This blog post is in honor of the birthday of the best colleague on the planet. Everyone should have a colleague such as this one. If everyone had a colleague like this, the academic world would be a happier place for all.
If you were to make a list of the absolute best qualities that you could wish for in a colleague, what would be on that list?
Some things would probably show up on many lists: smart? nice? sane or at least functionally insane? doesn't extend the length of faculty meetings with useless drivel? an excellent and prolific writer but not one who is obnoxious if you don't write as quickly or as well?
Some things might vary from person to person in terms of their idea of the most perfect colleague. For example, someone might want their perfect colleague (PC) to be someone with whom they can spend a lot of time discussing things, whereas someone else might prefer a PC who doesn't talk much but gets things done quickly and well. Someone might want a PC who shares many of the same interests and expertise, and someone else might want a PC who has very different interests and expertise. You and your PC can have similar personalities, or very different. There are many possible combinations that work well.
My PC, the real person whose birthday is today, is not like me at all in many ways. Others have commented on how strange it is, if you consider our backgrounds and personalities, that PC and I work so well together. In fact, we have been called an "unlikely duo". Yet we are similar enough in our approach to life and science that we work together easily and happily.
Sometimes it feels like PC has the other half of my brain. PC is also the only one I have ever worked with in any capacity whose writing I don't feel the urge to edit. When we are writing a paper or proposal together, the parts PC writes and the parts I write are essentially seamless. When one of us is stuck for a word, sentence, or paragraph, the other one can usually come up with just the right word(s). Some of the most fun I have had in my academic career has involved writing and brainstorming with PC: bouncing ideas back and forth, trying out different possibilities, writing, rewriting, thinking some more, and finally coming up with something good. We are very different people with different backgrounds in Science, but somehow in combination we complement each other well.
One time, many years ago, we were sitting next to each other on a plane on the way home from a conference. We hadn't seen much of each other at the conference, and had both had many separate experiences and conversations related to a certain topic that we had been discussing before the conference. We compared notes, realized that we were each more convinced than ever that we were on to something interesting with our initial idea, discovered through discussion that we each had a piece of an intellectual puzzle, and started outlining and sketching these ideas in a notebook. Then we started writing, right there on the airplane. When the plane landed, we saw that another colleague had been sitting in a seat directly in front of us. This colleague said to us "Did you two just write a paper on this flight?" and then we realized that we had in fact written a paper (which was later published in an excellent journal).
Having a PC is a lucky gift in many ways, but it can also be important for various practical reasons. I suppose a colleague doesn't have to be Perfect for this purpose, but if you have someone looking out for you, you don't mind the jerks so much. You also don't mind so much the inevitable setbacks and other difficult times that occur now and then -- problems with students, proposals, papers, administrators, whatever -- because at least there is one person in your professional life who likes and respects you and will try to cheer you up.
My PC is a cheerful, kind, charming, and fascinating person who likes to laugh, drink coffee, and do science with me and who is one year older (and wiser) today. Happy Birthday!
7 months ago