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Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway

Excellence Everywhere - National University of Ireland, Galway


SPECIAL CHALLENGESFOR THE BEGINNINGINVESTIGATORIn the early stages of your career, collaborationcan present particular challenges. You are underpressure to get your own research program upand running. You cannot afford to let your advancementbe impeded by collaborations that do notyield good results and appropriate credit. You needto keep the following facts of scientific life firmlyin mind as you decide about specific collaborations:n If you collaborate with established, well-knownscientists, researchers not familiar with your workmay undervalue your role in the effort and viewyou as being under the wing of your more famouscolleague, rather than as an emerging scientificforce in your own right. People may assume thatyou played a minor role, even if you are first authoron a paper. There are benefits and drawbacks tothis—if others see you as your colleague’s protégé,they may open doors for you. On the other hand,they may conclude you are subservient and neverthink to open doors for you! Understanding howthe two sides of the coin may be seen, especiallyby colleagues at your own institution, is important.Collaborating with someone close to your owncareer level avoids this problem, but your localcolleagues may not view your collaboration asimportant compared to a collaboration with someonemore famous.n If you do collaborate with established scientistsor with researchers involved in your own training,make sure you arrange the collaboration so thatthe relative contributions of each scientist aremade clear in publications and other communications.It will not always be the case that a collaboratorwill be interested in advancing your career,especially your career at home. If you collaboratewith a senior scientist and he does not proposethat you speak for the team at international meetingsor take the lead on some publications, forexample, you should not be shy about pressing forthese opportunities, which are important to movingyour career forward and gaining internationalvisibility for you.n The larger the collaborator’s lab and the morecomplex the collaboration, the harder it will be tonegotiate first or last authorship. Smaller projectsmay offer a better chance of getting credit.n If you have special technical expertise or access toa limited resource that is in demand, you may beinundated by requests to collaborate from nearbyresearchers and people around the world. Do notallow your time to become so fragmented thatyour central research projects are neglected. Learnto say no gracefully and, if necessary, ask thoseabove you to offer you some protection for yourtime. Even if you are the head of the institute, itcan be easier to turn things down by saying “I amsorry, the Minister of Health has asked me toreserve my time for another project” than by saying“I do not have time to work with you.”I would classify collaborations in two groups:those established with scientists in the North(well-known or not-so-well-known scientists)and those established with scientists in yourown country or region or other scientificallylagging regions. In the first case, one has to bevery careful in order to make clear to your localcolleagues and evaluators that it is a real collaboration.For example, if your name is dilutedin the middle of the author’s list of the publicationsresulting from the collaboration, the localevaluator will certainly realize that your role iscompletely secondary.I would tend to establish collaborations with“big shots” in the North only if I am really interestedin the subject, and if I can contribute withoriginal ideas and work that guarantee that I willbe the corresponding author of at least 50% ofthe papers resulting from the collaboration. Onthe other hand, I can establish collaborationswith people in the North on subjects that arenot my main subject, that will not end in theonly publications I will have in the period, whoseefforts and work do not put at risk the successof the main subject in my group. In that case Iwould not mind appearing in the middle of theauthor’s list. In simple terms, the collaborationmust help your scientific career and not to be aburden.”Alberto Kornblihtt, Argentina154 excellence everywhere

n If you engage in multiple collaborations, the probabilityincreases that you will find yourself with aconflict of interest at some point in your career.Especially in these early years, it is better to keepthings simple so that you know all of the actorsand can identify potential conflicts. Often peopleor institutions in conflict with one another mayapproach you to collaborate. Both are surely awarethat your work is of interest to the other. Again,proceed carefully and honestly. Keep in mind thatjust as you can have friends who do not get along,you can also have collaborators whose interestscollide. Just think carefully before getting betweenthem.When Your Trainees CollaborateYour graduate students and postdocs need tolearn to collaborate, as well. You can start themoff by assigning them joint projects within yourlab and by guiding them in establishing theirexpectations of each other and in monitoring thefulfillment of promises. However, you should beprepared to referee, especially when it is necessaryto contain the ambitions of inappropriatelyaggressive members of your group.It is quite another matter when your students andpostdocs approach scientists outside your lab orare themselves approached as potential collaborators.They may have no idea of the politics involvedor the extent of the commitments they are making.Encourage your trainees to look broadly for helpand resources, but insist on your prerogative toapprove all trainees’ outside commitments inadvance.Some strong collaborators may use a juniorscientist to involve your institute in a collaborationand get them to sign a Memorandum OfUnderstanding (MOU). It is thus important toimpress upon junior scientists that they needto make sure that this MOU benefits bothcollaborators in terms of capacity strengthening(human and institutional), funding, authorshipand other aspects of the collaboration.”Susan Mutambu, ZimbabweWHEN A COLLABORATIONIS NOT WORKINGCollaborations can fail for various reasons.Possible scenarios include:n One party loses interest or develops other priorities,and intentionally or inadvertently puts the projecton the back burner. There is no intent to renege,but deadlines are allowed to slip.n Illness or family problems hinder someone’sprogress.n Key personnel move on or become uninvolved.n Scientific results are not forthcoming, and theproject simply stalls.n Honest disagreements arise about the plan,finances, or authorship.n One or both parties behave badly (e.g., they do nothonor some aspect of the agreement, steal credit,or disparage the other collaborator to others).n Geopolitics throws up new roadblocks, or existingroadblocks prove more problematic than anticipated.When such situations arise, you will have todecide how to protect yourself. The worst thingyou can do is to allow a bad situation to fester. Ifyou decide that your colleague is failing to fulfillthe original agreements, get on the phone andhave a straightforward discussion. Phoning ormeeting face to face is better than emailing insuch cases, since it is very easy to misread thetone of an email, especially if one correspondentis expecting a fight and the other does not realizethat anything is wrong at all.It is worth your while to try to fix a situationthat looks like it could derail your collaboration,especially if you have invested significant timeand resources in the project. If, however, theother party has lost all interest or you really donot get along, the best thing might be to backout. Although you may be tempted to let yourcolleagues know about the failure, remember thatsuch a retaliation can harm your own reputationas much as that of your collaborator. Do not burnbridges, and especially if you are just beginningyour career. Do what you can to leave your formercollaborator thinking well of you—he or she maycollaboration155

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