Monday, March 25, 2013

89. Virtually no one reads what you write.

You are not paid for your academic writing (see Reason 88) because no one is willing to pay to read it. In fact, virtually no one is willing to read it at all. After several years of work on a dissertation, you can have some confidence that your adviser will read the finished product, and somewhat less confidence that the other members of your dissertation committee will read it. Beyond that handful of people, it is unlikely that anyone will ever read your dissertation again. As university libraries are increasingly archiving dissertations digitally, you may not even have the satisfaction of seeing your name on a volume in the library. On rare occasions, someone may come along and cherry-pick something from your research that relates to his own, but chances are that no one will ever sit down and read the paragraphs over which you agonized for so long (see Reason 28). 

The same fate awaits the vast majority of published academic writing. Typically, it takes months of research, writing, and revision to produce a journal article that will be seen by fewer people in its author's lifetime than will visit this blog in an hour. Academic presses print as few as 300 copies of the books that their authors have labored over for years. Most journal articles and academic monographs are written because academics need to be published to keep their jobs, not because there is a demand or need for their work (see Reasons 33 and 34). To the extent that academic writing is consulted at all, it tends to be "read" solely for the purpose of furthering someone else's writing. In many cases, editors and peer-reviewers probably read manuscripts more carefully before they are published than anyone will ever read them after they are published. Even someone entrusted to review a book may only skim it. Feeling obliged to stuff their work with citations, scholars sometimes look no further than the titles of what they cite. It will come as a surprise to you the first time that you see your work cited by someone who did not read it. It will be less surprising the second time. A few academic careerists use the fact that virtually no one reads what they write to their advantage, but most academics take great pains to produce good work. If you don't like the idea of spending the next several decades writing for a minuscule audience of readers, then you probably shouldn't go to graduate school.



231 comments:

  1. The post doesn't need virtually in the title.

    I learned this when I did a two year stint working in a public library. There I got to see just how little circulation academic books get. And I'm not talking about items being checked out once in a while, but brand new monographs sitting on the shelf collecting dust. These included books by people I considered to be heavyweights in the field. It's not hard to see why in hindsight. No-one but other academics has the interest or reason to read the stuff. It's boring and irrelevant.

    I was working on getting my dissertation published at the time, which I have since given up on. Unless you are going to try to land a tenure-track job, what's the point?

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  2. All true, but I'd like to add another dimension: good thinkers can leverage their formal scholarship to publish or blog for a larger audience. Any aspiring writer has to face the reality that few will read any given work. At least scholars can have something substantive to say about psychology or engineering or literature or politics. By contrast, "writers" are typically not specialists in anything and can't even fall back on teaching.

    Many academics hold their noses about "dumbing down" their work. This is a false choice because it's possible to write intelligently for a wide audience, but that kind of skill also takes many years to develop, for academics and professional writers alike. If you want your published work to be immediately read and relevant, don't go for the Ph.D. If you want to play a longer game and work towards a broad readership based upon your specializations, you can do that with a Ph.D. ... just don't expect many professional rewards, at least at first.

    Examples range from JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis to current writers like Fareed Zakaria on international politics or the astromomer Phil Plait on the blog "Bad Astronomy."

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    1. "At least scholars can have something substantive to say about psychology or engineering or literature or politics."

      If more scholars were saying things that were actually substantive, I'd have no complaints.

      It's a rare scholar or academic who can write in an interesting manner about stuff that's interesting to other people. The kind of thinkers and writers you're talking about are naturally interesting, thoughtful writers, who are creative with ideas - a rarity in the academic world, sadly. Actually, it's rare in the world overall.

      Academics might arguably have a harder time than many because they're expected to write only about certain things or only in certain ways, and because academia is just not a very creative industry. I knew people in grad school who could write well about interesting stuff, but they felt it was a distraction from their "real" academic goals. Shame.

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    2. One problem with engineering research is that there's not a lot of originality. In the literature searches I conducted for my last 2 degrees, the papers tended look alike: X looks at left-handed widgets, Y looks at right-handed ones, and Z looks at those that are straight.

      Beyond that, they got rather repetitious. A investigated blue left-handed widgets, B examined right-handed ones that were green, and C worked on straight ones that were transparent. It was as if people were inventing reasons to justify what they were looking at and writing about.

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  3. My thesis took me four years to write. I have always been a perfectionist, and part of the reason I went to grad school was the chance to write a lot, and to write things over and over again until they were perfect. (If you're thinking that sounds like a terrible reason to go to grad school: yes, it is.)

    The commencement of the dissertation writing hours seems to be when the idealism fades away for most people. I was no longer passionate about spending hundreds of hours writing stuff that no one would ever read. When I look back on the amount of blood, sweat, tears, Xanax, and panic attacks that went into my thesis, I have to laugh. And not a hearty, "Oh well" kind of laugh either.

    It was nice to finish my thesis and to graduate, yes, but no nicer than it was to come around after my back surgery and finally walk without pain again. A simple relief, that's all. No wisdom gained, no deep sense of a accomplishment. Just a feeling of relief that years of stress, pain, and anguish were finally at an end.

    I've spent a lot of time writing in journals over the years purely for personal pleasure, and I don't regret a second of that. Unlike my thesis, this has helped me to learn about myself and about the world around me, and to become a more reasoned and reflective human being.

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  4. When I was submitting my Master's thesis, one of the chapters had already been published as a journal article. I thought this would make the submission/defense part easier because one chapter had already survived the peer review process at a respectable journal and, as this post implies, maybe no one would read it. It turned out that about 90% of the comments I received after my defense pertained exclusively to the published content, which I could do nothing about because....IT WAS ALREADY PUBLISHED!!

    So I had a meeting with the committee member (CM) who seemed to have the most to say about the published chapter and explained (again) that there was nothing I could do to change the content of the chapter because it would violate the copyright agreement. Moreover, I tried to get an idea of what exactly was so wrong with the publication.

    The CM said that, aside from the other problems they identified (which turned out not to be problems at all if one READS the supporting literature, which was referenced appropriately), the biggest concern was that the abstract (probably the 25th iteration) was not informative regarding a couple of relatively minor sections in the article. I explained that those sections are not central to the main findings of my research, and thus are not described in the abstract, and the CM replied....

    Most people aren't going to read this whole thing, and when someone reads your abstract, and then cites this article, they will have an incomplete idea of the results.

    Now the disturbing fact that there can be such a disparity between the opinion of my committee member (who also reviews papers in the same field) and my peer reviewers (who accepted the thing) probably merits its own section on this blog, though it certainly didn't help that the section I omitted from the abstract pertained to the sub-field my CM specialized in. Still, I have to hand it to the CM....they were right!! I don't have enough digits to enumerate the instances I have heard someone in my department say, "Hey I found an article you might find interesting. Well, no, I just skimmed the abstract, but YOU might like to read it..."

    I do not have the vocabulary of the humanities people, nor the more arduous experience of doctoral students to draw upon, but if I could describe graduate school, and the academic writing process, using one word, it would be....

    Sisyphean

    I work hard to educate undergraduates to a level where they can function without me constantly having to correct them, and the second I feel like I've really gotten through to them, they are replaced with a new cohort of blank slates that are somehow at a lower starting point than my last group. Similarly, I spent literally years of my life perfecting the written work that eventually became my Master's thesis and associated publication because, every time I felt like they were good enough to send out, I got several copies from several people with different sets of suggested corrections, often in direct conflict with one another! To be told, after all of that work and meticulous formatting, that my colleagues don't even care enough to look at the damn things in their entirety was not a pleasant experience.

    Make no mistake, I am not in the camp that believes academic writing is worthless because only a few people will read it. However, of all the negative aspects of graduate school, Reason 89 was far and away the most demoralizing.

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    1. It is fascinating that one's comm members can have a whole different set of concerns than the peer reviewers do. I went through this once. I had already published a section of my dissertation as a journal article before my committee read it. The comm members wanted me to make lots of corrections that the peer reviewers didn't care about. It's all just silly.

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    2. Hell, most people probably wouldn't read your long post...

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  5. I used to read a little bit of the work written by my professors as an undergrad. Then I would go to their office hours and discuss it. I can't fully describe how their eyes would light up! They were so excited that someone had actually read it other than one of the handful of academics assigned to read it as a reviewer or something.

    I'm quite sure I got a few Bs bumped up to As as a result of that.

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    1. Read a middle chapter, and remember a particular anecdote that you find amusing. Make a comment relating to it when an appropriate moment comes up in class. Even the ones whose CV can accurately be summarized as "This department would cease to function if I retired," get a kick out of it.

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    2. Maybe. Do keep in mind that much of what TAs and professors alike do in the presence of undergrads is related to keeping up appearances. We're well aware when we're being sucked up to, manipulated, brown-nosed. Reacting positively to anything an UG does may be more about classroom management, positive reinforcement for reading anything or showing interest at all (rather than the usual texting in class behavior). Academics are many unattractive things, but they're usually not the utterly clueless dupes that UGs believe us to be.

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    3. LOL, I am an academic so I know when I'm being brown-nosed too. But it works on me...some of the time. Certain students are better at it than others.

      I call it the "incidentals" factor (I think there is an actual psychological term). If I can put a name to a face and it's a positive association (this student actually gave a damn about subject X, or shows some interest in learning SOMEthing), I'm much more likely to move a B+ average up to an A or something like that.

      It's a social skill and developing it will probably help them more in the workplace more than whatever they're learning in my class. I encourage students to do it, especially if they tell me they're on the borderline in some other class.

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  6. "Virtually no one reads what you write" is true even for MFA students in any area of creative writing. In such programs, a student typically produces a book of short stories or poems, a novel or a play as his or her thesis. However, most such theses, no matter how good they are, will never see the light of day: They will languish on a shelf in the school's library. Those that are published undergo considerable changes from what they were when they were submitted to their school's committees.

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  7. The area I investigated for my last 2 degrees was and, I believe, still is quite obscure. There weren't many people working in it and I don't think that's changed since I finished my Ph. D.

    Consequently, there aren't, and never were, too many people who were going to read what I wrote. I chose that area because it interested me and I wasn't too concerned about what anyone else might be doing or, for that matter, what I worked on.

    There is an advantage to doing that. There's not much competition and just about anything that I did would be original. That's a refreshing change from the homogeneity that much of academic research is, which makes it hard to come up with anything unique.

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    1. The worst is when you open up one of those unblemished books and *crack* - the spine breaks as the glue has hardened over the years from never being opened. It's not long before pages begin to fall out.

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    2. oops - that reply was meant for the below post by Eilneen

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  8. Is there anything sadder than browsing through the library, procrastinating, and picking up a book that was printed ten years ago and yet still has a spine that snaps right shut?

    Made me feel like the dog-eared pages and, okay, occasional smudge of chocolate I left on my library books was actually doing something nice.

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  9. I've been meaning to make this comment for some time: Someone's having an awful lot of fun choosing the illustrations for all of these Reasons! They're always right on the money, with just the right amount of sly humor.

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    1. Maybe that's why the author takes a big gap between posts; he or she has to find good enough scans of the images to upload or host.

      ...Hmm, slow day for me.

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  10. In my second year one of my profs spent a lot of time explaining to us how important one of her journal articles was, both for landing her T-T job and for the field. I looked it up: 6 cites since its publication decades ago. Three were her citing herself.

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    1. My boyfriend is an academic and once I had lunch with him and two brand new T-T hires at a big name university. The two new T-T hires spent all of lunch bragging about how "obscenely obscure" their research was, and how "completely impenetrable" it was to outsiders, and how it was probably only ever going to be read by a handful of people if that.

      They viewed the irrelevance and unreadability of their work like a badge of honor.

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    2. Yes, I find that attitude quite surprising myself. They know no one will read it and they're proud of it.

      I think a lot of academic writing has value, but only about 20-30% of it. Number of readers is not necessarily a gauge of value - obviously 50 shades of Grey is written at 5th grade level.

      But so much of what I read, even in the best journals, is a rehash of material that's been covered before or something ridiculously unimportant.

      The question is, are the four boring articles that get published (and the 20 or more that were written and rejected), worth the one useful article?

      I recently did a weeding project at our library - they will scan and then discard the books I removed from the shelves that are not already available digitally (trying to save space, put in more laptop stations, etc...). I went through a whole bunch of outdated volumes from the 50s through 70s. Maybe 5-7 monographs per year are important enough to last the test of time.

      I wondered about all the work done by those scholars who didn't meet the time test. So much of it written according to what theory or approach was in vogue at the time.

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    3. Aaron:

      Don't forget that many publications are written only for show. The more one gets published, the more one is perceived to be productive.

      Applications for tenure and renewal of grants often depend upon the number of papers produced. I have no idea how many of those are read by those who make the final decisions, but I somehow doubt that few of them are.

      That's one reason I haven't written anything for many years. I'd rather write a good paper that actually says something rather than one that is thin on content and produced merely to pad a publication list or to maintain a reputation.

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    4. Yes quantity over quality seems to be the trend

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  11. In Richard Russo's short story "Buoyancy", Paul Snow, a recently-retired professor, and his wife return to a Maine island they visited while they were graduate students. They stay in a seaside inn which, like many places of its type, has a shelf full of books in the reception area to give it "ambience." Most of them are storm-damaged and, as Russo points out, they were purchased in bulk. The collection consists mostly of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, but in the collection, Snow finds a copy of a biography of Emily Dickinson he'd written decades earlier--and, of course, nearly no one outside his field has read in spite of the praise it received.

    I think it's a wonderful metaphor for what this post described.

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    1. The details of the story you describe sound so painfully realistic that I would bet that Russo based it on something that someone actually experienced.

      I went to grad school in a big city neighborhood with a lot of used book stores. Sometimes I would find massively discounted copies of our professors' books in those stores and wonder how they must feel when they saw them there (as I'm sure they did).

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  12. The really good research that gets published can get lost in the sea of "journal filler." No one can possibly keep up with everything that gets published in just about any sub-field of any discipline these days. The volume of published research is just too great. No one has time to weed through it.

    In the past, scholars could read (to some extent, for enjoyment) the major journals in their fields regularly and have a good grasp of the "big picture," but the major journals are now themselves so dauntingly huge that no one bothers to read them that way anymore.

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    1. The days in which one might write a definitive publication on a particular subject are long gone. Instead, a number describing a certain aspect are now produced and not necessarily for the same conference or journal.

      It's like writing a book about how to drive an automobile. In the past, that could be covered in a single volume, perhaps with a chapter describing a given topic (i. e., one for braking, another for signal lights, and so on).

      Nowadays, that manuscript would be divided into several smaller ones and published separately. A chapter on traffic signs would now be a book, as would a chapter on, say, seatbelts. That way, one now has more titles to one's credit and the publishers might make more money.

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  13. I blame it all on the exclusive focus now given to research. Research output has gone from being one aspect of the work of a professor to being the all-encompassing drive for faculty. Everything revolves around research and the almighty grant dollar. It's become a race to the bottom where quantity has replaced quality, and academics have lost most of their value in society. Faculty used to produce a few publications over their entire career that were meticulously researched and had a wide readership. Now, you are expected to pump out a book or journal article once a year to stay relevant. Journals are so full of myopic studies produced for the sake of themselves that no one reads any of it and disciplines have completely lost their way. Worse of all, teaching is a distraction for most faculty - and is gladly passed off to adjuncts. And it shows - very few professors I had for coursework could teach their way out of a paper bag.

    I used to be interested in teaching at the university until I began to see how little that mattered vis a vis research.

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    1. Sick of Grad SchoolMarch 28, 2013 at 1:00 PM

      I agree. When going for tenure, schools look at research, not teaching, which is very sad. In my department, a professor who constantly gets poor teaching reviews just recently got tenure. Many grad students also said that he's terrible to work with. Meanwhile, another professor, despite her great teaching record, was denied tenure because she didn't publish enough material. The quality of coursework in my program is awful - I can only think of one class I've had in my entire grad school career that was taught well.

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    2. One of the problems with the system as it is now is that one's effectiveness or productivity as a researcher is measured in terms of the number of publications. The quality of what was investigated or written is rarely considered.

      It's similar to the oil company I used to work for right after I got my B. Sc. many years ago. Apparently, one's worth an an engineer was on how much one got done. Whether it was done properly or safely seemed to be of lesser importance. The volume of one's accomplishments was what got one onto the fast track for promotion.

      I tended to be cautious and conservative, partly because I was a rookie and I wanted to make sure I got things right as I knew very well what the consequences of a mistake might be. Also, I wanted to know as much as possible about what I was doing as I could be held accountable for what happened plus I wanted to keep what I learned from it in a mental library as I might need some of that knowledge on something I might work on in the future.

      However, that displeased my masters. Being cautious, conservative, and thorough was seen as a sign of weakness, indecisiveness, and outright laziness. Forget the idea of learning to crawl before trying to run a marathon. One was expected to do the latter from the very beginning. The result was a lot got "done" but that was often accomplished in a risky and reckless manner. I was never surprised when there was a mishap that the company was involved with because it encouraged the conditions in which such incidents could occur.

      Is it any wonder, then, that we hear of dodgy papers being published and subsequently withdrawn?

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    3. AWOL:

      After having taught in a post-secondary institution for several years, I can understand why many profs would regard teaching not just as a distraction but a nuisance and an irritation. It's quite discouraging to spend years getting a good education only to put it on the shelf in order to teach people who shouldn't be in university.

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    4. No Longer An Academic:

      Why do so many people feel "entitled" and "deserving" these days?

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    5. Anonymous @ 2013-03-28 1845:

      I haven't the slightest idea. That one of the biggest shocks I had to deal with when I became an instructor in the late 1980s.

      Maybe they were raised that way by their parents. The school system doesn't help, either, when there was a policy of "fail Grade 12 twice, graduate anyway". Then there are all those peddlers of "empowerment", ranging from authors of self-help books to TV chat show hosts. Of course, it didn't help that post-secondary institutions became degree "stores" some 3 decades ago and eventually treated students as "customers".

      That's quite a change from when I was finishing high school 40 years ago. Back then, going to any institution of higher learning was considered a privilege, not a right. One had to earn their admission and work hard to stay there. Back then, washout rates in engineering as high as 60% weren't unusual and were considered acceptable.

      Also, I don't recall anyone in my undergrad classes having a sense of "entitlement" or worrying about their self-esteem and anyone mouthing off to a prof soon found himself or herself in front of the department head or, if bad enough, the dean. Often, when something that serious happened, we never saw that person again. Nowadays, it's the prof, the TA, or the instructor who'll likely be blamed for "intimidating" the student in question.

      I quit my teaching job more than 10 years ago. On the whole, I don't miss it.

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    6. I've been reading this blog for a while, and the theme of "professors regarding teaching as a distraction" is something I've seen referenced time and time again. This is not something I've experienced. On the other hand, I'm also at a second-tier liberal arts school. Is this something that's an Ivy League and state school problem, or am I just fantastically lucky?

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    7. Tom,

      I think it depends on the culture of the school in question, which usually does have a correlation with its ranking or status.

      It seems to me that lower ranked colleges do care more about teaching, but that contributes to their faculty being perceived as "2nd class citizens" when it comes to professional organizations, etc...

      For many, their research so all-consuming and it is 90% of what is going to drive tenure decisions, so teaching is a distraction even if they don't want it to be that way.

      There are others, however, who I think don't understand what teaching is. Somehow they think their status as researchers makes them a teacher.

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    8. Aaron:

      Most of my best profs were also excellent researchers. I believe that's because they were often required to talk about their work and being good at teaching helps in communicating those ideas. Some were good profs because they thought that what they were teaching was interesting and were, likewise, enthusiastic about it.

      But, on the other hand, there are those who have no idea what research entails and who figure that if one is good at that, one automatically has to be lousy at teaching.

      When I resigned from the craphole I used to teach at, the dean (who never liked me from our very first meeting) told me that, with all due "respect", I should stick to research because he insisted I was a lousy instructor. He never attended any of my lectures or ever saw how I did things, despite the fact that he would have been welcome to do so at any time.

      I'm sure the story of how that man ever got an education degree would be so weird that Ripley's Believe It Or Not would reject it.

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    9. Sick of Grad SchoolMarch 31, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      Tom, I don't go to an Ivy League or state school but I go to a relatively prestigious research university. The professors in my program definitely treat teaching like a distraction. I mentioned this in the previous post but my adviser even encourages grad students to treat teaching this way as well. We are told to put our research first despite the fact that most of the students in my program are funded as Teaching Assistants.

      Aaron is right. Lower ranked institutions seem to care more about teaching. One of my close friends is a professor at a Community College and her school places emphasis on teaching. She's not expected to keep up with research trends in her field or to publish constantly.

      It is clear that my department cares more about research than teaching because most of the professors I've had have been terrible teachers. Unclear assignments, trivial grading criteria, horrible at facilitating class discussions, etc. I understand the point that No Longer an Academic made about how college students have an annoying sense of entitlement (I teach college courses and I definitely see students who act like this), but my department classifies working with grad students as part of the teaching side of their job (not as part of their research), which results in professors taking forever to give us feedback on our work, being difficult when we need to set dates for our exams, dissertation defenses, etc.

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    10. Sick of Grad School:

      Part of the problem is that many departments and, for that matter, universities are competing against each other for prestige, funding, shiny new facilities, and "superstar" researchers.

      They will do whatever they think is necessary just to increase their ranking even one point in some survey or another. The current president of my alma mater has made putting the university into the world's top 20 her personal mission, even though right now it's around 100 or thereabouts.

      Teaching doesn't make for nice pictures on the front page of the local newspaper while one of some whiz-kid research prof tinkering with some fancy-schmancy widget does.

      When I was an undergrad nearly 40 years ago, we were taught some professional habits, such as how to prepare calculation sheets that sort of thing. That was because many of us were going into industry when we finished our degrees.

      Over the years, that's slowly fallen by the wayside because the attitude of "industry will teach them what they need to know". That attitude, by the way, became prevalent in engineering departments when, about 30 years ago, faculty were hired right out of university without any industrial experience whatsoever. How can those profs be expected to teach professional habits to their students when they never acquired any themselves?

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    11. Teaching is kind of low status in our society - look at how they're treated in politics and the media.

      Part of the reason I think some researchers aren't the greatest at it is because most research is so solitary.

      A significant part, probably more than half of teaching skill derives from general social skill, reading your audience, responding to non-verbals, creating a positive environment, creativity and improvisation. While the rest is preparation & content knowledge. I actually think all teachers from K to college level should take an acting class or two.

      Some professors just see that as below them and some are just plain arrogant pricks.

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    12. Much of the poor reputation teaching has nowadays is self-inflicted. The K-12 has become heavily politicized and seems to be more concerned with social engineering than in imparting knowledge and skills. The students graduate with high self-esteem but have poor literary and mathematical capabilities.

      When I was in school, teachers were respected. One addressed them as "Sir" or "Madame" and one looked up to them because they *were* above the students. My teachers weren't concerned about being my pal or my learning "experience".

      I was constantly criticized for not being "warm and cuddly". The students I taught were going into industry were not everyone was going to be concerned about feeling their pain or some such thing but, instead, wanted to get a job done and done properly.

      One reason I quit was because I got tired of being a babysitter for adults and I imagine many university professors feel the same way.

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    13. "My teachers weren't concerned about being my pal or my learning "experience".

      I was constantly criticized for not being "warm and cuddly"."

      Things have only gotten worse regarding this. I get complaints about the "learning environment" and the "learning experience" too. The people who talk about that never clearly define what they mean, but I perceive it to mean rare use of criticism, overuse of praise, and relaxation of standards. In other words, if you do an activity where everyone gets 100 for participating and nothing substantive is discussed, that's a good learning experience.

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    14. Aaron:

      I started teaching in the late 1980s and, even then, things were cockeyed. I attended some required in-service sessions before the term started, along with all the other new instructors, and one of the first things we were told was that we had to make sure that the students didn't have a negative "learning experience", whatever that meant.

      When the department administrators decided they didn't like me any more and began making my life miserable, one of the phrases that kept being used was "safe learning environment". Again, what that meant was never defined but I guessed it was one of those thing that one knew what it was when one saw it.

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  14. I get how this is disheartening, and I would love to have the skills to be interesting to a wide(r?) audience, but I know that does take time. For now, I just actually enjoy research and writing! I hope that is enough to sustain me.

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  15. I feel that my journal articles and the thesis which will be based on those articles to be such a load of crap that the less people read them the better! The less people read them the less people know how much I suck as a scientist.

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  16. I'm guilty of citing academic articles I haven't read only to make my research papers seem more researched. I'm sorry but I don't have time to read 20+ pages of pretentious writing. Whenever I even look at an academic article its only because I have a paper due that requires me to have citations.

    Academic writing is just so terribly boring. It amazes me that even subjects I have a great interest in can become so dry and robotic in an academic paper. If I didn't go to college I would never have read or even glanced at any of these scholarly articles. And when I'm done with grad school I definitely won't ever read them again.

    Would it be so terrible to do away with the academic writing style? Let the writers be able to convey some emotion or their unique writing style to make the papers actually interesting to read.

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    1. I often found it hard to wade through certain papers but I found a way around that. I simply went through them and summarized each section by making notes, paying close attention to equations and related concepts.

      Not reading the papers one cites could be considered fraudulent.

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    2. No Longer An Academic, I'll settle for reading the abstract. I doubt most people painstakingly read everything they cite. I know I'm not going to lose any sleep reading Johnny's 25 page analysis of "Psychological Functionary Confucianism's Effects on Societal Structures" only to use a sentence worth of his analysis on my paper.

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  17. The next time you come across a book by an academic press, look at the sales ranking on the book's amazon.com page. This is something that people should start showing to idealistic grad students.

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    1. Yup, a sales ranking of 2,397,585 is not something to be proud of. Having a copy lifted off the shelf oh, once a year or so does not a profit make.

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    2. Once a year would be an extraordinary success for most academic monographs.

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    3. But the big University Publishing Presses aren't publishing many copies - maybe 200 copies since no-one is buying these books. Why? Well, the academics who write the academic books are so turgid and badly written that no-one wants to read them. Why publish a book which only the prof and their three friends/colleagues read?

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  18. You can't but feel this is totally true when you're checking out a book and you realize the date it was last checked out was in 1932.

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  19. I wonder is this true for professional fields (e.g., education, social work) that rely on scholarship to influence policy and practice? I would assume these books and journal articles would have more audiences (both academic and non-academic) given their relevancy to changing society.

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    Replies
    1. The only advantage pure academic fields have over those is that their research has more of a shelf life. Ie: in literature or history that 1932 monograph might actually become relevant to a researcher in a particular sub-field in 2013, if nothing else to rehabilitate a stagnant idea.

      In occupational fields ie: nursing, social work, nutrition, the research becomes completely obsolete in 10 years except for the really important stuff.

      They might also have a little more readership among professionals in the field, that is true.

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    2. For the thesis for my first master's degree, I cited a paper written, as I remember, in the late 1920s. It happened that the author had developed a mathematical technique which I found particularly useful for the numerical analysis algorithm I was developing.

      I also take issue with your comment that research results becoming "completely obsolete" after 10 years. Many of them often form the basis of new fields of investigation. Some are sidelined because someone hasn't figured out how to utilize them or the hardware by which those could be implemented doesn't exist yet.

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    3. Maybe not completely. You have a point there. I was thinking education, where they seem to throw out a lot and start anew every decade or so.

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    4. Thanks for clearing that up.

      I agree with you about education constantly re-inventing the wheel. I'm a member of the Sputnik generation and, during much of my elementary schooling, I endured all sorts of different teaching methods and philosophies. I suffered through open plan classrooms and audio-visual aids, though I was spared New Math.

      I sometimes think education "experts" do that to justify their jobs.

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  20. The student sense of entitlement problem that NLAC talked about should be its own reason. I feel like students become more and more insufferable every semester.

    Now that student evals are online, inhibitions are thrown out the window. Students have no compulsions to resorting to bigotry, threats, insults and abuse on those evals. My worst ones come from students who performed decently - earning a B - but felt they deserved As.

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    Replies
    1. I think this student eval system has reinforced an us/them mentality that further separates students and teachers. I was fortunate enough to have an advisor who usually fell out on our (the TAs') side when it came to student-teacher conflicts where we were clearly in the right, though I imagine it isn't uncommon for some faculty to automatically side with students for fear of negative student evals. Still, even in the best case, this system disrupts the normal student-teacher dynamic, where STUDENTS are evaluated by a TEACHER to assess their ability in the classroom. In my experience as an undergrad, when a TEACHER is evaluated by STUDENTS, it is usually based on 1) workload, 2) prospective grade, and 3) how early/late/long the class was. I agree wholeheartedly with Aaron -- students straddling the A-B line are the most vicious regarding evaluations. Those on the lower end (D-F), who one would expect to give the worst evaluations, tend to be much less harsh.

      Nonetheless, students and teachers will always be at odds, one way or another. The real problem with student evaluations is that they impose a new and unnecessary set of responsibilities on both students and teachers. In addition to coursework, studying, and exams, undergraduate students, essentially the lowest tier in academia, are effectively tasked with evaluating the educational merit of the faculty at their university (I wonder where all of their feelings of entitlement come from....). The evaluation forms themselves are given to teachers who often manage the distribution and collection of each individual form during class, cutting into costly (for students) lecture time in the process. Moreover, I can't think of a less qualified group of people to judge an instructor's teaching ability than the students currently enrolled in that very course. If we really want to evaluate faculty, we should hire third-party auditors, experts in the field, to sit in on lectures and document things like 1) how often the instructor shows up, 2) whether an appropriate amount of material is covered in the lecture to call it a course, rather than just a textbook supplement, and 3) how much of the tested material is covered in lecture, and in what detail. Why go to all of that trouble, though, when we could just dump the responsibility on undergrads, with no compensation, in the guise of empowering the student body?

      Sorry, I didn't mean to hijack the thread or anything, but Aaron is right. This entitlement dilemma, where undeserving students believe they have been shortchanged, will only worsen if the balance of power in the classroom shifts further away from the faculty. Definitely a good topic for the future.

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    2. I agree with Aaron and Anonymous. I find that student evaluations are unhelpful and trivial. I've also had students outright lie in their evaluations. Last semester, several students said that I never gave any explanation for the grades I gave, which is a blatant lie (for each essay I gave my students a one page, single spaced paper explaining why they earned the grade that they did and also encouraged them to visit me during office hours if they wanted additional feedback). I was particularly upset that they lied about my grading because grading essays is extremely time consuming, and I could have spent that time doing something that's actually fruitful. This is also one reason why I keep electronic copies of everything that I do and make my students submit their assignments online. I want to make sure that there's a paper trail.

      I think Ratemyprofessor.com and other similar websites are perfect examples of why the student evaluation system is flawed. I've read so many reviews where students are upset because their professor takes attendance and wants them to show up to class on time. Also, I've found that good professors tend to have lower ratings on those sites. My favorite undergraduate professor has a pretty low rating on Rate My Professor. She was a strict teacher who expected her students to work hard. If you missed four or more classes then you automatically failed the course. Most people failed based on attendance alone.

      Since higher education is a financial institution, this contributes to the sense of entitlement that students feel. They feel that since they are paying to go to school, they are also paying for good grades. I go to one of the most expensive schools in the United States so I see that attitude a lot here.

      Like Anonymous, I do think that an outsider with experience in the field should evaluate teachers. Also, if universities still want students to give input about their classes then the outside evaluater could set aside time to talk to students about the course. That way, there's a mediator between the students and the teacher. These online evaluations system are essentially meaningless - they do nothing more than help students find easy professors who will tolerate their slacking.

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    3. In my experience, student evaluations serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever. They are, however, a convenient way for administrators to find an excuse to get rid of someone they don't like. My last department head, who had an axe to grind against me, freely made use of them for that purpose.

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    4. Just like everything else, power should not be one-sided. Even in grad school I've had outright terrible professors who would abuse their power. They would insult students, give vague instructions then nitpick, and frown upon asking questions. In one class, I was one of the few students left after the professor stressed everyone out so much that two-thirds of the class dropped. Again, this was in grad school. Student evaluations are the only recourse for such terrible teachers.

      Yes, I know some of my peers may hate a teacher for not giving them an easy-A...but surely all of you are not naive enough to think almost all professors are competent and reasonable?

      I love ratemyprofessor.com because it shows the class from the student's perspective. A slacker's review is written differently from a good student. You can tell if a teacher is genuinely bad if the negative reviews reference class structure, content and other important aspects of the class. You can also tell if a professor is trying to fluff up their rating by how and what they write.

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    5. Anonymous @ 2013-04-02 1016:

      Student evaluations won't do diddly if the department head chooses to ignore them.

      When I was working on my first master's degree, we had a prof in a grad course who was completely negligent. He cancelled about a third of the lectures. He gave a mid-term exam, marked and returned it, and decided not to include the results in our final grades. He ambushed us in our final exam and I'm sure he asked questions about material we either didn't cover in the course or would have known from other sources.

      The final straw came when the grades were released. One's standing depended upon where one was in the grad student pecking order. The one Ph. D. student who passed his candidacy got the top mark. The Ph. D. student who hadn't had his candidacy exam yet came next. The 2 M. Sc. students barely passed. At least one of the M. Eng. student failed. It sounds like the mark distribution was rigged, doesn't it?

      Most of the students wrote a letter of protest to the department head. His response was wishy-washy and he did nothing about the prof. Student evaluations wouldn't have been useful in this case.

      While I was teaching, I ran a service course for a different department. The previous instructor had gone completely off the rails and was put on some sort of leave. Apparently, he had exhibited his weird behaviour for several years, which included, apparently, scripture readings during his lectures and, no, I wasn't teaching in a religious school.

      Students complained about him and I'm sure his evaluations weren't favourable. I don't recall who did what but, as I recall, the department head was forced by some higher authority to remove that instructor during the middle of a term.

      If that hadn't been imposed on the department head, he wouldn't have done anything. Student evaluations probably wouldn't have mattered.

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    6. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 2, 2013 at 1:36 PM

      Anonymous at 10:16 AM, I don't think students evaluating professors is a bad thing in and of itself; however, it is clear that those evaluations are used selectively. There are some professors who are terrible and should not be teaching; yet, they're never reprimanded for their bad teaching regardless of how much students complain about them in their evaluations. Student evaluations also have little to no impact on whether or not a professor gets tenure.

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    7. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 2, 2013 at 1:45 PM

      I also want to add a personal example of how I know for a fact that student evaluations don't matter.

      As an undergrad I had a professor who routinely made bigoted comments in class. He was also 20 minutes late to class every day, unorganized and constantly gave us tests on material that he didn't teach us. It was so bad that at the end of the semester my classmates and I typed up a formal complaint about the professor and stapled it to our student evaluations.

      Nothing was done about it. To add insult to injury he was recently made chair of the department!

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    8. Bad teaching evaluations are used all the time against people that departments want to get rid of. They are conveniently forgotten when colleges want to keep somebody around for whatever reason.

      #65 on this list covers evaluations and other teaching indignities pretty well.

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    9. Anonymous @ 2013-04-02 1516:

      The student evaluation system was often abused at the institution I used to teach at.

      My last department head used student evaluations as his sole criterion for assessing my "performance", preferably those he conducted himself behind my back. His justification was that students could feel safe making comments about me when they could do so anonymously and, of course, students *always* tell the truth about their profs or instructors, don't they?

      When I started, we had 2 sets of forms. One was for evaluations initiated by the instructor. The students didn't have to sign them and only the instructor got the results (yeah, right). The other set was for use by the department head and he or she initiated the survey. However, those forms had to be signed by the students and, because of their nature, they were a different colour.

      In its infinite wisdom, the institution eventually abolished the latter, largely because, by then, we no longer had students--we had "customers" and you know that the customer always is, right? It also made things less complicated when it wanted to make someone's life miserable. (I don't ever recall of any instructor with permanent status ever being canned but there was a tendency to pressure them to leave.)

      Also, when I started, it was required that the department head sit in on at least one lecture each year. My last one eventually stopped doing that, claiming that it was "policing". (No, you dummy--it's called doing your job like you're supposed to, but you're too busy to worry about it because you're trying to brown-nose your way up the pecking order.)

      I once had an unauthorized evaluation conducted about me. It was unauthorized because I not only didn't initiate it, no one in authority ever owned up to initiating it. I'm sure I know who did it, but there wasn't enough proof to file a grievance against the administrator in question.

      A former colleague of mine had a similar thing happen to him for a service course he taught. Apparently the students in question went to their department head and he, quite foolishly, provided them with the forms. When my ex-colleague figured out what happened, the fur flew.

      I'm sure we weren't the only ones to whom that sort of thing happened.

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    10. What reason #65 doesn't cover is how personally insulting and trifling student evals can be.

      I take mine seriously, making adjustments based on the legitimate comments. In order to make those ~half dozen adjustments, I have to find the legitimate comments by wading through abuse, hatred, racism, insults, nitpicking, gross entitlement, and sometimes outright lies. Granted those are a minority of my evals, but a very vocal and disconcerting minority. It's frustrating. Since I'm at a community college, I put in a TON of work on prep and grading. Then at the end of the term I'll see a b*tchfest that goes on for 200 words about a 2 point deduction on an answer that probably deserved a greater deduction. Then accusations of destroying someone's ambitions in life because they earned a B-, and g-d it, they are A STUDENTS AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN, followed by egregious personal attacks because I don't recognize their excellence or have impossible standards. If I didn't put in so much work, I probably wouldn't care either. Some professors that already have tenure don't even read theirs.



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    11. It wasn't so bad when the forms were on paper. Putting the forms online, for whatever reason, unleashes fury.

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    12. Aaron:

      You just described much of what I had to endure, though when I quit, all evaluations were on paper and the badmouth-your-profs website had just started.

      Under the (lack of) leadership of my last department head, my job as instructor wasn't to teach or educate my students. It was to make him look good.

      The regional government, in its infinite stupidity, had instituted a survey in which graduates commented on their "experience". The results determined how much "gravy" funding each department would get from the government.

      Since my last department head was more interested in promoting himself and being upwardly mobile, he was deathly afraid of anything which he thought might tarnish his image and scuttle his ambitions for becoming dean. One thing he was obsessed with was the "gravy" funding and I was required to do whatever was necessary to ensure favourable survey results.

      Standards? What standards? What mattered was what the students thought. Who cared if they couldn't write a proper sentence or solve a simple equation? They were all geniuses and experts, weren't they? It was my job to give them high marks for writing that 2 + 3 was 29 and "cat" was spelled "qhndylkj".

      Unfortunately, the last dean I answered, a belligerent moron, supported my department head.

      One reason I quit was that I got fed up with all that malarkey.

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    13. My experience with teaching evaluations is that they tend to be more positive at schools where the average student performance is higher. In other words, the worse the institution, the worse the evaluations.

      The worst evals I've ever seen were from an "honors" class at a third (fourth?) tier university. Oddly, in that class the students' workload was lighter than what I gave my regular students at a much better university.

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    14. Anonymous @ 2013-04-02 2350:

      Despite its public reputation, the place I used to teach at had such low standards that the only real requirement for graduation was to pay tuition. (It might have been stricter in the apprenticeship programs it offered.)

      As a result, many of my students took umbrage that I expected them to actually do some work in order to get high marks.

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    15. I have a former colleague that works at an fairly exclusive liberal arts college in North Carolina, and he says many of his students expect good grades because their families pay so much money for them to be there. One bad grade and rich parents schedule a conference with the president of the college.

      There may be regional variation based on culture. Where I work now on the west coast, the sense of entitlement seems greater vs. where I used to work where a lot of students were grateful when they got C's or B's. There was some entitlement to be sure, but it was not as prevalent.

      The move to online administration of the evals HAS to be a very important factor. I never got personal attacks that were so nasty on paper evals. That transition was made a year ago.

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    16. at *a* fairly exclusive college. D'oh.

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    17. Aaron:

      All this makes me glad I quit teaching when I did. I escaped having my "misdeeds" recorded surreptitiously and plastered all over the Internet. (Doing so would likely have been illegal but I'm sure my former employer would not only have welcomed such recordings, it would have encouraged them and rewarded those who made them.) My evaluations were all on paper. Twitter and Facebook hadn't been invented yet so I didn't have to worry about my reputation being sullied that way.

      By comparison, I remember having some visitors from Thailand sit in on one of my lectures. I got the impression that they were appalled at the behaviour of some of my students towards me. Then again, in the home country of my guests, I believe those who teach are held in high regard.

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    18. One thing that depressed me while I was teaching was that I had a good education and that job was all I could get. There was nothing in R & D available for me.

      Maybe this could be another one of the 100 reasons, if it hasn't already been discussed: don't go to grad school as one might not find a job befitting one's education.

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    19. After the last round of evals, which were particularly nasty, I went to the data to discover if I was too hard of a grader.

      I have my grade records going back three years when I started teaching college, first as an adjunct.

      I found that when you average it out, I've given out about 18% A's, 27% B's. The rest mostly C's and W's. Only about 14% F's - and that's probably because they quit coming to class. Almost half have done "good" or "excellent." To me that is already notorious grade inflation yet students b**ch about their grades at an increasing rate.

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    20. Aaron:

      I encountered similar comments and reactions while I was teaching. I think the following explains some of it:

      http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/1994/08/14

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  21. There's a huge demand for academic literature, but the demand is from producers instead of consumers. Professors have to publish.

    At some point, publishers are going to figure out that they can charge authors, because it's the authors who want and need the articles and books.

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    Replies
    1. Hmmm, a future where adding color images to a journal article costs $300 PER IMAGE, and online open access publishing fees are upwards of $3,000. Yes, what a strange world that will be to live in....

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    2. I haven't seen that in my field yet. (Heck, I can't think of a single one of our dozens of journals that publishes any color photos at all.)

      I have noticed, though, that private companies like Blackwell are gobbling up all the journals that used to be published by our various professional organizations. The journals are, I think, still edited by the organizations, but the printing, distribution, submissions, subscriptions, etc., are handled by the publishing companies.

      It's hard not to think that the day will come when Blackwell will say something like "library subscriptions are falling, so it's time for authors to pitch in or we'll have to stop publishing your journal." I can imagine a submission fee, a peer-review fee, an editing fee if your article gets accepted... not to mention photo fees, author copy fees, you name it.

      Publishing companies are already exploiting the fact that colleges feel obliged to subscribe to journals. Sooner or later, they will figure out how to exploit publish-or-perish further by going after the authors.

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  22. Make them pay. Academic work is pretty much akin to doing charity work already. Maybe by charging a publication fee, the current prestige attached to periodical publications would wane and other more public forms of disseminating research would become more accepted. Like letters to the editor or radio interviews.

    Just make the fee tax deductable.

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    Replies
    1. Anon April 1, 2013 at 4:49 PM here,

      AWOL

      I think that scenario will eventually occur, given the way things are going (there already ARE publishing fees, particularly in OA). The problem is that a lot of good research will still be tied up in journals. If academics find a more efficient (~free) way to communicate and store information in the future, the big publishing companies, like tigers sensing the end, will just engineer a way to ransom all of the seminal literature for which they still hold the copyright. The only thing that makes most journals accessible, particularly in the sciences, is library subscriptions; if they stop subscribing due to escalating costs/ perceived lack of readership, each article runs about $35. Unless someone (the government) initiates some sort of massive buyout to free up all of that data (not likely), we'll be in a worse situation than we are in now.

      Delete
  23. That might be a good thing. I wrote plenty in grad school and most of it was bad, so it's good no one read while I was practicing:)

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  24. I remember sweating over my uni/MA thesis, a summer spent in the dark behind a computer screen, cut off from the light, pounding it out, fighting with my girlfriend.

    All the professors suggested I continue with my studies, get at least an MSc or possibly a PhD. And I did, I enrolled in an anthropology MSc. The longer I sweated at it, the more dislocated the entire process seemed to be from any kind of reality - writing articles for ... who exactly? Book reviews of books nobody in their right minds would read? 250 pages on the cultural ideology of mountain climbing? A 50 page comparative review of two unknown authors? A study of, of all things, the personal books left behind by a semi-famous local author?

    After a year of the MSc, still pretty well brainwashed, I got a job in advertising as a junior copywriter. Finally, freedom! All of a sudden, I did not have to support every single statement with a quote, no longer was I constrained by bibliographies and the whims of academia ... and all of a sudden, what I wrote was actually seen and read by people (admittedly, my job was to make people feel like they were missing something and needed some booze to feel better, but, hey ... my copy probably got to a lot of professors more than anything I'd written at the grad programme).

    But I still felt guilty about not finishing my MSc, felt like I was failing, somehow. So, I slowly struggled to finish my coursework and classes - I got good grades on all the exams and good responses from all the professors. Finally, I worked out an interesting thesis proposal that would also mesh with my advertising work, cleared it with a professor, took time off work, wrote up the whole proposal, submitted it ...

    And got rejected, because I'd submitted a qualitative research proposal and the committee that year was biased towards quantitative sociology.

    My 35 page proposal got fobbed off with a single sentence comment, "not quantitative enough." No phone call. No discussion.

    I reworked my proposal, I submitted it again. My proposal got turned down again, with the suggestion that while it was quantitative now, I should base it around a book that had recently been published, made the rounds on the cultural TV shows and had been read by some members of the committee. I book that I had read and knew to be completely impertinent to my proposal.

    I nearly lost it, I'd had enough, I'd taken an indeterminate leave of absence from my work to see this through and the professoriat was treating my time and money as though it mattered not at all. Finally, I submitted a different, dumbed down proposal on a different topic and it got accepted.

    However, those nearly six months of eating through my savings, getting rejection after unexplained rejection from faceless committees, being ignored by the university got to me. I broke down, my relationship broke down and I moved back in with my parents.

    The last three years I've slowly gotten over my feelings of guilt about not finishing my MSc. After getting more experience in different jobs, learning that the NGO environment is practically as toxic and cash starved as the academic environment, I've come to admire the simple purity of working in a capitalist setting. The simplicity of being expected to do a good job and getting paid well it, instead of being compensated with comments about "intangible benefits" and "helping others".

    Then, just recently, I got a new job. A job where my work experience and personal talents are valued. A job that kicks the socks off any potential academic career I could have had. I think I am finally going to be able to shrug my guilt off and get on with my life and the realization that the toxic ideology of eternal education is worse for my health than the simple joys of being able to buy good food, cook it in a good kitchen and wash it down with a good glass of single malt whiskey.

    And my old anthropology department can go stick that in their sour communist arses.

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    1. ... although it seems I still have to get a bit of bile and rantiness out of my system. :O

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    2. Capitalism is a wonderful thing. Glad to hear you escaped the academy and discovered the real world. Enjoy doing what you were made to do.

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    3. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 9, 2013 at 7:50 AM

      Thank you for sharing your story. I'm in the process of leaving my program. Before I leave, I want to have a decent job lined up so I'm not unemployed. Your story is another reminder that quitting grad school isn't the end of the world and that the stress grad school puts on you isn't worth it.

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    4. Sick of Grad School:

      One thing you should keep in mind that leaving before you finish your degree might be seen that you're a quitter when things get tough. Many employers nowadays are operating on the verge of being insolvent. They will be unlikely to hire someone who will leave should bankruptcy be just around the corner, thereby ensuring that the company folds.

      On the other hand, many companies make bad investments and decide to cut their losses when they lose too much money. Try to explain your leaving grad school from that perspective.

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    5. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 9, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      No Longer An Academic, good advice. I entered my PhD program with only a BA so next year, I will have the option of leaving the program with an MA instead of continuing on to the PhD. Some of the people that I talked to about this said that what I plan on doing isn't fair because my department gave me funding with the expectation that I will stay in the PhD program. Plus, MAs aren't funded in my department. When I entered my program I had every intention on getting a PhD, but grad school is so insufferable and I can't take it anymore.

      I'm going to frame my leaving grad school as a career change (because that's essentially what I'm doing).

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    6. Sick of Grad School:

      You're welcome.

      With regards to your funding, maybe your department's blowing smoke. People leave grad studies for all sorts of legitimate reasons, such as illness or family matters. In the lab where I did my Ph. D., there was one student who decided to quit and take a job in the area in which he started his master's degree.

      Besides, when I started grad studies over 30 years ago, it wasn't unusual to have someone working on their doctorate to be cut off and finish with a master's degree because they flunked their defence. I knew of someone back then to whom it happened and he came to that university with an M. Sc. in our discipline. He ended up with a second one though he eventually did get his Ph. D.

      You might want to check what the conditions of your funding might be and whether, if you do leave, what your obligations will be. Unless you signed a contract, you might not be liable for anything. Check with your grad student advisor.

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    7. SOGG: Whatever you do, don't let worrying about what other people think (about leaving grad school) influence what you do. In my experience, that can be paralyzing. A couple of years in grad school (with or without a Master's to show for it) is a lot easier to explain to employers than 4 years or 6 years or 12 years.

      "Some of the people that I talked to about this said that what I plan on doing isn't fair..." Think about how stupid their line of reasoning is. Grad school makes people insane. You'll actually be opening up funding for somebody else--- probably more a curse than a blessing, but still.

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    8. Anonymous @ 2013-04-09 1800:

      Some supervisors behave as if the funding they provide their students actually came out of their own pockets. Their students, therefore, are required to feel a sense of obligation and gratitude to their supervisors as a result.

      Rubbish! That money came out of their grants and operating budgets. Those supervisors likely see their grad students as cheap labour and want to squeeze as much "value" out of them as possible. My first master's supervisor was like that, treating us as if we were his personal employees.

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    9. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 12, 2013 at 1:09 PM

      No Longer An Academic, I just checked my funding package, and it doesn't mention anything about repercussions for leaving early. Also in the past 3 years, 8 people have left my program, most were MA students.

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    10. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 12, 2013 at 1:11 PM

      Anonymous April 9, 2013 at 6:00 PM, I'm trying not to let other people's opinions get to me. I need to take care of myself and my well-being.

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    11. SOGG:

      If there are no obligations on your part if you leave, then what's stopping you? Wait for the right time and give your notice.

      I hate reading about cases like yours. It reminds me of many of the employers I approached for a job. They wanted someone who wanted a "career" instead of a paycheque (which is bizbabble for "cheap labour, long hours") and who wouldn't quit right away. Yet, they felt they had the right to can anyone at any time for any reason. Commitment is one way only with the employee taking all the risk.

      Delete
  25. This is particularly illuminating when you consider the differences between the methods adopted by the popular press and the academic press. When one publishing scheme requires people to read and enjoy books to be profitable, the work is much different. When another publishing scheme relies on purchases from a library and academic peer pressure to more or less be familiar with a work, different story.

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    1. I can see your point. I used to think news sites like gawker were unprofessional because there's a lot of articles that add jokes and use common language to entertain the audience.

      That was until I realized that writers and on those sites enjoy what they write. And they have tons of people who enjoy reading their stories. Even those who aren't college educated can read, understand, and ENJOY their articles. Isn't that the whole purpose of writing and communication?

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    2. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 9, 2013 at 7:44 AM

      Anonymous April 5, 2013 at 3:58 PM, I'm convinced that academics don't want people outside of academia to read their articles. Hence why they're extremely long, boring and filled with useless jargon. Any form of creativity is frowned upon.

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    3. Sick of Grad School:

      One thing I noticed about academics is a general lack of imagination. Anything outside of the lab or the library is often incomprehensible. They weren't necessarily stupid but they frequently couldn't take what they were working with and extrapolate it to the rest of the world.

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    4. No Longer An Academic, I also see this problem. The longer one stays in academia, the more difficult it is to transition into the real world. A warped sense of reality develops. In academia, we find find answers in books and through research. However, you still need to experience something to really know it. A textbook makes the answers seem clear and absolute, but life shows that the answers are never so black and white.

      Between a PhD in Business with no work experience and a businessman with 8 years in the field, who would you learn more from in a business class?

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    5. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 9, 2013 at 5:12 PM

      No Longer An Academic, I agree; yet academics are constantly arguing that their research has "universal appeal." Who outside of academia cares about a 50 page journal article about the imagery in Wordsworth poems?

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    6. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 9, 2013 at 5:13 PM

      *Wordsworth's

      Delete
    7. Sick of Grad School:

      I agree that knowledge of the imagery in Wordworth's poems is of limited use in business and industry. However, what might be of interest is one's ability to interpret or analyze what one sees or reads as exhibited by such a publication.

      In areas such as physical science, dentistry, medicine, and engineering, what one does often has more immediate application. Companies are interested in either what one has investigated or any skills and experience which may have been obtained as a result of it.

      However, the catch is that one should have something to show for it. My Ph. D. supervisors main area of interest was in something related to nanotechnology. During the time that I worked on my degree (in a completely different topic, by the way), I don't recall that he or his other students ever produced anything tangible.

      They cranked out a lot of papers, though. I attended a conference in which some of them were presented. Watching paint try would have been more interesting to me.

      Delete
    8. Anonymous @ 2013-04-09 1701:

      That's one reason why tenure should be abolished. Once one is on the gravy train for life, with a guaranteed paycheque and a job which is difficult to be fired from, there's no incentive to expand one's horizons.

      I got my Ph. D. by a less popular route. I deliberately went into industry for 2 years after I got my B. Sc. because I wanted to get enough experience to get my professional registration. Even back then, my perspective on what I was working on was different than it would have been if I'd gone straight through.

      Later, for my Ph. D. thesis research, my experience in industry proved to be of enormous benefit as, by then, I knew how to analyze problems and interpret results. It helped that some of that experience included industrial R & D.

      Delete
  26. apparently, some overeducated folks have forgotten about the exponential function. So, let us explain:

    1) suppose that most PhDs have been successfully indoctrinated to pursue the ALMIGHTY ACADEMIC CAREER, the ONE AND ONLY PATH TO SALVATION. That is, they will pursue, at any cost, jobs as professors, otherwise they will think of themselves as "failures"

    2) suppose, also, that a professor produces, say, 5 PhDs, and each one of them produces 5 new PhDs, and each of these produces 5 others, and so on.

    Now, what happens? Combine it with the fact "education" may very well brainwash people, and you get all this psychological disaster. Someone should explain prospective grad students about all this.

    Many of you, given your skills, are just wasting your lifetime, when at the same time you could be having a much happier, fulfilling existence on this planet.

    Now, we're sure you are all very intelligent. However, the real question is: how wise are you?

    for god's sake, take responsibility for your life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  27. The New York Times just published an article on pseudo-academia and pay-to-publish:

    "Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too)" by Gina Kolata

    http://tinyurl.com/cct3zxd

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The saddest thing about that story is how gullible it shows these scientists to be. They're so desperate to present papers and get published that they respond to e-mail invitations out of the blue and then fork over thousands of bucks to crooks.

      There's already way too much published by legitimate journals, but it's still not enough to meet the demand from academics who need publications. Opportunists are creating for-profit bogus "journals" as fast as they can to meet the demand and professors are falling for the scam.

      I've been sent a lot of email invitations to phony conferences these past few years.

      Delete
  28. Russkiy AspirantApril 9, 2013 at 6:12 PM

    One of my compatriots in our department shared this little gem: http://exhaustfumes.commons.mla.org/2013/04/08/this-is-not-advice-about-whether-to-go-to-graduate-school-in-literature/

    The author's arguments against the "don't go to grad school!" crowd are equally valid against the "go to grad school!" crowd. While the author criticizes the "don't go!" people as well-intentioned but misinformed, I more frequently see well-intentioned friends and loved ones who don't know any better (i.e. got a BA and got a job without going to grad school, never went to college, etc.) encouraging someone to make a nonchalant decision to enter grad school. Just yesterday someone said to an old acquaintance of mine considering grad school, "Follow your heart. You're a brilliant person. Go to school and expand your mind." To which I wanted to reply: "Do your research. You're a brilliant person. Don't waste your talents and youth in a dead-end field. We live in a world of instant communication where you can access the world's knowledge at the touch of a button; broaden your mind while following your dreams outside of the ivory tower."

    The author correctly points out that the core of the problem with academia is the hyperinflated university administration and imbalance between recent PhD graduates and jobs, but that's exactly why the bright-eyed, enthusiastic young people who believe that their destiny is "to read and study books professionally" need to be informed of what academia and graduate school is really like, *so that they can make an informed decision*.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's similar to this:

      http://collegemisery.blogspot.ca/2013/04/okay-so-maybe-its-our-week-for-somewhat.html

      with the original item at:

      http://www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2013/04/there_are_no_academic_jobs_and_getting_a_ph_d_will_make_you_into_a_horrible.html

      Whenever I discussed the subject with someone, I added the cautionary note to think carefully going to grad school because it isn't for everyone. It requires a major commitment of time, money, and effort and there's no guarantee of success.

      Delete
    2. Russkiy, even when prospective grad students research grad school, they are greeted with lies and even false data.

      We have plenty of MA and PhD holders who cannot find a decent job of any kind who will still argue that their degree was worthwhile. How can we expect our doe-eyed youth to get accurate information from academics in denial?

      Also, keep in mind professors will always encourage students to go into a graduate program. It does fatten their paycheck, afterall. Students will never hear the hard truths in college, and they'll be lucky to hear the hard truth for MA and PhD holders.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous @ 2013-04-10 1415:

      It wasn't any different when I started grad studies in the late 1970s. There were the usual fairy tales about the glorious academic life but there were few negative comments.

      Back then, we relied on scuttlebutt to find out those sorts of things, but few people talked. Being caught doing so was often the kiss of death to one's career.

      I don't regret getting my graduate degrees as I can do things now that I couldn't with only a B. Sc. But I don't rely on my education for my income because it's not necessary for managing my investments.

      Delete
    4. Sick of Grad SchoolApril 12, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      We had prospective students visit our program last month and my department told us to lie about the funding crisis that we're having. They didn't literally say "Lie about the program" but they told us "not to paint a negative picture of our department."

      Anyone considering graduate school needs to know the full picture. If I knew what grad school entailed, I never would have went. My undergraduate adviser encouraged me to go. When I told her that I heard how difficult it is to obtain a tenured-track position, she told me that I shouldn't worry about that now and that when the times comes, I'll get a tenured position. She claimed that she had a lot of connections in our field. Also, she told me that she'd help me out and support me while I was in grad school yet she refuses to return my phone calls or emails.

      Delete
    5. "They told us 'not to paint a negative picture of our department.'"

      In a better world, your department would tell its grad students to be honest with prospective students, to be frank about funding, and to help them weigh their options at this vulnerable time in their lives.

      But, no, the reputation of the department is more important than these individuals' futures. There's a wink-wink, nudge-nudge aspect to their instructions because you're supposed to see the department's reputation as important to YOUR future.

      At the same time, you're being spoken to like children: Behave when the guests are here!

      Delete
    6. SOGG:

      That sounds familiar but hardly new. Fibbing about one's department was commonplace when I started grad studies in the late 1970s.

      I'm sure I would have wanted to be told the truth, even if that sort of information had been available. Such news usually was available via the grapevine and one had to be careful about what one said. Loose lips often sank one's career.

      I probably would have gone ahead anyway because I still believed the image of how wonderful academe was. Part of that came from Hollywood movies and part from memories of how much I enjoyed my undergrad days.

      Nowadays, spinning yarns is expected. I recall when the department I did my Ph. D. was having its accreditation reviewed. When the committee toured the facilities, nobody ever asked my honest opinion. Maybe someon already knew that I'd call a spade a spade and say unfavourable things about the department.

      Delete
    7. Anonymous @ 2013-04-12 1416:

      What you wrote sounds like the place I used to teach at.

      During my last year there, I taught a service course for a different department. It just happened that it had applied for accreditation and was anxious to get it. I'm sure that it scored some points with the review committee when it showed that it had an instructor with a Ph. D. teaching there.

      When the committee finished and went back home, I was promptly sacked from a course I was supposed to teach the following term. I'm sure that there were internal political reasons why that happened plus the students didn't particularly like me being, for the most part, whiny, immature, and lazy. But it occurred to me afterwards that my use to the department to impress the accreditation review committee had ended when the visitors had left.

      Several months later, I'd had enough. On the day I resigned, I was hesitant about giving my notice. When I read in an internal e-mail message that the department had been granted accreditation, I knew I had to quit and submitted my notice to the dean.

      Delete
  29. That slate article has been getting a lot of play. Good.

    My college has been hiring for a number of fields, since the state is changing the retirement system and the older professors want to make sure they cash in.

    ***As a side note, those who were hired prior to the late 1980s have a freaking GOLDEN retirement - they get almost full salary for their pension. Those of us hired more recently don't get anything close to that.***

    There is a huge discrepancy across disciplines. English is by far the worst - receiving more than double the apps of any other position - close to 200 I heard.

    Others were in the dozens but not over 100. Many 50-75 applicants and maybe 15-20% of those not qualified. I noticed a LOT of people from opposite sub-fields of their discipline desperately trying to stretch their resumes. Math surprisingly had a lot of applicants - I would have expected that to garner a lower number.

    Some fields only had ~25 apps. Although I suppose there are fewer jobs in certain fields. The average number of applicants were in the ~55 range for any given position. Would have been lower without English. No wonder so much of MLA this year was devoted to freaking out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't count on anything from an educational employer any more. Nearly 20 years ago, the place I used to teach at offered to buy out senior instructors. Several applied and were accepted but they didn't get the payout they thought they would. That led to some legal wrangling and, if I remember correctly, several of them had to settle for what they were given.

      The university hiring picture in my country is quite grim. One needs to be young and, preferably, a recent graduate. Interruptions of one's studies, such as working in industry, will count against an applicant. One also needs an impressive publication record and the ability to bring in large amounts of funding--the departments in question need to take their cut, after all.

      All of that would be completely pointless if there's a policy of hiring applicants from a certain segment of the population in order to comply with government-mandated quotas.

      Delete
    2. NLaAc,

      It certainly seems to be worse for certain disciplines. Literature graduate schools should have shut themselves down yesterday, given what I've seen. They could stay shut down for a decade before english searches run out of qualified applicants.

      Other disciplines, while not good, are not nearly in so bad shape. For certain ones, geography comes to mind, there were an average number of apps that I'd expect for any professional job.

      Delete
    3. I never went to graduate school/worked as a professor, so I can't speak for all the departments, but I had a pretty good relationship with some of the faculty and administration in performing arts when I was a student. Senior year, they advertised for an assistant professor in theatre and apparently got 300 applications.

      Delete
    4. Eileen:

      That's not unusual for any position nowadays. To get hired, either one has to be a close buddy of someone in authority at an employer or be more than perfect, such as have more years of experience with a particular technology than it's been in existence as well as being under 25.

      With regards to academe, one should also be able to tap dance on water, win Nobel Prizes for several years without interruption, bring in grants bigger than the GNP of a typical country, and be a member of a group eligible for preferential hiring.

      I quit my teaching job over 10 years ago. I had a few interviews but those were likely token efforts because I often had the sense that the preferred candidate had already been chosen. I was likely brought in to either confirm that selection or to comply with government regulations concerning age discrimination.

      Delete
  30. There were some earlier posts in this thread about evaluations, so I thought I'd chime in with an observation.

    I have recently witnessed something alarming and that is that going out of your way to help students can completely backfire. Taking the time to meet with students one-on-one to help them individually with writing issues can put students on the defensive. In the past, I have never experienced this as a problem. On the contrary, students were grateful for the help. The new generation of students does not seem to take criticism very well. They are appalled that anyone would call into question what they see as their excellent writing (which is in fact full of basic mistakes). This comes out in some angry evaluations, the likes of which I have never seen before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I noticed that trend about 15 years ago.

      Students just didn't give a rat's patootie about the quality of their work, which, of course, most regarded as "excellent". If I pointed out errors and didn't penalize them, they didn't do anything about it. If I pointed out those same errors and took off marks, they became hostile, claiming undue criticism and accusing me of intimidating them.

      Of course, none of my efforts ever did any good. I even told some one day that if they thought I was mean and nasty, wait until they had to answer to a boss. The response? "Oh, but we'll get paid for what we do then." Of course they would--if they could keep a job long enough with attitudes like that.

      I often brought up this matter with whichever administrators I had to answer to, depending upon the course I taught. Typically, the response from them was spinelessness, followed by supporting the students.

      That was one of the reasons I quit teaching. Why bother when anything I did made no difference whatsoever?

      Delete
    2. For some reason students don't seem to realize that they're "getting paid" in grades. That's the currency when you're a student, and ideally you have to earn good grades, just as, in the working world, you have to earn your salary. It's been a long time since I was a student myself--and I went to a college where you really did have to work your tail off for an above-average grade--but from what I've been reading here, it sounds as though a lot of young'uns nowadays have yet to grasp that concept.

      Delete
    3. Ah, but grades aren't recognized as legal tender so one can't pay for MP3 players and smart phones with them.

      One of the things I never really adjusted to nor accepted was the policy of many high schools of "fail once, graduate anyway". They could fail, say, Grade 12, go through it again and still get their diploma. So where was the incentive to invest any time and effort to doing anything when they would get their reward for doing next to nothing?

      By the way, this isn't anything new. It was already commonplace when I started my teaching job in the late 1980s.

      Delete
    4. Anon, the fault lies with teachers for this behavior, not the students.

      Can you imagine being told in college, of all places, that your writing and abilities are subpar? You'd think, "if that's true, then how'd I get this far?!"

      Of course students will think something is wrong with an individual teacher's criticisms when countless other teachers haven't said a word and passed them along.

      Delete
    5. Anonymous @ 2013-04-14 1050:

      You described much of my time as an instructor and as a TA. Many of my students whined why I was so critical of them when many of my colleagues rarely said anything negative. I, on the other hand, judged my students in accordance with what might be expected of them in industry.

      Unfortunately, that rarely satisfied the students or any of the administrators they complained to and who, subsequently, backed them.

      Delete
    6. Just out of curiosity, No Longer An Academic: Where are you from, that students are allowed to graduate from high school if they fail Grade 12 twice? (Canada is my guess, based on other things you've said. . . .) Where I grew up (Pennsylvania), state law required a certain number and distribution of courses for a high-school diploma, including four years each of English, social studies, and phys.ed., and I think two each of math and science, plus enough courses overall to amount to a certain minimum. It wasn't all that much in total, and most people graduated with far more than the minimum, but you did have to have those four English, social-studies, and gym credits--one for each year of high school.

      But you could also drop out legally as soon as you turned 16. A lot of kids did that (and still do, I'm sure) if they're convinced they aren't getting anywhere in school.

      Delete
    7. April:

      You're right. I'm Canadian and grew up in a remote corner of the country. The requirements you described were much like what I had to meet in order to graduate. As well, those going on for post-secondary education had to take a second language. Being a bilingual country, most opted for French.

      Back then, one could leave school after Grade 10 and I knew of some who did, partly because there were lots of jobs in the local oil industry which didn't require a high school diploma.

      Since then, it seems that the language requirement has been dropped, at least in the area of the country I live in now.

      Delete
    8. Yes, if you planned to go on to college, you generally needed at least three years of math and science and three of a foreign language--but those were the colleges' requirements, not the high school's or the state's.

      Now, of course, it's harder than ever to get by without at least a high-school diploma, no matter where you are, because the industrial jobs that brought in an adequate income without a lot of formal education no longer exist.

      Delete
    9. It's largely a fallacy that a minimum of a high school diploma is required to find a job. Go to any store or fast food outlet nowadays and, chances are, most of the people working there are teenagers and they probably haven't graduated yet.

      Even as recently as a decade ago, many of those positions were held by adults, many of whom likely had at least Grade 12. Now with bar code scanners and computerized cash registers, one can probably get by with minimal literary and arithmetic skills.

      Where I live in Canada, the minimum amount of education to qualify for apprenticeship training is Grade 10, depending on the trade. In some cases, that might not be necessary if one can passes an entrance exam. I don't think that's changed in the last 40 years.

      Much of the perception that post-secondary education is required is the creation of the institutions that offer it in order to stay in business.

      After WW II, post-secondary institutions expanded for several reasons. One was the post-war baby boom. Second, many people immigrated, largely from Europe, because North America offered opportunities that weren't available in the "old country" back then. Third, Sputnik. Fourth, many countries in what is now known as the Third World didn't have the facilities they needed and wanted to provide the amount and quality of post-secondary education they required.

      Consequently, many universities went through a massive building boom. By the late '70s and early '80s, the situation changed. The tail-end of the baby boom had either entered the system or had already graduated, so there wasn't enough of the domestic population to fill all the seats. Many countries which formerly sent its best and brightest to the west for an education had developed and built their own universities, so that segment of the student population began diminishing.

      One thing that the system did was to portray post-secondary education as a necessity but in order to fill all those empty seats, they needed a pool of applicants to draw on. One way was to enlarge it and do so by making more people eligible. Dropping standards could accomplish that.

      Conveniently, Ronald Reagen was elected. Between him and Margaret Thatcher, the ideology that government is bad, the private sector good, and everything must be run on business principles took over. Universities became corporations and, one of the "services" they offered was training, something that companies used to offer.

      Those companies got a financial benefit from this. They shifted the training expenses off their books and dumped them onto the students. Sometimes they dictated university curricula by offering to hire their graduates if they taught specific courses. They also got universities to do much of their development and design work, which was largely done by cheap labour (i. e., grad students).

      Tax payers got fleeced for that. Companies often got tax breaks for farming all this work out to universities. Tax payers footed most of the operating expenses of those places and they were often the market for the products that those same universities worked on.

      So much for education being a public trust.

      Delete
  31. When I post this, there will be 129 comments on this thread.

    Of these, a copious 37 are from one user: "No Longer An Academic."

    That's about 30%.

    Just sayin!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fascinating. Someone should write their dissertation on this phenomenon.

      Delete
    2. No Longer An Academic is old enough to remember when higher education was a bit more rational. (So am I, which is why I enjoy hearing from him.) He's a reminder that things don't inevitably have to be as screwy as they are now.

      Delete
    3. So, can we ever go back to the good old days? It would sure be nice.

      Seriously, everybody in the business knows that this requirement to incessantly publish nonsense is a big waste of time. Approach any academic at a private party (perhaps after a drink or two), and they will all admit that nobody reads the crap. So, why do we care so much about the number of publications? Can't we find some other metric to determine the worth of a professor?

      The behavior of people in the academic sector is often reminiscent of the behavior of sycophants to a totalitarian regime. Go along to get along. Of all people, open-minded academics in a free society should feel free enough to state the obvious: The Emperor has No Clothes!

      Delete
    4. April:

      Thank you for your comments. I'm glad I'm not alone in wondering what happened to the post-secondary educational system.

      By the way, you might be interested in looking at the website:

      http://www.collegemisery.com

      Reading through it makes me glad I'm no longer teaching.


      STEM Doctor:

      The educational system won't likely go back to the old days because there are too many parties that benefit from the status quo.

      Delete
    5. "Of these, a copious 37 are from one user: "No Longer An Academic.""

      Well you took the time to count them so what does that say about you?

      Delete
    6. I'm up late finishing hiring committee work. After a while long lists of pubs on CV's start to look the same.

      Delete
    7. No Longer An Academic, thanks for the link to College Misery! That should keep me constructively occupied for a while. I've never been a teaching academic myself (I'm an editor for a university press), but my husband's been at it for going on 30 years, and he's seen it all and brought it all home.

      Delete
    8. You're welcome. Another site you might be interested in is:

      http://rateyourstudents.blogspot.com/

      RYS is the predecessor, sort of, to CM. I understand it started as a reaction to a certain other site (most people can figure out which one that is).

      After reading through both of those sites, I found that I wasn't the only one who had problems with students.

      Delete
  32. "Seriously, everybody in the business knows that this requirement to incessantly publish nonsense is a big waste of time. Approach any academic at a private party (perhaps after a drink or two), and they will all admit that nobody reads the crap. "

    I don't think this is necessarily so. About half of academics they I talk to are pretty thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that most research, in particular theirs, is important in some way because it adds to the zeitgeist or whatever. They disparage public opinion anyway so popularity or number of readers is irrelevant to them.

    Someone may read it in 50 or 100 years as a contribution to their research and the thought of that seems like enough to this group of people.

    My work is published online by the university, and if you google the subject it actually pops up in the top 30 or so. It's about a reasonably popular subject. It's had about 1000 downloads over the past few years, although my hypothesis is that undergraduates around the country are plagiarizing parts of it for their term papers.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Academics hate fellow academics who sell a lot of books. Have you noticed that? They scorn "popular" authors and love to leave the suggestion hanging in the air that popular scholarship is junk. That's true sometimes, but I don't think the haters wait to evaluate the quality of popular scholarship before dismissing it.

    BUT if you waved a magic wand and turned one of those scornful profs into a best-selling author, you can be sure that he would not object to the transformation.

    Good old-fashioned envy probably explains most of the attitudes in this business. I see it in my own ugly thoughts about the success of my professional peers. Their triumphs heap misery on my misery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the idea is that the general public is stupid, so anything that sells well must be stupid.

      Delete
    2. Unfortunately, being popular may do a disservice to researchers.

      Writing a lot of books, making documentaries, or appearing on TV chat shows may appeal to the general public but it doesn't necessarily help their credibility. The general public might think that anything those people say or do must be believed because they are "ijicated" but, as I once heard on an episode of CBC Radio One's "Quirks and Quarks" many years ago, having a Ph. D. is no immunity against foolishness.

      I've seen TV documentaries which, though seemingly explaining complex topics in terms which are easy to understand, are absolutely awful. They're awful not just in the manner of presentation but also how the concepts are explained. There's too much emphasis on fancy animations and gee-whiz special effects accompanied by disco-beat pop music but actual worthwhile content is sparse. They're like colouring books for TV.

      I remember when PBS used to present documentaries in which just about anybody could learn something, regardless of how much education one had. Nowadays, I rarely watch "Nova", which used to be my favourite show. I gave up on our version of Discovery Channel years ago and the less said about TLC (or The Learning Channel as it used to be known) the better.

      Delete
    3. Believe me, teaching history makes me familiar with many of the history audio-visual products, and only few of them are good. History channel, lol.

      I'll stick up for PBS's "American Experience," though. Typically well done. Although whatever contracts they use must wed them to the same historians over multiple years.
      Sometimes I find myself wishing they used greater variety of historiographical opinion.

      Delete
    4. I agree with "American Experience", even though I'm Canadian. (The ones on Silicon Valley and Apollo 8 were terrific!) Often, our view of American history up here comes from Hollywood and so the series provides a refreshing approach.

      Also, "Frontline" is a good current-affairs program and I've liked most of the documentaries made by Ken Burns.

      Up here, we have History Television. Years ago, we could watch some very good documentaries about a variety of subjects, many of which were from a Canadian perspective. Things went downhill when the company that operated the channel was taken over and, slowly, the excellent programming was replaced by reality shows. Actual historical content is minimal.

      Delete
    5. "Academics hate fellow academics who sell a lot of books. Have you noticed that?"

      Yes. In a recent book review, Paul Johnson made this observation about C.S. Lewis:

      "Unfortunately Lewis damned himself at Oxford by becoming famous... Run-of-the-mill dons do not like fame, especially on the airwaves, and Lewis — like his Magdalen contemporary, A.J.P. Taylor, and for the same reason — was denied a professorial chair."

      http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/8889361/surprised-by-fame/

      Cambridge eventually made a chair for Lewis, but Johnson's remark is certainly true. Run-of-the-mill professors don't like famous professors.

      Delete
  34. "Of these, a copious 37 are from one user: "No Longer An Academic.""

    At least s/he can say that somebody is reading what s/he writes.

    (Did I just use "s/he"?...oh, please shoot me now...I have obviously spent too much time learning to write as an academic.)

    ReplyDelete
  35. No Longer an Academic wrote: "It's largely a fallacy that a minimum of a high school diploma is required to find a job. Go to any store or fast food outlet nowadays and, chances are, most of the people working there are teenagers and they probably haven't graduated yet.

    Even as recently as a decade ago, many of those positions were held by adults, many of whom likely had at least Grade 12."

    The opposite is happening where I live. Jobs that used to be held by teenagers are now held by adult immigrants, most of whom probably do not have much formal education. No Longer's point about high school diplomas holds here, too, but adults are more reliable and better behaved than teenagers, so employers prefer them. I am thinking of fast-food workers, newspaper delivery people, neighborhood lawn mowers, etc.

    Few high schoolers seem to have any kind of job, although I wonder what they will do when they graduate. We seem to be experiencing an economic divergence; there are jobs that require a great deal of knowledge and/or training, and then there are jobs that require little. The paper-pushing office jobs (located somewhere in between) seem to be vanishing, at least in the private sector.

    Stiffer competition for middle-class jobs makes status-markers like having the right name on your college diploma more important.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right now, the subject of temporary foreign workers is being heatedly debated here in Canada, particularly after it was revealed that one of the biggest banks has been using them.

      Among the objections raised is that there are, apparently, shortages of qualified workers in certain occupations. Many Canadians who have the necessary credentials can't find work, such as in certain trades, while foreigners are being brought in to fill those jobs. However, the federal government allows employers to pay those foreign workers significantly less than Canadians with similar education and experience.

      It's also been alleged that another reason this is being done is union-busting because many of the aforementioned trades are unionized.

      Also, there is statistical evidence that age discrimination is rampant. There are many excuses why older workers are out of work, such as they won't work as long because they want to retire soon, they'll need more medical care, they won't want to work for managers younger than they are, they want more money, they don't want to work long hours, and they're not familiar with the latest technology.

      I think money is the real reason plus the fact that I want nothing to do with Facebook, iPhones, or Lady Gaga. What many employers won't accept is that, by virtue of education and experience, many older workers can get more done in less time than the younger kids.

      Personally, I'm glad I'm out of all that.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, NLAA, maybe things are different in your part of Canada, but that's definitely not the case here (Northeast US). It's getting really hard these days for teenagers to get those jobs because there are older people going for them. I don't mean just immigrants, either; lots of women, for example, who had spent years being stay-at-home moms, are working retail again. Who wants to hire a seventeen-year-old kid and worry about labor laws for minors or scheduling around the school day when there's a 40-year-old who's finished high school and probably college, too, is significantly more mature, and has had a job before? Especially considering you can pay them the same rate, the older person is a better deal. My teenaged sibling spent at least a year trying to find a part-time retail or fast food job, finally getting hired by a friend's employer on the friend's recommendation. I will concede that my cousins in Montreal had a slightly easier time, but most of them didn't seriously try until they were in CEGEP.

      Delete
    3. The job market's a disaster. At my college we had at least a dozen applicants with master's degrees out of the 50 or so applicants for an admin job opening. Another third of them had their bachelors. It's basically a full time clerk position starting at $13 an hour (although it does have decent health benefits) Still, hs diploma is all that's required.

      As anon @3:13 said, the middle-skilled, mid-salaried jobs that a college degree in anything qualified for you for are quickly ceasing to exist. Only so many of those "highly trained" individuals are needed. You don't need hundreds of thousands of iPhone app designers.

      It really makes me wonder what the long term solution is. In the end, we can only produce so many engineers, nurses, etc... until those fields become saturated. I fear with health care it's already begun as the bubble will pop circa 2030s.

      Delete
    4. My profession is a disaster waiting to happen.

      Nearly everyone has bought into the notion that we need more engineers, yet there are people like me who, despite having educational and professional qualifications as well as industrial experience, can't find work. Meanwhile, the sort of jobs that I used to do many years ago are either done by temporary foreign workers brought in for that purpose or are farmed out overseas.

      In my part of the country, a significant drop in the price of oil would put the whole region up on blocks. That would mean that large number of my fellow professionals will have to either go on the dole or find other occupations.

      Delete
  36. 1 of the 100 reasons should deal with political biases in certain academic areas that make it difficult to hold certain views openly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh here we go. Let me guess, you can't be a conservative in academia. Poor things, they're so victimized.

      In my experience, this is the case mostly at R1's in areas that are already liberal, ie: Berkeley, Manhattan, Boston. The departments I've been in were majority liberal to be sure, but not as much as they're stereotyped.

      Besides, it's education. This is a sector that by it's nature, dependent upon government funding, is going to lean democrat. Conservatives tend to think the only things worth existing are the things that make profit. Obviously that puts anyone that studies anything halfway related to "arts" at odds.

      If anything, more conservatives should apply to grad school to increase the diversity of political thought. You can't tell people's political inclination though their application, but I only met a select few conservatives in grad school - those that were tended to be Ron Paul types. I got so bored being the "least liberal" in my cohort, often finding myself arguing the conservative line just to mess with those commies. lol

      Delete
    2. "Conservatives tend to think the only things worth existing are the things that make profit."

      Good grief. That's the kind of deep analysis you hear in grad school.

      There are more conservative academics than there are people who openly identify themselves as conservative academics. Some of them just keep their mouths closed to keep the peace in their departments.

      Political bias is a real issue, but there are so many other problems confronting our profession that it's hardly my first concern. The ship's sinking and we're all on it.

      We've got a student debt crisis, a faculty job crisis, an administrative bloat crisis, a grade inflation crisis, a tuition crisis, and a budding credibility problem that could turn into the biggest crisis of all for higher ed.

      Some part of the credibility problem relates to political bias, but it's mostly the result of too many college graduates (and Ph.D.s) working as waiters and temps years after they graduate.

      Delete
    3. When the chairman of an education committee in a state senate (Sen. Stephenson from Utah, Feb. 2012) says that liberal arts degrees are "degrees to nowhere," there is not going to be much love between faculty and that person's political party.

      Delete
    4. "Some part of the credibility problem relates to political bias, but it's mostly the result of too many college graduates (and Ph.D.s) working as waiters and temps years after they graduate."

      You know, I wonder how much of it is a problem on the student/graduate side.

      I used to think things were really terrible on the supply side of the job market. But being on the demand side, it is amazing just how many applications are terrible. We get several score of highly educated people to apply for these jobs, and dozens of them do not even craft a cover letter appropriate to the job.

      Many of them write 3 or 4 paragraphs that can be summarized as, "you have an opening, I want it, I can do it, I am the most amazing person ever. I have looked at nothing else other than your job announcement." It only takes a few minutes to actually look at the context of the job on our website.

      The thing is, I KNOW these people had to write, oh idk, papers geared to certain objective in grad school. I had to.

      Yet they put in minimal effort when they want a job. It's as if we should see their awesomeness because they went to grad school. One person said, "I am a dynamo in the classroom" to describe his teaching experience. Wtf does that mean?

      Or maybe it's that they can't write decently in 2 pages or less because they're used to writing 20 pages saying nothing.

      Delete
    5. Aaron:

      Part of the problem you describe in your last entry is because HR encourages that. Applying for a job by post or Internet is largely automated now. The software that's used searches for applicable key words and only those key words (no such thing as a thesaurus in that setting) and applications that don't have them are automatically deep-sixed.

      As well, much of what happens in the workplace nowadays consists of spouting biz-babble. One's chances of having an application move higher up in the system are reduced if associated phrases and terminology don't appear.

      Delete
  37. I'd like to add a different perspective as to who doesn't read what's written. How about the editors?

    During my Ph. D. residency, I wrote papers for 2 difference conferences. Unfortunately, the editors did a lousy job on them and one of them tried to blame me for it, even though it was the fault of his staff. The result was that those papers were published, mistakes and all, and one of them came out looking particularly horrid. I mean, who publishes a technical paper without artwork, even though it's referred to in the text?

    Whoever would have read them wasn't going to think about the editing. It was my name on those papers and it would have been my reputation that would have been called into question. ("Who wrote this mess? Oh, *him*!") Had those editors notified me of what was going on beforehand, I could have made any necessary changes. Instead, I was told after the fact.

    I haven't written any papers for either of those conferences since then.

    I never got an apology from the editors in question. I had to refrain from giving one of them the tongue-lashing he clearly deserved because he was one of the departmental members of my committee. I shouldn't have been surprised at his attitude with my paper. During my defence, it became abundantly clear that he either didn't read my thesis or he never understood it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Believe it or not, the problem is worse in Europe than in North America. European academics feel compelled to have even longer lists of publications on their CVs than North American academics do. A lot of what gets published in European journals and in European edited volumes is junk. Editors there don't seem to do much editing, which makes one wonder if they read anything very carefully.

      Not surprisingly, it's much easier to get published in Europe.

      Delete
    2. That would explain why some our recent applicants with PhDs from Europe had CVs that were a dozen pages long, despite short careers as active scholars.

      Delete
    3. While working on my Ph. D., I read several papers which were published in Europe. The quality of some of them was absolutely dreadful, bordering on being unreadable.

      I get the impression that some journals are so desperate for material that they'll publish anything, regardless of quality. At the same time, some researchers will submit material to journals such as those because they can't publish it anywhere else.

      Delete
    4. I'm convinced that there are editors who sacrifice quality and clarity in order to squeeze a manuscript into an assigned number of pages.

      I can imagine what the authors of those documents must think when they read the final product. The layouts that they spent all that time on in order to comply with the publisher's requirements, or were set up to emphasize or clarify certain points, might end up completely jumbled in order to meet a set page limit.

      Doing something like that is probably one way for an editor to make enemies. It wouldn't be surprising if those authors decided to take their business elsewhere after that.

      Unfortunately, the problem is probably worse now than when I was a grad student because of the availability of publishing software. However, editing a document is more than just moving text around. Some creative thinking is sometimes required and an editor must recognize that a manuscript is set up the way it is for good reasons. Changing that might make it difficult to read or disrupt its continuity.

      Delete
    5. @Aaron: I assume (sorry if I'm wrong) that you work in the US. Are you hiring for a large research uni or a school with a famous name? Is that why you're getting apps from Europe or does your uni recruit over there?

      I'm curious becuase the job market is killing me in the US & I'm looking overseas.

      Delete
    6. No, I'm at a community college, but we were hiring for some subjects that attracted some overseas candidates.

      Delete
    7. Community colleges get applications from Europe?

      That doesn't sound good for job seekers on either side of the Pond.

      Delete
    8. At what point will the job market for most PhDs be so horrific that only a tiny fraction can get a job even at a community college? Are we there yet? Some fields like English might be that bad, I hear, but others -- there's still some terrible jobs you can get.

      Delete
    9. Anonymous @ 2013-05-02 0426:

      We're at that point here in Canada.

      I quit my teaching position at a technical school over 10 years ago largely because of personal politics. Since then, I had interviews for positions in university-transfer programs at 3 different institutions.

      One institution never bothered to notify me of its decision. Another one turned me down claiming that there wasn't a "fit". I was turned down by the third, though the reasons were vague, even though I knew who my boss would have been since I was a grad student over 30 years ago.

      This happened despite my having over 10 years experience as an instructor and graduate teaching assistant, several years of industrial experience in my discipline, having professional registration, and having 2 master's degrees and a Ph. D.

      For each of them, I had the impression that the preferred candidates had been all but hired by the time I had my interviews. I suspect I was brought in to either confirm the decisions or to comply with some institutional regulation or government law.

      Its my belief that the hiring process for post-secondary institutions is broken or, at least, corrupt. For several years in the department I used to teach in, nobody was hired as an instructor unless they were a personal acquaintance of the assistant head. Similarly, he forced out anybody he didn't like while the last department head looked the other way.

      Delete
    10. "At what point will the job market for most PhDs be so horrific that only a tiny fraction can get a job even at a community college? "

      My community college hired for a number of positions this year due to a deluge of retirements. It was actually quite a fight to hold on to some of those positions - ie: administration wanted to reduce my 2-person department to 1-person - just me. Managed to stop that.

      We were looking for foreign language positions and for people who studied international issues for a social science position, so that attracted some candidates in Europe (although they were Americans who went to Europe for their PhD).

      About half the discipline searches got what I consider an appropriate number of applications for any professional job - between 25 and 55. History more toward 70, so that's a little rough, although a good 35% of them were not really suited for the job but trying to stretch their resume as if they were. English was BY FAR the worst, getting over 150 QUALIFIED apps. Many of these people were really, REALLY qualified. Some of their PhD programs and dissertations were directly geared toward teaching community colleges. There must have been at least 10 of them in the search - I wasn't on that committee but heard about it.

      Delete
    11. "but others -- there's still some terrible jobs you can get."

      That was my experience on the job market. I actually got a decent number of calls and then 3 offers, but none were what I would consider ideal - all varying degrees of bad.

      One was a desirable area but terrible job at what I could already tell was terrible administration, another terrible pay and terrible area, another was mediocre area but good job, which I took.

      Delete
  38. seriously i would love to see a study comparing the readership size of an average American high school newspaper with most academic journals in the social sciences/humanities

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To what end? They serve different audiences. They're not equivalent types of publications.

      Delete
    2. The key reason I feel academia is worthwhile is that I can provide some useful knowledge to at least some people in this world. I can somehow, arguably be useful to others. (I'm in law).

      The fact that very few people read journals undercuts my reasoning. The written word is how I communicate my semi-useful knowledge. Without reading, my research output is 100% useless. A McDonalds clerk is helping society more than an unread researcher.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous @ 2013-05-02 0434:

      Don't forget that we are living in a post-literary society. Many people don't bother reading any more.

      Delete
  39. "To what end? They serve different audiences. They're not equivalent types of publications."

    You are right - high school newspapers don't charge hundreds of dollars for subscriptions.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Soon, for many researchers in Canada, there won't be any point in worrying whether anybody will read any publications they produce, they won't be able to.

    The federal government announced earlier this week that the National Research Council will now concentrate on industrial applications, meaning they'll do the R & D that companies used to do themselves. When that happens, there will likely be restrictions on what can be published.

    It seems that this country's moving backwards. Over 50 years ago, the Canadian aerospace industry had a major setback when the Avro Arrow was cancelled. A year or so ago, Nortel, a major telecommunications manufacturer, went bankrupt and what's left is being dismantled.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I was at a conference last weekend and met a graduate student studying foreign language and literature. She mentioned that her boyfriend worked in industry and that she had recently attended some kind of work-related shindig with him.

    She said that someone there asked her what she did for a living and when she told him, he said 'That's great! We need more people who know X language.' She said she couldn't believe it, because it was the first time that she'd ever been met with a positive reaction from anyone after explaining what she does.

    It seemed like an odd story to be telling at a conference full of people who you'd think are the kind of people who'd get excited about what she does, but it made more sense as I thought about the low morale in the room.

    It made me want to find some people in another line of work to hang out with. Maybe I could find some people who appreciate what I do. If they're interested only "in theory" and say so just to be polite... hey, it's something.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Three things in the news over the last few days have added to my worries about the state of higher education.


    #1 The video of USC professor Richard Dekmejian.

    A student secretly filmed parts of Dekmejian's lectures and posted them online. It made the news because of his political comments, but even if you agree with everything he's saying Dekmejian sounds unserious and unprofessional. His breezy comments do not reflect expertise or preparation.

    More videos like this will lead people to question the value of attending class (not to mention paying tuition) and the work ethic of professors.

    The fact that students can now so easily film lectures, edit them, and post them online is quite disturbing from the standpoint of those of us who teach.

    http://www.campusreform.org/blog/?ID=4745


    #2 The letter from the San Jose State University philosophy department to Harvard professor Michael Sandel.

    Sandel's Harvard class "Justice" is available online, and San Jose State administrators apparently asked the SJSU philosophy department to incorporate Sandel's online course into its curriculum. The SJSU philosophy faculty responded by writing a letter to Sandel that seems to object to the whole idea of massively open online courses (MOOCs).

    The letter is disturbing because it's so blatantly self-interested. Its tone gives a bad impression of the SJSU philosophy professors, but they did not seem to realize this. In the end, it's just another blow to the credibility of the academic profession.

    http://chronicle.com/article/The-Document-an-Open-Letter/138937/


    #3 The treatment of Dr. Jason Richwine.

    This is by far the most disturbing case of the three. Richwine completed a PhD at Harvard four years ago and recently co-authored a think-tank report on immigration.
    Opponents of the report went after Richwine personally, citing his dissertation as proof of racism or "white supremacist" leanings.

    These terrible accusations were made against him based on research that met the standards of his committee at Harvard University just four years ago. Even the Harvard stamp of approval could not protect him, though, and he was forced to resign from his job.

    This is very, very scary. Apparently, it's no longer the quality of your research that matters, but whether the people in power like your results.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/05/10/the_crucifixion_of_jason_richwine_118348.html


    If there's a common theme here, I'd say it's fear. Today, academics have to fear their students, they have to fear the threat that technology poses to their livelihoods, and (worst of all) they have to fear offending people, because academic freedom is dying.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Anonymous 11:02, I don't think the SJSU philosophers look bad at all in their letter. Quite the contrary: I think they're exactly on target. Why should some college students have the privilege of a live teacher who can respond immediately and directly to their questions and arguments, while less privileged ones are relegated to taped performances that are impervious to interaction? That might be all right for a cooking lesson or the like, that amounts merely to transferring information, but ideas, by their very nature, need to be discussed, questioned, supported, refuted. That can only be done with a live teacher who's well acquainted with both the topic and the backgrounds and capabilities of his students.

    If you want to hear what an individual scholar has to say about social justice, listen to his lectures, by all means, or read his writings. If you want to learn how to examine justice as an intellectual and social concept, you need a much broader approach. SJSU's got it right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know. Are you going to learn more from a San Jose State professor or from a Harvard professor? There's much more to these online courses than just watching lectures. Plus, MOOC's are open to public scrutiny; Sandel and others like him are really putting themselves out there.

      As for the SJSU professors, I can't see how they're helping their cause with lines like this:

      "With prepackaged MOOCs and blended courses, faculty are ultimately not needed. A teaching assistant would suffice to facilitate a blended course, and one might argue, paying a university professor just to monitor someone else's material would be a waste of resources."

      Yes, one might argue that.

      Delete
    2. There may be an internal political aspect to the matter of the student making video recordings of the lectures and then posting them later on.

      Nearly 20 years ago, I shared a course with a former colleague. Another colleague, a recent hire, taught a similar course while he was at the local uni. Without our knowledge or our permission, he put his notes on reserve in the library at the request of the students.

      One day, our department head, who had an axe to grind against the two of us who taught the course, called us into his office and told us about the notes. According to him, that was clear evidence that the both of us were lousy instructors and might be subject to some form of disciplinary action.

      It was a BS tactic on the DH's part. First of all, I had already taught that course for several years. Second, my colleague had been at the institution for nearly 3 decades and he had a good idea how to teach a course. Lousy instructors? Not likely.

      But what really irritated me about the matter was that the colleague who made those notes available wasn't held accountable for his actions. What he did undermined our authority because that could be considered as interfering in another instructor's course, potentially resulting in a grievance filed against him. At the same time, he did it without informing us, let alone asking our permission. Had he approached us about it first, my colleague and I would have had no hesitation in allowing him to make his notes available.

      In the end, nothing happened, at least immediately. The colleague with whom I taught the course decided to retire at the end of that term anyway, so it didn't matter to him. The other colleague jumped ship himself to a university transfer program elsewhere in the country.

      Unfortunately, that incident did come back to haunt me years later as my DH was determined to get rid of me no matter what.

      Delete
    3. "The letter is disturbing because it's so blatantly self-interested. Its tone gives a bad impression of the SJSU philosophy professors, but they did not seem to realize this."

      I don't think so. I agreed fully with the letter, except for the part where they talked about lack of diversity at Harvard. Harvard's student body is only 45% white I believe.

      Otherwise, they were spot on. I've taken a number of MOOCs. They are not education. The professors tape themselves or tape their in-class lectures, post them, give a few pre-packaged computer graded quizzes, and then there are the "peer assessments" where the students grade other students BASED ON THEIR OWN STANDARDS, If that's not bulls___, I don't know what is.

      "There's much more to these online courses than just watching lectures."

      The only halfway redeeming feature are the discussions which can be interesting because there are so many international students in them. However, they are basically like this online comment board. No one checks them or keeps them from becoming unwieldy, off-topic or irrelevant.

      "'With prepackaged MOOCs and blended courses, faculty are ultimately not needed....' Yes, one might argue that"

      You could argue that if you think that there is only one interpretation of philosophy, and Professor Sandel's is it.

      As for the video of Prof Dekmejian's class, well, what can you say? For one, it's an edited video - it looks like snippets from different classes. Besides, not all professors are like that. I certainly did not have any like that. In fact I can only remember two comments about politics in my undergrad classes from professors - one who said we should read the New York Times and not watch Fox News, and another who made some aside about John Ashcroft while teaching about the French Revolution. I remember it was funny at the time, and did not detract from the lesson.

      Conservatives complaining about political bias in the academy is an old, tired, and frustrating trope. William F. Buckley became famous writing a book about it - "God and Man at Yale." Nothing new.

      Delete
  44. What concerns me most about MOOCs is that they are wet dreams for 1) students and 2) administrators.

    Students - you watch and rewatch the lecture videos, then do an online quiz. There is no way to prevent cheating so I assume you can use notes - which means you just fish for information. Then other STUDENTS will grade you based on no standards or outcomes.

    It's education via social network and reflects the values of social networks - what's "trending" is right and good and you succeed or fail based on popularity. The more likes you get the better you are. It's the customer service model par excellence. On demand, no standards, vague and unsupervised assessment the customer gets what he/she expects to get for their money.

    2) administrators - You have a faculty develop a class once, pay him or her once, then never have to pay him again while charging the students every time they sign up. What they learn of how well they do is not a concern.

    JACKPOT!

    MOOCs represent two disturbing cultural trends - 1) dilution and redefinition of education as a commodity. Also a sense of entitlement. I want it on demand and I expect to excel. If not I blame you.

    - 2) A social network culture that is a kind of hyper-capitalism. Whatever is trending or whoever has the most followers is the best or most legitimate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MOOCs are going to evolve and improve as education platforms. They're much more of a danger to professors than they are to students. You can't blame the philosophers for panicking.

      Delete
    2. If MOOCs were going to replace classrooms, online classes and colleges would have already done so.

      The conversation does two things - 1) makes us question what education is. IF education is nothing more than a pre-packaged layout of information which students pay for to receive credit, the accumulation of which add up to a job qualification, then yes, professors are the middle men and utterly useless in that context. They all might as well resign now and let computers take over.

      2) Reveals how insecure professors are. Many of them must actually believe #1.

      Delete
    3. Aaron:

      That's what happened at the place I used to teach at. When I started there in the late 1980s, it still portrayed itself as an educational institution.

      But that changed starting a few years later, about the time that it stopped having students but had "customers". After that, companies began sending its workers there for training, something that those same companies used to do internally. (By the way, that institution long ran a number of apprenticeship programs, so what I just described is something different.)

      After that, there was an emphasis on making courses modular. The justification for that was that those modules could be added to other courses because of the content of the material.

      But, at the same time, by making those courses modular, the qualifications of whoever would be teaching them likewise were reduced. It's like teaching a course in, say, advanced fluid mechanics at a colouring-book level. The required concepts would be easily conveyed and, presumably, comprehended, and one doesn't need a great deal of specialized education to teach it.

      Delete
  45. It's a continuation of a trend that I noticed nearly 25 years ago when I started my teaching job.

    Our institution had the notion that a good teacher can teach anything to anybody. That assumes that course content can be sufficiently simplified and divided into small enough modules that the material, in that form, can be easily conveyed and comprehended.

    That assumes that no educational background or actual experience with the material being taught is required.

    Yeah, right. I'd like to see a kindergarten teacher used to dealing with children teach a subject such as, say, Fourier analysis and apply it to problems such as vibrations or heat transfer. Naturally, that person need not have any experience with or knowledge of integral calculus, solving differential equations, mechanics, or any of the modes of heat transfer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or conversely, a mathematician trying to teach kindergartners, which requires a whole different set of skills.

      Delete
    2. So where did educational administrators get this notion that anything can come in off the street and teach anything to anybody else?

      Delete
    3. Usually, when the idea that anybody can teach anything to anybody else is discussed, it's not the mathematician with a Ph. D. teaching kindergarten children that's portrayed. It's almost always someone which the least amount of background on the subject teaching the most complex material that's used.

      The idea is to reduce the act of teaching to the level of an assembly line in which workers are given a minimum amount of training, if any, before being allowed to put things together. One doesn't need a university degree to put Bolt A into Hole B for 8 hours per shift.

      By doing reducing assembly to such a basic level, employers can get their workers quite cheap as, then, just about anybody can do those sorts of jobs. But it also means that those workers can be easily replaced at any time.

      If the tasks require a great deal of education, the pool of available workers will be smaller and those workers can, because of their relative rarity, command higher pay. As well, because there are, thereby, fewer of them available, they can't be so easily fired without inconveniencing the employer if there's nobody there to take over.

      Similarly, reducing the qualifications required to teach a given course has very little to do with making the material more readily available to students or accessible at more convenient times. It's the same race to the bottom that is prevalent in the manufacturing sector.

      I already saw that starting at my former employer shortly before I quit over 10 years ago.

      Delete
  46. Harvard-for-Free Meets Resistance as Professors See Threat

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-15/harvard-for-free-meets-resistance-as-u-s-professors-see-threat.html

    They can fight the future, but its still coming.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvMxLpce3Xw

    ReplyDelete
  47. With regards to MOOCs, my department wants our courses moved online. I think this is a bad decision, and as Aaron pointed out, it turns education into a social networking popularity contest and lessens the professor's impact.

    Also technological advancements should be listed as one of the 100 reasons not to go to grad school. While I agree that there are advantages to technological advances (it's nice to write a dissertation on a computer instead of by hand), the negatives far outweigh the positives.

    I teach a freshman composition course. I run it as a discussion based course, so I ban laptops and tell students that if they want to take notes, they can use pens and papers. Most of them looked at me as if they didn't know what pens and papers were. Laptops are too distracting and we can't have a fruitful discussion if everyone's checking Facebook constantly. On my student evaluations, I had a bunch of students complain that I "need to join the 21th century" (direct quote) and let them use laptops in class.

    I also don't let my students record my class or put the material that I teach in class online, though technological advancements have made it so that students can record a professor without his or her permission. If students want to know what happened in class, then they need to 1. attend class or 2. get the notes from one of their classmates if they can't make it to class. As an undergrad, I had so many classes where the professor put all of their lectures and materials online and coming to class was pointless. In some of these courses, even our quizzes and tests were online. These weren't MOOCs, they were courses where teaching was supposed to take place in the classroom, not online.

    Professors really need to stop letting technology run their classrooms.

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    Replies
    1. I used to teach both conventional drafting and CAD courses at my former employer. When I quit, the former was nearly abolished in favour of only the latter.

      I fought it because I thought it was a mistake. There are certain aspects of drafting that being next to a board and using instruments that can't be taught by computer. For example, certain geometrical techniques that the CAD software uses make much more sense if one learns how to do them by hand.

      Drafting is more than just putting lines on paper. To properly prepare a drawing requires thinking ahead about how it's going to be laid out and how it will be detailed. One is often required to do that because of the time and effort required to do it with pencil and paper, and sometimes ink.

      Perhaps more important is that it teaches one neatness and patience. Smudges, for example, can not only obscure critical details, but they are an indication of the character of whoever prepared the drawing in question. Someone who pays attention to such seemingly small matters is likely to be careful with more important matters.

      However, my arguments were insufficiently persuasive and I was given to understand that I had best keep my mouth shut. The decision had already been made and nothing was going to change it.

      Delete
    2. Yes, we're to the point where laptops have to be banned in the classroom. Too many undergrads lack the discipline to use them appropriately in class.

      It's not just students anymore. Days ago at an academic conference, I attended a panel in a small room where two members of the audience sitting directly in front of me were working on their computers the whole time. Don't we see enough of this rudeness from our students to know not to do this to each other?

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    3. My department has been encouraging more of the faculty to teach courses online (by request of the dean). The justification is that it reaches a wider audience, offers flexibility, and makes it seem like we are up with the current trends in academia. I have never taken an online class as a student, but I taught an online course once. Although the course was fairly successful, I have a hard time believing that online courses offer the same level of learning. Human interaction is important.

      Even in the classroom, I have noticed that students are unable to interact with one another socially. When we take a break in the middle class, the first thing they do is take out their phones. Instead of talking to their classmates, they send text messages, tweets, or write status updates.

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  48. Amen, Anon 12:12. In my days as an academic, I remember students bugging me to put my lecture notes online. Fortunately, my department backed me up and advised me not to do it...but that was seven years ago. I wonder how things would play out now.

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    1. Shortly before I quit my teaching job, the academic vice-president mandated that the institution put at least 20% of its curriculum be put on the Internet.

      I have no idea what finally happened because I was long gone before any of that was implemented. However, I was there long enough to know that it would either be a complete disaster and the institution would keep throwing money at it to try to fix it or it was adopted only to be quietly abandoned a few years later.

      Meanwhile, the vice-president didn't have to worry. She left after her contract was finished. She was the sort of administrator who comes into a company, fixes what isn't broken, and leaves well before the proverbial hits the fan.

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