Fourth Floor Studio

March 31, 2007

Rules for Collaboration

Filed under: science — chris @ 4:21 pm

The latest installment of the PLoS Computational Biology “10 Rules” series focuses on collaboration. The rules deal primarily with people skills, rather than explicit guidelines for collaborations. One thing that strikes me is that they are written around a passive assumption, geared toward cases where one is either considering an offer of collaboration, or beginning to pursue one. It may be my bias, but there’s almost an air of “wait until someone more senior approaches you” to the rule-set.

With that in mind, I offer these pro-active corollaries:

Rule -1: don’t wait; find a suitable problem and offer it to potential collaborators. You are much likelier to begin collaborations with people if you take a problem to them, particularly if they are more established than you are. I think one of the problems for people just starting out is exposure: no-one really knows you or your capabilities, so they are unlikely to come to you with a collaboration offer. Find a problem, write up a research proposal (even a blue-sky one), and then start approaching people with skills complementary to the problem. You can’t fish without bait…

Rule 0: beware of farming-out. Some “collaborators” may simply expect to farm out a portion of their work to you, rather than admit you as an equal in an ongoing effort. Unless you feel that being absorbed under someone else’s umbrella would be advantageous, steer clear.

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3 Comments »

  1. Well said. The farming out you discuss is less collaboration and more hierarchical.

    The advantage of ‘farming out labor’ is to keep better control of your project.

    So long as you can provide a clear set of instructions/guidelines and little to no creativity is involved, its an effective way to manage resources.

    I feel, in most cases, this can be accomplished effectively without bringing others in on equal terms.

    Comment by Doug — April 6, 2007 @ 11:40 am

  2. It’s true that farming out is an effective way to keep control. But a collaboration, at best, should be a joining of (almost) equals to produce a whole greater than the sum of the parts.
    Personally, I chase situations where a collaborator is happy for you to run with ideas, even if the project is not, strictly speaking, yours. After all, isn’t that why they agree to work with you in the first place?

    Comment by chris — April 8, 2007 @ 2:56 am

  3. […] “Ten Simple Rules for a Successful Collaboration”. Chris at Fourth Floor Studio wrote a comment on that piece, adding two more rules to the list. The topic of scientific collaborations is very […]

    Pingback by Collaborations in bioinformatics « Suicyte Notes — May 10, 2007 @ 9:25 pm


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