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How to Collaborate

时间:2012-08-02 15:39:45  来源:  作者:

Scientist seeks honest, reliable fellow scientist for meaningful research discussions and maybe more. Great sense of humor and a view to long-term commitment preferred.

Sound like a comedy version of a lonely-hearts ad? Maybe, but anyone wanting to work in scientific research would do well to take it seriously. A successful science career requires suitable partners with whom to collaborate. “You have to walk into any research project with an understanding that collaboration is going to be needed,” says Daniel Vasgird, director of research integrity and compliance at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “It is extraordinarily rare to find a publication in almost any discipline in which there is a single author.”

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.

The first approach

Researchers need to collaborate with each other to complement their knowledge and skills, access specialized equipment, and expand the data they can utilize in a publication. Often, prospective collaborators know each other. Other times, a mutual acquaintance may make the introduction. But what if the person you want to meet is outside your network? The very first step is often the hardest.

Interested in interdisciplinary collaborations? Read this Perspective by Stephanie Pfirman and Melissa Begg.
Conferences are great settings in which to initiate collaborations because of the many opportunities they provide for one-on-one scientific discussion. But that doesn't mean it's easy. “It can be really intimidating if you want to start a collaboration with one of the bigwigs in your field and approach them at a conference,” says Lisa DeBruine, a reader in psychology at the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom. She advises thinking in advance about how you can integrate your skills and expertise with the research of your potential collaborator—before talking with them about that possibility.

Other common settings for professional interactions are social networks. Psychologists often make use of Google+ and Facebook to post ideas for collaborations and to get cross-cultural projects going, DeBruine says.


CREDIT: Lisa DeBruine
Lisa DeBruine
A poor approach—and a mistake frequently made by Ph.D. students—is to e-mail a scientist telling them you want to do research just like theirs, then ask for data, DeBruine says. Your approach probably won’t generate much interest as you are not actually offering anything. “You need to explain what you bring to the collaboration besides enthusiasm,” she says.

Preliminary data

Don't assume your chosen partner will make a good collaborator just because their work complements yours. Kathryn Neckerman, a sociologist and senior research scholar with the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University warns (in an e-mail to Science Careers) that people can find it difficult to work together even if "on paper" the combination seems ideal. “It’s like any other relationship—chemistry matters,” Neckerman writes. You may find that your working practices and styles are incompatible, or that your dream colleague simply doesn’t pull her or his weight when working as part of a team. Or maybe you just don't get along.

So, once you've vetted your collaborators carefully—don't forget to do reference checks with current or former collaborators—set up a trial phase. One low-risk way to try a new collaboration is to offer to analyze your collaborator’s existing data in a new way, or to work on a pilot study, before putting a grant proposal together and committing yourself to the relationship, DeBruine suggests.

Finding your feet

Sometimes, especially in research fields where you are automatically thrust into collaborating (such as experimental particle physics and astrophysics), it can be difficult to find your feet. “Each time a new large collaboration is started, young people (especially if they are coming from small groups) appear bewildered to understand how they can find a visible part of activity in the experiment,” writes Sergio Petrera, a physics professor at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, in an e-mail. Petrera was collaboration board chair for the Pierre Auger Project—an international astroparticle physics collaboration involving more than 490 scientists—for 2 years. Yet, “even in large collaborations there is enough work for everybody and [enough] interesting issues to allow young people to emerge,” Petrera continues.


CREDIT: Sergio Petrera

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