Sunday, August 7, 2011

Diplomas in the office

Ah, finally I have finished (for this year) my long-ass driving trips across this festering cesspool of late capitalism great land of ours, and I've got all my stuff in my house.  That is, all of my stuff except for the boxes of books I schlepped over to my new office.  The living room floor, of course, has not been touched this week; apparently, the contractor couldn't locate the tiles yet.  This means that my home decorating has to stay pretty much in flux, since everything has to be moved out of the way of the contractor whenever he bothers to show up.  In sum: I can't buy any living room furniture, since there won't be any place to move it.

Naturally, this means that I can only put bookshelves in my study, and, I suppose, in my bedroom as well, but that last bit seems like overkill.  Since I have two huge bookcases in my office, I figure that I should off-load as much of the books as possible there, and then figure out what I need in the house.  There's a good bit of room in my study — too much, really, given that I'm not in a financial or practical position to buy too many bookcases.  I'm hoping to keep it to one tall sucker that I keep across the room from my desk, and a shorter, credenza-like bookcase next to the desk that could support a small printer.

All of this is preamble to a question that came into my head while transferring all my belonging to Ghosttown.  What should I do with my diplomas?  They're all framed now – BA, MA, PhD – since I wanted to keep them in good shape, and I liked the idea of treating the visible symbol of my years of hard work with a little more respect than a filing tube.  I had the idea that I should hang, if not all of them, then at least my doctoral degree in my office.

But...I'm a VAP.  I'm temporary contract labor.  Would it be weird to display my PhD in my office, when I'm expected to pack up and clear out in a year?  It feels almost like putting my feet up on a host's coffee table: too familiar and presumptuous.  Just writing that down makes me feel like I'm coming into this situation with a little less self-confidence and professional demeanor than is warranted, so I don't know now.  To what degree are VAPs really (as opposed to what polite folk will tell you) expected to act like one of the team in these little ways, and to what degree are they supposed to keep things simple and streamlined?

On a less angsty note (I think), how do you feel about displaying your diploma in your office in general?  I'm of two minds about it, partly because DOU insists on printing terminal degrees on really huge sheets of paper, and then fixing it so that their offer of framing is actually cheaper than any frame shop I could find in DOU-Town.  This yielded a framed diploma that seems half the size of a wall, rather than a clean and simple frame like you'd put around a photo print or something.  I find it all a little over-compensating in appearance, although I admit that the woodwork is nice enough.  (On the plus side, they use whatever non-acid paper thingie is supposed to make your diploma last through the ages so that the apes can smash it ceremonially after they overwhelm their human overlords and conquer the planet.)

On the other hand, I fucking worked my ass off for that degree, and I'd feel silly hanging it in my house, where almost no one would ever see it.  And it's my understanding that professors have a stronger expectation on them than most professionals to display the terminal degree in the work environment.



  1. "Would it be weird to display my PhD in my office, when I'm expected to pack up and clear out in a year?"

    -Absolutely not. It's your office for as long as you are there, so you should feel free to decorate it in any way that makes you feel comfortable.

    I'd love to hang my diplomas on the walls of my office. I can't, though, because the offices in our building are covered with sheet metal from the inside. I don't know what kind of a stupid idiot came up with the idea but now you can't hang anything that can't be held with a magnet. So nobody at my department can display their diplomas, and we are all equally annoyed about that.

  2. I framed all my diplomas as I went along, too, and they're all in my office at work. They're meant to be displayed!

    I also think having framed diplomas in your offices communicates something valuable to your students--not so much about you, but about the institution and the educational enterprise as a whole. Maybe this is just me, but I think it's useful for those of us at less fancy institutions to maintain offices that look stereotypically "professorial": lots of books, framed diplomas, etc. It's modeling a set of values that our students aren't always getting elsewhere. It's as much about communicating respect for them and their ideas as about making ourselves out to be so great.

    That said, my diplomas are all in Latin, and they hang behind my head when I'm at my desk. This makes for some awkward conversations.

  3. I think it's fine when folks have diplomas framed in their offices. I think it's a recognizably professorial move, one that sets up a space for academic conversation--and while that's especially useful at what Flav calls "less fancy institutions," it creates a kind of mood at any institution.

    Having said that, mine are rolled up in a rubber-banded tube in my storage room at home.

  4. You know, I'd look around and see whether other people have their diplomas displayed. Maybe this is not the norm, but at my B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. institutions, none of my professors displayed their degrees (hmmm.... perhaps this is a disciplinary trend, even though I know some people commenting here are in my discipline but display theirs?), and I can only think of like two of my current colleagues now who do. With that being the case, it never occurred to me to display my degrees in my office - I felt like people would think I was tacky or something. And I certainly didn't want them in my house. So all of my degrees live at my mom's house, and I feel like she and G. enjoy them more than I, my colleagues, or my students ever would. (That said, tacky or not, I display my damned book at eye level on the shelves in my office. I don't care if people know where I got my degrees, but I care a LOT that they know I - unlike most of my colleagues - published a book.)

    So anyway, all of that is a long way of saying: I don't think the fact that you're a VAP matters in this decision, but if it were me, I would check out a few other people's offices before I put my framed degrees up on the wall.

  5. I'm also a VAP, and I have my diplomas up in my office. It's not presumptuous at all. It's your office, and you can do with it what you want, I say.

  6. @Everyone: Thanks for the consult! I'm half-inclined to hang the PhD at work and leave the others at home (not too much room for that in my office), but I'll try to snoop around my colleagues' offices first and see what they do, just so I know how it will come off.

    @Clarissa: Sheet metal? FFS, really? I don't blame you all for being hacked off about that!

  7. No one in my department displays theirs, but I don't give a damn and display mine for all the reasons Flavia says. One colleague said it looked like a dentist's office, but I think that's all the more reason to display these things to our students (at a "less fancy institution"), who don't often think of professors as being as professional and degreed as doctors and dentists. (Of course, this then may contribute to the problem of students without cultural capital thinking professors *make* as much as DDS's and MD's. Oops.)

    I also want students to see that I came from somewhere else (two someone elses, actually) so that the can see that education can *literally* take you somewhere. We have a lot of students who are afraid to leave their comfort zones and for a number of them, that's exactly what they need to do (and are fully capable of doing).

    One of my diplomas is in Latin, too (like Flavia's), but no one has asked about that yet. So for all I know, my students aren't *looking* at my diplomas, so this could all be for nothing! LOL! Maybe they're too distracted by the formal portrait of Pippi, my dog! :) But Bullock came to my office the other day for the first time since I got it fully decorated, and he said, "It looks like a real professor's office," so perhaps I've signified well after all!

    Anyway, I say decorate your office how you like. It's yours for the time being!

  8. Hmm, I don't remember anyone putting up their diplomas in their offices in GradSchoolLand, either ... I dunno. It sounds weird to me.

    As a similarly short-term worker here, I went with the philosophy that anything I schlep to the office, I have to pack up and move again in almost no time, so my place is almost completely bare. I do share it with two other postdocs, though, so there's not much room for books or anything anyway.

  9. I would hang them on the wall at my new place...except that I've been stuck the office of someone on leave for the fall, and then I'll get moved for the spring, so I'm guessing I won't get to do much decorating. Hopefully I won't have to keep all of my books in the boxes I packed them in? And will be able to hang that beautiful piece of tatriz on the door, right below the Kate Beaton comic? I do have an environment to set.

    I definitely think the attitude varies from place to place. At my fancy pants undergrad alma mater, a young junior professor kept his Harvard PhD diploma right behind him in his office. Other students found this hilarious: "Like we were going to forget he went to Harvard."

    I find my diplomas hilarious, since my undergrad one is in Latin, in one of those ginormous frames...and my MA has (and my PhD will have) the terrible, terrible fake-airbrushed logo of my alma mater on it. It is the ugliest diploma imaginable. Also it's orange.

    (I'm confused why you aren't going to have bookshelves in your bedroom. Where are you going to put your trashy sci-fi-/romance novels/collection of midcentury cookbooks/hardbound David Foster Wallace collection/etc? ...or is that just me?)

  10. I've been very interested in the comments here, & held off on commenting to see what other people would say.

    Some of my colleagues hang their diplomas. Some don't. I have never been able to bring myself to hang mine, though when I was younger I thought they might make certain students take me more seriously (and that was an explicitly stated reason by at least one of my colleagues); I also like Dr Virago's argument about showing literally where you have been. But I grew up and went to grad school in very strongly anti-snob snobbish places---I mean, where people believe that it's really naff to hang diplomas, because everyone has advanced degrees---and even though I don't teach in such a place, I just can't shake the feeling that it's Not Done. Or maybe it's my natural impulse to keep a low profile, because actually one of my early mentors (the other kind of doctor) paid to have my undergrad diploma framed, when I wouldn't have bothered. She believed in the value of showing what you've done. OTOH, she wasn't originally from my hometown or state, either.

    I'd say as long as at least a few of your colleagues display theirs (so you're not totally bucking a trend), it would be fine to display yours if you're comfortable doing so. It's more the students who will come to your office, rather than colleagues, right? so all the things Flavia et al said apply, and it doesn't seem like you're putting your feet on the furniture.

  11. When I was a VAP, I didn't hang mine. But I'm going to hang them in my permanent office when my stuff gets here from CA. The profs at the three schools I attended did hang their degrees, so I intend to as well. With my VAP positions, though, it always felt too temporary, so I had almost nothing in my office. But I think that if you want to hang it, you should. It's your office!

  12. Like Dame Eleanor, I am interested in the wealth and breadth of comments on this post. It's intriguing to hear everyone's thought processes on how to deploy the diplomas or not for one purpose or another. Now I'm itching to get to campus and poke my nose into some colleagues' offices.

    Oh, and welcome, Dr. Virago!

  13. Um... I never got around to picking my diploma up after I graduated and they never sent it to me. DH's parents framed his.

    I do have my robes though, including the hood! I did graduate, honest!