Cats have long been regarded as ideal companion animals for academics: they are relatively self-sufficient, do not require regular walks, and spend long periods asleep--all of which enable academics to focus on their research, teaching, and service-related tasks. It is our contention, however, that living with cats in fact produces a skillset that can be usefully generalized to many aspects of today's academic working environment.
We differentiate between two primary types of skill: a) skills learned from cats b) skills learned by co-existing with cats. Our study will classify and evaluate the relative applicability of each skill to the academic environment, focusing on their respective cultural, political, and social ramifications. By the end of our study, we will better understand the practical importance of cat companionship to academics, and propose new targets for assessing the positive and negative effects of such companionship.
To our surprise, despite the presence of cats at all levels of the academic workforce, no study of this exceptionally important topic has yet been undertaken. As a result, we are free to forge new methodological ground in our pathbreaking investigations. We therefore propose a cross-sectional study, drawing on eighty-six volunteers from diverse demographics who are united by one thing: their longterm co-existence with at least one cat. This is a participant-observer study, as the grant applicants are all owned by multiple cats apiece. Data will be collected via interviews, questionnaires, and personal observation. To analyze the data, we will employ a multidisciplinary blend of empirical sociological research, statistical analysis, animal behavioral study, French feminism, and Derridean deconstruction. Although the grant applicants are all English professors, we have devoted at least three weeks' worth of study to each of these modes of inquiry, and are confident that we can deploy them with considerable proficiency.
Sample interview questions
1) Do you remove cats from chairs before sitting down, or do you opt for a different chair? Explain your reasoning.
2) Estimate, to the nearest HZ, the frequency at which you converse with your cats.
3) Describe how living with a cat has affected your home decor. Be sure to include such examples as carpet color, upholstery types, and so forth.
4) When a cat sits on your book, how do you respond?
5) Estimate your annual expenditure on cat toys, catnip, and treats.
Skills to be assessed: learnt from cats
1) Ignoring human communication. Potential applications: evading requests for grade changes and extra service assignments.
2) Sleeping at all hours. Potential applications: dozing off surreptitiously during long department meetings.
3) Demanding food at 5 AM. Potential applications: gaining favors from department chairs by nagging them early in the morning.
4) Regular grooming habits. Potential applications: improving academic dress sense.
5) Staring at walls for no reason. Potential applications: producing the appearance of serious thought during exceptionally dull conference presentations.
Skills to be assessed: learnt from co-existing with cats
1) Sneaking up on cats to medicate them. Potential applications: introducing potentially boring topics to students by concealing them within shiny apps.
2) Being ignored. Potential applications: learning to be philosophical about the department chair's refusal to grant favors (see #3 above).
3) Effluvia avoidance. Potential applications: avoiding unpleasant departmental conversations about new office assignments.
4) Physical contortions to avoid disturbing cats. Potential applications: negotiating the space between door and desk in one's cramped office.
5) Spending more on the cat's needs than your own. Potential applications: discovering creative ways of using the department's pen budget to fund a wine-and-cheese party.
Participants will be asked to maintain Excel spreadsheets tabulating the frequency with which they use each cat-related skill, noting important results (e.g., whether or not the department chair retaliated for being nagged at 5 AM by assigning the faculty member to teach a Saturday morning course the following semester). In follow-up interviews, the practical use-value of each skill will be evaluated on a one-to-ten scale, with "one" indicating that the skill had no academic applications, and "ten" indicating that the skill worked consistently in multiple academic contexts. Our final report will then analyze the data utilizing a groundbreaking statistical method that melds quantitative analysis with the Greimas square.
Dissemination of final results
We expect to present our work at the 2015 MLA conference, where it will receive additional exposure from journalists looking for unusual titles. The tentative title: "Cat People or Pet Semetaries? The Discursive Construction of Relations between Cats and Academics in Upstate New York." We anticipate that an international publicity tour, including multiple daytime talk shows and a possible hosting gig on SNL, will ensue shortly thereafter.
New high-performance gaming laptops with HD touchscreens, to maximize ease of use while Skyping and to test feline aptitude for electronic media: $2000 ea/$10000 total
Weekly first-class ticket purchases to upstate NY, to maximize one-on-one access to subjects for the duration of the study: $1000 ea/$2600000 total (note: may be offset by frequent flier miles)
Luxury hotel accomodations, necessary to produce the correct frame of mind for conducting interviews: $500 nightly ea/$390000 total (note: may be offset by hotel rewards programs)
iPhones for each candidate, in order to enable ease of data collection and exchange: $500 ea/$46000 total
Dinner budget, to reward candidates for participation: $100 ea dinner/$8600 total
Deluxe catnip toys, for experiments: $5 ea cat/estimated $1000 total
Variety of high-quality cat food, for experiments: $520 ea cat/estimated $4000 total