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May 2010 Archives

May 3, 2010

Mansueto rising

Scaffolding.jpgLike the tiers of a wedding cake, scaffolding has appeared over the big hole in the ground that will soon become the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. Built to facilitate construction of the library’s elliptical glass dome, the structure went up in late April.

Over the next four months, passers-by will be able to watch as the library's distinctive oval dome takes shape. First, a high-strength steel and aluminum grid will rise from the foundation up. When the grid is in place August 1, glass panels will be installed from top to bottom.

When I visited the work site recently, a tall crane swung bundles of sleek, silver tubing from a truck to the ground. The tubing was made in the Czech Republic and delivered directly to Chicago. To create the grid, workers will bolt together more than 700 six-foot tubes and nodes, "like a giant erector set," explained Michael Natarus, senior project manager. Special tools have been manufactured just to put the components together.

Seele.jpgAlthough Helmut Jahn designed the library, the current phase reflects the genius of architect and structural engineer Werner Sobek. "He takes Helmut’s ideas and does the structural calculations," says Natarus. Following Sobek’s specifications, Seele, the German company hired to build the library dome, recently did a successful test-run of the grid assembly at its plant near Augsburg. The pieces are designed to fit "within a tenth of a millimeter," said Tobias Karnagel, site manager. That level of precision is unusual, but necessary for ensuring that the frame will bear the weight of the glass.

Seele did steel-and-glass construction for the new U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC; high-profile Apple Stores in New York City and around the world; and many other projects. Two workmen on the Mansueto crew helped assemble Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, but according to Natarus, "nobody has worked on anything like this before."

Underground.jpgBelow ground, work on the library is also progressing. When Natarus led me down into the vast, five-story-deep cavern that will eventually house an automated storage and retrieval system for 3.5 million volumes, the massive scale of the project hit home. The space, now mostly empty, is gargantuan. I felt like a tiny flea in the bottom of a deep, dark mixing bowl.

But the giant oval won’t be empty much longer. Fireproofing, duct work, and construction of a corridor to the Regenstein Library are moving forward. Air-handling units, which will maintain the temperature and humidity in the book stacks, have already been delivered. A concrete slab now separates the Mansueto basement from the ground floor, the future home of a sunny reading room. And the dome is expected to be finished this fall.

Elizabeth Station

Library scaffolding (top, photo by Cheryl Rusnak); workers conduct test assembly of steel grid in Germany (middle, photo copyright Seele); construction is well underway below ground (bottom, photo by John Pitcher). For more images, click here.


Mansueto WebCam

All over the map

Ebook-small.jpgGeographer Mark Monmonier explores maps' restrictive powers in No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control (University of Chicago Press, 2010). The Press's free e-book—available at no charge only for today, Monday May 3—the book shows how our experience in the world is influenced by boundaries, both those established for a common good, like keeping sex offenders away from playgrounds, as well as ethically questionable borders, like those forcing Japanese Americans during World War II to live in detention camps.

Ruthie Kott, AM'07

May 5, 2010

Keep the peace

Desk-image.jpgIn February the Peace Corps ranked the University of Chicago among its top ten medium-sized schools, with 30 Chicago graduates currently serving abroad. For Will Cohen, AB'08, who has spent the past 19 months working in a small town outside of Maputo, Mozambique, it's the U of C education that enables graduates to contribute in a meaningful way.

Cohen points to the Peace Corps' three goals: help the people of interested countries meet a need for trained men and women, promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served, and promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

"If...the Peace Corps wants to send people abroad who can work on all three goals, and not just the first, then a liberal Chicago education fits perfectly," Cohen says. "This is someone who could be a good though not flawless English teacher or community organizer or agricultural development worker. But it is also someone who is perceptive and tries to figure out why a different culture is the way it is, and who looks for a way to make a small, sustainable, but also meaningful improvement in his or her community."

Still, Cohen says, classroom studies of international development could only bring him so far in preparation for the Peace Corps.

"I knew that teaching in this environment would be challenging and I tried to prepare myself ahead of time, but that preparation didn't and couldn't actually make the difficulties less difficult," he says. "There's knowing and then there's knowing, and that second kind of knowing is what I learn every day here."

Cohen has had to come to grips with that second kind of knowing as he has worked to set up a computer lab at his school—he teaches eighth, ninth, and tenth grades—and help spread computer literacy. The project started with the donation of a dozen brand new desktop computers, but Cohen found he couldn’t jump right into the functional lessons, such as using computers for e-mail and, for teachers, school-based processes like grading and class-scheduling.

“Every time I’m working with a teacher trying to teach a certain concept on the computer, I realize for how much of my life I’ve been using computers and technology, and just how integrated the whole process has been in my daily routine up until now,” he says. “It’s not enough to teach my coworkers how to use computers to aid their daily work. I need to show them in the first place that that is what computers were invented to do, and that they are not just fancy typewriters or symbols of conspicuous consumption.”

Cultural differences don’t always mean challenges, though; in fact, a Mozambican version of “Old MacDonald” provided Cohen with one of his favorite memories of his stay. He was teaching animal names one day in class—important words, he thought, to go along with some of the students’ other classes and agricultural work at school—and he decided to use the nursery rhyme to help with the lesson.

“It took a while to get the words right, but once we had the pattern down and were going through the song animal by animal, the students started to improvise. You know that style of rhythmic African choral or gospel a capella music, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ and all that? They started changing their singing to fit that style, and soon the students in the back were whooping and boys were chanting and the girls were clapping,” he writes. “I don’t actually think that the students learned the names of animals any better that way, but it’s the best version of a nursery rhyme I’ve ever heard. As a single event it managed to join two normally separate worlds in a way that while surprising seemed to make sense.”

Jake Grubman, ’11

May 7, 2010

The ten most important questions you'll ever answer

Job-interview-2.jpgWhether you're craving a summer internship, looking to change careers, or seeking employment after being downsized, the face-to-face interview is a critical part of landing your dream job. To give candidates a leg up, UChicago's Career Advising and Planning Services has provided a comprehensive list of the most popular interview questions—and tips on the best answers. Learn how to wow on annoying-yet-unavoidable inquiries like "Tell me about yourself" and tackle trick questions such as "Would you rather be liked or feared?" (Answer: neither. You'd rather be respected.)

Brooke E. O'Neill, AM'04


Collage-2.jpgWhen the Oriental Institute invited friends and supporters to “Check Out Our Digs!” at an April 28 fundraiser, it meant just that. Ranged through the museum galleries at what OI Director Gil Stein jokingly called “the stations of the digs,” the directors and other team members of six active excavation projects—in Egypt, Israel, Syria, and Turkey—stood ready to answer questions about past discoveries and the coming season.

Taken together, Stein said, the six digs (a seventh will soon begin in Palestine) represent “the entire range of the development of civilization in the Near East.” The excavations also span the institute’s own history.

Stationed between the Assyrian and Syro-Anatolian galleries, Scott Branting, AM’96, has worked for almost two decades at Kerkenes Dag, an enormous ancient city—one square mile—near Yozgat, Turkey. The OI began excavations there in 1928, work that was a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. Branting uses geophysical tools like magnetometers and resistivity meters to survey the huge city to find the most promising places to dig. Working with researchers at Argonne National Lab, he is also developing agent-based models, simulations that place “virtual people into the city plans,” to recreate patterns of city life, circa 600 B.C.

In the Egyptian gallery, Yorke Rowan explained a much newer dig, the Galilee Prehistory Project at Marj Rabba, Israel. The first OI dig in Israel in several decades, its goal is to understand the rapid changes in the relationship of villages, ritual sites, and mortuary practices during the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Rowan expects to spend two or three more years at Marj Rabba, a small village site where the project began last summer, before moving on to a large village and then to a burial site.

Guests could stop for sustenance in the Persian Gallery, then return to dig deeper. For those interested in uncovering the OI’s own history, there was also “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920." The special exhibit details OI founder James Henry Breasted’s post-World War I trek through Egypt and Mesopotamia to buy artifacts for the new institute and to select sites for future digs.

Mary Ruth Yoe

Some guests check out the Galilee Prehistory Project, on display in video and photo form (top left), while others (top right) learn about Kerkenes Dag from Branting (in black). Photography by Hanna Ernst.

May 10, 2010

The new happy hour

lgbtalumni.jpgWhether you're a recent graduate or an emeritus, chances are you've been invited to a U of C happy hour. One of the most common type of alumni events, they are usually planned for alumni of a certain generation or region, but a recent trend has some of the guest lists getting more creative.

For example, when 50-some alumni gathered at the North Side bar Sidetrack last Wednesday, they weren't all members of the same College class, nor all "young alumni." Instead, all were LGBT alumni, members of a new "affinity" group that have self-identified to the Alumni Association.

Affinity groups cross geographic, generational, and University boundaries. Some, like the Life Sciences and Law Alumni groups, include alumni working in a given professional field, regardless of the school or division from which they received their University degree. Others, like the LGBT group, the Association of Black Alumni, and the Chicago Women's Alliance, are identity-based.

Since the outreach effort began last year, dozens of alumni volunteers have signed up to take leadership roles in the groups. Event turnout has also been strong: over 120 alumni attended the LGBT Alumni launch event last October, and Life Sciences events in New York have been regularly drawing over 100. The new affinity groups will also be well represented at Alumni Weekend, June 3-6, with events planned for LGBT Alumni and the Association of Black Alumni.

"It's all about finding new ways to connect alumni to the University," said Eric Rogers, AB'05, AM'07, assistant director for affinity groups at the Alumni Association. "Your connection to the University isn't just about nostalgia; it should help you in your professional life, your social life, and your intellectual life today."

Kyle Gorden, AB'00

Alumni at LGBT Happy Hour. Photography by Eric Rogers.

May 11, 2010

All that jazz

asas-02416.jpgIn June 2000, when lifelong jazz aficionado John Steiner bequeathed his collection of recordings and other materials to the University, jazz archivist Deborah Gillaspie, AM’88, walked into Steiner’s basement to find an extraordinary collection, remarkable for its unmatched contents—and its nonexistent organization.

At a May 1 workshop led with fellow Special Collection Research Center (SCRC) librarian David Pavelich, Gillaspie explored the University’s jazz archives and described the mayhem. “It was an archaeological dig," she said.

The dig was fruitful. Steiner’s basement yielded nearly 35,000 recordings and 200 linear feet (a standard measurement in library terms) of photos, arrangements, posters, periodicals, and all types of ephemera.

When the materials (all four moving vans full) arrived at the Reg, the Steiner Collection found a home on the third floor, where the rest of the University’s jazz archive sat in cardboard boxes, unprocessed. When researchers wanted to access materials, they spoke directly to Gillaspie, the only person who knew what and where everything was.

The University’s jazz collection had been growing since 1976, but the quantity and variety of materials were such that the University didn’t have the resources for proper organization.

“There was no money to process it, no money for staff,” Gillaspie told the audience of 20. “So here it sat.”

That changed in 2006. The University received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to process the collection, and since then, the SCRC has organized it to make materials as accessible as possible. Among the tools the SCRC offers are online databases that allow jazz researchers and enthusiasts to know the collection's contents before coming to the library.

Because of Chicago’s tight-knit community of jazz experts, the library provides resources that extend far beyond the University’s own collection. A jazz drummer herself, Gillaspie knew several of the archive’s benefactors, and she discussed the music with a familiarity that several members of the audience seemed to share. She talked about the contents of collections like that of Chicago saxophonist Franz Jackson, adding a quick “for those of you who knew Franz” before moving on.

With the library continuing to process its latest acquisitions, Pavelich said the SCRC is receiving more requests than in the past. The researchers, in turn, are happy about the reorganization of collections like Steiner’s; now they can easily dig into the material without having to dig for it.

Jake Grubman, '11

Song Successes from The New Pekin Theatre Chicago Reviews (New York and London: M. Witmark & Sons, n.d.) is one piece from the expansive John Steiner Collection. Photo courtesy Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

May 12, 2010

Watt experiment

My kids need a project for the science festival. They are in the first grade at a Hyde Park public school, and this year, unlike free-wheeling kindergarten, science-fair projects are mandatory. Acceptable projects, the school note explains, include experiments, research reports, and collections with “scientific value.” (Caveat: “Your Hot Wheels collection or some other toy collection is not scientific.”)

Considering that most first-graders can barely read, you could call this assignment academically rigorous, or (depending on your educational philosophy) absolutely ridiculous. But I don’t want my kids to be the only ones without a science-festival project, so I set about doing it for them. I mean, um, helping them do it.

Kid B decides he wants to do a report on the platypus. His babysitter, who likes to make crafts, helps him fashion a platypus out of clay.

Kid A isn’t sure what to do. Then one day at work late April, I come across a news announcement on the Regenstein Library Web site:

“ComEd has recently offered Kill A Watt™ meters to libraries for checkout. These meters measure the electricity used to run electrical devices. Kill A Watt™ Power Meters have been placed on reserve and are available for checkout for seven days at both Crerar and Regenstein Circulation.”

sciencefair12.jpgAha! I propose the idea of an experiment to Kid A: What uses the most electricity?

He is underwhelmed. I try another approach: Did you know that appliances that use electricity—even when they are turned off—are called “electricity vampires?”

“Vampires?” he says. “Are they really called that?” We have a science project.

On Saturday I have to be on campus, so I stop off at Regenstein. It’s not long after Earth Day, but apparently there has not been a run on Kill A Watt™ meters. One of the circulation assistants has heard of the program, but isn’t sure where the meters are filed. Someone else helpfully phones Crerar. I walk over there and walk out with a meter.

The week passes. With Little League and swimming lessons and a houseguest, we don’t get to the science experiment. On Monday morning, I receive an e-mail warning that the meter is overdue. When I call, hoping to renew over the phone, I’m told the fine for reserve materials is a dollar an hour.

I rush home from work and pick up Kid A. He suggests we start with the halogen lamp—a smart suggestion. (Once, the lamp was accidentally left on for a week or so, and the electricity bill was $20 higher than usual.)

I read the instructions while Kid A peels off the protective sticker; we are the first ones to use the meter. We plug it in and start pressing buttons: volts, amperes, hertz, kilowatts. The brochure does not explain how long the measuring process takes.

It’s one of the first warm afternoons of spring. It occurs to me that the dollar-per-hour cost is negligible compared to the opportunity cost of being stuck inside. Most of our neighbors are already in the backyard, drinking beer or playing in the sandbox, depending on age. Kid A and I look at each other. We would much rather be conducting experiments in applied physics, i.e. throwing a ball around in the light well.

After eight minutes, the lamp has used two watts of electricity (whether that is a lot or not, I couldn't say), and Kid A has completely lost interest in his experiment. “Can I do a report instead?” he asks. “Can I do a report on lions?”

He goes over to the babysitter’s to start on his clay lion while I take the meter back to Crerar. I pay the fine of six dollars—turns out it’s not charged by the hour, but a flat rate of three dollars a day.

The circulation assistant is intrigued. “Was it useful?” he wants to know.

“Kind of,” I say.

Now I just need to get a book on lions.

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

The author investigates lions with Kid B (in yellow), and Kid A (in space invaders). Photography by Jason Pettus.

May 14, 2010

Hyde Parked

These perpetually parked campus vehicles are going nowhere fast.

Ah, spring in Hyde Park. The trees are blooming, the parakeets are squawking, the soon-to-be graduates are printing their theses and dissertations. But along with spring comes street-cleaning season, and with street cleaning comes the need to move your car before it gets a ticket. With that in mind, UChiBLOGo is pleased to present you with this photo essay of the Hyde Park clunkers that won’t be moving any time soon.

1. In a University-owned parking lot we see what appears to be a 1966 Mercury Colony Park wagon and a late-‘70s (maybe 1976?) Chevrolet Nova. (Seen at 60th and Stony Island.)


2. Arguably the last decent car built by American Motors, the AMC Eagle mated a car body with a Jeep four-wheel drive, making it a sort of early crossover. I spotted this 1980s Eagle around 52nd and Dorchester.


3. This early-‘70s (1971-1976) Cadillac Coupe de Ville doesn’t look capable of making its way from the eastern seaboard under its own power, although the plates say it’s from Maine. (Seen near Nichols Park, 54th and Greenwood.)


4. Other than a thin coat of rust all over the body, this 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport seems to be cared for pretty well, with clean windows and nicely polished chrome. The lack of a current license plate and city sticker might make legal operation a problem, though. (Spotted at 55th and Greenwood.)


5. I can understand keeping a barely functioning old Caddy or muscle car around well past the point of no repair, but, seriously, a ‘77 Chevy Monte Carlo? This wasn’t a great car even new, so I can only assume there’s some kind of emotional connection for the owner. (Seen at 55th and Ellis.)


6. Badly damaged 1967 Chevrolet Impala or mock-up for a new building by Frank Gehry? You be the judge. (Seen in front of Breckinridge House, 59th and Harper.)


For more deserted cars, click here for the complete collection on Flickr.

Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

Photography by Benjamin Recchie, AB'03.

May 17, 2010

Signing on...

Library help via IM hits the Reg.

OMG! On March 1 the University of Chicago Libraries began offering reference assistance by instant message.

In April Paul Belloni, business and economics reference librarian, chatted, via IM, with UChiBlogo about teenagers, typos, and how to know when a session is over.


[10:45 a.m.] meeboguest137866: Hi, it's Carrie Golus.
Is now a good time for the interview?

[10:46] U of C Ask a Librarian: Hi Carrie
What's up?

[10:47] meeboguest137866: Have students and faculty been receptive?

[10:47] U of C Ask a Librarian: Yes,
Although we usually have no idea who we are talking to
I could be chatting with a teenager in Japan
Or an Economics Professor

[10:55] meeboguest137866: Can you tell the students from the profs?

[10:55] U of C Ask a Librarian: No, LOL
If it is a research question I can guess it is a student
Professors usually have tech questions

[10:56] meeboguest137866: Haha
Have you ever accidentally offended someone?

[10:56] U of C Ask a Librarian: not that I am aware of
but a coworker once typed
"I will be back in a sex"
rather than "I will be back in a sec"
we can't take it back once we hit enter

[10:57] meeboguest137866: How about joke or harassing IMs?
It seems too tempting...it's all anonymous

[10:57] U of C Ask a Librarian: no, not yet
I am a little surprised

[10:57] meeboguest137866: Do you like to IM with your friends?

[10:57] U of C Ask a Librarian: No

[10:58] meeboguest137866: You have to IM for work!
That's awesome

[10:58] U of C Ask a Librarian: I find people say something and walk away and I am too old fashioned
I am confused about if the conversation is over

[10:59] meeboguest137866: Right
Well, I think that's all my questions

[11:00] U of C Ask a Librarian: smiley faces usually indicate the end

[11:00] meeboguest137866: unless there was something you wanted to say
that I didn't know to ask about?

[11:00] U of C Ask a Librarian: :)

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

May 19, 2010

Romanian revelations

In the Renaissance Society’s “Seductiveness of the Interval,” Romanian artists explore life after communism and Ceausescu.

As theatrical as its name, the Renaissance Society’s “Seductiveness of the Interval” exhibit, running through June 27, features three Romanian artists who lived under the oppressive reign of former president Nicolae Ceausescu. Curated by art historian Alina Şerban and first shown in the Romanian Pavilion of the 2009 Venice Biennale, the showcase includes works installed in an architectural structure akin to a stage set, complete with stairs and two levels. As viewers move from room to room, they become part of the performance, traveling though the narrow corridors, or, per the title, "intervals," that connect the spaces. Less about communism and Ceausescu than about life in their aftermath, the exhibit explores themes of anger, confusion, growth, and moral progress.

Romanian.jpg“Seductiveness” starts on a dark note with Ştefan Constantinescu’s fictional film Troleibuzul 92. In the piece a 20-something man boards a bus and sits next to an older woman with a chin-length bob. After a few moments, he pulls out a cell phone and makes repeated calls to his wife or girlfriend, unleashing a threatening tirade each time: “Tell me—who were you talking to? I’m getting off now to take a cab. I’ll be there in ten minutes. I’ll thrash you ‘til you tell, drench you in blood, I will.”

The woman next to him sits in silence, staring straight ahead. Then the film goes black, prompting the viewer into the next room where Ciprian Mureşan’s Auto-da-Fé awaits. A projector flashes images of graffiti marring urban landscapes throughout Europe: “I am a man of character, that I confess to you” scrawled on a toilet; “were I a traitor” on a slab of concrete; “by your illustrious forefathers” on an old car.

In an adjacent room lies a large water cistern attached to several hoses. “Open your minds, open your hearts, open your souls,” chants an audio recording. The irrigation system and audio are the first glimpse of EXUBERANTIA suspended, Andrea Faciu’s mixed-media installation. At the end of the dark exhibit room, the viewer climbs up a flight of stairs, into the light, and sees the second part: a green, leafy garden perched atop the stage set.

During a May 2 artists' discussion in Kent Hall, Constantinescu said that Troleibuzul 92, based on a scene witnessed while riding a trolleybus, taps into a common Romanian phenomenon: being unable to vent in the workplace and thus releasing frustration in one’s private life, invading the public space of others in the process. Mureşan's Auto-da-Fé, on the other hand, focuses on de- and re-construction of narrative rather than a particular sociopolitical issue. Within its new context—the artist had his friends post graffiti derived from an Elias Canetti novel—each phrase holds new meaning, he explained.

Finally, Faciu told the audience that EXUBERANTIA suspended is a reaction to the lack of order and overwhelming economic and cultural growth that Romanians have experienced. “The entire composition reflects, at a certain level, my own comprehension of the society I grew up in, a society whose many faces are in uninterrupted flux," she elaborates in the exhibition catalog. "I liked the idea of being constricted, searching for a way out, confronting the option of a revelation.”

Katherine Muhlenkamp

Photo courtesy Renaissance Society.

May 20, 2010

Incongruent diagnosis

Does the forthcoming DSM-V mark a shift in how psychiatry thinks about transgender people?

In 2013 the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is scheduled to be published—the first major revision since 1994. When the American Psychological Association released a draft in February, one of the big changes was the shift from "Gender Identity Disorder (GID)" to "Gender Incongruence" as the DSM diagnosis for people who were born one sex but identify as another (male, female, neither, or both).


The name change drew mixed reactions from students and faculty at a May 11 Center for Gender Studies documentary screening and discussion. Some said that any name is better than the stigmatizing burden of "disorder"; others argued that our societal notions of gender create this "incongruence" in the first place. But, as the man sitting in front of me pointed out, "society is fucked up."

The transgender activists in the featured hour-long documentary, Diagnosing Difference, essentially argue that the "disorder" moniker is both unscientific and unfair, that it "doesn't capture the joy that happens" when someone feels comfortable in his own skin for the first time. It makes one's gender identity into a pathology; it can affect a person socially, culturally, even legally. And who is a psychiatrist—who, one of the activists in the movie pointed out, may never have even given a thought to their own gender identity—to tell a person who she should be? But the way our medical system works now, the diagnosis is what gives trans people access to certain hormonal or surgical treatments.

Assistant professor of sociology Kristen Schilt, who researches transgender men in California and Texas, led the discussion. She explained that the GID diagnosis is really important in her Texan subjects' lives: some of their parents threw them out of the house before they knew about the diagnosis, said Schilt. But then, once the subjects could say that they had GID, "it became something real," and the parents could begin to accept it.

Ultimately, argued Schilt, the shift from disorder to incongruence doesn't really change much—the APA's conclusion is still that they know what's better for transgender people than the trans people themselves. That's not saying it'll never change. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM in the 1980s after years of debate, and, she said, "a similar victory will happen eventually with GID." She shrugged and smiled. "Maybe the 2020 edition will see Gender Incongruence fading."

Ruthie Kott, AM'07

May 21, 2010

The doctorate is in

It’s the economy, stupid. In 2010 Chicago received a record number of applications to PhD programs.

When the economy gets tough, do the tough go to graduate school? Judging from the recent avalanche of applications to Chicago PhD programs in the humanities and social sciences, the answer is yes.

The Division of the Humanities received a record 2,160 applications to its doctoral programs this spring. “It’s the most we’ve ever gotten and about 10 percent higher than last year,” says Sarah Tuohey, assistant dean of students. Competition for available spots was stiff: only 142 candidates—less than 7 percent—were offered admission. Roughly half of all applicants sought spots in just three departments: English, Philosophy, and Art History.

An all-time high of 2,475 people applied to PhD programs in the Social Sciences Division in 2010. Economics, history, and political science were—and perennially are—the most popular fields. Interest in graduate school often jumps when the job market slumps, says Kelly Pollock, assistant dean of students. “In an economy like this, people want to understand what’s going on. You start to hear more about economists and that certainly helps application numbers.”

A year ago, responding to budgetary pressures, the Humanities Division opted to shrink the size of its PhD classes but continue offering five years of fellowship support to every incoming student. In the English Department, just seven students matriculated in the doctoral program in 2009; 543 had applied. This coming fall, classes will be more robust, with 13 projected to matriculate in English (out of 593 applicants), seven in philosophy (out of 250 applicants), and seven in art history (out of 245 applicants).

When, and if, the new arrivals finally earn their PhDs, they are not guaranteed jobs in academia. Nationwide, the percentage of tenure-track teaching positions is declining in all fields, especially in the humanities. Graduate school may lose its appeal as a result.

In at least one area of the University—the Divinity School—prospective PhDs may have already started adjusting their behavior to a new reality. Applications to doctoral and master of divinity programs were down in 2010, which has “a lot to do with perceptions of the job market and available jobs,” says Teresa Hord Owens, dean of students. “It may be a blip.” But it may also be the beginning of a bigger trend.

Elizabeth Station

May 24, 2010

Puppet masters

Scav hunt teams perform using their best life-sized marionettes.

The Scav Hunt teams from Burton-Judson and Max Palevsky have two things in common: they both finished in second place and impressed crowds with their life-size marionette performances.

Watch Burton-Judson recreate *NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye" and Max Palevsky do their best Mario Brothers' rap.



Joy Olivia Miller

May 26, 2010

Phoenix Pix: May 24–28, 2010

Experience America

Student tour guides lead ambassadors from around the world during their campus visit, part of a three-day City of Chicago tour by the chiefs of diplomatic missions to the United States.

Photography by Dan Dry.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

In which we protest too much

Defending the U of C against a bad first impression

After a recent report of students failing to spontaneously burst into song in the presence of prospective applicants, UChiBlogo suggests the following minimum guidelines for public displays of enthusiasm:

1. Smile. Doesn’t matter about what. Corollary: Travel in groups, preferably boisterous ones recounting last night’s Colbert Report or the latest episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine.

2. End as many sentences as possible with the phrase “on our campus near the shore of Lake Michigan.” Example: “I enjoy the educational challenges at the University of Chicago, but also the many exciting extracurricular activities and lasting friendships I’ve made on our campus near the shore of Lake Michigan.”

3. If your parents happened to meet here, consider erecting a memorial on the spot to illustrate that love can blossom amid the otherwise soulless rigor of the University of Chicago.

4. When referencing famous alumni—every student should work at least two into daily conversation—avoid Nobel laureates and Pulitzer winners. Focus on contemporary entertainers. Tucker Max, AB’98, for example.

These are not idle suggestions. The perceived lack of a palpably happy spirit—and, apparently, a dearth of comedy-star alums—cost the U of C an applicant. Caren Osten Gerszberg explained why on the New York Times blog “The Choice: Demystifying College Admissions and Aid.”

Quads-walker.jpgOn a trip to Chicago, Gerszberg and her daughter, a high-school junior, visited both the U of C and Northwestern. In Hyde Park the campus tour alone convinced Gerszberg’s daughter the school was not for her. “I just don’t feel it in my soul,” she said during the tour, because “everyone is walking alone.” She asked her mom if they could skip the subsequent information session. Those sessions are supposed to be before the tours now, which only deepens the mystery of who knew what and when they knew it.

Gerszberg pondered how much influence she should exert over her daughter’s decisions. “As a mother I feel like it’s my job to lead her through situations with which she may need guidance—to be the grown-up who seems to know all the answers. Even though I clearly don’t.” This time she deferred rather than urging her daughter to “sit through an hour-long info session.”

An hour would have been a waste of time after she had concluded from the expressions of—what, a hundred kids on the quads?—that U of C students were humorless loners. Her daughter’s intuition rang true, Gerszberg writes, because the students “rushing from class to class and library to library did not appear to be smiling.”

Meanwhile, their experience on the Evanston campus “along the shore of Lake Michigan” included cooler name-dropping—Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus compared to the Chicago guide's mention of Carl Sagan, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60—and, presumably, more apparent smiles. They stuck around for the information session.

Never mind that the “chatty” Northwestern tour guide’s story about his parents meeting on campus was an irrelevant coincidence; or that if Sagan were alive today he’d probably be a regular Colbert guest. Sagan’s novel, Contact, was made into a movie, so it couldn’t have been that boring. Matthew McConaughey was in it, and he seems like he’s always up for some hacky-sack. It follows, then, that McConaughey’s interest in Sagan’s story makes him a U of C kind of guy, which makes it a hacky-sack kind of place.

That must have been covered in the information session.

Jason Kelly

A student, who does not appear to be smiling, takes a lonely walk on the quads. Photography by Dan Dry

May 28, 2010

Word to the wise

Researchers forge new science of enlightenment.

Thinker.jpgGetting old? Enjoy some dark chocolate and let the antioxidants work their anti-aging magic. Having trouble concentrating? Drink coffee for caffeine’s focus power. Feeling bummed out? Pop some mood-boosting herbs like St. John’s wort or ginkgo biloba.

Awash in a culture of quick fixes for every conceivable physical and psychological ailment, I arrived at a May 12 talk on the University’s Defining Wisdom Project confident I’d leave a sage—or at least perceptive enough to stop doing foolish things like accepting a Facebook friend request from my junior-high nemesis.

No sooner had I started on my organic strawberry shortcake—the lecture was part of the Divinity School’s Wednesday lunch series—did Howard Nusbaum, project co-director and psychology chair, dash my hopes.

“I’m not going to define wisdom for you,” he began. “I don’t even know what wisdom is.” Seriously?

Had the whipped-cream-doused dessert been any less delicious, I might have bailed. Fortunately, the Div School student chefs know their pastries.

Turns out, the Defining Wisdom project hasn’t exactly defined wisdom yet, but it’s certainly tackling the beast head-on. The $2 million program, launched in September 2007 by the University’s Arete Initiative, has awarded grants to 23 psychologists, philosophers, biologists, computer scientists, and other researchers from around the world with the aim of understanding, measuring, and cultivating a field of wisdom science.

“Wisdom seems abstract, like a mystical superpower,” said Nusbaum, explaining why it’s traditionally been overlooked as a research area. No longer, thanks to the Defining Wisdom cadre. Selected from more than 600 proposals, their projects include:

Note to self: all Defining Wisdom findings will eventually—no publication date set yet—be compiled into a book. In the meantime, enjoy the shortcake and try not to be an idiot.

Brooke E. O'Neill, AM'04

May 31, 2010

Phoenix Pix: May 31–June 4, 2010

Gary Becker

In his fifth decade on the UChicago faculty, 2010 alumni award winner Gary Becker still works seven days a week—writing, researching, and teaching graduate students.

Photography by Dan Dry.

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About May 2010

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in May 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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