Friends and co-authors

On the joys of working with friends as co-authors

I read with interest the 2018 post on the blog about the different forms academic collaborations can take (On academic life: collaborations and active engagement). Jeanes, Loacker & Śliwa (2018) is an enlightening and entertaining read.

My experiences chime with the scholarly-professional rationality (driven by a shared interest) and the relationship-oriented rationality (based on friendship) described in the paper, and I count myself lucky to have co-authored primarily with friends. When reflecting on this, I came up with some  categories from my own experience (the research for which would in no way withstand peer review).

The Friend Who is an Academic

One of my co-authors is also one of my very best friends. We were friends for years before we worked on something together but our fields are quite different so it took us a while to find something to work on. It wasn’t until she moved to another country that we were able to focus sufficiently to find something to work on (I think this was because when we were in the same city we tended to meet in the pub).  We are in constant communication via WhatsApp on life issues, so when we have a work-meeting we are able to get started on the work straight away.

(Friend-Who-Is-An-Academic Dr Heather Jeffrey and I presenting our work at the Critical Tourism Studies Conference in Ibiza in 2019)

When we published a paper together that had, shall we say, a mixed public reception, knowing that she and I were in it together was an infinite boost. Our research interests have now diverged again and so the collaboration part of our relationship is over for now, but the experience has served to deepen a friendship that was pretty damn deep to begin with.

The Academic Friend

The academic friend is the friend with whom you mostly talk about work. These people are friends rather than colleagues because together you talk about work in an honest and personal way, and in a way which is a gratifying reflection of the role work plays in your lives. I came to know one such academic friend at a workshop in Malaysia and our friendship evolved during my visits to Malaysia and her visits to London.

We have worked on a number of papers together (to be accepted any day now surely), and will hopefully work on many more. We see each other in person quite rarely, and are in contact mostly about our papers. I always look forward to seeing her, and to the personal catch-ups that open our work meetings.

The New Co-Author and Friend

A recent co-author and friend is a former student, who I came to know during her time studying online for an MBA. She lived near campus and would come to my office to discuss her work, sometimes bringing her adorable and at the time teeny-tiny baby. Our relationship was able to move from student-teacher to friend and co-author once we decided, along with an academic friend, to try and turn her dissertation research into a paper (which we published in 2021).

Whereas my friendship with my Friend Who is an Academic and my Academic Friend developed first with papers following after, my New Co-Author and Friend friendship has emerged from our work. In the process of arranging our meetings and discussing our other commitments (aka ‘life’) we came to know and like each other in a way that turned our co-authorship into a friendship. Our friendship and collaboration is perhaps surprising, evolving as it did from an online student-lecturer relationship, but it serves as a reminder to be open to brilliant new people wherever they may pop up.

The Best of Both

My experiences of working with friends have been as a woman working with women. I suspect gender is relevant here, but I hope very much that men in academia have similar experiences. My co-author friends and I all have different combinations of domestic relationships and responsibilities. We talk about our non-work lives regularly, but there is no competition about who is the busiest, most tired or most stressed. If one were to say ‘I don’t have anything to do this weekend and I’d like to keep it that way’ (usually me) there is no judgement. Co-author friends can trust that the work will get done and wish their friends to have good weekends.

Jeanes, Loacker & Śliwa find that collaborations based on strategic-instrumental rationalities are prevalent in management and organisation studies, and point to the way in which this might crowd out the other rationalities and indicate a dampening effect on risk taking and passion projects. My experience may therefore be a little abnormal; most of my collaborations are with co-authors of a comparable seniority and our topics have been chosen primarily because they interest us.

Such an approach has only been possible because I was lucky enough to get a permanent position at Middlesex University early in my career, and therefore have the security to pursue projects that I want to do, rather than those I feel I need to do. I can’t know what I’ve lost in this pursuit, but I do know that I wouldn’t change a thing.   

Related videos

Related blogposts