METM19 Chronicles: Wendy Baldwin

Building a language professional-academic co-working partnership

Most of us are able to do our jobs, and to do them well, because our working relationships with clients—often the authors of the texts we translate or edit—have evolved into symbiotic and sometimes near-telepathic connections. In her presentation, Mary Ellen Kerans lifted the lid on one such service provider-client partnership and its progression over three decades, whereas Wendy Baldwin introduced us to what was, for me at least, a startlingly unfamiliar kind of partnership: co-working with academics who are NOT clients, at least not to begin with. As with other options language professionals have for professional collaboration, such as co-working or revision partnerships, these partnerships can be a source of peer support and motivation, and they can lead to improved outcomes and processes on both sides. Wendy has road-tested this co-working format successfully with several academics at different career stages.

At its simplest, the idea is that a language professional partners with an academic and that the pair meets regularly. Academics and language professionals may have specialist subjects in common, but this is not essential. Each partner works on their own project over a series of timed blocks during these sessions. A typical 1-hour block could begin with 5 minutes of goal setting so that each partner knows what the other plans to accomplish. This is followed by 45 minutes of focused work before the block ends with a 10-minute check-in to assess progress, reset goals, and address some thorny problems together. This structure draws on collaborative approaches to academic writing, but also works well for language professionals who may be working on somebody else’s writing. Sessions should never exceed two hours in total.

Partners can carry out different kinds of work during these time slots. Language providers will typically translate, edit or write, while academics might want to work on writing of their own or to use this special focus time to accomplish tasks like admin or marking. Meetings can take place offline or online, and online meetings may use audio or video links. During focused work time, brief interruptions are fine (a quick stretch, fetching a glass of water) but the social space created by having another person in one’s real or virtual office should be used as an aid to staying on task. Accountability boosts focus, focus boosts productivity, and productivity frees up space for interesting activities that make us feel less isolated. Phones are banned during focus time, and care needs to be taken to use “boring” platforms when meeting online—Google Hangouts, say, rather than Facebook or WhatsApp.

As both partners approach academic writing, the main area in which their work overlaps, from complementary perspectives, obvious potential for synergies exists. Partners can fruitfully exchange knowledge during the check-in phases of blocks in ways that benefit both of them. Academic partners can share knowledge that gives language professionals a window into academic practice and current trends in academic publishing or higher education—knowledge that language professionals can usefully feed back to clients and to academic co-workers at earlier career stages. Language professionals can help academics to communicate more clearly and to improve their writing process. It may also help academics to tease through concepts and ideas with an outsider whose naïve questions may help them to clarify their thinking. Language professionals wrestling with terminology issues or logical conundrums may similarly benefit from having a willing sounding board. When particularly knotty problems present themselves and a “check in” slot seems likely to exceed the allotted time, discussions may be deferred and continued later by phone or e-mail.

Should we all be doing this? I think we probably should. I can identify gaps that are plugged by working in this way, but not by my day-to-day collaboration with clients and revisors. While I think of my clients as partners, the very nature of taking turns to work on projects that cross from their desks to mine and back means that we rarely work alongside one another companionably in real time, let alone in the same—real or virtual—space. And our dialogue, while intense, is usually focused on outcomes rather than on processes—on the healthy babies, as it were, rather than on the difficult births. Co-working opens up a different kind of space.

While I can’t think of a good reason for language professionals working with academic texts not to co-work with academics, I can see a few barriers to getting started. Identifying potential partners with compatible schedules shouldn’t be an insurmountable challenge. Wendy mentioned that her co-workers, a native speaker of English and two non-native speakers with a high level of English, had started as a friend, a friend of a friend, and a contact from an academic writing group online. But one then has to pluck up the courage to ask them and the self-belief to see that collaboration could benefit both partners. This may be slightly easier, I suspect, for language professionals who are good at understanding what they do as well as good at doing it. Wendy, for example, has a strong background in linguistics, teaching English, and writing coaching as well as being an experienced authors’ editor and translator. Language professionals who are more reliant on their “feel” for language (having perhaps learned more by osmosis than by analysis) might initially feel more diffident about their ability to help others. Persistence, however, could pay off.

Sarah Swift




This METM19 presentation was chronicled by Sarah Swift.


Featured photo by METM19 photographer Mario Javorčić.

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