Tuesday, June 9, 2009

UPDATE: Impartial Nudity

Hhhm. That last post seemed to strike some insecurity nerves. It is causing me to reflect (in that corny kinda barfy way) upon the issue of academic insecurities. Let me just say straight up that I am currently operating on very low insecurity levels. Am I full of myself? Yeah, a little bit. Am I normally this full of myself? No, not really. But recent events have been great for me. Tenure an awesome vacation, shit, you’d be high on yourself too. Plus, full-of-my-selfness is fundamental to my anonymous persona.

But academia forces us to be neurotic and insecure. We have to constantly get ourselves to do things that go far beyond our basic job descriptions. We do this daily. We can’t just do some writing, or lab work, or research, or teaching…we are compelled to read about our topics obsessively, try far too hard to teach students, spend insane amounts of time drafting the perfect figure or slide, and just generally feel the need to strive. This basic compulsion drives us to be insecure, ferociously competitive, arrogant, and pathetically needy- all at the same time. Every time I get a manuscript accepted for publication I think to myself “I won.” What did I win? I have no idea. Why does that particular phrase come to mind? I have no idea. (And no, I’ve never thought about my career as a “race” or in any sport related terms, nor do I have any clear competitors in mind that I “beat”) I just think to myself I won. Like I somehow won over the insecurity, competitiveness, arrogance, and neediness.

And here’s the kicker, I don’t think I’m weird to be thinking that. I suspect some comparable thought occurs to all of us. Early on I considered it extremely important to avoid seeing myself as only my vita. But then as your vita grows and the win column tally starts to look respectable, it becomes a thousand times easier to do that. Of course it does. The thought I am more than my vita just flows across neurons much more efficiently when you know your vita is solid than when you suspect it isn’t. That’s just how it is. Serious chemical intervention is needed for us to operate otherwise. I am not giving license to anyone (myself included) to outwardly act as raging self-absorbed assholes. You have to avoid the egomaniacs who flaunt their vitas, but we have to indulge our own personal competitiveness or else nothing in our fields and universities would get done. So yeah, you at least have to get naked with yourself about these things (masturbation optional).

19 comments:

  1. PhD Professors work hard, but I know so many (close relatives & friends) of them and work with and for too many of them, so now I must say...

    SO DO THE REST OF US. We work JUST AS HARD and often even harder since we can take off for a fucking half hour to pick up our drycleaning or run to the doctor or bank. If we did, you PhD's have a fucking hernia. Your attention span and patience is for shit. You are without out exception a bunch of self-centered, narrow-minded fucks. You do not make the world a better place. Your research does not make the world a better place. You are worthless to improving society and actually make life miserable for those around you. This creates a ripple effect that makes you equal to common criminal in your influence. Get off your high horse and try to be human. I know you broke your ass to get the academic position, but please admit your mistake and find some real work to do.

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  2. Sorry. I typed that in 2 minutes and I shouldn't have dumped like that. I mean, yes, it is all true. PhDs are rude, insensitive, selfish and amoral, but so are many people in other professions. Wait, that is what I was trying to say to begin with. You have no place to complain about your hard job because we are all working 2-3 jobs, but the rest of us aren't given authority to kick the dog and/or underlings so we must eat our resentments. That's where you have it too good to complain about. Okay, done now. I promise.

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  3. Damn Anonymous, this blog ain't called the Restofusdamnit.

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  4. I support rants, so go ahead, get it out...

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  5. jeez, I hit the "submit" button on a paper and instinctively reach down and grab my ankles. Maybe I need a scoreboard and a buzzer. and a HERKY CLUB!

    On a deep thought, the idea that profs are more than their CVs is totally lost on folks like the ranter above. I'm practically a walking talking [insert my favorite critter] research machine to the academic community, but my own damn family has no idea how many legs my critter has and what the fuck possessed me to work on this shit. When I held my dissertation in my grubby fingers for the 1st time, my aunt said "do you feel smart?" You should have seen the looks on their faces when I told them about my book writing, as in WHO THE FUCK IS SHE? and WHERE DID SHE COME FROM? I clearly did not drink the same water as them growing up or the baby food or my brain was switched around college. I feel more exposed and naked-er around my family than I do with fellow academic freaks.

    posts about nudity of any sorts sure does let the assholes rip!

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  6. Your observation that academia forces us to be neurotic and insecure rings very true to me, and you're lucky to sort of balance this by having this "I won" attitude.

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  7. That first Anonymous wrote, "That makes you equal to common criminal in your influence": Wow. So, as an academic I'm THAT influential? I win!

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  8. "...research does not make the world a better place"

    That's funny. Because it actually DOES.

    "You . . . actually make life miserable for those around you"

    And, I suppose, so do you, First Anonymous Ranter.

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  9. Far beyond the basic job description for sure, Dr. No.

    To infinity and beyond, to quote the always appropriate Buzz Lightyear.

    Though I do regularly get the feeling that the casual observer has no idea how freakin' hard the job actually is.

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  10. ps: Is it just me, or is it getting confusing with all the Anonymouses...Anonymi?

    And where's our regular Acadamnit friend Anonymous who does herkies with us? Have you already checked in? Can't tell! We may need to assign *you* a new name...or a secret code. Then we would all need decoder rings, though, so that might not be feasible.

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  11. First thing in the morning (my time) so that first Anomymous 1 comment was like a shake and a slap. Good morning!

    Part of my own studies examines the relationship between confidence and shame (in status professions/occupations), and the rituals and processes of reification that enact and dramatise these feelings. I write this, aware that I am strengthening Anonymous 1's case for academics being self-regarding shits, but it relates to much of what you originally wrote, Dr.

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  12. ink, yes, I'm here (again - I posted after the ranter above). Damn all these other anons, where'd the fuck they pop up from?... some of them splash too much in the hot tub, eh?
    My anon status was fun while it lasted. I hate rings, but how bout a fist bump? Aw hell, I'll start signing off, jc
    (hope you are recovering nicely)

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  13. I thought that might be you, with the herky club, but then I was worried that maybe someone was invoking herkies without really understanding the sacred power of the herky allusion, so was afraid to believe. Fist bump, JC. :)

    AH: very insightful!

    Re: the first rant, I don't understand the accusations of narrow-mindedness, nor the self-centeredness. Teaching is nothing if not mind-expanding and student-centered.

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  14. Lets see here...

    Successful: I'll leave the advice for you to dispense, ranting and petty crime is more my forte.
    Clio: Hell yeah, we win!
    Hopeful: That's cool, sounds fascinating (and no, I'm not being sarcastic).
    Ink: Always a pleasure, decoder rings? Me likes!
    JC: As in Jesus?

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  15. Is it safe to come back in the water?

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  16. HA! Yeah, I get that Jesus thing alot, and Joe Cocker. No need to worship, we're all going to heaven and we're alright. jc

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  17. Back to the original post, I have a question: Would you say that, personally, for you, the job is worth it? I mean, are there enough positive things about your career that compensate for the insecurity/driven-ness/neediness and the other shit? I ask this because I'd observed the things you describe at my own university (students as well as lecturers) and it's putting me off my original intention to be an academic.

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  18. Dr No, comments aside I just wanted to say I know just what you mean about the winning: I think at my level it's still triumph at acceptance and validation, and I may come to see the truth in your more mature perspective in due course (heck, after this much work I better), but yes: we're all competing against something, time, approval, ourselves, and the neuroses are part of it. Any advice as to how to manage the neuroses? <twitch>

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  19. GEW: Yes, come on in!

    Laura: I'll keep this short, yes. I have questioned my career numerous times...but when you get down to it, I LIKE what I do.

    Tenthmedieval: As soon as I figure out how to deal with it in a manner not involving periods of self-loathing and anxiety driven work marathons I'll let you know.

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