AHA blogging round-up: how will we keep them down on the ranch, now that they've seen NYC?

In case you missed it, Hotshot Harry checked in with us last night from the AHA with his second report.  Meanwhile, there are some other folks blogging the conference–some of the most interesting posts are listed below (with thanks to Cliopatria and The Way of Improvement Leads Home for pointing them out to me.  Please note Cliopatria’s pickup on Indyanna’s reminiscences about Nat Hentoff being called a very bad word–repeatedly–at an early 1970s AHA!)

Here’s a hint to the grad-flakes in the audience: the first question you will face in every AHA interview (and I mean every single f#%king one) is some variation on the old standby, “tell us about your $hitty f#&king work and its relationship to the boring-a$$ field.” This is a softball. This is the easiest motherf*!king question you can get. You should have a 45 second answer to this question in your back pocket. And when I say 45 second, I mean 45 f#&king seconds and not a second more. Practice it in the mirror if you have to. Go to an acting coach if you must. But if you cannot state the importance of your work and its relationship to the field in 45 seconds or less, you are not getting the job. Sometimes candidates can get away with a 90 second answer if they have charm, but your goal should be 45 seconds. I mention this because today the self-immolating candidate took up the entire interview trying to answer this question. And I tried to stop him. My colleagues tried to interrupt. But he was having none of it. He spent 40 minutes trying to answer the question. And when we told him his time was up, he said “I guess what I’m trying to say is that my ideas are really complex.”

The first session I attended was The Promise and Pitfalls of Writing for Readers beyond the Academy, at which I was that guy who embarrassingly enters late and bumps into people while finding a seat (in this case, on the floor). It was a relatively informal panel, with none of the typical reading of papers in a monotone voice, and with a lot of back-and-forth with the audience. I found it interesting that for the first part of the session, blogging was never touched upon. Then an audience member brought it up, and the panelists began to fervently speak about it for a fair amount of time. What surprised me was the relatively positive attitude many of the panelists carried towards blogging. This might be a kind of self-selective mechanism, as panelists for a session on popular writing are probably not the stuffy academic types that look down their noses at blogging. On the other hand, I got the sense that blogging as a whole has become much more mainstream and accepted within the academy. The panel also reminded me of the kind of “exercise” aspect of writing on a blog – in that it forces you to write and is a great tool for experimentation and self-improvement.

That’s a little too high-falutin’ for this cowgirl.  I see blogging–even professionally-related blogging–mostly as a tool for entertainment and self-promotion.  At their most serious, academic blogs can be sites for communities of likeminded individuals to meet and share ideas and concerns–my blogging about bullying work environments and urging people in academia to be fair and decent has served that purpose, I hope, as has some of my women’s history blogging.  But I’m not on board with the movement of academic bloggers who want job credit for blogging.  Putting this baby on my annual review would make it feel like work–and although I enjoy my work, I like thinking of this space as a not-work space.

Anyhoo–back to y’all in New York.  Good luck, greenhorns and vaqueras!  Let me know how it goes for you–send in a dispatch before you start that long cattle drive home.

0 thoughts on “AHA blogging round-up: how will we keep them down on the ranch, now that they've seen NYC?

  1. No offense to Archie (who I don’t know nor his other writings), but I have to admit that I am bit uncomfortable by the oddly angry tone implied through the profanity (I have nothing against profanity, but this seems directed toward the inexperienced and naïve (and, goddess knows, I have misread subtext (or actual text) here previously). I understand that this candidate was under-prepared, but is it really a reason to go bat-shit crazy?

    It seems a wee bit ungenerous to me. It sounds like a bad interview, but how much did it really affect Archie and his life? This was 40 minutes for Archie, but potentially the rest of the applicants’ entire career. Why the deep emotional (and hostile) investment? And, if there are people with whom to be angry, I suggest that it is the applicants’ advisors at his/her home institution who did not take the time to prepare the student for an interview. I would recommend that Archie find a way to politely inform the candidate about the error in judgment to make it a productive 40 minutes.


  2. GayProf–you’re right, it is ungenerous of Archie. (But, we go to RYS for ungenerosity in the extreme, no?) But, I think many folks can relate to that feeling of being stuck in a bad interview with no way out–and it is especially frustrating when the interviewing department tries to interrupt to redirect the conversation, but the interviewee refuses to go along.

    In his defense, immediately after this profanity-laced rant, Archie writes: “I would like to blame the advisors for this debacle, but the candidate has to share the responsibility here.” I agree: this candidate may not have been advised well, but this candidate also seems incapable of picking up on obvious cues from the people interviewing him, and that may be due more to personality or brain chemistry than to poor advising.

    Imagine what it might be like to be this guy’s advisor! He may not take advice or direction from anyone. It’s rare, but I’ve met at least a few people like this in my career. It’s occured to me to wonder if they have Asberger’s Syndrome or some other form of Autisum Spectrum Disorder, because I can’t believe that anyone would self-consciously want to present themselves in such a hostile or clueless fashion. But in the end, it probably doesn’t matter: to be successful in academia, you have to be able to read social cues from students, colleagues, peers, etc., and if you can’t–whether it’s because your brain can’t see them, or because you think everyone else is an idiot and you don’t need to pay attention to their cues–you won’t succeed.


  3. I took Archie’s profanity and angry tone as a humorous persona, rather than a true reflection of his emotional state regarding the interview. Archie has a shtick, and that shtick is over-the-top, bilious rants. I think it works as humor. Though Archie would indeed be sad and offensive if we took him seriously, it never occurred to me to do so.

    But perhaps I’m being naive and he really does mean it. What do others think?


  4. I take your points HistoriAnn. There are lots of grad students who are certain that they don’t need any advice, ignore constructive criticism, and imagine they are the greatest scholar to have appeared in the last thirty years (This past semester, I saw more than my fair share). These folks earn their mocking.

    I also take Squaadrtomagico’s point about there being a shtick at play here. As I said, I don’t know Archie or his persona, but GayProf is absoutely 95.5% shtick.

    Still, in this very specific instance of interviews, it is too easy to make targets out of people’s inexperience or uncertainty on the job market. Even in jest, it is at the expense of some pretty darn vulnerable people and continues to promote a gatekeeper mentality within academia (Not to mention demoralizing others who are on the market who might start second-guessing their very good preparation or fear that their own interview will be posted about in a blog). If Archie’s RL identity was revealed (or is known), it would be a short set of steps to figure out to whom he referred. Interviews are confidential and Archie could find himself in deep legal trouble.

    I know, I know that I am taking this way more seriously than intended. Probably it shows some deep personal psychological issue that I need to work out. Or it’s a reflection of my unending gravitas.


  5. On thinking about it more (and I promise I will drop it after this), I think what bothers me is the specificity. If the post had complained, broadly, about candidates who ignore cues or go on and on, I would have been totally down with it. Heck, I might have joined in on the whining. But by targeting one real person who had an interview that day, it seems smarmy and dangerous.

    Of course, that’s all assuming that this incident wasn’t totally fabricated in the first place.


  6. GayProf–I go more with Squadratomagico’s read of Archie. Neither you nor I (nor she) would ever probably write about a bad interview we’ve witnessed at all, let alone write it up in such exaggeratedly irritated terms–but that’s because we’re merely pseudonymous, and Archie is protected by anonymity. The object of Archie’s ire remained anonymous and wasn’t identified in any way. (And as you point out, we don’t know if this interview even happened as described–it may be just a part of Archie’s schtick, which is to be generally abusive of everyone at the AHA. If you click the link, the first person he tees off on is a senior scholar on his panel who blathered on for 40 minutes without a script!)


  7. To go back to the topic of a few days ago of the obscene prices and the lack of free wireless (never mind that wireless at the Hilton was out for a good part of Friday afternoon and evening) I spoke to a colleague last night who had organized a summer seminar in DC. She said the *one* thing that hotels would not negotiate away was the internet charge — even for a guaranteed 15 or more rooms in June and July. It’s where they make piles of money.

    However, I’m willing to spearhead a resolution for next year’s business meeting (San Diego? I’ll be there) that it be a condition of the AHA using a site. We can’t change anytihng for the next few years, I’m sure, but this is ludicrous.

    Oh, and at the Hilton you also pay $15 a day for the Fitness Center. As a woman i met in the elevator said, I can walk the streets, really I can. You end up feeling nickel & dimed on everything, and they get away with it because they cater to business travelers on expense accounts.


  8. Pingback: AHA-ing (Saturday Recap) « history-ing

  9. Susan–that’s a great idea. I wonder if the fact that the AHA rarely makes it to the West Coast will give the organization any leverage. (As in, toss in the free wireless, and we’ll call you our new Chicago.) Like you, I’d be all for it. (Again: there are major cities in the American South and Southwest now, with big conference hotels and facilities. Whose idea is it that we have to continue to fly into icy and snowy airports in JANUARY??)

    I’ll lay off now. Susan and I know that people who aren’t involved in planning conferences sure do have a lot of *opinions*, and I don’t want to be one of those people who just complain complain complain all of the time…


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