roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Academic Culture- pt.3

with 4 comments

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

4 Responses

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  1. thanks for following my faculty blog!

    tiffany drape

    May 8, 2012 at 22:42

  2. […] probably brilliant!  Well done! Your phd will take you 3-4 years to complete (provided you have no heinous problems which the school will pretend doesn’t […]

  3. […] down.  Fight for your right to have some kind of guidance.  I realize there are all kinds of ego and political issues at stake here which make the situation very complicated, but remind yourself that you are already […]

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