Category Archives: What Is A Scholar?

In which I find I have inadvertently killed a post

It had a quotation about advising people on graduate school that I thought was smart but that bothered me in the end. I killed it by mistake but perhaps that was a good thing. I am going to stop railing about academic advice because in the end it is a personal issue, I am talking about academic advice, I discern, to talk about something else and I would like to see what that is, if I can.

Railing against academic advice used to be illuminating but it is starting to hurt. I do not know that I want to think about it any more. I would like to stop reacting against (a) the doom and gloom atmosphere — don’t do this, and (b) the coercion — you must now do this and only this. I would like to stop being the one who listens and tries to find meaning.

This semester I would like to just be a person, like the others. To drop my ancient role as marginalized aspirant. To stop having to struggle against bad news. To stand in expertise. To drop pain. If you translated my dissertation into a personal statement it would say: “But I do not like to be under the power of sadists, and I want agency.”

#OccupyHE

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You may not

And this is the other thing I do not understand about academia, our duty to be in academia, and so on. All I ever heard about were the things you may not do if you are a professor. You may not:

* desire to live somewhere pleasant, that you have any part in choosing
* have a family or live where you can have friends
* be involved civically or do anything else that could possibly drain time from research
* spend enough time on teaching so as to be prepared enough not to have it be highly stressful
* have views, share views, advocate for views
* make enough money to keep and regenerate savings or an emergency fund … or travel to places you find renewing
* publish research that is controversial in any way
* change or evolve in terms of research field or orientation

If you are serious and good enough, you will renounce all of these things for the sake of a research area you chose at about twenty. And you will stick with it, because you owe this to the world in exchange for having gone to graduate school against all advice, and for having enjoyed it.

These, seriously, are the things I heard, was told, learned. I do not know who the people are who feel they, and their lives are owed such allegiance. But do you see why I am sad, having worked so long to renounce all of these things? If in exchange you do not get libraries and travel to archives, it is a seriously poor deal. But look — just look at the grey view I was given, and told it was my duty to accept because of having done the Ph.D. against all advice.

All of this is allegedly about “time management” and “discipline” but really it is about renouncing the self. People tell me I need to learn to stand up for myself but what I have been working on all this time is renunciation of self. Just look at that list — look how bad it is.

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And also

I also see perfectly what I was trying to make a radical break from and why, at a psychological level, it was virtually impossible to keep working in that field. Yes, in the best of all possible worlds one could have done it but it was far more realistic to switch. And what I considered wise was such a minor shift, really — one set of authors to another — and it was so very much wiser. But everyone said do not, you cannot, and they knew less than I but had more power than I, and this, again, is why I do not like academic advice.

And I suppose that the reason I do not like academic advice is that it is not a conversation, it is a set of exhortations and repetitions of general rules. I do not teach that way, I would not.

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More on how to write

You cannot do it while tearing yourself down. I told Reeducation I could not afford the kind of self destruction it wanted and I was right. I told the academic advisors that my problem was not not knowing how to write but having had my hands cut off, as it were, and they did not believe me but what I said was true.

In order to write academically, I find, and to some extent also creatively (but not bureaucratically–that is much easier), you have to be in a position to be really objective on the topic and on yourself the writer. This a point the academic advisors forget — they seem to think the whole issue is Time Management, Not Being Lazy, Not Being Willing to Do Unpleasant Things, and so on. They assume one lacks self-control and submission, attributes and activities in which I am all too well trained. Authors have authority, and you have to be in a position to take authority.

I, in any case, have to be able to feel crystal clear, lucid, unconcerned with questions such as whether I have the right to be doing what I am doing. Only this way can I  maintain the right proximity to and also distance from the material.

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How to read a book

I have not read this book, but should have done, and it is here.

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Des étudiants

One of my great problems is that I was always told it was important, for survival, not to be teaching oriented, and then only ever got jobs where teaching was the most important thing. I am intellectually challenging generally, so I am often considered a “bad” teacher. It has been made more than clear to me that it is very dangerous to be considered a “bad” teacher, so I spend much time and energy making sure I am well enough protected. I understand very well that great teaching is not required, and that research is more important. What I am talking about is being considered good enough at teaching to get tenure, and to not be called up on post-tenure review.

So I ran into students Out and they were telling me how wonderful my classes were. It is my materials they save, my syllabi, the papers they wrote for me. Their perceptions of the situation and mine are so different, and mine are based on the complaints from the failing people and the fact that the administration believes them and not anyone else. This is part of why, in the absence of actual moral support, the only way I could have healed from the various blows I was dealt in the late 80s and early 90s would have been to get to a place in which these wounds would at least not be re-inflicted.

And that, in turn, is why I am so icy to people who say all I need is to understand that research matters — and to come up with a rational schedule for doing it. I refer such people to this post on the research schedule I had before I had ever heard any of their exhortations, “encouragement,” or advice.

But I digress. This post is not about that, it is about how I am not actually a bad teacher. I, who never said I wanted to teach (and was also warned so urgently that if I did, I would ruin my career as a professor). I, who in any case had hoped the Ph.D. would gain me entry to work for a large research organization and not to any kind of teaching job. I, even I, am not a “bad teacher.”

Moreover: I challenge every R1 person barking about the need to “cut corners” on teaching to survive, or manage where I have doing what you say you do. I also challenge you on your accusations that I spend too much time preparing materials. Let us do it together: you prepare yours and I will prepare mine, and I am betting that I can do better than you in less time.

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We’re going to let it shine

“I’m so glad I’m fighting for my rights, singing glory Hallelujah, I’m so glad.”

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