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
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?