What has been up? Well, I haven’t written that much, for this that is, because there’s been a bit of this and a bit of that, followed by all kinds of other endeavors that end up taking my time. I did a lot of photo work last month and then I’ve been occupied by helping my students to get their theses in order, grading exams and essays. That’s all fine. They need to get their work done so that takes precedence over whatever this is. I’ve had some time to write, drafting some new stuff and combining some leftovers from articles into my dissertation, for that section that I need to do. I’ve also done some reading and writing on the work of Gabriel Tarde, something that I hope cover later on at some point.
I’ll keep this short, for once. I can’t remember if I mentioned it, I probably did, but anyway, I was, let’s say, passed over for a salaried PhD candidate position last semester. That’s hardly news because since the first initial grant from the department, I haven’t had any luck with grants, for reasons unknown (as the process is as opaque as it gets, as I’ve pointed out numerous times in the past already). To my surprise, that time I did get feedback, from three people, one who clearly liked my work and two, who, I remember were not negative, as such, but let’s say they were, at best, lukewarm. The gripe they had was that I lack a plan for the period of time I am asking for. That would have been 12 months. I did point out in my application that I have two articles out, two in review, so I expect to be done soon-ish or anything between 12 months, considering that the review process always takes its time. It’s funny how it was even pointed out that so far so good, decent publications, well done with the resources I’ve had (read: none) and about a year for this would make sense. The gist of it was that it would be great to get his (my) PhD done, but, perhaps, some other source should fund this, because, I take it that, there’s not a clear plan. What … plan? For me to wait? On my own, while read my texts? How on earth can I plan that? Right, so, this day, week, month, I’m doing nothing essentially nothing, just twiddling my thumbs, unless the articles are out of review and I’m (t)asked to do some corrections. Is that what’s missing? That I wasn’t indicating which day, week or month I’m more or less idling, as opposed to pointing out that I hope to get this done ASAP and I’ll do what it takes when I have the chance to do something that will help me get things done so that I get my degree. Infuriating. If it was up to me, I’d be done already, two or three years ago. Yes, I am that efficient. Others are not.
Anyway, in the meantime, I managed to get one of the articles out, with, somewhat surprisingly, very favorable reviews and useful feedback. None of this boorish yet superficially polite commenting on how I do things wrong just because I don’t follow some trendy school of thought, cough cough ethnography, or the like. Instead, I got some actually good comments, some which led me to read certain texts that led me to read other texts, gave me insight into this and that, not necessarily directly related to what I do but interesting nonetheless. See, I was totally worth the trust. I pointed out that this is what’s what and I delivered. I’m still waiting for the other article to come out of review. Assuming things go smoothly, which they may not, given how I have no say whether a text gets accepted or not, nor for what reason. Not bad for someone without a plan though, eh?
The fact that I didn’t land that gig led to another opportunity, which I wouldn’t have been able to take if I had landed that 12 month position. So, instead of that, I was tendered a half a year contract, teaching, handling a couple of courses and running MA thesis seminars. To be honest, the job wasn’t offered to me on the basis of academic excellence or some other nonsensical formal criteria. It was purely out of necessity, getting someone to do the job. I’ve only done a couple of lectures in the past, so, as some might say, it’s kind of silly to see me teaching, doing anything responsible. Come on, a student, teaching students! Nonsense! That said, as I’ve had some chats with students, they seem to have liked the way I run things. For me, the main thing is that I make things happen. Boom. Done. No unnecessary waiting. No piling up work and then failing to get anything done. Flexibility. Flexibility. Flexibility. Some might say that I’m too sloppy, too lenient, too informal. Maybe I am! Then again, it seems that I get things done, despite the seemingly haphazard appearance. Want feedback? I will give it to you. Want me to read through your text, make suggestions as to what to add, remove, change, order differently? Just ask me. Wanna see me personally, for some reason, be it course related or not? Just ask me. I make things happen.
The thing with the teaching has also been that it hasn’t been me just holding some lectures or giving people feedback on what I want them to do in their theses. For me, when you are attending my lecture or my seminar, you are learning with me. Sure, I may know a thing or two more than you, albeit that’s not true with regard to everything. I get a lot out of it. When I read theses or just course essays, it’s not just a mundane experience where I grade you according to some formal criteria. Yeah, sure, okay, I have to grade you. There’s that. But what’s been interesting is to notice how good some of the texts I’ve come across are. There’s of course quite a bit of variation. Some texts aren’t that great whereas others are. Then there are those standout texts, that just strike you, leave a long lasting impression. They are texts that are out of the ordinary. They aren’t necessary excellent texts. They may even have certain flaws, at least according to some formal criteria used in grading, but grades hardly tell you if this or that person is a good writer, has good ideas or is just inspiring somehow. The grading here is from 1 to 5 (E to A). Some students want those 5s (those As), but, if you ask me, a 4 (B) can be more interesting and captivating reading than a 5. I like certain roughness. Too much polish can make things tedious, drab and unimaginative. This is also why I greatly dislike formality. I understand it and I’m well capable of it, if necessary, but I think it’s just unnecessary. I could go on about this, how it leads to issues pertaining to power relations, but I’ll refrain this time. I’ve written about that before, so it’s not worth getting into that.
What is so interesting about reading those texts is that the people who write them are often considered mere students. In other words, the younger they are, not necessarily in terms of age, but in terms of time spent at the university and completed courses, the stupider they are considered to be. What’s actually stupid is this supposition that students are stupid, just because they are students and thus lack some piece of paper with a couple of signatures and stamp that supposedly tell others that this person is worth your while, i.e. not stupid.
I remember this treatment. When I was an undergrad, the staff tended to treat the younger students, namely the first and second year students, as pillocks. This changed somewhat at around the third year, certainly after people got their BA. Of course that was not the case with everyone. I think it was mainly the old guard, people who had credentials from some top of the line institution, who tended to engage in such behavior, emphasizing formality and the gap between the ‘educated’ and the ‘uneducated’. On the plus side, some of the staff just about to retire were also off the hook cool, not giving a hoot about what other staff members think about them. They’d point out that they do things the way they do because it’s not like it will get them fired, when they have like less than a year left. Oddly enough, by being unorthodox, they actually got things done.
I reckon the attitudes have changed from those times. I think the younger staff members have a different attitude to all this. Where you actually still see this posturing is at the graduate level. There are of course differences between people and between disciplines, as it seems that people in certain disciplines are way more laid back than people in certain other disciplines, perhaps because they are keenly aware of the underlying social aspects, i.e. how power relations work. In general, based on my own experiences, grad students tend to be thought of as bunch of … muppets.
For example, I once got feedback from a supposedly reputable journal, where my manuscript was referred to a piece of student work. That is correct in the sense that back then and as of now, as I write this, it would ok to call me a graduate student. I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was single blind review process, so the reviewers could have actually checked on it, that I’m a student. Of course, that doesn’t matter as I can’t take seriously any arguments that come from people who start things by going for argumentum ad hominem, for the lack of authority, stating that something is unworthy because it’s been written by a student. As I pointed out, I don’t mind this personally. Above all, for me, this is more telling about the reviewer(s) than anything else and, by proxy, the journal for approving such behavior. I reckon the editor probably didn’t even read the comments, just saw two rejections, thought that this is a clear cut case, and clicked on something for a final rejection that then creates an automated statement. I mean the editor’s template statement was overly polite, to the point of hilarious rigidity, explicitly indicating appreciation for getting the opportunity consider my work, which, then, according to the reviewers, those who rejected it, was not worth publishing, nor appropriate for such a quality journal. Why would you even consider it, put it in review, if your reviewers, some who clearly seem to dislike students, mind you, are just going read it in bad faith, possibly disapprove of it because the author is, oh no, a student? As I pointed out, my guess is that the editor didn’t actually read the review comments.
I moved on because there was nothing to gain there and got the text published elsewhere where it was, it’s a funny thing, actually liked. Now, back then I didn’t really think this from the angle that I’m covering in this essay. What worries me is not that I got thrashed in review, as that’s about me, I can take it, but how an academic, likely holding a doctorate and employed by a university, possibly in a teaching position, conflates bad quality with being a student. For me, this is quite telling of how students are viewed in universities by the members of staff.
In my case, there was absolutely no need to call it student work, despite it being written by a student. Calling it student work, followed by a bunch of derogatory statements, was completely unnecessary and actually also undermined the assertions that followed it. It makes no sense, to show your true colors like that. Anyway, instead of referring to it as student work, the first mistake, making assertions, what I took to be lashing out, for some reason, the second mistake, the reviewer could have explained why the reviewer considers it mechanistic in its approach to what I was looking at, why, rather than providing an arbitrary cut off point in time, what I build on is out of date, and why my findings aren’t significant, but that didn’t happen. Maybe it was not worth the reviewers’s time to do such. I can’t know. I can only guess as I have no recourse (hence my earlier point about power relations). Again, relevant to this essay, the central problem here is that what is deemed not worth publishing, i.e. unworthy, is associated with the status of being a student, that is to say the lack of authority. In other words, because you are a student, you are considered unworthy and what you do, what you produce, your work, is thus also unworthy. The other assertions, that my work is despairing, by being mechanistic (what did you expect, a one-off immersive study of being in the world when surrounded by language? also, this is kinda funny, considering how my central concept is the abstract machine!), based on something dated (as if the date of publication was an indicator of quality?) and lacks any significant findings (only the first ever study of its kind, but, you know, whatever, didn’t provide a cure for cancer, my bad) is the icing on the cake.
Okay, fair enough, it is of course likely that university students, especially those fresh out of high school, aren’t the best writers, nor the best researchers. It’s also only likely that they gradually get better at it. That only makes sense really. Conversely, people holding doctorates and professorships are likely to be smart, knowledgeable and good at what they do, especially when compared to a first year student. That said, that’s about probability, about likelihood. When you state that something is bad because it’s student work, you are saying that students are unable to produce anything good, anything worth reading. It’s stating that anything that a student does is bad in quality, out of necessity. I don’t know about others but for me that is just an absurd thing to state. If we ignore all the poppycock, like philosophy and literature (because I’m sure some people think they don’t count), there are still people like Michael Faraday, a chemist and a physicist, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a mathematician (formally trained in other fields, mainly in philosophy and law), both clearly hopelessly undereducated, i.e. mere students, thus only capable of student work, yet, as we know, their work was hardly unworthy of publishing and remains widely influential, to this day (hence my earlier point about how the date of publication doesn’t matter). And no, I for sure don’t think I come even close to these two. Such comparison is beside the point, a point that even a mere student can understand.
Right, to be positive about this, which is the point of this essay, to promote students, it makes no sense, in 2019, to still consider those who happen to be younger, or those who happen to have started their studies only recently, as our inferiors. It’s also telling how I’ve been told not call myself a doctoral student because, well, student has a bad, inferior ring to it. Instead, I am to call myself a doctoral candidate. Ooooh! Swanky! Anyway, I’m glad I get to read student papers and theses. I’ve learned a lot from them, by reading ‘my inferiors’. To be honest, I’ve had the opportunity to read some extraordinarily good texts by students. I’ve been amazed by the quality. I wish I had written them. That stuff does not pale in comparison with what has been published, by people with degrees.
Then again, what do I know? After all, I’m a mere student. So a big … you to all you naysayers. I’m off to read some student papers.