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Academia Critique Woes

This is long overdue post, because I’ve been meaning to vent for a while. But this week was rather soul-destroying.

The academic job market is always a demoralizing shitshow. However, right now I’m actually feeling pretty crappy about despite having the good news of multiple interviews. Part of the problem is that I can’t trust terrible mentor. She’s been in the mode of trying to perform being a kindly supportive mentor, which is making it harder to discern what’s actually good advice, from well-meaning but shitty advice, to stuff that’s intended to undermine me.

Both I and her golden child former grad student (now a postdoc in a different lab in the university) have gotten campus visit interviews, and it’s only exacerbated that.

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The day golden child was giving her practice talk for our lab, terrible mentor insisted that I need to do a practice talk too. I’ve already prepped a couple different talks last year and this year by doing invited talks at other university to prepare, so I said it if we could find a time schedule it, okay, but I didn’t want to bump anyone else from the schedule at the end of the semester. She insisted, with the comment that other invited talks, people might have told me it was good even when they thought it sucked, and what I needed was to present to an audience who was prepared to give me harsh criticism and pick it apart. UGH.

I hate that style of academic criticism, I don’t find it constructive, and I absolutely know that terrible mentor and terrible grad student will delight in trying to tear me down under the guise of “constructive criticism.” And I knew that the better I did, the more critical and nitpicky the critique would be.

Golden child gave a practice talk that was a very, very rough draft, and, in my opinion, wasn’t a very good talk. She received about 15 minutes of very kind, constructive criticism about how to rework the talk.

I gave a practice talk that I know was good, but not my best talk. I know there were some small tiny formatting details I needed to fix from where I’ve updated it from the last version. I know I didn’t give my best delivery, because though it was mostly clear and well-explained, I pulled back from my usual, more chatty and conversational style of giving talks, to a more formal, stiff version because I was anticipating terrible mentor’s critiques. But I know the other versions of that invited talk have gone much better.

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For over 2 hours, every little aspect of the powerpoint and my delivery were nitpicked to death. There were some useful suggestions that make it better, but literally every aspect of the powerpoint was nitpicked to death. Terrible mentor made dismissive comments about my powerpoint theme and how I should be using one of the newer pre-set themes (I never use those themes because I want my ppts to be unique). The background color and text color were critique. I was criticized for using a boring font (and I have now heard, multiple times about the professor with the most beautiful job talk who had the most beautiful font because she purchased a custom font—meanwhile, I use boring old Arial because it’s accessible to dyslexic readers). I was criticized for using nouns as headings because “headings should always have verbs”). The location/how I use/where I use citations/photo credits/statistics was criticized. I was criticized for using bullet points. The choice and quality of the images I used was criticized, and I was told I should reduce/replace them (and this I take personally as wherever possible I try to use photos I/my friends took, and figures/diagrams I’ve created myself). My use of the the size and color of the lines around images was criticized. Where I justified headings on the slides was criticized.

And the end result is I am just so exhausted, and angry, and frustrated with this bullshit. And now I have so sort out the few suggestions that really will improve it, versus the little copyedits for consistency, versus what is just bullshit. And the stress and frustration of this has taken a toll on my sleep and anxiety, and I’m so just frustrating because now I need to figure out how to shake it off, and go into interviews confident instead of feeling undermined and worrying if people are going to be judging me on my font usage.

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