Lately I have observed some excellent examples of a phenomenon that has intrigued and disgusted me over the years. The phenomenon involves how students and others decide to acknowledge help from advisors, committee members, and assorted persons. It will shock no one that most people have a tendency to profusely thank famous people who said hi to them in the hall, giving less credit and thanks to lower ranked people who helped them with actual research activities, not to mention slaving away at editing their convoluted prose. Even though it is a cliche and perhaps just human nature, the phenomenon is still semi-interesting to think about. What is actually going on in people's brains when they make these Credit decisions?
I first encountered this years ago as an Assistant Professor, when I spent vast amounts of time I didn't really have to help a student whose committee I wasn't even on, but who needed my expertise for one part of a research project. I didn't even merit a thank you in the thesis defense or thesis, although the student used my interpretations and results I helped obtain. Another example years later as an Associate Professor: I routinely spent many days with various students in an analytical lab helping them get data they couldn't get themselves, showed them how to reduce the data, and gave them advice on interpretation and illustration. No mention of my help in their defenses or theses or papers using the data. Meanwhile, some of my senior colleagues were mentioned as inspirations and mentors even though all they did was suggest a paper to read.
A very recent example: I helped a student (whose committee I am on) with something he was incapable of doing himself. He had proved himself incapable again and again and was in a dire situation. Once I helped him, he said "Yeah, that's pretty much what I would have done myself." What was I expecting? I would not enjoy grovelling gratitude, but a sincere "Thanks, I couldn't have done that without your help and your time" would be quite nice. Maybe they think of me as a mom-type person -- like when you're a kid and you don't thank your mom every time she does your laundry? I guess the difference is that I feel I am giving them something valuable (my ideas, for example) that they don't have and, in some cases, will never have, themselves.
For years I thought it was an age-related issue, but it's still happening. My help is routinely requested, but then the results of my help just become part of the student's own work, not to be credited in any particular way, whereas the 'micro-help' some of my colleagues provide is treasured. I keep providing help because I get interested in a problem and want to investigate and I like working with and helping students, so I typically get something out of the activity.
I think this no-credit situation might be related to the phenomenon (mentioned in an earlier post) of my seeming to have *more time* than some other faculty just because I'm good at getting lots of things done. I really think I'm going to have to lose my nice, cheerful, and helpful persona.
This is just something to muse about. I am not sitting here bitterly counting up all the times I am overlooked and uncredited, and I do not want to turn into one of those people who constantly point out exactly where and when they should be cited and credited -- I've known a few of them and I think they are absurd. I am not oblivious either, though, and when I sit there in the auditorium watching my ideas and data incorporated without attribution into a presentation by a graduating student, I start to wonder: did they simply forget? not think my help was important? or what?
6 months ago