Beki Grinter

Director Deficiency: Reflections on Research

In academia, academic management on April 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

Some weeks ago, I went to a meeting. There were approximately 7 people from Georgia Tech there. I was the only one who did not have the word Director in my title. That’s because I am a rare individual, the plain old professor. Actually, before I get ahead of myself, I am the plain old Associate professor. I am a leaf node in the organization that is Georgia Tech.

After contemplating whether I should add the word to my title, Beki Grinter, Associate Professor and Director of Traffic, Misdirection… I got down to some more serious reflection. Georgia Tech is going through a lot of change. One of the changes has been to create, from quite high up in the Institution, an organization focused on bringing together research centers into Institution-wide themed research organizations.

And that’s who some of the many directors I was in the room with represented, the side of the Institute represented by research centers. This got me thinking about the idea of research ownership.

As an individual I generate the resources to conduct research, and advise others. And then there’s my School and the multiple centers I belong to that can facilitate that in various ways, but for the right to be a stakeholder in any of the outcomes. Then there’s the College I belong to and the Institutional Centers that the centers I belong to are a member of. The College and these Institutional Centers can facilitate my research through the provision of various resources, but for the right to be a stakeholder in any of the outcomes. Research I do, can and will become a part of both research centers and academic units.

And here’s the thing I’m puzzled about, what’s the difference? I’m quite serious. When it comes to research, what is the difference between the academic units and the centers. The centers can argue for interdisciplinarity, but as I heard someone do this week, so can the Colleges. If people come together from different units within a single College that’s also interdisciplinary research. There’s the resources to support research, but those are equally likely to be found in both the academic units and the centers. The academic units can potentially claim connections to degrees and to the educational mission of the Institute, but so can the centers through the fact that everyone in them teaches courses.

I like organizational puzzles, especially when I am not actually required to solve them.

And while this is a GT based puzzle, with its own structural solution, I suspect that the emphasis on interdisciplinarity in research may have led to other solutions at other places. And to be clear, the puzzle as I see it is how do the academic units and institutional centers express their unique capabilities synergistically. I think there should be differences, but that those differences should combine to help us achieve something that we can not do without both structures in the Institution.

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