Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ethics and Sharing

A while ago there was justiciable backlash against an annual feature of the Times Higher Education called Exam Howlers, a 'competition' designed to encourage teaching professionals in Higher Education to submit some of the worst/funniest mistakes students made in their exams. Now, fans of this feature would claim that it is harmless fun which allows academics to let off some steam. The submissions are anonymous so the students shouldn't care. Critics of the feature (like me) would argue that it is exploitative, humiliating, degrading, mocking and anonymity is not protected because a student could easily identify themselves in the examples. And it is not just Exam Howlers - we have to acknowledge that social media has made it easier for people to share anecdotes about their teaching experiences and, as a result, use students as fodder for laughs.

Now, I have taught students and I have definitely let off steam in conversation with fellow tutors. However, I would never post anything on social media that mocked a student's work. That is right and decent and just good practice. Surely, then, it should be the same in the world of work?

I raise the example of job interviews because the scenarios are just the same - you have those in a position of power and authority (the examiners/lecturers/interviewers) and those in a more vulnerable position potentially riddled with anxiety and nerves (the student/candidate). The same ethics apply, those of confidentiality, of being respectful, of not using a 'hilarious' exam answer or interview answer as fodder for social media clicks and likes.
So, imagine my surprise when I saw this pop up on my LinkedIn news feed:


Best, worst, or most surreal interview answer ever.

I've interviewed many people in the past but one answer stands out above all. Context: Interview was going rather well for a social media manager role, the interviewee was slightly nervous but had given solid answers to most of the capability questions and then hit me with this doozy whilst discussing personal development and self awareness.

Q: What is your biggest weakness?
A: Fried chicken.

There was no pause and he answered automatically. What has been the strangest response you've had in interviews?

Now, I suspect that this is not a case of mocking the individual's answer, but rather about the challenges of answering stock, overused interview questions. Nevertheless, if I had been that candidate and checked into LinkedIn to see that my interview experience was being splashed all over social media, I would be understandably angry, annoyed, and frankly a little upset.

Of course, this individual may not care or may have given consent for this to shared (although I doubt the latter). Surely, what happens within the confines of an interview should stay there.

It is sad to see instances of people using exam answers or job interview responses as a means of garnering more visibility. We sadly live in an age where self-promotion on social media trumps decency and respect, and those more vulnerable become the victims of those who ought to know better.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Tale of Two Conferences 2.0

As many of you know, I try to juggle my alternative academic day job with maintaing my academic profile. And in a strange coincidence I ended up attending two back-to-back conferences: one work-related, the other academic-related.

Now, the work conference is probably better described as a CPD event (continuing professional development) but it followed the same format as an academic conference with keynote speakers and Q&A. However, it also had the added benefit of two workshops which I find a really vital tool because it is a less formal and more collaborative way of sharing ideas and learning from each other. The traditional paper Q&A session is more rigid in academia and allows for the worst of academia to pervade:

  • Some panellists not getting questions and being ignored
  • Agressive questioning in a non-supportive manner
  • The dreaded grandstanding of the 'comment, not question'
As an introvert, I also find that workshops are a more inclusive way of allowing those who feel too much anxiety about traditional Q&As and they are better for networking as it is more organic and less artificial. I have come away from my CPD with a real in-depth knowledge of a subject and really useful contacts.

The second conference is your standard keynote lecture followed my chaired panel sessions with 3-4 participants. Now this was a really fascinating conference that I was invited to present at and what I am saying has no bearing on the organisation of the event or the quality of the papers. I have already learned so much. But the striking difference between the two events was timing and chairing. Because participants before me were indulged to go over their time, I had less time and the chair in my paper stood up (who was sitting to the side in the middle of the room) and steadily creeped closer to my podium. Needless to say, I felt thrown and the last part of my talk definitely felt both rushed and glossed over. And pity the person who came after me with even less time cause lunch was looming.

It didn't improve. Another session allowed the first two participants to go significantly over time leading to increased pressure on the final speaker. Now, that comes down to the Chair (a different one in this case)...and if the Chair is lax then there is little the audience can or should do. What I completely disagreed with was the first speaker in that session (who had overrun) gesturing to the last speaker to wrap it up. 

There was one final piece of conference etiquette which I would like to highlight. Before my session I was introduced to the Chair and we were having a conversation so that they knew what to say to introduce me, but we were also just having a very fruitful conversation about the state of academia. A fellow attendee approaches the Chair, ignoring me and starts a conversation. I have never felt so invisible before and just had to walk away. I really got the sense that this individual felt that his conversation was far more important than mine and that I could be so easily dismissed.

So conference etiquette lessons learned:
1. Do not try to be the Chair no matter how frustrating running over time can be and especially not if you contributed to the overrunning of time.
2. If you want to introduce yourself to someone who is conversing with someelse, by all means approach but acknowledge the interruption and respect the conversation that is happening. Don't bully them out of the way. Especially if you are a man and you ignore the woman.