Useless bloody academics

What is it with academics (with a few honorable exceptions, including you, Brian)?  You do the work, they want to study you and that work. You say yes, on condition that they do x (usually provide a transcript of interview/copy of the paper they produce – a translation into English from academese is usually too much to expect). Then they …  often…  let you down.

Here’s an email exchange I had recently. Names have been removed, to protect the guilty….

Dear Sir/Madam, [Dean of the school at which said academic is based]

last April (2010) I was contacted by xxxxxxxx to take part in an interview about climate policy formation. I explained to her that I would do so if I could be assured of receiving a transcript of the interview. I was assured this would happen.

I also offered xxxx other contacts in xxxxx and London from my personal network.

I conducted the interview. I requested a transcript again in September (see below)

I have had no further contact from her.

This is deplorable behaviour, which reflects poorly on her and on your department. It is the sort of behaviour that makes activists wary of participating in research.

What are the formal complaint procedures that your institution has?

[Dwight Towers]

And this is what I got back, sharpish.

My Dean forwarded a message that expressed your dissatisfaction and frustration with me in regard to our interview last summer. First, please allow me to apologize profusely for the lack of contact. When I received your email last September, I saw it as a friendly inquiry into my progress on the project, rather than an urgent request for the transcription of our interview. This was entirely a misunderstanding on my part. Please allow me to explain. At the time we last spoke, I was in the midst of transcribing my interviews from that trip, but I quickly ran out of time to work on that project. My prognosis of finishing within a few weeks was simply too optimistic. As a result of other projects and commitments, I have not been able to spend the time I wanted to on my research in xxxx. In truth, I have not even finished the transcriptions. I recently started combing through my notes again in anticipation of analyzing my interviews this summer, and I had every intention of contacting you once I had finished transcribing my notes. That has been my standard practice in my interviews when requested, and I very much apologize that you feel that I have behaved unprofessionally toward you. Academic timelines are very long, and longer when you are at a teaching, as opposed to research, institution as I am, and I am afraid that I figured that as long as I sent you the transcript before circulating any work from that project, that would be sufficient. This was clearly a mistake on my part, and I apologize for not sending you the transcript in a timeline that would have been amenable to you. I can assure you that none of my notes from our interview have been seen by anyone else nor have they been referenced in any written or spoken material. The project, quite simply and to my regret, has been on hold, and the transcription unfinished. I very much appreciated your assistance last summer and am saddened to learn that you feel that you have been treated badly by me. I will make the transcript my first priority and send it to you no later than Monday.

My reply

xxxx

thank you for your rapid response to this email, and I acknowledge the separate email you have sent with a transcript.

I am very well aware that academics have longer timescales than activists. Activists need to work quickly, reflect and work again, because things change. Academics, not so much it seems.
Insofar as a transcript would have been useful to me, that ship has sailed.

I have been interviewed by other academics working on similar kinds of projects, and from memory, the longest gap I ever experienced was a couple of months.

I suggest that in future you make it clear to your participants just how long it will be before they have a transcript. They can then make an informed choice about whether they participate and whether they make their own audio recording for their own uses. I certainly would NOT have participated if I had been made aware that there would have been a 14 month gap.

I will certainly record any future interviews I do with any academics, regardless of what estimate they give me for transcription, and further assurances at a later date.

Good luck with your project.

Final reply

I appreciate your response, and perfectly understand your position. I regret that I interpreted your request incorrectly, as I am more familiar with requests to see transcripts prior to publication of
materials, rather than for personal use of the interviewee. I will be much more cautious in the future to clarify these expectations.

Thank you again for your assistance. I wish you the best in your work.

One is reminded of the parasite doing her PhD about Climate Camp and how ‘newbies’ found it easy or difficult to integrate. I agreed to participate once she’d promised that “Oh, yeah, I’ll definitely turn the thesis into something useful for the camp movement. I won’t just leave it sitting on a shelf as a dense academic tome.”
Yeah, right – 4 years on; nada.

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About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in activism, competence and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Useless bloody academics

  1. Tim Kastelle says:

    Hmmm, I owe you an email too….

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