If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Friday, May 22, 2009

Research Partners

True research partners are incredibly important to my well-being. Unfortunately they can be hard to find and--unlike life partners--they don't usually relocate with you (of course I recognize that many in academia have long distance research and life partners and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have a life partner who can and will relocate with me). I met my first true research partner in graduate school--Jags. She was my advisor's #1 and ran an incredibly successful center for my advisor. We wrote a grant that joined my advisor's center with my boss' center and since I was my boss' #1, it made perfect sense that Jags and I actually ran the project. This project eventually became my dissertation. About a year after I graduated Jags took a faculty appointment Way Down South and we continued to collaborate long distance. It works but isn't as satisfying.

At that point I was an Assistant Professor at the institution where I had been employed throughout my graduate studies. Our center was given a line to hire another faculty member. I was on the search committee and instantly bonded with our best candidate--A-girl. A-girl was originally from Up North but had been living in a cold city in the Midwest for her graduate career and post-doc experience. She was moving back home to get married and was looking for an academic appointment. We hired her and within no time we were BFFs and research partners.

Since neither of us had any funding yet our first collaboration consisted of developing and running a summer internship program for undergraduate and graduate students. It gave us a chance to work with an amazing cadre of talent and to build a research agenda that complimented both of our interests. Two of the interns were particularly exceptional and by the end of the summer we had found a way to hire them as research assistants. We ended up developing a strong bond with one of them--Sparkle--and soon adopted her into our research world. The three of us formed a collaborative team on a formative project funded thru NIH. Fortunately for her and unfortunately for us, A-girl's life took a different turn and she ended up relocating to a nearby state. Our collaboration continued and face-to-face meetings occurred--but on a monthly instead of a daily basis.

Then it was my turn to relocate to SouthLite. We had already transitioned to a long-distance collaboration so it didn't seem so much like an ending--and it wasn't. We quickly established bi-monthly telephone calls. These calls occur whether we have research to discuss or not and as time goes on the research dwindles. Once I was here in SouthLite I was anxious to find a new true research partner or two. I was very hopeful since my main reason for choosing this position was the people I had met in my department.

I was not wrong in my choice, as my colleagues are wonderful people who I respect and enjoy. However none have developed into true research partners. Several have overlapping interests with mine but somehow the right mix of ingredients for partnership is not there. I have learned I can grow my own research partners and did it very successfully with DeeDee. DeeDee was my first graduate assistant in SouthLite and in the two years we spent together she became both a collaborator and a friend. However I've since learned that the DeeDees in this world are few and far between and students eventually graduate and relocate. Luckily DeeDee is less than an hour away, but even so we struggle to find time to see each other.

I started contacting people outside of my department who seemed to have similar interests. I ended up having lunch with three different women in three different departments. One has become a friend but not a research partner; one led to absolutely nothing; but the third has been developing into what I believe is a true research partner. Let's call her M.

M was instrumental in helping pull together last month's Challenge Grant and from that and some breath-taking work that she is currently doing, we have developed a mutual research agenda for the next few years. I've been slowly getting to know M but the more time I spend with her the more I like her. Yesterday we spent the entire day together in a nearby city--where she lives--to attend a talk relevant to our work and the grant I'm working on now. She also set up a meeting for me at a local community organization that she has been working with for many years. Recently she and her husband have started a Garden Club at this organization and are teaching 12 6 & 7 year old boys how to garden. M showed me around the agency, showed me the garden, and introduced me to several of "her kids" and friends. We also had lunch together and she gave me a brief tour of her city. I learned a lot yesterday that will help me with my research and my grant but I also learned a lot about M. I'm looking forward to a long a friendship and partnership. Hopefully neither one of us is going anywhere anytime soon.

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