SPSP Members Weigh In: Establishing Academic Collaborations

By Sofia Kousi

In this series, SPSP student members will share their best tips from their experience with academic collaborations. The focus in our first piece on collaborations centers on how to them.

Overall, students highlight two main approaches to establishing a collaboration: those occurring naturally through mutual exploration of a topic/idea, and those you pursue directly when you have either a specific project or a specific collaborator in mind.

The naturally-arising collaborations tend to come from exploratory discussions with fellow students or individuals your advisor suggests that explore the possibility of working together. Many students recommend “putting yourself out there” and communicating your research interests to allow others with similar interests to gravitate toward you.

“Naturally occurring collaborations seem to work best.”

“State your interests in public. In conversation, make it known that you are very interested in research on topics X, Y, and Z. Then, when these topics come up in other people's work, those people will think of you. Of course, it is beneficial if you can visibly offer some kind of expertise that adds something to the collaborator's work. But often, excitement itself is sufficient to begin the relationship.”

“Just talk about research with people (your research and their research). Try to see the ways that they might match.”

“Talk to people, seek out opportunities to build experience so that you are 'marketable' when opportunities to work with people arise.”

“Just having conversations and seeing if anything sticks with the other person (an idea they really like), then suggest collaboration. Sometimes, if I am doing a survey or simple experiment, I also ask colleagues if they have measures they would like to add.”

Several ways are suggested to find those collaborators, including networking at conferences, communication on listservs (including SPSP’s Connect! online forums), and through your supervisor.

“Networking at conferences and throwing announcements in listservs.”

“Through supervisors; at workshops; approaching authors of relevant papers.”

“Through organizations (field-related) --groups usually have communication processes in place.”

“To maximize the extent to which others approach you for collaborations, build a wide network of connections, both within and outside of your research focus, and earn a reputation for yourself as a high-quality collaborator.”

The “proactive” collaborations are those that you pursue when you have a specific project or collaborator in mind. It is usually recommended that you approach the potential collaborator with a (more or less) specific and complete proposal. Also, highlighting how your expertise complements theirs usually helps make the collaboration seem more viable.

“Bring your ideas to people you think might be interested.”

“Approach someone with a complete proposal and a good reason why you think they could bring expertise to the project.”

“Contacting people via e-mail (short summary of the proposal).”

“Two key things students should do are 1) read a potential collaborator's research and 2) come to them with an idea for a project. It doesn't have to be a perfect idea, but having a question relevant to what they do and the important theories in their area shows real initiative, and can lead to a discussion of what work could be done together.”

“Find a productive lab in your department. Make yourself available to a researcher. Be assertive that you are interested and capable of assisting, even by having a frank conversation about wanting to publish a paper. After you have contributed a bit and have some serious work on a project to look forward to, discuss with your advisor about the possibility of co-authorship.”

“Finding others who have similar interests as you and who seem feasible to work on a project with and simply ask them if they would want to collaborate. When proposing the idea to collaborate, it seems wise to offer a potential starting topic or idea for what the collaboration will focus on.”

“Honestly, ask a lot of questions in classes/when meeting with advisors or other faculty members. Find out who does research that interests you. Ask them if there is anything they need assistance with - or if you already have ideas, if they'd be interested in collaborating with you on something you're working on. Faculty members seem quite receptive to the initiative.”

“Have an idea, approach people who are interested and/or experts, and be ready to do the work.”

In some cases, approaching a researcher whose work you like, even without a specific project in mind, is also recommended. In this case, you first identify the people you would like to collaborate with, and approach them, making yourself available.

“I would recommend starting a conversation with someone whose research interests you.”

“I would suggest reviewing the potential professors' research to see if that area is an interest for you, as well as their publishing record.”

If you're interested in the work someone is doing, reach out. I have rarely had someone turn down collaboration when I had something to offer.”

Just ask, but make sure everyone involved has something unique that only they can contribute, including simply their perspective.”

Getting in touch with professors, research teams or graduate students which whom you want to collaborate.”

Read journal articles and find interesting authors, then approach them through email, conference, etc.”

Reach out via email to faculty with similar research and/or network at conferences.”

Looking at names of researchers cited in the area you're researching.”

Getting help with the introduction is also recommended, in case you do not personally know the potential collaborator. Your advisor can be very helpful in this respect.

I think having some shared contact helps (e.g,. someone who knows both of you and can break the ice or put you in touch).”

As a student, get your advisor's help on finding appropriate collaborations.”

However, keep in mind that some collaborations may not work.

I've made attempts for other collaborations that have fallen apart.”

You have to put yourself out there and recognize that most collaborations fail. That isn't personal. There isn't enough of a fit, not a priority, etc. You can still be friends and colleagues, but you cannot force a collaboration.”  

Keep an eye out in the October SPSPotlight for our second piece in this series, which will focus on things to consider prior to committing to a collaboration. A very warm thank you to all the SPSP student members who provided us with their responses.