In the past weeks it is unsurprising that I, like many, have had a few online calls and meetings. Quite normal given the circumstances. I would argue. What wasn’t normal was the type of people I was calling. Suddenly I found myself reaching out to everyone (and vice versa may I add). But most particularly, I reached out to Gordon DA Brown, who was my psychology teacher during the MSc BES. Now you might wonder, why is that so odd? Gordon is lovely, does know me and is a knowledgeable academic. But it’s the last part that I want to dive into deeper.
I reached out to Gordon because my third chapter for the PhD (Warwick Business School’s 3 paper route for the PhD, ladies and gentlemen) wasn’t going to be as grounded in payment methods as the previous two chapter. Rather it’s going to focus on one of the (possible) consequences of introducing a new payment method to your life, and to your bank account more specifically: a shift in the skewness of the spending distribution. Now you’re probably wondering what this entire anecdote is leading up to. I mean, I’m normally quite longwinded and ramble on quite a bit, but not this much. (Right?!). The thing is, skew is not a topic either of my two supervisors know much about. I would argue it’s not a very known topic to begin with, when approached via the field of perception. There was however, one person who I knew had studied, and had taught numerical perception. And that was, to no surprise of anyone reading this: Gordon.
The funny thing is, the more I thought about having had my call with Gordon, the stranger I thought it was. Not the call itself, but the fact that most PhD projects are so tied to their supervisors. Yet, it seems quite logical to assume that our supervisors can’t have every answer to our problems either. They might be experts, but they’re not all-knowing. So going beyond them, reaching out to various academics regarding your topic specifically, is not that odd. Now you might be thinking: I do this all the time. I go to conferences, read work by others, sometimes e-mail them about it, ask for advice etc. And that’s great. But how often do you do that? And besides the obvious networking aspect associated with this, how often do you do this for the sheer purpose of the depth of your work?
This might be the vaguest article you’ve read by me so far. I don’t know why this was such a revelation to me. It genuinely took a pandemic to help me figure out that I can reach out to, and can call, anyone I like (I mean, they can always say no, but at least I tried).
But what still bugs me is that this is often not encouraged. Or at least, the option isn’t exactly enclosed. Within the PhD, you don’t really learn to reach out to others and form external collaborations. External meaning, beyond the PhD-supervisor unit. I don’t know if this is just WBS. But I haven’t really heard of it before.
How many PhD students do you know that have gone beyond publishing with their supervisors? And I’m not talking collaborations with others that were already involved with your supervisors. I’m talking, you, by your lonesome, reaching out to others, being like: “Yo, I like your research. Want to collaborate?” Or a more formal version of that… I remember asking my peers to outline what they thought were the biggest misconceptions of doing a PhD. I remember a close friend of mine saying how she thought there would be many more collaborations going on. And that she was disappointed that this really wasn’t happening. Again, don’t know if this is a Warwick thing. Maybe we’re just the odd ones out?
This is not going to be a very long article. It’s just a peculiarity I noticed. If you are, or have done a PhD, let me know how you experienced “external” collaborations. Whether this was discouraged, encouraged or just never really presented as an option. If you’ve done an “external” collaboration, let me know if it was any good?