Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Bitching!

Today I got my first issue of this journal in the mail.  If you’re not familiar with it (and should really just thank dog that you’re not), it’s the publication of the big, big, huge association of language and literature scholars that I just had to join in order to properly go on the job market this year. Along with the exorbitant cost of membership I get a subscription to the journal.  When I found it in my mailbox today, I was understandably excited, both about seeing a real material return on that money and about the feeling of official professionalism it inspired.  I am very important now, see.

My excitement withered as soon as I noticed that this issue is not a regular issue, but rather the program for the big, big, huge upcoming conference. To give you an idea of how big the conference is, I will just tell you that this issue/program is 366 pages long.

[UPDATE: I am relieved (?) to tell you that the last 100 pages are advertisements. Still.]

And it weighs about a pound.

And it weighs about a pound.

I’m feeling significantly less excited now and more full of dread and discomfort.  I prefer, generally, not to be involved in giant events full of swarming people.  I can just imagine it now: millions upon millions of black-suit-clad academics with horn-rimmed glasses and loud shoes and tons of nervous energy*.  And the grad students! The eager grad students! I have never been able to stand eager, earnest grad-student types, even when I was a grad student myself.  It’s the eagerness. Witnessing someone else’s eagerness makes me almost as uncomfortable as those horrible Schadenfreude-inducing moments that are now such a staple of reality TV. Ugh.

At any rate, at least the conference this year is in one of my all-time favorite cities, and if, as I suspect will happen, I do not even get any interviews, I will be free to avoid all the scurrying little ants and go drink cappuccinos near that one bookstore I love so much.

*This sentence is proof of the theory that what we hate in others is merely the reflection of ourselves (or the echo of our loud shoes).


  1. Wait a second here – are you trying to use a conference as *gasp* a holiday??!?!? Ha!

    And the “eagerness”…I know what you mean! It drives me insane too. All those little eager students running about with their bubbly eagerness being all eager and stuff. Gah! Go be eager somewhere else, I say!


  2. Oh, Lordy! Not *that* city. The one that was, is not, and never shall be?

    I don’t know whether to be envious or sympathetic. But no matter, quaff an espresso for me at (or near) that bookstore in North Beach. There’s at least a whiff of the spirit still there.



  3. O.K., upon reflection… it’s envy. Enjoy yourself!

    And @John: Could it be that eagerness => ignorance (or at least inexperience)? I think, sometimes it is so.



  4. @st_albert: At the risk of having the nightmares and flashbacks return, I’ll relate a tale from my teaching days.

    I used to get kids into my first year classes who couldn’t graph without the aid of a graphing calculator, couldn’t setup a spreadsheet and absolutely could not see the value in back of the envelope calculations. These were students who had declared their major to be “physics” or “math” or some other such science. It was appalling, but they certainly were eager!

    Now, I’m not sure I’d say they were either ignorant or inexperienced, some were, obviously. Rather, I’d say that their early education (primary and high-school) had absolutely failed them. (And the media wonders why North America is falling behind in science education…) Lousy teachers in – lousy students out. This is why I can never return to teaching. The scale of the problem is quite large and universities use these students as something of a money pump – taking their tuition money for their first year but then filtering them out of the higher years. It’s all quite distasteful.


  5. @John: I quite agree. Although I’m not currently a teacher, I do browse around on the internet a lot (notice: not “alot”!) and I have concluded that most Americans below a certain age were in fact screwed out of an education (technical, and liberal arts). FWIW I am a chemist by training and profession, and I have clearly observed, over the last several decades, a remarkable shift in chemical research activity away from the US and Northern Europe, to Asia and elsewhere.

    Maybe, in Science, it began when we gave up slide rules (which require one to be able to approximate an answer in one’s head, in order to obtain the correct order of magnitude). Maybe I’m just an old fogy who enjoys bitching too much.

    But I feel for Vague and her cohorts. Being involved in Higher Education today must be like being in the Peace Corps.

    Or, is anyone reminded of Sisyphus?


  6. I cannot comment for the arts and humanities, but I think in the scientific fields there are two main issues. The first is that there is this fear of telling a student they have done poorly – we don’t want to offend their delicate sensibilities! I was a child of the 70’s, and grew up during the 80’s. In Canada, at that time, they were not afraid to fail a student. As a result, it was not uncommon to repeat a grade until the student in question “got it right”. Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but it teaches that, in order to succeed, one has to be diligent. There was also much more focus on reasoning one’s way through a problem rather than simply following a method.

    What troubles me is how these substandard students, as it were, make it to university and, once there, are unable to function or be successful. Obviously they are getting in on the basis of their school grades, so either the high-school curriculum is too easy, or the grading is not sufficiently demanding.

    The second issue is this. Generally, I dislike applying European solutions to North American problems, but in this case the Europeans, I think, have it right. In Europe, one is streamlined into fields based on one’s academic abilities. So if you display more of an aptitude for literary pursuits than scientific pursuits, into the arts and humanities you go! It’s all based on performance and merit. If you work hard and are successful, you can choose the career path of your choice, if you are not, you get placed in a field that is more amenable to your performance. I think it’s all rather efficient and neat and provides incentive to work hard if you want to reach your goals.

    Anyways, I could go on (and on, and on…much like Sisyphus) but I’ll stop there because I’ve rambled enough already and I haven’t even had my morning coffee yet!


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