Fresh off of getting screwed out of a Research Assistant position, I decided to meet with my committee chair today. I recognized the words as English, of course, but it dawned on me (as she was plying me with what amount to academic Successories platitudes) that she was actually speaking in an elaborate code.

I should point out in advance that my chair is a fabulous person and treats me extremely well. Nonetheless, today's meeting got me thinking about the need for a translating tool for the average graduate student's use when dealing with faculty.

Here are just a few examples. Anyone who wants to volunteer to use intricate programming knowledge to help me create an automated translator for this webpage will be my hero.

When he/she says: "Don't forget that there are a ton of non-academic job opportunities as well."
What he/she means is: You have no chance of getting an academic job, so focus on these amorphous "non-academic" opportunities about which I will offer no evidence or details.

When he/she says: "It's important not to take this personally."
What he/she means is: You got screwed. We nearly broke it off in your ass. How did it feel?

When he/she says: "Don't make the mistake of tying your self-esteem to your job."
What he/she means is: You are going to get a really, really shitty job. I hope you like a 4/4 teaching load at a state school with two directional adjectives in its name and undergraduates who think Vladimir Putin was the villain in Red Dawn.

When he/she says: "This doesn't mean that we think ____ is a better graduate student than you."
What he/she means is: We think _____ is a much better graduate student than you, which is why we're investing in (his/her) future and not yours.

When he/she says: "It's absolutely possible to get a job without publications."
What he/she means is: There are no recorded examples of this ever happening, but I think I heard my cousin's former babysitter say that she heard it happened to some dude at UMass.

When he/she says: "It's the quality of your work – not publications or research experience – that counts on the job market."
What he/she means is: We are cutting bait and casting you to the wolves, but to assuage our collective conscience we need to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for your impending failure.

When he/she says: "Being a Research Assistant doesn't really have any benefits."
What he/she means is: Did I mention the part about how we almost broke it off in your ass? You're not going to walk right for a month. We could have used lube, but hey, blood counts as lube, right?

When he/she says: "It's important to stay optimistic."
What he/she means is: None of us can figure out why you're still here, and neither can you.

When he/she says: "Just stay focused on your goal and keep working on the dissertation."
What he/she means is: Have fun writing your dissertation with no input or assistance of any kind from us. I might sign off on it, but I'll probably sign as Alan Smithee.

When he/she says: "Don't forget that teaching is also important on the job market."
What he/she means is: I can't believe I kept a straight face! Did you buy that? No? Shit. Well teaching is pretty important – if you're applying to be a high school social studies teacher.

I hope this has been informative. Feel free to offer some gems from your own experience in the comments.

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  1. Pat Says:

    Um, not to be rude, but it was an academic job. Boo fucking hoo. You can join the rest of us cube-dwellers and pull in a regular paycheck working for the man. It sometimes requires wearing a tie — read some of the Dethroner archives for advice on this. On the upside, you won't have to spend time with college students (the nation's leading source for incompetence and entitlement).

  2. Ed Says:

    If I wanted a cube job I wouldn't have spent (5 to 6) years getting a PhD. I did so because, in theory, it qualified me for something I wanted to do much more than sit in a cube. I've put in my cube time and it was quite enough.

  3. J. Dryden Says:

    "Decisions like this tend to be as much about departmental politics as anything else." = "You should have spent more time kissing departmental ass and less time doing your work."

    "Last minute opportunities come along all the time." = "And people win the lottery every week, against similar odds."

    "This wasn't an easy decision." = "Life is a popularity contest. You lost. Any questions?"

    As you can tell, I've been there, too. My condolences and angry sympathy.

  4. Jennifer Says:

    That really sucks–sorry man. Teaching a couple classes does sometimes help on the job market, but you have taught a lot… They should give you the opportunity to do more research.

  5. Greymatter Says:

    To quote the "other" Mr. Jeffrey Lebowski…


    Time for plan B! Substitute teaching.

  6. Peggy Says:

    Wow, Pat, for someone who's not trying to be rude, you sure do a good fucking impression of it. Fuck cubes. Cubes are for people who a)like cubes or b)aren't willing to suffer in the (hopefully) short term in order to do something that doesn't take place in a cube long-term.

    Of course, I might be wrong. I have an easy out, since I spend my days tormenting students myself (of course, mine are 9th graders and, as I'm sure you would agree if you met them, totally deserve it).

    …by which I mean: Ed, look at it this way: your loss is our gain, since you have now given us all the key to understand academia?

  7. Rick Says:

    How about this one…

    "I don't have any openings for research assistants, but I know a few other people in the department are looking for people."

    Roughly translates to…

    "Talk to the janitor. He can arrange for you to mop floors in the department."

    That one came from my supposed adviser… I've been trying, for an entire year, to latch on to a research project for my capstone… so, you know, I can graduate with a BA – just a BA! Criminal…

  8. Pat Says:

    I'm sticking by my earlier stance. It's an academic job — look at the majority of people who take academic jobs. Do you seriously want to be one of them? To some extent, you're judged by the mainstream image of your profession, and college professors are not an idolized group. Maybe it has something to do with tenure, which is the strangest form of job protection I ever heard of, outside of Supreme Court Justice. Maybe it's the "bubble" behavior of colleges in general, where reality is held at bay as long as possible. Maybe it's the whiny and needy begging for money that academics do, which looks to the rest of us like welfare. Maybe it's the hostile attitude academics have toward anyone who's honestly employed and productive. Maybe it's the way academics prostrate themselves to the wealthy donors, then wave "Free Tibet!" signs the next morning, as if the two work together. I don't know.

  9. David Says:

    Sorry to hear you got shitted on. Seriously, you were by far the best poly sci. prof. I had at IU. I had Spechler, Rasler, Craiutu (however he spells it), and several others I have forgotten. I don't know a whole lot about grad. programs so I haven't even a guess as to why you didn't get the job you wanted. But really, you were a damn good prof. I think you should keep at it……..IU's loss.

  10. chris Says:

    I actually sent a letter to the chair of the political science department in response to you being screwed over. I had you for Y318, and you are the best poly si prof I've had so far. It baffles me that the department wouldn't bend over backwards to help you, but I guess I'm merely an undergrad and naive to the way academia really works. Sorry things went this way, and I believe you still have a bright future as a professor if you keep at it.

    Also, I have yet to receive a response from the chair. For some reason, I have this crazy thought that he isn't going to write me back or acknowledge my response. I guess I don't actually exist. News to me.

  11. Rob Says:

    I'm often amazed at the attitude towards academics frankly. I'm sorry to hear what happened Ed. Pat, what happened to him is no different than you being passed up for a promotion or better work assignment at whatever you do. Its not "whining" or "begging" for money. Its the expectation that after a 5-7 year apprenticeship making next-to-nothing during the single most important time at which you should be putting money into savings to accrue compound interest, that maybe–just maybe the investment one puts into the additional education should pay off in some respect.

    What's this hostile attitude you're always experiencing? You watching too much O'Reilly?

  12. Jennifer Says:

    I also was confused by those comments, Rob. Academia is a field very susceptible to misperceptions and stereotyping (e.g., the misperception that professors are lazy and only have to work 6 hours a week, particularly at R1s where the teaching load is a 2-2). Members of my family and friends seem to think I have all this

  13. mike Says:

    Id have to agree with some other of my peers above, you are the best prof I had while at IU. It takes a gift to relate the material the way you do (the Monroe Doctrine comes to mind…), I doubt many if any of the IU faculty realize their loss, the students however arent as blind. Goodluck…