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oh dear, the truth hurts

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Written by adswithoutproducts

November 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Posted in academia

6 Responses

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  1. Giovanni

    November 6, 2010 at 8:45 am

  2. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that none of this has to do, per Zunguzungu’s take, with weeding out potential competitors on the job market. One of the hardest things in the world to take, sure, is the realization that there are younger perhaps better people now on the market, that you’re a “generation” old, and now people are betting – like they did on you – on potential rather than actual performance. But such is the way of the world.

    I’m pretty damn happy when I encounter a student who really does have the chops to do well in this business, such as this business is. I’m for instance super proud of the fact that one of my ex-students is now doing graduate work at the place where I did it.

    But I will admit that I do find it frustrating in a complicated way when students who really have no business applying come in to talk to me about their future careers as academics. I’m sure I take it the wrong way in a sense, but I guess the fact that I absolutely blistered myself with work as an undergraduate, lived at the library etc etc, and only because of that had a vague and basically uncertain sense that I might be hacked out for this line of work has something to do with it.

    We’re going through a strange generational switcheroo in terms of entitlement, aren’t we. My cohort seemed to have no expectation of “good jobs” after college, due to growing up in the “Slacker” recession of the 1990s. Nonetheless, and much to our surprise, we graduated into what was probably the best job market in the history of the world. (This was in 1999). On the other hand, students today, having grown up in the bubble insanity of the 2000s, have these ridiculously unrealistic expectations for their early work lives, seem content to subtract themselves from the market if they can find parental money to do so when they can’t find instantaneous work in the trendy career line of their choice, despite the fact that they have been thrust into what is one of the worst job markets in living history.

    Maybe the video plays on some of that. Who knows…


    November 9, 2010 at 11:19 am

  3. I said some pretty dumb things when I was first thinking about being a grad student; I’m sure I showed little particular promise to the professors who were kind enough to write letters for me, and I had no reasonable ability to assume that I was making a choice that made any particular sense. So my response to the video (especially now that I’ve mulled it over a bit; that post was actually just a consciousness-stream-rant which I would write differently now) was really all about the implicit claim to be able to judge who can and should go to graduate school, an incredibly complicated problem that the makers of the video dumb way down by piling onto the stupidity of the student. We all have opinions about our students, but it isn’t our job to tell them what to do; the least and most we can do is try to give them the conceptual tools and infoprmation to enable them to make the choice for themselves as competently as possible.

    But I do think there’s a smarter way to say it thatn that way I did; if it’s not about “weeding out competitors” in a simple way, I do think it has a lot to do with a hyper-status defensiveness that is made quite acute by our sense — as a profession — that there is little we have to offer for which there aren’t half a dozen easy and cheap replacements. A situation in which other grad students are a threat.

    More than that, though, what’s on display that bothers me is a refusal to allow the student to have any particular agency; the student is stupid and misguided, and all the bilious rage the professor piles onto the student (displaced from her own frustration) makes the decision to go to grad school a piece with all the other elements of the students’ stupidity, a decision that is, as such, wrong.


    November 9, 2010 at 9:31 pm

  4. While you may be right about the insecurity that comes of working in a business in which there are easily 200 unemployed persons who could capably do your job, I have to take issue with this:

    “but it isn’t our job to tell them what to do”

    Obviously everyone gets to make their own decisions, and (it should be obvious, I hope anyway) I support all of my students in whatever they try to do, but on the other hand, I do think that it IS my job, in the end, to give serious advice, advice that sometimes they don’t want to hear, on these subjects. So… Yes, sometimes, actually very often, it is my job – whether I like it or not – to “tell them what to do.” That’s why they come into my office, that’s why I’m constantly in my office talking to them about such matters…

    It’s my week-off this week, and despite that I’ve spent a huge chunk of it discussing PhD and MFA options with my students… This is, in part, what I do for a living, for better or worse.


    November 11, 2010 at 10:34 am

    • Well, it’s one thin to give them serious advice and even to allow their respect for you (earned or unearned) to give you the power to have influence over them. That influence is real and serious, and it’s a responsibility, to neither misuse nor pretend we don’t have, that we have to take seriously. But. Sometimes we’re wrong, and always, it’s the students’ own life on the line. Which is why there’s a point where you have to say “Look, I think you’re nuts to go to grad school. But, since you are dead set on it, let’s think about what has to happen to make it work.” I’m not really disagreeing with you here — I’m actually almost repeating what you said in your comment — but just making a slightly different point that I think is equally important: while you want to make sure students understand and take seriously your opinions on matters you have serious opinions about, respect for their right to disagree with you (for good reasons or not) is the flip side of that coin, and was the thing completely lacking in the many real life versions of that first xtranormal video. I guess I just mean that if failing to give “serious advice, advice they sometimes don’t want to hear” is one way of not doing the job well, another way to fall short would be to go too far in the other direction. I don’t have a clear sense of where that line should be — we all navigate it differently — but I do think it’s a balancing act (which is why the video irritated me).

      By the way, have you seen this?:

      It’s the St. Crispin’s day speech version.


      November 13, 2010 at 11:52 pm

  5. Yes, I think we do agree – and trust me, if anything, I feel a bit bad about not being a bit more discouraging in certain situations. I pretty much help everyone as much as I can…

    The new video is, erk, a little bit grating. I’d worry a smidgen about the person who decided to make that in response to the first one.


    November 15, 2010 at 10:27 am

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