Being A Good Research Partner

Some academic librarians do quite well as solo researchers and writers. Others find they are more productive when they team up with one or more colleagues. Each method has its pros and cons. Going solo you can set your own pace, do things the way you like, and need only to push yourself. It minimizes the compromises and concessions one makes when working with others. But working alone can be, well, lonely. Inviting colleagues to join in a project adds a degree of camaraderie to the project. More brains create more possibilities. Most importantly perhaps, in working with others we can push them and they us to complete the project.

I’ve published and presented using both approaches. At this point in my career I tend to favor collaborating on research with colleagues. Essays or opinion pieces just work better as solo efforts, but I find it more pleasurable to have a partner for a research project. And quite frankly, between work and other responsibilities it can be a challenge to find time for all the activity good research requires – and that’s true for potential partners as well. Working together we can likely complete a project that neither of us could achieve alone. I think that’s particularly true of conference panel presentations where we do our planning and work virtually, and then make it happen live.

If you do work with colleagues, and especially if you are leading the project, it’s important to remember there is a difference between service and servitude. Project leaders must strive to create a balance between taking personal responsibility for tasks and delegating responsibilities to others. He or she must avoid dumping work on colleagues that may be thought beneath themselves or that they think is not worth their precious time. I got to thinking about this after reading a faculty member’s blog post in which she complained about a senior research partner who expected her to do all the work. She wrote:

It smacks of servitude, though, when one person tries to get others to do the work: “You’re so organized; can you contact these 200 people and find out X?” or “You’re so good with computers; can you look up this information and get it back to me?” or “I’m so busy right now with some writing; can you do X for me?”

This inappropriate behavior is avoidable whether working on a joint research project or a panel presentation. The best approach is to create an understanding at the start of the project about the roles and responsibilities of each participant. For example, identify who’s going to be responsible for data collection, who will do the literature search, and who will do what writing. As with any team project, get a sense of who is strong in what skill areas and then allow partners to play to their strengths. If someone is less comfortable with writing, he or she can take responsibility in some other area. Sometimes at the beginning of a project the exact nature of the work isn’t quite clear, but there is always plenty of work to do . In that case the leader needs to delegate work with fair and reasonable judgment. And team members must speak up if they feel they are being unfairly burdened with project tasks.

The key to keeping a research project team from disintegrating is to remember that each of us needs to be willing to take on our fair share of the work. We must avoid taking advantage of our colleagues. The team leader must be willing and able to do any task he or she requires of others. When approached this way, all the partners work together in service to each other. Remember that your research colleagues are your partners and not your servants.

2 thoughts on “Being A Good Research Partner

  1. The topic is dear to my heart because I am in the middle of a research project partnering with a teaching faculty at the moment. For both of us, this is the first time in engaging in a research partnership. At times, I found myself asking this question: Am I leading this project or following? And why does it matter? As you pointed out, research colleagues are partners, not servants. But wait! Doesn’t it depend on how the project partnership was formed and whether the research partnership is on the same level ground? In my case, even though I started out as an equal research partner, my partner had perceived our roles differently. Only through the actual research project did we begin to uncover our differences in styles, points of view, etc.
    What kept me going is that I always learn something new and more along the way in the partnership process. I often experienced blurring lines of service and servitude. As my Yoga instructor say, “Is this helping me or working?” At the beginning of the research partnership, I couldn’t have anticipated all the negotiations I had to take on to make the partnership work for us. Oddly, I found myself requesting more of the negotiations. I am not sure how much is due to differences in gender, faculty perception of status on campus, or personal working styles.
    I am staying the course with the conviction that “the sum is greater than the parts,” and that trust will bring a better research outcome. I wonder whether this research partnership experience would have been different had I found a partner in academic librarianship. . .

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