In my job I am working on assembling, conceiving, and constructing a research proposal. It’s a volatile situation. The way it works is that there is a ‘call’ by an organisation giving money towards a research project which has to be put together by multiple partners - the minimum for this call is 3 partners, from 3 different EU countries. The general path is that the project starts of with one partner, a university or institution, where someone has an idea, or existing research from a previous project, or a product, and who is now looking for others to join in, and to evolve the idea so that a proposal for it can be written and submitted. This is done by networking - networking is the key here. Researchers all over the world are constantly looking to network with other researchers because it is one way to ensure their survival in the research world if they do not have a tenured position, but even then, there are other reasons to establish and maintain a research network. The public, or those outside of academia do not realise that there is this race or competition underpinning this type of work environment, so that one has to be sure one has enough to ‘offer’ as a potential network connection. And this is the premise from which much research all over the world is conducted.
I am in the process of becoming a partner, in fact I am putting forward multiple avenues to increase my chances of landing a proposal in the first place, let alone ‘winning’ a call and getting the project.
Once one is a partner in a potential project, there is of course no guarantee that one stays a partner. The one who instigates the idea or the project, or the one who has most invested in the potential project is throughout the construction of the partnerships looking to increase their chances, looking for other partners to join in but also, potentially, better ones than the ones recruited already. In other words, just because someone offers to work with you on a proposal this can change any moment from either side of the partnership. In this kind of environment there is little integrity because the competition for proposals is so high, researchers could be likened to intellectual gladiators where the weapons are the necessary character traits that can cease a situation and turn into one’s benefit. It is the ultimate self-interest position that one could design within the framework of research. From my experience in both worlds, I see it as a parallel world to the world of corporations- it is also one of the reasons why academia can be bought by lobbyists and corporations.
This prelude is necessary to explain what recently happened, a situation that I am investigating in this post.
The partner I am working with is the main partner, they have a product and I am recruited to link the product to a service. Of course this means many joint activities that lead to the writing of the proposal together, such as recruiting other partners to fulfil the 3 country requirement, making decisions, and navigating the communication channels. Up until recently it was not clear if the project would go ahead so I paced my efforts in what I was contributing because if suddenly the word comes down and says ‘no’ then my work would have useless and my time spent unwisely.
A few days ago, my counter part ‘F’ at the other institution got the go-ahead from the boss, and so we decided to meet virtually and discuss the way forward. This was the first time we have met online since the last time we spoke in physical reality at a conference. Prior to our virtual meeting, I sent out an agenda with my notes. I should add that a couple of weeks ago, another, experienced partner in the field joined us as well, or is in the process of evaluating whether they want to join. Because this potential new partner has a lot of experience in the field with projects that have already been funded successfully and with subtantial outcomes, I linked my notes to their research by pointing out what they had not done and what we could build upon. Building on other’s research within the same field is in general the approach that gives the ‘added value’ to a future project.
Since i started process, I am aware that I have become straight forward in many ways, because I am less based on fear and inferiority when I communicate with others. So in my notes for our online meeting which I sent off prior to our meeting, I stated “what XYZ did not do: “ and then listed the points. My communication partner ‘F’, wrote an email back which translates to something like “don’t be so nasty, they might be our potential partners”. 'F's' view of my writing really stunned me because it was literally a bunch of keywords and I had no emotion while writing them.
One of the points that I also should mention is that ‘F’ had in a previous email to me mentioned that ‘F’ is a Roman Catholic and that is a determinant in ‘F’s’ interactions within the project. If I had been more aware when this email came through, I should have noticed that this was a sign that I have to make adjustments in how I communicate with ‘F’, because I had already noticed that ‘F’ has strong beliefs from which ‘F’ operates. But instead I had chosen to ignore them and also judged them in my backchat.
What happened next was that I defended myself, I explained to ‘F’ that I had no intention of being nasty, and that I have no stance towards the quality of their research. Moreover, I am not even familiar with that field as I am 'one arm' in the delta of partners flowing into this project, and my personal research does not necessarily converge with the overarching topic of our project. I pointed out that this document that I shared was just for us but when ‘F’ continued to insist on me having to be nicer, I lost my plot and reacted in anger.
I now see that I did not react in anger because 'F' insisted on repeating the same statement. I realise that I must work within the context of people like ‘F’ and cannot expect others to understand that I am in the process of stripping myself from the prison of emotions and the accepted consequences of a system that works on manipulation and sabotage, in form of politeness and etiquette.
In hindsight I realise that the point of reaction stemmed from the backchat I produced within myself when I realised the nature of ‘F’s’ belief system as a Roman Catholic, and that I never cleared myself of the moment when I judged ‘F’ for 'F's' behaviour and statements.
In the posts to come I will walk this point because I see, realise and understand that it will be pertinent in the future to stop judging my collaborators, regardless of their beliefs. It will be of heightened importance to remain aware within myself, while being able to use the conventions to function within the system - and thus be in this world of research without being of it.