Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Why would you want common courtesy in Academia when we have so much fun without?

Perplexing email conversation with senior colleague (whom I have by the way never met)

Chair (to Esteemed Professor of rocks, cc to saxifraga):
"Dear Esteemed Professor of Rocks. Dr. Saxifraga is our new faculty member in Speciality of Rocks and will be the future coordinator of your course. I suggest she gets involved somehow in the teaching this year in order to become familiar with the course content and structure"*.

Saxifraga (star struck): "Dear Professor of Rocks. I understand I will be the future coordinator of your course and look forward to meet you. I will be able to give some of the lectures/ practicals or participate in field trips, whatever you think suits the course".

Esteemed Professor of Rocks (not impressed): " Dear Saxifraga. Who (the hell) are you? This is a graduate course, what do you know about graduate teaching, I am sick and tired of having newly minted PhD's teach other PhD's some textbook crap, they just read last night. Where did you learn about this subject? Who were your teachers? Which textbooks do you know? **

Saxifraga (HUH???): "Dear Professor of Rocks. I suppose we will meet when I start my position and I will be happy to discuss my research activities and teaching ideas with you in person. Until then I am sure the university can provide you with information on my background. I suggest I don't participate in your course this year (because, hello dude, why would you want me there when me presence obviously fills you with rage).

Esteemed Professor of Rocks: "I get the feeling that you were annoyed by my previous email. Why the fuss? I was just trying to find out something about your background and didn't even know you were coming. Even if you are very famous, you shouldn't assume everybody knows you***.

Two days pass where saxifraga has other things to do than reply to grumpy old professors.

Monday morning the saga continues….

Esteemed Professor of Rocks: "Are you still angry with me, stop being such a baby"

Saxifraga (WTF, does this never end): "Dear Professor of Rocks. I am not angry, I am busy and haven't had the time to reply to your email. I understand why you would want some background information about me, but refuse to write a job application to teach in your course. In brief my specialty is such and such, I have this kind of teaching experience and you can read more here (link to department webpage). Whether I will participate in your course or not depends on whether my contribution is appreciated or not. I have a full course load already and suggest we will keep my participation in your course minimal.

Esteemed Professor of Rocks: Cheer up, listen to this and smile (attached mp3 file of actually quite good song possibly with some hidden meaning)

* Chair explains in another email to Saxifraga that this is just an option and not a demand since her formal teaching obligations are already filled with other courses.
**Sadly I am not making the questions up. The rest is not the actual words, but close. The meaning is certainly the same.
***Hell no, surprise or not, I don't assume anybody knows me, but I assume the university who hired me somehow guaranties a minimum expected standard for their faculty.



At 12:27 PM, Blogger Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

what the..??? Bizarre.

At 2:01 PM, Blogger post-doc said...

Wow. That's impressive even by my standards of what's unacceptable. Kudos on handling it so well though.

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Sabine said...

"Esteemed Professor of Assholery and Possible Bipolarism" sounds more like it. Geeeeez, what an attitude....

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Propter Doc said...

I quite like the guy. He sounds straightforward and cantankerous, but I'd just play ball with him and give him a little grief back. You can't loose respect you don't have.

I'd totally send him an mp3 of 'always look on the bright side of life' straight back...or some similar song.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger ~profgrrrrl~ said...

I like the idea of replying with an mp3.

And there's a senior professor in my field who is much like this. Annoying. But generally harmless. Doesn't translate well via email.

At 1:48 AM, Blogger Wayfarer Scientista said...

Huh, sounds like my old advisor. I want an update of your impression when you meet this Professor in person. Perhaps it's an email mis-translation, perhaps you just need to be assertive and attack back and then everything runs smoothly, perhaps you really want to minimize the future interactions.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger saxifraga said...

Thanks every one. This is one of the weirdest email conversation I have ever had. I'm actually kind of looking forward to meet this guy, because at the moment I can barely imagine what he would be like in person. I think I will try to be as little involved in his course as possible because he seems a bit unreliable, like the kind of person who would change his mind about what to do and how to do it last minute and I just can't see why I should add that kind of stress for the first month I'm there. I will start in the position from June and his course runs in summer, but anyway, I'm sure I will keep you updated.

Propter Doc. I really like your idea of sending "Always look on the bright side of life" or similar back to him. I'm not sure I have the guts to do it, though. If he writes back, maybe I'll do it.

At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Sabine said...

I think Propter Doc's suggestion to send "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" is brilliant.

Reading the latest comments and thinking about it, I guess my wierd sense of humor doesn't really translate well through email either. Maybe he's just a goofball, or grumpy like my coworker (and in his case the grumpiness is sort of endearing). Anyway, I hope you update us after you meet him. :)

At 4:09 AM, Anonymous BrianR said...

yikes...he sounds a little creepy to me...you did handle it well

At 3:39 AM, Blogger Kim said...

Now, I've only been in small departments, but it strikes me that new hires are a big enough deal that the entire department would know about them. And that goes double for someone near enough to one's own field to teach the same graduate-level course.

So that makes the interchange particularly odd, and disturbing.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger saxifraga said...

It is probably not as odd as it seems, that he didn't know I was coming, and maybe it requires an explanation of the system here. He is an full professor at another university and teaches only this one course at my new university, so is probably not following the day to day conversations of the department at New University very closely.
It is common here that people at say government research institutes can hold 20% positions at universities on top of their regular jobs and this type of position is called adjunct professor or a second professorship. The particular university I'm going to is small and use this type of professorships to keep a varied offer of courses they wouldn't be able to otherwise. I get the impression that adjuncts in North America are often recent graduates who do the grunt work at a university while the faculty take the better courses. Here adjunct professors are typically full professors who teach one or two graduate courses in their specialty.


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