Doctoral Discussions event on Collaboration

            We want to give a big thank you to those who attended our 3rd Doctoral Discussions event on Collaboration, last week! Our panelists provided great insight into the various aspects of collaborating in academia, industry, and in between. We hope to provide the most useful aspects of our talks and the following discussion, for those who were unfortunately unable to join us.
            Our speaker panel consisted of Dr. Tristan Heintz, a postdoctoral researcher in the Neuroscience department, Yasin Koc, a postgraduate student in Psychology, and Jay Culligan, a postgraduate student in Life Sciences. While our panelists come from a scientific background, their presentations touched on the wider ranging aspects of collaboration.

Benefits of collaboration
            Dr. Tristan Heintz began our event with a focus on how collaborations are beneficial to careers and what they provide. Collaboration is a hotbed of creativity. Individually, academics can create ingenious ideas and theories. Working together broadens the scope of knowledge and experience to foster brainstorming sessions from experts in a range of topics.
Working together with diverse experts improves productivity. Each person provides a set of skills they can contribute. Instead of learning new skills and methods every time, it makes more sense to distribute the workload, allowing everyone to focus on their particular skill. Additionally, this allows work to make a wider impact. The projects come to fruition in a paper or a design that interest larger ranges of experts and the general populace.
 
You can see a summary of Tristan’s presentation here
Setting up a collaboration
Understanding how collaborations benefit the larger community inspires cooperation, but it doesn’t exactly tell us how to begin this process. Our second speaker, Jay Culligan, discussed how to set up collaborations. There are two fields of collaboration, namely academia and industry. They are not mutually exclusive, but work together to benefit the general population.
Academia can be slower and focus on theoretical work. Researchers have teaching responsibilities and administrative work. The research asks bigger questions, probing the frontier of human knowledge to understand our larger reality. Industry is more product-driven. Researchers have a whole infrastructure to help them focus on producing materials to reach the market.
Collaborations are most easily established at conferences. This is the easiest place to find people working on similar projects with like-minded goals and vision. After talks or at dinner, conversation on developing new ideas and how to work together flows more easily. We can’t always be at conferences, which is why networking skills are important. Supervisors and coworkers have broader knowledge of who works on similar projects or interests. A small chat can easily lead to an introduction that could create a new project. If these two methods fail, the researcher needs to discover who is who in the community. Use Google Scholar or other platforms to find out who is doing the work you need or wants the same goals. A quick email explaining your interest to collaborate will filter who is and isn’t available to start a new project.
 
You can check out Jay’s presentation here
 
Managing a collaboration
            Collaborations can be a powerful tool to create grand projects and starting them is as easy and finding the right people with the right skill sets and similar objectives. Managing the political connections and keeping the project moving is the difficult part. Fortunately, Yasin Koc has had plentiful experience in managing a multitude of collaborations over the course of his PhD.
            The collaboration benefits might be great, but they do come at a cost. Time most especially. However, it also requires the skillset, knowledge, and good communication skills to make it work. Most importantly, when collaborations works properly it is efficient – it’s most powerful trait.
            Everyone doesn’t need to be the most knowledgeable or handy to be a key factor in a collaboration. Each member provides something unique. Members need someone who is good at managing the abilities of others, obtaining resources, and keeping the project moving forward. Efficiency is achieved when time is managed properly. This can be accomplished when there are regular meetings, records are well kept, and collaborators discuss the various issues and complications that may occur before beginning to ensure a smooth process.
            Early on, every member in the collaboration needs to understand what the end goal is, what is expected of every member, and tentative guidelines for when and how the project will be completed. When members begin to fall back, slip up, authorship problems, and misunderstood expectations pop up, it’s important to deal with people in a calm, professional manner. Communicate often and with respect. It may delay progress, but issues happen and not everyone works well together. It’s important to keep group cohesiveness, while understanding individual limitations. Communicate effectively to reduce the impact of problems as they arise.
 
You can check out Yasin’s presentation here!
Wrapping it all up
            The problems managing and dealing with all the members in a collaboration can be frustrating and difficult. This does not negate the huge advantages collaborations provide or the amount of fun it bears. Strong friendships that can lead to lifelong partnerships can easily occur. It’s not uncommon to meet collaborators who have worked most of their professional lives together at various times. Each person knows the specific skills of the other with a long experience of how to work together to maximise efficiency.

            If you’ve listened this long, I hope this has been helpful. My advice? Go out and meet people. Have a blast enjoying each other’s company and discuss work, projects, hopes and dreams. Great ideas come at unsuspecting times and seem completely random in retrospect. If you have any questions, please drop us an email at researchhive@sussex.ac.ukand we’d be happy to help you!
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