So, like any grad student, I have managed to find myself with several irons in the fire. This year, when the dust settled after the SEAC submission deadline I realized I was…
-Fourth author on a paper involving some of my thesis data
-Third author on a paper with some ongoing research with several other grad students.
– First author on a co-authored paper that is related to my dissertation research.
– Co-organizing a symposium with another graduate student in honor of a retiring archaeologist who means a lot to the both of us.
Now, the point of this is not to say, “Hey, look at everything I’m doing.” Instead, I’d like to say there are a lot of graduate students like me, and we happen to find ourselves involved in a lot of different projects. I’m not a rarity. I’m the norm. I think there are two reasons for this.
First, in the 21st century, every beginning grad student is read the riot act by their profs as soon as they start in a program. I image just about everywhere it’s something like, “If you want a job, you better go after <insert list of grants> and publish as much as <insert name of rock star recent graduate who recently landed a tenure track job> if you want to make it as an academic these days…”
At Arizona, that person is Todd Surovell. His term papers for Vance Haynes’s Paleoindian class and Steve Kuhn’s Hunter-Gatherer seminar were both published in Current Anthropology.
I’ll be honest. That still freaks me out, and it’s a nice reminder not to rest on my meager laurels. There is always more that can be done. I know a lot of other grad student who have a similar person in mind, and use that as motivation to roll up their sleeves and keep pouring it on.
The second reason why a lot of us find ourselves on a bunch of papers is because we’re really connected to each other through the social networking universe. As a result, my generation shares a lot of ideas, and as a whole we just get along. Why write two competing papers when you can co-author? Most of my research so far has been in Paleoindian archaeology, where sunshine fades, butterflies die, and angels fear to tread. However, several of the older generation who bear the scars of the Clovis vs. Pre-Clovis war marvel at how my generation can agree to disagree, and how we’re all friends even when our advisors clearly aren’t.
I always respond by saying, “Because of the combination of Facebook and going to conferences, we’re not simply faceless names at some other university. No one wants to be the person at the bar alone because he/she ticked everyone else off by being a jerk.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I listened to a lot of Rage Against the Machine as a teenager. I think the pot should be stirred from time to time. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that we don’t hold hands around a campfire singing kumbaya, because those disagreements end up becoming really good conversations. Those conversations then become the fodder for new ideas. Those new ideas then become abstracts that are submitted to SEAC. And then the wheels of feedback, manuscript prep, and peer-review begin churning.
In fact, that was kind of the point of point of this entire blog. It began as a not sober conversation about theory one night at SEAC between Matt Sanger and myself.
This thought brings me back to this year’s SEAC. I recently received an email from the organizers saying that I’m on too many papers, and I have to withdraw my name from one.
So, which one do I pick? The one using my thesis data that I poured my heart and soul into? The one with my fellow grad students where we’re pulling together a really cool story I’m pretty excited about? Maybe the one where I’m the first author and just be lazy and use the new rule as an excuse to avoid public speaking? How do I tell which friend that their particular iron isn’t as important as the others? How am I supposed to feel when my co-author tells me that?
More importantly…why is this rule even in place? Shouldn’t we be collaborating with each other? And frankly, as a grad student, aren’t we told to network, get our research out, and work with others?
So, I find myself wondering, am I a frustrated, uppity CV padder that needs to find a hobby?
Maybe you think so. That’s fine.
Instead, the voice in the back of my head is telling me that I really like what I study. I really like working with my fellow graduate students. I don’t mind be the 2nd or 8th author, because just getting a chance to work with people who like the stuff I like is a lot of fun. Why does it matter if I’m on three or thirteen papers if I only have a lead author time slot on one? Is it about printing the program? Is it worth limiting collaboration to save paper in the era of pdfs, Ipads, and smart phones?
Maybe I’m just living a pipedream. Maybe we should just go all the way and tell everyone they can submit just one single authored abstract. It might make the program smaller, but I’m not sure that I would make the trip from Tucson to see that kind of show.