There were a lot of grad students and even undergrads at AMS this year. At least, I met a lot of them. And with them, a lot of different behaviors, which got me thinking about the good and bad role models at AMS. Jessie’s earlier post, If Stephen Fry was a musicologist, also got me thinking about this, because arriving late to your own session is definitely bad role modeling.
First, a disclaimer. I am a bad role model. I am a drop-out. I will never get a tenure track job, and that doesn’t bother me. I work in two insanely different subdisciplines. I no longer wear suits. I like Ingrid Michaelson, to whom I am listening as I type this. I post on Facebook about politics and use the word “fuck” too much. I think alt-ac careers, like the one(s) I’ve had, are very cool, often cooler than all those regular academic jobs. I drink at conferences, and once in a while I bum a cigarette from Ruth Solie. I’m a terrible singer. I am not a good role model for most grad students, really.
My co-blogger here is a GREAT role model. She was a diligent student. She has a TT job; in fact, she’s snagged two of those. She started a really important interest group (pedagogy) in the AMS. She’s won an NEH grant. She’s a terrific role model.
That all said, I will now offer comments on and for students at AMS, as sort of a corollary to her post. I’m feeling like Ms. Mentor here, whose words of wisdom every student should read before getting too far along with a degree.
Use common sense. If you know you don’t have any, you will need to acquire some in order to succeed as an academic. The first person to go to with questions is always your advisor, unless your advisor is Professor Meanyfrown and doesn’t like you. If that’s the case, you also need a new advisor. I’m not kidding. You need to work with someone will to shepherd you a bit through the maze, but not let you lean on them every single step of the way. Questions about how to ask a question after a paper, who pays if you ask Dr. Seniorscholar to coffee, what to wear to a study group meeting, how to introduce yourself? Your advisor knows, because s/he’s been there. ASK. Questions about when you should eat, how to tell people you need to go pee? You need to be able to work those out for yourself. Be adult.
Be polite and professional. This seems like common sense, but apparently isn’t. Don’t interrupt, talk with food in your mouth, ask people you’ve just met for money or drinks, or say, “Hey, nice to meet you–I have no idea who you are.” That last bit may be true, but it’s rude. If you meet someone and don’t know what they do, the right question is, “What are you working on these days?” not “So, what kinda shit are you into?” Speak like a member of the community. Dress (for the most part) like a member of the community. You may think it’s ok to wear your “Fuck the 1%” tee-shirt to the opening reception, but you’re going to be surrounded by people who may one day vote on your tenure, your publications, your promotions, and even if they agree that the 1% sucks, they’ll remember your bad judgement even more. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to appear professional; nice jeans and a pressed shirt are perfectly acceptable. Three-day old dandruffy beard scruff, yoga pants, and the hat your brother wore all through Outward Bound are not. Old shoes can be polished. I have multiple piercings and a tattoo, many of which are on display at conferences; but I’m not showing them through ripped tights or wearing safety pins in them.
Party-crashing is a great way to meet new people, students and those who are finished, in your geographical area or area of disciplinary interest. But do know at least one person at the parties you crash; showing up and not knowing anyone is a little awkward. “So, are you interested in British music?” “No, man, I just heard you had some good beer. I’ll do anything for a free beer.” No. Remember that thing about future colleagues who will have influence over your career? Yeah.
Practice your elevator speech. This is the talk you give if you only have from the ground floor to the 5th to pitch yourself and your ideas. While you’re not selling your diss or a screenplay, this is a good guideline for introductions. “Hi, I’m Sally Sibelius. I’m doing a dissertation on nationalism at West Finland U.” Perfect. I now know who you are and what you do, and, probably, at least one person teaching at your school. If I’m interested, we can have a conversation. If I’m busy or not interested, I can be polite before going elsewhere. “Hey man! I’m Yuri Janacek, nice party! Who are you? Oh, ok, yeah, well, I’m a student, yeah, and I love dissonance! You know that place in Jenufa, you know, that big orchestral chord, yeah, it’s intense. It’s like, man! Hey, today I met the guy who wrote that book on Stravinsky! I almost died! I HAD to tell him how much I like dissonance, yeah, I think he was like trying to have lunch, but wow! It was that guy!” No. Just no.
Keep in touch with new contacts, but remember they’re not your mom, or a replacement for your common sense. I love hearing from students I’ve met on Facebook; it’s casual, non-obligation-causing, and easy. It’s appropriate to friend people you meet at conferences if you had a good chat with them that went beyond the elevator speech. I’ll friend students doing interesting research or who seemed nominally intelligent when I met them, who who are working with faculty who are my friends. But there are limits. If you email me before the conference is even over and ask me where I think you should go to grad school, or for a letter of recommendation for a scholarship, that’s not appropriate. If you’ve just met me (or another scholar), you should probably get to know me before you get super chummy, ask me for letters of recommendation, or ask me to be on your panel. Not every scholar you meet at AMS or anywhere else thinks we should be sending students to grad school for musicology with the current job market. Not everyone will have the desire, time, or ability to help you. This is why you have an advisor: so you don’t ask fairly random people for help in what may be inappropriate ways.
Also about Facebook. Your profile may be as super-private as you can lock it down, but if you friend colleagues–and this includes other grad students–you need to watch what you post. Remember about what people remember? If you and Anna Arensky are FB buddies and you post about not being able to finish papers or not understanding basic analysis, having trouble getting to class on time because you can’t figure out the bus schedule or aren’t disciplined enough to get up, or other things in this nature, you open yourself up to Anna remembering you as a nincompoop should you ever apply for a job at the same school as her, have her as your grants committee chair, etc. (And seriously, if you have problems like this, academia is probably not for you. Reconsider before your student debt grows.) Be yourself, but think of what others will think. Put your most intelligent persona forward. “Ugh, I have a cold,” is fine; “Wow, my toenail is gross! It has all of this pus coming out of it and it’s kind of green,” is TMI. In general, if you wouldn’t say it to a search committee, and be able to discuss it intelligently with them, don’t post it.
Finally, go to papers and sessions. I overheard far too many students talking about how they only went to one paper (!) or one session. Conferences are business: you’re going to participate as a professional in your chosen field. Yes, socializing is important too, but if you don’t get to any papers, or you don’t learn anything new, then you’re wasting time and money by going. When you’re a senior scholar, and your conference schedule is full of meetings for committee work, meetings with your publisher, etc., then you can think about skiving off. Til then, your job in going to conferences is to hear new research, watch how people give papers, think about what you’ve learned, prowl the book exhibit and see what’s hot. Don’t think of it as a junket to a cool city: do your job.
Look for good role models. Who gives papers that are well-written and make sense? Who handles tough questions well? Who asks tough questions in non-offensive ways? Who’s doing a lot of service work and what are they doing? Who is willing to talk to junior scholars and students at the parties? Who is publishing a lot in your area? Who has great new books out? Who looks and behaves professionally? Who will be your role models, and how will you emulate them and interact with them, and your colleagues?
(Cross-posted at academicronin)