Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Heuristic Discipline-Based Approach to Academic Evaluation

I've always been rather irreverent with (dis)respect to academia. It comes from having too many academics in the family. It results in an accumulation of mental rules of thumb related to academic life, as well as a sort of facility for generating academic-sounding phrases that can be used to write academic-sounding pieces. Hence the title.

What this piece is about is perhaps not what you came here looking for, though, my dear Google-based researcher. It's actually about the rules of thumb I have for evaluating academic staff — researchers, lecturers. They are not serious prescriptive (or proscriptive) rules, but those which have been lurking in my head, and which by profound subjective introspection (as opposed to objective, using fMRI and suchlike) I have managed to elute (no, not elude; that would be terrible).

Without further ado, here are the rules. Note that they are based on discipline, and not on publications. Publication analysis is a whole other kettle of fishiness.

1. Determine subject's doctoral degree concentration (i.e. the main subject's main subject).

1a. If it is based on fictional narratives (e.g. literature, adminstration, business), then smile and back away. Dangerous to know, probably fascinating to listen to as long as you don't mind loud noises or meaningful looks, prolonged contact requires insanity check.

1b. If it is based on real narratives (e.g. history, economics, education), then consider seriously on case-by-case basis. Do not smile. This encourages them to wander out of their expertise and into speculation (if not already there). If subject smiles, run.

1c. If it is based on real narratives and invokes science or rules systems (e.g. law, sociology, anthropology, sports), then consider how real the science is, or how meaningful the rules are. This could lead to reclassification under 1a or 1b. Smile skeptically, you'll be mirroring the subject.

1d. If it is based on deliberate use of serious science or rules systems to conceal real narratives (e.g. medicine, cosmology, linguistics), then smile and prepare to have some fun. Steer conversation towards underlying narrative, add alcohol, and be entertained by wild speculation.

1e. If it is entirely based on serious science or rules systems, and has no real narrative apart from its own history (e.g. physics, philosophy, computer science, math), then try hard not to smile (you should succeed) and get out a paper napkin. Engage furious scribbling if unable to engage warp speed.

1f. If doctoral classification fails, then relax, this is not a serious academic and is thus probably harmless.

1g. For dual degrees, consider both possible responses.


2. Examine subject's master's degree if present.

2a. Degree is from Cambridge or Oxford, required payment of fees but no other work. Ignore.

2b. Degree is from an American university, normally means subject failed to acquire doctorate. Feel sympathetic but do not show it. Classify according to 1.

2c. Degree is from Harvard or equivalent, but non-medical. Normally means subject has acquired degree in lieu of doctorate, medals, or other social achievements. Note this and proceed accordingly. Classify according to 1.

2d. Degree is from elsewhere, classify according to 1.

2e. For medical degrees, subject is a specialist (unless it is a Master's in Public Health or suchlike). Treat with care, just in case you end up being treated by subject.

2f. If classification is different between step 1 and step 2, consider degree of difference. Severe difference may indicate brain trauma or equivalent. Approach with care, and if necessary, metal-studded gloves of the kind used to handle razor wire.


3. Examine basic degree.

3a. Degree is B... anything except BA or BSc. Normally indicates desire to be overspecialised while not being specialised at all. Classify according to 1.

3b. Degree is MBBS. Special case of 3a. May stand for 'More Brains But Slower' or 'Much Booze But Smarter'. Is actually a medical degree.

3c. Degree is LLB. Special case of 3a. Ask candidate what it stands for, and if reply is 'Limited Liability Business' or equivalent, stay far, far away. Is actually a law degree.

3d. Degree is BA or BSc. Classify according to 1.

3e. If classification has changed between here and other stages, and difference is great, consider arming self with crossbow and approaching from distance. See 2f for other precautions. Some difference is to be expected, though — most people are too young to know what they're doing when they get their first degrees.


And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen.

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Blogger Aegle said...

My "funny" degree is a combination of fictional (English) AND real (Journalism) narrative... better run. :P

Thursday, November 24, 2011 3:45:00 pm  

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