Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to Play An Academic on TV (or in real life)

1.  If you're a man, go for the scruffy "I stayed up all night working on my next big book" look.  Mussed hair, five o'clock shadow, clothes that appear slept in--coffee stains  on the wrinkled shirt are de rigeur. If you're a woman, either go the  chic haircut and designer clothing route for that intimidating professional perfection, or funk up an  unkempt, world-weary look with hightops and a shiny chemise, but always look put-upon,  war-torn, beleaguered as if  you've been up grading papers all night, but never, ever defiant. Female martyrdom is highly valued in academia.

2.  If you aren't publishing enough, be sure to start conversations with, "My next book project . . . ." or "If I could just get off all these committees, I could finish The Hegemony of  the Alterity of Marginal Positionalities."  If someone mentions, say, how nice the weather is, you can always bring the conversation back to your project: "Yes, funny you should mention spring---I plan to have The Hegemony of the Alterity of Marginal Positionalities completed by spring."

3. If you're publishing a lot, always just happen to have the copy of your latest book or article in your hand, and never allow more than 5 seconds to pass before you make an impromptu offering to unsuspecting colleagues. Better yet, don't give away a freebie, just encourage them to admire the fancy cover as you lay it ever so discreetly on the table where you're all sitting for a meeting!

4.  Keep your office door open, even if you're out to lunch. Leave your coat behind and your computer on so it appears you're really there. (Sort of like stuffing your bed when you were a kid so you could slip away.)  Or if you must close your door, stick a  post-it on it that says, "Will return in 5 minutes," but don't date or time it.

5. In conversation, use every form of the word "busy" you can think of, and throw in some synonyms, as well. Phrases like "I'm just rushed off my feet" also add a particularly anglophilic veneer that is sure to impress.

6. Always carry stacks of papers around.  It doesn't matter what kind of papers, even if it's a blank ream of computer paper,  it's the quantity that counts. Make sure there are so many that you appear to be  in danger of throwing out your back.  The colleague who generously holds the door for you clearly isn't busy if his/her hands aren't full. Be sure to say something like, "Lucky you, with free hands! I'm just so rushed off my feet . . . ."

7.  Whatever you do, don't ever look happy. Happiness is deeply suspect. It usually means you aren't busy enough.  It means you have something  satisfying going on in your life outside the hallowed halls. It means you actually enjoy life. Bitterness and resentment are highly valued in academia.  In fact, studies show that salaries can be raised and extra monies dropped into research accounts the more disenfranchised you prove to be.

8.  Name drop---lots.  If someone asks you if it's raining outside, you can always say, "It was raining so much at the Seattle conference where  I ended up having coffee with FAMOUS PERSON IN PROFESSION." If someone says, "Do you have the time?" you can always say, "Oh, time, what a funny coincidence.  Time just got away from me when I was chatting it up with FAMOUS PERSON IN PROFESSION."

9. At faculty meetings, regardless of what the topic is,  preface everything with introductory subordinate clauses that suggest you are actually going to talk about the topic:  "Well, when I served as the chair  on the University Committee for _____, we often talked about this and I was able to hound the dean to get  . . ." or "Let's see, since that was the same year I got my big  fat grant to go to FAMOUS PLACE . . ." Always make it about you. This is particularly useful at promotion and hiring meetings where conversations might actually be  other people. Quick!---make it about you.  Handy rhetorical tricks include, "Well, the year I was doing all that labor serving as elected interim president for the Prestigious National Committee on ______ because members were so thrilled with the connections between my intellectual work and the focus on _______, I was pleased to notice that our candidate attended one of our meetings and gave a good presentation."  There! How generous you appear, and how clever you really are.  Without a soul noticing, you've just  upstaged the candidate.

10.  "Accidentally" leave hard evidence of all your important work in the main photocopy room-----a letter of thank you, an invitation to speak, your 3-pound vitae, etc.  Being busy is not your only job. Being important is even better.

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