Benefits and challenges of research collaborations
This month, I have been asked to comment on the dynamics of research collaborations and how aggressively they should be pursued by graduate students.
Overall, I believe that research collaborations should always be investigated to determine if their merits are compelling enough to pursue further. Trainees should always keep an eye open for advantageous opportunities for collaboration. However, it’s important to remember there is no obligation to accept any or all offers, nor should you.
There are many advantages to great collaborations:
- Expanding your learning experience (i.e. acquiring new techniques, methods and points of view regarding your research area);
- Increasing the pace of your research advancement (i.e. many hands make accomplishing the overall goal easier to attain);
- Accomplishing more in less time and advancing the work on your thesis;
- Increasing your productivity (i.e. more co-authorships on abstracts, presentations and papers);
- Expanding your network of close colleagues who are all interested in related research areas;
- Travel opportunities to laboratories to consummate the collaboration;
- You may be able to increase the benefits obtained from always limited research funds (i.e. sharing resources, reagents, research animal models, etc.) However, while these types of interactions are collaborations, they may not always be sufficient to be included as co-authorships instead of simply being acknowledged for your assistance on the research project.
What are some of things you should consider before entering into collaboration?
- A collaboration that is peripheral to your research project may increase your skills, co-authorships and experience, but may also deflect you from your research project focus and it could add considerable time to the completion of your thesis;
- It is easy to be misled about the tangible benefits of a specific collaboration. Make sure you have a discussion about whether co-authorship is on the table or not, and whether a single first authorship could turn into a co-first authorship or a middle authorship;
- Inquire about the amount of time and effort that will be extended to fulfill the goals of the collaboration. Make sure your supervisor and advisory committee are all informed and you have their general support for the collaboration;
- Like all human relationships, sometimes research collaborations do not work out. While this is seldom a disaster, it can be frustrating as time is lost and effort is extended in unproductive ways.
If you do your homework and enter into collaboration with an inquisitive mind, you will know if it is the right opportunity for you.
Andrew J. Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies