Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In which I am almost one of those academics.

So, I went to this meeting. Dr. Collaborator and a small team of faculty and grad students from his university were there, and Dr. Collaborator presented their grand vision for the new endeavour.

When Dr. C and I had chatted about the project, he gave me a quick and vague overview, so I was surprised to learn that their grand vision was to do all the things that I am already doing. A grossly oversimplified version of that part of the meeting is as follows:

Dr. C & Team: This and that problems are critically important.
Avg Prof in her head: Oh man, I totally agree! So important.
C & T: At our university, we have the critical mass of people working in all the right areas to address these problems.
AP: I am interested in who those people are and what kinds of things they are doing in this area!
C & T: Here is the approach we plan to take.
AP: HUH! That is exactly the approach that I take! . . . But I didn't know there were people at that university who do that approach . . . I have never seen any publications by this group on said approach . . .
Company Guy: Are you guys using this approach in your current research?
C & T: . . . uh, there are people at our university who have used this approach, yes.
AP: Wait, that's not really the same thing.
C & T: ANYWAY, using this approach, there are several really interesting things we can do. Like, this.
AP: I have done that! I have a slide on it in my little presentation.
C & T: Or this.
AP: I have done that too! I also have a slide on that.
C & T: Or this.
AP: Oh. No, you can't do that. I have a slide on that too, along with my alternative approach.

At that point I started to have the smallest inner conflict. In the past (i.e. when I was a particularly green assistant professor riddled with insecurity) I would have panicked and wondered if these guys knew something I didn't, such as: all about my previous/exisiting research and why it was totally flawed and thus needed to be done over, and also about how I am so dense that I didn't see how you could use that approach to do that last thing.

For a brief moment, I regressed to my former shadow-self. But then the more normal me re-emerged, and I thought, more likely: this team has never used this approach, and so they are not as familiar as I am with what can and can't be (or has and hasn't been) done with it. And that this was a nice opportunity for me to express myself on an issue about which I am a relative expert.

And then, a surprise: a little seed of "egomaniacal academic" germinated in my brain and I thought, this is a nice chance for me to stick it to Dr. Collaborator AND position myself as THE authority on this subject. (But my normal self pretty quickly eradicated this weed of an idea, because it's not consistent with my general attitude and behavior.)

Thus, when it came my time to present, I was (hopefully) balanced and matter-of-fact. As in, Dr. C and his team have nicely explained the problems that the research community is positioned to address on this topic, and now I will show you results from some of my work on the questions he raised, as well as point out some of the strengths and weaknesses of the approach he introduced.

Still a little bit of scooping, and yet, not jerky. (And, I might add: very well received.)


Anonymous said...

Hey...I'm a tenured Prof - get in there and kick ass - I too have seen this mimicing in neighbours/near collaborators.

Oh... and remember first rule of project development meetings - always attend, always. If not you'll get shafted....cut out, budget cut whatever.

It is a subtle devious world academe.

Ms.PhD said...

Way to go!