The value of collaborative retreats

In academia, everyone acknowledges the value of applying for and receiving grants. But while it is the large grants that fund expensive designs, labs, and data analysis that get the most attention for bringing money into the university and enabling research, the smaller grants to encourage collaboration can be just as powerful for research.

Olbermann grantLast fall, Melissa Tully and I applied for an Interdisciplinary Research Grant through the Obermann Center at the University of Iowa to continue our work on media literacy outside the classroom. This grant offered us $3000 apiece to bring me to Iowa for two weeks to work with Melissa on our next data collection. We were also offered residence – a pair of shared offices – at the Obermann Center itself for our two week visit.
I arrived in Iowa a week ago, and we have finished the first of our two weeks together working on this project. In our first week, it feels as if we have accomplished as much in one week as usually takes several months. Our work this past week has ranged from creating new media literacy videos for our fall experiment, setting up a pre-test of these videos to analyzing previously-collected survey data to writing for journal manuscripts. This week, we want to focus more on the media content to be paired with our new media literacy PSAs, as well as the qualitative component of our new data collection.

This time has been especially valuable for us: we are collaborators who usually see each other only at conferences. But even if we weren’t usually remote partners, the focused period to work on a single project, rather than splitting attention across the many projects we’re both working on, has also been extremely beneficial. Collaborative grants thus offer a research retreat, as well as adding accountability to the process.

I also do not suggest that collaboration grants can replace the often-larger, more data-focused grants. In fact, Melissa and I will be applying for grants to help us carry out the projects we’ve been working on with better samples and more diverse methods. But collaboration grants are relatively low-cost ways to bring people together to focus on a single project, as well as rewarding academics for the work they are doing over the summer – work that is often unpaid and yet essentially required for keeping and advancing in our jobs.

So let’s not overlook the power of small collaborative groups. I know I’ll be looking for more opportunities to work with far-flung collaborators – or even just setting up dedicated research days/weeks that are devoted to a single project. For now, it’s back to the cottage retreat!

Obermann cottage

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *