Posted by: Jenn Deering Davis | March 15, 2008

Academic transparency

At a recent kickball (yep, kickball) game with some fellow grad students, the topic of academic transparency came up. We’ve been talking for a while about the benefits of sharing information about our successes and failures with each other, specifically as they relate to the publication and grant processes. It is incredibly valuable to learn from others’ experiences with what works (and what doesn’t) in getting articles published in highly respected academic journals, for example. However, as expected, several people expressed concerned with issues of privacy, theft, and reputation.

Academics are notoriously protective of their ideas; in an industry where publishing lots of good ideas on a regular basis means job security and the esteem of your peers, of course you’re going to protect your best ideas. You don’t want someone else publishing your ideas before you can. However, I think there’s an important distinction between keeping your ideas quiet and keeping your process quiet.

We can learn a great deal from talking to others about their experiences. With the publishing example in particular, if I couldn’t talk to other students and faculty who had submitted articles before, I would have no idea where to start or what to do. And part of that means sharing failures and mistakes, not just successes.

But this is where many people resist. No one wants to talk about their failures. Even though we live in a culture that is relatively accepting of failure, we’re still quite tight lipped about our personal failures. People are often reluctant to share these experiences. Why is this? Are we afraid of looking bad in front of others? Stupid? Naive? Less competitive? Maybe we’re worried that one day this information will come back to us in some unfortunate way, that it may damage us professionally.

But will being open about our failures actually hurt us? It seems to me that everyone fails at some point in their lives, many of us do it all the time! Maybe being open and discussing these failures with others will help us learn from our mistakes and feel better about ourselves, a sort of failure therapy. And in the process, others will learn from these mistakes and not have to experience them themselves. It seems win-win. So why are we so reluctant to participate in these kinds of conversations?

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