The best ways to find collaborators... — R Voice

The best ways to find collaborators...

Shruti Turner
Shruti Turner Member Posts: 391 ✭✭✭✭

Figuring out next steps as an independent researcher can be complex. Who to work with, I think, is right in there as something to help focus on what to work on and how. It's something I am still new to and would love to hear how you have found collaborators and projects to work on!

I have some contacts from my previous university who are always great to chat to. They are a very open department and keen on collaborations (though I've never worked out how to approach them with an idea/project). Someone from across the world also got in contact via social media after seeing what I research, we had an initial chat and several months later they contacted me to work together on a paper.

I feel like these connections sort of happened by luck or circumstance, but if we are the ones who want to initiate collaboration what are the best ways to do that? Networking is always the one that I hear, but what happens after that (or if there are no conferences/events to go to in person!). Is it as simple as writing someone an email with a proposition?


  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited June 2021

    Great question, @Shruti Turner .

    And the answer is complicated. Finding academic collaborators is as tricky as finding a life partner. (Honestly)

    I am also navigating this. While I am not an expert - this is my observation and experience.

    Mostly, collaborations happen by chance. Having a supervisor/group with established relationships goes a LONG way. Also, usually, group members become future collaborators.

    There is a matthew effect associated with this (unfortunately - because individual talent/effort isnt the question - time/place/people decides).

    It also depends on your own "experience" - does your group allow for collaborations, are you honed with such a perspective during Ph.D days. Some students are exposed ONLY to competition not collaboration, some groups are pretty closed off....for a variety of reasons. Toxic workplace dynamics sometimes. In other cases, collaboration might have been forbidden because of industry involvement, etc. It really depends on a lot of circumstances and the experience/conditioning varies wildly across the board.

    All this said...proactiveness, throwing a broad net over a wide range of hierarchies in academia, being wise about trusting/openness and effort investment over time with a particular collaborator, and having an exit strategy as well as not having too many expectations about the outcome are components to building collaborations, I feel.

    At the end of the day - collaborations are about shared benefits/incentives for shared effort/time/resource investment.

    So, it is worthwhile to think what you and the potential collaborator are going to get out of it and the effort/time/resource investment of both parties before establishing collaborations. I think these can be used for negotiations/pitching as well.

    How collaborations happen. Yes - it could be something as simple as emailing your feedback/a measured version of your idea to the author of a paper you read. Collaboration initiations happen a lot at conferences. Just talking to people/measuring up people (interests, inclinations, attitudes), allowing yourself to be "measured", and finding a fit for your personality and interests. It helps to - listen and talk to people - across all hierarchies - young students to older more established academics, non-academics, industry people, etc. Even if no collaboration comes out of it (right away), lot of learning and information gathering happens in this process.

    Some conference "networking" routines fizzle out, some stay dormant, some take off as actual collaborations.

    Also, another key point I feel is to keep in touch with potential collaborators on a regular basis (without cutting across all needy, of course). I think it is important to balance "I want to collaborate with you" (purposefulness) and "I am interested in you as a human and scientist". I think people can run away if they feel they are being used only for a "purpose" (unless there is a major incentive to the collaboration).

    So communicating to potential collaborators just as people (sending occasional wishes - season's greetings, etc.) helps. Or on a professional level - it could be communication on things that are not directly related to starting a collaboration. Congratulating on social media platforms (linkedin, etc.) when they announce a new paper, it could be citing their papers, putting potential collaborators as reviewers of your choice for your paper, inviting them for a talk to your research group, or a visit to your lab, etc. These are also ways to gage people, their interests and attitudes. Then, when the right time/opportunity comes along, something substantial can take off.

  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 162 ✭✭✭✭

    I have always used FB as the first social media platform to reach for academic collaborations, networking. I post on my profile to get the attention of academic people on my list. If any appropriate academic group is there, I post there too. The responses are always either directly answering my question or suggestive to look for help somewhere else.

    Besides, I am getting fruitful responses from the ResearchGate platform. I posted a discussion of collaboration for an epidemiological survey, waited for people to respond. I must say it took time for people to notice. It always takes time for an unknown face to get attention, I assume. So, I waited, answered every question I got asking details of my work. Now, after a month, I am getting a little proper attention.

    I realized that one has to allocate a certain time for maintaining this virtual networking. I guess managing time properly for this virtual academic networking is a good alternative. At least, it cuts off the possibilities of traveling to meet people who might not help you. It opens up the possibility for like-minded people to connect while saving energy. But yes, one has to be patient.

    Communication is the key to thriving! 😊

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 391 ✭✭✭✭

    @Raj sundaram - thank you as always for your thorough response! I anticipated the complication of finding collaborators but I find your post really illuminating and helps to point out some important considerations.

    I get the feeling that your views are similar to those hinted at by @Soumi Paul which is generally to get out there proactively and take the time to maintain your network! I realise, when I summarise this in one line it takes away all the nuances that you have put into your answers. It sounds so simple, but there are many considerations to take into account.

    Thank you both! You have given me the (more informed) nudge to just get on with it! A network I'm sure will take time, but without doing anything it will take longer. I will definitely be coming back to this thread to revisit the information again!

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭

    @Shruti Turner

    Haha. From experience, nuance and balance are the keys.

    Guess, the summary is proactive, but not a bull in a China shop, and build collaborations/relationships considering the long term for yourself, the work and people you interact with (in that order of priority mostly).

    Good luck!😊

  • Adaora Anyichie - Odis
    Adaora Anyichie - Odis Member Posts: 111 ✭✭✭

    Networking is great and keeping your contacts close plus being open minded is very helpful.