Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mad Men thoughts on the approaching finale of Season 7

It's known as a mind vacation.  You need it at the point of the semester when you know that, whatever task you work on, someone is going to be disappointed or angry, because you can't get everything done on time. 

But in a mind vacation, I can rewatch Mad Men for an hour or two while folding laundry or when I'm too tired to work or need to shut my mind down in order to get to sleep. The press of all the things I'm not doing/haven't done are completely at bay for that time.  Reading isn't a mind vacation any more, because I'm hammered by thoughts that I should be reading for work.

I began with Season 2 and am up to the beginning of Season 5. I'm looking forward with some anticipation and a little dread to the upcoming half season finale of Mad Men. Some random thoughts:
  •  In Season 4's "The Suitcase," one of the best hours of the series ever, Don and Peggy have a huge blowup before coming to understand each other. When she reproaches him for never thanking her, he erupts, "That's what the money is for!" She makes a personal or sentimental appeal, and he, as usual, reacts with rage or coldness. 

    What I hadn't realized until this viewing is that this is exactly what happened when Conrad ("Connie") Hilton drops Sterling Cooper in the last episode of Season 3, the fantastic "Shut the Door. Have a Seat." Hilton tells Don that he's "cutting him loose," and Don gets angry, making a sentimental appeal about Hilton wanting to kick him around, treating him like a son and then dropping him, etc.  Hilton just stands there and says it's just business (or some other Godfather-inspired thing). They end by shaking hands. 

    In "The Suitcase," Don is angry, sure, and upset about Anna, but he's channeling Hilton by telling Peggy that this is about business.  Of course it's about more than that, but what better way to reclaim your power than by channeling Conrad Hilton?  It's a lesson in business for Peggy, in this season of lessons, and by the end of Season 5 (when she leaves SCDP), she's learned to take this power into her own hands.
  • Speaking of "The Suitcase," why didn't Jon Hamm win the Emmy for this? I think he lost that year to Steve Buscemi for Boardwalk Empire, and while Buscemi did good work, it didn't touch Hamm's. Since I'm not a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, my opinion doesn't count for anything, though. 
  • Every single person in academia would benefit from spending an hour a week with lovable Dr. Edna, the child psychiatrist who sees Sally for a time in Season 4. 
  • They (the writers) should have kept Megan at SCDP.  Think about it: she's a naturally gifted copywriter and a decent actress.  Her ascent would have threatened Don in different ways, and it would have made for interesting conflicts with Peggy. We have Joan as a contrast to Peggy (traditional vs. new perspectives on women in the business world), but Megan would have been a different kind of competitor.  From the first, Megan seems a little . . . premeditated in her actions toward Don, and although she seems to love him, or tells him she does, there's a hint that he may be a means to an end.  She's like Jane Siegel Sterling but with career ambitions.

    Once Megan went to follow her bliss as an actress, there was less and less point to her being on the show. By Season 6, she would bounce into the apartment once in a while, but you kind of forgot why she was there.  She and Don seemed to have nothing in common; I would spend their scenes wondering what they found to talk about. She devolved into yet another example of his alienation, as if we didn't have enough of those already. Bonus: we could have seen more pitches like Cool Whip.  
  • To be honest, I fast-forward through some of the scenes. Lane Price and the pseudo-gangster. Some of Betty's perennial grouches.  The "weight-loss and hair-dye" Betty plotline from Season 6 might get skipped.

    Betty is like the reverse Sriracha sauce: a little of her makes the episode better by binding it together, but too much of her makes the episode more bland.
    Actually, a lot of Season 6 might get skipped.  The more I think about it and its Misery Theater, the more irritated I get at the wasted opportunity. See Don relive Season 4! See him drink and wallow in misery! See him engage in yet another affair, this one even more formulaic than the rest: 1. Sylvia expresses guilt at their affair.  2. They have sex.  3. Sylvia expresses more guilt and drops a few Pearls of Wisdom. Every. Single. Time.  The Bob Benson plot is fun, as is some of the agency stuff, but the Sylvia plot is irritating. 
    Your thoughts?  
Other Mad Men posts:
The Mad Men Dream Writing Group
Postwar Hauntings: Don Draper and Dana Andrews

Sunday, March 22, 2015


For a year or so, I've occasionally looked at the mostly empty box of business cards that I got when I came to Northern Clime.  Order new ones with "Associate Professor" on them? Or wait and see what happens?

Yes, dear readers, I now need new business cards because I can take the "Associate" title off and just write "Professor."

Thanks to all of you for hanging in there and reading, especially during the Great Obsessive MOOC streak.  This space and your blogs help so much--thanks!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Groundhog Day: mid-career academic choices

This post is on a parallel but slightly different track from Notorious's post about "Choosing to Change Direction."
It's about the three stages of an academic life.

1. When you start out as an academic, your whole life is spent in applying for things.  Your mentors may have told you never to turn down an opportunity, and it's good advice. Think about it:
  • Applying for jobs (and applying and applying and applying). 
  • Submitting abstracts and papers for conferences.  
  • Pouncing on every call for papers.  
  • Applying for travel funding and grants. 
  • Volunteering to be on committees. 
  • Waving your hand high in the air when someone wants you to help with a conference. 
  • Hearing yourself say things like "Sure, I can write a draft of the report."
  • Getting rejections and applying all over again.
2. Then, once you have done some of these things, people may start asking you to do them.
  • You get asked to contribute to a collection.
  • A journal editor hears you give a paper at a conference and asks you to submit it.
  • You talk with someone in your field at a conference and put together a panel. Maybe you even get to know enough distinguished people to ask one of them to be a commenter at a conference that more or less requires a famous commenter to get on the program.
  • Someone asks you to write a report, or run a search, if you are fortunate enough to have a fulltime job, or be on a committee.  This is the "just say no" phase that so many bloggers have written about. 
You say yes to a lot, maybe almost everything, because you realize this means they like your work, your work ethic, or maybe "they really like you!"

3. In the third stage, the one Notorious is talking about, you realize that you can't do everything.  The time after tenure may feel at first as if you're in the movie Groundhog Day. Now, you're not a jerk like Phil Connors, so you don't have his lessons to learn. But you're doing the same things you did before, except that you can't see the next goal ahead.

Every path you take--and they can be all good choices--means that there's a path you can't take.  It's not infinite any more, and it's not directed toward a single goal (tenure). You have to choose the goal, and, in choosing, decide that some paths are ones you're not going to follow, maybe forever.
  • Do you go into administration? That can be a new challenge, but it may mean you have to spend less time on scholarship.  
  • Do you focus on scholarship? If you do that and turn down opportunities in administration, you might not be asked again. 
  • Do you like where you are or decide to leave? Do you apply for new jobs? I mention this because Notorious does, but it's a drastic step.
  • Maybe you decide on more work-life balance and take a few steps back from the job, either emotionally or actually, by resigning from some commitments and scaling back on others. You decide you don't need to go to as many conferences and that you will put that money toward your and your family's well-being.  Are you prepared for, and can you accept, how that might affect your job in practical ways? For example, what if your department see you as less committed to it and to scholarly pursuits, which may be reflected in your performance reviews? 
 I think that part of the post-tenure slump, or post-tenure more generally, might be in this third stage of choices. You now know how much time things take--to write an article, mentor a student, teach a brand-new class--and so you know that you have to choose, in a way that you didn't know in stage 2. In Groundhog Day terms, you can try to save the homeless man or rob the bank, but probably not both.

You wonder if your choices are good ones, and you know you have to make the most of them. Part of coming out of the slump may be the growing conviction that yes, this is a good choice for me, and yes, this is a good path to follow. Eventually you get there, and you hope that it's February 3.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

At Notorious Ph.D.'s place: post-tenure blues and other reactions

Notorious Ph.D. has some good posts up, the first of a series, on post-tenure blues. And I can't help it, because the song's in my head: she called one post "I can't complain but sometimes I still do," so would you say this, or "life's been good to me so far"?

Notorious asks some great questions, including these:
Were you depressed post-tenure? Angry? Did you contemplate a career change? Did you check out for a while? Did you double down on the work?  Feel free to post anonymously if you want.
Not depressed or angry but liberated.  I had done what the system said I should do, and, instead of going horribly wrong, as usual, it had worked.

The job security thing was and is huge for me, irrationally so.  I had not worried much about earning tenure, partly because I was working so hard but primarily because of an ingrained fatalism about my ability to affect the results. It was a huge relief to know that the institution would have to mobilize in major ways to fire me, if it ever wanted to.  Maybe that's the mindset you get after years of adjuncting.

But I know the feeling Notorious is talking about.  It's like that Peggy Lee song "Is that All There Is?" that is on my "Top 10 Most Depressing Songs of All Time" list; Earnest English even expressed it that way in her comment over at Notorious's place.   It's a serious issue, and a serious conversation.

So--post-tenure blues, or were you more conflicted/relieved/other about it?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Comments Wordpress won't let me post

Wordpress is on another kick of dismissing my comments with "your comment cannot be posted at this time," which means "we know you are a secret troll/spammer and want nothing to do with you," so here are a couple of comments:
  • To Dame Eleanor Hull:  If I knew how to make little hands clapping signs, I'd do it.  Kudos to Sir John!
  • To nicoleandmaggie: Do you mean "do something FUN every day that scares you"? Riding horses sounds like that.
  • To xcademiqz: I try not to interrupt, but some people speak and make a point, and when I respond to it, keep going to make the same point a second way, and a third way, and a fourth way.  I end up interrupting without meaning to.
  • Comrade PhysioProf: Those flank steak tacos look amazing, as did the flank steak with rice pilaf.  Amazing!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It's not a "best practice" unless someone makes a profit

At the Chronicle, somebody's determined to confuse/conflate "innovative teaching methods" with "stuff we can charge students for."

Among the "innovative" methods that those pesky professors know about but are swinging their Luddite sledgehammers at:

  •  Using standardized assessment tools to gauge student performance.
  • Using external (paid) materials to augment content (This at a time when a lot of us can't persuade students to buy books and some state legislatures are trying to outlaw book ordering if a free alternative is available)
  • Using clickers 
Also taken as given as "best practices":
  • Flipped classrooms (which Jonathan Rees pointed out in a post about Coursera could be used to divide "content" from "helper teachers" or whatever, the old MOOC model) 
  • Hybrid courses (partly online)
The study is from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but I'm guessing some of the many profitable edtech/content providers are very interested in this, too. 

Just to be clear: Some of these don't cost money, of course, and I have no problem with any of them if the instructor finds them useful. But to take these as evidence of "innovation," and by implication to cast those who don't use them as not using "best practices," is illogical and rhetorically fairly--no, really--shady. 

Saturday, February 07, 2015

This week in calling out sexism: "Office Housework" and "Bossy or Brilliant?"

Two articles this week confirm what many of us have experienced about gendered attitudes.

In "Office Housework" at  the New York Times, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant support with good evidence something that we've seen before: women get to take notes, take on service tasks, and so on. If they don't do these things, they're not collegial; if they do them, they are relegated to lesser status:
When a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is “busy”; a woman is “selfish.”
For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favorably than a woman. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. Over and over, after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help.
In "Is the Professor Bossy or Brilliant?" Claire Cain Miller reports the results of Benjamin Schmidt's study of terms used to describe male and female professors at
It suggests that people tend to think more highly of men than women in professional settings, praise men for the same things they criticize women for, and are more likely to focus on a woman’s appearance or personality and on a man’s skills and intelligence.
And, for a little humor, "Reasons you were not promoted that were totally unrelated to gender" at McSweeney's.

Some of the comments on the first article say, in effect, "yeah, the sky is blue, sexism happens, so why are you reporting on it?"  But it's essential to report on this, and to keep reporting on it, because who would have thought, in 2015, we would still be having to talk about this because it was still happening? This isn't a new finding; these behaviors and their consequences have reported on since at least the 1970s.

I experienced an example of the related phenomenon the other day, the one where a woman says something, is ignored, and hears a man make the same point to great acclaim 5 minutes later.  In this case, I was in a meeting, summed up an essential intellectual/conceptual problem fairly elegantly (we all have our moments) and saw the rest of those in the room, all men, nod but otherwise not respond.  Five minutes later, one of the men says the exact same thing, another man says "brilliantly put," and the rest chime in with words of praise.

What's up with that?  Why does that still happen? They obviously heard me, or why else would they have used my phrasing?  Let me take that back: they heard the phrase and the logic, but they didn't hear me.

Why didn't I bang my shoe on the desk and demand to be heard?  Partly because I was amused to see this happen again, because this isn't my first rodeo with this kind of thing, and partly because of the double standard: nothing would be gained, and I would be spending social capital to push the needle of judgment on me toward "crazy and hysterical" instead of "sane and rational." It's not worth it.

There are a few things we can do, though.
  • Stop apologizing. I realized a couple of years ago that I was routinely using the phrase "I'm sorry" when reporting less than optimal news as part of my job and in a lot of other instances.  The turning point came when I realized I'd used "sorry" about 4 times in a single message.  I took them all out and have been writing stronger messages ever since.
  • Sit on your hands once in a while when volunteers are needed. Not all the time, of course, but you don't need to save the world or even your department.
  • Stop explaining. Learn the phrase "No, I won't be there at that time"; you don't need to explain why. They didn't ask you to explain; they asked whether you could be there. Offer another time or two when you'll be available. That's all they really want to know.
  • You are not someone's research assistant (except when they are paying you). When someone says "I wonder if we could collate this information/run this data/match this information with that set/track down these addresses/update this database," say, "I'll put you in touch with someone who can do this" or, better still, "I'll look forward to your results."  
  • Answer the question that you're asked, not the premium version that you think they need to know.  You are not in school any more, and there is no extra credit for email. If they ask you about A, and you reply with information about A, B, C, and D, they won't necessarily care or thank you, and you will have used up your store of time and willpower (h/t nicoleandmaggie) for something that is of no benefit to you.  If they want to know about B, C, and D, they will ask. 
What else can we do?