Is grad school a cult?

April 12, 2009

I recently stumbled across an interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which “Thomas Benton” (a pen name) makes the case that graduate school is something like a cult. He’s driven to this conclusion largely by his sense that most graduate students, especially in the humanities, would be better served outside academia. He quotes the following rules of thumb for identifying a cult, taken from the anti-cult Freedom of Mind Center webpage:

  • Behavior control: “major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals”; “need to ask permission for major decisions”; “need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors.”
  • Information control: “access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged (keep members so busy they don’t have time to think)” and “extensive use of cult-generated information (newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.).”
  • Thought control: “need to internalize the group’s doctrine as ‘Truth’ (black and white thinking; good vs. evil; us vs. them, inside vs. outside)” and “no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate.”
  • Emotional control: “excessive use of guilt (identity guilt: not living up to your potential; social guilt; historical guilt)”; “phobia indoctrination (irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority; cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group; shunning of leave takers; never a legitimate reason to leave”; and “from the group’s perspective, people who leave are ‘weak,’ ‘undisciplined.'”

Of course, there are plenty of points to pick at — it may speak more to the “definition” given above than it does to grad school — but I think it’s an interesting observation.

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Right Red Said What?

March 6, 2009

Red Right Turn ArrowMy well-known hatred of the modern implementation of traffic lights (for which I am sure future generations will mock us) notwithstanding, a recurrent question at lunches past involved the meaning of the red right turn arrow in North Carolina, especially the one located at the I-40 exit to RDU Airport (#295b).

The basic question is this: If a red right-turn arrow means the same thing as a typical, circular red light — for which you are allowed to make a turn after coming to a stop — then why would they have the red arrow?  Certainly most drivers treat it as typical stop sign, but sometimes someone will, in my opinion quite reasonably refuse to turn despite blaring horns from the ever-growing queue behind them of drivers trying to get the airport.

As with many things in this great nation, this law varies randomly depending upon state:

Map showing right turn on red arrow is legal in North Carolina and some other states

Fortunately for RDU drivers, North Carolina is one of the states that allows right turns on red arrows. Unfortunately for anal-retentive physicists, this means that red right turn arrows are nearly degenerate with the only possible additional information being that they indicate that a lane is turn only when red.  At least we’re not the only ones who get confused, the News and Observer blog post I linked to above follows a history of similar posts.

Unlike the behavior of the typical, dangerously unaware, vigilante drivers you sometimes find in Durham (thanks in part to the idiotic “Pace Car” program whose Google Page Rank I will now tag with the word “douchey“) confusion in this case would seem rest at the feet of the NC DOT who feels the need for redundant signage.  So I won’t honk at someone as they make me late for a flight, but I certainly wish they’d phase out the red right turn arrow.


Being Trendy

November 12, 2008

So my sinus headaches have progressed into an eye infection requiring that I now get antibiotic eye-drops just like Emil (Ann’s cat).  I guess he made it look cool and I sub-consciously wanted in on the trend.

Apparently epidemiologists work may be similarly replaced by simply monitoring the frequency of search terms using Google Trends (awesomeness previously discussed). Lunchtime’s unwilling blogger Ann reports (by forwarding a New York times article) that Google Flu Trends is having remarkable success at correlating the flu incidence reported by CDC and the prevalence of flu-related search terms:

Correlation between trends in flu-related searches and incidence

Correlation between trends in flu-related searches and incidence

I know it’s been a long time since I last posted, but I have become a massive Digg addict and if you care what random web-pages I’m looking at you can follow me there.  Last week I finally replaced my computer (purchased in 2001) that died this summer.  It has a mere four cores, so Brian’s cyber-manhood is safe for now).  The upshot is that in a few weeks I will be blogging more regularly.  In the mean time I am playing some games I have been waiting on for, oh, four or five years.  I started with Gears of War, which is a lot of fun but not as awesome as Gary Jules’ cover of Mad World for Donnie Darko.


Ignore Always

May 23, 2008

I just sent off an e-mail containing the elegant construction “Oh no [pronoun] di’n’t!” and was stopped by the spell checker. Now, I can only imagine the cringing you are doing reading that dead, beaten horse of a catch phrase, but when I was presented with the options of “Ignore,” “Ignore All,” or “Add” I had to think for a moment. After all, I’m pretty sure that “di’n’t” is the clearest way of expressing the non-word I intended, so in the future I might want my spell-checker to recognize it. On the other hand, it’s absolutely not a word so I really can’t see adding it. Therefore, I suggest a feature for those of us with grammatical neuroses — “Ignore Always.” That way, we don’t have to validate a word in any way when the spell checker runs. Of course, not using such words is unthinkable…

Anyways, the news is reporting that Read the rest of this entry »


Doctors, Lawyers, and Captains of Industry

April 5, 2008

As described by the Detroit News, when legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler (80% winning percentage) took over a struggling Michigan team in the late 1960’s, the more difficult practices and harsher coaching style drove 20-30 players to leave the team. For Michigan fans it is well known that he had a sign made reading “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” and that he pretty much honored that claim by winning at least a share of 13 Big Ten titles in 21 seasons. What isn’t reported often is that one of the departing players added to the first sign: “And those who leave will be doctors, lawyers and captains of industry.” I think that’s an important part of the story. Read the rest of this entry »


What is Your Worth?

March 13, 2008

bedroom toysHot on the heels (so to speak) of Eliot Spitzer’s resignation were the discussions of exactly what $4300 gets you from an “escort.” That was the amount Spitzer allegedly paid for two and a half hours (plus an advance) on one of the at least eight occasions that can be substantiated. Before you think me too bad a person for wondering, I submit for your consideration the article that the Washington Post saw fit to assign two journalists to write: “High-Priced Call Girls’ Lips Are Sealed.” Most interesting in the article was the value placed on the conversational skills and actual abilities as an escort — supposedly on more than 40% of the occasions an escort is hired, no sexual intercourse occurs (probably 40.1%).

Certainly, this all begs the question — what are you worth in bed? This quiz tries to find out, although it has no questions to establish conversationalist credibility.


Michigan Beats Ohio State

February 20, 2008

Believe it or not, Michigan had not beaten Ohio State in football or basketball since Feb. 29, 2004 when they beat the 17-9 Buckeyes by 10 on Monday. Michigan’s record is now 8-17 thanks to three straight wins and it may be that former West Virginia coach John Beilein‘s system is finally beginning to work Read the rest of this entry »