The old saying “two heads are better than one” is certainly true when it comes to research. Collaborations have always been found in research and there is a myriad of ways to develop these partnerships. Cross-discipline alliances are becoming more frequent. Joining forces with scientists from a variety of fields brings diverse perspectives and the ability to solve complex problems.
Cooperative projects can be very successful but require planning and good communication. In some instances, it may be best practice to formalize the collaboration by having a written agreement so everyone is clear on group expectations and responsibilities. Below are some common discussion points that are helpful to sort out ahead of time when entering into a collaborative arrangement:
- Roles and responsibilities
It is important to determine everyone’s role and responsibilities in advance and what the expectations are. Who will be the lead for the project? Who will have the final say if members don’t agree? Who will be the point of contact? What does successful completion of an individual’s role look like? These are all questions that should be addressed.
Making sure a group is on the same page can be a challenge. How will information be communicated out to the group and how often? Who will maintain these communications for future reference if needed?
Financial disputes can ruin the best of partnerships. It is imperative to outline how the funds will be allocated in advance. Who will verify that spending is in accordance with sponsor contract requirements? If a device or product is developed and it is very successful, how will the proceeds be split?
In addition to regular reporting to the sponsor, it is important to discuss up front what happens when something goes wrong, who it needs to be reported to and who will be responsible for reporting it.
Disputes over authorship of papers can create hard feelings. We recommend that you discuss in advance what the expectations will be for each person when it comes to authorship and what submissions are planned.
- Training and supervision
Performing research safely requires training as well as supervision of less experienced personnel. Who will be responsible for verifying that all personnel have the appropriate training and supervision to complete the project? How will new personnel be trained? How will the manager confirm that experiment standards are upheld?
Who will own the equipment and material once the project is complete? Will others be allowed to use it in the future and if so, how? Who will be responsible for maintenance of owned equipment? Who will have ownership of any intellectual property that results?
- goals are clearly defined and obtained by working together in a collegial and respectful manner
- everyone in the collaboration is performing as expected and communicating challenges to the group to solve problems
A successful collaboration is not perfect, but with good communication, ownership, and flexibility, goals are attained and everyone involved feels positive about the experience and outcome.