Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Double Trouble with Tribble

Or: A post in which Dr. V gets to talk about academia, blogging, and running all at once!

Sheesh, Ivan Tribble is back! What – he didn’t get enough abusin’ by the blogosphere the first time around? For those of you who missed this Luddite the first time around, here is his first article, in which he argued, badly, that academics shouldn’t have blogs. Many, many people who’ve been in the blogosphere much longer than I dissected the first article. And others are starting to respond to this one. You can find and read many of them by going here and here. Thanks to GZombie for the heads-up on this one.

My personal, quirky take has to do with a subtext of both of his articles. Although he claims, in this new article, that his only point in the original was “be careful what you say…online,” it’s especially clear in the first article that his problem is not just with blogging, but with people having lives outside of work that other people might be able to find out about. Oh, and he has a problem with people with technological savvy. Here’s what he had to say about what he discovered on one job candidate’s blog:

Professor Turbo Geek's blog had a presumptuous title that was easy to overlook, as we see plenty of cyberbravado these days in the online aliases and e-mail addresses of students and colleagues.

But the site quickly revealed that the true passion of said blogger's life was not academe at all, but the minutiae of software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica. It's one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can't afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.
I’d love to see what Digital Medievalist has to say about this. Or Martin Foys, editor of the Digital Bayeux Tapestry. Or Kevin Kiernan, editor of the Electronic Beowulf. Or the fine folks currently working on an electronic edition Piers Plowman. And then there’s the project to provide digital version of every manuscript in the Bodleian Library. I could go on. Perhaps these people don’t do their own coding, but a certain amount of knowledge about “software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica” certainly lets them envision these wonderful projects and communicate what they need to the computer programmers with whom they work.

But there’s also the disturbing suggestion in those passages that Professor Turbo Geek’s great sin was having an interest other than his work! Gasp! God forbid Dr. Tribble hire a well-rounded human being with desires, interests, and needs outside of work. This comes up in the second article, as well. There he writes:
Another issue that emerged is whether it's acceptable for search committees to Google job candidates. My guess is that that practice will become commonplace, as the Internet is more integrated into our professional lives. We all share the same electronic atmosphere….

A number of respondents worried they could be mistaken for an unhirable doppelganger on the Web. I can't speak for every committee, but ours had no trouble distinguishing our candidates from the semi-pro hockey players, quilt-store owners, marathon runners, and grade schoolers that Google turned up. [Emphasis mine - Dr. V.]
Ummmm….First of all, that marathon runner could be your candidate, Dr. Tribble (and why do you find that difficult to believe?), and second of all, why does that makes him or her unhirable? Maybe the impossible-to-please Dr. Tribble doesn’t want any marathon runners in his department, but the people who hired me don’t seem to mind. In fact – and this is my real point – not all hiring committees are as rigid as Tribble’s. I actually put my marathon times at the very end of a version of my CV that I sent to small colleges and universities in small places, on the hunch that they might be worried about someone coming from a Big and Cosmopolitan city and an R1 university. I had a whole bunch of interviews and campus visits, so it didn't seem to hurt me. Sure, maybe some of the people turned me down because they thought “My god, she has other interests!” But I wouldn’t have been happy there anyway. In the interviews I did have, many people began with ice-breaker questions about running. Many of them were themselves runners. Some were impressed by my time-management skills. One committee chair specifically told me that my hobbies, which seemed adaptable to her university’s small town, convinced her that I might like it there. And get this: one committee member, on my campus visit, took me to meet the track coach and gave me information on the local running club!

It’s not just about running, of course. Substitute your own hobby in Tribble’s words and in mine. (Though runners, I might add, are especially vulnerable to Google – most races post and archive results lists and it’s beyond our control. Am I supposed to run under a pseudonym, for god’s sake?) Anyway, good committees (and I’ve been on two now) – and later, your colleagues – want you to like where you’ll potentially live, to like your life there, so you won’t leave. They’ll ask you if you like x, y, or z that their city offers, for instance, as a selling point. And they mean it, I believe. My colleagues also have lives outside of the university – and that was a general selling point here – and sometimes I see them leading those lives (on the running trails and in the parks for instance) and they see me. They wave and smile and so do I. And then they give me great merit evaluations, too. As long as I’m taking care of everything else, no one cares what I do with the rest of my life.

The one thing Tribble said that I agree with – and which also really puts his “advice” in context – is this:
Getting hired, then, is much like hitting the lottery. How does a candidate get the winning combination? The best advice I've heard says, by being who you really are. Some people will be alienated by who you really are, while others will find you appealing.
I’ve said it before (but not here) and I’ll say it again: the job market is a heckuva a lot like dating. The right match works for both parties. I think I’d be pretty miserable in Ivan Tribble’s department.


Ancrene Wiseass said...

Heh. I like the idea of you running under a pseudonym, gotta admit. It'd have to be something really absurd, though.

Or maybe it could be topical, like "Tribble Trouble."

At any rate, I find it ironic that Tribble's new article recognizes that people need to "be themselves" in job interviews in order to really find the right fit: his last article was nothing if not a clarion call for conformity.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

Okay, I promise I won't continuously clog up your comment fields with multiple responses, but I just read the entire article more thoroughly, and I find the closer absolutely appalling:

"As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don't 'get it.' That's right, I don't. Many in the tenured generation don't, and they'll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

If that's bad news, I'm sorry. But would it really be better if no one bothered to mention it? Shooting the messenger may make some feel better, but heeding the warning might help them get jobs. "

Two things strike me about this:

1) The absolutely mind-boggling sense of self-justifying entitlement. "Yeah, that's right. I'm an old fart who doesn't understand what you kids are up to. I recognize that what you're doing may have some positive applications, but I'm too scared and/or lazy to figure out how to separate the blog wheat from the blog chaff. And hell, I don't have to! 'Cause I'm tenured and I'm on the hiring committee, and you're not. So nah nah nah nah boo boo."

2) He's reneging on his false promise about how people should "be themselves" here, because he's telling his readers that they shouldn't run the risk of exposing professors of the Saurian persuasion to New Ideas or New Media, which might frighten them. WTF? What the hell kind of attitude is this in somebody who's supposed to be a lover of ideas?

Yeah, Mr. Tribble, you don't "get it." But you don't "get it" about a whole hell of a lot more than just weblogs.

Dr. Virago said...

Wiseass -- write all you like!

I, too, find it ironic that Tribble recommends that you 'be yourself' since he's WRITING ANONYMOUSLY! One Bright Star made this point over at GZombie's too.

And speaking of GZombie, he took that "many in the tenured generation don't get it" bit and turned it into "Many in the tenured generation like electric trains. So what?" Heh heh.

Regarding your points 1) and 2): 1) sometimes junior profs are on hiring committees, as are tenured profs who *do* get blogging (or who don't care and think it's irrelevant) too, so a Tribble situation won't be the case on every committee you face. In fact, that's what really bugs me about Tribble and, I think, the general point I was trying to make: he keeps trying to turn his own Luddite prejudices into a general "trend" or "rule of thumb" in the hiring process. (Actually, all of these stupid First Perosn columns do that.) And the problem is that the academic hiring process, for good or ill, is hugely idiosyncratic. No two interviews or campus visits or committees are exactly the same. So every Tribble out there, there might be someone *with* a blog on the committee. And on point 2) basically, Tribble's an ass. Actually, we should all just ignore him.

One final point: Tribble's at a small liberal arts college in the midwest. Such places often seem to be weirdly closed-in and paranoid, especially about the institution's "reputation." And many are in small towns, to boot, so there's no escaping their fishbowl worlds. I think that's shaping much of what Tribble says.