Education

Have conferences become a giant racket?

What has happened to a bunch of nerds getting together in a big room, eating some sandwiches and talking about ideas?

Why are people so willing to pay big money to meet other people in their respective fields at conferences, when they just could have done what I have referred to in the paragraph above?

We now have a conference ‘industry’.  Take Ted talks for example.  Come to our conference!  Our speakers have all the big ideas!  These people will save the world!  The conference industry is booming!

Seems to me there is a lot of talk-ie and not enough do-ie.

Take this conference for example, which is only 5 years young:

International Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference

Fancy website!  There is money for that and the nice conference, yet, there is little to no money for research in this field.

If you happen to be one of the lucky folks to have a steady job in industry, government or academia, someone may foot the bill for you to go – $470 for members and $550 for non-members, but only if you register early.  Of course that doesn’t include travel and hotel costs.

But wait!  If you can’t get your costs covered, for the low low cost of $150, you can still pay the organizers AND work for nothing at the conference.  This is referred to as ‘volunteering’ on the conference website.  So there is always that.

Sorry to pick on you, International Fire Behavior and Fuel Conference, but you are following the modern conference ‘industry’ trend.  You folks could instead spend your time figuring out how the dollars would be better spent actually funding climate research, or figuring out a way to actually use the internet to communicate at your conference (the internet — what’s that?) so as to minimize the carbon footprint of the large number of people travelling to your conference.

I’ll leave it to my readers to answer the rhetorical question that serves as the title of this article.

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The $550 conference meal — if you register early (Sandwich by whologwhy)

“He is like I am. He speaks like I do.”

Okay.  I couldn’t resist posting after reading this New York Times article about evangelicals and Donald Trump.  The article may very well be biased, but it is particularly funny.  In it, it appears some evangelicals quoted have convinced themselves that Trump is a man of God, even if there may be some lingering doubts about his Christian beliefs: “If he’s a Christian, then he’s probably a baby Christian,” said one person.

Evangelicals interviewed who are pursuing higher education seem to have greater doubts about Trump’s abilities to lead, though.

After reading the NYTimes, I thought about this other fun article in the Boston Globe which discussed the speech levels of party candidates.  According to it, Trump is speaking at a fourth grade level.  I can’t dispute that it seems to be working really well for him with evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike.

When Christians are willing to put their doubts aside as to whether Trump is God-fearing enough in order to support his presidential candidacy, however, the fourth grade rhetoric appears to be working some big time magic within that group.  Even if you think Trump is right off his flippin’ rocker, you can’t deny how clever he is for using simple speech to reach voters from all segments of American society.

Trump for POTUS!

 

 

 

 

This article just about sums up my first semester of law school

Since I don’t have time lately to post anything of my own, I thought I might provide a link to the blog “The War on Bullshit” which has, in my humble opinion, posted an accurate and eloquently written article summing up how I feel about law school grading.  Law school is an engine powered by a large amount of arbitrariness and subjectivity along with massive egos of academics (easily developed when one has only had to live in one’s own head for the majority of one’s life).  Couple this with a professor’s inability to teach law in a coherent and logical manner, and voila, you have a recipe for a law student’s living nightmare.

Some profs and some administrators* will say things like, “law is a self-regulating profession so self-teaching is critical” or, “law professors are not trained as teachers” or, “you should spend more time learning from your classmates”.  Well, sorry, but that doesn’t give a law school a valid defense for providing sub-par service (let’s not forget that legal education has become prohibitively expensive).  These are only thinly veiled tu quoque arguments: “your marks stink, student A, because you’re not working hard enough / you didn’t learn the concepts thoroughly on your own.” (but these profs and university administrators know this argument all too well). If I’m learning on my own, then why don’t I just attend law school online?

I will also argue that there is a great deal of special pleading, or goal post shifting, occurring on a regular basis:  “We don’t want the smart students to transfer out of our law school, else we’ll lose our jobs.  Let’s make our marking extra arbitrary and our exams beyond difficult, so we’ll be sure to remove as many marks as possible, and while we’re at it, we’ll lower our grading curve average.”

Thanks.  Make sure that I can’t have good enough marks to transfer out so I can float tuition at your institution for another two years.  But this is all just speculation without evidence.  I wouldn’t want to be accused of making a false cause argument.  My bad. It’s my fault for not understanding the highly sophisticated legal concepts being taught to me.

Despite all of this, we are still left wondering why law students have high rates of depression and substance abuse problems.  Hmm, I wonder why.  But again, that’s just causal speculation.

* I say some, because I don’t want to be accountable for making the composition/division fallacy, where I think ALL profs and administrators are the same.  They’re not, but I often hear similar messages from them.

 

Ethics, advice and bros

It’s orientation/beginning of law school time for North American law students (Can./U.S. at least) and things are ramping up to get nuts.  I’ve barely started school and I’ve already had to deal with one ethical issue which I won’t get into and there will be many more to deal with I’m sure.  Dealing with ethical problems isn’t just special to law students and lawyers of course, but so far my legal training certainly makes me think about ethics already and I appreciate it.  I know I’m going to be suffering a lot with all the detailed readings of my core courses soon, so it will help me to think about the big picture: what are the purposes of our laws and what do they say about us as a society?

On a somewhat related note (this is a terrible segue, but I’m going with it), law orientation is great, but I am already tired of hearing unsolicited advice from upper year law students and some professors about how I should operate my life while in law school.  I know most people mean well, care about our success and, hearing the advice once or twice is probably sufficient, but this week alone I had at least 10 people discuss the importance of eating well and exercising, even about regular personal grooming.  I get it – stressed out students probably don’t always prioritize taking care of themselves, mentally or physically. But this week I felt a little bit like I was in a day camp for seven-year-olds, who themselves understand the importance of personal grooming.  Come on guys, it’s law school.  People didn’t bust their butts to get to law school so they could to hear these things over and over.

That said, do not worry upper year students!  Pretty sure soon enough you’ll be able to give advice all the time and hopefully get paid for it, but remember, all of your future clients aren’t likely to be children (not that we should be condescending to them either!).

Also, I notice some ‘broism’ at law school.  Law school has probably always been like that, since the concept of law school as we know it was born. Law still remains a white male dominated profession and is still primarily taught with the so-called Socratic Method (the pros and cons of which I won’t discuss here).  And I get the bro thing to some extent.  Men want to make man-friends. Or as they call each other “bro”, or “bruh”, as in, “Hey bruh, did you see ‘Straight Outta Compton’ yet?…No bruh, gonna check it out this weekend”.  Men should have man-friends, and women should have woman-friends.  But men should also make female friends, and stop ignoring women as if they’re invisible while they are doing their special bro-handshakes to each other.  There is probably some evolutionary-bonding-hunter-gatherer-cooperation explanation for the broism thing. But most people as far as I know, don’t need to coordinate hunting woolly mammoths anymore.

Not all men with male friends do this and I’m not suggesting that.  But for the ones that are making women feel excluded: grow up, because most of your class is female and these women aren’t just there as potential dating material (besides, if you date them, you might get a sexually transmitted infection anyway).  There are also those from the LGBT community, or maybe other cultures, who don’t get what you’re doing. You will have a lot of female and other colleagues who don’t look or act like you, and it is increasingly likely that you will have a female boss.  Excluding women and others just ain’t cool anymore, and remember that the women you’re in class with probably studied and will study harder than you.  And also, one day they just might wipe the floor with you in the courtroom.

Now there’s some unsolicited advice for all of you “brahs” out there.  One day maybe I’ll get paid to give it.

I made it to law school

Well folks, I haven’t posted anything of note at all for a number of months at this point because I was studying for my LSAT and attempting to gain acceptance to law school.  I have managed to do that.  Classes are going to start and I’m getting (dis)oriented with the law school experience.

If there’s anything I’ve always thought about lawyers, it is that they are totally weird.  I’ve met plenty of weird people generally, and in every profession, but some lawyers just have a very strange way of thinking and behaving.  If I become a lawyer, which I hope will happen (I should say ‘when I become a lawyer’, but it’s still a long road ahead), I will still probably think that lawyers are very weird.  Then again, I’m going to law school so I must be weird too!  I have a background in science and engineering; however, so I will probably always think along those lines — I have a feeling that this background will serve me well during my studies and in my career.

I find it funny when students reply that they want to be lawyers “because their parents and/or grandparents are lawyers”. This isn’t a good “main” reason to go law school at all!  This isn’t to say there may not be an influence from a close family member to pursue law, but one goes to law school to think for his or herself, not because mom or dad suggested you do so.  One needs more compelling reasons than that.

I am older than the average student, so I am finding my class to be full of generally nice people, but detecting some sense entitlement from some law students.  Perhaps it’s generational and/or just nervous students posturing, but I find the arrogance unusual considering these folks are not yet lawyers, nor do they have much life or employment experience!  Even as a lawyer, arrogance is likely quite off putting to folks who already find accessing legal representation/justice to be a challenge, if not downright impossible.

Luckily though there are also students who seem to understand this and my instructors have spent enough time in the real world to demonstrate humility.  I don’t think that law schools are helping the cause of access to justice either, by putting a high price on legal education, in particular in the United States.  There are plenty of law school “scam” blogs on the web too, but maybe I’ll talk about that on another day.

Either way so far I am excited to be embarking on a new career path through the appreciative eyes of someone with some life experience, after being caught up in a career that wasn’t really doing it for me for a lot of reasons.

I’ll try to post more regularly, but things are already starting to get nuts with my schedule.

Bring on the weirdness, lawyers!

The Looming Crisis in Higher Education

The excellent article below was posted on the American Association of University Professors’ blog and was written by Martin Kich at Wright State University.  I agree with all of what he writes, except that we have a ‘looming’ crisis; we’ve had a crisis for quite some time now.

ACADEME BLOG

The “real problem” behind the exploitation of adjunct faculty is quite obvious: universities have continued to produce a reasonable number of Ph.D.’s but no longer are willing to hire a reasonable number of them into full-time, never mind tenure-track, positions.

This situation will change when enrollment in graduate programs starts to contract, and even to crater, because students confront the reality that they have significantly less than a fifty percent chance of finding full-time employment after completing their doctorates—when they confront the reality that the majority of them are spending up to a decade or more in graduate school, and in the process accumulating far more debt on average than undergraduates accumulate, all in order to earn a wage comparable to what they could earn as an “associate” at WalMart.

Because the current pool of adjunct faculty has been built up over several decades but is continually eroded by the…

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