Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Irrelevant Dislikes

Although college is still quite a ways (years) away for my daughter, the onslaught of Collegiate Propaganda has begun. We get mail every day with colorful brochures. There are certain colleges that send something to her just about every week. She gets email. She gets invited to college fairs. It is non-stop college college college, probably from now until the applications are due in what still seems like the distant future.

As the child of two professors, my daughter has come to realize that her parents have Opinions about colleges and universities, and these Opinions are only somewhat-to-not useful in many (most) cases. 

Some of the college-mail that comes to our home is entertaining. One college postcard had a photo of a friend of ours on front. Some are bizarre in their slogans and/or images. This is interesting, but there is one thing that my husband and I have struggled with and will likely continue to struggle with for the foreseeable future: we must not let our opinions of the Science Department and Particular Scientists influence our daughter, who does not want to be a Scientist.

I do not always win this struggle with myself. Not long ago, my daughter saw me throwing a college brochure into the recycle bin before she had a chance to look at the brochure. She asked me why I was throwing it out. I did not have a good answer other than that I don't like one of the Science Professors at that institution. Not long ago, I was the recipient of some inappropriate touching by that person (hugging, arm-touching, deliberate bumping up against me) at a conference; I think he is a creep. There are creeps everywhere and I don't seriously think I am saving my daughter from encountering creeps by tossing out a brochure from that creep's institution, but still...I did not want that brochure sitting on my kitchen counter.

I have actually disposed of a few other brochures for institutions associated with disliked individuals in my field. Some of these incidents are not very recent. Here is an excerpt from a post in 2006 about something that happened in my academic youth:
At one interview, I gave my interviewers an updated copy of my CV, noting that the version they had was out of date because I had submitted some papers and a paper formerly in review was now in press. One of the interviewers took my new CV, slammed it on the table right in front of me, said "If you care about things like that then you CLEARLY do NOT have what it takes to teach at a place like this", and walked out of the room. I did not get that job.
I threw out the colorful postcard that came in the mail from that place. The mean interviewer is still there.

An institution that was the source of two very-high-maintenance associates? Recycle bin.

I think one of the reasons I do this is because I don't really think it matters. My daughter gets e-mail from all of these institutions, she gets multiple items in the mail from many of them (and I don't get to them all first..), and she has a mind of her own. She seems moderately entertained by her parents' Science anecdotes (some of them are even about people we like), and not at all worried that we will ruin her life with our foibles or deprive her of her dream school because we don't like a certain Science Professor she will probably never encounter. She is enjoying (so far) exploring ideas about types of institutions, fields of study, geographical locations etc., and I hope she keeps enjoying this.

I just can't promise I won't recycle the thing that comes in the mail from the university of that Scientist who wrote that mean review of one of my papers three years ago.


Alex said...

My school is annoying me. You should feel free to toss our brochure in the trash. Unless you're in a different state. The more out-of-state tuition dollars we get, the better the odds of me getting a raise eventually.

Also, toss out all brochures from the institution of Reviewer #2 on my latest paper. You don't want your daughter taking classes from him. He's a mean grader.

Anonymous said...

My son is only in Middle School. I've already told him that I won't contribute any money to his support at a college/university that is Division 1 Sports or has any reputation as a party school. I will also frown on 'greek life', but that'll be taken on a case-by-case basis. I also am opposed to any institution that has had a massive Capital Improvement Program that seems to be made up entirely of sports facilities and luxury dorms without an equivalent (at least) investment in libraries, teachers, labs and other completely ACADEMIC enrichment.

He already knows that I expect him to treat college as a place to learn things and interact with people predominantly intellectually, not to get drunk and laid away from his parents. He can do that on a gap-year off.

I've been told that these things are irrelevant, too. Or irrational.

Yeah. Right.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was Reviewer # 3 whose University should be immediately rejected....

PS Don't worry--if she is like my older daughter your opinion will not be considered anyway.....

Mark P

Anonymous said...

FSP, I am wondering if your discussion with your daughter also involves discussion of the type of institution? Some research faculty have very strong opinions about that sort of thing, and they seem to break down into two camps:

1. Research universities are the only place anyone should ever go to college because faculty at other institutions are lesser beings who couldn't get a job at the research institute.

2. Research universities are a terrible place to be an undergraduate since the faculty really only care about research and won't even prepare for their classes half the time.

Female Science Professor said...

I don't believe either of those things. I went to a small college, which I loved, and now love working at a large research university. My husband has only been at large research universities but thinks our daughter should take a close look at small colleges as well as other types of institutions.

Anonymous said...

My mother threw out my acceptance letter from the college I had applied to early decision. It was eventually retrieved and I went to that school (and loved it) so my own experience was that parental opinion was of essentially zero weight. However, I think I might have listened if the situation involved my mother being treated poorly (instead of just wanting me closer). It's true that your daughter would be in a different department and there are jerks everywhere but some places seem to tolerate/foster those jerks more than other places and they're worth avoiding.

Anonymous said...

olympiasepirot: I would be cautious in how broadly you apply this approach. Both my undergrad and grad colleges fail your Div1/party school test, but are top-20 schools in my field (and excellent educators, to boot). If they were in your state, excluding them would be an expensive choice.

How you spend your time at these schools is more determined by your personality and your friends than any "culture" issue. I drank far less as an undergraduate than any of my friends from Stanford, MIT, or Harvard.

Anonymous said...

Having studied and taught at both types of institutions (if these are end-members) I think that an excellent undergraduate education can be obtained anywhere (even from profs who are not adequately collegial). The SLACs get a more narrow range of undergraduates (in terms of ability/preparation/parental-induced drive). I do worry about sending students to grad school in departments with known jerks, and do not hesitate to warn them as clearly as possible. Big name universities are a big draw though...

Anonymous said...


I would caution you not to make too many blanket statements/judgments about NCAA DI/"party"/heavily Greek/[insert other qualifier here] schools. Any school's atmosphere is really what you make of it: you can go to a really sober/dry school and still find a party and get drunk. On the other hand, you could go to a school known for partying but be in the honors program and spend your Friday nights in the library. A great deal of the best research institutions in the US just so happen to be DI schools (eg, the Ivies, Stanford, Duke, some of the UCs,...), simply because bigger schools with more money can have larger, more sustainable academic programs.

I've attended two universities: one was a DI school with decent big-name sports, good academics, and great research; the other was a DIII school with horrible big-name sports, good academics, and great research. Both had Greek life; I think the Greek system actually had more prevalence at the DIII school, but that might have just been my perception. The DI school had a bigger reputation as a party school. My experience was that the campuses were what I made of them. I literally never went to parties at the DI school; I did at the DIII school. I ended up having more small classes with instructor contact at the larger DI school, simply because they had more faculty members. I had a better research experience at the DIII school because I was fortunate to find a great lab in which to work by no real doing of my own. All to say...schools are worth a lot more than their labels/categories/reputations.

This isn't to say that environment doesn't matter at all, but I think the most important factor in the college experience is the individual student. As I mentioned before, if he's intent on partying/getting drunk, he will find a way to do that wherever he is. On the other hand, if your son has a strong foundation and sees the big picture (it sounds like he does), he'll be fine. Sure, he'll make a few mistakes here and there--don't we all--but that'll happen regardless of where he goes. So long as he isn't being a serious danger to himself/others, those mistakes aren't always a bad thing: it's good to learn that yes, you will fail a test if you drink all the weekend before, and no, your parents can't always talk the teacher into giving you a better grade.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 4:35 and jt20,

It isn't that I'm trying to protect my son from himself, but that I have no interest in supporting in any way the NCAA Plantation System. I dislike visiting places awash in what so many bizarrely think is a necessary accessory to US academia. I was (and still am, despite a couple of injuries) a jock, but there's a big difference between enjoying playing a sport and that shit. In fact, if you do want to play as a nice counterpoint to sitting studying for a while, in the big sports schools, you often can't because all the sports are taken up by the feeder system to the pros.

And, yeah, you don't have to party at a party school, but, I suspect you are at places where the transformation of the setting of the school happened long before you were born. I'm not. I live in a city in a neighborhood that has been engulfed by an institution (of dubious academic quality, imp) in my lifetime. It used to be dangerous here. I'm glad there's rarely gunfire here now, but instead I've discovered that I seem to live on Bourbon Street, despite being way north of Mason-Dixon Line. My block is relatively residential, btw, but still very loud. It is nasty enough to live in a party school setting that is in a city with (theoretically) other cultural forces. I can't imagine what it would be to live in a town that services an institution like that. Hence, another thing I don't want to support with my money.

There's a lot of great opportunities to learn in this world. The Big 10 and the Ivy Leagues aren't the only options. The US isn't the only option.

I could also go into more detail about ridiculous Capital "Improvement" programs, but no one seems to be disagreeing about that.

I didn't categorically nix frats/sororities, btw, both of you seemed to jump all over that.

Anonymous said...

> I don't believe either of those things. I went to a small college, which I loved, and now love working at a large research university. My husband has only been at large research universities but thinks our daughter should take a close look at small colleges as well as other types of institutions.

That's good to hear. I will admit a few things in my experience have biased me against the "research 1" institutes.

I have heard some things on Graduate Admissions committees that are not so encouraging towards SLACs and other smaller schools. I guess there will always be some professors that won't take a graduate student unless they did undergraduate work in the lab of some big-wig, as if that's the totality of the undergrad experience.

I certainly know some great teachers that are big U's and some lousy ones as SLACs. However, I've met several people at big U's - but none at SLACs - that openly state they don't care about their classes and wish they didn't have to teach.

Anonymous said...

As a professor at a SLAC, I am dismayed to hear (from colleagues at R01s, not just on this forum) that undergrads from SLACs may not be taken as seriously as potential grad students because of the perception that their mentors "didn't make it." We work hard to ensure that our students graduate with many skills that they might not have gotten doing research at an R01 - critically reading the primary literature, designing their own experiments within the lab's area of interest, presenting at lab meetings and professional conferences, participating in grant and publication writing, etc. I can say with confidence that my research students will be much better prepared for grad school than I was after training in a well-respected lab at an R01.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine thinking of SLAC professors as failures because they aren't at R01 institutions. That is offensive. I do have colleagues though who think that SLAC students get too much "hand holding" in their research projects and think that they will get lots of praise for every little thing they do in their grad research and then are upset when they don't get this.

David S said...

I think that it's wrong to throw away college brochures without your daughter being able to see them. By all means give them to her and then tell your story about why you don't like the department, and then she can make her own decision. But not even letting her make a decision is wrong.

Anonymous said...

I agree with David S. This is mail that is addressed to your daughter and it is her property and hers to dispose of.

Female Science Professor said...

She gets email from all of these schools as well. She has said she doesn't mind if I toss out mailings from some schools if it makes me happy. I will continue to recycle (very occasionally).

Anonymous said...

my parents were just happy I went to college let alone grad school, postdoc etc. I am the first person in my family to go to college so they didn't really care which university as long as it didn't cost too much. But I ended up paying for my education on my own anyway via scholarships, loans and jobs. to my family, all universities are more or less the same. That's what I tend to think too now, being an academic who is tired of it and thinking of leaving the tenure track.

I think it's good that your daughter doesn't intend to go into science. She will be free to discover herself. Like I said, I'm a first generation college-goer so I felt free to choose whatever I wanted to major in and make my career in.

I have friends (professors and postdocs) who come from families where one or both parents were also professors or scientists. these friends of mine feel so much pressure from their families even as adults, and unless they are superstars (most aren't), they have no chance of meeting their parents' level of professional success since the funding climate is much harsher now than it was when the previous generation of professors were applying for their first tenure track jobs.

OMDG said...

Beware! If you make your opinions too well known to your daughter she may just go right ahead and go to whatever place you disapprove of most. Best to keep it to yourself in some cases.

Speaking from personal experience.