Better Together: An Increased Preference on Collaboration in Research

Whether in the interdisciplinary, interdepartmental, interuniversity, or even international space, collaboration plays a crucial role. It provides new perspectives, fosters innovation, inspires unique ideas, and creates new discoveries. The old adage rings true—two heads are better than one.

Collaboration often leads to interdisciplinary work that results in a successful outcome. One example is the Human Genome Project and subsequent efforts to produce detailed genomic data on humans and other organisms. These large-scale projects, requiring expertise from multiple fields, foster interdisciplinary as well as international sharing of ideas and resources. In genomics and other fields, top researchers from both large and small countries are combining their efforts in order to address global issues in a way that has never been possible before.

Many factors contribute to the growing trend towards research collaboration. First, thanks to the Internet and other technological advancements, it is becoming increasingly routine and convenient to collaborate with colleagues on opposite sides of the globe. Many technological tools, such as EndNote, have been created specifically to facilitate and promote such collaboration.

Second, as already mentioned, many projects and research endeavors require a variety of skill sets and diverse expertise. These skill sets can bring new perspectives to a long-standing hypothesis or problem, thereby increasing the knowledge base for researchers and, ideally, providing a new solution to a research question.

Last but not least, many funding sources, such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, are beginning to emphasize the importance of collaboration in research. This emphasis can be discerned by an increased tendency to fund projects involving collaboration. With a pragmatic and economically savvy approach, researchers seeking funding could benefit greatly from incorporating some aspect of collaboration into their studies.

A growth in research opportunities for students and aspiring researchers is another common trend that can be associated with the shift towards collaboration. As collaboration becomes more popular among researchers, more students are finding opportunities to collaborate with researchers and faculty to acquire research experience.

Some universities promote collaboration through interdisciplinary research centers while others promote through “dual-degree” programs that allow students to gain exposure to more than just one field of interest.

Despite the many advantages, however, expanding beyond the boundaries of one specific discipline and into another, through collaboration, can present complications. Communication, as in many aspects of life, is crucial to research collaboration. Given the realities of globalization, important details may become lost in an international chain of email or online communication stream. To avoid this it is necessary to make sure all members of the research team are communicating with each other on matters as work flow, results, and various regulations that the team might be bound to. It is important to remember that different universities, within national or international boundaries, abide by different, possibly conflicting regulations and research standards. In maintaining open lines of communication, it is necessary to delineate these standards prior to beginning research in order to reach a middle ground.

The shift towards research collaboration unquestionably contributes to positive outcomes. Maintaining an open line of communication can be one of the strongest attributes of a successful collaboration, increasing the likelihood of new insights and new solutions; expanding the potential to revolutionize research.

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