Sunday, September 14, 2008

Being an Executive in Research

Events around us confront the question, how does an executive choose and appoint people to help them in their task? Fairly and by merit, or by gut and based on friendship, or by balancing quotas and quirks. There may even be disagreement on which style is better.

This led me to wonder if we (in research) face such quandaries. There are executives in academia and its administration (presidents, provosts vs the proletariat professors) and I am sure they do, like executives in other fields, but I am talking about executives in our research community.

One of the few occasions researchers get to be executives (we execute many tasks, but mostly as civil servants, or truth seekers, or as peer-driven organisms) is as the PC chair of a conference. Do we fare well?


Blogger MiP said...

Have you ever heard anybody complain about a conference's decisions? :)

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or PC Chair's choice of the PC? Or choice of the PC Chair? ;-)

11:41 AM  
Blogger Jeffe said...

For that matter, have you ever heard a PC chair complain about their committee's decisions (which they supervised), or the members of their program committee (which they chose), or the choice of PC chair (which they agreed to)?

How do executives choose and appoint people? The best they know how, which is probably not very well.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Francis said...

I think to make sense of the comparison (how do people recruit others to help them in their task), you need to decide what the "task" is for researchers.

A head of sales hiring a salesman is trying to solve his core mission to sell stuff. While running a PC is a ton of work, it isn't really the core task of a researcher.

So let me pick the closest analogue I see - how do professors pick their grad students? - and turn it around on you...

12:46 PM  
Blogger muthu said...

To Francis:

Not entirely convinced that the task of picking a PhD student is as "active" as an Executive choosing their team. Sometimes you choose students and sometimes students choose you. It tends to be an attempt by both sides to coerce each other.

Suppose I define the core task of the person to execute whatever they have taken the responsibility to do, ie, in this case, choose papers for a conf using a committee of their choice. Does that help with making comparisons?

-- metoo

ps: I am still thinking about your "core task" argument wrt researchers.

1:23 PM  
Blogger muthu said...

Hi Jeffe,

Yes, yes, yes to your questions, but I am sure your q's were rhetorical.

Seems we -- researchers -- train ourselves to be Executives by learning from experience, asking around in our academic social network, etc. Wonder if it can be made more formal or accountable.

-- metoo

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Paul Beame said...

Being a hiring manager at a research lab seems like a much bigger test of executive skills on the research side...

Choosing and running a PC pales by comparison. The difference is that the choices are for a single very specific well-defined task rather than something open-ended like a research lab. Choices for PC members are highly constrained by the need for area coverage and balance, the extent of recent service (or lack thereof) of potential committee members, etc. Everyone might question PC decisions on individual papers but that is probably the wrong basis for judgement of the PC chair's personnel selections. How often would you have seriously questioned the composition of a PC before its list of accepted papers came out?

A PC chair can have a big influence on how smoothly a PC runs, how thoroughly papers are discussed, and, maybe the biggest test of a PC chair, on the mood setting within the PC.

2:01 AM  

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