Posts Tagged profhacker

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

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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Dr. ProfHacker, or How I L3rn3d to St0p Worry1ng and <3 teh fail!!1! (MLA 2011 Version)

As you might have intuited from a previous post, I had the opportunity to attend the recent 2011 MLA Convention in Los Angeles. One of the panels that I spoke on was organized by Jason B. Jones and featured a trio of the ProfHacker team on the theme of “Hacking the Profession: Academic Self-Help in an Age of Crisis.” Here’s the description of session #48 from the official MLA program: “This roundtable discusses how we narrate our academic lives online, whether in blogs or on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or in any other format. In particular, we are interested in how we talk about failure or, more gently, about the common problems that plague any academic life: the class that doesn’t quite work, the committee that’s driving us crazy, or the article that can’t quite find a home.”

To insure that we had plenty of time left for discussion, we decided to practice what we preach and give our talks in the Pecha Kucha format (AKA 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide). This was my first time giving a talk in this style, and I found it a very interesting exercise. Often I write my talks and only come to the images later, but I found that I had to work on both simultaneously since the slides would determine where I would be in the moment of my argument. I also discovered that in 20 seconds I can say at most 4 lines of 12-point Times New Roman text. I liked the whole approach well enough that I’ll definitely include a Pecha Kucha presentation the next time I teach.

What follows is the text that I cribbed from when presenting at the MLA. In a few places I ad-libbed, especially on the first slide. But you’re getting the gist here. And I’ve included the images that accompanied the text (images precede the text). Make sure you don’t miss Natalie M. Houston’s talk from the same session on “Happiness Hacking.”

Dr. ProfHacker, or How I L3rn3d to St0p Worry1ng and <3 teh fail!!1!

Title Slide Title, introduce myself.


Admit to this being my first time doing Pecha Kucha. A Genius

The problem of the academy, especially the humanities, is that we’ve been too easily waylaid by the ideal of the romantic genius. We think we need to be like the people we study. That we as scholars must be solo geniuses. And we believe that genius scholars never have problems…or failures.

Sign with poor spelling from Failblog

It doesn’t have to be this way. Failure is a common human experience. As little as academics seem like humans at times, then, we need to plan on having failures. And we shouldn’t consider it unusual or untoward. Some academics have become better than others at this.

test tubes

In a 2007 article in Wired, Thomas Goetz considered the problem of “dark data,” information that is abandoned since it doesn’t conform to hypotheses or doesn’t yield a dramatic enough outcome for a high-profile publication. Reporting on failures is valuable, writes Goetz, because “your dead end may be another scientist’s missing link, the elusive chunk of data they needed” (Goetz).

Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis

A possible solution to this problem is the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine, which, Goetz notes, “has offered a peer-reviewed home to results that go negative or against the grain” since 2002. Since that same year, the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, reports on “experiments that do not reach the traditional significance levels…[t]hus, reducing the file drawer problem, and reducing the bias in psychological literature” (JASNH website).


These two journals play an important role for their particular fields by making “failure” public. Perhaps the idea of publishing unsuccessful research is not applicable to every field. But while we do not yet have a Failed Lacanian Interventions Quarterly, many academics are talking about failures in their professional lives as a whole. These discussions about research, teaching, and service take place on blogs, on wikis, and on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Banner for my class

The advantage of discussing our failures in public is that we can get help from other people. As an example, in Spring 2010 I taught a senior-level seminar. I’d taught the class once before and it had been really successful. Last January, I found myself in a classroom setting where I couldn’t get the students to talk to me. In a discussion-based class, it was obvious that I was failing.

Tweets about my class

My frustration with the situation resulted in my trying several different in-class activities. But at the same time, I wrote online about the difficulty of the experience that I was having. (You’ll notice from the tenor of these tweets that I was more caught up in the notion of my own genius rather than noticing that I was failing my class.)

a help sign

Meeting with the director of undergraduate studies and asking him for help was useful, but so too was the response I received from my network of colleagues who had had similar experiences in the past. In particular, Erin Templeton saw my plaint and wrote a ProfHacker post about how silence is golden…until it isn’t.

ProfHacker post

Erin’s post begins by recounting her own “failure” in getting a class to talk and what steps she took to both get her students talking and in coming to terms with what she could not change. Among other things, she suggested methods that she had learned from other academics public narratives. (You’ll notice a virtuous circle happening where one person narrates publicly and others get the benefit.)


ivory tower

I never did get that class talking as much as I had hoped to, but narrating my experiences and asking for help online—rather than staying locked in my ivory tower—improved not only the class’s interactions, but also my own abilities as a teacher. ProfHacker became, in a sense, a Journal of Negative Results.


At the risk of patting ourselves too much on the backs, however, I’d like to suggest that ProfHacker and the work of others like Tenured Radical, Dean Dad, Sisyphus, and many more expose a different sort of failure: the general failure of the academy to make plain many of its most regular practices, from mentoring to writing letters of recommendation.

Old compass on a map

Narrating our lives need not only be about personal failures, then, but a desire to correct the failures of the academy to make its customs navigable to those who are new. By discussing how the academy works—even when it isn’t working so well in its present circumstances of “hard times”—we provide opportunities to diversify who can be successful in the profession.

Three academic self-help books

There are increasing numbers of academic self-help books. Many of these are really useful, from Donald E. Hall to Kathryn Hume to The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career. But these books are limited in being from only one point of view. The advantage of narrating your academic life publicly is that you can hear from a wide range of interlocutors.

Steven Johnson book cover; crossed picture of A Genius

It’s this wide range of interlocutors that makes a university interesting. Large groups of creative and interesting people working together are also what author Steven Johnson suggests is responsible for innovation. In other words, Johnson’s book argues against the model of the solitary genius, against the idea that one person can repeatedly create something ex nihilo.

DH Now.jpg

The advantage of narrating your life online, failures included, is that whether you are at a large research institution or not, you can participate in large group conversations that not only inform but also create, such as the real-time, crowdsourced publication Digital Humanities Now or the comment threads at ProfHacker.


An ivy covered college

Now, it might seem problematic to be narrating our personal and institutional failures when the academy is facing such hard times. After all, how can we expect state legislatures or individuals to continue funding our campuses if they are aware that we fail at times?

man with camera over his face

Contrary to expectations, however, I think that showing our failings might make us more sympathetic to those outside of academia. Instead of being the romantic geniuses in our ivory tower, we start to look a little bit human. And humans and human experience is what lies at the heart of the university.

Google Wave logo

In 2009, Google made a splash when it announced Wave. In 2010, Google made a splash when it announced that it was going to kill Wave. If you’d ever used Wave, this probably came as no surprise. I believe there’s a lesson that we can learn from Google, however. Admit our failures—including the academy’s—and do so quickly. Then talk about them.



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At ProfHacker: Expanding Your Academic Network in 5 Minutes

I’ve got a new post up at ProfHacker on the usefulness of thank-you notes for academics.

Thanks for reading.

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At ProfHacker: Digital Office Hours

Just a quick note to mention that I’ve got a new post up at ProfHacker on how to hold digital office hours. It includes tips on how to get a cool chat box to work with your Gmail, like I have on this site.


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