Thursday, April 30, 2009

Restructuring the University

clipped from

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

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Mark Taylor's NYT's recent editorial calls the graduate education the "Detroit of higher learning." As in, it's doomed. The quote here (below? above? I don't know) sums up a lot of the ambivalence I feel about academia. WAY too many people are churned through a ruthless system.

I like what he says about disciplines and about problem-focused learning and restructuring the university, and even abolishing permanent departments (to a lesser extent). His suggestion of a "water program" was obviously based on (or was strangely coincidental with) a famous course called (you guessed it) Water at my alma mater, The Evergreen State College. But while this is a great idea for undergraduate education I am not convinced this should be the way of graduate education. Disciplines serve as a form of organization, structure, and shared memory for thought and knowledge. Collaboration is great but without any solid grounding in one or many disciplines, all you have is loose and unstructured knowledge. Plus you have no academic lineage and good luck succeeding in academia without lineage. I can say this for a fact because Evergreen had no disciplines and I am missing a lot of the basic grounding in certain fields that would serve me well today. (On the plus side Evergreen, you excel at the promotion of critical and innovative thinking, reading, and writing skills.)

Taylor spends some time bemoaning narrow scholarship. He's right. I can hardly even explain my work to others. But my field is primarily supported by grants from the federal government (primarily NIH). Should they be paying me to do something that everyone else is doing and that is "obvious"? Clearly not. Is the pursuit of new knowledge flawed just because it's obscure? So what if few people ever read my dissertation. Only a few people need to for it to have any actual impact on the world. In this way, it only matters that people who want to move beyond it read it. They learn what is already known. Then, they go farther. Clearly, many paths are dead ends. But you can't learn or discover something new until you ask a new question, something that hasn't been asked or answered before.

He also suggests mandatory retirement. Oh hell no. Seriously? Abolishing tenure? Yeah, that's probably on its way out anyway. I won't get into that here. Transforming the traditional dissertation? It's likely that any changes in the diss won't be as radical as he suggests. I see no problem with writing a long tome that is rarely read by others. It's a learning exercise. Besides, I had to write one.

Taylor suggests expanding the range of professional options for graduate students? YES. YES YES YES. This is a suggestion of his that I adore. To do this, the graduate students need to be taught practical skills and to be taught by non-career-academics.....people who actually work in their field in the real world (if there is one.) This never happened in my graduate school.

There have been plenty of other responses to this. I'll post to them later in a format that takes html.

Till then, publish or perish!

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Sometimes Quitting Is a Good Thing

One of my most recent visitors found me by googling the words "why i quit grad achool."


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

R01s and Pirates

Given the recent pirate incident, I want to clarify that I think pirates are actually only cool in books and movies and also in costumes at wooden boat festivals when they kidnap your wenches.

Also, in other late-breaking news, Dr. Mentor received an R01 yesterday. There is still some hope.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Redistributing the Wealth

I recently got a super awesome t-shirt as a gift from a friend. Here's what it says:

"Pillage before plunder
What a blunder.
Plunder before pillage
Mission fulfillage!"

How awesome is that?

Or wait, was it "Plunder before pillage...?" Apparently I'm

not the only one confused about pillaging and plundering. Either way, you get the point.

Also awesome is this, a live piracy map, showing recent redistribution efforts (recent piracy attempts and attacks) around the world!

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Aliens (the outer space kind) Wanted by the U.S. Postal Inspector!

Take a good, hard look at these aliens, pictured below. They are currently being hunted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service!

Yes, a U.S. government agency is hunting aliens! And no, I don't mean this
pseudo law enforcement agency, but the far more legitimate and useful U.S. Post Office.


I wouldn't have known if the following had not happened to me on last Wednesday. I received a REAL SNAIL MAIL CHAIN LETTER! It was SO COOL! Immediately I had all kinds of ideas of how to respond. I'm still not sure, I might send these folks a heartfelt letter of thanks for brightening up an otherwise booooring day. Maybe I will send them some pesos. Maybe I will write a book about it. Or maybe, in response to the letter's claim that "Not only is this not illegal, it's a great idea." I will instead send them information from the U.S. Postal Inspectors webpage as a helpful reminder that um, yeah, chain letters, are actually totally illegal, and moreover, not such a hot idea either.

If you find yourself in a similar, exciting position, and are seeking more information, see
here and here.

If however, you find yourself in a similar position of being scammed through the U.S. mail, and are seeking retribution over it, Raise a rukus!

And don't forget to hunt those aliens, too!


What do these things have in common: War, Natural Disasters, Poverty, Crappy Governments, Lack of Education, and the Suppression of Women

They cause disease.

The current issue of the MMWR (don't look for it online until next week) reports that polio cases are up by 26% in 2008.

When I was in an small alley in the filthiest of all Indian cities, I saw a Rotary International worker providing polio drops to infants held in the arms of their older siblings (by older I mean between 4-7 years old). I was so happy I could have cried.

This disease has got to go. Polio should be part of our past but instead, it is a sad reminder of how we have failed the most vulnerable.

On the same note, I went to a lecture by HUGE UNIVERSITY FIGURE (HUF) yesterday. The talk was focused on postdoctoral scholars responsibility to the global community. HUF laid out the greatest global challenges, which included (among other things) poverty, human health, aging/growing population, environment/sustainability, & clean water. Yay, I actually agree with these things. Unfortunately, the final message of the day was that FANCY UNIVERSITY (FU) was investing heavily in training us, the next great generation of scholars in the U.S. (many of us are not from the U.S.), and expects a return on their the U.S. HUF presented "amazing achievements" benefiting "the world" from FU's alumni/trainees .... and they were all, each and every one of them, advancements benefiting THE RICH DEVELOPED WORLD TECHNOLOGICAL/MILITARY COMPLEX. When asked what we could do to advance scholarship and training of the booming new generation of scientists from India and China.....HUF told us to stay home in the U.S. and work for Boeing. (I paraphrase.)

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

NIH Grant Changes in Effect

Good news everyone, writing a grant is going to be WAY easier! No more struggling for months or years. We're all going to get funded. YAY!

Submitting NIH proposals via text messaging

NIH has announced that starting April 1, in a collaboration with Twitter, it will begin accepting proposals by text message. To submit a proposal, faculty should

1. Create a screen name on

2. Invite NatInHealth to be your friend.

3. Post a proposal by text message

Proposals are limited to 140 characters including budget and CV. While all health related topics are covered by this announcement, special consideration will be given to proposals that address conditions that affect the Web 2.0 generation such as blackberry thumb. Proposals will be reviewed by the general public on and funding decision will be announced within 24 hours of submission. Funds will be distributed by PayPal, eliminating the need for university accounting systems.

NIH spokesperson Dr. April Fulesjoak said that NIH anticipates the pay line to be at 4 stars.

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