Blog Post

Communicating collaboration in the academic vita using "Percent Effort"

A recent conversation on Twitter opened with this question from Nathan:

and several folks chimed in with a few really useful tips (I encourage you to check out the thread). Among those was my suggestion that putting in "percent effort" or "distribution of effort" would be a useful way of expressing the kind and volume of work done on a collaborative, iterative project.

Having set the stage, let me also say that I'm no fan of the push to quantify everything. In fact, this is an area of historical and critical study for me, so I get concerned when anyone asks me to put a number on the work I've done. That said, I've also been doing collaborative work for more than a decade now and I know that one of the hardest things to do is explain how much work one has done on a project.  There's a lot more to be said about how the labor that goes into any collaborative project is often hidden and the ways in which the 100% of collaborative work is NOT the same as the 100% of individual work, but for right now, I just want to focus on a few practical tips that may help those who are in job app season, or reporting season, or review season (get the sense that it's everywhere now? You're right).

What is "percent effort"?

At many institutions the tenure and promotion guidelines (which are also the annual reporting guidelines in many places) include a directive to put percent effort on the vita. This is especially common for those working in grant supported fields (medicine, for example, has been doing this for a while), but as universities have worked to streamline and standardize their forms and reporting, it's become a more generalized practice. It's also a common practice in the project management world and for people doing contract work, and you can see how some of that is bleeding into university labor structures. Now, whatever one might think about the formalization of paperwork and models dependent on contingent labor (oh, do I have thoughts), there is a pragmatic upside to this shift for those of us who are working in collaborative projects: we have a ready made way to make our individual contributions to projects visible.

At its most basic, percent effort in this instance is a quantification of your contribution to a collaborative or team project. Usually in the humanities you'll be working with a "rough order of magnitude" number, but it's worth knowing that in the sciences, researchers are asked to not simply give a rough percentage of their labor on a project but also to convert that number into "person hours" - a quantification that looks a lot like "billable hours" in other professions. You may also be asked at some point in your career to quantify your percent effort on the job (as in 40% teaching, 30% research, 30% service, for example) and to then breakdown each component by project - so Project X takes 70% of your 30% time doing research while three other projects take up 10% each, for example. But here we're talking about articulating your effort as a percentage of the total project for the purposes of accounting for your contribution to a particular scholarly/creative work.

Do I have to include percent effort on my CV?

Whether you're making a digital project, creating an interactive installation, or writing a co-authored piece, you can give readers a quick (and, yes, artificial) accounting of your role in the project with percent effort numbers. Do you have to do this? If you're on the job market, probably not but it's also not going to hurt and it may well make any "unusual" (ie collaborative) work that you have on your vita legible to folks who may not have experience working in teams. If you're an early career researcher, it's fairly likely that this will come up in annual reporting and it's very likely to come up during review for tenure and promotion where we have to make our work legible to folks well outside of our own disciplines.

Ok, how do I include it?

In an ideal world, you talked about percent effort with your collaborators early on in the project. It's also entirely reasonable to calculate a rough order of magnitude retrospectively. I do suggest checking in with your teams to ensure that everyone feels that the effort articulated is accurate and as a way of raising awareness about how to reference collaborative work.

Essentially, after the info about a particular project you want to list your role and the rough estimate of your contribution to the overall production of the project.

Here are a few examples from my own vita

For a co-authored article:

For creative installation/performance work:

For collaborative grant work:

Note that each includes the percent effort at the end in parentheses and that in the last two examples where lots of kind of work is possible (as opposed to 'authoring' as in the first) I have also included a very short description of my role/roles on the project. Where I have held multiple roles, like administrator and content producer, I've broken those out. For those of you doing project management, do feel free to list that as at least 15% of total work for the project - it's a standard baseline.

In some settings, you may be asked to put grant or other funded work in a longer format, but this is not necessary for vitas that you're sharing as a humanist and certainly not for job applications, where brevity is important.

As I suggested before, none of this is ideal. For those of us working in collaborative spaces, we know that collaboration takes more time, more energy, and often a lot more wrangling. The vita is not a space that captures that lived experience well. Nevertheless, it's valuable for outside readers/reviewers to get a sense of how much work you're putting into a particular project when it's listed as part of your scholarly output and to have an understanding of the roles you've played in that work. Nuance is best saved for your research statement or cover letter and the letters of recommendation/support that you include with any review file, the vita for better and for worse is an administrative accounting of your scholarly work and the percent effort is a valuable tool.






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