Ten Simple Rules for a Successful Research

Collaboration

Given that collaboration is crucial, how do we pick the right collaborators, and how can you make the collaboration work in the best possible way? This question came to my mind since currently as a regenerative designer I am involved in a few research and development projects and, keeping in mind my ups and downs, I wanted to share with you these simple rules that I believe will help our maker community to choose wisely in which collab projects they should get in or not.

Here are my ten simple rules based on our experience that I hope will help you. Keep in mind that these rules are for both you and your collaborators.

Always remember to treat your collaborators as you would want to be treated yourself and that empathy is the key.

Rule 1: Do Not Be Lured into Just Any Collaboration

Learn to say “No”, even if it is to an attractive grant that would involve a significant amount of money and/or if it is a collaboration with someone more established and well-known. It is easier to say “no” at the beginning—the longer an ill-fated collaboration drags on, the harder it is to sever, and the worse it will be in the end. 

Ask yourself, will this collaboration really make a difference in my research? Does this grant constitute a valid motivation to seek out that collaboration? Do I have the expertise required to tackle the proposed tasks? What priority will this teamwork have for me? Will I be able to deliver on time? If the answer is “no” for even one of these questions, the collaboration could be ill-fated.

ENTER A COLLABORATION BECAUSE OF A SHARED PASSION FOR THE SCIENCE . . .

Rule 2: Decide at the Beginning Who Will Work on Which Tasks

Carefully establishing the purpose of the collaboration and delegating responsibilities is priceless. Often the collaboration will be defined by a grant. In that case, revisit the specific aims regularly and be sure the respective responsibilities are being met. 

Once given the delegation of tasks, It is very important to discuss expectations for authorship early in the work. New ideas will arise. Have a mutual understanding up-front that these ideas can be embraced as an extension of the original collaboration. Discuss adjustments to the timelines and the order of authors on the final published paper, prototype, or product accordingly. In any case, be comfortable with the anticipated credit you will get from the work. 

At this point I highly recommend using important Project Management Tools such as Discord, Miro, Gantt Diagrams, Trello, Asana, among others. Additional recommended tools can be found on the following link: https://financesonline.com/top-20-online-collaboration-tools-for-project-managers/ .

Rule 3: Stick to Your Tasks

Research and Creative Design are such that every answered question begs a number of new questions to be answered. Do not digress into these new questions without first discussing them with your collaborators. Do not change your initial plans without discussing the change with your collaborators. Thinking they will be pleased with your new approach or innovation is often misplaced and can lead to conflict. 

As designers, our main responsibility is to conceptualize and design future products and services by always keeping in mind their impact into the wellbeing of natural and human made ecosystems. Therefore, our solutions should be tested prior to delivering our final products and services.

Some very useful tools for this creative and prototyping process are Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas, among others. For more complex and challenging contexts, Scrum. In regards to technologies and equipment we can mention a few: Laser Cut and Engraving Machines, Digital Milling Machines, 3D Printing, CAD CAM; Sublimation Printing, Digital Ink/Stitch etc.

Rule 4: Be Open and Honest

By using the project and design management tools in Rules 2 and 3, share design drafts, references, data, protocols, materials, etc., and make papers accessible prior to its product / service delivery, paper, magazine and book publication. Remain available. A trusting relationship is important for the collaborative understanding of the problem (that is being solved) and for the subsequent joint thinking throughout the evolution of the collaboration.

Rule 5: Feel Respect, Get Respect

If you do not have respect for the creative, scientific or technical work of your collaborators, you should definitely not be collaborating. Respect here especially means playing by Rules 2–4. If you do not respect your collaborators, it will show. Likewise, if they don’t respect you. Look for the signs. The signs will depend on the personality of your collaborators and range from being aggressive to being passive–aggressive. For example, getting your tasks done in a timely manner should be your priority. 

Showing respect would be to inform your collaborator when you cannot make a previously agreed-upon deadline, so that other arrangements can be made.

Rule 6: Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate

Consistent communication with your collaborators is the best way to make sure the partnership is going in the planned direction. Nothing new here, it is the same as for friendship, marriage or any other significant relationship. Communication is always better face-to-face if possible, for example by traveling to meet your collaborators, or by scheduling discussion related to your collaborations during conferences that the people involved will attend.

Synchronous communication by telephone or video teleconferencing is preferred over asynchronous collaboration by e-mail (data could be exchanged by email prior to a call so that everyone can refer to the data while talking).

The excitement of a new collaboration can often quickly dissipate as the first hurdles to new projects appear. The direct consequence can be a progressive lack of interest and focus to get the job done. After all, your collaborators could just be having a difficult time for reasons outside of their control and unanticipated at the time the collaboration started. After three chances, if it feels like the collaboration cannot be saved, move on. You may still need to deal with the co-authorship, but hopefully for one paper only!

Rule 7: Protect Yourself from a Collaboration That Turns Sour

Rule 8: Always Acknowledge and Cite Your Collaborators

This applies as soon as you mention preliminary results. Be clear on who undertook what aspect of the work being reported. Additionally, citing your collaborators can reveal your dynamism and your skills at developing prosperous professional relationships. This skill will be valued by your peers throughout your career.

Even though you may not encounter severe difficulties that would result in the failure of the partnership, each collaboration will come with a particular set of challenges. To overcome these obstacles, interact with colleagues not involved in the work, such as your former advisors or professors in your department who have probably been through all kinds of collaborations. They will offer insightful advice that will help you move beyond the current crisis. Remember, however, that a crisis can occasionally lead to a breakthrough. Do not, therefore, give up on the collaboration too easily.

Foto de RF._.studio en Pexels

Rule 9: Seek Advice from Experienced Designers, Scientists and ProTechs

Rule 10: If Your Collaboration Satisfies You, Keep It Going

Ever wondered why a pair of authors, creators, designers has published so many papers together? Well, it is like any good recipe: when you find one that works, you cook it again and again. Successful teamwork will tend to keep flourishing—the first project, research paper, product will stimulate deeper and/or broader collaboration projects that will in turn lead to more projects. As you get to know your collaborators, you begin to understand work habits, strengths but also weaknesses, as well as respective areas of knowledge.

Accepting these things and working together can make the work advance rapidly, but do not hurry: it takes time and effort from both sides to get to this point.

Foto de fauxels en Pexels

References

  • Quentin Vicens is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, United States of America. 
  • Philip E. Bourne is the Editor-in-Chief of PLoS Computational Biology.
  • PLOS COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1847992/

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