roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Archive for July 2012

Grad School Sucks I Hate My Life Dot Com

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I have not been feeling very motivated to write anything lately be it blog, thesis, or to-do list.  And I just wasted 10 minutes looking at google images of sad puppies.  They are really sad, btw.   Sarah Mclachlan has some work to do yet.  The cause of my general malaise is mostly a meeting I had the other day with my adviser.  I had submitted a chapter that I hoped was pretty much done.  And I hoped our chat would go something like this:

My Adviser: UniversityofLies, this chapter is fucking fantastic.  Let’s move on to the next one.

Me: cool beans.

Then this would happen:

Then I’d go home and write the next chapter and then I’d be done YAY NO MORE GRAD SCHOOL FOREVER I HAVE A PHD YEEHAW!

Alas, my vision did not come to pass.  Basically ze picked 8 million holes in it that I couldn’t even understand, and raised all these questions and said all this shit that I couldn’t even respond to because I had no idea what ze was talking about.  I tried to clarify at first, but then I just felt stupider and stupider and more confused.  My face hurt.  I think I told hir that.  And then I left.

Our conversations don’t usually go like this.  Usually, I go in exasperated and leave re-energized and excited about what I’m going to do next.

The worst bit is that if my adviser sees these holes, they are there.  This is not manufactured bullshit from someone trying to get rid of me or put me down or play politics.  Ze is really fucking intelligent, no nonsense, and above all, fair.  Ze puts a lot of work into reading and evaluating my stuff and is not a joker, smoker, or space cowboy like my last adviser.  (an aside: I hate using these androgynous pronouns but I can’t think of another way to keep this stuff vague.  So I apologize and want you to know that I do indeed write ‘history’ and not ‘herstory.’)

I just feel like I’ve reached the end of my mental universe.

The boat is my thesis and the ‘end of the world’ is my brain. Or something.

I feel trapped and scared, like this is never going to end.  A cycle of me submitting stuff and it not being good enough, because LOOK AT THE CLOUDS PAINTED ON THAT WALL, this is all I can give, ok?


Physical labor is rewarding!

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I’ve spent this last week using a paint roller instead of a pen.

Being really really good looking is hard work.

And I have come to two conclusions as a result of my ‘work experience.’

1. while listening to the radio helps the day go quickly, this is problematic cause the radio sucks.  I just have to get that one off my chest.  Radio DJs may be the most obnoxious people in the world ever.  Also, this realization is bittersweet, because it’s the only job in the world I’m qualified for as it involved prank calling people using bad ‘foreign’ accents.  And they literally play the same 8 songs all day long.  Cue my Carly Rae Jepsen induced insomnia.  Also, what is with the insane focus on the weekend?  Monday is shit cause it’s the start of the work week, tuesday sucks cause Friday is far away, Wednesday is ‘hump’ day (wtf), thursday oh you’re so close to the weekend, and Friday I’m in love?  I guess it’s something to talk about but it just seems like wishing your life away.

Sorry for that rant and I’m sure its nothing new to anyone but me.

Now for point 2, a little more suited to the subject of this blog:

I’m certainly not the first person to point out that there is something gratifying about doing physical work.  It’s satisfying to have tangible evidence of what you’ve been doing.  To step back at the end of the day and look at the rooms I’ve painted felt very fucking good.  Like, shit, I DID that!  You’re welcome!  I felt like michelangelo or one of the other skilled ninja turtles (I do not suffer from self esteem problems, obvs).

And for about 3 seconds I contemplated what my life would be like if I only did this kind of work.  But there is a danger in oversimplifying or reducing this kind of work to being more legitimate or rewarding or something like that.  There’s certainly a limited shelf life on how long a person can paint all day or crawl under sinks or fix roofs.  Especially with the retirement age rising, you could find yourself on your knees at age 60.  (That was not a prostitute joke.  Really.)  Anyways I’m still fairly young and in decent nick, and at the end of the day, I was so freaking sore.  All of that ‘free time’ that people supposedly have when they’re not bogged down with academic guilt was completely wasted on me as I was too tired to even veg out in front of the television.  I’m kind of grateful to head back to the library.

According to his website, the dude who wrote Shop Class as Soulcraft now splits his time between operating his small business and being a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.  Sounds like the best of both, no?

Written by universityoflies

July 23, 2012 at 08:50

What Color is Your Ejection Seat?

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One of my main existential crises at the minute (you should always have a few)

my first series, The Existential Crisis Zone, was self-indulgent and thus poorly reviewed.

is about what I’ll do once I get the hell out of academia.

I knew a girl once who said she didn’t want to be trapped in one career for the rest of her life but wanted do a few different things.  I don’t remember all of them but I do recall that she wanted to own a cheese shop.  she was very fucking cool, btw.  and how awesome to want to do many things, and being excited about the possibilities.  She was also a laid back person, if that has anything to do with it.

But instead of being excited about options like one of those motivational posters with a sunset, I feel more like the one with a guy dangling off a rock face but instead of saying ‘motivation,’ the caption says  ” I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO FUCKING CLIMB ROCKS.”  I bought what color is your parachute before I went to grad school the first time.  and while it’s obviously been great tool for many people, I had a difficult time using it.  I couldn’t answer most of the questions.

This sounds  stupid, but its true.  Shit like, ‘write your top 5 talents in this box’ and ‘color a picture of what your ideal life would look like’ left me flummoxed and, to be honest, scared.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that to the word at large, or at least the 10 people reading this.  Scared of a book that wasn’t even this.

I do not consider myself to be nambypamby girlyman-person.  The same idiotic voice inside my head that made me start a phd is the same voice that has made me take up some weird sports and do some other equally not well thought out ‘extreme’ type stuff.

But a blank sheet of paper with limitless opportunities felt much more frightening than running 26.2 miles or getting my ass kicked by much bigger and stronger people or, now that I think of it, even doing a phd.

So I was scared and I had no freaking idea where to start or what to do.  And that book ended up in the recycling bin.  (at least I recycle?)

I’ve also tried careers counselors at the local library, my alma mater, and

The pamphlets I’ve read were made from inferior potassium.

current university.  That hasn’t worked out so well, either.  Mostly because we’d sit down and they’d have a desk of shiny pamphlets and newly sharpened pencils and I’d be feeling really hopeful about the whole thing, now I’m in the hands of a trusted professional, like a gynocologist for my careers path but not really, and they’d start off by going, “ok so what kind of career would you like?”  and inside I’m like, I HAVE NO IDEA, THAT’s WHY I AM HERE.

The last one I saw was a disaster.  It went something like this:

scene: cramped anonymous office.  no pamphlets, no pencils.

Counselor Person:  So what kind of thing would you like to do?

Me: (sweating) um I really don’t know. That’s why I’m here.  I’d like to talk about my options.

CP: (clackety clack on the computer) ok, great.  Would you be interested in working in a corporate environment?

Me:  not really… I know that rules a lot of things out but I don’t think I’d like working in that kind of environment.

CP: (following script prepared by corporate thugs) Ok well we have a corporate headhunter coming to campus next week.

Me: um, like I said, I don’t think I’m really interested in the corporate thing.

CP: The corporate world has a lot of great graduate trainee schemes.  They are specifically looking for people with degrees and you get on the job training.

(CP brings up website advertising competitive graduate trainee scheme.  For those with bachelors degrees.)

Me:  Isn’t that scheme for people with bachelors degrees?

CP: Yes but you can enter it too.

Me:  So I’d be competing for this stuff against 21 year olds with way less qualifications?  And if I got it, I’d be in the same position as other 21 year old with way less qualifications?  What would be the point of my phd then if I could have done this 10 years ago?

CP: (eyes shift to clock on wall) Well, it’d still be a great opportunity…

(cue incomprehensible corporate talk for the next 10 min until I took her not glossy printout and said thankyouverymuch I’ll think about it and walked out.)

That took me a few days to get over.  What a 2 for 1 bargain- a demonstration of how the degree I don’t even have yet is undervalued and obsolete, and no career ideas.

So yeah.  I don’t really want to do that again.  Even if I met with some great innovative person, I probably wouldn’t be much help to myself since I don’t know what I want (besides knowing that I don’t want to enter a graduate trainee scheme alongside a bunch of people a decade ish younger than me).

Whenever people ask that question designed to shortcut all this ‘career’ angst, ya know, what would you do if you won the lottery, I can’t even answer that question reasonably.   I mean, I’d travel the world and not stay in flea infested hostels, buy a house with a trampoline room, sock some of it away for a rainy day/future progeny, done a crap ton to charity…  And I’d probably get a donkey.  But I don’t have a fantastic ‘proper’ answer that translates into a job, like restoring antique motorcycles or building furniture.

It’s like writers block, but for my life.

Anyone out there in the ether been through this and manage to scale the rock face?

Written by universityoflies

July 17, 2012 at 13:16

The Ivory Tower Needs Your Life Essence!

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I went to a ‘how-to’ academic careers type thing given by my phd program

The Ivory Tower is not pleased with your progress. Proceed to the nearest emergency exit.

recently.  Ze said some shocking shit.  I wish I had the powerpoint slides for proof, but since this is the internet, I’m sure you guys will believe me.

Prof X/My Dept Proudly Presents:  How To Get an Academic Career!!!!!!

Step 1- You’re here so you’re 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 exist!)

Step 2- Now your mail will say Dr. XYZ.  This will feel really freaking good. Next use that considerable brain power to publish a few articles from your phd.  Then turn your dissertation into a book, but only publish with the best house possible.  I hear Oxford University Press ain’t too bad.

Step 3- Ok Dr. XYZ with a book and some articles under your belt.  The job market is a bit shit, as you may have noticed, so you may need to take a postdoc position or two.  This will involve working like a maniac for below market wages and probs living in some hideous places.  These positions will last 1-2 years each, so good luck finding a partner/social life.   During this time, you should write another book.  It shouldn’t be that hard since you won’t have a life, anyway.  Figure 2-4 years total for postdocs.

Step 4- Job Market Time!  Give yourself 3 years on the market.  If after 3 years, nothing turns up, GET OUT.  THERE’S NOTHING FOR YOU HERE.

That last bit was not exaggerated for comic effect.  As soon as those words visibly flew out of hir face, they were prison tattooed onto my grey matter.


So, using my sophisticated math skills, this plan from phd to job search takes about 10 years.  10 years of training, publishing, furthering those job skills needed for a tenure track position (and wouldn’t leave much extra time for gaining other concrete skills for some alternate career).  And if, at the end, there’s no pot o gold, don’t let the door hit you on the way out?

(I know I’ve posted this before but it bears repeating.  This is some shameful shit.)

Are you fucking kidding me?  At this point in the ‘lecture,’ I was actively giving Prof X the superman laser eye stare, trying to wipe hir and this idea off the planet.  How can you tell us to bleed for academia for 10 fucking years, making no other plans, and then at the end, just get the fuck out leonardo, there’s rich first class ladypassengers who are more entitled to that piece of driftwood?

Playing the lottery and reading at the public library might be a smarter career plan.

To make matters worse, Ze also made the offhand remark that it was way easier for hir to get a job 20 years ago, back when you didn’t even need a published book to get a tenure track job. AH HA HA HA.  This made me feel loads better.

I also did not appreciate the subtle shift in attitude that occurred throughout the presentation.  The beginning was all ‘you brilliant sexy beast you,’ and by the time ze got to the whole ‘GTFO’ portion, it felt downright hostile.  Like ze was annoyed by the hangers on who can’t get the message and just cut their losses.  losers!  If you devote a decade of your life to this so-called training scheme (and are crazy enough to make the kinds of sacrifies discussed in my last entry), you’re not left with much.  No social/personal life, no job, no plan b, no other work experience, no money.

Where’s step 5?

There is no step 5 because it’s your fault.


Written by universityoflies

July 14, 2012 at 13:15

The Dude is Not Impressed

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I’ve been doing a cull of my bookshelf recently and came a cross a purchase

I will only take the weekend off to attend historically accurate Renaissance fairs.

from my early phd days: Graduate Study for the 21st Century by Gregory Colón Semenza.  It’s a pretty helpful book in that Semenza tries to explain things about grad school and the job search that one would otherwise have to learn through a lot of trial and error, or from some kindly Dumbledore type.  And there’s a pretty good appendix with sample resumes, syllabi and stuff.

But there was one passage of the book that jumped out at me.  Scared the shit out of me, really.

The following appears under the subheading “Family Demands on Your Time:”

Educate them.  At the very least, your parents should know what you do on a regular basis, how long it will take you to complete long-term goals, and where you hope your work will take you in the future.  If the people who love you understand even vaguely the nature of your profession and can empathize at all with the pressure you’re under, you have a chance of keeping things civil when you decline their various invitations or head out to the library for a few hours during a weekend visit (54).

Okay.  Deeeep breath.  I feel like this kind of attitude is quite pretentious and reinforces the whole ivory tower idea that work done outside the gated walls somehow doesn’t involve long term goals or hard work.  Presumably, your family (aka the plebs) will have some notion of what you’re talking about.  But this bit is the kicker:

The next time your mom asks you all bleary-eyed whether you’re coming home for the weekend, you might consider saying, “yes,” but then split the weekend in half: “I’m coming home Friday night but, unfortunately, I will have to leave Saturday afternoon so I can work on Sunday”…[or you can] create a workspace in your hometown…try setting aside a few hours each day you’re home for leaving the house and getting some work done.  Tell dad you need to read for three or four hours but that you’ll be back in time for lunch (54).

So, you love these people and are making a compromise by going to visit them at their insistent begging for your company.  Cool beans.  And this plan to see your loved ones involves arriving on a Friday night, leaving on a Saturday afternoon, and possibly spending Saturday morning doing work at Starbucks?  Way to throw Mommy dearest a bone!  Maybe the potential for incivility, as alluded to in the first quotation, comes from the premise that your friends/family don’t get why this work has become your entire life.  And that probably isn’t a result of them not understanding the lofty world of academia, but just not getting why ANYTHING should take over all other areas of your life.

(disclaimer: if you really would rather be holed up in a bunker writing about commas in the original manuscript of Charlotte’s Web or whatever, I guess this doesn’t apply to you.)

I have a distinct memory of reading this passage in the park, lounging on a blanket in the company of some good friends and dogs and food.  I felt a sense of horror akin to what Bruce Jenner might feel if a ban on plastic surgery went into effect.  Was this the lifestyle that I signed up for?  Is a mere weekend too fucking precious to take away from my studies on an obscure subject that nobody else besides me gives half a liquidy shit about?  If I don’t have one of those novelty clocks where, instead of numbers, each part of the circle says THESIS TIME, does that mean I am a fraud or a failure or not deserving of a tenure track position?

These are the kinds of questions and insecurities raised by such a narrative.  And this is one of the 45678 million things wrong with academia.  The lack of tenure track jobs just fans the fire.  “oh, you didn’t get the position that 800 other people applied for?  You probably took a weekend off in 2006.  Slacker.”

Life is short.  We will all die.  And at the end, will you regret you didn’t publish one more journal article in Socioeconomic Patterns of Victorian Shoplifters Digest?

Written by universityoflies

July 11, 2012 at 12:45

Academic Word of the Day!

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Time for today’s Academic Word of the Day!

I hear it’s the greatest book of our time.

Kafkaesque: adj.

  1. Marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity.
    Kafkaesque bureaucracies
  2. Marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger.
  3. In the manner of something written by Franz Kafka.

Why I want to ban it:  has this word ever been used by someone who has actually read Kafka’s work and wants to make a direct comparison?  Maybe.  (But that person is probably a douche.)  Couldn’t you just say, “hm, X certainly exhibits a sense of disillusionment”?  I realize that “Kafkaesque” is less words, but there’s something so smarmy about taking a last name and adding “ian” or “esque,” like you are daring the other person to not know what that is and/or seizing the opportunity to work how fucking brilliant you are into the conversation.

“Your child’s olfactory discharge is positively Pollockian!”

I’m going to jump on Kafka’s motorbike and ride off into the sunset before the naysayers get me.

Written by universityoflies

July 9, 2012 at 14:45

University of Lies- The Big Kahuna Edition

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This post is inspired by a recent one on the topic of student debt from A Post-Academic in NYC.  PAINYC writes:

There’s nothing we can do about it, so why bother complaining?

I am not complaining. I am engaging in reasoned critique, which is what academia taught me to do. Or maybe it’s simply a matter of pointing out the obvious, even though there is no Wall Street ticker for such an activity on the CNN crawl.

In that spirit, here is a very serious question: Why should we have to pay back our student loans when we have essentially been lied to, hoodwinked, abused, and rejected? Where does the supposed moral obligation come from? What sustains it now that the game is up?

It’s an excellent post- if you haven’t seen it already, it’s compelling reading.  It

Where can I get one of these suits??????

also features a video with David Graeber, an anthropologist/anarchist (winning combo, really) who was involved in planning Occupy Wall Street.  And it was news to me, uneducated non-history student that I am, that debt forgiveness has roots in the ancient world:

…a Biblical-style “jubilee,” a forgiveness of all international and consumer debt. Jubilees are rare in the modern world, but in ancient Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt under the Ptolemies they were a regular occurrence. The alternative, rulers learned, was rioting and chaos in years when poor crop yields left lots of peasants in debt. The very first use in a political document of the word freedom was in a Sumerian king’s debt-cancellation edict. “It would be salutary,” Graeber writes, “not just because it would relieve so much genuine human suffering, but also because it would be our way of reminding ourselves that money is not ineffable, that paying one’s debts is not the essence of morality, that all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything it is the ability to all agree to arrange things in a different way.”

How fucking interesting is that??

So after reading PAINYC’s blog entry, and googling a bit about Graeber and the history of debt forgiveness, a few things jump out at me.

1. Why do nations and corporations have the ability to negotiate their debt?  The ol’ too big to fail argument?  I found this gem on the interwebz, about debt forgiveness/renegotiation in Iraq.  Look at this crazy shit:

Following the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime in spring 2003, Iraq’s external debt was estimated to be around $130 billion. Reducing this debt to a sustainable level has been a priority of the U.S. government. Since 2003, debt relief negotiations have taken place in a variety of fora and led to the cancellation of a significant amount of Iraq’s external debt…Iraq’s debt relief remains a priority for both the Executive Branch and Congress. Debt relief is
important to U.S. interests for several reasons, including releasing funds to help support Iraq’s budget, pay for Iraq’s security, and reestablish Iraq’s financial standing with international creditors and the financial markets.

Now as I do not own a Riddler suit, I don’t know what kind of butterfly effect


Ashton Kutcher crap might occur as a result of all this debt cancellation.  But it seems humane and rational to say, ‘ok Saddam went a bit nuts at the mall so we are going to renegotiate, since we don’t want to fucking cripple the future of Iraq here.’  How great that the gov wants to help Iraq help itself pay for future shit and ‘reestablish Iraq’s financial standing…’  AWESOME!  So why isn’t this same option extended to students?  You know, those unwashed, slightly hung over kids who didn’t run a bloodthirsty regime and kill loads of people?

2. Why does a college education in the US cost so much money?  It’s no news that the cost of higher education has gone up something like 2,000 percent since the 70s.  According to that NPR link, tuition at Berkley in the 70s was $700 a year.  As of 2011,  it’s $15,000.  A prof interviewed for the story explained this skyrocketing cost as a result of states paying less and students having to make up the difference.  Buuuuulllshit.  I can say that with authority because I am an anonymous internet commentator.  But for serious Matil, look around.  Sports stadiums, new buildings, technology, endless amounts of deans, provosts, assistant to the dean-provosts etc.. The money’s in administration.  It sure as hell isn’t going to hire tenured faculty.  Which brings me to my next point.

3. How did we let this happen?  There aren’t enough question marks in the world for this one.  How, in the course of one generation, did the cost of a US college degree increase by 2,000 percent?  It boggles my fucking mind.  What happened when governments tried to push through tuition increases in other countries?  In the UK, the protests were successful in Wales,  Scotland (though not for english studying in scotland), and Northern Ireland.  England is another story, but that shit is complicated by Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem’s failure to stick to their promises.  In Greece, where there’s a rich history of students checking the government (including saving the country from the military junta), and they protested the shit out of the idea of university fees.  It’s still free to get a university education there.  Why did this work in Greece and not the US or Quebec?  Is it because they had petrol bombs? (legal disclaimer: I fucking hate violence)  Or is it the legacy of Socrates and Plato? Yeah, I know they’ve got about 8 million other problems at the minute, but tuition fees isn’t one of them.

So yeah.  How did this happen?  Maybe as private institutions started to raise tuition, the public ones saw they were getting the crazy prices they asked for and it became easier to ask for more? And the distinction does have to be made between governments pushing through tuition hikes in Europe/Canada vs private institutions in the US raising prices on their own.   So did this insanity stem from a distinctly American  idea of ‘you get what you pay for’ rather than the more Euro/Canadian  ‘socialist’/egalitarian  concept of ‘education should be free’?

And where the hell do we go from here?

Written by universityoflies

July 3, 2012 at 10:01

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