Friday, April 27, 2007

She's a hypocrite, but it doesn't make her wrong.

Ugh. Check out this story about MIT's now-former Dean of Admissions. I had thought it was just a small news story (I found out about it by someone passing me a Boston Globe link), but now it's hit

I read a book a while back, "The Overachievers", that quoted this woman, Marilee Jones, a LOT, and it intrigued me enough to read about her a little. She seemed to be a very down-to-earth woman and a good admissions officer to have at an Ivy-League-type school whose admissions process must be overrun with freaked-out parents, anal overachievers, legacies, etc. And now it turns out she lied about three degrees she didn't have.

It's really too bad, since, as the article says, she really did seem to be a voice of reason for kids and parents in the college admissions process. Lots of excellent advice along the lines of "stop bolstering your resume and go play outside, for gods' sake." "The Overachievers" was a fascinating study of how freaked-out college admissions have become, and while admittedly all of the administrators quoted in the book were pretty chill (not the vicious "3000 AP classes or die!" beasts high school students make them out to be), she stood out as the best one.

Sucks that someone who emphasizes relaxing about your resume went and falsified hers. Like, hardcore falsified.

Mostly I'm just wincing and waiting for the backlash. A friend who went to MIT for undergrad passed this on to me, and he's livid. He pointed out quite rightly that if this was a politician they'd sweep it under the rug, issue a public statement, and happily bop along doing their job. He also pointed out how ridiculously emphatic people are about degrees. According to him she had done an excellent job during her time at MIT, the students were fans of her, and admissions had really benefited from her influence. Ostensibly, she was a great person for the job. Yet she still felt it necessary to lie - drastically - on her resume to GET that job. And MIT went for it. Because what mattered wasn't her abilities - it was the shiny degree(s) after her name.

I agree with him and understand where he's coming from. Still - way to screw up your message. Yes, students should chill out about their resumes, and yes, there is too much emphasis on numbers and degrees...but now her motives have seriously been called into question, which is enough for some people to stomp all over her otherwise good ideas. Plus, how long until some Larry Summers peon chimes in with "see? Teh Women don't deserve jobs they get! They lie! Even when women *appear* to be qualified, they're really just lying to break into our hallowed halls of education. Cuz bitches is crazy."

I predict the main backlash reaction will be some version of her lowering academic standards or tainting higher education with her girly womanly "stop taking the SAT fifteen times and go be a human being" message. We can't have anyone encouraging our academics to be balanced! That dilutes the quality of our institutions!!!


(and yes, i'm not dead! Things have been really really busy, but actually been going rather well, and we all know that none of us blog until we have something to complain about :P But never fear, classes will start winding down soon...and in a month or so we'll have summer students arriving. THAT'LL surely be fodder for some posts.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech

I'm sure many of you have heard by now.

I can't imagine what these students, the families, and the Virginia Tech community must be enduring right now. I know that many people who only hear this or the news are still horrified and frightened. I think most of us do NOT hear this and think "oh god this will happen in my building tomorrow". It's a much more subtle fear than that.

Many of us see a campus as "different". For students at a school, your campus is very much a part of your identity and your center - it's not exactly "home", but it's something tighter than a conventional definition of "community". It's more than a neighborhood, or a collection of buildings. A classroom is a place to learn, or doodle, or sleep, or watch the clock until lunchtime, but is fundamentally a place of comfort - students are comfortable enough in the classroom to focus on more abstract concerns, be they molecules or naps or lunch with friends.

Incidents like this shatter this ultimately false notion of what a college campus is.
In this Virginia Tech engineering building, grad students probably showed up every day to sit at their computers, do research that excited or frustrated them, bitch about evil advisers, nab free food from the lobbies, and wonder about their futures as academics, as scientists, as engineers. Turning this wonderfully insular and learning-focused environment into a scene of fury, terror, and insanity is unbelievably alarming and obscene.

We do not expect that this will happen to us or our friends tomorrow - but we realize that it easily could have been, that our loved or lovably-hated campus community is obviously no different than anywhere else in the eyes of a maniac with a gun. We realize that our expectations and beliefs are meaningless in this harshest kind of reality. Most of us will go to school tomorrow, go to class, check on our experiments that worked or failed, and go about our day as students and academics. But we will do so with a jostled worldview, one where our daily surroundings are a little more raw.

I don't pray, and the words "my thoughts are with them" are too often thrown around - but I can't help but think of the Virginia Tech community today, and the students, friends, mentors, colleagues, and children that have been taken from them.

As other people are doing, I wanted to offer this space to anyone who may have thoughts or concerns they want share about this unimaginable tragedy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"non-smoking" != "smoke"

someone is smoking cigarettes.
in our non-smoking building.
on my non-smoking hall.

Badly enough that i'm noticing, in my (non-smoking!) ROOM (and typically I can ignore small amounts of cigarette smoke as long as it's not all pervasive or blown into my face).

asshole. at least stick your nicotine-ridden face out the goddamned window.

I just got out of bed and dressed and trolled the hall until I worked out what room it is. I'm going to talk to the building manager tomorrow - although since the only place I can ever find the guy is on his smoke break out by the bike racks, I don't suspect he'll be particularly sympathetic.

I should really bang on the door and bitch him out...but, well, I'm in bed. And I think he's stopped by now. And I've seen the guy who lives in this apartment, and he's kind of large and scary. I don't exactly want to become the "small nerdy girl two doors down who lives and alone and now needs to be taught a lesson". Better to let the large friendly-but-scary-LOOKING building manager deal with him.

Still. How does "NON-SMOKING BUILDING" translate into "light it up, pal, stink up the hall, it's fine!" Grrrrrr.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

my boobs need your help!

I thought this might be the right crowd to ask about something like this...

I am looking for a bathing suit. Specifically, a bikini-ish bathing suit. I have a decent lap-swimming one-piece suit, but it is grandma-y to the point of ridiculousness (it has flowers. nuff said. I decided I wanted a bikini-type bathing suit. My last bikini died last summer, a "you've owned me for seven years and I thought I'd save you before I turned completely see-through" kind of death.

But I have a caveat - I want a bathing suit I can wear to, you know, do shit. Support isn't really the issue - STAYING ON is more the point. I am...not exactly large-chested, but I fall squarely into the category of "tank tops must have built-in shelf bras".

With this in mind, I decided I want a bathing suit with a sports-bra-style top. I saw a surfer chick on vacation once, wearing some fantastic bikini with a sports bra racer-back top; the idea stuck (it helped that she was ridiculously hot).

Ladies and gentlemen: they do not exist.

It took all of 30 minutes in a shop to realize that this wasn't a mainstream idea. Mainstream ideas appear to be Walmart-quality ass-cheap fabric going for $75 apiece (what asshole decided to price bikini tops and bottoms seperately? ARGH), with ridiculous huge plastic squares positioned in the cleavage or giant dangly faux-wood balls hanging from the ties. Why? Just why?

I can't find these online for the life of me. The closest they get are tankinis, which I've never really liked as they are neither flattering nor comfortable, and usually are just regular bikini tops with fabric dangling off the bottom. I can't even find sports bras, by themselves, that were designed to co-function as bathing suits (bottoms are less of a problem). Do they exist at ALL? Does anyone have experience with this kind of thing?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Family-friendly? LIFE-friendly?

Several posts have spawned some discussion recently on how universities should treat those with families, and those without.

A sentiment that is getting voiced a lot usually goes something like "Why should people with families get all the benefits? What about the rest of us? Why are they special?" First, a short disclaimer: they are not special, but their kids ARE special. Kids need parents, kids need care, and kids are the ones who are actually getting the fruits of these benefits.

That said, I do agree with the "What about the rest of us?" part, mostly because I am very young and don't see a family as being in my future anytime soon (it will be eventually, but I don't believe I need to wait until I am married with 2.5 kids to start having an opinion that matters). I agree with the idea that having children is fundamentally a CHOICE (or at least it should be); certainly one of the most important choices a person can make, but a choice nonetheless.

Saying this does NOT mean that being "family-friendly" is a problem - I wish every university offered the benefits that Princeton is suggesting. I'm just wondering why we should stop at family friend. Why shouldn't graduate students, faculty, or others in academia have the opportunity to - gosh - make choices about their lives?

Personally, the first thing that comes to mind is not support for children, but support for long-distance marriages. The fact that so many people in academia cannot live near their spouses is ridiculous to begin with...but let's say in ten years I'm married to someone who lives several states away. My family-institution should support my co-worker's need for flexible work hours and extra money to take care of his kids, but couldn't it also support my need for these same things so that I can see my husband? He may not be a child I need to take care of, but the two of us would, after all, comprise a family.

But then what if we're a same-sex couple that can't marry? What if we've been dating for ten years but just don't believe in marriage? Why should only heterosexual couples with children get help from their institution in supporting their personal lives?

What if I'm single but supporting an aging or sick parent? What if - *GASP!* - I'm single but have outside interests? The very phrase sounds extravagant.

Let me be clear: if there are two people in a group, and one has to stay late, the person who DOESN'T have someone dependent on them should not be the one staying. If I really really want to go to the gym, and my co-worker absolutely has to go assume care of his/her small child, obviously I would happily stay and take their place. I understand that a kid simply cannot be equated to a hobby, an outside interest, or even a relationship between two reasonable adults.

That said, support of academics having lives should not be stopping at the bare minimum required for an employer to seem humane. Support of a heterosexual employee with children is an excellent and obvious place to start - let's keep it rolling. How about some support for those two professors who are married but living hours apart? What about the single professor in his forties, overweight and fighting heart disease, who is finally dedicated to getting healthy and needs some extra time to commit to his food and exercise regimen?

Careful - don't think about it too hard. Eventually the powers-that-be might realize that academia has to commit itself to becoming something resembling a friendly place - and everyone knows that this will, as ScienceProf put it in the comments, "reduce academic standards". Happiness? Life choices? Work weeks of less than eighty hours? Pursuit of other interests? What kind of "academia" would THAT be?!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Desktop meme!

Like Addy N., StyleyGeek, and Propter Doc I also having nothing else to do (certainly not a class project, or paper editing, or silly little things like that). My MacBook Pro slowly cycles through a bunch of my pictures for my background (oooh aaah shiny) so I just nabbed the one that was up at the moment:

The winner is: Venice!!! Pretty classic picture (I found myself rooting for one of the cooler ones), but still nice to gaze at during a long workday. Bonus being that I've been there ^_^

I have gone the cowardly route and blurred out my file names (because they say stuff like "Useless Science Society" and "University of Hot State forms" and I'm too lazy to rename - or I'll just forget what their real names are...) I do realize that at some point I should address why I blog anonymously, but, as I seem so fond of saying, that is a post for another day.

And yes, my desktop is nauseatingly organized. This is because the last time I was desperate to avoid my work I cleaned up the orgy of .jpgs and .pdfs that used to obscure 90% of the background. Apparently that's how I relax/kill time. *sigh*

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Poor Perfect Affluent Kids?

Snarky as the title sounds, I'm not entirely kidding. I caught Bitch, Ph.D.'s summary of Sarah Rimer's New York Times article on "amazing girls" - girls who are smart, attractive, high-achieving, confident, personable, and apparently still "not enough". Coupled with the fact that I read Alexandra Robbins' "The Overachievers" not too long ago, it seems like the focus on the plight of those who have everything is rather high-profile as of late.

Robbins states immediately in her book that she doesn't want her readers to roll their eyes and scoff at the problems of fortunate kids, emphasizing that while the rich and opportunity-laden subjects of her books may not be your standard poverty-stricken protagonists, the problems and stresses they face are very real to them and should not be dismissed lightly. I was careful to heed this warning as I read the book, since my background is quite different from the students she wrote about. The particular topic of my earlier education is a subject for another post - so bear with me and with these authors and, if necessary, suspend your disbelief about how unfortunate these students *really* are.

What both Robbins and Rimer are rightly focusing on is: who, exactly, is telling this students they are inadequate? Are these students simply unhappy because, well, you're not supposed to be happy with yourself in today's world? You're constantly supposed to be seeking self-improvement and combing yourself and your resume for flaws that potential employers/admissions officers might pounce on.

You're Supposed to Be Perfect
The article describes the standard-issue cookie-cutter Perfect College Application: president of everything, AP classes everywhere, three-season varsity so-and-so, volunteers with underprivileged this-and-that, popular, good-looking, confident (not feminized, but still feminine, of course), perfect GPA, perfect SAT's, and a compulsory "quirk" or "hook": fluent in Russian, spent a summer working with animals in Thailand, won a national award for science, blah blah...wait...

THIS has become STANDARD? Good lord. No wonder these kids are giant lumps of insecure. People, especially my more insecure peers, like to scoff at these lists: "Oh, god, how hard is it to get a 5 on an AP test these days? The SATs are soooo easy. Come on, they're letting everybody and their brother onto the varsity squad now." Well, guess what? It's still pretty goddamn hard. Just getting to the level of a standard "good applicant" has become ridiculous.

You're Not Supposed to Be Happy
If I had had all of those credentials after my name in high school, I doubt I would have been so insecure. I would have thought I was Hot Shit. Hell, I had decent credentials that weren't nearly as impressive as these kids and I still thought I was Hot Shit. It wasn't ugly arrogance (well, not much) - it was more a case of "Yeah, that's me! I did all that myself! Woohoo!"

I see two explanations behind this: one is that these kids are not idiots, and they recognize that they've been handed opportunities on a silver platter. They KNOW that they're doing this well in part because they can afford to live in the Newton North or Whitman school districts, because their parents pay for violin lessons and drive them to soccer practice and hire college counselors and buy them the clothes that allow them to fit in. There is something missing in terms of their being able to say "I did all that myself!" They could be scared that, when the support system drops away, they'll disappoint people. Call it privilege or imposter syndrome, but it seems like a real scenario to me.

The other is that someone is telling these kids they're not good enough. In truth, I suspect these might be the rich, talented, affluent parents making sure their rich, talented, affluent kids don't get swollen heads. As someone who is none of these things, I feel safe saying that being a Rich Talented Affluent is socially out of style at the moment, particularly among the liberal crowd. You're supposed to be apologizing for your good fortune, after all, not enjoying it.

Conversely, there are also people (college counselors spring to mind) who are living so deeply inside the bubble that this level of achievement really does seem ho-hum. In my experience, these are the folks who start resenting the students like me, who had what I've heard one counselor call "the underprivileged hook". This implication that being underprivileged is actually a privilege is so ridiculous I can't even go into it here - but it starts tying back into the general resentment women and minorities face when they start getting pieces of what used to be someone else's pie.

You're Supposed to be Perfect and Unhappy for the Benefit of Others
One of the girls in the NYT article mentions pressure to get a high-paying job so she can give her kids the life she's had. It's easy to see how this can spiral out of control - the better you're doing, the better you have to do so your future children can do better than you, etc. etc.
Parental and societal pressure is also obviously enormous. Think of Little Johnny Legacy - if Senator Daddy went to Harvard and former-CEO Mommy went to Yale (remember, Yale women "opt out" when the kids come along! *grumble*), it's a lead pipe cinch he's not going to be going to Harvey Mudd, Oberlin, or Reed, even if he wants to. (and those are all still Really Good Schools). For the love of god, these kids are eighteen - selfish has become a dirty word, but if you can't pursue your own personal interest as a naturally self-centered teenager, when can you?

In general, this topic seems to be a popular trend as of late, and one that intrigues me as a bit of an outsider. I'll probably write about it more in the future (Bitch, Ph.D. covers the gendered aspect of it quite well, which is something I haven't even touched yet), but for now I'd be interested to hear what other people's thoughts are on this.