Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Should I call bullshit?

So one of my grad students is spreading bullshit. S/he's telling other students -- who are then telling me -- that s/he got into a very prestiguous Ph.D. program, with a fabulous fellowship, all within a few weeks of submitting the application this semester and then having a phone interview.

Um. Where do you start with "that's not how it works"?

And that's the problem I have. I really couldn't care less that this particular student is parading around like a peacock based on total fantasy. Heck, it might even have the benefit of giving hope to our often self-defeating students. But the thing is, this story is not how it works (especially given the school s/he's bullshitting about). And my students already have enough crazy misinformation and bad advice running around in their heads as it is. Knowing some of my students, if they submit applications and don't get accepted until March, they might spend the rest of their graduate careers thinking they weren't as nifty as the bullshitting student. Or, if they submit applications and have to wait until March or April, they might have neurotic fits of insecurity in the meantime. Seriously, the more neurotic fits I can head off at the pass, the better.

With the two students who told me this "news" about the bullshitting student, I had different reactions. To one of them, who's a pretty reasonable person, I said, "Really?? Because that's not usually how it works." I'm pretty sure that planted enough doubt in her head that she checked things out for herself. And then the other student was so wowed by the very idea of fellowships that I decided to steer the conversation to that.

And maybe I just answered my question, which was what the hell to do about this, if anything. Thoughts?


JM said...

Coming at this from the grad student side of things, one who is in a department with MA students much like yours, I say call bullshit. Misinformation like this sticks in wee brains, and there's nothing worse than having a bunch of grad students running around with ideas like this in their heads...which makes them look like idiots to the faculty, students, and (god forbid) students at grad conferences and what not.

I say if you have the opportunity to inform, do it. As someone who tries to inform the uninformed among my fellow students, they often don't listen to _me_ because I'm their peer. But they listen to faculty (saying the same things). I guess that's a perk that comes with the regalia. :)

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Tell me you didn't write a letter for this person! I'd call bullshit, but nicely. This reminds me of a person I've known for ages, who says she's still working on her diss, although I wonder if she hasn't been dropped by her program by now. When Beachy CC, where we both took classes, advertised a TT job, she told me she'd been invited to apply for the job and that she was sure to get an interview, but it would probably be a formality. Having known her for a while, I translated that as, "you're welcome to apply."


meg said...

Totally call bullshit, I say. Can you imagine what kind of monster this prat will be if s/he actually gets into PhD program?

Alexandra P said...

You missed one - you say "his... something or other." Just in case you want to stay totally gender-neutral.... Sounds like someone who probably needs to be brought down a notch, I think, although nicely. You could always use the "Hey X! How are you? Been hearing some interesting rumours..." tack.

Fast Fizzy said...

"Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire"

Miriam Jones said...

And what if a colleague does the same sorts of things?

Just hypothetically.

Dr. Virago said...

Alexandra P -- Oops, guess the cat's out of the bag! :) Yeah, I wanted to stay gender neutral -- or gender vague, really. I'll change it in the original post at least, but I'll leave your comment.

JM -- Yeah, your advice and the reasons for it was one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to this person. I really didn't straighten out the two students who shared this info with me b/c I never want to seem like I'm slagging off one student to another. But the bullshitter needs to be gently stopped. If I run into the student this week, I'll use Alexandra's jocular advice and bring it up casually. If I don't, I'll take it on myself directly -- call a meeting with the student. Or else, I may talk to the faculty member that the stduent works most closely with and let him deal with it.

ADM -- No, *I* didn't write a letter. No one has. Applications haven't even been turned in yet! Deadlines aren't until Dec. and Jan.! Geez, my MA students are gullible!

Fizzy -- You know, I almost made that the post title. But then I realized it was likely more bullshit than a lie -- i.e., a bullshitter doesn't cover up known truth with a falsehood, but rather, doesn't give a damn about true and false in the first place.

Dr. Virago said...

Miriam -- Just saw your commment. Hmm, that's stickier. If everyone knew it was bullshit, I'd just ignore it. If it was harmful to students or colleagues or the department, I'd say something should be done, but what? Since I tend to err on the side of protecting my own ass (until I get tenure, that is) I don't know what I'd do. When I recently heard one of my colleagues doing something inappropriate and potentially harmful to a student, I went to the chair.

Actually, if a colleague was giving bullshit information to students about grad school, since that's my specific purview, I think I actually would have the backbone to confront them about it, or at least ask if that's indeed what they were telling students. For instance, we have one faculty member who tells students that the life of a prof is easy. Um, maybe for *him*! So I asked him to tell students to talk to an assistant professor what their lives are like these days and what grad school was like, just so they know. Since he saw that as *additional* advice, not contradicting his own tales of academia, he's been actually advising students to talk to us and they been taking him up on it. Then we tell them how much academia has changed since he got his Ph.D. in 1970.

So, there are ways of working around the bullshitters without stepping on toes.

Bardiac said...

Wow, so what the heck does this student think is going to happen when s/he doesn't go off to whatever school in fall on a full ride or whatever?

Is s/he delusional or?

And yes, by all means, try to give the other students a reality check, and talk to the student in question when you get a chance.

Murky Thoughts said...

I agree with whoever said you answered your own question. Delicate but very likely effective.

Murky Thoughts said...

i.e. I'd take E.F. Benson's Lucia as my role model.

Virgo Sis said...

i.e. I'd take E.F. Benson's Lucia as my role model. Murky Thoughts

And a great role model she is. One of my favorites. That makes ACS my Georgie.

(Only Dr. Virago is supposed to get this. Sorry.)

medieval woman said...

Just thought I'd chime in - I would actually maybe talk to the student's most direct advisor first. Some profs can get a little territorial about their students - not that you don't have all the reason in the world to talk to this student personally, being the DGS. But the advisor-student relationship is usually closer and more personal and it might feel less like a smack down.

Either way, bullshit should definitely be called and the fibbing upstart should be taken down a peg or two!

Dr. Lisa said...

I'm rather a dissenting voice here, I think. I tend not to get involved ever in grad student intrigue. They need to sort through this kind of stuff themselves. I would probably be satisfied with saying "I've really flummoxed, because I've never heard of anything like this ever happening. I wonder if you two miscommunicated? Maybe he told you what he hoped will happen?" And then be done.

If you don't have any absolute *proof* that he's said these things, and that if he has said them, they are untrue, then depending on how you call BS, you could look like you have it out for him, and that's always rough for feminist professor when vis-a-vis swaggering male grad student.

Of course this person needs to be taken down a notch, but I never think **I** am the one who has to do it. These types of people are usually the agents of their own downfall.