roasting marshmellows in phd hell

One is the Loneliest Number

with 5 comments

Sorry for the radio silence, earthlings.

The world is so cruel. Let's just snuggle and watch mad men, ok?

The world is so cruel. Let’s just snuggle and watch mad men, ok?

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.

5 Responses

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  1. Not only are students lazy, they’ve been told by the national rhetorical machine that teachers are “bad” and “liberal” and “not important”. They’ve been trained to disrespect your knowledge. Compound that with clueless notions as to why they’re even in a class at all and you’ve got a recipe for what you so cleverly describe as ” walking dead extras”.

    For whatever this is worth, it’s truly NOT you. Unfortunately, I think teaching is a dying profession. The MOOCS will take over soon and the concept of the “teacher” will come through the computer. Ironically, this will help weed out those who don’t want to be there, but on the lower levels of college education, the only connections will be through the internet.

    So it’s good you recognize this and are questioning your future. I’m anxiously awaiting to see what you will do about it. Recognition is the first step. You must be in the anti-ac blogosphere for a reason, right?


    April 14, 2013 at 01:20

  2. “They’ve been trained to disrespect your knowledge”

    that’s such a sad and accurate observation.

    I was just having this conversation over dinner with a few other people who teach at colleges, and as we exchanged ridiculous stories about student apathy and disrespect, I just felt like curling into a ball and crying. The other people were laughing but I don’t see anything funny about this.

    To go along with what you say about this disrespect of knowledge, it’s no coincidence that some of the laziest and most ignorant of the students at my institution are education majors. I’ve heard gems like, ‘I hate reading,’ ‘i hate school,’ and ‘I just want the summers off.’ they seem to think the whole thing will be a lark, to shape and mold 6,7,8 year old minds is just a convenient job to do in those pesky months between september and june.

    i don’t know what the fuck the solution is.


    April 14, 2013 at 23:34

  3. I have taught at a number of liberal arts colleges, most of them SLACs. A couple were top SLACs. Only at the top, top SLACs have I found students to be motivated in the way that we hope that they will be motivated. This means that 99% of teaching will be closer to what you describe. It doesn’t necessary get much better at more selective institutions. A huge eye-opener for me was to teach at prestigious schools (not top ones). For all of the reputation of “academic excellence” I found the students to be largely mediocre. For one “up and coming” SLAC I taught at, I was highly criticized by a student for assigning over 30 pages of reading for some classes. Can you imagine!?! I made them read over 30 pages! The horror! I actually found the entitlement of students at good, but not top, SLACs to be the worst. They were there to get their pre-professional degrees and did not want to bother with anything else. I also agree that a drastic shift has taken place in valuing educators. I remember having so much respect for my professors. Now, students have the attitude that we work for them. The increased reliance on contingent faculty only enables this attitude since we often can’t hold students to tougher standards lest our course evaluations be harmed.

    If you are looking for a more rewarding teaching experience, I suggest teaching non-traditional age students. I taught a night class at a mediocre liberal arts school one semester and it was one of the most rewarding classes I ever taught. The students were older and knew that it was a privilege to work towards a college degree. They were lively and confident in sharing their own perspectives on the material based on their lived experience. The class came with its share of problems, however. Many students really were not quite prepared for college level work and their real lives often compromised time spent preparing for class and attendance. Even so, their appreciation of teaching and getting an education more than made up for some of the challenges. Most of them thanked me for teaching the class and told me how much they appreciated it.


    April 15, 2013 at 19:52

    • Thank you so much for your comment. Stories like yours just reinforce how hard this job can be, and how the pipe dream of teaching at an elite school probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

      30 pages is NOTHING. NOTHING. I remember reading a book a week for most of my classes, and that wasn’t even really that long ago. And yeah, the all too tenuous status of most faculty ensures they won’t anger too many of the townsfolk for fear of losing their jobs.

      That’s a good suggestion about non traditional students. My first ever teaching job was working with older students.. I had a bit of a weird experience though, the place advertised during commercial breaks of ‘the jerry springer show’ so I had a lot of scary older people who had ‘done time’ and threatened me and shit. But I guess that’s not the kind of place you are talking about!


      April 17, 2013 at 22:31

  4. Something about academia is uniquely alienating – this constant urge to be passionate about a niche field to define yourself from others, then also feeling alone because very few people share your interests. What do you expect? Not everyone finds your research or class interesting and academics need to get over that.

    I’m three years past my undergrad now. I used to be on an academic track, now I’m doing different things. Believe it or not people can have diverse interests that may or may not overlap with yours. I didn’t understand this until I’ve spent so much time outside. This is totally contrasted with someone I live with who is an ABD in East Asian Studies. He the most annoying person ever, because he expects us to be as passionate about his research and be willing to talk about it at any time on the same level. It’s anti-social.

    For some classes I was the student you describe – very interested in the topic but uninterested in doing the work. Perhaps part of it for me was I did want to go to university to learn, but I found the work at times oppressive and alienating. Going to university was also a compromise I had to make in order to be qualified for higher-paying jobs due to academic inflation.


    April 26, 2013 at 21:36

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