Friday, September 30, 2011

Archie here, with the latest Crampicle Hyperbole

Hey you. Yeah you. You're a crappy fucking advisor. Did anyone ever tell you that?

Now I'm not saying that the problem this column identifies doesn't exist, because, well, some of what she says describes a few of my colleagues quite well. But... how much can she be making if she is billing grad students by the hour?

Thanks, I'll be here all week.

The fucking flava:

To: Professors; Re: Your Advisees

Dear faculty members: I sell Ph.D. advising services on the open market. And your Ph.D. students are buying. Why? Because you're not doing your job.

Lest you think that by advising, I mean editing research papers and dissertations, let me disabuse you. I offer those services, but rarely am I asked for them.

And here's the fucking link.

Discuss (like you won't).


  1. This is what higher ed has come to. If you want to make money, quit your job and become a consultant. My college is paying half a fucking million dollars to identify a candidate for dean...'cause putting out ads and making a few phone calls wasn't good enough. Oh, but oops, we can't make phone calls anymore because they took away our phones in the budget cuts.

    I'm choking on the hypocrisy caught in my throat.

  2. I suspect she's making good money. People playing off the anxiety of others by first convincing them that things are worst than imagined and then by assuring them only one option is available do well these days. She's smart to get herself into CHE during the hiring season; how many people will search her name to find her web page--as I just did? She "advises" from ABD to tenure. A clever "business model." And yes, it all bleeds my heart--that she has this service, and people need it. What has happened to graduate school?

  3. I do all the shit she does for free, and better.

  4. Harpy:
    Don't even get me started on the "consultants". We've had consultants redesign our web page, look for various important admin posts, try to organize our fundraising... and each time we end up worse and poorer than when we started.

  5. Archie, I've always said good things about you. (You could look it up if the old RYS site isn't just a big cobweb factory of Google ads and badly made nicknames. Of course I made my own.)

    I am writing today because I was so pleased to see you've picked up on my locution for the Chronicle, used by me first back in September of '08 -- Crampicle.

    Now, there's no need for posturing or chest-beating here, but I just want to say that you're my favorite, of all these CM people, you are the one I like to read the most.

    Because, despite Strelnipop's and Southern Boob-a's attempts, it's you, dear boy, who is the crazziest. And there's of course that Ron Jeremy avatar. That takes some big huevos to carry off.

    I'm on the side,

  6. I must say, with Frod chiming in this week and a rare sighting of Walter, it's like old home week.

    Howdy fellas!

  7. I think I'll leave my ivory tower, with its leaky roof and dry rot, and open a consulting business. My target clientele will be people who want to open their own consulting businesses, because Karen Kelsky hasn't done her damned job and taught her clients how to milk other people for big bucks per hour teaching other poor saps valuable life skills like elevator talks...and what to do if a building doesn't have an elevator.

    Link to me on LinkedIn! I trust you all are willing to be listed as former clientele and give me great recommendations.


    When I was a grad student, my primary adviser was 6 years away from early retirement. He decided to wait those six years in silence, playing games like Civ IV. He never said anything about research, teaching methods, publication process, conference organizing, spreading out my CV, etc.

    My secondary adviser was (and is) an alcoholic who gets completely slammed 6 nights a week. The best time to get him is to go to the local frat bar around 8, by which time he's had about a pitcher and a half and ready to spill professional advice by accident.

    My third adviser was on sabbatical, fellowship, and leave for 3 of the 5 years I knew her. She was tremendously successful and sent me the occasional helpful announcement but I never got a sense of what I ought to be doing as a grad student.

    Everything that I have today I got from making connections with people when I was paying my way (as a poor fucking grad student) to conferences and academic libraries. I made friends with profs at other universities. They helped me; my profs did not. My profs, who were R1 and part of a dept ranked top 7 in the nation.

    This service is a fucking value.

  9. @Academic Monkey
    Yep, me too. The best help I got was from profs at other schools. In some ways, I'm happy I had to look outside my institution, because that networking was invaluable. I'm doing a lot better than the folks that didn't have to. On the other hand, I never should have had to.

    BUT I would not recommend that students in a similar position seek out a freaking consulting business. Nope. Do find people out there interested in the same things as you, do make connections with them, do get them as your outside reader, and do start doing research with them. Don't pay somebody even more money to do what you could find folks willing to do for free if you've got good ideas. Sheesh.

  10. AM, there's this little form called a Change of Committee form we have over here. Sounds like you should have filled it out.

    There are also other faculty members, and in most places, either a Grad Advisor or a Placement Advisor. If you go into a dept. without ensuring beforehand that there is decent mentorship, formalized in one or both of these positions, you are making a very bad choice.

  11. Thanks AA - I was going to post that, in fact briefly did but managed to hash it up (never try to post from an iPod). My reaction however was "geez, good idea, I'll refer my students". I don't know half of what this consultant knows; if I did I'd tell my students. I'm not particularly well connected myself and the best I can do is refer my students to people who are. At least I do that. But what about all the students like AM, who have no one at all to turn to?

    A brilliant friend of mine went to a decent school with an excellent adviser who was, however, about to retire, as was the rest of his cohort. My friend graduated, got a 2-year post-doc, and by the time he came out his adviser had been retired for a few years and no longer really had any connections at other universities. And my friend hadn't made any new connections himself; it's hard to do after grad school. So he washed out in a TT job search, spent a few years adjuncting, and eventually he left the field. His lack of connections and career advice wasn't the only reason he left the field - his lack of publication didn't help - but I think it would have made a difference.

    Of course he was too bloody arrogant to take advice, anyway. But I remember how desperately lonely and isolated he was. Some support could have made all the difference.

    I suspect however tha buying a book on how to navigate from ABD to TT would get you all the same stuff, cheaper.

  12. Oh my God. This is that same idiot that wrote the guest post on that other idiot's blog..."The Worst Professor Ever". Both of them left academia because they were too good for it and now apparently spend a lot of their time burning bridges. The worst professor ever apparently left her job because she was too pretty. The particular idiot in question here left it because she didn't like the fact that the state of Illinois happens to be flat.

    Fucking lightweights.

    Besides, I don't think that Ms. Crampicle is making all the money she says she is. Certainly English Ph.D.s aren't quite that numerous, or stupid. And they're absolutely not flush enough to be paying her anything but a couple of pot brownies.

    Besides, she's really only qualified to give advice to PhDs in anthropology, of which there aren't enough to keep her in business.

    What the fuck does she know about researching in English? Who'd trust a fucking anthro major to read an article on Chaucer? No one. How's she supposed to know which journals outside of her field are the most desirable? Unless she's just looking in PMLA, in which case most English grad students know how to do that.

  13. At the same time that the Crampicle article went up, there was an interesting documentary on the telly up here in Canuckistan. It was carried by the Propaganda Arm of the Pan Canadian All People's Socialist Utopian Committee (the CBC), called "The Trouble with Experts".

    The trouble with experts, it turns out, is that most of the people who claim to be experts don't know shit.

    So how do you become an expert? First, you take classes in how to sound like an expert. Then you hang out a shingle by saying provocative things in the media (or failing that, on obscure industry-specific website where your marks are likely to hang out). Third, when some of your advice works out, or one of your predictions comes true, you chest-thumb like a drunken gorilla. But when your advice bombs or your predictions turn out to be a load of fetid dingo's kidneys, you quietly slip out the back, find a new mark and start again.

  14. By the way - I always thought Archie's avatar was Gene Simmons.

  15. I tend to agree with those in the comment thread over at the Chronicle who have said that she makes a good case for her business existing beside, not as a substitute for, traditional advising. But she wouldn't get a free advertisement in the Chronicle in the middle of job season if she just said "look what useful things I do!"; she had to couch it as a critique of the academy.

    That said, my own grad school experience -- at a particularly bad time in a particular department -- unfortunately resembled much of what she (and Monkey) describes. Changing committee members wouldn't have done much good, because a major part of the problem was that a significant portion of the department, including my main advisor, resigned a few weeks after I passed generals, and weren't replaced for several years (and the less-than-ideal candidates who were left might not have taken kindly to my dumping them halfway through the process for someone more appropriate; in a relatively small department, such political considerations do play a role). A few additional key players went on (well-deserved, already-scheduled) sabbaticals the next year. Since much of the advising "system" was informal, dependent on individual advisors (and on a few people who regularly stepped up to do things like a non-credit dissertation proposal seminar -- yes, there really was no formal system for this crucial step in the process), a lot of us found ourselves with little to no guidance. And the program was also unrealistically short, so there was little time to recover once the department started rebuilding itself.

  16. We were also getting unrealistic and/or outdated advice (don't try to publish before you finish the diss.; go on the market even if you've finished only one chapter) based on some combination of faculty members' long-ago experiences (which included getting jobs without finished dissertations, and, in some cases, tenure in Ivy League humanities departments on the basis of a few articles -- yes, some of them really came from another era) and a head-in-the-sand/but-our-department-is-different attitude toward the changes that were taking place in higher ed (to be fair, I don't think anyone realized how sweeping they would be at that point, which was 20+ years ago; we were just expecting the sudden demand for humanities profs to kick in a bit later that originally anticipated, and looking for ways to help candidates bide their time until it happened). It's possible that I should have jumped ship, but I'd just finished all my course work, and generals, and had funding for a dissertation year coming up, all of which would have gone out the window if I'd tried to switch to another university. I could have handled the situation much better (I was young and naive, and people skills weren't and aren't my greatest strength), but if somebody like Dr. Kelsky had been available in my field (and I do think such help has to be fairly field-specific, or at least take in a limited number of related fields), I probably would have saved money in the long run by paying her for better advice than I was getting from within my department. I'm not sure I would have been smart enough to do that, nor that it would have made a huge difference -- the job market still was, and is, terrible, and making the candidates stronger isn't going to change that (and making a few candidates who can pay extra stronger skews the system in disturbing ways, though frankly I think we're already at that point, since not everybody can afford to be an adjunct, or, if they're "lucky," bounce around for years in VAP positions) -- but it might have been worth a try.

    So I guess I'd hate to see the advising job outsourced entirely, but I think there might be a place for people doing the sort of work she does, in a defined, compensated way, in individual departments and universities, rather than relying on individual advisors alone. In many departments, there is a separate "graduate placement director" or similar, with a course release or credit for service; if that job is well done, that's probably a good approach.

  17. I think blaming the victim for not changing committees, which is not always possible for political reasons as well as field reasons (sure, there are 30 people in your English department, but only 3 of them are medievalists, and they're all already on your committee. For example) is not useful. Nor is blaming the victim for being stupid enough to go to a department without adequate grad advisorship. Bad stupid grad student, not to know how important that is!

    The fact is that without decent UNDERGRAD advice on what to look for in a graduate department, a prospective student is not going to know how important that is. And this is not the student's fault; they can't know what they don't know. Yes, someone shoulda told them; but the point of this entire article is that good advice is unevenly distributed and hard to come by - and if you haven't got good advice, then you don't know you haven't got it, do you? Because no one advised you.

    And jumping schools will lose you all the time in the last school. And the next one may not be any better, just bad in a different way.

    So whomever else we blame for this situation, let's try not to blame the people who suffer most by it.

  18. I was recommended to my department by someone I trusted and who is a big name. Then all the folks she recommended the place for left before I finished my degree. AWESOME.

    We were left with two warring sides of the department. You picked group A, or you picked group B. Whichever side you picked, you were stuck with. In fact, if you picked group A (who more matched my research interests), group B would give you horrible grades in classes just because you picked group A, often without reading your term papers at all.

    I picked group A because of the research interest thing and got royally screwed on the advising end. On the other hand, I learned to be a competent researcher in my field, so it's not like I didn't get anything from them. I did try to switch, and was told not to by the grad director. I still don't know if it would have been better or not, but I was told it would be a horrible political drama to drop on the department so.... I couldn't.

  19. I love that there is the suggestion that I change committees. As though the three I got weren't carefully considered.

    I want to tell you the other profs I had to choose from in this very well-respected community.

    Careless Cate and her gang of Cronies, who were about 10 professors that only advised each other's students and set up other people's students for failure in big, public ways. Like asking a grad student lecture on Subject A and then introduce them to a class of 200 by saying they would be lecturing on Subject B. Two of these profs were forced from the University after it was found that they were creating a hostile work environment and harassing one other prof at home at nighttime. The others remained to make life hell for grad students of unpopular profs.

    Wild Wally disappeared into the Geology department for semesters at a time because he really wanted to leave academia and start hiking the Grand Canyon. Unreliable.

    Then there was religious Charlie, who was a very well-known name but whose wife had cancer and he was never on campus as a result. Her progress was always "dire" for the 8 years I knew Charlies; she is still alive. A private, anonymous me thinks he made it up because it kept his course load at ONE and gave him time to publish instead. It also gave him the out from taking on grad student duties.

    Professor Piers, who wrote purposefully negative recommendations in order to give his grad students a reason to quit school and thus reduce his workload.

    Professor Undergrad-Addict who thought undergrads were tiny snowflakes to be loved and grad students horrible creatures to be kicked out. His style was to freak everyone out, avoid allowing any defenses, and stretch out the PhD project in a 14 year journey of futility. Over his entire career (he just retired), he awarded less than 12 PhDs and only one to a woman.

    Professor White Fish who received terrible reviews as a teacher and adviser but got poached by Yale because of his really awesome book.

    Then there was Annie, the best of them all, who died of a brain aneurysm in my second year.

    This is one of the best programs in the country. Professors seem to be, by and large, failing to advise their grad students.

  20. Professor Piers sounds like a "wrecker"; he should be told he was lucky to avoid the firing squads of 1936.

    All I can say about Prof. Undergrad-Addict is "Goddamn...Goddamn the advisor man!" (apologies to Steppenwolf.)

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  23. Hey, I think what Dr. Karen is is doing is great! And yes, I do my best to advise my students, even to the point of giving all my incoming grad students copies of "A Ph.D. is Not Enough," by Peter Feibelman, and warning them in so many works that the job situation in astronomy is highly competitive, or in plainer language stinks, but I will help them all I can if they're willing to commit to it. Still, she discusses many things Feibelman does not, such as how to do an elevator talk (when as a grad student I was asked point-blank by an interviewer what exactly I would do if given the job, I didn't have a snappy answer, and oddly enough I didn't get that job), or how to wear a suit (I never learned that myself). Knowing that might have made my tenure journey (read struggle) easier.

    Even though I have tenure, I might send her my cover letter and vita, and see what improvements she might recommend. Even if I do have to pay her, how high can her rates be, if she's paid mainly by grad students? That's she's a cultural anthropologist and I'm an astronomer doesn't matter much: as she points out, most of the administrators who are the actual people who make the hiring decisions won't be in your sub-specialty, either.

    Speaking of that, just yesterday, I was subjected to yet another talk by a post-doc in a slightly different field from mine (strongly correlated electron physics) that might as well have been in Hungarian for all I understood of it. The supposedly hour-long talk was only 35 minutes, so the speaker really ought to fill up future versions with material comprehensible to people outside her immediate field.

    @Calico: Seeing as this is College Misery, we're not exactly reminiscing about the good old days.

    @Walter: You still haven't answered my question. I think it's great that you warn students in your chemistry lab that if they haven't read the instructions, something might blow up. I think it's even better that you remove from the lab the ones who admit to not having done the reading. BUT, what do you do about the ones who haven't done the reading, and have no problem with lying to your face to claim that they have done the reading? I can't believe you don't get those.

  24. @Academic Monkey and Merely Academic: Yes, grad students can't rely on their programs and advisors for adequate mentoring. My experience* parallels yours in some ways.

    @Everyone: So without a book or a hired consultant, how IS a grad school applicant to learn about how to choose a program? Maybe this should be a separate thread; but since it's been alluded to here, it seems appropriate.

    *I chose my grad program on the recommendation of two professors from another school who praised it for really going to bat to help recent grads get jobs. Both said explicitly that the perceived prestige of a program meant nothing if the faculty wouldn't help grads find good jobs. I believed them. Why would I have thought they were lying or poorly informed or out of date?

    Imagine my surprise years later when, as an ABD waiting for the weekly guest speaker, I overheard three proffies chatting about the naivete of the current crop of grad students in thinking they could get decent jobs from THIS program. Didn't they know that only top-tier schools produce viable job candidates? I asked what the top-tier schools were. They (including my advisor) snorted and exchanged glances, amused and incredulous that I didn't know. (I did know that there were better-regarded programs, but not that there was such a rigid hierarchy.)

    I was, by all accounts, the top grad student in the program with the best prospects: NSF Graduate Fellow with numerous awards and dissertation grants; nationally networking; and published. The casual, callous dismissal of my employment potential made me angry and eager to prove them wrong, but they were right, as I heard over and over in the next few years. And not one committee member lifted a finger to help me in those job searches. Not that I expected it by then.

  25. I think you choose a graduate program by visiting each one, looking at placement rates and places, and speaking personally with the grad advisor and any faculty members with whom you hope to work (and be sure there are 6 or 7 who fit that category -- not as dissertation directors, necessarily, but as potential committee members). Also speak to as many current students and recent alums as you can.

    Though also, seriously consider not going at all. No amount of mentoring and faculty string-pulling can solve what is by now a structural crisis with the system, NOT a failure of individual faculty members, programs, or students.

  26. @WW Thanks man. You are still the craaazzzzziest, but I do my level best. And, yes, I was thinking of you when I typed "Crampicle" into the little "post box."

    @Rosencrantz: It is most definitely Ron Jeremy. Back in the old RYS days, Calico asked me who I wanted to be my avatar, and I said, "I get to choose? Then gimme Ron Fucking Jeremy Please." And then he did his photoshop magic and presto, the AAvatar. I've still got the email exchange somewhere in the dark depths of some backup drive.


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