Yesterday as I was listening to my colleagues talk about their ideas for the future of our department and our field of science in general, the issue of collaborations within the department and university came up again and again, directly and indirectly. Some people just don't work well with others, whether by choice or not, and some people do. When collaborations don't happen owing to the personalities or interests of the faculty involved, this can have an effect on the department's perceived strengths/weaknesses as well as plans for future hires.
For example, should we hire in a particular field because existing faculty in related fields don't get along with each other, so our department isn't perceived to have a strength in that general field, although we could/should? Some people clearly think that is a good reason to hire someone. Those same people think that subdisciplines in which faculty already get along well are therefore of lower priority for future hires because, as one person put it: "They already have colleagues in the department." I think that reasoning rewards dysfunction and leads to a slippery slope of hiring someone the collaboratively-impaired faculty feel 'comfortable' with. And we know where that can lead.
However, I can relate to the wish for department colleagues with whom one can collaborate. I gave a talk recently in which I had a list of collaborators and students on my title slide, including the names of 2 other professors from my department -- 2 faculty colleagues with whom I worked closely on the research I was discussing. Later, someone who was at the talk said that he was very surprised that I had not listed the name of his old grad school classmate Professor B from my department. This Professor B happens to be the least active researcher and most patronizing colleague in my department, and we have never worked together on any research project. The very thought of it was so bizarre, I almost laughed. It made me realize anew how fortunate I was to have other department colleagues with whom I do work closely. If my only option was Professor B, I'd still have excellent colleagues elsewhere to work with, but day-to-day, academic life wouldn't be as much fun. Having close colleagues in the department creates a more interesting research environment, and is great for students.
So, I can sympathize to some extent, but I also feel that some of these intra-department non-collaborating groups could work harder to get along and be more inclusive in terms of who is involved in large research initiatives. That would benefit everyone. But, failing that, maybe we can try to hire someone with amazing social skills who gets along with everyone and collaborates well with jerks. Maybe we should take out a personal ad.
9 months ago