For many reasons, science increasingly depends on collaborations. Collaborative research can increase the ability of scientists to make significant advances in their fields in general and in their own research programs specifically. No single person has the skills, knowledge and resources to address all research problems, working together can save considerable time and money.  Research funding for interdisciplinary projects are more prevalent, and advances in communication technologies have augmented opportunities for research interactions.

Yet, sharing an interest in the same research area or having complementary skills do not guarantee a working collaboration. Issues rise up frequently regarding authorship, data management or even the general scope and direction of the project. Even minor misunderstandings can stand in the way of a fruitful collaboration.

To work well, certain parameters need to be discussed and defined up front. Written partnering agreements are possible, and offer the advantage of being less ambiguous than either party’s idea of what was agreed upon. However, a lot of the issues that arise can be prevented by anticipating, discussing and inspecting possible areas of disagreement , before agreeing on a collaboration. The American Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has issued a list of questions that can be used by collaborators to address these issues, these include questions like:

  • What are the scientific issues, goals, and anticipated outcomes or products of the collaboration?
  • How will you decide about redirecting the research agenda as discoveries are made?
  • How, and by whom, will personnel decisions be made? How and by whom will personnel be supervised?

You can find the full list of questions and more information here.

Collaboration is imperative to science. Working together enhances opportunities, it poses great possibilities for advances in science. It is not, however, guaranteed to work out. Make sure you maintain a good line of communication between collaborators and discuss problems before they actually occur. Making collaborations work is not an easy task.

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