Category Archives: Organisations and Work

The Rising Burden of Affording College and Undermatching

(Photo from Flickr user thisisbossi)

(Photo from Flickr user thisisbossi)

I recently came across an article on my Facebook feed about high school senior Ronald Nelson, who was accepted into all 8 ivy league colleges (among other highly competitive schools). The article discussed how, despite this amazing opportunity for Nelson to attend arguably one of the better colleges in the nation, he ultimately chose to attend University of Alabama (which is still a decent school). According to Business Insider, “After some thought and consideration of all the schools’ offers, Nelson decided it wouldn’t be worth the financial strain to use this money on his undergraduate education.”

Talk about the rising costs and burden of affording college is everywhere. The Wall Street Journal just announced that the graduating class of 2014 has the highest student debt in history, with the average student owing $33,000 after college. So for Nelson, attending a less competitive school that offered him a full ride scholarship was a strategy, as he plans on attending graduate school (where that debt only accumulates…). Seems like a smart choice, right?

Not according to Sociologists of Education who study and believe in undermatching theory.

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Considering Big Data Analysis as a Social Science

By ENERGY.GOV (Delphi Automotive Systems) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By ENERGY.GOV (Delphi Automotive Systems) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In early April, 2015, a self-driving car completed a 9 day cross country tour from San Francisco to New York City.  During the 9 day adventure, the car was fully automated for 99% of the trip – relying on its humans only to enter and exit the interstates.  The Audi car supported technology made by Delphi which uses a combination of advanced features already on the market including collision mitigation, integrated radar and camera systems, forward collision and lane departure warning.  While the company certainly used the trip to promote its products the more pressing purpose was to collect data – a lot of data – more than 3 terabytes of data over the nine days (about 30% of what’s on record at the Library of Congress) because the car’s technology needs to learn. (more…)

Focused Fatigue: Parenting Equally in Graduate School

Photo by: Lori Stamm, http://www.clickigotcha.com/ used with expressed permission of photographer

Photo by: Lori Stamm, http://www.clickigotcha.com/ used with expressed permission of photographer

I am a traditional parent and I began my parenting journey while in graduate school.  I am traditional in that boring two-parent household, two incomes, one dog, two children and a whole mess of bills, kind of way.  What makes us interesting however is how we partner in our parenting and household maintenance.  I know, I know – what’s new or progressive about being partners, isn’t that more of the same old style?  Not quite.  I’m serious when I say we are parenting as equals and it mattered A LOT to my work/life balance while earning a PhD.

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Five Things I Wish I had Known Before Starting My PhD

 Graduate Student Advice Month

Picture from: www.toothpastefordinner.com

 

Nobody really knows what is like to do a PhD until they do one. I am half way through mine and I still only half know what it is like to do one very specific PhD: my own. Everyone’s experience is unique to their own research topic, their own field site and their own personality, but many of the challenges, pressures and anxieties we encounter are more similar than we realise. We all seem to spend most of our time oscillating between contradictory emotions (hope and despair, enthusiasm and exhaustion, excitement and frustration), hoping that eventually all of this turmoil might (miraculously) become something worthy of calling a thesis.

I wouldn’t really call the following five things ‘advice’, and they are by no means a description of how I have been approaching my own research so far. At best, they are a few things that I now know I need to keep reminding myself of, and that other researchers might be able to identify with. (more…)

Who might run the show in a post-cash world?

Is cash on the way out? In my own daily routines, I find myself using coins and notes less and less, to the point when I am often stuck for a pound coin to use the lockers at the swimming pool, or I audibly ‘tut’ when shopkeepers tell me there’s a charge for using my card. I just don’t carry cash very often. In fact, I don’t even physically use my debit card very often. I’ve got so used to using my phone or computer to buy stuff that I’ve learnt my 16-digit card number off by heart – a ‘skill’ which is either impressive or just a bit worrying.

Maybe this is a sign that I’m moving up the social hierarchy. After all, using less cash is associated with higher socio-economic status according to the Payment Council, so perhaps I’m moving up the foodchain. Or, as I’ve often feared, I’m not that special at all. This is a change which is affecting most people as we move into a world of contactless payments and methods of moving money around which might shake up those much-beloved institutions: The Banks. (more…)

Bulletproof Coffee (and the Spirit of Contemporary Capitalism)

Bulletproof Coffee Pic

At a health food café in central London, I recently drank my first ‘Bulletproof Coffee,’  a surprisingly ingestible blend of espresso, butter and coconut oil which has a texture not dissimilar to yak butter tea. To be precise, Bulletproof® Coffee ought to be made with a blend of grass-fed butter, Upgraded™ coconut oil (from upgradedself.com) and low-toxin Bulletproof® Upgraded™ Coffee Beans. And it is indeed no coincidence that Bulletproof Coffee tastes a little like yak butter tea. Dave Asprey, the ‘Bulletproof Executive’ was struck with the inspiration he needed to develop the drink during a yak butter tea break on a climb of Tibet’s Mount Kailash. As for why I found it in a health food café – and why all the concern with the quality and composition of the ingredients? Well, Bulletproof Coffee enthusiasts overlap significantly with fans of the ‘paleo diet,‘ which is designed to imitate as far as possible the pre-neolithic dietary ecology to which our hunter-gatherer ancestors were adapted.

There is indeed some good anthropological evidence showing that diets of contemporary hunter-gatherers – including those that are high in animal fats – reduce the risk of chronic ‘diseases of civilization’ like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There are however equally good reasons to question the notion that we and our food species ended our evolutionary relationship before the neolithic revolution. (And using studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer populations to make claims about ‘paleo’ lifestyles can easily slip into ahistorical retellings of what Adam Kuper terms the myth of primitive society.)  So what really intrigues (and frankly disturbs) me about Bulletproof Coffee is precisely the extent to which it comes wrapped up in a discourse that you might term ‘paleo-primitivism.’ In telling the story of Bulletproof Coffee’s origins, Dave Asprey marries his enthusiasm for the paleo diet with a depiction of Sherpas as ‘ubermen’ or ‘a race of Bulletproof genetic freaks.’ Asprey’s fascination with both yak butter tea and the genetics of the Tibetan ‘ubermen’ is presented on his website in terms of his interest in biohacking. The biohacking discourse surrounding Bulletproof Coffee seems to reveal quite neatly something about the idea of the ‘hacker’ that Brett Scott recently discussed in a piece for STIR Magazine. The figure of the hacker exemplifies collective possibilities for creative and mischievous subversion of contemporary capitalist organization – but it can also reflect an avowedly individualistic, masculine libertarian drive towards self-empowerment through those same stifling structures. (more…)

CONAIE Headquarters to be Shut Down: Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador Request International Support

Protestors gather outside the headquarters of CONAIE (The Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador) in Quito, Ecuador.

Protestors gather outside the CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador) in Quito, Ecuador.

Yesterday, in Quito, Ecuador, hundreds of Indigenous people from around the country, including those from the Amazon, the Sierra and the Coast, gathered outside the offices of CONAIE (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), in the north of the city, to continue the fight against a government plan to close the organisation’s headquarters. CONAIE is among the largest and longest standing Indigenous organisations in Ecuador, and its work focuses on defending the rights, territories, culture and lives of millions of Indigenous people who make up approximately 25% of the country’s population.

I am writing this blog post to encourage academics and activists from around the world to sign the open letter, drafted by CONAIE, in support of the organization and the indigenous peoples that it represents in their struggle to maintain control of the building, which is a key strategic part of the indigenous political community. (more…)

The Ghost of Christmas Pressed for Time

Christmas Shopping, Regent Street

Christmas Shopping, Regent Street

 

In Payback, her reaction to the debt-fuelled financial crisis of 2007-08, Margaret Atwood rewrites Dickens’ Christmas Carol for the present day. She invites us to join ‘Scrooge Nouveau’ in his Tuscan villa, as he is visited by the Spirit of Earth Day Future. Scrooge Nouveau is confronted by two possible futures – one of ecological harmony and regular debt jubilees, the other unfolding in a lifeless desert where he sees himself fighting with other hungry survivors over the corpse of a house cat. Our modern-day miser finds himself doing desperate back-of-the-envelope calculations: should he invest in alternative energy and desalination plants, and so make a killing if the good future materializes, or corner the tinned food market and build himself a bunker in preparation for the bad? Atwood’s re-telling works as a neat parable of what Michael Hudson and Max Haiven take the contemporary financial services sector to be: a ‘pathologically self-obsessed form of economic planning.’ The financialization and securitization of our very life-cycle is reflected, as Jane Guyer observes, in the sector’s core products – its ‘student loans, 30-year mortgages, health insurance, and so on.’ The Christmas and New Year mediascape is likewise shot through with a pre-emptive financial futuricity. Flipping through British broadsheets this week will reveal festive ‘share tips for 2015‘ from the ‘best stock-pickers’ around. Monocle – essential reading for the transnational flâneur on the fly – has the ‘Forecast’ edition out too. In its pages we are introduced to the future of defense innovation, wearable medical technology, and even the science fiction scene – alongside the ‘politicians and entrepreneurs worth inviting out for a drink.’

Monocle’s anticipatory look at fashion and technology reflects an eminently financial temporality. It was, after all, the Wall Street fortune tellers of the early twentieth century who made the figure of the forecaster a recognizable and respectable one. There is, though, another way of experiencing time that may be foregrounded at this time of year. (more…)

“No one likes being reduced to their genitals!” Positive discrimination, diversity and symbolic capital

www.tinyography.com/

www.tinyography.com/

“Scarlett?”

My PhD compatriot, Jens* leans over to me, a glint in his eye and a bemused smile on his face that makes it difficult to work out whether this will be a joke, a statement, or something to deliberately challenge me. Past history tells me probably a combination of all three, but lets see.

“Can I ask you a question, before you go?” (I am just on my way out of the PhD office** we share, coat on, mug washed, ready).

He continues; “I know you are something of an expert on the subject…”

Oh here we go. This means one of two conversation topics are about to be raised: headhunting, or gender. Which means gender is about to be raised. I put on my metaphorical*** ‘Will Dispense Pertinent Gender-Related Critical Analysis For Food” T-shirt, and wait.

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Are We All Expert Impostors?

www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1723

Image credit: PhD Comics www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1723

In a previous post (which can be found here), I mentioned the ‘impostor phenomenon’ and how I and many people I know who work in academia have experienced it in some form or another during their career. The ‘imposter syndrome’ (identified by Clance & Imes, 1978, pp. 1-2), the feeling that leads the self-declared impostors to believe that they are not intelligent and that anyone who thinks otherwise has simply been fooled, is usually accompanied by a fear that one day some significant person (a colleague, boss, parent, or partner) will catch them out and realize that they are a fraud. It is incredibly common among academics and is even more common among those who are not in the ‘elite’ category normally associated with academia, i.e. white, wealthy men.  Thus, impostor phenomenon is particularly prevalent among women, ethnic minorities and/or any under represented populations (see e.g. Peteet, Brown, Lige & Lanaway, 2014).

As impostor phenomenon has entered mainstream discourses surrounding academic success (and failure), numerous books and articles (such as Clance, 1985, this Forbes article, or this advice for new students at MIT) attempt to offer ways to understand and deal with this newly acquired insecurity; the fear of failing because you feel like an impostor. Oftentimes, it is said that feeling like an impostor is something that we need to overcome, and that ‘faking it’ is an important part of doing so (for example, Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, 2012). This is almost certainly the case for people in academia who are undermining themselves unjustly, particularly women and first generation graduate students who tend to face significant internal barriers to success (see e.g. Gardner, 2013).  I would argue, though, that in some instances (particularly in my own experience) feeling like an impostor can be a legitimate emotion, because that is exactly what we are.

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