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Archive for April, 2012

The mentoring that I received as an undergraduate paved the way for my entrance to grad school and my future research. The Council on Undergraduate Research has a publication devoted to the topic of mentoring undergraduate researchers, summarized at the Undergraduate Research Laboratory. Among the suggestions:

  • Actively recruit students
  • Work on numerous projects together
  • Recognizing your limitations as a mentor

None of these are groundbreaking, but they may be particularly helpful for assistant professors who are just starting out and do not have a large number of students that they would be interested in working with.

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If you’ve ever wondered what happened to Natalie Portman’s character inGarden State after the movie ended or where Zooey Deschanel lives, wonder no more. Sociological Images recently linked to a video by Natural Disastronauts revealing the lives that manic pixie dream girls lead after the credits roll.

In case you need a primer (you could, after all,bea manic pixie dream girl and not even know it!), here is Anita Sarkeesian’s explanation:

Now that you’re up to speed, here is the video that reveals what filmmakers don’t want you to know:

My favorite treatment of the manic pixie dream girl idea comes from Arrested Development, where Michael Bluth falls in love with a mentally retarded female (Mister F!) named Rita because her beauty prevents him from seeing that her childlike enthusiasm for the world is actually the result of a childlike understanding of the world. Enjoy a few clips below, and then just go watch all three seasons of Arrested Development!

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The Society Pages and Jalopnik recently discussed a casting call for the Acura Super Bowl commercial (with Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno). For the role of African American Car Dealer the “role details” stipulated that the actor should be: “Nice looking, friendly. Not too dark. Will work with a MAJOR COMEDIAN.” I think that Jalopnik has the most interesting commentary on this one, stating:

If you’re wondering why this might be outrageous to some, step back for a moment and look at the inverse of a casting request looking for “Nice looking, friendly. Not too dark.” You’d get “Ugly looking, mean. Dark.”

Jalopnik also comments on Acura’s apology, noting that the apology does not actually admit that anybody did anything wrong:

Acura Statement RE: Casting Call
We apologize to anyone offended by the language on the casting sheet used in the selection of actors for one of our commercials.

We sought to cast an African-American in a prominent role in the commercial, and we made our selection based on the fact that he was the most talented actor.

The casting sheet was only now brought to our attention.  We are taking appropriate measures to ensure that such language is not used again in association with any work performed on behalf of our brand.

Anyone in there hear an apology for favoring a light-skinned black actor? Not us.

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There is some academically-oriented work that examines whether standardized tests measure intelligence, with test scores increasing with age, or knowledge, with test scores falling as one is further removed from high school or college. Most of that work isn’t funny, though. Drew Magary recently remedied that problem by taking an SAT practice test in test-like conditions and writing about the experience for Deadspin. A few highlights:

Shockingly, little about the SAT has changed since I set foot in that classroom. Most students still have to take the test using bubble sheets and a No. 2 pencil, which is insane to me. They’ve managed to digitize VOTING, for shit’s sake. And yet here’s the SAT, still feeding test sheets into the Scantron machine like it’s 1982. Maybe the only differences with today’s SAT are the essay question (barf), the higher maximum score (2400), and the hugely metastasized frenzy over the test. Wired reports that as recently as 2009, the test-preparation industry had earnings of over $4 billion. Private tutoring from a Kaplan expert to study for the test can cost you close to $5,000, an expense plenty of nutjob helicopter parents are happy to throw down.

Because I work on a computer like normal human beings, I’d forgotten how painful it can be to write in longhand for long stretches of time. I know it’s not as bad as digging trenches in the Amazon, but still—it’s AGONY. Your neck gets sore from staring down. You get that weird dent in your middle finger and thumb from pressing the pencil too hard. Everything around you starts to smell like old pencil shavings. This is why I fucking hated blue-book exams in high school and college. It wasn’t that I had to study, or that I had to think on the fly. It was the hard LABOR of it all. Every time I finished a blue-book exam in school, I felt as if I had just moved a cord of firewood. Many times, I would hurry up and try and finish the essay early, just so that I could stop writing and rest. It’s amazing, when you think about it. You spend a whole semester studying for some test, and then you rush it because you just want five extra minutes to relax. That’s how my brain works. It’s not a perfect organ.

I took my final score on this practice test and did a proportion (one more goddamn math problem) to see if my score was better than it was 19 years ago. And it was, by roughly 190 points. (I got 2140 this time. You do the math yourself.) I’m smarter than I was when I was 17, and that’s a relief, because I was a fucking MORON at 17. If you’re 35 years old and you’re thinking about retaking the SAT as a kind of blog stunt, I would highly recommend you avoid it. In fact, I would recommend that no one take the SAT ever. It’s a sternly worded dinosaur of a test, graded in an arbitrary manner with outdated equipment, and it blows. The only reason people take it is because they have to. It exists only so that preppy dipshits can brag about their scores well into adulthood if they did well. I hate it. I hope the Princeton Review gets fucked by a cattle prod.

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In the various statements that I sent when applying for jobs I always mentioned wanting to do research with students as my undergraduate professors had done with me. Last year I had the opportunity to work on some research with a student and we recently presented it at a conference. This was the first time I had attended a conference as somebody who was partially responsible for the conference experience of another person. Although I was worried beforehand, the experience went much more smoothly than I had expected.

One thing I worried about was social interaction outside the confines of the conference. For example: would I be expected to eat every meal with my student? How would I deal with the fact that my travel money covered the cost of my food but my student’s did not? What would I do if my student ordered alcohol at dinner? It turns out that none of these concerns were a factor because my student had a friend in the city where the conference was held and this friend relieved me of many of my social duties. Lesson one, then, is that if you go to a conference with a student, make sure the student takes a friend.

Another thing that I wasn’t sure how to handle was the introducing my student to the conference experience itself. I’ve been going to conferences for years but I’ve always been trying to make a name for myself rather than focusing on helping somebody else start to form professional connections. Unfortunately, my student is interested in a different area of sociology than I am so I wasn’t much help in this regard. At any rate, I think that my student enjoyed attending various sessions of interest.

I was probably lucky not only that my student had a friend in the area but that the primary focus was placed on the conference itself rather than partying in the city. I’m not sure how I would have handled a situation like that as a first-time conference mentor. In all, the experience was positive and I anticipate being much more comfortable with the idea of attending conferences with students in the future.

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After years of using a “dumb” phone, I recently upgraded to a smartphone. I’ve obviously known people for years who lived in a world where phones do more than basic things like calling other people or even semi-advanced (for me) things like texting, but I have never experienced this world for myself. Now that I have, I have to say that I am amazed. Having grown up in a time period when getting a cordless telephone was a big deal, the fact that you can make calls from basically anywhere is incredible in itself, but the idea of doing things like checking my e-mail or people’s Facebook statuses from basically anywhere seems ridiculous.

Other than the fact that I am carrying the future around in my pocket, the thing that has struck me about this is that students probably take this technology completely for granted. When they are living out their hipster fantasies via Instagram or streaming a movie on Netflix, they don’t realize that the first computer my mom bought my sister and me when we were kids would explode at the mere suggestion of editing a photo or downloading (much less streaming!) video. I may not have a hoverboard, but I feel like I have finally arrived in the future.

(One other thing: I cannot understand why people insist on putting nicely designed phones in “cases” that effectively double their size. The future doesn’t come in an ugly rubber case and if you didn’t take it for granted you would know that!)

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