Are you thinking it’s time to hire a research assistant or collaborate with a colleague or hire an editor? Whether you feel pushed by external pressures or by the internal recognition that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to do, this transition is hard. In addition to the practical side, for those in the humanities in particular, you have spent many years in a culture that values autonomy. A culture that might even look down on the cultures of other disciplines that routinely work in teams.
Your initial reaction to the idea of hiring help (in particular) might be focused on the external constraints to working this way (e.g. lack of funds with which to pay research assistants). However, before you can even secure those funds, you need to overcome those emotional and mental hurdles. If your identity as a humanities scholar is intimately connected to doing every task associated with that scholarship yourself, then it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you are not going to find it easy to work with a research assistant or an editor.
The cultural value of autonomy also has material consequences: you have no training in how to work this way, nor many examples of using research assistants effectively in humanities research. And your senior colleagues might not have any useful advice to give you.
Beginning to think about delegation
Because I run a small business, I read things about how to run small businesses. A lot of small biz folks are in the same position you are.
- Issues like autonomy and a do-it-yourself mentality are important to their identities.
- They don’t have the money (right now) to pay someone else to do things so it seems a moot point.
- They feel some vague external pressure to get themselves into a position where they can and do delegate things.
To get you started thinking about how you might think differently about your research program and maybe use research assistants or other types of team members to advance your program of research, I encourage you to read what Marissa Bracke has to say about delegation even though it’s address to entrepreneurs. Her business is to be the person stuff gets delegated to, and she has a lot of experience.
Here are some of her main points:
Forget about the rules you’ve heard about what you “should” delegate. There is no “right” set of tasks to delegate, and there is no “wrong” kind of task to hand off. What matters is what works for you, not what works for anyone else.
Don’t plan on delegating those tasks that you love doing.
Rather than looking at your assistant or team member as someone who does stuff you don’t want to do or can’t do, see that person as someone who allows you to do more of whatever it is you love. (Keep in mind that other people love the stuff you don’t.)
I’d love it if you came back and told me how this might apply to your situation, where you are getting stuck in thinking about delegating parts of your research and scholarship, or what other concerns you have about working with a team.
Edited May 26, 2016.