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02 August 2007


Jeremy Adam Smith

Thanks for the kind words about Daddy Dialectic--I had no idea you read it.

I'm a writer and editor, not an academic--still, I work for and with academics at UC Berkeley. It's now standard procedure to google job applicants, and my articles, essays, short stories, and blogs are out there for all the world to see.

Last year, when I was applying for jobs and fellowships, my online work came up many times in the course of interviews--nearly always to my benefit. Once I applied for a fellowship and later discovered that the fellowship director had read the blog and even forwarded entries to her boyfriend...I didn't get the fellowship, but I think the blog actually helped, not hurt, my chances. Also, I suspect that my parenting blog convinced my current colleagues that I was a good prospect for the job, despite having little professional background in the areas we cover.

There are dangers. In Daddy Dialectic I have agonized over questions that range from the loneliness of daily caregiving to how many children to have to family leave policies--things that you're not supposed to discuss in job interviews and that indicate the importance of family that some employers might see as threatening to job commitment. I've also written about this stuff, and more, in essays that will be available online until the day I die.

I'm aware that my stated opinions, priorities, interests, and various mental states might undermine some job prospects. But I think I'm right to put family first and advocate for family-friendly workplace and public policy, and I don't want to work for employers who think otherwise. Of course, some day I might be desperate--but for now, I see it as a form of cultural activism.

But my science-fiction criticism and journalism actually pose a much bigger threat to job prospects, in some ways. I know that my voluminous writings on SF novels and movies give my colleagues pause, and I'm aware that there are people out there who don't take me as seriously because I think Battlestar Galactica, Marvel Comics, and Kelly Link are of enormous cultural importance.

I think in the end, you have to be yourself and you have to put your best foot forward, no matter what you write on. If you do intellectual work, the best defense against ignorant or prejudiced people is high-quality writing: a prospective employer may think science fiction is intrinsically puerile, but if you try to write about it in an intelligent and sophisticated way, only the extremely bigoted will not respect you for your work.

That, anyway, is what I would like to believe.


Can you say more about the Wikipedia thing? I struggle with that all the time, because my students go there so fast and have a really hard time getting away from it. I try to structure the conversation around what it's good for (orientation, pointers to other sources, learning what's "common knowledge") and where it falls down (credibility, verification, perspective). But they still use it as a source in their papers if I don't specifically ban it. It feels like a weird blind spot in their ability to distinguish between different kinds of sources and I wish I knew how to teach it better.

Susan Marie Groppi

Jessie-- one of the best points I've heard made about Wikipedia, both on the DC podcast and elsewhere, is that our students are still going to be using Wikipedia long after they've left our classrooms, so the best thing we can do for them is try and teach them to use it well, rather than try and persuade them to not use it at all. Mills Kelly described an assignment he did with his World Civ students, where he had them write (or substantially rewrite) Wikipedia articles on topics related to the course, and then track changes to their articles over the course of the semester. I love that assignment, because it's a great kind of direct-action teaching. They'll learn a lot more about the benefits and problems of using Wikipedia, and they'll remember the lesson a lot better. I'm not quite at a point where I'm ready to do this as a primary assignment, but I'm seriously considering doing something like it as an extra-credit assignment in my premodern science lecture course.

The general idea, I guess, is that just resisting (or ignoring) the use of Wikipedia isn't doing ourselves or our students any favors. I've been more-or-less ignoring it in my classes. I usually mention that it's not a useful source of information for research papers, but that's just because Wikipedia (or other encyclopedia) articles lack the depth of information that they need for research papers. I may try and engage a little more actively with it this year. We'll see.

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Susan Marie Groppi

  • Susan Marie Groppi is a historian and an editor, currently living in Berkeley, California.


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