Saturday, September 16, 2006

Q&A

Several topics came to mind as I thought about a weekend post. My current internal debate about whether or not to file for bankruptcy takes up a good chunk of my waking hours. These many months of paying my half of the mortgage on the accursed-Texas house + rent for apartments where I am actually living have devastated my already-disastrous-financial situation, perhaps beyond repair. Discussing that, though, would just make me down.

My current road toward a total mental collapse also crossed my mind as a topic. That, though, would just make all of you down. Please send flowers when I finally do end up at the asylum. Like Kathryn Hepburn, I love the calla lilies. My head doesn't jiggle when I say it, though.

Then there are my concerns that Cat is developing an eye infection. That, though, would just make PETA down.

So, all I have left in terms of topics is work.

Yes, my life of leisure ended as I started at the institute last week. Until the Logo channel asks me to star in that all-gay remake of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, I have to earn those coins somehow. It’s hard out here for a prof.

Many of you have asked, “GayProf, we learned from your amazing blog that you aren’t teaching right now. We thank the creator everyday that your blog exists. Truly, you are the most desirable man on the blogosphere. Still, just what are you doing this year in terms of work?”

Well, some of you have asked this.

Alright, a few of you have inquired.

Okay, one of you asked – and he was just being polite. He might also have left out the bit about the creator. Still, the question got posed, so I will answer.

As faithful readers know, a Boston institute essentially bought my Texas-university contract for the year. More or less “on loan,” I am here temporarily to work on/talk about my research. It’s a pretty sweet gig, if you can get it.

Much to my shock, though, people who pay your salary suddenly think that they own your time or something. They have these crazy ideas that I need to go to an office Monday through Friday. There is also something about my showing some sort of productivity. Whatever.

If not teaching, though, then what? Well, that would be the role of a “research fellow.” Most of my time this year will be spent toiling in archives (researching). The other part devoted to attending colloquia (fellowing).

“GayProf,” I hear you asking, “What happens in these colloquia? Also, how did you become the god that walks amongst us?” Both of those are tough, but fair, questions We can only deal with the first today.

Colloquia are the places where scholars present their research to other scholars. Ideally, they present their work at an early stage of their research project, get feedback, and revise it to a better product later. Typical colloquia at most universities go like this:



    For forty minutes, Professor Jones describes an academic problem and how his/her research addresses that problem. So, for instance, I might make a presentation on how people imagined same sex-sex at mid-century using vintage gay pornography as my basis of research. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

    For twenty minutes, the audience asks questions about the research. For example, somebody might ask me if I watched Sailor in the Wild over and over again to appreciate its historical relevance and complexity. Somebody else might ask if my research project is really just a flimsy excuse to watch porn all day. Clearly, though, that person would not be a serious academic like me.

    For another twenty minutes, the audience gathers at a reception to drink vinegar red wine and eat cardboard cookies provided by campus catering. (Given my fancy digs this year, though, these are actually pretty good. It pays to have money).
If you work at a state-owned university, then you replace the wine with tortured brown water coffee.

Now, you might suspect that Professor Jones would be the one who is scrutinized given it is his/her research being presented. Not so fast, say I.

You see, the odd thing about colloquia is that the Q&A period is the most important section of the event. Why? Well, let’s take a look at the reasons why other scholars ask questions during a colloquium:

    30 percent of questions are motivated by a genuine interest in the topic

    40 percent of questions are motivated by an attempt to appear smarter than the presenter

    20 percent of questions are motivated by grad students attempting to curry favor with the presenter

    10 percent of questions are posed by scholars who have lost all sense of reality and have only the vaguest idea of where they even are at that moment.

So, as a presenter, one learns an entire secret language for how to sort through these different questions. Once again, it’s time for “What They Say and What They Really Mean” Theater at the Center of Gravitas. Here are some common academic responses when asked a question and what they are really telling their audience.

    What They Say: That’s an interesting question.

    What They Mean: Your question bores me.

    ***

    What They Say: I had not thought of this research problem like that before, but you question has given me a new way to conceptualize my project.

    What They Mean: I think that you are nuts.

    ***

    What They Say: Could you explain your question a bit more?

    What They Mean: Your question totally stumped me and I don’t have an answer. I am buying time until I think of something smart to say.

    ***

    What They Say: This reminds me of a story about [insert historical figure’s name].

    What They Mean: I totally zoned out while you were talking and I have no idea what you just asked me.

    ***

    What They Say: Read my recent article in [insert name of journal here] and you will see how I answered that problem.

    What They Mean: I am a complete prick.

    ***

    What They Say: My research suggests that [x] is probably true.

    What They Mean: I just made up this entire presentation last night in my hotel room.

    ***

    What They Say: I want to keep my response short so that we will have time to talk at the reception later.

    What They Mean: I am a serious alcoholic and can’t wait until we open the wine (I use this one a lot in my own presentations).

    ***

    What They Say: You are right.

    What They Mean: You are wrong, but I want you to stop asking me questions.

    ***

    What They Say: Your question really gets to the heart of my research.

    What They Mean: Your question really gets to the heart of my research.

    ***

    What They Say: That's an issue that I am going to explore in my next research project.

    What They Mean: I am ignoring this gapping hole in my research and I don't care what you think about it.


    ***

    What They Say: When I was speaking with [insert famous scholar’s name], he/she mentioned this same issue.

    What They Mean: I know smarter people than you.

    ***

    What They Say: I don’t know.

    What They Mean: I don’t know.

    ***

    What They Say: If you have time later, I would really like to talk more about your question.

    What They Mean: I want to see you naked.

    ***

    What They Say: That question is a bit outside of my expertise, but I will try to answer.

    What They Mean: Your question is totally about your own research and has nothing to do with my work at all. Did you even listen to my presentation?

    ***

    What They Say: This reminds me of a conversation that I had with my freshman class the other day.

    What They Mean: You are a simpleton.

    ***

    What They Say: I am not familiar with the background literature on that question.

    What They Mean: I am a simpleton.

    ***

    What They Say: I don’t subscribe to that more “trendy” way of doing this type of research.

    What They Mean: My research methods are horribly out of date.

    ***

    What They Say: Let me look at my notes again.

    What They Mean: Shit, you found a huge hole in my research.

    ***

    What They Say: I am glad this question came up.

    What They Mean: I love, love, love the sound of my own voice. I now have an excuse to talk for another twenty minutes uninterrupted.

    ***

    What They Say: I think that your research [recent article/recent book] is really important to that question. Much of my current work, actually, is based off of some of the issues that you have already raised.

    What They Mean: I am about to go on the job market and am hoping that you will write a letter of recommendation for me.

    ***

    What They Say: We probably don’t see this research question in quite the same way.

    What They Mean: I loathe you.

    ***

    What They Say: When I revise this research project, I really want to incorporate those ideas.

    What They Mean: I secretly want you to spank me.

30 comments:

dykewife said...

i shall have to keep your list in mind, should i decide to continue on into graduate studies. :)

Oso Raro said...

The secret language of the eggheadetry is always fascinating. Even if it may sound just like a dog whistle.

And if you DO go bonkers, I'm sure you will do it in an incredibly cinematic way, fetching and dishelved and fabulous, even in your insanity. Either way, you win girl! So live it up.

Rebekah said...

Oh my.

Laughed. How I laughed.

Have you ever read "Apprentice to the Flower Poet?" It would definitely ring true with you (even though it's about a poetry professor and her graduate student/slave/underling.

More please.

gayerasmus said...

Lol at your breakdown of the motives behind Q&A at colloquia. So funny and so true. You are the new, American David Lodge (only funnier and with better taste in men).

MaggieMay said...

Laughing and laughing. This should be required reading for all grad students.

(And I agree with Oso about your potential breakdown.)

Anonymous said...

Don't declare bankruptcy! Drop the price right the hell down and sell it ASAP--and if the X doesn't want to, get a lawyer? What do our lawyers say--is there anything Anthony can do in this regard?

Whit

Christopher said...

All that fellowing sounds mildly dirty if you ask me (which you totally didn't, but that has yet to stop me).

tornwordo said...

Very funny. Loved the simpleton remark.

Are you guys upside down on the house? I sympathize with the money woes. One of my friends always tries to tell me, "Eh, it's only money."

This never seems to comfort me, however.

GayProf said...

DykeWife: If you do go forward in your academic career, always ask questions. People only remember that you asked a question, but rarely what you actually asked. The first is more important.

Oso: Oh, you know that my breakdown will be in total Cinescope and THX sound.

Rebekah: It sounds like I need to pick up that book. I haven’t read it.

Whit: At this point, it’s not Liar Ex (who told many lies) who is holding things up, but serious problems that have been discovered about the house’s foundation. Of course, I am sure this just gives Liar Ex a whole new set of self-justifications for treating me like shit given it was my idea to buy the house. And, yes, I do feel like a dumb-fuck for buying the house regardless of Liar Ex.

Christopher: Fellowing is kind of dirty.

Torn: I like the sentiment of “it’s only money,” but Chase Bank doesn’t seem to subscribe to this philosophy of life. Given that a good chunk of my adolescence was spent with my parents being totally broke, I had pledged to avoid it in my adult life. No such luck.

Jason said...

I still think you should think about a lawyer to get rid of liar-ex, the house, and attempt to shift as much cost as possible onto liar-ex.

I love the colloquia phrase book by the way. I especially like "If you have time later,..." I've seen that one in action and the knowing glances in the audience.

wayout said...

Is Liar-Ex(WTML) still living in the house? If so, rent your half of the house to a sociopath. Spread the rumor you have never understood why the backyard always smells like crude oil. Create some incentive.

Isodice said...

I'm very glad I read this two weeks before my first-ever conference presentation. Now I'll know exactly what to say!

Doug said...

If you do have a mental collapse, it would be compelling evidence of your genius, given that genius and mental instability are closely linked. Of course, we don't need evidence. We are true believers and worship at the Sacred Altar of Gravitas based on faith alone, but from a historical perspective, it's always a bonus to have evidence.

After I stopped laughing at your colloquia translation guide and dried my eyes, I began to think positive thoughts about your money situation. As you alluded to, though, Chase bank doesn't take positive thoughts in exchange for money, but you have my best wishes nonetheless.

GayProf said...

WayOut: Yep, Liar Ex (who told many lies) lives in the house. Liar Ex's vision of how things should have gone would have involved us simply becoming "roomies" after eight years of marriage. Don’t be mistaken: He imagines himself as the victim (despite his many, many, many lies).

He has loads of excuses about why this is the case. Or he just makes shit up (He has shown that he likes the lies, after all). In his own mind, with all of his lies, I doubt that he can even tell the difference between the real me and the fictional me that he created to justify his own failings. Fictional Me appeared as some shadowy image that had just enough similar characteristics to stay afloat. To him, Fictional Me wasn’t a fellow human with real feelings. Fictional Me was just “clutter” that caused/explained all of the problems in his life. It’s easy to break promises and betray clutter.


Isodice: Good Luck with Your Paper! Remember, you are in control!

Doug: Chase might not take positive thoughts, but I sure do. I appreciate all the good energy that comes my way.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Gayprof, I need your help - you say:

"For forty minutes, Professor Jones describes an academic problem and how his/her research addresses that problem."

This confuses me. Does this mean that there are actually academic problems out there? Where does one find this list? To be honest, I write a paper titled, "Victorian Lesbian Vampires and thier connection to Gypsies as Outsider archtypes" becuase 1) Vampires are cool. 2) people will probably come listen to my present the paper if I put the word lesbian in it somewhere and 3) Since noone but me and six other antisocial people read victoria pulps there is a good chance no one will notice how shoddy my research is.

Is there another way to approach a research topic? If so, where can one learn about it.

I also notice you have missed a segment of questions which seem to spring from the fact that X Professor has not read any books beyond their subject "love poems of the Bawdy Age" in the last 35 years. So a typical question from this professor would be: "How does your view of the gypsie in British society include it's articulation in love poems of the Bawdy Age?

GayProf said...

Elizabeth: Don’t confuse academic problems with research that could actually affect our day-to-day lives or, you know, help people. No, no. Finding out how those lesbians fared in Victorian pulp novels is an academic problem. Did we know the answer before this paper? I think not. Those, you solved the problem.

Yes, you are right also about the narrow question askers. I am inclined to name them a special subcategory of “trying to look smarter than the presenter.” For the other two members of the audience who also only read Bawdy poems, that questioner would be a god.

Will said...

This was just too funny (however, the part about wanting to see you naked can't be all bad), and it had goaded me to do something I should have done to welcome you properly to Boston. From tonight on, there's a link to Center of Gravitas on DesignerBlog under the boston-area bloggers rubric.

And we of the QBB should get together with you soon.

Frank said...

Personally, I find the talk of spanking most interesting in this whole thing. But, then, I'm kinky like that.

Wish I could send you money instead of good wishes and positive energy, but I'm broke, too. Perhaps a credit counseling service? Perhaps Boston's gay community has some sort of How To Get Back On Your Financial Feet After The Lying Ex (Who Told Many Lies) Steals The Best Years Of Your Life While Ruining Your Credit (And, No, I'm NOT Bitter) course or resources? Perhaps a gay tax attorney and/or accountant advertised in the Boston gay rag/listed in the Rainbow Directory that can hopefully turn out to be a rich, hunky gentleman who'll sweep you off your feet and be your sugar daddy? I'm just throwing things out here.

GayProf said...

Will: Thanks! It would be great to meet the QBB. I am always up for new people.

Frank: At this point, I would consider a guy with a car a “sugar daddy.”

vuboq said...

slowly but surely you are making the mysterious and impenetrable world of academia more understandable and accessible. for that, i thank you :-)

now, about those spankings ...

CastleofStink said...

Will, what's the QBB?

GayProf, you said, "I'm always up for new people." --teehee

Academia... oh, my... as a playwright, I think I should write a play about it, but it's been done, most recently in "The History Boys." Since you're close to the city, you should go see it, since you're not busy...

Then maybe you can write "The Porn Boys," and we can collaborate.

Laura Elizabeth said...

Yet more reasons to be glad I didn't go into education. I would have gone postal after one month.

If you haven't done so already, try contacting http://www.nfcc.org/ - before going down the bankruptcy path. They might be able to help you reduce the debt load.

Wol said...

Laughing out loud. I am going to send your url to all of my conference pals who have secretly speculated on the true meaning of such phrases.

MEK the Bear said...

“What They Say: If you have time later, I would really like to talk more about your question.

What They Mean: I want to see you naked.”

“What They Say: When I revise this research project, I really want to incorporate those ideas.

What They Mean: I secretly want you to spank me.”

Hmmmm…. I’m just wondering which one will be used more frequently this year by our GayProf…

GayProf said...

V.U.B.O.Q.: The academic world is very penetrable. You just need to relax a bit and let it happen slowly.

Castle: QBB=Queer Boston Bloggers.

But who could we ask to star in the Porn Boys?

Laura: Thanks for the link. I will look more into this. $=Tears for GayProf right now.

Wol: Use this knowledge only for good, not evil.

MEK: It all depends if you are in the audience or not.

Kalvin said...

I might have to attend one of these colloquia soon. And we always had wine at events, well, we do now, and I'm at a public school. Maybe it's because it's a, ahem, professional school for those with low ethics. ;)

Wiccachicky said...

I LOVE it! So true for what I hear in my discipline as well. A nice refresher before heading to conferences next month.

Yvette said...

Thanks for this--Very funny!

Do these same translations apply for dissertation defenses? Maybe I should lengthen my PowerPoint portion to avoid the Q&A altogether...

Brandon said...

That was totally hilarious! Oh yes, the world of academic posturing is something to be observed.

damion said...

Oh My God!!! This post had me in tears... You could not have hit the nail any more directly on its head.