Collaborating in research: Purpose and best practices
Research is made more effective, as well as more enjoyable, by collaborations. The research community is a global one, and it can be extremely fruitful and enlightening to collaborate with researchers from across the globe to hear different points of view, and get the most out of a project.
Purposes for collaborating in research
In general, it is advisable to seek collaborators when planning to undertake research. There are many reasons this could benefit you and your project.
a. Research practicalities
Some reasons are purely practical. Some funding bodies require collaborations between academia and industry. Alternatively, you may not have access to certain pieces of equipment or expertise if you were to work on your own.
b. Different perspectives
Other reasons have more to do with the research process. You may feel that a perspective from beyond your immediate field or discipline is useful to you, which is a perfectly valid reason to collaborate.
Tip: Just make sure that you find collaborators that don’t completely overlap in expertise. The point is for the collaborators to each have a slightly different angle on a topic, which allows them to challenge each other and bring as many different perspectives to the study.
c. Multidisciplinary research
Academic research has been a primarily isolated endeavour for a very long time. However, multidisciplinary research is on the rise. Collaborations are what make exciting multidisciplinary research possible and can be hugely enriching for everyone involved. It makes experts think outside of their own box, which can lead to ground-breaking outputs. So, don’t be scared of approaching your physicist friend or biologist cousin to ‘sanity check’ an idea for a potential project. From there, you may be better positioned to draft a concept paper and find yourself a collaborator.
Best practices for research collaboration
a. Keep your apprehensions aside
The first step to fruitful collaborations is to enter into them. This sounds more straightforward than it sometimes can be. Many key opinion leaders in niche fields can be resistant to working with people outside of their own field, but many others are more than happy to engage in more diverse projects.
b. Find (and maintain) a good fit
Finding the right fit for you is very important, so make sure you vet potential collaborators for their credentials, and make sure that your skillsets are complementary, rather than too similar. If you are hoping to work with someone from far outside of your area of expertise, it is a good idea to brush up on your knowledge of their discipline, so that you can keep up in conversations and communicate or discuss ideas and thoughts more effectively.
c. Ensure you (all) have a common vision
Finally, make sure that you and your potential collaborators agree on a common goal. Multidisciplinary projects can sometimes be dominated or driven more heavily by one collaborator over another/the others, which risks the research being pushed too far in one direction or another. Ideally, a collaborative project combines and blends every discipline involved, but this can often be tricky. Try to stay focused on the goal – this should make the process much clearer and easier for everyone to align with.
Collaboration is an exciting aspect to research that opens doors to thrilling opportunities and potentially potent research discoveries. If done right, there is no end to its benefits. Most of all, it is an opportunity to learn from others, which in essence, is what research is all about.
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