Monday, January 30, 2012

77. It attracts the socially inept.

Graduate school demands that you spend an immense amount of time alone (see Reason 69). It demands sustained interest in highly esoteric subjects. And it demands that you approach those esoteric subjects with the utmost seriousness. You can see how this environment would be attractive to people who are more comfortable in their own thoughts than in the company of others. This applies across academic disciplines. While some graduate students are involved in cutting-edge medical research, others are studying the subtle aspects of postwar Croatian cinema (see Reason 66). Oddly enough, the latter take their work as seriously as the former. Grad school can be compared to an endless fan convention at which all the participants cluster by genre or disciplinary interest, and where every individual is highly invested in a particular sub-sub-sub-genre.

In fact, graduate school is best suited for those who are fanatical, because devotion to one’s field (measured in terms of productivity) is what is rewarded (see Reason 38). The problem for most graduate students is that they are normal people. They do not thrive in prolonged isolation, and even though they may have an abiding interest in their subject of study, it does not amount to fanaticism. In the world in which they find themselves, however, they have to both co-exist and compete with the die-hard fans (see Reason 2). Earnest discussion of obscure topics, irrational in-group status jockeying, and competitive devotion may be fine for hobbyists at weekend conventions, but graduate school goes on for years. It does not take long to spot the odd characters who inhabit this environment, nor to see its effects on healthy personalities (see Reason 50). Keenly aware of the variety of people who manage to percolate through graduate programs, academic hiring committees rely on an old-fashioned test: how will a job candidate perform in a conversation over dinner?



84 comments:

  1. This is the paradox of academic environment. Grad school pushes you to be isolated and to work on your own, but you need good social abilities in order to succeed. For shy people it can be difficult to understand, because we tend to think we just need to be "good" and to work hard.

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  2. Hey, post-war Croatian cinema is awesome. Don't knock it!

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  3. This was one of the prime reasons I decided not to go for an academic job. The kinds of jobs I'm prepared for would demand that I pump out articles and at least one book for tenure. I think the medieval literature is neat, but I don't want to study and write about it obsessively for the next 10 years at least. Intellectually, there's a diminishing rate of returns. I'll leave it to the true believers, whose lives are literally focused almost solely on their work.

    Grad students in English have to convince themselves, and everybody else, that their work is just as important as scientific research. The history of English departments over the course of the 20th century, when they were formed, is the history of making this seem so. I've heard people make absurd comparisons to the sciences all the time in order to justify the warrants of what they are studying. It is a psychological necessity.

    After I decided not to go into academe, I mentioned one time to a professor (also a friend) that there is a belief at the foundation of English scholarship especially of historical periods that books are endlessly productive, therefore scholarship can go on forever. There's always something to say about the major texts, always something new to find. I suggested that even if this were true, the new things you'd find would be less and less important and so books may not be as endlessly productive as the scholarship industry might want them to be. This was greeted with uncomfortable silence. But I think it's true, that's why many people are studying b and c tier texts (since we've thrown out the author, and it's tasteless and wrong to talk about whether a text is actually worthy of study, this doesn't matter though). Since they believe anything scholars do is automatically valuable intellectual work, they don't care whether what their doing is intellectually interesting to people outside academe. I don't want to do that, and I don't want to compete with people drunk on that flavor of koolaid.

    Also, they are very boring and sometimes awkward, unless they are surrounded by other people who speak their language. I found myself turning into this (to an extent you can't escape it) and really didn't want to.

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  4. Another good post, and so true.

    In any other vocation, people lacking in social skills would not fare well in job competitions, particularly when the position involves social interaction and acting as the public face for an institution - what you do as a professor. Not so in academe. Anti-social behaviour seems to be tolerated, if not encouraged by the constant drive for cranking out research and publications. I never once in over 12 years of higher ed heard a professor mention work life balance. I did hear their non-academic spouses complain about it though!

    It's really quite sad. when you think about it. I remember how hard it used to be to get fellow grad students to go out on the weekends to have a drink, see a game, or just to get out and fun - almost every time the person had to stay home to "work". So great was the guilt of not working on that article or book - and during the prime years of a person's life.

    What's really twisted is the fact that the university system has gotten to the point where anti-social behaviour is actually so normalized that it is rewarded. I've seen committees for hiring faculty and awarding post-docs end up choosing the person who has the best research record, which almost always is the most anti-social person and thus worst teacher - or to put it less politely, the candidate that students are most likely to call the "werido prof" who has terrible Rate my Prof ranking, the shabbiest clothing, who is made fun of behind their backs.

    Because depts have gotten to the point where this personality type now composes a majority, candidates who demonstrate social behaviour and have good communication skills don't fare as well as they should. Instead of being seen for their ability to teach and communicate information effectively, they are seen as threats to the isolated and socially-inept researcher's way of life - and rarely make the shortlist.

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    1. "Anti-social" is not the term that you are looking for here.

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  5. Sadly, what Dr.Who? comments is correct. I am on my sixth, and hopefully last, year of my engineering Ph.D. program. Thats as long as a new tenure track professor spends between hiring and the tenure decision. I only remember one assistant professor among his "generation" that had anything that resembled social skills. Luckly, he managed to get through the tenure decision. The ten or so others that were either working when I started or were hired while I was attending were somewhere between shy and complete hermits. It is a paradox within itself that people like the ten get professorships, teaching positions, over the one. And the quality of higher education is suffering because of it. At least most of the professors who taught me in my undergrad and graduate years were hired before universities took such a pro-research focus.

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    1. Is it really such a bad thing if socially inept people get jobs? We deserve to be able to earn an income too! Academia can be a haven for those of us who don't do so well in all the other work environments in the U.S. that disproportionately reward extroverts. (I've also seen some very introverted people be excellent teachers, by the way.)

      The irony to me is that to be successful in academia you need to be able to handle spending a lot of time alone, but the job also involves many socially demanding situations: networking (crucial!), conferences, teaching. All of these require strong social skills. What's worse is that when you're networking with other academics, you have to be adept at socializing with the inept. Which is hard enough if you do have good social skills. In my experience, I see the socially strong people land good jobs. They are the ones who adroitly navigated the conferences, cocktail parties, and interviews to get into jobs.

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    2. I completely agree with you.

      I really do wonder what it means to be "socially inept", though. I think that to a great extent it's just a way of saying that someone doesn't conform to accepted social norms about how to interact with people. I don't think there's anything inherently negative about it. Most of the socially-awkward academics I've been acquainted with are actually very pleasant despite their eccentricities, tics, tunnel vision...what have you. There are also those that are embarrassingly straightforward about hating your guts, possibly because they're too preoccupied with academics to play mind-games, but I appreciate that more than backstabbing (which some more "well-adjusted" people do).

      And yes, I love my "weirdo profs". In their enthusiasm for their subject matter, they tend to be very helpful, if very exacting, but the latter is for your own good. I think students need to be mature enough to suck it up and realise that these people, however weird, have something valuable to offer them and then shut up and *listen*.

      Just a thought. I think the post made a valuable point about how grad school = no work-life balance and no social life, and I will happily agree, but I think saying that one should avoid grad school because it attracts (and produces) "odd characters" is profoundly unfair. It is like implying that these people are lepers. There are probably plenty of good reasons not to go to grad school, but this one is trivial.

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    3. Everything is wrong with it and you are both part of the problem.

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  6. We have another contradiction here.

    If one is socially inept, then they cannot be good teachers. To be a good teacher, one needs good social skills.

    So here we have this place "Grad School" which attracts socially inept people and places them into Teaching Assistant Roles, where they either be good teachers or they lose their TA-ship.

    I think the "socially inept" part comes from the huge amount of work in graduate school. People who are otherwise social, are not having enough time to socialize, so they become "socially inept"

    My point is: Graduate doesn't attract the socially inept, it forces you to be socially inept to cope with the workload.

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    1. I think some conform to the norm over time, but I suspect that most end up leaving academe rather than do that - probably this occurs mostly in grad school after one begins to see what HE it's all about and what professors actually do for a living. These are those students who silently disappear from the program, and no-one seems to know where they went (except their advisors who rarely disclose the truth since it looks bad on them).

      But there are more than a few people who make it all the way through and begin teaching before they leave. There are posters in the Chronicle forums who leave after landing a TT job, or even after getting tenure.

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    2. You're probably right about social skills and teaching, but no one I know went to grad school so they could teach. That was just a way we avoided going into poverty--we were there to immerse ourselves in the subject and think smart thoughts and write smart papers. My point is, graduate schools are certainly not trying to attract teachers in their brochures or admissions standards. A warm body will do. And while you may need social skills to be a GOOD teacher, you don't need any to show up and stand in front of the classroom twice a week.

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  7. "While some graduate students are involved in cutting-edge medical research, others are studying the subtle aspects of postwar Croatian cinema (see Reason 66). Oddly enough, the latter take their work as seriously as the former."

    Hilarious!!! Can't... stop... laughing.....

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  8. I don't think this is so true in economics and business fields... One of the biggest elements in hiring is always how good the presentation and handling of questions is. We want people who can teach, appear in the media etc. Ability to do research gets you an interview.

    There really isn't room for shy but brilliant people in academia. Maybe some of them end up working in government labs etc.

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  9. Maybe one of the requirements for admission into grad school should be to get testimonies from 3 people who DON'T have degrees in your subject, but still think that it's interesting and important. More to the point, are there 3 people outside the field who would rather spend public funds on postwar Croatian cinema rather than, say, health care?

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  10. I actually ...erm... work on postwar Yugoslav/Croatian cinema.

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    1. *hugs*

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    2. "Yugoslav" in this context is a game changer. Or so I was told by Croat people :).

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  11. Oh anonymous 6:57, you must have just died a little bit inside =(

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  12. Yes, graduate school does offer individuals the opportunity to immerse themselves in esoteric subjects. And yes, the people who take this opportunity do tend to be or to become socially dysfunctional. Besides the awkward types there are also the aggressive and paranoid types.

    Ironically, however, the few people that I have seen get good tenure track jobs or good non-academic jobs after graduate school do not fit this profile. They care about other people and study the things that other people care about.

    Yes, there are things which humanities graduate students study that people generally and genuinely care about. The problem seems to be that a great many graduate students have convinced themselves that nothing like that could merit the attention of a true intellectual.
    Those people get screwed the hardest.

    Compare, on the one hand, a language and literature PhD that is both linguistically and culturally fluent in at least three major or up and coming Asian languages and, on the other hand, a literature PhD that studied Irish. One of those people is going to get a very good job either in academia or outside of it. The other is not.

    And it’s not that Irish is inherently useless. One can imagine that earlier in the twentieth century when second generation Irish were becoming first generation university students there was really a need to legitimize Irish cultural capital as real cultural capital.

    It’s just that that was fifty fucking years ago.

    You have to be superbly myopic not to see that.

    I am beyond sick of hearing other humanities graduate students complain about the fact that departments and universities often hire based on “demographics.” What they’re actually saying is, “I want to be paid for the cultural capital that I already possess and not have to acquire new cultural capital.”

    Such people often consider themselves to be at least intellectually “honest” – they’re studying what interests THEM.

    But real intellectuals possess the ability to make themselves interested in things that don’t necessarily refer back to them.

    Which… ultimately, is the same ability that socially competent people possess.

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    1. I LOVE this response. Thank you so much. This is a big problem even for undergrads when choosing majors, but for grad students to be so (as you so rightly say) myopic has even worse consequences.

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    2. "Compare, on the one hand, a language and literature PhD that is both linguistically and culturally fluent in at least three major or up and coming Asian languages and, on the other hand, a literature PhD that studied Irish. One of those people is going to get a very good job either in academia or outside of it. The other is not."

      I was in Asian languages, and I can tell you that THAT particular bowl of rice was oversold. The demand in academia was really oversold. The demand in industry was *extremely* oversold.

      Not to detract from your overall point, but when reality asserted itself, there just wasn't (and isn't) much of a market.

      What does an Asian Languages PhD learn to say?
      "Is that a 'grande' or a 'venti'?"

      What does a native speaker of an Asian language who has an Asian languages PhD in another language teach?
      His/her native language to discerning American high school and college students, who aspire to teach English abroad someday.

      What piece of advice do Asian language PhDs most frequently receive from career counselors?
      "Why don't you just go over there and teach English?"

      What is the stupidest sentiment ever fielded by an Asian Languages PhD?
      "Those people have literature?" (THIS from an English PhD, at a 'highly regarded' SLAC).









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  13. I'm from the land of STEM. Awkward socially inept people are the heart and soul of STEM.

    STEM students, having been shunned during their early developmental years as geeks and nerds, blossom in strange and interesting ways when they finally get to graduate school and get to hang out with their own kind. All of the jocks, business majors, and liberal arts majors are finally filtered out of their lives, and the STEM students are finally free to interact with each other in the absence of all that high school background noise.

    Desperate after years of struggle for meaningful interaction with other human beings, graduate school provides that "safe place" where STEM students can finally open up and be affirmed by others of their own kind.

    So, how exactly do they interact?

    By bitterly competing with each other for the few scraps of academic affirmation doled out by their STEM advisers.

    Graduate school is such a cruel place.

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  14. I must disagree. Many of my fellow grad students were decent people with good social lives. The exceptions were the Left and Right ideologues who couldn't see beyond their True Beliefs.

    If you want to meet people who are socially inept, hang out at the bus station.

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    1. " Many of my fellow grad students ...". Yes, "fellow" students is the key here.

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  15. It's time to start telling stories.

    Last year, in our university's math department, a foreign grad student (from China, in case you were wondering) decided to start living in his TA office.

    Now this was a shared TA office, so the fact that he moved all of his earthly belongings into the office made things somewhat uncomfortable for his office mates.

    What made them REALLY uncomfortable, though, was the fact that this guy NEVER showered. Ever. If there had been a convenient shower in the math building, it would not have mattered. Guys who had to share a hotel room with this dude at a conference tried desperately to get him to take a shower, but he would not do it.

    His office smelled so bad that no one would go near it, and then the food that he stored in there started to attract rats. This went on all summer. It took forever for the department to do anything about it.

    These are our best and brightest.

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    1. You had me until you included the bit about the 'rats.' Should have said mice or bugs.

      Lose a point but good job otherwise.

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    2. Anon 3:37 here. Maybe I should have said "rodents." If any part of the story is unbelievable, though, it's the fact that it was allowed to happen.

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    3. This probably doesn't happen as much as you think, but it does happen every once in a while. I remember hearing a story about a mathematician who moved into his office for a few months, although I can't remember the details.

      I may be going on a limb on this one, but if I remember correctly, this particular mathematician was an American, and if I'm not combining this with a story about a different mathematician, he also refused to pay taxes to support the Vietnam war, and to this day, his wages are garnished to pay for those taxes.

      Mathematicians in particular have a (likely fair) reputation for being eccentric, and sometimes universities will put up with those eccentricities.

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  16. When I was in grad school, I rented a single bedroom in an apartment where the rooms were rented individually. My roommates changed from one semester to the next. Most of them were international students from Asia who were in different STEM departments.

    A lot of them seemed to be living on their own for the first time or must have grown up in families where parents or servants cleaned up after them, because they seemed to have no clue about basic cleanliness.

    The biggest problem was food. My roommates would leave large quantities of food out that should have been refrigerated, cooked rice sitting in their rice cookers for two weeks, spilled oyster sauce all over the kitchen. By the time I moved out, the kitchen was coated in a thin film of grease.

    In their defense, though, the worst roommate in grad school that I ever had was a white vegan humanities student who lived in total filth. He always kept the door to his room closed, but one day I caught a glimpse of what it looked like in there, and it was like a scene out of "Hoarders."

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  17. This speaks to the whole "adulthood" theme on this blog. A lot of grad students just aren't there yet.

    I shared an office with a guy who had a really, really messy desk. He dressed pretty slovenly, too. He kind of took pride in the mess. I did not know him very well and never saw his apartment myself, but he (weirdly) told us once that when his mom came to visit him and saw what a mess it was, she cried.

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  18. Grad School certainly does attract the socially inept, and its viciousness perpetuates that behavior. We had a grad student who was awful, simply AWFUL at being a teacher. He absolutely loathed teaching and his students--and students even wrote on his evals that they felt he hated them. His grading rubric (that he shared with his students) went from "Fair, Mediocre, and Awful." I shit you not. My jaw dropped when I saw it. But he had to keep teaching to be funded, and the department straightened any problems out by simply intervening and passing everyone with As and making sure he knew that that was the only acceptable solution and what the department really cared about anyway. The faculty gave their teaching award to another guy who showed films in his language classes 90% of the time and always gave out As.

    I saw so many grad students cave to faculty demands, no matter how unethical they were, and perhaps that should be another reason not to go to grad school. It's really an environment for the easily corrupted and most reprehensible of folks. Part of it might be due to the desperation, but I don't know how many grad students seem to have turned a blind eye to their moral compass and even turn their backs on their fellow graduate students being harassed and humiliated by faculty--all for the desperate attempt to get on faculty's good sides and hope they'll pass them on their exams and reward their ass-kissing at department "social" functions and in office hours.

    In my time there, I really hoped to get more normal socializing among the grad students, but I realized they weren't people I wanted anything to do with. They were malicious and wanted to gossip, slander, and backstab each other to get ahead--whatever the hell that means. I'm a hell of a lot happier now that I left grad school.

    I meet assholes in my job, too, but nothing compares to graduate school. It really doesn't. I can still go home and not take work with me. I can have happy normal relationships with people and not wonder if they'll try to backstab me. I can talk about serious issues with my coworkers and not be scared of repercussions or feel I'm talking to robots who deny any knowledge of problems in the workplace.

    There is hope for people who leave graduate school!

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  19. Some of these points are valid, but few them are true reasons to stay away from Grad School. It's hard, yes. It's supposed to be. If you only like doing easy things, then do that, however there are people like me who aren't in it for money.

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    1. As someone who completed a PhD in mathematics, and struggling to make ends meet while trying to figure out just what I want to do now that I have my degree, I have to point out that the point of all these posts isn't "Oh, woe is me!"--it's to open the eyes of anyone interested in Grad School, so that they wouldn't be surprised about the environment they are getting themselves into.

      Working is tough. About a month ago, I was let go from my primary source of income--and that was tough. But it was a different, kinder type of tough. And most of the "toughness" described on this blog has (almost) nothing to do with learning new, interesting, valuable things in your field.

      And this is from someone who thinks that a good portion of these things didn't apply to me directly, or if they did, they weren't as bad as what happens in the Humanities!

      I don't pursue math for the money, although I wish I could figure out how to make money doing math, because that is what I love to do. I just want to pay off all my debts, get a small house, *maybe* a tiny farm, and a part-time job that would allow me to pay the bills and tutor other people mathematics--perhaps up to the doctorate level, so that my students could get the mathematical "fix" without the grad school drama, and the gobs of debt that comes with grad school.

      But I'm a long way off from achieving that ideal.

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    2. "I don't pursue math for the money, although I wish I could figure out how to make money doing math"

      I just love your line. It sums up pretty much every one who has done a grad degree only to later find out that it doesn't help your chances of landing a job in the real world.

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    3. Epsilon, love your post. I've done work in the real world, and while I've never been fired I can say that quitting a paying job is a lot easier than quitting grad school. Much easier. No one but an idiot invests himself emotionally in a job. Unfortunately the same thing is true of grad school, and I was an idiot to emotionally invest myself in that. When I quit pursuing the PhD I was down for quite a while, but eventually I felt liberated. When you quit a paying job the feeling of liberation is immediate, but not nearly as profound.

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  20. One reason grad school doesn't only attract the socially inept, but exacerbates the ineptness, is that academia is a lifestyle. There is no differentiation between life and work. Your life is the work, and vice versa. If you live that way, then you will likely have little inclination to talk about anything else. It consumes you. This is not something that stops after grad school either, because grad school and post-grad school are pretty much the same. You do the same things, you talk about the same stuff.

    You can't go home, and leave work at the office. Yes, this is true for other professions, but not at all to the same degree. There is no work-life balance: in fact, if you talk about such a thing, you will be branded "unserious" and might risk being blackballed by your advisers.

    And @8:52, it's not about it being hard. Lots of things are harder than grad school, which for some people is not really that hard. I've seen plenty of people rewarded for not working very hard. Writing papers is pretty easy once you figure it out, and then you just repeat the mold. It's not that hard. If you can't figure out how to do this, then you will not be able to crank out enough article to succeed (and you'll be relegated to a low tier university, doing tons of teaching and service, and you won't have much time to write your way out--welcome to the dungeon!).

    And if you're in it for the money, 8:52 is right, get out because you can make better money elsewhere and have a life outside work. There are people who cannot conceive of doing anything else, and who actually think that they are important thinkers writing about important things. If you aren't inept enough to imagine that your work, read by maybe (but probably not) 1000 if you're a bigtime bigshot, makes you a public intellectual on an international scale (some of those 1000 live overseas!), you aren't inept enough to compete.

    But as usual, there are many exceptions to every rule. I know some well-adjusted academics, and they are some of the most successful. But they are a minority.

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  21. I remember one time at a dinner function for a guest speaker at a seminar when I was getting a PhD in anthropology. A fellow PhD student who was not a pet of the professor hosting the seminar left early. The minute he left the table, the other graduate students, who were the pets of this professor, began talking shit about how much this other students comments missed the mark, how he just didn't get it, etc. Now this may or may not have been true, but it was cruel and humiliating status-policing of a sort usually perpetrated by thirteen year old girls. I have never known such petty shit talkers as I knew in grad school.

    I did meet some wonderful eccentrics who would have wilted like hothouse flowers in almost any other enviornment. However, I think the majority of grad students I knew spent more time staking political claims for/ talking themselves into/ drumming up interest in/ territorially pissing on the slice of the intellectual pie upon which they had erected their dissertation flags. See, the structure of academia forces you to find a corner in which to become obscurely expert. The number of people who started out with charming asbergersesque focuses was few and far between.

    Actually one of the best things about no longer being a PhD student is that now I only read good books. When I was in school I had to read all these obscure outdated books and articles in order to master my field. Now I read more broadly and less deeply, meaning that I never have to read bad or poorly written books. I read two or three books a week, still in the social sciences. I miss having people to talk about the books with, but I enjoy the reading again, and by the end of grad school I didn't anymore.

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    1. @ 1:33 AM, you hit on the nail. In my program, everyone is licking ass (not just licking ass, I'm sure some female students slept with teachers). Since I wasn't good at it, I became some a sort of pariah. Yes, the territorial pissing and political claims bore the hell out of anyone "normal". And many students could never function elsewhere. At the end of my MA (thankfully I didn't get into the Phd, blessing in disguise), I hated reading. Now, I read social science books but nothing too obscure.
      MM

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    2. I'm the same way (and have seen similar things) and was straight up told by faculty that good grades and intelligence matter less than 'networking' in terms of getting into and succeeding at grad school

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  22. boo-f-ing-hoo, special snowflake alert ***********

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  23. I am pretty sure that one of the grad students in my department was the living inspiration for the "Debbie Downer" character on Saturday Night Live. When she walked into a room, you could feel the negativity squeeze through the door with her.

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  24. You see all kinds of ineptitude among academic types. What it usually comes down to is unpleasantness. They are unpleasant in all kinds of ways. They can be touchy, easily hurt, easily offended but quick to offend, verbose, interested in hearing themselves talk but totally uninterested in listening to anyone else, snobby, pretentious, pedantic, judgmental, holier-than-thou, clueless about some things (about which they show no humility) but impatient with the cluelessness of others, cold, thoughtless, self-centered, and impolite.

    The variety of unpleasantness is endless. It's mostly the result of people being unaware of how they are perceived by others (ineptitude), but even nice academic types are often unpleasant because they can't hide their depression.

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    1. You've just described my sister, who is a professor of English. How did you know? ;-)

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    2. You are precisely describing the English professor I am TAing for.

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    3. Just want to add a point about their cluelessness about some things. The professor I am TAing is so inept at classroom technology that she makes the TAs sit in front of the lectern every day just to move forward and backward the slides while she focuses her energy on lecturing the students... She has no idea how to change the powerpoint into full screen to begin with. Whenever having trouble sending email, she blames it on some weird cyber issues. Her technology ineptitude has been not a big deal if she is not this dictator and maniac suffering from OCPD, bursting into fist of anger here and there, and catastrophizing every thing the TAs do...

      The experience of working with her, coupled with three radical leftist grad seminars which are rampant with postmodernist nonsense naturally drives me out of my PhD program--just the 1st semester into the program. No regret. Just an extreme relief and an eagerness to venture into real life and start a new intellectual journey. Well, lesson learned, anything but a PhD in English!

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  25. I saw a professor I had a grad class with walking down the street awhile ago. She looked so unkempt - messy hair, wearing this ugly old ill-fitting sweater and sweatpants. I initially thought -- I kid you not -- "what a sad looking homeless person" before I realized who it was.

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  26. The fact that graduate school encourages social ineptitude and draws in the socially inept makes it even harder to leave when/if you do decide to. I have friends who are in their early 30s, relatively new ABDs, who've realized they can't finish or don't want to, but they have no concept of the outside world at all. Their only options, as they see them, are:

    (a) marry rich guy, stay home all day reading books and baking
    (b) take "brainless" job just to avoid the burden of using their minds for anything, or because they've romanticized physical labor
    (c) travel world, taking jobs "here and there"

    No one ever says "I might be better off with a decent office position for 40K a year where I have some good coworkers and a decent wage coming in." Ever. Because they've never even tried it, so they don't even know whether they'd like it (and hey, plenty of people do try it and don't like it, I respect that). But then if they do apply for a regular office job, I shudder to think what kinds of coworkers they'd make, so maybe they're actually smart in writing this off from day one? I would dread working with some of my old cohort.

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    1. "a decent office position for 40K a year where I have some good coworkers and a decent wage coming in."

      I've been applying for those kinds of positions for months now, and not even a call-back. They're not as easy to get as you think, and in many ways, advanced degrees make you LESS desirable. The "brainless" or "here and there" jobs may be the best she can do.

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    2. Oh no, I know what you mean. It took me 7 months to get that 40K office position (and actually it's 28K, 40K would make me deliriously happy) last year. And while my degree wasn't a hindrance in my case, they definitely weren't impressed by it or interested in it. But when I got this job, one of my PhD friends said to me "cool, no more early mornings!" even though I'd said it was an 8 - 5. I explained the mornings part and I got this kind of blank stare. Someone else said "wow, so you can work nights instead of days if you want to." I said no, that's not how an 8 - 5 works. More blank stares. These are both smart people, but the 8 - 5 concept didn't make sense to them at all. I had to explain it meant 8 - 5 every weekday, all year. "So it's the same every semester?"

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    3. "I had to explain it meant 8 - 5 every weekday, all year. 'So it's the same every semester?'"

      Wow......

      Delete
    4. I made in the 30s last year hustling 2 adjunct jobs, so the money is more less equivalent and I work fewer hours. On the downside for me, I have to travel more and the stability isn't there, although I've schmoozed the depts enough I should be okay until they change chairs. Also, you probably have health insurance; I have to buy mine on my own.

      FWIW, post health care reform the independent market for health insurance got much, MUCH better, my monthly premium dropped so much that it's really not something I worry about now, my monthly gasoline bill is much higher. I understand that's not the case for some group health ins or employer plans, but it did improve the independent market considerably. Before, it was exploitation.

      But I digress... A 40K a year decent, stable job is hard to get, period. If it was so easy, I'd have one now, and more broadly speaking the U.S. economy would be gangbusters.

      I've been applying for jobs steadily since I graduated with the MA, and I haven't gotten any offers for much besides sales jobs where I have to sink some of my own money in order to make money. Probably just as unstable as adjuncting, too, since a lot of the people I meet at job fairs held those kinds of positions. Plus, I was never a good salesman. Other than sales, what offers I've gotten are ~mid to high 20s, without much of a discernible path for advancement. Adjuncting looks about as good.

      But I'm a pessimist about the general state & future of the economy / job market. We've got a few free market apologists on here who think that we can just go ask for a 40-60K a year job in the private sector and, poof! we'll get one and never have to deal with the b.s. of academia ever again. In my experience it's same s*** different toilet.

      Delete
    5. Those jobs are hard to get, i got one that paid around 30K and they did not care about my degree, in fact most of my coworkers made fun of me for having it, and not once or twice this was every week. Then they would also quiz me on random historical trivia or throw out a random year and ask me what happened in that year. I actually got laughed at in a recent interview for my grad degree in history. If I apply for anymore jobs in the future, I will probably leave it off my resume

      Delete
  27. I left university years ago to start a new career in an area unrelated to what i studied in grad school. Occasionally, I get a phone call or email from a former student colleague. They usually say it's just to touch base, but I know it's really because they know I'm working and they are curious to know what it's like to have a job. Although they'd never admit this, I know that they are starting to think about other lines of work and want to feel me up for tips.

    The conversation almost always goes like this:

    Hey how are you? I heard you got a job.
    -Yes, Im working in an office now. I actually enjoy it a lot.
    Really? Do you get to do your own research?
    -No, I do whatever my manager asks of me. I like it mostly because I get a decent paycheck and I don't have to work evenings and weekends.
    (awkward silence)
    So... how did you get the job?
    -I applied and was interviwed.
    Was the ad posted on some kind of listserve?
    -No, I submitted a resume to places that I thought I could work at, and got lucky with one of them.
    Really?!? But you have PhD!
    -Look, I don't mean to sound brutal, but non-academic employers really don't care whether you have a PhD or not. They want applied skills.
    (More awkward silence)
    -So, how is life back in the university? Are you still adjuncting or are you looking for other lines of work?
    OH NO! I'm just fine. I just wanted to say hello.
    -Oh, okay. Because if you are looking for non-academic work, I can pass on some tips.
    Thanks but no. I love teaching and besides, I could never work for a company or organization based on what I've learned through my scholarship.
    -Okay - well it was nice chatting.

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    Replies
    1. I'm Anonymous from 2/7 12:25 and 2/9 12:30 from above. I laughed at how familiar this is. When I got my office job, a PhD adjunct friend said to me "oh wow, how did you get that job?! I need a job like that." I assumed they meant how did I get this job in a bad economy, which is a perfectly legitimate question, but as the conversation went on it became clear that wasn't the issue. "Do you get paid from day one or do you have to work for free for a while?" "So when your boss doesn't have anything for you to do, do you just go home and then come back the next day?" "Do you still get spring break?"

      Delete
    2. I recall when I made the big jump from *.edu to *.com that I too was a bit confused about how things worked in the real world (due to an utter lack of exposure to reality whilst still sheltered by the academy).

      I recall asking my very first private sector employer when I should sign my employment contract. Having only been a professor, I was used to long term employment contracts. He laughed and said we didn't have contracts, we just come to work every day and then we get paid for coming to work. And if I get tired of coming to work, then I don't get paid.

      What a novel concept this was at the time.

      Delete
  28. STEM, there's a certain beauty to the private sector. Your boss says, "Here's your job. Do it. Don't come back until you've succeeded. Don't come to me for validation or correction. If you screw up, you're fired." Neat, clean, and direct. I always found it refreshing when compared to the neverending hairsplitting of academia.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it is neat, clean, and direct.

      It can also be terrifying or thrilling at times, depending on market conditions.

      One way to contrast the academic versus private sector "end game" is in terms of risk & reward.

      The ideal academic end game is a tenured position at a nice university. You avoid some of the risk of naked exposure to the marketplace (i.e., you enjoy some job security), but your financial reward, especially when viewed in light of how hard you had to work to get tenure, is not really a very great reward.

      The ideal private sector end game is to become a highly successful person like Steve Jobs. The risks taken on this path are huge and often marked with tremendous failures before ultimate success, but the financial rewards can also be quite huge.

      Academia attracts people who want to play it safe and end up in a protected position with lots of fancy titles like the "Bill and Linda Gates Endowed Chair for the Expansion of World Peace and Fruit Fly Habitats"

      The private sector attracts people who can tolerate risk, who couldn't give a flip about fancy titles, and who are trying to deliver a product that is useful in the real world.

      To each his/her own.

      Delete
    2. "The ideal academic end game is a tenured position at a nice university."

      "The ideal private sector end game is to become a highly successful person like Steve Jobs."

      Is that really a good analogy?? The odds are a lot better at becoming a university professor than someone like Steve Jobs.

      I've read that a majority of small business start-ups are restaurants, and I think you have about 1 in 3 chance of your restaurant lasting more than 5 years. There are also tremendous personal costs to run a restaurant. You'll have a LOT less free time than a PhD student!

      So it depends what we set as our bar for success." If you use a business mogul as your point of comparison, I'll take my odds of becoming a professor.

      Let's say you go the entrepreneurial route. A successful small business, one that maybe grosses $1 million+ a year - so you can be making maybe $60-100K yourself and enough left over to pay a handful of employees - your chances of building that kind of operation are what? 1 in 10 or so? Even if you did succeed it would take a decade (minimum) of HARD work to get there unless you're fantastically lucky.

      Just thinking about this makes me wonder about how bad grad school really is when you take into account all the factors, keeping in mind some people have different values. A persistent PhD should find a full time academic job within 5 years.

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    3. If your business grosses 1MM + per year and you are only taking home $60,000 - $100,000 you are not a good business man and probably make less than your employees.


      Delete
    4. Through 2011, US tax rates on corporations at $1 million were $113,900 + 34% of the amount over $335,000, or $340,000. That leaves $660,000 - more or less, depending on other factors.

      State corporate marginal tax rates run from 0% (Texas, Nevada, etc.) to 12% (Iowa). Some states allow deductions for federal taxes, some don't. Although I'm sure that this information is gathered and assessed, repeated searching for 'mean marginal corporate state tax rate US' and variations thereof didn't turn up an average rate - perhaps as these are notoriously variable and perhaps even more case-dependent than the federal rate.

      After that there are operating expenses - generally pretty significant costs. Included in this are employee costs, which in the US are generally in the ball park of 1.5 X employee wages (and likely to increase over the next year - thanks ACA) plus whatever expenses are incurred by employee turnover.

      After all that, 10-16% take-home of post-federal tax income looks pretty damn good. Just try not to get sore at the federal government for earning 2-3X that on your sweat equity, for "responsible and fair oversight of a safe and secure opportunity-rich environment for your business to 'thrive' in."


      Delete
  29. I never wanted tenure per se. I wanted a solid job where I had to work hard to keep it, but I wanted to teach rather than do more pointless, tree-killing research.

    I have had jobs in the private sector where I quit because I could stand the fact that my bosses wouldn't fire me. "JUST FIRE ME! GET IT OVER WITH!" But no.

    I think there ought to be a new category of degrees. Instead of having BA/BS, MA/MS, Ph.D, there should be a B.Litt, M. Litt, and D.Litt. These would be for people who want to teach. They must know a lot about the literature of the field, but they don't do a lot of research. Instead of grinding out still more useless theses and disserations, they do comprehensive essays to prove their competence in understanding the literature. B.Litt is for teaching in public school, M.Litt for community college/undergrad, and D.Litt for grad school.

    Leave the other degrees for people who really want to do research.

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  30. Ooops...I meant "could not stand the fact."

    ReplyDelete
  31. I'm not sure that this is a reason NOT to go to grad school. That's where I met my husband. From my experience, it was a kind of dating service for the socially inept.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I _am_ socially inept and extremely introverted. Academia has always been a kind of fantasy world for me because unlike all those jobs looking for candidates to work in "a fast-paced team environment" (i die a little inside every time i read that, and i read it often), research is something i excel at. public speaking, on the other hand... not so much. The fear of having to teach scared me away from wanting to be a professor long before I accepted that the professors I used to respect are all cruel, fiercely political people out to destroy each other.

    One more semester, then thesis, then freedom. ...except that my chosen field requires fast-paced team environments. Anyone in the private sector able to suggest jobs for those of us who work best quietly, on our own, without having to interact much with co-workers or the general public?

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  33. Socially inept? Ha.

    What a huge stereotype. Some people really need to get educated around here.

    You know, there are some of us who know how to go out and get a few drinks, party on occassion, have a social life, paint the town red, and be productive teachers and researchers who produce work people want.

    While still getting well compensated.

    You are what you create.

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  34. AlreadyGaveUpGradSchoolLikeAProAugust 26, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    I gave up going to grad school because I don't want to be a freak of nature by becoming 'forever alone' in the world of academia. Grad schools are for the 'special' ones.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Croatian here, what are you talking about, we have no cinema to speak of.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. " 'Who is Zrinko Ogresta?' Alex."

      Delete
  36. @ anon 10:44

    That's whole point; it's about an obscure fields as Croatian cinema is an example of it; ene old Yugoslav cinema is not much known outside of Balkans;
    So, croatian/yugoslav cinema can be an example as an obscure field which produces little or no value (which is disputable, because value system is very subjective thing)if taken as a field of study...

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  37. This idea of grads and academics as 'socially inept' is curious and self-reinforcing because it's giving out a low self-esteem vibe. Academics have to be intraverts to have enough energy to research. I would say, though, that it's not research that makes people's social skills vulnerable to getting worse, but neglecting good time management. when I was a full-time academic, some of my colleagues were workaholics and wouldn't take holidays. I always took my 6 weeks' holiday (I worked in a UK university) as entitled, and didn't give two hoots about what people thought. (Workaholics tend to think other people are slackers).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "(Workaholics tend to think other people are slackers)."

      But then they work themselves to death, so what does it matter?

      Delete
  38. As a female graduate student with a wide variety of interests, I found the graduate school male population to be composed of a high percentage of what the Germans call "Fachidiot," people who know everything about a tiny area of study and little about anything else, whether academic or practical.

    It took five years to find someone compatible for a relationship. This was not an uncommon problem for female graduate students, according to one of the mental health counselors on campus. He said that many graduate school women complained that the mailman and the guy behind the counter at the convenience store flirted with them, while even men outside their department ignored them in favor of undergraduates.

    I actually enjoyed many things about graduate school, but evidently most of the men with social skills went elsewhere.

    I agree that mathematicians are among the strangest breed. As one mathematician of my acquaintance remarked, "We're either freaks or nerds."

    ReplyDelete
  39. Why does no one ever come clean about how awful other grad students are to each other. I was nice until I went to grad school, and after nasty people in my MA and PhD, I think that GS is full of the worst people on earth. Horrible back stabbing, lying, attention seeking people who, rather than spend time on their work, want to tear you down no matter how nice you are and how much you try to stay out of he drama.

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    Replies
    1. Sorry, "the" drama, not "he" drama, God, can't wait to read the backlash from that, too bad I don't plan on it. Seriously, grad school is like dealing with a bunch of dysfunctional prison inmates. If I wanted this kind of bs, I could have lived with my family, So tired of crazy people.

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    2. I'm working on my thesis, so I stay away from EVERYONE in my dept, even the campus. I detest my department and the people running it. They are a bunch of heartless assholes.

      Delete
  40. This is as cruel as it is true....This is what attracted me to Graduate school in first place and academia in general. I had the mistake of thinking that I could be comfortably isolated and that the department I'm apart of will provide some sort of solace. Such imaginations were vain and verging on the delusion, I found.

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  41. I'm one of the fortunate souls who had several years of valuable "real life" work experience before embarking on a doctoral degree program, so I'm making a clean break.

    ~Disclaimer: My story is especially outrageous, but not at all unusual. I am at a program that is "top 3" in my STEM discipline at an R1 institution, so understand that I'm talking about a program and a school with a hot brand.~

    Within moments of arriving on campus for "orientation" that first week, I began to suspect that I'd made a grave error. Very soon, before our coursework even started, senior students began viciously attacking first-year students on the basis of things like sex, gender identity, class background, and perceived "weaknesses of character", in what I suppose amounted to a hazing ritual. As a woman who was single and in my late 20s at the time, naturally I was attacked on the basis of being "promiscuous" (which, in academia, and STEM fields in particular, is an epithet often levelled at unmarried women). Information that could only have come from one of two people I'd "hooked up" with at my last school was used as evidence of this and held up for public ridicule (it was nothing that would even get an R rating these days).

    At the same time, rotations were starting, and the first rotation professor proceeded to make me feel very uncomfortable by flirting openly and outrageously with me in public, although he never did anything that would be easily punishable or reportable. He is married and has small children. While this rotation fell apart, another professor swooped in to ask me if I'd like to switch into his lab. I was so relieved to leave the others that I didn't think too much about how many students had warned me that this professor was a terrible mentor. So I begin this rotation, enthusiastic, determined not to let the last ruin my year. Things were going well, until one day, when I was standing at the microscope alone and the professor came up behind me, dangerously close. I held my breath and pretended not to notice, hoping it will go away and not wanting to draw attention to a SECOND round of harassment. The next day, the professor cornered me in a room and threatened to fail me in his class. One of the students in the lab then volunteered to take me out to dinner, and not-so-subtly suggested that I should "maintain close relationships" with my professors, because that was the "game".

    I finished the rotation, but just as he promised, he failed me in his course. I am still dealing with the effects of this rotation and this grade a year later. I found out recently that he'd done this serially and chased out a half dozen women from the program, but that nothing is ever done about it.

    For my third rotation, I found a female professor who seemed to have excellent funding and a great reputation. I thought I'd finally arrived when I joined her lab, only to find I was dead wrong. By this point, I had started dating someone from outside academia, which is, apparently, a huge no-no. Several professors in my division recruited other students to try to break up my relationship. They even withheld project funding from me because I was not "devoted enough" (I refused to date an academic).

    I was still determined to have a good attitude, but toward the middle of my second year, I've completely woken up as I've watched people graduate from the program and not get jobs. Not in industry, not anywhere. What scares me is that if I'd started this program straight out of undergrad, I may have been convinced that the way academia operates is "normal", that it's ok for an institution to protect serial harassers, and that it's only the "incompetent" who are forced out by the qualifying process. Women: do something, ANYTHING, else. RUN as SOON as you see the warning signs. It won't get better if you stick it out; it'll get worse, and the department will not advocate for you.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I'm one of the fortunate souls who had several years of valuable "real life" work experience before embarking on a doctoral degree program, so I'm making a clean break.

    ~Disclaimer: My story is especially outrageous, but not at all unusual. I am at a program that is "top 3" in my STEM discipline at an R1 institution, so understand that I'm talking about a program and a school with a hot brand.~

    Within moments of arriving on campus for "orientation" that first week, I began to suspect that I'd made a grave error. Very soon, before our coursework even started, senior students began viciously attacking first-year students on the basis of things like sex, gender identity, class background, and perceived "weaknesses of character", in what I suppose amounted to a hazing ritual. As a woman who was single and in my late 20s at the time, naturally I was attacked on the basis of being "promiscuous" (which, in academia, and STEM fields in particular, is an epithet often levelled at unmarried women). Information that could only have come from one of two people I'd "hooked up" with at my last school was used as evidence of this and held up for public ridicule (it was nothing that would even get an R rating these days).

    At the same time, rotations were starting, and my first rotation professor proceeded to make me feel very uncomfortable by flirting openly and outrageously with me in public, although he was careful not to do anything that would be easily reportable or punishable. When this rotation fell apart, another professor swooped in to ask me if I'd like to switch into his lab. I was so relieved to leave the first lab that I didn't think too much about how the warnings I'd been giving about that fact this professor was a terrible mentor. So I begin the second rotation, enthusiastic and determined not to let the first one ruin my year. Things were going well, until one day, when I was standing at the microscope alone and the professor came up behind me, dangerously close, and issued some kind of request. I held my breath and pretended not to notice, hoping it would go away if I ignored it. The next day, the professor cornered me in a room and threatened to fail me in his class. One of the students in the lab then volunteered to take me out to dinner, and not-so-subtly suggested that I should "maintain close relationships" with my professors, because that was the "game".

    I finished the rotation, but just as he promised, he failed me in his course. I am still dealing with the effects of this rotation and this grade a year later. I found out recently that he'd done this serially and chased out a half dozen women from the program, but that nothing is ever done about it.

    For my third rotation, I found a female professor who seemed to have excellent funding and a great reputation. I thought I'd finally arrived when I joined her lab, only to find I was dead wrong. By this point, I had started dating someone from outside academia, which is, apparently, a huge no-no. Several professors in my division recruited other students to try to break up my relationship. They even withheld project funding from me because I was not "devoted enough" (I refused to date an academic).

    I was still determined to have a good attitude, but now, toward the middle of my second year, I've completely woken up as I've watched people graduate from the program and not get jobs. Not in industry, not anywhere. What scares me is that if I'd started this program straight out of undergrad, I may have been convinced that the way academia operates is "normal", that it's ok for an institution to protect serial harassers, and that it's only the "incompetent" who are forced out by the qualifying process. Women: do something, ANYTHING, else. RUN as SOON as you see the warning signs. It won't get better if you stick it out; it'll get worse, and the department will not advocate for you.

    ReplyDelete
  43. @Anonymous January 1, 2014 at 2:30 PM

    I'm a retired attorney who's been perusing this blog because my recent college grad son and college junior daughter are both considering graduate school for their respective fields of interest (she in STEM, he in museum studies), and I'd had no intention of responding to any posts or comments here, but your experience changed my mind.

    What the professor who failed you in his rotation did isn't merely a violation of the law, it's a tort, for which you can seek financial damages and other remedies (such as a restraining order forbidding him from trashing you professionally). For your own sake and that of the next woman he may target, I hope you'll pursue legal redress. If some jerk in academia ever did this to my daughter, believe me, he would rue the day he was born because I'd not only make it my mission in life to ensure his academic career was over, I'd see him bankrupted in the process.

    I realize that you probably don't have a parent who's a lawyer to do this for you, so I urge you to go to the website of the state bar association or that of the nearest large city, or even of the county in which your institution is located, as well as that of the state, city or county legal aid societies to see if any have posted legal resources for victims of sexual harassment.

    Virtually all attorneys do some pro bono legal work for people who can't afford an attorney (and as a poor student, you may well meet the income guidelines for such pro bono representation by a private attorney or even, potentially, by the legal aid society in your city, state or county). In Philadelphia, for example, there's an organization called the Women's Law Project that offers free consultation and referrals, but if nothing like that exists where you are, start with the Legal Aid Society and the bar associations, and ask for referrals to an organization or individual who might represent you pro bono or for a greatly reduced fee.

    The fact that this professor is a serial harasser and has done this to others should make a case like yours much, much easier for an attorney to pursue. I wish you'd filed a complaint with the office at your institution that handles sexual harassment complaints, but your failure to do so is common and understandable, and may not be a barrier to pursuing redress now, but don't wait -- these claims are typically subject to fairly short statutes of limitations, so the clock is ticking.

    Don't let this guy get away with this! Good luck!

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  44. IMHO 6 years of grad school can change a charming social butterfly into a frightened ball of anxiety. does grad school attract the socially inept? maybe a few ...but does it CREATE social ineptness???...HELL YES. F this "attract" BS. those who think most grad students are weird from the start do not understand how the experience can fundamentally change a person..often for the worse.

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  45. I do think grad school can worsen your social skills, especially if they weren't all that shiny to begin with. I think a lot of my college "success" was due to the fact that I had no friends--I was miserable, but by God was I productive. But I also think it's worth pointing out in any discussion of "social skills" that these aren't just marketable assets; they're actually very important to a life that isn't miserable. If you lack social skills, you can't defend yourself from (or even recognize) social problems...including the ones of which you are a part. Any career track that sabotages your ability to have good relationships is a bad one, IMO. Which isn't to say that grad school needs to die, but it does need to grow up.

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