Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My advice for those at teaching institutions regarding collaborations

In my more cynical moments, I'd say avoid collaborations - especially those with high profile scholars - like the plague. The moment anything goes wrong, expect to be thrown under the bus.

In my less cynical moments, I'd say make sure that there is an explicit understanding of what each of you expects to contribute to a project and also an explicit understanding of the differences in organizational culture that may well lead to differences in time constraints, resources, and so on. Do what you can in good faith to avoid misunderstandings. If misunderstandings occur later on, don't be surprised. Oftentimes, if those with privilege are to err at all, it is to err on the side of protecting their status. Always know that they are the ones with status, and you have very little status. If you have been to major conferences and seen the light go out of some scholar's eyes the moment they realize where you work, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Many of us who work at primarily instructional institutions (regional 4-year colleges/universities and community colleges for example) are going to spend the vast majority of our working hours teaching, preparing and updating teaching materials, administering exams, grading, meeting with students, and usually advising students as they get ready for the next semester's classes. In addition, we're likely to have some expectation of service involvement - so think of committee meetings. We tend to take those service commitments quite seriously, by the way. There may be research and professional development expectations, but those will often be put on even keel with service, and will definitely take a back seat to teaching. It is worthwhile to assume that our library resources will likely pale in comparison to what is available at the R-1 and R-2 universities in the US, that we will often times have very makeshift lab spaces (if we're lucky) and minimal access to statistical software. One should also assume that any time the institution's budget goes Charlie Foxtrot, professional travel and any other professional expense reimbursements are the first to be cut. The bulk of us have families, and we like to see them every once in a while (we tend to assume the same for our more famous and privileged R-1 colleagues as well, just so we're clear that work-life balance is important no matter where one works).

It has been a good while since I last was seriously involved in an R-1 environment, and that was in grad school. I think the phrase "publish or perish" is still definitely apt in that environment, as is the pressure to publish exclusively in premier journals (folks like me don't deal with those pressures). An R-1 scholar, especially one who is adept at landing grant funding, is pumping out manuscripts at a rate that I almost find unimaginable. Faculty at R-1 institutes do not spend much time in the classroom, and still can count on teaching assistants to do the heavy lifting in terms of grading and office hours. I certainly don't begrudge such scholars their privileged positions. Presumably they've done something to earn that. However, I do get the impression that their relative privilege makes them a bit blind to the lived reality of the rest of their peers. These folks need to get out a bit more. If they actually lived how we did for even a semester, they'd hopefully wake up just a bit. I think what I am driving at is that if you want to work with someone who really is famous, make sure that they are sufficiently woke when it comes to your particular set of circumstances. If you get the impression that they are not, just remember an old Bokononist expression: "It is never a mistake to say goodbye."

At some point I wish to spend some time discussing collaborations with undergraduate students on your own home campus. I think there is some value to such relationships, and they are often part of the life blood of your own campus culture (that is how I would characterize my own situation). I do see a great deal of value in doing such work, as it can sometimes enable undergrads to net an initial publication, but more importantly gain an insight into what grad school life will be like.

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