It’s common for researchers to collaborate in science. By doing so, scientists can share expertise, obtain more publications and write a stronger grant proposal (Pain, 2018).
Like most days in your graduate student life, you dedicate most of time to your lab research. The only difference is today your mentor came in the lab and gave you some unfortunate news: your funding is running low and the deadline is getting closer. Then, he suggested a couple of options.
The first option is to write a grant proposal and run a preliminary study for it. The problem is you have no time.
You felt overwhelmed when running a list of things to do in your mind: performing preliminary experiments, writing a grant proposal, running your final experiment, and finishing your research manuscript. It’s also a shot in the dark, because there is no guarantee you will get the funding.
The second option is to collaborate with researchers from another lab, which has sophisticated equipment to run your final experiment faster. It may take time to learn how to run their machine, but at least you are sure this option is better than the other one.
It turns out working together with other scientists can benefit you as a graduate student. In this case, they will share their expertise and equipment with you. However, is there anything else you can gain from collaborating?
Why should you collaborate as a graduate student?
There are several advantages for a graduate student to work together with other researchers from a different lab. By doing so, you can gain:
- different perspectives on how to solve research problems
- new lab skills
- more sources of funding
- networking opportunities
- more results
- extra help to run your project
If really successful, you might get an additional publication as well.
By collaborating, you will also gain a bonus from collaboration: preparing yourself for your future.
Why learning collaboration skills is important for your future?
When looking for a candidate for a particular position, employers typically include one or more collaboration skill as a requirement in their job advertisement:
- “strong communication skills,”
- “excellent collaboration skills”
- “the ability to deliver results as a team member”
- “proven experiences of working collaboratively, respecting other and motivating others for success”
- “the ability to establish cooperative working relationship with managers, coworkers, and customers”
During job interviews, employers follow this up with further questions to assess how well you work in a team environment.
According to job outlook surveys by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers rated ‘teamwork,’ or ‘collaboration’ as essential on a candidate’s resume.
In any company or organization, collaboration is the key ingredient for success. Many industry careers require you to build collaborative relationships with coworkers, suppliers, or customers. Collaborative relationships allow for more creativity, critical thinking and groundbreaking ideas, eventually improving the productivity of the company (Glass, 2021).
As an example, a researcher in the research and development (R&D) team commonly works together with sales representatives to understand the needs and insights of the customers. Then, this collaboration can result in innovative ideas to the R&D team to develop new products. In addition, building this type of network is also helpful for the researcher, particularly when it’s time to move up to a new position in the company or to start a new project.
No matter where you end up working after finishing your degree, you are more likely to collaborate with other people. Most importantly, your future collaborators can come from different fields of study, educational background, cultures, beliefs, or genders. Therefore, it’s necessary to prepare yourself with a variety of collaboration skills.
What are collaboration skills?
Collaboration skills are soft skills useful for you when working together with other people, departments, organizations or labs toward a common goal. During a collaboration, these skills allow you to cooperate and participate in a team setting. Some important collaboration skills are (Eswara, 2019):
- good communication skills: these include listening skills and the ability to express your opinions respectfully.
- emotional intelligence: it includes the ability to manage your own emotions, such as stress, and feel empathy for others.
- motivational abilities: the ability to help and motivate others in your team.
- relationship management: it includes conflict resolution and communication with others.
How to master the skills of collaboration
1.Speak Up, Listen, Learn, and Trust
It can be uncomfortable for you to express your ideas to other researchers you barely talk to. However, sometimes it just takes some practices.
When speaking up about your personal opinions, keep in mind you should be respectful. The researchers on the other side of the table will be more willing to share their ideas and contribute when they are comfortable with you.
Additional useful skills are the ability to listen to others and trust each other. To master these skills, you need to listen patiently until they finish talking, learn quickly what others can bring into the collaboration, and trust their expertise.
This can be difficult, particularly if their perspectives are different from yours. Nevertheless, by opening your mind, you are more likely to see whether their approaches could actually work.
2.Create a Common Goal
It’s hard to commit to a collaboration when there is no common goal. When researchers on the team have a completely different goal, the collaboration can become impossible to maintain.
Therefore, negotiate for a win-win situation for everybody. Based on this, create a common goal with all the expectations in the beginning of the collaboration. As an example, a common goal can be a grant proposal or a research paper.
After assigning workload fairly, everyone has to understand their role in the collaboration and commit to the task.
In addition, communication among researchers is necessary to make a successful collaboration by setting up team meetings in a timely manner.
Establishing a routine meeting is essential to update, monitor the progress, and address any problems towards the goal. These meetings can also strengthen the collaboration by creating an opportunity to build comfort and trust with each other.
Researchers commonly come across problems when running their experiments, but they may feel hesitant to ask for help. Instead of leaving team members alone with their problems, offer your help and encourage them to stay motivated.
Perhaps, your help can rapidly get your team closer to its goal. Your help can also encourage people to communicate their problems and find solutions together.
Sharing recognition or credit builds trust among team members and boosts the motivation to keep working together towards the goal.
One way to do this is by establishing early on: the first author and the order of the authorship. It is also important to acknowledge each role and contribution in a public presentation.
How do you develop and nurture your collaboration skills?
The first step to develop your skills is to evaluate your present collaboration skills, both your strengths and your weaknesses.
To help you with your evaluation step, print and fill the checklist below:
The next step is to find an opportunity to practice your skills.
How to find a collaboration project
If you haven’t done it yet, join a small group for an extracurricular activity that can help you build your skills, such as a graduate student association. By doing so, you can connect with other graduate students and gain many professional development opportunities. For example, together with the other members, you can host a science–related event for elementary students.
Otherwise, if you are interested in collaborating for research, common places to find a new collaboration are professional conferences or seminars. In this setting, you usually have some opportunities to network with other researchers, learn more about their research, and discuss a potential collaboration.
Alternatively, you can also ask your professors for an opportunity to collaborate and recommend some notable researchers within or even outside of your research field to explore the potential of collaboration.
Another good place to find a collaboration with other researchers is by networking via social media sites.
If you’re interested in learning more about networking on social media, you might want to check out our recorded webinar: “Creating a Scientific - Lab Social Media Account and Building a Following Webinar”.
Collaboration is an essential part of research during graduate school and beyond. Developing collaboration skills will certainly help you overcome many obstacles in your team project. These collaboration skills can also prevent your project from turning into a nightmare, and obtaining a successful outcome.
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