Forging collaborations

Collaboration | Hindawi Blog

David Harding

Today, Assoc Prof David Harding gives his perspective on the benefits of good collaborations, and why they are becoming ever more important. David is a co-founder of the Functional Materials and Nanotechnology Center of Excellence (FuNTech) at Walailak University, Thailand. He is also a distinguished Thailand Research Fund Scholar, and an editor of the Open Access journal, Complex Metals (Taylor and Francis).
Contact: @GroupHarding, hdavid@g-mail.wu.ac.th

Collaborations are a central part of the academic life, and for most of us are very beneficial. They are increasingly necessary as funding agencies demand ever more high impact publications, and research becomes increasingly interdisciplinary. So, as an early career researcher, how do you go about forging collaborations? It’s a question I am often asked, perhaps because I work at a less well-endowed university, and collaboration has been so crucial to my own success.

Getting started

The first thing to do is to get out there and meet people. The best collaborations begin with personal contact so try to attend conferences, or local meetings if funds are tight. I speak from personal experience here. Earlier in my career, after a significant break from the international scene, I was finally able to attend a conference in my field. As well as the welcome injection of ideas, I was to meet a fellow researcher who would go on to become one of my closest collaborators. There’s no question in my mind that without that first meeting none of the research we currently do in the group would be possible.

Another strategy is to offer to give a short seminar at a local university. Not only will you broaden the audience for your research but it’s often a great chance to network and explore collaboration opportunities. So I urge you make every effort to go to conferences, give seminars, meet people, use contacts from your doctoral and postdoctoral studies, and don’t become isolated.

Ensuring a strong collaboration

To ensure a strong and lasting collaboration you must have the same interests and a real need to collaborate. Collaborations require a significant investment in time and resources so you need to be engaged and work on a project that is mutually beneficial, if you don’t the collaboration just won’t work. It’s also important at the outset to define the various roles of the people involved in the collaboration so that everything runs smoothly. If author issues are important get these settled early on. It is far better to be honest at the beginning than to spring this issue on your collaborator when it comes time to publish. There’s nothing more detrimental to a fledgling collaboration that petty squabbles over authorship. A final point to consider is the sacrifices you’ll need to make in the course of the collaboration. This could involve sparing some of your student’s time to work on your collaborator’s research, or giving up instrument time to run their samples. Try to remember that your collaborator is almost certainly making similar sacrifices for you.

Keeping the lines of communication open

Communication is critical to good collaboration, so it’s vital to develop processes for staying in touch. By this I don’t just mean email exchanges but rather using technology to share data, perhaps having an online forum where team members can discuss progress and potential new directions. In my own group, our forum takes the form of a private social media group. It is also a good idea to meet virtually if face-to-face meetings are not possible. This is especially useful if your collaborator lives far away.

Collaboration legacy

As well as your immediate needs it’s important to actively include your students in the collaboration. Perhaps the most effective way to do this is through short research visits, for which funding is generally more widely available. This can be hugely beneficial not only in moving the research forward, but in introducing new ideas and capability into both groups. It also provides your students with an opportunity to network and build their own future collaborations. These larger research networks can be vital as students make the transition into early career researchers.

In summary

In this short blog post, I hope I have given you ideas for developing collaborations and encouraged you to pursue links with researchers in your field. It’s important to remember that collaborations are rich and varied but have one thing in common, they enrich both sides and help to develop new ideas and understanding in ways that would not be possible otherwise.

Opinions in this blog post are that of the author, and not necessarily that of Hindawi. Profile photo credit: Theerapoom Boonbrap. The text in this blog post is by David Harding and is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.