How to start a research collaboration

So you’ve made some great research connections and built those relationships. You’ve got a brilliant idea, a potential collaborator(s) and now you’re ready to collaborate. How do you go about this?

The Road
The Road by Daniel Weinand, on Flickr
The beginning of the road to a valuable collaboration

Get support from your institution

Informal discussions, brainstorming and sharing ideas with your potential collaborators are one thing, but if you’re based at an institution then you’ll need your institution’s support before you start undertaking collaborative research. ‘Selling’ the idea to your institution is important, so preparation is key here. Be clear about:

  • Why this particular idea and how it relates to previous research literature.
  • Potential benefits to the institution.
  • Project goals and scope of the work. It may seem daunting at this early stage but is crucial to getting institutional support.
  • Will you be putting in a bid for funding? Are there costs involved, such as travel or equipment costs? Research Whisperer’s post on research budgets may help you here.

Establish terms of the collaboration

An initial meeting with all proposed collaborators will help to establish expectations at the beginning of the collaboration. Make sure at this point that you know what you and your collaborators expect to achieve from the collaboration, and that they don’t conflict! What do you expect from your collaborators and what do they expect from you?

  1. If you’re travelling to an initial meeting, communicate directly with all members of a collaborative team before you travel so that you know them all before you arrive on a visit.
  2. An initial face to face meeting is best, but consider videoconferencing if that’s not possible. Your institution may have a system that allows you to share your screen during a videoconference if you have any documents or papers you need to share, or there are many free services like Skype or Google Hangouts.
  3. Agree project goals and record these so everyone is on the same page. They may need to change later on, but at least your collaboration will begin with a sense of direction. Without goals projects can suffer from lack of progress.
  4. Establish roles early on so responsibilities are clear.
  5. Consider how you will work together on the project and how you intend to communicate with each other e.g. frequency and channels of communication. This could be face-to-face, email, phone, videoconference or even a project wiki. You might decide that you’ll use a tool such as Doodle to help schedule meetings.

We’ll be talking in more detail about undertaking collaborative projects next week.

Share your tips on formalising research collaborations with #piirustips

Do you have experience of starting a research collaboration or maybe getting that all important funding for collaborative work? You can follow @Piirus_com on Twitter to see our tips and tweet your own tips using the hashtag #piirustips.


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