Category Archive 'Academia'
09 Oct 2019

Not Selling Out, Buying In!

, , ,

Wired explains why there has recently been a huge exodus of Astrophysicists out of Academia and into Silicon Valley where they are highly paid for studying consumer preferences instead of Stellar Dynamics.

To understand what’s driving astrophysicists into consumer product startups, consider the recent explosion of machine learning. Astrophysicists, who wrangle massive amounts of data collected from high-powered telescopes that survey the sky, have long used machine learning models, which “train” computers to perform tasks based on examples. Tell a computer what to recognize in one intergalactic snapshot and it can do the same for 30 million more and start to make predictions. But machine learning can also be used to make predictions about customers, and around 2012, corporations started to staff up with people who knew how to deploy it.

These days, machine learning drives everything from Stitch Fix’s curated boxes of clothes to Netflix’s personalized movie recommendations. How does Spotify perfectly predict the songs that will surprise and delight you in its weekly personalized playlists? That’s machine learning at work. And while machine learning now constitutes its own field of study, because scientists from fields like astrophysicists have been working with those kinds of models for years, they’re natural hires on data science teams.

“We were already in Big Data before Big Data became a thing,” says Sudeep Das, an astrophysicist who now works at Netflix.

Das got his PhD at Princeton, where he researched cosmic microwave background—basically the electromagnetic radiation left over from the Big Bang. Afterward, he spent a few years studying data from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope in Chile. The telescope collects nearly a terabyte of data from the cosmos every night, and from this massive data set, Das detected an elusive astrophysical signal. It was a rare payoff after years of painstaking work. The discovery earned him the attention of the University of Michigan, which offered him an assistant professorship.

But Das turned it down and moved to Silicon Valley instead—first to work as a data scientist at Beats Music, then at OpenTable, and now at Netflix.

The decision to leave academia came down to a few factors: The pay was certainly better, and the jobs were more plentiful. “There’s a bottleneck of getting into tenure-track positions,” he says. And being in the Bay Area meant he and his wife—who is also an astrophysicist—would never have to worry about both finding jobs. But the real surprise, he says, was that the work in tech companies was actually interesting. At Beats, he says, he found “like-minded people who were working on problems that didn’t take away the intellectual high.” Same math, different application.

Das says he’s noticed that more and more physicists are trading the difficult slog of academia—which can involve a decade of financially dicey postdoctoral work—to take cushy jobs in tech. “Only two people from my PhD batch at Princeton are not working in industry,” he says. “You have to be a die-hard academic to stay.”

This big bang extends across the industry. “Astrophysics is our number one domain,” says Eric Colson, Stitch Fix’s chief algorithms officer emeritus. “Most folks have a PhD in a quantitative field, but if we did a histogram, I think astrophysics is number one. They teach math really well—a lot of physicists are better mathematicians than mathematicians. They also teach coding well. They’re better computer scientists than most computer scientists.” …

In academia, astrophysicists can spend years stuck on a singular problem. And many of the exciting problems have already been solved, says Amber Roberts, a former astrophysicist who now helps academics transition to industry at Insight Data Science. “We discovered the size of the universe. We measured the speed of light. We found pole stars. We found black holes,” she says. “A lot of those big things, like understanding how space-time works or how gravity distorts, are what get people interested in the study of space and cosmology. But what you’re really doing is contributing to a very small subfield where you’ll work about three years on a paper that about 10 people in the world are going to read. You’re not going to be Carl Sagan.”

RTWT

03 Apr 2019

Taking a Poke at “Settled Science”

, , ,

Nobody seriously intelligent, nobody who really understands Science, nobody with common sense or an independent mind swallows the Global Warming Catastrophist nonsense.

Myles Weber, at Quillette, explains that the widely-accepted “greenhouse effect” does not work as Science at all. It’s really just an inaccurate metaphor that appeals to the popular imagination.

As a university professor, I am best positioned to report on the widespread incompetence and malfeasance found specifically in academe. A work colleague once corrected me on a matter concerning the greenhouse effect. With no scientific training, he had recently moderated a panel discussion on climate change in an attempt to convince students to support our university president’s Green Initiative, which as far as I could tell reduced carbon dioxide emissions not at all but placed undue strain on the university’s finances, which in turn put upward pressure on tuition costs. I mentioned to my colleague in passing that, from an educational standpoint, the term greenhouse gas was an unfortunate misnomer since the architectural design of an actual greenhouse is not closely related to the physical properties of tropospheric greenhouse gases.

This has been my go-to analogy to explain how some people have confused the two phenomena: The sentence “Like Placido Domingo, Bob Dylan sings for a living” does not convey the same meaning as “Bob Dylan sings like Placido Domingo for a living.” It’s true that carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and other gases drive the Earth’s average temperature higher than it otherwise would be, just as the design of a greenhouse makes the interior of that structure warmer than the surrounding environment. But the processes by which the warming occurs in these two instances are quite distinct, in the same sense that a troubadour’s vocals in no way resemble an operatic tenor’s. The confusion resulting from the term greenhouse gas, I suggested to my colleague, made it that much harder to explain the general workings of our climate to students, who might end up believing greenhouse gases form a solid barrier to convection or, conversely, that a greenhouse reradiates invisible light energy as heat energy at select frequencies.

My colleague assured me I was misinformed. As a bonus, he did so in front of our department chairwoman just as I was about to go up for tenure. Greenhouses, he explained, are in fact warmed primarily by extra concentrations of carbon dioxide imbedded in the glass plates of the building. Well, I conceded, a small, perhaps even measurable amount of warming might occur in a greenhouse as a result of elevated CO2 levels in the glass panels; indeed, a greenhouse’s temperature also rises when a human being steps inside and exhales warm air. But these are insignificant considerations that have nothing to do with the structure’s basic design. During the day a greenhouse will be warmer than the surrounding environment regardless of whether a human enters it and breathes or whether the clear panels contain extra CO2 or are carbon free.

My colleague—our department’s self-appointed expert on climate matters—was undeterred. “It’s just like my front porch at home,” he insisted. “In the afternoon the porch is much warmer than the rest of the house during the summer—you really bake in there—because of the carbon dioxide in the windows.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond politely to this new assertion. Glass is an insignificant reservoir of CO2—that much was still true. Moreover, as the sun reaches its zenith on a summer day, perpendicular windows serve as fairly ineffectual portals through which visible light energy may pass. Under these conditions an enclosed porch becomes warmer than the rest of the house due largely to a third process, called conduction, owing to the porch’s uninsulated roof and walls, which receive the brunt of the sun’s rays and pass heat into the building. (Björk sings nothing like Bob Dylan or Placido Domingo, in other words.) If you’ve ever lived in an attic apartment in the summer, even if you kept the window shades drawn, you have felt the power of conduction.

I thought I saw signs of sympathy on our chairwoman’s face as she looked on, and a sense of relief passed over me, but it turned out her sympathy was not on my behalf but, rather, my colleague’s. After I reaffirmed that carbon dioxide was an incidental consideration in these cases, the chairwoman asked: “Well, how does a greenhouse work then?”

I first inquired whether she was serious, for I didn’t want to believe that two college professors in succession both lacked a basic understanding of the simple workings of a greenhouse, but that was the reality. I therefore explained, “Visible light energy passes through the transparent panels and gets converted into heat energy when it strikes the plants, tables, and floor. This warms the surrounding air, which rises, but the convection process is impeded by the solid glass panels, trapping the heated air inside.”

My department chairwoman glanced at our colleague, then at me. “Oh,” she said. Then she turned and walked away.

RTWT

16 Jul 2017

“Do Not Cite Research By White Men”

, , , ,


Carrie Mott

Washington Times:

Two feminist geographers are encouraging their colleagues to be more mindful about citing the research of white males because doing so contributes to “the reproduction of white heteromasculinity of geographical thought and scholarship.”

Writing in “Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography,” Carrie Mott and Daniel Cockayne argue that considering an author’s gender, race or sexuality prior to citation can be an effective “feminist and anti-racist technology of resistance that demonstrates engagement with those authors and voices we want to carry forward.”

The authors point out that whether an academic’s research is cited by his peers has significant implications for promotion, tenure and influence. Therefore, to cite only white men “does a disservice to researchers and writers who are othered by white heteromasculinism.”

The authors define “white heteromasculinism” as “an intersectional system of oppression describing on-going processes that bolster the status of those who are white, male, able-bodied, economically privileged, heterosexual, and cisgendered.”

Academics should practice “conscientious engagement” when citing research, the feminists assert, “as a way to self-consciously draw attention to those whose work is being reproduced.”

20 May 2017

Another Successful Social Science Paper Spoof

, ,

Twenty-one years ago, Alan Sokal’s “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity“ proved that you could get a paper employing total gibberish to contend that gravity is a social construct published in a prominent social science journal.

A couple of philosophers using non-de-plumes just performed the same experiment successfully again, demonstrating that you need only cloak the most ridiculous nonsense with a bunch of post-structuralist jargon and your paper will be accepted by a prominent British social sciences journal.

Here are some sample passages from this peer-reviewed paper:

Still, even as a social construct, the conceptual penis is hopelessly dominated by recalcitrant social constructions that favor hypermasculine interpretations of the penis as a notion unjustly associated with high male value (Schwalbe & Wolkomir, 2001). Many cisgendered hypermasculine males, for instance, seem to identify those aspects of their masculinity upon which they most obviously depend with the notion that they carry their penis as a symbol of male power, domination, control, capability, desirability, and aggression (The National Coalition for Men “compile[d] a list of synonyms for the word penis [sic],” these include the terms “beaver basher,” “cranny axe,” “custard launcher,” “dagger,” “heat-seeking moisture missile,” “mayo shooting hotdog gun,” “pork sword,” and “yogurt shotgun” [2011]). Based upon an appreciable corpus of feminist literature on the penis, this troubling identification results in an effective isomorphism linking the conceptual penis with toxic hypermasculinity. …

Nowhere more does this problematic construction compare than with the “hegemonic masculinity and cultural construction” presented in the “essence of the hard-on” (Potts, 2000). Potts (2000) illustrates that the functioning (or lack thereof) of the [conceptual] penis “demonstrates the inscription on individual male bodies of a coital imperative: the surface of the male body interfuses with culture to produce the ‘fiction’ of a dysfunctional nonpenetrative male (hetero)sexuality.” This is clear power-dynamical repositioning to alleviate the internal psychological struggle of weakness via hypermasculinity and an essential fear of weakness that characterizes hypermasculinity itself. We therefore further agree with Potts that “by relinquishing the penis’s executive position in sex, male bodies might become differently inscribed, and coded for diverse pleasures beyond the phallus/penis,” and we insist that understanding the objective isomorphic mapping between phallus and (conceptual) penis is a necessary discursive element to changing the prevailing penile social paradigm. The constructed intersection of the anatomical penis and the performative conceptual penis defines the problematic relationship masculinity presents for male bodies and their impacts upon women in our pre-post-patriarchal societies. …

2.2. Climate change and the conceptual penis

Nowhere are the consequences of hypermasculine machismo braggadocio isomorphic identification with the conceptual penis more problematic than concerning the issue of climate change. Climate change is driven by nothing more than it is by certain damaging themes in hypermasculinity that can be best understood via the dominant rapacious approach to climate ecology identifiable with the conceptual penis. Our planet is rapidly approaching the much-warned-about 2°C climate change threshold, and due to patriarchal power dynamics that maintain present capitalist structures, especially with regard to the fossil fuel industry, the connection between hypermasculine dominance of scientific, political, and economic discourses and the irreparable damage to our ecosystem is made clear.

Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear. At best, climate change is genuinely an example of hyper-patriarchal society metaphorically manspreading into the global ecosystem.

RTWT

08 May 2017

Two Modern Opportunities For Large-Scale Rejection

, , ,

Andrew Kay explains that applying for an academic position and on-line dating in the 21st century dehumanize the pursuer in very similar ways.

I minimized OkCupid and returned to my cover letter. I felt afresh the silliness of the undertaking: to make an earnest bid for any job in which you’re one of perhaps three hundred highly qualified applicants, in a field where twenty such jobs might come along in a given year, requires a degree of moxie bordering on self-delusion. Both the academic job market and online dating, I was coming to realize, involve their participants in economies of excess, superabundance. You enter each world laden with the knowledge that you are one agent in a vast and hyper-competitive ecosystem surging with rivals; that, having captured the curiosity of a person or institution of your desiring, you’re but one of a dozen prospects they are likely entertaining alongside you. Make a false move—or simply come off as average—and risk being swept aside.

Like the OkCupid profile, the academic job letter reduces the multi-chromatic splendor of a self to a single beige that it shares with everyone else. Here are inner worlds—rococo architectures fashioned over years of contemplation—broken down into a short opening paragraph wherein you introduce yourself, indicating your home institution and the title of your dissertation, as well as the job you seek (MY SELF SUMMARY and WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR); two paragraphs in which you sum up your dissertation, articles and research interests (WHAT I’M DOING WITH MY LIFE and I SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT); a couple of paragraphs in which you dramatize your strengths as a teacher and convey the myriad things you offer in the way of department service (I’M REALLY GOOD AT); a closing paragraph in which you say, in effect, “I’d love an interview; if you’re interested, here’s how to contact me” (YOU SHOULD MESSAGE ME IF).

Somehow, within the confines of this form, I had to capture hiring committees’ attention. This meant gussying up the raw material of my scholarship in language that was sexy, piquant, certain to leave them wanting more. English academics, I should explain, occupy a peculiar relation to their ideas and the language in which these are housed. Many display an erotic responsiveness to the terms trending in their field: the aptly chosen theoretical catchword, or charismatic articulation of a (preferably anarchic) thought. (I once asked a colleague whether she and her partner spent much time talking about their research together. “That’s called foreplay, Andrew,” she responded.)

RTWT

16 May 2016

Does Academia Discriminate Against Conservatives?

, , , ,

WilliamHSimon
William H. Simon, Columbia Law

Nicholas Kristof recently editorialized on liberal arrogance and the general absence of conservative opinion in Academia:

We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us. ..

I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.

“Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,” said Carmi.

“The truth has a liberal slant,” wrote Michelle.

“Why stop there?” asked Steven. “How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?” …

To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

If anybody doubted that Kristof had a point, this particular letter-to-the-editor in response from a snotty self-complacent Columbia Law professor provides excellent confirmatory evidence. All you under-educated and wealthy out there take heed!

To the Editor: Nicholas Kristof exaggerates the problem of liberal bias in the academy. It is not the job of the university to represent all the views held in the surrounding society. The commitment to critical inquiry requires it to disfavor some views based on religious dogma, social convention or superstition. The goal of a community of mutual respect requires it to disfavor others, including those that are explicitly racist, misogynist or homophobic. Such views can be expressed in the university, but it is not a cause for concern that academics do not espouse them in their teaching and research. Much of the disparity between views in the academy and in the Republican Party is attributable to their varying social bases. Academics tend to be educated and middle class. The current Republican Party is constituted disproportionately of the undereducated and the wealthy.

That education leads people to different views is neither surprising nor, on its face, disturbing. And if it is a problem that the views of rich people are underrepresented in the academy, they have had little trouble making up for this disadvantage in the media and the political system.

WILLIAM H. SIMON

Stanford, Calif.

The writer is a professor at Columbia Law School.

11 Feb 2016

Small Maryland College Makes Big News Story

, ,

MountStMarys375

Even the New York Times is covering the purge.

When student reporters at Mount St. Mary’s University, a small Catholic institution in Maryland, published an article in January that quoted the university’s president likening struggling freshmen to bunnies that should be drowned, they knew it might get a big reaction.

It finally came this week, it appears — in the form of a pink slip for the faculty adviser of the campus newspaper.

The university informed the adviser, Ed Egan, that he had been disloyal and was now fired, a move seen by many on the campus in Emmitsburg as a retaliatory strike.

The decision, along with other recent punishments of faculty members at Mount St. Mary’s, has triggered outrage well beyond its rural campus in northern Maryland, earning condemnation from thousands of academics across the country as well as national monitors of academic and journalistic freedom.

The report said that the administration was planning to cull struggling freshmen from the institution as part of an effort to improve retention numbers — a big factor in rankings published in outlets like U.S. News & World Report — and that the university’s president, Simon Newman, had used disturbing language to sell the idea to a skeptical professor last fall.

“This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t,” Mr. Newman is quoted as saying. “You just have to drown the bunnies.”

He added, “Put a Glock to their heads.”

20 Jan 2016

Maurice Bowra

, , ,

MauriceBowra
detail, Bowra memorial sculpture, Wadham College, Oxford University.

Maurice Bowra (1898-1971) was a renowned Classical scholar and Warden of Wadham College, Oxford from 1938 to 1970.

From The Dons — Mentors, Eccentrics, and Geniuses, 1999 by Noel Annan:

Sayre’s Law holds that academic politics are so bitter because the stakes are so low.

Bowra was fierce in loyalty to his ideals. But he differed from other intellectuals in being even fiercer in loyalty to his friends. If a choice had to be made between friends and truth, friends won. His loyalty to people and institutions was passionate and uncompromising; if a friend failed, for instance, to get a post he concealed the blunt truth in comforting him afterwards and took it out on his opponents. Such tenderness did not extend to them: he pursued his enemies relentlessly. When he gave the oration at the memorial service for his old tutor Alec Smith the air was so dark with arrows he despatched, like Apollo spreading the plague among the Grecian host before Troy, that you half-expected the guilty to totter forth from St. Mary’s and expire stricken on the steps of the Radcliffe.”

——————————-

Annan also mentions, anent Bowra, some interesting German terms.

Bowra belonged to a generation who put enormous weight on friendship. Friendship was something more than casual geniality: it made demands, it imposed duties and much should be sacrificed for it. It was not to be confused with party-going, still less with Mitdabeisein [“being there” — JDZ] . Friendship implied unreserved affection and support, but it was a dry fierce heat, not humid; he was vehement, and he rebuked. He wanted his friends to do well. Like Jowett he expected them to make the most of their gifts. Whatever they produced was not enough: they must push on and do better still; and he could awaken self-confidence and dispel what he used to call ‘a sad state of Minko*.'”

* ‘Minko’ is the German colloquialism for Mindwetigkeitskomplex, or inferiority complex.

28 Jan 2015

Stuff Academics Say

,

AcademicsSay

19 examples.

Hat tip to Irene Manta.

15 Jul 2014

English Departments Today

, , , ,

Deresiewicz
William Deresiewicz

Critic, and former Yale professor, William Deresiewicz did a really excellent job of savaging Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel

Buell’s book tells us a great deal about American fiction. What it also tells us, in its every line, is much of what is wrong with academic criticism. We can start with the language…. Here is a fair sample of Buell’s prose:

    Admittedly any such dyadic comparison risks oversimplifying the menu of eligible strategies, but the risk is lessened when one bears in mind that to envisage novels as potential GANs is necessarily to conceive them as belonging to more extensive domains of narrative practice that draw on repertoires of tropes and recipes for encapsulating nationness of the kinds sketched briefly in the Introduction—such that you can’t fully grasp what’s at stake in any one possible GAN without imagining the individual work in multiple conversations with many others, and not just U.S. literature either.

That’s one sentence. There is an idea in there somewhere, but it can’t escape the prose—the Byzantine syntax and Latinate diction, the rhetorical falls and grammatical stumbles. Schmidt’s smooth sentences urge us ever onward. Buell’s, like boulders, say stop, go back.

The truth is that by academic standards, Buell’s writing isn’t especially bad—which makes him, as an instance, even worse. By the same token, he isn’t noxiously ideological in the current style, isn’t an “-ist” with an ax to grind or swing—all the more reason to deplore how thoroughly (it seems, reflexively) his book bespeaks the reigning ideologies. Buell, whose careful terror seems to be the possibility of saying something politically incorrect—the book does so much posturing, you think it’s going to throw its back out—appears to have absorbed every piety in the contemporary critical hymnal. You can see him fairly bowing to them in his introduction, as if by way of ritual preparation. There they are, propitiated one by one—Ethnicity, Globalism, Anti-Canonicity, Anti-Essentialism—like idols in the corners of a temple.

The frame of mind controls the readings. Novels aren’t stories, for Buell, works of invention with their own disparate purposes and idiosyncratic ends. They’re “interventions” into this or that political debate—usually, of course, concerning gender, race, or class, as if everyone in history had the same priorities as the English professors of 2014. Nearly every book is scored against today’s approved enlightened norms. Gone With the Wind loses points for “containing” Scarlett and embodying an “atavistic conception of human rights” but wins a few back for being “even more transnationally attuned than Absalom,” exhibiting “maverick tendencies in some respects as pronounced as Faulkner’s,” and engaging in “an act of feminist exorcism that Absalom can’t imagine.” Go team!

In the case of Uncle Tom’s Cabin—a book that makes this kind of reading sweat, being heroically progressive by the standards of its day but embarrassing by ours—pages are spent parsing its exact degree of virtue. Witnesses are called:

    Here, as critic Lori Merish delicately puts it, Stowe “fails to imagine African Americans as full participant citizens in an American democracy.” George Harris’s grand design to Christianize Africa looks suspiciously imperialistic to boot, veering Stowe’s antislavery critique in the direction of what Amy Kaplan trenchantly calls “manifest domesticity.”

I feel as if we’re back in Salem. Maybe he should have just thrown the book in the water to see if it would float. Buell is a person, one should say, who uses terms like cracker, redneck, and white trash without self-consciousness or irony, which makes his moral teleology all the more repulsive—his assumption (and it’s hardly his alone) that all of history has been leading up to the exalted ethical state of the contemporary liberal class.

The one kind of standard that Buell will not permit himself is an aesthetic one. Like many academics now, he’d rather cut his tongue out than admit in public that he thinks a book is good or bad.

29 Oct 2013

The Making of the Professoriate

,

Zachary Ernst recently attracted a lot of attention by quitting a tenured faculty position (Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Missouri). A bit earlier this year, he explained why he believes that the few who make it through the process and arrive at tenure have been hand-selected for mediocrity and obsequiousness.

Quite understandably, faculty try to instill in their students the same attitudes that enabled them to succeed. Unfortunately, those qualities are often counterproductive for any life outside of academia. But in order to fully grasp why this fact is so important, you have to understand a little bit about how careers are made and lost in academia.

Success as a faculty member requires one thing above all else: a good reputation in your field. During the tenure and promotion process, perhaps the most crucial step will be when your department solicits letters of reference from well-known senior faculty in your chosen specialty. They will review your research output and write a candid assessment of your work. Bad letters from these faculty will destroy your chances of being awarded tenure. And because tenure is an “up-or-out” system, failing to receive tenure means that you’re fired. Furthermore, in this economy, it usually means that your career is over, too.

The very worst thing that can happen is for your letter-writers to be unfamiliar with your work. Accordingly, savvy junior faculty members will direct their research to a very specific sub-specialty so that they increase their chances of becoming known within a particular group of senior researchers. That way, even though the junior faculty member won’t know who’s being solicited for letters during their tenure review, they can be reasonably certain that their work will be known to the right people. Because it’s so time-consuming to conduct research and submit papers and books for publication (it often takes well over a year for a paper to be published in a good journal, for example), a junior faculty member can’t afford to waste any time or effort. It’s almost suicidal to write a series of papers on different topics, even if those papers are very high-quality. Instead, it’s a far better strategy to try to achieve a “critical mass” of research output in a small, narrowly-focused area. Research areas, types of output (papers, presentations, books, grant proposals, etc), venues, and everything else are selected to maximize the probability that the right people will learn about one’s work. The math is terrible — rejection rates for top journals in my field, for example, are way above 90%, and this is quite typical. With a six-year window between being hired and beginning the tenure process, it can easily take a year to get one’s research off the ground. Between the end of any particular research work and publication (assuming it’s accepted for publication), there can easily be a year or more. This is why it’s so important to relentlessly focus on a narrow specialty; there is no time to waste.

Of course, it’s possible that after being awarded tenure, a faculty member might broaden her horizons and pursue a variety of different intellectual pursuits. This would be in keeping with one major purpose of tenure — to enable an established researcher to set her own research agenda without fear of losing her job. To be sure, this does happen. But in my experience at least, it’s very rare. The reason why it’s so rare is pretty simple: the tenure process filters out the people who would be most likely to pursue diverse intellectual interests. Having survived college, graduate school, and the tenure track, it’s very likely that whoever is left standing is the sort of person who fits comfortably into the existing structure. Someone who is prone to pursuing a diverse set of interests or (worse yet) interdisciplinary research will run a much larger risk of losing her job during the tenure review process. And of course, even if you started out with a lot of intellectual interests, the sheer habit of limiting yourself to the narrow range of acceptable work can change you over the course of a decade.

In this way, faculty are like columnists for major newspapers. Columnists for, say, the New York Times are perfectly free to write whatever they like (within appropriate professional guidelines, of course). But the range of opinion expressed in those columns is terribly narrow. The problem is not that the Times is exerting pressure on its columnists. The problem is that in order to be a columnist for the New York Times to begin with, you have to be the kind of person whose opinions already fall within a specific range. The same goes for faculty. Universities are generally pretty good about not exerting overt pressure on faculty and their research. Intellectual freedom is generally respected. But the university doesn’t need to exert any pressure, because it’s already filtered out the people who would need to be pressured. Those who survive are, for the most part, narrow specialists who care little about what’s happening outside their own area of specialization.

The same is true of faculty opinions about the university itself. With a six year pre-tenure filtering process, those who are granted the freedom to change the way their courses are run, try something new, or (gasp!) criticize the university have largely been eliminated. Those who remain are perfectly free to teach, conduct research, or express themselves however they like. But the people who would actually take advantage of that privilege are gone.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

11 Mar 2013

The Particle Physicist, the 34DDD Bikini Model, and the Suitcase Full of Coke

, , , , , , , , , , ,


Denise Milani

68-year-old Particle Physicist Paul Frampton was divorced and in the market for a new wife, hopefully a woman “between the ages of 18 and 35, which Frampton understood to be the period when women are most fertile.”

And what do you know? The lucky guy had only to log onto the Internet and start playing with one dating site, and he ran into the internationally-famous-for-her-enormous-upper-endowment supermodel Denise Milani. The couple exchanged texts and photos, and fell madly in love, though the apparently-shy model kept refusing to speak to him on the phone.

Finally, Denise Milani agreed to meet the professor in person… in La Paz, Bolivia. Alas! when he got to Bolivia, the lovely lady had been unexpectedly called away to another photo shoot in Brussels, and would he do her a favor and bring her a suitcase she’d left behind in La Paz?

Peter Frampton was arrested in Buenos Aires and received a 4 year 10 month sentence for smuggling cocaine. The real Denise Milani could not be reached for comment.

Maxine Swann tells the whole sad story in the New York Times Magazine.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

—————————————–

Denise Milani’s breasts web-site.

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'Academia' Category.











Feeds
Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark