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Monitor Or Coffee Mug?

2006-05-11

Fame is very attractive. Money permits us to purchase what we desire to have. Power allows us to do what we want. So from the infant cradle to the deathbed, many, including Tim the tea brewer, seek FMP, ceaselessly.

FMP is like a piece of meat, clamped in a hovering eagle’s beak. The eagle was happy for having found a piece of meat a while ago. He was going to fly away, and to hide somewhere to devour the meat safely by himself. Suddenly, however, two vultures appeared, and they flew near the eagle, trying to seize that piece of meat. The eagle tried to fly away, by flying eastwards. The two vultures followed the eagle eastwards. He flew westwards; the vultures also flew westwards. North, south, same pattern. The eagle was annoyed and scared. What should I do, his mind was ticking fast. Finally, a wise decision was made: he abruptly opened his beak, and drop the meat off. From that moment on, the two vultures entirely lost the interest in chasing the eagle. Instead, they dashed to chase that piece of falling meat.

Among FMP, M seems to be the most popular attribute. Almost everybody wants to chase M. M itself is very useful, and it also usually leads us to F and P.

Hence, M is a highly wanted piece of meat. Seizing the meat is therefore not easy. It requires special skills. Hence in a typical industrial company, there exists a marketing department, and there also exists a technical department. Marketing personnel spend their full time in exploring the market, to touch bases with potential customers, to make phone calls, and to attend meetings.

These marketing activities are very time consuming, obviously.

Whereas technical personnel devote their efforts to deriving and solving equations, drawing blueprints, and running computers. They must insure the delivery of company’s products, company’s services, and guarantee the quality.

We all have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We all have only one brain seated on our shoulders. Very few have the talents and the time to conduct both marketing and technical tasks well. Technical people usually do not possess the social grace; marketing people usually do not have the technical competence. Einstein most likely cannot be a good president; Bush most likely cannot be a good physicist.

Yet, strangely and interestingly enough, professors in the universities nowadays are expected to do both well. Actually, excuse me, corrections. They are expected to do only marketing well. If they do not have, or lack, their technical expertise, it is quite alright. If they skip the classes they are teaching, for the purpose of attending conferences in which they may establish some connections with potential grant-giving managers/directors, the university administrators will gladly give them blessings. No problems. Simply hire a post doctor or a less expensive instructor to fulfill the professor’s teaching duty.

Promotions and salary raises are awarded to those professors who bring large amount of research dollars into the departments. The pitiful professors who do not know, or do not enjoy, doing the public relations are forever doomed.

I personally attended a departmental meeting in which a colleague of mine was evaluated for the possibility of being promoted from assistant professor to associate professor. The foremost important deciding factor was a chart listing numbers of the research dollars brought into the department by him.

“He only brought in totally 650K, that is not enough,” someone commented.

“And look, in that grant sponsored by the Navy, he was only a co-principal investigator. So that 135K should be divided by two…” another commented.

Professors are role models for the students. When the starred and distinguished ones have attracted large amount of money, they also naturally have risen to power. They make laws and decisions. They have secretaries. They go out to have luncheons, wearing ties and suits. They live glamorously.

But they are unable to derive or solve equations. As college professors, they must do teaching, at least symbolically. So, what should they teach? Some soft-cored materials such as “Introduction to Engineering” or “The National Trend in Engineering Education” suit them well.

Students sit in the classrooms, listen, and observe. Hmmm…, what should I become in my future? a technical person sitting in front of the monitor monotonously, if not miserably, all day, or a PR person holding a coffee mug chatting around? Most of them will choose the latter.

Yes, indeed, this is the national trend.

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