"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ah, Academe

Interesting discussion on managing PDFs on the NYTimes kicks off some grumbling.

I agree with both points made by a snarky outsider (Acronzy, comment 12):
I will try to put this delicately. Lack of public access to journal pulications , when almost all of the research and support represented by those articles is significantly indebted to tax payer dollars, is simply disgusting. If the New Yorker can archive, index, and provide a search engine for everything it has ever published, so can any journal.
Of course, the existing firewall system for journals is just completely inexcusable, but at least most academics understand that, admittedly without taking ownership of the problem.
Your rather naieve [sic] efforts to “organize” your “on line” research material, would make any relational database designer shiver in his shoes.
When will academia understand how backward it all is? The lack of the most ordinary, elementary, entry-level office skills is just appalling. Not only are the skills and experiences I picked up in the private sector completely unvalued, but I have to put up with the sort of idiocy every day that would quickly get people canned out in the real world.

Not that our actual administrative staff is all bad; some of them (by no means all!) are real gems. It's the PIs I'm talking about.

Actually UTIG is a real exception since many of the PIs actually run expeditions. If they don't have management skills, people's lives are at risk. But I don't have much to offer the intrepid explorer crowd, unfortunately.

I absolutely adore some of the people I am complaining about. I'd walk twenty miles on hot coals if it suited Ray P's purposes. Still, both I and the world would be better off if there were more totally mundane information management skills around groups like his. The idea that EndNote or Papers is some great breakthrough in information management is indeed as laughable as Acronzy suggests.

There really is no market for organizing professors.

Irene and I tried to find a niche doing that once. We helped quite a few professors, especially at UW-Madison, but though we were locally famous, getting paid was still a monumental hassle. The universities and grant agencies have no line items for outsourced managerial services, and more than one researcher ended up paying us out of pocket. Our LLC is still an established vendor of consulting services to academics at UW-Madison, but my two academic employers since then have treated my time, including consulting to academic institutions, as irrelevant.

The need is so profound it isn't perceived at all. When I was a consultant I noted that people who had no interest in management were as bad as customers as people who specialized in management; the latter didn't need the services but the former couldn't even perceive their absence. There are managerial structures in universities focused on money, but almost no managerial attention is focused directly on research productivity.

So I am in a frustrating bind, that having lived in such a way as to gain skills that could be of considerable value in a research institution, I have no publication record so I have no obvious way of getting into a position to put them to use.


Anonymous said...

nice post

James Annan said...

You are entirely right of course, but what is to be done of it?

TBH I have often found the learning curve to be simply too steep for most systems, especially in areas I rarely use. I even have to regularly rely on manuals and help files for the syntax of standard commands when programming in different languages...I do relearn fast though!

Another problematic issue is the upgrade treadmill...eg I had barely learnt CVS when along came the "compelling" upgrade to SVN, and another set of man pages to wade though every ~6 months when I want to grab the new version of (someone else's) code. And that is before one even considers the issues of mac/pc/unix interoperability...