Making research collaborations: building relationships

In last week’s blog we focused on how to make initial research connections. This week we look at both why and how to expand on these initial contacts.

Why would I want to put time and effort into building these research relationships?

  • These research relationships may open up opportunities such as future employment, extra research funding and additional journal article authorships.
  • They may also lead to an increased presence of your research on an international stage by association.
  • The collaborator and associated groups are more likely to cite your previous journal articles, again raising your standing in the field.
  • By building the relationship knowledge can be transferred in both directions, and so can staff and students!
  • It also gives the opportunity to reflect on your own research strengths and what areas you wish to explore next.

Having described the reasons why you should spend time on building new relationships rather than being lonely in a lab collecting data or searching literature for new ideas, how can you build on the initial foundations?

  • Ensure you are a visible presence to your connection, either through face to face meetings or by skype. These informal meetings build rapport and make your emails much harder to ignore in the future and body language is important!
  • Learn about how research is carried out by your collaborator so you have a better understanding of their methods, limitations and working style.
  • Try to find out what each of you expect from the collaboration. A short meeting about this may save a lot of time and prevent problems in the future.
  • Learn to be patient, factors beyond your control can strike at any point and understanding situations (such as different time pressures at international institutions) can help build a lasting relationship.
  • Ensure some degree of fun is involved, however that may be! You are both more likely to prioritise each other’s research if you can relate on more than just professional levels.

As with any relationship in life, there are common pitfalls in establishing new research relationships:

  • Ensure you have an equal amount of give and take. Relationships heavily skewed in either direction are not likely to last!
  • Don’t be afraid to criticise, or take on board criticisms, but in a friendly, professional manner.
  • If you can’t work on the project due to other commitments, let your collaborator know! Nothing is worse than getting no response at all.
  • Adapt to a middle ground on some issues and give up ground on others, both parties can’t always have things their own way.

What are your experiences of building research relationships?

Let us know your best tips and examples where everything just didn’t work (no need to name and shame!). You can follow @Piirus_com on Twitter, look out for our tips with the hashtag #piirustips and tweet your own tips with #piirustips.


Post by Ian Hancox, Science Correspondent

IanHancoxIan is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Tim Jones group in the Department of Chemistry at University of Warwick. His work includes close links to Asylum Research UK, an Oxford Instruments company, in equipment development and collaborations with the University of Toronto. Previously Ian completed his MChem at Warwick, then undertook a 4 year industrially funded PhD under the supervision of Prof. Tim S. Jones.  Ian co-organised the Warwick section of the EIT Climate-KIC ‘the Journey’, a Masters and PhD level summer school focused on an entrepreneurial approach to climate change, in both 2013 and 2014. In his spare time Ian (sometimes) enjoys watching Wolves and regularly plays football badly.

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