Thursday, August 30, 2012

What They Don't Tell You in the Non-Existent Training for this Job

File this under: I had no idea students did this.

In my so-called normal professorial existence, students considering applying to my department for graduate school and possibly wanting to work with me send me an email with various bits of information and assorted questions. I have written about this fascinating topic at length before.

But did you know that some students do this?: They go straight to the person they perceive as the 'top' (for example, a head/chair or other administrative leader of a unit/department/etc.) and explain their interest in graduate studies. They may or may not be interested in that person's particular field of research (most of us are, after all, still professors who teach and advise), but they seem to want to make contact with the "head" -- not the director of the graduate program, not the administrative assistant responsible for the graduate program, not the potential advisor/s (although some may write to these individuals as well) -- to announce their existence, their intentions, and to Ask For Things (advice, confirmation of their self-stated outstanding qualifications for graduate studies, etc.).

This surprised me, although maybe it shouldn't have. Does it surprise you? Is this normal behavior in your program or field?

My usual approach to these things is to be as non-judgmental for as long as possible. Some of the student email I get in my normal professorial existence can be classified as "clueless" (I am somewhat sympathetic to these, as I consider myself to have been among the clueless at the applying-to-grad-school stage of my life). But never in 57 million years would it have occurred to me to write to an administrator (other than the graduate director of a department) to introduce myself and lobby for admission.

Yes, I know it is best not to psychoanalyze a student's motivations in sending one of these emails, but that's what we do in blogs.. sometimes. Also, it doesn't really matter what I think about these students because I don't make the admissions decisions, even if some students seem to think that I do.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pecking Order

While perusing some books and articles on academic administration, I tried to set myself a little challenge that would help me keep reading and not either fall into a boredom-induced stupor or fling the book/e-reader across the room because the author makes so many unjustified and insulting assumptions. And that challenge was to see how far in the book/article it took for me to find something, anything, that was interesting or useful to me.

For some of these books/articles, the challenge is never met and I wonder if this is more a reflection of my administrative inadequacies than the apparent boringness of the reading material, but in one book (by C.K. Gunsalus), I found one thing that perked me up for few moments, a few chapters into the book. And that was a statement that every member of the faculty and all of the "secretaries", as well as most of the grad students and other staff members in academic departments knows exactly what the "pecking order" of faculty is; that is, a hierarchy of sorts, based on I-don't-know-what, but indicated by various "intangible" things.

The intangible items that are listed are a bit bizarre and (along with the mention of "secretaries") made me check when the book was published: the Dean's sherry party? getting your own name on letterhead? etc. But let's ignore that and focus on the "pecking order" concept.

Without defining it or its basis any more than I already have(n't):

Do you think your department has a "pecking order" (and are you faculty, staff, or a student)? If so, what do you think the basis for it is? Research awesomeness? Personality? Other?

And what are the consequences? (salary, office/lab space, invitations to sherry parties)

Is this a bad thing, a neutral thing, a good thing?

I suspect that your comments will make for more interesting reading than any of these guides to academic administrating.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new*


How come you are so fixated upon your gender.A female professor in science is nothing new.Should I state that I am a male professor and include that in every e-mail really?
Sent from my iPad

Yes, please do that.

* Samuel Beckett, male writer

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

I May Have Mail

Upon achieving semi-galactic status in a particular academic unit, my mailbox was moved from its traditional spot amidst the throngs of regular faculty and researcher mailboxes up to an exalted location at the very top of the mailbox warren.

My staff said to me "If you want, we can get your mail for you and bring it to your Awesome Office and put it in a special mail-place like we did for your Distinguished Predecessors".

I thought, "That's silly, I'll just pick up my mail on one of my 57 daily trips through the office with the mailboxes."

But. I soon realized the flaw in my plan: I am too short to see into my new majestically elevated mailbox. This was not a problem for my predecessors, all of whom are men, going back into the 19th century.

Would it somehow detract from my attempt to cultivate an aura of gravitas if I placed a little step-stool by the mailboxes?