roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Archive for May 2012

um…I’m going to need those TPS reports on saturday…yeah…

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Let’s chat about academic productivity, which is the most misleading euphemism since ‘lady flower’ or ‘painting the seagull’.  (don’t google that, by the way.)

that manuscript? yeah.. you’re going to need to write another one.

Academic Productivity= publishing.  You’ve all heard that sad old adage, ‘publish or perish’?  It should more accurately be ‘publish shitloads and perish anyway,’ but that would require a longer bumper.

Yes, you need to publish to obtain tenure.  And now the almost requirement that you have at least one book published BEFORE getting some manic pixie dream job ensures something else…

Everyone and their donkey has published something.  And maybe as a result of the sheer amount of ‘productivity’ out there, much of it is unreadable shite.

It’s how you find yourself ruining a perfectly gorgeous sunny day trying to focus on something like this, per esempio:

“If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to ‘normalize’ formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.”

This transforms me into Yosemite Sam, who has just taken a swig of hot sauce instead of water.  if he even does that.  now I’m running around in circles making  politically incorrect ‘native american’ noises.

(not me, yosemite sam.)

What does it MEAN?  Why all the obfuscation?  Does using a lot of big words strung together make someone’s thoughts more worthy of being heard, or make them better full stop?  Why is it ‘bad’ in academia to communicate clearly and simply?  And no matter how many people profess that they hate pompous verbosity, the cultural norms and message are still the same.  If you are easy to understand, people will and do look down on you.

I happen to prefer lucid prose, ok?

In what other profession/realm is this the case?  Where else are people rewarded for such opaque communication?

My idea is that all of this crazy-talk is a result of STEM/sciences penis envy- that academics in the humanities feel that in order to earn funding, justify their existence to the university, and feed their egos, they need to demonstrate that they, too, have huge peens.  Through language!

Or is it something else?  Who the hell knows.

I just don’t think stuff like the above quotation (Homi Bhaba, btw) is worth the death of a tree.  Or even the occupation of an infinite thing like cyber space.

I’ve been reluctant to classify myself as either a type 1 or type 2 leaver (although I’m not actually leaving, go figure) .. I think the distinctions are both interesting and helpful, and may describe a lot of people, but I don’t feel firmly in one camp or the other.  However, I do feel passionately that life is too fucking short to waste reading drivel that probably doesn’t mean anything or could have been said simply and concisely but then the author wouldn’t be an author, would they?

just give the man some damn cake already.

Does this make me type 1?

If there was less pressure on academics to publish, maybe the material out there would be a little more fucking readable/interesting/other subjective category predetermined by me.

Iam not this narcissistic in real life, btw.  You’ll have to take my word for it.  O the irony!


Party for Everybody

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The cure for your thursday blues:

This song has got everything: costume, spectacle, a catchy hook, a disco oven, and some awesome grannies who are trying to raise money to rebuild a church in their town. (it was destroyed by Stalin 70 years ago).

They just might take it all.

Or else, these guys:

If I was going to write a dissertation on eurovision (hypothetically, of course), it’d be on why I see jedward as a musical version of the sokal affair.  They don’t make any sense and some people (tween girls?) take them seriously, but really they’re in on the joke, which kind of illuminates how ridiculous most manufactured acts are.

yes, really.

Thankfully I don’t have to write a thesis on eurovision cause this guy already did, I shit you not.

Maybe I will start a new series of posts, most obscure phd theses ever..

I’m not just a member, I’m also the president.

Written by universityoflies

May 24, 2012 at 16:33

The Big Lebowski of Academia

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I received a very interesting comment on my blog today from Chris Llano. He wrote:

I’m kinda intrigued as to what made u go towards the PhD road after everything that happened to u… If I knew that doing a PhD was gonna be the end of my economy and self-esteem, I wouldn’t done it, but you seem different, like you knew and still decided for it -interesting!-and… Do you plan to finish it?

Thanks for the question, Chris!  It’s a good one, and when I look at my situation in that way, it does seem like I must be some kind of weirdo masochist with a closet full of ball gags.

The short answer is, I didn’t know the extent of what the phd had in store for me, and it was NOT the end of my self-esteem.  It certainly damaged it, but, not unlike one of those weighted boppy toys, I am resilient when punched repeatedly.  Also, you’re damn sure I’m going to finish.

But I did have a lot of negative feelings about academia before I went back for the phd, you are correct.  So I’m going to attempt to explain my thought process right here.

That rug really tied the room together…

Here goes.

I wanted to be the Big Lebowski of academia.

I wanted to do my own thing, in my bathrobe, sipping on a delicious white russian.  All the while thinking, whateever maan.

Still with me?

Also, I kind of forgot just how bad things could get in the Cult of Academia.  You know how women are flooded with oxytocin hormones after childbirth so they forget the excruciating pain and want to have more babies?   I’m going to say that I had some less intense, non perineum tearing academic version of that.

After I got the hell out of the MA and started teaching,  Life seemed a lot better.  I was getting a paycheck, for one thing.  And instead of my mostly pretentious cohort, my new peers were really interesting, intelligent, cool people.  I wrote a bit about the challenges of teaching there in a previous post (and it’s something I’ll write more about in the future), but there were some wonderful moments.  I liked planning lessons that included material I thought my students would be interested in.. and in cases where boredom was almost certain, like where grammar was concerned, I took real pleasure in devising ‘gimmicks’ to make my students laugh and get them interested in what we had to do.  Did it always work?  Of course not.  But I know I made a legitimate difference with a few kids, and that felt really good.  I also liked teaching itself- the performance aspect of it, being made to think quickly, and the learned skill of guiding a discussion effectively.  We had some good fucking times.  So there was that.  There were some specific issues I had with my college (food for another post), and the idea of teaching at a better school was really appealing.  But I’d need a phd to have a chance.

see where I’m going with this?

The other main driving force behind my potato sack race back to academia was the work I did as an independent scholar.  (I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious, btw.  ‘Shit I wrote and presented for no real reason other than personal interest’ is a bit too wordy though.)

It was actually fun to look at CFP lists and think, ‘which of these sounds interesting? ‘ And ‘which conference is in a warm climate?’

The papers I wrote and presented during this time were some of my favorite experiences in academia.  I chose topics out of pure interest, without any kind of boring strategic thought as to how marketable it would make me look.  And I wrote them how I wanted, without any thought to ‘sounding’ like an academic, and without the usual panic of ‘have I fucking cited everything in the world ever?’

And those conferences were fun.

Channeling the Dude, my papers went down well!  I handled the questions fine and diffused the obnoxious ones ok without getting a bruised ego.  I even got some compliments after all was said and done.  I went to the lunches and felt no pressure to network with 8 zillion people and impress them with my sparkling wit or ability to not act like a drunk dickhead.  And when I inevitably heard papers given by people in evening gowns at 9am and didn’t understand one fucking word, instead of panicking about how stupid I must be, I just poured myself an imaginary white russian and thought, ‘whatever man.’

And when I got bored of the whole thing, I left.

It was really freeing to be the Big Lebowski of academia.

My problem was, that in order to get that better teaching job I wanted, I’d need a phd.  And the error of my thought process was that I could keep on being the BL of A while I did it.


This is actually a really gross picture. Sorry!

This makes no sense, of course.

You can’t Dude your way through a phd program.  It’s impossible to be laid back and zen when your adviser ignores you for X years and the school blames you for the dysfunctional relationship.

I knew the culture of academia was fucked but even I had no idea of the specific obstacles I was going to face.  Who would sign up for that?

But from my limited experiences, 1. taking everything really seriously at MA level, 2.Duding it up on my own, and 3. Surviving phd life, I have learned a few things.

I really like teaching, research, and (sometimes) writing.  And none of these things individually prevented me from being laid back, happy, and doing shit on my own terms.  In fact, despite my mostly negative blogs (sorry folks), my phd is going pretty well now.  I am going to finish.  It’s the cult of academia that I don’t like: the abuses of advisers and lack of University accountability, use of students as slave teaching robots, cycle of accepting thousands of new students each year as the job market dries up and universities cut tenure track jobs.

The Cult(ure) is fucked and I hate that and it make me feel very unDude like.

drops mike, walks off stage.

Written by universityoflies

May 17, 2012 at 17:40

In Memoriam

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I just found out that My Favorite Undergrad Professor died.

MFUP was such a caring person, a thoughtful scholar, an inspirational teacher.  Exactly the kind of person the world needs more of.

and ze was too fucking young to die.

Hir facebook page is filling with tributes from friends, family, former students, and colleagues across the world.  People posting lines of poems and sharing memories and photos.  I’m not too sure how I feel about the facebook memorials, they usually weird me out, tbh.  But it is beautiful to see what an impact ze had on so many lives.  I hope hir family is able to take some kind of comfort from it.

I’m half sick of shadows…

I keep trying to think of some kind of fitting tribute, some nice way to phrase all of the wonderful memories I have of MFUP, hir tremendous kindness, intellect, and sense of humor.  But I don’t feel too articulate right now.

I am just so sad for the loss to this world, and so angry at the randomness of the everything.  I wish shit was different and that MFUP had the gift of a long long long life.  It makes me sick that Billy Joel was right-for every tragic young death, there are 87 montgomery burnses and they are all douches.  I wish I was grand czar of everything and then I’d institute some kind of reason for things.

Life is so. fucking. short.  We aren’t guaranteed or owed anything.

Most of the time, we are so consumed with everyday bullshit, caught up in the delusion that our lives matter and are important in some grand cosmic scheme.  When in reality, we are just tiny tiny tiny little fucking specks, spinning away on one tiny planet.

So in memoriam, here is one of MFUP’s favorite poems.  A good reminder to live while we have the chance.

A Grammarian’s Funeral.  Robert Browning

Let us begin and carry up this corpse,
Singing together.
Leave we the common crofts, the vulgar thorpes
Each in its tether
Sleeping safe on the bosom of the plain,
Cared-for till cock-crow:
Look out if yonder be not day again
Rimming the rock-row!
That’s the appropriate country; there, man’s thought,
Rarer, intenser,
Self-gathered for an outbreak, as it ought,
Chafes in the censer.
Leave we the unlettered plain its herd and crop;
Seek we sepulture
On a tall mountain, citied to the top,
Crowded with culture!
All the peaks soar, but one the rest excels;
Clouds overcome it;
No! yonder sparkle is the citadel’s
Circling its summit.
Thither our path lies; wind we up the heights:
Wait ye the warning?
Our low life was the level’s and the night’s;
He’s for the morning.
Step to a tune, square chests, erect each head,
‘Ware the beholders!
This is our master, famous calm and dead,
Borne on our shoulders.

Sleep, crop and herd! sleep, darkling thorpe and croft,
Safe from the weather!
He, whom we convoy to his grave aloft,
Singing together,
He was a man born with thy face and throat,
Lyric Apollo!
Long he lived nameless: how should spring take note
Winter would follow?
Till lo, the little touch, and youth was gone!
Cramped and diminished,
Moaned he, “New measures, other feet anon!
“My dance is finished?”
No, that’s the world’s way: (keep the mountain-side,
Make for the city!)
He knew the signal, and stepped on with pride
Over men’s pity;
Left play for work, and grappled with the world
Bent on escaping:
“What’s in the scroll,” quoth he, “thou keepest furled?
“Show me their shaping,
“Theirs who most studied man, the bard and sage,—
“Give!”—So, he gowned him,
Straight got by heart that hook to its last page:
Learned, we found him.
Yea, but we found him bald too, eyes like lead,
Accents uncertain:
“Time to taste life,” another would have said,
“Up with the curtain!”
This man said rather, “Actual life comes next?
“Patience a moment!
“Grant I have mastered learning’s crabbed text,
“Still there’s the comment.
“Let me know all! Prate not of most or least,
“Painful or easy!
“Even to the crumbs I’d fain eat up the feast,
“Ay, nor feel queasy.”
Oh, such a life as he resolved to live,
When he had learned it,
When he had gathered all books had to give!
Sooner, he spurned it.
Image the whole, then execute the parts—
Fancy the fabric
Quite, ere you build, ere steel strike fire from quartz,
Ere mortar dab brick!

(Here’s the town-gate reached: there’s the market-place
Gaping before us.)
Yea, this in him was the peculiar grace
(Hearten our chorus!)
That before living he’d learn how to live—
No end to learning:
Earn the means first—God surely will contrive
Use for our earning.
Others mistrust and say, “But time escapes:
“Live now or never!”
He said, “What’s time? Leave Now for dogs and apes!
“Man has Forever.”
Back to his book then: deeper drooped his head
_Calculus_ racked him:
Leaden before, his eyes grew dross of lead:
_Tussis_ attacked him.
“Now, master, take a little rest!”—not he!
(Caution redoubled,
Step two abreast, the way winds narrowly!)
Not a whit troubled
Back to his studies, fresher than at first,
Fierce as a dragon
He (soul-hydroptic with a sacred thirst)
Sucked at the flagon.

Oh, if we draw a circle premature,
Heedless of far gain,
Greedy for quick returns of profit, sure
Bad is our bargain!
Was it not great? did not he throw on God,
(He loves the burthen)—
God’s task to make the heavenly period
Perfect the earthen?
Did not he magnify the mind, show clear
Just what it all meant?
He would not discount life, as fools do here,
Paid by instalment.
He ventured neck or nothing—heaven’s success
Found, or earth’s failure:
“Wilt thou trust death or not?” He answered “Yes:
“Hence with life’s pale lure!”
That low man seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it:
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding nine to one,
His hundred’s soon hit:
This high man, aiming at a million,
Misses an unit.
That, has the world here—should he need the next,
Let the world mind him!
This, throws himself on God, and unperplexed
Seeking shall find him.
So, with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar;
Still, thro’ the rattle, parts of speech were rife:
While he could stammer
He settled _Hoti’s_ business—let it be!—
Properly based _Oun_—
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic _De_,
Dead from the waist down.
Well, here’s the platform, here’s the proper place:
Hail to your purlieus,
All ye highfliers of the feathered race,
Swallows and curlews!
Here’s the top-peak; the multitude below
Live, for they can, there:
This man decided not to Live but Know—
Bury this man there?
Here—here’s his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
Lightnings are loosened,
Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
Peace let the dew send!
Lofty designs must close in like effects
Loftily lying,
Leave him—still loftier than the world suspects,
Living and dying.

Written by universityoflies

May 12, 2012 at 19:03

Call for Papers!

with 2 comments

Here’s mine:

“You’ve Been Rick Rolled, Bitch: A Conceptual (Re)formation of Rick Astley’s Post-Jungian Imagery”



What’s yours?

Written by universityoflies

May 9, 2012 at 13:41

Deprogramming Myself from the Cult of Education

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Thanks a lot!

Thanks a lot!

“A college education is the key to a good future.”  -old people

As the child of civil servant, one generation removed from ‘the old country’ parents, education equaled stability and prosperity.  so when I got a masters, then decided to get a phd, well the old people were impressed.

If school= good, surely more school= more good?

And to a large degree, I believed it myself, even though I also knew the job market was dire.  But I found a full time teaching position before, surely I’d be able to get another one?

(O rhetorical questions!  You are cray cray.)

But yeah.  Some things you have to learn for yourself, I guess.  No matter how many articles I read entitled “Just Don’t Go to Grad School” or “Tertiary Education Will Ruin Your Life and Turn You Into a Homeless Creeper”, well I wasn’t convinced.  Partly because I’m stubborn and partly because it’s infuriating to be told to get the hell out of academia (unless I am independently wealthy!) by some old white guy who already has a tenured position.  There’s enough cookies for William H Pannapacker, but not for anyone else!!!!1

Because I should specify- I’ve never been after one of those fancy R1 or even ‘public ivy’ jobs with a special chair named after an illustrious dead person and a big mahogany office filled with first edition books and moldy taxidermy.  I wanted to be a public servant, like my parents.  Teaching at a community college or a lower end government owned university.  And I had this idea that most of the drama around the job market for academics was coming from people who were ‘above’ the community college/glorified cc market.  That reflected what I heard from the prestige chasers around me and what I read on the interwebz.  The way people talk, nobody was going to waste their time teaching those shitty intro to writing classes at a community college, probably in an industrial park or skyscraper board room with low ceilings,  nary a luscious green quad to be seen.

I thought the phd would lead to opportunity and job security cause I had my sights set low.   All I wanted was to focus on teaching and not the endless churning out of journal articles nobody will ever read.   But of course, I now know that my lofty cohort are applying for and settling for these jobs cause there ain’t no other game in town.

My civil servant/immigrant relatives think I’m being dramatic, but 878Xj3 job applications later, with not even one interview or request for more information, I finally get it.

In the first world, in the 21st century,in a dark dark house, in a dark dark room, education does not equal opportunity.

Now what?

Written by universityoflies

May 7, 2012 at 21:41

Academic Culture- pt.3

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My Former Adviser’s To-Do List:

1. Media appearances

2. More media appearances

3. Copious amounts of travel

4. Work for foundations/corporations A, B, C

5. Lecture at non university events D, E, F

6. More travel

7. Write something.

8. Give adequate shitty undergrad lectures

9. read phd advisee’s work and provide feedback

10. meet with phd advisee

My old adviser only thought ze was Stephen Fry.

MFA only thought ze was Stephen Fry.


As you may have gleaned from the above to do list (or never do), MFA was a busy person.  The surprising thing is, this person is NOT a household name, or even a superstar within our own academic circles.

I would never begrudge anybody their success, or opportunity to bring their knowledge to the public.  I think its fucking fantastic when university professors are given tv shows, radio shows, newspaper columns etc and the chance to reach a general audience.

But not at the complete expense of the job they’re being paid to do in the first place.  My former adviser gave appalling lectures to hir undergraduate classes; picture an intoxicated giraffe trying to lick peanut butter off its nose.  Now that mental image is much more interesting/informative than any lecture of MFA’s that I’ve ever heard.  The class was a terrible experience for the undergrads registered for the class and the TAs forced to keep a straight face during said abominable lectures, but is also quite shitty for the good professors who do a crapton of work, for the same pay.  However, the undergrads are stuck with this person for only one class.  It sucks, but you take it and move on.  It’s probably not enough to drive anyone completely mental.

This is where phd advisement comes in.

If your adviser is someone with a to-don’t list like MFA, you’re fucked.  Because institutional culture is designed to incite something like the following chain of events:

1. you get MFA.

2. unable to identify the genus species in its native habitat, you stumble through 3-6 months of work and meetings with your adviser, Inglorius Bastardicus, confused by the vague and conflicting messages you receive.  You are disconcerted when they do things like ask you for X pages on X topic, and then  upon completion, you get a blank stare and are asked why on earth you thought that was a good idea.  You are also slightly concerned when they laugh about not having read or familiarized themselves with any of the primary documents you are working with.  You assume they will, one day, look at these documents, but you know what they say about assuming and shit.

3.  You start to really freak out.  Perhaps you speak to the person in your department about your situation, and they tell you to try harder with your relationship.  You may or may not feel like a 1950s housewife, regardless of your gender/what century it is.

4. You try to make it work.

5. It doesn’t work.  You go back to department person and beg for a new adviser.  You are told to try harder and given advice like, ‘try having his slippers and martini ready at the door when he comes home from work.  and don’t chatter about your day- it’s not about you.’  or something like that but not really.

Meanwhile, more time is passing.  You are hemorrhaging money or time or both, and wishing every fucking day that you became a garbageman or learned a trade, just like people never told you to do when you were younger.

93. MANY months or even YEARS later, after much caterwauling on your part, you finally get a new adviser.  HALLEFUCKINGLUJAH.  Hopefully they don’t suck too.

Why are bad advisers so rife in academia?  Besides my own sob story, I have heard many stories from friends the world over: advisers who steal your work, make sexytime advancements towards you, make you teach their classes while they get paid for it, and more advisers who steal your work.  Compared to that shit, my jaunt into Don Draper land was a joke.

It all comes back to tenure.   I agree with the original reason for tenure- the freedom to publish controversial material without fearing for your job security.  But it seems like as a result,the MFAs become the Tenured Untouchables.  Not like harijan untouchable, more like making up your own religion for tax purposes and its a cult but nobody stops you and you just do whatever the hell you want untouchable.

It makes me so angry (have you noticed?) that there’s a good percentage of MFAs out there who are taking advantage of the tenure system to collect a paycheck while doing none of their actual primary duties.  The ones that made them become professors in the first place.  Unless they all just wanted to be Stephen Fry.  But he’s not a fucking professor, is he?

And in what other job do you continue to get paid when you do no work?

Why the hell do departments carry around this dead weight?  It’s no secret at my institution which advisers are like MFA and which are hardworking.  So why continue to let them ruin the lives of new phd students and bore the shit out of countless undergrads each year?  And why, when confronted with this reality, do departments continue the ever progressive policy of Cover Their Asses and instead of dealing with the problem, tell these students to make it fucking work and blame them for not trying hard enough to fix the relationship, instead of getting the adviser to do their job?


Written by universityoflies

May 4, 2012 at 20:26