Craving normalcy? What’s more normal than xykademiqz crying woe-is-me? Nothing,  that’s what.

So… I received a university-level award. Thank you, thank you. It is a big deal. A couple of months ago, the photographer came to my research-group meeting and took pictures of me talking with my graduate students; he took dozens. The one that ended up in the announcement might as well be described as “Fat Angry Troll About to Bite Off Head of Graduate Student.”

My husband, who usually says I look great even when I really don’t, actually concurred on this one. He asked, “Did you offend the photographer? This is such a bad picture, it seems like it was chosen out of spite.” It looked like I was yelling at my poor graduate student, which I wasn’t. Who the f*ck takes pictures for 30 min and chooses that?

I did manage to find the editor and they put up a different photograph. I still look like a beached whale, but at least I look relaxed and smiling and not foaming at the mouth. I might not be pretty or photogenic, but at the very least I shouldn’t appear to be harboring murderous intent. FFS.

I have some selfies from later that same day, also at work, in which I look nice and human, and one of which may be my new faculty profile pic. I took one today with unwashed hair in a poorly lit room, and still didn’t manage to approach the level of trolldom produced by a professional photographer after a 30-min photo shoot.

It’s especially upsetting because there were several other recipients for related awards, and they all looked good in the announcement. Not only do I not look good, I look fuckin’ awful, at the level of those pictures when you’re drunk and sweaty, with one eye closed and your tongue sticking out.

At this point, after more than fifteen years in academia, I am pretty traumatized from dealing with university communications staff. Every article has me sounding like a moron, every picture uglier than the next.

Academic blogosphere, how do you deal with your university communications office? 



  1. I am sorry to hear about your experience. It can indeed be very upsetting.

    I am a bit surprised though that any coverage (in text or pics) can slip through without explicit approval
    of the concerned faculty. Don’t they care to get the final version of publication vetted by the faculty? — especially because to get any description of technical work in a form suitable for general consumption typically requires a few iterations and an expert to make sure there are no factual errors (besides other things). At least that is how it goes in our university.

  2. Argh, that sucks! It is surprising, because they have a trained eye to look for the good photo, pose, angle, etc. Either they are really bad at their job, or you pissed them off inadvertently in the past and it will not be forgotten!
    I’ve always had good experiences with the photographer, and they let me check the pictures on the camera and we more or less agreed which looked good. On the writing part of things, they clearly have a different perspective and write it for the general public, so they make funny, slightly ironic, playing with metaphors type of texts. But it doesn’t sit well with faculty, especially when it’s about a big award. I decided not to take mine too seriously, so I just cut out a sentence that was going a bit too far, and decided I wasn’t going to bother too much about it. Other faculty were going ballistic.

  3. The only photo they ever get of me is the one on my faculty profile which is over a decade old and also I had a pregnant glow.

    In terms of our comms… given that we’re in an at-will state I do not understand why we haven’t fired our comms person yet. She makes a huge salary to basically do nothing and this has been a problem for years, though the new associate dean has stopped her from actively stopping anybody else from doing anything comms related (not only would she not do work unless the dean or a department head told her, she was where ideas would go to die because she would always actively say no). Fortunately the people who actually do any of the comms work are always students I’ve had in my intro class (or at least half of them are), so I’m generally well-liked any time the dean says we need some kind of puff piece.

    I’m going to choose to believe that your photographer wasn’t doing anything personal, they were just really bad at their job… and maybe they thought the one of you talking to your grad student showed power or something. Or maybe it was the least discolored. (Because it’s easier to believe that, not necessarily because it’s true.) Too bad you couldn’t just give them one of your selfies!

  4. I’m going to concur with N&M and say the photographer is just bad at their job, but I am so sorry you had to go through that. Years ago (back when I was cute — this would never happen now that I am an old hag), some person decided that I needed to be the “face” of a not-to-be-named program I was participating in, and wanted to take picture of me for it. On the day of, they were visibly upset that I hadn’t worn a bunch of make up (which I rarely wore at the time), and then blamed me for photographing badly and not appearing natural enough because the pictures hadn’t turned out as nice as they wanted. For the record, I just submitted a perfectly attractive faculty photo a few weeks ago, 17 years later, also with minimal makeup, taken with sub-optimal lighting, after a night of COVID epidemic (i.e. shitty) sleep. Perhaps shitty university photographers are commonplace. Probably they are related to someone important at the university which is how they got their jobs. Again, sorry that happened to you.

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