How to pick a great scientific collaborator

Photo illustration of a six differently sized spanners surrounding a hex nut

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I’ve spent a considerable period of time on a venture that was not enjoyable. I did the vast majority of the work, and it finally got here to nothing. Discovering nice collaborators, and with the ability to work with them productively, is without doubt one of the most essential predictors of success.

Others’ concepts about what makes the very best collaborators can be found on-line, however I’ve by no means discovered a instrument that totally captured my experiences with choosing the right — or flawed — collaborators.

So, on the idea of others’ ideas and my very own concepts about collaboration (and to keep away from a repeat prevalence of the venture described above), I developed a framework to information me by means of deciding on the proper collaborators and to assist others in the identical predicament.

Three essential traits

Through the years, I’ve discovered that the folks I collaborate with greatest share three traits. A great way to evaluate potential collaborators’ traits is to have a few preliminary conferences earlier than deciding to start out the venture. These conferences can be utilized to find out about potential collaborators’ working kinds and ambitions — and to get a way of how properly you ‘click on’ on a social degree. Normally, this will likely be sufficient to achieve an concept of how properly they dwell as much as these three core traits.

Enjoyable to work with. On the finish of the day, lecturers similar to myself have the uncommon privilege of pursuing tasks that we discover attention-grabbing and that we’re deeply interested by. However even probably the most motivating tasks can develop into a dreaded expertise when you don’t take pleasure in working along with your collaborators. Humour and a light-hearted spirit can rework even probably the most tedious duties right into a enjoyable day on the workplace or laboratory.

Contributes to work. In the end, your collaborator must contribute — by each placing within the hours and including one thing new and invaluable, similar to being the prime information cruncher or the paper-writing technician.

Has the identical ambition. Analysis is an intentional course of during which you usually have an preliminary concept of a most well-liked outlet and the scope of the research. Due to this fact, you and your collaborators will want a shared ambition — in any other case, it would develop into a supply of battle down the street. As an illustration, when you dream of getting your research grace the quilt of Nature, and your associate ‘simply’ desires to do a minor ebook chapter on the research, you then’re severely misaligned in your ambitions.

Venn diagram showing different types of people and how they collaborate.

A framework to determine good collaborators.Carsten Petersen

After all, troubles usually come when collaborators exhibit some, however not all, of those traits.

As an illustration, if an individual is enjoyable to work with and has the identical degree of ambition, however doesn’t contribute in a invaluable manner, then they are often seen as ‘likable freeloaders’. That’s, you agree on many issues and revel in working collectively — however your ‘collaborator’ by no means actually provides something to the paper apart from having their title on it. You might both have a critical discuss with that particular person about their work on the venture or just keep a social-only relationship.

I’ve encountered individuals who contributed to a venture and shared my ambition, however had been typically not enjoyable to work with — making them a ‘productive annoyance’. They can assist you progress, however they will additionally make you depressing within the course of — and that’s simply not price it. Both keep away from these people fully — or ‘defend’ your self from them by having different, extra enjoyable collaborators on the identical venture.

Lastly, you may also have an individual who’s enjoyable to work with and who contributes to the research, however you merely don’t have the identical ambition. This ends in ‘misaligned companions’. They’ve each potential of being an excellent collaborator — simply not on this venture. It’s best to as a substitute discover frequent tasks for which you might have the identical degree of ambition.

Methods to use the framework

One objective of the framework is to evaluate and choose collaborators. However I discovered this instrument to be extra productive when making use of it to myself.

How are you perceived as a collaborator? The place would your collaborators place you within the three circles?

After I requested myself this query, it turned clear that I’ve all the time sought to contribute to work, and I attempt to have the identical degree of ambition as my collaborators. Nonetheless, I’ve, at instances, maybe not been probably the most enjoyable to work with, making me a productive annoyance to sure collaborators.

Such an perception is each eye-opening and humbling: it could actually make you are feeling uncomfortable, as a result of it doesn’t resonate with the way you wish to see your self. However it can lead to motion in the direction of change. Personally, I’m now extra conscious of how intently associated getting rigorous analysis performed is to having enjoyable within the course of. So I attempt to make enjoyable a precedence in my tasks.

My core collaborators reside on the intersection of the three circles. They include a really small, however extremely valued, group of individuals whom I take pleasure in working with every day. And I attempt my greatest to be an excellent collaborator for them — one circle at a time.

That is an article from the Nature Careers Neighborhood, a spot for Nature readers to share their skilled experiences and recommendation. Visitor posts are inspired.

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