So You Wanna Be A Professor?

Who among us, during a particularly interesting lecture, hasn’t wished to keep the college experience going forever?

Arielle and I have certainly dreamed of remaining in the ivory tower (or Temple of Doom) past graduation, and joining the ranks of our esteemed professors. What we learned, though, is that the job is not all just tweed jackets and elbow pads (…if only…).

Steven M. Cahn is a gainfully employed professor in the Philosophy Program at CUNY’s graduate center and the author of From Student to Scholar, a neat little book that we read on the floor of Barnes & Noble last week.

He talked to us about tenure, teaching, and other t-words:

  • First of all, Cahn said, the professorial life is pretty good. “If what motivates you most strongly is inquiry into a field, teaching it, discussing it, sharing it with others, then the professorial career could certainly be attractive,” he says. Which is just a very scholarly way of saying it’s AWESOME.
  • Grad school, he said, is a good option for someone without a clear job path who wants to explore an interest in a particular subject. But good luck getting a job in academia after that! “You can go to graduate school but when you get out it can be a difficult thing to find an appropriate position,” he says.
  • “The number of people who apply for an open position, say, as an assistant professor of English could well be up in the high hundreds if not even more,” said Cahn. “At one time many years ago there was actually a need for more people to go into the professorial life. That’s not the case today. Today there are simply more people than there are positions.”
  • Meanwhile, adjunct professorial jobs are much more abundant than tenured jobs. Cahn says that will likely remain the case as long as the American economy continues to sour.
  • But don’t fear you bookworms, you! With a PhD you can still get a very nice job teaching at a prep school. I’ve heard that the students really value their teachers there.
  • If you’re planning to become a doctor or a lawyer, though, it’s not really worth getting a PhD in the humanities. The road to that degree is long and difficult and if you don’t intend to teach, Cahn said, “it might seem better to just go directly to do what it is you want to do.”

Cahn said some more stuff but by then, like any good college students, we had already logged on to Facebook, stared at the beautiful girl two rows ahead, and fallen asleep.

— Jordan


So You Wanna Open Your Own Brewery?

You go to college. You drink beer. You’re on your way to a promising career in brewing, right?

Well it’s obviously a little more complicated than that, but for a lot of people the career trajectory of a brewer is about as hazy as what happened between leaving that party last Friday and waking up on the lawn outside your dorm without your pants the next morning.

Um anyway. Chris Gallant is the co-founder and General Manager of The Bronx Brewery, a new business based in — you guessed it — the Bronx, since 2009.  I talked to him about the beer biz and your future in it. And then we got wasted.

No seriously we just talked.

Here are some of the most important things I learned:

  • Want to become a brewer and realize your dream of getting yet another degree? You can actually get a master’s in brewing! The Bronx Brewery’s brewer, Damian Brown, got his at UC Davis. Don’t get too excited though: apparently there’s a lot of science involved (I guess we’re assuming you’re bad at science).
  • If you’re looking to get some experience, don’t expect to waltz right into a start-up. Gallant says he gets about one random email a day from apprenticeship candidates with no background in brewing (but probably some kind of expensive humanities degree). He can’t take on any of them, as they’d be more of a hassle than help. He suggests checking out a site like ProBrewer for apprentice listings or taking advantage of a personal connection for an in.
  • It takes a lot of money to start your own brewery! For real! It took about half million to get The Bronx Brewery to get going, and they don’t even own their brewing equipment. Finding big investors is tricky without previous experience, so make sure you’ve got lots of generous friends and family who love your boozy dream as much as you do. You might also want to consider opening up ANYWHERE besides New York City, where rent is super high.
  • For ye of little patience, the beer-making process has a relatively quick return. Unlike wine, which can take months or years from vineyard to bottle, crafting beer takes only a few weeks. It only takes two and a half weeks for The Bronx Brewery.
  • Starting your own brewery can be rewarding, Gallant says, but it’s also plenty challenging. There are lawyer fees and licenses and all types of people to pay — and then you’ve actually got to try selling your beer to people! And, Gallant says, don’t expect to make any money for a while. But if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not in the market for a paycheck anyway…

— Jordan

“Bikes are very simple objects. That’s why I like them.”

I’ve been in school for 15 years, and I still don’t feel like I know anything. And I definitely don’t know how to do anything useful — I can’t fix a toilet or build a cabinet or even make anything more complex than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

So this week Jordan and I set out to find professionals who make their livings with technical skills. We talked to Hal Ruzal, resident mechanic at the Lafayette Street Bicycle Habitat and New York cycling legend, about growing up in Brooklyn, identity crises and long-distance biking.

Ruzal graduated from Brooklyn College with degrees in music and economics and a pension for playing guitar with his punk band at CBGBs, in a time when the Village was still a grungy artists’ haven. He was a happy camper, but one crucial element was missing: a job.

“I get out of college, and there’s no stupid jobs. It was during a recession, which we’ve had a number of, so I get this gig fixing cars at an automobile collision shop,” he said, blue-gloved hands tapping on the repair counter at Bicycle Habitat, where he’s fixed all sorts of cyclist woes, from standard tire replacements to cockroach-infested bikes.

The bug-ridden bicycle is only one of Ruzal’s most bizarre repair stories; another time, a customer unwittingly brought in a large bag of marijuana with his newly purchased bike – Ruzal discovered the stowed pot only after he removed the seat, to the customer’s shock.

But long before his tenure at the Lafayette Street store Ruzal was a kid growing up poor in Brooklyn. When an appliance broke in his childhood home there wasn’t any money to take it to the shop and pay someone else to take a look.

“We had to fix things ourselves, or else it didn’t get fixed,” he said.

Ruzal’s grandfather, a machinist, taught him the tricks of the trade from a young age.

Ruzal is a long-time friend of Bicycle Habitat owner Charlie McCorkell, and once he tired of the stink and stress of repairing automobiles, moving on to McCorkell’s bike shop was an easy transition. Today, 33 years later, Ruzal still enjoys the work.

“It’s easy, it’s fun,” he said. “I get to meet generally happy people. Bicyclists have gotten some exercise, they have some endorphins going through them, and they’re not pissed off at the world, like say a car driver.”

Most of Ruzal’s repairs are simple: He sees a steady stream of flat tires and brake pad replacements a day. New York City is tough on brake pads, as cyclists who weave in and out of traffic usually spend almost as much time hitting the brakes as they do accelerating, Ruzal said.

Standing behind the shop counter, Ruzal is on his feet continuously, but he doesn’t seem to mind. When there’s a steady stream of customers, he makes small talk and yells an emphatic “Next victim!” when he’s ready to take a look at the following bike.

On Fridays and Saturdays, his days off, Ruzal does long rides to clear his head — 75 miles today, 100 tomorrow — it all adds up to about 10,000 miles a year. He’s been across the country on his bike four times — New York to California in 40 days, sleeping in small town cemeteries on the way to save money.

At the end of our interview, Ruzal asked me what I’m doing after I graduate. I took a deep breath, told him I have no idea, and he laughed, waist-length dreads swinging against his black T-shirt.

The key, I think, from his perspective, is simplification, the exact opposite of the overwhelming complexities college liberal arts curriculums weave into young brains.

“Bikes are very simple objects. That’s why I like them,” he said. “Find something you like, and figure out a way to make money doing what you like.”

Sounds easy enough.

And on making enough to get by — Ruzal said he doesn’t spend too much time thinking about rolling in the green.

“I’m not starving. I have a simple lifestyle. A lot of people are brainwashed into thinking they need to make a lot of money. If you have a roof over your head and you’re happy, you made enough money.”

— Arielle