Demystifying project communications for students (part 1)

My colleagues Sarah Calhoun, Austin Mason, and I are collaborating on creating 4 new undergraduate internship positions related to front end/back-end development for digital humanities and digital scholarship projects, accessibility and inclusive design, and digital ethics. The DHAs and AT student workers are fabulous, but their job roles are written so that they wear several hats: tech support, triaging reported problems with campus-supported technologies, in-class support, etc. At Carleton, internships are distinguished from student worker positions by their additional expectations of mentorship, professionalization opportunities, and engagement with relevant fields.

Since we’re envisioning these internships as project-oriented, I thought it useful to start to think through some of our expectations for communication both during the internship, but also during projects. It’s likely that the interns will be able to see projects through from start-to-finish, but it’s also likely that they’ll come into a project in-process to contribute to a specific aspect. And in the interest of being explicit about expectations and minimizing the perils of tacit knowledge, I wanted to outline a few preliminary draft guidelines I’ve come up with so far:

Tl;dr: be generous and respectful, always.

  • Communicate information generously: it is better to include too many people than too few. Unless directed otherwise, share information, documents, code, etc. with the entire team and all the internship supervisors. If you are emailing someone on behalf of a small group, include all of the group members names in the closing signature and cc everyone.
  • Address collaborators respectfully and thoughtfully. This includes things like asking for preferred pronouns, and using appropriate titles and names. When interacting with a faculty or staff member for the first time, listen for how they refer to themselves and use what they said. If you’re emailing someone for the first time, use their formal title (Dr., Prof.) if applicable. Which leads us to…
    • Email etiquette: generally, this rundown by Laura Portwood-Stacer covers a lot. In addition, try to keep your emails shorter rather than longer. 4-5 sentences max and try to include all relevant info upfront.
  • Credit your collaborators: be generous and acknowledge contributions from your collaborators. This can be everything from help talking through an idea to a recommendation about where to find a code snippet to a comment someone made in a meeting that stuck with you. This kind of work and support often goes underappreciated–everyone (hopefully) knows it’s important but it’s often forgotten or left unmentioned in favor of a finished product.
  • When dealing with collaborators and “clients,” be sure to show up to all meetings on time, do any follow-up work promptly, and be highly responsive and polite over email. Loop in all relevant people.
  • When things come up at the last minute (because they will!): sometimes you will need to call in a favor from a collaborator to help you get work done rapidly. When this happens, make sure to acknowledge that this is a favor you are asking, give them an easy out, and thank them profusely if they are able to help you.

This is a general outline that will live in some other form TBD. But for now, I’d appreciate and comments/feedback/additions you think would help demystify project communications for students working on collaborative projects!

**huge thanks to Sarah Calhoun for her insights and suggestions!

 

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