COLLABORATION

You have to quite actively hunt down a support network - most academics are really open to approaches from other academics this way.

Research collaboration 

 

Research collaborations are crucial for academic career success. This can mean collaborating with peers in one’s own department, across disciplines with one’s own University (multidisciplinary research), or with scholars all over the globe. Research has shown that successful researchers tend to be prolific collaborators, spanning a variety of research topics [1]. Good researchers also focus on challenging problems that require time and garner a lot of citations, whilst upholding the quantity of the research. Although fostering collaborations can lead to higher quality and impactful research, managing collaborations effectively can take some practice.

Benefits of collaboration

Effective collaborations can provide different benefits:

  1. Collaborative activity greatly enhances research productivity [3]. The more someone collaborates, the more opportunities they have to disseminate their work, increasing their total number of publications [4][5].

  2. By joining forces, researchers can assist each other with theoretical and technical aspects of research and writing [6]. People can acquire knowledge, resources, and skills that they do not have themselves or they cannot otherwise obtain (see Study below).

  3. Collaboration can also facilitate the creation of new knowledge and distinctive capabilities (see distinctiveness [7]). This is especially true of collaboration across disciplinary boundaries.

  4. Collaboration can alleviate “research deprivation”: the feelings of detachment and aloneness that researchers experience when working alone [8].

  5. Collaboration sustains motivation as it encourages work commitment to others. Feeling a sense of responsibility to meet the obligations you have established with collaborators can be an incentive to work hard.

Challenges of collaboration   

However, collaboration can also be costly [8]:

  1. Collaboration processes (e.g., arranging to meet, sharing opinions, discussing points of disagreement) can be time consuming. Some researchers find it simpler and faster to work alone.

  2. Collaboration can be expensive. Working with geographically distant collaborators may require costly travel expenses, with smaller expenses such as phone calls and mailing costs between visits.

  3. Collaboration can involve personal and emotional effort to develop and maintain good working relationships.

  4. Poorly defined roles or unspecified responsibilities can cause stress and conflict for team members. Sometimes researchers experience frustration due to project delays caused by collaborators failing to respond in a reasonable timeframe.

  5. Co-authorship (see authorship [10]) can be a problem as it may be hard to assess each collaborator’s individual level of involvement.

  6. Greater recognition of the work may be attributed to higher-ranked researchers, and lesser recognition may be given to those with limited reputation in the collaborative team. Consequently, junior researchers may be penalized for collaboration if their role is not adequately recognised through authorship. It becomes difficult to assess the researcher’s individual level of performance and potential (see the Matthew Effect [11]).

  7. Collaboration can, in some cases, lead to a loss of quality of work. It is nearly impossible for a researcher to control all aspects of their collaborators’ work.

 

These potential downsides of collaboration should not dissuade you from partnering with other researchers and practitioners. Instead, take the time to think about, plan, and reflect on any collaborative partnerships you embark on.

 

Managing collaborations effectively

 

The potential benefits of research collaboration [12] are dependent on the degree of involvement [7] and embeddedness [7] between team members. Collaborations with high levels of involvement are characterised by deep interactions, partnerships, and bilateral information flows. Embeddedness reflects external aspects of the collaboration i.e., to what degree the collaboration is involved in interorganizational relationships. A highly embedded collaboration is characterized by interactions with third parties, representations (i.e., new coalition in which the collaborating parties represent each other’s interest), and multi-directional information flows, whereas a low embedded collaboration is characterized by no broad interaction, no representations, and no multi-directional information flows. Collaborations that have high levels of involvement and high levels of embeddedness are associated with positive outcomes, such as the acquisition of distinctive resources, the creation of knowledge, and an increase in influence.

 

One important factor for effective collaborations is knowledge sharing. A 2015 study investigated the impact of different knowledge management [13] (KM) factors in encouraging knowledge sharing among academics [14]. Results indicated that more knowledge sharing among academics positively influenced overall research collaboration.

Strategies for establishing better collaborations    

1. Effective Knowledge Management

Four knowledge management factors have been identified that encourage knowledge sharing among academics: 

  • Individual: Encourage faculty members to trust [14] each other, as they will be more motivated to share ideas and engage in discussions. 

  • Organizational: Create an organizational culture that provides sufficient supports for sharing practices. These practices include: asking questions, soliciting feedback, or giving advice on what needs to be done and why it needs to be done. 

  • Technological: Create a knowledge management platform utilising technology such as digital media, computer storage, Web technologies, system software, application software, networks, and information technology tools. Make the system easily accessible and user-friendly (i.e., user-unfriendly information systems hinder people from knowledge sharing activities).  

  • Communication: Stimulate extensive, continuous, and rich communication between faculty members.  

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