Those who know me know that I am careful about collaboration. As a kid (and even as an adult student), I despised group projects. It seemed that I was always the one who did the majority of the work while others assumed equal credit. I’m sure my group members had great intentions…and I’m also sure that I have just enough control freak in me that I made it pretty hard for them to jump in.
As an academic, there is an expectation that I collaborate in research. Yes…one group project after another. But the stakes are much higher and the politics are truly different. I’ve read so many horror stories and cautionary tales of collaborations gone wrong. There’s also some great advice out there for managing collaborative relationships (like this and this). But I think I’ve found the key to creating collaborations that I enjoy and hate to see “end.”
I HATE the idea of networking. Really, I hate it. The thought of connecting with people for the sole purpose of advancing some agenda has no appeal. Needless to say, I had some challenges when I worked in corporate America.
While in graduate school I decided that I would focus on building relationships rather than shallow connections. This approach has yielded tremendous relationships with people in whom I am invested and who have invested in me. I couldn’t ask for anything more!
But when it comes to research collaborations, it really doesn’t get much better than Christopher Jett and Gregory Larnell (aka Chris and Greg; check them out–they really are amazing)! Chris and I went to graduate school together and I met Greg at a conference shortly after he started working at UIC. We started collaborating in pairs in 2013 and the three of us joined forces last year.
The work we’ve done together is incredible (I’m working on a post now about our most recent article–coming soon!). But this is really a story about relationship-based collaboration.
You see, these two men are my brothers, truly (I have many amazing sisters, too. The story of my relationships with the women in my squad is another tale of God’s faithfulness that is coming soon!). Our time talking and thinking and writing and reading and thinking has resulted in a bond that is so rich. We are invested in our professional and personal trajectories to the point where a win for one is a win for all. We’ve seen each other through success, failure, rejection, death, family drama, dating horror stories (that’s me), and some of everything else. We’ve connected our families. We are family. I would have it no other way.
Sure, we disagree, but we don’t argue over author order and stuff like that. We don’t take advantage of each other. We fight for each other. We push each other…a lot. We actively practice valuing each other more than ourselves. Our conversations are a form of self care. That’s critical…especially for Black pre-tenure faculty.
I know that not every collaborative relationship will be like the ones that I have with Greg and Chris. In fact, there are some collaborations in which there is no choice. But in those areas where I can choose, the bar is very high. We don’t just write stuff together. We think together; we build together. So as I choose other writing partners carefully, I accept no mess. If you’re not trying to build, I wish you well, but I’m not the collaborator you want.
So to those graduate students who are always seeking advice about negotiating this academic life, my advice to you is to focus on relationships. Build a few really meaningful connections that feed you; build a squad. Take a risk by investing in people and allowing them to invest in you. Be selfless. It will pay off.