Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why Your Cousin With a Ph.D. Is a Basket Case. From Slate.Com.

It’s your sister’s wedding, and you and your quiet but nice cousin—he’s doing his Ph.D. in something, maybe history?—are doing your best to get drunk off the watered-down open-bar bourbon. You’re just making polite conversation, so you ask him: “Want to come visit us next Christmas?”

Why on earth did his sallow face just cloud over at your kind and generous offer? Because he has no idea where he’ll be living two Christmases from now—he just applied to 30 jobs in 30 far-flung towns, so from a logistical standpoint “next Christmas” might as well be Pluto.

Such is the madness of the academic hiring process.

THE REST.

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This article is by Rebecca Schuman, a terrific and very well known educational columnist. We love her, and have learned much through reading her articles. She hates us, however, and, well, we guess there's nothing to be done about it. She's said this about us: "Fuck College Misery. They've been nothing but snide, dismissive and ignorant to me, always." 

If that's been her experience, then we're sorry. There are very few writers in the mainstream that we have as much respect for, and regardless of what's been done to her by members of this community, even former moderators, the current moderator sends along an apology.


15 comments:

  1. Wait. We have to be nice to people who hate us?

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  2. We don't have to, but we can. I didn't know that Schuman had said anything, good or bad, about us (though I can guess that whatever reaction she has probably stems from conversations surrounding her breakout Slate article on term papers and whether they're worth assigning at all; I'll see if I can find the link later, but I'd guess that at least some of us, probably including me, disagreed, mildly to vehemently, and perhaps threw in a bit of ad hominem commentary, as has been known to be our wont).

    Regardless of the origins of the tension (and Schuman, by the way, publicly prides herself on making friends with former adversaries, and I believe is genuine in that), I concur with the RGM: she's a unique, and uniquely valuable, voice in the conversation about the present state and possible future of higher ed. I don't know how many non-higher-ed types read her stuff on Slate, but it sometimes hits the "most read" lists, so there's at least a possibility that she's reaching a wider audience (especially, I suspect, with her articles aimed at students and parents, who really could, in fact should, be allies for those of us who want to see more of the university's resources channeled toward good -- read labor-intensive, decently-compensated -- teaching. Her "nothing left to lose" approach sometimes goes a bit far even for me, but that, I think, is the point: while she sometimes writes from a seeing-all-sides perspective, she often channels, very effectively, the collective frustration/angst/misery/rage of those who find themselves with Ph.D.s or nearly so, and plenty of work to do in the academy, but little to no hope of ever holding a tenure-track job. Somebody needs to do that, and I'm glad she's taken on the job. It also, I think, makes her a kindred spirit, whether she likes us or not.

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    1. Here's CM's repost of her "college essay" article, and the comment stream: http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-end-of-college-essay-from-slate.html#comment-form. A variety of opinions were expressed, but we could have been (in fact, often have been) worse.

      And now the comment stream ends with some spammer trying to sell us "cheap college essays." I think he's got an audience problem; many of us probably already have enough of his product on hand to last us a lifetime.

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    2. Well, this will certainly heal our relationship.

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    3. Time heals all wounds, but it wounds all heels.

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  3. Whenever relatives would ask, “Well, where do you want to work?” I’d answer “HARVARD.” Sometimes, this would give them insight into the nature of the problem.

    The most dementedly bad good-natured career advice from well-meaning relatives was, when I was a struggling astronomy postdoc, being asked why not get a job for NASA as an astronaut. Even my most distant relatives might know that I was never athletic, and you can’t just throw a switch and “become athletic” at the level the Astronaut Office would want. There’s also the small matter that while NASA does announce about 10 openings for astronauts every other year, they get about 10,000 applications.

    It served me right, though. Ever since my older brother sailed to the Galapagos in 1966, we’ve had a family tradition of showing slides at Christmas. (In recent years it’s changed to images by digital cameras shown on the big-screen TV, but it’s essentially the same tradition: the quality varies vastly between family members, of course.) One year, just for fun, I included some NASA photos of astronauts on the Space Shuttle just after my pictures of my most recent trips to mountaintop observatories. Sure enough, the same well-meaning relatives chimed, “I didn’t know you got to fly on the Space Shuttle!”

    During those uncertain years as a postdoc, one cousin understood all too well: she said I was “in limbo.” This was from a wealthy, soon-to-be-grandmother, though, with little understanding of the new economy. The casualization of the American workplace has made things bad all over, not just in academia. Still, all I really needed to say, with a confident, relaxed, optimistic, happy air, was that I was working as a research scientist, and not mention that it was fixed-term/soft-money/both. Still, my poor dear mother thought that my struggles were because of my anti-social nature, perhaps not without justification. It speaks badly for academia to say I wish I’d been more proficient at lying to my mother.

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  4. Rebecca Schuman is great and one of the best writers at Slate. Her bog, Pan Kisses Kafka, is fun since she promotes she stuff and gives behind the scenes, funny anecdotes about her writing. She also picks fights with critics and gets totally bent out of shape about mean commenters at Slate and on Twitter. It's all very enjoyable to read.

    This article does capture the frustrating combination of the odd nature academic hiring and the well meaning but useless advice of friends and family.

    I would have thought she and CM would have more views in common than not.

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    1. Kimmie of the Kensington KimmiesNovember 9, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      That she does not like us makes me wonder what on earth she has against us!

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    2. Hard to say. She probably thinks we're probably too nice to Katie.

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    3. We ARE too nice to Katie!!

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  5. My entire adult professional life has been in academia. I've never worked in a normal job, so it's useful to see that the hiring process is, indeed, as bizarre as it seemed to me going through it. And I also thank any god who will listen every day that I have a job, with tenure, when a lot of people (probably better professors than I) are not so lucky.

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  6. I'm tired of mail that comes in that tells me how wrong we all are.

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    1. Surely the best such mail could offer is argument from incredulity. Those writers are either not in the same trenches as we are, or their punchbowl was so overspiked with LSD that the flashback buzz is permanent.

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    2. I think instead of permanent I meant persistent, or maybe constitutive. But you get me.

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