Cake & Collaboration

The last line of my academic bio ends with the sentence “Siobhan believes the path to good research is paved with cake”. It’s an attempt to bring some lightness to the all too serious world of academic research, but more importantly, it’s a values statement. Because cake – unlike Freud’s cigar – is never just cake.

Brought into the tea room of a University, cake tells my colleagues I value their company, their contribution, and their compassion. Brought into a meeting with industry partners, cake tells community organisations that I value their time and their expertise, and I can be trusted with the vulnerable people they represent. Brought into interviews with research participants, cake tells carers and people with dementia that I value their stories, that I’m a person too, and that I understand how nerve-wracking it is to share your darkest thoughts with a complete stranger.

Of course the cake must be home-made. There’s no value in a store-bought cake. The value comes from having spent my own time and energy to create something just for my colleague, my partner, or my participant. That’s how people know I care.

And I care because I recognise that I cannot do good research alone. We often think of ground-breaking researchers as single entities – Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Neil deGrasse Tyson – but all research is the product of collaboration. My own collaborations span departments, universities, states, countries, disciplines, languages, and sectors. And my research is richer for it.

But in the early stages of a research career it can be hard to build collaborations, and part of my goal with this website and Shut Up & Write Tuesdays is to support emerging researchers. Which is why I recently became a Social Media Correspondent for Piirus, an academic networking website that helps to facilitate research collaborations across the world. The team at Piirus share my values and have good research – not profit – as their primary goal.

As part of my role at Piirus, I’ll be using my own social media and online presence to encourage researchers – particularly those in the early stages of their careers – to join Piirus. You’ll see that I’ve added a link to Piirus on the sidebar of this website and in my Twitter feed you’ll see the occasional Piirus-related tweet or retweet.

Piirus doesn’t offer cake, but it certainly offers collaboration. And when it comes to good research, that’s the next best thing!