Day: February 3, 2021

Scary Collabs

Seems like there’s never any time for a full post, but such is pandemic/academic (pandcademic? with a silent d?) life.

This year started well with respect to research papers; one out, one accepted, two likely to be accepted by the end of the month. This after a slow 2020 where my grad students (and, let’s face it, me, too) moved through molasses.

I am feeling really irritable. I wonder if it’s because I discontinued my murder-prevention walks a month or so ago when it became too cold outside (the treadmill aggravates my joints; you hit the floor the exact same way over and over, so the same muscles and tendons get used, in contrast to walking outside, where the slight imperfections in the terrain force the foot and leg to adjust). All I know is that I am even more irritated than before by people talking sloooooowly, or generally taking forever to utter perfectly predictable, boring opinions.

I have to admit, I love, love, LOVE not having to attend meetings in person. In-person meetings bring me a lot of stress. It goes something like this: Something is being discussed (usually slooooowly and boringly) and I either manage to prevent myself from speaking, which is optimal for everyone involved, or I fail to prevent myself from talking and end up feeling like an impatient, blathering fool and deeply regret having spoken. I always regret having spoken, even when — especially when! — someone comes to tell me they’re happy I spoke. So, these Zoom meetings are great because I can turn off my camera and just do my own thing while others talk, or even when I can’t, I can still check email and otherwise divert my attention so I don’t get in trouble.

It’s amazing how stressful speaking up is in academia. Not just among colleagues in the department, but in the professional community. I find all academic communities to be pretty unnerving and, after nearly two decades of getting stressed out, just plain exhausting. I manage to dissociate before I need to go give a talk, shove my feelings deep down, and put on my dog-and-pony show, but the whole being out in the world with other scientists is really much more unpleasant than it would have to be. And I’m what you’d generally call a socially well-adjusted individual with decent communication skills.

There’s a cool piece of work my group did in loose collaboration (more like consultancy) with an experimentalist. This collaborator is a pretty intimidating individual, so I don’t really like to interact with him more than necessary. He liked the paper and asked if I’d sent it to a third person, whom I find an order of magnitude more scary than the collaborator and thus actively avoid. (I don’t think the scary men miss having me around, as I am pretty sure they think I am stupid.) However, I have had collaborations in the past, with some great people, where I’ve actually felt comfortable and appreciated. A close collaborative relationship (this holds for advising, too) has to be such that the parties are comfortable brainstorming and saying stupid things and being wrong and playing off each other. I can’t work with people who are too invested in projecting the persona of a scary know-it-all, always the smartest person in any room. Maybe that’s why I will always be a Smalltown Grocer and never a Big Dog PI or whatever, but there’s something to be said for thinking in peace and being comfortable and sharing ideas without trepidation, because I am pretty sure I am not actually stupid.

Wow, I guess I did have things to say!

How’s it going, blogosphere? How are your relationships within collaborative endeavors?