Category Archives: advising

October 13, 2013, 11:52 am

Crossing on a Yellow Light: Ten Questions To Ask Prospective Graduate Students

crosswalk2-petitinventionLongtime readers of the Radical know that it is one of my policies not to write about real people, but I’m going to break that rule to make an important announcement.

I said no to writing a graduate school recommendation for a candidate applying to PhD programs in history.

That’s right, me. Me, who thinks it paternalistic to keep intelligent people out of graduate school. Me, who believes fervently that our nation would be better off with better-educated people in it (if you don’t believe this, pick any Tea Party congressperson at random and ask that person a question about the female reproductive system, what the Bible or the Constitution actually says, political history, race and/or how government works.)

Let me just say: I did not turn this student away for political or ideological reasons, or because said person does not deserve a shot at a career in history. My…

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April 21, 2013, 3:56 pm

On the Giving and Taking of Advice


The mother of us all: Pauline Friedman Phillips, aka Abigail “Dear Abby” van Buren

Ten years ago, in the midst of a conversation, a colleague temporarily lost her temper at me. “Please stop giving me advice!” she snapped. “I don’t want any advice. I just want to talk about this!”

Needless to say, I was shocked and a little hurt. But upon further reflection, I had to admit that a flaw in my socialization had been usefully uncovered.  My friend had not asked for any advice, and yet I had offered it anyway. Why?

The giving and taking of advice is so ubiquitous in university life that it defines whole categories of activity that blur the line between personal and professional. In graduate school, members of my cohort gave each other advice, and it was often at least as good as the advice we got from faculty. …

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January 27, 2013, 10:34 am

Want Helicopter Parents Gone? Teach Your Students To Fly

In today’s New York Times KJ Dell’Antonia weighs in on helicopter parenting, speculating that one outcome of articles like his is to give some parents the warm and fuzzies. After having read about how other people’s  kids wander clueless through their educations, “most readers get to give themselves a pat on the back. They would never do such crazy stuff! Therefore, they are not helicopter parents. Case closed — off to drive the kid to hockey practice as soon as I pack up his bag.”

Dell’Antonia missed the second audience for this article. College teachers and university administrators will be re-posting it to Facebook, with hair-raising stories about the heli-relllies who have been camped out in the President’s waiting room, grimly awaiting action on last semester’s Epic Fail. Parents intervening on behalf of young people who have screwed up in some dismal way or another is a fact …

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July 9, 2012, 4:32 pm

Who Is At The Controls In Your Career?

About ten days ago, Dr. Crazy asked the question: “What do I wish people would have advised me not to do?” Four years post-tenure and about to stand for full professor, she is trying to evaluate a period in her career that has been vexing, stressful and ill-rewarded. Go over there and join the conversation.

Many of us will identify with Dr. Crazy’s self-criticism that she has “let things overtake me that haven’t necessarily been the most positive for me, professionally or personally.” The partial list of what she regrets speaks to many of the ways in which nice people, people who try to identify and meet institutional expectations, can put their own needs last. Worse, engaging in institutional policy-making and hiring can make a good colleague into a target for other people’s resentment in ways that s/he never imagined. As university business swallows time and energy, a tenured …

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May 26, 2012, 2:04 pm

Should Someone Who Has Been Harassed By A Faculty Member Sign A Confidentiality Agreement?

The answer, in short, is no.  Never. And if an administrator tells you that you must do so in order for the university to act, that person is bluffing.

I am moved to address this question because I stumbled upon a blog post written by a student I used to know.  I am not going to comment on the specifics of this case because I know absolutely nothing about it beyond what is alleged in the post.  But I do know that I have heard this story more than once, and it sounds familiar.  I also know that it is routine on college campuses to remand charges of sexual assault and sexual/racial/gender harassment made against faculty to secret administrative processes which have little or no legal standing except in the (important) sense that institutions must act on violations of their own rules.  What is too often the case is that the person harmed by a faculty member is asked, and agrees, …

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October 6, 2011, 5:12 pm

Ask The Radical: Are You Clocking Too Much Overtime?

As we were sorting our mail at the end of a long teaching week, we came upon a little cry for help.  Missouri Marv writes:

Dear Tenured Radical:

It was my dream to get a tenure-track job.  However, I am only in my second year in a humanities department and my dream has become a nightmare. The semester is not even half over and I am exhausted.  My classes are over enrolled by about fifteen students. I am behind on my grading:  last week my students asked when they would get their papers back and I heard myself saying that I had left them on a bus and that the Transit Authority Lost and Found was closed for Rosh Hashanah. I barely have time to review the reading I have assigned my students.  Confession? Sometimes I don’t even read it.

Every time I think I have protected a little free time someone schedules a meeting:  worse, our university now uses Meeting Maker, so I get a…

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July 26, 2011, 6:33 pm

Who Needs A Faculty Advisor When You Can Have An Adaptive Advising Tool?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving Tennessee a $1 million grant to help college students take the most efficient steps to a degree. The grant will fund a new computerized advising program….The computer software looks at students’ transcripts and experience and suggests areas the student may be interested in – and the courses to take to follow that path. Joe White, Nashville Public Radio, July 26, 2011

When the neoliberal education professionals adjunctified higher education, I always wondered how they were going to solve the problem of not having full-time faculty available to actually meet with students. Now we know:  getting a good grade in a course will be similar to clicking “Like” on Facebook; students can be advised by a computer to take other courses like that one.  Thanks to the Gates Foundation, students at Austin Peay State University will also be…

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September 10, 2010, 11:56 am

Ask the Radical: A Young Historian Seeks Advice On Overcoming Obstacles

A SLAC graduate in the midst of a prestigious PhD program in history asks us for advice, dear readers:

I write to you today with a very elderly cat sleeping next to me (she’s 18, it’s kind of ridiculous) and thoughts of the job market and my ability to provide food for the very elderly cat foremost in my mind. What I’ve been wondering, lately, is what I’m supposed to do with the knowledge BOTH that the job market is very bad AND that, as it happens, a graduate program is probably the best place for me right now.

(Brief aside: I say this not because I’m Special and Being A Historian Is What I Was Meant To Do, but because, in practical terms, it’s true. It’s sort of weird to tell a stranger this, but the flexibility inherent in graduate school–the ability to disappear for months at a
time and still have money to pay [most] bills has been vital. My parents are both dead and I am solely…

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August 18, 2010, 1:11 pm

Department of Radical Pedagogy: Or, A Few Easy Steps Towards Being A Good Academic Adviser

Thirty-four years ago this month, I packed an old steamer trunk, a duffel bag of jeans and tee shirts, a newish (manual) typewriter, and I headed off to Oligarch University to make my fortune. Having made a declaration of interest in the direction of the English Department, I was assigned a genteel, elderly male advisor who had wispy white hair, excellent manners and the nickname of a baby farm animal. I met with him exactly once, I think, and although he gave me very little advice he also did no harm. Being me, I also didn’t really want any advice. I had been steered, by a high school mentor, to a member of the large staff that taught multiple sections of the introductory literature course to which those of us with an AP were admitted, and I cared about little else. My new professor wore sunglasses throughout our entire meeting and treated me with gravity and formality, all of…

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May 26, 2010, 5:10 pm

Positively 30th Street Early For The Train Cheesesteak Blogging

There has been radio silence for the past several days because, although she has many virtues and resources, the Mother of the Radical (MOTheR) — with whom I have been visiting — does not have WiFi. Fortunately, however, Amtrak now provides a WiFi connection in its Philadelphia station, and I have arrived here early enough for my Shoreline train to have a cheese steak sandwich for lunch. Hence, I am inspired, and wish to debunk the following three myths about what is known elsewhere as “the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Sandwich,” or “Philly Cheesesteak.”

First of all, there is no such thing as “the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Sandwich.” It is called a cheesesteak, and the only place you can actually get an authentic one is in Philadelphia or its immediate environs. If you are anywhere else in the country — with the exception, perhaps, of the portions of New Jersey that are in proximity to…

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