Posts Tagged ‘academia sucks’
This post is long overdue.
But every time I’ve sat down to write it, I come down with a terrible case of ennui. And boredom is so much worse when its french, no? The whole thing was so strange that a month later, I still don’t think I’ve been able to process my feelings about it.
So the viva, defense, simulated drowning, whatever you want to call it wasn’t actually that bad. I ‘studied’ for weeks, which mostly involved torturing myself by rereading my thesis several times and alternately praising my own genius (rare moments, let me tell ya) and mostly crying about how dumb I am and how the examiners are going to see right through the thin veneer of my ‘expertise’ which is in fact more narrow and insubstantial than the ‘wood’ part of an ikea dresser. Then I reread 5-10 of the books I relied on most heavily to do my research, and beat myself up even more about all of these good bits that I didn’t quote, or realized that I didn’t actually understand the author’s argument, and shit, what if they ask me about (insert random theory I could care less about here), because I will have nothing to say and look like a fool.
So basically, the month or so I took preparing for the viva was like the condensed soup version of the last 3 ish years. All of the emotions you experience during the course of your phd timesmushed one last panic bursty rush. And the worst bit is the knowledge that you can’t really really prepare for a viva. Rereading your thesis and being really familiar with your own work is really all you can do. I have a friend who went though her entire bibliography and wrote a paragraph sized summary of every single thing she read. (I was too lazy, too disorganized, and too disinterested to do that.) In the end, did they end up asking her about any of these fucking sources? No. Although you could get caught out by some dickhead examiner who will ask. So yeah. But anyways, the only bit of my manic preparations that helped was rereading my own thesis, but I do say that with the caveat that unfortunately this advice ended up working in my situation but might not in yours. YMMV and other internet acronyms. To anyone preparing for their viva, I’d suggest doing whatever level of prep will help alleviate your anxiety and not make you feel worse, whatever that is.
The viva itself was actually kind of fun. My examiners had both clearly read my thesis and were familiar with a number of the primary texts I used. They started off by telling me how much they enjoyed (?!?!!!?!) reading it and asked me a whole bunch of interesting questions that either asked me to clarify my position on something or asked my opinion on something else. There was only one part where I metaphorically shat myself- they asked about some obscure philosopher whose name I never fucking heard of in my life, but I was able to explain why it didn’t occur to me to go there, and they accepted that just fine. But for the like 5 minutes while ze went on and on about the works of this person, I was imagining that I was chained to a desk like Bartleby the Scrivener in some room made of algae covered stones with iron clamps around my legs, reading shitty books about this philosopher and writing yet MORE crap until I squeezed myself between the rusty window bars and jumped out the window to my doom.
But here I am still, so obviously it didn’t come to that.
I will say that the university’s impartial moderator (whose function was to fill out the paperwork and make sure nobody got stabbed?) was very fucking rude. Ze was texting the entire fucking time and after about an hour, started making throat clearing noises, because this was probably interfering with hir SimCity or feeding stray cats time or whatever the fuck they wanted to go home and do. Which ok, I get that this isn’t particularly fascinating for you and its one more shitty administrative duty you have to do for your shitty tenured job with amazing benefits and good pay, but seriously sit the fuck down because this is the only time in my life I will be in the same room as people who have read my thesis and want to fucking discuss it with me, bitch.
The final result is that I passed with minor corrections, so just a few typos to fix. I still can’t believe it. I do know how lucky I got with my examiners. Really fucking lucky that they 1. read the thesis 2. behaved like compassionate human beings 3. had totally reasonable expectations for a phd thesis and realize that I am not a 73 year old wizard guru with infinite knowledge. And thank Allah for that, because after all of the shitty experiences I’ve had with various advisers, I needed a fucking break.
My brain is still trying to process the mindfuck though. Because according to these people, my ideas were original and convincing and my writing was GOOD and INTERESTING and shit. And I’m not saying this to sound like I’m up my own ass, but to hopefully provide some reassurance for anyone out there that has heard nothing but how stupid they are for the last 3,4,5 years that it’s not fucking true. I was told up until the time I submitted (for the parts of my thesis that my adviser actually claimed to have read) that there were chapters where ze just ‘didn’t buy the argument.’ Guess which chapters the examiners liked best? And based on the very specific things said examiners referenced, I knew they took the time to actually read it. So after 3+ years of being told that my ideas weren’t deep enough, that I needed a writing tutor, and never getting any kind of positive feedback, these independent examiners evaluated my work in detail and felt that it was good enough for a phd.
Maybe I should feel vindicated? Run around with my spartan brushy helmet thing beating my gold plated breastplate, yelling incomprehensible testosterone fueled shit? I don’t know what to feel, besides relief. I’m so glad I don’t have to write anything else and that I can finally graduate and be done with it and that I’m free from that horrible sadistic relationship of submitting work and getting shat on for no reason. But I don’t feel proud or like I accomplished something. I just feel like I survived. Which is a start, right? But why did I put myself through this torture to begin with? Was it worth it? I honestly don’t know.
This is all made more complicated by the fact that I am now unemployed. You see, getting a phd really fucking impressed that shitty school I was working for. I want to say more about this but there’s some investigation thing going on surrounding my unceremonious discharge so I’m going to wait until that’s resolved to get into specifics.
I’m very very lucky in that I have a partner with a job and health insurance and a good support network. Thank god for that. I’m going to use the time between now and graduation to focus on getting my writing ‘business’ off the ground. More on that soon.
It has been a rough few weeks.
Midterms have come and gone; despite a still absentee-landlord adviser, my phd will be submitted SOON; and my students are shocking me daily as to the astoundingly tragic levels of collegiate apathy it is possible to attain.
Based on my recent experiences, here are the 3 most fucking annoying kinds of students I’ve had the displeasure of dealing with. In reverse order, cause that’s how those shitty late night tv dudes do it and I am basically copying them minus fame, a studio audience, and lucrative endorsement deals.
3- The Student Who Ignores Everything You Say.
Probably 2/3rds of my students fall under the mildewed 1970s paisley print umbrella of this category.
For example: after I’ve spent 10 minutes explaining the assignment, and indeed, it’s written on the fucking board next to me, they call out, “What’s the question?”
2- The Genuinely Fucking Clueless
I handed back a multiple choice test and told the students that if I had made any errors in tallying their scores to see me after class. So this kid came up to me and said, ‘you marked all of these answers wrong and they’re right.’ So I looked at the test and was really fucking confused. The student’s name and incorrect answers were in black ink. Where ze had a wrong answer (yeah it was most of them), I had made an X next to the question and circled the correct answer in red ink. After a few minutes of ridiculous ‘who’s on first’ banter, it emerged that the student thought that ZE HAD CIRCLED THE RIGHT ANSWERS IN RED PEN. I was like, ‘then who circled all the wrong answers in black? Those are my markings– see, your score at the top is in red ink too.’ And ze was like, ‘oh.’ and walked out. The hilarious thing is that I really don’t believe the kid was trying to fucking con me. Ze legit thought ze had all the right answers, even though ze clearly did not study and couldn’t explain why any of those answers would have been right in the first place.
1- The Fucking Leader of the Pack
The other two types of annoying students are, well, annoying, but otherwise harmless. Pesky mosquitoes of the non malaria spreading variety. I’ve only been unfortunate enough to deal with The Fucking Leader of the Pack (TM) 3-4 times over my long and illustrious teaching career, but they are exhausting and infuriating, and they make it really hard to leave disturbing school shit at the door. Identifying characteristics include: attempts to monopolize class conversations, tries to ‘school’ other students in why they are wrong, and basically is a douche and tries to undermine the instructor’s authority. I’ve had a student in one of my classes who I long suspected was a FLotP and, recently, shit got a bit cray.
This gem of a student disagreed with me, and while I am normally cool with that, ze was really rude and belligerent about it. So I said something to the effect of, I see where you’re coming from, but I stand by my answer in this case. So ze starts telling me that I’m wrong, and launches into a monologue about why they are right. I tried to cut hir off but the little fucker kept talking over me, using the kind of tone you might reserve for a toddler who is insisting he be given ice cream right this minute despite the fact that it is 9am.
It was mortifying. I got flustered. I hate that. I really really fucking hate that. I could feel my face getting red and I’m sure they could smell the reek of terrified woodland creature that my fucking pheromones were suddenly emitting. I am all for dissenting opinions, you know? I am not Saddam fucking Hussein. But this person had the floor, they explained themselves, and that wasn’t enough- they had to be disrespectful and talk to me like I was an asshole in my own classroom.
I didn’t yell or throw fucking chairs. But after a certain point, I cut hir off and said that they had already expressed their opinion and now they had to let someone else speak. It was awkward as fuck and even now I am clearly still bothered by it.
That’s probably the worst bit. I know that most people face interactions like this in a variety of other jobs, but in teaching it feels extra weird because if you let someone tear away that flimsy facade of authority you have over an overcrowded room of 18-20 year olds, there will be anarchy. Whereas if you’re behind the counter at the DMV and someone is a cock, you can, I dunno, call security or move them to the back of the line? You can step away from the counter and get a supervisor?
I don’t know. It just feels terrible when you spend all this time prepping material (ugh and lets not even consider the 87 years of grad school hell you endure to get to this point) just to have an 18 year old metaphorically piss all over you. Nice rant, bro. I guess you don’t want to hear all about my phd and why I am a little fucking more qualified than you on this particular topic.
Someone remind me, why do I need a phd for this job again?
I find myself in a precarious position, dear reader.
I’m not sure if I will be teaching once school starts in a few days.
At the end of last semester, when Monty Burns had the new contracts sent out, mine contained an ‘offer’ (read: hideous insult to my humanity) which amounted to LESS money than before I went back for my phd. I informed the proper departments about this oversight, and my repeated inquiries were ignored all summer long.
So now school is starting soon, I still have not been issued a new contract, and any secretary I speak on the phone whispers to me in a hushed voice that Mr Burns is insane, many people are upset about their contracts, and everyone (including them) is overworked and underpaid. I told one secretary that I could go out and become a waiter or bartender and make more money for less hassle, and she laughed the hollow ironic sound of a jaded homicide detective who has seen too many girls from the wrong side of the tracks bludgeoned to death, but knows he can do nothing about it and is just waiting for his 20 years to be up and collect a state pension. Yeah.
I know everyone there is being exploited. Does that mean I can’t ask to be fairly compensated? I know I won’t get it. But then what do I do? I also know that if I tell them to take their piece of shit meaningless contract and shove it, there are 100 people lined up outside who will gratefully take my place on the chain gang. Thanks a lot academia. Way to ruin the whole fucking supply and demand thing. So my refusal won’t change anything in the system, it will only mean someone else will be an indentured servant besides me. And that I’ll have to make good on my empty threat to work at a fucking Applebees and wear 17 pieces of flair or risk being written up by my new supervisor, a 20 year old college student with an unconvincing patchy goatee and greasy hair.
It’s obviously too late for me to get another teaching job for this year. And I still want to get my non academic business idea going, but I need money while I try to make that happen. I guess these are my options right now:
1. Tell them to go fuck themselves. Get horrible minimum wage job while finishing phd. Sing ‘pimps don’t cry’ to myself every night, as I curl up in my dog’s bed and weep for my stupidity.
2. Take the shitty job, knowing that it’s confirmation of the fact that my phd is worthless and I DON’T EVEN HAVE IT YET. Teach my classes with enough integrity to allow me to sleep at night but do absolute minimum ie: don’t give them the 10000 assignments the school says I should, but kick it old school college style, with the minimum amount of graded work and if the students fuck it up, it’s their fucking problem. Ya know, because it’s college.
(sorry for the terrible quality, but Will Ferrel makes me feel better.)
I’m just really conflicted, because even though I’m broke and stressed, I do have some shred of self-worth left, and it’s telling me to not take the job. And despite how insulting the ‘offer’ is, I’m sure there are loads of academinazis over at the chronicle who would say I’m so lucky to have a job offer and that the ‘life of the mind’ is one of sacrifice, and I should GTFO because I’m taking the spot from someone who really deserves it. This is ridiculous for a million reasons, especially since the shitty College Which Shall Not Be Named gives not one donkey scrote about academia, or publishing journal articles, research, conferences, students not plagiarizing, etc. The only thing it has in common with any legit institution of higher education is that it has ‘college’ in the name. It’s one step up from a diploma mill.
The real tragedy here is that this place could have been really special. Most of the faculty are wonderful and well-regarded in their respective fields (of course, because there are no fucking jobs anywhere else). If the college was willing to have some standards regarding admissions and academic integrity, it could have been a wonderful intimate place for students to learn and grow and get started in life. But that would involve turning away some tuition money, and it would also involve throwing some extra $$ to the people who actually make the place run. A few thousand here and there would be life changing for me and a lot of other people who work there, and it the affect it would have on morale would be so worth it. But Burns and Co can’t see past the bottom line and that’s the problem.
I know I’ve already written several entries comparing the adviser/advisee relationship to that of a 18th/19th century woman with no legal rights and her MIA overlord/absentee fiance. But since I still feel the need to complain as a way to cope with my panic and fear, I have come up with a new, maybe more fitting scenario to explain the perilous dynamics of this type of relationship!
scene: Bureaucratic office in Dontgiveafuckistan. Interior is dim, as only a few photons of light stream though the dust and corpses of dead flies stuck to the communist issue blinds. Undead flies explore overflowing ashtrays. Empty coffee cups and old newspapers are strewn around for artistic effect. It is 500 degrees but air conditioning is out of the question, as it is an untrustworthy example of western excess.
Government Employee: lets phone ring for a few minutes, then realizing nobody else is around, picks up phone. Yeah?
Me: checks watch. Good morning, sir. How are you?
GE: lights up cigarette, inhales deeply and leans back in chair. What do you want?
Me: feels self-esteem draining out of body through pesky leak in soles of feet. Um I was just calling to see how you were doing. And to see if you got that last draft I sent you a few months ago? I know internet access has been a bit spotty what with the riots and all, so I just wanted to check and see how things were going.
GE: The draft? Can you refresh my memory? I’m so busy that I can’t recall exactly what you are talking about. doodles hangman’s noose on corner of old newspaper.
Me: The draft of my thesis? Last time we talked we discussed a timeline and you said it would be ready to submit soon. And that you’d get back to me with some comments.
GE: Hm…I’d help you but this doesn’t sound familiar. Was it before the uprising or after?
Me: After the uprising but before the General was ousted. Right after Christmas.
GE: Oh right, right, right… Let me just check my outbox, hang on… rummages in old filing cabinet. Finds huge folder marked UofL thesis, which contains no comments as it has been sitting there for years unread. GE launches the brick of papers into a metal wastepaper basket in corner of room
a loud metal clang can be heard over the phone
Me: Sir? Sir? Are you ok? Have they started the artillery fire again?
GE: Oh no, just knocked over my machete. Don’t worry, I’m fine. I can’t seem to find your papers though…give me a few days and I’ll get back to you.
Elderly janitor shuffles in and, with the speed and strength of a dying turtle, lifts and empties the metal wastepaper basket containing UofL’s livelihood. GE covers mouthpiece of phone and asks janitor to run out and purchase cigarettes and mustache wax.
Me: Thank you so much! Hope I didn’t disturb you with my phone call!
GE: Oh it’s no trouble. I’ll be in touch. puts down phone.
In a quest to distract myself from end of semester madness, I am currently reading some wonderful and terrible things.
First, the wonderful:
In Week Four, Zipperstein assigned Umberto Eco’s The Role of the Reader. It hadn’t done much for Madeleine. She wasn’t all that interested, as a reader, in the reader. She was still partial to that increasingly eclipsed entity: the writer. Madeleine had a feeling that most semiotic theorists had been unpopular as children, often bullied or overlooked, and so had directed their lingering rage onto literature. They wanted to demote the author. They wanted a book, that hard-won transcendent thing, to be a text, contingent, indeterminate, and open for suggestions. They wanted the reader to be the main thing. Because they were the readers.
-Jeffery Eugenides, The Marriage Plot, p.42
Eugenides’ book (NOT text) takes place in/around the English department at Brown in the 1980s, when all of this bullshit became in vogue. I am guessing that some of Madeleine’s views are autobiographical, as Eugenides was at Brown himself around the same time. It’s a hilarious send up on some of the egos and viewpoints that continue to make the life of a grad student…difficult. The whole thing is intelligent and delightfully fucking self-aware (meta, you might say) and the ending is as satisfying and clever.
Now let’s move on to the terrible:
Furthermore, the ‘age of metaphysics’ that Derrida demarcates becomes all the less propitious to the logocentric thesis in that those areas in which the question of writing was raised–general grammar, the Leibnizian project of the characteris universalis— exerted energies more accommodating to a nascent grammatology than metaphysical phonocentrism.
-Sean Burke, The Death and Return of the Author, I forget the page but you can’t pay me to open that book again.
First of all, spell check didn’t recognize half of those letter groupings to be actual words. When have you last seen such pretentious garbley obfuscation ? Earlier today I read it out loud to someone much older, smarter, and well read than me and ze had no idea what the hell Burke was talking about either. I’m inclined to agree with Madeleine though. How can the ‘author’ die? Without the author, you only have blank pages, or maybe trees. I am so sick and tired of having to take random philosophy and use it as a framework to interpret texts that have nothing to do with said framework. I’m going to take the McDonald’s dollar menu and use that as a theoretical framework. It would have about the same level of relevancy.
As I near the mythical day where my thesis is ‘finished’, I keep getting feedback around the bits where I have made (what I believe to be) some kind of new conclusion, my contribution to the ever expanding ‘field’. And right next to these conclusions are comments telling me that this should really be the starting point of the discussion, and that I should use Spivak, Derrida, Kant, or Fergus McShitland to help me develop a framework upon which to hang this future discussion.
Except I feel like I am DONE. I have nothing left to say. And that statement is my fucking conclusion, because I have CONCLUDED. The majority of the theory books I have read maybe have 2 interesting bits in 200 pages. And because Burke or whoever did not want their TEXT to be an article but a book, they had to wax the fuck on for an additional 190 pages in order for it to be published.
I do not want to follow their lead. So I guess I will continue to play by my rules and hope that I escape with those very fucking expensive three letters after my name.
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
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.
I have not slept peacefully these last few nights. My inner subconscious must
be preparing for the nueva semester, which commences next week.
I was in a classroom with lab tables and bunsen burners, 10 year old children crowded around hooting and hollering like they were hopped up on bath salts or sinusitis drugs or whatever else people snort these days.
I addressed the class: good morning, please open your books. But the shrieking did not stop. Someone swung from a chandelier. (Yes, my dream labs have fancy french lighting.) Papers, books, and fists were flying. So then I broke out the big guns, my extremely loud authoritative voice (which in reality probably sounds like mickey mouse). MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE.
Nobody noticed I was there. Chaos ensued, and I lost the power to speak. Freudian, no?
Then comes the part where I woke up in a cold sweat, wondering how the hell I’m going to face the class tomorrow after that shit show. The sense of relief I feel upon the realization that it was ‘just a dream’ never feels that great, because the lost-control-disaster-scenario is always just a hair’s width away.
In reality, I have never had a lord of the flies type situation occur. I’ve certainly had a handful of ‘problem’ students who were disruptive and challenged my authority in the classroom, and while there were times where I got flustered, I never gave up control of the conch. If someone turns their dickhead level up to 11, I know what to do. But as someone who doesn’t like confrontation in my personal life (who does?), I have come to dread these mini-chaos in the lab type scenarios. The ones where people whip out their phones while I lecture, say horribly graphic or offensive things to the class, or accuse me of being racist because they aren’t happy with their grade.
I know that all jobs come with positives and negatives.. maybe this is just another reason why academia isn’t for me. I hate dealing with this particular set of negatives.
In post offices and on trains around the world, there’s usually a sign expressing some variation of this sentiment: “Our workers deserve the courtesy of doing their job without being harassed. Attacking/Harassing our staff may lead to fine or arrest.”
As must as I wish I didn’t need one, I’d like one for my classroom.