Friday, July 25, 2008

One Man's Flunky..

If you ask others to comment on an aspect of your work (research, teaching, or service), some people will think that you are being collaborative and others will think that you are showing a lack of confidence or an inability to work on your own.

For a recent professional service activity (for which I volunteered), I sent a a draft of a document to a small working group associated (by choice) with this project. I came up with the idea for this project and have done all the work (as agreed), but I wanted to show the others what I'd written, and, if these colleagues were so inclined, to get their input and have a discussion. I made it clear that advice was welcome but optional.

I was pleased to get rapid and interesting comments from some of these colleagues. Although I didn't agree with some of their suggestions, in all cases their advice was phrased as "See what you think about this, but ignore it if you don't like the suggestion." Their advice was mostly constructive and some of it was useful. I was already happy with the document, but now it is even better.

A colleague not involved in this project said "Who cares what anyone else thinks? Why did you even ask them? By asking for advice, you are being their flunky. Just do what you want." He thought it was a sign of weakness that I sought advice. Am I afraid to make decisions on my own?

No, in fact I am not, and what I want to do is seek input and encourage discussion. I do this because I think this will produce the best results.

My colleague who made the flunky comment noted that I am the only Female Science Professor involved in this project. He asked "Would any of the others have asked for input if they were in charge of this project?". In other words, is my inclination to seek advice a female trait?

Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. Does it matter? It's just how I like to work.

As Eleanor Roosevelt once sort of wrote (but that I have somewhat modified for the occasion): No one can make you feel like a flunky without your consent.

Or, how about this: One man's flunky is a woman collaborating.

13 comments:

Mister Troll said...

A sign of weakness? That made me laugh.

It made me wonder if the post-docs launch military takeovers when they detect signs of weakness in the PI?

Dr MCR said...

Well said- I think you are right that collaboration is contrary to the natural tendencies of most of my male colleagues. There's a air of ownership I've found in every collaboration I've done with a male colleague, even some of my students, that I just don't see with women. I think you're right to ask; I always find it's easier, frankly, to ask for feedback than to have to take it anyway when it wasn't requested.

L said...

How about your correspondent is a complete tard?

Collaboration is how things get done; ideally, it is how they get done better than they would have otherwise.

Just wave as he rides away on the short bus, secure in the knowledge that you're doing your job right. Not "the way a woman would do it", but "the right way".

I'd love to see this guy spend a week in the science-informing-public-policy arena. He'd quickly see how working all on his lonesome would get him .... a great big brimming bowl o' nuttin'.

Kristen said...

That's absurd. Science is collaborative by nature (or should be). And if friendly collaboration is inherently a female characteristic then there really should be more women in science.

PhysioProf said...

That is absolutely ridiculous. Seeking input from others is not an admission that they are better, smarter, more eloquent, stronger, or whatever; it is an admission that another pair of eyes can see things that you might miss because of your own preconceptions. Even the best authors absolutely need editors.

Ms.PhD said...

Actually, I just read the other day that women are supposedly better at taking criticism/feedback than men are. We're used to it, I guess?

But men (socialized a certain way, I guess) tend to view any suggestions as an affront.

That's why it's easier, the thinking goes, to get men to agree to things when they think it was their own idea.

I thought this was an interesting hypothesis, and I don't know if there's any data to support it. But it could explain a lot of the apparently gender-biased negativity I've experienced. Here I've been giving my male colleagues feedback, and they didn't want it- especially from me. I was just trying to do unto others as they always do unto me.

Anonymous said...

Women by nature tend to be more colaborative, looking for suggestions even if they don't follow them. Look at all the female science bloggers, for example. One thing that comes across reading your blog and others is how careful a woman must be. It is so easy to accidently do or say something that men would never do or say and thus be branded different.

Kim said...

What Kristen said. If men aren't good at collaborating or taking criticism, maybe they are inherently unsuited for science.

NeuroStudent said...

I don't know if it's a male/female thing...I can think of many grad students in our department with both attitudes and genders don't align with the attitudes at all (at least in this population)...

one thing though, the "collaborative" students are the ones getting things done and getting good recommendations and getting good papers, good post doc positions, etc.--everyone's work can benefit from some external input, plus they've built good relationships. The students that refuse to solicit or follow any advice (often including that of their mentors) end up with nothing in the end because they often can't figure out how to do it all by themselves or their work simply isn't as good as someone else's who did get input (and no matter what anyone says the faculty do compare us to each other)...plus no one knows who they are or what they're doing--a problem when it comes to getting someone to write a recommendation for you.

this is of course at the student level, but I can also think of examples of faculty in our department who have the same attitudes (again, they don't line up strictly along gender lines) and run into the same problems...

EliRabett said...

YMMV was invented for things like this

Ann said...

I like ms.phd's comment because I think it's a good indicator of how our biases can dictate how we "frame" an issue. Your colleague implied that only women are "weak" enough to ask for help, while ms.phd's way of looking at it says something more like, "Only women are *strong* enough to ask for help and handle the consequences." I'm sure your colleague would never think of it that way!

Anonymous said...

My inspiring FSP, I just want to thank you for all the information you posted here, either about publication or the possible problems a female professor may run to. I feel very fortunate to know this place and wish you all the best!!
Cheers-:)

Narya said...

Back when I was learning how to play handball, I got an interesting perspective on this. Because I'm female, the other players (who were all men) felt free to give me advice. I welcomed this, even after I had been playing for several years, because it was helpful. Occasionally someone was wrong, but I didn't argue. What this meant was that i basically got a lot of coaching, which was a way to improve my play. I noticed the gendered aspects of it when various men started learning to play after I did (in the same group), and they got no instruction or advice. i always figured I came out ahead, the occasional stupidity notwithstanding.

In academia, and in business, for that matter, collaboration makes for a stronger product, not matter what the product is. Not everyone will agree with all of it, but I agree w/ everyone who says that it helps one see things that one might otherwise have missed completely.