The reluctant volunteer

Research Cooperative
13/02/14 08:47:20AM

The ecosystem of academic writing and publishing has always depended on many kinds of volunteer effort by journal editors, reviewers, and more-or-less friendly readers and proofreaders.

The latter 'friendly' types are usually drawn into their roles by the obligations of graduate supervision (it's their job to help their own students), or by a sense of duty to help others in the same organisation or discipline.

The potential editing and proofreading work for someone who has ability and a good reputation is unending. Unless such work is the main interest, volunteering is likely to be carried out with deliberate reluctance.

The time that can be offered for such work, in competition with one's own research, teaching, and writing, is usually very limited. Requests may be considered, but an active researcher and teacher may be very reluctant to openly declare the willingness to be a volunteer.

This natural reluctance does not mean a person is unfriendly.

Academic volunteers can only be effective if they actually have time, interest and ability, and must necessarily limit the work that they undertake, in order to give proper attention to that work.

The paradox for the person who needs the help of a volunteer is that the most reluctant candidates may be the most suitable.

Perhaps the best way to catch the interest of a potential volunteer, without being too forward and demanding, is to join public discussions related to our work. In this way we can get to know a range of people who might be able to help us in the future, and who might like to ask us for help in return.

Here at the Research Cooperative we created many topic focus groups, and other groups. Active participation in these would open up alternative routes to finding people who can help, without any need for embarassing or direct requests. Unfortunately, the group pages have been deactivated as they were not used.

If a public request for help is shown in one of the forums for requests, this may be noticed by otherĀ  members. Eventually, the reluctant volunteer may quietly, in a private message, make him- or herself known.

The best reward for any academic volunteer is likely to be clear acknowledgment for the help given, and successful publication of the manuscript concerned.

Reluctant but friendly volunteers need acknowledgments, and publishing success stories, in order to remain willing to continue the work.