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The Seat of Learning, Indeed

I’ve got to take my, uh, hat off to this idea. Rebecca Schuman at Missouri-St. Louis, who writes frequently on academic hiring, made an offer late last week that directly addresses the problem that many aspiring faculty members find themselves facing: search committees apparently want bushels of stuff. And the strong suspicion is that they really don’t look at most of it – they just want to see you sending it.
So she simply offered to pay $100 to the first two people who submit proof that they enclosed a scan of their butt among their supporting documents. This had to be a legitimate application, and she (wisely) set herself up as the sole judge of whether the enclosed material was, in fact, a scan of the applicant’s rear end. (Some things are too important to be left to anyone else).
The “Buttscan” idea took off in a big way, and by gosh, there’s already a winner. I must admit, although I’ve never applied for an academic position, that I can see the appeal. At a previous job I found myself having to write lengthy reports every six months about what I and my lab had been up to, and I always wanted to include, smack in the middle of yet another paragraph about SAR trends, an offer to pay $5 to the first person who told me that they’d read that far. But I never had the nerve, sadly. On a related note, a former colleague of mine once threatened to slip into my office while my semi-annual report document was open on my computer, and slip the phrase “Help, I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body!” into it. But no one would probably have read that one, either. . .

32 comments on “The Seat of Learning, Indeed”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I might try that with my next job application:
    Coverletter.doc, Buttscan.jpg, CV.doc

  2. Anon says:

    I am off to send a few applications like this to Big Pharma.

  3. Nate says:

    This reminds me of the old (probably apocryphal) story of a student defending his thesis. He walks in at the beginning and sets an expensive bottle of whiskey on the lectern next to him. Presents, defends etc. At the end of the questions he takes the bottle with him when he leaves.
    Buried in his dissertation was the line “If you have read this far you may come up and claim the whiskey”.

  4. Jon says:

    Or the old story of the student who, upon the deposition of his completed dissertation in the school library, stuck a $20 bill into the manuscript with a note saying “Congratulations! You are the first person to actually read my dissertation. Please take the $20 as a reward.”

  5. Novak says:

    My suggestion is to put those in the footnotes, because if you footnote copiously enough, no one will ever ever ever see it.

  6. Sili says:

    Good thing that colleague is former. There are funner jokes to slip in there.
    Of course, as we’ve seen this happens in the published literature as well – though perhaps not necessarily so deliberately.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always thought the Xeroxed middle finger was funny, but the butt-scan is good also, although less sanitary.

  8. Pennpenn says:

    Always remember to wipe down your photocopier after obtaining the required image!

  9. I applied for an adjunct faculty position – one question asked “What do you do to engage your students?” I replied (truthfully as it turns out) “I use dead baby jokes to illustrate physical laws – the students never forget.”
    No committee member asked about the dead baby jokes, which is a shame because I had a line prepared: “Oh. You’ll have to attend my lectures if you want to hear my jokes”

  10. Anonymous says:

    I slipped in such an offer ($25) but chickened out.

  11. CatCube says:

    I actually slipped one of these into an order I was writing as a plans officer. It was a quote from Justice League Unlimited: “The plastic pieces on the ends of shoelaces are called aglets. Their true purpose is sinister.”
    To the Operations Officer’s credit, he found it.

  12. Canageek says:

    Won’t the real test be seeing if someone actually manages to get a job after slipping in a buttscan?
    Also: Man, those profs are diffensces then some of the ones I’ve seen when at defences; I’ve seen a couple show up with the thesis, covered in sticky notes and red pen.

  13. Lu says:

    Some students in our engineering department used to sneak phrases like this in their term papers:
    “These ball bearings to be made out of wood… because nobody in their sane mind would read this”

  14. Octo says:

    This is a little off topic but…
    many years back on of my fellow PhD students left his dissertation open over lunch. The Post-doc saw this, opened auto-correct, clicked ‘change all’ typed ‘the’ clicked ‘replace with’ typed ‘the f@#king’.
    I always wondered what might have happened had he not noticed.

  15. cliffintokyo says:

    Strike one for the fun-sters against the Buttheads!

  16. Nekekami says:

    Our lieutenant once made the mistake of leaving his computer while logged in and without activating the lock…
    His excercise plan that was to be handed to the captain for evaluation mysteriously ended up containing the following: His grocery shopping list, a recipe for goulasch and sundry other embarrassing but ultimately harmless changes, including deep in the apendix etc. And of course the captain caught them all

  17. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    Several of my close relatives, and many of my friends, have humanities doctorates. Most readers of this blog know the job market for people with science doctorates ain’t great these days. But no matter how tough it may be for us, the job market for people with doctorates in fields like English, Philosophy, and History is much worse.

  18. anon the II says:

    In my first job out of grad school, the vp of chemistry read everything from everybody; trip reports, monthly reports, project summaries, etc. And he was always hell-bent on finding a mistake. We eventually learned that after finishing a report, you just threw in a few obvious mistakes. He would catch them and after pointing them out, you thanked him and turned in the report you did before adding the mistakes. And everybody was happy.

  19. Wheels17 says:

    It’s not a problem limited to academia. I worked in a major consumer product manufacturing facility. We were required to post a 3-4 page monthly “current status” report in the hallway glass cabinet on the shop floor. One of my compatriots put in a line near the end “The first person to come to my office gets 5 free [our product]”.
    It took two weeks before the first person came to his office.

  20. Rick Cousins says:

    One of the folk I was supervising inserted in the lengthy corporate PDP a reference to the obvious oversight that he had not receieved the £1M award cheque for all his contributions to drug discovery at GSK. He was pleased that I had actuall read through the document as I found and pointed out the reference in our end of year discussion, but less happy that I was not prepared to take his case forward to the head of R&D at GSK.

  21. Paul Brookes says:

    So on a somewhat related note, we managed to get this beauty published earlier this year…
    Figure 4 of BBA Bioenergetics Vol. 1827, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 598–611. (PMID 23291191)
    It’s behind a pay-wall until PMC public access kicks in after 1 year, so here’s the image in question…. http://imgur.com/tlqhjnK
    If you don’t understand the meme, whatever you do, DO NOT perform a Google image search for “goatse”.

  22. Nekekami says:

    @21
    Oh, so either the journal editors are Internet virgins, or they deliberately let it through to see how many Internet virgins they could catch in turn….

  23. Helical Investor says:

    Back in the days of being a lab TA, I had a student would occasionally put arbitrary sentences into lab report discussions and such. Stuff like, “Wait, the cookies are done” or “I hope the Giants don’t score here”. I would dutifully circle or underline it, but that is it. Honestly, it broke the tedium for me as well, so I rather liked the inclusions and was disappointed when they weren’t there.
    I did once mark (-1 for lack of irrelevancy), without actually taking off a point. Turnabout is fair play after all.
    So, don’t photocopy your butt. However, if you were to put in a scan of yourself winking with a note like “I expect this is tedious by now, but appreciate your effort”, it may just go in your favor.
    Zz

  24. Vader says:

    @20,
    I thought I’d stumbled across it all — tentacle hentai, dinosaur porn, you name it — but I’m not getting the allusion here.
    Am I correct in assuming that I might perhaps not want to Google “goatse” from work?

  25. Sili says:

    Am I correct in assuming that I might perhaps not want to Google “goatse” from work?

    You are.
    It’s essentially a presumably once private image of a man with a penchant for anal extension. In it he uses his hands to display his prowess, resulting in a situation resembling the linked graphic.
    Imagine the matrices being hands with digits and infer the nature of the gradient in the middle.

  26. pharmacologist says:

    i read to the point where you were going to offer $5. any chance you will pay up for reading enough of your blog?

  27. Anonymous says:

    50% overhead to fund university admin…for what?
    you are missing the point in your rant.
    the truth is much worse.

  28. Princhester says:

    When I was in high school a friend argued that one particularly poor science teacher didn’t actually read papers handed in. He had the courage of his convictions, so in the middle of his paper he put “Mr Soandso sux”. Got an A, and the teacher never commented.

  29. Robin says:

    Working in Dallas Independent School District, I was required to turn in weekly lesson plans. I knew they were simply piled up and forgotten, so I put the phrase “and if you read this, I will bake you two dozen cookies” somewhere on the second page. No one ever asked.

  30. HRH The Empress says:

    Corporate life isn’t any different. I work for an OCD passive aggressive control freak who routinely wants everything re done over and over and longer and longer. I typically paste in things like “If you’ve read this far you’re retarded”. And so far never been caught.

  31. Senor Spamdump says:

    Officially in the Rebecca Schuman fan club.

  32. Prasad says:

    This is hilarious indeed. I remembered the jokes we had in grad school when my CS friends were complaining that some of the jobs (esp in India) were asking for 10 years of Java experience when Java was released only 7 years before then.

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