Building successful collaborations


Long gone are the days of the lonely scientist. Today, most researchers work in teams ranging from a handful of people to more than a thousand in fields like genomics or particle physics, and scientists are increasingly being called upon to cross scientific or geographical borders.

Whether it is working with a scientist from across the hall, reaching out to researchers in other disciplines or countries, or striking up a collaboration between academia and industry, the benefits can be great. Working closely with others can help researchers develop new ideas, find new applications for their work, learn new techniques, and gain access to funding, expanding their professional opportunities.

Often, however, establishing and maintaining fruitful collaborations is hard work and can be a drain on scientists’ time. Researchers also need to carefully navigate potential practical and ethical pitfalls if they don’t want to see their professional relationships go awry.

Here’s some guidance about how to reap the benefits of scientific collaborations—at a minimal cost.

What there is to gain

Nice to know you by Malou Henriksen-Lacey and Juan J. Giner-Casares, 11 September 2015 A biologist and a materials scientist found unexpected scientific and personal benefits when they struck up a collaboration.

Give, and It Will Be Given to You by Eli Kintisch, 10 June 2014  As genomicist Casey Bergman has learned, publicly sharing unpublished data can lead to new collaborations, in turn offering access to even more data.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Cross-disciplinary Collaboration by Cassandra Willyard, 27 August 2013 Though they aren’t risk-free, cross-disciplinary collaborations can offer diverse rewarding opportunities and access to more funding streams.

Getting Back Your Mojo by Michael Price, 7 December 2012  If your research motivation is waning, a collaborator who reminds you about your initial excitement can help you get going again.

A Recipe for Collaboration by Lisa Seachrist Chiu, 13 November 2009  While working on her Ph.D., physician Noha Mousa stumbled across a technical problem that could be solved only through collaboration.

Finding partners

Science in the Community by Elisabeth Pain, 9 March 2012 It may not be that common, but communities are becoming increasingly important research partners in fields like health care and polar research.

Fruitful Collaborations With Industry by Elisabeth Pain, 1 June 2007 For scientists whose research has potential commercial interest, developing collaborations with industry partners can be a good option.

Making it work

Better Recognition for Multidisciplinary Research by Elisabeth Pain, 17 July 2014 Junior scientists who work on large collaborative projects spanning several disciplines need to make sure they can illustrate their personal successes to support their career advancement.

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: The Challenges of Interdisciplinary Science by Adam Ruben, 22 August 2013  Columnist Adam Ruben offers some tongue-in-cheek advice for scientists looking to work with collaborators in a different discipline.

How to Collaborate by Sharon Ann Holgate, 20 July 2012 Figuring out how you fit within a new collaboration requires considering more than just your scientific contributions.

Making Each Other More Human by Vijaysree Venkatraman, 24 September 2010 Sometimes scientific collaborators are also partners in life, like Donald and Ada Olins, whose 50-year partnership is based on good communication and a shared passion for chromatin structure.

Perspective: How to Succeed in Big Science and Still Get Tenure by Victoria McGovern, 31 July 2009 Burroughs Wellcome Fund program officer Victoria McGovern offers some tips to help scientists involved in collaborative research demonstrate their individual accomplishments.

Opportunities: Career Advantages of Collaboration by Peter Fiske, 9 January 2009  Columnist Peter Fiske discusses which kinds of collaborations are most valuable for graduate students and postdocs to advance their careers.

Interdisciplinary Collaborations: Clearing Hurdles by Magdalena Bak-Maier and Simon Inger, 12 January 2007 Establishing communication practices that transcend differences in vocabulary, standards, practices, and work ethics is a key first step toward successful collaborations.

The international angle

Responsible research guidelines for the global scientist by Elisabeth Pain, 18 February 2016  A new book offers scientists guidance about international collaborations, where different research cultures, societal attitudes, and ethical regulations may clash.

Ethics Across Borders by Beryl Lieff Benderly, 2 November 2012 Science may be universal, but differences in standards, practices, and expectations need to be taken into consideration when working across cultures.

More Opportunities for International Collaborations in Eastern Europe by Elisabeth Pain, 6 November 2009 Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the freedom to collaborate can help Eastern European scientists succeed at home.  

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