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.


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


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.


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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Pineapple t-shirt

I bought a linen t-shirt at a department store.  I liked the pineapple on it.  My cousin says if I drew a door on the pineapple that it would look like SpongeBob Squarepants’ house in Bikini Bottom.

Have a couple more job interviews coming up.  This includes a visit with yet another employment recruiter.

I love it when recruiters try to ask you what your previous salary was, which has nothing to do with the job for which they’re seeking a candidate.  I spoke to one particular recruiter over the phone the other day, and told her that I wasn’t going to discuss my previous salary; especially given that I know absolutely nothing about the job requirements, or nothing about the company that is looking for a candidate.  Recruiters always love to respond with the standard, “Well, we can’t help you” and then I basically say, “Well good luck finding someone else”.   I mean, they’re calling me, right, and, do I ask them what their salaries are?  It’s so much bullshit, and meanwhile, I know that there aren’t many people who have the type of experience I have.  I could have said that I did backflips at my last job and this recruiter would have believed me.  Given that I worked at the circus, this wouldn’t have been too far off from the truth.

It’s also almost time for another government job interview.   Those people should be tired of interviewing me by now.  I know I’m tired of talking to them.

If neither of these opportunities lead to a job, I’m going to move to Bikini Bottom and will get a job flipping Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab.  Perhaps my t-shirt purchase was prognostic.

My future home in Bikini Bottom

My future home in Bikini Bottom

I am a Bullshit Girl, Living in a Bullshit World

We survive in an economy that is built on bullshit.  I think about real estate agents.  Bullshitters.  What do they actually do?  Nothing.  I renovated my bathroom and broke my back doing it, so remind me again why these people think they are justified in taking 2.5% of the total sale price of my home?  Just because the agent put a bouquet of flowers out, which someone else arranged?  Sure.  I enjoyed the lousy bottle of wine you sent me as a thank you for the thousands you skimmed off the top.  I made sure to chill it first.

I won’t mention politicians, because they are just old-fashioned bullshitters.  I’m talking about modern age, à la mode bullshitters.  The Economist magazine, in the article “On bullshit jobs” cites an essay written by David Graeber, an anthropologist, who discusses work in the modern economy.  I was so inspired by this article and my recent experience that I thought I would blog about it.

Next on my list of big time bullshitters are employment recruiters.

In my recent experience, a recruiter called me to tell me that the company I applied to was looking for someone like me, and then said I didn’t have the experience the company was looking for, all in the same sentence.  It’s like he said to me, “we are desperate for people!  But you need to beg for this job because you need to justify your skills to me even though I don’t understand anything about what it is that you’ve outlined your resume…now beg…and get down and give me 20!”.  I thought, this person must have Borderline Personality Disorder.  Not only did this recruiter put me off immediately with his pathetic social skills, but he wasn’t even capable of communicating with me throughout the recruiting process.

I had to, in fact, be the one to actually ask him where my second interview was going to be located, and with which company representatives I would be interviewing.  I guess he just assumed I would somehow instinctively know these details, after flying halfway across the country to an unfamiliar city.  In fact, when I arrived to the office that day, I found out I was in the wrong office for the interview and that I had to go to the other office, because the recruiter gave me the wrong address information.

About a month later, following the interview, the recruiter still didn’t get in touch with me to let me know what was happening in the hiring process.  I had to ask him.  His only job — to send e-mails or make phone calls; to be a go-between for the company and its prospective employees, was done poorly.  He doesn’t actually have to have any specialist skills whatsoever and even then, he was still incapable of doing his bullshit job properly.   Even if I’m given a job offer, do I want to work there?  Not really.

By the way, what is a management consultant anyway?  Just what is that?  What about pyramid schemers?

More or less though, companies exist as gigantic pyramid schemes anyway. I’ve devised a test: print your company organization chart.  Draw lines around all the names listed on the company’s organizational chart.  Ask yourself:  Did I make a triangle shape?  Then ask, is my name even on the org chart or am I such an unworthy tiny minion that my name is not even published?  In this case, it’s what I like to call a super-duper pyramid where you are so insignificant that you are actually extra-pyramidal.

There are lousy, incompetent people in every profession you can think of.  Don’t assume because one is a lawyer (likely bullshitter), doctor (potential quack), or senior university professor (possible PhD student slave driver with no recognizable research skills) that competence comes with the title.  I think the majority of professionals are trying to do the right thing, but it is better to be skeptical and allow a professional to earn your trust and money.  I’m not fooled by letters after a name.  I knew a guy in university who, from what I heard from multiple people, lied and cheated his entire way through university and I believe now he is a practicing medical doctor.

But now, we have a whole slew of ill-qualified bullshitters, with little knowledge or skills, making a buck in the bullshit economy.  Yet, we are so limited as a society that we don’t fund, I don’t know, say,  important scientific research, since all the money is being used up by the bullshitters doing their bullshit work.

There is hope, though.  I have coped in this world by honing my bullshit radar.  You could do the same.  The better you get, the more bullshit ‘blips’ you’ll get on your screen, so you’ll be prepared for the bullshit that is fired your direction.  This way, you can say, “Do not bullshit a bullshitter” with confidence.  Then you can sell your house yourself and find your own (I won’t say it) job, maybe even start your own (I won’t say it again) company.

Baby Boomer Entitlement

Sorry for the lack of posts lately.  My partner got a job in another country and I am on a visitor’s visa.   And I am still unemployed (but that will change).  Something we’ve been talking a lot about lately is the baby boomer entitlement epidemic.  It seems there are a lot of recent publications on the subject and my partner and I experience this entitlement problem first hand on a regular basis.

We’ve noticed that those born between 1946 to 1964 tend to have a lot of expectations of the people (Gen Xers, and now Gen Yers) working for them – but these people have never had to work as hard or as long to obtain their current career and financial status.  It is important to note here that I am typically talking about white males.  These men coast through the tail ends of their careers, waiting for retirement to arrive, whilst commanding others to do work that they should in fact be doing themselves.  What the boomers have failed to notice is that the people they exploit have spent more time and money in the education system and probably a lot more time being un- or underemployed following the completion of postsecondary education.  One thing for sure is that the education the Gen Xers/Yers have worked hard to achieve is not reaping the same rewards as the baby boomers’.  Not even close.

It is a pattern we’ve observed over and over in our careers, and frankly, we are totally fed up with it.  So baby boomers, I have a message for you: stop hoarding the wealth.  Retire and make some space for the rest of us, you selfish jerks!  We can’t wait around forever to save for our retirement, which continually becomes further and further out of reach, thanks to you.  And stop calling our generation lazy.  You created your own monster, and the truth is, you’re even lazier because it’s been far easier for you to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

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Food Blogging More Popular Than Complaint Blogging

I don’t have any actual evidence to test the statistical significance of my statement, which is that my earlier post on the tarts I made actually got more likes and blog follows than any posts that involve me complaining and whining about being unemployed or other injustices, but it seems to be that food is the bigger winner here.

Maybe I should consider making tarts for a living!  Not that I think being a pastry chef or chef in general is not a worthwhile pursuit – I’ve considered it, but it’s just that after having spent a lot of time obtaining a graduate science/engineering degree, I still hope to find something in my field.

In the meantime maybe I can just put pictures of tasty food I’ve made in between my complaint posts to lure people into thinking that they’ll get to find recipes to be excited about on my blog, and BAM! they get hit up with a true “Why We’re Screwed” post and just end up feeling bad.  Don’t worry, I’ll try not to let the tears drip into the food, guys.

South American Seco de Pollo

South American Seco de Pollo (haha!  Made you look!)

Government Job Interviews

The unemployment saga continues.

My partner and I applied for two government positions recently.  We both interviewed for the same position approximately one month ago.  We were both invited to interview for another position this week, although this position is of a slightly higher pay grade than the last one.

At the end of the first interview one of the people on the panel told my partner, somewhat rudely, that he had “a lot of research experience”, but that the position wasn’t a research-oriented position.  Translation: “Find a research job”. But there are no research jobs.  And he’s tried, and tried, and tried (see my other post: ” Underemployed with the Government“).

We were also told that we would be informed as to whether we would be offered the position in “approximately two weeks”.  Of course neither one of us was told anything either way, as we’ve noticed is typical of potential employers to just ignore a person following a job interview if the potential employer is not interested. So we both went into the interview this week having absolutely no idea as to whether we were still being considered for the other position or not.  I have a fair bit of experience, but my partner has a lot of very relevant education and experience for the positions, and really, there isn’t much possibility that there could be anyone more qualified for either job if you ask me.

Many of the questions asked during the previous interview we had were repeated for this week’s interview.  I should also mention that the interview panel was 15-20 minutes late in calling me, and no one thought to apologize or give a reason as to why. At the end, I asked the panel if any candidate was chosen for the other position (first one for which we interviewed).  They replied that no decision was made and that I would be informed later but I should still send in my references in case they decide to consider hiring me for the position (sure).

A few hours later, both my partner and I received an e-mail informing us that we were unsuccessful in obtaining the last position, but that we should still go ahead and apply for future positions.  Translation: “Thanks for being qualified enough to apply so we can waste your time interviewing you for two positions, even though we already know who we want to hire”.  I especially liked that the person who answered my question about whether anyone had been hired yet, lied to my face (okay, over the telephone), as in actual fact a decision had been made with respect to who was offered the position.  When the folks on the panel realized that they hadn’t actually bothered to inform all of the candidates as I pointed out to them, they sent an e-mail as promised.

What’s funny is that part of the interview consisted of behavioural type questions, for, you know, collecting information about how well a candidate would work with others.  Well, a good way to build a relationship with other people is by not lying to them.  But since they can’t even follow their own rule or do their own jobs, I don’t understand how anyone should be expected to work with such hypocrites.  But, since they know they have the monopoly on good pensions, benefits and overall job security, they know people are clamouring to get their feet in the door and alas, they do whatever the hell they want.

Honestly, people should just be appointed to positions because government hiring managers operate like everyone else and will just hire the person they like/know anyway.  It’s a waste of time for both sides to pretend to consider all the candidates, and frankly, at the end we just end up feeling used in the process since we know our qualifications don’t count for shit.  Please, just make nepotism and cronyism acceptable practices.  It is way more efficient.

It’s why we’re screwed.