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Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

For researchers in

For researchers in developing countries,collaboration is an important route to establishingan international track record, strengtheninglaboratory capacity, through technology transferand building human capacity.”Brian Eley, South AfricaTHE VARIETIES OF COLLABORATIONScientific collaborators are researchers who sharean interest in the outcome of a project, not serviceproviders or customers. Sharing reagents ormaterials that have been described in a publicationdoes not in itself constitute collaboration. Scientistsare expected to make published materials availableto others. Similarly, a service rendered by a scientistin a core service facility within his or her owninstitution—for example, the medical laboratoryscientist who regularly processes blood in thehospital, or the scientist in charge of running aninstitution’s shared DNA sequencing capacity—isusually not considered a collaboration. Such coreservice facilities exist to perform specific tasksfor other laboratories. Without added intellectualcontributions beyond what is normally required fortheir job, they will have done nothing special thatwould make it reasonable for them to demandcredit as a collaborator. Of course, scientists insuch facilities may interact with you in ways thatare truly collaborative, for example, working withyou to invent a new technique or bringing to yourattention an unusual phenomenon that you thengo on to investigate together.Collaborations can vary greatly in scope, duration,and degree of formality. A limited collaborationmight entail only a series of consultations abouta technique or the provision of samples to betested. At the other extreme, several scientistsor laboratories might join together to establish apermanent consortium or center for the pursuitof a particular line of research. Depending on itscomplexity, a collaboration can be launched by aninformal agreement sealed with a handshake or anemail, or may involve complex negotiations and alegally binding document.SHOULD YOU COLLABORATE?Collaboration is a major responsibility—one thatshould not be taken on lightly. It will take time,effort, and the nurturing of relationships. Beforeyou start a collaboration, you should know forsure that you can see it through.It may seem awkward at first, but if you wouldlike to set up a collaboration, it is important thatyou nail down some details in an early conversationto make clear on both sides that you are actuallyplanning to accomplish something together andnot exchanging optimistic social pleasantries.Think of how often good friends will say “We mustget together sometime!” Unless they pause toschedule a date or time, they often drift away untilchance again brings them together. It is betterto be a bit awkward and ask for some particularsthan to misunderstand and find yourself waitingfor your potential collaborator to follow through,or worse, to find out years later that the otherperson, after a long period of waiting for you tofollow through, has concluded that you cannot betaken at your word.The larger the collaboration, the more complicatedit may be to fulfill your obligations. Be sure youhave the time you will need to be a good collaborator,and that a given opportunity is right for you.Once you have signed on, you will be expectedto follow through on your commitments, and yourscientific reputation will be at stake.If someone simply wants your technical expertiseor the opportunity to run his or her experimentson your equipment, he or she may not consideryou a collaborator at all. The essential ingredientof collaboration is mutual interest in the researchoutcome. If you have this interest, but the otherparty assumes that you do not, you may not betreated as a collaborator, but rather as a serviceprovider. This may be acceptable, as long as youunderstand what you are getting into.146 excellence everywhere

Scientists working in resource-constrainedenvironments should not let the temptationof allocating large budgets for their laboratoryget them into committing to doing things thatare not doable. In collaborative grants, onlypropose activities that you can independentlycarry out as a senior investigator.”Moses Bockarie, Papua New GuineaAssessing a CollaborativeOpportunityWhether you are approached by another scientistto collaborate, or are thinking of approachingsomeone to collaborate with you, here are somequestions you should ask yourself before embarkingon the project:n What exactly is being asked of me?n Do I need this collaboration to move my own workforward? Is there a missing piece—a technique orresource—that I must have, and which this otherperson can provide?n Even if collaboration is not strictly necessary to mycurrent work, will interacting with the proposedcollaborators enable me to contribute somethingsignificant to science and perhaps generate newopportunities?n Do I really have the expertise or other resourcesbeing sought by the other collaborator? If not,are there funding sources available through thiscollaboration that will allow me to get those things?n Can I afford to be involved? Will my potentialpartner bring resources (including funding) thatwill make my group’s investment in the projectpossible?n Can this collaboration be conducted efficiently,given such factors as distance, restrictions imposedby my institution, and, in the case of internationalcollaborations, cultural differences or possible legaland political complications?n Is there funding for the work envisioned? If not,can it be obtained?n Can I afford the time? How much will it take awayfrom my other responsibilities? Is the project closeenough to my central interests to warrant thenecessary time expenditure?n Is this person someone with whom I want tocollaborate? What is his or her track record? Cansomeone I trust tell me whether this potentialcollaborator is honest and reliable?n Are our professional and scientific interestscompatible? Does what each of us has to lose ifthings go wrong seem comparable?n Will this person be accessible to me and consistentlyinterested in the project?n If I will collaborate with a larger group, will therebe a reliable “point person” on my collaborator’send who is responsible for handling day-to-dayissues and small matters?n Can I rule out potential conflicts, either personal orinstitutional? For example, it is often a bad idea tocollaborate with a rival of the person who signs yourpaycheck, and it may be a bad idea to collaboratewith someone who has a major collaboration withan institution that is openly hostile to your own.There can be other practical challenges tocollaborating with people who are not close by,and you should also take some time to considerthese very frankly. Whether you are consideringcollaborating with someone overseas, someonewho is relatively near you but beyond easy traveldistance, or someone in a place where bordercrossings are difficult, finding yourselves unableto get together or communicate can be a very bigproblem for healthy collaborations. A less famousperson who will give you his attention is a bettercollaborator than a more famous one who will not.Ask yourself these questions:n How much travel will be required? What will bethe costs of each trip in terms of transportationcosts, tariffs on materials that must be movedbetween sites, accommodations, and time awayfrom the lab? Are there sources of funding to supporttravel?n Is a visa required for travel? If so, how difficult isthe process of visa application and how long doesit usually take a visa to come through?collaboration147

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