roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Posts Tagged ‘teaching

Adventures in Babysitting: University Edition

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I have been meaning to write something down here for ages, but then I sit down and watch 23 episodes of New Girl instead.  It’s a really specific type of ennui that I suffer from.

This is what has been going on in my life lately:

1. My thesis is still not done.  The ridiculous part is that it IS done.  Paradoxical, no?  A few minor tweaks is all that’s needed, but for some reason NOW is the time I feel most paralyzed by fear and self-loathing.  I was supposed to send something to my adviser a while ago and I have never missed a deadline before, but now I am afraid to open my school email account in case ze has randomly decided to be all quick on the uptake and berate me for being late.  I am so so afraid to do 2 more hours of work and hit send.  Because this is supposed to be the end and I fear/know that ze will write back with 800 more stupid corrections that I cannot possibly do, or else I will do them because I’m a chump, rinse lather repeat, and it will never be cleared for eventual submission.

2. Teaching has started back up again, and my students are pushing my fucking limits daily.  The good part of this is that if I am ever invited to a cocktail party, I will have loads of hilarious and witty anecdotes with which to dazzle city council members and local parliamentary representatives.  But in the meantime it just makes me feel depressed.  Per esempio, today I received an emailed assignment (which isn’t permitted btw).  The email had no subject line or actual text when I opened it, nothing like “Hey Prof UofL, I know emailed submissions aren’t normally accepted but my grandma’s chia pet died suddenly this morning and since she is currently on a tour of paleolithic era gravesites in Burma, I have to make all of the arrangements myself.  I hope you understand and I apologize profusely for the inconvenience.”    No, it was just a blank email with an attached document titled “Fuck.”

I’ll share some of the more ludicrous stories here whenever I run out of New Girl episodes to watch.


Written by universityoflies

September 30, 2013 at 20:17

I am the Rhianna to Higher Ed’s Chris Brown.

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I don’t think that title is too dramatic.rihanna-headshot-big

(legal disclaimer: ok, maybe a tad..)

The whole thing does reek, though.  I am still in phd limbo and  have no idea what the next step is with my own writing.  Academia, I can’t wait until I quit you.

But the mindset is so pervasive.  This morning I was fantasizing about how fucking free I will feel when the whole thing is submitted and defended and I get a dumb title on my snail mail.  And my next thought was how I should just submit the dissertation to publishers, because it will basically be a book already.  It’d be a waste to not have it published, right?  And the I realized that it would probably need to be edited to hell and back, and the idea of that fills me with refried bean vomit.  And also, why bother? Why put myself in a position where I am wasting precious months of life agonizing over a document that nobody will ever read when I have no interest in joining the ranks of the Stuffy Tweed Brigade, as I do not want to become an endangered species/mythical creature?  It’s just the fucking mindset is so hard to break.  Just one more paper.  One more year on the job search circuit.  It’s like crack but without the good feelings.  Ahem.

Teaching is also kind of a sado-maschocistic job.  Like being one of those people who get paid to spank balding men who work in management.  Or  like dating notorious jackass and woman hater, Chris Brown.  It’s easy to get addicted to the adrenaline rush of it all.  The performance aspect, the russian roulette feeling that despite your meticulously planned lesson, anything could happen.  Sometimes it goes better than you could have hoped, and your students get into a heated debate about killing a mammoth spider in the classroom because you’re reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and they’re using bits of the text to justify their position, and wow.  It feels like you won the fucking lottery or saved 10000 souls for jesus that day.

But when it’s bad, its bad.

Here are some things that regularly occur in the classroom that I hate:

1. When, upon trying to be Socratic and shit, you send a pretty basic question out there into the ether and either a. 50 blank faces stare back at you like you are a fucking asshole, or b. someone tries to answer your question with the most random shit ever, like an anecdote about their dad’s girlfriend or the word ‘twentington.

2. When you spend 5 minutes explaining what “deus ex machina” is, only to be asked immediately after, “What’s ‘deus ex machina’?”

now 3. is a new one and a favorite… I have a student who sleeps with hir eyes open for most of the session.  But ze must have a well-concealed wifi connected device, because they randomly volunteer equal parts  highfalutin and random shit.  So the other day, ze raised hir hand and goes, “The metaphysical aspect of praxis is demonstrated in lines 98-104 of the text.” So I asked for some clarification or a specific example, and just got, ‘uhhhhh.. i can’t find it now.’ BAM muthafucker!!!! I got you! Which means absolutely nothing, you probably still think you are 8 million times smarter than me and who knows, maybe you are right.

That last one is probably what bothers me the most.  That I get so wrapped up in trying to ‘defeat’ plagiarists or students who are trying to get one over on me and it really doesn’t matter.  I won’t get paid more if I ‘catch’ them.  It doesn’t mean I ‘win’.  I can’t change a person like that and all it accomplishes is making me less dude-like.

So I am making a promise to myself that this is my last semester teaching.  I am still kicking around my business idea and am going to be more serious about making it happen.  There’s got to be a more satisfying and less destructive way to make a buck.

Written by universityoflies

February 8, 2013 at 21:25

The Science of Covering Your Ass

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How does a professor get students to take responsibility for their own actions and be proactive about their education?


No takers?

Okay, so that concludes today’s edition of  ‘fake question with no good answer.’  As I’ve learned after a few years shoveling shit against the tide, if someone is 19 and doesn’t give a shit, it is impossible to fucking ‘inspire’ them to take their sunglasses off, earphones out, cell phone away, open a book, read, and comprehend.  Gregory Hines and Fred Astaire doing a homoerotic tapdancing tango couldn’t do it.  And I can’t waste my time trying, because there’s the other half (or ok, 1/4, math was never my strong point) of the class who try and struggle, and need what time and attention I have to give.

So how do I make this disaster easier on myself?  How does one potentially avoid confrontation with angry/lazy students and ridiculous wars with university staff (whose office walls are laden with meaningless degrees from diploma mills) who entertain every ridiculous complaint, no matter how unwarranted?

How best to cover your own arse?

A syllabus is not enough, I now know.  Even if you spell out every single rule you can think of, a good portion of your students will take no note of this carefully drafted document, and claim to have no idea what you are talking about.  Just like they will have no idea what your email address is (even though it’s probably firstnamelastname@yourschool dot whatevs.)

Then I read some new agey type thing on the internet last semester, about asking the students to devise a list of ideal behaviors in a student and write em on the board.  Invariably, the list would be something like, ‘shows up on time, is always prepared, respectful, blah blah.’  And then you smile brightly and say something like, ‘now, wouldn’t a good instructor also show these same qualities?  Tell ya what, gang, you do your part and I pledge to do mine!”    Well, I am embarrassed to say that I tried that method too and I had my worst semester ever, behavior wise.

What else is there?  I know people who make their students sign a contract, where they must initial after every line filled with draconian laws like, ‘thou shall not park thy camel on the easterly side of the road after the golden orb reaches its daily zenith.’  I have no delusions that this actually modifies behavior, but at least it must cut down the redonk phone calls from Dr. University of Phoenix Online, who wants to know why the hell I didn’t let Mr. Apathetic Sunglasses-Head redo every assignment on the last day of class.

I really really hate trite expressions you might find embroidered on a pillow, but ‘it is what it is’ does fit the situation.  It is what it fucking is.  If I don’t like it, I need to channel my 1990s angst into fuel to finish my fucking phd and get the shit out of academic for good.

And just to end this on a positive note, listen to this:




Nightmares of a College Professor

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I have not slept peacefully these last few nights.  My inner subconscious must

Pudding, anyone?

Pudding, anyone?

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.

Written by universityoflies

January 22, 2013 at 16:55

Coffee and Apathy

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Currently hiding under the covers, drinking a neverending cup of coffee, reading some trashy shit and pretending the new semester isn’t starting in a week NO SERIOUSLY IT ISN’T GO AWAY AND SHUT THE DOOR BEHIND YOU.

This essay echoes my thoughts perfectly about the Fall 2012 semester and is well worth a read: Teaching Students who Seem Unengaged.

It’s got cell phones, apathy, madness, and more cell phones!

More soon, honest injun.

Written by universityoflies

January 19, 2013 at 15:56

Awkward Student Interactions

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scene: disgustingly cramped on-campus cafeteria.  Home to dirty coffee machine, $8 sandwiches, filthy floors.  Cashiers constantly watch you like you’re stealing something, and sometimes you are, because these tiny little thefts are ‘reparations’.

I fill my cup with liquid poison when a student I’ve never seen before in my life approaches me.

Random Student: Hey, are you working today?

Me:  panicking that I don’t recognize this person, then realize they’re not some anonymous student of mine that sits in the back of the room with sunglasses on, but a complete stranger.  Yeah.

RS: oh that’s good.. cause I want a coffee and I have no idea how to work this machine.  Can you help me?

Me: (laughs that I am mistaken for a cafeteria worker in my ‘teaching outfit’.) um sure, it’s your lucky day, I’ll make you a coffee. (sticks cup under spigot, presses down.)  Here you go.

RS: so what’s your name…….(grossly suggestive eyebrow raise)

Me: Professor University of Lies.

RS: What??? professor??? oh shit!!! so you have your phd and stuff????

Me: No.  (cries)


The whole exchange was kind of hilarious.  Unlike some of my coworkers, I usually never get hit on.  But to get hit on and mistaken for a cafeteria worker and be reminded of my phd less status in less than a minute was a triple play of awesome.

Please Zeus I hope this person isn’t in my class next semester.


Written by universityoflies

December 13, 2012 at 03:58

Reason #20293 Why Graduate School is Not Worth It

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Juno is your caseworker. And your academic adviser.

Because for all your blood, sweat, and tears, this is your reward.

Teaching at some 94th tier for-profit hell’s waiting room ‘school’ which, for greedymoneyreasons only, has been accredited by Lord Chancellor Jesus or Magic Mike or whoever is making decisions these days.

Allow this humble theater troupe to perform several brief vignettes for your viewing pleasure.

Vignette 1: “A Curious Inquiry”

scene: cramped office.  nothing visible but filing cabinets and dog eared instructor copies of textbooks nobody ever ordered.  a distinguished looking man with a beard, phd, and brain that would make harold bloom weep converses with a student who has been caught plagiarizing on a number of occasions.

Student: (earnestly)  So let me ask you, Dr.——— (very Jane Austen, amirite?), what does it feel like when you’re teaching, to know that nobody in class is paying attention?

Dr. ———: ……………………..

Student:  But we all seem to be doing pretty good on the tests, so you must be doing something right!

Dr.———-: (manical laughter) Yeah I guess.

Me: (hides behind computer monitor, turns an attractive shade of purple from the effort of holding back rage/laughter)


I guess SupaPlagiarist wasn’t taking into account how easy those tests must have been for people who don’t pay attention to pass.

Here’s another harrowing tale…. and I’ve had enough of theater for one day so I’ll just tell you how it played out.

My students were given a very brief reading assignment.  Of course, not one person did it.  I asked them point blank and they were honest.  So I told the fuckers that when they show up completely unprepared to work, there was no point in being there since I couldn’t do my lesson plan, and told em they were all going to be marked absent and they should go home.

At this point one particular gem of a human being started shouting that I had no right to do that, they pay a lot of money to be there, and if they want to sit there and do nothing, that’s their right.

Now this person is completely right in that education costs a metric fuckton of money.  And I certainly don’t think that’s right.  But you’d think this would make someone more motivated to do actual work, when instead it leads many of them to believe that they are buying a degree, not earning one.

But you know what?


Michelle will teach you how to look good while doing karate on angry students.

The next class, I’d say 70% of em had done the reading.

Instead of feeling victorious though, I almost feel more defeated.  I don’t want to be Michelle fucking Pfeiffer in ‘Dangerous Minds.’  Or Hillary Swank in “freedom writing diaries.”  or Ryan Gosling in that movie where he sells crack to his students parents.

This will not end.  And come next semester, I’ll have to wage war with a fresh set of faces, with my goal being to force at least half of em to do the reading?

This is the fate for MOST doing a phd with the goal of being a “professor.”

I used to get chills when they called me that.

Now I want to bang my head against the wall because it’s a fucking meaningless word.  Whatever prestige or’ Goodbye Mr. Chips feelings’ I had associated with it is certainly not the reality.  It’s an empty title, just like phd is going to be when/if I finally ever finish.

It’s just another way for your advisers to con you into thinking all this shit is worth it.