Friday, January 26, 2007

An Honest Letter that I Wish I Could Write

January xx, 200x

Anonymous Agency/Graduate School
123 Second Ave.
Large Metropolis, USA, zipcode

Dear Mr. Admissionsperson:

I am writing you a letter for Candidate X. She is brilliant. She consistently earns As in the classes she has taken with me. I suspect, from all that I have heard, that she earns As in the classes she takes with other professors as well.

She will excel in your program.

She will also, however, make everyone's lives a living, seething hell.

She has a smallness of spirit that clings about her like a bad smell. She enjoys breaking the curve. She gloats when others in the class do badly. She complains when essay exams aren't graded within 48 hours. Then she will email to ask that her grade be sent to her as soon as her exam is graded, along with detailed typed-out comments explaining where and why she lost points. She raises her hand so often during class discussion that the rest of the students roll their eyes. Even audible sighs of exasperation from the others do not discourage her. When another student answers incorrectly in class she makes a slight click with her tongue to indicate disgust at their error. She grubs for points. She has argued that the mid-A she earned on a paper should be a higher A. She comes up at the end of the first lecture of the term to ask if she can be excused from group work and do a separate project because she doesn't want to have to 'carry' anyone. She doesn't think the others are up to her level of performance.

And she is right. They aren't. But good lord. Doesn't our field already have enough self-congratulatory cutthroat obsessives?

Save yourselves. Thank you for your time.


Dr. O


Flavia said...

Oh my God. I love this.

And I know this student only too well.

Experimentaholic said...

Oh my god. There is one in every class. I've had my share. The thing is, they sincerely think that we are impressed with their earnestness. Some people get an F for social competence. And academia already has enough of these gloaters who experience schadenfreuden when a colleague gets denied a grant, etc. I sometimes wonder why am I even here?

Earnest English said...

YES! Just yes! Perhaps there is a way to point to this gap in a student's personality without actually saying "she doesn't play well with others and is a pain in the ass." A maverick? A solo flyer? I don't know. But there's got to be a tongue-in-cheek way to do this. And then let's all do it!

Dr. O. said...

Hey EE, I bet there is. I will have to give this some thought. Maybe "doesn't need social approval," "able to handle others' dislike and ire without changing course"? Hmm. Ideas?

Ms.PhD said...

It's not really her fault she's like that. She's clearly bored and either doesn't know or doesn't care how much she annoys everyone.

Have you ever tried to confront her about changing her classroom behavior and being less disruptive?

Why don't you just give her a special project of her very own, that will be impossibly hard, and tell her not to bother you until it's finished? Tell her to work on it during normal class hours.

I've never been so lucky as to get all A's all the time, and I've never grubbed after a grade, but the description dr. o lists would definitely apply to me.

Am I in class to learn? If I'm in class, yes, and usually I'm only in class because I'm required to be there.

And if I'm bored, I have a hard time hiding it. Is it my fault I'm bored? No, it's yours, if you're teaching. Your best bet is to give me something to sink my teeth into.

Same goes for work, now that I'm out of school. If I can get my work done, as a postdoc, I'm happy as a clam. If I can't, and it's because I'm light years ahead of where I am, I'm going to make everyone else's life a seething hell until I get what I need to move forward.

Not sure how to avoid these, my natural tendencies, from leaking out. No matter how hard I try to stuff them down, be socially competent, either there's just an enormous mismatch between where I am and where I should be, or there is no place for my kind of people in academia.

Perhaps someone should have screwed me out of my current career path earlier on, to save me my current pain and suffering.

Maybe it's what people should be doing, putting social skills above brilliance. But somehow I doubt it would really be for the greater good. And on some level, you already know that.

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