“Because collaboration is such an important part of research – and research careers – it is never too early to start learning how to collaborate and avoid the many pitfalls that can turn a dream relationship into a nightmare.”
Sharon Ann Holgate, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
From an early career researcher to an established academic, a handful of scientists share short pieces of advice on working collaboratively in a post on the AAAS blog. As with the Ten Tips for Collaboration post from Helen Kara, the AAAS article concludes that good communication is at the heart of making collaboration work well.
The first approach
Where should you look for potential collaboration colleagues? The network of colleagues you build through attending conferences should be your starting point.
A common mistake, often made by researchers early in their careers, is to contact another researcher asking for their data. These new researchers say they want to research the same issue and do not explain to the established, published researcher how their work is different or how they will add value to the work that has already been done.
Do not assume that good data is the only factor in achieving a great collaboration. Working styles and personality are also important for success. If at all possible set up a low-risk trial with potential collaborators before running a full project. Ensure that you check the references of potential collaborators too.
Finding your feet
When you join a larger collaboration team invest some time into understanding the various functions and dynamics of the team you are joining. This is also a good time to make sure you are comfortable with the team’s preferred communications channels, be it email, Skype or online meeting software.
Setting ground rules
Early in any collaboration project it is important to establish, and make sure everyone understands, the working framework, communication channels, and hierarchy.
Project teams are often over-ambitious in what they attempt to achieve. Realistic, achievable targets are important and, if deadlines are continually missed, it may be worth revisiting the division of work across the team. The process for this should, ideally, be stipulated when the collaboration is set up.
Even with the best will in the world conflicts may arise. Ideally channels for dealing with them will have been set out at the start of a project. In terms of your personal approach in dealing with conflicts it is useful to decide how much you are personally willing to compromise, and what issues, such as those related to ethics, are non-negotiable for you. If issues are particularly difficult to resolve it may be appropriate to involve a third party.
There are many benefits, both personal and professional, to research collaboration. The common theme for great collaboration is that it is not just about the research but also about the relationships of the team working together.