Posts Tagged academia

10 Things Academe Won’t Tell You

Last week, I had the opportunity to give a talk with Jason Jones at Emory, where we are both alums and where one of us still works. The English Department had invited Jason and his wife to campus to speak on different topics. When they asked Jason to give a ProfHacker-oriented talk, he suggested that he and I tag-team. (Never let it be said that the man is not gracious.) In kicking around ideas for how we could structure the talk, my mind went—as it often does—to that adaptation of adaptations, the 1999 Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles joint, 10 Things I Hate About You. Given the general ProfHacker vibe of positivity, as well as the goal of making public the unexplained assumptions of working in and around universities, Jason and I opted instead to call the talk “10 Things Academe Won’t Tell You.”

I had ambitions of writing up my portion of the talk or recording it, but I didn’t get the time to set up the latter. And knowing how busy I am at the moment, I’m pretty sure that I won’t be getting around to the former any time soon. Still, we wanted to share the slides. And, y’know, if you wanted to hear the full talk—an hour-plus of ProfHacky goodness—Jason and I are open to invitations. (You might also think about inviting Jason’s wife, Aimee Pozorski, as well. She spoke about maintaining research productivity while working at a regional institution. That’s about as ProfHacker as it gets.)

Just to whet your appetite, here’s the promotional blurb:

Higher education is like the backdoor to Moria that Gandalf can’t quite remember how to open in The Lord of the Rings: It’s set up to give you access, but only on the condition that you already know how to get in. (The implicit suggestion that academe can resemble an abandoned deathtrap now filled with orcs, trolls, and balrogs is left as an exercise for the reader.) But what happens when you don’t know the secret word, or misconstrue the ancient writing? In this entertaining, provocative talk, Brian Croxall and Jason B. Jones will unpack some of the hidden knowledge of higher education–the things that everyone assumes you know and so will never bother to teach you. Delivered in the plainspoken style associated with the ProfHacker blog, and covering topics such as research productivity, well-designed syllabuses, work-life balance, faculty governance, gaps in mentoring, and the truths of the job market, Brian and Jason will guide you on the quest for a degree, job, and/or tenure.

For the record, then, here are the 10 Things Academe Won’t Tell You:

  • how to get your writing done
  • how to break the faculty/student mutual non-aggression pact (and why you should want to)
  • how to design new assignments thoughtfully
  • how to survive daily work as a faculty member
  • how to get people to notice you
  • how to survive meetings
  • how to get a job that isn’t a tenure-track professorship
  • how to mentor and be mentored
  • if you want to get something done, you can
  • no one will ever tell you, “Enough!”

Title slide

Screenshot of Profhacker.com

LEGO minifigs in wrestling costumes

A pen on a piece of paper with handwriting. Slide text: How to Get Your Writing Done

A woman sleeping on a desk. Caption: How to break the faculty/student mutual nonagression pact (and why you should want to)

Graffiti on sidewalk that reads

Old photograph of a teacher writing on a chalkboard. Caption: How to Design New Assignments Thoughtfully

Image of a tweet from Merlin Mann. Caption: How to Survive Daily Work as a Faculty Member

Pictures of Robot Chicken costumes. Caption: How to get people to notice you

Screenshot of a tweet discussing need to have online profile

Storm Trooper standing on copy of Robert's Rules of Order. Caption: How to Survive Meetings

Street sign that reads

Picture of Coca-Cola and Mentos. Caption: How to Mentor and Be Mentored

A child writing a sign for a lemonade stand. Caption: If you want to get something done, you can

Picture of a goalie giving instructions to his team. Caption: No one will ever tell you,

Picture of Craig Finn raising his hands in fists at the end of a Hold Steady concert. Caption: contact information and

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Crowdsourcing the Job Market

It’s that time again: when those of us on the academic job market start pulling out the materials that we’ve used in the past, start dusting them off, and revising them. Actually, one should have really have started this process at the beginning of September, but since this is my third year out, I’ve been feeling lazy like my materials are generally where I want them to be.

But then you pull up that teaching statement from last year. The one that you have revised throughout the year as you kept applying for jobs longer than you had anticipated. And you realize that while you can update some of the details to cover what you’ve been doing recently you perhaps can’t see the whole thing all that clearly any more.

That’s where I’m at at the moment, and I’ve done the first thing that any person on the job market should do: sent the document to a few friends who I frequently workshop such things with. I know that they’ll give me careful feedback on the questions I’m asking. But I also know that they’ve been reading this statement with me for the last four years as it’s been worked through different iterations. And while some of these friends are now successfully tenure-tracked, none of us have been on a search committee. How can I be sure that we’ve got the right idea about what I should be doing?

So would it be possible to get newer, fresher eyes on one of the documents in my dossier? Could I make the document available online and get others to comment on what I’ve done? That’s what I wondered aloud on Twitter this afternoon. My impetus for even thinking this was generated by Mark Sample’s decision to make his teaching evaluations public. And if making such details about being a professor public is good for our students and if we can use the Internet to build a great encyclopedia through crowdsourcing (despite complaints to the contrary [I won’t bother linking to those, but see @academicdave on the rebuttal]), can’t we can use publicly crowdsourced work to improve our own writing? Even if it’s oriented toward the marketplace (of employment) rather than a university press?

And after all, this is what we tell ourselves we want to see in academia, right? More collaboration. More use of nascent technologies to change how we do our work. I’m simply maximizing the professional network that I’ve developed over more than eight years to help me become the best candidate possible. Right? Right?

Still, as I write that, I’m aware that this could be seen as a fairly unconventional thing to do. We know that peer review is important to honing our scholarship or to improving our grant applications. We know that every intelligent person on the job market is using a group of friends to do what I’ve been doing. But bringing the whole Internet into the game: isn’t that cheating? Aren’t search committees more interested in the story that I’m trying to tell about my solitary genius than in seeing evidence of my being an ordinary human, one who benefits from others assistance? And even if they know deep down that I’m getting this help, shouldn’t I play nice with our narratives of academia and pretend that I’m not using it? That teaching statements (to say nothing of syllabi, articles, and books) spring from my forehead fully formed?

I’m inclined to think differently. And I’m inclined to think that scholarship is changing and that it has to change. Just look at Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s fabulous new book/digital manuscript, which anyone is free to comment on before she revises it a final time for print publication. We do have the tools to do our research and writing differently. Why don’t we start using them in our need to obtain/fill faculty positions?

My teaching statement is after the jump. Please comment, if you’d like. I’d love to get a job in the academy. And the academy needs those of us who want to see it adapt to the present.

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