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Traditionally, a professional is a member of a profession, that is, an occupation other than teaching that requires a four-year college degree plus some compulsory additional training and licensing. Common professions include medicine, law, accounting, dentistry, architecture, and engineering. Contrast with the trades (e.g. plumbing, masonry, carpentry, printing), traditionally controlled by the guilds and requiring a period of apprenticeship but not a four-year degree.


I like to imagine what we should do if we were professional scientific researchers, and I should stress that I am not one (yet), so this is speculation.


While there are differences among them, the professions share a code of conduct that requires:


Let's say we are a large group of researchers who frequently discuss and collaborate. There's other researchers who may want to collaborate with us, but with whom our group does not want to collaborate -- maybe we think they're jerks, or maybe they just work too differently from us to make it worthwhile. Maybe they've personally insulted some of our members. We do not invite these people to collaborate with us, or make them feel too welcome if they happen into one of our meetings.

But if one of them asks for a detail or piece of data relating to our published work, we give it to them. We don't spend a lot of time trying to help them out. But neither do we refuse to give them data that we would give our friends.

If we have a question about some of their work, we don't hesitate to ask them for help just because we don't want to engage them. We won't shoot ourselves in the professional foot because of personal dislike. Many important researchers really are jerks, but you cannot afford to ignore their work.

If some members of our group have a separate collaboration with the others, that doesn't affect our group one way or another. The others have not joined our group, so we're happy. If Bill Gates insulted you in a bar, would you ask your friends not to enter into any business relationships with Microsoft? (although you would probably advise against it)

Professionally, you can minimize contact with certain people, but you cannot eliminate it. You strive to prevent personal issues from coming between you and your work. Unfortunately, being professional includes being professional when the other person isn't. There are times when a person is such an egregious jerk that you must make them go away by any means necessary, but often this is not the case.

In my experience, science enjoys as much of the DarkSideOfCommunity as any other community. Backstabbing, rumors, Rufmord (slander), cliques, importance of connections, you name it. The free market also enjoys much that, eventhough we pride us in being professional. Good relations solve many problems. The point is, being professional is a vision -- something we strive for, aspire to. And we all know what it means. So we could just list all these rules that make up professional behaviour.

I very much agree. I didn't mean to say that academics were the model of professionalism; from what I have heard, that community lives up to the vision of professionalism somewhat less than others, in fact. It's just a metaphor that I think helps in answering questions like, "What should MeatballWiki do in regards to people who it doesn't want to work with?". I think the answers are clearer for the question, "What should a collaborating group of research labs do in regards to other researchers who it doesn't want to work with?", and that those answers may be usefully applied here. -- BayleShanks

What about other communities? Meatball is only interesting as a model for other communities.

them too -- BayleShanks

I'll add some of my ideas for others to merge and refactor.

I think that professional has nothing to do with scientific, although we would expect scientists to be professional. But there are professional sportsmen, software developers (I hope), cooks, musicians and so on.

I don't think that a pressional in area X must also be a professional in area Y. For example a professional physician needn't be a professional communicator.

I don't think that experts or professional are typically better people than non-professionals. Typically they are more egoistic and centered on their opinions and needs. Scientists are surely more jealous than normal people. Artists typically are not objective towards the art of others.

But while I agree with the importance of the human aspects of this page, I think they don't have to do anything with the quality "professional". Scientist will help each other, but not with information about latest development or current directions, for the priority of publication or patents is a major concern.

It should be considered normal that a user of a community looks first at his advantage, and then the advantage of his community, and then perhaps the advantage of any other person or community in question. The ideal is a cooperative win-win-situation, where anyone participating gets his fair share of the common advantage - no losers. That's the way I'd like to construct online communities. I would expect from a "member" that he won't go for a personal advantage that is a disadvantage for his community.

I think that there is an important difference between physical and social systems. Physical systems always seek for the current and local energy minimum (any part always tries to optimize its advantage in the "now"). Social or living systems take the past into account and optimize for the future: can we together produce higher advantage to share tomorrow. Do we have a vision to strive for these synergies? Do we have a culture of fairness in sharing? Do we allow for the transparency needed for fairness? Lots of questions and chances. There is TitForTat. A "forget" makes only sense in view of "future cooperation advantages".

-- HelmutLeitner (edited; some material moved to DocumentMode)

To highlight the point that academics do not help each other when patents or publications are at stake: Academics are in fact highly competitive, and they do not like to share information unless their credit is protected by having some authority timestamp and sign it on their behalf. That is the point of publication; it provides a safe forum to publish, and the motivation to publish frequently is only because the first person to an idea is the one who gets all the credit. This is not to say that academics act like jerks towards one another; there is a lot of lateral collaboration, but they are not likely to voluntarily share information prematurely with other colleagues they do not like. Academics are people too.

Professionals should also be able to -

All of these are just instances of the one principle: PersonalDetachment? from the subject.

Professionals only do this when they are forced to. They do not interact with people they do not like voluntarily unless they are altruistic. Altruism is a complicated trait to analyze, but suffice it to say, you cannot depend on altruism to save the day as it is by definition transcendent.

Well, in my professional life, whenever we remind ourselves to be professional, we do in fact mean that we should not let personal preferences interfer with our aim as employees of the company -- be it developpers, project managers or sales people: Make money. We are not altruistic when we are professional. We just concentrate on the business at hand.

The concept of PersonalDetachment? seems to occur to people of every age. Ancient Indian literature deals extensively with PersonalDetachment? as a path to enlightenment (whatever that means). In Gita, for instance, Arjuna - the guy fighting his brothers - is assailed by emotions in the battlefield. Krishna - personal god to Arjuna - advises a great deal of PersonalDetachment? to Arjuna. Sort of, excellence in your job is the goal and not the fruits of your labor so go ahead and kill your enemies (brothers) because it is your job now as a warrior. I think the idea is: There are things beyond one's control and understanding. This is an acknowledgement of the limitations and consequently a way to overcome the limitations. A reliable guiding principle in one's work is excellence. Excellence being a function of both personal and organizational goals, finding the right organization and the right place for oneself within the organization is an important criteria for excellence (I am speaking as a software engineer here). Being professional may sometimes mean pulling back from something where we don't fit in. When we pull back from something out of professionalism, are we letting our personal preferences affect our professionalism? This is a loaded question that, I hope, brings out the inherent contradictions in any argument that tries to seperate personal goals from one's actions with a larger organizational structure. I should stop here. Anything more I say along this line may turn out to be crappy metaphysics. :-). -SelvakumarGanesan

Being "professional" on Meatball?

When we expect people to be professional here at MeatBall, it should be about "online communities". This perhaps includes "communication", because you can hardly act professionally in a community without professional communication. -- HelmutLeitner

To speak to some other analogies, Meatball is not academia. There is no value in publishing first. Meatball is not business. There is no value in competition. Meatball is a volunteer-based "design collective". There is only value in being interesting. Volunteers are expected to act professionally as well; even more so because they presumably care more about the organization than their place of paid employment. Sure, Meatball has lower standards than the Heart & Stroke Foundation, but you still have to get along with others. -- SunirShah

I find it very strange to say such a thing as they presumably care more about the organization than their place of employment. Even the presumably does not tone down the thought. I am sure there are people who care equally about their "professional" engagement as they do about their "volunteer" engagement. Does making such a difference come from the paid/non paid reality? Volunteer work can also be a way to broaden one's professional abilities, hence a way to mix both the professional and non professional aspects of their life. --DelphineMénard

Brief Thought

Just a brief contribution. It seems to me a positive aspect of the "professional" is that she is largely assured that her profession is long-lasting; it has a history, and it will have a future, that far exceeds any particular conflict. Being professional, then, involves acting -- most of the time -- as if the debate in question does not seriously challenge the identity of one's occupation. Even if a professional feels that the "professional wisdom" has been defeated in a particular circumstance, she can remain largely content to know that this will not be the end of her trade, that her profession will continue to exist, may revist the question later in cooler times, etc. etc.. This would lead, I guess, to ProfessionalDetachment?, of a more general sort.

Contrast this with someone in an "emergent" field. For example, uh, someone who makes a trade out of talking about how wikis work. She will often describe her work as a proponent of how wikis work as an outgrowth of an older profession: perhaps she will describe herself, or think of herself, as doing work as a sociologist, which gives her at least fifty years to work with. If someone does not tie her identity to a field with longevity, what can often happen is the person begins to behave unprofessionally. You can see it, IMO, in the sort of "insta-experts" that arise to talk on TV; these people often do not associate themselves with a long-lasting profession (often because they lack the credentials), and I believe some of their behavior is both literally, and in the figurative sense here, "unprofessional".

PersonalDetachment? and Deference to professionals

We say here (I quote) Professionals should also be able to -

I agree with that. But what when people will systematically induce that although you are being professional, you are making judgement calls (ie. acting personal) rather than professional decisions? How do you respond professionally to someone whom you judge professionally but who always brings back the conversation/argument/discussion on a personal basis? What when your professionalism is systematically challenged on personal grounds? Is being a professional, showing credentials, speaking from experience enough to assert that this or that should be done this or that way? How can you act with PersonalDetachment? when your interlocutor inevitably brings back the subject on a personal level?

And this leads me to another question : Should people defer to prefessionals?

I think this is particularly true of OnlineCommunity. You might be a professional in field X, that is not the primary field of action of the OnlineCommunity. Let us say that field X at some point becomes a concern (even if not primary) of the OnlineCommunity. You may choose to ignore this, but if people know who you are, what you do, your professionalism might be refered to, challenged, discussed, appealed to by people who are not professionals in field X. Some of those people will assume that since this is volunteer work, or since the primary goal of the OnlineCommunity has little to do in the first place with the general goal/statement, since we are all equals, they know as well, or even better than you do. And that's where sometimes you are found with no other possibility than to say "Well, I am a professional, this is what I do for a living. I have this and that experience in field X, which brings me to say the things I say." Which does not particularly induce conversation. As an example I will refer to the widely used phrase I am not a lawyer, but.... Well, the statement made by the non-layer might have a real value, but if the lawyer comes and says "I am a lawyer, and you're wrong.", should that person defer to them ? --DelphineMénard



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