roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Archive for March 2013

Academic Coworkers with Horrible Attitudes: A Rant.

with 3 comments

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

My coworker does not like foamy lattes.

My coworker does not like foamy lattes.

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.


Applying for Tenure Track Phd Positions- Should I?

with one comment

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.



What are Fair Expectations for a PhD Adviser?

with 12 comments

So what exactly is “fair” in the realm of phd advisement?

Ugh,university of lies...Hogwarts is not big enough for both of us.

Ugh,university of lies…Hogwarts is not big enough for both of us.

Besides the obvious things, like answering your advisees emails, meeting with them every once in awhile, and not jumping into a dumpster, neverending story style if you should happen to pass your advisee on the street. (They probably can’t beat you up anyway.)

There’s such a wide range across the spectrum of phd advisers–you have individuals like my former adviser, who never read any of my material, period.  And then you have the other extreme– really industrious, kind souls who return your work a week or two after you write it and invite you over for dinner with their family on a routine basis.  I recognize that both of these examples are outliers, but it still leaves me feeling ill-equipped to determine if I am being ‘fucked with’ right now, or if I  have allowed myself to become so broken by the system that whatever sense of judgement I had is warped beyond belief.

Interweb friends, please help a muggle out here: what is a reasonable amount of time for a supervisor to respond to one of your emails? days?  weeks?

how many times do you need to contact your adviser before you get a response?  my magical number is more than one and less than 6.  and how long of a turnaround on a chapter is ‘ok’ in a ‘you are not being taken for a chump’ kind of way?

The next question is, is there anything in the fucking world I can do to speed this process up?

Written by universityoflies

March 4, 2013 at 15:39

Highlights of Working at a University

with 11 comments

How exciting, University of Lies!  What, praytell, is the most thrilling part of working at a college?

Is the secondhand high you get from students who come to class stoned out of their faces?

 We totes went to college!!

We totes went to college!!

No, fellow internet friends, it’s spending your evenings trying to grade horrible papers with Real Housewives of Who Cares in the background, because you need to know there are people in the world dumber and more irritating than the authors of said papers.

I stare at the pile and have no idea where to begin.  Should I just dunk the papers in a delicate mixture of artisanal tea leaves, then used the aged paper to make papier mache birds, which I can sell to try and subsidize my living?  that would probably be less work than trying to evaluate them for content and style.

These are the main hardships in trying to grade my students’ work:

1. Many of the students (50%?) deem your topic not stimulating enough, so they invent a topic of their own choosing and write about that instead.  Despite the fact that you wrote, what you stupidly hoped, were very clear step by step instructions.  And no, they don’t answer their own questions either.

2. They regurgitate the info you told them in class (usually getting it wrong) and then add no commentary of their own.

3. Many of them only fill half or 1/4 of the page requirement, then use experimental poetry type spacing in an attempt to fill the space.  This kills me because my brain is all, ‘what? you think I can’t tell you have only written 5 sentences here instead of 2 pages?  you think you’re smarter than me? Why did you even bother to turn this in?’  This is, of course, brain space that could be better used trying to finish my fucking thesis.

4.  Each sentence is the verbal equivalent of a jackson pollock.  (I should also disclose that I don’t ‘get’ him.)  There might not be a subject, verb, complete thought, etc.  Some of the words are not recognizable as English or any other romance language.  FML. SMH. LOLcats.

5.  Repetition.

6. Repetition.

7. What’s left is filler.  Ya know, the shit inside hotdogs:  “Shakespeare was a very good writer. Yes he used old school language which is hard to understand but his poems are very good and people should read them.  I had to read them in class and thought they were good.  Shakespeare is considered to be an excellent writer.”

So how does one affix grades to these papers without driving themselves insane and (less importantly) not inciting a mutiny where people come after me with pitchforks, flaming torches, and signs saying ‘god hates offensive words for gay people?”

I don’t hold these students to Haahvard/Oxbridge standards by any means.  But I also don’t believe on grading on a curve–why should you get a higher grade because everyone else in the class has no standards or pride in their work?   I also won’t lower my standards so much that I reward people with a passing grade just because they printed out a sheet with their name on it.  I’ve slogged my way through about 35 papers so far, and there are 2 that are pretty good, good enough for me to give A grades to without losing any sleep at night.  But the rest breaks down as follows: 2% B, 2% C, and the remainder is a primordial sludge of Ds and Fs.  But where do I draw the line?  After 5ish years doing this, I feel like I should have a better idea of what constitutes an F paper.

I guess the real problem is that most of them look like Fs, and I know I can’t fail em all.