YSP career tips for success 7. Collaborating and networking, starting collaborative studies

In this weeks iteration of the Young Stroke Professionals top 10 career tips for success, Nils Henninger, Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, explores collaborations, one of the key strategies for development in any career!  

7. Collaborating and networking, starting collaborative studies

Increasingly, science is a collaborative effort between scientists. Working with other scientists provides the opportunity for a (junior) investigator to participate in projects that would have been otherwise prohibitively complex and resource intensive. However, while there are undeniable benefits for entering into scientific collaborations, this is a major responsibility not to be taken lightly. Just like any relationship it requires dedication, time, and effort to maintain a long-standing successful collaboration.

Before setting up (or agreeing to) a collaboration, it is critical to review the potential advantages and disadvantages. This may include the:

  • assessment of potential benefits Will I gain access to critical resources/knowledge/data to advance my research goals?
  • research topic itself Is the research direction in line with my own scientific goals?
  • time commitment Will I run the risk to neglect my own work? Will I need to travel frequently
  • financial resources To what degree will I bear the burden of any research relates expenses? Is funding available or can it be obtained? 
  • own expertise Are my expertise and resources of value to my collaborator and do we stand to both benefit form a collaboration? 
  • restrictions Might there be specific challenges in setting up trans-institutional and inter-national collaborations due to legal, political, and cultural differences?
  • potential conflicts of interest personal, departmental, institutional
  • as well as the personal “chemistry” Do I trust my collaborator? Is our scientific interest mutual? Will collaborators contribute and share successes in a fair fashion (publication, patents)? Will there be an open line of communication throughout? Can someone else tell me whether the collaborator is honest and reliable?

Avoid striking too many collaborations in which you only play a minor role or that will allow your time to become so fragmented that your own research suffers.

If after considering all factors a collaboration appears promising it is time to approach your potential collaborator. 

Familiarize yourself with your collaborator’s research and have a clear idea of your proposed research project. 

In a short e-mail outline your overall research goals, your interest in a collaboration, and the request for phone/in-person meeting. 

Without going into too much detail, convey your expertise, enthusiasm, and why you both stand to benefit. This will help to set the stage and give your potential collaborator time to find out more about you.

Depending on the extent, complexity, and scope of the collaboration the collaboration can be outlined through an informal (e.g., and email outlining the purpose, expected contribution of each collaborator, possible milestones and reporting, as well as expectations about authorship) or formal (legally binding) agreement. The latter is particularly important when entering into a collaboration with a company or when a commercial application of the research is expected. In this case counsel form the appropriate offices at your institution should be sought ahead of time as setting up contracts and material transfer agreements may take significant time.

Once you have entered into a collaboration, regularly review whether it is progressing as expected. Address issues with your collaborator immediately and have straightforward discussions to improve the situation. If it does not seem to work out, it may be in your best interest to discontinue the collaboration.

YSP career tips for success 7. Collaborating and networking, starting collaborative studies Reviewed by Carmen Lahiff-Jenkins on Monday, April 30, 2018 Rating: 5

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