Conforming for tenure

From AnnMaria De Mars’ most recent blog post:

Recently, a young person told me that I could hold to my principles about the importance of my family, honesty and equality—and any of a hundred other things because I had “made it.”

This troubled me. It troubles me when I hear the same thing from new Ph.Ds who are trying to get tenure. I don’t see how you can pretend to be someone else for 5 or 10 years until you have “made it” and then be your true self.

Emphasis added.

12 thoughts on “Conforming for tenure

  1. The problem is that it is a never ending wheel…

    1. Things will be so much better once I am in college…
    2. Things will be so much better once I have my degree…
    3. Things will be so much better once I have my Ph.D…
    4. Things will be so much better once I have a job…
    5. Things will be so much better once I have tenure…
    6. Things will be so much better once I am a full professor…
    7. Things will be so much better once I have a research chair…

    You just think that the next step is the last one, but it never is. Not if you are ambitious.

    Even Nobel prize recipients are sometimes cheaters/aggressive players.

  2. I know of a fellow who, upon observing his teachers persona, decided to take notes on the teacher instead of the course material for the semester. Then said fellow answered all test questions the way he thought the teacher would and earned an “A” for the course. What did he learn?

  3. It IS possible to get off the merry-go-round. I just left my dream job as a test pilot to live my dreams. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but I am getting by with more than enough, more than I deserve.

    The transition has made me think that perhaps we see what the TRUE self looks like a little differently now than we did five years ago.

  4. Sure it’s about ambition, but doesn’t being (or trying to be) your true self throughout the whole process give you the best feedback about whether you can make it anyway? That way, it is (hopefully) less likely that you find yourself having made it through some number of those steps and realizing that you’re not who you wanted to be.

  5. Matt: The problem I see there is if you don’t wait until you are older, you may not have the financial stability to properly support children.

    Jeff: Almost nothing. Nothing useful anyway.

  6. I had a room-mate at CSS in Quantico who was perpetually drunk, dinked around in class, derided all this ‘Marine Corp crap’ as a lot of foolishness [1]. Couldn’t wait to get out of the school and back on his ship.

    He said when he got to be an NCO he’d straighten up and act like an NCO. Until then, party hearty.

    Of course, he flunked out, and when last seen, was getting on the train, drunk as a lord, wearing an officer’s uniform. His Big Plan was to sneak aboard ship as ‘an officer’ [2], then report for work like he’d never been gone.

    Never heard from him again, but I confidently predict he never did get to E4.

    [1] Imagine the nerve of sergeants wanting shoes to be shined and the heads to be cleaned.

    [2] Not totally improbable at first blush. He was stationed on a carrier, which have a few thousand people aboard. But say he does sneak aboard ship – his boss is just going to forget he’d been sent to school?

  7. Should we look at this only from one side? It seems that if institutions demand perfect conformity, then sure they’ll get some people who do conform to their ideal of perfection, but probably they’ll get a bunch more who are just “pretending”. Maybe that’s what you’d want if the institution is tasked with inspecting the trains or underwriting home loans, but for institutions that seek to expand human knowledge, it seems like a procedure for getting stuck in local maxima. Can you think of something a senior academic or administrator has done recently to welcome a diversity of skills, attitudes, and approaches?

  8. Having spent many years in corporations where it sometimes seemed that all progress derived from bootleg projects, it occurred to me on reading this that perhaps it was a result of brilliant management, applying Tom Sawyer/Brer Rabbit reverse psychology on us all: “Don’t even think about trying to speed up development and cut costs!”
    On the other hand, I was rarely accused of conforming but never sacked.

  9. Mike: I’ve repeatedly caught grief for trying to help a large organization reduce costs. But maybe my money-saving ideas would only save money in a myopic sense.

    Yes, buying this item for $10 would be better than buying it for $100. But buying it for $10 is outside of protocol and could costs hundreds of dollars in confusion since it would force people to think about decisions that they currently make by rote.

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