Monday, July 18, 2011

64. Smugness.

Academe takes itself and its hierarchies very seriously, which is why where you go to school matters so much to the trajectory of an academic career (see Reason 3). The self-regard of institutions and the self-regard of those associated with them tend to go hand-in-hand. In an uncomfortably honest essay in the American Scholar, former Yale professor William Deresiewicz offers some indication of just how rigid the hierarchy is: “My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me.” And yet smugness is a problem throughout academe, even outside of the elite universities. In particular, there is a tendency among those pursuing or holding an advanced degree to think of themselves as being a cut above. What Deresiewicz says of “an elite education” also applies to graduate school: it “inculcates a false sense of self-worth.”

As Richard Vedder’s discouraging statistics demonstrate, the extreme seriousness with which academe takes itself does not seem to correspond with the actual benefits students acquire from either an undergraduate or graduate education. In fact, the terrible job prospects facing graduate students (see Reasons 8 and 55) may actually worsen the problem of smugness by leaving scholars and aspiring scholars with little to cling to beyond their academic credentials (see Reason 25). If you find yourself in a non-elite graduate program and inclined to look down upon the “less educated,” you should be aware of the low regard in which your Ivy-League competitors hold you. Any time spent in academe will involve unpleasant encounters with smugness, which can take subtle and grating forms. Sometimes it is anything but subtle, as in this particularly heinous example recently recorded on a commuter train.



71 comments:

  1. In some sense, I can understand the smugness of smoeone associated with an Ivy League program.

    What makes me roll my eyes is the smugness of someone associated with lesser institutions. How can one be holier than thou if thee's undergraduate programs have a 50% graduation rate and/or no one outside a 50 mile radius of the school has ever heard of the school?

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    1. That is exactly right...smugness is just an aggressive form of insecurity.

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    2. Actually, I don't understand the smugness associated with Ivy League programs. This blog is proof that whatever self-worth ALL academics seem to have is within the bubble of academia. Frankly, a phd in history from Harvard will gain no respect from a phd in math from Amherst. Ever see how anyone with a phd from an actual hard science deals with any self-important pinhead, even with a phd from Harvaaaaaaard, from the humanities? Indeed, there is actually smugness within hierachies; clearly, what we are dealing with are small vunerable people with sad lives...

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    3. Well, I wonder how anyone can be smug about being in an ivy league graduate program for liberal arts or humanities with few to no job prospects considering how expensive it is. I don't care if you have a Ph.D. from Harvard, you think you're superior to me just because I only have 2 master's degrees in engineering from a state school? I make six figures, live in a 4 bedroom house in the suburbs, drive a nice car and take vacations with my wife every year and my student loans are paid off while you have a mortgage of debt you can't pay even though you're living in a crappy one bedroom apartment... And you're somehow "smarter" than I am? I cite that example because I know a Harvard Ph.D. in that exact situation who is incredibly smug and I can't stand him. So I am not as "skilled" as you are at completing a comprehensive literary analysis of some obscure work, can you complete a materials and structural integrity analysis? At least I can write the literary analysis, you don't even know where to start on the structural integrity analysis, making my skills that much more marketable. Get off your high horse, ivies, no one is impressed if you have nothing but a piece of paper to show to justify your smugness...

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    4. Try this on for size - the smuggest person I know has a Ph.D. from a state school (albeit a good state school – but come on…also, it’s only in education, specifically special education…give me a frigging break). She is drowning in debt and has several bottom-rung jobs in academia to try and make ends meet. I think the only things she has to hold onto are her delusions and smugness. It sounds sad (and it is), but she’s insufferable, so it’s hard to feel sorry for her.

      She taught school for just three years (the bare minimum) before going for the easiest education doctorate she could find in her area. She graduated in 2011 and only has one publication to her name, which isn’t doing her any favors, either. Her lack of experience has really hurt her in terms of anyone else in the field taking her seriously as either an academic or “expert” in education. You wouldn’t know it to talk to her, though…tons of hot air and balderdash, of course. The truth is that she is several hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, tens of thousands of dollars in personal debt, and she has a child to take care of, so she works three adjunct jobs, has a b.s. “educational consultation” business that has failed miserably, but that state school non-STEM Ph.D. really salves all the hurt, it seems.

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  2. Thy undergraduate programs may be unknown and have 50% graduation rates, but as everyone is constantly reminded, going to university - any university - makes one "special" and "select." I actually found that my friends who went to famous, prestigious schools were less convinced of their own superiority than the ones who went to "lesser" schools, possibly (and I'm really only guessing here) because enough of their friends/family also attended university that they realized how un-special it is.

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  3. "In some sense, I can understand the smugness of smoeone [sic] associated with an Ivy League program."

    Hmmm...but what about"legacy"? Legacy basically means that you won the lucky sperm/ovum lottery, and because your Old Money family went to X Fancy School, and pours gobs of money in, you also get in, regardless of intelligence and talent. But not regardless of promise. The implied promise of legacy is that letting the generation 9 rich, well-connected dumbos in means that even more money will be forthcoming, not only from generations 8 and 9, but 10, 11...

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  4. Graduate school smugness is disgusting. Here is another example in its raw condition:

    http://nomoredegrees.com/reasons/201

    They value the letters after their name over things with real value like character, integrity, hard work, and nice cars (Docs are green with envy over the wealth of their nondoc counterparts in the real world of business).

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  5. I got my doctorate in English literature at a "non-elite" university. I went there because the department was strong in my area of specialization and had a number of excellent scholars I was eager to work with. Unfortunately, my university is also in the same city as an "elite" Ivy-league institution (with a strong area of specialization that was NOT my interest). When it came time to go on the job market, guess which university's graduates got the job offers and which did not? The Ivy leaguers were even getting offers in my area of specialization, even though I'm convinced their credentials in this area were inferior to my own. (How's that for unemployed smugness?)

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  6. This doesn't speak to the issue of pride over (or despite the lack of) program prestige, but here's a true smug grad student story:

    My first year in grad school I TAed this interdisciplinary class (let's say it was MEDIA STUDIES--this will be important to remember) with 3 other TAs--one of whom was was 3 years ahead of me in my home department. She and I sat next to each other in lecture. And virtually every time one of the undergrads made a less-than-idiotic comment or posed a reasonably coherent question in lecture, this grad student would turn to me with a smirk and intone, "That's MY student." It happened with startling regularity. Once there was an undergrad who said something kinda smart and this grad student next to me waited a beat and I thought aha! It's NOT her student! Whatever the reason for her pause, she caught up and informed me that this too was "her" student, as if all the students randomly assigned to her discussion sections had wandered in as mouth-breathing blank slates, and she had nonetheless infused them with her analytic brilliance.

    Well, one day after class, the professor pulled the TAs aside to tell us a story. The prof and her partner, both bigwigs at the university, had been walking near campus when a couple of guys, obviously drunk, starting shouting, "Hey, MEDIA STUDIES!!" at the professor, whose name they had obviously forgotten. The drunkards shambled over and explained how much they loved the class, blathering on. The prof asked, "Who's your TA?", but apparently they didn't know the TA's name. The amused prof described the lead tosspot for us TAs, and finally, I too had something to brag about. Turning to Ms. Smug there was only one thing I could, in all honesty, say:
    "That's MY student."

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  7. To 10:14--Oh I wish the dingalings in my department could read your post. They are convinced that institutional pedigree counts for nought, and that our department's reputation in several subfields will win the day when we hit the job market (or it hits us back). I do hope they like working Alaska, if they're lucky...

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  8. I have an ex who made the decision to go to grad school in English-Creative Writing-Poetry for pretty much the sole reason of wanting to be the only person in his social circle who had a graduate degree.

    That was eight years ago. Now, he's desperately trying to get into a Ph.D program for the same major just for another ego boost. He seriously bases his entire self-worth on his writings and his intelligence.

    Yeah, he's an ex for a reason.

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    Replies
    1. Your bitterness is showing.

      Delete
    2. That doesn't sound like bitterness to me. That sounds like smugness (and from the description of her ex, I get why). Insecure men aren't attractive. Next.

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    3. Neither are vindictive, overbearing, slanderous women.

      Delete
  9. Anon 8:38AM,

    I agree -- which is why I said "in some sense." I think there is a loose connection at best. For the truly brilliant or gifted, some smugness is earned. For those who bought their way into the Ivies, it is not.

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  10. Dear Anon 1:51 (8:38 here):

    I guess we should respectfully agree to disagree on this one. From my perspective I'm not sure that any amount of "smugness" is ever "earned" or justified, regardless of talent or intelligence. I think you can be proud of your achievements without drifting towards smugness. Unless "you" (the topic of previous sentence, not YOU, 1:51) happen to be a grad student, then smugness is pretty much guaranteed, regardless of merit.

    I think what disturbs me about the topic of this post (the lived reality of grad student smugness, not the post about that lived reality) is that "smugness" really is a learned behavior--as grad students we're socialized into it. William Deresiewicz makes this point (and thanks, Beautiful Blogger for this link--I loved his essay) with regards to the Ivies, but I think it holds across "lesser" grad school environments as well. Looking in the mirror one day and seeing that same just-sucked-on-a-lemon, pissy-faced expression that the more advanced grad students typically have--if this experience can produce that, I really need to consider quitting.

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  11. The people I know who are least smug are the ones who have actually achieved impressive things: the surgeon, the professional writer with dozens of books to her name, the folks I know who have won Emmys for their work in TV.

    The folks I know who are most smug are grad students--mostly unpublished jerks (and some published jerks) who think they are brilliant, that their work is more consequential than anyone else's. They're so delusional it would be comical (if being around them weren't such a terrible buzzkill).

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  12. I cannot confirm or deny whether or not I encountered smugness in graduate school. I probably did, but if so, I didn't notice it. Even so, I've always had this false smugness that, as a math major, I could do anything, regardless of the letters behind my name. I sort-of carry that smugness with me even to this day. (I never did send out that resume that basically said "I'm a mathematician, need I say more?", though, so it hasn't gone completely to my head!)

    Mathematicians are weird people, though. I once attended a graduate seminar where two grad students related their experience at the annual National AMA/MAA Combined Conference, where they would go to interview with colleges and universities around the country, as well as attend talks. At one point, the two were driving, and one of the students, looking around at the absentmindedness walking around, said "What's up with these people?!?" The other one turned and said "You do realize that you're one of 'these people', don't you?"

    So, yeah, I'd say that while mathematicians can take smugness to a whole new level (and they do, sometimes), they can also take smugness and completely turn it inside out as well.

    As for the hard sciences, and engineering, I have no idea what smugness is like there. I have a vague feeling, though, that it's probably more comparable to that found in the humanities, than to that found in mathematics...

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  13. @Epsilon: I always felt that people in science/math/engineering were allowed to be a little more smug than anyone else because they actually had real skills they could apply elsewhere, and more often than not, were more productive members of society than people in the humanities and social sciences. I'm not saying I'm okay with smugness or anything (I really detest it), but there is that leeway. On top of that, the sciences/math/engineering tend to value logic, reasoning, and truth while the humanities deal with whatever is the new postmodern fad of the day (see Reason #40) so they aren't taken as seriously. That being said, I am an undergrad social sciences major. <_<

    I think people in higher education are like the ultimate hipsters of the world. They spend a lot of time studying something so obscure (you've probably never heard of it) and think that makes them a better person. They refuse to be associated with mainstream people but want to convince you that what they're doing is more important and relevant than what everyone else is doing.

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  14. @Anon 9:48 I think the stem smugness tends to be more tolerable because it isn't actually smugness - it's excitement. Most of the grad students/PhDs in stem fields (and my parents are both in stem fields, so I've encountered a bunch) tend to be excited to explain what they're doing and why it's relevant, how it's going to change the world, etc. Humanities people tend to be more like, "You don't know that sex and gender are different things? God. You're so dumb." *turns to colleague* "And this is why we don't talk to people who haven't been to graduate school."

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  15. Oh no. Please no.

    Please let's stick with detesting smugness and not making distinctions between who is "justifiably smug" and who is not.

    Smugness is always yucky. If it's not really smugness, but something else, then it's not really smugness.

    And please, let's not valorize the STEM disciplines. My friend (at a top ranked R1) in a hard science lab says that the discrimination against women is so bad that female grad students are regularly hazed out the department (by the male grad students, who systematically make life hell for them). PIs and mentors apparently do nothing to stop this.

    Yes, humanities and social science grad students are also wretched, but let's not shore up this prevalent idea that STEM is relevant and superior and the rest of us are navel-gazers. It's not true and it's despair-inducing.

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  16. I'll out-smug any Ivy a$$hat out there. Every year in graduate school I got smugger and smugger. Because I was Brilliant. And Original. And really good at Playing by the Rules. And Kissing A$$. And hiding my Ignorance of Everything Except Obscure Dissertation Topic. Since earning my Ph.D., I've become an over confident, super arrogant bitch! (Because, hey, what else do I have to show for all those years except a piece of paper?)

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  17. "I always felt that people in science/math/engineering were allowed to be a little more smug than anyone else because they actually had real skills they could apply elsewhere, and more often than not, were more productive members of society than people in the humanities and social sciences."

    Doesn't work like that. People outside, say, math, don't really understand enough math to be impressed with it.
    If you say you're a mathematician to someone who isn't one, they just give a blank stare and think, "oh, a numbers guy." They just assume you fiddle with numbers all day basically.

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    1. Perhaps--though my husband has a phd in theoretical math and I have actually seen non-academics get really intimidated around him. I suspect it is also because he can command $300 an hour for tutoring rich kids who want to ace the sat.
      However, we are talking about smugness within acadamia. Frankly, I can't tolerate smugness and in fact, I find what another poster said to be true: the most accomplished people tend to be very humble. I have been to several math conferences with my husband (a vacation/conference) and have interacted with some top notch theoretical mathematicans; indeed, many were socially awkward but generally smug amongst themselves (absolutely sweet to me.)I suppose like everyone else I like to see a smug person put in his/her place. I am a phd history student (oh, but this is the home of the smug) and their egos are over-inflated. I do enjoy how less smug they become when they can't brag about their supposed genius when they come across an actual theoretical mathematician. For the record, this goes ditto for some of my genius professors as well....

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  18. Quantitative Political Scientists (and other faux scientists) are the worst. Deep down they know their field is a case of The Emperor's New Clothes, so they comfort themselves by looking down their noses at everyone else. Pretentious pricks.

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  19. 3:27--I love you!

    When I was an undergrad, my biopsych prof said something disparaging about sociology, and because I didn't like that kind of disciplinary snobbery, my face fell. He saw it and said:

    "Oh don't worry. It's true that psychologists look down on sociologists, but in turn the biologists look down on us psychologists. And the chemists of course look down on the biologists, and the physicists look down on the chemists. Of course, the mathematicians, well, they look down on everybody."

    I don't know if this hierarchy still holds or ever did (note that anthropology, polysci, and the humanities are too irrelevant to even mention, according to this prof), but now that I am a grad student, I do know that they're all smug bastards, bottom to top. Right now my personal vendetta is against Sociology and Fill-In-The-Blank Studies, but there's plenty of loathing to go around.

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  20. Anon 2:51, was your prof quoting this comic? :)

    http://xkcd.com/435/

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  21. Is it any accident that the photo illustrates a man who finished last in his West Point class?

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  22. Anon 3:24, I don't think my prof quoted that amusing comic. He said that to me about 11-13 years ago. I think both he and the comic are just referencing a well known hierarchy (well known, that is, to all but the dumb sociologists, of which I am now one).

    On another note, I did finally think of one justifiable reason to be smug--your departmental nemesis gets finally gets her/his comeuppance. But:

    1. this isn't the kind of smugness the original post is talking about.
    AND
    2. A-holes never get their comeuppance, at least in my department. The shittier they are, the more they are celebrated. Only the kind-hearted and well-intentioned get punished.
    AND
    3. Even if a miracle occurs and your nemesis does get her/his just desserts, it's much cooler to not even care than to feel smug/gloat. The way I look at it, until a few years ago, I never knew any of these A-holes even existed, and the chances that any of them will become ubiquitous media rock stars (like say Reza Aslan) and haunt me after I leave is next to nil. Who cares.

    So even if you have the opportunity to feel smug, it's not worth the bother.

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  23. My worst experience with smugness came from a biology professor. The worst suck-ups were in humanities. Many of my favorite profs and fellow students were in physical science and engineering.

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  24. Some of the most arrogant PhD students go to the worst ranked schools. Its those kids from the South / Midwest who think all their family and friends are just so stupid, while they are geniuses for studying sociology at 3rd Tier Unknown University. As the blogger said, "If you find yourself in a non-elite graduate program and inclined to look down upon the “less educated,” you should be aware of the low regard in which your Ivy-League competitors hold you."

    -East Coast Guy

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  25. My acquaintance, 'Sam', did her MA at Decent State U with me, and then went off to do her PhD at Very Good State U. Whenever I see her now, she talks about how amazing she is as a TA and a researcher and how groundbreaking her work is, and how she's glad she got away from my terrible Decent State U and its awful facilities.

    I don't know what's worse - that she thinks her condescending attitude is acceptable, or that I, with my BA from Fancy Elite U, look down on her for thinking Very Good State U is all that great. Thank god I'm going to graduate soon and be done with all of this.

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  26. "Whenever I see her now, she talks about how amazing she is as a TA and a researcher and how groundbreaking her work is."

    I know whatcha mean. It's dumbfounding how many grad students indulge in this kind of boasting. Do they know any "real" people outside academia who talk like this? It's preposterous walking around telling people how great you are.

    I knew someone who even insisted on emailing favorable student evals to folks and posting them on his/her facebook page. Who cares?!?

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  27. "you should be aware of the low regard in which your Ivy-League competitors hold you"

    Oh, I became VERY aware when I applied for academic jobs (and was consistently passed over for Tier I/Ivy candidates).

    In fact I think one of these 100 reasons should be the bitterness that stays with you even if you do manage to escape from academia. My academic job search experience is only rivaled by my time in junior high school for causing the most amount of emotional distress in my life.

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  28. so is anybody going to comment about people here being smug about not being smug or being less smug than others

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  29. "you should be aware of the low regard in which your Ivy-League competitors hold you"

    people should be aware that in business and life people could care less about the ives. sometimes it can be a detriment.

    I've come across a couple people with degrees from those in similar and/or worse positions than me...

    I just laugh and think "maybe there's something to this class and connections thing after all..." Then I just shake those thoughts and check back in to reality- all I have to do is study hard and work hard and I'll get ahead.

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  30. "all I have to do is study hard and work hard and I'll get ahead."

    ahead...of whom? and in what job market (you mention business)? if you are in a traditional academic discipline (as opposed to getting an applied, professional masters or doctorate) you're going to have to contend with institutional rank on the academic job market. even people i know with CVs as long as your arm got aced out by the Ivies and top-ranked R1s.

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  31. Anyone that pursues and/or earns a Ph.D. is a sucker. We have nothing to be smug about.

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  32. "Anyone that pursues and/or earns a Ph.D. is a sucker. We have nothing to be smug about."

    yes Yes YES!
    Everyone knows this but academics.
    10:45, I love you for pointing this out.

    We are the dummies. The relatives and friends that some of smirk at tolerate us and hope we'll wise up one day and pursue something with a greater chance of success. Like becoming a rock-n-roll trombone player.

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  33. 1:14, I (10:45) am also an amateur trombonist (though not of the rock-n-roll variety). I still share an office with two Ph.D. students from my lab. What am I still doing there? Adjuncting, what else! Anyway, I made a new sign for our office door with our names and a cute little figure under each name that's related to what we study. One student asked why I didn't put 'Dr.' before or 'Ph.D' after my name on the sign. I told her that I didn't think it was really that important (I actually think it makes one look like the ultimate tool) and she replied, 'After I graduate, I'm going to always use one or the other as often as possible. I earned it!' Ahh, so young and so naive. Wait until she is a professional adjunct. By the way, we attend/work at a very large public university in New York City (you get one guess), so we are really at the bottom of the Ph.D.-smugness heap. :)

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  34. Oh, 10:45 (1:14), why aren't there any doctoral students with your humility, self-deprecating sense of humor, or common sense in MY program at middle-of-the-road UC party school (one guess here as well)? Most of these folks believe that armed with a third tier sociology degree, they are going to Crush Capitalism or that they'll be running Harvard one day. Not a trombonist in the lot, either.

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  35. Hi 1:14,

    Thanks. Funny, my former trombone instructor also earned his Ph.D. (in English) from that well-known public NYC institution. It's only been during the last month or two that I've have accepted the realization that earning a Ph.D. was a colossal waste of time. So... I'm taking classes in the fall (never thought it would come to that) to get training and earn professional certificates in subject areas that should actually help me to find a non-academic job in something kind of, sort of close to my subject area.

    -10:45

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  36. "I'm taking classes in the fall (never thought it would come to that) to get training and earn professional certificates in subject areas that should actually help me to find a non-academic job in something kind of, sort of close to my subject area."

    I was thinking about doing that this fall too!

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  37. At 1:51: Applying to school all over again, asking for an instructor's permission to register for a class and buying textbooks all sure wiped the smugness off my face.

    :) oh, I mean :(

    -10:45

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  38. @ 10:45:

    Here's how bad I am:

    I've been haunting a website gathering information for what I thought was a reasonable B plan (counseling masters degree--I'm in worthless, stupid sociology now), and yesterday one of the other site members suggested that this was dumb-move redux and that I should do something practical and in need like psychiatry (!!!) or psychiatric nursing. Bleah! to the second suggestion, and huh? to the first. If going back and doing prep for a post-bacc, a post-bacc year, med school, and psychiatric specialization is seen as a good move at my age, I'm gonna hang it up now (my career, and my smile, up-side down that is).

    1:14/1:51 (one and the same, just too lazy to say before)

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  39. @11:14,

    That would be a serious commitment for something you're not sure about. My sister earned an MSW and has made a nice career for herself (including a steady pay check!). Her skills are in demand and she's making a contribution toward the health and well-being of others.

    -10:45

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  40. @10:45:

    I do mean this sincerely:
    Hooray for your sister! More sense (and cents, and dollars no doubt) than any of us. And she's actually DOING something productive and KIND. Before enlisting in this mess, I don't think I really appreciated how unkind a place academia would be or how much I value compassion (and miss it when it's lacking).

    In my program, the People With Lofty Political Ideals are the worst. They think they are Che Guevara/Malcolm X/Rosa Parks (actually the feminists think they are Judith Butler), but their contribution to "The Revolution" seems to be confined to empty dogma, pettiness, and hitting on their undergraduate students. People like your sister are the ones doing the real work on the ground, not the people pontificating about Marx while ogling my boobs.

    Well, now it would seem that I need to receive therapy, not learn how to perform it. Maybe I should get your sister's number!!! ;)

    --1:14



    -1:14

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  41. Hi 1:14,

    Taking stock of our situations puts us on the road to grad school/Ph.D. recovery. I haven't taken actual classes in many (4?) years and I'm really looking forward to my new program. It's basically a task/job-driven, "Here are the skills that you need to do this particular job and do it well." I'm lucky in a way, since I've managed to stuff away enough money in savings that I can squeak by on adjuncting for a few more semesters without starving (no $ for fun stuff, but I'm used to that).

    10:45

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  42. At an Ivy. In graduate school. Not smug. Don't look down on people in other programs. Miserable.

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  43. 100 Reasons,

    You are performing a true public service with your blog. Would you please email me at nando9936@gmail.com. I want to discuss something with you. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  44. The most smug and arrogant people I've encountered in academia were Ed Doctorates, ABDs and people in areas like gender studies (which I almost pursued). They are more adamant than anyone else I've met in their demands to be called "Doctor" or "Professor" even in non-academic situations.

    The most smug and miserable human being I ever met in my life has a PhD in Gender Studies. She even makes her insurance agent, auto mechanic and others address her as "Dr. Smith" (not her real name). And, ironically, she ended a longtime friendship with a man who underwent a gender change because she felt that this former friend was beneath her and would embarrass her at conferences and such!

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  45. @ Dona,

    Boy did you hit the nail on the head. I almost did Gender Studies as well, and these folks aren't just smug--they are utterly lacking in compassion. Easiest way to flunk a class I know of is show up 5 minutes late with a final or other exam--automatic F. Of course if said gender studies person blows a deadline of her/his own, special circumstances should be taken into consideration...

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  46. I go to school in Shitstick USA, but live 100 miles away in leading cultural mecca and metropolis Cityland. Because I spend most of my time in Cityland at this point, I have weekly opportunities to go see film directors, leading literary figures, artists, and other cultural luminaries discuss their work. With only a single exception (a megalomaniac crime writer), these accomplished folks consistently present themselves with humility and grace. On the other hand, the grad students I know, many of whom remain unpublished, are intolerably smug and arrogant (as are many of the profs). Granted, cultural figures know it's in their best interests to put on a good face when interacting with the public, but should this be any less true of academics? Especially since the primary audience for academic work IS other academics?

    Wait to start throwing your weight around until you win the Pulitzer, kiddies. By then if you still don't have the wisdom to refrain from smugness, at least you'll have the gravitas to back it up.

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  47. I see this with most places, but have to say that at my non-Ivy research I university, I don't get this idea of smugness from my colleagues or the faculty and I'm now quite proud of that. With that said, I think smugness is a personal choice, even though it may be drilled into some peoples' heads - everyone has a choice to give in to it. Maybe it's because I'm the first person in my family to attend college nevermind graduate school, but I just don't see this everywhere...

    Cheers -
    http://sociosound.wordpress.com

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  48. "I think smugness is a personal choice, even though it may be drilled into some peoples' heads - everyone has a choice to give in to it."

    I think the point of the original post (as well as the William Deresiewicz piece to which the post links) is that there can be an institutional culture that promotes smugness. Some individuals may be more or less susceptible, but it's more complicated than a personal choice. If you were in a more toxic culture you might be surprised by the monster you saw in the mirror.

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  49. As a member of MENSA and a janitor at an Ivy league university, I can tell smugness comes from those who are truly not intelligent. I have an IQ of 147 and only have a bachelors degree and I am more certain that most PhD canidates and profs. are mentally challenged and useless to society as a whole. Academia is a welfare system for those who are highly educated but not intelligent. Let's hope that they stay in their "Ivory Towers" and not tread where intelligence is needed.

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  50. "The Ivy leaguers were even getting offers in my area of specialization, even though I'm convinced their credentials in this area were inferior to my own."
    Most people are convinced that their credentials in this area are superior to your own. This includes 99.9% of America, and even most of the people in your department when asked attached to a polygraph instrument.

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  51. I have struggled with smugness for years now and at 24 I am finally realizing the motives behind my academic goals. While I'm a true believer in educational reform to include an empahsis on STEM programs, I know that my goals to attend grad school for one of these programs is driven by this pressure I put on myself to be the "smartest I can be". This is so silly. If you're brilliant, nothing can change that, including some degree. If you're average, then an advanced degree will do nothing but turn you into that douchebag who used big words and who feels that preserving her ego is more important than true happiness.

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    1. That's right, let's all put down precise and articulate people in favor of those who, like, talk, like, normal so other people can, you know, get stuff.

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  52. Also, I've attended both a good private school as well as my local state school. The caliber of the students was the same (though there may have been a greater standard deviation in the state school) but I ultimately dropped out of the private school bc I was so unhappy socially. You felt like you always had to be on your guard to impress these cold, insecure New Englanders and were always in fear of appearing "stupid", even at parties. I realize now that the people who can problem-solve with the best of them AND appreciate a good fart joke are the most genuine, best kind of people to be around.

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  53. Smugness may be justified if one has discovered something truly original or contributed to the body of knowledge. This is not a generalisation but unfortunately, nowadays some appear to embark on the Phd journey, because they seek the status 'Dr'. There are ethnic/cultural reasons or simply they can't think of anything else to do. They may have excelled at school, been lucky, aced their exams gamed the system, or curried favour with their teachers. They have 'learnt to pass the test', to copy replicate, imitate even plagiarise, and become clones of their lecturers - Imitation is the finest form of flattery. At best, they make for very good scribes and ‘acolytes’ like in the monastery of old, but in historical long view their ‘contribution to the catechism of knowledge’ make makes zero difference. Just look at the nerds in the ‘big bang theory’.
    Some I have come across do not have an original thought in their head, cannot apply their knowledge to the ‘real world’, cannot communicate their ideas, and yet have a high regard and sense of self-entitlement, especially those in academia. They cannot cope with failure like most people because of their ‘academic successes’ have never failed, so tend to be risk averse. But it means in the long term that innovation and progress is stifled.
    How many people have heard of Einstein, Robert Hooke, Freeman Dyson, Frank Whittle, Thomas Edison..? Yes, for sure. They took risks, made mistakes – intellectual or otherwise. They originally didn’t have the patronage of the academic establishment, which in hindsight pretends that the present cohort of Phd’s are somehow their true descendants. How arrogant that some professors, full of of their own self-importance, publish incomprehensible, pretentious garbage and expect students to somehow be in awe of them, living off the past glories of others – but does anybody remember their names?
    The Phd was good model 40+ years ago, but it now requires a long due overhaul – real scholarship, independence of mind, humility and love of subject.

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  54. Frankly, here it falls apart for me.
    'Smugness' can be found in numerous contexts in life - among neighbors, work colleagues, strangers, and students in the same schools and programs.
    I find the prevalence of smugness in America distasteful, but I've seen it while living in northern Europe, Oceania, and East Asia as well. Americans may not even be the worst offenders. Haven't seen it much among African immigrants / visitors or native Americans.
    In any case smugness is definitely not a quality restricted to academia, nor is academia particularly rife with smugness when compared with other fora.

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  55. smugness is never 'justified' you dipshits

    how about you treat people with respect and dignity regardless of...anything?

    of course, once respect is shown to not be reciprocated, all bets are off and I'll be happy to tell you want a smarmy fucking shitbag you are

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  56. PhDs in Mechanical Engineering look down upon those with a master's and/or bachelor's working in industry, who in turn look down upon the auto mechanics. But when the car breaks down, all the phd can do is tell you the computing speed of the fastest algorithm that can optimize the Brayton cycle. Spending some time away from grad school enables the closet envy of auto mechanics and race car drivers to finally open the door.

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    1. And one can draw analogies for all other disciplines.

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    2. Funny - I actually have B-Eng in mechanical, and am now working in automotive. This is where I am actually learning something.

      Several classmates decided to ''double down'' and get a master's, but the job market still seems like crap. There truly is a huge glut of engineering graduates (who have no clue or experience).

      Yes, I can do differential equations, calculus, and solve problems in different textbooks. But can I actually design or engineer anything? Nope. And folks here (am Canadian), can't be bothered to train new grads.

      Love this site.

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    3. Had all this book knowledge about mechanical stuff, (courtesy of B-Eng.), and read about cars, but ...

      -Never put on tires or balanced them
      -Never patched a tire
      -Never put in a battery
      -Never changed oil
      -Never put on wipers
      -Never changed an air filter
      -Never replaced headlights
      -Never done alignments
      -Never checked the wiring looking for shorts
      -Never done any brake work

      All of this came from on the shop training, in less than a month. University, even at the undergrad level, was useless.

      A degree didn't get me the job, but a driver's licence did.

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    4. Let's be fair - some of these are in the rightful province of the auto mechanic (e.g. balancing tires, doing alignments, checking for shorts). Some aren't.

      I mean, I'm considered pretty useless (M.S. degree, multiple languages, some background in engineering and sciences - I now caretake and feed animals for a living) but I was changing tires and oil and replacing batteries and wipers in high school.

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  57. Sorry, I meant mechanical engineering (as per the poster above). Doing this shop work really has little/if anything to do with what I learned in school, but learning a lot nonetheless.

    Disclaimer: worked briefly in actually engineering work (AutoCAD/drafting) but found it mind numbing. My bosses have told me that they don't train people to get anywhere -- they expect people to come job ready, but that's a topic all on its own

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  58. One of my professors apparently once received some mail that was addressed to "Mr. X." He ripped it in half, threw it out, and sniffed, "I'm not Mr. X, I'm DR. X!"

    Get over yourself, man. You got lucky as hell to study comp/rhet before the education bubble burst and landed a TT job despite regularly being an incompetent and arrogant windbag

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