How Not To Invite The Professor To Your Campus

This past week a group of graduate students in one department at the University of Oregon approached their Chair and requested that I be invited by the department to give an intensive workshop on professionalization and the job market. The Chair, a guy I know from my old days at the UO, got in touch with me, collected some information about my workshops and their fees, and put the graduate student request on the next faculty meeting agenda.

That evening, I got an email from him. “That was about as much fun as shoving my head in a Cuisinart,” he said. The faculty, it turns out, were irate, IRATE, I tell you, at the implication that they were in any way deficient at preparing their students for the job market. “Outrageous!”

When the Chair remarked that the students told him they felt awkward asking their advisors potentially “dumb” questions about the job market, one faculty member responded, “then the graduate students are just being childish.”

The Chair wrote, plaintively, “I tried…I struck out…. I am really not paid enough for this.”

I was not actually surprised. I had told the Chair in our initial exchange that invitations at the department level, particularly when initiated by the graduate students, always carry an element of awkwardness for the faculty, since they do imply a gap in the program. I told him, “my life on the speaker circuit, if and when it materializes, will almost certainly be at the behest of graduate colleges, not departments!”

Still, I was disappointed in the faculty. It really is too bad that faculty defensiveness stands in the way of graduate students getting all of the assistance available for this job market. There is no point in rationing information about the job market. And there is no such thing as too much information about the job market. The fact is, it is BECAUSE I’m not peoples’ advisor that I can tell them, with a total value-neutral bluntness, that their cv sucks, their letter is pandering and embarassing, their hair looks like a birds nest, they have waaay too much cleavage showing, and their interview response is a giant snooze-fest.

Any graduate faculty member reading this: Do better! I expect more of you. Your students need more from you.  You don’t have to call me.  But set your ego aside and do what it takes to make sure your Ph.D.s get the training they need, whatever the source.


Comments

How Not To Invite The Professor To Your Campus — 9 Comments

  1. This story is pretty depressing, but if I could offer a piece of advice to anyone who wants to invite you to speak, it would be this: it might be true you’re not getting enough information from your directors, and it might not. It might be that you couldn’t hear it when you got it, or that you can’t hear it from your director when you get it. It might really be that you don’t get enough information because your director thinks s/he’s giving it but isn’t or thinks you should know it by know. Who knows? But when you pitch a visit by Karen, pitch it like this: we ALL need more information about the market, and we need to start collaborating on information, and we need to hear points of view that we can disagree with, or incorporate, or mull over. All of us need to be talking together, all of us need to be pooling our expertise.

    • Good advice, Stephanie! And you are absolutely right. I gave some advice to my advisees that they absolutely did not hear, no matter how often I gave it. It really is a peculiar dynamic that sometimes advisors are just too close, and someone “unknown” can deliver hard and unpalatable messages more easily.

  2. I wonder if departments who are already thinking outside the box, so to speak, would be more willing to extend an invite? A department that has some overlapping colleagues with mine and is generally much more progressive than mine, already runs a pretty solid “Alternative Careers for PhDs” speaker series. They seem like a more likely group to invite you (in that they’re open to other ideas) than my department which has a core group of faculty who think students must go into academe and they are the best possible mentors for such a career even when they don’t actually mentor anyone. These folks would, I imagine, create obstacles should the grad students request your presence. That said, it’s true that the graduate school would best best positioned to invite and host you and create access for more students.

    Perhaps it would be worthwhile for you to post something about what you see as the best format for you vis a vis visiting a campus, a department, whatever. Sessions just for students? Sessions for faculty & students? Sessions for faculty only? Talks? Hands-on sessions? Modeling the type of work you do? Etc.

    • Great observations, and great questions for me to consider. I haven’t really thought through all the ins and outs of my potential career as a speaker, since so many things keep me firmly anchored to Eugene right now. But I’ll give this some thought and put it on the blog some time soon.

      • I wonder if it might be interesting to explore some Skype options, thus keeping you in Eugene and keeping costs for the students or institution lower. The physical distance could work in your favor, framing you as a faraway consultant and thus perhaps less a threat to those who fancy themselves excellent advisers. You could also stress the ‘new realities’ of the job market over existing piss-poor advising as your raison d’etre.

  3. I wonder if you could ease this difficulty by being clearer about the benefits to faculty members. For example, you could have a piece on why advisers should WANT their students to work with you. Not only will their students do better, having students work with you frees up faculty time and energy for the things you absolutely can’t provide. For example, since I’ve been working with you, my meetings with my adviser stay much more focused on the pieces I’m writing, the research I’m doing, and discussions of scholarly activity in my field. That’s a big bonus.

  4. Hi,

    I’m in Australia so maybe things are slightly different in the States. We have societies over here, formed as part of the Student Union bodies. For example at my University we have a post grad students association which gets funding from membership fees, Student Union Association funding etc. They run various training workshops and would be more suited to inviting you to speak for the benefit of all postgrads rather than just one department.

    Thanks,

    Dale.
    http://www.twitter.com/DaleReardon/

    • There are graduate student groups like that at many universities in the States as well. they would be well suited to bring in professionalization services without stepping on delicate faculty egos.

  5. Hi,

    I realize this is quite an old post but I wonder if you’ve given more consideration to campus visits? I’d love to try an organize a day-long workshop with you but need more info first on a) whether that’s possible b) what it entails.

    thanks!

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