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.