Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It takes a village to get a paper submitted

These past few days, I've been up against a conference deadline. Unlike most deadlines I face, I was not rushing to write things up or panicking over the unfinished state of the paper---the vast majority of the paper was written a while back, and so the last few days before the deadline were spent tweaking, cleaning up, and wrestling the paper into the very strict page limit. Work that kept me busy, but not unreasonably so.

Part of the reason it went so smoothly is because my junior colleagues chipped in to help. Not with the actual writing, but with the little things like "does this sound right?", "is the abstract strong enough?", "what tricks can I use to cut this down by another 3/4 of a page?". Somehow I got everyone involved; it was almost like a paper send-off party!

It's times like this that make me remember how much I value my fellow junior colleagues. None of us are in the same subfields; all of us have widely varied research interests. Yet we still find ways to bond over research. We talk about our current research and our upcoming paper deadlines, complain about the dastardly reviews we get back (or rejoice over the acceptances), and serve as sounding boards for each other when considering where to devote our research energies or whom to hire as research assistants (or dealing with the occasional ethical dilemma). We sit through each others' students' practice talks before those students head off to conferences, and give feedback. We pass along articles that we think someone else might be interested in.

This community of sorts has formed and evolved completely spontaneously. It's not like we sat down one day and said "hey, let's talk about research!" In some sense, I think it may have evolved as a survival mechanism. We are the most active researchers in the department by far, and are operating in an environment where the research expectations are extremely vaguely articulated. We're all trying to figure out what we're "supposed" to be doing in terms of research, and since we're not getting any guidance from the senior faculty, we share ideas with each other and hope for the best.

I have come to really appreciate this little community we've formed. And it has made me think seriously about reaching out to other colleagues in similar departments or programs who don't have that ready community of junior colleagues to help guide them on their research paths. I credit this little community with helping to combat the isolation I might otherwise feel, to keep my research on track, and broaden my own ideas of what it means to "do" research in my field.


~profgrrrrl~ said...

I think reaching out to others in related departments is a great idea. It's so easy to get isolated, and it isn't like people need to do the same research to have shared understanding or talk about work-related ideas. I actually get a lot of good ideas from talking to people who know very little of my work.

Lisa, Paper Chaser said...

Horray! Congrats on getting that paper in.

Clyde said...

Sounds like a great group! I'm a fan of interdisciplinary groups. While an outside perspective can be jarring at times, I think it can also be used to sharpen one's writing, to make points just that tiny bit clearer. Not always easy though. Some of my own attempts at being interdisciplinary almost drowned a project or two. Ultimately I think the work was stronger, but it definitely took longer. Ideally (in my own life), I think it'd be great to have both an in-group and a mixed-group format, but who has time for that?! Maybe in an alternating weekly/monthly format?