15 Feb 2014

Juggling balls

Sometimes one feels one is swimming against the stream, loosing energy, while it would be better to find a more fruitful way of doing matters. That was the case for me recently. I was focused on building a research group but lost members when these were offered longer contracts than researchers have. Also, I used to treasure my office with its big table, and see it as the place where the team meets to build a long term perspective. But for the third time in recent years we will have to move to temporary work places dispersed over the university campus because tests say the air quality in our current building is not healthy. So much for building structures and long term team perspectives!

Sometimes things have to happen more often before one gets an inkling how to work with the tide, rather than against it. Finally I got it. This should not be about building everlasting structures in an environment that can’t facilitate that. A university may cultivate a reputation of longstanding scientific tradition, but nowadays conditions do not facilitate building long term perspectives. However, what universities are good at is forming interesting meeting places for groups of very diverse scholars. This in itself is a great good.

Therefore, I concluded that while I am not able to change the conditions, I am able to change my own perspective. I can follow the content of my research, which is on dynamic networked communication in demanding changing environments. It seems fruitful to use a postmodern perspective in my own work life also.

In my new view I emphasize utilizing moments and meaningful meetings, and who knows what beauty can come out of that. Now I again have something to share with the people around me. Projects are opportunities to gain experiences, just like meetings are opportunities to instead of having a boring time and making minutes, rather exchange your best ‘insight of the day’. Students can grab the moment when in class, to start discussing topics they are passionate about. Researchers could accept temporary arrangements when meetings and classes are opportunities seized to share interesting content.

As research managers we can better not see projects as building blocks for future structures, though one never knows. Mainly we can be jugglers that keep many projects as colourful balls in the air, to attract and inspire students and researchers alike. Let's do away with bureaucratic and long term planning. At best, university life is a string of moments and meetings that bring us opportunities to share and create new insights. You never know who you will meet and where, but with the right attitude this is an adventurous scientific journey. Each day you understand better how foolish you were yesterday, but there is no way to know what you may find out tomorrow.