|by Kent Aitken
Last year I wrote a post called Painfully Obvious: Find Links, about seeking out the existing knowledge in a field. While we should be respectful of others' time, the cost/benefit calculation is pretty solidly on the side of reaching out - it only takes a minute to write and read such emails, and the effort only has to work out occasionally to be incredibly worth it (often for both parties, on top of being just generally enjoyable). And people still have the option of accepting or declining.
There's a cost to being too reticent, here. I think we still reinvent far too many wheels.
Looking back, I continue to be amazed by how generous people can be with their time and expertise. It has become our standard to invite authors when we discuss books (which turns into the Impossible Conversations/Monday Book Review series), and I've been surprised at how often the response is resources, regrets based on scheduling, or acceptances. The same goes for some research I wanted to learn more about recently.
However, even with that cost/benefit calculation in mind, and knowing that those I reach out to can certainly decline, I occasionally feel bad about it. It's largely because I feel as though I'm more often on the receiving end of this kind of help and advice, which I chalk up to being relatively early in my career, and somewhat less so to being a generalist. My theory is that balance will shift towards the providing side over time.
It recently struck me that this theory may be true - or it may be a total cop-out.
With That in Mind
If anyone ever thinks that I could be of help - for discussions, resources, or anything - please, please feel free to contact me (there's a Gmail icon at the top of every post).
For the record, I've noted that I often feel unqualified writing and sharing my thoughts publicly (see: On Writing). I'm not suggesting that I have a tremendous amount of expertise. Instead, I'm extending the invitation based on the same principle with which I ask others: because it takes so little effort to offer, and because it only needs to work out and really click once or twice to be worth it. The cost is so low that even if I can provide a tiny benefit, it works.
This post is very much so based on my personal approach to navigating government and academia. But it's perhaps worth noting as a reflection that the more comfortable we all get with striking up discussions with those in our fields, the better government will be.
Lastly, a genuinely huge thank you to those described above, kind and generous with their time.