One of the unique benefits that ATSes offer departments is our role as problem solvers. Faculty and graduate students approach us with a variety of research and teaching problems, and most require customization for a solution. There is no one-size-fits-all technique. Academic research means tailoring approaches and frameworks that contribute to unique approaches to the questions asked by the researcher. Often, our problem-solving means finding creative solutions to unique issues. We not only bring ideas to problems, but execute on those ideas to help create.

Such a situation means ATSs perform four key roles as creatives: problem solvers, translators, designers, and producers.

First and foremost, we are creative problem solvers. Our opportunities to collaborate on research and teaching are initiated because of a research or teaching problem that draws on our depth and breadth of experience. Ideas come to us, and as part of our job we’re here to help think through these ideas and understand the knowledge, concepts, and goals of the faculty. We have a wide range of fields, frameworks, theories, and viewpoints that come with faculty research and teaching, which means we remain alert to their concerns and often work within a variety of perspectives.

ATSes also serve as translators. We sit within a cultural middle ground, bridging the cultures of technology and academia. We are uniquely suited to communicate ideas between the two camps. For example, imagine a faculty member wishes to use data visualization to understand a multifaceted and complicated research question. Many digital tools that one might rely upon are built with generality in mind, so we must look for ways to customize them by combining them to produce something new. Often this means generating new connections, not just between tools, but also between people or disciplines. We help translate ideas that are sensitive to the academic research and mindful of the technical difficulties embedded in working with multifaceted data.

Creativity also stretches into the realm of design and experimentation. Coming up with imaginative solutions means finding unconventional approaches and a willingness to “play” with ideas in order to find unexpected connections. Because faculty research and teaching is unique, we have a degree of leeway in trying new things. It is never a linear process from initial idea leading straight to the final product. There are too many unknowns, and committing to one approach too early can potentially derail projects. We pursue ideas — even bad ones — deliberately. Our flexibility as designers and our willingness to experiment gives us the capability of approaching problems with a variety of unique and tailored solutions.

Finally, ATSes are akin to film producers. Like producers, we do not get top billing — that belongs to faculty — but we play huge roles behind the scenes. As ideas, approaches, tools, and techniques come together on a project, it becomes our job to help execute on a project. Through strategy, through action, through resilience, we try and push through obstacles that stand in the way of materializing ideas. In the process, we seek out other collaborators, we talk about our ideas with our network of colleagues in various parts of the university, we marshal the technical capabilities needed for projects, and continue revising ideas and approaches as the project continues. We help make ideas happen.

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