There is an interesting discussion going on in the GOMI craft forum right now (yes, I’m an avid GOMI lurker) in response to the recent pattern testing call and associated interview questions put out by Itch to Stitch. Working in academia, I play an active role in the scientific peer review process. Interestingly, this process is actually very similar to the sewing pattern testing process, with a few key differences. Since I recently reviewed a paper and these ideas are fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share my completely unsolicited personal opinions. 🙂
(1) If you want to volunteer your time and money to pattern test, go ahead! Really, I have no problem with people who enjoy this process. I choose how to spend my time and money, and everyone else should have that same right. Do whatever makes you happy.
(2) Personally, I have never and will never test a pattern. If indie pattern companies start compensating testers with a fair wage and reimbursing them for all materials and supplies, it might be a different story. But for now, when the company I would be helping will be making cold hard cash off of my time and money that are requested for free, it turns out to be a pretty raw deal for me. This is economics, pure and simple.
Now, onto the peer review process. During my recent paper review, I spent a substantial number of my normal working hours (and therefore my boss’s money that pays my salary) performing a service that provides no immediate benefit to either me or my boss. The only immediate benefit is to a stranger, the author of the manuscript, another scientist that I have never and probably will never meet. Not only do I receive no immediate benefit, but taking time to do the review actually put me behind on my other work. Potentially, the author/stranger gets a big reward (the acceptance of their paper for publication), while my boss and I suffer a direct loss of time and money. Sounds a bit like pattern testing, right?
Here’s the difference: By participating in the peer review process, I earn the right to ask other scientists, people who have never and may never meet me, to spend their time and money reviewing my manuscripts, potentially providing me with a big reward (publication) at the cost of their time and money.
In this scenario, everyone wins. Everyone volunteers their time and money to perform a service for other scientists, and in return, everyone’s papers are improved by constructive feedback and eventually (hopefully) published, and everyone can boost their publication lists on their resumes, thereby earning promotions, fellowships, and awards…. in other words, more money. I spend money on your review, and ultimately I’m paid back in salary increases and promotions.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the scientific peer review system does not operate as perfectly as my idyllic description above implies. Like every community of human beings, we have issues. However, in my experience, I personally feel that my time is being well compensated, and I am happy to participate in the process.
So, if I were the owner of an indie pattern company, and a fellow owner and I agreed to test each other’s latest patterns, I’d say this would be a fair exchange of time and money. We’d both invest a bit of time, knowing that we’d both be making money off of our (hopefully improved) patterns. Wonderful.
However, in the common scenario where an independent person is asked to spend their time and money with no reward, direct or indirect, or a direct reward (such as a copy of the final pattern) that is worth only a small fraction of the time and money they spent on testing the pattern, I’d say this is an unfair exchange.
If you want to do someone a favor out of the goodness of your heart, I applaud you. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of the human spirit. I volunteer my time for various causes (mostly STEM-related outreach and teaching) with absolutely no compensation other than the feeling that I am doing something good for another human being. I do this outside of my normal work hours, during evenings and on weekends, and I often have to spend money on transportation to get to these events. Likewise, if I ever find myself in a situation in which I am unable to get myself out of harm’s way, I would hope that someone would volunteer to help me.
All I ask is that we treat pattern testing as what it really is: volunteering.
The scientific peer review process is part of my job, and everyone is compensated by participating in the process. I receive very selfish and tangible benefits: the publication of my papers, the beefing up of my personal resume, and the increased likelihood of earning more money.
If you receive a free pattern in exchange for pattern testing, this should not be considered fair compensation for your time and money. This is a symbolic gesture thanking you for your time spent volunteering.
So, in conclusion, I offer the following suggestions:
(1) Let’s all acknowledge the unbalanced exchange of time and money involved in the current pattern testing system. No one is claiming that fair compensation is taking place. Everyone goes into this process with their eyes wide open, knowing what they will and won’t get out of it, and if all parties agree on the terms, so be it. If pattern testers want to volunteer their time and money, that’s their prerogative.
(2) There is a difference between working and volunteering, and it is up to each individual to define their personal boundary between the two. If you consider pattern testing to be work, then you should demand fair compensation. If you consider it to be volunteering, you should expect nothing in return except a sincere thank you.
Personally, if someone is making money off my time and effort, I consider that to be work and expect to be fairly compensated. If I teach a room full of high school kids how to identify mold species on a Saturday morning (true story), no one makes any money, and I feel satisfied that my time spent volunteering enriched the minds of future generations.
Now, I’m off to prepare a manuscript for submission to peer reviewers to claim my compensation for my recent review. 🙂
What do you think: do you consider pattern testing to be work or volunteering? Should you be paid as a skilled contractor, or are you happy to help out an indie pattern company as a way of contributing to the sewing community?