What sorts of academics should there be?

from Carl Elliott, “How to be an academic failure: an introduction for beginners”, The Ruminator Review, but also:  whitecoatblackhat.com/academicfailure/

Carl visited us up in Edmonton a few years ago, courtesy in part due to the work he was doing at the time on big pharma and also as a member of the What Sorts Network.  In addition to enjoying and learning much from his public lecture, we also had a great informal, roundtable session with about a dozen people that was focused on his then-developing work on a particular case in psychopathology that involved a senior professor who had murdered his spouse.

I also had a fun dinner with Carl in which he confessed his slight ill-ease with me.  This was caused by the fact that every time I started speaking, I managed to disappoint his expectation that I would sound just like The Dude.  “Damn it, how can that be?” he wondered aloud, almost with sufficient pathos for me to consider peppering our conversation with some of the many lines I know from heart from The Big Lebowski.  But despite the short-term fun this would have involved, I thought that this might actually exacerbate the problem in the long run, so I resisted the temptation.  “But that’s just like, your opinion, man.” I still hear a small voice inside my head say.

Here’s how his recent article, with all its sage advice on academic failure, begins:

How to be an academic failure? Let me count the ways. You can become a disgruntled graduate student. You can become a burned-out administrator, perhaps an associate dean. You can become an aging, solitary hermit, isolated in your own department, or you can become a media pundit, sought out by reporters but laughed at by your peers. You can exploit your graduate students and make them hate you; you can alienate your colleagues and have them whisper about you behind your back; you can pick fights with university officials and blow your chances at promotion. You can become an idealistic failure at age 25, a cynical failure at 45, or an eccentric failure at 65. If failure is what you’re looking for, then you can hardly do better than the academic life. The opportunities are practically limitless.

Call me arrogant, but I like to think I have a knack for failure. Having started and abandoned one abortive career, participated in the dissolution of a major bioethics center, published dozens of articles nobody has read and given public lectures so dull that audience members were actually snoring, I think I have earned my stripes. It is true that I am not an alcoholic yet. I do not have a substance abuse problem, and no university disciplinary proceedings have been brought against me so far. I am still a novice at failure. Many other people in my own field have succeeded at failing in a far more spectacular fashion than I have, some of whom are rumored to be living in South America. But I am learning. And I think I have something to contribute.  Read more

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One thought on “What sorts of academics should there be?

  1. I loved the following:
    From ‘BBC News Magazine’ March 12, 2012
    “Many of us have imagined writing a letter of resignation that shakes our bosses to the core, but few have actually done it, and rarely even then has the letter been read by millions. Greg Smith, who quit Goldman Sachs this week, has realised our fantasy.”

    YIPPEE!!! A real ‘Sock-It-To-Ya’ letter of goodbye!! – Patricia

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