careers

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)

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.

 

Discussion surrounding sexual harassment and assault in Canada

There has been a great deal of discussion in the Canadian media about sexual harassment and assault as of late; even The Economist has published an article about the subject.  This discussion stems from formal and informal allegations from a number of women who say that they were assaulted and/or harassed by Jian Ghomeshi, the recently fired host of the CBC Radio show “Q”.  Prior to this, I learned that over 300 current and former female RCMP employees were pursuing a class action lawsuit against the RCMP over issues regarding gender discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Also making headlines these days is the controversy over Justin Trudeau’s suspension of two male Members of Parliament (MPs) within the Liberal Party’s caucus; some are viewing his decision to suspend the Members for personal misconduct as politically motivated — done to gain favor of female voters at the expense of the alleged victims’ privacy.  Two female MPs claim that the two now suspended male MPs engaged in harassing behavior towards them.

I read an article in the Globe in Mail recently about a female journalist who was fondled by a drunk male colleague while at a Christmas party, early on in her career.

Sheila Copps, the former deputy Prime Minister of Canada, also came forward recently explaining that a male colleague attempted to kiss and fondle her when she was starting out in her career as well.

When I learned about the RCMP cases coming forward, I felt that the women coming forward were finally taking a stand to say that their experiences were unacceptable, but I didn’t feel as if the issue received enough attention.  Was it because of Ghomeshi’s “celebrity” status that the discussion surrounding sexual harassment and assault has finally gotten some steam?

Regardless, it is positive that many people are thinking about and dissecting the issue. In particular, there has been a lot of discussion about the importance of how society engages in “victim blaming” when people come forward with allegations, which plays a big role in deterring victims from reporting these events.  People are also discussing the fact that many instances of assault or harassment become a “he said/she said” scenario because there are often no witnesses*.  These two factors compound distress for the victims, and the latter could even create issues for the falsely accused, making for a very complex issue.  Let’s face it though, do women make this stuff up?  With the way society burdens victims and blames them, it’s almost as if we believe that they do.  The most important issue at hand is the under reporting of harassment or assault because of the burden placed on the victims, and how we can better support them.

Better yet, how can we deter potential harassers and abusers from committing these acts in the first place?  This is not a new question, but one solution is for victims to demand respect when formally reporting these events to create a culture more geared to supporting them.  Lately we are seeing women discussing these issues more publicly.  If perpetrators knew there was almost a guarantee of victims reporting I imagine inevitable consequences could be an effective deterrent.  I realize this is easier said than done, however, as part of the male power dynamic of engaging in this type of activity implies that the victim’s will during and after the fact is manipulated by the perpetrator.

All of this said, I hope all of this discourse means that we are at a crossroads where awareness will help us to make systemic changes to how women are treated both in and out of the workplace.

By the way, where is Jian Ghomeshi anyway?  Is he still in Canada?

* I realize that the instigators of harassment/assault are not always men, and that the victims are not always women, but this is frequently the case.

Quitting with Creativity (and Impunity)

“I quit”:

http://www.departurememo.com/

The above memo reminds me of one Monday morning when my boss proudly announced to me that  he “worked all weekend”.  I replied, “Good for you.  I made cheese soufflé“.  I don’t think he understood what I meant; although, I think work-life balance was more acceptable where I was in comparison to this woman’s former workplace.  It can’t be easy paying back those United States law school loans, though…

Government Job Interview #8053

I’ve applied to so many jobs and done so many interviews with various levels of government in the past year or so that I don’t even remember having applied to the positions anymore!

There are really only so many interviews one can spend time doing before the realization comes that it’s great to do interviews, but a complete waste of time to keep participating in them if they never amount to anything.

I realize there are people out there who can’t even get a single interview, anywhere.  I know.  Although, in that situation at least one can take comfort in the fact that he or she won’t be used as a checkbox, i.e., so the hiring committee can report that it interviewed someone qualified, but that the “most qualified” candidate (the person who knows someone on the inside) is the one who gets the job.

Unfortunately, I am starting to feel like the proverbial donkey chasing the carrot.

That’s why at the same time, I am going to grow my own garden full of carrots, damn it, even if I have to start from seeds.  Then I can add whatever other vegetables I bloody well want.   Then my soup will be the best, and I’ll be selling it at a high price!

“No soup for you!  Don’t come back for one year!” I’ll say.

from danferraroblog.com and originally from 116th episode of NBC's Seinfeld.

from danferraroblog.com and originally from 116th episode of NBC’s Seinfeld.

Still Unemployed But Not Hopeless

As discussed previously, my most recent attempt at finding employment within the industry in which I was previously working did not pan out.  It is as if the universe is telling me to just stay away from that career path and move on to something else (if I was to believe in fate as the only factor at work of course).  Today it is difficult to change careers without returning to school in some capacity.  Unfortunately, pursuing higher education demands forking out money for standardized testing, and one cannot really avoid this, particularly if one would like to have the option to attend school in the U.S. or Canada.

My partner’s recent experiences at a large, well-funded U.S. university has been an eye-opener in terms of the current state of the academic system.  The employment prospects and practices at colleges and universities for today’s up and coming academics appear to be dismal at best.  There is not a lack of funding for research in the United States, but there is a lack of publicly sourced funding, in comparison to what was available in the past.  Despite these facts, the number of PhDs granted by institutions is on the rise, and it seems that the culture of academia appears to favor a more corporate mentality than ever before, where instead of profit in dollars, growth in terms of number of PhDs granted is academia’s currency.  It would not be in the interest of a college or university to dissuade potential graduate students away from graduate school, now would it?  Besides, there are so many foreign students willing to come to the U.S. for a PhD or postdoc, so why turn away cheap research labor?

Knowing this, I wrote the GRE* anyway because I want to have different career options, one of which would involve research, despite the crappy state of academic jobs these days.  Knowing what I know, I would prepare myself to be able to do research outside the world of academia if I ever did decide to take on doctoral work.

Since we know life is uncertain, and given my continued state of unemployment, I am considering law school also as part of my future career leveraging strategy**. I also know that there has been a decline in those sitting for the LSAT in the last few years, especially in the U.S.  I’ve read that the lower numbers have been attributed to outrageous law school tuition rates, fewer jobs available, etc.  Recently, though, the number of people writing the LSAT has picked up again.  With an improved economy I am sure more work will be available in the future.

All career options have their pros and cons.  Being a Gen Xer coming out of the Great Recession, I have to keep an open mind about the future.  I have to consider what I am passionate about, while at the same time I have to think about what’s practical for me, too.   If I spent my time focusing on the cons of every career option, then I’d probably become a complete nihilist***, but like Rustin Cohle in “True Detective” – I am programmed to survive….

* supposedly ETS, the group that administers the GRE, is a nonprofit organization, but given the rise in graduate students and costs to take the exam, I am sure it cannot be an organization which is hurting for money, nor is it likely that other standardized test administration organizations are either, or the test prep companies for that matter….

** these are not my only motives for considering a career in law.  If they were I would not survive law school, I’m sure.

*** not that there is anything wrong with being a nihilist, but I heard it’s difficult to make a living as one these days…