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A Bill of Rights for Student Collaborators

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One exciting aspect of digital humanities work is its openness to collaboration, including collaboration with students. As someone who used to coordinate an undergraduate research program, I’ve always been particularly excited about opportunities to involve students in meaningful research–and participating actively in an ongoing research project certainly counts!

But undergraduate participation in research also raises a whole host of thorny questions–around compensation, around acknowledgment, around status, and many other things.

To begin to address these questions systematically, a group at UCLA’s Digital Humanities program has drafted “A Student Collaborator’s Bill of Rights”. Here’s how Haley Di Pressi, Stephanie Gorman, Miriam Posner, Raphael Sasayama, and Tori Schmitt (with help from Roderick Crooks, Megan Driscoll, Amy Earhart, Spencer Keralis, Tiffany Naiman, and Todd Presner), frame the issue:

Collaborations between students and more experienced digital humanities practitioners should benefit everyone. At their best, these partnerships are a way for students to learn new skills and benefit from mentorship, while more seasoned scholars can learn from junior scholars’ ideas, skills, subject knowledge, and perspectives.

It’s important, though, to recognize that students and more senior scholars don’t operate from positions of equal power in the academic hierarchy. In particular, students’ DH mentors may be the same people who give them grades, recommend them for jobs, and hold other kinds of power over their futures. Students may not feel entirely comfortable raising objections to certain practices if they feel these objections could endanger their academic or career prospects. Thus, we think it’s important to outline some best practices for collaborations with students on digital humanities projects, so that everyone involved feels they gain from the partnership.

The 10 principles offer thoughtful guidance on deciding between payment in cash vs. “payment” in credit (and the problematic connection with unpaid internships); helping students present work publicly; thinking about the sustainability of a project; and much else besides.

Anyone interested in working with students on complex collaborative work should definitely read the whole thing.

People work with students across many disciplines, of course, so what about you? Do you know of best practices for collaborating with students? Please share in comments!

Photo “Ready for Collaboration” by Flickr user Derek Bruff / Creative Commons licensed BY-NC–2.0

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