class without doing any fucking work are nil.
We are doing a Shakespearean play at the minute. It has made me parts maniacal and homicidal at the level of fucking apathy that gets bounced back in my face on a weekly basis, despite all my jazz hands and attempts to make what is already very fucking interesting even more fucking interesting. But yes, this one student gets it. And to hear hir laugh at the funny bits and make very 21st century comments in response to what is actually happening in the play is awesome. It’s like one of these internet memes where puppies and ducks and rabbits are best friends. I feel some kind of electric ZING that signifies the transportation of knowledge and all the centuries are squished into nil and isn’t literature and time travel brilliant, fellow adventurers?
Then I look around the rest of the room and see 17 slack jawed walking dead extras.
I’ve been ‘mentored’ by some very awesome people who tell me this is the best I can hope for. But as good as I feel in that moment, with my student who does no work but can appreciate timeless art, I don’t know how good I feel about ‘getting’ 1 in 40.
Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon at heart. But I don’t think technology has a huge place in the classroom.
Not when you are in the humanities, anyways. Or if it does, the instructor should be the one controlling it.
Why do my students (and yours, fo sho) pay tens of thousands of dollars each semester for the privilege of sitting in a classroom, only to ignore every fucking thing that is happening around them?
Let me tell you a story, gentle reader.
wasted spent my weekend coming up with lesson plans to introduce what my students would consider a difficult and inaccessible text. I was pretty excited about it too, because I came up with a few gimmicky fun activities to ‘trick’ them into learning and ease them into the text. And then some visuals to make the text come alive before we began the herculean feat of interpreting it all.
So how did it work out on the battlefield? Well, the ‘fun’ stuff was fun. There was attention and participation. Better than I could have expected. Then the idea was to show a few minutes of a related film, to give em a visual.
So picture it, Sicily 1937. The movie is on, the lights are off. The film may or not feature artfully arranged facial hair and unintentionally hilarious accents.
I saw a student on their phone and told hir to put it away. A minute later, I turned my eyes away from the film to do a lifeguard eye sweep of the room, and see another student smiling to hirself as hir heroin screen glowed under hir finger. I realize typing this out that it shouldn’t seem like such a big fucking deal but I felt outraged like some shitty roman emperor realizing his subjects don’t really love him but just want protection from gangs of marauders.
So I shut the movie off and stared at them. Asked again for what felt like the millionth time this semester, why the hell are you guys here if you are just going to stare at your phones? And I gave them an assignment to do that, as I later realized, is really just a punishment for me since I’ll have to read the damn things.
I guess the real problem is that what we do in my classroom isn’t important to my students. If it was, they wouldn’t be on their fucking phones at all.
So how the hell do I deal with that?
As I have written about before, luckily most of my colleagues are intelligent, kind, helpful people. (And I am very aware that this probably has
something to do with the fact that we are in the basement of the Ivory Tower.)
There is one fine gem of a person, whoever, who has tried to make my life hell in a very passive aggressive way. It all kicked off once upon a time when ze asked if I would switch courses with hir a few days before the new semester started. And since I had never taught that class before or read the book, I said that I didn’t feel comfortable taking on all that work at the last minute. Since then, this person has tried to make my professional life miserable.
I don’t know how this person decided that they have any professional oversight over me. I think it has something to do the fact that I am younger and have kind of an ‘innocent’ appearance. I have the ideal face for a Mormon Missionary. Probably 63% less people would slam their door in my face because I permanently look like my cat is stuck up a tree or I am about to cry, despite the fact that I am a karateman on the inside. Also, regardless of the crazy shit that goes on at Montyburns Inc, I still have a pretty good time most days, having interesting conversations from my other coworkers and learning cool shit from them. This person gets crotchety at the sounds of laughter and fun. Huffing, puffing, eye-rolling…ya know, the maturity as a cartoon wolf. And I think probably some of it is jealousy that I have some academic ‘credentials’, although us cool kids on the internet know what a load of shit this really is.
Anyways. The reason for this rant du jour is that Prof. Fun Hata emailed Monty Burns’ next in line, complaining that the reason so many of our students do poorly in the required lower-level liberal arts courses is because one of the other instructors (moi) isn’t teaching it the same way ze is. Because clearly there is only one way to teach this shit, and it’s with the least amount of imagination possible.
Also, this poor performance has nothing to do with the fact that our population of students are massively unprepared for college (especially the particular entry level classes I teach), and if they do submit “work” , it’s on a 4th grade level.
Dude is an asshole. I hate being around bad vibes like that, but the more I tried to get this person’s approval, the more they seemed to delight in hating me.
So I stopped trying to please hir. This person’s malice should be of no importance to me, though I admit that I am actually a warm blooded human being who likes to snuggle with puppies and watch Julie Andrews movies. And for delicate souls like myself, it doesn’t feel good when people don’t like you, even if they themselves are pricks. Probably Derrida has written some bullshit theory about this. I ignore this person now but will hold the door for them, as I don’t like to be a total asshole.
But emailing Dr. University of Phoenix Online to complain about me, when ze has never stepped foot inside my classroom to see what I actually do?
I’m having a tough time remaining dude-like about this.
My well-meaning parent likes to forward me job vacancy announcements for various academic positions.
I used to fill them out.
I wasted countless hours last year going nuts with those things, each one requiring you to invent some stupid login name and info for their campuswide internet system, writing letters of intent for each one, being careful to incorporate their exact bullshit phrases like “multi-ethnic,” because I was informed by some ‘insider’ who scores the applications that writing “diverse” just ain’t the same thing.
(and obvi, that highly classified info was not enough to help me.)
And due to the sheer number of applications I filled out, I did allow myself to indulge in a few daydreams about what life might be like with one of these cushy government jobs. 3/4 teaching load, good health insurance, funding to go to conferences, and a starting salary that doubled the highest wage I’ve ever earned, for what appears to be a lot less work. Less stress. Union membership and some kind of job protection. More time to bike and kayak and do other outdoorsy shit that people in herpes commercials get to do.
Maybe it was some kind of optimism bias. Or maybe since I filled out so many of the damn applications, I felt a little like Charlie Bucket when he took the shilling he found in the gutter to buy one last Wonka Bar. Not realizing, of course, that Veruca Salt’s dad employed a whole fucking factory of people to shuck candy bars in the hopes of finding that magical piece of paper.
I do realize that my analogy is seriously flawed because of this:
But I digress.
The odds are not stacked in my (or most people’s) favor. So would it really be the best use of my time today to churn off another application and raise my hopes for a life of probs decent civil servitude, when I could be working on my thesis? So I can get the fuck out of academia and just eat chocolate and read books for fun, without having to rely on those things to supply my livelihood?
There’s also this to consider. While I think it’d be great to have one of these jobs, is it really what I want out of my brief time on this mortal coil? I imagine that I’d be better equipped to laugh apathetic students off and not take it so personally if I was making a fair wage. But maybe it wouldn’t be enough for me. What do I really want out of life? Damn you, academia, and your awful penchant for making me re-evaluate shit and think.
If I had to answer that question right now, what do I want to do with my life, well the real ugly worm under the rock that is my heart answer is, I want to be david sedaris. (not in a creepy skin wearing way. I will continue to respect and admire you from a very healthy physical distance, mr sedaris!)
So maybe I should work on that today instead.