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PostReflections on Fundraising and Project Teams (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 05/19/17 8:11 am)
Our distinguished editor's commentary on my last post about the Jesse E. Owen Chair included two questions: "What percentage of your time, more or less, do you devote to fundraising?" The answer: zero time. The second question: "what is the most surprising (or unexpected) source of research support you've encountered?"
Regarding research support, the enormous team effort required by some research projects created some very big surprises, which taught me firsthand about four important things: 1. The power of personal trust. 2. Managers can get just as excited about research projects as the researchers. 3. Don't try to do everything yourself; pick the right partners and you can move mountains. 4. Students can get just as excited about research projects as the researchers.
1. The power of personal trust: I started to learn about this phenomenon when I noticed that my first meetings with prospective partners had to be face to face for me to feel the "chemistry" between us. If the chemistry was good, we were immediately in business and in every case, after a few projects, we became close personal friends. If the chemistry was not good, no matter how famous, clever, or wealthy the person, I learned that we should not work together. It would not be very productive in the long run. In summary, I learned that good chemistry turns into trust, and hearts and minds really come together to get the job done. More than once, partners who were the best in the world at something but were not involved in a particular project, dropped what they were doing to help. They had faith (trusted) that sooner or later they would also benefit from their generosity.
2. Managers can get just as excited about research projects as the researchers: We have completed projects that without the active participation of top managers from major companies could not have been carried out. For example, they provided mailing lists, or sometimes used corporate email systems to collect company data for projects directly from employees. On one occasion after project completion we had a meeting to get permission to publish the research results from a study based on DuPont's Expert Systems portfolio. To my great surprise, at the end of the meeting a manager and co-author said "what project are we going to do next?" I was embarrassed not to be prepared with a good answer.
3. Don't try to do everything yourself. Pick the right partners and you can move mountains much easier: Many if not most research projects can be quite complex when done properly. Many unrelated skills are involved in following the necessary research steps: Defining relevant questions important in practice and literature-supported hypotheses to be tested, choosing the research design and experiments set up, choose appropriate construct measures, questionnaire construction, data collection, data analysis, writing reports. The likelihood that anyone is world class in all the skills is rather low. Different studies require deeper expertise in different areas and partners need to be picked from the best available.
4. Students can get just as excited about research projects as the researchers: Academics have used students as subjects for a long time. I have used students for collecting data from companies, whereby the students are reasonably prepared to show how smart, competent, well-groomed they are, hoping that the experience will turn into an internship or a real job. The students provide useful and reasonably good research support. However, only lately because our university is promoting student inquiry as a means for learning, I have noticed student enthusiasm about actually trying to follow the required research steps listed above under item 3. Unbelievably, under appropriate instructor guidance, they seem to actually like "doing research" better that the more traditional lecture/discussion format.
It would be right for me to say that because of my meager budget for research support, I was forced into creating the virtual organization mentioned earlier. Perhaps I have been fortunate to become independent from external sources of funds, which in return define the issues to be studied and the research questions.
JE comments: Personal trust is Tor Guimaraes's #1 factor, and WAIS is an excellent example. We can be adversarial in our on-line discussions, but after the face-to-face time of a conference, ideological squabbles go out the window.