Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘research’

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.

The Case for Building on Your Strengths

In academic management, computer science, research on January 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I just saw Jim Coplien’s blog post on building on your strengths. In addition to recommending that you do that, he also highlighted the role of creating a team around you of people who complement your weaknesses. I mostly like the article. I think it is good and important to pay attention to your strengths. I think it’s a great idea to build a team of people who do have skills you lack.

I also think it can be rewarding to try and work on your weaknesses, particularly as you see improvements. Or to tackle things that are systemic weaknesses, put yourself in situations that challenge things that are hard to change but never-the-less are not as helpful as you would like in a career. The reward is different, either to see those improvements or just to know that you can. Perhaps I’m alone, but it’s one way I tackle my weaknesses.

And while perhaps the University can appear to be an individualistic culture, I find myself most impressed by leaders in academia who know how to create a team that is recognized and valued for their contributions.

Two Questions for a Researcher

In academia, academic management, computer science, research on August 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I was asked two questions today. First, what is an important thing you need to know as a researcher? Second, what is the one thing you would advise people not to do as a researcher?

I wasn’t prepared for these questions, but they are great. My answers

The most important thing you need to know as a researcher is yourself. I gave that answer because the more I come to understand the types of problems I am interested in (and those I find dull), the more I can plan what I will do next. The more I understand about my philosophical assumptions the more I am aware of the types of approaches to solving the problems that I will find personally relevant and commit the time and energy I need to solve the problem. I subscribe to the theory that research is sufficiently hard and at times frustrating that you have to have a passion about the problem and the solution. I can’t think of a better way to have that than knowing yourself.

I would advise people to never forget that it takes a community to do research. For example, the students who take up questions, and who ultimately come to shape the questions asked and the approaches to their solution and with whom I collaborate. There’s is the invisible college of peers who read, review, and riff on (sorry I wanted a third r) the research. My colleagues at Georgia Tech who provide encouragement, a sounding board, and collegiality the latter which I prize as being part of setting a tone in the environment that encourages risk taking and productivity, while maintaining respect.

What are your answers?


In computer science, discipline, HCI on November 8, 2009 at 9:53 am

I think some of the arguments I’ve been making about Computer Science also play out within the disciplines of Computer Science. I am struck by some of the common themes that appear in James’ post about frustrations with CHI and UIST echo thoughts about Systems and CS more generally. Having a discipline in disciplinary flux creates confusion and frustration around the objectives. I think there are upsides too, but I am convinced that they require a type of risk/courage to take. The type of risk that’s not about extending a program to do more, deeply, more of the same, but about taking the risk that what you do might even be perceived as not counting. So, real risk.