Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: Keys to Building Successful Research Collaborations

By Kasey Smith on Nov 1, 2019

Collaboration is the lifeblood of research. Collaboration has been a key principle behind some of science’s great leaps forward. Famously, husband and wife Marie and Pierre Curie collaborated in their radioactivity research, which led to the discovery of polonium and radium. And as research collaborations remain a staple of the scholarly community (and as collaboration itself is increasingly subject to study), it is important to understand what makes a good collaborator, and what you should look for in selecting one.

The characteristics of the ideal collaborator vary across fields as well as between scholars themselves and the needs of their research. However, some characteristics are universally valuable when seeking out a collaborator and learning to look for these skill sets (as well as honing them yourself) means more thorough, more complete, and more relevant research.

1. Diligence and responsibility

Of course, a high priority on any scholar’s list should be that their partner is not only a capable scientist, but also an effective communicator. Their methods should be sound, and they should be willing and eager to share techniques, challenges, and results. They should also be reliable and conscientious of meeting deadlines or sharing findings in a timely fashion. Ultimately, a collaborator should match your standards for accuracy, reliability, and communication skills.

2. Diverse Backgrounds

Overlapping knowledge is essential to conduct research as a team, but it can also be too much of a good thing. If collaborators have different backgrounds and areas of expertise, they are better equipped to fill in the gaps of each other’s knowledge. A certain finding may baffle one researcher, but another may understand it completely.

In an extreme example of this, in 2010, an excavation in the heart of New York City uncovered a mysterious 3-inch artifact in a “heap of buried garbage” from the early nineteenth century. Archaeologists were unable to identify the artifact for four years until archaeologist Lisa Geiger, with the help of the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, PA, where she worked, realized the artifact was a feminine hygiene product. According to Geiger, the find garnered great interest: "There isn't a huge amount of research on the topic, even though it was apparently [a] very common practice in the 19th century — people still don't know what they are when they find them in digs."

One never knows what results research will yield, but this tale clearly illustrates the value of having complementary backgrounds as opposed to identical.

3. Similar Goals

It may sound obvious, but focusing on aligning your objectives highlights greater concerns throughout the collaboration, such as ensuring your work ethics match and that you share similar expectations regarding deadlines, the division of labor, and other details of the arrangement that will define the collaboration. Finding the common ground with your possible collaborator will go a long way to ensuring you are on the same page throughout the process.

Collaboration is a core tenet of the scholarly community. It is the axis upon which research revolves. Making certain your collaborative partners are the right fit for you, and that they’ll hold themselves to your own principles and standards, is vital to producing excellent research and propelling your field forward.

To find books or journals with which to share your collaborative research, please visit IGI Global’s Publications Seeking Submissions page.

These collaborations do not have to end at the article or chapter level. Working with partners to edit a book can alleviate the time and effort needed from each individual editor, as well as presents the opportunity for a cross-disciplinary reference to be developed. Submit an online book proposal form to get started.

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