I grew up on a farm so I’ve dug plenty of ditches, put in postholes, hauled hay, chopped wood, chopped ice off the ponds, herded cattle, picked up rocks, planted garden, dug up gardens and plenty of other kinds of physical labor. I’m under no illusions that what I do today as a professor is anywhere nearly as tough. However, I also wouldn’t say it’s easy—at least much of the time. Just today I experienced another example of how my job can be tough, and how it is so often made a lot tougher than it needs to be because of others not doing their work. Let me walk you through a frustrating moment of my exciting academic life!
At my university, I’m chair of a research committee that has to evaluate all research using human participants on campus. I get a lot of proposals to look at, averaging about 4 a week during the school year, and a whole lot more questions or requests for information. Around 85% of the proposals I get require some changes, although many times these aren’t very extensive. I’ve learned over the years to be very, very clear on the changes I require, because it saves me a lot of time. The problem comes in when people either don’t listen to my requirements, or make mistakes in implementing them. Here’s an example from today, and—unfortunately—not a particularly rare example.
For one particular proposal, I required changes to three pages of a 25+ page document. These were mostly minor. First, I needed to have two lines removed from a document that the participants will see. Second, I needed to have a typo corrected on a part of their survey, so that the participants wouldn’t be confused by the wording. Third, I needed some clarification on a line from their proposal. The proposal was sent in Friday and I emailed them my requested changes Friday evening.
Today, Monday, the researchers sent an email indicating that they’d completed the changes I requested and the documents were attached. Here’s what I found.
First, the exact same page with the same two lines in it that needed to be removed. Nothing whatsoever was changed.
Second, they did indeed correct the typo. However, instead of just correcting it, they reworded the entire sentence. This rendered the sentence incomprehensible.
Third, no clarification of the issue from their proposal, which was the most important of the three.
This is not from students, mind you. This is from PhDs. And almost certainly this is a case of the researchers feeling overworked and trying to rush to get something done. I know they know how to make the corrections I needed them to make. But haste and carelessness do not go well together. The big problem is that it costs “me” time.
Had the researchers just made the corrections/changes I asked for, it would have taken me maybe three minutes to process it and get them their approval. Instead, I had to construct another email to clarify what I needed, to indicate the new problem introduced into the survey, and to ask once more for information I’d already asked for. At least some of this I could copy and paste from original email. But it still took a lot longer than three minutes since I also have to keep careful records on all correspondence carried out for every proposal I see. That means quite a lot of additional paperwork for me. And we’re still not done!
Now, who wouldn’t want to go to school for umpteen many years so they, too, could have this kind of exciting academic adventure?