Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Academic Misery Index Quiz

A couple of years ago, when this blog had yet to find much of an audience beyond my friends, I put together something I called the Academic Misery Index Quiz.  It was a light-hearted way to present the question of whether one should stay in their academic position or try to get out of it, and I had a lot of fun putting it together.  Two years on, I know a lot more people who are doing the mental math and trying to figure out whether they ought to stick with the profession or not.  If possible, the level of academic misery has actually risen rapidly in the last two years, which makes me think an updated version of the quiz is necessary.  If you take the quiz, let me know what tweaks are still necessary.

Part One
Each "A"answer is worth zero points, each "B" answer one point, each "C" answer two points, and each "D" answer five points.

1. How would you describe your university?
A. A nationally recognized institution with a stellar reputation.
B. A solid school that's not quite the big time, but with plenty of name recognition.
C. A "first rate second rate" college/university with plenty of faults but a basic commitment to upholding the standards of the profession.
D. A dysfunctional, bottom-feeding fly-by-night operation so obscure that when you go to conferences and tell people where you're from, they give you a blank stare or judgemental glare.

2. How would you describe the students at your university?
A. They are self-motivated, mature adults with a love of learning.
B. They are smart yet entitled children of privilege who need some prodding.
C. They are middle of the road intellectually and see their classes with a mostly vocational understanding, i.e., "why do I have to take this class?"
D. They are barely literate and seem to have no clue whatsoever as to why they are in college in the first place. The few brain cells they have left after nightly games of beer pong are devoted to texting.

3. How would you describe the town where your university is located?
A. A world-class city brimming over with fine dining, cultural events, and like-minded individuals.
B. An idyllic college town with a relaxed atmosphere and lots of cultural amenities/good but not great city with plenty to do.
C. A non-college town, mid-sized city that's a little boring, but at least has all the stuff you need, and the occasional cultural event.
D. A backwoods 'burg lacking a decent sit-down restaurant where the locals actively resent the university community for making them look like the countrified rubes that they are.

4. What are the politics of your department like?
A. What politics? We all love each other and most of us are good friends.
B. There are minor disputes, and we aren't all that close, but mostly because we're too busy to fight.
C. The silverbacks and the young'uns clash from time to time, but mostly inside departmental and committee meetings. We all know the two people who hate each other's guts, but the rest of us stay out of that mess.
D. They make Renaissance Florence look like an eight year old girl's tea party. Long-held grudges, character assassination, and intentional sabotage are the norm.

5. How would you describe your chair?
A. A far-sighted leader who listens well and tirelessly strives to protect the best interests of the department.
B. A competent technocrat who gets the job done but lacks vision.  No real complaints.
C. A well-meaning buffoon who mostly tries to avoid doing work.
D. A malicious control-freak who plays favorites and considers any alternative viewpoint to be treason.

6. What is your institution doing with assessment?
A. What's assessment?
B. Writing the standard boilerplate to keep the accreditation people happy but little that faculty have to deal with.  
C. There's lots of pointless meetings and discussion and it's a big annoyance, but profs are not really told what to do in the classroom, and feel free to ignore the assessment regime's dictates.
D. Faculty have lost control over what material is taught in their courses and spend a great deal of their time filling out asinine forms and getting reprimanded for failing to follow hopelessly labrynthine policies to the letter.

7. What happens when you report a plagiarism case?
A. I have to hold back the chair and dean from nailing the student to a cross.
B. There's lots of paperwork and I am asked to give the student the benefit of the doubt, but if I want to punish a student, I am able to do it.
C. I am reluctant to push cases because I am usually asked to lessen my penalties.
D. The chair and other higher-ups immediately take the student's side, and get irritated with me for taking up their time.

8. How would you describe your university's priorities?
A. To achieve educational excellence and foster world-class scholarship.
B. To provide a quality education for its students and give some support to research.
C. Mostly football and manipulating the categories in the US News rankings.
D. To keep distracting outsiders from the fact that the place is a complete joke and ought to be shut down.

9. What's the financial outlook of your institution like?
A. We are a wealthy private school with a huge endowment that our regents swim in like Scrooge McDuck.
B. We have had to make some cutbacks in course offerings and travel budgets, but faculty have mostly been spared.
C. Our state government is run by anti-intellectual GOP blockheads who force us to make do with less with each passing year OR (if a private school) our endowment is weak but the school is above water. There's less money for research and few raises, but our jobs are relatively safe.
D. We have a psychotic governor hell-bent on destroying whole programs and firing tenured professors with budget cuts/we are a poor private school running on a showstring budget always begging alumni for money which is only barely keeping us afloat for just one more year.

10. When you talk to your faculty friends outside of class, what sentence are you most likely to utter or hear?
A. "Wasn't the pinot grigio at the faculty reception last night delightful?"
B. "With the cutbacks it looks like I won't be able to get the library to order all of the books on my list."
C. "I don't know how they expect me to teach more students with these increased tenure and service requirements."
D. "If I can't get a job somewhere else this year I will end up dying of alcohol poisoning."

11. How would you describe a typical departmental faculty meeting?
A. A welcome opportunity to get everyone together and be collegial.
B. A minor annoyance that is usually blessedly brief.
C. A prolonged, unorganized exercise in silverback resentment and junior scholar superkeenerism that rarely solves anything.
D. A horrifying parade of stupidity and malice so nerve-wracking that I have to take a xanax to be able to endure it without crying or running out screaming.

12. What is your school's attitude towards office hours?
A. We are supposed to hold them at some point, but I'm not sure when they are, exactly.
B. We have three mandated office hours, but it isn't much of a burden.
C. We have five office hours a week and are expected to keep our doors open at all times during them.
D. We have ten office hours a week, and the chair will call me at home if I happen to duck out five minutes early on a slow day.

13. How does your department handle academic advising?
A. Not sure, but I think we have peons for that.
B. A couple of poor saps do it as part of their service, but get a course reduction.
C. We all have to pitch in and do it, but at least we share the burden.
D. I am one of the people press-ganged into doing it without a course reduction, and typically have two weeks of my semester rendered unproductive by a constant stream of slackjawed idiots who want me to figure out their schedules for them.

14. How would you describe your dean?
A. A wonderfully engaging ally who is always willing to listen.
B. A careerist looking to climb the ladder to another school, but at least competent.
C. A meddling dolt who spends meetings mouthing every trendy administrative catchphrase, from "accountability" to "sustainability."
D. A ruthlessly authoritarian presence constantly forcing departments to conform to their vision of the university.

15. Which type of conversation among faculty are you most likely to hear as you pass down the hallway?
A. A witty and engaged discussion of the finer points of research and/or pedagogy.
B. The usual small talk.
C. Lots of complaining about the latest administrative initiative.
D. Resentful white men decrying their own supposed marginalization with plenty of borderline racist, sexist, and homophobic comments thrown in.

Part Two
These questions have more points at stake because they make the difference between a tolerable situation and soul-crushing anomie. Each "A" answer is worth 0 points, each "B" answer is worth five points, each "C" answer ten points and each "D" answer fifteen points.

1. Which best describes the kind of academic job that you currently have?
A. You possess the great golden ring of tenure.
B. A tenure track position with the tenure clock ticking away.
C. A "visitor" or lecturer position with limited appointment and substandard pay.
D. A temporary adjunct position with no security paid by the course.

2. How far away does your job force you to live from your significant other?
A. You get to live with your significant other.
B. You have to live in different towns, but are able to see each other on the weekend.
C. You live so far apart that you cannot see each other more than once a month.
D. You used to have a significant other until your forced separation destroyed your relationship/you are forced to live in such a benighted rural outpost that Ron Paul has a better chance of getting elected president than you do of finding a suitable partner.

3. When you show up at work on Monday morning, what statement best describes your thought process?
A. It's great to be back to doing the thing that I love.
B. This week will be good if I don't have any more bullshit excuses from my students and just plain bullshit from my administrators.
C. I'd like this job a lot more if I was on the tenure track.
D. How can I get to my office without crossing paths with the colleagues who make me want to stab myself with a dull butter knife?

After tallying up your scores, look the misery index below:

0-15 points: Shangri-La
Congratulations, you are living the academic dream! The next time you think about complaining about your job, please remember that you've got some serious First World Problems.

16-30 points: The Good Life
You have the right to the occasional gripe, but things are looking good. If you can avoid the tendency in this profession never to be satisfied, you'll have a happy and fulfilling time at your institution.

31-50 points: The Danger Zone
If you don't absolutely love academic work with all of your heart and soul, it might be time to explore other options.

50+ points: Soul-sucking Misery
Get the hell out while you are still young and relatively sane. If not you will end up like the senior colleagues you respect who always have looks of bemused sadness on their faces.

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